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A Look at This Year's Potential Cap Casualties

Some big-name players such as Taylor Lewan, Rodger Saffold and Julio Jones offer the potential for big savings if they are released.

NASHVILLE – In the weeks and months ahead, the Tennessee Titans appear likely to engage in some pre-spring cleaning pertaining to personnel and payroll.

Even after rolling over an estimated $2.9 million of unused cap space in 2021, the Titans are still a few million dollars over the NFL’s base salary cap for next season, per overthecap.com.

There are monetary matters that will soon need addressing by the team: the soon-to-be expiring contracts of players such as Harold Landry, Ben Jones and others; the possibility of extending players like A.J. Brown and Jeffery Simmons; and the need to free up some cash if franchise officials want to address positions in free agency this March.

A year ago, a number of veterans were released to create cap space. That group included starting cornerbacks Adoreé Jackson and Malcolm Butler, starting safety Kenny Vaccaro, starting right tackle Dennis Kelly and wide receiver Adam Humphries.

Will we see moves as extreme this year?

It’s hard to say for sure, but it’s always worth noting what kind of cap space can be saved by releasing certain players.

In that light, here are seven worth keeping an eye on when the Titans start to make offseason moves. That’s not to say all of them will be cut. For some, their value will outweigh the potential cap space gained. But keep in mind that general manager Jon Robinson is not the kind of executive who sits back and watches during the offseason. He is active and willing to take some risks.

One other note to keep in mind: Salary figures here are from overthecap (https://overthecap.com/) and Spotrac (https://www.spotrac.com/nfl/). But the numbers aren’t official NFL figures, so consider them reliable estimates instead of fact.

Taylor Lewan, Left tackle

Scheduled 2022 cap number: $14.7 million

Dead money if released: $1.8 million

Potential cap savings if released: $12.9 million

It seems unlikely the Titans would cut Lewan, the team’s starting left tackle for the past seven years. The obvious question related to such a move: Who would replace him? Dillon Radunz, the team’s second-round pick last season, played sparingly in 2021 and looks as if he might wind up as a guard or right tackle. Would you want the Titans to use another high draft pick on a tackle? And if not, wouldn’t a quality left tackle on the free-agent market be even pricier than Lewan’s figure?

On the other hand, $12.9 million is an awful lot of savings. Lewan has been more good than great over the past couple of seasons. In addition, suspension and injuries have limited him to 30 of a possible 49 regular-season games over the past three years.

But let’s not forget that Lewan was in his first year back following ACL surgery. He improved as the 2021 season went along and feels he’ll be that much better in 2022.

“This has been a year of adversity for me and not my best year by any means, but I think it is pretty obvious that the first year, unless you are Adrian Peterson, is tough coming back,” Lewan said. “I didn't have a full offseason to train. I was really focused on my knee. My conditioning wasn't as good. My strength wasn't as good. My power wasn't as good. There were a lot of things that weren't up to my standard.

“With a knee comes other injuries, like a back. That is just how the anatomy works. I have no doubt that I will be back next year. I think I will be back to myself. I have no doubt about that.”

Zach Cunningham, Inside Linebacker

Scheduled 2022 cap number: $10.5 million

Dead money if released: $0

Potential cap savings if released: $10.5 million

Cutting Cunningham seems highly, highly unlikely. He stepped into the starting lineup after the Titans claimed him off waivers and made an immediate impact wih 25 tackles – including three for loss – in four regular-season games. He appears to be a fixture alongside David Long moving forward. But the reason he’s at least listed here is because it’s not often a team gets a chance to free up $10.5 million in cap space with absolutely no dead money involved. Still, the Titans clearly made a statement with Cunningham when they started him and sat both Rashaan Evans and Jayon Brown during different weeks at the end of the season.

Rodger Saffold, Left Guard

Scheduled 2022 cap number: $12.9 million

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Dead money if released: $2.4 million

Potential cap savings if released: $10.5 million

As well as Saffold has played for the majority of his three seasons with Tennessee, and as impressive a presence as he is in the locker room, it wouldn’t be a stunner to see him released. The 33-year-old managed to play 15 of 17 games last season but often labored through injuries that took him out midway through contests. Saffold struggled at times in pass protection, per Pro Football Focus, posting a 46.7 grade for the in 2021, the lowest full-season mark of his career. He allowed 28 pressures (a combination of hits, hurries and sacks), 10 more than last season. Is there enough confidence in Radunz to try him as the long-term solution at this spot, even though most of his practice work during 2021 was at right guard?

Jackrabbit Jenkins, Cornerback

Scheduled 2022 cap number: $10.1 million

Dead money if released: $3.2 million

Potential cap savings if released: $6.9 million

Jenkins had games in which he struggled, and he allowed a team-high five touchdown passes, per PFF, tied for 19th-most in the league. But he was solid enough in the big picture and did add a veteran starter to a young secondary. It may be tempting to release, Jenkins, though, assuming the Titans are confident in the return to health of Caleb Farley – last year’s first-round pick. Getting Farley back would give the defense a young but talented top three corners of Farley, Kristian Fulton and Elijah Molden. Chris Jackson would add an experienced fourth or fifth cornerback, and the Titans have been pretty good at finding depth at this position over the years.

Brett Kern, Punter

Scheduled 2022 cap number: $3.8 million

Dead money if released: $550,000

Potential cap savings if released: $3.2 million

Would the Titans consider releasing Kern, a three-time Pro Bowler and the longest-tenured Titan at 13 years? He’s a big part of the field-position battle each game, one of the better punters in the league at pinning opponents deep. Still, Kern’s net punting average was 40.4 yards last season, his lowest figure since 2016. That ranked 16th in the league. So, it wouldn’t be completely out of the question to see the Titans – if they needed the money – take their chances on someone new.

Kendall Lamm, Tackle

Scheduled 2022 cap number: $4.1 million

Dead money if released: $900,000

Potential cap savings if released: $3.2 million

This would seem to be one of the more logical early cuts, given the size of Lamm’s cap number for 2022 and the fact he played just 87 offensive snaps in 2021. He had some shaky moments, surrendering a pair of sacks in that limited time. If the Titans keep Radunz at tackle instead of shifting him to guard, he could certainly step into this role. The Titans could also find another third/fourth tackle for less money on the open market.

Julio Jones, Wide Receiver

Scheduled 2022 cap number: $14.3 million

Dead money if released: $4.8 million*

Potential cap savings if released: $9.5 million*

(*-These figures are only accurate if Jones is designated as a post-June 1 cut. It would be a completely different story if Jones was released prior to that date as the Titans would save just over $1 million.)

The timing of this move – were it to happen – makes a huge difference, if the Titans are thinking about releasing Jones after an injury-plagued season that saw him total 31 catches for 454 yards and one touchdown in 10 games. So, the savings gained wouldn’t help over the next couple of months as they try to re-sign players and ride the first wave of free agency. If the Titans were still contemplating moves and looking for cap space in June, this move wouldn’t be a complete stunner. Though the Titans gave up their 2022 second-round pick as part of the deal, Robinson has shown a willingness to move on relatively quickly from deals that don’t work.