The Arizona Cardinals will have some difficult decisions to make this offseason when it comes to releasing their own players.
With the 2021 NFL salary cap expected to be a little over the cap floor of $180 million and the Cardinals projected to have a low cap space total of over $11.83 million, player releases are inevitable in order to be aggressive in free agency.
One team that has been busy this morning is the Carolina Panthers. They released Tre Boston, Michael Palardy, and Stephen Weatherly. Include Kawaan Short, who they cut earlier this week, and they created $21.3 million in cap space.
A player that the Cardinals can rule out from releasing is pass rusher Chandler Jones. NFL.com Editor and Writer Gregg Rosenthal suggested that Jones could be a surprise cut. His article can be found here.
Steve Keim responded to that speculation on 98.7 Arizona Sports radio.
.@AZCardinals GM Steve Keim on @AZSports, about the speculation that Chandler Jones could potentially be a salary cap cut:— Darren Urban (@Cardschatter) February 19, 2021
"I'll reject that."
Jones has been the heart and soul of this Cardinals defense. His torn bicep should be fully recovered before the start of the 2021 regular season and he will be ready to regain his All-Pro form.
With all of that said, the Cardinals will have to make some cuts to create additional cap space and here are six names to keep in mind.
CB Robert Alford
2021 cap hit: $9M
Cap savings/Dead cap: $7.5M / $1.5M
The Cardinals signed Robert Alford to a three-year $22 million contract in 2019 but he has yet to play in a regular season game. He broke his leg during training camp in 2019 and tore his pectoral muscle in training camp in 2020. Though he was getting rave reviews by the Cardinals coaches as one of the best cornerbacks on the team when healthy in training camp, Alford has been unable to stay healthy. With very little dead money remaining in his contract and significant cap saving with his release, this move seems inevitable.
EDGE Devon Kennard
2021 cap hit: $7.9M
Cut (Pre-June 1st): $4.15M cap savings, $3.75M dead money
Cut (Post-June 1st): $6.65M cap savings, $1.25M dead money
Kennard was signed to a three-year $20 million contract last offseason to play opposite Chandler Jones but things did not go as planned. Though he played quite well earlier in the year by generating nine pressures in the first three weeks of the season, he missed the next two weeks with a calf injury. Upon his return in Week 7, he was completely ineffective against the Seahawks. With the breakout campaign of Haason Reddick, the emergence of Dennis Gardeck, and the trade for Markus Golden, it was clear Kennard was being phased out of the lineup. With the Cardinals expected to re-sign Reddick, the release of Kennard would not surprise me. Restructuring his contract is also very possible.
C Mason Cole
2021 cap hit: $2.37M
Cap savings/Dead money: $2.18M / $190K
Cole was a third-round draft pick by the Cardinals in 2018 but his play has been disappointing. He was the second-most penalized center (8) in the NFL and allowed the eighth-most pressures (23) at his position. No one is expected to be able to successfully block Aaron Donald in every snap but he struggled in pass protection for almost the entire season. It is not just blocking the NFL Defensive MVP that is the issue. The interior offensive line was one of the biggest weaknesses on the team this past season and there is a strong chance the Cardinals will try to upgrade the position via free agency or the draft to improve Kyler Murray’s protection. He turns only 25 in March and has some trade value.
TE Maxx Williams
2021 cap hit: $3.22M
Cap savings/Dead money: $2.97M / $250K
Williams is coming off an injury-plagued season, missing seven games in 2020 due to an ankle injury. I think his release is unlikely because he remains as one of the more underrated blocking tight ends in pass protection and run blocking. But, the Cardinals would save almost $3 million with his release with very little dead money in the final year of his contract. He turns only 27 in April but is not much of a threat as a receiver.
ILB Jordan Hicks
2021 cap hit: $9.5M
Cut (Pre-June 1st): $3.5M cap savings, $6M dead money
Cut (Post-June 1st): $6.5M cap savings, $3M dead money
As we are near the end of this article, you will be seeing potential surprising cuts despite its unlikeliness. Steve Keim cannot lie to himself when he evaluates Jordan Hicks. Though he is a great leader, Hicks has struggled the last two seasons since signing a four-year $34 million contract with the Cardinals in 2019. He has shed off his injury prone label that he got in Philadelphia, starting every game since arriving in Arizona. But, he has looked a lot slower this past season and has been a liability on the defense more often than not in 2020. 268 tackles and four interceptions is great but he struggled more than what those stats entail. Even with that said, I still expect him to remain a Cardinal in 2021.
OG Justin Pugh
2021 cap hit: $11.19M
Cut (Pre-June 1st): $7.19M cap savings, $4M dead money
Cut (Post-June 1st): $9.19M cap savings, $2M dead money
I do not expect the Cardinals to release Justin Pugh unless they find his replacement in the NFL Draft. Pugh is coming off arguably the best season of his career. The 30-year-old allowed only 15 pressures, the second fewest among guards that played over 900 snaps. Pugh earned the ninth-best pass blocking grade (74.4) by an offensive guard from Pro Football Focus but his nine penalties were the second-most at his position. There are significant cap savings in store if they release him but there is a strong possibility the Cardinals will restructure his contract to keep him around and save cap space in the process. According to Over the Cap, the Cardinals can save over $3.5 million in 2021 by restructuring it.
All salary information was found on Over the Cap.