Houston Texans general manager Nick Caserio has wasted no time in making his mark on their current roster. With the NFL salary cap set to plateau, Caserio has been decisive and somewhat ruthless in his cuts so far, axing key players such as center Nick Martin and running back Duke Johnson.
And more, we think, are coming.
With some predicting a ‘massacre’ of cuts around the league as a result of the salary cap situation, it’s time to look at other potential cap casualties amongst the remaining Texans.
Benardrick McKinney, LB
A former Pro Bowl linebacker, McKinney would be a tough one to see go. A productive and consistent presence for the Texans since his arrival in 2015, cutting McKinney would free up just shy of $6.5 million in cap space in 2021, as he no longer has any guarantees.
Pragmatically, this move would make sense, given that newly-appointed defensive coordinator Lovie Smith has a history of favoring a Tampa-2 style defense that requires just one middle linebacker. As such, McKinney may be surplus to requirements at his current salary.
Then there's the fact that fellow inside linebacker Zach Cunningham has all but assumed the dominant role at the heart of Houston’s defense, leading the team in tackles in each of their last three seasons. And with Cunningham having only signed a new deal last year, while it would be a disappointing end to McKinney's Texans career, it would also be logical that he's seen as either a candidate for release or trade.
Darren Fells, TE
After an outstanding 2019 campaign, by comparison, 2020 was somewhat of a disappointment for the veteran. While he still racked up 312 receiving yards and four touchdowns, his age and contract make him vulnerable at this stage. This is only exacerbated with a new regime taking over and the likes of Jordan Akins and Pharaoh Brown both having performed well last season.
At 34 with no guaranteed money remaining and $2.3 million cleared with his release, the Texans may well see the former Cleveland Brown as a candidate for cap clearance.
Others To Watch
Theoretically, one player they could look to move on from in order to create cap space is cornerback Bradley Roby, as some have suggested on social media. A starter who was suspended for five games last season following PED violations, Roby voided the $8 million he was guaranteed in 2021 as a result and will also be suspended for Week 1.
Should the Texans release Roby, he would save $8.25 million against the salary cap. That being said, we argue this would make little sense.
The Texans are already in dire need of cornerbacks with Gareon Conley and Vernon Hargreaves both hitting free agency. Releasing their only starting-caliber corner, and arguably their best defensive back, would only hurt the Texans, who already have more than enough holes to fill elsewhere on their roster.
Elsewhere, there are few realistic candidates for release that would make much of a difference to the cap.
Due to heavy guarantees, the Texans would have little to gain from the releases of players such as defensive back Eric Murray, linebacker Whitney Mercilus, kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn, and wideout Randall Cobb. Despite their particularly team-unfriendly contracts, they should all be safe.
However, they should each be candidates for potential contract re-do's, as Caserio has already accomplished with running back David Johnson.
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