It’s a cold reality that no player is safe in the offseason, whether you’re an established veteran who’s done excellent things for your team or a hyped-up free agent signing brought in to liven up the locker room. As so many players and coaches have noted over the years, the NFL is a “What have you done for me lately?” kind of business.
No organization’s players learned that harsh truth better than the New York Jets, who spent this offseason cutting ties with anyone who was alive when The Wonder Years was still on the air. That kind of drastic roster turnover is rare, but even the most established teams carry a little bit of excess flab around the belly this time of year. And make no mistake, most of that fat will be trimmed before the season rolls around.
From our vantage point, these are the guys that should be worried about showing up on the brass’ radar. If any of these players do end up on the 53-man roster come September, it’s likely their play (or their bloated contracts…or some combination of both) will only drag their team down.
32. Atlanta Falcons – Brooks Reed, DE
There’s not a lot of fat left to trim off the reigning NFC Champs, but no team is exempt from carrying over a little bit of dead weight. That said, Atlanta’s offense, explosive as it was last year, was asked to shoulder way too much weight at times. And as their Super Bowl collapse proved, the Falcons need to strengthen their defense a little if they want to get back to the big show.
Veteran signing Donatari Poe and 1st-round rookie Takkarist McKinley will help big in that respect, and Vic Beasley should continue to be a nightmarish plague to quarterbacks again this year. It’s crucial to keep their defensive playmakers on the field, and unfortunately, Brooks Reed just isn’t that type of player. He’s not bad, mind you, but he’s getting paid like he’s an All-Star. That kind of contract disparity makes him an expendable part of Atlanta’s defensive line.
31. Arizona Cardinals – Troy Niklas, TE
Drafted in the 2nd round of the 2014 draft, tight end Troy Niklas has so far been a healthy scratch. Or rather, an unhealthy scratch. Point being, the guy’s been some sort of scratch for the last three years, and patience must be wearing thin in Arizona.
The only safety net Niklas has is that there isn’t an established tight end on the roster aside from Jermaine Gresham. Still, it’s hard to envision the Cardinals holding onto an injury-prone tight end who hasn’t flashed much promise even when healthy. The team would save almost $1 million this year by tossing this disappointing fish back into the ocean. Then maybe cast another line out for a veteran like Gary Barnidge or Ladarius Green, so long as they don’t have to put too much bait on the hook.
30. Baltimore Ravens – James Hurst, T
Until recently, it was easy to label the most of the tight end chart as dead weight. But between Dennis Pitta getting a pink slip and Benjamin Watson (who is recuperating from a torn Achilles tendon), agreed to take a pay cut, this part of the Ravens roster could be a great asset.
So the big blinking light instead hangs over the head of right tackle James Hurst, who is known amongst certain sects of Baltimore fans as James “The Worst.” Since entering the league as un undrafted rookie in 2014, Hurst hasn’t shown he’s capable of holding down a starting spot on the offensive line. In a truly pitiful 2015 season, Hurst was not just one of the worst players on the Ravens, he was the worst tackle Pro Football Focus had recorded in their history of analytics. He didn’t exactly have a bounce back year in 2016, as he often looked like a plaything for opposing defenders. It’s amazing that Baltimore decided to bring him back this year, considering they could save almost $1 million by letting him go.
29. Buffalo Bills – Brandon Tate, WR
It might sound off to list a wide receiver as part of the Bills’ dead weight given how desperate they are for production at the position, but part of the problem in Buffalo is that they’ve stuffed too many so-so receivers onto the roster over the years. Last year’s signing of Brandon Tate only cemented that notion.
Typically when you sign a veteran free agent, you’re doing so for one of two reasons: 1) They have a history of solid production, or 2) You believe they were poorly utilized with their previous teams and believe you can unlock their true potential at a bargain price. (It’s the bizarre “Only I can fix him” mentality that many romantic relationships also suffer from.) Tate came onboard with less than 1,000 yards receiving over 7 seasons, but has also been a consistent threat as a kick returner, so he fell into both categories. But he wrapped last season with only 8 catches and 117 yards. His return skills are welcome, but won’t be enough to keep him on a bulbous depth chart.
