With free agency approaching, many teams are already clearing space and saving up money to pay players. Whether that's new contracts for players already on the team or gearing up to make a run at some of the biggest free agents, sometimes big-name players have to be released to save some money.
These players are known as "cap casualties." Essentially, they are players who are released because the savings that come with the move are more valuable to the team than the player's contributions on the field.
The Los Angeles Rams already cleared plenty of cap space by releasing Chris Long, Jared Cook and James Laurinaitis, and other teams have already cut ties with veterans before free agency begins.
Here's one player on each NFL roster who could be in danger of hitting the free agency market even though they are currently under contract for the 2016 season:
Arizona Cardinals - Daryl Washington
There really aren't many contracts on the Cardinals' roster that make sense to part ways with to free space, but Daryl Washington's is one that has drawn attention. The consistently suspended linebacker hasn't played since 2013 and Arizona can save $4.5 million in cap space for 2016 by designating him as a post-June 1 cut.
It's possible, but Jason Fitzgerald of Over The Cap thinks it's more likely that the Cardinals keep him on roster while they wait for suspension rulings that could recoup the team some of the money he collected while not playing.
Atlanta Falcons - Paul Soliai
The Falcons could also look at the contracts of Roddy White and Devin Hester, but getting rid of Paul Soliai's contract is a move that would free up more than $5 million in space. And it's one they're expected to make at the start of the new league year.
The nose tackle hasn't been a bad player for the Falcons, but his play hasn't matched the five-year, $32 million contract he received in March 2014. Run stoppers aren't too difficult to find and the Falcons could use $5.44 million of savings that would come with designating him as a post-June 1 cut elsewhere.
Baltimore Ravens - Dennis Pitta
Two hip surgeries have put Pitta's entire career in jeopardy, so it seems unlikely that the Ravens will want to keep the tight end and his $7.2 million salary cap hit for the 2016 season. He has played in just seven games over the last three years and recorded just 36 receptions for 294 yards over that span.
If Pitta ever returns to the field again, it would be a tough battle to return to the promising talent that made him a fourth-round pick in 2010. Either way, the Ravens can save $5 million by designating him as a post-June 1 cut, which is an expected move at this point.
Buffalo Bills - Mario Williams
Williams had just five sacks in 2015 and generally looked like he didn't care to be on the field for the Bills. That makes the $12.9 million in potential savings for Buffalo look like a complete no-brainer.
The 31-year-old defensive end is due a $2.5 million roster bonus on March 13, so his release should come soon. He will mean big savings for the Bills, although the team will have to eat $7 million in dead space for the 2016 season with the move. Still, after Pro Bowl seasons in 2013 and 2014, the connection between Williams and Buffalo has gone sour and the release is something that should benefit both parties.
NFL Free Agency
Carolina Panthers - Charles Johnson
Johnson had just one sack in nine regular season games for the Panthers, but finally proved to be a contributing factor in the postseason with three sacks in three games. Set to turn 30 years old this summer, there's reason to think Johnson has plenty left in the tank, but $15 million against the salary cap in 2016 is a lot for a pass rusher who really didn't contribute too much during a 15-1 regular season.
By cutting him, the Panthers can save $11 million and eat a little over $4 million in dead space. Johnson has restructured his deal with Carolina before and that could end up being the team's solution to the pass rusher's high costs.
Chicago Bears - Martellus Bennett
The Bears already freed up cap space by releasing offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod and parting ways with Bennett would clear even more. He is due to make more than $5 million in 2016, but Chicago can cut him and Bennett will count for only $1.125 million in dead space.
Releasing Bennett is more likely after Zach Miller emerged as a solid threat in the Bears' passing game. Bennett's numbers declined in 2015 and he finished with 439 receiving yards and three touchdowns after doubling those marks in the year prior.
Cincinnati Bengals - Domata Peko
Releasing Peko would clear him off the books entirely for the Bengals without any dead money, so the team has the luxury to decide whether it thinks the defensive tackle or $3.725 million in cap savings is the more valuable thing to have.
The choice seems relatively easy even after Peko had one of the better seasons of his NFL career in 2015. His five sacks were a career best, but he's really a run stopper for the Bengals who hasn't done a particularly great job at stopping the run. Less than $4 million really isn't much, but it's an amount Cincinnati might prefer to have for spending on players other than Peko.
