The 2019 offseason is underway, and clubs across the NFL have until March 13 to get their free agency plans in order. And, for some long-tenured veterans, it could mean an uncomfortable phone call from their general managers.
Players across the league will be forced to free agency as franchises slash down their rosters and create as much cap space as possible in an attempt to build a contender. Last year, former Pro Bowlers like Ndamukong Suh, Jonathan Stewart, Doug Martin, and Richard Sherman were all waived in order to create space for most cost-efficient talent. 2019 will be more of the same, just with different names.
February has already seen players like Connor Barwin, Matt Bryant, and Stewart all served their walking papers. A handful of other well-known players will soon join them, either moving on to the next chapter in their football careers or closing the door on their NFL experience altogether.
Here are the big names who could be released before the 2019 NFL Draft.
Almost certainly gone
The Dolphins haven’t been shy about their intention to move on from Tannehill after six years. It won’t be cheap, however. Cutting the 30-year-old quarterback would excise a little less than half of his $26.6 million from Miami’s 2019 salary cap. While that eight-figure space-eating dead money is tough to swallow, that’s still $13 million that can be spent on players who actually factor into the team’s plans moving forward. Brock Osweiler was roughly as good as Tannehill last fall, which somehow seems like an insult to both players.
Footing the bill for Thomas’s $14.25 million 2019 was a stretch for Houston even before the veteran wideout tore his Achilles in late December. Thomas averaged only 3.3 catches per game after being traded to the Texans, marking his least productive season since 2011. The four-time Pro Bowler is 31 years old and coming off a major injury, which dampens his prospects for 2019. There’s still a place for a healthy Thomas in the league — just not at an eight-figure salary.
Kirkpatrick took up $9.5 million in cap space to star on one of the league’s worst passing defenses.
He’ll count a shade under $11 million in 2019. Marvin Lewis is gone, and Cincinnati’s rebuild under Zac Taylor will likely mean Kirkpatrick follows him. The Bengals have to take some big moves to wash the taste of a rotten 2018 finish from their mouths, and jettisoning their fourth-highest paid player could be the next one.
Allen was a red zone threat with the Colts, but he’s been little more than a blocker in New England, recording only 13 catches in his two seasons with the Pats. Rob Gronkowski’s uncertain future could give Bill Belichick pause, but his team can save $7.3 million outright by letting his TE2 hit the wire. New England isn’t exactly swimming in cap space for 2019, and Allen, somehow, is the team’s seventh-highest paid player for the upcoming season.
Jackson backslid mightily in 2018, failing to justify his $13.5 million salary in the process. The 29-year-old’s sack numbers decreased by more than half, and his sudden decline was endemic of the problems that plagued the 2017 AFC finalists through a 5-11 return to mediocrity. He and Marcell Dareus will count a combined $25.5 million against Jacksonville’s cap in 2019. At least one member of that D-line pairing is likely to be released as the Jags attempt to figure out what went wrong.
Could be excised in a pinch
Baltimore belongs to Lamar Jackson now, and keeping Flacco as a $26.5 million backup would be a terribly expensive luxury. Releasing or trading him, however, would still leave $16 million of dead money. Holding on to both Jackson and Flacco would cost approximately $28.6 million — a smaller cap hit than Drew Brees, Kirk Cousins, or Matthew Stafford will cost their teams next season.
So while it’s likely the Super Bowl XLVII MVP has played his last snap in Maryland, it’s not unfeasible to think the team could keep him around. If the Ravens can’t find a trade partner this spring, there’s some justification in holding on to him and waiting to see if any preseason injuries inflate his value as the fall approaches.
Cornerback Jimmy Smith, who has missed at least four games in each of the three seasons, could be a casualty as well. The 30-year-old defensive back has his team’s second-highest cap hit, and releasing him would save more than $9 million.
Haden’s second season in Pittsburgh was better than his first. He remained a solid starting cornerback whose fourth-quarter interception of Tom Brady helped keep the Steelers’ postseason hopes alive until Week 17.
