Welcome to the wild world of NFL contracts, where reported numbers are not what they seem and nothing is guaranteed. I’ve pored through each team’s roster on overthecap.com to find 18 highly fantasy-relevant players (in addition to 20 less fantasy-relevant players) who are at some risk of being released during the 2024 offseason.
These players won’t show up on your traditional free-agency watch lists, but they are prime candidates to change teams due to their contract situations. As a result, early best ball drafters have a chance to get a meaningful edge by anticipating these moves before they happen.
As an example of how this type of analysis can be helpful, think of Alexander Mattison last year. It was widely reported that Dalvin Cook was at high risk of being cut, yet Mattison’s ADP still hovered in the 100+ range before Cook was cut. When Cook was finally released, Mattison’s ADP shot up into the fifth/sixth round. Best ball drafters taking a portfolio of teams throughout the offseason want to prioritize getting shares of Mattison in the 10th-12th round, not the fifth or sixth.
I broke these cut candidates out as following:
- Fantasy-Relevant Players with Significant Cut Risk: These players are all likely to go in the top 10 rounds of fantasy drafts in 2023, and they have significant odds of being cut. I’ll loosely define “significant odds” as a 30+% chance of being cut.
- Longer Shot Cut Risks to Watch For: These players are highly fantasy-relevant and have some chance of being cut, albeit a very small one.
- Less Fantasy-Relevant Players: These players are closer to last-round dart throws than fantasy starters, but they are worth mentioning given their potential impact on their teammates in 2024. All of them listed have some cut risk in 2024.
9 Fantasy-Relevant Players with Significant Cut Risk
1. Nick Chubb
Cut Risk Rationale: This one is a bummer. After suffering a gruesome, multi-ligament ACL tear in Week 2, it’s likely that the Browns will release Nick Chubb to save $11.8M while absorbing only $4M in dead cap. While a restructure that keeps Chubb with the Browns on a reduced salary is possible, the best path forward for both parties here may be a release. The Browns are projected to be $17M over the cap, so they will be desperate to reach cap savings. Simply put, an aging RB coming off a multi-ligament ACL tear probably isn’t worth the third-highest RB cap hit in the NFL.
- Buy Jerome Ford – Before Chubb’s release is officially announced, I expect best ball markets to artificially underprice Ford. Ford showed low-end starter-level traits in fill-in duty for Chubb. While Ford is not a perfect talent, the Browns lack cap space and significant draft capital to attract much competition. Ford should project on the RB2/3 border in fantasy drafts, making him a solid target in early best ball.
2. Mike Williams and/or
3. Keenan Allen
Cut Risk Rationale: With the Chargers $45M over the cap and possessing the No. 5 overall pick in the NFL Draft, they are primed to part ways with one or both parts of their high-priced WR duo: Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. Williams’ situation is more clear-cut. With the bigger-bodied, oft-injured clasher suffering an ACL tear in Week 3, he is almost guaranteed to be released (or restructured) so the Chargers can save $20M with $12.5M in dead cap. While the Chargers theoretically have other paths to free up money (e.g., cutting Eric Kendricks or Khalil Mack), it’s hard to imagine them absorbing Williams’ large cap hit when he may not be ready for the start of the season. The Chargers face a more challenging decision, however, with Keenan Allen. The highly productive receiver was on a 17-game pace of 141 (!) catches and 1,625 yards before missing time down the stretch with a heel injury. That level of production likely means a restructure is more likely than an outright release for the Chargers’ second all-time leading receiver. Further adding to both Allen and Williams’ cut risk is the plethora of exciting WR prospects that may be available with the Chargers’ pick at No. 5, including Marvin Harrison Jr., Malik Nabers, and Rome Odunze.
- Fade Mike Williams – I love Big Mike, but he will be coming off an ACL tear and a likely massive QB downgrade when he’s released from the Chargers.
- Buy last-round Joshua Palmer – As a last-round best ball dart, Palmer has solid value, as he will likely slot in as the Chargers’ WR2 or WR3 when the dust settles this offseason. I expect him to play ahead of first-round bust Quentin Johnston.
- Buy Malik Nabers and Rome Odunze – If the Chargers draft Nabers or Odunze while cutting Williams and/or Allen, that rookie WR would likely skyrocket to the third or fourth round of fantasy drafts. I want to take these guys early and hopefully avoid paying the sky-high post-draft prices. If you think TE Brock Bowers has a chance to go this early, you can make a similar argument for drafting him early as well.