28. Carolina Panthers – Ed Dickson, TE
While most analysts have been projecting offensive lineman Michael Oher to be cut at some point during the offseason thanks to concussion concerns and misdemeanor assault charges, it wouldn’t be out of the question for Oher to keep his roster spot. The Panthers are extremely diligent about maintaining depth on the O-line, so if Oher is able to work past his issues, Carolina could still use his talents.
Meanwhile, tight end Ed Dickson has been pretty much drained of his faculties since signing on with the Panthers in 2014. Dickson isn’t great as a blocker and is virtually non-existent in the passing game, and so long as Greg Olsen is in town, that’s all well and good. But why not free up $2 million by cutting Dickson loose and letting one of the young guys take a crack at being the TE2? Or maybe even use that extra cash to go after a free agent like Gary Barnidge?
27. Chicago Bears – Lamarr Houston, LB
Chicago isn’t exactly boiling over with talent on defense, but the linebacker position is actually pretty well stacked. Pernell McPhee and Leonard Floyd will keep opposing quarterbacks honest this year, which means the injury-ridden Lamarr Houston is expendable.
It’s unfortunate that Houston can’t stop tearing his ACL, because when he’s fully healthy, he’s flashed some real potential. But the NFL is not the military, and the “leave no fallen man behind” ideology doesn’t fly in pro football. Houston, who’s torn his ACL twice in the last three years, would cost the Bears just over $5 million in cap space if he stays on the roster. This fallen linebacker will likely have to look elsewhere for compassion.
26. Cincinnati Bengals – Adam “Pacman” Jones, CB
Ugh. Can’t this guy just go away? Not even a superstar cornerback like Richard Sherman is worth this many headaches. And Pacman Jones, while a good corner, is no Richard Sherman.
Jones has been a ticking time bomb since he first arrived in the NFL, and it was a dangerous move for the Bengals to give him another chance in 2010. His anger issues have been well-documented both on and off the field through multiple arrests and personal fouls, and his latest incident — in which he was caught on camera threatening a police officer — should serve as the final nail in the coffin of this highly temperamental and highly overpaid cornerback.
25. Cleveland Browns – Brock Osweiler, QB
Brock Osweiler was literally picked up as dead weight from the Texans, who were desperate to cut their losses on the Brock Lobster experiment and dump the struggling QB’s hefty contract. He was only brought onto the Browns roster because he came attached to an extra #1 pick in this year’s draft.
Cleveland may not have a clear-cut starting quarterback (surprise!), but there’s just no way they could ever roll with Crocodile Brock as their main guy. He’s a training camp body at this point, but the Browns need Cody Kessler and rookie DeShone Kizer to get as many reps as possible before the season begins. There’s no need to Brock the Boat here.
24. Dallas Cowboys – Alfred Morris, RB
The Cowboys need someone to back up Ezekiel Elliott in case he gets injured, but last year Elliot proved he can and will be the bell cow of this offense, as he played more than two-thirds of the snaps. His sudden emergence also made it clear that the Cowboys don’t need to muddy the waters of their backfield with any sort of “committee” talk.
As for who will be Elliott’s spell back/emergency backup, Darren McFadden proved he was a more complete player than Alfred Morris when he returned from an elbow injury last year. Too often, Morris looked like he was running in quicksand, which is an oddly impressive feat behind such a stellar offensive line. His stats have steadily declined each year he’s been in the NFL, and it seems Morris has effectively run himself out of a spot on America’s Team.
23. Denver Broncos – Jared Crick, DE
Denver’s defensive line took a step back last year thanks to the loss of both Danny Trevathan and Malik Jackson. DeMarcus Ware’s retirement could end up hurting them even more. But Denver made some nice under-the-radar acquisitions in free agency, including DTs Zach Kerr and Domata Peko, and drafting a nasty pass-rusher like DeMarcus Walker immediately fortified the defensive line.
That leaves Jared Crick, who was far and away the worst on the team in terms of run defense, looking through the window like a little boy outside of an ice cream shop being pulled along by his impatient father. “But…but…I want to go in there!” he says, while his dad tugs at his arm. The only problem is, Crick showed that he can’t handle an ice cream cone. In fact, if someone ran toward him with an outstretched ice cream cone, he’d probably trip over himself, fall backwards, and the guy behind him would end up covered in Mint Chocolate Chip.
