There are some big names on my list of potential salary cap cuts in the AFC, and it's the same story with the NFC rundown below. Just not as many big names as in some previous years.
Most of the players spotlighted below would be cut for a lack of production rather than their respective teams being in financial straits. According to Over The Cap, 23 teams have more than $23 million in cap spacebefore the impending avalanche of cuts and easy financial maneuvers designed to create more room. Perhaps teams got smarter about managing their salary cap or maybe general managers feared some of the uncertainty inherent in this final year of the current collective bargaining agreement, saving up acorns for a long winter in the league's worst-case scenario. No matter the reason, most teams have plenty of flexibility to keep quality players, even if their cap figures are out-sized.
Strong candidates for release
1-3) CB Josh Norman, TE Jordan Reed and WR Paul Richardson, Washington Redskins: A new regime usually means housecleaning, so that's the obvious expectation in Washington, with Ron Rivera in and Bruce Allen out. Even a reunion with Norman's old Panthers coach is unlikely to help the 32-year-old's status. Reed missed all of 2019 with concussion complications and has a $10.3 million cap figure. Richardson figures to be an odd man out after gaining fewer than 300 yards in each of the last two years, as the Redskins are reportedly interested in finding a new veteran wideout. Making all three cuts would open up over $23 million in cap space before what figures to be an active offseason in D.C.
4) Jimmy Graham, TE, Green Bay Packers: I've read some arguments for keeping Graham in Green Bay, but GM Brian Gutekunst has already held on a year too long. After a lucrative career for Graham, it's worth wondering if he'll embrace going elsewhere as a low-cost role player or whether this could be it for the five-time Pro Bowler.
6) Nigel Bradham, LB, Philadelphia Eagles: A Jim Schwartz favorite, Bradham's $9.8 million cap figure doesn't make sense on a roster that is ready to make some changes.
7-8) CB Xavier Rhodes and NT Linval Joseph, Minnesota Vikings: It will be fascinating to see how far coach Mike Zimmer and GM Rick Spielman go in breaking up the Vikings' defensive band. These cuts won't be easy, considering the players' history with Zimmer, but Minnesota is the rare team in 2020 that actually needs to create some space.
9) Devonta Freeman, RB, Atlanta Falcons: It was disheartening to see the once-great running back so clearly diminished last season by his history of injuries.
10) Dontari Poe, NT, Carolina Panthers: Poe played fairly well in 2019, but the combination of a new coaching staff and a star-level cap figure ($13.1 million) could conspire against him.
11-12) LB Kiko Alonso and CB Janoris Jenkins, New Orleans Saints: Alonso tore his ACL in the Saints' playoff loss, so his release could come with an injury settlement. His salary made him very vulnerable regardless. Jenkins is a strong candidate to work out a new deal with New Orleans, but it's hard to imagine him back at his current $11.25 million cap figure.
13) David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals: Cutting Johnson would create a bigger cap hit than keeping him, but how can the Cardinals roster a backup running back still due more than $11 million in 2020 pay? (Johnson was barely playing behind Kenyan Drake late last season.) A salary-dump trade where Arizona gets a negligible late-round pick swap would be ideal, but Cardinals GM Steve Keim would have to take on much of Johnson's guaranteed contract in that scenario. Either way, Keim will be paying dearly for a contract gone this wrong that was hard to see coming.
Potential surprise cuts
1) Adrian Peterson, RB, Washington Redskins: Peterson doesn't cost much ($2.25 million base salary) and ran well last year, but new coach Ron Rivera may want to get younger at the position.
2) Everson Griffen, DE, Minnesota Vikings: Cutting a franchise legend coming off a fantastic season doesn't make much sense, but Griffen has been written about as a potential cut candidate by smarter Vikings observers than myself because Minnesota needs the cap room. Releasing Griffin would save over $13 million in cap space; I still don't believe it will happen because Griffen played too well last year.
3) Keanu Neal, S, Atlanta Falcons: This would be a brutal cut by the Falcons. Neal is coming off a torn ACL followed by a torn Achilles, but NFL teams make colder moves every year. Perhaps a restructuring of his contract that includes pushing some of his guarantees in the future could help both sides.
4) Tevin Coleman, RB, San Francisco 49ers: Coleman started the Super Bowl and should be safe, but the 49ers need to create some cap room and don't have many other great options to do so. Kyle Shanahan has proven to be an expert at creating rushing yards from odd places, so it's possible they could try to go cheap with Raheem Mostert, Matt Breida and a rookie to be named later.
5) Clay Matthews, OLB, Los Angeles Rams: This is only listed under "Potential surprise cuts" because cutting Matthews wouldn't save an incredible amount -- $3.75 million. General manager Les Snead needs to create some flexibility, however, and this is a logical place to start.
Other players in trouble (in alphabetical order):Allen Bailey, DL, Atlanta Falcons; Antoine Bethea, S, New York Giants; Mike Davis, RB, Carolina Panthers; Rhett Ellison, TE, New York Giants; Cameron Fleming, OT, Dallas Cowboys; D.J. Fluker, OG, Seattle Seahawks; Kareem Martin, LB, New York Giants; Patrick Robinson, CB, New Orleans Saints; Ty Sambrailo, OT, Atlanta Falcons; J.R. Sweezy, OG, Arizona Cardinals; Lane Taylor, OG, Green Bay Packers; Jarius Wright, WR, Carolina Panthers.