The NFL off-season of 2014 has been quite the vigorous one with Free Agents signing large contracts with new teams and teams jettisoning player contracts that did not suit them well in Salary Cap positioning or systematically in new program regimes.
Not only did the expected happen with superstar players signing lucrative second-term contracts such as S Jairus Byrd (Saints), S T.J. Ward (Broncos), WR Eric Decker (Jets), LT Branden Albert (Dolphins), WR Golden Tate (Lions), S Donte Whitner (Browns), LT Jared Veldheer (Cardinals), LT Anthony Collins (Buccaneers), DE Justin Tuck (Raiders), and WR Hakeem Nicks (Colts), but the unexpected also happened.
By Ralph Battiata – @RalphB1471
Teams with tight cap space under the league mandated figure, teams over the salary cap figure needing to get under before the new league year, or teams with players that don’t fit new schemes were released and forced to undergo domestic counseling by the NFL. Not really…
The following players who had long tenures were released by their teams leading up to the league new year on March 11; Eagles WR Jason Avant on 3/4, Jaguars OG Uche Nwaneri 3/4, Saints WR Lance Moore 3/7 and RB Darren Sproles (traded to Eagles on 3/12), Bucs OG Davin Joseph 3/8, OT Donald Penn 3/12, OL Jeremy Zuttah (traded to Ravens 3/23), and WR Mike Williams (traded to Bills 4/4), Jets CB Antonio Cromartie 3/9 and WR Santonio Holmes on 3/10, Bears RB Michael Bush 3/10 (terminated), DE Julius Peppers 3/11, and WR Earl Bennett 3/18 (terminated), 49ers CB Carlos Rogers 3/11, Steelers OLB LaMarr Woodley 3/11, Texans TE Owen Daniels 3/11 and DB Danieal Manning 3/31, Falcons S Thomas DeCoud 3/11, Cardinals OL Daryn Colledge 3/11, Seahawks DE Chris Clemons 3/12, Giants OL David Bass 3/12, Cowboys WR Miles Austin 3/12, Titans K Rob Bironas 3/19 and DE Adewale Ojomo 4/7, and Raiders OG Mike Brisiel 4/1 (no April Fool’s joke).
As you can see, this is a very extensive list as these players ended up being too expensive for their teams and/or bad fits. It may be cheaper to keep her in the real world, but in the NFL world of non-guaranteed contracts it’s cheaper to send them packing.
One would assume that that is the extent of the list of the NFL outcasts, but no. That was only the bottom of the list, the bottom of the barrell, of jilted NFLers left standing at the alter.
The players below are the cream of the scrap-heap, the bargain-bin, or the clearance cooler at the discount meat market.
These super-fantastic players were kicked to the curb by their former spouses for irreconcilable differences, mostly financial, and instantly became unrestricted free agents able to freely play the field:
WR Steve Smith – Panthers
The five-time Pro Bowler and two-time First-team All-Pro, Smith was released on March 12. Entering his 14th NFL season, Smith has been a primary starter for the Carolina Panthers for the past 11 seasons. Steve has amassed 12,197 yards on 836 receptions and 67 TDs in his career, but the Panthers decided they could no longer afford to keep Smith with a contract extension option looming and his production in decline. Panthers GM Dave Gettleman also viewed Smith as a distraction in the locker room, it was revealed by sources. Smith will now take his talents to Baltimore signing a three-year, $11 million deal with the Ravens on March 14 and renewed his vows by claiming there will be “blood and guts everywhere” when the Ravens face his ex the Panthers in 2014.
