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USA Today Sports Media Group
Christian D'Andrea

1 cost-saving veteran cut or trade for all 32 NFL teams, from Justin Fields to Jimmy Garoppolo

The 2024 NFL salary cap hasn’t been set yet, but may approach a record $250 million. That’s great news for teams and free agents alike — but it’s also going to lead to tough decisions when it comes to some of the league’s highest paid veterans.

The NFL’s hard spending cap will leave all 32 teams to examine their rosters and create as much space as possible to retain key players and lure new ones. That won’t be too difficult for teams like the Washington Commanders, New England Patriots or Chicago Bears, all of whom could have more than $70 million in cap space before March even begins. But for teams like the Buffalo Bills, Los Angeles Chargers and New Orleans Saints, all of whom are well over next season’s expected spending limit, it’ll be a problem.

That means steady veterans and once-hyped prospects could be en route to new locales (or the UFL) as teams trim their budgets via releases and trades. We’ve already seen a minor smattering of moves as the Patriots and Steelers shed costs. There will be much more in store.

So what’s that going to look like? After paring over each team’s salary cap, scheduled payouts and ability to restructure deals in order to shed cap obligations without losing players, I came up with one notable veteran — some much more notable than others — who could be traded or cut this spring.

Numbers for each team’s cap space and how much can be saved through either releasing or trading a player are all courtesy of Over The Cap, which remains an invaluable cap management resource.

Arizona Cardinals: WR Zach Pascal

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
  • Cap space: $41,716,463
  • Potential savings: $1,920,000

The Cardinals have a solid chunk of cap space to begin with and won’t have to make any signficant moves. That means Pascal may keep his job even as his impact as a wideout has waned. In 2023 he played as many snaps (202) on special teams as he did on offense, resulting in a career-low four catches. But he also had five kick/punt coverage tackles and brings veteran stability to that phase of the game.

Atlanta Falcons: QB Taylor Heinicke

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
  • Cap space: $25,849,508
  • Potential savings: $6,960,000

Heinicke is a solid backup quarterback, but an expensive one; the $7 million in cash he’s owed is 20th-highest in the NFL for 2024. Atlanta can excise nearly all of that from its books by releasing or trading him. With a new head coach in town and a new quarterback (…Justin Fields???) on the way, there’s logic to releasing Heinicke and opting for a cheaper QB2 in order to fill holes elsewhere.

Baltimore Ravens: LB Tyus Bowser

AP Photo/Joshua A. Bickel
  • Cap space: $7,328,828
  • Potential savings: $5,500,000

Baltimore has a handful of high profile free agents this spring, including Justin Madubuike, Patrick Queen, Kevin Zeitler and Geno Stone. The team also has minimal cap space with which to re-sign those players. Tough decisions loom, and releasing Bowser and interior lineman Patrick Mekari would free up nearly $10 million in spending room. Moving on from Patrick Ricard would add another $4 million to the pile, but let’s not get excessive now.

Buffalo Bills: EDGE Von Miller

AP Photo/Julio Cortez
  • Cap space: -$51,277,109
  • Potential savings: Up to $17,145,000 (via trade), but more likely $6,715,000

Restructuring Miller’s salary would save more than $12 million, but the Bills may not want to tie him to their salary cap any longer than necessary. Designating him a post-June 1 release would save nearly $7 million but also leave $17 million in dead space behind on the payroll. A summer trade would be ideal, saving more than $17 million, but would likely be a pure salary dump after Miller had just three quarterback hits in 12 games in his age 34 season. Getting rid of him may require Buffalo to sweeten the pot with a draft pick, a la the Houston Texans’ Brock Osweiler swap in 2017.

Carolina Panthers: CB Donte Jackson

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
  • Cap space: $28,599,402
  • Potential savings: $10,522,500

Trading away Miles Sanders would free up at least $6 million, but who would want him at that price after a grim 2023? Moving on from Donte Jackson as a post-June 1 cut or trade would free up more than $10 million for a team in dire need of talent.

Jackson was fine in 2023, but failed to live up to his $15.7 million cap number. His track record suggests he should stay — no one in Carolina should have a dysfunctional 2023 weighed against them other than owner David Tepper — but if push comes to shove his departure would create meaningful savings.

