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#pounditSaturday, April 17, 2021

5 NFL players who could be cut before free agency

Alex Smith

The start of the new league year, which is ushered in with the beginning of free agency, is now less than one month away. Leading up to that time, NFL teams will continue shuffling their rosters. Teams are hoping to not only clear salary cap space for players they covet, but also to clear roster space.

That means many players will be cut in the coming weeks, and you can bank on a few of them being big names. We’ve already seen one big name make that list.

Here’s a look at five more players who could be sent out to pasture leading up to free agency.

5. Kwon Alexander, LB, New Orleans Saints

Kwon Alexander played relatively well for the Saints after being acquired from the San Francisco 49ers mid-season, and some would even argue he made New Orleans a more complete team. However, Alexander didn’t perform at an elite level, and that’s what his massive contract calls for. He’s on the books for more than $13 million in each of the next two seasons, and that includes a base salary of more than $12.5 million in 2021. Those are unsustainable numbers for the Saints, who are estimated to be more than $70 million over the projected salary cap. With so much work needing to be done over the next several weeks, the Saints will almost assuredly release Alexander because he does not carry a dead cap hit. Alexander recovering from a torn Achilles tendon doesn’t help either.

4. David Johnson, RB, Houston Texans

Once upon a time, David Johnson was an up-and-coming superstar who was compiling legendary numbers. However, his fall from grace was swift, and that led the Arizona Cardinals to trade him to the Houston Texans last year. Many believed a change of scenery might resurrect his career, but it did not. Although Johnson did average 4.7 yards per carry, he appeared in just 12 games and finished the season with 691 rushing yards and two fumbles. With a salary cap number of $8.5 million-plus and a total cash investment of $9 million scheduled for 2021, it’s seems inevitable that Johnson gets released. The move would save Houston a total of $8,512,500 against the cap with no dead money to eat, so unless Johnson opts to take a significant pay cut, he’ll likely hit the open market in search of his third chance. The Texans are hoping he will adjust his deal.

3. Golden Tate, WR, New York Giants

When the Giants signed Golden Tate to a four-year, $37.5 million contract in 2019, they expected the veteran to help replace some of the offense lost when Odell Beckham Jr. was traded to the Cleveland Browns. They also expected Tate to regain his YAC (yards after catch) crown, which would have been a substantial boost for quarterback Daniel Jones. However, none of those things have happened. Due to injury and suspensions, Tate has caught just 84 passes for 1,064 yards and eight touchdowns in 23 games. His 2020 catch rate of 61.3% was the lowest of his career, and his YAC was nearly nonexistent. With New York in some financial trouble entering the 2021 season, parting ways with Tate would clear more than $6.1 million. And if designated a post-June 1 cut, it would save the team $8.5 million.

2. Alex Smith, QB, Washington Football Team

Alex Smith won the 2020 NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award and rightfully so. His return from a gruesome compound leg fracture is something that was cheered on by fans from every corner of the globe, but now comes the ugly business side of football. Smith has acknowledged that his return threw a wrench into Washington’s plans at quarterback and that he felt as if he weren’t wanted. Smith would also like to continue his career, while Washington wants to find and mold their next franchise quarterback. With Smith still on the books for $24.4 million and $26.4 million (cap hits) over the next two years, that certainly makes things more difficult for the WFT. Cutting Smith would clear $13.6 million in cap space, but it would also leave the team with a dead cap hit of $10.8. That’s a lot to eat, but with cap space likely at a premium in 2021, it’s a move Washington must make.

1. Trai Turner, OL, Los Angeles Chargers

Trai Turner finished the 2020 regular season with a Pro Football Focus grade of just 34.8 (run blocking grade of 29.8). Whether you put a ton of stock into PFF or not, there’s no denying that those grades reflect very poorly. That issue is compounded by Turner’s $11 million base salary and $11.5 million cap hit in 2021. That’s a hefty price tag for someone who just isn’t getting the job done, especially after the Chargers gave up Russell Okung, who finished the season with a PFF grade of 73.0, to acquire him. The good news for Los Angeles is that releasing Turner will leave them with absolutely no dead cap, so there’s no reason not to do it. This move is a matter of when, and not if.

Photo: All-Pro Reels/Flickr via CC BY-SA 2.0

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