By Chris Burke
February 05, 2014

Coming off his least productive season in Chicago, Julius Peppers is owed $18.2 million in 2014. Coming off his least productive season in Chicago, Julius Peppers is owed $18.2 million in 2014. (Norm Hall/Getty Images)

Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald agreed Tuesday to restructure his contract, thus helping save the Cardinals from the $18 million cap hit he would have handed them next season. Fitzgerald was never in danger of losing his roster spot over his lucrative contract, but some other recognizable names around the league are not so lucky.

With free agency approaching in March, here are a few players who may find themselves on the chopping block as salary cap casualties.

Julius Peppers, Bears: The 34-year-old Peppers is coming off his least productive season in Chicago and has a monstrous cap number of approximately $18.2 million next season. If he refuses to take (or is not offered) a pay cut, it's hard to envision the Bears committing that amount of cash to Peppers.

Cutting Peppers would saddle the Bears with a dead-money hit of more than $8 million -- they could ease the pain by holding onto Peppers until June 1, thus splitting that penalty over the next two seasons. Even cutting him before that date would save close to $10 million for the upcoming season.

Chris Clemons and Sidney Rice, Seahawks: Seattle nickle-and-dimed its way to a Super Bowl with some clever financial work this year, but time has come to pay the piper. Clemons has been a key player up front, but with Cliff Avril due a huge pay increase, from a $1.5 million base salary up to $7 million next season, and Michael Bennett likely on Seattle's wish list in terms of free agents it would like to keep, saving $7.5 million by axing Clemons makes sense. So, too, does getting more than $7 million back by booting Rice, who's rehabbing a torn ACL.

Defensive stars Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas are in line for contract extensions soon, too, so the Seahawks have to free up space somehow.

Sam Bradford, Rams: Count this situation as one of the offseason's great mysteries. Bradford was on pace for his best season as a pro in 2013 before tearing his ACL. Now, with Bradford headed into Year 5 of a six-year contract, the Rams have to make a call on his future.

Two key factors at play here: 1. Bradford is due more than $14 million in base salary next season, and the Rams could save $10.4 million by cutting him (with about $7 million in dead money); 2. The Rams hold two first-round picks, including No. 2 overall, in a draft that boasts several potential No. 1 QBs.

The signs currently point to St. Louis giving Bradford at least one more season at the helm. That may change in the coming weeks.

Terrell Suggs, Ravens: The Ravens bid adieu to Anquan Boldin, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed last year. Could Suggs be the next longtime stalwart out the door? GM Ozzie Newsome reportedly said early last month that the team would make a decision on Suggs' future by mid-January. So far, there's been no news.

Suggs, 31, has just one year left on his deal, and the Ravens could save $7.8 million -- all of his base salary due next season -- by releasing him. A contract extension that spreads out Suggs' upcoming $12 million cap hit makes more sense, but cutting him is at least a possibility.

Jason Campbell, Browns: Hard to really say what the Browns' QB situation will look like come the start of the 2014 season. But what does appear rather obvious is that holding onto Campbell makes little financial sense. The Browns owe him $3 million in 2014 plus a $250K roster bonus in March; they could get all of that money back and take it off their cap by cutting him before then.

Troy Polamalu, Steelers: Similar situation to Suggs in that it seems unlikely, but ...

The Steelers have slowly dismantled their veteran core due to cap issues, and the $8.25 million they could save by cutting Polamalu certainly would come in handy. (They will receive $6.25 million in savings by cutting OT Levi Brown, who suffered an injury before even playing a game for the Steelers after a trade.) Polamalu played in all 16 games last season and at times looked like his old, dominant self. Releasing him may leave too much of a void.

Chris Johnson, Titans: This marriage is on the verge of reaching its inevitable end. The Tennessean's Jim Wyatt wrote a couple weeks back that he's fairly "certain" Johnson will be a free agent soon, what with the one-time 2,000-yard rusher saving the Titans $6 million of his $10 million cap hit if he's cut. Johnson has gone over 1,000 yards in each of his six seasons, including 2013.

Still, the production has not measured up to the salary. And with a new coaching staff in place, Johnson's days are likely numbered.

Champ Bailey, Broncos: Bailey, 35, said after failing in his quest to claim Super Bowl ring No. 1 that he was "not done playing football". Will he get another shot at that first title with the Broncos?

Not if the situation stays as is. Right now, Bailey's contract calls for him to earn $10 million in 2013 ($9 million base salary plus $1 million roster bonus). There is no chance Denver honors that deal with no dead-money penalty coming if Bailey is cut. The veteran DB will have to take a pay cut or sign a new contract after being released to remain with his current team.

DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys: A situation that is comparable to the Bears' with Peppers, except that Ware has said he is not open to a pay cut and the Cowboys are in dire cap trouble for 2014. Dallas is on pace to be an estimated $25 million over the projected cap, with Ware commanding a $16 million hit. The Cowboys still would be on the hook for more than half of that -- about $8.5 million -- if they released Ware, but the $7 million-plus they could bring back to the 2014 cap might make it worthwhile.

Jerry Jones has a busy offseason ahead either way. He really needs Jason Witten, Tony Romo, Doug Free and others to agree to restructure their contracts to even have a prayer of getting under the cap.

Antrel Rolle, Giants: The Giants are in a stronger cap position for 2014 than the Cowboys, but they also likely have no interest in keeping Rolle's $9.25 million hit on the books. A contract extension for the 31-year-old safety could solve that problem, but releasing him would free up $7.25 million -- all of Rolle's remaining deal save leftover bonus money.

Nate Burleson, Lions: A popular player in the Lions' locker room and a productive one at a position of need, Burleson still has one foot out the door. That is not by his choice -- he has said he wants to return for the 2014 season. The $5.5 million Detroit could save by freeing up Burleson's roster space might be too valuable for a team with a brutal cap situation.

Will Smith, Saints: Smith missed all of 2013 with an injury, is a mismatch for Rob Ryan's defense and carries a 2014 cap hit of nearly $14 million ($11.5 million of which New Orleans can save by cutting him). If Smith's still on the roster come Week 1, someone fell asleep at the wheel.

Carlos Rogers, 49ers: The 32-year-old cornerback was rumored to be on the chopping block prior to the 2013 season, only to start every regular-season game. With upwards of $8 million due his way in 2014 -- and $5.1 million available in savings with a release -- Rogers probably has played his last game in San Francisco, at least under this current contract.

Kevin Kolb, Bills: EJ Manuel

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