The 2022 salary cap is skyrocketing but NFL cap casualties are part of every offseason, with impact starters and former prized free-agent signing released to save money. We’re expecting that again this spring and some big names could be searching for new homes.
Before players become NFL cap casualties, teams can approach them about a contract restructure. Converting payments into a prorated signing bonus over the duration of the contract can allow teams to achieve short-term cap relief. When a restructure isn’t possible or isn’t worth it for either side, then they become a cap casualty.
What is an NFL cap casualty?
A cap casualty is any player who is cut, sometimes traded, because it offers a team a greater financial benefit than the on-field impact a player makes. NFL cap casualties happen every offseason, with marquee names often released. Importantly, any players released don’t count against the compensatory-pick evaluation for teams who sign them.
Let’s dive into potential candidates who could or will become NFL cap casualties. All contract figures and savings, per OvertheCap.com.
Bryan Bulaga, offensive tackle, Los Angeles Chargers
The Los Angeles Chargers signed right tackle Bryan Bulaga to a three-year, $30 million contract in the 2020 offseason. After two seasons, the oft-injured lineman has played in just 11 total games. Los Angeles functioned without him this past season and his inability to stay on the field doesn’t warrant the existing $14.08 million cap hit. Expect Bulaga to be released before June 1.
- Cap Savings: $10.75 million
Za’Darius Smith, edge rusher, Green Bay Packers
In a world without salary-cap issues, the Green Bay Packers would love to keep Za’Darius Smith. They signed him to a four-year, $66 million contract in March 2019 and he rewarded them with 60 quarterback hits and 26 sacks in 33 games. Unfortunately, he missed a majority of the 2021 season with a back injury and Rashan Gary emerged as a potential star during that time. Green Bay is desperate for cap space and barring a team suddenly offering a Day 3 pick, the Packers will cut Smith in March.
- Cap Savings: $15.28 million
Amari Cooper, wide receiver, Dallas Cowboys
It would be a major surprise if the Dallas Cowboys cut Amari Cooper. However, the star wide receiver isn’t a lock to return in 2022. Dallas enters March with just $4.58 million in cap space and needs to re-sign its top impending free agents. Frustrations with Cooper inside the organization for more than a year and his $22 million cap hit could result in an offseason trade.
- Cap Savings: $16 million if cut/released pre-June 1
Related: Top Amari Cooper trade destinations
Trey Flowers, edge rusher, Detroit Lions
Regime changes play a huge role in NFL cap casualties. Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia signed Trey Flowers to a five-year, $90 million deal in 2019. After three seasons, with both former Patriotrs’ brass gone, Flowers could follow them out the door. He’s produced just 6 QB hits and 3.5 sacks in the past two seasons, all in 14 total games played. If he won’t restructure that $23.239 million cap hit, Flowers is cut.
- Cap Savings: $10.386 million (pre-June 1), $16 million (post-June 1)
Cory Littleton, linebacker, Las Vegas Raiders
When the Las Vegas Raiders signed Cory Littleton to a three-year, $35.25 million contract early in the 2020 offseason, they hoped he would thrive as a coverage linebacker. Instead, he proved that his success with the Los Angeles Rams was a product of the system and talent around him. One of the worst linebackers in the NFL since joining the Raiders, Littleton won’t return in 2022. Expect him to be a post-June 1 release, the best move for financial flexibility.
- Cap Savings: $11.75 million (post-June 1 release)
Chris Carson, running back, Seattle Seahawks
The Seattle Seahawks rewarded Chris Carson for consecutive 1,000-yard seasons (2018-’19) with a two-year deal in March 2021. Unfortunately, he suffered a neck injury in Week 4 that required season-ending surgery. While there is hope the cervical-fusion procedure allows him to play in 2022, it doesn’t come with a clear timetable for recovery. The Seahawks have other needs to address and that makes Carson’s $6.425 million cap charge something they need to move on from.
- Cap Savings: $4.925 million (post-June 1 release)
Jack Doyle, tight end, Indianapolis Colts
The Indianapolis Colts aren’t desperate for cap room and even if it’s needed, the Carson Wentz contract is likely the first to be changed. However, tight end Jack Doyle doesn’t seem long for Indianapolis on his current deal. Despite the glorious beard, Doyle’s $6.2 million cap hit will at least make him a candidate for release.
- Cap Savings: $5.45 million
Landon Collins, safety, Washington Commanders
Needless to say, the Washington Commanders regret signing Landon Collins to that $84 million contract. Many viewed it as a massive overpay at the time and at the midway point of the deal, Washington probably wants to cut bait. Collins can only be trusted against the run and deployed as an occasional blitzer. Simply put, that doesn’t warrant a $16.082 million charge on the salary cap. If he is released, though, he can be a nice rotational piece for a great defensive coordinator.
- Cap Savings: $12 million (post-June 1 release)
Cole Beasley, wide receiver, Buffalo Bills
A year after earning second-team All-Pro honors, Cole Beasley didn’t look like the best slot receiver in the NFL during the 2021 season. The 32-year-old averaged just 8.5 yards per catch and only 34 of his 112 targets turned into first downs. If Beasley isn’t willing to take a pay cut, the Bills will have no issue releasing him and finding a replacement in the NFL Draft.
- Cap Savings: $6.1 million
We’ll provide additional names for potential NFL cap casualties throughout March and April.