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Cap Casualties: Will Cam Newton become part of a blockbuster trade?

San Diego Chargers v Carolina Panthers Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Today we move forward with the second to last article in the Cap Casualty series, an opportunity for me to evaluate all 32 teams to see who could become available in the coming months for the LA Chargers and anyone else. I’ve gone through almost every team but still have three out of four in the NFC South and the entire NFC West — plus I still need to write up the Chargers!

But if LA cuts someone well ... that decreases the odds that they’re going to be a target for LA in the aftermath, right?

The big news this offseason around the NFC South is the future of Cam Newton, especially since the future of Drew Brees has been decided (he’s coming back) and the future of Jameis Winston is far too unknown. On Tuesday morning at the NFL Scouting Combine, it was reported that the Carolina Panthers are “moving forward with Newton as the QB” but ... that was not much of a report.

Let’s break it down briefly.

“The Panthers are expected to proceed with Cam Newton as their starting quarterback.”

“Expected to” means that they have not decided to.

“As Rapoport notes, while Newton is making progress in his recovery from a foot injury, it will be several months before the QB will be game ready, which complicates a potential trade for Newton.”

So Carolina is moving forward with Newton but apparently not enough to eliminate any potential trade, only to complicate it.

“New Panthers head coach Matt Rhule and his staff are impressed with how Newton has treated his rehab process and the QB’s drive to return to top form”

Meaningless. I mean, a head coach would say this if he intended to keep a QB or if he intended to tell other teams how impressive this trade chip is.

“While a lot can change in the coming months...”

And there it is. The report itself admitting that it is not much of a report.

Do I actually expect the Carolina Panthers to trade Cam Newton though? Let’s get to the cap casualties...

Carolina Panthers

Effective 2020 Cap Space: $35.2 million

Biggest Savings: Cam Newton, QB, $19.1 million

In almost every year before this one I would have said that trading Newton was unrealistic, but the Panthers have changed coaches for the first time in a decade and the league may just be different now after watching yet another rookie contract QB take his team to the Super Bowl. Carolina’s already seen one team legend walk away in Greg Olsen, is head coach Matt Rhule ready to completely shake things up and save some cap space in the process?

Cam Newton, QB, $21.1 million cap hit, $19.1 million in savings if traded or released

Were he to get a clean bill of health and the Panthers were legitimately shopping him, Newton could return two first round picks to Carolina. I mean, I’m throwing what I consider to be a reasonable number of first rounders at you but this has rarely, if ever, been done before. Newton is only turning 31, he’s got a low cap hit for a QB in 2020, and even though he’s going to be a free agent after next season I think it’s safe to assume that the acquiring team will have worked out an extension.

“But the extension wipes out the cheap contract?” Yes, eventually, but I think you could still have him at a low hit for 2020 and if you were a team like the Indianapolis Colts or Dallas Cowboys, you’ve got enough cap space to work him in and give him help right now. If the Cowboys are apprehensive of Dak Prescott, would they be less so with Newton for whatever reason? Could you do a tag and trade, sending Dak to Carolina?

I don’t know, it’s late February and our heads are still spinning with the lack of real news and so much uncertainty ahead!

Have I ever been a fan of Newton as far as being a franchise quarterback? No, I have not. Not really. Does that mean that most people agree with me? No, they do not. People seem to think he’s a very good quarterback and so I could see a team trading multiple first round picks to the Panthers for him and if I were in that position, oh my god I would have multiple first round picks! But the big questions are is he healthy enough, does Rhule think he’s “his” quarterback, what sort of promises did Rhule and the team make when it comes to Cam when he was hired, and what will the QB landscape look like after the Brady domino falls?

