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Which players from the NFC West could be on the market again?

San Francisco 49ers Media Availability Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

In this final edition of the Cap Casualty series (FINALLY), I look at the last of the 31 NFL teams who are not the LA Chargers and evaluate their odds of releasing certain players for cap reasons. There’s also some potential trades. Today I’m looking at the four teams in the NFC West, including the last two teams to win the conference, a perennial playoff contender, and the Cardinals.

Arizona Cardinals

Effective 2020 Cap Space: $39.7 million

Biggest Savings: Patrick Peterson, $12.5 million

It’s not even March and the Cardinals have allocated $24 million of their 2020 salary cap to re-signing Larry Fitzgerald and DJ Humphries. It gives them less questions headed into next month and then the draft, but do they need more money than this because I believe Arizona expects to win now with Kyler Murray, just as the Chiefs did in year two of Patrick Mahomes and the Ravens did in year two of Lamar Jackson.

Justin Pugh, G, $10.5 million cap hit, $4.5 million in savings

J.R. Sweezy, G, $6.5 million cap hit, $5 million in savings

Neither played poorly, but as far as money and age goes, the Cards would probably rather see the young Mason Cole step up and take a starting spot. The obvious preference here would be that you get more savings and a little younger by moving Sweezy.

Odds of release: Sweezy’s release might be a good bet if they like Cole or someone else. I do think Arizona could draft an offensive lineman early even after re-signing Humphries. Pugh’s seems a lot less likely.
Would he help the Chargers: Yes, but JR Sweezy is barely an upgrade maybe and he’s not in the right vicinity in terms of the age and stage of development they need to focus on.

Robert Alford, CB, $7.5 million cap hit, $4.5 million in savings

Any move with Patrick Peterson would of course be shocking. Alford missed the season with a broken leg. Arizona picks eighth in the draft, is there a chance that Jeffrey Okudah slips down or that a different cornerback slides up? They could have such an interesting secondary with one more corner, but maybe they just stick with Alford after signing him to a three-year contract last year.

Odds of release: Medium sounds fair. It’s a tough position to find good players but Alford’s never been quite that impressive to me.
Would he help the Chargers: I’m not sure this is the direction they need to go in right now.

Corey Peters, DT, $4.4 million cap hit, $3.75 million in savings

He’s hung around for nine NFL seasons and I don’t see an obvious replacement behind him at nose tackle. I just don’t know that I care if there’s an obvious replacement at nose tackle.

Odds of release: If it were me, I think I’d move on.
Would he help the Chargers: I’ll keep saying that there are too many good run-stuffers at defensive tackle and many will be fighting for jobs that you don’t expect to be fighting for jobs.

Maxx Williams, TE, $3.4 million cap hit, $2.9 million in savings

It’s a bit harder to find a good tight end. If “good” to you means receiving though, then I’m not sure where Williams stands. He did average 10.6 yards per target in Kliff Kingsbury’s offense but he only received 19 targets in 16 games. Not that crucial, can you get those 19 targets from a player who costs $500,000?

Odds of release: Sure.
Would he help the Chargers: He’s a fine TE2, if you need that. I don’t know that the Chargers do but if they release Virgil Green, possibilities are open. If they also lose Hunter Henry, of course they’ll need someone.

MOVES:

Not That Bold: Release David Johnson

I don’t mention Johnson because his release will save them no money. This is just moving on from a poor financial investment and they’re expected to do so.

Not Bold: Release Maxx Williams

Medium Bold: Release Corey Peters, Robert Alford, J.R. Sweezy

Cap Space: $53.3 million

LA Rams

Effective 2020 Cap Space: $18.5 million

Biggest Savings: Trade Jared Goff, $16 million in savings

Short of trading Goff, a highly unlikely move, the Rams don’t have any clear areas to save a ton of space. Which could pose a problem for them because free agents include Cory Littleton, Dante Fowler, Greg Zuerlein, Andrew Whitworth, Michael Brockers, and more. The other LA team has areas to chip away at, which began when Eric Weddle retired and saved them about $4 million, but not much without getting much worse.

Clay Matthews, OLB, $5.75 million cap hit, $3.75 million in savings

He’s a notable name and he had eight sacks last season but Matthews had just one sack over the final seven, is turning 34, and may have been terrible against the run and in coverage.

Odds of release: High.
Would he help the Chargers: Not at this time.

Nickell Robey-Coleman, CB, $4.5 million cap hit, $4 million in savings

Troy Hill, CB, $4.4 million cap hit, $3.9 million in savings

These two and Jalen Ramsey could be a pretty good corners trio, so moving either of these guys would have to come down to being super money strapped. There were rumors of them trading for Darius Slay, so if another big trade goes down, of course one of these two would probably have to be involved — if not become a corresponding cap casualty.

Odds of release: I’ll say fairly low on either unless the obvious replacement is brought in.
Would either help the Chargers: Sure, they’d be in consideration.

