With the NFL Combine seeming to dominate the sports news about now, I think it is as important to notice what teams are doing with regard to creating cap space for the NFL free agency orgy that will commence in about 2 weeks. Drafting is still months away; teams are going to be making changes to their rosters in that intervening time and those changes could affect significantly how they approach the draft.
The biggest splash in the “create cap space” world came from the now-LA Rams when they cut 3 significant players:
Tight end, Jared Cook: 2016 would have been the 4th year of a 5-year deal he signed with the Rams for $35M.
Linebacker, James Laurinaitis: 2016 would have been the 4th year of a 5-year deal he signed with the Rams for $41.5M
Defensive end,Chris Long: 2016 would have been the final year of a 4-year contract he signed with the Rams for $50M.
Reports say that these three cuts create $23M in cap space for the Rams and when added to carry-over cap room they will give the Rams a total of almost $52M in cap space to work with. That would seem to indicate that the Rams will be significant players in free agency this offseason and I would suggest that one of the first things that the team needs to address is the replacement of these three competent and productive players. I would be shocked if any of them are out-of-work next season.
The Jets have also released Antonio Cromartie after only one season down on his contract. The Jets “reunited” their defensive backfield pairing Cromartie and Darrelle Revis at the CB position. Cromartie did not have a season that lived up to his prior standards of performance and the Jets decided to “go in a different direction”.
I am not going to pretend to have analyzed all 32 NFL teams to see what high-priced vets they might jettison to create cap space nor will I pretend to know all of the ins and outs of cap space calculations – I think gravity waves have something to do with those cap space numbers but I’m not sure – but from general reading, I think there are 4 veteran players who are likely to find themselves out looking for a new gig in a couple of weeks. In alphabetical order:
Dwayne Bowe: The Browns signed him only last year to a 2-year deal for $12.6M. For that signing, the Browns got 5 receptions and 57 yards in 7 games. He was not injured for the other 9 games; he was simply not activated for them. Only the Browns…
Victor Cruz: I know he is young and he was very productive when he was healthy. However, over the past 2 seasons he has only been on the field for a total of 6 games. I believe the Giants can create $10M in cap room if they release him.
Robert Griffin III: If the Skins keep him, they owe him $16.5M and he carries a cap number that might not allow the Skins to keep Kirk Cousins too. Count this one as a no-brainer.
Mario Williams: Reports say he is unhappy in Buffalo and he had a mediocre season in 2015. My calculation says his cap number is just over $13M. Williams can still play, but I suspect it might not be in Buffalo in 2016.
Now, as the Rams and all the other teams finalize their strategy and tactics for the free agency season, I would like to offer two observations:
1. Twice in recent times, teams have stormed the bastions and signed prize free agents to HUGE deals in the moments after the opening of free agency. It was almost like the crack of dawn on the first day of rifle season for deer hunting; you can read the want ads in the light of the muzzle flashes. The Skins once signed Albert Haynesworth that way and we know how that turned out. Last year, the Dolphins signed Ndamukong Suh in a similar burst of enthusiasm; Suh was not nearly the flop that Haynesworth was in Washington, but he was hardly a difference maker either.
Teams might want to curb their enthusiasm for the splashy signing that will win the team the “Press Conference of the Month Award”. Playoff berths are not determined in March…
2. The running back position has been devalued in recent times in the NFL. Free agent running backs by definition have some mileage on them and that could make some GMs wary. There may be some relative bargains out there at that position – – or – – one of these years the pendulum will swing back to normal for running backs. Might it be this year…?
Steve Rosenbloom of the Chicago Tribune had this comment with regard to the Bears’ recent personnel pronouncements:
“Bears general manager Ryan Pace said letting receiver Alshon Jeffery hit free agency remains an option. A stupid option. But an option nonetheless.”
Finally, Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot had this observation about free-agency as it applies to baseball. I think he is right on target here and would add that his commentary applies to the NFL equally well:
“Not so fast: Conventional wisdom has it that, after signing [Jason] Heyward, Ben Zobrist and John Lackey, the Cubs have bought a championship. Kind of like we thought the Nationals did last year.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………