Last week, Joe Banner highlighted why the 2021 offseason was causing the NFL so much uncertainty. Two weeks removed from Super Bowl LV, we recap the first moves made in this offseason and what it could mean for each club going forward as cap casualties and free agency are set to ramp up.
Setting the cap
The first major hurdle for the league to clear is setting the 2021 salary cap. After announcing last summer that it would not fall below $175 million, the league moderately increased the floor to $180 million.
What does it means?
Banner’s take: “I continue to be a believer that what the league is putting out publicly has been a conservative measure. I still think it is likely that $180 million will not be the final number. If I had to guess, I would say it will fall in the $184-185 million range. As I said last week, there are so many unknowns — from the TV deals to the streaming deals to the vaccine — that it is hard to accurately predict.”
Here’s a recap of the biggest moves this past week:
The Falcons released S Ricardo Allen (56.1% of snaps) and DE Allen Bailey (39.19%). Allen has been in Atlanta since he was drafted in the fifth round in 2014. In 2020, he played in 12 games while recording 25 tackles and 2 picks. He had one year left on his contract and was due $6.25M in non-guaranteed money. He carries $2.13M in dead cap. Bailey (39.19%), 32, was due $4.5M in non-guaranteed money and carries a $1.63M dead cap hit. According to Over the Cap, Atlanta is still $28.2 million above the cap in effective cap space on a $180.5 million cap.
Twenty-six-year-old Keanu Neal (84.84%) is also a free agent in the back-end for Atlanta. A potential tag for Neal would cost Atlanta $10.5M and may be unlikely without further restructuring their largest contracts.
Carolina has been the busiest team since the Super Bowl, releasing two impact players in DT Kawann Short (11.61%) and DE Stephen Weatherly (33.81%), while also informing S Tre Boston (97.92%) of a pending release. Short has been with Carolina since being drafted in the second round in 2013, despite only playing in five games and recording 10 tackles over the past two seasons due to various shoulder injuries. Short was due $14.5 million in 2021 and carries $11.02 million of dead cap in 2021. The Panthers save $9.78 million against the cap. Stephen Weatherly, 27, was also released with one year remaining, saving Carolina $5.95 million in 2021 cash. He carries a $2 million dead cap hit.
Boston, who signed a three-year contract last offseason was informed of his release. He will likely receive a June 1 designation, leaving Carolina with a dead cap hit of $2.67 million in 2021 and 2022, respectively. The Panthers will save $8.54 million over two seasons.
C Matt Paradis (100%) converted $7.04 million of his ‘21 salary to a roster bonus, creating $4.69 million in cap space. Paradis, 31, has one year left and now carries a $5.64 million 2021 cap hit. Carolina has created over $20 million in cap space over the past two weeks. They have a number of impact free agents, including: RT Taylor Moton (100%), WR Curtis Samuel (63.79%), RG John Miller (88.19%), LG Chris Reed (86.45%) and LT Russell Okung (39.4%).
Banner’s take: “There will be a large number of moves like this with teams that need to make room or prefer to make room. For Carolina, not only do they want to enter the marketplace, they have a lot of their own guys to re-sign. These three (Short, Weatherly, and Boston) are not guys that are going to go out and get huge money, but we will look back at some of them that end up giving meaningful snaps to playoff contenders.
“I think Carolina is also in the group of teams that will be looking at any possible quarterback upgrade. I do not believe they are in a satisfactory place and some of their acts tell us that. I think for them, their upgrade is much more likely a draft solution. I would read this though that they are not ruling out bringing in a quarterback, and they are giving themselves that flexibility should the opportunity present itself.”
Green Bay Packers
After signing both LB Christian Kirksey (53.36%) and OT Rick Wagner (58.71%) to two-year deals in 2020, the Packers released both players with a season left under contract. Kirksey could have earned up to $6 million in 2021 and has a dead cap of $2 million. Wagner has a dead cap of $1.75 million and could have earned $4.25 million in 2021. Green Bay lost RT Bryan Bulaga (LAC) and LB Blake Martinez (NYG) after 2019 via free agency. Both former Packers signed for three years with their new teams at $10 million-plus annually, while the Packers signed Kirksey and Wagner for much cheaper.
DE J.J Watt (91.43%) was released with one year remaining on his contract. He was due $17.5 million in non-guaranteed money. Instead of working on restructuring his contract to facilitate a trade, the Texans elected to release Watt outright.