4. Alvin Kamara
Cut Risk Rationale: With the Saints projected to be $82M over the salary cap in 2024, they will need to be ruthless in releasing and restructuring contracts. Designating Alvin Kamara as a post-June 1 offers the Saints $11.7M in savings with $7.1M in dead cap. Kamara proved he can still absorb volume in 2023, but he was inefficient as a rusher, ranking fourth worst in NFL Next Gen’s rush yards over expected per attempt. March 22 is a deadline to be wary of here, as Kamara is due a $1M roster bonus on this date. If the Saints plan to release him, they’ll want to designate him as a post-June 1 cut before March 22.
- Fade Alvin Kamara – Kamara is flashing signs of being cooked as an NFL RB. At what I expect will be a rich price (FantasyPros’ consensus ranking is 56th overall), I’m not betting on a Kamaraissance in 2024.
- Buy late-round Jamaal Williams and Kendre Miller – It’s gross, but the contracts of Williams and Miller guarantee they will be back in 2024. The Saints have no money to spend on a FA RB, and I doubt they allocate early draft capital to the RB position. This gives Williams and Miller solid volume projections as late-round fantasy dart throws.
5. Joe Mixon
Cut Risk Rationale: Though the Bengals have $60M in cap space, they have plenty of needs to address in free agency, including re-signing Tee Higgins, RT Jonah Williams, DT D.J. Reader, and CB Chidobe Awuzie. Furthermore, a Ja’Marr Chase mega-extension looms on the horizon in 2025. That’s all to say that Joe Mixon is at risk of becoming a cap casualty if the Bengals want to free up $5.8M in savings for other offseason priorities. The emergence of Chase Brown, who stole meaningful work from Mixon starting in Week 13, could make the decision easier for the Bengals. However, Mixon’s contract is small enough that the win-now Bengals may decide to keep him given his familiarity with the system.
- Fade Joe Mixon – I don’t want to pay a high price for Mixon until his roster spot his guaranteed. It’s unlikely he would find a similar opportunity on the open market to lead a backfield on a high-scoring team.
- Buy late-round Chase Brown – Brown had some explosive plays on limited touches in 2023, and he would see his ADP skyrocket if Mixon were released. Though the Bengals are very likely to bring in backfield competition, Brown should be at worst the RB2 on a team that will be projected to score a lot of points in 2024. However, I’m wary of Chase-ing Brown too high up early draft boards due to his low draft capital and poor PFF rush grade (92nd of 97 qualifying rushers).
6. Courtland Sutton
Cut Risk Rationale: Despite a surprisingly competitive season, the Broncos’ benching of Russell Wilson signals Sean Payton may be embracing a rebuilding year in 2024. With the Broncos projected to be $24M over the cap, moving on from veteran WR Courtland Sutton could make sense here. Sutton was serviceable in 2023: He ranked 35th out of 81 qualifying WRs in PFF grade and finished as the WR36 in half-PPR points per game. However, he got by on extreme TD luck, finishing fourth in the NFL in TD receptions despite finishing 41st in receptions, behind Wan’Dale Robinson. I think there’s a decent chance the Broncos hit the reset button in 2024 and designate Sutton as a post-June 1 cut, saving $13.6M with just $3.8M in dead cap. Ultimately, however, I think it’s more likely that Sutton returns or restructures his contract, as even mediocre WRs are a scarce asset in the NFL, and the Broncos have plenty of other ways to free up cap space (releasing Samaje Perine, Jarrett Stidham, Tim Patrick, Justin Simmons, and/or D.J. Jones).
- Buy Courtland Sutton – There are two reasons I think Sutton is actually a slight buy, at what I expect will be a cheap ADP. First, I think that the WRs around him are more likely to leave the Broncos than he is (Tim Patrick and Jerry Jeudy), perhaps freeing up a large target share. Second, if he is released, I expect that WR-desperate teams with good quarterbacks (Chiefs and Bills) would be interested in bringing him in.
