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NFL teams will start releasing players before the new league year. Here’s what you need to know

The reasons for the cuts can vary, but it’s simpler than you think.

Wild Card Round - Buffalo Bills v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Now that the NFL season is over and things have settled post-Super Bowl, we’re entering the early offseason period. This includes free agency, which will begin on March 14 as the new league year starts up. But before that, there will be some cuts that you may or may not have seen coming.

The cuts that happen right before the season starts usually get more attention, but these roster moves are also important in shaping teams come September.

What should we expect this year?

Some of the players who get released before free agency will be bigger names, including quarterbacks like Tyrod Taylor and Blake Bortles. The Bills have never been shy about their uncertainty in Taylor, and the Jaguars are a decent quarterback away from being serious Super Bowl contenders. Elsewhere, Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray, and Robert Quinn are a few guys who could be playing the free agent market this offseason.

Often veteran running backs get the ax, and this year we could see Marshawn Lynch, Jonathan Stewart, Matt Forte, and Adrian Peterson all looking for new homes or retiring.

The cuts happen for a variety of reasons.

These players are expendable to their respective teams because of skill, an attempt to clear up cap space for a free agency signing, formerly high draft picks who ended up as busts, or any combination of the three.

Sometimes, players who are due a large amount of money by a certain date might get cut and then re-signed on a cheaper deal by their same team. Or, they might restructure their deals. Tyrod Taylor did this last offseason with the Bills, unsure that he would get a better deal elsewhere. This year, Taylor is owed a $6 million bonus if he’s still on the roster by March 16, which seems unlikely.

There’s a big free agent teams want.

This offseason, you can expect quarterback-needy teams to try to make space for Kirk Cousins. He’s going to require a large contract, especially after Jimmy Garoppolo signed his mega deal. The Jaguars are just one of a handful of teams that we could see making a push for him, but they would have to make some cuts to make that happen. They could start with Bortles, immediately opening up $19 million.

Teams want to rebuild.

Sometimes, the cuts to create cap space is simply meant to reboot a roster. Last year, the Jets started shedding older players who were making good money but had little upside. Offensive tackle Ryan Clady saw his option declined, which was $10 million. They also cut kicker Nick Folk, which saved the team another $3.5 million despite him being one of the more solid kickers since he came into the league in 2007. They ended up releasing even more veterans later that summer, making it clear that they were on board with a rebuild.

The Cardinals could be a candidate for a similar purge. They have a new coach, need a quarterback after Carson Palmer retired, and have just $22.7 million in cap space after an 8-8 season, according to Over the Cap.

Former first-rounders who didn’t pan out.

Last year, the Steelers cut Justin Gilbert, just a couple years removed from being the Browns’ eighth overall selection in the 2014 NFL draft. Nobody picked him up afterward.

A year before that, the Browns released Johnny Manziel, another 2014 first-round pick, after a turbulent career. Manziel has been away from the NFL since, though he’s recently said he’s aiming for a comeback.

Ravens wideout Breshad Perriman, a first-round pick in 2015, could be a potential cut candidate this offseason. But it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Ravens decided to see if Perriman, who missed his rookie season due to a knee injury, improves.

Don’t expect that cut player to suddenly emerge on a new team.

After the Vikings declined his option last offseason, Adrian Peterson had more trouble finding a new team than he thought he would have. He wound up with the Saints, but it was a bad match on both sides. He was then traded to the Cardinals, and though he flashed at times, he still wasn’t the AD we’re used to seeing. He had 448 yards and two touchdowns in six games.

With David Johnson due to return from injury for Arizona, Peterson could be released this offseason, finding himself in the same spot as last year.

For many released players, there’s been an injury history that can get overlooked because we remember how great he used to be. Last year, that was Jamaal Charles, who was cut by the Chiefs after nine successful years with the team — but the last two were plagued with injuries that allowed him to start only five games. He signed with the Broncos in the offseason and rushed for just 296 yards in 2017.

There are always exceptions, though.

The best example from last season was Josh McCown. The Jets looks like they were in full-on tank mode last offseason when they seemingly dumped any player with any kind of talent.

Instead, McCown had a career year at 38 years old, and was 5-8 in his 13 starts before falling to injury. He was even second in the NFL among quarterbacks with five rushing touchdowns. Only Cam Newton and Dak Prescott had more (6).

McCown didn’t lead the Jets to the playoffs, but he had a bigger impact than anyone imagined. They failed to win a game that McCown didn’t start. If Bryce Petty or Christian Hackenberg had been under center throughout 2017, the Jets might have a higher draft pick right now.

In 2016, Chris Long was released by the Rams and ended up with the Patriots. He started seven games and collected four sacks, 22 tackles, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery while also winning a Super Bowl.

The year before, Ted Ginn Jr. was cut by the Arizona Cardinals and followed it up with the best year of his career in Carolina in 2015. In 15 games, Ginn had 739 yards and 10 touchdowns — that’s five more touchdowns than he had in any other season of his career.

In 2017, both Long and Ginn were playing for new teams — and still making big contributions for the Eagles and Saints, respectively.

What days do I need to know moving forward?

There’s no real deadline for cuts to be made, but there are things that will influence those decisions. Players get released as rosters begin to mold, franchise and transition tags are handed out, and players are scouted and targeted in the draft.

Here are the big upcoming dates that will help shape who gets cut (or see their option declined) this offseason:

Feb. 20: First day for clubs to designate Franchise or Transition Players.

Feb. 27-Mar. 5: NFL Scouting Combine.

Mar. 6: Prior to 4 p.m. ET, deadline for clubs to designate Franchise or Transition Players.

Mar. 14: At 4 p.m. ET, all 2017 player contracts expire, and the 2018 league year and free agency begins.