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Cap Casualties, 2020: Patriots, Dolphins, Bills, Jets

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Miami Dolphins v New York Jets Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images

Last time I wrapped up the NFC North and today on the Cap Casualty series, I burn through the NFC East as quick as possible. This series is pretty self-explanatory: who do I think will be cut and added to the free agent or trade market? At the bottom of the page are the previous articles and soon enough I’ll just have one article with all the names.

Let’s get onto the least balanced division in the NFL over the last 20 years:

New England Patriots

Effective 2020 Cap Space: $41.6 million

Biggest Savings: Dont’a Hightower, $9.9 million

Even after all these years of success, I guess I still struggle in knowing how to predict what Bill Belichick will do next. We know he’s not apprehensive about moving big name stars and trusting that he’ll find new ones for next season. We know that New England doesn’t even really traffic in big name stars that often, especially when it comes to their cap. The biggest free agent signing of the past decade is Stephon Gilmore and there aren’t many other choices. But what nobody knows for sure is if Tom Brady is returning and how much he’ll want this time around.

My guess is that he’ll return and sign another modest contract. The Patriots have a decent amount of cap space but even a modest deal by Brady wipes out half of it probably. Outgoing free agents include Devin McCourty, Matthew Slater, Jamie Collins, Joe Thuney, Ted Karras, Kyle Van Noy, Phillip Dorsett, Nick Folk, and Ben Watson. So I assume they’ll want a bit more space than $41 million.

Dont’a Hightower, LB, $12.4 million cap hit, $9.9 million in savings if released or traded

Go back three years and you’ll see that Hightower was a free agent who signed a four-year, $33.5 million to stay in New England, a somewhat rare big second contract for Belichick to reward. In the past we’ve seen Bill trade away linebackers like Collins and Chandler Jones to save money. But Hightower is also coming off of a career season (71 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 13 QB hits, eight TFL) for the NFL’s best defense. I personally have no problem with the idea of a team selling high on a player like this but I know why a lot of people would have a problem with the mere suggestion.

Odds of release: Zero, probably. And there are very low odds of a trade either, I assume. But it’s Belichick — it’s Belichick! The biggest matter is deciding which outgoing free agents they can’t lose and how much money they’re able to save in these smaller release candidates. Brady’s below-market deal-taking has always helped these matters, will he come through again?
Would he help the Chargers: I mean, sure, but I don’t think it’s a really pressing matter.

Julian Edelman, WR, $9.6 million cap hit, $4.3 million saved if traded

I’m not trying to be salacious, but is a 34-year-old Edelman worth the $4.3 million difference if you can find a trade partner? Releasing him only saves $1.3 million. But his $3 million guaranteed base salary is a major value (100 catches, 1,117 yards, six touchdowns last season) for a team and Belichick moved on from Wes Welker when he was 31 and coming off of this: 118 catches, 1,354 yards, six touchdowns.

Odds of trade: Maybe pretty high if the team doesn’t re-sign Brady. And even if they do, I wonder if that $4.3 million is enough to motivate them to try and allocate that money to someone younger and with a bit higher of a ceiling.
Would he help the Chargers: Not if they trade for him. Maybe not really if they even signed him. New England has always seemed like his best fit.

Mohamed Sanu, WR, $6.5 million cap hit, $6.5 million saved

What a bummer usage of a second round pick. No offense to a perfectly decent player but have you seen the receivers in the 2020 draft class?

Odds of release: Medium? What does $6.5 million buy you at receiver? Do you feel that the second year of N’Keal Harry is going to be good? Do you really like Jakobi Meyers? It’s a good chunk of change with zero dead money, but they paid a good price for him and we’ve seen others, like Danny Amendola, find a better groove after their first year with the Patriots. I imagine this is quite frustrating for fans.
Would he help the Chargers: Not a ton.

Duron Harmon, S, $5.75 million cap hit, $4.5 million saved

Jason McCourty, $5.5 million cap hit, $3.75 million saved

A couple of secondary players, as Belichick has to make a big decision on Devin McCourty. His brother Jason is fine, but turning 33 this year. Harmon is more of a role player than a full-time starter. Would you need/want the $8 million in here for something else or is this the best usage of that money? They used a second rounder on corner Joejuan Williams last year, got some good production out of J.C. Jackson.