Odds of trade or release: I’m going to call it low because blockbuster trades are so rare in the NFL. With the CBA negotiations ongoing and the reality that a legit QB carousel is going to happen, it’s the most interesting “maybe” we’ve ever seen. But I still need to see it first.
Would he help the Chargers: Oh huh, I hadn’t even really considered that yet. I mean, you’ve got my opinion. They could have him throw all those little dumpoffs to Austin Ekeler like he did with Christian McCaffrey. They could give him maybe the best receiver he’s ever had in Keenan Allen. And he’ll have a deep shot target in Mike Williams. But can they protect their investment? That’s debatable until they address it. Also, Tom Telesco trading for Cam Newton? Ha.

Dontari Poe, DT, $13.1 million cap hit, $9.8 million in savings

Carolina finished number two in sacks last season but they’ll have to try something new to get to the QB in 2020. Luke Kuechly retired. (Not that Kuechly gets sacks but I’m going to double down on the idea that he was important to the front seven.) Gerald McCoy is a free agent. Vernon Butler is a free agent. Mario Addison is a free agent. And Bruce Irvin is a free agent. Suddenly an abundance of riches is simply a regular bundance.

Collectively, McCoy, Butler, Addison, and Irvin combined for 29 of their 53 sacks and Poe had four over 11 games. Would they cut him — and his $3.1 million roster bonus — loose over $10 million? I mean, yeah, I think they would.

Odds of release: New coaches, old money. I don’t think that Poe is considered to be so vital unless they’ve got a specific role in mind for him that no other cheaper free agent could fill. Again, this is going to be a fully stocked position come free agency.
Would he help the Chargers: Sure, but when they’re scouring their options, does Poe come out as the most important to secure? Is his cap number going to be shockingly low because of the depth of this position in free agency? DTs are gonna be the new RBs. Remember when all those good safeties (including current Panther Eric Reid) were on the free agent market for so long? Players like Poe may not sign until late August or September.

Eric Reid, S, $8 million cap hit, $3 million in savings

The former 49er toiled on the market for what many deemed to be “way too long” a couple of years ago and with the assumption that he doth protest too much like a former teammate, but there were a number of safeties who couldn’t land jobs at that time. He eventually signed with Carolina and has played there for two seasons. There would be $5 million in dead cap space if released, but Reid was rated as arguably the worst coverage safety in the NFL by PFF.

Odds of release: Perhaps they could retain Reid and put him in a different position to succeed. He had 130 tackles and four sacks but if his coverage is really that bad, Rhule can’t rheally count on him to start at safety, can he?
Would he help the Chargers: I’m going to say no.

Jarius Wright, WR, $3.6 million cap hit, $3 million in savings

Mike Davis, RB, $3 million cap hit, $3 million in savings

Just gonna bunch these two offensive (first level, little damage) weapons together.

Odds of release: Wright had 28 catches for 296 yards and zero touchdowns. Davis was brought in midseason and had two carries for two yards. Odds are good.
Would they help the Chargers: No.

MOVES:

Not Bold: Release Mike Davis, Jarius Wright, Eric Reid

Not Super Bold IMO: Release Dontari Poe if he won’t bring his number down

Cap Space: $52.4 million

The Cam question is really just a matter of taste for Rhule and what management said was acceptable to them when Rhule was hired. If it were me and someone was offering two firsts, I would jump at that. Even if it was a good team and the first rounders were late first. Maybe I’m overestimating the return. Maybe I’m underestimating it. I challenge anyone to show me where a Cam Newton trade has happened recently and then we can compare, but if Jalen Ramsey is two firsts, then so is Cam? If Laremy Tunsil is two firsts, so is Cam? I think they could get that, but also what is he worth to the organization as selling power? Christian McCaffrey isn’t a long-term safe bet to be the face of the franchise due to the nature of his position. At this time I’ll predict no trade, but it’s an interesting offseason.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Effective 2020 Cap Space: $79.8 million

Biggest Savings: William Gholston, DE, $4.75 million

There are a number of savings that would be bigger than Gholston, but nothing that feels realistic or worth exploring. The Bucs aren’t likely to part with Ali Marpet, Lavonte David, Mike Evans, Ryan Jensen or Cameron Brate. Look around: they have $80 million to spend!

