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4 potential training camp cap casualties, trade assets in the AFC North

Could any of these players make their way to the LA Rams?

Arizona Cardinals v Cleveland Browns Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images

Les Snead is always on the lookout for more talent. Will the Los Angeles Rams general manager be swinging any deals to fortify the roster prior to or shortly after Week 1 of the 2022 season?

Here’s a preview of some potential divorces that could come out of the AFC North. Figures courtesy of OvertheCap.com.

Cleveland Browns

2022 cap space: $25.8 million
2023 cap space: -$23.8 million

QB Baker Mayfield - Guaranteed $18.8 million base salary

The Browns must part with Mayfield at some point this year — even if they had designs on using Mayfield as a replacement while Deshaun Watson is suspended, it appears that Mayfield would not play ball — and the sticking point is his $18.8 million base salary and the fact that no NFL team is sold on the idea that he’s worth it.

Of course, there is a possibility that Baker Mayfield could wind up in the NFC West by playing for the Seattle Seahawks, a team in line to have one of the worst QB competitions since John Beck vs Rex Grossman on the 2011 Washington team. However, the Seahawks seem content to play out the season with a bad quarterback rather than pay a 9-figure salary to a quarterback for one year. Seattle is already eating $26 million in dead money on Russell Wilson and likely don’t feel that Mayfield could turn them from a basement team to a playoff contender.

It’s hard to see what team could feel that way about Baker Mayfield at this stage.

Cleveland must agree to pay a portion of Mayfield’s salary, but they’d also like to save as much as possible: the Browns are entering more of a “cap hell” in 2023 and the more they save, the more they can rollover. It could be in everyone’s best interest to wait and see if a quarterback injury happens in August and facilitates the trade by way of necessity.

RB Kareem Hunt - $3.4 million in 2022 per game roster bonuses

The Browns have already paid Hunt a $1.5 million roster bonus this year, doing a little more to cement his status on the roster. Is there a chance they’d still release Nick Chubb’s insurance anyway? I believe so.

Hunt missed nine games in 2021 (wrist, knee, calf, ankle) and finished with 386 rushing yards, 174 receiving yards, and five touchdowns over eight contests.

From my understanding, Cleveland would save $3.4 million in in-season roster bonuses and a $1.35 million base salary if they trade or release Hunt before Week 1. That’s a total of $4.75 million in savings for your backup running back, and the Browns drafted Cincinnati running back Jerome Ford in the fifth round this year. They also have D’Ernest Johnson and 2021 sixth round pick Demetric Felton.

Baltimore Ravens

2022 cap space: $1.3 million
2023 cap space: $45.3 million

Marcus Peters - Non-guaranteed $10 million base salary

Former Chiefs, Rams cornerback Marcus Peters was one of the rare players to be traded during an all-pro season in 2019. He followed that up with 14 games and four more interceptions in 2020.

But Peters tore his ACL before last season and missed the entire 2021 campaign and now the 29-year-old cornerback is potentially playing for his job in Baltimore this training camp. He fails to look like the playmaker who we all remember from his days in Kansas City and LA, when he led the NFL in interception yards in 2015, 2017, and 2019, then the Ravens could choose to cut him or look for a trade partner.

Over the last two drafts, the Ravens have added Brandon Stephens (3rd round, 2021), Damarion Williams (4th round, 2022), and Jalyn Armour-Davis (4th round, 2022) to the cornerbacks unit, as well as SIX undrafted free agent signings. Does a team need more than Marlon Humphrey and a load of support to get by at cornerback? Especially when they also drafted safety Kyle Hamilton and signed Marcus Williams to add to the secondary?

The savings of $10 million is perhaps too great to overlook, given that Baltimore is up against the 2022 cap already.

The Ravens could also seek out a trade for safety Chuck Clark, if Hamilton proves too good to keep off of the field in Week 1. That seems probable, Hamilton is a great prospect. But Clark is also inexpensive and provides valuable depth and experience.

Cincinnati Bengals

2022 cap space: $16 million
2023 cap space: $41.3 million

None

I don’t want to unfairly list anyone here just because they happen to carry cap savings and there might be a reason to release them. The Bengals don’t necessarily need cap space, they just need to figure out who gives them the best shot to repeat winning the AFC and keep their franchise in the conversation as a true contender—but there are players who do carry some cap savings.

S Vonn Bell ($6.4 million), DT D.J. Reader ($5.5 million), WR Tyler Boyd ($7.3 million)

But in general, those players are pretty good values and Reader, Boyd are signed on affordable contracts through 2023. Maybe at worst, Bell loses ground to rookie Dax Hill, though he could be slotted in at nickel.

Do you see the Bengals as a real threat to win the AFC again?

Pittsburgh Steelers

2022 cap space: $12.5 million
2023 cap space: $60 million

DL Stephon Tuitt - Non-guaranteed $9 million base salary

Like Peters, Tuitt is a 29-year-old defensive player who missed all of last season and could be up for release, if he doesn’t show out in training camp. The timing is either good or bad for Tuitt, as he posted a career-best 11 sacks in 2020 and seemed to be finally reaching his potential as a former first round pick.

The Steelers don’t necessarily need the savings, however. And despite a quarterback competition between Kenny Pickett and Mitchell Trubisky in the difficult AFC North, I don’t imagine that Mike Tomlin expects Pittsburgh to be out of contention and the Steelers appear to have a great defense again.

But Pittsburgh did draft a potential Tuitt replacement with DeMarvin Leal in the third round. That could take time and I’m sure that Pittsburgh would like to avoid releasing or trading Tuitt, if they can.