22. Detroit Lions – Laken Tomlinson, G
There’s not a lot to love about the Lions backfield heading into the 2017 season, but if Ameer Abdullah can stay healthy and regain his wrecking ball status from his Nebraska days, Theo Riddick can be the pass-catcher he was in 2015, and Matt Asiata can contribute as effectively as he did in Minnesota, this group has a chance to be special. One guy who won’t contribute to that prominence? Left guard Laken Tomlinson.
There are still a few players lingering from GM Martin Mayhew’s disastrous days with the team, but if current GM Bob Quinn continues his extermination of that group, Tomlinson should be the next to go. His run-blocking was terrible in 2016, and he lost the starting job five weeks in. He was ranked the 4th-worst run-blocker in the league according to Pro Football Focus, which added to the stagnancy in the backfield. Even with a healthy Abdullah, they need a more reliable blocker.
21. Green Bay Packers – Jeff Janis, WR
In three years with the Packers, undrafted wide receiver Jeff Janis has captured the imagination of the Green Bay faithful with his speed, his dark horse background, and his uncanny resemblance to fellow Titletown receiver Jordy Nelson. (Seriously, have you ever seen them on the field at the same time?)
But aside from one postseason breakout game against the Cardinals, in which he caught two Aaron Rodgers Hail Marys to briefly keep their playoff hopes alive, Janis hasn’t been able to carve out a role on offense. Despite ample opportunities provided by all the injuries to Green Bay’s main receiving corp, Janis has just 188 yards on his resume. The coaches like him on special teams, but that’s not enough to keep him around this exceptionally deep crew of pass catchers.
20. Houston Texans – Chris Clark, T
Believe it or not, there’s no obvious dead weight on the Texans roster right now. Sure, there are a few guys who underperformed a bit last year, but none that stand out as being beyond repair. The skill position players all deserve a second chance with a better QB at the helm, and the defense is arguably the most well-rounded in the NFL.
That leaves the O-line, which finished in the bottom half of PFF‘s rankings last season. Chris Clark shifted from left to right tackle after four games, where he became the league’s worst pass-protector at the position. It’s reasonable to wonder if Clark will ever capture some of his early-career brilliance, and it’s simply not worth the $3 million price tag to find out.
19. Indianapolis Colts – Josh Ferguson, RB
The undrafted running back out of Illinois had an uphill battle last season, as he was competing against ageless tackle-breaker Frank Gore and newly-contracted Robert Turbin. That hill just got a lot steeper with the offseason additions of Christine Michael and 4th-round draft pick Marlon Mack.
In his limited time on the field last year, Ferguson acted as the passing-down back, notching 20 receptions for 136 yards. But Turbin proved he could be that guy too, but with added upside as a goal-line back. Mack was labeled one of the best “pure athletes” in this year’s running back class, and seems like a big play type of guy. If Ferguson has a chance of staying on the roster come September, it will be due to Michael’s issues figuring out the system. Again.
18. Jacksonville Jaguars – Branden Albert, LT
While it’s tempting to list T.J. Yeldon in this space, that wouldn’t be entirely fair. Sure, his numbers have been a little disappointing, but the guy’s remained a fairly consistent player while playing banged up. Even with presumed-superstar Leonard Fournette coming into the fold, Yeldon should stick around in a reduced role.
No, the only guy dragging the Jags down right now is a cranky veteran who was acquired this offseason in a trade with Miami. Branden Albert is a good left tackle, which is something Blake Bortles desperately needs, but the 32-year-old hasn’t played a full season since 2011 and is already trying to hold his new team hostage for a larger contract. Is he worth the headache? Maybe give Ryan Clady a call instead. He’s still looking for a suitor…
17. Kansas City Chiefs – C.J. Spiller, RB
Did you know C.J. Spiller was on the Chiefs’ roster? If so, kudos to you. Signed to a one-year contract, the 30-year-old running back was once considered one of the fastest guys in the game, but injuries sapped him of his exceptional twitch and pass-catching abilities. Spiller has spent the last couple of years as a nomad, wandering from team to team and trying to find a place for his diminished skill set.
