Sometimes, it’s better to go out on your own terms.
The cold truth behind the retirements of Marshawn Lynch and Jared Allen is both players were going to get released from their teams if they didn’t decide to hang up the cleats.
Lynch and Allen were among the most impactful players of their generation at their respective positions but their salary-cap costs had exceeded their production at this point of their careers.
As they say, just follow the money. Every team’s contract structures and salary-cap information are readily available on websites such as overthecap.com, and based on that you can easily project how GMs will operate.
As the NFL inches closer to the start of the 2016 season, with salary-cap numbers projected to be bigger than ever before, teams still plan to operate efficiently. As a result, a number of high-profile players with inflated deals will be asked to take a pay cut or take a hike.
Here are five big-name players we expect to be released prior to the start of free agency:
Mario Williams, Buffalo Bills
The four-time Pro Bowl defensive end was displeased in how he was deployed in Rex Ryan's defence and proved to be a poor schematic fit. After registering 27.5 sacks between 2013 and 2014, Williams finished with the lowest sack total (5.5 sacks) since his rookie season and he took plays off too consistently.
The Bills are projected to have less than $1 million in cap space available for free agency, the lowest number in the league, so the imminent release of Williams is an obvious move. Cutting Williams will provide Buffalo with $12.9 million of salary-cap savings, despite the team still having to pay a cap charge of $7 million dollars. The 31-year-old will be in high demand when he hits free agency.
Bills paid Mario Williams $66.6 M over four years, per @mikerodak. That’s about $1.55M per sack (Williams had 43 in BUF)
— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) February 16, 2016
Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
The Washington Redskins cannot afford to pay big money to two quarterbacks. Kirk Cousins is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent and is expected to be franchised tagged, which will allow the Redskins to get out of Griffin's inflated contract free of any charge (no more guaranteed money left). Releasing the 2012 No. 2 overall pick would provide the Redskins with over $16 million of cap space, which can be used to help cover Cousins' cost or upgrade other areas of the roster. Griffin's career tailed off after a dynamic rookie season but teams will undoubtedly be intrigued by his upside, given he is still only 26 years old. He could fit as a starter with teams such as such as the Los Angeles Rams or in a backup role with the Dallas Cowboys or Kansas City Chiefs. He's also been linked to the Denver Broncos if they don't want to re-sign Brock Osweiler.
FWIW, Redskins QB Robert Griffin III did pass his exit physical, which clears the way for his impending release (matter of when, not if).
— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) February 12, 2016
Johnny Manziel, Cleveland Browns
This is a unique scenario where Manziel's expected release has nothing to do with money. The 2014 first-round pick is still on his rookie contract but his countless off-the-field incidents have soured the Browns organization. With a new general manager and new head coach in place, the Browns are expected to go in a different direction and find a new starting quarterback to build around, and likely one that comes with far less drama. Manziel has been competent in limited action but that's not enough to make up for all of his baggage. The 23-year-old needs to get his life together and handing him another million-dollar contract might not be the best way to accomplish that. It remains unclear if any team -- at all -- will even be interested if he hits the open market. But if so, watch out for the Cowboys.
15 minutes into presser with Pep Hamilton and Johnny Manziel's name still hasn't come up. #changingtimes.
— Tony Grossi (@TonyGrossi) February 18, 2016
Arian Foster, Houston Texans
Foster has been one of the most productive player in Texans' franchise history but injuries have caught up with the 29-year-old running back. He has missed 23 games over the last three seasons and is coming off an Achilles injury. Given his declining production and age, his salary cap number ($8.9 million) for 2016, is too high for a declining running back. It would be logical move for Houston to find a younger option at the position, despite not having any legitimate in-house options to take over. It would be a tough decision for sure but the cap savings along with the potential of finding a younger option in the draft make sense for a Texans team that lacks speed and explosiveness on offence.
Mike Wallace, Minnesota Vikings, and Andre Johnson, Indianapolis Colts
Yes, they're two different guys, but they're in such a similar position that they count as one for our purposes. Johnson and Wallace were considered to be high-profile acquisitions last year but the two veteran receivers did not live up to their inflated cost. Johnson, one of the best receivers over the last decade, looked like he was out of gas in his lone season with Indianapolis. He had only 41 catches in a secondary role for the Colts while Wallace didn't fare much better with just 39 catches on 72 targets.
Wallace, 29, no longer has the game-breaking speed to justify an $11.5 million cap number and the Vikings can get out of his contract scot-free. He could attract mild interest in free agency, and it would be surprising if Johnson found a suitor at all. It's a good reminder that it's better to draft and develop than acquire aging players at high costs.
Other options: Colin Kaepernick (QB), Antonio Cromartie (CB), Ryan Clady (OT), Marques Colston (WR), Brandon Browner (CB), Martellus Bennett (TE)