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Offseason Lowdown

Cut Candidates: AFC North

by Nick Mensio
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

We’re shifting into offseason mode here at Rotoworld. In a salary-cap league with non-guaranteed contracts like the NFL, the offseason is a time teams rid themselves of players not living up to their pay scale. Every year, handfuls among handfuls of players are asked to take pay cuts or simply released outright. Before free agency opens March 10, I’ll highlight names from each team who may be on the roster bubble. According to several reports, the salary cap is expected to rise to roughly $142 million in 2015. Terms to know are "cap number", "cap savings", "cash savings", and "dead money". Cap number is how much Player X will count against Team X's salary cap. Cap savings is how much Team X will clear in salary-cap space by cutting Player X. Cash savings is how much Team X will save in terms of sheer cash, and it can be formulated by Player X's base salary + bonuses. Dead money is how much Player X will count against Team X's salary cap, even if he is released. I already took a look at the AFC East here. Next up, the AFC North.

Mensio’s Note: For detailed salary cap and contract information, go check out OverTheCap.com. Salary figures and cap numbers are from them. I’d also like to give a shout-out to self-proclaimed salary cap enthusiast Andrew Cohen for answering several questions for me. Follow him on Twitter here.

BALTIMORE RAVENS

DE Chris Canty
Cap number: $3.327M
Cap savings: $2.66M
Cash savings: $2.66M
Dead money: $667K
The Ravens are backed up right against the salary cap for 2015. That’s what happens when you do mega-deals with quarterbacks. It also doesn’t help that Ray Rice, though no longer on the roster, currently carries the team’s fourth-largest cap number for next season at $9.5M in dead money. Canty, 32, is said to be contemplating retirement. But either way, he’s likely done in Baltimore. Canty played solid run defense when he was healthy, but battled wrist and ankle injuries. The Ravens also have Timmy Jernigan ready to take on a larger role after flashing signs of dominance as a rookie. He’ll bookend Haloti Ngata, with Brandon Williams clogging lanes at nose tackle.

P Sam Koch
Cap number: $3.1M
Cap savings: $2.5M
Cash savings: $2.5M
Dead money: $600K
One way for GM Ozzie Newsome to save some coin is to cut Koch and go cheap at punter. Koch had a horrific 2013 but came back to lead the league in net average this past season. He’s entering the final year of a five-year, $12.5 million contract. Punters are valuable, but the Ravens will need the money to make some depth additions and sign their draft class.

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CINCINNATI BENGALS

CB Leon Hall
Cap number: $9.6M
Cap savings: $7.8M
Cash savings: $7.8M
Dead money: $1.8M
Hall came back from his second torn Achilles’ and missed just one game. However, he had an up-and-down season, as quarterbacks had a 104.9 passer rating targeting him, and turned 32 last month. The Bengals have also invested 2012 and 2014 first-round picks into CBs Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard, respectively. Hall’s been with the Bengals since he was the 18th overall pick in 2007 and is entering the final year of a five-year, $42M pact. The Bengals like to pinch pennies and can move forward with a trio of Adam Pacman Jones, Kirkpatrick, and Dennard. Hall’s $9.6M cap figure is currently the third-largest on the team behind A.J. Green and Andy Dalton.

DT Domata Peko
Cap number: $3.7M
Cap savings: $3.7M
Cash savings: $3.7M
Dead money: $0
Peko, 30, has consistently been one of the worst defensive tackles in the league year in and year out, per Pro Football Focus. His susceptibility against the run really stood out in 2014, as the Bengals finished 20th against the run and permitted 4.2 YPC on the ground. With Geno Atkins not the same coming off a torn ACL, Peko couldn’t hold up. He was PFF’s 80th-ranked defensive tackle out of 81 qualifiers. Poor against the run and useless as a pass rusher, Peko is a near-league minimum player.

DE Robert Geathers
Cap number: $3.05M
Cap savings: $3.05M
Cash savings: $3.05M
Dead money: $0
Geathers, 31, is the longest-tenured Bengal, having been with the team for 11 seasons. But his time is nearing an end. He missed all but two games in 2013 with an elbow injury and was stripped of his starting job. He played over 600 snaps behind starters RE Wallace Gilberry and LE Carlos Dunlap this past season, but managed to record just one sack. The Bengals need to see what they have in 2013 second-round DE Margus Hunt and 2014 third-round DE Will Clarke.

