Every offseason NFL teams face the difficulties of the salary cap and having to cut players to create more space. Even though the cap is rising this will still be a big issue and the Green Bay Packers have to create as much space as possible to try to re-sign top free agents Randall Cobb and Bryan Bulaga. According to overtthecap.com, the Packers are projected to have about $23.647 million in cap space before cutting anyone. Here are my top five candidates to be cut:

1. A.J. Hawk

The value that Hawk brought to the Packers had been argued by many people for years, but nobody can argue that he absolutely hit a wall this season in his eighth year in the NFL. Hawk was a player who could not really afford to lose a step since he did not have much speed and explosiveness to begin with. Hawk could not stay with anybody in coverage this season or make any impact plays. The Packers realized this when Kyle Rudolph turned a two-yard catch into a 23-yard gain on Nov.23 by running away from Hawk like he was stuck in mud.  He never regained his starting spot after that play. As soon as he replaced Clay Matthews during the final drive on the NFC Championship game all hell broke loose. That’s not to say it was all his fault, but it was certainly noticeable. He was partially at fault for the fake field goal conversion for Seattle that got the Seahwks back in the game. He went after punter Jon Ryan who would have had to run nine yards for a first down instead of staying as deep as the deepest man. That is a mistake a high school player makes.  The Packers will save $3.5 million against the cap by cutting Hawk.

“A.J., he doesn’t have it anymore,” Seattle offensive line coach Pat Ruel told Cheesehead TV. “I hate to say it. He’s very instinctive, but we could see it a lot of times in the game. He didn’t have enough speed to get there anymore. He’s a guy that probably had a great career, and I would say he’s pretty close to the end of it.”

2. Brad Jones

Jones rivals Hawk for the worst contract Ted Thompson has ever given out as Packers general manager. After it looked like he was going to be a capable starter at inside linebacker after the 2011 season, he has been dreadful over the last two years. It was clear from the season opening game in Seattle that Jones should not be on the field. He wasn’t on the field much afterwards. He was the dime linebacker and played on special teams, but even with such short playing time he killed the Packers with big penalties on third downs. The roughing the passer on Matthew Stafford in the last game of the regular season and the holding on DeMarco Murray in the Divisional round playoff game come to mind. The Packers will save about $3.7  million against the cap by cutting Jones.

3. Julius Peppers

Peppers’ play this season certainly does not warrant him being cut like the first two players on the list. He had seven sacks and four forced fumbles on the season. Also, he had two interceptions that he turned into Lambeau leaps.  Peppers came to play in the biggest games of the year and really stepped it up in the playoffs. His forced fumble of Murray when it looked like he was completely out of the play might have saved the Packers from going out in the playoffs after one game again. However, Peppers is unlikely to come back to the Packers at age 35 with a $12 million cap hit. The most likely result would seem to be a restructuring of Peppers’ contract to bring the cap hit down and create more space for Cobb and Bulaga.

4. Andrew Quarless

Quarless seemed close to being cut after training camp, but he stayed on the team and started at tight end the whole season. Quarless caught 29 passes for 323 yards and three touchdowns. It seems like he is destined to be no more than a mediocre tight end. He does not provide a huge target in the red zone and does not stretch the field vertically. Quarless could be expendable if the Packers draft a tight end high in the draft to go with Richard Rodgers. The Packers would save about $1.575 million by cutting Quarless.

5. Mike Neal

Neal signed a two-year, $8 million contract last season to stay with the Packers. He had a pretty good season with 4.5 sacks and filling in admirably at outside linebacker when Clay Matthews moved to the inside. Even though he moved to outside linebacker, Neal still has his incredible strength and is tough to beat off the point of attack. If he could have finished some more plays he had the opportunity for more sacks. However, the Packers seem to plan to move Matthews back outside and draft a new inside linebacker. If the Packers keep Cobb, Bulaga and Peppers they might want to save some money somewhere and might feel that they can replace Neal’s productivity with a draft pick. Cutting Neal would save the Packers $3 million against the cap.



Matt Bove is a writer at PackersTalk.com. PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on twitter at @RayRobert9.