This week is all about Super Bowl XLVII. Beginning next week, however, all 32 NFL teams will be focused on 2013 and will be able to begin subtracting players from their 80-man offseason rosters.
Some of those changes will be made for disciplinary purposes; Pittsburgh Steelers running back Chris Rainey and Detroit Lions wide receiver Titus Young are two examples of that kind of a release. Other players will be released for cash purposes – projected salaries outweigh their expected contribution - while others will need to be released for the team to become salary cap compliant when the 2013 league year officially begins at 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday, March 12.
By no means is this intended to be a complete list of players who could be cap casualties. "Shutdown Corner" will delve more deeply into that on a team-by-team basis beginning on Tuesday, Feb. 5.
For now, here are a few players who could potentially be released between Super Bowl XLVII and the start of the 2013 league year.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick: Vick signed a five-year, $80 million contract extension off the franchise tag following a 2010 season where he completed 62.6 percent of his pass attempts for 3,018 yards with 21 touchdowns and six interceptions for a passer rating of 100.2. Vick added 676 rushing yards and set a career-high with nine rushing touchdowns in 2010, earning Pro Bowl honors for the fourth time in his career.
In the two seasons since, Vick has appeared in 23 games, missing games with multiple injuries as his completion percentage and touchdown passes have decreased while his interceptions have increased. The Eagles turned to 2012 third-round pick Nick Foles late last season and Vick's future with the team has been in doubt to a $15.5 million base salary in 2013, $3 million of which will become fully guaranteed on Feb. 6. Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com reports that, since that $3 million can be offset if Vick is released and signs with another club, the Eagles may not make an immediate move with Vick.
The Eagles have the cap space – around $4.6 million, according to salary cap and contract data maintained by "Shutdown Corner" – to keep Vick around until GM Howie Roseman and head coach Chip Kelly make a decision on whether or not to keep Vick, who turns 33 about a month before training camp. If the Eagles do release Vick next week, they will save the full $15.5 million in cash and free up $12.7 million in cap space for 2013.
Atlanta Falcons running back Michael Turner: As "Shutdown Corner" reported on Monday, Turner triggered escalators in his contract that have increased his 2013 salary to $6.9 million. Turner scored double-digit touchdowns for a fifth consecutive season and is the Falcons' all-time leader in rushing touchdowns (60) and total touchdowns (61), but turns 31 next month and his yards per carry dropped from 4.5 in 2011 to 3.6 in 2012. Running backs tend to fall off the cliff in terms of production and $6.9 million is a lot of cash to pay a running back on a team whose offensive strength is their passing attack.
Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson: In 2009, Johnson ran for 2,006 yards and 14 touchdowns, finishing first in Football Outsiders' DYAR metric (which "gives the value of the performance on plays where this RB carried/caught the ball compared to replacement level, adjusted for situation and opponent and then translated into yardage"). In the three seasons since, Johnson's DYAR ranked 30th in 2010, 49th in 2011 and was 33rd in 2012. Johnson flashed his All-Pro form at times in 2012, but the Titans' brass will have to gauge whether or not Johnson is capable of doing that on a more consistent basis in 2013. GM Ruston Webster will have to make that determination rather quickly as Johnson is due $10 million in base salary in 2013, $9 million of which will become fully guaranteed if he's still on the team on Feb. 9.
New York Jets offensive tackle Jason Smith: Before Smith was acquired from the St. Louis Rams in exchange for Wayne Hunter, the No. 2 overall pick of the 2009 NFL Draft agreed to a restructured contract that was designed to push him onto the unrestricted free agent market in 2013. All Smith needed to do was log 31 percent of his team's snaps and the final year of the deal – which calls for a $750,000 base salary and $11.25 million roster bonus - would void if he were on the roster five days before the start of the 2013 league year.
