15 NFL players who could be cut before free agency
The official start to the new league year is less than a month away, which means all 32 NFL teams are gearing up for their annual free agency frenzy.
In preparation for said frenzy, each team is currently deep in evaluation mode, looking not just at the crop of impending free agents, but also their own impending free agents and what remains of their roster. Teams must decide whom they’d like to bring back, sign, perhaps equally important, who they can part ways with in an effort to trim their salary cap.
Already this month we’ve seen the New York Giants release Bobby Hart, the Kansas City Chiefs terminate the contract of Darrelle Revis, and the Bucs release Chris Baker and Doug Martin. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg; a plethora of releases will be coming in relatively short order.
Who is poised to join the list of available players? Here’s a look at 15 players who could be released prior to the start of free agency.
15. Adrian Peterson, RB, Arizona Cardinals
Although it’s not yet official, it’s widely believed that the Cardinals are poised to part ways with future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson despite a few successful weeks with the team. He was acquired from the New Orleans Saints in a trade that sent a sixth-round pick in the other direction. Entering 2018, Peterson is on the books for a $1.05 million base salary and a cap hit of $2,881,250 including bonuses. There would be no dead cap hit to release the long-time veteran, so Arizona essentially rented Peterson for a portion of the year. At 32 years old and a displaying clear inability to stay healthy — Peterson has appeared in a full 16 games just once since 2012 — it makes sense that the Cardinals plan to go in a different direction. Peterson, however, insists he’s not done playing just yet.
14. Tavon Austin, WR, Los Angeles Rams
During the Jeff Fisher era, wide receiver Tavon Austin was given a surprising four-year, $42 million extension. Since signing that contract, the 26-year-old has hauled in just 71 receptions for 556 yards and three touchdowns, including only 13 receptions for 47 yards a season ago. Entering 2018, Austin carries a base salary of $3 million, a roster bonus of $5 million and a cap hit of $8 million. Even with a dead cap hit of $5 million, dropping Austin would help clear substantial salary for the Rams over the next several years. And under Sean McVay, Austin simply doesn’t appear to be in the plans quite the same way he was under Fisher.
13. Tyrod Taylor, QB, Buffalo Bills
Tyrod Taylor restructured his contract a season ago to remain with the Buffalo Bills, but after a tumultuous season in 2017 that included a surprise benching, it’s unlikely history will repeat itself. And with the Bills not entirely committed to him as their quarterback, it just seems destined that the two sides are heading for divorce. Entering 2018, Taylor carries a base salary of $10 million and a cap hit of $18.08 million, which isn’t terrible for a starting quarterback, but is a load to carry for one who may end up residing on the pine. Even with a dead cap hit of $8.64 million, it’s likely the Bills will try to trade Taylor or just cut him loose. He should have plenty of suitors if he becomes available.
12. DeMarco Murray, RB, Tennessee Titans
As recently as 2014, DeMarco Murray was arguably the best running back in the NFL. However, a sub-par season with the Eagles in 2015 set his career back a bit, but he was able to rebound in 2016 with the Titans as he rushed for nearly 1,300 yards. However, he saw a production decrease once again in 2017, gaining just 659 yards and averaging a career-low 3.6 yards per carry. He finished the season with a knee injury and seemed to be surpassed by Derrick Henry. Now, with a base salary of $6.25 million and a cap hit of $6.5 million entering 2018, Murray is a prime candidate to be cut. It doesn’t necessarily mean he’s done in the NFL, but he could be looking for his fourth team in five years come March 14.
11. Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, New York Jets
Muhammad Wilkerson earned a deserving five-year, $86 million contract prior to the 2016 season, but things change in the NFL rapidly. As strong as that deal appeared just two years ago, it’s become blatantly obvious the Jets need to move on prior to the start of the 2018 season. Wilkerson carries with him a base salary of $16.75 million and a cap hit of $20 million, which is the fourth-highest non-quarterback cap hit in the league. That’s a substantial amount to pay for a declining defensive lineman whom the team didn’t even bother to suit up down the stretch in 2017, which was perhaps a strategy employed to avoid getting Wilkerson hurt and having his 2018 salary guaranteed.
10. Matt Forte, RB, New York Jets
Forte is 32 and has a $4 million cap hit for next season, so it would not make much sense for the Jets to bring him back. They went young last season and saw some good results with Bilal Powell, and could probably find a second option to replace Forte fairly easily via the draft. Forte averaged just 3.7 yards per carry for the second season in a row, but he’s still a factor as a receiving option out of the backfield. Forte had 37 catches for 293 yards and a touchdown last season.
9. Mike Glennon, QB, Chicago Bears
When the Bears signed Mike Glennon to a three-year, $45 million deal, it came as a shock to the vast majority. The $18.5 million guaranteed came as an even greater surprise, and after one season, it’s clearly not working out in Chicago. With Mitch Trubisky likely to assume the starting role in 2018, and Glennon on the books for a base salary of $12.5 million and a cap hit of $16 million, it seems inevitable that this union will end in divorce. Even with a dead cap hit of $4.5 million, the Bears would stand to gain a large chunk under the salary cap by releasing Glennon, who amounts to a highly-paid backup.
8. Jordy Nelson, WR, Green Bay Packers
The Packers gave wide receiver Davante Adams a big extension in December, so the likelihood both Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb return is slim-to-none. And given Nelson’s age (32) in comparison to Cobb’s (27), coupled with the larger dead money hit Green Bay would take by releasing Cobb, it would stand to reason that Nelson could be the odd man out. Currently slated to earn a base salary of $9.25 million with a cap hit of $12,518,750 in 2018, the dead money amount ($2.3 million) seems minimal by comparison. And although Nelson returned from injury in 2016 and put up big numbers, he was limited to just 53 receptions for 482 yards and six touchdowns in 2017.