But he’s also due to make nearly $12 million in 2019 — a top-12 cap hit for a top-50 player at his position. Excising him would save $10 million, which would go a long way for a team without much wiggle room this offseason; the Steelers only have a projected $10.2 million to spend before bumping up against the cap.
There’s a chance Haden and Pittsburgh could reach common ground on a restructuring. Given the Steelers’ late-season dysfunction and the fact he’ll be 30 years old in April, a trip to free agency with a shot at one last decent-sized contract might be best for the AFC North lifer.
Beasley was a breakout star in 2016, racking up 15.5 sacks and earning first-team All-Pro honors. In the two years since, he’s only got 10. That makes his $12.8 million cap hit potentially untenable for a Falcons team in need of some improvements. Atlanta has roughly $28.6 million in cap space, and while that’s a workable number, any extra savings would almost certainly come from granting Beasley a change of scenery.
Houston is still a crushing pass rusher, but the Chiefs aren’t flush with cash and will have to figure out what to do with Dee Ford this offseason. Cutting the four-time Pro Bowler would give Kansas City an extra $14 million to spend — but can it afford to shed any big-time playmakers from the defense that proved to be its Achilles’ heel in 2018?
Jackson proved he’s still a legitimate deep threat in 2018, but he’s due $10 million for a rebuilding team with one of the lowest available cap totals in the NFL this year. Jettisoning the 32-year-old would help jump-start Bruce Arians’ process in Tampa, and it appears Jackson isn’t especially keen on staying. A clean break could be best for both sides.
Curry underwhelmed in his first season with the defense-less Bucs. Cutting him would save $8 million.
McCoy remains a strong interior defender, but at $13 million he’d be league’s sixth-highest paid tackle. His All-Pro days are behind him as he glides into his 30s, but he’s still a suffocating presence in the middle of the field who is capable of collapsing pockets from the inside out. If Tampa thinks he can thrive with some upgraded support from the edge, he could be worth that eight-figure payday. If not, the Bucs can cut him without owing him a dime.
Jordan Reed, TE, Washington
Releasing Reed would leave a dead cap hit of $3.6 million, which is no small savings for a team without much wiggle room this spring. Reed is a former Pro Bowler, but injuries have limited him to just 31 games the past three seasons and he didn’t look like himself in 2018. He had just two touchdown catches while recording a career-low 64.3 perecent catch rate. However, with Washington’s quarterback situation up in the air the club may value having a veteran safety valve and some continuity more than the $6 million in savings he’d create.
Vernon Davis is 35, had less of an impact than Reed, and can create $5 million in savings with his release. Washington has its choice of tight ends to get rid of if it needs to create space.
Bortles’ playoff performance a year prior earned him a three-year, $54 million stay of execution in Jacksonville. His 2018 saw him go 3-9 as a starter while throwing only 13 touchdown passes and earn a benching in favor of Cody Kessler (!) in the process. Releasing Bortles would wipe $11 million of his $21 million cap hit from the team’s books if he’s shipped out before June, and those savings would be cut in half for any move afterward. The Jags have some time to figure out their quarterback situation — just not a ton.
Quinn underwhelmed in his first season in Florida, and new head coach Brian Flores may want to move in a different direction from the eight-year veteran. His $12.9 million salary would come off the books completely if cut before March 13. It’s been four years since he’s recorded double-digit sacks in a single season.
Parker has never had as many as 750 receiving yards in a season and has averaged only three receptions per game as a Dolphin. Maybe Flores can unlock the potential that made him the 14th overall pick in 2015, but his unguaranteed $9.38 million salary could give Flores a little extra spending cash as he takes on a daunting rebuild in South Florida.
Clay fell way off his career averages in 2018, and his inability to adjust to a Josh Allen deep ball in Miami cost Buffalo a likely win against an AFC East rival.