Odds of release: Maybe higher for McCourty because of his age. Harmon has more money to save if you let him go, which would probably be to better your odds of re-signing Devin? I’d say there are moderate chances for both, but the Patriots had the number one pass defense for some reasons beyond Stephon Gilmore.
Would they help the Chargers: Maybe for a year, if you’re McCourty, but there’s nothing pressing here.

Moves:

There are some smaller deals where the team could save another few million, but I really gotta speed these things along with more pertinent names.

Bold: Trade Julian Edelman

Cap Space: $45.4 million

Semi-Bold: Release Jason McCourty

Cap Space: $48.6 million

For a little extra room, they could release Rex Burkhead ($2.9 million), John Simon ($2.3), Deatrich Wise ($2.1), Brandon Bolden ($1.4), Terrence Brooks ($1.6), and/or Justin Bethel ($2). If you pick half of those names, you could get the Patriots to $55 million or so. Enough to re-sign Brady, Thuney, and McCourty perhaps.

Miami Dolphins

Effective 2020 Cap Space: $89.3 million

Biggest Savings: Albert Wilson, $9.5 million

Even having the most cap space in the NFL, Miami has an easy road to over $100 million in cap space anyways. No surprise, I suppose: they’re bad. But the Dolphins went 5-4 over the final nine games, same as New England. How active will they be in adding reinforcements outside of just their three first round picks?

Albert Wilson, WR, $10.8 million, $9.5 million saved

How’d this even happen? Wilson signed a three-year, $24 million in 2018 when he was coming off of a 42/554/3 season with the Chiefs. He’s earned quite a lot of money over the last two years, catching 69 passes for 742 yards. I imagine that money flow stops now.

Odds of release: I know they have cap space, but really now.
Would he help the Chargers: Nah. No offense, but the WR market is going to be so flooded anyway, I wonder how hard it will be for veterans like Wilson to find work.

Reshad Jones, S, $15.6 million cap hit, $7.5 million saved

He’s the highest-paid player on the team for 2020 but Jones missed all but four games last season. He also missed a couple of games in 2018 and 10 games in 2016. Jones is 32 and was not brought in by Brian Flores, so do they even have much of a relationship? And what is Reshad Jones’ trade value right now? Probably nothing, but I don’t know that they’d be apprehensive of his $8 million dead money given how much space they already have.

Odds of release: Good. I think that Flores has to be starting fresh and 2019 was not the time to part ways with him. Now that they’ve reset a new identity without him and he’s the highest-paid player, if he’s not taking a paycut, then I think they’ll let him find a new home. And I don’t expect Jones to be taking a paycut.
Would he help the Chargers: A potentially interesting veteran safety, if he’s cheap and willing to move around to play wherever he’ll be most needed for his new team. Interesting guy to keep an eye on.

Daniel Kilgore, C, $4.1 million cap hit, $4.1 million saved

Total savings if you want to part ways with a 32-year-old center who is just okay and often injured.

Odds of release: Think he has to go too.
Would he help the Chargers: No.

Josh Rosen, QB, $2 million cap hit, $2 million saved if traded

This is not a cap move, but if the Dolphins have given up on Rosen, they could maybe recoup a fourth or fifth round pick for his services. Certainly the most interesting guy on this list because he’s a QB and was the 10th overall pick only two years ago, but we can’t eliminate the possibility that he’s just really bad. He’s had really bad situations just about everywhere he’s gone, but just because he hasn’t had the best surroundings it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s any good. Both things can be bad at the same time and in the modern game, we’ve seen young QBs (Gardner Minshew) succeed in sometimes-worse situations. They don’t have a lot of incentive to move Rosen unless they’re in the same position as Arizona was a year ago: they draft a guy and they don’t want to confuse who the QBOTF is. That might happen. Many expect it to.

Odds of trade: I don’t know Rosen like they do or the Cardinals do. But from my vantage point, I would prefer to make the rest of the team better and then give it another year with Ryan Fitzpatrick ($4 million in potential savings) and Rosen. That’s just me. What will Miami do? I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rosen traded again.
Would he help the Chargers: Would you want Tom Telesco to deal a fifth rounder for Rosen and bring him back to LA? I would.

Moves:

Not Bold: Release Albert Wilson, Daniel Kilgore, Allen Hurns ($2)

Somewhat Bold: Release Reshad Jones

Cap Space: $110 million!