DE DeMarcus Ware – Cowboys
The seven-time Pro Bowl selection and four-time First-team All-Pro, Ware was released on March 11. Entering his 10th season in the NFL, DeMarcus was the 11th overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft and was a primary starter for the Cowboys for the past nine seasons. DeMarcus has produced 117 sacks, 7 fumble recoveries for 91 yards and 2 TDs, and 445 solo tackles in his 141-game career. Cowboys CEO and GM Jerry Jones decided that the $12.25 million owed to Ware in 2014 was not only exorbitant, but the $16 million salary cap hit would take up too large of a percent of the salary cap. Saving $7.4 million against the salary cap instead became the more attractive option without the beer goggles. Ware became engaged shortly after signing a three-year, $30 million deal with the Denver Broncos on March 12 which included an out-of-this-world $20 million guaranteed signing bonus/wedding gift.
RB Chris Johnson – Titans
The three-time Pro Bowler and 2009 First-team All-Pro, Johnson was released on April 4. CJ2K is still relatively young at the age of 28, was the 24th overall selection by the Titans in the 2008 NFL Draft, and has been a primary starter the past five seasons. Johnson has rush for 7,965 yards on 1,742 carries and 50 TDs in 95 games in the NFL. The Titans had a heart-to-heart with Chris and told him they were releasing him to avoid paying him the $8 million CJ2K was due to earn in the marriage in 2014, not to mention the final three seasons left on the $53.5 million contract that he signed in 2011. Johnson is still playing the field, dating others, and has yet to sign with another franchise. Chris would fit best in a workload-sharing backfield such as the N.Y. Jets, Dallas Cowboys, Atlanta Falcons, or Buffalo Bills.
CB Darrelle Revis – Bucs
The five-time Pro Bowl selection and three-time All-Pro, Revis is still highly regarded as the biggest catch and best cornerback in the NFL. Revis was jettisoned by the new regime of head coach Lovie Smith and GM Jason Licht on March 12 after several attempts to swap him. Darrelle was the 14th pick overall by the Jets in 2007 and has produced 21 INTs for 367 yards and 3 TDs in 95 games played in the NFL. Citing an unwillingness to pay Darrelle the $16 million owed to him in 2014, which would have been $6 million more than any other CB in the league, the Bucs parted ways with Revis also saving themselves a conditional third round pick in May’s draft. Although the Bucs were unable to strike a deal with a suitor for Darrelle (nature of the beast in the NFL), he was in extremely high demand fielding cat-calls from several NFL teams willing to pay up to or more than the $16 million he was due to make in 2014. Revis Island was relocated to New England as the Patriots signed the stalwart CB to a one-year, $12 million contract with a $20 million team option for 2015 on March 18.
WR DeSean Jackson – Eagles
Now this was your classic War of the Roses, domestic dispute ending in violent words, or knock ’em out/ drag ’em out public scene. The three-time Pro Bowler and 2009 All-Pro, Jackson was given his pink slip on March 28. DeSean is still young at 27 and has the best value of any player to hit the open market in the 2014 off-season. The 2008 second round pick was not the Eagles first choice, but he more than made up for it on the field. Jackson has recorded 6,117 yards on 356 receptions and 32 TDs in 86 games in the NFL. Jackson’s inability or unwillingness to conform to Eagles head coach Chip Kelly’s program and Kelly’s rightful stronghold on his team’s core values cost DJ the $10.5 million he was due to earn with the Eagles in 2014. DeSean’s lack of participation in the team’s conditioning programs and his attitude in the locker room also led to his release. However, an NJ.com article that came out in March claiming that Jackson had gang ties was rebuked and did not play a role in his release per sources. The Washington Redskins moved quickly to tie down the dangerous play-maker to a contract and signed DeSean to a 4-year contract with a $16 million guaranteed signing bonus on April 2nd effectively ending his short NFL bachelorhood.
It has definitely been a whirlwind of an NFL off-season in 2014. My head is still spinning from all the he said she said, airing out of dirty laundry, and televised divorce litigation. This combined with the smell of roses in the air, the sound of bells chiming in the wind, and the sight of another couple going down the aisle to do it all over again, is enough to make me say enough is enough already. Can’t we just play football and let the chips fall where they may? Afterall, the only ones getting hurt in all this mess are… the fans.