Cap casualty season: Here are some likely big-name victims
By Jason La Canfora
The Ravens were still busing downtown to City Hall this morning, preparing for their victory parade through Baltimore, but even as they basked in the hometown celebration of the Lombardi Trophy, they realized change is afoot.
The focus is already on the 2013 season, the waiver period has begun, and that means teams are already starting to churn their rosters.
Undoubtedly, some big-name, big-money players are soon going to be hitting the street as free agents. For the 31 other teams in the NFL, the process has already begun; and for the champions, the process begins Wednesday when the Ravens' front office convenes with owner Steve Bisciotti to begin the difficult process of reshaping their roster for the future.
Teams have already started to contact agents for their players, needing to get hefty contracts restructured to create cap room -- for example, the Vikings can't carry Jared Allen at a $17 million cap hit, and the Lions can't do the same with Matthew Stafford at over a $20 million hit; both will get new deals. The Ravens don't have anything that glaring, although finding a way to create additional space by lowering the base salaries of guys like Terrell Suggs ($6.4 million) and Anquan Boldin ($6 million) is likely.
Teams now have just over a month to be cap compliant, and franchise tags will begin being applied in just two weeks. So the business of football is back in full swing, and the future starts now.
Later this week, the Titans will make it official and announce they are bringing back running back Chris Johnson -- $9 million of his $10-million salary for 2013 becomes guaranteed if he is on the roster five days after the Super Bowl. But other high-profile players will be looking for a new employer, beginning shortly. The Lions got it started with malcontent Titus Young on Monday, and there will be plenty more to come.
Here is a look at some players who could be contract/salary cap casualties, by position:
Michael Vick, Eagles ($15.5 million): He won't be making that kind of money, but something around $10 million isn't out of the question. The Eagles want to keep him at the right price, and I'd expect the Jaguars, Cardinals and Browns to also have interest if he hits the market or is trade bait.
Carson Palmer, Raiders ($13 million base salary): There is no way Oakland is going to pay him that kind of money to stay, sources said, and Palmer will have to decide how much cash he's willing to walk away from to stay.
Kevin Kolb, Cardinals ($9 million salary, plus $2 million roster bonus): He won't make that kind of money to stay, and I can't imagine Kolb getting the roster bonus, though if he's willing to settle for more like $5 million there could still be an opportunity for him in Arizona.
Alex Smith, ***** ($7.5 million base salary plus $1 million roster bonus): The ***** are talking tough about keeping him, but no one is buying that. He deserves a chance to start somewhere and will get that whether via trade -- most likely -- or by being cut before his roster bonus is due next month. Kansas City could be a landing spot.
Matt Cassel, Chiefs ($7.5 million): League sources said there is almost no chance he remains in Kansas City. The fans have turned on him, and it's time for a change.
Matt Hasselbeck, Titans ($5.5 million): He has been a great mentor to Jake Locker, but now it's time for the kid to sink or swim, and the Titans need to invest in weapons around him. With so many teams needy at quarterback, Hasselbeck could get a starting opportunity elsewhere if he is released.
Matt Flynn, Seahawks ($5.25 million): The Seahawks want to deal him, and the Jets are one possibility.
Doug Free, Cowboys ($7 million): Given the offensive line issues there and some of Free's struggles, and the fact the Cowboys are going to be missing $18 million in cap space from the sanctions against them put in place a year ago, this looks like the end.
Willie Colon, Steelers ($5.5 million): Played like a stud when moved inside to guard, but continues to suffer season-ending injuries and Pittsburgh is transitioning to a younger line.
Jared Gaither, Chargers ($4.5 million): Teams and teammates have questioned his desire to play in the past. His back is a constant issue and he has become a source of hostility in San Diego as a free-agent bust. I'd be shocked if he stays.
Wide receiver/Tight end
Darius Heyward-Bey, Raiders ($7.7 million): He flashed progress in 2011 but had another lost year in 2012. The Raiders are again in a roster/cap crunch and are still trying to get out from under bad contracts. I can't fathom him making this to stay.
Anquan Boldin, Ravens ($6 million): With Joe Flacco about to get paid, Baltimore's cap issues are only going to escalate. Boldin was so good in the playoffs, I have to figure they rework his deal to keep him.
