The beginning of the offseason is upon us. NFL teams generally have a good idea of what they are going to do with their rosters at this point, but each step toward improvement comes with sacrifices. For most teams, that means the end of blind loyalty: It's time to find a new salary-cap number or a new home for players who saw an unexpected decline.
Here are five big-name candidates who are likely to find themselves in a new city or with a much smaller contract come August.
As long as you are willing to throw out the idea that Chris Johnson is ever going to be the Chris Johnson of 2009 again, there is nothing inherently wrong with having him as your starting running back. He is never going to be a superstar in the eyes of success rate, which thinks he piles up way too many short gains and losses to make up for his explosive plays. However, this year Johnson had his best DVOA since 2009 by getting up to a respectable 1.3 percent. (DVOA is Football Outsiders' defense-adjusted value over average metric, explained here.)
Johnson's problem is simple: The age of the highly paid superstar running back is over, and he is a relic from its past. It would be a difficult decision if Johnson still was producing at a superstar level, but since he's not, it makes all sorts of sense to cut him now and save money. Cutting Johnson would save the Titans about $6 million against the 2014 cap, but they have played it pretty close to the vest as to whether they'll actually do that.
It's hard to remember the full extent of any Jets media circus when new plot arcs pop up faster than Peyton Manning legacy articles, but these two were big players in the carnival atmosphere that defined the Jets in the early Rex Ryan years. Injuries caused by meaningless preseason snaps and leadership squabbles aside, neither player is worth the time or money at this point.
Sanchez cratered in Tony Sparano's offense in 2012. He hasn't always been that bad, but in his high-water mark in 2010, he had just a minus-4.3 percent DVOA, which ranked 28th among qualifying quarterbacks. Then-general manager Mike Tannenbaum decided, based on this body of work, to give him a large extension. This will go down as one of the biggest NFL punchlines of the decade.
Holmes has the ability to be an NFL starter when he's healthy, but he has played just 15 total games over the past two seasons. Foot and hamstring issues limited him in 2013, and Lisfranc surgery shortened his 2012 season. He would be a nice flyer for a receiver-needy team provided he can bounce back and not become too much of a distraction.
Releasing Sanchez will save the Jets $8.3 million, and releasing Holmes will free up another $8.25 million. It seems almost certain that both will go, and it has been widely reported that they'll be released as soon as possible.