7. Zay Jones
Cut Risk Rationale: The Jaguars are faced with several tough decisions this offseason, including at WR. Calvin Ridley is a free agent, while Zay Jones could be released post-June 1 to save $8M with just $3M in dead cap. While the Jaguars have other avenues to free up cap space, including restructuring/releasing high-priced linemen in Cam Robinson and Brandon Scherff, they may take a long look at releasing the underperforming Jones, who totaled just 34 catches for 321 yards in nine games played this year. Ultimately, I think Jones’ decision is tied to what the team decides to do with Ridley. I think it’s unlikely that both WRs will be back, but I think it’s equally unlikely that they will both leave, as the Jaguars would end up with an extremely thin pass-catching group.
- Buy Evan Engram and Christian Kirk – With both of Jones and Ridley’s futures cloudy, Engram and Kirk are close to locked in as top-three pass-catching weapons for Trevor Lawrence. Both had under-the-radar solid seasons in Jacksonville, with Engram racking up 114 (?) catches en route to TE6 overall status, while Kirk was firmly in WR3 territory despite bad touchdown luck. I expect the market to view them as ‘boring’ options. As a result, I think they could be undervalued despite high upside cases if Jones and/or Ridley depart.
8. Darren Waller
Cut Risk Rationale: Signing an aging, declining TE to be the focal point of a Daniel Jones-led offense was a predictably narrow margin-of-error decision, and it immediately blew up in the Giants’ faces. Darren Waller, who will turn 32 at the start of the 2024 NFL season, was incapable of staying healthy in 2023 and had mediocre on-field performance, scoring just one TD over 12 games played. Waller firmly appears to be a player in decline, making the proposition of designating him as a post-June 1 cut, saving $11.6M in cap space, an attractive one. So, what is the only saving grace for Waller? The Giants’ WR corps remains an island of misfit toys, from slot-only gimmicks like Wan’Dale Robinson and Parris Campbell to low-volume deep threats like Darius Slayton and Jalin Hyatt. It may be tough to sell the fanbase on cutting Waller when the alternatives are even bleaker. Ultimately, I’d still handicap this at a ~60% chance Waller is released, as the cap savings are too attractive to pass up.
- None – This is a bleak situation. I’m unlikely to target any Giants pass catchers, except for last-round fliers such as Darius Slayton, Wan’Dale Robinson, and Jalin Hyatt. Even then, you can probably find higher-upside selections.
9. Michael Thomas
Cut Risk Rationale: I’ll be the first to admit I don’t fully understand the unique, confusing details of Michael Thomas’ contract. What I do understand is that while he’s technically under contract in 2024, he’s set to earn massive roster bonuses if he stays on the roster, and the Saints are very unlikely to pay those. In other words, he’s effectively already a free agent. While a restructure is technically in play, this feels like a situation where both sides would be better off parting ways, especially with the Saints’ cap constraints in 2024.
- Full fade Michael Thomas – While it’s certainly possible to paint a rosy picture where Thomas gets released and then signed by the Chiefs or Bills, those outcomes are much more unlikely than not. Furthermore, I think there’s considerable retirement risk for Thomas, who has made $72.5M in career earnings and hasn’t played more than 10 games since 2019. I don’t think the upside justifies the risk for Thomas, at least until he’s signed with an NFL roster.
- Buy Chris Olave and Rashid Shaheed – Despite his limitations, Thomas still soaked up a 20% target share when healthy from Weeks 1-9. When he is replaced with the likes of A.T. Perry and Keith Kirkwood, Olave and Shaheed will project better from both a median and floor perspective.
Longer Shot Cut Risks to Watch For
- Geno Smith should not be scapegoated for the Seahawks’ regression in 2023, as he ranked as PFF’s 12th-highest-graded passer, sandwiched between Justin Herbert and Brock Purdy. I’d be shocked if the Seahawks decided to move on, but with a new head coach and a flexible contract, it’s not impossible.
- Amari Cooper is still playing at an elite level, making a release here extremely unlikely. I’m not sure what the Browns’ plan would be if they move on from a WR who totaled over 1,300 yards in 2023. He’s only mentioned here because the Browns’ cap situation is ugly, and a post-June 1 release would free up $20M. I highly doubt it happens.
- Aaron Jones is still awesome when healthy, as demonstrated during the Packers’ surprise playoff run. A.J. Dillon is also a free agent, further reducing the odds the Packers move on from Jones. Still, aging RBs on these types of contracts can get cut, so I wouldn’t completely rule out a release or restructure.
