Top 12 Crazy Cut Candidates | NFL 2023

by Joshua Kellem · Contracts & Free Agency

This is the Top 12 Crazy Cut Candidates! Using Over The Cap data, here are the top 12 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.

Ezekiel Elliott is the biggest cut candidate this year.

Ezekiel Elliott

For the second year in a row, a Dallas Cowboy is the biggest cut candidate. Ezekiel Elliott tied for the No. 5-most rushing touchdowns [12]. But he averaged just 3.8 YPC on 231 carries for 876 yards. And a career-low 58.4 rushing yards per game. Like with Amari Cooper last offseason, Elliott’s release is best for the Cowboys’ roster construction. Instead of accounting for Elliott’s $16.72 million cap number, the Cowboys should cut him and save $10.9 million. His cap number is the No. 5-highest on the team. And the No. 2-highest among all RBs. The Cowboys should use the savings to re-sign Tony Pollard.

His theoretical contract is going to be backloaded with high cap numbers. For example, fellow RB Aaron Jonesfour-year, $48 million contract has an annual salary of $12 million. His cap numbers, however, are the following: $4.64 million in 2021, $5.94 million in 2022, $20.01 million in 2023, and $16.01 million in 2024. This contract comes with two void years totaling a $1.52 million cap number. Then there’s Ceedee Lamb. He’s now eligible for an extension after accruing his third season. And the cherry on top is Dak Prescott‘s next two cap numbers are $49.13 million and $52.13 million. The Cowboys are more than $9 million in the red in effective cap space.

Best Fantasy Football Environment: Atlanta Falcons

Cordarrelle Patterson’s potential post-June 1 release saves the Atlanta Falcons $4.25 million of his $5.5 million cap number. The Falcons have the No. 2-most effective cap space entering the offseason as well. Enter Ezekiel Elliott. Patterson totaled a 43.9-percent Opportunity Share, while the Falcons averaged the most team run plays per game last season. The team ranked No. 5 in Adjust Line Yards as well. Elliott, meanwhile, totaled the No. 10-most carries last season.

It’s time for the two parties to tie the knot. Hell, Patterson doesn’t necessarily need to get cut for this to happen as he’s an All-Pro returner. Elliott and 1,000-yard rusher Tyler Allgeier woulsd authenticate Arthur Smith’s run-first offense next season on their way to the playoffs [Note: hot take]. Both backs will total 900-plus rushing yards and best Kareem Hunt‘s and Nick Chubb‘s 840-plus rushing yard seasons in 2020.

Brandin Cooks [Trade candidate only]

Brandin Cooks seemingly subtweeted his team after last season’s trade deadline, saying, “Don’t take a man’s kindness for granted. Covered for the lies for too long those days are done. Crossed the line with playing with my career.” The tweet appeared to double as a farewell until Cooks returned to the field for the last three weeks of the season. Cooks, however, has the No. 2-highest cap number of any Texan next season at $26.49 million and the No. 4-highest among WRs.

Trading Cooks, 29 at the start of next season, saves the Texans $18.38 million [post-June 1]. Three-year veteran Nico Collins and a returning John Metchie, a second-round pick, in theory, is enough to evaluate a rookie QB. Having a WR with Cooks’ salary is the type of move a team makes after a QB on a rookie contract shows strides. Not before. A la A.J. Brown to the Eagles.

Best Fantasy Football Environment: Chicago Bears

There has literally never been a time Brandin Cooks did not total a 1,000-plus yard season on a new team [Minimum 15 games]. There’s his 1,138 yards his second season with the New Orleans Saints, 1,082 yards in his fourth season with the New England Patriots, and 1,204 yards in his fifth season with the Los Angeles Rams.

Additionally, Cooks put up 1,150 yards in his seventh season with the Houston Texans. With the most cap space entering the offseason, get Justin Fields a solid wide receiver he can rely on, Cooks! A 1,000-yard WR prototype should be brought in to maximize Fields’ rookie contract.

Jameis Winston

The New Orleans Saints are more than $60 million over the cap heading into the offseason. It’s Groundhog Day. In another dimension of the simulation, Jameis Winston is the Saints’ 2023 opening-day starter. In this dimension, though, Dennis Allen is running it back as Saints HC. Based on that precedent, Winston is an all-but-certain cut when the offseason starts. Saving the Saints $12.8 million of his $15.6 million cap number. Which is the No. 6-highest number on the team.

Alvin Kamara?

