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Cap Casualty Candidates: What the AFC West teams may do to save money

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Denver Broncos v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

It’s finally time to look at the AFC West when it comes to cap casualty candidates, and that will just about wrap up the conference for this series. I have only one AFC team left to look at: The LA Chargers. For now, we’ll look at their rivals.

Check the bottom of the page for the rest of the cap casualty previews.

Denver Broncos

Effective 2020 Cap Space: $62.1 million

Biggest Savings: Ronald Leary, G, $8.4 million

Look, the Broncos are my sleeper team for Tom Brady. Though I have Brady sticking in New England and I have the Buccaneers or Colts as his top options, somewhere down the line is John Elway trying to create the late-career magic he and Peyton Manning both had in Denver. While I actually like Drew Lock quite a bit, the temptation to win now could always make Elway a bit of a loose cannon. They have the money to woo Brady already but probably only with a much stronger supporting cast on offense. That would also take money. Here’s how they could get a little bit more space.

Ronald Leary, G, $9.3 million cap hit, $8.4 million in savings

Perhaps the only thing consistent about Leary is his injuries; five games missed in 2017, 10 in 2018, and four in 2019. He wasn’t rated as being very good last season either.

Odds of being released: Good. I think Denver should know that with $8 million they could bring over a better and more reliable option than Leary.
Would he help the Chargers: He may have a couple years left in him and at his healthiest would upgrade the interior, but he has to be relatively cheap. If he’s willing to take a paycut, he may just stick with the Broncos.

Todd Davis, ILB, $6 million cap hit, $5 million in savings

Led the team with 134 tackles last season but that really doesn’t say much. He missed six tackles last year but 15 the season before. He’s not exceptional in coverage and he doesn’t bring a pass rush element. It’s not a lot of savings, but is he worth millions?

Odds of being released: Also good, I think. That position could be manned by someone cheaper and younger, I believe.
Would he help the Chargers: Not necessary.

Jeff Heuerman, TE, $4.3 million cap hit, $3.8 million in savings

Another question as to “How much do you value his blocking?” Heuerman doesn’t seem like the tight end who will wow any incoming QB or Lock. They drafted Noah Fant in the first round last year and they could get a Heuerman type for much cheaper.

Odds of being released: Do it.
Would he help the Chargers: No.

Joe Flacco, QB, $23.6 million cap hit, $10 million in savings

They put themselves in this blatantly obvious position of getting stuck with $13.6 million in dead money for Flacco whether they cut him or trade him. They almost certainly cannot trade him.

Odds of release: So they’ll have to cut him. Brady or no Brady, why do you need Flacco? Take the 10 and run.
Would he help the Chargers: I got chewed on twitter for only informing people that Andy Dalton would be available, not that he should be on the Chargers. I think Flacco would warrant even more chewing. He’s a bad starting quarterback and would not help the Chargers. There, I said it.

MOVES:

Not Bold: Release Joe Flacco, Jeff Heuerman, Todd Davis

Cap Space: $79.5 million

Somewhat Bold: Release Ronald Leary

Cap Space: $87.4 million

Kansas City Chiefs

Effective 2020 Cap Space: $13.6 million

Biggest Savings: Sammy Watkins, $14 million

They’re the champs, but they’re going to have a hard time repeating. Why? Because it’s hard to repeat? Yes. But why is it hard? Because it’s hard to win a Super Bowl period. The Chiefs were not the most dominant team in their own conference. That was the Baltimore Ravens. By the end of the playoffs, nobody could contain Patrick Mahomes or get past the defense in the second half of games and so Kansas City is the current champion. And a good one, at that. But even the New England Patriots have only repeated once during their six Super Bowl-run beginning in 2001. No other team has repeated in this century. The Chiefs also have work to do if they’re going to keep a strong 53-man roster while remaining under the cap.

Sammy Watkins, WR, $21 million cap hit, $14 million in savings

They really just gotta do it. Watkins’ savings double their cap room. Can they find a trade partner if Watkins isn’t willing to take a paycut? And I’m not sure Watkins should entertain any idea of a paycut. Despite his lack of production every year, teams still seem to view him as a WR1.

Odds of release or trade: Watkins has a $13 million base salary, which is roughly what he might get on the open market anyway. Is a team gonna throw a fourth rounder at Kansas City for Watkins? I don’t know, but he’s probably got to go.
Would he help the Chargers: Not an option worth considering.

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, G, $9 million cap hit, $5 million in savings

A pretty-whatever guard who is making quite a lot of money. He would leave $4 million in dead money and they’d have to find a new guard but I’m not convinced they need to keep this union going through 2020.

Odds of release: Decent, I’d say.
Would he help the Chargers: He’d be among the guards to consider adding, but not a priority.

Cam Erving, OT, $4.6 million cap hit, $3.2 million in savings

All indications seem to point to him being bad.

Odds of release: Almost certain?
Would he help the Chargers: No.

Daniel Sorenson, S, $4.75 million cap hit, $3.75 million in savings

Not convinced they need to keep a backup safety/special teamer at this cap hit either.

Odds of release: Good.
Would he help the Chargers: No.

Alex Okafor, DE, $7.2 million cap hit, $3.2 million in savings

He’s got a pretty low ceiling but he was productive enough to maybe keep around for that $3 million difference.