- James Conner may be the NFL’s most underrated rusher, finishing fourth in RYOE/attempt behind only Christian McCaffrey, De’Von Achane, and Jaylen Warren. His contract is cheap enough that I’d be fairly shocked if they released him without a clear plan in place to add another RB. The Cardinals also have plenty of cap space, meaning there’s currently little motivation to cut Conner.
- Christian Kirk has played well enough that I don’t see the Jaguars cutting bait this early, despite the possibility of freeing up nearly $17M with a post-June 1 designation. Maybe they think they can keep Calvin Ridley and Zay Jones for cheaper while cutting Kirk, but he seems like the least likely of the three to be released given his age (27) and 2023 production.
- Diontae Johnson is nobody’s idea of a perfect player, but he’s likely worth his $16M cap hit in 2024. Separators of his caliber are a rare breed. A trade is more likely than a release here if the Steelers want to refresh their WR room.
- DeAndre Hopkins is a weird fit as a veteran player on what should be a rebuilding Titans roster, but it’s still hard to imagine the Titans releasing him. He proved he’s still a capable No. 1 option in 2023, and the Titans need talent at WR to get a full evaluation of Will Levis. A trade is more likely than a release here if the Titans want to recoup some draft capital for the (potential) future Hall of Famer.
- Tyler Lockett had a down season in 2023, but he still ranked 28th out of 81 qualifiers in PFF receiving grade, firmly outplaying overhyped rookie Jaxon Smith-Njigba (67th of 81). If the Seahawks want to compete for the playoffs in 2023, moving on from Lockett would be an odd move. That said, Lockett’s $27M cap hit is on the pricey side given his current abilities. I’d bet on a restructure here that keeps Lockett with the Seahawks, but if he plays hardball, a release is possible.
- Brandin Cooks performed as a middling tertiary piece behind CeeDee Lamb and Jake Ferguson in 2023, earning just 1.2 YPRR and finishing 51st (of 81) in PFF receiving grade. Not great! That said, his cap hit is relatively cheap ($10M), and there won’t be a ton of great options available in free agency. I doubt the Cowboys move on here, but I also wouldn’t be completely shocked if they do.
Quick Hits on Less Fantasy-Relevant Players
Quick Hits: Tim Patrick is a near guarantee to be released/restructured coming off a torn Achilles in 2023…Marquez Valdes-Scantling is criminally overpaid and is very unlikely to be back in Kansas City on his current contract, barring Super Bowl heroics…Hunter Renfrow has been relegated to WR4 duties with the additions of Jakobi Meyers and Tre Tucker, making his roster spot highly in doubt…Allen Robinson is more likely to retire than be back with the Steelers on a $12M cap hit…Russell Gage missed all of 2023 and is unlikely to be back in 2024 on a $13.5M cap hit…Russell Wilson is not long for Denver, though his contract is not easy to get out of…I expect the Broncos to eat some dead cap here regardless…There’s no point in paying Samaje Perine $3.0M when you don’t have to…There’s no point in paying Jeff Wilson Jr. $2.9M when you don’t have to…Michael Gallup hasn’t looked the same since his ACL injury, and the Cowboys are strapped for cash heading into 2024…Logan Thomas is overpaid, but the Commanders are swimming in cap space, making a return possible…Tyler Conklin and C.J. Uzomah are overpaid veteran TEs; whether they return or not depends on whether they’re willing to watch Loose Change with Aaron Rodgers during film study…Taysom Hill’s time in New Orleans could finally be coming to an end, as a post-June 1 release could help dig the Saints out of cap hell…Robert Woods can be cut if the Texans find better WR depth during the draft or free agency…Darius Slayton’s deal has very little in guarantees, suggesting the Giants could move on if they so please…HIMmy Garoppolo is getting his damn cash, whether he’s on the sidelines holding a clipboard or on his couch…Jonnu Smith made meaningful contributions to the 2023 Falcons, but a potential Belichick reunion sparks fears of a release…Juwan Johnson is likely back, barring a surprise post-June 1 release…Tyler Higbee is likely back, barring a surprise June 1 release…Justin Watson isn’t good, but he’s still somehow the second-best WR on the Chiefs’ roster, making a return on a cheap contract more likely than not.