There’s a saying, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” How the Saints’ brass views its current roster really determines Alvin Kamara‘s fate. If the team wants to rebuild next season, Kamara is gone. If like the last offseason, the team views itself as a couple of draft picks away, Kamara stays. The latter theory is backed by the departure of Tom Brady from the division. Meaning, on paper, the Saints have the best skill position group on offense which could behoove the team to go for it. However, this is not the best long-term solution. The Saints save $9.94 million of Kamara’s $16.03 million cap number designating him as a post-June 1 cut.

Best Fantasy Football Environments: Houston Texans – Jameis Winston

Opting for optionality ahead of the NFL Draft, the Texans should sign Jameis Winston as a bridge QB. For reference, the Texans total the No. 6 -highest effective cap space entering the offseason. Signing Winston is twofold. The Texans protect themselves against another team leapfrogging them into the 1.01 to presumably take a QB, and the Texans protect themselves from the Texans. In the sense that having a bridge QB allows the team to not force-pick a QB at 1.02. This build is similar to what the Detroit Lions are doing with Jared Goff.

The Lions totaled two first-round picks in last year’s draft. They have totaled two first-round picks in this year’s draft. The team has Goff under contract as well. Goff is good enough for the team to evaluate the offense and keep them in playoff contention [9-8 record]. But with the surplus of first-round picks, the Lions can pick their spot when it comes to eventually drafting a QB. Because a competent QB on a rookie contract is the biggest competitive advantage in the modern NFL. Then, there’s the slight, but not likely, chance Goff proves to be the long-term guy. It’s the same situation the Texans are in the next two drafts [four first-round picks] if they decide not to draft a quarterback.

Denver Broncos – Alvin Kamara

After a season of HC Nathaniel Hackett, the Denver Broncos hired Sean Payton. The latter’s tasked with fixing QB Russell Wilson who GM George Paton deemed fixable. The acquisition of Alvin Kamara would be a great way of giving Sean Payton a weapon he is familiar with while easing Javonte Williams into a role post-injury. The Broncos have the No. 10-most effective cap space entering the offseason.

Cutting Graham Glasgow, who has started 20-of-33 games the past two seasons, at the start of the offseason saves the team $11 million. Releasing RB Chase Edmonds saves the team all of his $5.92 million cap number as well. There’s your Kamara money. Kamara should prove to be an upgrade over Edmonds as a pass-catching back and will hold down the fort until Javonte Williams is fully healthy. Then, the pair could perform their rendition of 2017 Kamara and Mark Ingram.

Joe Mixon

Joe Mixon may be the most eye-popping crazy-cut candidate. This is backed by the Bengals totaling more than $33 million in effective cap space. For reference, that’s the No. 4-most entering the offseason. But the Bengals may have initiated their Mixon exit plan during the AFC title game. Samaje Perine was on the field for 43 offensive snaps against the Chiefs, while Mixon was on the field for 23. The AFC title game was literally the Bengals’ most important game of the season.

The Bengals save $10.04 million of Mixon’s $12.79 cap number as a post-June 1 cut. His cap number is No. 3 highest on the team and No. 7 -highest among RBs. Then, there’s Joe Burrow, now eligible for an extension after accruing his third season. Tee Higgins is too. And fellow WR Ja’Marr Chase is eligible after next season. All that to say the Bengals’ aforementioned effective cap space is going to dwindle fast. Like with the Dallas Cowboys, Mixon’s $10.04 cap savings is best for the Bengals’ roster construction.

Best Fantasy Football Environment: Detroit Lions

Finishing one game out of the playoffs, the Detroit Lions turn in their straight-bill cap rebuild hats for all-in visors. With Jamaal Williams set to be a free agent, the Lions upgrade their RB position completely with 3-down back Joe Mixon.

The latter seems like a Dan Campbell guy. And the Lions ranked No. 7 in Adjusted Line Yards last season as well.

Adam Thielen

Adam Thielen‘s release is threefold. Fellow WR Justin Jefferson is now eligible for an extension after accruing his third season. Another fellow WR K.J. Osborn overtook Thielen during the second half of the season. And the Minnesota Vikings are more than $25 million over the cap. More on the second point below.

Thielen’s 2022 stats: 70 receptions, 716 yards, and six touchdowns.

Osborn’s ’22 stats: 60 receptions, 650 yards, and five touchdowns.

The biggest difference between Thielen’s and Osborn’s production is money. The former’s ’23 cap number is $19.96 million, the No. 2-highest on the team and No. 13-highest at the position. The latter is $2.80 million. Perks of a rookie contract. Osborn, meanwhile, is ready, according to QB Kirk Cousins.

Dalvin Cook?