Of course, they have to address the QB position and a franchise tag for Jameis Winston would wipe out roughly $27 million of that. Even if they go with a free agent or trade option, they’re probably still spending about $25-$35 million of their 2020 cap on a quarterback. Other free agents include Shaquil Barrett, Ndamukong Suh, Demar Dotson, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Carl Nassib. Is $50 million enough for them to feel comfortable about the players they want to keep (Barrett, Suh, Dotson first and foremost, though JPP was highly productive over 10 games) and to play in free agency?

That’s where a couple of moves could come in, but the option to move some money around with other players could also help. Tampa Bay is in a position right now to push all-in and go for 2020 because I think they were an underrated team last season and could compete to win the NFC. They are also my number two team to land Tom Brady after the Patriots.

William Gholston, DL, $4.75 million cap hit, $4.75 million in savings

Not that well known because he doesn’t have great sack numbers but Gholston is going into his eighth year with the Bucs and he’s not just a special teamer: Gholston played in 44% of the defensive snaps last season and he did bump up to 35% of the special teams snaps, a career high.

Odds of release: Low-moderate. If they find they really need the money, it could happen, but Gholston’s actually kind of cheap for what he does. Could you find his replacement in the draft? Probably! But we also don’t know how much of this defensive line is coming back because virtually half of their regular front-seven players are free agents.
Would he help the Chargers: Not a priority.

Cameron Brate, TE, $6 million cap hit, $6 million in savings

Given that O.J. Howard hasn’t had glowing reports through his first three seasons and Brate had virtually the same targets and catches (fewer yards, more touchdowns), I don’t see the team parting ways with him for $6 million. If they really had to find some money though, this is an option.

Odds of release: Low.
Would he help the Chargers: If no Hunter Henry, Brate would be interesting.

MOVES:

At this time, I have the Bucs making no moves. They need to choose and secure a quarterback, hold onto their key front seven players (I choose to believe that Barrett’s season was not a total fluke), and then maybe find a running back, a cornerback, and give the Saints a run for the division.

New Orleans Saints

Effective 2020 Cap Space: $9.3 million

Biggest Savings: Janoris Jenkins, $11.25 million

With the announcement that Drew Brees is returning for another season, the Saints get good news and bad news. I mean, not that bad of news, but they got important news, namely that they probably aren’t going to see Teddy Bridgewater return. In my opinion, Bridgewater is not more than a low-level starter. He may be capable of running Sean Payton’s offense for awhile, but I don’t think that he’s going to elevate a team so much as he’s going to grab a bucket and start shoveling water off the side of the boat if called upon. He’s not going to plug the leak. So New Orleans doesn’t have to worry about re-signing Bridgewater, but they do have other moves to make if they want to get Brees back to one more Super Bowl.

And they don’t have much money to spend at the moment.

Janoris Jenkins, CB, $11.25 million cap hit, $11.25 million in savings

They picked Jenkins up at the end of the year when he was waived by the Giants. They aren’t going to pay him $11 million.

Odds of release: Unless he agrees to a massive pay cut, he’s going to get cut.
Would he help the Chargers: I know he’s got some talent but he’s run into issues with both organizations he’s been in. I would pass.

Demario Davis, ILB, $9.9 million, $5.3 million in savings

Davis has been to zero Pro Bowls in his career and he was a first team All-Pro last season. That says plenty about both the Pro Bowl and the All-Pro lists. Crazy to think that two and a half years ago he was traded for Calvin Pryor. Davis has been a super productive pass rusher since that trade, he’s strong against the run, and he’s very good in coverage.

Odds of release: None, but isn’t it kind of surprising that Davis has been this solid for three years and he is in no way propped up as a star when you watch Saints games? At least, I haven’t noticed a mere mention of Davis in that light by broadcasters — maybe that changes now with the All-Pro nod.

