Fantasy Football: One Potential Cut Candidate for Every NFC Team
The next few weeks will be rife with trepidation for a lot of veterans in the NFL, especially those for whom the guaranteed portions of their contracts have been exhausted. Players who haven't performed up to their salaries may be asked to take a pay cut to remain on the roster, while others may be cut loose altogether.
With this in mind, let's take a look at one potential fantasy-relevant cut candidate from each NFC team. Salary cap information is courtesy of Over The Cap.
The Dallas Cowboys have a worryingly high number of their key players out of contract, and as such, identifying potential cut candidates is somewhat of a difficult task. Their primary goal this offseason will be deciding how to approach the re-signing of free agents like Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper. Running back Ezekiel Elliott didn't have a great season in 2019, but the Cowboys are not going to absorb a $25.8 Million dead cap charge to move on from a player they only re-upped in 2019.
New York Giants - TE Rhett Ellison
Dead Cap Hit $2.18M, Cap Savings $5M
Tight end Rhett Ellison played ten games in 2019, chipping in 18 receptions for 167 yards and 3 touchdowns. He played only 30% of the New York Giants' offensive snaps and was on the field for more than 52% of snaps in a game just once. Of the 48 tight ends to command at least 25 targets in 2019, only Trey Burton had a lower Target Net Expected Points (NEP) per target mark than Ellison. Burton posted -0.44, while Ellison was ways ahead with -0.15.
Ellison has missed eight games to injury over the last two seasons, and the Giants have younger players with more playmaking ability at the tight end spot in Evan Engram and Kaden Smith. There are also rumors that they may look to bring in Jason Witten, for reasons best known only to themselves. The writing would appear to be on the wall for Ellison.
Like the Cowboys, the Philadelphia Eagles are in a position where more focus will be on players that they keep -- or bring in -- this offseason. While there have been rumblings regarding the future of Alshon Jeffery, the fact remains that he, along with DeSean Jackson, are the only two viable wide receivers with more than a season's worth of experience on Philly's roster.
Zach Ertz was still productive last season, and in concert with Dallas Goedert, the Eagles have arguably the best 1-2 tight end punch in the league. Signing or drafting a complementary running back to Miles Sanders, as well as upgrading the wide receiver corps so that a Jackson injury doesn't derail the offense again, should be high priorities for Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson this offseason -- rather than slashing the existing roster.
Washington - TE Jordan Reed
Dead Cap Hit $1.8M, Cap Savings $8.5M
In his day and peak, Jordan Reed was one of the best tight ends in the NFL. That day and peak are sadly in the past. Reed missed the entire 2019 season after suffering a concussion in the preseason, ending on injured reserve for the third season in a row. Reed has a long and scary history of concussions, suffering at least four in his time with the Washington Redskins. This is in addition to the three he suffered in college.
There was speculation all season that this one could signal the end of the road for Reed in the NFL. Whether he makes the decision or even gains medical clearance to ever play again, Washington’s new coaching staff has no ties to Reed -- who faces a massive uphill battle to make another roster.
Chicago Bears - TE Trey Burton
Dead Cap Hit $7.5M, Cap Savings $1.05M
Coming off a Super Bowl-winning season with the Philadelphia Eagles following the 2017 campaign, tight end Trey Burton was one of the big winners of free agency in 2018. He was decent but not spectacular in his first season with the Chicago Bears, but in 2019 he was woefully ineffective. Burton played only eight games, in which he had 14 receptions for 84 scoreless yards. As previously noted, he was the least efficient tight end in Target NEP per target, with a barely credible -0.44.
$4 Million of Burton's 2020 salary became guaranteed on the fifth day of the 2019 league year. The Bears might have to absorb the costly cap hit here and move on.
Detroit Lions - WR Marvin Jones
Dead Cap Hit $2.69M, Cap Savings $6.5M
Wide receiver Marvin Jones was having a good year with the Detroit Lions in 2019 until an ankle injury sent him to injured reserve early in December. Jones had 62 receptions for 779 yards and 9 touchdowns in 13 games. However, he has ended on IR in each of the last two seasons and is fast approaching his 30th birthday.
His 2020 salary is not exorbitant in of itself, but there was speculation prior to the 2019 campaign that the Lions may eventually move on. His spotty injury record may encourage them to do so.
Green Bay Packers - TE Jimmy Graham
Dead Cap Hit $3.66M, Cap Savings $8M
To call Jimmy Graham a playmaker at this stage of his career would be quite generous. The tight end has amassed 93 receptions in two seasons with the Green Bay Packers, totaling 1,083 yards and 5 touchdowns. He didn't have more than 65 yards in a game in 2019 and was held out of the end zone in each of his last 11 games (post-season included).
The Packers need to seriously invest in the weapons around quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and sending Graham on his way would free up some space to allow them to spend in the free agency market. Turning 34 during the 2020 season, Graham looks completely cooked.
Minnesota Vikings - TE Kyle Rudolph
Dead Cap Hit $5.8M, Cap Savings $3.65M
According to our metrics, Kyle Rudolph was one of the most efficient tight ends in the NFL in 2019. He averaged a respectable 0.54 Target NEP per target, a mark exceeded by just five other players (min 25 targets). That said, the Minnesota Vikings and Kirk Cousins only sent 48 targets his way, his lowest total in a season in which he played all 16 games and less than 27 other tight ends.
The Vikings invested a second-round pick in Irv Smith Jr. last year, a sure sign that they were preparing for life after Rudolph. That time is now.