Dalvin Cook‘s 2023 cap number is $14.1 million, the No. 6-highest on the team. It’s the No. 6-highest among RBs as well. Yes, Cook started every game in a season for the first time this past season. However, his efficiency numbers are on the decline. Since 2020, Cook’s All-Pro season, his yards-per-carry clip dwindled from 5.0 to 4.4. His rushing yards per game are down from 111.2 to 69. His catch rate, albeit less sticky, is down from 81.5-percent to 69.6-percent. Cook, 28 at the start of next season, has a dwindling yards per touch as well –  5.4 to 4.8. Whereas Cook totaled 1,918 scrimmage yards in 14 games in ’20, it took 17 games for the RB to total 1,468 scrimmage yards last season. Thinking in probabilities, it’s not likely for Cook to yield a return on investment at his $14.1 million cap number. The Vikings save $11 million cutting Cook post-June 1.

Best Fantasy Football Environments: Cleveland Browns – Adam Thielen

Adam Thielen, 33 at the start of next season, becomes the Jason Avant locker room guy for the 2023 Cleveland Browns. With over $63 million in career earnings, Thielen opts for familiarity as a free agent in the form of former OC Kevin Stefanski. Additionally, he’ll have another chance to ring chase with a full season of Deshaun Watson under center. Yes, the Browns are projected to be more than $16 million in the red in effective cap space. However, cutting John Johnson post-June 1 saves the team $9.75 million of his $13.5 million cap number.

Dalvin Cook – Kansas City Chiefs

The Kansas City Chiefs whiffed with their selection of Clyde Edwards-Helaire as the final pick of the 2020 first round. A sunk cost, all the Chiefs can do now is decline the RB’s fifth-year option and have him play out the final year of his contract next season. Cook, meanwhile, enters the fold as the ultimate all-in RB. His efficiency numbers are declining but are still above league average. His career carries are piling up, but he is not yet past the 1,800-carry threshold.

A hat tip goes out to CBS Sports’ Dave Richard for that stat. The Chiefs are always in win-now mode with Patrick Mahomes under center. Cook won’t mind trading in the Minnesota Vikings’ No. 8-worst offensive line in Adjusted Line Yards for the Chiefs’. The latter ranked No. 3-best in the metric.

Kenny Golladay

Even with the No. 3-most effective cap space, Kenny Golladay never fit in with the New York Giants. His fate’s sealed with the new regime of Joe Schoen and Brain Daboll in tow. Neither had a thing to do with signing Golladay. All told, Golladay totaled 43 receptions on 93 targets for 602 yards and a touchdown in two seasons. He signed a four-year, $72 million contract. The Giants save a whopping $13.5 million of Golladay’s $21.4 million cap number as a post-June 1 cut. This is the No. 2-highest on the team and the No. 11-highest among WRs. It’s inevitable.

Best Fantasy Football Environment: Miami Dolphins

It’s hard to find a logical fit for Kenny Golladay after his two-season stint with the Giants. Perhaps the WR’s best bet at a bounce-back is linking back up with his 2019 OC Darrell Bevell in Miami. In ’19, Golladay totaled 65 receptions on 116 targets for 1,190 yards and a league-leading 11 touchdowns.

With Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle in tow, Golladay won’t total those numbers. But a one-year prove-it deal as the third option on a Dolphins averaging the No. 12-most team pass plays per game is a good way to rehab one’s image. Backed with the likely departure of incumbent third option Mike Gesicki [52 targets].

Leonard Fournette

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are projected to be more than $58 million over the cap. That includes a $35.10 million cap number for a retired Tom Brady. His one-year extension in 2021 includes void years. That means the Bucs should rebuild. Leonard Fournette, overtaken by rookie Rachaad White, is a logical cut. The Bucs save $4.97 million of the former’s $8.47 million cap number as a post-June 1 cut. The replacement is already on the roster.

Mike Evans

Piggybacking off the Bucs being more than $58 million over the cap this offseason, Mike Evans is the collateral damage of the rebuild. Like when the Denver Nuggets traded Chauncey Billups alongside Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks. Whereas Chris Godwin is 26, Evans enters the next season at age 30. Yes, Evans has always put up 1,000-yard seasons., but it’s about roster construction. Because of the aforementioned cap situation, the Bucs are likelier to draft a QB with the No. 19 overall pick in the NFL Draft as opposed to acquiring a veteran. Well, by Year 3 of the rookie QB’s development, Evans is going to be 32. Godwin will be 28.