The Dolphins have no outgoing free agents that I would be in a hurry to re-sign, so that’s $110 million that they could use on attempting to woo literally any free agent. I suspect they’d stay clear of any of the big name quarterbacks, mostly because they’d struggle to attract them, but could they go hard after a defense that featured Chris Jones, James Bradberry, Yannick Ngakoue, and an offensive line with Joe Thuney, Jack Conklin, and a receiver like Amari Cooper? I mean — I’M GOING CRAZY!!! EVERYTHING MUST BUY!!! — and I think they’ll definitely be overpaying for most of the players they sign. But they can add a number of huge name free agents, and they’ll probably have to.

Buffalo Bills

Effective 2020 Cap Space: $82.1 million

Most Savings: Trent Murphy, $8 million

Similar to Miami, nowhere to go but up as far as spending goes in Buffalo. The Bills went to the playoffs last season but still have plenty of room if they want to improve. Outgoing free agents of note include Jordan Phillips, Lorenzo Alexander, Kevin Johnson, Shaq Lawson, Quinton Spain, Frank Gore, Corey Liuget — in other words, nobody that’s really going to hurt them if they leave, though Phillips and Lawson are coming off good seasons.

I imagine that Lawson and Phillips are the two priorities, and rightfully so, but they can do even more.

Trent Murphy, OLB, $9.7 million cap hit, $8 million saved if released

The Bills are in a situation where maybe you only really discuss this if you’re pushing against the cap. Murphy had 25 QB hits and nine sacks in his final season with Washington two years ago, but only nine sacks and 18 QB hits over his first two campaigns in Buffalo. He’s pretty good, the defense was good, but I’m going to address a notable savings like this.

Odds of release: I doubt that. It’s just not necessary and he’s good.
Would he help the Chargers: Not a major need right now, but sure.

Tyler Kroft, TE, $6.6 million cap hit, $5 million savings

It’s a lot of money for a player who missed five games last year and isn’t a receiving threat in the slightest.

Odds of release: I mean, they probably should, though again, they don’t really need the space.
Would he help the Chargers: Not really.

Moves:

Look, you could argue for some more moves, saving a few million here and there: Cole Beasley ($2.6), Micah Hyde ($3.5), Jerry Hughes ($5.3, if traded), Lee Smith ($1.7), Spencer Long ($2.5), Matt Milano ($2.1), Andre Roberts ($1.5), and they might do some moves like this. But Buffalo isn’t strapped and in fact, must spend.

I think they could cut Kroft, and that’s the most likely, most notable move here.

New York Jets

Effective 2020 Cap Space: $49.6 million

Biggest Savings: Brian Winters, $7.2 million

Biggest TRADE Savings: C.J. Mosley, $11.5 million

We have to assume that even as unlikely as it is, the Jets are going to try and put themselves in position to compete for a Super Bowl in 2020. They have a QB going into his third year, they spent a lot of money in 2019, they probably want to spend a lot again in 2020, but they’re also going through the process of undoing much of what former GM Mike MacCaggnan did before they fired him. That’s why trades of players like Mosley and Le’Veon Bell aren’t as unlikely as they’d normally be and the money they save could help them woo players that Adam Gase actually wants. Whether we think anyone should be doing what Gase wants is another story.

C.J. Mosley, $17.5 million cap hit, $11.5 million in savings if traded in time

These ones are more complicated because they involve roster bonuses and nobody except the Jets are likely to pay Mosley’s $10 million roster bonus. The thing is, New York also wouldn’t cut him before then because he has a guaranteed base salary too. Mosley signed a record-breaking $85 million contract for an ILB last year and then missed 14 games.

Odds of trade: Pretty much zero. Look, a team would be getting one of the best linebackers in the NFL when healthy, but he wasn’t last season and they aren’t gonna pay for the Jets problem regarding his upcoming roster bonus. It would have to be a situation where after his bonus is paid out, New York just wants to move in another direction. Then a team could and should trade for Mosley.
Would he help the Chargers: Yes, but they aren’t known to make trades.

Le’Veon Bell, RB, $15.5 million cap hit, $9.5 million saved if traded

Pretty nuts that Bell has a $15.5 million cap hit. No wonder they fired the GM, but did they have literally nobody in place to sign off on his deals? Did he really just show up to Gase’s office and say, “GOOD news. We gave a running back $52 million over four years!”? Bell is also a roster bonus baby, getting $4.5 million this year. His base salary is $8.5 million.

