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NFC cut candidates: Alvin Kamara, Aaron Jones among potential cap casualties of free agency frenzy

The frenzy of NFL free agency is most often focused on the players signing in new spots -- but some of the most impactful moves each year are the cuts teams make in the pursuit of coveted cap space. Last offseason, we saw franchise faces like Derek Carr and Adam Thielen hit the chopping block, and the 2024 horizon brings plenty of potential big-name releases, as well.

In anticipation, here are a handful of the biggest names on cut watch in the NFC. Click here for the AFC rundown.

NOTE: All salary cap and contract numbers were taken from Over The Cap on Feb. 19.

David Bakhtiari
Green Bay Packers · OT

Formerly the perennial protector of Aaron Rodgers' blind side, Bakhtiari has missed 38 of a possible 51 games over the last three regular seasons, turns 33 years old early next season and carries an absurd $40 million cap hit, highest for any offensive lineman in the league. It will be painful for Green Bay fans to say farewell after 11 years -- and the $19 million in dead money isn't ideal -- but the $21 million in cap savings is critical for a front office currently in the red. It will likely fall to 2022 seventh-rounder Rasheed Walker, who started 15 games last year, to continue carrying the mantle at left tackle.

Harrison Smith
Minnesota Vikings · S

The former first-round pick has been with the Vikings for 12 years and made six Pro Bowls over that span. But with Harrison at 35 years old, coming off a 2023 season with zero interceptions and just three passes defensed, the curtains are likely closing on safety's impressive career in Minnesota. Smith's cap hit of $19.2 million is fifth-highest among all safeties; releasing him would save $11.4 million against the cap in 2024 (and $18.1M in 2025). This one is about as clear cut as it gets.

Shaquil Barrett
Tampa Bay Buccaneers · OLB

Both the contract situation and the play valuation are complex with the two-time Pro Bowl pass rusher. He carries a $14.2 million cap hit in 2024 before the first of four void years in his contract brings a $29.4 million cap hit in 2025. But even cutting Barrett post-June 1 only saves Tampa Bay $4.9 million against the cap this season, as the rest is dead money tied up in a prorated bonus. That said, the 2019 NFL sack leader has had fewer than five sacks in consecutive seasons (missing nine games in 2022) and turns 32 in November. It may be time to move on, even if the savings aren't too big.

EDITOR'S UPDATE: The Bucs plan to release Shaq Barrett at the start of the new league year, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported on Feb. 27.

Alvin Kamara
New Orleans Saints · RB

It's wild to say that 1,100 scrimmage yards and six touchdowns was a vast underperformance, but the Kamara that New Orleans extended on a $75 million contract back in 2020 was putting up seasons of around 1,600 yards and 15 touchdowns. His 2023 yardage total was actually a career low, and he hasn't hit double-digit TDs since that 2020 campaign. The Saints would ostensibly have to cut their star running back with a post-June 1 designation, when the move would open up $11.7 million in cap space (despite $7.1M in dead money), but it may be necessary for a team projected to be a league-high $84 million over the cap and an RB carrying the league's highest cap hit at the position.

Aaron Jones
Green Bay Packers · RB

With AJ Dillon set to hit free agency and Jones entering the last year of his contract, Green Bay's backfield is rather uncertain entering 2024. Unfortunately, Jones' $17 million cap hit sits just behind Alvin Kamara for highest among running backs and his declined production (and health) for most of 2023 makes that number even harder to justify. On the flip side, Jones did come on strong at the end of the season and the dead money in his contract makes him a little tougher to release. If Brian Gutekunst and Co. can manage to maneuver the money through some sort of restructure, Jones would likely be the best available backfield mate for Jordan Love next year ... but that's a decently big "if."

Demario Davis
New Orleans Saints · LB

If the Saints didn't have the worst cap situation in the NFL, this would hardly be a consideration. Davis has been among the league's best and most consistent linebackers over the last few years, earning Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro honors in both 2022 and '23. However, the 35-year-old carries an $18.2 million cap hit in the final season of his contract (fifth-highest at the position), of which $12 million can be freed if New Orleans cuts him post-June 1. Mickey (Loomis) and Friends face a lot of tough choices this offseason, with Davis is at the front of the line.

Kevin Byard
Philadelphia Eagles · S

Philly traded for the former All-Pro safety in October ... and its secondary only got worse. Howie Roseman, Nick Sirianni and new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio need to retool this unit as soon as possible, and releasing Byard and his $14.4 million cap hit should be one of the first steps. The move would open up a robust $13.3 million in cap space, and while Byard is still a starting-caliber player, that money could be invested much more effectively elsewhere.

