By March 15, all NFL clubs must adhere to the $224.8 million wage cap, which means several teams and players will have to say goodbye in agony.
Before the yearly bidding war between NFL teams can start, some organizations will take steps to try and rightsize their financial future.
The official start of free agency is March 15, the first day of the new league year. By then, of course, the league wage cap, which is set at $224.8 million, an increase of $16.6 million from the previous year’s amount, must be met by all teams. And while some front offices are planning their spending, others will need to make some big cuts back in the next days and weeks. The changes have already begun, as seen by the Tennessee Titans’ apparent launch of the process last week when they released four significant players, including three-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman Taylor Lewan.
15 notable veterans who could be let go shortly are listed below:
Receiver Keenan Allen of the Chargers
Would a Chargers team that made significant offseason bets with high-profile acquisitions in 2023 part ways with a longtime franchise leader? If they do, that spending binge most likely played a role in the choice. Los Angeles is more than $20 million over the threshold, and the organization can only restructure so much before it limits its flexibility in the future.
Allen, 30, would likely provide the organization with the biggest financial boost of all the alternatives for release because his pre-June 1 release would free them $14.8 million in cap space. Although the team may find it difficult to let go of the five-time Pro Bowler, Allen’s usefulness appears to be decreasing after he played in just 10 games last year, and the receiving group requires an upgrade.
Heads DE Clark, Frank
With a salary hit of around $29 million, Clark will have the third-highest of any defensive end in 2023. That number will almost probably need to decrease, even after the eight-year veteran reinforced his playoff legend with yet another productive stretch during Kansas City’s journey to Super Bowl 57. Yet to keep one of their key pass rushers for their rematch attempt, the Chiefs might — and probably should — attempt to address this through contract restructuring for a second straight offseason.
RB Dalvin Cook of the Vikings
Giving up a player who amassed 1,468 yards from scrimmage in 2018 would seem strange for Minnesota as it tries to recreate the magic of its 13-4 run in 2022. But, a downturn appears to be coming for the top running back market, and Cook’s $14.1 million cap charge puts him in a precarious position. The most rational course of action might be a restructuring, but some other prospective veteran casualties, such as WR Adam Thielen, LB Eric Kendricks, and S Harrison Smith, might not have the same choice.
The Jets’ Corey Davis
Davis, a superb blocker and all-around reliable pass receiver, hasn’t been able to live up to his draft expectations or the three-year, $37.5 million deal he signed with the Jets in 2021. The Jets can pay off his $10.5 million salary by quitting, which is probably necessary for a team that has made it obvious that it intends to shell out cash on a seasoned quarterback.
Ezekiel Elliott, RB for the Cowboys
Jerry Jones needs to consider his options for preventing Dallas from overspending on running backs. Tony Pollard, a breakout all-purpose danger who could be a candidate for the franchise tag after breaking his fibula in the divisional playoff defeat to the San Francisco 49ers, is an imminent free agent who needs to be dealt with. The choice regarding Elliott, whose $16.72 million cap cost is expected to be the highest of any player in 2023, is more crucial. For a man who only averaged 3.8 yards per run last season and has 1,881 career carries, the most total of any current ball carrier, that is a daunting statistic. Stephen Jones, the executive vice president of the Cowboys, earlier in February appeared to allude to a possible wage decrease when he stated that the franchise wanted Elliott to return as long as doing so was financially advantageous for both parties.
CB Shaquill Griffin of the Jaguars
Griffin’s 2022 season was cut short after only five games due to a back ailment, and Jacksonville’s defense improved down the stretch as Darious Williams switched from the slot to the outside position opposite Tyson Campbell. This dynamic makes it difficult for Griffin, who signed a three-year, $40 million contract two offseasons ago, to easily get his money back. With their current financial situation, the Jaguars might be tempted to seize this chance for more freedom.
