The next big date for NFL aficionados is March 4. That’s when team administrators can start negotiating with free agents.
On tap after that is March 12. That’s when all that talk can become reality, when free agents can make an agreement official. Between now and then, every day for many NFL players is an exercise in walking on eggshells.
Virtually any NFL veteran can receive a request from their employer to renegotiate their contract downward. That news could certainly be traumatic enough. But the unkindest cut would be the news that you have become the latest in a large gathering of cap casualties, players who are released because they no longer are deemed worth what their contract calls for.
The cap casualty list has already begun.
Among those on that list are New York Giant running back Ahmad Bradshaw and outside linebacker Michael Boley, both starters, and defensive tackle Chris Canty, a regular part of their interior rotation.
The Detroit Lions have released defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, guard Stephen Peterman and wide receiver Titus Young, all starters.
New York’s Jets waived five veterans including two veteran starting linebackers, Bart Scott and Calvin Pace.
The Green Bay Packers released Charles Woodson, a surefire Hall of Fame cornerback who missed much of last season but still insists he can play.
The Indianapolis Colts, while not making it official yet, have said they intend to release another certain Hall of Famer, defensive end Dwight Freeney.
And the casualties have just started to mount.
It all has to do with the NFL’s salary cap – one of the nastiest “hard caps” in existence. In the NFL, salary cap violations can lead to stripping of draft choices, fines of up to $5 million for each violation, even cancellation of contracts.
The Denver Broncos and all the other teams must find a way to stay under the cap figure – about $121.5 million per team for 2013.
Thus, the cap casualty list.
Teams now are in the process of making this complex puzzle work out.
There has been plenty of talk about how Denver will address a variety of needs and much speculation about who the team will talk to and eventually sign when it comes to free agents. But until the cap casualty list is finalized, the list of eligible free agents is far from complete.
The Broncos will certainly have cap casualties, and their list possibly includes yet another certain Hall of Famer, cornerback Champ Bailey, who is scheduled to make $10 million next season. While all the talk coming out of Bronco headquarters would suggest such a move is highly unlikely, $10 million could go a long way toward filling perceived needs.
Also among cap casualty possibilities are linebackers D.J. Williams ($6 million), Joe Mays ($4 million), running backs Knowshon Moreno ($1.7 million) and Willis McGahee ($2.5 million), maybe even guard Chris Kuper ($4.5 million).
Any and all of those contract situations will be looked at by Bronco brass and addressed by release, the restructuring of the contract downward, or in a best-case scenario for the player, the decision that the player is indeed worth his salt.
There are many other players out there who are just begging to be cap casualties because of their current contracts.
Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer is due $13 million this season. The Raiders are one of the teams in greatest need of getting under the cap and much of their problem can be resolved by cutting Palmer, or severely reworking his contract downward.
Alex Smith of San Francisco is in a similar bind, due $7.5 million, but highly unlikely to get that as a backup quarterback. Other QBs due big bucks but likely headed elsewhere either as a cap casualty or via trade would include Kevin Kolb of Arizona, Matt Cassel of the Chiefs, Matt Hasselbeck of Tennessee and Matt Flynn of Seattle.
Other potential cap casualties with cap-strapped teams include cornerback Chris Gamble of Carolina, linebacker Rolando McClain of the Raiders, defensive linemen Tyson Jackson of the Chiefs and Ryan Pickett of the Packers.
On the offensive side, tackles Doug Free of the Cowboys, Willie Colon of the Steelers and Jared Gaither of the Chargers may become available, with receivers possibly to include Darius Heyward-Bey of Oakland and maybe even Anquan Boldin of the Ravens. Running back possibilities include Michael Turner of the Falcons and De’Angelo Williams of the Panthers.
Big names galore.
There will be others – some who make you go “What the heck?” – who become available on the free agent market. And one or several of them could end up on your favorite team.