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Cap Casualties: Titans, Texans, Colts round out AFC South

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NFL: SEP 08 Colts at Chargers Photo by Icon Sportswire

This next edition of the Cap Casualty offseason series gets us through the AFC South and I’m inching myself closer to completing that conference. These are players that I’m identifying as being potential cap casualties or trade candidates and then asking whether or not they’d be a fit for the 2020 LA Chargers.

Onto the AFC South, besides the Jaguars, who I already covered. Previous cap casualty entries are at the bottom of the page.

Tennessee Titans

Effective 2020 Cap Space: $50.5 million

Biggest Savings: Malcolm Butler, $7.3 million

Tennessee enters free agency in a really tough position. They were one of the top five teams in the NFL after a 2-4 start and we all know how things came together after Marcus Mariota was replaced by Ryan Tannehill. That’s when not only the passing game improved immensely, but Derrick Henry became the most dominant offensive player in the NFL who wasn’t a QB. Well, Tannehill and Henry are both free agents, as are Jack Conklin and Logan Ryan. Should they need to tag Tannehill, that’s a $26.9 million cap hit. If they tag Henry on a transition tag, that’s $10.2 million. Combined, that’s wiping out about $37 million of their current cap space, only leaving them with enough to maybe just fill out a 53-man roster however they can.

There are moves that they can make to get near $80 million in space though that wouldn’t hurt the overall team too badly. The only question left after that is: Do you really want to pay Tannehill as a top-tier QB and do you want to pay any RB premium free agent money? I might prefer a three-year deal for Tannehill and a franchise tag for Henry, but then you have to wonder if Henry would holdout, as he probably should. Let’s first get them some extra space because there are some obvious cuts coming.

Malcolm Butler, CB, $13.3 million cap hit, $7.3 million in savings

Gave the Super Bowl hero a $61 million contract in 2018. The ROI has been moderately okay at best and he missed seven games in 2019. Butler is fine and you’d have to replace him anyway, but I might prefer to have that $7 million to use towards re-signing Logan Ryan, who is younger, healthier, and probably better.

Odds of release: I think pretty good. Butler hasn’t lived up to his contract and I don’t know if anyone thought that he ever could.
Would he help the Chargers: Not a bad veteran to keep an eye on.

Adam Humphries, WR, $10 million cap hit, $2.4 million in savings

It’s a small amount of savings but given the landscape of the receiver market and the incoming players in 2020 and 2021, I wouldn’t even want to necessarily use a roster spot on a simply-okay option like Humphries.

Odds of release: The amount of dead money makes it moderately likely, but I would admit my mistake and move on.
Would he help the Chargers: There’s going to be a lot of WR3 options out there, he could be one of them.

Cam Wake, Edge, $8.2 million cap hit, $5.5 million in savings

He was actually really productive when he was out there in pass rushing situations, getting 11 QB hits on less than 200 snaps. If you can’t be out there for at least 400 snaps, are you worth that $5.5 million difference?

Odds of release: I think good, but maybe Cam wants to return on a re-negotiated deal.
Would he help the Chargers: No.

Delanie Walker, TE, $8 million cap hit, $6.4 million in savings

I know how popular Walker is in Tennessee. I know how much he loves the Titans. I know how important he is to the locker room. I don’t know how that should translate to paying a 36-year-old tight end like he’s one of your most valuable offensive resources. He missed nine games and caught 21 passes last season.

Odds of release: I really don’t know how they’re going to value Walker. I am only seeing it from a logical standpoint based on age and production and the available tight end options around the league. I don’t know if he would leave Tennessee but I don’t think you can pay him what he’s about to be paid.
Would he help the Chargers: If he wanted to play another year and the Titans weren’t offering, maybe. But not a big need.

Dion Lewis, RB, $5.1 million cap hit, $4 million in savings

With Henry nearly getting MVP consideration as a running back in the year 2019, Lewis sat behind him (for more money, I think) and had 54 carries for 209 yards and 25 catches for 164 yards with one touchdown. He can’t make $5.1 million next year.

