For the team, an earlier move takes away the tension of getting too close to the salary cap and being forced to replace base salaries with signing bonuses that burden future caps.
That makes these next two weeks critical for teams deciding how to best pare down their rosters to get to a final 53 players. Here are 10 bigger-name players who could become cap casualties before the start of the season (listed alphabetically by team).
Chicago Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan: The Bears have no problems with the cap, but Trevathan could be a name to follow. He’s in the final year of a four-year, $28 million contract, and cutting or trading him could save the Bears, who are loaded at linebacker, $7.4 million.
Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford: He came off the physically unable to perform list Tuesday, recovering from hip surgery. Under a five-year, $45 million contract, the Cowboys could save $7 million on this year’s cap and $6.9 million off next year’s cap by letting him go — not an insignificant savings for a team trying to work out contract extensions for offensive cornerstones Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Amari Cooper (after agreeing Tuesday on a new deal with linebacker Jaylon Smith). The NFL is reviewing whether to suspend Crawford following a bar fight this offseason.
Houston Texans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney: He’s different from most of the others on this list, in that there’s no way he’ll be released, but there remains a feeling around the league that the Texans might move him in a trade. He’s under a one-year franchise contract worth nearly $16 million. The Indianapolis Colts and the Texans have the most cap room in the league, so this would be more about the long-term and getting an asset for a player they might not want to sign to a big contract extension than concern over this year’s cap.
Houston Texans running back Lamar Miller: Even though Miller went to the Pro Bowl last year as a fill-in, Miller hasn’t fully lived up to his four-year contract, which expires after the season. The Texans traded what could end up being a third-round choice for Duke Johnson, who is under a $5.2 million contract. Miller and Johnson form a nice one-two punch, but if Bill O’Brien makes an aggressive move to improve the offensive line or defense, Miller could be moved. He would save $6.2 million in cap room.
Kansas City Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen: The Chiefs love Sorenson, but they have to keep looking down the road to free up salary cap room for some of their best young players, such as Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Chris Jones. Rookie Josh Thornhill is winning over defensive coordinator Steve Spagnoula and could end up starting at the safety spot next to Tyrann Mathieu — making Sorensen a $4 million backup for the next couple of years. Moving him would free up around $2.7 million on the salary cap. He has two years left on a four-year, $16 million contract.
Los Angeles Chargers left tackle Russell Okung: Because of a blood clot issue, it’s not known if Okung is going to be able to play this season. Okung is in the third year of a four-year, $53 million contract, and cutting him would save the team close to $11 million on this year’s cap.
Miami Dolphins safety T.J. McDonald: Given that new Coach Brian Flores has moved Minkah Fitzpatrick and Bobby McClain to safety, the Dolphins now have more than $28 million in contracts tied up at the position. Even though he’s hurt, Reshad Jones is one of the better safeties in the league. That could leave McDonald, who is on a four-year, $24 million deal, as the odd man out. Letting him go would save $5 million
Minnesota Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen: He may be too good of a player for the Vikings to move on from ahead of an important season for the Vikings but at some point, something’s got to give. The Vikings have a league-high 10 players making $10 million or more per year. They can’t cut Griffen, because his $6.4 million base is guaranteed, but if they trade him they could save nearly $7 million this year.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nate Sudfeld: The Eagles wanted him to be their backup to Carson Wentz, but a broken wrist and Cody Kessler’s concussion forced the Eagles to sign Josh McCown for $2 million to be the second-string QB. If the Eagles don’t want to keep three quarterbacks on the roster, they could injury settle with Sudfeld and save a good portion of his $3 million contract.
Pittsburgh Steelers kicker Chris Boswell: Boswell has to beat out Matthew Wright to win the team’s starting job. Boswell is on a $4.2 million per year contract, and letting him go would save $2.2 million. If the battle against Matthew Wright is close, the Steelers could go for the cap savings. They also might get some trade interest from Chicago or the New York Jets.