Cleveland Browns - Dwayne Bowe
What's there to even think about on this one? Bowe played 82 snaps for the Browns and caught a grand total of five balls in his first season with the team. The best way to save money would be to trade Bowe, but that'll never happen, so the Browns will likely eat $4.6 million in dead space to get $3.4 million in savings.
It's an obvious move for the Browns after getting absolutely nothing out of Bowe from the two-year, $12.5 million contract given to the receiver last March.
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Dallas Cowboys - Brandon Carr
Carr's future with the Cowboys has seemingly been in question every offseason since he first arrived in Dallas, but this spring could be when they finally parts ways with the cornerback. By designating him as a post-June 1 cut, the Cowboys would save $9.1 million against the salary cap and eat $4.7 million in dead space in 2016 and $2.7 million in 2017.
In eight NFL seasons, Carr has never missed a game and started all 128 games, but hasn't been a particularly dynamic or dominant cornerback. That's not good enough for the Cowboys to take nearly $14 million in cap space on the chin for one player and it means the team will at least look for a restructure if it doesn't just go with his outright release.
Denver Broncos - Peyton Manning
If being almost 40 years old, a shell of the player who earned 14 trips to the Pro Bowl and going out on top aren't enough motivating factors for Manning to retire, then the possibility of getting cut by the Broncos should also push him toward ending his NFL career.
The Broncos can save a whopping $19 million by cutting Manning. Considering the quarterback threw more interceptions than touchdowns last season, it shouldn't be a tough decision for Denver. Yes, he was injured, but even healthy, he isn't worth more than $20 million per season anymore. The cleanest way for things to end between the two sides would be Manning hanging up his cleats.
Detroit Lions - Stephen Tulloch
If Calvin Johnson actually retires, it will save a ton of salary cap space, but the Lions can add another $6 million of savings by cutting ties with Tulloch, too.
The linebacker tore his ACL in 2014 and was a rotational player for the Lions upon his return, playing in just 69 percent of the defensive snaps for the Lions, according to Rotoworld, despite being a starter. He's gone through a lot of wear in 10 NFL seasons and the staff in Detroit has reportedly already told Tulloch that 2015 was his last with the team.
Green Bay Packers - Julius Peppers
Peppers made a Pro Bowl in 2015 by tallying 10.5 sacks for the Packers, but the end is near for the 36-year-old pass rusher. Saving $8 million by releasing an older player like Peppers is a move that seems logical, but it really depends on Green Bay's ability to identify his replacement.
Peppers was productive enough to warrant giving another $8 million of cap space to a double-digit sack artist, but his best days are in the rearview mirror and he could be released if the Packers can find younger pass rushers to add to the roster.
Houston Texans - Arian Foster
There's typically a drop-off that comes when a running back turns 30 and Foster will hit that birthday before the 2016 season begins. That likely would've made the Texans skeptical enough about Foster's future with the team, but an Achilles tendon tear that ended his 2015 season would make even the most optimistic personnel in the front office expect him to take a step back.
By releasing Foster, the Texans can save $6.625 million in cap space, although they would have to eat $2.3 million in dead space.
Indianapolis Colts - Trent Cole
A two-year, $14 million contract for an experienced pass rusher like Cole seemed like a good idea at the time, but he recorded just three sacks in his first season with the Colts and that's not going to cut it. The team can save $6.125 million of cap space by dumping Cole and it seems like the obvious move at this point.
The Colts finished No. 23 in the NFL in sacks in 2015, so pass-rush help will be a priority for the team in the offseason. But it doesn't look like Cole is part of that solution.
Jacksonville Jaguars - Toby Gerhart
The Jaguars save only $3.5 million if they cut Gerhart, but his lack of production makes it an easy choice. After signing a three-year, $10.5 million deal in 2014, he tallied just 326 yards in his first year and 44 yards in 2015.
T.J. Yeldon is handling the rushing duties in Jacksonville now and the team will likely look to add a complementary back to the fold. Gerhart hasn't been that guy and his release is imminent.
