I’ll soon be getting into the OTC team by team offseason previews either later this week or early next week, but until then I thought it might be fun to look at all 32 teams and pick out the one move I would (or would not) make for each team this offseason if I was GM. Today I’ll go over the teams in the AFC and in a few days I’ll do something similar for the NFC. Feel free to leave any comments on my picks or your own.
Baltimore Ravens: Ride Out Joe Flacco’s $28.55M Cap Number
The Ravens salary cap situation dictated one of the most player friendly contracts in the NFL when they signed Flacco to a contract with three prorated bonuses that allowed them to operate for three seasons before the cap numbers exploded. Extending Flacco, especially off an ACL injury, would be difficult and kicking the can with Flacco just gives him more leverage next season when they will need to decide if they want to extend him or trade him. The Ravens need to see where they are as a franchise before they change this contract.
Buffalo Bills: Release Mario Williams
Williams was signed to a lucrative, player friendly contract a few seasons ago, but his productivity declined this season and he was one of the most vocal critics of the new head coach. While Williams may be the most well known player on the Bills defense they can’t justify carrying a $19.9 million cap hit for him. They can create $12.9 million in cap room by cutting him.
Cincinnati Bengals: Let the Veteran Cornerbacks Leave in Free Agency
It’s always difficult to see players who have been a part of your success leave your organization, but this is an area where the Bengals have to get younger if they want to continue their string of regular season success. What they have gotten out of Leon Hall and Adam Jones has been nothing short of amazing, but you don’t want the coaching staff to get over-reliant on 30+ year old veterans, especially at this position. Moving on should force the team into continuing a youth movement in the secondary.
Cleveland Browns: Trade Joe Thomas
It seems pretty clear that the Browns are going to be starting over again and in essence are little more than an expansion team. The one strength of their team, the offensive line, is going to get cut apart in free agency: Alex Mack will void his contract and go elsewhere and Mitchell Schwartz will look for greener pastures. At that point you may as well move Thomas, who is on the wrong side of the age curve to be a long term answer for Cleveland, to bring in more building block players. At a salary of $9.5 million there should be a number of suitors for Thomas’ services specifically those in the back of round 1 in the draft.
Denver Broncos: Release DeMarcus Ware
There are a number of players the Broncos need to consider releasing, but the one that has to happen is Ware. Ware is going to be 34 years old and has missed 5 games because of injury this season. The Broncos have a number of young free agents this season and they need to keep players like Malik Jackson rather than finding ways to keep an older player who, which still productive, is in the final years of a career. Cutting Ware frees up $10 million of cap room.
Houston Texans: Exercise the Option Then Extend DeAndre Hopkins
The Texans have time on their side with Hopkins, but is there really a point in waiting to extend him to haggle over a few dollars? Hopkins is one of the best in the NFL and is going to eventually earn in the $15 million per year range. Given that for most players their peak of their careers is going to happen between years 3 and 6, extending Hopkins now gives the Texans much more flexibility on the back end of the contract if he play does begin to decline. Waiting too long on Hopkins also runs the risk of having to negotiate after Odell Beckham signs an extension with the Giants, which can happen in 2017. Once that happens prices will fly even higher.
Indianapolis Colts: Release Andre Johnson
Sometimes it can be hard to admit mistakes, but the Colts clearly made one when they signed Johnson to a three year contract in the offseason. Whatever caused Johnson’s decline may not be clear, but he never fit into the offense and had zero chemistry with Andrew Luck. The Colts still owe him $2.5 million but they should not let the psychological impact of that stand in their way of moving on. Had they paid that money in a signing bonus there would be much less hesitation. The team can save $5 million by cutting him which can be used for a more useful acquisition.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Release Paul Posluszny
The Jaguars have always been protective of their players who have been there for a long period of time but eventually there comes a point where you much move on. Veteran players, especially those who have been with a coaching staff for some time, on bad teams too often become a hindrance to development. It usually has nothing to do with the player himself it’s just the fact that the coach and/or GM sees a familiar face and name and bypasses improving the position. The Jaguars don’t need cap room (cutting Posluszny does save the team about $4 million) but it’s time to move on from the contract.
