As we inch closer to the end of the season I’ll be looking at each position in the NFL and giving my opinions on some players who could be released or traded in the offseason. We’ll start off with quarterback.
1. Jay Cutler, Bears
Cap Saved: $14 million/Cash Saved: $15 million
This should be the easiest decision in the NFL. Cutler will have missed 11 games this year and hasn’t posted more than 6 wins in a season since 2012. Cutler was among the last of the mediocre veteran QBs to cash in big with the huge guarantees before the teams began to use more sophisticated escalators and vesting guarantees for question mark players and that made him seem even more overvalued. Cutler only has 3 winning seasons in his entire career, none of which were more than 10 win seasons. The Bears could look to try to trade him, but I’m not sure what kind of career rebirth at 34 years old anyone should expect from Cutler to take on $15 million for the year. While he does have $2.5 million tied to health I think teams should want to put much more than that tied to performance to bring him on board, though desperation at the position always leads to crazy decisions.
2. Colin Kaepernick, 49ers
Cap Saved: $16.9 million/Cash Saved: $16.9 million
Kaepernick has the ability to void his contract so I would say it is likely he will void the deal before being released, but either way he should not be a member of the 49ers in 2017. The fall of Kaepernick has been among the biggest in the NFL after showing so much potential in 2012 and 2013. As the team and coaching staff fell apart around him so did Kaepernick. He is still a tremendous athlete and at times can be brilliant, but at other times awful. You can’t be a big time player in the NFL when for every 300 yard game you put up you are just as likely to have a game where you complete just 45% of your passes for less than 150 yards. He should get an opportunity to compete for a starting job somewhere, but for about 35% of his current salary. I think any team that plays in the cold should also stay away.
3. Nick Foles, Chiefs
Cap Saved: $6.75 million/Cash Saved: $6.75 million
Foles signed a “funny money” contract that paid him a very low salary in the first year of the contract but had an inflated second year number in the event he started and claimed the job from Alex Smith. Technically Foles will not be released as the Chiefs have an option on the season which they will decline and that should make Foles count towards the compensatory pick process. Given that the Chiefs don’t have a lot of cap space this year and extensions likely, they could be in a chance to qualify for that pick. Foles did play well enough in two games this year to where it’s possible they could stick with him over Alex Smith, but Foles’ career has gone so bad since his one miracle with the Eagles that doing that wouldn’t make much sense. My guess is he will explore free agency and if no deal comes around that gives him a chance to start he will re-sign with the Chiefs for a few million as a backup.
4. Tony Romo, Cowboys
Cap Saved: $5.1 million/Cash Saved: $14 million
I’m sure there are more than a few people wondering why Romo isn’t higher on this list all things considered. Since I am writing this with 2 weeks left in the regular season and before the playoffs I can’t discount the possibility that Dak Prescott does end up benched in January if he has a bad half. If Romo comes in and wins in the playoffs or in the Super Bowl there will be a legit QB controversy in Dallas and Romo may stick around despite his NFL leading $24M+ cap charge, especially since they only gain $5 million by moving him. I do expect the Cowboys to be able to trade Romo on his existing contract either for a player or a draft pick rather than releasing him outright. If I was running another team or if I was running the Cowboys I would not want Romo next year at $14 million. He essentially has not played football in two years, is an injury risk and will be 37 in 2017. While everyone remembers his terrific 2014 season the fact is he has only won more than 8 games once in the last 7 years. So unless you are a team like the Broncos, Texans, etc…who look like they could be a championship level team with a decent QB I wouldn’t see the benefit of Romo on a rebuilding or other question mark kind of team.
5. Tyrod Taylor, Bills
Cap Saved: $5.1 million/Cash Saved: $27.5 million
This contract falls into the category of contracts that should have never been signed in the first place. Taylor was under contract this year but rather than worry about an unhappy player they did this contract instead. While the Bills protected themselves in the event of a crash and burn they did not protect themselves from the situation in which they still don’t know what their quarterback is. The way Taylor’s contract is structured the Bills will effectively be paying him like a $20M+ QB over the next two seasons if they pick up an option on him at the end of the season. He clearly is not worth that so they will need to either release him or convince him to rework his contract. This is the complete opposite of the handling of Kirk Cousins in Washington who took a more pessimistic approach knowing that Cousins had few other options. Taylor is a lot like Kaepernick in that he can be dazzling at times but at others doesn’t look like he belongs at this level. I can’t discount the Bills bringing him back because they simply don’t know anything more about him to abandon ship, but it would be a big mistake to happen at his current price.
6. Josh McCown, Browns
Cap Saved: $4.4 million/Cash Saved: $4.4 million
McCown will be 38 years old next season and is 2-20 as a starter in the last three years. He should not fit into the Browns future plans and there is no reason for them to keep him at spot starter money. If McCown wants to continue to play he could probably find a job backing up an established quarterback like Russell Wilson or Ben Roethlisberger and I’m sure his name would be brought up for some bad QB situations like in Houston but we are talking a quarter or so of this current salary.
7. Robert Griffin III, Browns
Cap Saved: $7.5 million/Cash Saved: $7.5 million
The Browns really wanted this to work out and my guess is they still want it to work out, but they should not be blind to the facts here. I get the signing they made. You have a player with potential upside who has been through some difficult times with injuries and clashes with coaches, but as we get further and further away from the good days you have to come to grips with reality. Griffin can never stay healthy nor does he play the way he did as a rookie. Whatever he was when he was drafted is long gone and it will likely not come back. RGIII can get another chance somewhere for like $2-3 million but if it is going to impede the Browns search for a new QB it should not be in Cleveland.
8. Sam Bradford, Vikings
Cap Saved: $13 million/Cash Saved: $13 million
The only way I could see Bradford being moved is if Teddy Bridgewater is completely healthy. At that point the Vikings would look to get anything in return for Bradford to try to recapture the massive price they paid because they panicked about who could play quarterback in 2016. If Bridgewater isn’t healthy then it’s clear that Bradford should be back. Though Bradford has nothing more than Alex Smith upside, for one more year he gives the Vikings at least a capable game manager and he would not prevent them from drafting a quarterback since 2017 is the final year of his contract.
9. Alex Smith, Chiefs
Cap Saved: $9.7 million/Cash Saved: $13.3 million
Like Bradford, I don’t see Smith as a likely cut. The Chiefs would have to find a better alternative and right now that alternative would be Foles who is not exactly appealing. The Chiefs are built to win now and usually those are the kind of teams that overspend to try to maximize their window of opportunity. I guess it’s slightly possible they could look at a guy like Romo, but this seems more like a situation where KC will look to draft the future QB and have him sit a full season behind Smith before moving to him in 2018.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.