2015 Release Candidates: NFC North

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, and AFC North, so let’s dive into the NFC North…

Chicago Bears:

  • Jermon Bushrod, T: There’s no disputing that Bushrod an improvement over what the Bears were running out at left tackle in the years preceding his arrival in the Windy City — but that doesn’t mean that he’s been worth the five-year, nearly $36MM contract he signed with Chicago prior to the 2013 season. He’s actually been well below-average, according to Pro Football Focus’ metrics (subscription required), which ranked Bushrod as the 55th- and 57th-best left tackle in the league in 2013 and 2014, respectively. $1MM of his $5MM base salary became fully guaranteed earlier this year, however, so if the Bears were going to cut him they already would’ve (and it’s not as as though there a litany of left tackle options lying around the free agent market, anyway). But given that we’ve passed the June 1 cutoff, Chicago could save $4.85MM by releasing the 30-year-old Bushrod now; if he falters again in ’15, I suspect the club might part ways with him next season (when they could save $4.3MM before June 1 and $6.5MM after said date). Prediction: not released.
  • Matt Slauson, G: The only other Bear who is even remotely a candidate for release is another offensive lineman, left guard Matt Slauson. The 29-year-old played in only five contests last year, missing a few weeks at the beginning of the season due to a high ankle sprain before being placed on injured reserve after tearing his pectoral in Week 8. Similar to their situation at left tacke, the Bears don’t have any viable replacements were they to release Slauson, as Michael Ola was thoroughly unimpressive while filling in on the interior last season, and free agent signee Vlad Ducasse has never lived up to his second-round billing. Additionally, Slauson was quite good in 2013 after coming over from the Jets, and just signed a four-year deal last January, so there’s no reason Chicago won’t give him a chance to get healthy and prove his worth. Prediction: not released.

Detroit Lions:

  • Ryan Broyles, WR: Broyles was only nine months removed from a torn ACL when he entered the league in 2012, and he suffered another ACL injury (opposite knee) during his rookie season. Midway through his sophomore season in 2013, he was dealt another blow as he ruptured his Achilles. Broyles was largely healthy during the 2014 campaign, but still didn’t play much — he’s totaled just 21 games during his three-year career. Thought to be an explosive slot weapon coming out of Oklahoma, it seems like injuries have sapped much of Broyles’ athleticism, and though the Lions would save less than $900K by cutting him, he seems like a long shot to earn a spot on Detroit’s roster, let alone make his first significant NFL contribution at age 27. Prediction: waived.
  • Jason Jones, DE: The 29-year-old Jones is entering the final season of a three-year deal, and is scheduled to count nearly $4MM against Detroit’s cap. His first season with the Lions — 2013 — was a wash, as he played in just three games before suffering a season-ending injury. Jones played in (and started) all 16 games last season, but wasn’t very effective, ranking as the just the 47th 4-3 defensive end among 59 qualifiers, according to PFF. Digging into the numbers a little deeper gives a better overall impression, as Jones ranked in the top half the league against the run and total pressures, but he finished only 36th in pass rush productivity. The Lions lost both Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley to free agency, so they need all the help they can get along the defensive line — it’s just not clear if Jones is all that helpful. In his early Lions 53-man roster projection, Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com noted that Detroit likes that fact that Jones can play both end and tackle, surmising that that versatility could keep him on the roster (for the record, Rothstein did list Jones among his projected final 53). For now, Jones is probably safe, but if a backup shows something in training camp, or a high-quality option can be found via the waiver wire, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Jones out of a job. Prediction: not released.
  • Stephen Tulloch, LB: Tulloch’s season was (somewhat embarrassingly) cut short when he tore his ACL while celebrating a sack during a Week 3 contest against the Packers. There a quite a few factors working against Tulloch’s return to Detroit: his recovery from his injury; his $5.8MM cap figure, $4.3MM of of which would be wiped out if he’s released; and the presence of fourth-year pro Tahir Whitehead, who filled in admirably at middle linebacker in Whitehead’s absence. However, Tulloch ranked as the second-best inside linebacker in the league as recently as 2013 (per PFF), and Tulloch indicated through an Instagram post earlier this year that he’d be back in Detroit for 2015. That post doesn’t mean his return is official, obviously, but it might indicate that Lions management told him he’d be retained. Prediction: not released.

Green Bay Packers:

  • Mike Neal, LB: As I wrote earlier this year in the Packers Offseason Outlook post, Neal’s production simply doesn’t match his production. Signed to a two-year, $8MM deal prior to last season, the 28-year-old Neal went on to rank as the worst 3-4 outside linebacker in the league according to PFF, finishing as the worst pass-rusher at his position by a considerable margin. In May, however, Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com noted that Neal had been paid a roster bonus — which Over the Cap pegs at $1.3MM — so if Green Bay had wanted to release Neal, they obviously wouldn’t have shelled out that cash. Prediction: not released.
  • Julius Peppers, LB: Peppers is only listed here due to the combination of his age (35) and the large bump in his cap figure from 2014 ($3.5MM) to 2015 ($12MM). Neither his ’15 nor ’16 base salaries are guaranteed, so the Packers could clear all but the remaining $5MM in bonus money left on his deal. But Peppers was simply too valuable during his first year in Green Bay to let go, although the Packers could approach him about a restructure. Prediction: not released.
  • Nick Perry, LB: Only three other 2012 first-round picks have accumulated fewer snaps than Perry during their first three seasons in the NFL: Dre Kirkpatrick, who was buried on the Bengals’ CB depth chart until the end of last season; David Wilson, who is now retired due to injuries; and A.J. Jenkins, perhaps the most obvious first-round bust from that ’12 draft. Perry doesn’t have much special teams value, either, although his ST snap percentage has risen from less than 4% his rookie year to 16.5% in 2014. The Packers already declined Perry’s 2016 option, and even with Clay Matthews moving to the inside, there’s no reason to pay Perry his full 2015 cap charge when the club could save nearly $1.5MM by cutting him. Between fourth-rounder Jake Ryan, and the several UDFAs Green Bay signed after the draft, the team should be able to rely on players making minimum salary to fill in its linebacking unit. Prediction: waived.
  • Andrew Quarless, TE: The Packers reportedly don’t plan to release Quarless in the wake of his recent arrest, and while that could obviously change, it’s much too soon (and the situation too bereft of facts) to render a prediction.

Minnesota Vikings:

  • Casey Matthews, LB: Matthews doesn’t fit our criteria of offering cap savings of $1MM+, but I included him here both because he played a semi-prominent role in Philadelphia last year after DeMeco Ryans suffered an injury, and because some expected him to possibly start for the Vikings following the departure of Jasper Brinkley. Minnesota selected UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks in the second round of this year’s draft, however, and that combined with the presence of Audie Cole means that Matthews wouldn’t have a shot at much playing time. Prediction: released.
  • Brian Robison, DE: Robison has been the Vikings’ full-time starter at left end four four seasons, and 2014 was his first truly sub-par season, as he graded as the league’s No. 52 4-3 defensive end among 59 qualifiers per PFF. He’d been above average in the years prior, especially excelling at pass rushing. Robison is signed for three more years, and Minnesota would actually save a good deal of cap space ($4.65MM) by releasing him, but given that he was still productive just two seasons ago, I’d expect him to be retained, especially given that the Vikings don’t have much in the way of defensive end depth. Prediction: not released.
  • LB Chad Greenway accepted a pay cut earlier this offseason or he would have likely been released.
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