Odds of release: On the high side of low, if that makes sense. I don’t expect it.
Would he help the Chargers: Not really.

Damien Wilson, OLB, $5.3 million cap hit, $4.5 million in savings

Much easier to say that Wilson wasn’t very good and that his savings/dead money is enough to allow you to move on.

Odds of release: Good.
Would he help the Chargers: I don’t think so.

MOVES:

Not Bold: Release Daniel Sorenson, Damien Wilson, Cam Erving

Cap Space: $23.6 million

HEADLINE: Trade Sammy Watkins (or release)

Cap Space: $37.1 million

Franchise Tag: Chris Jones, $15.5 million

Cap Space: $22.1 million

Outgoing free agents include three running backs, both backup quarterbacks, starting guard Stefen Wisniewski, DeMarcus Robinson, and three cornerbacks. So they’ll likely have a lot of work left to do, especially in addressing the guard position, the cornerback position, a backup QB, and another receiver after you move on from Watkins. There’s also the linebackers, where Terrell Suggs, Reggie Ragland, and Darron Lee are free agents, hurting your depth. I’m not sure $22.1 million is enough, assuming they hold onto Jones on the franchise tag, but releasing Duvernay-Tardif just creates another hole at guard. Kansas City can address some of these needs in the draft (which also costs some money) but not many and without any expectation of them helping immediately.

Yes. Repeating is hard. Winning a Super Bowl, even when you’ve been very talented, is hard.

Las Vegas Raiders

Effective 2020 Cap Space: $51.8 million

Biggest Savings: Trading Derek Carr, $16.5 million

The Raiders have the opportunity to bring back their entire starting offense and most of their regulars on defense. And? And why would that excite anybody in Las Vegas or Oakland or Los Angeles or wherever else I guess you can find Raiders fans? They finished 24th in points scored and 24th in points allowed on their way to a 7-9 finish, featuring one of the bottom three pass defenses in the NFL. LV needs to fix their front-seven and their secondary and that’s maybe only the beginning of trying to convince Tom Brady or Philip Rivers or someone else to come to the team if they do opt to make a change from Derek Carr.

I think they’ll need more money and that starts with Carr.

Derek Carr, QB, $21.5 million cap hit, $16.5 million saved if traded, $13.6 million if released

The acquiring team incurs a $18.9 million base salary for Carr, which isn’t bad for a QB who may be slightly better than average. Carr had a career-year in 2019, averaging 7.9 yards per attempt and 70.4% completions behind one of the NFL’s best offensive lines. The Raiders could theoretically improve everything else about the team and get to the playoffs with Carr but it seems like maybe they’d prefer to try and upgrade through making one change behind center.

Odds of trade: I’ll give it a moderate. Other things around the league may need to happen first but if the right opening appears, a team may be willing to ship a draft pick to Vegas for Carr. I’ve been saying for the last few years that it would be the right time to move Carr and now it seems like the organization might agree.
Would he help the Chargers: There won’t be a trade of Derek Carr to the Chargers. Maybe deciding his destination will motivate Vegas to trade him over releasing him.

Gabe Jackson, G, $9.6 million cap hit, $9.6 million in savings

He’s a good player, it’s just a lot of savings and it is reasonable to wonder if the Raiders will use one of their two first round picks on a guard. Why? Clearly offensive line has been a priority for Jon Gruden and Tom Cable, plus Richie Incognito is now turning 37. Jackson is a good player, but I’m not sure anyone is pounding the table for him as a “great” one.

Odds of release: If it happens, it may not be until cuts in September, if the team does take a guard early. Outside of Kolton Miller, this is a pretty old line so I do expect them to target those players in the draft.
Would he help the Chargers: Yes.

Tahir Whitehead, OLB, $7.2 million cap hit, $6.2 million in savings

You’ll hear me say this a lot: making tackles isn’t that big of a deal. Whitehead led the team in tackles with 108 but we have little reason to believe he’s good in coverage.

Odds of release: Decent. This is money that could be spent in areas of bigger concern, like pass defense, which Whitehead wasn’t helping with.
Would he help the Chargers: No.

MOVES:

Not Bold: Release S Erik Harris ($2.5)

Really Not That Bold: Release Tahir Whitehead

HEADLINE WITH CORRESPONDING SIGN OR TRADE: Trade Derek Carr

Cap Space: $75.6 million

With this money they could not only sign a new QB, they could start to fortify the pass rush and secondary, perhaps even targeting a high-end linebacker for the middle. Look, I don’t think free agency is the way to build a champion, not as much as the draft is, but what other choices do the Raiders have as they open in Las Vegas? The other thing is that money saved by moving Carr is only noteworthy if they have his replacement and it’s rare to find a good QB in free agency or trade. If there’s not a better option, then stick with Carr, he’s a decent value. If there is, including through the draft, then go with that maybe.

That recaps most of the AFC West, I’ll give the Chargers their own post.

Chargers Interest:

Anyone changing hands here within the division? I don’t think it would be Carr. If Vegas gets desperate enough for any reason to release Gabe Jackson, he’d be worth looking at. Ronald Leary and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif as well. So... guards. That’s what we have here.

Guards.

PREVIOUSLY:

Read: Andy Dalton is biggest name, but not only trade candidate in AFC North

Read: Colts, Titans, Texans, and why a Jacoby Brissett trade makes sense

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