2011 NFL Free Agency Primer: AFC South Release Candidates

This morning I am going to focus on the talented AFC Southern Division and what players may end up being salary cap casualties when all is said and done.

The previous two divisions I looked at, AFC West and North, didn't have a whole lot of players that would interest our San Francisco 49ers. However, the AFC South seems to have a nice mix of possibilities for San Francisco once free agency begins and players are released. 

You have to look at some of these players with skepticism because there is a reason their current teams may find no use for them moving forward. However, the salary cap implications and logistics in terms of rosters make some of these names extremely interesting moving forward. 

Note: In determining the possibility of player releases I have used the following formula. First, I took a peak at each teams salary cap situation here. Secondly, Rotoworld provides great information in regards to player contract. Finally, I decided to look at teams rosters and coordinate need and salary to determine which players would probably be let go once the free agency period begins.

Houston Texans

RB- Steve Slaton: After a breakout rookie season in 2009, it has been downhill for Slaton since. He only carried the ball 12 times in 2011, and will be let go by Houston when the new league year starts. The Texans expect Ben Tate and Derrick Ward to be Arian Foster's primary back-ups in this season. Look for Slaton to catch on somewhere as a project because he still has some value.

WR- Kevin Walter: He is set to make over 5 million with roster bonuses and base salary combined. Walter has been an extremely productive wide receiver in Houston. However, they have to retain the more explosive Jacoby Jones and have a couple young receivers that can step in for Walter. Houston sits about 2 million under the cap, so they are going to have to make some difficult decisions.

OL- Wade Smith: Houston General Manager, Rick Smith, had kind words for Wade following the 2011 season

"To a man, all of our offensive linemen said, 'Hey, we were a better unit, and a lot of it had to do with Wade's addition,'"

That said, he is due to make a guaranteed 6.3 million dollars in 2011 and has been somewhat of a journeymen since breaking out in 2010. Duane Brown and Eric Winston could fill the void left by Smith and form a decent tackle tandem. However, Houston will probably look to save money elsewhere during the shortened off-season.

DL- Amobi Okoye: He was a high 1st round pick a couple seasons ago and has been pretty solid for Houston. However, with the switch to the 3-4 and the addition of J.J. Watt in the draft, he will most likely lose a starting job. The Texans have made it pretty clear that they plan to move Okoye to defensive end "if he makes the team", so that remains an option. However, he is set to make 3 million in 2011 and will most likely be playing in a new zip code in 2011.

LB- DeMeco Ryans: I know this seems like a crazy player to have on this list, but hear me out. First, the Texans transition to a 3-4 will effect Ryans and the way he plays the ILB position. Secondly, the Texans do have younger options at that positions, and finally; he is set to make nearly 10 million in 2011 when all is said and done. I think you could be looking at a surprise release when the new league year begins. If so, look for him to get major play on the open market as a top tier LB in the NFL.


Indianapolis Colts

WR- Anthony Gonzalez; The former Ohio State standout is only due 1.1 million in 2011, but he is expendable because of the Colts young receiving corp. They have to cut money somewhere, and every little bit helps. That said, he was a nice back up option for the Colts in 2009 before getting injured and missing parts of the 2010 season. The salary cap saving won't be a lot, but I do think a Gonzalez release is possible because of roster logistics etc...

OT- Ryan Diem: He took a huge step back last season. So much that the Colts drafted Anthony Castonzo in the 1st round to replace him. Additionally, Diem is owed over 5 million in 2011. He will be one of the first cuts when the new league year begins. But, expect Diem to get play as a starting tackle because he has had previous success protecting Peyton Manning.

 

Jacksonville Jaguars

QB- David Garrard: The former Pro Bowl quarterback is set to make nearly 10 million dollars in base plus bonuses in 2011. The Jaguars spent their 1st round pick on Blaine Gabbert, but don't expect the rookie to start immediately. That said, Del Rio has said that he will evenly distribute snaps between the two when training camp starts. The Jaguars could release or trade Garrard and find a cheaper veteran alternative to groom Gabbert, who is their future starting quarterback. 

FB- Greg Jones: He is set to make 3.3 million in 2011 and the Jaguars have other options at the fullback position. I have always been a fan of Jones as a hybrid back and he will get a lot of play on the free agent market if released. One thing is for sure, unless Jones agrees to a pay cut he will not be playing in Jacksonville in 2011. I think a player of his versatility could intrigue San Francisco at the fullback position. 

DE- Derrick Harvey: The Jaguars have been extremely disappointed by the player of the former 1st round pick. He has only 8 sacks in 47 career games and is set to make nearly 3 million in 2011. The Jaguars would love to see him breakout this season, but their patience is growing thin at this point. If Harvey doesn't show anything more in training camp, expect the Jaguars to cut their losses with the former #8 overall pick from the 2008 draft.


Tennessee Titans

QB- Vince Young: It isn't simply the fact that Young is due 8.5 million in base and another 4.2 million in a roster bonus. That really wouldn't be a big deal if his attitude was better. There is no doubt that Tennessee is going to look to trade him, but there will be no takers with the combination listed above. Instead, the Titans will release Young at the first possible moment instead of paying him 12.7 million in 2011.

WR- Justin Gage: He has been a productive players in the past. But, a combination of injury and poor performance really led to struggles in 2011. The Titans have a nice young receiving corp and Gage is due 3.5 million in 2011. There is no doubt he will be a "salary cap casualty".

DT- Tony Brown: He signed a lucrative 17 million dollars a couple years ago and is due about 4 million in 2011. However, the Titans drafted Jurrell Casey in April and the Titans are in desperate need of salary cap relief, even with the imminent release of Young.

S- Chris Hope: He is due about 6.5 million in 2011, but has been a real nice safety for the Titans. It is expected that Tennessee will ask him to take a pay cut; if he doesn't there remains a strong possibility Hope will be let go. That said, it doesn't seem that Robert Johnson is ready to take over a full time role at that position this early in his career.

 

Analysis: Like I said above there are some intriguing names here for San Francisco. I really like what Greg Jones brings to the table in short yardage situations and he has been a solid blocking fullback for Jacksonville over the course of the last couple seasons. If the 49ers are going to look at external options in regards to the fullback position, I fully expect them to take a long look at Jones; if he is made available.

Another player that interests me is Chris Hope. He has been a real good safety in the NFL over the last half decade and still have the ability to make plays in the defensive backfield. It wouldn't cost San Francisco too much to bring Hope in, and he would immediately be their best cover safety. Maybe San Francisco decides to let Dashon Goldson walk, and pick up Hope as a stopgap for the next two-three years. 

Amobi Okoye hasn't really panned out for the Houston Texans, but he still has a lot of talent and has been decent. Consistency is the issue that many scouts talk about in regards to the former top ten pick. However, a change of scenery and being utilized as an end in a 3-4 scheme could work out well for him. 

There are a couple other options out there as well, but those three names are the ones that standout to me the most. So, what do you think? 

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