Fantasy Football: One Cut Candidate From Each NFC Team
We've known for quite some time that the NFL salary cap would, for the first time since the uncapped 2010 season, not be going up in 2021. We still don't have an exact figure as to what it will be in the coming year, but the NFL have announced that it will be at least $180 million.
Armed with this figure, we can see that a host of teams are already in serious trouble with regards their cap position. But regardless, this is a time of year in which teams are always looking to rid themselves of surplus players who have -- in the opinion of the front office -- come to the end of their usefulness on their current contract.
With this in mind, here is a look at some of the fantasy-relevant skill-position players in the NFC who could find themselves on the scrap heap this offseason.
Salary cap information is courtesy of OverTheCap.com
Arizona Cardinals -- Maxx Williams
Cap Savings: $2,968,750
Dead Money: $250,000
Former Baltimore Ravens tight end Maxx Williams has never developed into a legitimate receiving weapon during his six seasons in the NFL. He played just nine games in 2020 for the Arizona Cardinals and was in on only 29% of the team's offensive snaps. Williams finished the season with a mere eight receptions for 102 yards and a single score. His release would free up just short of $3 million against the cap.
Atlanta Falcons -- None
The Atlanta Falcons have painted themselves into something of a difficult spot from a cap point of view. They are already roughly $31 million over the estimated cap and have a distinct shortage of offensive players they can easily get off the roster. Both Matt Ryan and Julio Jones are coming off down seasons. However, the team would cripple themselves if they tried to move on from either. Releasing Ryan would leave a $49,937,500 dead money charge while cutting Jones would incur a dead-cap hit of $438,550,000. There are no obvious candidates for release among Atlanta's skill guys.
Carolina Panthers -- Ian Thomas
Cap Savings: $2,183,000
Dead Money: $186,998
Teddy Bridgewater's fall off over the latter part of the 2020 season, plus the Carolina Panthers' interest in acquiring Matthew Stafford from the Detroit Lions, must mean that Teddy is on a short leash with the team just one year into his stint. In the first eight weeks of the season, Bridgwater was averaging 263 passing yards and 1.12 passing scores per game. From Week 9 on, those figures dropped to 231 and 0.86, respectively. Of the 32 quarterbacks with at least 300 drop backs in 2020, Bridgewater finished 19th in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back at a clip of 0.12. But releasing Bridgewater would save only roughly $2.95 million while leaving $20 million behind in dead money. He'll be on the team, though he may not be their starter.
The Panthers could look to save some coin by cutting Ian Thomas. The tight end played all 16 games but did not emerge as a focal point in the Panthers' passing game. He caught just 20 passes for 145 yards and one touchdown.
Chicago Bears -- Jimmy Graham
Cap Savings: $7,000,000
Dead Money: $3,000,000
Acquiring Jimmy Graham made little sense for the Chicago Bears a year ago, and to be quite frank, it makes even less sense to keep him around in 2021. Graham finished the 2020 campaign with 50 receptions for 456 yards and eight touchdowns. But his 6.0 yards per target was the second-lowest mark of his career, while only four tight ends recorded a lower Target NEP per target than Graham's 0.21 (minimum 75 targets). The Bears currently project to be about $5 million over the cap and have major question marks surrounding their quarterback situation. Cutting Graham would be the safest way to save $7 million and to free Cole Kmet for 2021.
Dallas Cowboys -- None
Like the Falcons, the Dallas Cowboys find themselves in a position with no real savings to be made among their skill players. They have less than $20 million in available cap space, and at the time of writing, they still don't have a quarterback under contract. Restructures to existing contracts could take place, but concerning outright cuts for skill guys, they would likely end up doing more harm than good. Ezekiel Elliott was the least efficient running back with at least 200 attempts in the NFL in 2020, averaging -0.04 rushing NEP per attempt. But his release would leave a whopping $24.5 million in dead money. However the Cowboys want to raise funds to pay Dak Prescott, assuming they do want to do that, they'll have to be creative elsewhere.
Detroit Lions -- Jesse James
Cap Savings: $2,142,000
Dead Money: $4,287,000
The Detroit Lions have just over $6 million in cap space, and this will look different once the new league year starts with Matthew Stafford heading to the Los Angeles Rams and Jared Goff's deal coming onto their books. They also have no established veteran wide receivers under contract for 2021, with Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, and Danny Amendola all heading for free agency. Jesse James is a player who could probably join them in looking for a new team. James played on just 44.3% of the Lions' snaps in 2020, catching 14 passes for 129 yards and two touchdowns. His blocking chops, such as they are, could save him from the chopping block under new head coach Dan Campbell. Although our metrics regrettably do not record a player's skills at gnawing at kneecaps.
Green Bay Packers -- Devin Funchess
Cap Savings: $1,265,000
Dead Money: $1,000,000
The Green Bay Packers are not in an ideal situation with regards to the salary cap, currently sitting $28 million over the estimated mark. Cutting Devin Funchess would seem to be a no-brainer. Funchess didn't play a snap for the team in 2020, opting out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns. A year older and a year removed from his last meaningful action, it's unlikely he'll be seen as an impact player on a team that needs to surround Aaron Rodgers with proven talent at receiver.
