It happens every year. Between the Super Bowl and the start of the next league year there are players released from their remaining contracts who then get a head start on deciding their playing future.
This year, the Atlanta Falcons have gotten to work early releasing cornerback Robert Alford and kicker Matt Bryant.
If history has taught us anything, it’s that there will be more. And they will all likely get paid much less than the contract they were supposed to be under was providing. Thus making them attractive partners for teams like the Bucs who have potential already, and precious little cap space to work with.
Here are five such players.
DENVER BRONCOS - GUARD, RONALD LEARY
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers need help at the right guard position. Either Caleb Benenoch needs to get better, Alex Cappa needs to develop quicker or the team needs to find a free-agent.
Leary comes into 2019 set to make $9.2M and is coming off an injury to his Achilles suffered during the 2018 season.
He’s older, coming off an injury and is a left guard by trade. But, for the right price, he could bring a veteran presence to the interior line and potentially motivate the younger guys to elevate their game, or replace them all-together.
Denver isn’t necessarily desperate for cap space, but if they decide to move on from Leary, saving his cap space would help them address other areas of need.
HOUSTON TEXANS - WIDE RECEIVER, DEMARYIUS THOMAS
Another former Broncos player coming off another Achilles injury is wide receiver Demaryius Thomas.
It seems like forever ago Thomas was a 90-catch, 1,000-yard receiver starring for Denver after coming out of Georgia Tech.
The Buccaneers don’t seem to have much of a need for a wide receiver, and one who will be 32-years old in the 2019 season coming off his type of injury is even less attractive.
Unless Thomas takes a significant pay cut though, Houston is very likely to free themselves from his $14M price tag.
After seeing what Arians was able to get out of Larry Fitzgerald during his time in Arizona, there’s no doubt Thomas could become a player of interest if his price point comes down and the team does indeed move on from DeSean Jackson and/or Adam Humphries.
MIAMI DOLPHINS - DEFENSIVE END, ROBERT QUINN
For all the Bucs fans who were angry about Jason Licht’s lack of public pursuit of Robert Quinn last year, they may get another shot at him.
The former Rams defensive star turned Dolphin is set to earn nearly $13M in 2019. His salary is currently marked as the third-highest on the team and they have just $11M remaining entering the new year.
If Miami has any hopes of returning their franchise to any semblance of competitiveness, they’re going to need money, and Quinn is eating a lot of it.
In his first - and likely only - season Quinn had six and a half sacks and 38 combined tackles.
His sack numbers were higher than two of his previous three seasons, but not likely to be enough for the Dolphins to retain him.
With the assumption in place the Bucs are moving to a 3-4 base, Quinn is probably still too expensive to justify the roll he’d carry in Tampa Bay, but if he hits the open market I expect at least a handful of Bucs fans will rekindle their desire for him.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS - CORNERBACK, TRAE WAYNES
The Buccaneers need some cornerback help. Depth is a concern as is starting talent.
Carlton Davis III should enter 2019 expected to be one perimeter starter and Vernon Hargreaves III will likely come in as an early favorite depending on what happens in the draft and free-agency.
Trae Waynes is one of the things that could happen in free-agency.
Waynes looked better mechanically despite having just one interception in 2018 than he has for most of his career. But it might not have been enough.
The Vikings currently stand with under $6M in cap space for 2019, and Waynes is accounting for more than that amount alone.
Releasing Waynes would bump their cap space to nearly $20M and the Vikings could certainly find developmental talent in the draft. Add this to the return of Mike Hughes, and Minnesota has nothing but reasons to move on from Waynes.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS - LINEBACKER, BUD DUPREE
Dupree is currently under contract for the 2019 season under his fifth-year option picked up by the Steelers prior to the 2018 season.
With less than $11M in cap space, a disgruntled wide receiver and an absent running back, the Steelers have some decisions to make moving forward.
One of the lesser talked about decisions is with Dupree, who has fans of the franchise leaning towards watching the former first-round pick walk away.
In four seasons, the former Kentucky Wildcats star has twenty sacks with no fewer than four and no more than six in a single season.
He’s had forty or more tackles in each of the past two seasons, and got his first interception in 2018.
If you ask me, he’s a man on the rise. Perhaps its the absence of inside linebacker Ryan Shazier which stifled his development a bit. Teams not having as much to worry about over the middle aren’t quite as scared of the edges.
Dupree is a 3-4 outside pass-rushing linebacker if ever there was one. He needs a coordinator who can scheme for him, and teammates in the linebacker group who can draw attention away from him.
Assuming the Bucs can bring back Kwon Alexander, Dupree could certainly find himself in a better situation in Tampa Bay.
With a potential purge coming for Pittsburgh, Dupree may become available.
Which potential cap casualty would you like to see in Tampa next season?
This poll is closed
G, Ronald Leary (Broncos)
WR, Demaryius Thomas (Texans)
DE, Robert Quinn (Dolphins)
CB, Trae Waynes (Vikings)
OLB, Bud Dupree (Steelers)