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Packers could find veteran edge rushers available soon as salary cap casualties

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Three once-elite pass-rushers could be on the free agent market for financial reasons in the coming weeks.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

As the Green Bay Packers look to bolster their outside linebacker unit in the 2019 offseason, most of the attention at present is going to the 2019 NFL Draft class. That’s entirely understandable, as this year’s group of edge rushers is both strong at the top and quite deep, with quality players likely available well into day two of the draft. The free agent class will also see some intriguing players coming available, with big names like Jadeveon Clowney, Dee Ford, and Demarcus Lawrence set to see their contracts expire.

However, there is a third group of players who are under contract for 2019, but whose cap numbers may make them available this offseason. These are the cap casualties — players who could end up being released and saving their former teams significant amounts of cap space.

It just so happens that there are three big names who are good candidates for that type of a move. All three have posted monster seasons in the past, and all of them will be 30 years old or younger in 2019. Let’s take a look at these players, all of whom could provide the Packers with some intriguing abilities if they indeed are released and would sign for the right price.

Justin Houston, Chiefs

Scheduled cap hit in 2019: $21.1M
Savings if released: $14M

Thinking back to 2011, Justin Houston was a common pick for the Packers at #32 in some mock drafts. The former Georgia edge rusher fell to Kansas City in round three, largely due to failing a drug test for marijuana at that year’s Combine. However, Houston made an immediate impact opposite Tamba Hali, recording 5.5 sacks as a rookie before a truly magnificent three-year stretch that saw him total 43 sacks.

Despite some lingering durability questions, Houston is still effective. He’s still averaging 11 sacks per 16 games played over the past four seasons, though he has missed at least one game each year and missed a total of 11 contests in 2016. That stands in contrast to Nick Perry, who has dealt with injury issues of his own but who managed just 1.5 sacks in nine games this year. Houston isn’t worth a $21 million cap hit any more, and so he’s a good bet to be released for cap reasons, but he could be a great pickup for the Packers, who will need veteran help on the edge. Another connection here is that the Packers hired Mike Smith, the Chiefs’ outside linebackers coach in 2018, to the same job for 2019.

Robert Quinn, Dolphins

Scheduled cap hit in 2019: $12.9M
Savings if released: $12.9M

Another member of the 2011 draft class, Quinn went 14th overall to the Rams. Like Houston, he had a five-sack season as a rookie before an explosive three-year stretch from 2012 to 2014 — he had 40 sacks in those three years, compared to Houston’s 43. Since then, he has dropped off a bit, and thanks to some unconventional accounting, the Rams were able to trade him to Miami before the 2018 season without much of a salary cap penalty. And since the Dolphins traded for him, they can release him without any dead money on their cap

For most of his career, Quinn has been a 4-3 defensive end. However, in 2017 he did have 8.5 sacks in 15 games as the Rams moved to more of a 3-4 defense under Wade Phillips. This season in Miami, he had 6.5 sacks in 16 games. Like Houston, Quinn could be a nice second-tier pass-rush option if he ends up on the open market.

Vic Beasley, Falcons

Scheduled cap hit in 2019: $12.81M
Savings if released: $12.81M

With the Falcons releasing kicker Matt Bryant today, writers at The Falcoholic were discussing Beasley as a candidate for a restructure or release as a cap casualty. He is currently under contract on his fifth-year option as a first-round draft pick in 2015, which for now is guaranteed for injury only. However, the Falcons could release him prior to the first day of the league year on March 13th and get off scot-free.

Beasley’s Combine performance in 2015 was one to behold, as he tested above the 90th percentile of edge rushers in literally every athletic drill. He translated that into a league-leading 15.5 sacks in 2016. However, Beasley has hardly played up to that impressive season over the past two years. I asked The Falcoholic’s Kevin Knight about what happened, and he responded with the following:

Yikes. That’s not a good sign, and the stats bear that out: his sack total dropped from 15.5 in 2016 to just five each of the past two years. Still, the Chiefs’ Dee Ford was a speed rush specialist and Mike Smith helped coach him to a career year with 13 sacks in 2018. Maybe he could do something similar with Beasley?