Kansas City Chiefs - Knile Davis
There are a lot of players in Kansas City who deserve new contracts and the Chiefs don't have many ways to clear space. The team is going to need as much cap room as possible to give new deals to players like Eric Berry, Derrick Johnson and Sean Smith.
Releasing Davis would save the Chiefs only $700,000 for the 2016 season, but it's a move that makes sense after Charcandrick West stepped up as a solid alternative to Jamaal Charles. Davis was a third-round pick in 2013, but racked up only 72 rushing yards in 14 games in 2015, which is as solid of a sign as any that his time in Kansas City is through.
Los Angeles Rams - Kenny Britt
Releasing Long, Laurinaitis and Cook was probably all the cap cutting the Rams needed to do, but we promised one potential cut for each team and here you go. Britt is due to count $4.85 million against the salary cap in 2016, which is a whole lot for a receiver who catches just over two balls per game.
The thing that likely kept the Rams from releasing Britt is that the roster is severely lacking at the receiver position. Britt led the team with just 681 receiving yards in 2015. If additions are made at the position, parting ways with Britt could happen.
Released by Rams
Miami Dolphins - Jordan Cameron
The Dolphins already got things started by cutting ties with Quinton Coples and can add to the team's cap space by releasing tight end Jordan Cameron as well.
After signing a two-year, $15 million deal with the Dolphins last offseason, Cameron caught just 35 passes for 386 yards and three touchdowns in his first season in Miami. That's far from the 80 receptions and seven touchdowns he had in a Pro Bowl season with the Browns in 2013 that made him worth $7.5 million per season in the first place.
The Dolphins have until March 10 to avoid Cameron counting $9.5 million against the cap, making a restructure potentially difficult.
Minnesota Vikings - Matt Kalil
Even though Kalil improved in 2015, he hasn't lived up to his draft status with the Vikings, who selected him with the fourth overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. In the words of Christopher Gates of SB Nation's Vikings blog, The Daily Norseman, Kalil "merely raised the level of his play from 'Good lord, he's awful' to 'well, sometimes he's not bad.'"
"Well, sometimes he's not bad" isn't quite the way you'd typically describe a player who is due to make $11.096 million in 2016. A restructure is possible, but the Vikings have until March 9 to get one done because his entire salary becomes guaranteed if the Vikings don't release him before that day.
New England Patriots - Scott Chandler
Chandler's $2 million base salary isn't difficult for the Patriots to carry, but it's a tad much for a player who finished eighth in receiving on the team, behind teammates who played in half as many games. Releasing Chandler would net the Patriots $2.05 million in savings and pin $1 million in dead space onto the cap.
With Rob Gronkowski holding down the starting tight end job in New England, it may not be worth even $2 million to pay Chandler to be a backup, especially when it shouldn't be hard for the team to find a young alternative.
New Orleans Saints - Marques Colston
The Saints' salary cap situation is less than ideal and some tough choices are going to have to be made to clear space. One of the toughest ones will be what it does with Colston, a receiver who has spent his entire 10-year career with the Saints.
Colston has struggled with injuries recently and posted career lows in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns in 2015. The team could certainly use the $3.2 million in savings that would come by parting ways with a banged up receiver who turns 33 this summer.
New York Giants - Victor Cruz
Once one of the most promising young weapons on the Giants' offense, the team has played its last 26 regular season games without Cruz. Injuries have sidelined the receiver since early in the 2014 season and even if he returns, it's tough to expect Cruz to be the same receiver at 29 years old that he was at 27 and younger.
By cutting ties with Cruz, the Giants can save $6.1 million. However, he might be willing to take a pay cut if it means he has the opportunity to prove he's worth another sizable NFL contract.
New York Jets - Antonio Cromartie
A streak of three consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl didn't reach four in a row for Cromartie in 2015, and he wasn't nearly the player he was in his last stint with the Jets.
With players like Ryan Fitzpatrick and maybe Muhammad Wilkerson set to receive new deals from the Jets, the $8 million in savings that would come with cutting Cromartie could be very useful. A pay cut is also possible, but parting ways with a cornerback who turns 32 this spring is a move that makes sense, too.
Update: The Jets released Cromartie on Monday.
