On Wednesday, Acme Packing Company examined the contract for Green Bay Packers tight end Jimmy Graham and what options the team has with him for the 2019 season. Graham falls squarely in the category of potential salary cap casualties this season, along with teammate Nick Perry.
Generally, players who are released for cap reasons have a few specific characteristics. Typically, they are playing below the value of their contracts, particularly when the team employing them is not in dire salary cap straits. In addition, the players typically will open up significant salary cap space as a result of their release, due to the structure of their contracts.
The Packers are currently projected to have around $40 million in salary cap space. By moving on from Graham and Perry in on specific way, they could free up $5 million immediately and $10 million on June 2nd. Thus, the Packers should not need to make any additional cuts for cap purposes alone, but there are a handful of individuals who could free up additional cap space should general manager Brian Gutekunst need to clear room for big free agent signings.
While Perry and Graham are certainly at the top of the list, there are a few additional players under contract with the Packers whose release would open up some significant cap space. We’ll run down a few of them here and why they may or may not makes much sense as candidates for release.
The other option with some of these players — particularly the ones who are playing up to their deals — is to restructure their contracts, adding a few years onto the deal by shifting money out of base salary and into a signing bonus.
Big savings & injury risk, but still playing at a high level
The first two players on this list are players whose contracts would allow for big savings. However, both players are still playing up to their contracts — when healthy.
DT Mike Daniels
In no way do I expect Daniels to be released this offseason. He’s a critical piece of the Packers’ defensive front, and although he missed six games in 2018 and two in 2017, he had not been held out of a game in the four years previous. Still, Daniels’ contract runs out after 2019, and offers some cap savings.
The cap hit on Daniels’ current deal is $10.7 million, which consists of a $7.6 million base salary, $2.4 million in a deferred signing bonus charge, and the rest on active roster bonuses and a workout bonus. Cutting him this offseason would save the Packers a big chunk of money — $8.3 million, as the team would have just the $2.4 million dead against the cap.
However, Daniels’ play appears fully worthy of a contract extension rather than a release. One possibility would be to add another two years onto his contract, taking him through his age-32 season in 2021. By shifting $6 million of Daniels’ base salary into a signing bonus, the team would unload $4 million of his cap hit from 2019 into future years (split up evenly at $2 million per year), leaving him at just a $6.7 million cap number this season.
OT Bryan Bulaga
Like Daniels, Bulaga has one year remaining on his contract and continues to play well when he is on the field. The questions about Bulaga are always about injury, however. He was active for 14 games in 2018, but left a few of those contests with injuries; that came after a preseason injury cost him two games early in 2017 and a torn ACL limited him to just five games total. Bulaga has played all 16 games just twice in his nine-year career, and has appeared in 12 or fewer games in five out of those nine seasons.
A Bulaga release would open up $6.75M in cap space for the Packers, thanks to $1.6M in deferred signing bonus money and an $8.35M cap hit for 2019. However, the Packers would likely be unwilling to commit additional years and money to an injury-prone Bulaga at this time, particularly coming off the past season. The problem will be replacing him — can you find a tackle who can provide the same level of play with less of an injury risk for around $7 million? That seems unlikely.
One and done?
DB Tramon Williams
The long-time Packer returned in 2018 after three years away, and his ability to move from cornerback to free safety midseason made him particularly valuable to the team. He is probably penciled in as the starter at free safety for 2019, but the financials could make him expendable, particularly if an upgrade becomes a possibility in free agency or the draft.
Williams has a cap hit of $6.375M next season, with half of his $3.25M signing bonus ($1.625M) on the books. That means the Packers could save $4.75M by releasing him. However, they would want to make that decision before the third day of the 2019 league year, as he is due a $1M roster bonus on that date.
As with the players above, it seems unlikely that Williams will be released; the Packers’ lack of talent and depth at the safety position makes him effectively critical for one more year, at least.
QB DeShone Kizer
This is an odd one, but the Packers’ new coaching staff will feel no attachment to Kizer, even if the personnel department does due to him being the primary return in the trade of Damarious Randall. That trade meant that the guaranteed money on Kizer’s deal all went on the Cleveland Browns’ 2018 cap, so he’s in Green Bay for just a $914,856 base salary. That all goes away if the Packers decide he’s not a long-term fit or if they draft another quarterback and choose to roll with that player as Aaron Rodgers’ backup.
It’s not much of a cap savings, but it’s a possibility that Kizer could be released late this spring.
Finally time to move on?
K Mason Crosby
Kicking in the Lambeau Field conditions is a difficult task, to be sure. However, the worst game of Crosby’s career came indoors at Ford Field in 2018, and he is being paid like an elite kicker despite performing like a below-average one. Crosby’s 81.1% hit rate on field goals was 23rd among 34 qualifying kickers in 2018, and although he was good from 50-plus (5-of-7) he struggled in the 40s (11-of-15).
The financials make a strong case for moving on. His contract runs through 2019, and the $5M signing bonus he signed before 2016 means he would count $1.25M on the cap if the team were to cut him. With a cap hit of $4.85M in 2019 — currently scheduled to be second-highest among all NFL kickers behind Justin Tucker of the Ravens — that $3.6M savings could almost certainly be put to better use.
Interestingly, Crosby has been clutch in the postseason in his career, hitting on 89.7% of his field goal attempts including a string of 23 in a row from 2010 to 2016. However, his regular season performance has failed to live up to that hefty contract, with a career hit rate of just 80.4%. An overhaul of the Packers’ last-ranked special teams is coming, and it might just end up wiping Crosby away.