“The coach wants to see you... bring your playbook.” These are the dreaded words that no player wants to hear. When a player gets summoned to the coach’s office, it is usually an indication that their spot on the active roster is not safe. Roster cuts are inevitable in the NFL as teams must be committed to the development of player personnel while making shrewd financial decisions at the same time. Prior to and during the preseason, NFL coaches and their management staff will assess and analyze the group of players that are in training camp. Rosters need to be trimmed down to 53 players and there will definitely be some big name players searching for a new home in the 2016 offseason. With a slew of quality players hitting the free agent market in the next few months, teams will have the opportunity to sign players who have been cut to cap friendly deals.
Hundreds of NFL players will fall to the chopping block in 2016 and fall into uncertainty about where they will play. Some will also descend into anonymity and consider whether continual pursuit of an NFL career is the route they should take. For the players who continue to soldier on and want to prove their worth, subsequent to their release they are placed on waivers and are hopeful another team comes calling. Many past stars and franchise players will be given a shot at redemption based on name alone and previous status with their former teams. However, how do NFL stars of today feel about being second string or getting snaps with practice squads throughout the league? The NFL is a business after all and there is no guarantee that a player can cement his dominance for years on end. After all, an athlete should be judged for what they have done for the team lately and not what has been done in years gone by.
The fall from grace of NFL players is usually not the end of the line, as franchise players of the past are resilient and oftentimes have a point to prove. The majority of the players discussed in this article will come back to play with another team and produce at the highest level. Why do NFL players get cut? There are several key reasons and the most obvious one is situated at a financial basis. If a team is close to or over the salary cap, key contributors that have signed incentive laden and guaranteed contracts will either get cut or be asked for a reduction in salary. Furthermore, an NFL player could possess all the talent in the world and have an innate ability to become great, but if that player is injury prone, he is a prime candidate to get cut. Let’s take a look at some big time NFL players who could face the ax in the 2016 offseason. These players are either a financial burden, injury riddled or being replaced by personnel that is young and more cost effective.
15 E.J. Manuel
A former first round draft pick, the E.J. Manuel experiment in Buffalo could soon be over. When healthy, Tyrod Taylor has definitely shown that based on merit alone, he should enter the 2016 season as the Bills starting quarterback. The Bills are downbeat about Manuel as he has struggled with accuracy, completing under 60 percent of his passes as a pro. The cap hit for cutting ties with E.J. would only be $2.8 million and that is an affordable figure if the Bills decide to let the backup QB go.
The Bills have likely lost patience with Manuel and could definitely be out.
14 Brandon Carr
There was talk about the Dallas Cowboys making a concerted effort to restructure Brandon Carr’s contract at the beginning of the 2015 campaign. However, the Cowboys took the $13.8 million cap hit and in 2016, Carr’s salary is at $12.7 million. Carr is a very good cornerback but he could be deemed as a player whose skill set doesn’t reflect the money that he signed for. Dallas has already dished out the guaranteed $25.5 million that Carr was owed when signing a five-year contract.
With one of the worst records in the league in 2015 at 4-12, the Cowboys have a lot of holes to fill and it makes sense for ‘America’s team’ to either cut Carr or ask him to take a significant pay cut.
13 Jon Beason
The New York Giants have been crying out for a stabilizing middle linebacker for years and the arrival of Jon Beason in 2013 provided a glimmer of hope. The past two seasons have seen Beason placed on the season ending IR and it seems like the linebacker’s body has succumbed to the strain of professional football. The injuries for Beason keep piling up and they vary from concussions to toe, ankle and knee ailments.
If the Giants cut Beason prior to the 2016 season, they will save $5.1 million in cap space and with a defense that has a plethora of holes, that money could go a long way in reestablishing what was once a great unit.
12 DeMarco Murray
Had Chip Kelly stayed on as the Eagles head coach, Murray would’ve been a safe bet to face the ax prior to 2016. Murray had an extremely limited role in 2015 and was a shadow of his former self, a once heralded NFL rushing champ. DeMarco has expressed extreme frustration with his lack of involvement in the Philadelphia offense and by cutting ties with him, the Eagles could save some money if another team claims Murray off of waivers.
The Eagles have themselves a new head coach in Doug Pederson, but it is not far-fetched to think that whoever comes in will point to the failure of the 2015 season and discredit the once dominant running back.
11 Pierre Garcon
The Washington Redskins have Pierre Garcon on the books in 2016 for over $10 million. Garcon is a very serviceable wide receiver but he should not be getting the type of money that distinct play makers in the NFL warrant. Garcon had an excellent year in 2013, compiling 113 receptions for 1,346 yards and the WR has seen his numbers dip far below expectation in the subsequent campaigns of 2014 and 2015.
Saving $8 million in cap space by cutting ties with the chain moving wide receiver would benefit the 'Skins, as the team could focus on improving other areas that are weak in player personnel. Kirk Cousins already has formidable weapons in Jordan Reed and DeSean Jackson and the loss of Garcon would not hinder the team’s development.
10 Michael Griffin
The Tennessee Titans need to make sweeping changes across the board and it's time to finally cut ties with Michael Griffin who has lined up at safety for them since 2007. Griffin is nowhere near the playmaker he was earlier in his career. He was protected by a very strong defensive line in his early years, as their pressure forced rushed passes, which Griffin would often scoop up. Now on a mediocre defense, Griffin's weaknesses have been exposed. The Titans can save $6.5 million by cutting Griffin and for a team with many holes to fill, that could be valuable.
