This year’s list of NFL free agents is already a long one, and it’s about to get even longer as teams start making roster cuts. Expensive veterans will wind up on the chopping block as franchises compare cost to output and make some tough decisions to shape their depth charts.
Here’s a look at the big names in the AFC who could be packing their bags as teams hit the reset button for 2017.
Elvis Dumervil, OLB and Mike Wallace, WR
The Ravens have several high priced veterans on their roster who failed to play up to their contracts in 2016. Lardarius Webb, Benjamin Watson, and Kyle Arrington are all candidates, but Dumervil and Wallace are the biggest names heading for the chopping block.
Dumervil had just 11 tackles last fall but is due nearly $8.4 million of Baltimore’s cap space in 2017. At 33 years old, his days as a fearsome pass rusher are behind him. Wallace led the team in receiving yards and proved he’s still a viable deep threat after averaging more than 14 yards per catch, but is on the hook for $8 million next season. If the Ravens think Breshad Perriman is ready to make the leap in his third year as a pro, Wallace could be cut loose.
LeSean McCoy , RB and Tyrod Taylor, QB
The Bills could release their two most important offensive players thanks to big guarantees tied to the 2017 season. McCoy cemented his place as one of the league’s top tailbacks after running for 5.4 yards per carry and 13 touchdowns, while Taylor earned his second straight Pro Bowl invitation — though that may be more a condemnation of the AFC’s roster than the quarterback’s strength. At cap hits of $8.875 million and $15.9 million, respectively, the pair could prove too expensive for a new regime in upstate New York.
Buffalo could mitigate losing its starting running back by handing his duties over to Mike Gillislee, who was the only qualified player in the league to have a better yards-per-carry average than McCoy. Replacing Taylor would be tougher. The team could turn to Cardale Jones instead, but the former Ohio State standout looked every bit a rookie in his lone appearance last fall.
Adam Jones, CB
The 2014 All-Pro and 2016 Pro Bowler emerged as an offseason headache once again after being arrested for obstructing official business, disorderly conduct, assault, and a felony charge of harassment with a bodily substance.
The player once known as Pacman had cut himself a redemption story in Cincinnati, but at 33 years old, the athleticism he long relied on as a playmaker has begun to decline. At $7.7 million, he carries the team’s fourth-largest cap hit — a mark that may be too expensive for the franchise to overlook his off-field problems and on-field regression.
Robert Griffin III, QB
RGIII spent most of 2016 on the sideline recovering from injury. Even when he was healthy, the former Rookie of the Year didn’t add much more to the offense than rookie Cody Kessler did. Griffin completed less than 60 percent of his passes and doesn’t quite fit the mold of “veteran mentor” the team is looking for to help develop Kessler and whatever young passer enters the fray this offseason.
At a cost of $8.7 million, Griffin’s stay in Cleveland could be a short one.
Russell Okung, OT
Cutting Okung before March 8 will save the Broncos $11.7 million in cap space. Since the veteran tackle never really found a way to stand out on the Denver offensive line, it seems unlikely the team will bring him back at such a high cost. Instead, John Elway can throw that money after another budding blocker who will turn into a pumpkin upon arriving in Colorado.
Brian Cushing, LB
The veteran linebacker would cost the team $4.2 million in dead cap money, but produce a net savings of more than $5 million should the Texans move on from a longtime face of the franchise. Cushing made only 65 tackles last year and endured his first season as a pro without forcing a turnover. Though he’s only 30, his best years may be behind him — which makes him a candidate to be cut, albeit a relatively unlikely one.
Arthur Jones, LB
The Colts don’t have a ton of expendable, high-cost players. Andrew Luck, Anthony Castonzo, Vontae Davis, and T.Y. Hilton are all important parts of the roster, and every one but Davis carries considerable dead cap money on his contract. That leaves Jones, whose release would clear up more than $5.1 million this spring.
Jones will be 31 next season and has yet to live up to the standard he set in Baltimore before signing with Indianapolis. The Colts could keep him around, but if the team needs a little breathing room in free agency, the third-most famous Jones brother could be given his walking papers.
Sen'Derrick Marks, DT and Roy Miller, DT
The Jags already had something of a logjam on the defensive line. They prioritized Abry Jones, signing him to a new four-year contract on Feb. 15. With Jones at nose tackle, that makes Miller and his $3.9 million cap hit expendable. Some wondered if Marks would get cut last year. He didn’t, but saw his playing time reduced during the season, something he made clear he wasn’t happy about. He lost snaps to last year’s free agent addition Malik Jackson and rookie Sheldon Day. His $4.6 million cap hit will be hard for the front office to overlook.
