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Breakdown of 2024 NFL Cap Casualties Prior to Free Agency

Exploring the impact of the salary cap on NFL rosters before the free agency frenzy.

Tucker Maus
03/01/2024 9:54PM ET

As an avid NFL follower and professional depth chart analyst for Ourlads, I will admit that I find this to be one of the most exciting times of the year. With the start of the 2024 NFL League Year on the horizon, set to begin on March 13, teams have been in the midst of making roster adjustments in anticipation of free agency and the NFL Draft. With the turn of the NFL calendar comes the frenzy of roster transactions that will be dissected and discussed by fans and the media all the way until the 2024 NFL season opener on September 5.

 

Before we get into the meat of this article, I would like to start by explaining some essential information that you need to be aware of about how the NFL is able to maintain parity between teams. Each NFL franchise operates under a salary cap, and teams are tasked with allocating their resources to build a competitive roster while staying within the limits of the cap. When a player doesn’t produce up to the level that they are paid, or when financial flexibility is needed to accommodate other roster moves, that player may be cut in order to clear up cap space. A player that is released in this process is commonly referred to as a “cap casualty.”

 

The announcement of the 2024 season's salary cap at $255.4 million per team—a substantial leap of $30.6 million from the previous cap of $224.8 million—has already set the stage for some dramatic roster revisions. For instance, the release of Miami Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard, who was considered one of the best cornerbacks in the league just a couple of years ago, underscores the harsh realities of cap management. As does the departure of two-time Pro Bowl edge rusher Shaquil Barrett from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

 

These early moves are just the tip of the iceberg. In this article, we'll explore the most significant cap casualties since the Super Bowl and examine each position group in the aftermath. This could help provide insight on potential strategies teams might deploy during free agency and the draft.

 

 

 Chicago Bears | $79.77M in current cap space (3rd of 32)

 

Kicking off the discussion with a focus on the Chicago Bears, who find themselves under the spotlight with the coveted #1 overall pick, as well as the #9 pick, in their possession. The anticipation surrounding their draft plans is palpable, making them a central topic of conversation as draft day approaches. There is heavy speculation that USC quarterback Caleb Williams is the Bears’ target for the first overall pick, but I am intrigued as to what the Bears might be planning for the ninth overall selection. Analyzing the team's recent cap casualties could shed some light on which areas of the roster Chicago might be looking to bolster with their subsequent pick.

 

Eddie Jackson | S | Saved $12.56M

Jackson missed several games during the first half of the season due to a foot injury suffered early in 2023, but finished the season playing 100% of defensive snaps over the last nine games. Jackson had once been a prominent member of a stout Bears defense back in 2018, when he won first-team All-Pro. However, since then, his performance has fluctuated from season to season, and he has been dealing with injuries over the last couple of years. On top of that, second-year safety Elijah Hicks filled in for Jackson reasonably well, and he only has a $1 million cap hit in 2024.

 

Jaquan Brisker is the Bears top safety, and will be slated to start at one safety spot next season. As of right now, Hicks would fill the other safety position, but the Bears will certainly bring in at least one other player to compete with him. The only other safety who was on the active roster last season was undrafted rookie Quindell Johnson, who mainly played on special teams. The Bears also have veteran Adrian Colbert, who was on the practice squad during the second half of the season. Lastly, Chicago signed Douglas Coleman III to a futures contract back in January. Coleman III has played for the Ottawa Redblacks of the Canadian Football League since 2021, and now he has a chance to try and make an NFL roster.

 

Cody Whitehair | IOL | Saved $9.15M

Whitehair had a great rookie season as the Bears center back in 2016, but it is now 2024, and his play is a far cry from what it once was. By many, Whitehair was considered the biggest liability on Chicago’s offensive line throughout the 2023 season. 