Los Angeles Rams
The Los Angeles Rams are already $26 million over the projected cap, and this is before they take on a massive dead money hit after trading away Jared Goff. They, like the Cowboys, have no immediately apparent options when it comes to clearing out skill position players. Their road to cap compliance lies more along the restructuring route rather than releasing players.
Minnesota Vikings -- Kyle Rudolph
Cap Savings: $5,100,000
Dead Money: $4,350,000
Kyle Rudolph has pretty much made his stance clear, stating that he is not open to taking a pay cut to remain with the Minnesota Vikings in 2021. This makes him an obvious cut candidate after he had a disappointing 2020 season. Rudolph played 12 games, the first season in which he missed a game since 2014. He caught 28 passes for 334 yards and a single touchdown. Those were his fewest receptions in a (more or less) full season since he caught 26 as a rookie in 2011. The solitary touchdown was a new career low. The Vikings can save $5.1 million and move forward with Irv Smith Jr. as their primary tight end in 2021.
New Orleans Saints -- Latavius Murray
Cap Savings: $2,487,500
Dead Money: $1,700,000
If you want to hold a team up as a poster child for "difficult decisions to be made," you'd automatically gravitate toward the New Orleans Saints. At the time of writing, they are almost $70 million over the projected salary cap. They will have to make a lot of moves to become cap compliant, and several veterans could find themselves on their way out. Latavius Murray could be one such player, with his release saving almost $2.5 million. Murray has had 146 carries in each of his last two seasons, finishing with 656 yards and four touchdowns in 2020. But a $4 million cap charge for a player who played 33.8% of their offensive snaps a year ago seems something of a luxury when money is this tight.
New York Giants -- Golden Tate
Cap Savings: $6,147,061
Dead Money: $4,705,881
You have to go back to Golden Tate's second season in the league, way back in 2011, for the last time he caught just 35 passes. His rookie year of 2010 is the only year in which he had fewer yards than the 388 he managed in 2020. The New York Giants' offense should look a bit different in 2021, especially if Saquon Barkley can return to anything close to his old self. One of the differences could be Tate on another team, which saves Big Blue some cash and allows them to make Darius Slayton and Sterling Shepard focal points at wideout.
Where do we start? The Philadelphia Eagles are in truly awful shape in regards to the cap, a state made all the more precarious with the news that they plan to trade Carson Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts. This move will leave around $33 million in dead cap space on their roster. So other moves will need to be made. They reworked Alshon Jeffery's contract earlier this offseason, making it easier to designate him a post-June 1 cut. But he should be joined at the exit gate by the likes of DeSean Jackson ($4,857,000 savings, $5,802,000 in dead money) and Marquise Goodwin ($4,281,500 savings). Even then, the cap massaging skills of Howie Roseman will still need to be deployed. Philly's skill group should look a lot different next season.
San Francisco 49ers -- Jimmy Garoppolo
Cap Savings: $23,600,000
Dead Money: $2,800,000
The best ability is availability, and this is an ability that Jimmy Garoppolo has failed to demonstrate for much of his tenure with the San Francisco 49ers. Garoppolo has missed 26 games in the last three seasons and played only six in 2020. He was quite efficient in these games, averaging 0.23 Passing NEP per drop back (11th among 39 qualifiers with 150 drop backs). But the 49ers went 3-3 in games with him as the starter in 2020 as he tossed seven touchdowns to five interceptions. The 49ers are one of the teams heavily linked with Houston Texans' wantaway star Deshaun Watson. With the Rams acquiring Stafford and Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray already in the NFC West, the 49ers can't afford to fall behind in that particular arms race.
The Seahawks are not in terrible shape concerning the cap. They could be better, of course. But they are yet another team for which there doesn't seem to be any significant or realistic savings among the offensive skill players. They could do something crazy like cut Tyler Lockett, who was productive but inconsistent in 2020. Lockett racked up 200 yards against the Cardinals in Week 7 but failed to eclipse 50 yards in five of his next 10 games. Cutting Lockett would save the Seahawks $12.7 million. But unless the Seahawks want to alienate Wilson to extreme lengths, they likely wouldn't even entertain clearing out one of his two top targets -- right?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- Cameron Brate
Cap Savings: $6,500,000
Dead Money: None
The reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a host of high-profile free agents to take care of this offseason. At present, they have just over $13 miller in cap space, and guys like Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, and Rob Gronkowski are all hitting free agency. If savings are needed, then waving goodbye to Cameron Brate would seem to be an easy way to save $6.5 million. Brate had just 28 receptions for 282 yards in 2020 and scored two touchdowns. This was the first time Brate failed to find the end zone at least four times since 2015.
Washington -- Alex Smith
Cap Saving $14,700,000
Dead Money $8,600,000
There has been no more inspirational story in the NFL over the last two seasons than Alex Smith and his struggle to get back onto the field. After suffering a horrific leg injury that led to 17 surgeries and threatened his very life at one stage, Smith got back on the field for Washington in 2020, which was a testament to his drive and determination. Smith went 5-1 as a starter as his team took the NFC East. But he averaged just 197.8 passing yards per game, and he was not exactly efficient when tasked with passing. Among the 35 quarterbacks with 250 dropbacks in 2020, Smith was 32nd with -0.07 Passing NEP per drop back. The 2020 Alex Smith is just not worth a cap charge of $23.3 million. His saving grace could be that Washington's only other quarterback option is Taylor Heinicke, but that could change during the draft (or free agency).