Top 10 Crazy Cut Candidates And Optimal Fantasy Football Destinations

by Joshua Kellem · Contracts & Free Agency

Using Over The Cap data, here are the top 10 crazy cut candidates this offseason due to bloated contracts. These potential moves are made from a real-life NFL viewpoint. For fantasy football purposes, we’ll foreshadow the best fantasy environments for said players to enter after release; keeping in mind the caveat that opportunity doesn’t portend to fantasy success. Good thing we’ve identified players that are good at the game. Last season, this fun writing exercise included the likes of Mark Ingram and Tyrell Williams. There was also Matthew Stafford, who was traded, not released. Odell Beckham, released midseason due to non-salary cap issues, was on the list as well. David Johnson, meanwhile, took a pay-cut to avoid release. He was the final player.

Amari Cooper is the biggest of this year’s cut candidates, and the most under-the-radar.

Amari Cooper

As of this writing, the Cowboys are north of $21 million over the cap. Part of this exercise is visualizing paths for teams to get under the cap. Releasing or trading Amari Cooper does that. In this instance, the Cowboys are almost certain to draft a receiver on one of the first two days of the NFL Draft. If not on both days.

A rookie WR is cost-effective and players can’t negotiate a new contract until after three seasons are accrued. So, Lamb, a Day 1 WR, and a Day 2 WR or a re-signed Michael Gallup isn’t that bad. Compared to Cooper, Lamb, and a question mark. With Cooper back, WR isn’t as much as a priority in the draft. And Gallup’s market may balloon in free agency, while Cedrick Wilson, if re-signed, has four starts in three seasons.

Best Fantasy Football Environment: Jacksonville Jaguars

Doug Pederson makes a splash and gets his second-year QB a legitimate No. 1 WR to pair with third-year Laviska Shenault in the slot. As the former HC of the Eagles, Pederson knows from firsthand experience the impact Amari Cooper has on an offense. The Cowboys, meanwhile, have the flexibility to keep him. The team has the second-highest simple restructure potential, according to Over The Cap. But that’s why this writing exercise is called crazy cut candidates! Yes, Cooper brings a lot of value to the Cowboys’ offense. Just don’t think it’s worth $20 million. For context, his annual salary (and cap hit) is the fourth-highest in the league at his position. Releasing him is a bet on Lamb’s ascension into the group of elite WRs. And a lesser bet on the team’s ability to scout rookie WRs.

Calvin Ridley

Howie Roseman sends a Day 2 draft pick, not a first-rounder, to the Falcons for Calvin Ridley. While Ridley’s on a cost-effective rookie contract as a first-round pick, he’s entering the final year of a five-year pact. That means the final year of his contract, a fully guaranteed fifth-year option – is a cap hit of $11.1 million. That’s not Tier 1 money. But having to trade for him before, in theory, giving him an extension is going to decrease the trade compensation package for the Falcons. A couple examples of this are when the Texans traded DeAndre Hopkins to the Cardinals and the WR received an extension, and when the Broncos traded Brandon Marshall to the Dolphins and he received an extension. Precedent established.

Best Fantasy Football Environment: Philadelphia Eagles

Howie Roseman continues to rehab his image and build around Jalen Hurts with the addition of Calvin Ridley. He and Devonta Smith form a 1A-1B receiver duo in the city of brotherly love. Just stay away from Fishtown, guys.

Consider the acquisition overcompensating for drafting Jalen Reagor over Justin Jefferson in the 2020 Draft, as well.

Kirk Cousins

The Vikings are set to be north of $15 million over the cap. Releasing Kirk Cousins does nothing for them in terms of cap space. But trading the “You Like That!?” QB saves the team $35 million. The biggest question here is if the Vikings want to re-up on Cousins. If so, an extension lowers his 2022 cap hit, as most contracts are backloaded with higher cap numbers. The idea is the cap rises every year. Until recently. From a cap perspective, it doesn’t make sense to have an astronomical cap number for an, in theory, bridge QB if the Vikings do not extend Cousins. Doesn’t make sense to extend a 34-year-old QB with a new regime, GM and HC, in place in Minnesota either. Unless Vikings HC Kevin O’Connell thinks Cousins is a long-term option, which is possible according to Pro Football Talk.

The most logical option, to me, is for a QB-away-from-contending team to trade for and extend Cousins. A la the Alex Smith trade after the 2017 season. Or a team that needs a bridge QB while they rebuild but tell the fanbase they’re just retooling. The Green Bay Packers have entered the chat.