Odds of release: Very likely.
Would he help the Chargers: No

Moves:

Not Bold: Release Dion Lewis

Moderately Bold: Release Cameron Wake, Delanie Walker, Malcolm Butler

Bold for Money Reasons: Release Adam Humphries

Cap Space: $75.4 million

If it were me, I would probably focus on Jack Conklin before I’d focus on Henry, and I’d avoid signing him to a record running back contract. I would like to keep him on a franchise tag but would worry that would be a waste and he’d refuse to report. I’d also hesitate to believe that Ryan Tannehill would repeat, which is why the franchise tag makes more sense for him. In my plan, I’d keep one and probably lose one, though you can use the transition tag too, which gives you a little bit of room to keep both. I’d still focus on Conklin and then see what Logan Ryan costs. Lots to consider but they also need to have money to attract free agents while the Titans look like a contending team, which isn’t often.

Houston Texans

Effective 2020 Cap Space: $64.2 million

Biggest Savings: J.J. Watt, $15.5 million

They aren’t going to release Watt, but do the Texans have any other areas where they could save considerable cash? And do they need to? They have plenty of space and the only outgoing free agent who seems hugely important is D.J. Reader — and the level of his importance certainly welcomes some debate. Still(s), Houston could look to move a part here and there.

They’ve already made one move, releasing cornerback Vernon Hargreaves. Any other considerations?

Will Fuller, WR, $10.1 million cap hit, $10.1 million in savings

Kenny Stills, WR, $7 million cap hit, $7 million in savings

Houston has $33.8 million allocated to their receiving group at the moment, second-most in the NFL after the Kansas City Chiefs. Is that a good thing? Fuller missed five games and finished with 670 yards, while Stills was out for three and had 561. But Still averaged 10.2 yards per target and was sixth in DVOA, while Fuller was at 9.4 YPT and is only 26.

Odds of release: Maybe you could argue some reason to trade a receiver so that you could upgrade a position where you are weaker, but I’d expect the Texans to bring back all three of Deshaun Watson’s top targets.
Would they help the Chargers: Again, as with all receivers, they could use a third option and some better depth but LA is set for now.

Tashaun Gipson, S, $7.4 million cap hit, $3.1 million in savings

Gipson was a Pro Bowler with the Browns in 2014, spent three years on the Jaguars, and just had his first season in Houston. He had three interceptions but most reports have his coverage as mediocre and the rest of his game as rather weak. If you have reports to the contrary, please do share in the comments.

Odds of release: Could go either way. The Texans still need a safety to replace Gipson, but could that $3.1 million be used to find one?
Would he help the Chargers: No, I don’t think so.

Duke Johnson, RB, $4.1 million cap hit, $4.1 million in savings

He’s fine. They don’t have to get rid of him and throwing-to-your-backs is such “a thing” now, but could you find a running back that could do the same for under $1 million?

Odds of release: Probably low!
Would he help the Chargers: No, they found one of those running backs (a much better one) for under $1 million.

Angelo Blackson, DE, $4 million cap hit, $4 million in savings

Pretty much the same amount of a cap hit but at a much more important position. However, Blackson is on the low-low end of value for defensive ends, even in a 3-4.

Odds of release: It has to be high? Right?
Would he help the Chargers: I don’t think so, Tom.

Zach Fulton, G, $7 million cap hit, $7 million in savings

Senio Kelemete, G, $4.5 million cap hit, $3.25 million in savings

Two guards, neither seem particularly good. You get twice as much savings with Fulton, but is he that much better than Kelemete? If he is, do you then cut Kelemete? The Texans need upgrades on offensive line, not excuses to stay the same probably.

Odds of release: I’d say one of them should be on the way out, at least.
Would either help the Chargers: Potentially worth a low-cost shot.

Moves:

Not Bold: Release Angelo Blackson, Senio Kelemete

Cap Space: $70.4 million

Do you NEED any other moves? If so: Release Tashaun Gipson

Cap Space: $73.1 million

STILL?! Maybe take phone calls for Kenny Stills. There’s $2.1 million with the release of lineman Greg Mancz also. Houston can re-sign Reader, extend Deshaun Watson and Laremy Tunsil. And then start to shop around for better guards and a high-end cornerback.

Indianapolis Colts

Effective 2020 Cap Space: $86.1 million

Biggest Savings: Jacoby Brissett, $16 million if traded before his roster bonus

Biggest Reasonable Savings: Pierre Desir, $6.8 million

The Colts owe Brissett a $9 million roster bonus and he has $7 million guaranteed for his 2020 base salary. Once they pay out his bonus though, Brissett would be a pretty good bargain for any team that wanted to acquire him via trade. At that point, maybe Brissett is actually worth a second round pick. He’s not terrible, he’s capable of starting, and I wouldn’t put him that far below what the Vikings got when they traded a first for Sam Bradford a few years ago. Look, I don’t think Minnesota should have ever done that deal, but they did do it. A team could again do something that I would not have done.