Kansas City Chiefs
Jamaal Charles, RB
Charles was an absolute monster for the Chiefs when he was healthy. Unfortunately, he’s only played in eight games since 2014. The oft-injured tailback has bounced back from time on the IR before, but that was when he was 26. He’ll be 31 this upcoming season, and too much of a question mark for Kansas City to invest more than $6 million of cap space toward in 2017.
He managed only 13 carries last fall and posted a career-low 3.3 yards per touch over that span. Worries he will never regain his All-Pro form are legitimate, and while his career isn’t over, his time with the Chiefs almost certainly is — at least at his current salary.
Los Angeles Chargers
Brandon Flowers, CB
Flowers may make the decision easier for the Chargers, as four concussions in the past three seasons has him thinking about retirement. If he leaves, he’ll clear $7 million from the team’s books — enough to sign a free agent that will draw fans to Los Angeles and help the team get over the hump that saw it lose eight games by seven points or fewer.
Dion Jordan, DE
Three violations of the NFL’s substance abuse policies got the third overall pick from the 2013 draft suspended for the entire 2015 season. He was reinstated in July 2016, but knee injuries kept him off the field for the entire season. At $3.2 million, Jordan’s cap savings hardly matches the massive disappointment he’s been for the Dolphins, but with no dead money and no more headaches, it’ll be an easy decision.
New England Patriots
Danny Amendola, WR
Amendola is like a bear who hibernates through the regular season, then wakes up just in time to tear things up in the Super Bowl. The 31-year-old has caught 13 passes for 126 yards, two touchdowns, and a key two-point conversion in his two appearances in the big game, making his value for the Patriots tough to gauge. Injuries limited him to only 12 games last fall, but he posted career highs in catch rate (nearly 80 percent) and touchdown receptions (four, despite only catching 23 passes).
Amendola has taken a pay cut in each of the past two offseasons to remain on the roster in New England. With a cap hit of $7.7 million looming, he may have to restructure his contract once more if he wants to keep saving Super Bowls with clutch receptions from Tom Brady.
New York Jets
Eric Decker, WR; Nick Mangold, C; Sheldon Richardson, DL; Darrelle Revis, CB; and Brandon Marshall, WR
New York needs a hard reset in Todd Bowles’ third year at the helm after crashing from 10-6 to 5-11 last season. Decker, Mangold, and Marshall are all expensive veterans who can still be productive, but would likely benefit from a change of scenery. Cutting them could be a rare win/win scenario. The team could be looking for an excuse to cut Revis in the wake of charges he’s facing in Pittsburgh anyway.
Richardson is a different case. He’s undoubtedly talented, and his ability to rush the passer makes his $8 million cap hit palatable when he’s maximizing his potential. However, a lack of effort on the field and a spate of bad headlines off it have made him a headache for the Jets. Moving on from Richardson makes sense, and while New York will likely seek to trade him this offseason to recoup some of his value, there’s a chance the franchise jettisons him in order to chase a fresh start.
Dan Williams, DT
The biggest cap savers on the Oakland roster are all essential to the team’s success. Cutting Sean Smith and David Amerson, for example, would save the Raiders nearly $17 million, but also dissolve the team’s cornerback tandem. Further down the list is Williams, a part-time starter at nose tackle whose contributions have waned as he reaches his age-30 season.
Williams can still be a contributor, but would produce $4.5 million in cap savings if released. Oakland could go either way with their burly run stopper.
Mike Mitchell, S
Mitchell is set to cost Pittsburgh $8.1 million in cap space next season, and while he wasn’t the main reason for the Steelers’ middling pass defense in 2016, he failed to live up to his contract. Cutting the starting safety would leave a gap in the defense, but also create significant savings the team could put toward re-signing Le’Veon Bell and chasing a solid safety market in free agency. With defensive backs being a strength in the upcoming draft, Mitchell could be expendable — though not nearly as much as Jones or Griffin.
Brian Orakpo, OLB
Orakpo is the team’s highest-paid player, but with good cause. He had a resurgent year in 2016, notching 10.5 sacks and earning his fourth Pro Bowl nod. However, he’ll be 31 next season and while it’s unlikely, there’s a chance Tennessee will look to move on from its best linebacker in order to shore up holes in other areas of the roster. Cornerback Jason McCourty, who would actually save the team more money if released this spring, is also a candidate to be cut — but the Titans secondary needs all the warm bodies it can get after a dismal performance in ‘16.