2015 Release Candidates: AFC South

Most clubs have fairly set rosters at this point, as OTA, minicamp, and preseason performances won’t do much to alter roster composition. The majority of key releases came in March, but there are still several scenarios where certain contributors could lose their roster spot in the coming months. For the most part, we’ll focus on situations where the cap savings would be in excess of $1MM.

Because free agency has already passed, financial ramifications won’t play a huge role in these decisions; there aren’t a ton of high-profile free agents on which to spend that saved money, so these calls will mostly be made based on performance. However, any cap space saved through these potential releases could be rolled over into 2016, so that’s something clubs have to consider.

We’ve already looked at the AFC EastNFC East, AFC North, and NFC North, so let’s dive into the AFC South…

Houston Texans:

  • Garrett Graham, TE: After posting a solid a 49/545/5 line during the 2014 campaign (and subsequently signing a three-year, $11.25MM deal), Graham regressed last season, catching just 18 balls for 197 yards and one score, missing the final four weeks of the season after suffering a high ankle sprain. Graham’s numbers can somewhat be forgiven due to the quality of quarterback play in Houston last season, but he wasn’t effective as a blocker, either. He’s due $3MM in base salary in each of the next two seasons, and while the Texans could save a decent amount (about $3.1MM) by releasing him now, he’s set to be the club’s starting tight end. Perhaps if Ryan Griffin or second-year pro C.J. Fiedorowicz — neither of who was overly productive last season — shows something during the preseason, there might be an infinitesimal chance that Graham is cut. But given head coach Bill O’Brien‘s affinity for tight end usage, it’s unlikely he’d cut ties with Graham. Prediction: not released.

Indianapolis Colts:

  • Gosder Cherilus/Lance Louis/Donald Thomas, OL: While three-fifths of the Colts’ offensive line is relatively set — LT Anthony Castonzo, C Khaled Holmes, RG Todd Herremans — the left guard and right tackle positions are in a state of flux. 2014 second-rounder Jack Mewhort is versatile enough to play at both spots, and he’ll likely fill one of those roles; whether Indianapolis slots him in at guard or tackle could determine the roster fate of one or more of Cherilus, Louis, or Thomas. Recovery from injuries could also play a factor here, as Cherilus is coming back from knee surgery (and just had a scope in January), while Thomas has missed the better part of the last two seasons dealing with a torn quadriceps. Overall it’s a difficult scenario — Louis has the worst track record but would save the Colts the least money if released, while Cherilus and Thomas each have a better history of production but would save Indy $4MM each if cut. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like Thomas’ recovery is going very well, so for now I’ll guess that he’ll be out. Meanwhile, if Mewhort takes over right tackle, and the club can rely on some combination of Louis, Joe Reitz, and CFL signee Ben Heenan to man left guard, I could see Cherilus being released as well. But given that the Colts would incur $2.9MM in dead money (as opposed to that $4MM in savings), I think he’ll stick for one more season. Prediction: Thomas released.
  • Robert Mathis, LB: Like Thomas, Mathis missed last season after suffering a major injury — in Mathis’ case, a torn Achilles — and also like Thomas, his rehab process isn’t going as well as he’d hoped. The 34-year-old reportedly suffered a setback in February, and two months later he told SiriuxXM Radio that his recovery was lagging. The Colts actually extended Mathis last fall as part of an interesting contractual compromise. Indy wasn’t obligated to compensate Mathis during the 2014 season because he was on the non-football injury list, as a result of his Achilles tear occurring during a private workout, but the club paid him anyway. In exchange, Mathis converted his $3MM roster bonus that was set to be paid in March 2015 into per-game roster bonuses, meaning he’ll only get that money if he’s on the field. The Colts also tacked an extra year (2016) onto his deal, but that year contains no guaranteed money. In short, if the team feels that Mathis isn’t healthy enough to contribute during the upcoming season, they can now release him with far less financial penalty. Whether he will be healthy enough is hard to say until training camp gets underway, but it’s hard to bet on a player in his mid-30s coming off a significant injury who plays a position that relies on explosion. Prediction: released.

