Free Agency is exactly four weeks away. The new NFL league year begins on March 14th, and with that date approaching we are taking a look ahead to some players who are not yet but might yet become available as free agents.
Of course, that means we’re talking about potential cap casualties, players who are under contract for 2018 but who may be released by their teams in order to open up significant amounts of cap space. Each of these players is in a different situation and brings something different to the table, but we have identified five edge rushers who Brian Gutekunst should make a phone call about if they end up on the open market. Every one of these players could provide a useful role on the edge for Mike Pettine’s Green Bay Packers defense, and if they end up as street free agents, they would not affect the compensatory pick calculation for 2018.
Like Ebron, Quinn is on a team that is not hurting for cap space. They have almost their entire offensive core group on rookie contracts, with only left tackle Andrew Whitworth having a cap hit above $8.5 million for 2018. On defense, the numbers are a little more murky. Quinn is scheduled to be the team’s highest-paid defender with a $12.4 million cap hit; however, cutting him before the third day of the 2018 league year (March 17th) would leave Los Angeles with just $955k and change in dead money, a savings of about $11.44 million.
With two years left on his deal and his remaining a productive player, Quinn could end up getting a contract extension to shift some of his cap hit to future years. However, if he ends up on the market, and our colleagues at Turf Show Times have mentioned him as a possible cap casualty, he should have a number of suitors and the Packers would be wise to be among them.
It does appear to the naked eye that Quinn’s production has dipped over the past three years. And you’d be right, since he missed a total of 15 games in 2015 and 2016 and recorded just five and four sacks respectively in those seasons. However, since 2012, he has averaged 0.72 sacks per game (which averages to 11.5 per 16 games), and even from 2015-17 that number remains solid at 0.55. He also has multiple forced fumbles in every season since 2013.
Another bonus is that Quinn will still be on the right side of 30 this season, turning 28 in May. All that suggests that the Rams would indeed keep him around, but the possibility remains that he might become a free agent, and Brian Gutekunst should definitely make a call if it happens.
Of all 32 teams in the NFL, only the Eagles are projected to be over the salary cap in 2018 based on their current contractual obligations. Looking through their top ten players in terms of cap hit, only one would actually save significantly more money with a pre-June 1st cut than his dead cap would cost: Graham.
The Super Bowl hero who forced Tom Brady to fumble late in the game turns 30 in April, but he did not become a full-time starter until 2015 despite entering the league as the 13th overall pick in 2010. Still, he had a career year in 2017, posting 9.5 sacks and scoring his first career touchdown on a fumble return in addition to his critical play in the Super Bowl.
Graham has played both standing up and in a three-point stance in Philly, and his heroics should put him on every team’s radar should he become available. But he would be a nice piece for a versatile DC like Mike Pettine to work into a pass-rush group that needs players who are relentless in their pursuit of the quarterback.
While Graham is the only sensible pre-June 1st cut, Curry makes sense if the Eagles would designate him as a post-June 1st cut, which would spread out a good portion of his $6 million in dead money to 2019. However, that wouldn’t open up the space until June 1st, and they need those dollars to be available as of March 14th.
Regardless, Curry is an interesting player; he did not start a single game until 2017, though he had a huge year in 2014 as a rotational pass-rusher, landing nine sacks and forcing four fumbles. He’s reliable and durable, having missed just two games in the past five seasons, but his sack totals — 22 in five years — are not reflective of the 5-year, $46.5 million deal he signed two years ago. In fact, he hasn’t done much at all outside of 2014, and his deal was named the Eagles’ worst contract by Over the Cap last August. Curry did little to live up to it in 2017. The only notable difference was that he started every game and his snap rate increased from about 42% to 56%, but his sack totals stayed flat (2.5 in 2016 to 3.0 in 2017).
Curry would likely fit in as a “rush” linebacker in Pettine’s defensive system, and it certainly appears that Curry’s contract is an outlier. If he’s let loose and the market accurately values his abilities and production — say he gets a contract similar to Ahmad Brooks’ one-year, $3.5 million deal with the Packers from 2017 — Curry would make sense as a rotational piece who could make a few starts in a pinch.
Although Johnson has never been a truly dominant pass-rusher (aside from maybe his 2012 season), he has always been a good one and a player whose build is reminiscent of Julius Peppers’. Johnson has one year left on a four-year deal he signed in 2015, but the Bengals could save about $5 million against the cap by letting him loose.
Again, we’re looking at a potential rotational player here, but Johnson just turned 31 and should still have something left in the tank.
The Falcons have just $12 million in projected cap space and Matt Ryan is entering the final year of his contract, making it a priority for Thomas Dimitroff to open up some room. One way would be to cut Reed to make a little over $3.5 million in space.
Reed was more of a stand-up linebacker in Houston for four years before coming to Atlanta in 2015 as a free agent and learning to play with his hand on the ground. Although he started 14 games in 2017 at defensive end, he was heavily in a rotation with Takkarist McKinley and ended up playing just 39% of the team’s snaps. Still, he recorded four sacks and was reasonably stout against the run.
Reed’s contract in 2015 was for an average of less than $5 million per year. A similar deal in 2018 could be an option for Gutekunst.