Atlanta Falcons - RB Devonta Freeman
Dead Cap Hit $6M, Cap Savings $3.5M
After missing most of the 2018 season with an injury, it was gratifying to see Devonta Freeman play 14 games for the Atlanta Falcons in 2019. Still, he showed definite signs that he is not the player he once was. Freeman posted just 656 yards on 184 rush attempts (3.6 yards per attempt) and two rushing touchdowns.
He was active in the passing game, seeing 70 targets that he converted into 59 receptions, 410 yards, and 4 touchdowns. Though of the 22 running backs to command at least 50 targets, Freeman was 16th in Target NEP per target. Releasing Freeman would be expensive, but it may be worth it in the long run.
Carolina Panthers - TE Greg Olsen
Dead Cap Hit $3.7M, Cap Savings $8.1M
After two injury-wrecked seasons in 2017 and 2018, Greg Olsen was largely healthy for most of the 2019 season. But -- whether it was because he was playing on a Cam Newton-less Carolina Panthers offense or the injuries had taken their toll -- he was not the same player as the one who posted three straight 1,000-yard seasons between 2014 and 2016.
Olsen had 52 receptions for 597 yards and 2 touchdowns -- all three marks were his lowest in a full season since 2011. Olsen sounded like a player who was all but done when speaking after the Panthers' final game of the season. But rest assured, he's going to be fantastic in the TV booth for years to come.
New Orleans Saints - TE Josh Hill
Dead Cap Hit $1.75M, Cap Savings $1.095M
In terms of yards and receptions, 2019 was a career year for Josh Hill. He posted a 25/226/3 line on the year after starting 11 out of 16 games for the third straight season. But any thoughts of his being a prime weapon on the New Orleans Saints should be put to bed quickly.
Hill averaged just 6.4 yards after the catch per reception in 2019, a drop of more than four yards from 2018. The Saints seriously need to upgrade the weapons alongside Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara, and releasing Hill would open up space in order for them to do so.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers - TE Cameron Brate
Dead Cap Hit - $0. Cap Savings - $6M.
O.J. Howard's failure to breakout in 2019 should probably be seen as the surest sign that tight ends in Bruce Arians' offenses are there to be largely seen but not heard. If the uber-athletic Howard couldn't carve a weekly role for himself, then there is little hope that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will tolerate Cameron Brate -- and his $6 Million potential cap hit -- for too much longer.
Brate has seen his yards per target mark fall in each of the last five seasons, and he averaged less than 20 receiving yards per game in 2019. His release would leave zero dead money against Tampa's salary cap.
Arizona Cardinals - RB David Johnson
Dead Cap Hit $18.3M, Cap Savings $-4.05M
The Arizona Cardinals signed running back David Johnson to a three-year contract extension in 2018, even after he had missed most of the 2017 season to a wrist injury. In 2015 and 2016, Johnson averaged 57 rushing yards and 42 receiving yards per game, along with 0.75 rushing touchdowns per outing. Since 2017, these numbers have dropped to 45 and 30, with 0.3 rushing scores per game.
The scheme fit in 2018 was held largely responsible for Johnson's poor form that year. But in 2019, he rarely looked fully healthy as he rumbled his way to 345 rushing yards at 3.7 yards per attempt. By our metrics, he was every bit as bad as these numbers suggest. 50 running backs had at least 75 carries in 2019, and Johnson's -0.05 Rushing NEP per attempt was bettered by 37 of them.
Cutting Johnson would be a crippling blow to the Cardinals' cap, with their best bet of saving face coming by way of a trade. This would free up $8.25m in cap space whilst leaving behind only $6m in dead cap. Though, based on his 2019 form, I can't imagine teams will be lining up around the block to acquire his services.
Los Angeles Rams - WR Robert Woods
Dead Cap Hit $4.35M, Cap Savings $3.825M
The Los Angeles Rams' offense took a step backward in 2019, largely due to offensive line play and the health (or lack thereof) of running back Todd Gurley. But they also saw some of their receiving weapons fail to fully fire, including Robert Woods. Woods did manage to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards in 2019, his second straight season doing so, but he was far from an efficient weapon for Jared Goff (no picture of efficiency himself, of course).
Of the 30 wide receivers commanding at least 100 targets, Woods' mark of 0.18 Target NEP per target came in 23rd. Woods will be 28 during the season, and the Rams may be able to dangle him in trade talks as they attempt to re-stock their aging roster.
San Francisco 49ers - RB Jerick McKinnon
Dead Cap Hit $4M, Cap Savings $4.55M
This transaction seems to be an absolute no-brainer. Jerick McKinnon has not played a single game for the San Francisco 49ers since signing as a free agent prior to the 2018 season. He tore his ACL in training camp in his first year and suffered a setback with the same knee this past year. Assuming he can even pass an exit physical, his 49ers career should end before it ever really started.
Seattle Seahawks - TE Ed Dickson
Dead Cap Hit $866K, Cap Savings $3.25M
Veteran Ed Dickson signed with the Seattle Seahawks as a free agent prior to the 2018 season. He played in ten games in his first year, catching 12 passes for 143 yards and 3 touchdowns. But a knee injury saw him land on injured reserve, and his surgically repaired knee failed to properly heal, preventing him from playing at all in 2019. Seattle has an abundance of young tight ends -- like Will Dissly (assuming he recovers from his second season-ending injury in two years) and Jacob Hollister -- to ignore in the passing game, and the soon-to-be 33-year-old Dickson should be released pending his return to health.