Potential Cap Casualties Around the NFC North

Here are three players in the division that could become cap casualties heading into the 2020 season. 

We’ve talked extensively about free agents already, both Packers free agents and league-wide free agents. I thought today it might be interesting instead to focus on potential cap casualties around the NFC North. These potential cap casualties might also happen to fill positions of need in Green Bay, too, but that’s purely coincidental...

Starting with the Packers, there are really only two names that make sense for the Packers regarding cap savings. The team could look to move on from tight end Jimmy Graham to free up about $8 million in cap space, and now that Elgton Jenkins is the left guard of the future in Green Bay, the Packers could also move on from Lane Taylor and free up an additional $4.6 million. 

There’s about a combined $5 million in dead cap space associated with both moves, but it makes sense for the Packers if they intend to sign any players in free agency (including in-house free agents like Mason Crosby). 

Next, let’s look at the Chicago Bears who are without a first-round pick once again in this year’s draft thanks to trading for Khalil Mack in 2018. While Mack has no-doubt been a difference-maker on a stout Bears defense, contracts as large as his make it more difficult to re-sign other impact players. Inside linebacker Danny Trevathan, a focal point of the Chicago defense, is set to become a free agent this offseason, along with former Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. 

Whatever direction the team decides to go regarding which free agents get re-signed and which they move on from, a name to keep an eye on as a potential cap casualty in Chicago is wide receiver Allen Robinson. 

The former second-round pick in the 2014 Draft has been with the Bears since 2018. Releasing Robinson would give Chicago $13 million in cap savings, and with Robinson set to hit free agency in 2021, the Bears might opt to release him a year early. 

The Bears spent high draft capital (second-round pick) on a wide receiver in 2018, giving quarterback Mitchell Trubisky a weapon in Anthony Miller. While Miller’s 2019 season wasn’t as strong as his rookie campaign, he still finished the season with 656 yards and two touchdowns and is becoming a favorite target of Trubisky’s. 

This year’s draft features an incredibly loaded wide receiver class, so the Bears could spend one of their early-round picks on a talented receiver to pair opposite Miller if Robinson is indeed released. Robinson was no doubt the Bears’ best receiver in 2019, catching seven touchdowns with 1,147 receiving yards, but if the Bears are looking to reshape their offense in 2020, it might be the right time to move on from the 26-year-old receiver. 

The Packers happen to be in need of a wide receiver, and I would expect them to explore all options this offseason. While it’s unlikely to think the Bears would be willing to trade a player to a division rival, if Robinson is released, he may be of interest to Green Bay, and he already has a familiarity with Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett from their time together in Jacksonville, where Hackett served as the quarterbacks coach then offensive coordinator during Robinson’s time with the Jaguars. 

Now let’s shift to the Minnesota Vikings, a team in desperate need of cap space heading into the 2020 season. Right now, Minnesota is actually over the salary cap by almost $12 million. That means the team will need to do some work either restructuring contracts or releasing players altogether. 

There are a lot of big contracts in Minnesota (Kirk Cousins, Danielle Hunter, Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen to name a few), and one belongs to defensive tackle Linval Joseph. 

If released, Joseph would save the Vikings about $10.5 million in cap space in 2020 with a dead cap hit of $2.4 million. While Joseph is still a talented defensive lineman, his numbers have declined the last few seasons. 

In 2017, Pro Football Focus graded Joseph a 90.0 overall with a run defense grade of 89.9. In 2018, Joseph was graded a 73.7 overall with a run defense grade of 75.6. Now after the 2019 season, Joseph earned a 71.2 overall with a run defense grade of 69.1. 

While it’s unlikely the Packers would explore such a lofty contract for an aging defensive lineman, there’s no question that Green Bay will look to improve its run defense somehow in 2020. 

Joseph becoming a cap casualty in Minnesota could provide Green Bay with run-stuffing option along the defensive line. Kenny Clark is going to get paid, and he’s made a name for himself as one of the league’s best pass-rushing linemen. That said, he could use a run-stopping complement outside of Green Bay’s current options. Similar to the way the Packers brought in Muhammad Wilkerson before his injury in the 2018 season, Joseph could be an interesting tandem opposite Clark with plenty of veteran experience to help shore up the young defensive line. 

Finally, let’s look at the Detroit Lions, who currently have the best cap situation of the NFC North. The Lions hold the third pick in the 2020 NFL Draft (at least for right now), and almost every mock draft to date has the Lions drafting Jeffrey Okudah, a talented cornerback from Ohio State. A cornerback makes a ton of sense for the Lions, given that the team’s star corner Darius Slay is set to become a free agent in 2021, and he’ll be asking for quite a bit of money when he hits the market. 

If Detroit were to release Slay a year early, they would save about $10.5 million in cap space and take on a dead cap hit of $2.9 million. While Slay did snag two interceptions for the Lions in 2019, he was part of the league’s 31st-ranked defense on a team that gave up an average of 400.4 yards per game. Detroit also tied for last in the league with only seven interceptions all season. 

The Packers will have their own decisions to make at cornerback in the next year or two, given Kevin King’s pending free agency in 2021. King led the Packers in interceptions in 2019, but he’s part of a daunting free agent class that includes David Bakhtiari, Corey linsley, Kenny Clark, Jamaal Williams, and Aaron Jones. Whether the Packers decide to pay King or not is a decision for a later date, but if the Packers wanted to take a look at a veteran at the position, Slay might be an intriguing option. 

