Some interesting names:
The next phase of the NFL offseason is one that can get a little ugly: It’s time for teams to look at the bottom line and decide which players aren’t worth the freight anymore.
Some cuts could come as early as this week. More will land during the combine, and some won’t happen until free agency starts. But they’re coming and, to prepare, teams are compiling watch lists of guys that could be on the chopping block. And I went to some of those teams to collect names. So here, then, is our own Watch List.
Bengals QB Andy Dalton (cap savings if cut: $17.7 million): Zac Taylor’s plan is to be upfront and honest with Dalton, and the truth is that the team has to weigh the idea of having the outgoing franchise quarterback as the bridge to the next one. The Giants made it work last year, so the idea of it isn’t exactly unprecedented.
Broncos QB Joe Flacco (cap savings: $12.25 million): The expectation, as of right now, is that Drew Lock will enter the spring as the team’s starter, making Flacco, due $20.25 million in cash in 2020, way too expensive to keep around as a backup.
Panthers QB Cam Newton (cap savings: $17.1 million): Carolina has been steadfast in saying that any decision on Newton will have to wait until there’s a clearer picture of his health. And the Panthers probably won’t have that until he’s recovered from his January surgery—probably sometime in March.
Falcons RB Devonta Freeman (cap savings: $3.5 million): Freeman’s issues since signing his deal in 2017 (he hasn’t posted a 1,000-yard season since and averaged 3.6 yards per carry in 2019) are another cautionary tale on paying backs. Atlanta will have to carry $6 million in dead money. But given their cap situation, every dollar counts.
Titans RB Dion Lewis (cap savings: $4.04 million): The emergence of Derrick Henry marginalized Lewis’ role and made his 2020 cap charge of $5.16 million a non-starter. Lewis turns 30 in September and might have his best chance to latch on with another Patriot-connected coach (Detroit? Giants?).
49ers RB Jerrick McKinnon (cap savings: $4.8 million): Thanks to a 2018 ACL injury and resulting complications, McKinnon still has yet to make his Niners debut, and the team has paid him more than $15 million over those two years. It’s not hard to see the writing on the wall here.
Cardinals RB David Johnson (cap savings: n/a): And I say not available based on the fact that Johnson’s $10.2 million base salary for 2020 has already vested. That makes it pretty unlikely the team would cut him, even though he’s disappointed since signing his deal. If they could trade him? That’s a different story, and I’d guess they would consider that.
Chiefs WR Sammy Watkins (cap savings: $14 million): This feels like a cost-of-doing-business thing for the Chiefs. They overpaid on Watkins because he was a good fit for their young quarterback in 2018, and that young QB was on a rookie deal. Now, Mahomes is about to get paid, they need room—and they have Watkins’ younger, cheaper replacement (Mecole Hardman) on hand.
Dolphins WR Albert Wilson (cap savings: $9.5 million): Wilson had 351 yards and a single touchdown last year, so this is a relatively simple decision. Could Wilson go back to KC and take Watkins’s roster spot?
Jaguars WR Marqise Lee (cap savings: $5.25 million): Lee finished the season with three catches and on IR, and he has been a massive disappointment since signing a four-year, $34 million deal prior to the 2018 season.
Buccaneers TE Cameron Brate (cap savings: $6 million): The Bucs have worked hard to develop OJ Howard, and Bruce Arians’s offense just isn’t that tight end–friendly. That makes paying Brate starters’ money a little difficult, even if he remains a good player.
Bears TE Trey Burton (cap savings: $5.05 million): Chicago has a tight cap situation, and Burton’s coming off a rough year that ended on IR. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Bears conduct a complete overhaul at his position.
Packers TE Jimmy Graham (cap savings: $8 million): It’s not like Graham can’t play anymore; his production just no longer matches his financials. As a sidebar: It’d be fun to see him back in New Orleans.
Bengals OL Cordy Glenn (cap savings: $6.3 million): This one’s fairly easy. Glenn doesn’t want to be there. Jonah Williams is coming back. Glenn is gone.
Broncos G Ron Leary (cap savings: $8.5 million): Leary has missed 19 games in three years as a Bronco. That, and his big number, exposes him—though he should be able to find work quickly in a lineman-needy NFL.
Browns DE Olivier Vernon (cap savings: $11.5 million): Sacks aren’t everything, but it’s tough to carry a pass-rusher about to turn 30 at over $15 million coming off a season in which he had just 3.5 of them.
Jaguars DL Marcell Dareus (cap savings: $13.2 million): The former third overall pick finished the season on IR, turns 30 in March, and plays for a team working through cap issues. Dareus can still play. He just probably won’t be doing it for the Jags.
Panthers DL Dontari Poe (cap savings: $10 million): This is pretty straightforward. Barring a pay cut, it’s hard to see Poe back for Matt Rhule’s first year in charge.
Vikings DE Everson Griffen (cap savings: $13.8 million): Griffen’s been a great Viking, but he has endured a tough couple years and is 32 years old. He has gas left in the tank—he had eight sacks last year—but Minnesota’s troublesome cap situation would make it tough to bring him back even with a pay cut.
Giants LB Alec Ogletree (cap savings: $10.4 million): It may be tough for a new coach to walk away from a team captain, but Ogletree is paid like a top-five off-ball linebacker despite not playing like one. OT Nate Solder is another name that came up when I asked around, but my sense is that he’ll make it to 2020 on roster, based on the logistics of his contract, the team’s depth at his position and his background with new coach Joe Judge.
Browns LB Christian Kirksey (cap savings: $7.45 million): Kirksey played in nine games the last two years. So that should be that.
Steelers LB Vince Williams (cap savings: $969K): Yeah, it’s not much savings. But Pittsburgh is not paying $4 million in cash for some they just turned into a part-timer.
Bears LB Leonard Floyd: The Bears thought a breakout season was coming from Floyd in 2019. Instead, he finished with three sacks. I’m sure GM Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy would like to give the former top-10 pick another year. The trouble, for the cap-strapped Bears, is that his $13.2 million lump-sum option for 2020 would be an easy place to yield a significant amount of financial breathing room.
Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes (cap savings: $8.1 million): Maybe Rhodes can turn it around in his 30s. But he’s been trending downward for a couple years now, and he was the subject of trade discussions last spring. He’s due $10.5 million in 2020. He won’t be making that much in Minnesota, no matter how shaky their corner situation is.
Jets CB Trumaine Johnson (cap savings: $3 million): His contract was perhaps the biggest misstep of the Mike Maccagnan era in New York. How big? Cutting him means taking on $12 million in dead money. And it remains a no-brainer.
Redskins CB Josh Norman (cap savings: $12.5 million): Norman had his best years playing for Rivera, and the two have a good relationship. Whether they can work out a deal for him to stay at a lower number remains to be seen.
Saints CB Janoris Jenkins (cap saving: $11.25 million): With a lot of moving pieces at corner, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Saints make a play to keep Jenkins. But I can’t imagine it will be at $11.25 million. In fact, when New Orleans claimed him in December it was under the premise that it was, at most, a two-month rental, because of his big 2020 number.
Dolphins S Reshad Jones (cap savings: $7.495 million): Injuries limited Jones to four games last year. It’s not the first time he’s been banged up, making his number (nearly $16 million) just too high.