Spring Cleaning: How Teams Tight On Cap Space Could Maneuver This Offseason
As we head into the heart of the NFL offseason some teams have already got a head start on their Spring cleaning. Last week the Atlanta Falcons made the most noise by releasing CB Robert Alford ($7.9M Savings), DL Brooks Reed ($4.5M) and long-time K Matt Bryant (2.83M) to create $15.23M in salary cap space.
As the weeks pass and the new league year approaches plenty of other teams will be following in Atlanta's footsteps as they look to get under the cap, find a better bang for their buck or look to clear some extra room to hand out an extension to a franchise cornerstone.
At this moment the 2019 salary cap has yet to be announced but in December 2018 the NFL released a statement where they projected it to be between $187M and $191.1M.
With Free Agency a month away there are currently five teams with less than $10M in projected cap space. We'll walk through each team to see who might be handed their walking papers in the near future and how each team will be retooling their roster with that financial freedom.
Salary cap numbers for each team are from OverTheCap.com.
Free Agents: CB Bryce Callahan, S Adrian Amos, OL Eric Kush, LB Aaron Lynch, WR Kevin White, P Pat O'Donnell, RB Benny Cunningham etc.
Extension Candidates: Cody Whitehair
Cap Casualty Candidates:
The 2019 offseason will be much tamer than recent years for the Bears. Chicago is now tight on cap space after their 2018 free agency spending spree and handing out extensions to DL Khalil Mack, DL Eddie Goldman, DL Akiem Hicks, and CB Kyle Fuller in the past 18 months.
This offseason will be more about keeping their defensive core together and filling in the little cracks to round out a team that won 12 games in 2018.
The Bears first move was to re-sign OL Bobby Massie to a 5-year, $40M contract. The contract is really a 2-year, $15.8M deal with team options after that since all of the guaranteed money is paid out during the first two years.
Their next moves will likely be to see if they can re-sign S Adrian Amos and CB Bryce Callahan, who were both above average starters for the best defense in the NFL in 2018. The Bears don't have much fat to trim but one move that is almost certain to happen is cutting TE Dion Sims. The $6M that he would free up, in theory, would get you in the yearly salary range for a Safety of Amos' caliber. It unclear what salary Callahan is likely to command but he'll be one of the top nickel corners on the market. The Bears would be able to create more room if they were to restructure Kyle Long's or Danny Trevathan's deals.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Free Agents: LT Donovan Smith, LB Kwon Alexander, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, WR Adam Humphries, CB Brent Grimes, S Chris Conte, RB Jacquizz Rodgers etc.
Extension Candidates: Jameis Winston
Cap Casualty Candidates:
The Buccaneers head into the offseason with pretty clear objectives now that they are committed to Jameis Winston.
2. Offensive Line
3. Defensive Line
4. Running Back
The Bucs will stay in-house to address the offensive line as re-signing Donovan Smith is their top priority. In order to get this done, Tampa Bay started their spring cleaning yesterday as they released DL Vinny Curry, who had a disappointing lone season with the Bucs. Desean Jackson is also likely to be cut and some of that savings could be used to re-sign WR Adam Humphries who finished 2018 strong.
There are a few more storylines that I'm interested to see how they pan out for Tampa Bay. With Bruce Arians now in charge and OJ Howard dominating when healthy is Cameron Brate worth his $7M salary? With the Bucs recent bad-luck with kickers, will they lock up Cairo Santos? How much are they willing to dish out to bring back Kwon Alexander?
Jameis Winston will be entering the final year of his rookie contract but the jury is still out on him. Tampa is willing to hand out extensions, they locked up WR Mike Evans and OL Ali Marpet within the last year, but they will need to see Winston take meaningful strides on and off the field in 2019.
ESPN Bucs reporter, Jenna Laine believes there is a "real chance" the Bucs release DT Gerald McCoy, which would free up $13M in cap space, but what's the logic behind releasing a Pro Bowl caliber player on a team devoid of defensive talent?