According to official playing-time documents, Smith played in 23.93 percent of the Jets' offensive snaps and had a limited role (46 snaps, less than Tim Tebow's 59 special teams snaps) on special teams. Therefore, the Jets will have to release Smith before that $11.25 million roster bonus is due on the first day of the 2013 league year. The Jets are around $24.5 million over their cap number and Smith's $12 million will get them about halfway there.
Philadelphia Eagles left tackle(s) Jason Peters and/or Demetress Bell: Combined, this left tackle tandem is scheduled to make $20.35 million in cash and occupy around 16 percent of their 2013 cap space. Something has to give and one or the other, or perhaps both, will be elsewhere next season. Peters missed the 2012 season due to a pair of torn Achilles tendons last offseason. Health will likely be a determining for whether or not Peters returns in 2013, which calls for the 31-year-old who is scheduled to earn $10.75 million in 2013. The Eagles could add $10.458 million of cap space if they were to release Peters prior to a $250,000 roster bonus that is due on March 27.
When Peters went down with his injuries, the Eagles signed Bell to a five-year, $34.5 million contract, which was essentially a one-year deal worth $3.15 million. Bell played in 39.57 percent of the Eagles' offensive snaps before landing on the bench in the second half of the season. How Bell factors into the Eagles' long-term vision along the offensive line is expected to be determined before an $8.5 million roster bonus comes due on March 14. Releasing Bell will save $9.6 in cash and cap space.
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb: The failure to replace quarterback Kurt Warner ultimately cost GM Rod Graves and head coach Ken Whisenhunt their jobs with the Cardinals. Kolb was the big investment as Graves shipped a 2012 second-round draft choice and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to the Eagles for Kolb, who has started 14 games and passed for 3,124 yards with 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in his two seasons with the Cardinals. Over that time, Kolb has pocketed $20.5 million over the first two seasons of a six-year, $63.5 million contract that is worth $11.5 million in non-guaranteed money in 2013. If new GM Steve Keim and head coach Bruce Arians decide to part ways with Kolb, they'll likely to do so before a $2 million roster bonus comes due on March 16.
New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith: Smith helped the Saints become cap compliant last March and then overcame the distraction of his "Bounty Gate" suspension to start all 16 games for the first time since 2009, posting 58 tackles and six sacks, which is consistent with his production from the previous two seasons. Smith may need to take a serious pay cut to remain with the Saints as he's currently scheduled to earn $10.15 million in cash, including a $1 million roster bonus on March 27 and a $9 million base salary. Smith's $14.541 million cap number is the second highest on the team and there are questions about how a 32-year-old, 6-foot-3, 282-pound Smith will factor into the team's decision to move to a 3-4 defense on a full-time basis.
New York Jets linebackers Calvin Pace and David Harris: One of the ramifications of getting into "salary cap hell" is that it forces teams to part ways with valuable players. The Jets need to clear over $24 million in cap space before March 12 and Harris, who led the team with 123 tackles last season, has the team's highest cap number ($13 million). Harris is due $10.9 million in base salary, which will likely be converted into a signing bonus as part of an extension that pushes some of those cap dollars into future years, possibly clearing over $8 million in cap space in 2013.
As for Pace, the 32-year-old has just seven sacks over the last two seasons, including three in 1,005 snaps over 16 games in 2012, and is scheduled to earn $8.56 million in cash in the final year of his current contract. Among Pace's cash compensation in 2013 is a $2.5 million roster bonus that is due on March 14. Releasing Pace would free up $8.56 million in cap space.
San Diego Chargers nose tackle Antonio Garay: Last March, the Chargers re-signed their starting nose tackle to a two-year, $6.6 million contract that was heavily back-loaded and will likely be terminated before the start of the new league year. Garay battled an ankle injury and lost his starting job to veteran Aubrayo Franklin. Garay appeared in just eight games and played 14 percent of the Chargers' defensive snaps in 2013. 2010 fifth-round pick Cam Thomas is expected to step up in 2013, which means the Chargers could part ways with the 33-year-old Garay, who has a $1.5 million roster bonus due on March 16. Releasing Garay would save the Chargers $5 million in cash and cap space.