 

Whitehair primarily served as the Bears' starting left guard, but also took on center duties during Week 5 and Week 6 games. Other players who played any meaningful snaps at center were Lucas Patrick, who started 15 games, and Dan Feeney, who had a single start. With the release of Whitehair, as well as both Patrick and Feeney on track to become unrestricted free agents, the Bears are left with no other centers on their roster besides Doug Kramer Jr. But he will likely continue to just serve as a depth option, as he has only played two snaps on offense in his first two years in the NFL.
 

Offensive linemen Teven Jenkins and Nate Davis return for the Bears, who are currently penciled in as the two starting guards in 2024. Ja’Tyre Carter is the only notable backup guard on the roster, starting in two games in 2023. Expect Chicago to bring in a couple more players to compete at guard, but center remains their most pressing need on the offensive line.

 

This is why having some extra cash from Whitehair being released could go a long way in remedying this issue. The Bears will undoubtedly look into the impending free agent centers from other teams, such as Aaron Brewer from the Titans, Andre James from the Raiders, Lloyd Cushenberry III from the Broncos, and Evan Brown from the Seahawks.

 

 

Pittsburgh Steelers | $9.57M in current cap space (24th of 32)

 

Chukwuma Okorafor | OT | Saved $8.75M

Okorafor's exit from the Steelers roster was foreshadowed when Broderick Jones was selected in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. The Steelers opted to bench Okorafor in favor of Jones following an incident that occurred late in the game against Jacksonville.

 

Pittsburgh used a first-round pick last year on a tackle, and it’s possible they do so again this year. Left tackle Dan Moore Jr. is entering the final year of his rookie contract, and he has not developed the way that the team had hoped. Jones will be the future of the offensive tackle position, currently slotted in as the starting right tackle. Other tackles currently signed include Kellen Diesch, Tyler Beach, and Devery Hamilton. Diesch was on the practice squad for the entire 2023 season, whereas Beach and Hamilton are both futures signings made in January. The Steelers will, at the very least, need to shore up depth at the position by bringing in a veteran or two. Ideally, they bring in another player to compete with Moore Jr. at left tackle.

 

Mitchell Trubisky | QB | Saved $2.9M

The Steelers released Trubisky after two seasons, and over that time frame, he unfortunately didn’t perform as well as they had hoped. His stats during this period included throwing for eight touchdowns, ten interceptions, and 632 yards, with a completion rate that resulted in a quarterback rating of 71.9 in his final season. 

 

It is anyone’s guess what the Steelers are planning, and whether they will be in the hunt for a new quarterback in the draft or free agency. They could instead simply opt to re-sign impending free agent Mason Rudolph and have him compete with Kenny Pickett again in 2024. Both quarterbacks have shown potential but haven’t been able to sustain it over many games in a row, much less an entire season. Regardless, they will need to bring in one or two more quarterbacks to compete for the backup and emergency third-string spot, as currently the only QB they have signed for 2024 is Pickett.

 

 

Miami Dolphins | -$28.49M in current cap space (31st of 32)


Xavien Howard | CB | Saved $18.5M (post-June 1 designation)

While not exactly surprising, the Miami Dolphins' decision to release cornerback Xavien Howard is probably the most notable roster cut due to the potential he offers teams looking for a top-end free agent cornerback. Once considered a cornerstone of the Dolphins' defense, Howard's departure is attributed to the team's desperate need to free up cap room. Their current cap space is the second lowest in the league, at negative $28.49 million. In addition, he just hasn’t lived up to the monster five-year $90 million contract that he signed back in 2022, especially due to his inability to stay healthy.

 

Even with this cap casualty, the Dolphins still have one of the best cornerbacks in the league on their team, Jalen Ramsey. Kader Kohou will presumably be the starting slot cornerback yet again in 2024. But they will lose their other significant contributor at cornerback, Eli Apple, to free agency. As well as versatile players Nik Needham and Justin Bethel. Cam Smith, a 2023 second-round pick, is the only cornerback who returns from last year's active roster, playing just 20 defensive snaps. The team also has Keion Crossen under contract, who sat out all of 2023 due to injury, as well as Ethan Bonner. Bonner, an undrafted rookie, mostly stayed on the practice squad, but was elevated to the active roster on a few occasions, totaling 22 snaps on defense. I expect the Dolphins to bring in a few veterans to compete that are much cheaper than Howard was, albeit without very flashy names. Players such as Michael Davis, Dane Jackson, and Levi Wallace will be relatively cheap options that have experience as starters.

