Plenty of talented veterans will be available in the current 2018 NFL free agency pool. But those players will soon get some big-time company on the open market from notable names cut by their teams to help save money under the salary cap.
For some teams, cutting a former Pro Bowler or two make sense; other such moves do not.
Here’s predicting who among those players will and will not be released this year as teams prepare for free agency and the NFL Draft.
NFL FREE AGENCY:
Top 25 players; best by position
(Note: Cap hit equals a player’s salary cap number minus dead money. Information from OverTheCap.com.)
Dez Bryant, WR, Cowboys
Cap hit: $8.5 million
Dez and Dallas might appear to be headed for a breakup, but they need each other more than they will admit. Bryant stays as an appeased wideout with a restructured deal to continue trying to help Dak Prescott.
Richard Sherman, CB, Seahawks
Cap hit: $11 million
Given Sherman has a pretty smart and flexible agent — himself — he will make sure he stays in Seattle. With its secondary in flux, the team will keep its constant into his age-30 season. The question is whether Sherman gets an adjusted deal to keep him from becoming a free agent as scheduled in 2019.
Michael Bennett, DE, Seahawks
Cap hit: $2.175 million
Bennett is 32, and although he played another full season in 2017, age and injuries caught up to him a little. Regardless of the limited cap savings, he’s headed for a break-up with the Seahawks.
MOCK DRAFT 2018:
Steelers, Bills trade up for QBs
Adrian Peterson, RB, Cardinals
Cap hit: $2.88 million
With David Johnson ready to take over feature duties again, Peterson won’t be retained coming off a season-ending neck injury. He’ll be looking to stick with another team as he turns 33 in March.
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Raiders
Cap hit: $5.935 million
The thought was this could go either way under new coach Jon Gruden. So far, there are positive vibes that Beast Mode will remain in Oakland for his age-32 season after a productive finish to 2017.
Aqib Talib, CB, Broncos
Cap hit: $11 million
Talib turned 32 this week, and Denver needs to cut him in order to save a good chunk of salary-cap space. Look for one of his former teams, New England or Tampa Bay, to be his next landing spot.
Jordy Nelson, WR, Packers
Cap hit: $10.2 million
The Packers wouldn’t cut Aaron Rodgers’ go-to guy as he returns healthy for a full season, would they? Nelson does carry a big number and turns 33 in May. Look for Green Bay to try to restructure and keep Nelson around for one more season. He becomes a free agent in 2019.
Brandon Marshall, WR, Giants
Cap hit: $5.156 million
Marshall turns 34 in March, and before his season-ending ankle injury in October, he was hardly active or effective in the Giants’ passing offense. Under new coach Pat Shurmur, offensive coordinator MIke Shula and cost-conscious GM Dave Gettleman, Marshall won’t be back.
DeMarco Murray, RB, Titans
Cap hit: $6.5 million
Murray turned 30 this week, and the offense is rebooting for Marcus Mariota under Matt LaFleur. Murray will be released, and Derrick Henry will get his chance to be the early-down workhorse in Tennessee.
Demaryius Thomas, WR, Broncos
Cap hit: $4.966 million
Denver could be doing a complete reboot of its passing game, from quarterback to its two familiar starting wideouts. Thomas wasn’t great in 2017 with some shaky QB play, but he can still be an effective possession guy at age 30. It’s more likely the Broncos cut their No. 2, instead.
Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Broncos
Cap hit: $5.562 million
Sanders turns 31 in March and is coming off an ineffective season hurt by a midseason ankle injury. Denver keeping Thomas means not keeping Sanders.
Doug Martin, RB, Buccaneers
Cap hit: $6.75 million
Martin’s hot-and-cold relationship with Dirk Koetter will end with the RB’s release at age 29. The Bucs were disappointed with his play post-suspension, and they’ll move on with Peyton Barber and/or others in the backfield.
Randall Cobb, WR, Packers
Cap hit: $9.468 million
It seems clear Cobb won’t be returning to Green Bay as the team tries to keep Nelson after signing Davante Adams to a massive extension. Cobb, 27, was a fading blip in the offense with or without Rodgers.
