Question Mark Contracts for 2018

The season is only two weeks old, but already there are a number of contract questions I am getting about next year, so I thought it might be worth recapping the players I’m being asked the most about as it pertains to releasing/trading the player. If there is enough interest I can try to do one of these every week or every other week with different focuses such as upcoming free agents, extension candidates, value players, top signings and so on. So lets recap some of the contract issues that arose following week 2.

It was another quiet week for defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, who was used on just 25% of the defensive snaps this week.  Dareus has a $16.3 million cap hit in 2018 and over $7 million guaranteed, so it would cost more against the Bills cap to cut him than keep him. Their best out is to find a trade partner or hope he does something to void his guarantee. Because the Bills pad Dareus so much in bonuses early in his contract his salaries of $9.75 million this year and $9.92 million next year are reasonable.  The salary guarantee next year is what makes him hard to trade in season, but if the Bills can find a desperate team and eat a little of the money maybe they can move on. If traded next year Dareus would leave the Bills with $14.2 million in dead money.

The Dareus of the offensive side of the football looks to be Rams wide receiver Tavon Austin who didn’t even log 20% of the Rams offensive snaps despite his $10M+ salary. Austin is a gimmick player and its rare that gimmick players pan out to justify these big contracts. $5 million of his $8 million salary next season is already guaranteed, but if he isn’t going to play it may be best to save that additional $3 million by cutting him next season.

Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson failed to stand out in the Jets blowout loss to the Raiders. Wilkerson did have one hurry which led to an incomplete pass, but Wilkerson, like the rest of the Jets line, offered no pass rush nor ability to stop the run. It’s the second straight week they were blown off the ball more often than not. Wilkerson looks similar to his disappointing 2016 campaign and this is going to leave the Jets with an interesting decision come November when they are officially playing for the number 1 pick in the draft. Wilkerson has a $16.75 million injury guarantee on his 2018 salary and given that he is no longer worth that kind of money the Jets may want to be cautious with any late season injury jeopardizing their ability to release him next year. If the Jets cut Wilkerson at the start of free agency they will save $17 million in cash and save $11 million on the cap. A Wilkerson release would leave the Jets with $9 million in dead money. It would be unlikely the Jets could unload Wilkerson this year unless they ate a good chunk of his remaining salary.

There was a report that Andrew Luck wants out of Indianapolis as the team seems directionless. Luck of course denied such a report, but it is remotely possible from a financial standpoint to do the move. The cost on the cap to trade Luck next year is $19.2 million, which isn’t pocket change by any stretch, but considering the haul they could get for him if his shoulder is good they would have to consider it. Luck has a roster bonus due the 5th day of the 2018 league year so if there is any truth to this a trade would likely be worked out before the start of free agency and processed on the first day of the league year. Luck would be dirt cheap to a team acquiring him at a cost of just $20.5 million per year for the next four years. Generally you build around a player like Luck, but given his injuries and supposedly down feeling on the organization would you pass up the next three number 1 picks from a team like the Jets or 49ers, assuming of course there is a QB you like at the top of the draft?  It would be a bold move by the Colts to do it.

I’m not sure what the Saints should be thinking about Drew Brees future with the team right now. The Saints look awful and the reality is that the team needs an overhaul both in the front office and on the field. The Saints contract with Brees voids at the start of free agency. He has a no tag provision so they cant franchise him and he also has a no trade in the rare event that they would have even considered that this year. When his contract voids he leaves the team with $18 million in dead money on the cap which is a huge number, but given Brees’ age it would seem like a split may be best for both sides.

In one of the odder stories I can recall, Dolphins linebacker Lawrence Timmons went AWOL before the game Sunday and when he returned the Dolphins didn’t think he was in a shape to be playing football. Timmons had signed a two year $12 million contract this offseason, nearly of which was guaranteed. I’m not sure if this technically is or is not a breach which may void those guarantees (most likely it would end up as a grievance if the Dolphins claimed it did), but I’d imagine that if the Dolphins did suspend him for conduct detrimental to the team or something along those lines it would void the guarantees in the deal. So I guess it is something we will get a better feel on next week when we get more information on his situation

Texan’s linebacker Brian Cushing was hit with another costly PED related suspension last week. Cushing’s whole career has been marred by injuries and suspensions and it may come to an end next year. This suspension is massive as he will lose out on nearly $5.7 million.  Next year Cushing only will have $1.2 million remaining in prorated money, which makes him easy to release. I’m not entirely sure how termination pay would apply to him this year, but if the Texans can avoid that guarantee I think it would be worth considering releasing him this year after his suspension ends.

