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Predicting 10 surprising NFL salary cap casualties

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

As the NFL prepares for free agency, there are obvious names out there we expect to be released. Ryan Tannehill and Blake Bortles are two of the bigger names on that list.

Though, as we’ve seen throughout the recent history of the league, there’s other more surprising names that will end up being salary cap casualties.

Due to a combination of their contracts and somewhat pedestrian performances, the following 10 players could ultimately be surprising cap casualties over the next couple weeks.

Nelson Agholor, wide receiver, Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia currently finds itself $1.7 million over the cap. Its going to have to cut fat somewhere in order to even retain key free agents such as Brandon Graham, Jordan Hicks, Golden Tate and Ronald Darby. That’s not necessarily a great position for the team to find itself in heading into free agency.

By releasing Agholor, the Eagles would be saving a cool $9.39 million against the cap. Given they are already paying Alshon Jeffery No. 1 receiver money, this might be the move general manager Howie Roseman and Co. make. After all, Agholor has not even hit the 800-yard plateau thus far in his career.

Xavier Rhodes, cornerback, Minnesota Vikings

On the surface, this seems a bit ridiculous. Rhodes has anchored one of the league’s best secondaries over the past five seasons — earning two Pro Bowl appearances and an All-Pro honor in the process. Unfortunately, today’s NFL is defined as much by recency bias and the economy as previous performance.

Rhodes is slated to count $13.34 million against the cap in 2019. Minnesota would save nearly $11 million against the cap if it were to designate him a post-June 1 cut. According to Pro Football Focus, Rhodes also graded out as the Vikings’ fifth-best cornerback in 2018. Given that the Vikings have exhausted either a first or second-round draft pick on a corner in three of the past four years, they could simply decide to move on from Rhodes.

DeVante Parker, wide receiver, Miami Dolphins

Despite a relatively mediocre roster, Miami heads into free agency with the fifth-smallest amount of cap space in the entire NFL. Something certainly has to give on this front if the team wants to become relevant again. Moving on from Ryan Tannehill and Robert Quinn would help in that regard. Though, Parker’s 2019 cap number coupled with his lack of production makes him a likely salary cap casualty.

Miami had previously picked up the $9.39 million option on Parker’s contract for next season. None of that is guaranteed. The team would save exactly that amount under the cap by releasing the former first-round pick. Having failed to put up as much as 800 receiving yards in each of his first four NFL seasons, Parker simply isn’t worth that cash.

Gerald McCoy, defensive tackle, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A report from Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times this week noted that McCoy would in fact return to the Buccaneers for a 10th season with the team. That came on the heels of other suggestions that he would be a salary cap casualty. While we have no real idea what’s happening on this front, we do know that the Bucs’ new coaching staff will want to bring some of its own players in.

McCoy, 30, is a bit long in the tooth to take part in even a short-term rebuild under Bruce Arians. The six-time Pro Bowler has also seen a dip in production over the past two seasons and is set to count $13 million against the cap in 2019. In turn, Tampa Bay can get out from under that $13 million by releasing him. It just makes too much sense to be seen as fake news.

Bud Dupree, EDGE, Pittsburgh Steelers

Dupree is one of a couple pass rushers general manager Kevin Colbert has missed out on at the top of the draft in recent years. He joins Jarvis Jones in the category. And while the former No. 22 overall pick has morphed into a full-time starter the past two seasons, it’s hard to imagine Pittsburgh paying out the $9.23 million owed to Dupree in 2019.

Said deal is guaranteed for injury only — meaning the Steelers can save that amount by releasing him. Given the Antonio Brown situation and Pittsburgh’s less-than-stellar cap, moving on from Dupree seems to be logical. The emergence of T.J. Watt as an elite edge force and the presence of pass-rush heavy defensive tackles on the roster magnify this further.

Josh Norman, cornerback, Washington Redskins

Simply put, Norman has been a $75 million mistake for the Redskins. Signed to that lucrative deal back in April of 2016, the former Pro Bowler just has not panned out. This past season saw Pro Football Focus grade Norman out as the 54th-best cornerback in the NFL. That’s barely starter-caliber right there. He’s also recorded a grand total of six interceptions in three seasons with the Skins. That’s not near the play-making ability we saw in Carolina.

Set to earn a whopping $14.5 million against the cap in 2019, Washington can save $8.5 million by releasing Norman altogether. Given the team will be forced to take on a $20.4 million cap hit with an injured Alex Smith, it’s something Washington will seriously have to consider.

Devin McCourty, safety, New England Patriots

This three-time Super Bowl champ with the Patriots just recently announced that he’ll return for a 10th season in New England. That was not always a foregone conclusion. It also doesn’t mean that McCourty will actually be back playing for Bill Belichick and Co. next season.

Sure McCourty remains one of the better safeties in the game. Unfortunately, he’s at that age we’ve seen the Patriots move on from other players in the past. As cutthroat as any organization in the NFL, will New England justify paying McCourty $13.44 million against the cap in his age-32 season? We’re not too sure. What we do know is that the always-cap centric Patriots can save nearly $10 million by releasing McCourty.

Justin Houston, EDGE, Kansas City Chiefs

Kansas City will not be retaining both Justin Houston and Dee Ford. Realistically, the team just can’t afford to keep both edge rushers at a cost that would hit nearly $40 million against the cap. Ford is three years younger than his more-veteran counterpart and has to be the Chiefs’ focus this offseason. Set to become a free agent, Kansas City will either place the franchise tag on him or sign the former first-round pick to a massive new deal.

As it relates to Houston, the four-time Pro Bowler is set to count a whopping $21.1 million against the cap. Kansas City would save $14 million by moving on from him altogether. Sure we expect the team to look the trade route, but a release seems to make more sense.

Vic Beasley, EDGE, Atlanta Falcons

It was only a few short years ago that this former top-10 pick led the NFL in sacks (15.5) en route to earning All-Pro honors back in 2016. How things have changed since then. The 26-year-old Beasley has recorded just 13 quarterback hits and 10 sacks over the past two seasons. That’s simply not going to cut it for head coach Dan Quinn and Co.

Making matters more difficult as it relates to hanging on to Beasley is the fact that he has a $12.81 million cap hit for next season. As with others on this list, Atlanta would save all of that by releasing Beasley. Given that Atlanta has other core free agents to retain, moving on from Beasley seems to make the most sense.

A.J. Green, wide receiver, Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati might not want its fans to know this, but the team is in the early stages of a rebuild. It will be led by a first-year head coach in Zac Taylor who doesn’t even have coordinating experience. The same thing can be said about the team’s new defensive coordinator, former position coach Lou Anarumo. Meanwhile, there’s a good chance Andy Dalton won’t be back under center.

Sure Cincinnati could potentially get something in a trade for this seven-time Pro Bowler. But the likes of Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr. will receive the most interest. Meanwhile, Green is 30 years old and coming off an injury-plagued 2018 campaign. Cincinnati can also save $12.2 million against the cap by releasing him. It’s not likely. But we’ve seen stranger things happen.