Oakland Raiders - Roy Helu
A two-year, $4.1 million deal for Helu seemed like excellent value for the Raiders, but he managed all of 39 rushing yards in his first season in Oakland. That makes the $2 million in savings for the Raiders an easy choice and Helu a no-brainer to be released.
Latavius Murray is one of the most promising young backs in the entire NFL, but he needs a complementary player to help the team preserve one of its best weapons. Helu was not that complement.
Philadelphia Eagles - Jason Peters
Lane Johnson is likely the left tackle of the future for the Eagles. The question is just whether that future is now or something the team will continue to shelf. The 34-year-old Peters isn't the player he once was and struggled with injuries in 2015, but is still a quality starter for Philadelphia.
A quality starter might not be enough to warrant keeping Peters on the roster, though, when the Eagles can save more than $8.7 million by designating the veteran offensive tackle as a post-June 1 cut.
Pittsburgh Steelers - Lawrence Timmons
After nine seasons with the Steelers, negotiations between Timmons and the team continued to push back his cap hit and now it's finally here. He's due to count more than $15 million against Pittsburgh's salary cap in 2016, and that's far too much for any player who isn't a franchise quarterback or a true game-breaker.
Another negotiation could lower that number and secure a future for Timmons with Pittsburgh. For now, the Steelers can save $8.75 million if they release him, although it would come with more than $6.3 million in dead space.
San Diego Chargers - Mike Scifres
It's not often that cutting a punter is considered an option to save salary cap space, but Scifres counts more than $4 million against the Chargers' salary cap in 2016 and they can save all but $600,000 of it by releasing him.
After 13 seasons with the team, Scifres' play has declined a bit even though he's still one of the better punters in the league. But it's not a difficult position to replace and the Chargers could find a similar player who costs less than $1 million in 2016.
San Francisco 49ers - Colin Kaepernick
Kaepernick is due to count a little less than $16 million against the 49ers' salary cap in 2016 and the number jumps north of $19 million in the next four years. It's only wise to pay him that much if there's a legitimate belief that he will be the starting quarterback in the fall. The 49ers have to make that decision before April 1 when his salary becomes fully guaranteed.
While the hiring of Chip Kelly as head coach bolstered Kaepernick's chances of actually sticking around in San Francisco, his benching in 2015 and consistent regression make his paycheck hard to justify.
Seattle Seahawks - Jimmy Graham
Trading away a first-round pick for a player usually means he will get more patience than the average player and that'll likely be the case with Graham, who probably doesn't get the boot this offseason.
It's still not an outrageous thought, though. The Seahawks can save $9 million off the 2016 salary cap by cutting Graham, who tore the patellar tendon in his right knee last season. It ended a subpar year in Seattle and now there are questions if he'll ever be the same after suffering such a serious injury.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Gosder Cherilus
Some offensive line-needy teams gave Cherilus a look before the 2015 season and passed. After tryouts didn't land jobs with either the Lions or Bills, the former Colts tackle finally got a job with the Buccaneers and started 13 games, but he wasn't very good.
Finding offensive lineman to protect Jameis Winston better will be a priority for the Buccaneers and if Cherilus isn't in the team's 2016 plans, it can release him and recoup $3.5 million in cap space.
Tennessee Titans - Harry Douglas
Like Winston and the Bucs, the Titans will make protecting Marcus Mariota their No. 1 order of business this offseason. But finding the former Heisman Trophy winner some more weapons needs to happen, too. Douglas played in 14 games and started in 12, finishing with only 411 receiving yards.
Delanie Walker had a Pro Bowl year and Dorial Green-Beckham showed promise as a rookie, so if they can find another weapon or two to add to the offense, the Titans could save more than $3 million in cap space by releasing Douglas.
Washington - Robert Griffin III
It's become such a foregone conclusion that Griffin is done in Washington that the actual reason he's done has been lost in the background. The team can clear $16.155 million off the books entirely without any dead space if it releases the former No. 2 overall draft pick.
The move still hasn't been made, but it's an inevitability and will happen before March 9 when his salary for the 2016 season becomes fully guaranteed. Once considered the savior of the franchise, Washington has pinned its hopes on Kirk Cousins and Griffin will be playing elsewhere in 2016.
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