9 Marques Colston
The trajectory of Marques Colston’s career is pointing downwards after the wide receiver posted career lows of 45 catches, 520 receiving yards and only 4 touchdowns in 2015. Although, Colston took a significant pay cut in salary for the 2016 season, the Saints may decide to part ways with the receiver. The writing seems to be on the wall for Colston as if he didn’t restructure his deal, the Saints would’ve waived him in 2015.
Marques was an absolute steal in the 7th round of the 2006 draft by New Orleans. However, with his role diminishing and his presence slowly being phased out on the offense, it appears Colston will be seeing out his playing days in a new city.
8 Mike Wallace
Mike Wallace could very well find himself playing for his third team in three seasons. Wallace has tremendous speed but he is not a complete wide receiver, even though he's paid like one. With no dead money left on his deal, the Vikings could save $11.5 million by cutting Wallace and looking for help for Teddy Bridgewater in the draft or free agency.
Wallace only caught 39 passes for 473 yards and two touchdowns. He has two years left on his deal, and with the emergence of Stefon Diggs as Bridgewater's top option, there's no need for the Vikings to keep Wallace around.
7 Robert Griffin III
RGIII did not appear in a single game for the Washington Redskins in 2015 as Kirk Cousins cemented his spot as the starting quarterback in the nation’s capital. Griffin is owed an outlandish $16 million in 2016 and that is an astronomical figure for someone playing second fiddle. The Redskins had the chance to dump Griffin to the waiver wire once Cousins was named the starter by coach Jay Gruden, but the team failed to exercise this option. Once touted as the franchise QB for the Redskins, it would be astonishing if Washington hung on to RGIII, especially with Kirk Cousins now in need of a new contract.
6 Colin Kaepernick
After being benched in the 2015 season in favor of Blaine Gabbert, it is quite evident that Colin Kaepernick is not in the future plans of the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers could decide to shop Kaepernick this offseason, but the asking price would have to be low and many teams would balk due in large part to the money that is still owed to Colin. The 49ers gave Kaepernick an extension worth $126 million in the 2014 offseason and cutting the quarterback could save salary cap despite the fact that the prorated signing bonus and other figures that still need to be paid out.
Thus, it is very likely the 49ers will cut their losses by letting a QB whose accuracy and overall play is waning subsequent to signing that lofty contract extension. We'll see how much of a factor new coach Chip Kelly is in Kaepernick's future in San Fran.
5 Jimmy Graham
Entering his age 30 season and coming off surgery for a torn patellar tendon, Jimmy Graham could be a surprise cut this off-season. The talented tight end has underwhelmed during his stint in the pacific northwest. Russell Wilson is a QB that is capable of carrying the Seahawks with or without the presence of Graham. Seattle owes Graham roughly $9 million in 2016 and most of that money can be recouped by cutting the tight end.
The fact that Seattle traded a starting center in Max Unger and a 1st round pick for Graham could counterbalance the argument of letting the player go in the offseason. However, the Seahawks offense isn’t built around Graham and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if the 3-time Pro Bowler is playing elsewhere in 2016.
4 Ryan Clady
Another player who succumbed to injury in 2015, Broncos offensive lineman, Ryan Clady is a prime candidate to face the ax this off-season. An ACL injury meant that Clady missed the 2015 season and the Broncos were on the hook for $10 million, as his salary was guaranteed due to injury. Immensely talented, Clady has been stricken by the injury bug in the past few seasons and the Broncos can’t afford to invest so heavily in a player who is that injury prone.
The Broncos will save $9.5 million if Clady gets the designation as a player who is cut prior to the June 1st deadline. Simply put, Denver could use the draft to fill the hole on the offensive line that would be present with Clady’s departure.
3 Victor Cruz
A fan favorite of the New York Football Giants, Victor Cruz’s time may have to an end with big blue. It makes a lot of sense for the Giants to part ways with Cruz as the wide receiver has been injury prone and isn’t durable enough to grind out an entire season at 100 percent. The stats show that since Cruz’s arrival in 2010, he’s only played snaps in 54% of games. In addition, with the emergence of Odell Beckham Jr. as the number 1 receiver, the need to keep Cruz around has lessened.
The Giants owe Cruz $10 million in 2016 and it is quite evident that there are holes on both sides of the ball that New York could fill with the $6 million that could be saved by cutting Cruz.
2 Arian Foster
One of the most electrifying running backs in recent years, Arian Foster is another player that has been plagued by injuries as he’s only started 16 games in a single season once since his 2011 debut. Bob McNair, the owner of the Houston Texans has voiced his frustration with the soft tissue injuries that Foster has incurred. The oft-injured star may have played his last rep with the Texans in 2015 as Foster is not only a liability to stay healthy, but also costs the Texans $9.3 million in 2016.
The search for the next franchise running back in Houston is underway and it is evident that with the release of former star wide receiver Andre Johnson last year, the Texans are strategically trying to ease out former stars who are over the hill.
1 Peyton Manning
Peyton Manning's storied career seems to be coming to an end. Whether or not he decides to continue playing in 2016, the writing is on the wall for the Broncos to turn to Brock Osweiler as their quarterback of the future. He seems to fit Gary Kubiak's system and with Manning at 39 years old, it may be time for Denver to start thinking of their future. The team is built on defense and a strong running game, meaning Manning's $21.5 million cap hit may not be worth it for Denver. Couple that with Manning's atrocious stats this regular season of nine touchdowns to 17 interceptions and it all tells you it's time for Denver to move on next year.
Manning may get a chance elsewhere on a cheaper, one-year contract, but Manning's days as a quarterback are coming to an end.