So is there a place for him on the Chiefs’ offense? Probably not. Kansas City traded up to draft Kareem Hunt, who had an awe-inspiring senior year at Toledo. Hunt is a versatile runner who can squeeze between tackles and break off long runs. He’ll likely become the starter at some point this year, but if the two-headed beast of Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West can regain their 2015 form, the Chiefs could have one of the most dangerous backfields in the AFC. That means Spiller will have to continue his journey to find a home in the NFL.
16. Los Angeles Chargers – Darrell Stuckey, S
This offseason’s overhaul of the Chargers’ abysmal offensive line was one of the most satisfying (and overlooked) storylines of the year. And while the defensive unit wasn’t quite so horrendous, the Chargers knew they had to step up their play in the secondary, which ranked in the bottom half of the league on pass defense last year.
They brought in some incredible talent through the draft, signing safety Rayshawn Jenkins and cornerback Desmond King, and signed safety Tre Boston from the Panthers. That should lead to a handshake and a parting of ways with Darrell Stuckey, who’s been an exceptional contributor to the special teams unit for many years. Unfortunately, you just can’t spend $1.9 million on a gunner who hasn’t played many meaningful snaps in the secondary in 7 years. There are simply too many quality players at his position on the team, one of which could surely shoulder his responsibilities on special teams.
15. Los Angeles Rams – Bradley Marquez, WR
The Rams employed the most woeful offense in the NFL last season, as they ranked dead last in total yards, total points, and number of first downs. And while it’s natural to point the finger at quarterbacks Case Keenum and Jared Goff, it’s just not fair. Those poor guys had to endure one of the leakiest offensive lines in the league and had a lackluster group of receivers to throw to.
But the team brought in very few pieces to rebuild the line, which means the wide receivers need to be absolutely dynamite if this offense is going to hum this year. The Rams have a crowded receiving group, but lack legitimate playmakers. Tavon Austin is wildly overpaid, but they’re stuck with him until next season. (It would cost them $19.9 million to cut him.) Veteran acquisition Robert Woods and newbie Josh Reynolds could become a solid one-two punch, and expectations are high for 3rd-round pick Cooper Kupp. That leaves Bradley Marquez, an underwhelming undrafted free agent in 2015, on the chopping block. Sorry, Marquez.
14. Miami Dolphins – Koa Misi, LB
Drafted 40th overall by the Miami in 2010, Koa Misi has spent his entire career wearing orange and aqua, but that could (and should) change before the 2017 season gets underway. Even though Misi has already agreed to take a pay cut to stay in Miami, that doesn’t guarantee him a roster spot.
Misi has been a very effective pass rusher some years, but he suffered what many thought would be a career-ending neck injury last season. It’s a serious deal, and one that Misi shouldn’t take lightly. The Dolphins should expect a major dip in his production if sees the field, and there’s currently no shortage of linebackers in Miami who could step into the role going forward.
13. Minnesota Vikings – Nick Easton, C
Anyone who watched a little bit of Vikings football last year knows that Sam Bradford won’t make it through another season with all his limbs intact if they don’t make some drastic improvements to the offensive line. And that should start with cutting Nick Easton. It’s tough to be too hard on the 3rd-year player…until you go back and re-watch the time he literally snapped the ball into his own butt, basically gifting the Packers a fumble.
Regardless, the Vikings didn’t draft a center with their 2nd pick in this year’s draft so he could sit on the bench, and Mike Zimmer has made it known that Pat Elflein will get a chance to start at center this season. With an established veteran like Joe Berger on the team who could rotate between center and right guard, the logical thing is to cut Easton free and give the new guy a chance. Bradford — and the running game, which was exceptionally lackluster last year — would probably appreciate it.
12. New England Patriots – Danny Amendola, WR
The Patriots receiving corp is more crowded than ever, as they acquired a big-time playmaker in Brandin Cooks during the offseason, while also adding slot-guy Andrew Hawkins to the mix. Even forgetting those additions, Amendola still has to contend with Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, and Malcolm Mitchell on the WR depth chart. That makes Danny Amendola the soggy middle of a bloated group.