I wrote about Andy Dalton already last week, but the short version is that he is continuing to struggle and clearly is playing with no confidence. The Bengals fired their offensive coordinator so all eyes will be on Dalton from this point forward. Moving Dalton next year frees up $13.9 million in cap space for the Bengals. Dalton is relatively cheap so there could be a small trade market for him next year. There are no guarantees remaining in that contract so the Bengals can drag any future decisions with Dalton as long as they want.

Mike Glennon and the Bears really struggled and there is already a great deal of pressure on the organization to bench Glennon and start their rookie. That would make the Glennon signing one of the most expensive quick pull mistakes in recent times if it happened. Glennon has a $16 million cap charge next season and $2.5 million guaranteed. I’d think the purpose for playing him right now is twofold. One is that it keeps a rookie from getting shell shocked on a bad team. Secondly it may give them a chance to showcase him for a trade next year if he can string together a competent season. It would be stunning if he is on Chicago next year but there is logic in playing him now.

The Vikings decision to sign Latavius Murray to a three year contract looks to be one of the worst decisions of the offseason.  Murray played just 6 snaps this week and in two games has 5 carries for 12 yards. The Vikings do have a number of outs with Murray and they should consider de-activating him as nearly $50,000 per week will be saved if they make him inactive on Sunday. The Vikings also only used a small signing bonus with Murray so it will only cost $1.2 million on the cap next year to cut him, a savings of $5.15 million. Murray has a small injury guarantee of $1 million in 2018 and a much larger conditional guarantee if the Vikings don’t release him at the start of free agency. Cutting Murray this year may open up an additional compensatory pick for the Vikings so its probably not crazy to think they could cut him in a few weeks if he doesn’t play more of a role.

Speaking of bad running back decisions, the Seahawks took a gamble on Eddie Lacy and thus far it hasn’t panned out. Lacy’s salary for the year is guaranteed but he has $62,500 per week that is tied to being active on Sunday. The Seahawks deactivated him this week which may be something they do more often than not for financial purposes unless he shows them something special during the week. This was just a one year contract so Lacy won’t impact their cap next year.

The rebirth of the Jaguars lasted all of one week after they got pasted by the Titans.  Without a running game to lean on, all the inefficiencies of Blake Bortles were on display. With $19 million guaranteed for injury in 2018 I think this is something that has to be watched as the year progresses. If the Jaguars stumble I don’t see how you can risk that kind of money come December where one bad hit can lock you into a big money contract that he has no business earning. In my mind Bortles has to look like he deserves an extension to warrant keeping him in late in the year.

Kenny Britt has always been extremely talented but there have always been questions about his effort. Those have taken a turn for the worse this year as the comparison being made by fans yesterday was Dwayne Bowe. A receiver being compared to Bowe is basically like a coach being compared to Rich Kotite, which is the kiss of death. Britt signed a four year, $32.5 million contract with $10.5 million guaranteed at signing. Thus far he has 2 receptions for 15 yards. Cutting him next year leaves the Browns with $4.875 million in dead money which isn’t much for them. They need to be careful, however, if things don’t turn around as his salary is guaranteed for injury.  Meanwhile the player he replaced, Terrelle Pryor, has almost 100 yards in two games.

I know it’s very early in the season, and this is not a player I got any questions about, but I’d keep an eye out on Dez Bryant this year. Since signing his $14 million per year contract in 2015, Bryant has been pretty underwhelming. He missed 10 games in 2015 and 2016, his catch rates are way down and he is again on pace for about an 800 yard season. Bryant has a $16.5 million cap hit next year and a $12.5 million salary. Dallas also has not touched his contract for cap relief the last few years opting to go with safer players which I think should indicate they at least want their options open.

Questions about this article? Reach Jason Fitzgerald on Twitter at @jason_otc