 

Emmanuel Ogbah | Edge | Saved $13.7M

Ogbah, who joined the Dolphins in 2020, had been a key component of their defense in his first two years with Miami, contributing significantly with his pass-rushing capabilities. He led their edge rushers in snaps in both 2020 and 2021. However, since Mike McDaniel became head coach, Ogbah has become less and less of a factor on the defense. They invested a lot in players such as Jaelan Phillips and Bradley Chubb to enhance their pass rush. Though to be fair, another factor at play was the fact that Ogbah dealt with multiple injuries in 2022 and 2023, limiting his availability. But his experience in various defensive schemes makes him an attractive option for a variety of different franchises looking to add a rotational piece on the edge.

The aforementioned Phillips and Chubb will return in 2024 as the starting outside linebackers, but they both suffered major injuries in 2023, which was one of the huge reasons that the Dolphins’ season was derailed. With Andrew Van Ginkel entering free agency, they have little proven talent behind those two. Cameron Goode is signed for next season, but he only has limited experience as a backup, having played 75 snaps on defense in his first two seasons as a pro. Zeke Vandenburgh was an undrafted rookie last year but was placed on injured reserve before the start of the season, resulting in him missing the whole year. Their only other outside linebacker is Quinton Bell, who spent most of 2023 on Miami’s practice squad. They will need to secure the outside linebacker position, and it wouldn’t be very surprising if they drafted one in the first round of this year’s draft.

 

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers | $43.94M in current cap space (9th of 32)

 

Shaquil Barrett | Edge | Saved $4.9M (post-June 1 designation)

Barrett has been a beloved player in the Bucs’ locker room since being signed from the Broncos back in 2019. He was a revelation on the edge right away, showing what he hadn’t been able to in Denver when he was playing behind starters Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. He played a critical role in the Buccaneers' pass rush in his first several seasons with Tampa Bay, being selected to the Pro Bowl in 2019 and 2021, as well as being a massive contributor in their Super Bowl LV victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

 

However, since tearing his Achilles in 2022, he hasn’t been the player he once was. On top of that, the Bucs already have a succession plan in place at edge, which made it a logical choice to release Barrett. 2021 first-round pick Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, 2023 third-round pick Yaya Diaby, and 2019 fourth-round pick Anthony Nelson return in 2024 to lead the group at edge rusher.

 

 

San Francisco 49ers | -$3.44M in current cap space (26th of 32)

 

Isaiah Oliver | CB | Saved $2.4M

Oliver had shown flashes as a good slot cornerback for the Atlanta Falcons, and that is what the 49ers were hoping for him to be in 2023. However, after being the starter for the first half of the season, he was seen as the weak link in the secondary. He was benched after the bye in Week 9, and they moved cornerback Deommodore Lenoir to the slot, allowing Ambry Thomas to be the new starter on the outside. The 49ers are still in the negative regarding cap space, so Oliver being a cap casualty hardly came as a surprise. 

 

The 49ers have a proven #1 cornerback in Charvarius Ward, and have the underrated and versatile Lenoir able to play outside and inside. This gives them flexibility when addressing their cornerbacks, as they don’t specifically need a nickel or outside corner. Ambry Thomas was pretty solid at times, but was inconsistent and had some really head-scratching penalties. They also return 2023 fifth-round pick Darrell Luter Jr., along with 2022 fifth-rounder Samuel Womack III. They both played sparingly in 2023, but they were also dealing with injuries throughout the season. Lastly, Kemon Hall was a practice squad player in the second-half of the season for the Niners, and he signed a futures contract following the Super Bowl. While they might make some moves at cornerback, the main areas where San Francisco is currently lacking are in the trenches.