Best Fantasy Football Environments: Miami Dolphins – Leonard Fournette 

Leonard Fournette concludes his Florida tour by playing for the state’s third professional football team: the Miami Dolphins. He establishes himself as the goal-line back after signing. The Dolphins ranked No. 8 in Adjusted Line Yards last season. This will help aid Fournette’s 3.5 yards-per-carry clip from last season. Yes, the Dolphins are projected to be more than $22 million in the red in effective cap space. But Byron Jones‘ likely release – as a post-June 1 cut – saves the team $13.6 million of his $18.35 million cap number. For reference, Jones missed all of last season, enters next season at age 30, and has the No. 4-highest cap number on the team.

Mike Evans – New York Giants

Coming off a 9-7-1 season, and a playoff win, the New York Giants acquire Mike Evans to become their No. 1 WR and red-zone threat. Two birds, one stone. The Giants total the No. 3-most effective cap space entering the offseason.

Accounting for franchise tagging Saquon Barkley, the Giants’ approximate $44.36 million effective cap space dwindles down to $34.27 million. That is important in case the Bucs opt to trade Evans as opposed to cutting him outright. His 2023 cap number is approximately $23.68 million. Entering the last year of his contract, though, a potential Evans trade likely comes with an extension. That is a way for his incoming team to spread out his $23.68 million cap number over multiple years.

Robbie Anderson

Forget DeAndre Hopkins, the Arizona Cardinals are more likely to part ways with Robbie Anderson. Accounting for Anderson’s $12 million cap number on a team where he is the fifth-best WR doesn’t make sense. Fellow receiver Marquise Brown is due for an extension as well. He and Hopkins are the perimeter receivers, while Rondale Moore and Greg Dortch work in the slot. Doubling up as the Cardinals’ No. 4 WR as well.

Best Fantasy Football Environment: New England Patriots

Attempting to bring more speed to the offense, Bill O’Brien brings in Robbie Anderson to do his best Will Fuller impression. The Patriots total the No. 5-most effective cap space entering the offseason.

Carson Wentz

Projected to be in the red in effective cap space by $4 million, releasing Carson Wentz outright saves the Washington Commanders all of his approximate $26.17 million cap number. The team is starting Sam Howell under center next season.

Best Fantasy Football Environment: Retirement

With over $94 million in career earnings and a Super Bowl ring, Wentz, 30, has nothing to prove.

Robert Woods

About $25 million in the red, the Tennessee Titans save $13.75 million of Robert Woods‘ $14.61 cap number by releasing him post-June 1. With Treylon Burks poised to make a Year 2 leap, and the Titans averaging the No. 4-fewest team pass plays per game, Woods isn’t needed at his cap number.

Best Fantasy Football Environment: Baltimore Ravens

With the caveat Lamar Jackson is under center for the Ravens next season, acquiring Woods is a win-now move. 31 next season, Woods, and his incoming team hope there’s at least one more squeeze left in the football life lemon of the WR’s career.

Corey Davis

Corey Davis‘ $11.16 million cap number next season is the No. 7-highest on the New York Jets. The team is projected to be more than $4 million in the red in effective cap space as well. Cutting Davis at the start of the offseason saves the Jets $10.5 million. Makes sense since he’s the fourth option in the pass-catching pecking order.

Best Fantasy Football Environment: Houston Texans

Corey Davis joins the Texans to provide leadership to the team’s WR room.

He has an outside chance of becoming the team’s de facto No. 1 WR as well.

Marcus Mariota

Benched for a rookie third-round pick, Mariota is an all-but-certain cut at the start of the offseason. Saving the Atlanta Falcons $12 million of his $14.5 million cap number.

Best Fantasy Football Environment: Arizona Cardinals

Kyler Murray won’t be ready in Week 1. Marcus Mariota‘s game resembles Murray’s the best of any available cost-effective QB.

NOTE: An earlier version of this story included Derek Carr as a cut. His blurb is not a part of the 12 candidates.

Derek Carr’s Best Fantasy Football Environment: Carolina Panthers

Forget the New Orleans Saints, Derek Carr‘s new team is set to be the Panthers.

Newly-hired HC Frank Reich gets his bridge QB to evaluate the offense his first season.

Bonus: Matt Ryan [Trade candidate only]

If he doesn’t retire, Ryan is a trade-to-clear-cap-space candidate. A la Brock Osweiller. Basically, the Colts trade a draft pick alongside Ryan for a team to take on his contract. Yes, the trading team is buying a draft pick.

Best Fantasy Football Environment: Atlanta Falcons

With the No. 2- most effective cap space, the Falcons have the means to re-acquire Matt Ryan. Unlike Osweiler, though, Ryan has a chance to make his acquiring team’s 53-man roster next season. I know. But this exercise is called crazy cut candidates for a reason!