And let’s not forget they’re also feeding Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, and pass-catching running backs James White, Dion Lewis, and Rex Burkhead. Amendola is, at best, second-fiddle in the slot, and it’s possible he won’t see more than 15 receptions all year.
11. New Orleans Saints – Travaris Cadet, RB
In five seasons with the Saints (and a few random games with the 49ers and Patriots), Travaris Cadet still hasn’t notched more than 1,000 total scrimmage yards. Also, he’s a “running back” who has less than 100 rushing yards to his name through 63 games. But even as a receiver masquerading as a runner, Cadet doesn’t have a ton of upside.
The Saints now feature Mark Ingram, Adrian Peterson, and rookie Alvin Kamara in the backfield. Ingram and Peterson will likely provide the one-two veteran punch, while Kamara could easily slide into a scat back role. It should also be noted that Ingram hasn’t been a slouch in the receiving game these last few years, either. With all these solid options — and considering how ineffective Cadet has been — it’s tough to envision him becoming one of the final 53 in New Orleans.
10. New York Giants – Ereck Flowers, OT
No one from the Giants roster inspired more wrath from Big Blue’s fans on Twitter than Ereck Flowers, who was consistently one of the worst players on the field. He may have single-handedly cost his team the Week 13 game against the Steelers with atrocious miscues and penalties. It was far from the only time the finger could be pointed at Flowers for ruining the Giants’ chances of getting some offensive momentum going.
To be fair, New York drafted him to be a run-blocker, so it’s right to expect some growing pains in pass protection. But he ranked 52nd out of 61 tackles in that department. With Eli Manning entering the twilight of his career and an insanely talented group of wide receivers to work with, the Giants need to capitalize on their Super Bowl window. The first step to making that happen is dropping Flowers like a bad, inefficient habit.
9. New York Jets – Josh McCown, QB
There aren’t many players left for the Jets to cut unless they plan to start using their punter in defensive packages, but amidst all this elderly “fat cutting,” it’s a little surprising the Jets signed journeyman Josh McCown.
McCown has only thrown for 2,500 yards or more once during his 13 seasons with seven different teams. If the Jets are planning to treat this season’s slate of games like televised practices — which seems to be the case from most accounts — then why waste reps on a 37-year-old QB who probably won’t be around next year? Let the young guys, Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty, take the snaps this year, for better or worse. McCown isn’t the solution for a team desperately trying to rebuild their roster.
8. Oakland Raiders – Sebastian Janikowski, K
Sebastian Janikowski is one of the highest-paid kickers in the NFL, despite ranking 22nd amongst all kickers in percentage of field goals made in 2016. He ranked 31st in 2015, 13th in 2014, and 34th — i.e. dead last — in 2013. To put it bluntly: “The Polish Cannon” has lost the firepower in his leg.
Rumors have swirled for the last couple of years that Janikowski might be on his last legs with the Raiders, as his stats have steadily declined and his success in high-pressure situations has become anything but automatic. Now Oakland has signed Giorgio Tavecchio off the practice squad, which makes it clear there will likely be a fresh face booting field goals this season. One who doesn’t cost the team a cool $3.8 million per season.
7. Philadelphia Eagles – Ryan Mathews, RB
The Eagles need to clean up their overcrowded backfield, and that starts with releasing stalwart running back Ryan Mathews. Not only has he spent most of his career collecting injuries like they were rare coins, but he’s proven incapable of handling the lead back duties in Philadelphia.
Meanwhile, Donnel Pumphrey was drafted to become the next Darren Sproles, and Darren Sproles is currently making Father Time look like a real idiot. The Eagles also added LeGarrette Blount as a between-the-tackles pounder, and signed undrafted (and overlooked) free agent Corey Clement, who could be the big, bruising spell back Philadelphia needs. There’s no space for a guy like Mathews, whose list of injuries is longer than his list of NFL accomplishments.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers – Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR
The wide receivers in Pittsburgh have “jokingly” speculated which one of them JuJu Smith-Schuster was brought into replace. Which is funny. Because it’s true. There’s no way the Steelers hold onto every decent pair of hands in their locker room, and that probably means it’s (steel) curtains for Darrius Heyward-Bey, as the team has outgrown their rather limited use for him.