Free Agents: LB Anthony Barr, DT Sheldon Richardson, S Anthony Harris, RB Latavius Murray, QB Trevor Siemian, CB Marcus Sherels, RB Ameer Abdullah, OL Nick Easton etc.
Extension Candidates: Adam Thielen, Trae Waynes
Cap Casualty Candidates: LB Anthony Barr and DT Sheldon Richardson are two of the top talents to hit free agency this year and in order for the Vikings to bring back either of the Pro Bowl talents, they'll have to do some cap gymnastics.
In order to create space, they'll likely have to make some tough calls with two established veterans on their defense. Andrew Sendejo's play hasn't slipped but his $5.5M cap hit in 2019 ranks 10th most for SS. For a team with a tight budget who is aiming to re-sign a top talent, he might be the fall guy.
Everson Griffen is also in a peculiar spot. He's on the wrong side of 30, his play slipped in 2018 and he missed a large chunk of the season due to some strange off-field incidents. Although it'd be tough to throw in the towel on someone who has had such a string of recent success it would clear nearly $9.5M in cap space. The Vikings could also go down the path of restructuring Griffen's current contract.
Free Agents: WR Donte Moncrief, RB TJ Yeldon, TE James O'Shaughnessy, OL AJ Cann, RB Corey Grant, K Josh Lambo, OL Ereck Flowers etc.
Extension Candidates: CB Jalen Ramsey, DL Yannick Ngakoue, LB Myles Jack
Cap Casualty Candidates:
2018 was a humbling experience for a boisterous Jaguars squad. After making the playoffs for the first time in a decade the Jaguars ignored all logic and handed Blake Bortles a 3-year contract extension which, as expected, blew up right in their face.
Jacksonville heads into the 2019 offseason over the cap with a huge hole at Quarterback, a young core who will be looking for extensions and uncertainty surrounding their face of the franchise on offense, in Leonard Fournette.
So where do they start? Well, they'll need to decide how they want to address the QB position. Do they want to spend big on NIck Foles or would they rather draft a QB and scoop up a bridge Quarterback like Tyrod Taylor or Ryan Fitzpatrick as insurance? Either way, they'll need to clear cap space and will really need to be creative if they're looking to spend big.
The most likely dominos to fall to create room are Malik Jackson and Marcell Dareus. Both are quality players but not at their price tag. Carlos Hyde was a non-factor after being acquired at the trade deadline. Even with Yeldon and Grant becoming free agents I wouldn't anticipate Jacksonville bringing back Hyde at that price. Due to the limited amount of work he saw during his time in Jacksonville Hyde might also want to find a new home.
Free Agents: DL Brandon Graham, WR Golden Tate, LB Jordan Hicks, RB Jay Ajayi, CB Ronald Darby, RB Darren Sproles, DT Haloti Ngata, WR Jordan Matthews, WR Mike Wallace etc
Extension Candidates: Carson Wentz, Nelson Agholor
Cap Casualty Candidates:
The elephant in the locker room is the Eagles quarterback situation. Carson Wentz is eligible for a contract extension this offseason while the Nick Foles saga is still a few weeks away from being resolved. Optimum Scouting's, Justis Mosqueda, discussed the Nick Foles contract situation from a player and team perspective yesterday.
With Foles out of the picture in a few months, the Eagles will still be tight on cap space with possibly big concerns along the offensive and defensive lines. Starting Guard, Brandon Brooks is recovering from a torn achilles vs the Saints in the playoffs and there are rumors swirling of OT Jason Peters and OC Jason Kelce retiring. On the defensive line, a combination of Michael Bennett, Timmy Jernigan or Chris Long could all be on the chopping block to free up some space to fill holes in the backfield, offensive line and secondary.
One person who I didn't list as a possible cap casualty is WR Nelson Agholor, who is due $9.387M this coming year and for the majority of his rookie contract has not lived up to that type of price tag. He could be an interesting candidate to work out an extension to lower that dollar amount.