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Cap Casualties, 2020: Wrapping up the NFC North

Green Bay Packers v Chicago Bears Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

The Cap Casualty series continues as fast as I can pump them out. Can I really review all 31 other teams before players start getting cut?! We’ll find out! I’m starting with the teams that have the most work to do though, so they should get shorter as time goes on. I hope. At the bottom of the page are five previous cap casualty reports, so check those out too.

In an effort to complete this series in a faster amount of time than the previous pace, I’m going to look to finish the NFC North, since I’ve already written about the Vikings and Bears. That leaves us with two other teams that may or may not be cutting players in an effort to improve the overall team.

At the moment I am picking Chicago to win the division, but a lot will change between now and the start of the season. Let’s see how the defending division champions and defending division losers will re-set their salary cap.

Green Bay Packers

Effective 2020 Cap Space: $23.7 million

Biggest Savings: David Bakhtiari, $11.5 million

Biggest Reasonable Savings: Jimmy Graham, $8 million

The Packers aren’t cutting their elite, 29-year-old left tackle, but there are definitely options to save money and invest in new players, as they did in 2019 with pass rusher Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith; arguably the best value signings on the edge of any team last year.

They have fewer needs this time around but also less money and perhaps fewer places to find more space. Here’s what they could do:

Jimmy Graham, TE, $11.6 million cap hit, $8 million saved if released

How quickly things went wrong for Graham. While Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, and Jason Witten all played well deep into their 30s, Graham seemed to start wearing down as soon as he got to the Seattle Seahawks at age 29. He’s had a few great moments over the last five years, but things really tumbled in 2019 as he finished with 38 catches for 447 yards and three touchdowns. And he’s only a receiving option at tight end.

Odds of release: It has to be a given, right? Graham turns 34 next season and he’s not one of the best 10 tight ends in the league anymore. Maybe not one of the best 20. On his current deal, he’d be the second-highest paid in the league. That’s not possibly going to happen.
Would he help the Chargers: No. Not even if Hunter Henry left.

Corey Linsley, C, $10.5 million cap hit, $8.5 million in savings

Linsley would carry more savings if released, but Green Bay letting go of him at this point would be really surprising. He’s a good center, he’s 28, he’s been snapping to Aaron Rodgers since 2014. The example you could point to is when the Packers let go of T.J. Lang in 2017, a surprise to most, but I don’t see them needing the money so badly as to get rid of Linsley.

Odds of release: Low. But it is a lot of savings.
Would he help the Chargers: Not where they’d focus their attention for the o-line.

Lane Taylor, G, $5.4 million cap hit, $4.2 million in savings

Taylor may be a better guard than Billy Turner, but Green Bay is more financially committed to Turner than they are to Taylor. He also missed 14 games last season and rookie Elgton Jenkins looked like the real deal. Unless they part ways with Turner before his $3 million roster bonus kicks in, I expect them to make space for Jenkins by moving Taylor.

Odds of release: I think pretty good, unless they trade him first. Not sure what he’d cost to acquire, but maybe not more than a late round conditional pick.
Would he help the Chargers: He may be worth a shot.

Billy Turner, G, $8.1 million cap hit, $1.3 million in savings if released (maybe more?)

The Packers have a lot of upcoming roster bonuses, including ones going to Preston Smith, Aaron Rodgers, Za’Darius Smith, Adrian Amos, Dean Lowry, and Turner, who is getting a $3.3 million bonus. His base salary is only $2.2 million and he has a $2.25 million prorated signing bonus over each of the next three seasons.

Odds of release: Turner wasn’t their best lineman by any stretch, but I’m not sure how the money situation will work based on the timing and they can’t get out of that prorated bonus anyway. I imagine Matt LaFleur will want to keep things the same as much as possible.
Would he help the Chargers: Maybe.

Jamaal Williams, RB, $2.2 million cap hit, $2.1 million in savings

He’s actually been around for about 150 touches per season over his first three years, even if he’s not Aaron Jones. He scored five receiving touchdowns last year. I kind of just forgot about Jamaal Williams.

Odds of release: Probably not unless they drafted someone, got into camp and spring training, and then made a decision at final cuts to go in another direction.
Would he help the Chargers: Not really

Moves:

Not Bold: Release Jimmy Graham, Lane Taylor

Cap Space: $34.8 million

Green Bay’s big objective in free agency is to re-sign tackle Bryan Bulaga. After that, it’s a matter of either re-signing or replacing Mason Crosby at kicker and evaluating outgoing players like Geronimo Allison, Marcedes Lewis, Blake Martinez, Jake Kumerow, and Tramon Williams.

They should have no problems doing that with $35 million.

Detroit Lions

Effective 2020 Cap Space: $45.8 million

Biggest Savings: Darius Slay, $10.5 million

Biggest Reasonable Savings: Damon Harrison, $6.75 million

There’s not a lot that the Lions need to do and not a lot that they can do. There will be Matthew Stafford trade rumors, but not to save money. They can’t do that by trading Stafford. They aren’t going to part with Darius Slay or Taylor Decker ($10.35 million in savings) unless those players demand it. Decker could get an extension that brings his cap hit down.

Unless Detroit wants to start fresh with younger players and see what draft picks they can get in return, I imagine they’ll be keeping most of the band together. For better or worse.

Damon Harrison, DT, $11.75 million cap hit, $6.75 million in savings

Nothing against “Snacks” but the run-stopping defensive tackle market is going to be so flooded, does a team like the Lions really need to spend this much on a position that isn’t that valuable? If the Lions were a good team, you wouldn’t want to make them less good, but how much does Harrison move the needle for a bad team like this?

He has a $2.5 million roster bonus coming up.

Odds of release: Probably pretty low because they also don’t need the money and he’s a good player. I just don’t think it would be a big, surprising deal if they moved on and invested elsewhere.
Would he help the Chargers: Yes. But LA is maybe in a similar position to Detroit, do they really need to invest in a run-stopping defensive tackle?

Ricky Wagner, OT, $11.9 million cap hit, $6.1 million in savings

He’s okay. He’s not that good. Do they have a young tackle ready to step in and start? Not that I know of and they don’t seem to need the money.

Odds of release: Also low.
Would he help the Chargers: Potentially, but not immensely.

Devon Kennard, OLB, $7.4 million cap hit, $5.6 million in savings

He’s probably not that well known of a player, but Kennard has had seven sacks in each of his two seasons with the Lions, plus 29 QB hits and 18 TFL total.

Odds of release: No. But felt I should mention it.

Moves:

As of now, I don’t have the Lions releasing anyone. They might make a move with Romeo Okwara ($2.3 million in savings) and there are chances that they’d release someone like Jones or Wagner or Harrison. But my ultimate expectation is for things to stay the same. They may focus on re-signing center Graham Glasgow and seeing where they can find upgrades. Potentially looking to trade or give up on cornerback Justin Coleman, one of the worst free agent signings of 2019.

Read: The Vikings might need to trade Kirk Cousins

Read: The Steelers could struggle to keep the band together

Read: The Jaguars have the most cuts to make

Read: The Falcons may have to part with Desmond Trufant and/or Keanu Neal

Read: The Bears should trade Mitchell Trubisky