 

 

New England Patriots | $77.92M in current cap space (4th of 32)

 

Lawrence Guy | IDL | Saved $3M

Guy, a stalwart of the Patriots' defense since 2017, has been a consistent presence, contributing not just with his play on the field but also with his leadership in the locker room. But he will be turning 34 years-old later this month, and the Patriots had already made preparations in advance for him to be released. Christian Barmore is one of the great young defensive tackles in the league, and he will return as a starter alongside Davon Godchaux. New England will look to their host of returning depth options at defensive tackle in Daniel Ekuale, Sam Roberts, Jeremiah Pharms Jr., and Trysten Hill, with the hopes that some of them can step up and earn more playing time in the absence of Guy.

 

The loss of Guy's veteran leadership and reliability will undoubtedly be felt. However, this move signals a transition towards a younger defensive unit, along with the new era that is being ushered in by new head coach Jerod Mayo following the departure of who was probably the NFL’s greatest head coach of all time, Bill Belichick. The focus will now be on development and scheme adjustments to ensure the defensive line remains a strength for the team moving forward.

 

Adrian Phillips | S | Saved $3M

The Patriots under Belichick were well-known for their innovative and flexible defensive strategies, which often highlighted the strengths of their secondary. A key aspect of their defensive prowess is their use of safeties in various formations, making their defense highly adaptable and difficult for opposing offenses to predict. The Patriots specifically emphasize the role of safeties by often employing the “big nickel” formation, which includes having three safeties on the field at the same time. This allows them to be more versatile in coverage and run support, making their defense mismatch-proof against various offensive setups.

 

Phillips previously played an important role in this defense, but in 2023, he was phased out of regular usage on defense. He originally joined the Patriots in 2020 and quickly became a versatile and important part of their defense, capable of playing both safety positions and contributing significantly on special teams. However, in 2023, he was supplanted when Jabrill Peppers took on a much larger role. Combine that with how they decided to move Jalen Mills to safety from his previous position of cornerback, and that made Phillips expendable. 

 

While Peppers is signed for 2024, the same cannot be said for fellow starter Kyle Dugger, along with the previously mentioned Mills. The Patriots’ brass have made it clear that re-signing Dugger is one of their top priorities for this offseason. The fact that they were still comfortable cutting Phillips only serves to reaffirm this.

 

 

Detroit Lions | $54.3M in current cap space (7th of 32)

 

Tracy Walker III | S | Saved $5.5M

Walker III's tenure with the Lions has been marked by contributions that extended beyond the field, embodying leadership and experience in the safety position. In a somewhat similar situation to Eddie Jackson's with the Chicago Bears, Walker III was once a fixture of the Lions defense. However, in the Lions’ renaissance, they have had a massive influx of young talent, which resulted in him losing snaps throughout the season. He only played four defensive snaps in the Lions’ final eight games.

 

The emergence of 2021 third-round pick Ifeatu Melifonwu and 2022 third-round pick Kerby Joseph made Walker III disposable. Not to mention stud nickel defender, second-round rookie Brian Branch. However, with C.J. Gardner-Johnson set to become an unrestricted free agent, the Lions will need to get some depth behind their incumbent starters. The only backup option that is currently signed for 2024 is Brandon Joseph, who was an undrafted free agent who spent last season on the practice squad. The Lions much larger problem in the secondary was their cornerbacks, which will be one of the key position groups that they focus on addressing this offseason.

 

 

Los Angeles Rams | $43.63M in current cap space (11th of 32)

 

Brian Allen | C | Saved $4.9M

Allen had been the starting center for the Rams’ early in his career, particularly noted for his contributions during their campaign to ultimately win Super Bowl LVI. His tenure with the team was thought to have been solidified when he signed a three-year extension following their championship victory.