Kansas City Chiefs: Extend Travis Kelce
There are a few options for the Chiefs, but I think the smartest thing they can do is extend Kelce before he reaches free agency next year. Kelce has already had back to back years with close to 900 yards and if Jeremy Maclin is injured Kelce will likely only grow those numbers next year as the team relies more on him in the passing game. The Chiefs may be able to sneak him in at the $7.5M contract level now. If he reaches free agency that number should increase as free agency has seen the valuation of the tight end really increase. The Chiefs have the cap room to use in 2016 and using it on Kelce now rather than later will make them more competitive in the future.
Miami Dolphins: Don’t Restructure Ndamukong Suh’s Contract
As part of the Dolphins attempt to win last season they signed Suh to a contract that would contain a low cap hit in 2015 that will explode to $28.6 million in 2016. It will be very tempting for Miami to convert a large portion of his $23.5 million salary into a prorated signing bonus, but if they want to be competitive long term they have to eat that number this season and give themselves the flexibility to move away from him in the future. They have other means to work with their cap this season if they need to sign players.
New England Patriots: Try to Extend Don’t’a Hightower before Chandler Jones
The Patriots roster is more or less set next season and most of the pressing concerns come around contract extensions. Both players have salary cap figures of nearly $8 million next season and both will likely command big money as free agents. The Patriots probably need to lower the cap figures for one of the two players, especially if they intend on extending Malcolm Butler as well. Hightower’s position does not really lend itself to using the franchise tag and should be an easier negotiation whereas working with Jones could just be a waste of resources at this time. The team can also use the deal as some type of precedence for a team structure for Jones, who probably wont sign anything reasonable until at least after the dust settles in free agency.
New York Jets: Trade Muhammad Wilkerson
The Jets are one of the older, more expensive teams in the NFL and are thin at a number of positions. While Wilkerson is arguably the Jets best defensive player, the defensive line is a position of strength for the team. The time to re-sign Wilkerson was two seasons ago. Now to fit in a $14 or $15 million a year defensive end on a team with two other top 15 first rounders at the same spot is something the team can not afford to do. They should be able to turn Wilkerson into a high draft pick and use that $14 million in savings to sign two other pretty productive players.
Oakland Raiders: Release Curtis Lofton
There were a lot of things to like about the Raiders last season, but the decision to sign Lofton after he was released by the Saints was not one of them. The Raiders don’t need any cap room for next season, but they will be throwing away $5.5 million on a player that was sent to the bench for a good portion of the season. Depending on what their actual cash budget is, that money could be a help in landing a big fish or two come March.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Release Lawrence Timmons
For a change the Steelers probably won’t have to perform some salary cap magic to become compliant with the salary cap, but releasing Timmons, who counts for $15.1 million in cap charges would give them some well needed breathing room for the future. The Steelers have parted ways with some famous linebackers of their in the past, but recently the trend with their veterans entering the final contract year has been to sign them to shorter term extensions to allow them to pay out the final year of the contract under better terms on the cap. Timmons’ best days are behind him and paying him $8.75 million in any form seems like a waste of resources.
San Diego Chargers: Release Donald Butler
This was one of those contracts that was a bit of a head scratcher when it happened but the big money doesn’t kick in until after this season and quite frankly there is no reason for the Chargers to wait that long. Butler will count for $9.3 million against the cap this season and they can reduce that number by about $2.5 million if they cut him prior to the start of free agency. If they wait too long his option figures kick in and the team will likely need to wait until 2017 to feel any relief on the cap from his contract. The team will save about $4.7 million in cash by cutting Butler.
Tennessee Titans: Release Jason McCourty
McCourty signed a pretty nice extension during the first wave of exploding cornerback contracts before the market began to pull back when it was clear that teams were overpaying for the position. The Titans are still overpaying for McCourty who is scheduled to have a cap charge of $8.8 million, $7 million of which can be saved if they cut him. The Titans should be fully remaking the roster and part of that should include release, among others, McCourty.