We’re going to be hearing a whole lot about NFL salary cap casualties over the course of the next few weeks leading up to the start of free agency in March.
The NFL salary cap has been set for the 2023 season. Teams now know exactly what type of situation they are in right now.
It’s in this that front offices around the league are already preparing what to do during the offseason. Teams like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints are in cap hell. They’ll have to move off big-name and high-priced players. Other Pro Bowlers will also soon hit the unemployment line.
Below, we look at the 40 most-likely NFL salary cap casualties for the 2023 offseason.
Note: Contract information provided by Over the Cap
Jameis Winston, quarterback, New Orleans Saints
This former No. 1 pick started just three games for the Saints in 2022, throwing four touchdowns against five interceptions. Right now, it seems likely that he’ll be calling another city home in 2023.
Despite New Orleans’ quarterback situation being a hot mess, head coach Dennis Allen rolled with Andy Dalton over Jameis Winston last season. That tells us all we need to know about Winston’s future in the Bayou. He has a cap number of $15.6 million. If New Orleans were to release Winston with a post-June 1 designation, it would save $12.8 million. Given the team’s disastrous cap situation ($57.38 million over the 2023 NFL salary cap), this is an obvious move.
Harrison Smith, safety, Minnesota Vikings
One of the first NFL salary cap casualties we’re expecting this offseason is this six-time Pro Bowl performer. While Smith did record five interceptions in 2022, he also yielded an absurd 80% completion rate when targeted. That is, by far, the worst number of his career. In reality, the 33-year-old Smith has regressed big time in coverage.
There’s a couple other backdrops to this belief. Youngster Lewis Cine could potentially move over from free safety to strong safety. Meanwhile, Minnesota’s cap relief if it were to designate Smith a post-June 1 cut would be a whopping $15.21 million.
Shaquil Barrett, EDGE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This former undrafted free agent out of Colorado State is one of the true success stories in the modern NFL. Barrett, 30, performed well in four seasons with the Denver Broncos before heading to Tampa Bay ahead of the 2019 campaign. He responded by leading the NFL in sacks with 19.5 in his first season with the Bucs.
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Unfortunately, Barrett is coming off an injury-plagued 2022 season in which he recorded just three sacks in eight games. He’s on the wrong side of 30 and set to count $21.65 million against the salary cap next season. Tampa can save $14.6 million by releasing him while relying on a young edge guy in Joe Tryon-Shoyinka to continue his growth.
Shaquill Griffin, cornerback, Jacksonville Jaguars
After coming over on a big-money $40 million contract from the Seattle Seahawks back in 2021, Griffin struggled a great deal in his first season with Jacksonville. The former Pro Bowler yielded a 70% completion mark and 109.5 QB rating in 2021.
This past season saw Griffin play in only five games due to injury, giving up a 110.4 QB rating when targeted. Of the potential NFL salary cap casualties this offseason, Griffin makes the most sense. Jacksonville would save $13.15 million by designating him a post-June 1 cut.
Related: NFL salary cap set for 2023
Bud Dupree, EDGE, Tennessee Titans
It’s safe to say that Dupree will be an NFL salary cap casualty at some point before the new league year opens. Having signed a whopping five-year, $82.5 million contract with Tennessee back in 2021, this former Pittsburgh Steelers first-round pick just has not panned out. In two seasons with the Titans, Dupree has registered a mere seven sacks in 22 games.
With Tennessee currently $23.69 million over the cap, new general manager Ran Carthon is going to have some decisions to make. By saving $15.75 million in releasing Dupree, this could end up being one of the easier decisions for Carthon.
Donovan Smith, offensive tackle, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa currently finds itself $55.72 million over the cap. Regardless of the Tom Brady situation, general manager Jason Licht must find a way to lower that number. Unfortunately, the Buccaneers don’t have a ton of avenues to pursue cost-cutting moves.
Smith, 29, is one of the outliers. He’s regressed over the past two seasons and is set to count a whopping $17.9 million against the NFL salary cap in 2023. By designating Smith a post-June 1 cut, the Bucs would be saving $15.25 million against said cap. Meanwhile, Tristan Wirfs is more than capable of taking over at left tackle.
Leonard Floyd, EDGE, Los Angeles Rams
We’ve heard rumors about a potential Jalen Ramsey trade from the Rams this offseason. Coming of an injury-plagued and down 2022 season, Los Angeles finds itself in salary cap hell. Its decision to make win-now moves over the past few years under general manager Les Snead has come home to roost.
One potential cap casualty is a player in Floyd who has a figure of $22 million for next season. Releasing him would save north of $15 million. While he’s still productive, that cap figure is a non-starter.