Chicago Bears: QB Justin Fields

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
  • Cap space: $66,996,157
  • Potential savings: $3,233,448 (via trade. We’re only talking trade here. Let’s be clear.)

The Bears are not a team clamoring for salary cap space. They don’t even really need a new quarterback. But they’ve got the top overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.

Moving on from Fields would allow them to a) sign up for four more years of bargain rookie contract quarterback play and b) save a little more cash than, say, moving on from special teamer Travis Homer. This is not a situation where Chicago would cut Fields, but create some modest savings and bring back additional draft assets via trade.

Cincinnati Bengals: OL Jackson Carman

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
  • Cap space: $59,436,373
  • Potential savings: $1,675,904

Cincinnati has plenty of cap space and should be in position to add talent rather than shed any, even if it takes a massive contract to keep Tee Higgins in Ohio. The Bengals also lack obvious cut or trade candidates, especially after another solid season from Joe Mixon.

Carman, a former second round pick, carried a sexual assault accusation with him into the NFL dating back to his time at Clemson. That didn’t stop the Bengals from drafting and then rostering him, but after only 16 offensive snaps the last two seasons his career may be finished.

Cleveland Browns: TE Jordan Akins

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
  • Cap space: -$19,622,046
  • Potential savings: $2,000,000

Akins is a valuable third tight end, but Cleveland’s facing a cap crunch and can replace his blocking, at least theoretically, with a Day 3 draft pick. Akins is clearly behind David Njoku and Harrison Bryant in the pecking order and played just 19 percent of the team’s offensive snaps last fall.

Dallas Cowboys: WR Michael Gallup

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
  • Cap space: -$21,570,700
  • Potential savings: $9,500,000

The easiest way for Dallas to clear cap space without restructuring any contracts — though reworking Dak Prescott’s deal seems like a no-brainer — would be to strike at its wideout depth. Both Gallup and Brandin Cooks can be designated post-June 1 cuts to generate at least $8 million in savings. In this case, Gallup’s waning returns and higher cost make him the sacrificial lamb as the Cowboys reload.

Denver Broncos: WR Tim Patrick

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
  • Cap space: -$24,113,842
  • Potential savings: $9,500,000

This is brutal for Patrick, who signed a $30 million contract with the Broncos only to have his last two seasons destroyed by injury. He could stick around with a pay cut, but the Broncos are in rough cap shape even before potentially releasing Russell Wilson — a move that would accelerate so, so much dead cap space onto their salary sheet. The 30-year-old wideout may have to mount his comeback elsewhere.

Detroit Lions: DE John Cominsky

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
  • Cap space: $44,843,386
  • Potential savings: $5,100,000

Detroit has plenty of cap room, but also has to make decisions about re-signing starters like Jonah Jackson and Halapoulivaati Vaitai on top of rehabilitating an oft-burned secondary. That leaves room to cut out a veteran rotational pass rusher in Cominsky — even though that’s unlikely. The sixth-year end is a stabilizing asset, but one who could have his place taken by a rookie if push came to shove this offseason.

Green Bay Packers: OT David Bakhtiari

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
  • Cap space: -$5,242,641
  • Potential savings: $20,935,294

Here’s the question: do the Packers think Bakhtiari can be an All-Pro again? If so, he’d be invaluable to Jordan Love’s rise up the quarterback ranks.

But he’s 32 years old and has played just 13 games the last three seasons, including one each in 2021 and 2023. Releasing or trading him — say, to reunite with an old friend in New York — would free up more than $20 million in salary cap space for a team that got by fine without him last fall.

Houston Texans: WR Robert Woods

Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports
  • Cap space: $57,744,290
  • Potential savings: $5,000,000

Woods is a useful veteran on a young team loaded with cap space. He was also clearly No. 3 on CJ Stroud’s wish list behind Nico Collins and Tank Dell when all three were healthy. He turns 32 years old in April and may be excised if Houston opts to carve out a little more spending room.

Indianapolis Colts: TE Mo Alie-Cox

Jenna Watson Poy 2021 025
  • Cap space: $58,923,573
  • Potential savings: $5,920,000

The Colts have six tight ends under contract at the moment (four on the regular roster, two via futures contracts) and have Jelani Woods and Kylen Granson ready to serve as the team’s top two at the position. Moving on from Alie-Cox frees up nearly $6 million with no dead space lingering on Indianapolis’ cap.