Jacksonville Jaguars:

  • Chris Clemons, DE: Signed to a four-year deal just last offseason that reunited him with Jaguars head coach(and former Seahawks DC) Gus Bradley, Clemons disappointed in his first season with the club, grading as the league’s second-worst 4-3 defensive end, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), a far cry from his tenure in Seattle when he ranked as a top-12 each year from 2010-12. Turning 34 years old in October, it doesn’t appear that Clemons has much left in the tank. Had third overall selection Dante Fowler Jr. not torn his ACL earlier this year, I would have thought it nearly 100% certain that Clemons is released. Jacksonville still has a bevy of defensive line talent available, however, so I’d still put the odds at around 85%. Clemons had no guaranteed money included in his contract beyond 2014, so the Jags won’t be strapped with any dead money. Prediction: released.
  • Toby Gerhart, RB: Gerhart didn’t transition well in his shift from Adrian Peterson‘s backup to Jacksonville’s starter; he finished the year with just 101 carries, averaging only 3.2 yards per carry. With the Jaguars having used a second-round pick on running back T.J. Yeldon (who will presumably pair with 2014 pleasant surprise Denard Robinson), and with Gerhart not being due any guarantees for the remainder of his deal, it seemed likely that he’d be cut. But reports have indicated that the Jags are likely to keep Gerhart around, using him in something of a fullback/H-back hybrid role. The SB Nation blog Big Cat Country, in fact, posted an excellent piece earlier this week examining how new Jaguars OC Greg Olson could utilize Gerhart in a manner similar to Marcel Reece (whom Olson coached in Oakland). Prediction: not released.
  • Ziggy Hood, DL: Like Clemons and Gerhart, Hood was another 2014 offseason addition who wasn’t all that productive during his first season in northeast Florida. A former first-round pick of the Steelers, Hood is certainly a capable rotational defensive lineman. But the Jags have been collecting a stable of DLs over the past year or so, and with Jared Odrick, a recovering Sen’Derrick Marks and Roy Miller, Ryan Davis, Andre Branch, and rookie Michael Bennett, I thought there might be a chance Hood is let go. But given that Marks will still be coming back from his torn ACL, Hood is probably safe. Prediction: not released.

Tennessee Titans:

  • Michael Griffin, S: The 30-year-old Griffin’s roller coaster-like production over the past four seasons is very strange: PFF graded him as a top-15 safety in both 2011 and 2013, but as a bottom-five safety in both 2012 and 2014. Griffin is due to count $8.1MM against the cap in 2015, he’s coming off both shoulder and knee surgeries, and he was the subject of trade rumors last fall, so calling him a candidate for release is not a stretch. But the Titans don’t have much safety depth behind Griffin and free agent addition Da’Norris Searcy, so Griffin will likely stick on the 53-man roster. Prediction: not released.
  • Andy Levitre, G: Levitre has never been the same player he was in Buffalo since joining Tennessee on a six-year, $48.6MM contract before the 2013 season, but he hasn’t been bad by any stretch of the imagination. He actually ranked as a top-15 guard in 2013 before falling to No. 45 last season (per PFF), but even that 2014 ranking meant he was simply a middle of the pack lineman. Of course, “serviceable” isn’t what the Titans were looking for when they guaranteed Levitre $13MM, but now that it sounds like he’s completely healthy, it doesn’t make sense for the Titans to give up now. Prediction: not released.
  • Ropati Pitoitua, DL: Despite placing within the Titans’ top 10 cap charges, Pitoitua was demoted to the second team during summer practices in favor of last year’s fourth-round pick, DaQuan Jones. Now 30 years old, Pitoitua isn’t a great pass rusher, but he can hold up against the run. The question becomes whether a reserve run-stuffing defensive end is worth a $3.5MM+ cap hit, especially when the club could save nearly $3MM by releasing him. The answer is probably no, but given that Pitoitua could act as insurance if Jones flops, and the fact that the Titans don’t have any cap space issues, I think he’s safe. Prediction: not released.
  • Charlie Whitehurst, QB: With Marcus Mariota in town (yet still unsigned), and 2014 draft pick Zach Mettenberger on the roster, I can’t see any way that the Titans choose to keep Whitehurst (and his $2.5MM cap figure) on the roster. Unless the club does decide to trade Mettenberger — a scenario that likely would have already played out — the Titans will probably cut Whitehurst, saving $2MM in the process. Prediction: released.
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2 comments on “2015 Release Candidates: AFC South

  1. Luke Adams

    I think Mathis will get one more year in Indianapolis. Even if he’s not the same player he was before his latest injury, he’s one of the clubhouse leaders there. If it gets to a point where he just can’t get healthy enough to get back on the field, he may just retire rather than waiting to be cut.

    • Dallas Robinson

      Mathis was the player I had the most difficulty with. Maybe the fact that the Colts lack a standout edge rusher might leave them more amenable to giving Mathis as long as he needs to get back. But if his injury problems persist, his new contract structure definitely gives Indy some options.

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