1. Julius Thomas, Jaguars
Cap Saved: $4.7 million/Cash Saved: $7.1 million
This is one of the worst contracts in the NFL for a team and one that has been typical of the many problems the Jaguars have had in rebuilding via free agency. Thomas had never played in 16 games in his entire career, twice finishing with under 10 yards and once under 500 yards, when the Jaguars made the bold move to make him one of the highest paid tight ends in NFL history. Not surprisingy he has failed to reach 500 yards or 16 games in either of his years in Jacksonville. Thomas has the fifth largest cap charge and 3rd largest salary among tight ends in 2017. The one thing that might prevent his release is that the Jaguars included an additional $3 million injury guarantee for 2017 that becomes fully guaranteed five days after the Super Bowl. If Thomas is unable to pass a physical the Jaguars will owe him that money in the event he is cut at a later date. Still the team needs a complete makeover and losing $3 million is better than sinking $7 million in a bad investment.
2. Ben Watson, Ravens
Cap Saved: $3 million/Cash Saved: $3 million
Watson signed a two year contract with the Ravens this year, but never played a down for the team after being injured in the preseason. Part of the reason I would imagine that he was signed was because of the uncertainty around Dennis Pitta, but Pitta had a productive and injury free season for the first time in a while, which only hurts Watson’s chances of remaining. He’ll be 37 next season and even if he wasn’t coming off of injury the Ravens need to get much younger if they want to being to turn things around.
3. Niles Paul, Redskins
Cap Saved: $2 million/Cash Saved: $2 million
It’s tough to stick in the NFL when you get the injury prone label and Paul, having played just 8 games in the last two years, is probably tagged at this point. Paul showed promise in 2014 with his 500 yard season but was an afterthought in the time he was healthy this season. Washington has far more important contracts to use his $2 million for.
4. Luke Stocker, Buccaneers
Cap Saved: $1.7 million/Cash Saved: $1.7 million
Stocker has a limited role for the Buccaneers and was graded as one of the worst tight ends in the NFL in 2016 by Pro Football Focus. Roles such as his can be filled by a minimum salaried veteran or a higher upside rookie. When you have a team with a young quarterback on his rookie contract you have to be aggressive to improve and every penny can help I that regard.
5. Lee Smith, Raiders
Cap Saved: $3 million/Cash Saved: $3 million
Lee Smith is a pretty good blocker and is certainly well liked by the players and organization, but Oakland is ready to start making their next step in contract growth and I don’t see paying $3 million to essentially an extra lineman as a part of that. That doesn’t mean Smith, who missed most of this year with a leg injury, will be gone from the team, but generally I would expect a team to pay half this salary for someone performing Smith’s role.
6. Marcedes Lewis, Jaguars
Cap Saved: $3.25 million/Cash Saved: $3.5 million
Every now and then teams have certain players that they just fall in love with whose contract status pretty much defies logic and Lewis is one of those players. Despite missing 13 games from 2013 through 2015 and seeing his yardage go from 540 to 359 to 206 to 226 yards, the Jaguars still signed a 3 year, $12 million contract with $5 million guaranteed. Lewis is a decent enough blocker, but offers little else. He only played in 10 games this year before the injury bug hit again and despite the $1 million guarantee should either be cut or asked to play the year out for $1 million plus incentives based on playing time and performance.
7. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jets
Cap Saved: $1.14 million/Cash Saved: $1.14 million
The Jets claimed Seferian-Jenkins off waivers when the Buccaneers released him for off the field issues, but I’m not sure anyone can explain why they claimed him. The Jets barely used him this year and in his brief appearances failed to impress. Unless a new offensive coordinator is hired that sees great potential, we should not expect him to return.
8. Lance Kendricks, Rams
Cap Saved: $4.25 million/Cash Saved: $4.25 million
I almost didn’t include Kendricks here because he has one of the highest amount of snaps in the NFL and realistically the Rams aren’t going to be able to fill that void unless they draft a tight end. But with some uncertainty about the staff and GM position next year I don’t think you can completely discount the possibility of moving on and using that money to try to improve the offensive line. Still I look at this the way I would a Brent Celek, who I did not include here, which is a longer shot to happen.