Indianapolis has a ton of cap space right now and they’ll have even more if and when they part with Brissett, but maybe a lot of that goes to the new quarterback. And they still have plenty of other positions they could upgrade.

Jacoby Brissett, QB, $21.5 million cap hit, $9 million saved if released

The Colts will carry $12.5 million in dead money if they just release Brissett outright, per OvertheCap.com. There’s a $9 million roster bonus and $5.5 million his prorated signing bonus.

Odds of trade: Maybe! I think Indy has to upgrade this position and if they opt to pay out his roster bonus — or if a team is actually willing to take it on — then they could get a decent return. They never should have extended him before last season, but I guess Chris Ballard was feeling the pressure after Andrew Luck’s surprise retirement.
Would he help the Chargers: Comparing Brissett to Tyrod Taylor, I don’t think you get enough of a difference to swap out their money or to give up any draft picks.

Justin Houston, EDGE, $9 million cap hit, $8 million in savings

Houston is exactly the type of the player that every NFL team hopes to get lucky to land in free agency. He was himself a cap casualty and then with a perceived lower ceiling, signed a fairly modest deal with the Colts. He had 11 sacks, his highest total since 2014, and 18 QB hits.

Odds of release: None! But because he’s 31, I assume some people will be wondering.

Pierre Desir, CB, $6.8 million cap hit, $6.8 million in savings

With Cleveland, Seattle, Indianapolis, and briefly San Diego, Desir has been a popular pet project for quite a few teams. He got to the point of starting for the Colts in 2018 and signing a three-year deal last March. He made $9 million last year but that’s probably the end of it, he was bad in 2019.

Odds of release: Moderate-high? He isn’t that expensive for a corner but he wasn’t good and they save all the money. I wouldn’t expect them to go into next season with the idea in mind that Desir is a starter and they’ve got young players like Rock Ya-Sin and Kenny Moore to build around.
Would he help the Chargers again: I’d look elsewhere.

Kenny Moore, CB, $6 million cap hit, $6 million in savings

Aforementioned. He seems to have played better than Desir and he’s five years younger.

Odds of release: Nah.

Brian Hoyer, QB, $5 million cap hit, $3 million in savings

Assuming that they part with Brissett and then bring in a rookie or a new veteran, there’s little reason to rock the boat at backup. The bold move would be cutting Hoyer, adding a new starter, and then relegating Brissett to backup if the new guy is a rookie or Josh Rosen.

Odds of release: It’s not enough money to save for a decent backup but nobody would think twice if he did get cut.
Would he help the Chargers: No.

Margus Hunt, DE, $4 million cap hit, $4 million in savings

Former second round pick of the Bengals, Hunt finally found somewhat of a groove in 2018, six seasons after being drafted. He had five sacks and 13 TFL that season and similar to Desir, Indianapolis rewarded him with a new deal. He probably didn’t earn the chance to see year two of that deal.

Odds of release: Hunt didn’t do much in 2019, he’s probably gone.
Would he help the Chargers: No.

MOVES:

Not Bold: Release Pierre Desir, Margus Hunt

Cap Space: $95.9 million

Somewhat Bold But Necessary: Trade Jacoby Brissett after paying his roster bonus

I could be wrong, but I think this move saves you $7 million of guaranteed base salary. I doubt they could get a team to pay his $9 million roster bonus, but once they do that, I think they could get a decent draft pick for him because he’s 28 and he’s started two of the last three seasons. Brissett could be the NFL’s top backup or a mediocre starter on a really good team. The Colts were not a really good team, but they were a fine team and if Brissett had to come in and start for a good team, like the Patriots for example, I think he could get the job done. Indianapolis just needs that depth chart starter spot for someone better, so I think they could trade him and open up $7 million in space, even though they don’t really need it.

Cap Space: $102.9 million

They’ll be able to re-sign Anthony Castonzo and woo any quarterback that they want, so long as he wants them back. They should be active players on the free agent market, perhaps signing as many as two or three of the top players available.

Chargers Interest:

Overall, only someone like Malcolm Butler would really interest me. There’s some guard and receiver options here too, or a stopgap QB like Jacoby Brissett, but I think LA could be better off with the players they already have or that would cost even less. Or more, if they wanted to spend their money on high-end players and not just potential or veterans keeping the space warm.

PREVIOUSLY:

Read: The entire AFC East and what cap cuts/trades they may need to make

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