With the 2012 season and accompanying postseason fully in the history books, NFL teams are now focused on preparing for the upcoming 2013 Draft as well as the impending free agency period. Free agency officially begins on March 12, but there will be plenty of moves and transactions made before then. As always, we'll see teams release established veterans and valuable players in order to save themselves money and gain flexibility under the salary cap. I'll be going division-by-division and analyzing the salary cap situation of each team in the league, highlighting some players for every club that could potentially be axed in order to save some money. This will be the last installment of the Potential Cap Casualty series, covering the final four teams in the league today by analyzing the NFC West.
Current Projected Cap Space - $2.4M OVER
Key Free Agents - Greg Toler (CB), LaRod Stephens-Howling (RB), Quentin Groves (LB), Paris Lenon (LB)
Through the first few weeks of the 2012 season, the Cardinals were one of the biggest surprises in the NFL. They started out 4-0 and were being hyped up just about everywhere you looked. Unfortunately, they then proceeded to lose their next nine games, and ultimately dropped eleven of their remaining twelve games to finish 5-11 on the year. The defense isn't too bad overall, but the offense is almost entirely bereft of talent. They have no difference-makers outside of Larry Fitzgerald, but his presence largely doesn't matter when you consider the crop of quarterbacks Arizona is employing to throw him the ball. Daryn Colledge is the only player on the offensive line who deserves to be starting; everyone else they had manning the trenches last year simply led various adventures and forays into total failure. The front office and coaching staff have been cleaned out. Now it's time for the new tandem of head coach Bruce Arians and GM Steve Keim to fix this franchise.
The first step they'll have to take is cutting some costs, as the Cardinals are currently projected to be over the salary cap for 2013. When it comes to figuring out where that money is going to be saved, all eyes generally seem to look in the direction of Kevin Kolb
, who has never come close to living up to the six-year/$62M contract he was given two years ago. To Kolb's credit though, the Cardinals were winning games while he was under center this past season, and he was looking pretty decent despite the abhorrent state of the offensive line in front of him. Arizona can choose to either bring Kolb back and let him get one last shot as their starting QB, or cut bait with him and his $13.5M cap hit for 2013. Letting him go now would still save $7.5M, but if they do decide to keep him it's practically a given that it'd have to be at a lower salary. Another option they have to cut costs would be to part ways with linebacker Stewart Bradley, who Arizona signed to a five-year/$27.5M deal in 2011. During his tenure with the Cardinals, Bradley has played a grand total of 275 snaps on defense, including just 40 snaps in 2012. It would cost $6.5M to keep him on the roster next season, and only $3.0M worth of dead money to let him go, so it seems like a fairly easy choice to make for a player who can't seem to get on the field.
San Francisco 49ers:
Current Projected Cap Space - $3.0M OVER
Key Free Agents - Dashon Goldson (S), Delanie Walker (TE), Randy Moss (WR), Ricky Jean-Francois (DT)
The NFC Champion 49ers being currently over the cap is merely a formality, as that situation will be resolved one way or another once Alex Smith
is off the team. Whether it be via release or trade, it's a virtual certainty that Smith will be gone, and that the 49ers will be on the hook for a maximum of only one million dollars next season in regards to paying him. This will result in an $8.75M savings that gets San Francisco underneath the salary cap with a little bit of room to spare. Luckily for them, they don't have too many key players set to hit the open market this offseason, and will in all likelihood be able to retain a vast majority of the core that helped drive the team to the Super Bowl. If however, the 49ers feel the need to free up some extra cap space to either retain their own free agents or go acquire some new ones, they do have some options available to them.
