Long before the new league year arrives and the frenzy that is free agency gets underway, NFL teams will need to tinker with their rosters. Many will be releasing players and/or adjusting contracts in an effort to secure as much salary cap space as possible.
As a result, the already robust free-agent market will be flooded with additional talent, providing teams many more options to plug holes on their roster.
Here’s a look at five of the bigger names who could be released leading up to the start of free agency.
When the Jaguars originally signed A.J. Bouye, he was one of the best up-and-coming cornerbacks in the league. However, over the past three seasons, Bouye has seen a sharp decline in his production, which was capped off with a 58.4 Pro Football Focus score in 2019 after allowing 52 receptions on 80 targets.
As things sit, he has two years and nearly $31 remaining on that deal, and there’s next to no chance the Jaguars see that out. Here in 2020, Bouye would account for a dead cap hit of $4 million if released, but that pales in comparison to the nearly $11.5 million in cap savings the Jaguars would receive if they cut their losses. Ultimately, expect Jacksonville to attempt to swing a trade before releasing Bouye outright — assuming they find no takers, of course.
Janoris Jenkins is a somewhat interesting addition to this list because it’s unlikely the Saints want to part ways with him just a year removed from claiming him off waivers. But, as the saying goes, money talks and right now, Jenkins is making a lot of money — $11.25 million in 2020.
The Saints have an out, however, as Jenkins no longer has any guaranteed money on his deal and therefore his dead cap hit would be a big zero. Rather than release Jenkins outright, it’s plausible that the Saints request he take a pay cut. If the Jackrabbit were to agree, problem solved. But Jenkins has traditionally bet on himself, so he may balk at such a request and instead opt to be released and test free agency.
In desperate need of a talented linebacker and defensive leader, the Giants sent the Los Angeles Rams two draft picks in 2018 in exchange for Ogletree. However, Big Blue only got half of what they were looking for in Ogletree, and success on the field was not one of those things. While Ogletree has proven himself a defensive leader, his on-field play has fallen off dramatically. Save for a few big interceptions, Ogletree has clearly lost a step and struggled mightily in coverage. His run defense has also regressed.
Now nearing 30 and with projected cap hits of $11.75 million and $10.75 million over the next two seasons, it seems inevitable that the Giants part ways with Ogletree and reinvest the savings elsewhere. Releasing Ogletree would leave the Giants with a $3.5 million dead cap hit, but the savings would benefit the team substantially.
When the Browns acquired Olivier Vernon from the New York Giants, they knew they were getting a bad contract. However, there was hope that a change of scenery would lead to more consistent health and production. It didn’t. Vernon appeared in 10 games last season, recording 26 tackles and 3 1/2 sacks, which represented a career low.
In 2020, Vernon is on the books for $15.25 million, but none of that is guaranteed. The Browns could cut Vernon loose and avoid any dead cap hit, but the more likely scenario is that they try to unload him on a contender looking for a hope-and-prayer pass-rusher. When that ultimately fails, expect Vernon to be given his walking papers.
Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals are willing to work with Andy Dalton on a possible trade, which means things are clear as day in Cincinnati: The quarterback is headed out the door one way or another. Dalton has one year remaining on his Bengals contract and will count for $17.7 million against the cap in 2020 if retained, so that’s a non-option for Cincinnati. And with none of that salary guaranteed, a release of Dalton almost seems certain unless a team is unexpectedly willing to take on his salary. That seems far-fetched, so the team poised to take LSU’s Joe Burrow at No. 1 overall is more likely to part ways with their starter of the last nine years.
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