Fantasy Football: One Potential Cut Candidate for Every AFC Team
With the 2019 season in the books, the business of restocking and refreshing rosters is soon to begin for front offices. For veteran players, especially ones with little or no guaranteed money left on their contracts, the next few weeks will be a nervy time. At best, they may be asked to take a pay cut. At worst, they could be kicked to the curb.
With this in mind, here is one fantasy-relevant player from each AFC team who is a cut candidate this offseason. Salary cap information is courtesy of Over The Cap.
Buffalo Bills - TE Tyler Kroft
Dead Cap Hit $1.6M, Cap Saving $5M
It's fair to say that Tyler Kroft's first year with the Buffalo Bills was not a success. He played in 11 games but saw a meager 14 targets, which he converted into 6 receptions for 71 yards. Kroft played more than 50% of the Bills offensive snaps just once in 2019. Cutting him and saving $5 Million would seem to be a no-brainer.
Miami Dolphins - WR Albert Wilson
Dead Cap Hit $1.33M, Cap Saving $9.5M
Wide receiver Albert Wilson has played in only 20 games and reeled in a mere 69 receptions in his two seasons with the Miami Dolphins -- with 43 of them coming in 2019. Despite showing an elite ability to separate (Wilson was sixth among all wide receivers in target separation, as per PlayerProfiler), Wilson did very little when he actually got the ball in his hands. Wilson averaged an anemic 5.7 yards per target, and by numberFire metrics, he was among the league's least efficient wide receivers.
Of the 80 wide receivers to see at least 50 targets in 2019, Wilson's 0.13 Target Net Expected Points (NEP) per target was 66th.
New England Patriots - RB Rex Burkhead
Dead Cap Hit $1M, Cap Saving $3M
Running back Rex Burkhead actually set new highs for his time with the New England Patriots during this past season with his 302 rushing yards and 279 receiving yards. But the fact of the matter is that he is a part-time player on an offense that needs something approaching a full teardown.
Burkhead played on just 27.2% of the Patriots offensive snaps in 2019 and averaged 5 carries and 2.9 targets per game. His salary is too much for a limited jack of all trades.
New York Jets - Quincy Enunwa
Dead Cap Hit $5.4M, Cap Saving $2.4M
Releasing Quincy Enunwa would leave quite a dead-money hit for the New York Jets. But the economics should give way to the fact that Enunwa may never set foot on a field again, after the injury he suffered early in 2019.
Even if he is cleared to return to action, it is unlikely it will be with the Jets, given he is one of a host of players who doesn't seem to have quite hit it off with Adam Gase.
Baltimore Ravens - QB Robert Griffin
Dead Cap Hit $500K, Cap Saving $2M
The Baltimore Ravens, despite their crushing loss in the AFC Divisional Round, are set up for success in 2020 with the retention of both coordinators and the youthful makeup of their roster. There are no names among the skill position players that immediately leap out as someone that can be removed for easy money, to be honest.
Robert Griffin III is a saving they could make if the team is confident that Trace McSorley can adequately backup Lamar Jackson. That said, his release wouldn't free up all that much ($2 Million to be exact), and the Ravens are not exactly in need of the saving.
Cincinnati Bengals - QB Andy Dalton
Dead Cap Hit $1M, Cap Saving $17.7M
The writing has long been on the wall regarding the end of the Andy Dalton era with the Cincinnati Bengals. They benched him in favor of Ryan Finley during the season, only to go back to him once they realized Finley simply wasn't up to the role of being a starting NFL quarterback. Dalton was not at his best on the woeful Bengals to be brutally honest.
He posted a new career-low in adjusted yards per attempt (6.0), and his passer rating and QBR were also the lowest he has ever had. Among the 20 quarterbacks with at least 500 drop backs, Dalton was joint last with 0.01 Passing NEP per drop back. The Bengals will be taking a quarterback with the first overall pick in the draft -- you can bank on it.
Cleveland Browns - TE Demetrius Harris
Dead Cap Hit $1M, Cap Saving $2.5M
Tight end Demetrius Harris signed for the Cleveland Browns prior to the 2019 season, but despite David Njoku missing most of the season due to injury/personality clash with the head coach, Harris was far from a dominant force.
He played in 15 games, starting 6, but totaled a mere 15 receptions all season. He never amassed more than 33 yards in any one game. New Browns coach Kevin Stefanski is likely to use the tight end position more than his predecessor, but the team can likely find a cheaper alternative to Harris.
Pittsburgh Steelers - TE Vance McDonald
Dead Cap Hit $1.45M, Cap Saving $5.67M
Tight end Vance McDonald has spent the majority of his time with the Pittsburgh Steelers seemingly tethering on the brink between breaking out and the roster bubble. For the seventh time in his seven seasons in the NFL, he failed to play in all 16 games. When he was on the field, his form did not warrant high praise. McDonald reeled in 38 passes for a mediocre (at best) 273 yards, for a mere 7.2 yards per catch.
Of the 27 tight ends to see at least 50 targets, only Jacob Hollister had a lower Target NEP per target than McDonald (-0.07). The Steelers offense should bounce back in 2020 if Ben Roethlisberger is able to perform at a higher level than Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges. That said, McDonald is not a player that can be counted on, not least at his current salary.
Houston Texans - WR Will Fuller
Dead Cap Hit $0, Cap Saving $10.162M
The Houston Texans find themselves in fairly decent shape cap-wise ahead of the 2020 season. They have an estimated $57 Million in effective cap space, with 55 players currently under contract. So they do not need to make any sweeping changes to the roster. However, I find it hard to believe that they will be comfortable paying Will Fuller the rate he is set to earn next season.