So what do we know about kickers? We know that generally they are very fickle creatures and should not be typically be relied upon from year-to-year for overly consistent performance. Despite that, few were expecting the drastic shift in on-field performance between 2011 and 2012 from David Akers
, punctuated in the Playoffs by a missed 38-yard field goal indoors during the NFC Conference Championship against Atlanta. San Francisco brought in Billy Cundiff during the postseason to compete with Akers, though Akers to his credit kept his job and went 3/3 on field goals during the Super Bowl. However, he'll be the second-highest paid kicker in the league next season at $3.6M, and letting him go would mean only having to pay him a little over half of a million dollars. Linebacker Parys Haralson will make about $2.9M in 2013, and on just about any other team would be a very valuable player to come in off the bench and take a handful of snaps a game. Now while Haralson missed 2012 with a torn triceps, it's unlikely he would have seen too much playing time anyway. Of the four starting linebackers for the 49ers, Ahmad Brooks saw the fewest snaps in 2012, with a mere 1,185 plays logged. The 49ers could cut Haralson without incurring any penalty either, so it's simply a matter of deciding how valuable he is to the team.
Current Projected Cap Space - $15.0M
Key Free Agents - Jason Jones (DT), Leroy Hill (LB), Alan Branch (DT), Steven Hauschka (K)
The Seahawks were one of the more surprising teams in the NFL last season; capturing a postseason berth behind the leadership of Russell Wilson, the rushing attack of Marshawn Lynch, and an imposing defense. The team is in good shape structurally as well, with a healthy amount of cap space and most of their star players locked up under contract. Would anyone care to guess who the highest paid player on the Seahawks will be next season, salary and bonus combined? Lynch? Sidney Rice? Russell Okung? Dare it be Matt Flynn? Well, if you guessed that it was tight end Zach Miller, then you were correct. Also, I think you probably cheated. But that just goes to show how well-managed the cap situation for Seattle currently is. They don't need to make any moves to free up space, but if they wanted to, there are a couple that make sense.
There seems to be a misconception out there that the Seahawks have a really good offensive line. Now while it is true that they have two studs on the line in Russell Okung and Max Unger, the remaining three spots on the line could all use an upgrade. Erratic and inconsistent Breno Giacomini
started every game at right tackle for the Seahawks in 2012, and while he isn't the worst you could do at the position, you could certainly get better value than his $4.25M cap hit for next season. Releasing him and finding a replacement in a very deep draft class of offensive linemen would seem like the prudent thing to do, and it would save the team $3.5M. Staying on the offensive line, it really never is a good sign when you are forced to start a McQusitan brother. Yet that's what Seattle had to do last season, as Paul McQuistan started every game alternating between both guard spots. He played about as well as you would expect a McQuistan to play, and again it would be easy to part ways with him considering the depth of offensive linemen in this upcoming Draft. The Seahawks would free up $3.0M by releasing him.
St. Louis Rams:
Current Projected Cap Space - $2.8M OVER
Key Free Agents - Danny Amendola (WR), Steven Jackson (RB), Brandon Gibson (WR), William Hayes (DE)
It should be noted that the figure for the current projected cap space of the Rams includes Steven Jackson's 2013 cap figure, as it has not yet been made official that he is declining his player option for 2013. Therefore, he is still on the books as of right now. If he does void his contract and hits the open market, as is largely expected, the Rams flip-flop and wind up with about $6.1M in cap space. Either way, the Rams could be well served to shed some dead weight from their payroll if they're serious about making a run at a big-ticket free agent like Jairus Byrd, or bringing back Danny Amendola.
So where is that money supposed to come from then? Well the biggest name that the Rams could potentially look to let go would be safety Quintin Mikell
, signed as a free agent during the 2011 offseason and given a four-year/$27M contract. This isn't a case of a big free agent signing coming in and mailing it in on the field now that he's gotten his payday though. Mikell is still a very productive player, but at $9.0M in 2013 the Rams might not be able to keep him. The fact that this is one of the best draft classes for safeties in quite a while certainly doesn't help the case for keeping him either. The team will already be in the market for a new safety to replace the atrociousness of Craig Dahl, and they may very well be hunting for an entirely new tandem for next season. On the opposite side of the spectrum, they could also cut a poor player for free money, which is always a good idea. Wayne Hunter, who the Rams acquired in a trade with the Jets prior to the 2012 season, is somehow set to earn $4.0M this coming season. As mentioned, there would be no penalty for letting him go either, so keeping him around would be mostly pointless.