Banner’s take: “I think it would have been very difficult for them to find anyone to take his contract, with what would have been still a significant salary. If there was a massive amount of demand for him, he would have signed already. It does not mean there is not interest, but it will not be close to $17.5 million. With no dead cap, I think this cut is wise for Houston. They are not going to be good for the immediate future, so why use up all this money that you could either use or push forward to build your foundation. As much as you hate to see a player like Watt not finish where he started, it does not really make sense for them to put massive money in a guy that will likely only be there for one more season. If they are a good team in two years, this is meaningful cap room that they can use to re-sign younger guys. It just did not make sense to keep a guy who will not be part of that, even if Deahaun Watson stays and is able to get them competitive within the next two years.”
With Philip Rivers retiring after one season in Indy, the Colts traded a third-round pick in 2021 and a conditional second-round pick in 2022 to PHI for QB Carson Wentz (71.59%), reuniting him with former Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich. The 2022 second-round pick can become a first if Wentz plays in 75% of snaps or 70% of snaps and Indy makes the playoffs. He has four years remaining, including $40.4 million in guarantees through 2022.
Banner’s take: “This is a classic risk/reward, but one of the more challenging examples we have seen. They have a quarterback under contract for the next four seasons, at a favorable price, if he is able to be who he was in 2017 or even to some extent 2018. With the rest of the team they have, this could be a huge upgrade. If he is what he was last year, they still owe him $47.4 million over two seasons, and gave up draft capital to do so. Chris Ballard is obviously betting that he trusts what he has seen over four seasons and that what he saw last year was an aberration. Having Frank Reich obviously helps, but it is going to have to be much more than that to get him back to where he was. I think they made the right decision to make the trade. They do have good insurance on keeping their first next year, but they did not totally protect themselves. You do not want to have to give Philadelphia a first just for Wentz staying healthy, if he is not performing. With Frank, their offensive line, and the young weapons, if Carson cannot succeed in that situation, there is no longer a question on what the source of the problem was. I think the verdict is still out for Indianapolis.”
The Dolphins signed K Jason Sanders to a five-year contract extension. The New Mexico product had one year left on his rookie deal and was only due $920,000. He is now signed through 2026 and will receive $22.92 million over the next six seasons, including $7.52 million guaranteed at signing. His new money average of $4.4 million puts him behind only Justin Tucker ($5 million), Graham Gano ($4.67 million) and Ka’imi Fairbairn ($4.41 million) among the highest-paid kickers. Sanders was second in field goals made in the NFL in 2020. (36-39, 92.3%).
With a trade of Wentz, Philadelphia is taking on $33.82 million in dead cap for 2021. They will be saving $98.4 million over four seasons. They acquire a 2021 third-round pick (No. 85) and a conditional second-round pick in 2022. They also released WR DeSean Jackson (15.84%), who has only played in eight games in two years since returning to Philadelphia. Jackson carries $5.8 million in dead cap charges but saves the Eagles $9 million. With other salary adjustments, the Eagles are also scheduled to release Alshon Jeffery and Malik Jackson with post-June 1 designations.
Banner’s take: “If you look back from the point they drafted Wentz and all the capital they gave up to get him, you would agree this has not been a success and not what they were hoping for. That part is a failure. On the other hand, if you look where they were a month ago, considering how he played and the status of the contract, I would say they did a decent job of coming out of this at least okay. They could have really gotten hammered even worse. They did a pretty good job of salvaging the best possible outcome.
“For the 2021 draft, I do not think they will take a quarterback high, but I would not be shocked by it. There is no team in the NFL the past 20 years that has clearly put more emphasis, money and picks into the quarterback position. We have seen teams, like Dallas, go for a decade without the answer at quarterback after Troy Aikman. We have seen the same thing ongoing in Washington. Philadelphia has been aggressive in making sure that does not happen, so if there is a guy they really love at No. 6, it is possible. It would probably have to be someone they really love because — whatever we want to say about him only playing in four games — they like Jalen Hurts. The most likely scenario is seeing what Hurts can do this year, knowing they have at least an extra two and maybe a one to address that next offseason if Hurts is not the answer. Since no one has high expectations for the team, they kind of have a free year to evaluate Hurts, if they choose. There is also speculation that next year’s QB draft class may be thin, so this still may be their best opportunity to find a guy they love.”