Related: NFL franchise tag primer for 2023
Michael Thomas, wide receiver, New Orleans Saints
Thomas will likely be among the first NFL salary cap casualties here soon. Reports indicate that the Saints are prepared to move off him. The restructured deal he signed earlier in January makes this almost a foregone conclusion. New Orleans will save nearly $12 million against the cap by releasing Thomas.
A record-breaking receiver for the Saints back in 2019, Thomas has played in just three games over the past two seasons due to myriad injuries, including missing the entire 2021 campaign due to an ankle ailment.
Byron Jones, cornerback, Miami Dolphins
To say that the huge free-agent contract Miami signed Jones to back in March of 2020 has been a disaster for the Dolphins would be an understatement. Said deal came in at $82.5 million over five years. Through three seasons, it’s been a complete bust. Jones missed the entire 2022 campaign to injury. He struggled the previous two years, yielding a combined 104.3 QB rating when targeted.
The good news for Miami? It can get out from Jones contract via a post-June 1 designation with a mere $4.75 million dead cap hit. This makes Jones an obvious candidate to be among the NFL salary cap casualties.
Frank Clark, EDGE, Kansas City Chiefs
There’s been a ton of talk about Clark being an NFL salary cap casualty over the past couple offseasons. Coming off a 2022 campaign in which he recorded just five sacks in 15 games, that’s magnified further. In fact, Clark has a mere 9.5 sacks over the past two seasons.
Kansas City boasts a stud young edge pass rusher in that of George Karlaftis III. The AFC Champions can save $21 million against the cap by designating Clark a post-June 1 cut. You can do the math from there.
Related: Top 2023 NFL free agents
Kenny Golladay, wide receiver, New York Giants
Among the most obvious NFL salary cap casualties of the offseason, Golladay has absolutely bombed out in two seasons with the Giants. He caught all of six passes for 81 yards in 12 games this past season. That’s not what New York had envisioned when it inked him to a four-year, $72 million contract back in 2021.
The good news? These Giants would be on the hook for a mere $7.9 million dead cap hit by releasing Golladay, saving another $13.5 million in the process. It’s going to happen. It is just a matter of time.
Matt Ryan, quarterback, Indianapolis Colts
There’s a good chance that Ryan simply opts to hang up his cleats after a disasterclass of a performance in his first season with Indianapolis. He was benched during the 2022 campaign, proving that being a starter at the advanced age of 37 likely isn’t in the cards any more.
- Matt Ryan stats (2022): 67% completion, 3,057 yards, 14 TD, 13 INT, 83.9 QB rating
Indy will certainly look for trade partners on this front. But that’s not happening with Ryan’s cap hit for an acquiring team set at nearly $30 million. Instead, releasing him with a cap savings of $17.21 million should be in the cards here.
C.J. Mosley, linebacker, New York Jets
Mosley has been seen as a potential big name NFL salary cap casualty pretty much since he signed a whopping five-year, $85 million contract with the Jets back in March of 2019. Once he sat out the 2020 campaign due to COVID-19, that seemed to be the case.
We’re now not 100% sure after the former Baltimore Ravens first-round pick earned Second-Team All-Pro honors in 2022. Mosley recorded 158 tackles with seven passes defended. With that said, his $21.47 million cap hit for the Jets is a non-starter. The team will be spending big bucks on a quarterback to replace Zach Wilson. Moving off Mobley if a restructure is not in the cards would save New York $17 million against the cap.
Related: Highest-paid NFL players of 2023
Adam Thielen, wide receiver, Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota currently finds itself with the fifth-worst cap situation in the NFL. It is going to need to cut the fat by moving off multiple core contributors from previous seasons. The 32-year-old Thielen qualifies in this regard. He has not put up a 1,000-yard season since back in 2018. The veteran has also taken a back seat to both the dynamic Justin Jefferson and K.J. Osborn in Minneapolis.
By releasing Thielen, the Vikings would save a resounding $13.42 million against the 2023 NFL salary cap with a dead cap hit of just $6.55 million. It just makes too much sense at this point.
Khalil Mack, edge, Los Angeles Chargers
It doesn’t typically make sense for a team to release someone who just earned a Pro Bowl trip. With Mack and the Chargers, that’s magnified due to what they gave up to acquire him from the Chicago Bears last offseason.
Even then, there’s several factors that lead us to believe that this former defensive player of the year could be an NFL salary cap casualty. Soon to be 32 years old, Mack was solid to open his first season with Los Angeles. He recorded seven sacks in his first nine games. But as the campaign continued he struggled making an impact. In his final nine games, playoffs included, Mack recorded all of two sacks. The cash-strapped Chargers would save $22.9 million by designating him a post-June 1 cut.
