15 NFL players who could be cut before free agency
7. Aqib Talib, CB, Denver Broncos
Reports have suggested that Aqib Talib is expected to be released despite still playing high-quality football. That likely all boils down to age and salary. Talib turned 32 years old this offseason and by that logic, his decline is probably coming soon. Combine that with a base salary of $11 million and a cap hit of $12 million entering 2018, and it’s easy to see why Talib is a candidate for release. The Broncos could very well request he take a pay cut, but if that doesn’t pan out, it’s hard to imagine any team paying $12-plus million for an aging cornerback who could hit the wall at any moment. Even he knows he could be released.
6. Julius Thomas, TE, Miami Dolphins
With the Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning as his quarterback, Julius Thomas was one of the most dynamic tight ends in all of football, scoring 24 touchdowns in a two-year span from 2013 to 2014. Things then fell off dramatically when Thomas with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but the Dolphins gave him new life and signed Thomas to a two-year, $12.5 million deal prior to the 2017 season. Unfortunately, the production did not return, and Thomas finished the year with 41 receptions for 388 yards and three touchdowns. Now entering 2018 with a base salary of $6.5 million and a cap hit of $6.6 million, it only makes sense that Miami eats the dead cap hit of $2 million and cuts their losses.
5. Cliff Avril, DE, Seattle Seahawks
After missing 12 games last season due to a neck injury that required surgery, Cliff Avril’s NFL future is uncertain. He said he wouldn’t make his retirement decision until the spring, but the Seahawks may not be able to wait that long. As unfortunate as it may be, Seattle may be in line to release Avril before his future is determined, saving more than $7 million in salary cap space in the process. The pass rusher carries with him a $7 million base salary and $7.625 million cap hit, but a dead cap number of just $500,000.
4. Lorenzo Alexander, LB, Buffalo Bills
Lorenzo Alexander made the Pro Bowl as a 34-year-old in 2016, and the Bills promptly rewarded him with a two-year, $5.95 million deal prior to the 2017 season. However, after recording 73 tackles and just 3.0 sacks, which was down from 12.5 the year prior, it may be time for the Bills to cut and run on the aging veteran. Alexander carries with him a base salary of $2.45 million and a cap hit of $3.6 million entering 2018. While that’s not a substantial amount to pay, it’s a decent chunk of change to save against the cap if there’s no remaining faith in what the linebacker can do at the age of 35. And the dead cap hit would be a mere $850,000.
3. Brandon Marshall, WR, New York Giants
When the Giants signed Brandon Marshall to a team-friendly deal last offseason, most believed New York had established the best one-two wide receiver punches in all of football. With Marshall teaming up with Odell Beckham Jr., expectations were through the roof. Unfortunately for the Giants and Marshall, that never materialized. Marshall struggled to get on the same page as quarterback Eli Manning. Then in a Week 5 game against the Los Angeles Chargers, both Marshall and Beckham were lost for the season due to serious ankle injuries. Now scheduled to earn a $5 million base salary with a $6,156,250 cap hit in 2018, it would make sense for the Giants to go in a different direction — especially considering Marshall carries a dead cap hit of just $1 million.
2. Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys
At the onset of the offseason, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones publicly said the team needs more from their top receivers. Meanwhile, vice president Stephen Jones acknowledged the team would “look at” Dez Bryant’s contract ahead of free agency. It may seem surreal to envision Bryant in another uniform, but it’s become clear in recent years that he’s not as dominant as he used to be. Bryant hasn’t eclipsed 1,000 yards since 2014, has seen his catch percentage dip considerably, and his touchdown totals fall below double-digits for three consecutive years. With a $12.5 million base salary and a $16.5 million cap hit, those numbers just aren’t going to cut it. Even with a dead cap hit of $8 million, it may be time for the Cowboys to part ways with the former superstar.
1. Jonathan Stewart, RB, Carolina Panthers
Jonathan Stewart is a longtime Panther and one day deserves to be immortalized for his contributions to the organization, but the NFL is a brutal business sometimes, and Stewart may learn that the hard way. Stewart has not eclipsed 1,000 yards in a season since 2009 and he averaged a career-low 3.4 yards per carry in 2017. Although he has just a $1.9 million base salary in 2018, bonuses will push the cap hit to $5,212,500 — a number that’s a bit extensive for a declining running back on the wrong side of 30. A restructured deal may also be an option for Stewart, but the more likely scenario would be Carolina eating a $1.5 million dead cap hit and allowing Stewart to find another opportunity elsewhere.