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Keeping tabs on the largest reductions as teams make room under the salary cap

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March 11 is the starting gun for the NFL’s 2024 free agent period. But before teams can claim their spot in the race, they’ve got to do their prep work first. All 32 franchises will be taking inventory and adjusting their payroll in order to maximize spending against the league’s salary cap. For some teams, it means restructuring contracts and waiting for the legal tampering date to begin reporting their big signings. For others, it means discarding veteran starters in order to sneak under the spending limit or create the space for new megadeals. Those moves have trickled in as offseason preparation ramps up. Some of the names being hastily added to free agent lists are recognizable. Others less so. But all created vital savings by cleaning out their lockers and leaving quietly. Let’s take a look at who has been released as free agent signings loom.

Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports Cap savings: $12,560,000 (Jackson), $9,146,000 (Whitehair) Jackson was an All-Pro in 2018 and served as a defensive captain for a solid Bears defense, but his efficacy in coverage waned significantly over the last four seasons. Whitehair was a Pro Bowler the same year as Jackson’s breakthrough but faced similar concerns as the mileage piled up on his NFL odometer.

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports Cap savings: $3 million each New England’s transition from Bill Belichick’s leadership took another step forward with the release of one of his unsung veterans. Guy spent the last seven seasons as a big-bodied defensive lineman with the Patriots. While he didn’t rack up much in terms of counting stats, his presence and ability to flatten rushing lanes was vital to a thriving defense. Guy wasn’t the only veteran New England released as it moves into the post-Belichick era. Phillips was cut the same day, saving an additional $3 million and paving the way for a potential spending spree this offseason.

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports Cap savings: $8,750,000 (Okorafor) and $2.9 million (Trubisky) Okorafor was Pittsburgh’s starting right tackle between 2020 and 2022, earning a three-year, $29.25 million contract extension in the process. He was phased out of the starting lineup last fall and now heads to free agency. Trubisky competed with Kenny Pickett for a starting role and played forgettable football, eventually being replaced by Mason Rudolph in the Steelers’ run to the 2024 NFL Playoffs.

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports Cap savings: $5.5 million Walker couldn’t fill in for an injured Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and eventually lost his starting role as Detroit relied more on younger players like Brian Branch, Kerby Joseph and Ifeatu Melifonwu in the secondary. He gave up a 117.9 passer rating in coverage last fall.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports Cap savings: $4,130,000 Allen started all 17 games in the Rams’ Super Bowl-winning 2021 campaign. Since then he’s only made five starts thanks to a 2022 injury before losing his place on the depth chart to Coleman Shelton.

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