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.
- Andre Caldwell, WR: The Broncos have lost Eric Decker and Wes Welker in consecutive seasons, but that hasn’t led to an uptick in production for Caldwell, who has caught just 21 balls for less than 300 yards over the past two years. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders will reprise their roles as Denver’s top two receivers in 2015, but Sanders will move to the slot in three-receiver sets, leaving unanswered the question of who will play the outside in such formations. The odds-on favorite is 2014 second-round pick Cody Latimer, who not only saw first-time reps while Thomas was away from camp as a frachise-tagged player, but received praise from head coach Gary Kubiak. So where does that leave Caldwell? Mostly as a viable fourth receiver and special teamer — he played on more than 40% of Denver’s ST snaps last year — who might not be worth his $1.55MM cap charge. But the Broncos have little to no depth behind him at receiver, so he probably sticks. Prediction: not released.
Kansas City Chiefs:
- Chase Daniel, QB: The Chiefs are scheduled to spend the third-most on quarterbacks in 2015 — Alex Smith will only be the 10th-highest paid QB this season, meaning that positional spending is driven in large part by Chase Daniel. The league’s highest-paid backup, the 28-year-old Daniel will count for $4.8MM against Kansas City’s cap. He’s earning similar money to that of a third-tier starter, and given that he’s attempted fewer than 60 passes over the past two seasons, it might have made sense for the team to go cheaper at the No. 2 spot. But given that it’s almost time for training camp and the Chiefs aren’t in dire financial straits, they’ll probably just keep Daniel around to act as top-notch insurance in the event of a Smith injury. Prediction: not released.
- Derrick Johnson, LB: Johnson, 32, missed the majority of last year after tearing his Achilles, and given that none his $5.25MM cap figure is guaranteed, it’s conceivable that the Chiefs could move on. But that probably won’t happen for two reasons. First, club owner Clark Hunt said in March that Johnson is safe. “There will be a point in time where we address [his contract],” Hunt said. “But it just hasn’t been germane to this point.” Second, Johnson is still a solid player, and Kansas City will need his contributions if it hopes to improve upon its No. 19 DVOA ranking. The Chiefs navigated through the offseason despite their salary cap troubles, and now have nearly $9MM in space, so clearing Johnson’s money isn’t completely necessary. Prediction: not released.
- Austin Howard, OL: After spending two years as the Jets’ starting right tackle, Howard signed a five-year, $30MM deal to join Oakland prior to last season and promptly moved to right guard. He’s projected to move back to tackle for the upcoming season, with veteran Khalif Barnes taking over at RG, but the right side of the Raiders’ line is still unsettled. Third-year pro Menelik Watson is a candidate to edge out Howard for the right tackle job, and if that happens, Howard could conceivably shift back to guard, or be moved to the bench. Of course, a final option would be for the club to release him, saving $5MM tis season. But Oakland would incur more than $4MM in 2016 dead money by doing so, and though Howard’s play was poor last year, the Raiders aren’t in any position to be casting off players who possess any modicum of talent. Prediction: not released.
San Diego Chargers:
- Donald Brown, RB: Brown’s three-year, $10.5MM ($4MM guaranteed) deal with the Chargers already looked like an overpay when it was signed, and following Brown’s dreadful 2014 season, the pact looks even worse. Following injuries to Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead, Brown had an opportunity to take the starting running back job, but was wholly ineffective, averaging just 2.6 yards per carry on 85 attempts. Brown, 28, is an effective pass-blocker, but with first-rounder Melvin Gordon in tow, Woodhead expected to regain his third-down role, and Brandon Oliver coming off an impressive year-end run, Brown doesn’t figure to have role. San Diego can save $3MM by releasing him, and would carry just over $1MM in dead money. Prediction: released.
- John Phillips, TE: The 28-year-old Phillips didn’t see the field much in 2014 while acting as San Diego’s third tight end — he played on only 202 snaps, but still managed to post a disappointing -7.0 grade per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). The Chargers could clear out Phillips’ $1.45MM base salary by cutting him, but with Antonio Gates suspended for the first four games of the season, Phillips will probably be back to serve as the club’s inline tight end while Ladarius Green acts the move option. Prediction: not released.