Jacksonville Jaguars: LT Cam Robinson

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
  • Cap space: $11,269,167
  • Potential savings: $17,279,412

Jacksonville has been preparing for a potential divorce from Robinson over the past season — one in which he was suspended four games and missed four more due to injury. Moving on from the left tackle would create the savings needed to comfortably retain Josh Allen as the pass rusher barrels toward free agency. While a release seems likely, there may be a modest market for Robinson and his inflated salary via trade.

Kansas City Chiefs: WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
  • Cap space: $15,222,796
  • Potential savings: $12,000,000

MVS came through when the Chiefs needed him most and Kansas City badly needs wideout help. But a $14 million salary is a lot for a player who had 315 receiving yards in 2023 and was best known, headed into the playoffs, for dropping what could have been a game-winning deep ball in a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Las Vegas Raiders: QB Jimmy Garoppolo

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
  • Cap space: $35,253,311
  • Potential savings: $24,070,000

No surprise here; the Raiders are planning to move on from the quarterback who got replaced by a fourth round rookie to little noticeable effect in 2023. Designating Garoppolo a post-June 1 release will save Las Vegas more than $24 million.

Los Angeles Chargers: WR Keenan Allen

AP Photo/Alex Gallardo
  • Cap space: -$35,516,935
  • Potential savings: $23,100,000

Here’s the problem; the Chargers have four of the top 20 scheduled cap hits in the NFL set to ravage their roster in 2024. With a new head coach and general manager, the knots left behind will be untangled. Trading either Allen or Mike Williams ($20 million in savings) would generate significant cap space, even though it would come at a significant cost to the team’s passing offense.

Los Angeles Rams: TE Hunter Long

Jessica Rapfogel-USA TODAY Sports
  • Cap space: $32,599,574
  • Potential savings: $1,337,550

Les Snead’s rostercomes into the offseason in solid cap position and is on schedule to make a first round pick for the first time since drafting Jared Goff. Brian Allen has already been released. Long, acquired as part of the deal that made Jalen Ramsey a Miami Dolphin, could be next.

He has just 55 snaps as a Ram under his belt thanks to last year’s season-ending injury. Los Angeles doesn’t have to make any moves and has few obvious cut candidates, but can move on from Long while leaving no dead cap space behind.

Miami Dolphins: EDGE Emmanuel Ogbah

AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee
  • Cap space: -$51,898,203
  • Potential savings: $13,708,824

Ogbah is being handsomely rewarded as a rotational pass rusher who played just a quarter of the Dolphins’ defensive snaps last season. While that resulted in 5.5 sacks, his nine quarterback hits suggest even that modest total may have been slightly inflated. The Dolphins could still use his services, but with a messy cap situation it’s unlikely he sticks around at this price point.

Minnesota Vikings: S Harrison Smith

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
  • Cap space: $24,658,132
  • Potential savings: $15,300,000

Yeah, phew, I don’t like it either. Smith is Minnesota’s longest tenured player. He’s also a 35-year-old safety with the fourth-largest cap number on the team. The Vikings have holes to fill and are likely looking at a significant outlay of guaranteed money if they’re going to keep Kirk Cousins in purple. Smith is still a capable starter, but he may be too pricey to continue his Hall of Very Good career in the Twin Cities.

New England Patriots: CB J.C. Jackson

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
  • Cap space: $69,527,006
  • Potential savings: $14,375,000

New England already carved out additional cap space by releasing Lawrence Guy and Adrian Phillips early in the offseason process. Jackson feels like a no-brainer to join them. The former All-Pro came back to the Patriots after a brutal stint with the Chargers but gave up a 107.8 passer rating in coverage last season. He’s only 28 years old and could return to form, but that’s not worth a $14 million bet.

New Orleans Saints: EDGE Payton Turner

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
  • Cap space: -$83,683,454
  • Potential savings: $2,367,918

The Saints have the worst salary cap situation in the world, as is tradition. And, as is tradition, general manager Mickey Loomis will restructure deals and use void years to push that bill down the line and make New Orleans compliant.