Kiko Alonso, LB, $8.7 million cap hit, $7.8 million in savings

Now imagine if Alonso had been having the kind of seasons that Davis has been having, would we be talking about him more since he’s already been in the NFLtalkosphere? It’s the opposite, as Alonso seems an obvious place for savings.

Odds of release: Assured. Alonso wasn’t productive in New Orleans and he tore his ACL.
Would he help the Chargers: They could take a flier. He has torn his ACL three times, however.

Nick Easton, G, $5.5 million cap hit, $4 million in savings

Think that every New Orleans offensive lineman must get a good grade just because of Brees and the system? Easton played over 400 snaps at guard and was rated as one of the worst linemen in the league by PFF.

Odds of release: Seems about right.
Would he help the Chargers: I don’t know, you could try but you don’t have to rush to him.

Patrick Robinson, CB, $$6.1 million cap hit, $3.6 million in savings

He left New Orleans with little fanfare in 2015, signing a one-year, $2 million deal with the Chargers. He helped the Eagles win a Super Bowl in 2017 but his return to the Saints hasn’t been so banner as he’s missed 18 games in two seasons and is turning 33 before the season.

Odds of release: For sure.
Would he help the Chargers: No.

Sheldon Rankins, DT, $7.6 million cap hit, $7.6 million in savings

I was convinced by a friend in 2016 that Sheldon Rankins was the most explosive player in the draft and that he would be an elite defensive tackle. At times, he’s looked it. He had eight sacks and 15 QB hits in 2018. The team of course picked up his fifth year option but he was hardly productive at all over 10 games, eventually landing on IR with an ankle injury.

Odds of release: No. He was so good in 2018 and despite the abundance of talented defensive tackles, Rankins has a higher ceiling than the vast majority of them. Money would have to be especially tight.
Would he help the Chargers: Even if we’re just talking about when Rankins is a free agent in a year: yes.

Malcom Brown, DT, $6 million cap hit, $3 million in savings

Robinson was in Philly for the Super Bowl win, and Brown was on the Patriots in that Super Bowl loss. He signed with the Saints last offseason and started all 16 games, recording six TFL, five QB hits, and two sacks with fair marks for run defense. I’m really not sure that you need to have a $6 million defensive tackle at this level given the abundance of them. I put Rankins in a different category because of his pass rush. Keeping Brown is fine, but letting him go, I think, is also fine.

Odds of release: New Orleans shouldn’t need money that badly after some of these cuts but let’s see where they stand. I say they probably wouldn’t.
Would he help the Chargers: Couldn’t hurt, but not a priority.

MOVES:

Not Bold: Release Janoris Jenkins, Nick Easton, Kiko Alonso, Patrick Robinson, and Mario Edwards ($2.7 million)

Cap Space: $36.2 million

The Saints’ biggest free agent is guard Andrus Peat but he’s drawn mixed reviews in the last couple of seasons. There is also restricted free agent Taysom Hill, whose first round tender would cost the team $4.6 million, assuming a team doesn’t sign him to a big offer sheet — at which point they should say “good luck” and let them see how that works out. (Do I think Taysom Hill could help the Chargers? Not as a QB.)

There’s also Vonn Bell, PJ Williams, Eli Apple, Manti Te’o, Stephone Anthony ... essentially no one that I don’t think they could lose. The Saints seem to be lining up to be players in free agency once they open up to $36 million in cap space and that’s where they could target upgrades at outside linebacker, cornerback, safety, and perhaps even another weapon for Brees.

They don’t seem to be losing anyone of note besides maybe Peat and Hill — and Teddy Bridgewater, but I wouldn’t be concerned about that either.

Chargers Interest:

That’s a no on Cam Newton and a yes on Dontari Poe but overall I really don’t see any key names hitting free agency from the NFC South who would significantly help the Chargers.

PREVIOUSLY:

Read: Several interesting names from the NFC East

Read: All 74 players I predict to be cut in the AFC

Read: Derek Carr, Joe Flacco could be on move out of AFC West

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