Cutting him would save the Bills $4.5 million, but they’ve got more than $78 million to spend this offseason, so there’s no rush.
McCoy’s age-30 season saw his yards-per-carry number plummet to a career-low 3.2. Was that due to the injuries he battled all season, the fact Buffalo’s passing offense was one of the league’s least threatening, or because he’s had more than 2,300 carries in his career? A $6.4 million savings isn’t a priority, but it would also allow Buffalo to walk away from the off-field issues that have marred his legacy as a player.
Jernigan is good enough to justify his $13 million salary when healthy, but Philadelphia headed into the offseason already over the cap and still has to figure out how to handle its Nick Foles situation. The five-year veteran would be a difficult cut to make, but with $7 million in savings to be gleaned from his release, the Eagles may have no other choice.
Same goes for Agholor, who shed the “bust” label that followed him over his first two years as a pro to develop into a useful, if not prolific target for the Eagles. His $9.38 million fifth-year option for 2019 is entirely unguaranteed, and if Philly thinks if can run with Alshon Jeffery at the top of its WR depth chart and a handful of cheaper options like a re-signed Jordan Matthews and Mack Hollins, it could send the USC product to the unemployment line.
Allen Robinson, WR, Bears
Robinson was the centerpiece of an offensive overhaul in 2018, and his work on the field helped Mitchell Trubisky develop from overwhelmed rookie into a decent starter. However, the Bears have less than $10 million in spending space this offseason — sixth-lowest in the league. Cutting Robinson, who was good but not great in his first season at Soldier Field, would add $8 million to that total.
Sanders had what would have been a 1,000-yard season had he played all 16 games and appears to have a good rapport with stopgap QB solution Case Keenum. And the Broncos have more than $36 million to spend this offseason as they rebuild under new head coach Vic Fangio. But releasing the soon-to-be 32-year-old and turning the reins of the receiving game over to Courtland Sutton would free up more than $10 million in cash — so it can’t be ruled out.
Peat was part of an offensive line that ranked fourth in the league in sacks allowed in 2018, and he was rewarded with a Pro Bowl bid for his services. But he rated out poorly in individual play, making him and his $9.6 million salary potentially expendable in New Orleans. The Saints have less than $10 million to spend this offseason, and releasing or restructuring Peat would be one way to fund a shopping spree. Restructuring Drew Brees contract and finding a way to cut down his $33.5 million cap hit is probably a more likely road to savings.
This would be a far more likely scenario if New York had any semblance of a franchise quarterback waiting in its wings. However, swings on Rhett Bomar, Ryan Nassib, and Davis Webb all failed to work out. 2018 draftee Kyle Lauletta was uninspiring in his first action as a pro, and while the club could snap up the 2019 draft’s first quarterback with the No. 6 overall pick, it may behoove coach Pat Shurmur to keep Manning around to serve as a $23.2 million mentor.
The Giants would save $17 million by releasing their longtime quarterback, a number that would almost double their available cap space for the upcoming season. Those savings drop to $12 million if he’s cut or traded after March 17, so things get a bit more expensive if they wait to see how the draft shakes out.
2018 certainly wasn’t the fresh start Shurmur had hoped for — but without a clear path going forward at quarterback, a clean break and true rebuild might not yet be in the cards.
Oakland has been shedding talent and salary in order to rebuild in Jon Gruden’s image. Cutting Carr — just two years removed from being an honest-to-god MVP candidate — would be a curious move, but so was trading a former Defensive Player of the Year in his prime. Carr is due $22.5 million next fall and would only leave $7.5 million of that on the team’s cap sheet if released. It’s probably not going to happen — Gruden has more than $69 million in space to work with this offseason already — but trying to predict anything the Raiders do at this point seems fruitless.
Releasing AJ McCarron would save $5 million and would likely be the smarter move … but the smartest move would have been not to trade for the player who got beat out by Nathan Peterman for a spot on the depth chart in the first place.