 

However, he struggled with injuries in the following two seasons, and along with that, his quality of play declined. Coleman Shelton began to outplay Allen in 2022, and Shelton was named the starter at center ahead of the 2023 season. However, Shelton is currently on schedule to become a free agent, and general manager Les Snead said that while he would like to re-sign Shelton, he expects him to test free agency. Starting right guard Kevin Dotson and backup Tremayne Anchrum Jr. are in the same boat as well, leaving the Rams with just Steve Avila as a returning starter on the interior of the offensive line. It is possible that the Rams look to shore up at guard or center during the draft, potentially even with their #19 overall pick. Especially when there are interesting prospects, such as Oregon lineman Jackson Powers-Johnson, that could be selected in that range.

 

 

 Kansas City Chiefs | $9.68M in current cap space (22nd of 32)

 

Marquez Valdes-Scantling | WR | Saved $12M

Valdes-Scantling, who played a crucial role in the Chiefs’ victory in the Super Bowl, had logged the second-most offensive snaps among the team's wideouts last season. His departure comes at a time when the Chiefs' wide receiver room is facing uncertainty, with both Richie James and Mecole Hardman poised to enter free agency as unrestricted free agents.

 

The Chiefs still have players such as Justin Watson, Skyy Moore, and Kadarius Toney under contract, all of whom have been starters in the past but have been largely disappointing. Watson has been a good value player on the team, but in my opinion, he is someone you would feel much better about having as a rotational option, rather than as a starter. Moore and Toney were expected to be two of the top receiving options in 2022 and 2023, but this never really came to fruition, as they didn’t develop as well as Kansas City had hoped. The Chiefs WR corps from last year was clearly one of the most major issues on the team.

 

Looking ahead, the Chiefs will lean on their star rookie receiver from 2023, their shining beacon of hope, Rashee Rice, who led their wideouts in offensive snaps, receptions, yards, and touchdowns. One of Kansas City’s biggest objectives this offseason is to find at least one other stud receiver to pair with Rice. I believe this will most likely come through the draft, as they are strapped for cash. They already have used the franchise tag on cornerback L’Jarius Sneed, though they may still end up trading him. By all accounts, the Chiefs are also putting a great deal of effort into getting a deal done with defensive tackle Chris Jones.

 

 

Atlanta Falcons | $41.62M in current cap space (14th of 32)

 

Jonnu Smith | TE | Saved $6.5M

Former head coach Arthur Smith ran a very tight end heavy scheme, having two of them out on the field at the same time more than any other team in the NFL in 2023. It made sense to bring in Jonnu Smith as a free agent last year, as he was well acquainted with coach Arthur Smith from their time together on the Tennessee Titans. 

 

You might be expecting me to say that Jonnu didn't live up to expectations, or that he wasn’t worth the money he was being paid. But honestly, I thought he was pretty damn good. While not the same type of player, he statistically outplayed Kyle Pitts in 2023. Though, to be fair, Pitts tore his MCL in 2022 and was clearly still hampered by it. Just going by the "eye test", I was impressed by how much better Jonnu looked in Atlanta versus his last few years with the New England Patriots. Say what you want about Arthur Smith, but he certainly knew how to use Jonnu effectively.

 

So why move on from Jonnu Smith? Because Arthur Smith was fired, new head coach Raheem Morris brought Zac Robinson over with him from the Los Angeles Rams. Robinson was the pass game coordinator and quarterback coach in LA from 2022–23. The Rams ran 11-personnel the most in the league last year, at a whopping 82%. This means that they had three wide receivers out on the field at the same time for the vast majority of the season. 

 

I am assuming that the Falcons transition to a more wide receiver-focused offense under the new regime and therefore need to allocate more resources to a WR room whose only notable returning player is Drake London. Kyle Pitts will be the clear-cut top dog in the tight end room for 2024, but the Falcons will likely need to bring in someone else to compete with inexperienced backup TE John FitzPatrick.

 

 

New York Jets | $41.62M in current cap space (14th of 32)

 

Laken Tomlinson | OG | Saved $8.1M

The Jets begin the overhaul of their dreadful offensive line, as protecting Aaron Rodgers is at the forefront of their minds. Tomlinson had signed a three-year, $40 million contract with the Jets before the 2022 season, with the hopes that he could be the other starting guard to pair with their best offensive lineman, right guard Alijah Vera-Tucker. And unlike practically any other offensive lineman on the Jets, Tomlinson was able to remain healthy over the last couple of years. But even with that, his in-game performance has been lacking, and not worth the cap space he was eating up.