This constant reshuffling leaves few obvious cut options that could generate big savings. Turner, a former first round pick with just 15 games played and 339 defensive snaps in his three-year NFL career, would create some modest cap space if the team is willing to cut bait.

New York Giants: OG Mark Glowinski

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
  • Cap space: $19,462,691
  • Potential savings: $5,682,353

Moving on from Darren Waller would save up to $11.6 million, but taking targets away from Daniel Jones feels foolish. So does chipping away at his blocking, but New York badly needs an infusion of new blood up front after giving up 85 (!) sacks last season. Glowinski brings a valued veteran presence but his days as a preferred started may be behind him.

New York Jets: TE CJ Uzomah

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
  • Cap space: $1,667,122
  • Potential savings: $8,000,000

Uzomah’s receiving output has never matched up to his athleticism. Now that he’s in his 30s, it never may. New York can clear up to $8 million from its books by releasing a tight end who had eight catches in 12 games last season.

Philadelphia Eagles: S Kevin Byard

USA Today Sports
  • Cap space: $19,923,513
  • Potential savings: $13,031,088

Byard didn’t have the impact Philadelphia hoped after acquiring him in the middle of the 2023 season. His 103.3 passer rating allowed in coverage was the second-worst mark of his career and he proved helpless to stop the Eagles’ second-half swoon. His departure will be an easy cut for GM Howie Roseman.

Pittsburgh Steelers: WR Allen Robinson

Kareem Elgazzar-USA TODAY Sports
  • Cap space: -$6,017,045
  • Potential savings: $10,000,000

Robinson is a useful veteran but he’s slated to make just under $12 million in 2024. That’s a lot of money for two catches and 16.5 receiving yards per game.

San Francisco 49ers: WR Brandon Aiyuk

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
  • Cap space: -$12,375,835
  • Potential savings: $14,124,000 (via trade)

A handful of contract restructurings can not only dig the Niners out of their hole but create enough space to add some meaningful veteran help (or extend Aiyuk’s contract). But if that isn’t the path GM John Lynch wants to take, he can trade Aiyuk while wiping his entire $14 million-plus salary off the books (this is a trade only situation, as no one would be dumb enough to cut a player of his caliber. This would deal a blow to Kyle Shanahan’s dynamic run-after-catch offense, but enough playmakers would remain to keep Brock Purdy humming into 2024.

Seattle Seahawks: TE Will Dissly

AP Photo/Jack Dempsey
  • Cap space: -$5,230,353
  • Potential savings: $6,970,000

Dissly was a valuable part of the team’s DNA under Pete Carroll thanks to his blocking capabilities. But he played a career low 39 percent of the Seahawks’ offensive snaps last season and now heads into 2024 with a new head coach at the helm. While Dissly is the only tight end on the roster who is currently under contract, he could still be swept out by a new regime.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: WR Russell Gage

AP Photo/Butch Dill
  • Cap space: $36,891,102
  • Potential savings: $10,000,000

Tampa Bay got on fine without Gage in 2023. While he may be in line for a larger role should Mike Evans leave in free agency, the eight figures worth of cap savings he’d leave behind may prove too tempting for a franchise that needs to either re-sign Baker Mayfield or work out something new at quarterback.

Tennessee Titans: CB Elijah Molden

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
  • Cap space: $67,770,341
  • Potential savings: $2,992,000

Molden has failed to develop into an impact starter in his three seasons in the NFL; his 122.3 passer rating allowed in coverage last season was 15th worst among all defenders. Still, he’s young and the Titans don’t have any pressing need for cap space. He may get the chance to prove himself under new head coach Brian Callahan in 2024.

Washington Commanders: TE Logan Thomas

AP Photo/David Becker
  • Cap space: $73,649,626
  • Potential savings: $6,540,000

Thomas had a bounce-back year for the Commanders and could serve as a valuable veteran bridge between Ron Rivera and Dan Quinn as Washington ushers in a new era — particuarly considering no team in the league is set to have more salary cap space in 2024. But he’s also turning 33 in July and has fended off injuries in two of the last three seasons. If the new regime thinks his play is slipping, he could be shipped out in order to create even more spending room.

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