Joe Mixon, running back, Cincinnati Bengals
Cincinnati is going to have a ton of cap room this offseason after falling just short of back-to-back Super Bowl appearances. However, it has to think about handing star quarterback Joe Burrow a massive contract extension. Starting safeties Vonn Bell and Jessie Bates are also slated to become free agents.
It remains to be seen if Cincinnati is going to want to pay out a $12.79 million cap hit to this Pro Bowl running back. If the Bengals were to release Mixon, they’d save $10.04 million against the cap. In this scenario, going with a younger and cheaper back could make sense.
Related: Highest-paid NFL QBs of 2023
Carson Wentz, quarterback, Washington Commanders
First off, Wentz is no longer a starter-caliber quarterback in the NFL. The former No. 2 pick has proven that in each of the past three seasons. Washington’s decision to acquire him from the Indianapolis Colts last offseason was an absolute disaster.
- Carson Wentz stats (2022): 62% completion, 1,755 yards, 11 TD, 9 INT, 80.2 QB rating
Releasing the 30-year-old Wentz would result in a $26.18 million cap savings, enabling Washington to use that to find an upgrade elsewhere. The team has been linked to a much better quarterback in that of Derek Carr in a trade with the Las Vegas Raiders.
Ezekiel Elliott, running back, Dallas Cowboys
Elliott has made it clear that he’s more than happy with returning to Dallas on a restructured deal. It’s going to be a necessity with the regressed running back set to count $16.72 million against the cap in 2023. It also doesn’t help that Elliott was nowhere near a starter-caliber running back for Dallas last season.
- Ezekiel Elliott stats (2022): 231 attempts, 876 rushing yards, 3.8 average
Dallas has the future at the running back position in Tony Pollard set to hit free agency. Reports suggest that the team is willing to place the franchise tag on him, costing nearly $11 million for the 2023 campaign. With Dallas currently over the NFL salary cap, releasing Elliott with a June 1 designation makes sense. It would save the team $10.9 million.
Ryan Tannehill, quarterback, Tennessee Titans
Tennessee’s deicision to go with former San Francisco 49ers front office employee Ran Carthon as its general manager changes the dynamics of the quarterback situation in Nashville. Jimmy Garoppolo (free agent) and Trey Lance (trade) become real options for the Titans.
It also seems to be a safe bet that the 34-year-old Tannehill will be calling another city home in 2023. He’s coming off two consecutive down seasons in which the quarterback accounted for 34 touchdowns compared to 20 interceptions in 29 starts. Tannehill is also slated to count an absurd $36.6 million against the cap in 2023. The Titans would save $17.9 million by releasing him outright or $27 million by making it a post-June 1 designation.
Derek Carr, quarterback, Las Vegas Raiders
After head coach Josh McDaniels benched Carr late in the 2022 season, it became clear that a divorce would be in the cards here. Once Carr opted to leave the team, that was magnified further. Vegas is now looking to trade Carr. With that said, there’s some belief that they will have to outright release him before a February 15 deadline for his 2023 salary to become guaranteed.
- Derek Carr stats (2022): 61% completion, 3,522 yards, 24 TD, 14 INT, 86.3 QB rating
Releasing Carr would save Vegas $29.25 million against the cap. Given that the team is now looking for a new quarterback, this makes him one of the obvious NFL salary cap casualties should a trade not come to fruition.
Other potential NFL salary cap casulaties
- Mitchell Trubisky, quarterback, Pittsburgh Steelers
- Marcus Mariota, quarterback, Atlanta Falcons
- Robert Woods, wide receiver, Tennessee Titans
- Robbie Anderson, wide receiver, Arizona Cardinals
- Russell Gage, wide receiver, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Kendrick Bourne, wide receiver, New England Patriots
- Zach Ertz, tight end, Arizona Cardinals
- Hunter Henry, tight end, New England Patriots
- Duane Brown, offensive tackle, New York Jets
- Trent Brown, offensive tackle, New England Patriots
- Shaq Mason, guard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Michael Brockers, defensive tackle, Detroit Lions
- Romeo Okwara, EDGE, Detroit Lions
- Eric Kendricks, linebacker, Minnesota Vikings
- Michael Davis, cornerback, Los Angeles Chargers
- Ronald Darby, cornerback, Denver Broncos
- Kenny Moore, cornerback, Indianapolis Colts
- William Jackson III, cornerback, Pittsburgh Steelers
- Jayron Kearse, safety, Dallas Cowboys
- Malik Hooker, safety, Dallas Cowboys
- Eddie Jackson, safety, Chicago Bears
This article was originally published on Sportsnaut.com and is republished here with permission.