 

Looking to 2024, Vera-Tucker will probably line up at either right guard or right tackle, and second-year lineman Joe Tippman will be the incumbent at the center position, though he also has the ability to play guard. Those two are surefire starters for 2024, but the rest of the positions on the offensive line will undergo a makeover. They have a plethora of backups who all played various positions due to the sheer number of injuries that the Jets suffered in 2023. Veteran Wes Schweitzer, along with Xavier Newman, and Chris Glaser all return and offer versatility as players who can play guard and center. 2022 fourth-round pick Max Mitchell was mainly at right tackle but also played some at right guard. 2023 fourth-round pick Carter Warren made his first few starts at left tackle but was then moved to right tackle in his final four games. If I were a betting man, I would be all-in on the Jets drafting a lineman at the #10 overall pick in this year’s draft.

 

 

Minnesota Vikings | $41.1M in current cap space (13th of 32)

 

Alexander Mattison | RB | Saved $3.3M

Mattison had previously been one of the top backup running backs in the league, back when the Vikings had star Dalvin Cook operating as the team’s bellcow. Mattison's contributions extended beyond just filling in for Cook; he offered the Vikings a potent one-two punch in the running game, capable of wearing down defenses and keeping the offense balanced. Over his tenure with the team, he showcased his abilities as both a runner and a pass-catcher out of the backfield. This was part of the reason that the Vikings were comfortable making Cook a cap casualty last summer. 

 

Mattison finally had his chance to be the starter, but unfortunately, it really couldn’t have gone much worse. He was extremely inefficient and had issues with ball security. He didn’t score a single rushing touchdown on the season, though he at least had three through the air. After only a couple of weeks into the season, the Vikings made a trade for running back Cam Akers from the Los Angeles Rams. Minnesota’s head coach, Kevin O’Connell, was previously the offensive coordinator for the Rams, so he was familiar with Akers from his time there. Akers only had the chance to play in six games for the Vikings before rupturing his Achilles and being put on injured reserve for the rest of the season. This ended up giving backup running back Ty Chandler a window of opportunity to prove his worth to the team. He did not disappoint, and after the team’s bye in Week 13, Chandler became the starter for the final four games of the season.

 

Currently, Chandler is expected to be the starter, but that could change depending on what moves the Vikings make during this offseason. Akers is a restricted free agent, and the only other running back on the roster who played any offensive snaps last year was Kene Nwangwu. They will certainly at least look to bring someone in to form a tandem with Chandler, whether it be through the draft or a veteran free agent.

 

 

New Orleans Saints | -$15.45M in current cap space (28th of 32)

 

Marcus Maye | S | Saved $7.2M (post-June 1 designation)
The Saints and general manager Mickey Loomis have been known for their strategy with the salary cap for the past many years. They kicked the can down the road year-after-year during the twilight of Drew Brees’ career, in an effort to win another Super Bowl. However, the bill always comes due, and they are suffering from it now. While they are making progress clearing up cap space, they still currently sit at negative $15 million. Cutting Marcus Maye will be a huge help in this regard, and it is a move that makes sense given the makeup of their secondary. 

 

They have a very good trio of starting cornerbacks in Marshon Lattimore, Paulson Adebo, and Alontae Taylor, all under contract for 2024. At safety they return Tyrann Matheiu, along with a fifth-round rookie who surprised many with his play, Jordan Howden. Maye missed many games last season due to injury, in addition to a three-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. This allowed Howden to have a lot more playing time than expected in his rookie year, and he didn’t disappoint.

 

New Orleans will need to shore up their depth at safety, though, especially since Mathieu will be 32 years old in May. The only other safety that is currently under contract is J.T. Gray, who almost exclusively plays on special teams. The Saints will need to bring in some reinforcements at safety while they continue to navigate their unenviable cap situation.