Todd Gurley, $17.25 million cap hit, $4.6 million in savings if traded

While the idea of trading Goff or Gurley before their extensions have even hit seems insane, it is more sane for Gurley because there’s a fallback option in Darrell Henderson and some actual savings. While LA could save $16 million on Goff, they’d have to spend even more than that for a viable replacement option — unless you think they’re really gonna go with Blake Bortles.

Who they’d still need to re-sign, as he’s a free agent too.

With Gurley, it comes down to seeing if there’s a team willing to bank a risk on the health of his knee — and that the team is also the type to still spend decent cap space on a running back. Gurley comes at a discount because the Rams are still responsible for his signing bonus hits every year but he’s not “cheap” and there’s a chance he’s never the same player again. The Gurley situation remains a mystery but the “shock value” of a Gurley trade is all but gone.

Odds of a trade: Moderate. Maybe on the low side of moderate. There’s a few things that need to happen before this is possible but a Gurley trade is possible.
Would he help the Chargers: Would you rather have Melvin Gordon or Gurley, the top two running backs in the 2015 draft? That’s a question we’ve all asked once or twice and at the moment, I wonder if Gordon is the better option because there aren’t questions about his health. He would also be cheaper.

MOVES:

The Rams could also release receiver Josh Reynolds and save $2.1 million.

Not Bold: Release Clay Matthews, Josh Reynolds

Cap Space: $23.4 million

There are potential big trades, like Goff, Gurley, or more surprising deals like Tyler Higbee, Robert Woods, and Rob Havenstein. The problem isn’t even so much re-signing a big name (Dante Fowler, Cory Littleton, Andrew Whitworth) but many of the other pieces that make up a 53-man roster. They don’t have a kicker under contract for next season. They don’t have a backup QB under contract other than John Wolford. They have to sign rookies. $23.4 million may not be enough.

That’s where a trade of Gurley or a more surprising deal would come into play. There’s always money management of course, moving cap space dollars around when a player is open to help the team — though that can just push problems further out and create new ones.

San Francisco 49ers

Effective 2020 Cap Space: $13.1 million

Biggest Savings: Jimmy Garoppolo, $22.4 million

In a single swoop the Niners could virtually triple their cap space if they just found a trade partner for Garoppolo or opted to release him outright and pick up a different QBrady instead. Is this downright insane for a team that just went to the Super Bowl and had a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter? Not if you believe that Garoppolo didn’t do much to help them get there and that a quarterback of his abilities could replace him at a much lower price point. My belief has always been that Garoppolo has never proven to be a QB at the top tier price point and nothing about 2019 changed that opinion for me.

Do I expect San Francisco to agree? I do not. But the 49ers have some key free agents including Arik Armstead, Emmanuel Sanders, and Jimmie Ward, plus restricted free agent Matt Breida. They’ll need more than $13.1 million in space.

DeForest Buckner, DL, $14.3 million cap hit, $14.3 million in savings

It’s not about cutting Buckner, but if they can reach an extension perhaps they can lower the cap hit on his fifth-year option. Buckner denied a report that he turned down a $60 million guarantee from the Niners last year. The team is in danger of losing free agent Arik Armstead and yet paying both of them $14-$15 million per year, as well as already having Nick Bosa, seems a bit risky?

Richard Sherman, CB, $13 million cap hit, $12 million in savings

If you’re not focused on his play against Sammy Watkins in the Super Bowl, Sherman had an excellent season and at $13 million could be a bargain CB1.

Joe Staley, OT, $11.5 million cap hit, $10.5 million in savings

There doesn’t seem to be any intention for the team to part with Staley, but Staley has not yet confirmed that he’ll be returning for a 14th season.

Jerick McKinnon, RB, $8.55 million cap hit, $4.55 million in savings

This is the first one where being a cap casualty seems not only possible, but probable.

Odds of release: By really no fault of his own, McKinnon has made off with more money for not playing than just about any player I can remember. Since signing a $30 million deal with $18 million guaranteed two years ago, McKinnon has played in zero games. It’s time to go.
Would he help the Chargers: Can he help anyone?

Kyle Juszczyk, FB, $6.7 million cap hit, $5.45 million in savings

They signed him for a reason and he plays a lot on offense. Even if he was a traditional running back this would be a lot of money. This is quite a bit of money for an offensive weapon that doesn’t run the ball and has scored three receiving touchdowns over three seasons in San Francisco. But they like him! So I don’t know!

Odds of release: I don’t know!
Would he help the Chargers: For a normal amount of fullback money, sure. But they’re kind of doing their thing with Austin Ekeler, so no.

Laken Tomlinson, OL, $5.75 million cap hit, $3.25 million in savings

He’s been starting at left guard for three seasons. Maybe not a high-level player but this isn’t a big cap hit for a starting left guard in general.

Odds of release: I don’t imagine they’d be quick to do this without being very comfortable with the backup plan.
Would he help the Chargers: Maybe.

Marquise Goodwin, WR, $4.9 million cap hit, $3.6 million in savings

I know how Kyle Shanahan feels about players like Goodwin and that he had 962 yards three years ago, but the Niners have to shoot higher for receivers than players like this.