While it’s a faux pas to trade inside your division, we’re talking about a 34-year-old Cousins. Not a sub-30 franchise QB. Consider this trade a rare occurrence, like the Cowboys and Eagles swapping draft picks last draft.

Best Fantasy Football Environment: Green Bay Packers

Kirk Cousins continues to sneakily get better as he gets older. Makes sense. But no one cares because of the burden of low expectations he and the 2022 Green Bay Packers have placed on them by the NFL Cognoscenti.

Jimmy Garoppolo

If the Vikings trade Kirk Cousins to the Packers, as suggested above, Jimmy Garoppolo is a nice bridge QB option. He has familiarity with Kevin O’Connell’s system as well. The QB has one year left on his deal with a cap hit of $26.95 million. Releasing Garoppolo outright saves the Niners all but $1.4 million (dead cap hit) of the QB’s cap hit. Knowing this, teams with strong interest are incentivized to offer draft capital to the Niners for him.  For context, his cap hit is the 11th-highest at his position. He’s affordable.

Letting the QB hit free agency is risky as it takes just one team to overbid (who might not have draft capital). Another good thing about trading for Garoppolo is that, like mentioned above, the cost may be lower if the QB is demanding an extension be a part of the deal. All told, Garoppolo and Cousins both have familiarity with O’Connell’s system. While Cousins is already in the building, his cap hit is almost $20 million more than Garoppolo’s. It’s not set in stone that Cousins is back with the Vikings next season.

Best Fantasy Football Environment: Minnesota Vikings

Jimmy Garoppolo gets exposed in a pass-first, but fantasy-friendly, scheme. HC Kevin O’Connell moves on after a year – or midseason if the team drafts a QB or believes in Kellen Mond.

Tyler Higbee

Tyler Higbee wasn’t active for the Super Bowl, and the team drafted his replacement during the 2020 NFL Draft. Yes, we’re a long way from touting Higbee’s end of 2019 stretch as the reason he’s the next elite TE. Though if the Rams want to re-sign Odell Beckham, Von Miller, they need cap space. That starts with clearing $14 million to get back under. Nevermind the fact they’ll need substantially more space to fit theoretical contracts for Beckham and Miller under the cap as well. Releasing or trading Higbee saves the Rams just over $6 million in cap space. For context, his replacement, Brycen Hopkins, accounts for $1.17 million next year. Considering the fact the Rams’ TE will never be better than the third option, but most likely the fourth option, in the passing game there’s no need to have a TE with a cap hit over $8 million.

Best Fantasy Football Environment: Los Angeles Chargers

Tyler Higbee benefits from an ascending third-year QB as a Jared-Cook-on-steroids version of the TE he’s replacing. Higbee will struggle to carve out consistent middle-of-the-field targets with slot WR Keenan Allen. But with a departing Mike Williams, he’s a sleeper for double-digit TDs in this hypothetical. The Rams, however, have the third-highest simple restructure potential, according to Over The Cap. Meaning, the team has a pathway to keeping Higbee. But releasing him has more to do with allocating over $8 million to a pass-catching TE that isn’t that much better than his cost-effective backup and isn’t a focal point in the pass offense. For context, the Rams TEs were targeted at the fifth-lowest rate in the league last season.

Michael Thomas

With Sean Payton “retiring,” next season is the perfect time for the Saints to take their medicine. The team’s kicked the salary cap can as far down the road as it can. Offloading Michael Thomas‘ $24.7 million cap hit is a nice start.

For context, the Saints are more than $75 million over the cap. That’s scarier than the guy you met at Starbucks double texting you before you get back home.

Best Fantasy Football Environment: Baltimore Ravens

Lamar Jackson and the Ravens finally get their man! The circumstance of Michael Thomas‘ value dropping lower than a stripper at E11EVEN allows this trade to work. And he gets put in a fantasy football environment where he can remind everyone how good he is. While the Saints have the highest simple restructure potential, according to Over The Cap, trading Thomas is part of ending the Sean Payton era. Without a QB for next season, this team isn’t competing. Unload the big contracts and rebuild. For context, his cap hit is the second-highest on his team.

