With two weeks remaining until the start of free agency, Joe Banner and I sat down to discuss the moves made over the past week. What further cap casualties can we expect, how will the teams position themselves to get under the cap, and what additional moves will occur as the start of the league year approaches?
Here’s a recap of some of the biggest moves this past week:
Approx. Cap Space: $7.4M
LG Mike Iupati (46.76% of snaps) announced his retirement after 11 seasons. Over the past two years, Iupati has started 25 games for Seattle after four seasons in Arizona. The 34-year-old (at the start of next season) was set to be a free agent.
It has previously been reported that Russell Wilson has expressed his displeasure with the organization over his lack of input, including their struggles on the offensive line. Since 2016, Wilson has been sacked 230 times, 38 more than the next closest quarterback.
Banner: “I have believed for a long time that if Seattle had a better offensive line and more aggressive play-calling, that people would realize how good Wilson truly is. I am glad he spoke up. The fact that we are talking about a retiring offensive lineman certainly exacerbates that problem. They have put resources there through the draft — Damien Lewis (third round, ‘20), Ethan Pocic (second round, ‘17) — but I still believe it has been a number of years that they have been dealing with this problem. Sometimes it takes drafting three guards to find a legitimate starter. They will not miss the player, but hopefully for Seattle it is a red flag to address this area.”
Approx. Cap Space: ($16.1M)
After extending DT Cam Heyward (72.11%) at the beginning of last season through 2024, the Steelers restructured his contract, creating over $7 million in space for 2021.
QB Ben Roethlisberger (86.64%) met with team owner Art Rooney to address his contract status. According to Rooney, the meeting was “productive,” but he did acknowledge the looming March 17 deadline, when Roethlisberger is due a $15 million roster bonus. Roethlisberger, who is under contract for one more season, already carries a $22.25 million cap hit that will increase to $41.5 million without any restructuring. According to Roethlisberger’s agent, the 39-year-old quarterback has not ruled out a pay-cut to come back to Pittsburgh for his 18th season.
Banner: “I think Pittsburgh needs to do a true pay-cut and address that $15 million roster bonus. I see nothing wrong with them trying to go as far as they can with him this year. If you look back at last season, that was an outstanding defense before they got wacked with all those injuries. I still think they can win with him, while focusing on finding a long-term solution. A restructuring just defers that cost, so I think they need to do a true pay cut. There is only $19 million left anyway, so even if he plays for $10-12 million, that will not be overly consequential. If you consider Maurkice Pouncey retiring and both LT Alejandro Villanueva (100%) and LG Matt Fieler (86%) are free agents; that is three-fifths of an offensive line missing, that for the first time in a while did not play that well.
“With an older quarterback that is immobile, they have a huge offseason ahead to address some of their needs. I think it is imperative that Ben agrees to a pay cut, along with a restructure, to create meaningful cap room for 2021. I anticipate that with how their meeting reportedly went.”
Approx. Cap Space: $19.1M
The Texans released C Nick Martin (99.9%) and RB Duke Johnson (36.12%). Martin has started 62 games for Houston since 2017 and was signed through 2022, after signing a three year extension in 2019. Johnson has been with Houston for two seasons after being traded from Cleveland. The Texans save $20 million over the next two seasons with the moves, while Martin carries the lone dead cap of $2.5 million in 2021.
QB Deshaun Watson (99.8%) continues to tell the Texans he does not anticipate playing for them.
Banner: “With Watson, I think the team is doing the right thing. You cannot give in to a threat in February with arguably the most important player your franchise has ever had. The earliest I would even consider trading him was around the trade deadline this season, if he had not shown up yet. If they refuse to trade him, his choices are to retire or to play. If they allow their 26-year-old star quarterback to force his way out, you have completely lost your ability to build and maintain a good roster. By not playing, he is going to face huge fines, so I am doing nothing at the moment. There is also nothing I would do to indicate to other teams that he is available. They did a lot wrong to get to this moment, but they are taking the right approach right now.
“With the other moves, they are clearly breaking it down to rebuild. I do not think we are done seeing changes there. Even with Watson, I do not think they will be competitive for the next 2-3 years, and they might sense that.”
Approx. Cap Space: $4.9M
Tennessee released WR Adam Humphries (21.14%). The move saves $16 million over the next two seasons, despite carrying a $5 million dead cap charge. After not exercising Corey Davis’ fifth-year option last offseason, the Titans also have Davis (66.95%) entering 2021 as a free agent.
Banner: “I think they will try to re-sign Davis. Even if Davis is set on returning, he now has the leverage to wait and see how the rest of the wide receiver market plays out before accepting anything to return to Tennessee. With his fifth-year option only guaranteed for injury until the start of this league year, I think it was a mistake not to exercise it. Now, since those options guarantee immediately, that decision is not as much of a no-brainer. In my opinion, this was a real mistake for them, and now they might be forced to overpay to retain him for next season.
Approx. Cap Space: $45.4M
The Broncos released DT Jurrell Casey (14.34%). Casey was traded to Denver after spending his first nine seasons with the Titans. The move saves Denver $25 million over the final two years of his contract. They had previously released A.J. Bouye, and there is speculation that Von Miller could be extended or released, with only one year remaining on his contract.
Banner: “I do not think they are in a rebuild if they had the right quarterback to play winning football. Without that, and if they do not anticipate being good next year, there is no reason to hang onto a player like Casey, who they do not see a future with.
“Von Miller is a tougher case, because you do feel a sense of loyalty to players that have been there a long time and have been vital to your success. In the end, they need to do what they feel is best for the team, and sometimes that means treating a player like Von Miller a little differently than they would someone else. I would also not rule out them doing something to lower his $22 million cap hit this season, with an extension or restructure.”
Las Vegas Raiders
Approx. Cap Space: ($4.7M)
The Raiders released WR Tyrell Williams. Williams missed the entire 2020 season with a torn labrum. After signing a 4- year, $44 million contract, Williams only recorded 651 yards in 14 games. Vegas saves $23.2 million over 2 years and only incur a $1 million dead cap hit.
Banner: “The only interesting thing with this is… I think he is the kind of player that someone is going to be able to get on a really good deal. He won’t cost a lot and has pretty good upside when healthy. He may sign two months from now for a real steal. I especially look at teams like Baltimore or New Orleans, who may be looking to add a cheap receiver to push them over the top.”