NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – As all NFL teams look to do some creative accounting (legal, of course) to adjust for a sizeable decrease in the salary cap this off-season, some hard decisions will have to be made.
The NFL released a memo last week to clubs stating that the cap will not go lower than $180 million, but a firm number is still to be determined. If the cap ended up right at $180 million, that’s nearly $20 million less than last year’s figure of $198.2.
Not only is it a fairly hefty drop, the cap number has only decreased once (The NFL lockout in 2011) since it was introduced in 1994. The cap has been so healthy recently that clubs have seen no less than a $10 million increase each of the last seven seasons.
If we go by the figure of $185 million for the cap number, Spotrac.com estimates the Titans have approximately $1.3 million in space. Considering Tennessee has 20 unrestricted free agents including top talent like wide receiver Corey Davis, tight end Jonnu Smith and linebacker Jayon Brown and a defense to rebuild, they’ll need more than that to work with.
There’s always the option to restructure contracts or sign players to extensions while reworking their deals. We may see more restructuring this off-season than ever before, but a sure-fire way to create space is through cuts. I always feel the need to preface this by saying it’s not personal nor necessarily indicative of the players’ on-field performance, it’s strictly business. As we so eloquently phrase it this time of year, here are some potential Titans “cap casualties.”
All numbers courtesy of Spotrac.
Adam Humphries – cap hit: $9.48 million, could save $4.75 million
Is Humphries even healthy enough to continue his career? His nasty knockout hit in Week 8 at Cincinnati was too big a blow for him to play anymore meaningful football for the rest of the 2020 season. He spent most of the weeks following in concussion protocol and made just one appearance in a game after Week 8. If he is eventually determined healthy enough to suit up in 2021, then there’s the issue of productivity. Since joining the two-toned blue, he has averaged 3.2 catches for 31.7 receiving yards per game in 19 regular-season contests. The $9-plus million cap hit is simply not justified, and next year that number increases to $11.25 million. The Titans could eat $5 million in dead cap and still save $4.75 million with his release.
Malcolm Butler – cap hit: $14.2 million, could save $10.2 million
But wait? He was arguably the best player on defense for the Titans last season and you want to cut him? No, I don’t want to cut anybody, but this is exactly what the premise of “this is a business” is for. If the Titans opt to make this move it is strictly dollars and cents, because the on-the-field production is evident. Now, you could argue it’s not quite worth $14 million, so maybe there is an option to restructure or extend. However, with a clean break, the Titans could save seven figures and only eat a $4 million in dead cap.
Kenny Vaccaro – cap hit: $6.9 million, could save $3.9 million
The safety would tell you this was not his best season as a pro, but does it warrant his release? That is a fair question. Could the Titans use the nearly $4 million they would save by letting him go? Without a doubt. Something also working against Vaccaro is the increased production and game-changing plays we’ve seen from Amani Hooker who is still on his rookie contract and comes cheap.
Adoree’ Jackson – cap hit: $10.2 million, could save $10.2 million
One. More. Year. If Jackson had been drafted in the 2018 draft, this would not even be an option, but because he was taken in 2017, the fifth-year option rules under the new collective bargaining agreement do not apply. Meaning, the Titans could tell him — and they did — on May 3rd they’re exercising his fifth-year option, and then after the season say, “never mind” and recoup all of it. It would be ruthless, but say it with me now… it’s a business. The corner’s 2020 was riddled with injury and only saw him play three games and account for 12 tackles. All in all, it was essentially a wash. He could be on the chopping block when hard decisions have to be made.
Ben Jones – cap hit: $7.25 million, could save $6.25 million
Despite working through a knee injury for much of the year, Jones remained an anchor for the Titans offensive line. His campaign even earned him some All-Pro votes. At 31-years-old and with injuries mounting, his career is more than likely on the decline. His team-first attitude, veteran leadership and work ethic is an easy case to make for him to stay or potential sign to a back-loaded extension, but the $6.25 million in savings and small $1 million in dead cap lays out the argument to move on.
No one envies any general manager this off-season, but with the Titans sitting at a below-NFL-average cap number, Jon Robinson’s job will be particularly difficult. The first day to franchise tag players begins on February 23rd and the new league year kicks off March 17.