Playing under his fifth-year option, Fuller's entire salary is fully guaranteed for injury only. And Fuller has a far from spotless injury record. He has missed 18 games over the last four seasons and hasn't played more than 11 since his rookie season. Fuller amassed a career-high in receiving yards in 2019 with 670. But 217 of those came in a single game, with another 140 in another.
The Texans have averaged nearly three more points per game when Fuller has played over the last three years. But his performances, linked to his injury history, make him something of a risky proposition. I don't think he's played his last down for the Texans. Though, I can't imagine this is the contact he'll be playing under in 2020.
Indianapolis Colts - QB Brian Hoyer
Dead Cap Hit $2M, Cap Saving $3M
It is possible that Jacoby Brissett might not be the long term answer at quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts. But his position atop the depth chart is far more certain than the player immediately beneath him. Brian Hoyer played a meaningful number of snaps in two games in 2019, games that saw him throw four touchdowns to four interceptions while completing just 53.8% of his passes.
Hoyer's 2020 cap hit is far too large for a player the team would be hoping will take no part in the proceedings, and a younger, cheaper backup to Brissett can surely be found -- at least until the team decides what to do next.
Jacksonville Jaguars - WR Marqise Lee
Dead Cap Hit $3.5M, Cap Saving $5.25M
Wide receiver Marqise Lee signed a four-year contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars prior to the 2018 season. Since the ink dried on this pact, he has played just six games, reeling in three receptions for 18 yards.
What the Jaguars offense will look like in 2020 is still up in the air, as Jacksonville hired Jay Gruden to run their offense. Unless Lee were to absolutely tear up the competition this preseason, he is a player the team could easily look to move on from.
Tennessee Titans - TE Delanie Walker
Dead Cap Hit $1.66m, Cap Saving $6.7m
Between 2014 and 2017, Delanie Walker never had less than 63 receptions and 800 yards in a season for the Tennessee Titans. He signed a two-year extension prior to the 2018 season, a move that looked set to see him finish his career with the team. In the two seasons since he inked the deal, Walker has played only eight games thanks to two severe ankle sprains.
In his absence, the Titans have seen young Jonnu Smith emerge as something of a playmaker at the tight end spot for them. Smith had 35 receptions for 439 yards and 3 touchdowns during the 2019 regular season. His 0.40 Target NEP per target was the 11th-best among the 38 tight ends to see at least 40 targets. Walker's salary is simply too large for a player coming off two serious injuries who may find himself behind a younger man on the depth chart. It would be cheaper and easier for the Titans to move on.
Denver Broncos - QB Joe Flacco
Dead Cap Hit $13.6M, Cap Saving $10.05M
For the Denver Broncos to move on from Joe Flacco, it would require them to absorb a substantial dead cap charge. However, this is something that they may look to do anyway. They rank seventh in terms of effective cap space heading into 2020, with an estimated $61 Million at their disposal.
Flacco was not good for the Broncos before he suffered an injury that dragged him out of the lineup after eight games. He completed an acceptable 65.3% of his passes, a career-high, but this was due to his inability -- or unwillingness -- to send the ball downfield. He averaged 5.65 net yards per attempt, and a whopping (not) 3.7 completed air yards per pass attempt.
According to our metrics, Flacco was worse than his counting stats would suggest. Of the 34 quarterbacks with at least 200 dropbacks in 2019, Flacco's -0.02 NEP per drop back was better than only three players. The dead money hit would be the same for the Broncos if they were able to trade Flacco. But it is hard to imagine any team, even a supposedly quarterback-needy one, beating the Broncos door down to acquire Flacco.
Kansas City Chiefs - WR Sammy Watkins
Dead Cap Hit $7M, Cap Saving $14M
Longstanding Sammy Watkins truthers embarked on the victory lap to end all victory laps after Week 1 this season, with Watkins dropping 198 yards and 3 touchdowns on the Jaguars. Fans knew that, in their hearts of hearts, that Watkins was unlikely to command 11 targets a game from that point forward. But the hope was that he had finally put it all together, and could become a vital cog in one of the NFL's signature offenses.
This hope, it turns out, was misplaced. Despite averaging 6.6 targets per game, Watkins was only able to deliver an average less than 40 receiving yards per outing, finishing the season with 673 yards. He never found the end zone again. The Kansas City Chiefs have an abundance of young wide receivers, and the prospect of saving $14 Million to be rid of Watkins and develop some of the youngsters is one they will surely look forward to.
Los Angeles Chargers - TE Virgil Green
Dead Cap Hit $800K, Cap Saving $2.7M
It's been a quiet two seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers for Virgil Green. He has played in all but one of their games but has amassed a grand total of 28 receptions for 288 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The Chargers offense should look quite different in 2020 as they head to their new stadium, with question marks surrounding free agents like Philip Rivers, Melvin Gordon, and Hunter Henry. Whether they stay or sign for the team, it's hard to see Green playing a huge role here moving forward.
Oakland Raiders - QB Derek Carr
Dead Cap Hit $5M, Cap Saving $16.5M
It may have escaped the attention of a large part of the free football-watching world, but Derek Carr was not terrible for the Oakland Raiders in 2019. He completed 70.4% of his passes on his way to 4,054 yards and 21 touchdowns. He was fourth among quarterbacks with 500 or more dropbacks with a 0.20 Passing NEP per dropback (out of 20).
However, there is still this nagging thought that Jon Gruden and Carr are just not a match made in heaven and not one that the Raiders want to maintain as they head to Las Vegas. The saving the team could make by cutting him would be considerable, after all. The question of where the Raiders would go at quarterback after cutting him has no obvious answer. But it would not shock me if Carr were in a different uniform in 2020, and the Raiders had another guy under center in Sin City.