Follow the money. The statement is as true in professional football as any other walk of life.
NFL teams won't release good players without reason. Mitigating factors prompt such action. More often than not, a burdensome contract causes the organization to move on from an established veteran.
Age, injuries, declining play and roster construction must be considered, but a player's release only makes sense if the financials are in the team's favor.
For example, the Jacksonville Jaguars haven't been thrilled with the work habits of certain star players. The organization might entertain the idea of moving on from one or two, but that would have to be accomplished via trade.
Leonard Fournette accounts for $7.4 million of this year's salary cap. Hypothetically, Jacksonville could cut the running back, and the previous number would increase to $8.94 million. This is known as dead money. The organization already paid the individual his guaranteed money, but NFL accounting allows the numbers to be spread over multiple years.
Other contracts are far more manageable and will lead to quality performers hitting the market. Each team has at least one talented player of note on the chopping block.
The numbers have to make sense, though. Otherwise, an organization should—and most likely will—cut a quality player.
After all, it's a business.
Arizona Cardinals: DT Robert Nkemdiche
The Arizona Cardinals roster isn't loaded with talent. General manager Steve Keim is trying to build the team to fit head coach Kliff Kingsbury's vision, but the cupboard was bare after last season's 3-13 campaign.
Patrick Peterson, Larry Fitzgerald, Chandler Jones and David Johnson provide a small core of veterans to build around, but obvious cut candidates aren't plentiful since the Cardinals aren't loaded with overpaid talent.
In fact, three of the organization's seven richest contracts were acquired this offseason.
Robert Nkemdiche is something different. He's a failed first-round pick still operating under his rookie deal.
The Cardinals wouldn't save much against the salary cap ($500,000) by releasing the 24-year-old defensive tackle, but the team doesn't have much need for Nkemdiche after it signed Darius Philon and drafted Zach Allen and Michael Dogbe.
Nkemdiche can only ride his potential and one-time status as an elite recruit for so long.
Atlanta Falcons: OG Wes Schweitzer
Wes Schweitzer worked his way from a 2016 sixth-round pick to a two-year starter at guard for the Atlanta Falcons. Usually, when a lesser-known performer from a non-pipeline school finds success at the professional level, it warrants praise.
Unfortunately, Schweitzer didn't perform as well as the Falcons wanted, and the team's front office placed a heavy emphasis on getting better along the offensive line.
General manager Thomas Dimitroff signed a pair of veteran guards, James Carpenter and Jamon Brown, in free agency before spending a pair of first-round picks on blockers. Rookies Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary are expected to take over the right side with Carpenter at left guard, which leaves Brown as the team's swing lineman.
Schweitzer presents some position flexibility, but the team already showed a willingness to cut previous starters (see: Schraeder, Ryan), and the cap-strapped Falcons can save $2 million with the 25-year-old's release.
Baltimore Ravens: CB Brandon Carr
Baltimore Ravens cornerback Brandon Carr is an iron man. He's started every single game during his 11 -year career. Eventually, the streak will end. It may not happen this year, but that doesn't mean he'll still be on the Ravens roster.
Baltimore can slash Carr's $7 million salary-cap hit in half this season by cutting the veteran defender.
General manager Eric DeCosta told reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine he "would expect [Carr] to be back."
Even so, a move should be considered since the Ravens already have two starting-caliber, younger options in Jimmy Smith and Marlon Humphrey. Tavon Young is set at nickel corner. The organization also drafted Anthony Averett and Iman Marshall the last two years to provide depth.
Carr can still contribute, but the Ravens may prefer to move forward with a younger core while saving some valuable salary-cap space.
Buffalo Bills: RB LeSean McCoy
According to general manager Brandon Beane, LeSean McCoy remains the Buffalo Bills' starting running back, per NYUp.com's Matt Parrino.
The title doesn't mean anything at this point.
McCoy turns 31 years old in July, and his average yards per carry declined each of the last two seasons. In fact, the veteran running back posted a career-low 3.2 yards per carry during the 2018 campaign.
Those numbers are disheartening, but only one number actually matters: $6.43 million. The Bills can save that much if the front office decides to cut McCoy.
Of course, the six-time Pro Bowler would benefit from a revamped offensive line and multiple additions to the team's skill positions. However, the Bills should be able to get similar or better production from the ageless Frank Gore, T.J. Yeldon, and this year's 74th overall pick, Devin Singletary.
Carolina Panthers: DT Vernon Butler
Sometimes a player doesn't work out in a certain situation.
Vernon Butler never established himself as part of the Carolina Panthers' defensive line rotation after he was selected with the 30th overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft.
To be fair, the Panthers placed Butler behind Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei to start his career. Once Lotulelei left in free agency, the organization signed Dontari Poe as its starting 1-technique.
Meanwhile, Butler failed to make an impact and became a healthy scratch for two straight December games last season.
The Panthers chose not to pick up his fifth-year option this offseason, and his status with the team is far from settled. Even though the Panthers wouldn't save anything by releasing the 24-year-old defender, the defense should receive better rotational production from some combination of Kyle Love, Destiny Vaeao, Elijah Qualls and T.J. Barnes.
