The NFL season may be over, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still plenty of news to come out of the league in the coming months as the offseason really gets underway. The start of the 2023 NFL free agency period is less than one month away, and there are still plenty of moves to be made before that happens.
Specifically, teams around the NFL will be looking to free up more cap space by cutting some of their players over the next month and ahead of the start of free agency. Every year, there are some surprises as teams release key players taking up hefty chunks of cap space just to give themselves more breathing room to spend in free agency. These are some of the players around the NFL on the defensive side of the ball that could end up being cap casualties before the offseason is over.
(You can also check out my list of offensive players who could be a cap casualty.)
Frank Clark EDGE, Kansas City Chiefs
Alongside defensive tackle Chris Jones, Clark has been one of the most impactful defensive linemen for the Chiefs since arriving in Kansas City. Four years, three Pro Bowl appearances, and two rings later, his production has started to decline slightly. After 14 sacks, 20 tackles for a loss, and six pass deflections in his first two years with the Chiefs, he’s recorded just 9.5 sacks, 12 tackles for a loss, and a single pass deflection in the two years since. That’s not ideal output from the guy set to be the second-most expensive defensive lineman in the league in 2023, especially with the Chiefs currently sitting about $3.5 million over the cap.
Kansas City already has a young, up-and-coming edge rusher in George Karlaftis as well, so letting Clark go wouldn’t hurt as much. Cutting Clark would save the Chiefs $21 million in cap space with $7.6 million remaining in dead cap.
Shaquill Griffin CB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Griffin is entering the third and final year of his Jaguars contract having played just 19 games over his first two seasons in Jacksonville. Even when he did play, he was significantly less productive than he was in his time with Seattle. Griffin recorded just 11 pass defenses and zero interceptions over the last two years.
The Jaguars may have established themselves as a true NFL playoff-caliber team in 2022 but still have work to do on their roster. Currently standing at nearly $23 million over the cap, Jacksonville can save over $13 million by parting ways with Griffin to get them closer to the breathing room they need to spend during free agency.
Khalil Mack EDGE, Los Angeles Chargers
Admittedly, this is a move that feels less likely to happen than some of the others on this list, especially with several other guys on the Chargers roster that make more sense as cap casualties. Still, Los Angeles is $20.5 million over the cap as things currently stand. Cutting Mack before June 1 would save the team $18 million toward this year’s cap.
The big problem with this move is that Mack was very productive in his first season with the Chargers, playing in all 17 games and leading the team with his eight sacks and 12 tackles for a loss. He may be entering his age-32 season but didn’t show signs of slowing down in 2022. So while the Chargers could save a massive chunk of money by cutting him, it’s not a move that makes a ton of sense for the roster.
Byron Jones CB, Miami Dolphins
Including Jones, the rest of the guys on this list are far more likely to be designated as a post-June-1 cut, saving teams money for this year’s cap while carrying some dead cap into the 2024 NFL season. Cutting Jones after June 1 would save the Dolphins $13.6 million, which would be a big deal for a team currently sitting $16 million over the cap. It would also free up a roster spot in Miami’s secondary.
After signing a big, five-year deal with the Dolphins in 2020, Jones has been nothing short of a bust. He allowed career highs in passer rating and yards per target in coverage over his first two seasons then missed the entirety of the 2022 season after getting surgery on his Achilles in the offseason and suffering several setbacks. Cutting the cornerback seems like a no-brainer for the Dolphins.
Shaquil Barrett EDGE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers are in a very tough spot with the cap… and in general. They’re currently $55 million over the cap and the only quarterback on their roster in 2023 is soon-to-be third-year player Kyle Trask. The team needs to do a lot of work to get under the cap and put themselves in a position to spend in free agency.
Barrett is coming off a season in which he played just eight games thanks to injury and now will be entering his age-31 season. He’ll take up $21 million in cap space in 2023—which is 9% of Tampa Bay’s total cap hit—but would save the Buccaneers more than $14.5 million as a post-June-1 cut.
Bud Dupree EDGE, Tennessee Titans
Two years into his five-year, $82.5 million contract with the Titans, Dupree has played in 22 of a possible 34 games thanks to injury troubles and put up career-low numbers in sacks, with just seven across 2021 and 2022. The Titans have the fifth-least cap space of all NFL teams as they’re currently nearly $21 million over the cap. Dupree is a player that could save Tennessee significant money whenever he’s cut.
Cutting the edge rusher before June 1 saves them $9.3 million—though the team would still eat over $10 million in dead money, they’d avoid pushing any cap trouble into 2024. On the other hand, a post-June-1 designation would save nearly $16 million while kicking under $4.5 million in dead cap into 2024.
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