The NFL's roster cutdown process is a nerve-racking time for players on the roster bubble. The final roster reduction to a maximum of 53 players must occur by 4 p.m. ET on Sat., Sept. 3.
Cuts can mean the end of careers for some veteran players, especially older ones, as most NFL players don't get to end their careers on their own terms. Older players can be in jeopardy during the final cutdown because versatility and salary become important factors in roster decisions.
Players making up the back end of a roster are required to play special teams. Older players are at a disadvantage for these roster spots because they usually haven't been special teams contributors since early in their careers before they became starters. Backup older players don't have much utility unless they are making a significant contribution to the offense or defense (i.e.; pass rushing specialist, nickel defensive back, third-down receiver, etc.).
Teams will attempt to trade players that could generate interest from other teams because of a pressing need before they are released. Since other teams know these players are likely to be available shortly without requiring anything in return, the trade efforts usually aren't successful. But it's always worth a shot.
The Tennessee Titans surprisingly were able to get a 2016 sixth-round pick from the Atlanta Falcons for high-priced 2013 free-agent signee Andy Levitre at the final cutdown last year after he lost his left guard spot to Byron Bell. Levitre took a slight pay cut in the process.
Only the current year's proration of the salary components that are treated like signing bonus count toward the salary cap when players are released or traded after June 1. The bonus proration in future contract years is delayed until the following season, which is 2017 for any player released during cutdowns. A salary cap charge for a player that is no longer on a team's roster is commonly referred to as dead money.
Here's a look at nine veteran players that may not survive Saturday's final roster reduction and the salary cap implications if they are released.
2016 Salary Cap Number: $15,890,753
2016 Compensation: $14.3 Million ($11.9 Million Base Salary Guarantee)
2016 Dead Money: $14,765,753
2017 Dead Money: $4,931,506
2016 Salary Cap Savings: $1.125 Million (from per game 46-man active roster bonuses)
It's really a matter of when, not if, the 49ers part ways with Kaepernick. His long-awaited preseason debut against the Green Bay Packers on Friday night, which was delayed because of a "dead arm" that kept him out of several practices and prior preseason game action, didn't help him gain any ground against Blaine Gabbert in the competition for the 49ers' starting quarterback job.
Kaepernick's refusal to stand for the national anthem before the game to protest racial injustice overshadowed his lackluster play. His controversial stance has a created a distraction for the 49ers, which is unlikely to go away as long as he continues his protest.
Kaepernick may not be able to afford another bad outing in Thursday's night preseason finale against the San Diego Chargers despite his fully guaranteed $11.9 million base salary. His guarantee makes him practically untradeable. The acrimonious relationship between Kaepernick and the 49ers, particularly with general manager Trent Baalke, hasn't seemed to improve since pre-NFL Draft trade talks with the Denver Broncos stalled over the quarterback's unwillingness to take a pay cut.
Head coach Chip Kelly traded or released key contributors with strong personalities during his almost three seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles but doesn't quite have the same type of power in San Francisco.
With over $45 million in 2016 salary cap room, San Francisco can take the hit now with Kaepernick's guarantee even though there aren't much savings in releasing him. The 49ers would pick up almost $14.5 million of cap room in 2017 by not having Kaepernick"s $19,365,753 cap number on the books next year.
2016 Salary Cap Number: $4.5 Million ($1 Million Base Salary Guarantee)
2016 Compensation: $4.5 Million
2016 Dead Money: $1 Million
2016 Salary Cap Savings: $3.5 Million
Sanchez couldn't take advantage of the golden opportunity he was given. He was quickly obtained from the Eagles for a conditional 2017 seventh-round pick after Brock Osweiler signed with the Houston Texans. Sanchez was the offseason favorite to be Peyton Manning's successor but the inability to avoid turnovers, which has plagued him throughout his NFL career, contributed to losing a quarterback competition with Trevor Siemian. He has fallen to third on the depth chart behind two players that haven't thrown an NFL regular season pass in Siemian and Paxton Lynch, the Broncos' top pick in the 2016 draft.
The Broncos are shopping Sanchez but are unlikely to find any takers since he should be a lot cheaper as a street free agent. A significant pay cut may be only way he remains in Denver. If released, Denver wouldn't have to give up the draft pick to Philadelphia. It would be interesting to see whether Sanchez's college coach at Southern California, Pete Carroll, would give him a chance to back up Russell Wilson with the Seattle Seahawks if he's released. Sanchez's availability could potentially impact Kaepernick in San Francisco since he knows Chip Kelly's offense from his two years in Philadelphia.