EDITOR'S UPDATE: Kevin Byard has been released by the Eagles, the team announced March 1.

Kenny Clark
Green Bay Packers · DT

Depending on just how deeply Green Bay wants to gut its aging and expensive core to rebuild around Jordan Love, Clark could be on the block, as well. The defensive tackle had a resurgent year, making his third Pro Bowl after posting career highs in sacks (7.5) and QB hits (16), but he counts for an obscene $27.5 million of cap space entering the last year of his deal. Cutting Clark post-June 1 would open up $17 million of room, so if the Packers want to prioritize supporting their new franchise QB, this move could go a long way in that regard.

Michael Gallup
Dallas Cowboys DAL · WR
Brandin Cooks
Dallas Cowboys DAL · WR

The Cowboys are currently projected to be $19.7 million over the cap (second-most in the NFC) and are yet again searching for the right piece(s) to make a run into February. Neither Gallup nor Cooks seem like a fit for the WR2 shoes behind CeeDee Lamb and either/both would save the team money if released. (Gallup would likely need to be a post-June 1 cut.) Hopefully for Dallas fans' sake, the 'Boys can find an answer for that glaring WR2 hole in free agency or the draft.

Jonnu Smith
Atlanta Falcons · TE

We have yet to see where former Rams coaches Raheem Morris and Zac Robinson will take Atlanta's offense, but here's a hint: The Falcons ran two-tight end sets a league-high 61 percent of the time last year, while the Rams did so a league-low five percent of the time. Translation? They'll likely not need a TE2 with a $9 million cap hit and will cut Smith for $6.5M in savings quicker than you can say "Kyle Pitts."

Tracy Walker
Detroit Lions · S

The Lions are actually in great cap shape entering 2024 ($45 million in the green), but if there is a spot to save some additional dough, Walker might be it. He started just six games last year, despite playing in all 17, and allowed a 123.8 passer rating in primary coverage (per PFF). If designated as a post-June 1 cut, Walker would free up $8 million in cap space for a team on the very cusp of Super Bowl contention.

EDITOR'S UPDATE: The Lions released Tracy Walker on Tuesday.

Brian Allen
Los Angeles Rams LA · C
Joe Noteboom
Los Angeles Rams LA · OL

Both Noteboom (three years, $40 million) and Allen (three years, $18 million) signed contract extensions after the Rams' Super Bowl two years ago. Since then, Noteboom has started just 14 games and Allen has started just seven. Not ideal. Allen can be a pre-June 1 cut ($4.9 million in cap savings), while Noteboom essentially must be a post-June 1 cut, as that designation would net a whopping $15 million in cap space. Both players were surpassed by capable new starters in 2023, so this is essentially free money for a team squarely in playoff contention.

Taysom Hill
New Orleans Saints · QB

You'll be hard-pressed to find a bigger Taysom Hill truther than yours truly. He's a unique and effective cog in an offense that could be without Alvin Kamara (see above). But Hill's 2024 cap number of $15.8 million might be too rich for a guy who plays less than 40 percent of offensive snaps, however effective those snaps may be. He'd have to be a post-June 1 cut, but would open up $10 million in cap space in that scenario.

Mark Glowinski
New York Giants · OG

After a strong first season with Big Blue in 2022, Glowinski took a huge step back this past year and ended up starting in just six of 13 games played. Unless the G-Men have faith in a bounce back, this should be an easy $5.7 million in cap savings this offseason.

Russell Gage
Tampa Bay Buccaneers · WR

Gage missed the entire 2023 season due to injury, and while he's a decent WR3, he's not worth the $13.4 million cap number he carries in 2024. Tampa Bay has some big decisions to make at wideout, but the easiest should be releasing Gage.

Quandre Diggs
Seattle Seahawks · S

After three straight Pro Bowl seasons from 2020 through 2022, Diggs had an uncharacteristically down year in 2023, finding just one interception on a disappointing Seahawks defense. Even though nearly half of Diggs' $21.3 million cap hit (third-highest at the position) is dead money, the $11 million in savings Seattle would get by cutting him could be enough to part ways.

EDITOR'S UPDATE: The Seahawks are releasing Quandre Diggs, NFL Network Insider Tom Pelissero reported on March 5.

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