CLEVELAND BROWNS

DL Phil Taylor
Cap number: $5.477M
Cap savings: $5.477M
Cash savings: $5.477M
Dead money: $0
Coach Mike Pettine moved Taylor off nose tackle in favor of Ahtyba Rubin and pushed Taylor to left end opposite RE Desmond Bryant. Taylor ended up hurting his knee in Week 5 and needed a scope. He never recovered from the scope and was sent to season-ending I.R. The Browns exercised Taylor’s fifth-year club option for 2015 last May, but the money isn’t guaranteed. Cleveland can cut Taylor without penalty. The Browns have Billy Winn, Armonty Bryant, and John Hughes as quality depth players who can take on increased roles. They’re deep up front. Taylor, the 21st pick in the 2011 draft after a trade-down with the Falcons, has missed 20 games over the past three seasons due to injury. The Falcons used the Browns’ pick on Julio Jones.

OG Paul McQuistan
Cap number: $1.77M
Cap savings: $1.395M
Cash savings: $1.395M
Dead money: $375K
After starting 14 games for the Super Bowl champion Seahawks in 2013, McQuistan was signed to a two-year, $3M deal by the Browns. The Browns later selected LG Joel Bitonio in the second round of May’s draft, and he immediately stepped into the starting lineup and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ No. 3 left guard. McQuistan played just 121 offensive snaps. He can pack his bags, though the Browns have one of the better cap situations in the league and can afford to hold onto cheap players.

WR Josh Gordon
Cap number: $1.683M
Cap savings: $1.118M
Cash savings: $1.118M
Dead money: $564K
Gordon’s release certainly wouldn’t be for salary-cap relief. We all couldn’t wait for Gordon to return from his 10-game suspension. But he left us extremely disappointed, though plenty of the blame can be placed on the Browns’ quarterbacks. Gordon wasn’t making it easy, however. There were multiple reports he didn’t know the plays, was out of shape, and skirted team rules. It all came to a head in Week 17 when the Browns suspended Gordon for the season finale after he missed the team’s Saturday walkthrough because he was out partying the night before. The team has even admitted Gordon is at a “crossroads” with the club, and beat writers have said numerous times they don’t envision Gordon playing another snap for the Browns. Expect the Browns to try and dangle Gordon in trade talks this spring, but the overwhelming feeling coming out of Cleveland is Gordon won’t be back in 2015. He led the league in receiving in 2013.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

SS Troy Polamalu
Cap number: $8.25M
Cap savings: $3.75M
Cash savings: $6M
Dead money: $4.5M
The Steelers are another team that is right up against the salary cap. Hammering out an extension with Ben Roethlisberger should be the first order of business to help fix the issue, while releasing Polamalu won’t be far down the list. One of the franchise’s most-iconic players, Polamalu is a shell of his former self these days. He’ll turn 34 in April and hinted at possible retirement following the Steelers’ playoff loss to the Ravens. The Steelers are likely praying Polamalu hangs up his cleats in order to get more relief cap-wise. Injuries have sapped him of his speed and playmaking ability. Polamalu has missed 26 regular-season games the past six years. Much like it was with Ed Reed, it’s hard to picture Polamalu in another uniform.

DE Cam Thomas
Cap number: $2.5M
Cap savings: $2M
Cash savings: $2M
Dead money: $500K
Thomas came over from the Chargers on a two-year, $4M deal and started nine of the Steelers’ first 11 games next to NT Steve McLendon and opposite Cameron Heyward. He was then benched in favor of second-round rookie Stephon Tuitt. Thomas graded out as Pro Football Focus’ worst 3-4 defensive end in terms of run defense. And at 6’4/330, he brings nothing to the table as a pass rusher. He’ll be an easy cut for GM Kevin Colbert.

WR Lance Moore
Cap number: $1.823M
Cap savings: $1.5M
Cash savings: $1.5M
Dead money: $323K
Moore was signed as a free agent to play the old Jerricho Cotchery role in OC Todd Haley’s offense as a reliable chain mover and red-zone threat. But with Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton outplaying him, Moore found himself inactive a few times. He finished the season with just 14 catches and admitted after the playoff loss when he was a healthy scratch that his time in Pittsburgh could be up after one year. Undersized at 5’9/190 and average speed, Moore will also be 32 next season.

DE Brett Keisel
Cap number: $1.75M
Cap savings: $1.5M
Cash savings: $1.5M
Dead money: $250K
The Steelers didn’t want Keisel back before last season but decided to re-sign him in late August after the Cardinals had showed interest in the 36-year-old. He ended up playing 451 snaps as a reserve for the Steelers, notching one sack before landing on injured reserve with a torn triceps in Week 13. Coming off the injury, Keisel will almost certainly think about retirement. Either way, he’s extremely unlikely to be back with the Steelers. He’s spent his entire 13-year career in Pittsburgh.

Nick Mensio

Nick Mensio has been covering the NFL for Rotoworld since 2012. He can be found on Twitter at @NickMensio.