NFL free agency is only a couple weeks away, but we still don’t have a finalized market for who will be available. We do know there will be several more notable players added to the pool as a result of a reduced salary cap.
In fact, one NFL head coach told Dianna Russini of ESPN that “it’s going to be a massacre next week around the league.” In other words, prepare yourself for a ton of cost-saving transactions over the next two weeks.
In order to prepare you for that inevitable wave, below are 16 players who could be cut prior to the start of free agency on March 17. Yes, some will be traded, but the price tag on several of these big-name players could make a trade difficult.
1. Von Miller, EDGE, Denver Broncos
Miller is going to be another J.J. Watt. The Broncos save close to $20 million by cutting him, which is likely, considering his age (he turns 32 later this month) and recent season-ending ankle injury. He’ll get paid on the free agent market, though.
2. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers have one of the worst cap situations in the NFL. Between his age (38) and the potential cap savings in releasing him ($19 million), the Roethlisberger era in Pittsburgh could come to an end. His play has dropped off, and it just feels like it’s time to part ways.
3. Jaylon Smith, LB, Dallas Cowboys
Smith has a great story. He recovered from a devastating knee injury in college and earned an extension with the Cowboys back in 2019. He’s still got plenty of youth (he’s only 25 years old), and he’s popular amongst the Dallas decision-makers. But it’s time for his play to back up his paycheck — if he survives the cuts.
4. Zach Ertz, TE, Philadelphia Eagles
After eight good seasons together, it looks like Zach Ertz and the Philadelphia Eagles will part ways. The only question now is the way in which that separation takes place. Will a team trade for the Stanford product, knowing he’ll be cut otherwise? Maybe, maybe not.
5. Malcolm Butler, CB, Tennessee Titans
The Titans have fielded a dreadful secondary in recent years. When players such as Butler don’t live up to their inflated price tag, that can happen. His release would create $10.2 million that could be used to find more impactful, consistent help on the backend of the defense.
6. Emmanuel Sanders, WR, New Orleans Saints
New Orleans is going to have to part ways with a lot of talent this offseason. With its current cap situation, that’s inevitable. Sanders is a wide receiver who’s almost 34 years old and who is set to make $10 million this season. He’ll need to be extended or cut.
7. Carlos Dunlap, EDGE, Seattle Seahawks
Dunlap is an example of why you make midseason trades. After coming over from the Bengals, he gave Seattle five sacks and 14 QB hits in eight games. Still, there’s no way he’s brought back with his current price tag. $14 million in savings and zero dead money makes this interesting.
8. Marcus Mariota, QB, Las Vegas Raiders
The incentives in Mariota’s contract make it almost impossible to trade for him. But there’s also no reason for Las Vegas to keep him around with his price tag either. The team will save over $11 million, and Mariota can pick his next landing spot based off suitors.
9. Geno Atkins, DT, Cincinnati Bengals
It’s almost a forgone conclusion that Atkins will be playing elsewhere in 2021. It would save the Bengals $9.5 million to cut him, and his usage declined significantly under the new coaching staff. He’ll be 33 in March, but he could make a nice rotational piece for someone.
10. Nate Solder, OT, New York Giants
After spending a top-5 pick on offensive tackle Andrew Thomas last April, the Giants double-dipped in the third round by taking Matt Peart. Peart saw only limited action, but he seems like a viable candidate to start. That makes the 32-year-old opt out, Nate Solder, expendable. Take a pay cut or be gone.
11. Dont’a Hightower, LB, New England Patriots
After he opted out of the 2020 season, there was speculation that Hightower could retire. It looks like those were just rumors, but are we sure New England retains the 30-year-old when cutting him would create close to $10 million in savings? If he’s cut, there will be suitors — if he’s cut.
12. O.J. Howard, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay has a lot of difficult decisions to make with its top free agents. There’s not a lot of cap available, and players such Chris Godwin, Lavonte David and Shaq Barrett need to be re-signed. With Cameron Brate and potentially Rob Gronkowski in the fold, Howard becomes a trade or cut candidate.
13. Dee Ford, EDGE, San Francisco 49ers
The $14 million dead cap hit here makes this difficult for San Francisco, but Ford’s inability to stay healthy the last couple of years has become a major issue. Yes, he’s still a capable pass rusher when healthy, but he’s turning 30 this month. Do we really think the injury issues are going to improve at this point?
14. Kwon Alexander, LB, New Orleans Saints
This one is fairly obvious. The Saints are approximately $65 million over the cap, and cutting Alexander would create over $13 million in space with zero dead money. It was nice seeing the LSU product back in Louisiana, but it was short-lived.
15. Preston Smith, EDGE, Green Bay Packers
You can never have too many pass rushers, but the emergence of Rashan Gary opposite Za’Darius Smith makes Preston Smith a cut candidate. After a 12-sack first season in Green Bay, his production dipped to four sacks and his QB hits got cut in half. Cutting him would also save $8 million.
16. Derek Barnett, EDGE, Philadelphia Eagles
This move could surprise some, considering the team just picked up Barnett’s fifth-year option back in April. He’s played well when on the field, but this team’s salary cap is a mess. Releasing the former first-round pick would save just over $10 million with no dead money.
Follow Clint Lamb on Twitter @ClintRLamb.