Tyrod Taylor, QB, Bills
Cap hit: $9.44 million
Turning only 29 in August, Taylor has a few good years left as a versatile veteran stopgap. It just won’t be for Buffalo, which will move on to find a true franchise guy it totally trusts. Arizona and Denver are Taylor’s best fits elsewhere.
IYER: Breaking down Bills’ QB options
Justin Houston, OLB, Chiefs
Cap hit: $7.9 million
Houston is 29 and coming off an injury-riddled season. Yet he still played 15 games in 2017 and produced 9.5 sacks, his highest total since his 22-sack, monster 2014 season. The Chiefs want him on that defense. They need him on that defense. He’s not going anywhere.
Matt Forte, RB, Jets
Cap hit: $3 million
Forte had some decent production when healthy last season, but he was further hampered by knee injuries and turned 32 in December. He’s too expensive for the Jets to retain with limited return on investment.
Robert Quinn, OLB, Rams
Cap hit: $11.444 million
Quinn is still relatively young, turning 28 in May. After an incredibly slow first half of the 2017 season, he reeled off six sacks in the Rams’ final six regular-season games. The only way Quinn stays in LA is if he agrees to a pay cut.
Adam Jones, CB, Bengals
Cap hit: $6.28 million
Jones has endured eight long seasons in Cincinnati, but the 34-year-old is coming off a season-ending groin injury that required postseason sports hernia surgery. Given the declining quality of his play, the Bengals should cut him, but chances are just as good they won’t because of their lean toward status quo.
MORE: Full NFL offseason schedule
Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, Jets
Cap hit: $11 million
This is a case of Mo’ money and Mo’ problems. He wasn’t very good in 2017 in every aspect of his game and isn’t ideal to have around for a rebuilding team. At 28, he has played his last down for New York.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Giants
Cap hit: $6.5 million
He is willing to move to free safety and flank Landon Collins in order to save his value for the team. But the nickel back is too rich to keep for a new regime that’s reconstructing the defense, too.
Brian Cushing, LB, Texans
Cap hit: $7.64 million
He isn’t solid anymore, is often injured, is recently coming off a 10-game PED suspension and is going into his 10th season at age 31. There’s no upside to keeping him for Romeo Crennel.
MORE: NFL’s 25 highest-paid players
Jordan Reed, TE, Redskins
Cap hit: $4.734 million
This has been a disastrous 5-year, $48 million-deal for Washington since 2016. Reed simply can’t stay healthy with a variety of injuries in his supposed prime (age 27). When he has played of late, he has looked more pedestrian than dangerous athletic pass-catcher. The Redskins’ smart move is to cut ties, but they might try to force it with Alex Smith given some solid existing cap room.
Jeremy Maclin, WR, Ravens
Cap hit: $5 million
Maclin had so much promise as a key receiver for Joe Flacco after signing with Baltimore late in the offseason, but injuries played a part in his limited production. The Ravens should prefer keeping Mike Wallace over him. Maclin is more likely to be cut than to stay at a reduced salary.
Julius Thomas, TE, Dolphins
Cap hit: $6.6 million
Thomas is coming off a season-ending foot injury and turns 30 in June. He is too expensive for his return in production and will be cut.
MORE: NFL Draft QB Match Game
Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers
Cap hit: $3.718 million
Stewart averaged a career-low 3.4 yards per carry in 2017, and the 10-year Panther will turn 31 in March. His saving grace might end up being his nose for the end zone (7 more TDs) and more sentimentality from the team. This feels 50-50. We say he stays, as the team might trim center Ryan Kail and defensive end Charles Johnson for bigger savings, instead.
Michael Crabtree, WR, Raiders
Cap hit: $7.718 million
OK, Crabtree technically has never been to a Pro Bowl, but as a 2016 alternate, he has the feel of these other guys. Although he matched his 2016 TD catch mark with 8 more in ’17, Crabtree saw his catches (89 to 58) and yards (1,003 to 618) decrease dramatically. He also contributed to some team dysfunction issues. He won’t be part of the second Gruden era in Oakland.