Odds of trade: Low. If he had a lower base salary, then a team might see a $4 million bargain (potentially) on their hands. If you trade for him, you’re overpaying him instead of the Jets. He’d have to be packaged with a good draft pick and New York isn’t that cash desperate yet. Maybe after free agency kicks in they will be.
Would he help the Chargers: As a replacement for Melvin Gordon, potentially. But it’s not a major concern, especially until the offensive line improves.

Trumaine Johnson, CB, $15 million cap hit, $3 million in savings

Not much savings. Also not much to love as a CB1. Johnson was a surprising franchise tag player for the Rams, then a surprising mega-contract recipient with the Jets.

Odds of release: Low, probably. Better savings in a year. New York will attempt to come back with Mosley and Johnson (nine games missed in 2019) and hope that they’re healthy and that they improve the defense.
Would he help the Chargers: If he was cheaper, sure, but his $11 million base salary is a bad deal.

Jamison Crowder, WR, $10 million cap hit, $8 million in savings if traded

They can’t save anything by releasing him. Crowder is okay if he’s your number three option, I think, but he had 26 more targets than any other Jet and now Robby Anderson is a free agent.

Odds of trade: Nobody else is paying Crowder $8 million, I don’t think.
Would he help the Chargers: Yes, actually. I think he could be decent in LA, but they aren’t trading for him. If he was released, which is unlikely too, then he’d be a good cheap-end option.

Avery Williamson, OLB, $8.5 million cap hit, $6.5 million in savings

How many people know something about Williamson? Started for four seasons with the Titans, lots of tackles, a little bit of a pass rush, signed a three-year deal with the Jets in 2018, usual consistent production that first season, missed all of 2019 with a torn ACL. The NY Post reports that Williamson is “less likely” to be released than Trumaine and Brian Winters.

Odds of release: I’ll disagree with the Post. I think Williamson gets released unless he negotiates a new deal. This is the first player so far where I do see savings, though I think the Trumaine move makes sense.
Would he help the Chargers: I think that’s a possibility to be open to.

Henry Anderson, DE, $8.3 million cap hit, $7 million in savings if traded

The Jets have been so, so, so bad at building a roster from a cap perspective. How are these players making this much? He did apply a decent amount of pressure (nine QB hits) in about a half-season of snaps, but only one sack.

Odds of trade: None? Is anyone paying Anderson $7 million and giving up a pick?
Would he help the Chargers: Maybe a little, not much.

Quincy Enunwa, WR, $7.8 million cap hit, $2.4 million in savings

Missed all but one game with a neck injury, later said to be “spinal stenosis.” Enunwa wants to continue to play but it seems like the best move for the Jets is to take what they can in savings and then offer Enunwa a new deal if he’s healthy enough to give it another shot.

Odds of release: Probable.
Would he help the Chargers: Not a major need or concern.

Brian Winters, G, $7.2 million cap hit, $7.2 million in savings

As noted earlier, it sounds like the Jets could be preparing to do this. There’s little in the way of signs that Winters had a good season and this is a huge chunk of savings that no other player really carries, unless traded.

Odds of release: Good. The Jets have a lot of considerations to make as they rebuild the offensive line again. This is where a lot of their free agent money could be targeted.
Would he help the Chargers: They could give him a shot, if he’s cheap.

Darryl Roberts, CB, $6 million cap hit, $6 million in savings

Another surprising name to see making this much money. Roberts was a regular on defense over 13 games, but probably not that helpful according to the numbers and the known problems with the Jets defense.

Odds of release: Seems probable.
Would he help the Chargers: No.

Moves:

Not Bold: Release Brian Winters, Darryl Roberts, Quincy Enunwa, Avery Williamson

Cap Space: $69.7 million

More Not Bold:

The Jets also have these players with decent savings — Jonotthan Harrison ($2.2), Josh Bellamy ($2.2), Nate Hairston ($2.1), Blake Countess ($1.2), Matthias Farley ($1.2). They played little or not at all or in the case of Harrison, were not good. This doesn’t just open up another $8 million, it opens up roster spaces for players who may be younger and carry higher ceilings.

Cap Space: $77.7 million

Would be slightly bold: Release Trumaine Johnson

They don’t have much in the way of pressing needs for outgoing free agents, but could negotiate with Anderson and Kelvin Beachum about a return. Then in 2021, they could start to make the moves to part with at least Bell, as well as some other bad deals.

Chargers Interest:

Definitely Josh Rosen. Maybe Reshad Jones, Avery Williamson, or Jason McCourty. If the Jets release Trumaine Johnson, then he’d also be a consideration.

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

Read: Lions, Packers have few moves to make