Agent's Take: Cutler, Suh, Romo top list of high-end cap issues
It's combine week, my friends. Even though the Super Bowl seems like it just ended, the NFL cycle churns on. And lest you think the combine is only about the upcoming draft, it's anything but. All sorts of business gets done this week in Indianapolis, not the least of which is jockeying for cap space.
Sure, a few deals already have been consummated -- like Baltimore's extension with Terrell Suggs -- and a few players already have been released, but Will Smith and Nate Burleson and Louis Delmas and Asante Samuel are just the start. There will be cap cuts. To continue a theme I noted in December, expect quite a few more corners to be let go because of bloated salaries. And there will be extensions, quite a few restructures and, of course, players can begin to receive the franchise tag this week as well.
But this is when contractual bloodletting really begins. Let's look at some upcoming cap casualties, with free agency set to begin March 11. Keep in mind, particularly with injured players or guys coming off surgery, teams often wait as long as possible before releasing them to mitigate paying medical costs in the upcoming league year.
Seattle Seahawks: WR Sidney Rice, DE Chris Clemons, TE Zach Miller
With a base salary of $8.5 million and considering his limited production and injury woes, Rice is a goner. He either takes a massive pay cut or the Seahawks save $7.3M in cap space by releasing him. Miller is set to cost $7M against the cap if he stays, and Seattle could save $5M against the cap by letting him go, which seems natural given his limited role in the offense. Clemons may, in fact, be much stronger in 2014 after tearing his ACL at the end of 2012, but counts $9.6M against the cap and Seattle could save $7.5M by cutting him. Given the need to extend players like Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Russell Okung, creating cap space is imperative.
San Francisco 49ers: CB Carlos Rogers
He has a base salary of $6.25M and a cap hit of $8.1M. With his declining role and the need to extend guys like Colin Kaepernick and Mike Iupati, I have a hard time seeing Rogers returning.
St. Louis Rams: CB Cortland Finnegan
There is no way a team still trying to build and with almost no cap room will pay Finnegan $6M, with a $10M cap hit, especially at the end of his career. If designated a post-June 1 cut, the Rams save $9M in cap space (they only have about $2M right now), and cutting veteran guard Harvey Dahl frees up $4M more, and another $4.5M with oft-injured center Scott Wells. A source says the Rams are open to an extension for QB Sam Bradford, who is due $27M over the next two years. A longer deal would still be a surprise to many, because adding guaranteed money beyond the current deal would make it cumbersome for the team to part with Bradford.
Denver Broncos: CB Champ Bailey
Ain't no way he's making $9M ($10M against the cap). And now that he's fully healthy, the Broncos will look to sign him to a lesser deal at the combine. Denver can save another $6.5M in cap room by parting with OL Chris Kuper and TE Joel Dreessen, as expected.
San Diego Chargers: C Nick Hardwick, WR Eddie Royal
Will the Chargers, who are hard against the cap, pay veteran Hardwick $6.2M against the cap, or save a much-needed $4.4M by releasing him? I figure he isn't back. They would save another $4.5M in cap space by parting with Royal.
Dallas Cowboys: DE DeMarcus Ware, WR Miles Austin
Ware is coming off a lost season and his production is declining. Plus, the Cowboys (as always) are in a massive cap bind. Cutting him saves $13M. I also can't find a way that Austin returns, given his negligible role in recent years (he is set to make $5.5M).
Washington Redskins: DL Adam Carriker
He has been injured frequently -- often major injuries -- and the Redskins could save nearly $5M in cap space and real money by letting him go. I would be shocked if they did not.
New England Patriots: NT Vince Wilfork
Considering he missed most of 2013, his advancing age and the Pats reaching the AFC title game without him, will the beloved veteran actually make the $7.5M he's due in 2014, at a cap hit of $11.6M? Given all their needs on offense, it's a valid question.
New York Jets: QB Mark Sanchez, WR Santonio Holmes, CB Antonio Cromartie
If I am GM John Idzik, I'm not stringing this out. Cut Sanchez and save $11.5M against the cap. Take the $8.25M in savings from parting with the long-slumping Holmes and the $9.5M you can save from Cromartie too. I don't care if you spend this cap space, but continue to get your books in order for future seasons by letting dead weight go.
Buffalo Bills: QB Kevin Kolb
The Bills save $3.1M by cutting him. Buffalo has a ton of cap space, but since Kolb's career is effectively over because of health problems, they might as well go ahead and move on.
Green Bay Packers: CB Tramon Williams
The Packers have ample space -- especially considering how few young players are in line for extensions, which is an anomaly for them. But given Williams' drop-off in play since landing a big deal, I would save the $7.5M by cutting him to reinvest in WR Jordy Nelson, free-agent WR James Jones or TE Jermichael Finley.
Chicago Bears: DE Julius Peppers, WR Earl Bennett
GM Phil Emery wasn't the one who vastly overspent for Peppers (that was since-fired GM Jerry Angelo), so I don't believe for a second he will play the sporadic performer $14M (counting $18.2M against the cap). In fact, Emery would be a fool to do so with all of Bears' other needs on defense. Save his $14M in cap space -- which they need with Jay Cutler counting a ridiculous $22.5M against the cap -- and let Peppers go. Cutting Bennett saves another $2.45M, key for a team only $7M under the cap and likely to lose significant free agents.
Cincinnati Bengals: TE Jermaine Gresham, S Reggie Nelson
The Bengals have more cap space than anyone could spend, but owner Mike Brown remains pennywise and he could save nearly $7.5M in actual money by parting with Gresham and Nelson. Food for thought.
Pittsburgh Steelers: T Levi Brown
Pittsburgh will agree to more cap-friendy deals with LB LaMarr Woodley and S Troy Polamalu, and will cut Brown (releasing him saves $6M against the cap for a team about $12M over it). The Steelers likely will restructure deals for CB Ike Taylor and LB Lawrence Timmons to free space too.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: G Carl Nicks
Given his issues with MRSA last season, and what could be a reshaped OL, might the Bucs save $7M in real money and cap space by letting him go? Wouldn't be a shocker.
Tennessee Titans: RB Chris Johnson, WR Nate Washington, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
No one I've talked to in the league expects Johnson back there at a $10M cap hit (they save $8M by designating him a post-June 1 cut), and Washington creates another $4.8M if let go. I also have a hard time seeing Fitzpatrick back (cutting him adds another $3.25M in space to a team with only $7M now).
Jacksonville Jaguars: DL Jason Babin
Many expect them to cut TE Marcedes Lewis, who has done very little since getting the franchise tag, but I'm told he will be back, despite a $6.7M salary. Babin, set to make $6M, could be a different story. Either way, the Jags have $50M in cap space.