Antonio Brown will remain the group’s focal point until he’s old enough to qualify for an AARP membership, Martavis Bryant is back from his suspension, Eli Rogers had a breakout year in 2016, and Sammie Coates will likely get a second chance to prove he’s healthy and over his case of “dropsies” from late last season. That leaves Heyward-Bey, whose set to earn $1.2 million this year and next, as the odd man out.
5. San Francisco 49ers – Cornellius “Tank” Carradine, LB
2014 2nd-round draft pick Tank Carradine, despite possessing one of the greatest nicknames possible for a linebacker (aside from maybe Bulldozer Sackhammer), has not lived up to expectations in San Francisco. He’s started just one game in 3 seasons and has accrued a meager 4 sacks during that time. He’s part of the reason San Francisco’s front-seven ranked 31st last season.
Carradine fell on most teams’ draft boards because of a lingering knee injury from his college days, but the 49ers scooped him up in the hopes that, if he was able to stay healthy, the Tank could be one of that year’s biggest steals. That hasn’t been the case, even though his knee seems to have held up pretty well to this point. Regardless, there’s no room for a middling player on a team that went all-in on rebuilding their front-seven during the offseason.
4. Seattle Seahawks – Trevone Boykin, QB
Persistent legal issues may not keep a franchise quarterback off the field, but they sure as hell should be taken into consideration when deciding whether or not to hold onto a backup QB. Trevone Boykin’s numerous off-the-field mishaps should send him far away from CenturyLink Field.
Seattle has already enlisted the services of Austin Davis, the most vanilla backup on the market, and they should continue to keep an eye on Colin Kaepernick in case they have to hit the “big red button” due to a Russell Wilson injury. But Boykin is way too much trouble for what he’s worth, and it would be wise to remove him from an allegedly volatile locker room.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – George Johnson, DE
No, I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to put Roberto Aguayo on the chopping block. The kid had a rough rookie season, no doubt, but let’s take a step and remember that even Stephen Gostkowski and Adam Vinatieri’s rookie year field goal percentages weren’t a whole lot better than Aguayo’s. Sebastian Janikowski and Steven Hauschka’s were worse. So cut the guy some slack.
No slack shall be cut for George Johnson, who, since returning to Tampa Bay in 2015, has spent one season on the bench and another on IR with a hip injury. He’s been a bust, in no uncertain terms. The Bucs added Chris Baker to their defensive line in free agency, and added a little depth in the draft. They won’t be on par with the Seahawks, but they got substantially better. Johnson simply isn’t needed on the team, and since he would no longer incur a cap penalty, this is the time to cut him loose.
2. Tennessee Titans – Da’Norris Searcy, SS
The Titans have a good core of young players on both sides of the ball right now, and if they’re able to utilize recent veteran acquisitions, this team will be the favorite to take the AFC South crown. If they’re going to best the Texans and the Colts, though, they’ll need much better play from their secondary, which allowed the 3rd most passing yards last season.
One of the group’s biggest letdowns was Da’Norris Searcy, who battled through a high-ankle sprain to no avail. Searcy’s injuries have kept him from being the type of impact player the Titans signed him to be in 2015. With a hefty price tag of $5.9 million, it doesn’t make sense for Tennessee to hold onto a depleted player like Searcy when they spent so much additional money (and draft picks) overhauling the secondary in the offseason.
1. Washington Redskins – Matt Jones, RB
As traditional workhorse running backs fall out of favor, NFL backfields have shifted into haphazard braintrusts, with as many as four or five backs lending a hand in the rushing attack. But when does a team finally say “Enough! We officially have more than enough running backs, please and thank you.” Heading into the 2017 season, Washington is, once again, definitely at that point.
The role of primary back is “Fat” Rob Kelley’s to lose, Chris Thompson will be the third-down guy, while Mack Brown and 4th-round draftee Samaje Perine will fight for backup duties. That leaves Matt Jones and his fumbling issues on the outside-looking-in. Jones has been informed of his depth chart plummet heading into training camp, and his agent has reportedly asked for his release. It’s a decision that would make sense for all parties.
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