2016 Salary Cap Number: $4,032,627
2016 Compensation: $2,131,514 (fully guaranteed)
2016 Dead Money: $4,032,627
2016 Salary Cap Savings: None
The Jets declined to pick up the $11.913 million fifth-year option in 2017 for the ninth overall pick in the 2013 draft during the spring. Milliner has been a disappointment partially because of injuries. General manager Mike Maccagnan and head coach Todd Bowles don't have a vested interest in Milliner since he was drafted by former general manager John Idzik.
At best, Milliner is fourth on the depth chart at cornerback. Juston Burris, this year's fourth-round pick, saw action before him in the last preseason game. Milliner already received $1,456,514 of his fully guaranteed salary as a fifth day of training camp roster bonus.
2016 Salary Cap Number: $680,000
2016 Compensation: $1.065 Million
2016 Dead Money: $80,000
2016 Salary Cap Savings: $600,000
In hindsight, Evans may have been better off taking the pay cut from the Saints he rejected, since his former team is having problems with the interior of the offensive line. The six-time Pro Bowl guard didn't sign with the Seahawks on a minimum salary benefit contract until a week into training camp.
A player receives his league minimum base salary ($985,000 in Evans' case) and a maximum of $80,000 as a signing bonus with a minimum salary benefit deal. Evans' base salary counts on the cap at the $600,000 minimum salary for players with two years of service. The 33-year-old is currently a backup as he hasn't been able to unseat Mark Glowinski, a 2015 fourth-round pick, and Germain Ifedi, this year's first-round pick, in the starting lineup. Evans' chances of making the Seahawks may have been helped by release of 2015 sixth-round pick Kristjan Sokoli, who was a defensive lineman in college.
2016 Salary Cap Number: $1,743,545
2016 Compensation: $1.85 Million
2016 Dead Money: $450,000
2016 Salary Cap Savings: $1,406,045
Weeden's roster spot with the Texans depends on whether three quarterbacks are kept. Tom Savage is Osweiler's top backup. Another stint with the Dallas Cowboys thanks to Tony Romo's back injury could be a possibility should Weeden become available.
Weeden knows the offense, which would be one of the 2012 first-round pick's biggest selling points, because he recently spent a season and half with the Cowboys. He didn't win any of his three starts in place of an injured Romo in 2015 and was released during the middle of last season.
2016 Salary Cap Number: $6,986,905
2016 Compensation: $6.5 Million ($2.8 million base salary guarantee)
2016 Dead Money: $3.3 Million
2017 Dead Money: $500,000
2016 Salary Cap Savings: $3,686,905
There's skepticism about Williams remaining in Cleveland despite new head coach Hue Jackson's declaration that the 33-year-old cornerback is still in the team's plans after losing his starting job to Jamar Taylor. That's because the Browns have purged the roster of almost all of the older veterans from the old regime since the beginning of the offseason.
Third cornerbacks at the price of $6.5 million are a rarity. The Browns having almost $50 million of current cap space cuts both ways. Such a high-priced backup can be accommodated or the Browns can easily eat Williams' $2.8 million salary guarantee.
2016 Salary Cap Number: $2 Million ($500,000 Guaranteed)
2016 Compensation: $2 Million
2016 Dead Money: $600,000
2016 Salary Cap Savings: $1.4 Million
Hillman was Denver's leading rusher during the 2015 regular season with 863 yards. However, C.J. Anderson got the bulk of the carries and playing in Super Bowl 50. Hillman returned to the Broncos on a one-year deal shortly before the draft because of a tepid free agent market.
Devontae Booker, this year's fourth-round pick, has Hillman battling Kapri Bibbs for the third running back spot. Bibbs brings more to the table for special teams but Hillman helped himself with a good third preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams. He had five carries for 45 yards and touchdown.
2016 Salary Cap Number: $669,469
2016 Compensation: $525,000
2016 Dead Money: $138,424
2017 Dead Money: $276,848
2016 Salary Cap Savings: $525,000
Ryan Fitzpatrick returning on a one-year, $12 million deal right before training camp started could make Petty the odd man out since NFL teams rarely keep four quarterbacks. Christian Hackenberg, who is a project, isn't going anywhere, because second-round picks don't get cut so quickly.
Petty's good preseason is making the decision to keep him or Geno Smith difficult but may not be enough to overtake Smith. His preseason play makes it less likely that the Jets could sneak Petty through waivers at the final roster cutdown and re-sign him to the practice squad.
2016 Salary Cap Number: $1,053,296
2016 Compensation: $769,408
2016 Dead Money: $278,818
2017 Dead Money: $278,818
2016 Salary Cap Savings: 769,408
Sankey, the first running back taken in the 2014 draft with the 54th overall pick, fell out of favor as the 2015 season progressed. The Titans trading with the Eagles for DeMarco Murray and selecting Heisman winner Derrick Henry in the second round of this year's draft has left Sankey with limited opportunities to prove himself.