That said, of this list, to me, Slay is the least likely option across the divisional rivals as a cap casualty, especially with the Lions front office emphasizing the team is in win-now mode. He’s also who I would consider the least-likely player for Green Bay to pursue if he were to hit free agency, given his age and what his contract would cost to join an already-talented Packers secondary. I would expect the Packers to draft a corner high before adding a big name like Slay to the roster. 

And there you have it, three potential cap casualties within the division. Check back on Friday when I follow this up with free agents across the NFC North.

 

Maggie Loney is a writer for Cheesehead TV and podcasts for the Pack-A-Day Podcast and Pack's What She Said. Find her on Twitter at @MaggieJLoney.

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Comments (17)

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CAG123's picture

February 11, 2020 at 03:39 pm

I see Trey Burton getting the boot before Robinson the Bears worked too hard to keep him away from us to cut him after snatching the number 1 WR spot. I think the Lions will trade Slay before cutting him possibly to a team like the Eagles and I just have to laugh at the Lions like what were they thinking giving Trey Flowers elite money? Fatt Patricia wants to be BB so bad it’s embarrassing but he forgot the number one rule if Bill let’s em walk or trades em they’re either average or declining with Chandler Jones being the exception. I also see the Vikings cutting Rhodes after he completely fell off the cliff this past year and probably letting Everson Griffen walk.

Side note: Can you guys name any Patriot FA that went on to still have productive careers?

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13TimeChamps's picture

February 12, 2020 at 04:41 pm

Fatt Patricia? Is it possible for you to make a valid point without calling people names like an 8th grader? Of course, we all know you would have no problem calling him that his face, right?

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CAG123's picture

February 13, 2020 at 05:58 pm

Oh shut up ya wuss and get over it. If I did call him that to his face what is he going to do about? Risk his career to teach me a lesson? Dumb question but to answer your dumb question yes I would.

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PackfanNY's picture

February 11, 2020 at 04:28 pm

I appreciate the article but I just don’t see Allen Robinson being released. He made the mistake of his life in a world where money doesn’t exist. Hey, he took the money from the Bears. If Robinson had Rodgers instead of Trubisky throwing him the ball with Davante on the other side he would be unstoppable. If they are dumb enough to let him go now Gute should be on the phone the day free agency begins. Just don’t see it happening.

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albert999's picture

February 11, 2020 at 05:15 pm

Graham and Taylor gotta go and maybe Martinez

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mamasboy's picture

February 12, 2020 at 03:27 pm

Graham and Martinez are as good as gone, likely Taylor too.

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Lphill's picture

February 11, 2020 at 06:00 pm

I don’t know what round the Bears pick in I think they are still short picks for the Khalil trade, but they have cap issues as well and I would like to get nick Kwitnikowski from them and Michael Pierce from the Ravens, then draft the best receiver in the first round . That would be a good start the upcoming season.

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NickPerry's picture

February 12, 2020 at 05:11 am

That would be an excellent start, even a pretty affordable start.

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WMA's picture

February 12, 2020 at 11:02 am

Or possibly the best OT in the first round. Love the signings.

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flackcatcher's picture

February 11, 2020 at 06:22 pm

Interesting. We all knew the cap crunch was going to hit hard in the league. By product of the CBA that both sides are unhappy with. I wonder if market value might be depressed because of the number of former high value players are entering. Saw this a couple of years ago with value on the Safety position. Not really sure, just wondering....

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Lphill's picture

February 12, 2020 at 06:25 am

Landon Collins was well overpaid by the Redskins.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

February 11, 2020 at 08:38 pm

CHI: Leonard Floyd, Kyle Long, Cordarelle Patter, maybe Prince Amukumara and Taylor Gabriel. Only Gabriel would be interesting for GB.

MN: Rhodes, Joseph, Griffen, maybe Reiff. The latter three are intersting.

DET: Slay, Damon Harrison. I am not interested in those two, or any of Detroit's free agents in 2020, or in 2021, for that matter.

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mrtundra's picture

February 12, 2020 at 08:51 am

Reiff is a sieve in Minnesota. I pray the Packers never give him any consideration. Joseph has seen better days, as has Rhodes. We don't need any Loins players, either, and da Bares still suck!

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cms's picture

February 11, 2020 at 10:23 pm

I would be most interested in the Bear's ILB Nick Kwiatkoski. I think the Bears want to keep him and let Trevathan walk but If they let Kwiatkoski hit the market, Green Bay should bid aggressively. He's pretty well-rounded and young. If nothing else make the Bears over pay for him.

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BradHTX's picture

February 11, 2020 at 11:28 pm

“...especially with the Lions front office emphasizing the team is in win-now mode.”

This made me snicker. Considering over the last five years the Lions are 34-46, and most recently 3-12-1, might be more accurate to say they’re in “win-some-day mode.”

Ah, LOLions. Don’t ever change.

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mamasboy's picture

February 12, 2020 at 03:37 pm

That's the way it's been with the LIons forever, Brad. I remember thanking God every year when the Lions announced that they were keeping Wayne Fonts around, year after year after year. Don't worry, they'll never change.

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mamasboy's picture

February 12, 2020 at 03:31 pm

This could be our chance to get HaHa back! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Good riddance chicken shit!

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