The 2018 season has officially come to a close as the New England Patriots once again closed out the year hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. Now every team will be turning their attention to the 2019 season. For most teams that already started a month ago, and the first order of business is self-evaluations to prepare for the 2019 NFL free agency.
After reviewing the film and taking a look at the salary cap, teams will have a plan in place on whom they intend to bring back, not bring back, or extend. They will also have to make decisions on who, if any, they plan on using the franchise or transitional tag for any impending unrestricted free agents before the March 5th deadline.
With these decisions, it all comes down to numbers. Who is worth a certain percentage of your salary cap and who isn’t? The salary cap per team in 2018 was approximately $177.2 million and is expected to rise again in 2019 somewhere between $187 million to $191.1 million. The NFL will announce the exact amount before the start of the new league year which is on March 14th, the same date free agency kicks off at 4:00 PM EST.
The extra bump in cap space will help out some teams, but even with it, there are a few teams who are currently over or just on the cusp of the expected salary cap. Along with the new front office changes and eight new head coaches this year, there are going to be a few high profile players that will be available who are currently under contract. That reality is due to changes in scheme, youth movements, rebuilding, or just simply running out of cap space. Every year we see some big names change teams, but this year we may see more than usual.
Last year we started to see more trades as a result of this, so not only are we going to be highlighting those who may be cut but also those whose teams will be actively trying to trade for some assets. With that in mind, let’s take a look at who will be potential cap casualties this offseason:
Miami Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill
To say that QB Ryan Tannehill has worn out his welcome with the Dolphins would be an understatement. A new regime change almost always comes with an overhaul of the roster and the quarterback position is usually at the forefront. The Dolphins are relatively strapped for cap space heading into the 2019 season with just $11.3 million to play with. Tannehill has the most significant cap number with $26.6 million on the roster, although he also comes with a dead cap hit of $13.4 million. Releasing Tannehill would more than double the Dolphins available cap space, as they can add $13.2 million in relief. As the Dolphins enter rebuild mode, that will be money well spent in adding to the young nucleus for new head coach Brian Flores.
Philadelphia Eagles QB Nick Foles
The Eagles are currently in the worst cap position of any team, as they are now sitting at $18.9 million ABOVE the projected salary cap for 2019 according to Spotrac. As a result, the Eagles are going to have to get creative to make space to get back under the cap on top of leaving room to make some potential moves, including adding their rookie draft class. The easiest and most helpful solution is to unload Nick Foles. By moving Foles, the Eagles would open up nearly $19 million in cap space. This is not a surprise to anyone and Foles will have a great trade market with so many teams needing a quarterback. The Jacksonville Jaguars make the most sense as they have all the other pieces in place, led by a championship caliber defense and are one year removed from an AFC championship game appearance. The Jaguars also recently hired Foles’ former offensive coordinator John DeFilippo.
Jacksonville Jaguars DT Malik Jackson
For the Jaguars to make some moves of their own, especially at QB, they are going to need to shed some contracts. The Jaguars are the only other team besides the Eagles who currently are above the projected 2019 salary cap. According to Spotrac, they are roughly $8 million over the cap and by releasing defensive tackle Malik Jackson they will have created $11 million in cap space. Jackson is part of the massive defensive free agency splurge the Jaguars have been participating in the past couple of years. However, that has finally caught up with them, along with the decline in Jackson’s play to warrant his cap number. With big contracts coming up for cornerback Jalen Ramsey and linebacker Myles Jack, the Jaguars need to start planning for their young nucleus.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers DT Gerald McCoy
Gerald McCoy has been the Buccaneers’ franchise player since the time he was drafted 3rd overall in 2010. In that period though, he has made the playoffs a whopping zero times and has been part of some of the record-setting worst defenses in NFL history. It hasn’t been his fault, but the Buccaneers wasted his best years. With a new coaching regime led by Bruce Arians coming in and a brand new philosophy on defense with Todd Bowles, it seems like this is the best time for this move. The Buccaneers currently have only $7.5 million in cap space and have a plethora of holes to fill. Releasing or trading McCoy would open up $13 million in cap space. That is money that could be used to help re-sign left tackle Donovan Smith, middle linebacker Kwon Alexander or be more active in free agency. McCoy is coming off arguably his worst statistical season and first non-Pro Bowl season in the past seven years.
Atlanta Falcons DE Vic Beasley
The Falcons picked up the 5th year option on 2015 1st-round pick Vic Beasley, but they can still move on from Beasley before the new league year begins on March 14th, as the 5th year option is guaranteed for injury only. Beasley has been utterly non-existent since his breakout season in 2016 where he registered 15 1/2 sacks. Since then, he has had back-to-back seasons with 5 sacks and seems like his 2016 season was just a mirage. The Falcons can save $12.8 million in cap space and are currently a mere $13.4 million under the expected cap for 2019. That money will be useful as they are trying to re-sign DT Grady Jarret who could command a salary in the $14 million range on an annual basis.
Minnesota Vikings DE Everson Griffen
The Vikings are currently sitting with just $5 million in cap space. Outside linebacker Anthony Barr and DT Sheldon Richardson are free agents, and unfortunately, the team shot themselves in the foot by giving QB Kirk Cousins that ridiculous $84 million fully guaranteed contract last off-season. Due to that, a great player will have to be sacrificed, and it looks like it will be Griffen. Coming off his worst year in 5 seasons and turning 32 years old this upcoming season, the Vikings could save $10.7 million in salary cap space by moving on from their team captain.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR DeSean Jackson
By the way, Jackson has been talking all offseason about how he doesn’t know if he wants to return to Tampa Bay, you would think he is already a free agent. Surprise, he isn’t. Jackson still has one year and $10 million left on his contract, but with all the drama surrounding him last year, it is time for the Buccaneers to move on. Tampa Bay can use the extra $10 million saved by re-signing their actual free agent wide receiver Adam Humphries. Unlike Jackson, Humphries wants to play for the Buccaneers. Humphries isn’t talked about much in the national media, but he is one of the better slot receivers in the NFL.
Jacksonville Jaguars CB A.J. Bouye
This might be the first player that shocked you being on this list, but the fact is, the Jaguars will have to give CB Jalen Ramsey a massive contract next season, and Bouye has at least a $15 million cap hit every season for the next three years. I could guarantee Ramsey would want to be the highest paid defensive back in the league, let alone his own team. With that being said, I don’t see the Jaguars spending 10% of their cap on two players who play the same position. I would imagine the Jaguars choose the younger and more talented Ramsey over Bouye. There would be a good trade market for Bouye and Jacksonville can use
Tampa Bay Buccaneers TE Cameron Brate
Cameron Brate is a great tight end, and in fact, may be one of the best receiving tight ends in the league. However, with Dirk Koetter now out of Tampa Bay, there may not be a need for the 2 TE sets that Koetter loved utilizing. Arians predominantly uses 1 TE and spreads out his receivers throughout the formation. The problem is Brate isn’t even the best TE on his team as the Buccaneers also have a former 1st round pick, O.J. Howard. Howard was on his way to having a Pro-Bowl caliber year before an ankle injury ended his season short. At a $7 million cap hit, Brate may prove to be too costly as a number two tight end and fifth best reviewing option on the team. He would be a great trading block option if it would allow Tampa Bay to help improve their offensive line or defense.