Odds of release: Decent.
Would he help the Chargers: Potentially as the WR3 or WR4, maybe, but not a priority.

Tevin Coleman, RB, $4.8 million cap hit, $4.8 million in savings

Like I said, this is kind of a lot for a running back who isn’t really special. They can cut Coleman and McKinnon without really fussing with the dynamic of their starting backfield much.

Odds of release: Good.
Would he help the Chargers: A low cost veteran minimum type player to compete with Justin Jackson? It’s possible.

MOVES:

Not Bold: Release Jerick McKinnon, Tevin Coleman, Marquise Goodwin, Mike Person ($2.1m)

Cap Space: $26.6 million

Somewhat Bold: Release Kyle Juszczyk

Go Crazy, Go Doopid: Look into the possibilities of a future without Jimmy Garoppolo.

This is a team that could change immensely if Joe Staley decides to retire or they make a bold move with a veteran like Sherman. They just went to the Super Bowl, they want to get back, they have a chance to bring most of the band back, but some changes are coming too.

Seattle Seahawks

Effective 2020 Cap Space: $51.5 million (not including Greg Olsen, likely at $7 million)

Biggest Savings: Justin Britt, $8.5 million

Seattle seems to be entering free agency in the best position in the NFC West, but they actually may be set to lose the most from their 2019 playoff roster. Among the free agents are Jadeveon Clowney, Germain Ifedi, Jarran Reed, Ezekiel Ansah, Mychal Kendricks, George Fant, Mike Iupati, Josh Gordon, Quinton Jefferson, Al Woods, and Marshawn Lynch, in addition to some key restricted free agents and role players.

Once you cut the Seahawks down to around $45 million space after the recent signing of Olsen, there’s not much left to retain those other players. Especially if they intend to keep Clowney, which we don’t know yet what his cost will come down to but $12-$15 million in year one is not unfathomable. They’ll add a little more room to work with.

Justin Britt, C, $11.4 million cap hit, $8.5 million in savings

Britt was drafted as a tackle and that didn’t work. Moved him to guard and that didn’t work. Then settled him into center in year three and it seemed to stick. Britt played pretty well and is now one of the highest paid centers in the league. But even before an injury wiped out half of his season I thought the team should be moving on from him in 2020. I kind of wonder now, because I think center is such an underrated position, but this is a lot of money to keep on the books for a mostly-average one coming off injury.

Odds of release: Maybe medium. I wonder if Britt would be open to another position switch on the open market.
Would he help the Chargers: I don’t think so.

K.J. Wright, OLB, $10 million cap hit, $7.5 million in savings

I’ve given this move a lot of thought and I think it would be borderline kooky to keep Wright. He was pretty bad in coverage, pretty bad against the run, and has no pass rush. He’s a veteran and a locker room presence and that’s about it. The team also drafted a couple of guys last year who look ready to replace him.

Odds of release: High.
Would he help the Chargers: A reunion with Gus Bradley is not out of the question.

Duane Brown, OT, $12.5 million cap hit, $8.5 million in savings

I don’t expect this but given his age we can’t rule out a surprise retirement.

Odds of release: I don’t expect it.

D.J. Fluker, G, $4.1 million cap hit, $3.6 million in savings

He was pretty good last season and this is a good value for a starting guard.

Odds of release: I don’t expect it.
Would he help the Chargers: Ha. Can you imagine?

Ed Dickson, TE, $3.8 million cap hit, $3 million in savings

Thought the team should have released him a year ago.

Odds of release: Has to do it.
Would he help the Chargers: A marriage doesn’t seem logical.

Tedric Thompson, S, $2.3 million cap hit, $2.1 million in savings

He hasn’t been very good and Seahawks fans are likely hoping that this is the end of the T2 era.

Odds of release: Likely.
Would he help the Chargers: You could stick him back there as a backup and see what happens.

MOVES:

Not Bold: Release K.J. Wright, Ed Dickson, Tedric Thompson

Somewhat Bold: Release Justin Britt

Cap Space: $72.7 million ($65 million after Olsen)

They’ve agreed to not tag Clowney so they only have two real options: starting right tackle Germain Ifedi or defensive tackle Jarran Reed. As wild as it seems to pay Ifedi $16.1 million or Reed $15.5 million, this is also a way to use the tag; in order to evaluate players that you feel you need one more year of intel on. I would tag Reed because that’s what the space is for and Seattle is unlikely to play heavy on the free agent market.

Chargers Interest:

From this pool, LA could look at a guard like JR Sweezy or Mike Person, reunite KJ Wright with Gus Bradley, and maybe add to the backfield with a player like David Johnson or Tevin Coleman. There’s also Robert Alford for the cornerback competition. Then there are some trade possibilities, but maybe no bigger sleeping giant in the NFC West than “Would the 49ers make a bold move with Jimmy Garoppolo?” Not likely, that’s why the giant sleeps, but a potential wow move to consider.