Chicago Bears: CB Sherrick McManis
Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace built a balanced roster with the team's top performers making the most money while surrounded by young and cheap talents who flesh out the rest of the lineup.
Financial flexibility coupled with having the majority of the team's players in their prime years signals a well-run organization. So, the idea of bad contracts doesn't really apply in the Bears' case. Thus, this cut would only be relatively significant
Veteran defensive back Sherrick McManis played in 15 games last season and served as a special teams standout. Injuries forced him to fill a significant role in Chicago's secondary rotation.
The front office decided cornerback required better depth, especially after the loss of Bryce Callahan in free agency. As a result, Pace signed Buster Skrine and drafted a pair of corners, Duke Shelley and Stephen Denmark.
If Shelley or Denmark proves he can provide quality special teams reps, the 31-year-old McManis and his $1.99 million salary-cap hit wouldn't be necessary.
Cincinnati Bengals: OT Cordy Glenn
The Cincinnati Bengals are still searching for Andrew Whitworth's replacement two years after they let the veteran left tackle leave in free agency.
The organization may have solved its issue but created even more questions after it drafted Alabama's Jonah Williams with this year's 11th overall pick.
Cordy Glenn didn't play well during his first season in Cincinnati. As he said, per WCPO Cincinnati's Laurel Pfahler, "I don't know if it was being in a new place, injuries or whatnot, but it was a little up and down. I wasn't my usual self."
Williams comes into the league as college football's best left tackle. The rookie presents some positional flexibility, but he'll have a chance to beat out Glenn and immediately become the Bengals' blind-side protector.
Glenn can play multiple positions and could challenge to start at right guard or tackle. Or, the Bengals could look at his contract and realize they'd save $7.25 million by cutting the 29-year-old blocker.
Cleveland Browns: C JC Tretter
The Cleveland Browns are a year away from an easier path to significant roster movement. Linebacker Christian Kirksey, right tackle Chris Hubbard and nickel corner Travis Carrie carry too much dead money to make that happen this season, though.
Currently, JC Tretter is in the final season of a three-year, $16.75 million deal. The Browns could save $5.75 million by cutting their starting center.
The idea of moving on from two-thirds of an offensive interior counted among the league's best last season seems foolish. Cleveland ranked first with the lowest knockdown percentage between Weeks 9-17, per Pro Football Focus' John Kosko. But the Browns have ready-made replacements on the roster at right guard and center.
Austin Corbett is prepared to replace Kevin Zeitler. General manager John Dorsey also signed Eric Kush on the first day of free agency. Kush came into the league as a center and could replace Tretter if the Browns are comfortable with the versatile blocker.
Dallas Cowboys: WR Tavon Austin
Grandiose plans of how to properly utilize Dallas Cowboys wide receiver/web-back Tavon Austin faded by season's end.
"As you know, I think we had a real vision for what we could do with him," owner Jerry Jones said after he traded a 2018 sixth-round pick for the speedy target, per the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Clarence E. Hill Jr. "... I think we can get him the ball, I won't speak for [head coach Jason Garrett], but I think we'll get him the ball a dozen to 20 times, two dozen times a game, and you throw the return game on top of it, I think it's somebody we can really utilize."
Including the playoffs, Austin touched the ball 32 total times last season.
Dallas re-signed the 2013 eighth overall pick to a one-year, $1.75 million contract this offseason, but the deal only includes $500,000 in guaranteed money. Austin is now an afterthought in an offense that features Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Randall Cobb and Allen Hurns (if he returns from a serious ankle injury suffered in January).
Denver Broncos: CB Chris Harris Jr.
Contract demands can cause a rift between a player and his team. Chris Harris Jr. is one of the league's premier cornerbacks and wants an extension. The Denver Broncos aren't receptive to the idea.
"That has not been thought about just yet," general manager John Elway said at the NFL Scouting Combine, per the Denver Post's Ryan O'Halloran. "... We're going to get through this first wave and see what we can do in free agency. Then after that, we'll look at different options."
Well, the first wave of free agency came and went, and no progress has been made. Instead, Harris became the object of trade rumors.
At this point, the Broncos have three options since Harris doesn't plan to budge on his demands, according to ESPN's Josina Anderson. Denver can pay, trade or release its best defensive back.
If he's released, the Broncos would recoup $7.9 million in salary-cap space.
Detroit Lions: RB Theo Riddick
Detroit is no longer the place where running back careers go to die. Kerryon Johnson ended the curse of Barry Sanders when the rookie ran for 101 yards in a Week 3 contest against the New England Patriots after the Lions went nearly five years without a 100-yard rusher.
Theo Riddick has been a part of the Lions' backfield for the entirety of his six-year NFL career. He's never been a featured back, but his receiving skills keep in him the rotation. That could finally change after Detroit discovered its identity.
"We're trying to be a complete offense, we're trying to be complete players," Johnson said, per the Detroit Free Press' Dave Birkett.
Riddick isn't a complete player; he provides a specific, albeit one-dimensional, skill set. As such, he's on the roster bubble after the front office signed C.J. Anderson and drafted Tyron Johnson. Riddick's departure would save the Lions $3.66 million against the salary cap.