WR Kenny Golladay of the Giants
Golladay is essentially a lock to be fired by Giants GM Joe Schoen, who must correct multiple errors left on the books by his predecessor Dave Gettleman. He is an overpaid, underachieving relic of a former regime. The Giants’ distribution of Golladay’s dead money hit is the only thing in doubt.
Falcons quarterback Mariota, Marcus
Atlanta can consider several quarterback possibilities this summer, but it’s unlikely that any of them involve Mariota, who was benched in December in favor of rookie Desmond Ridder and later underwent knee surgery. The Falcons, who rank second to the Bears in salary space with $55 million, may increase their future free-agent spending power by freeing up $12 million by cutting Mariota.
Indians RB Mixon, Joe
Was the AFC championship game, in which Samaje Perine had 43 snaps to Joe Mixon’s 23, a sign of a change in the Bengals’ backfield’s leadership? Last year, Mixon only averaged 3.9 yards per rush, and Cincinnati could save $7.3 million against the cap by letting him go. Every dollar counts because a major Joe Burrow extension is imminent. Cincinnati might take the most economical course and switch to a mid-round back of their choosing since Perine is a free agent.
Romeo Okwara, DE, Lions
With the release of defensive tackle Michael Brockers on Thursday, Detroit started downsizing, and it probably won’t stop there. The Lions, who are already well under the cap, can increase their ability to spend on free agents by parting ways with Okwara, who has played in only nine games over the past two seasons due to an Achilles tear. The Lions’ defensive youth movement is likely to continue this offseason, and the organization can save $7.5 million with a split by selecting a defensive end with one of the team’s four picks inside the top 55 picks.
Colts quarterback Matt Ryan
Before March 17, when Ryan would be owed an additional $17.2 million in guaranteed money (Indianapolis is already on the hook for $12 million), there will undoubtedly be a split between the 37-year-old quarterback and the organization eager to invest in a young quarterback. Ryan admitted to ESPN that he is still considering his options regarding his participation in his 16th NFL season, but that his postseason work with CBS may have been his first step toward a career in broadcasting.
Donovan Smith, OT for the Buccaneers
With a plethora of soon-to-be free agents still unsigned and Tampa Bay facing a tough financial picture, including a league-worst $56 million over the cap, there are plenty of candidates who might be let go, including running back Leonard Fournette and offensive lineman Shaq Mason.
Yet Smith’s circumstance poses a problem. If the Buccaneers decide to part ways with the eight-year veteran, who had a bad year after suffering an elbow hyperextension in September, they won’t have an easy replacement at left tackle. But even if it means creating an even more unfavorable environment for the most likely inexperienced Tom Brady replacement, they might not be able to resist taking advantage of the $15.25 million in additional space made available by releasing Smith after June 1.
Carolina LB Thompson, Shaq
It’s never simple to let go of a team captain and leader, but new defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero believed Thompson would fit in well with his 3-4 system. A $24.4 million cap figure, however, is perhaps unaffordable for an off-ball linebacker who provides nothing in the way of blitzer potential and has had inconsistent coverage. By not continuing, Carolina can save close to $13.2 million.
Quarterback for the Steelers David Trubisky
There is no purpose in completing the two-year, $14.3 million deal Trubisky signed with Pittsburgh last summer when Kenny Pickett has already established himself as the starter. Given that Mason Rudolph is expected to become a free agent, the Steelers will probably need to find a seasoned backup for Pickett, but there’s no reason they can’t find a more affordable candidate than Trubisky.
QB for Commanders Wentz, Carson
The Commanders declared on Monday afternoon that Wentz had been released.
This player appears to be a lock on a list that includes numerous others whose futures are uncertain. Ron Rivera, the head coach of the Commanders, said earlier in February that second-year quarterback Sam Howell would likely start for the team heading into the offseason and that there was no need to keep Wentz around as a $26 million backup. Divorce would not result in dead money, so the seven-year veteran should be moving on to his fourth team in as many seasons.