Cole Beasley

From owning the libs to getting owned, Cole Beasley, to me, will always be known as one of the best waiver wire pickups during the 2020 season. But entering next season he is, in the words of Bill Parcells, a progress stopper. Gabriel Davis is ready to be the Robin to Stefon Diggs‘ Batman. Dawson Knox is a sturdy middle-of-the-field target, while the team can re-sign Emmanuel Sanders at a fraction of Beasley’s $7.6 million cap hit. Those corresponding moves are worth making since the Bills are just over $4 million over the cap. That’s not much, but I’m sure they want to sign free agents and their draft class. Moving Beasley is one way to get cap compliant. Even if they can’t re-sign Sanders, drafting a slot WR on Day 3 will be even cheaper. For Beasley’s sake, let’s see if Sleepy Joe can veto this move.

Best Fantasy Football Environment: Kansas City Chiefs

At one point last offseason, I genuinely thought the Chiefs would roll the dice on WR Golden Tate. They missed out on JuJu Smith-Schuster, and the move made sense. Especially with Sammy Watkins walking. Here, they don’t make the same mistake twice, and add a veteran slot WR via free agency this time around. Wheels up for Cole Beasley‘s fantasy football stock if this move actually happens.

Kareem Hunt

The Browns have no reason, in theory, to release or trade a 27-year-old Kareem Hunt due $6.25 million next season. For context, that’s 2.9-percent of the team’s salary cap. But with additional context, it’s noted that Hunt’s entering the last year of his deal. There’s no way he is a three-down RB re-signing with the Browns, and his image is rehabbed. So, safe to assume a 28-year-old wants a chance to be the main back in an offense. The Browns know this as well. His chance may come a year early if the Browns want to get compensation for the RB before he departs. This blurb is at the bottom because of how much the Browns emphasize a two-back system, which may be worth receiving no compensation for Hunt’s departure. Yes, they’ll be in contention to get a compensation pick, but those aren’t guaranteed.

Best Fantasy Football Environment: Miami Dolphins

Kareem Hunt in a three-down role with the San Francisco 49ers’ OC from last season sounds great for fantasy football. It’s optimal. The best run scheme in the league with an RB that has pedigree. Sky’s the limit. Helps that the Dolphins have the most cap space of any team entering the offseason and can entice Hunt with an extension post-acquisition.

Aaron Rodgers

As of this writing, the Packers are set to be north of $50 million over the cap. But trading a 39-year-old Aaron Rodgers who has no desire to be part of a rebuild saves the team between $19-$27 million. The impending mainstream narrative this offseason of Rodgers getting traded is a matter of when, not if. From a team-building standpoint, it makes sense to move on.

Best Fantasy Football Environment: Denver Broncos

Even with possible restructures, the Green Bay Packers’ cap space situation doesn’t look great, Bob.

Aaron Rodgers following his OC to the team he just became the HC of is too on-brand. But consider this move a layup, like Bruce Arians’ slot WR becoming relevant in fantasy football no matter the team.

Carson Wentz

This one’s a done deal. Colts GM Chris Ballard didn’t commit to Carson Wentz after the season, one that ended in a two-game losing streak and no playoff berth. And now, Wentz reportedly will be traded or released.

Best Fantasy Football Environment: Pittsburgh Steelers

Carson Wentz is a middling starter next season. And the QB is what the kids describe as “mid.” That’s backed with the thinking that if Frank Reich can’t fix him, who can? Well, don’t know if he gets “fixed,” but he may make sense as a one-year bridge QB for the Pittsburgh Steelers while they get their bearings together. And as evidenced by last season’s playoff berth, Mike Tomlin and the defense will do enough in the interim to keep the team competitive. You never know, lightning might strike twice with Wentz in the meantime, as well.

BONUS – Julio Jones

Yards Per Route Run, one of the most predictive metrics portending to fantasy success, didn’t tell the full story of Julio Jones. The WR may be the biggest question mark in fantasy football this offseason. Releasing or trading him saves the Titans between $9.5-$11.5 million depending on the designation. And the Titans are more than $6 million over the cap. I don’t see a logical trade partner for him either. Deep down, I want this blurb to be wrong and for him to be the biggest draft bargain in fantasy football next season.

Best Fantasy Football Environment: New England Patriots

Remember Demaryius Thomas on the Patriots before he was traded to the Jets to make room for Antonio Brown? Well, Thomas made noise that preseason coming off a torn Achilles and appeared to be a low-risk, high-ceiling acquisition that Bill Belichick was being rewarded for. Same theory here with Jones to the Patriots but with more ceiling, in theory.