Jermichael Finley, Packers ($4.4 million base plus $3 million roster bonus): At some point Aaron Rodgers is going to get a contract in line with how exceptional he is. Finley has proven to be a controversial figure and this team finds pass catchers in all regions of the draft. League sources expect Finley to be elsewhere.
Marcedes Lewis, Jaguars ($4.35 million): He has been woefully unproductive since the Jags extended him a few years back. Certainly the poor quarterback play has something to do with it, but with new ownership and a new management team in place, Lewis' future is in doubt.
Jacoby Jones, Ravens ($3 million): He was a special-teams star all season and a star on offense in the postseason. Again, the Ravens are in a cap bind and have a slew of free agents, but I have to think they find a way to keep him around. He was a major factor in a series of vital victories last season.
Michael Turner, Falcons ($5.5 million): He is slowing down and this team will be looking for new ways to get deeper into the postseason. Could be a financial recalibration in order with teams wary to pay big bucks to older running backs these days.
De'Angelo Williams, Panthers ($4.75 million): Carolina is paying too many running backs and Williams has slipped in recent years. The cap hit would be significant, although it could be spread out over multiple years. Exploring a trade would make the most sense.
David Akers, ***** ($3 million): It would be shocking if he is back after such a shaky season and with expectations so high for the *****. Nearly lost his job in the postseason.
Tyson Jackson, Chiefs ($14.72 million): He has been another recent defensive line draft bust for this team and his deal was restructured to force a conclusion in 2013. That conclusion will be his departure.
Will Smith, Saints ($9 million plus $1 million roster bonus): The Saints still badly need pass rushing help, but not at this price. After all he has been through in New Orleans -- StarCaps and BountyGate -- he may want to finish his career with the Saints, but it won't be at this price.
Chris Canty, Giants ($6.25 million): He makes another $250,000 in workout bonuses and he has durability issues in the past. The Giants' defensive line is coming off a poor season and there will be changes coming.
Ryan Pickett, Packers ($5.4 million): He has been one of the most underrated tackles in the league but now has over 11 years in the league. With B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews among those who need to get paid by the Packers, and with this such a small-market team, exploring a restructuring here makes sense.
Jay Ratliff, Cowboys ($5 million): His offseason DUI -- a particular problem in Dallas recently -- and a scheme shift on defense could lead to a change here. Ratliff has not been as productive in the past few years.
Bart Scott, Jets ($6.9 million base/$8.7 million cap hit): The Jets have a cap mess and there aren't too many deals they can drop to create space. This is one, and sources said Scott won't be back at this price.
James Harrison, Steelers ($6.6 million): It wasn't that long ago that he was a defensive MVP, but age and injury have slowed him. The Steelers are paying other, younger linebackers big bucks and sources said the Steelers do not expect to bring him back at this salary. Many doubt Harrison would take a cut to stay without at least exploring outside options.
Calvin Pace, Jets ($5.8 million base/$11.6 cap): He too will be released, sources said, although the Jets will make a strong effort to re-sign him at a lower rate.
Rolando McClain, Raiders ($4 million): He has been nothing but trouble off field, was basically sent home for the final quarter of last season and I would expect the Raiders to look to recoup some signing bonus as well when they officially part with him.
Champ Bailey, Broncos ($9 million plus $1 million roster bonus): Bailey had a brutal time of it in the postseason, the Broncos have emerging young corners and owner Pat Bowlen has had them operating on a tight budget.
Charles Woodson, Packers ($8.5 million plus $2.5 million roster bonus) : Another one of the great corners of his generation, but injuries have limited him, he is getting older, and the Packers often have to take a hard-line stance given their financial limitations.
Dunta Robinson, Falcons ($8 million): Was signed to be an elite corner a few years back in free agency but has been outshined by others. The Falcons have needs to fill and their cap situation will only get tighter when Matt Ryan gets paid.
Eric Wright, Buccaneers ($7.7 million): After a breakthrough 2011 in Detroit, Wright struggled on and off the field in 2012. Tampa Bay badly needs help at corner, but given his recent struggles I have a hard time seeing him back at this steep a price