With the popularity of HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” fans get an in depth real world view into the spectacle that is an NFL training camp. In preparation for the upcoming season, players have their limits tested by participating in drills and continuously competing against teammates who all hunger to claim a spot on the final 53-man roster. Football is more than just showing up on Sundays and throwing around a ball for three hours. Players must take time to learn plays, formations and schemes while perfecting multiple techniques unique to their respective positions. In the heat of this competition, a team is forged.
Obviously coaches can only do so much with what they’ve got, but teams spend months prior to the opening of training camp trying to sign and draft prospects they think will improve their rosters. From 91 players, teams generally start to work their way down. That’s almost 40 cuts made between June and September. Most players get the opportunity to fight for their roster spot in training camp. A large portion of which are undrafted free agents. And while journeymen and late round draft choices have to fight just as hard to get a shot, there are certain surprise cuts every year.
Veterans who’ve made names for themselves either with their current team or a previous one are sometimes put under the scope. They don’t always pan out. This could be due to a number of things. Age, scheme, injury or even (and most likely) money. The average NFL career only lasts around three years. So the older a player gets, the more they’re inclined to look over their shoulders. Whatever the reason is, there will most probably be a number of surprises for both fans and players this upcoming training camp.
These are the top 15 veterans most likely to get cut during training camp.
15 Tamba Hali
Surprised? Well it would certainly be a shock to see a player of Tamba Hali’s caliber hit the waiver wire. But business is business and this type of thing has happened before in the NFL. The veteran pass rusher took a $3 million dollar pay cut to stay with the Chiefs earlier this off-season, but with Justin Houston refusing to sign his franchise tag deal and former first round pick Dee Ford waiting in the wings, it’d make sense for Kansas City to get rid of Hali and put the money towards something else.
14 Phil Taylor
Phil Taylor has been one of the more talented players on the Browns’ defense for a while now, but the former first round pick has struggled greatly with his health and rarely seen the field because of it. Cutting Taylor would save the Browns $5.4 million. That’s a good deal of money that could be put elsewhere. More importantly, it can be used to acquire players that’ll actually stay on the field. Taylor has registered 20 tackles in just as many games and while his impact while on the field is indisputable, the Browns have got a lot of depth on their defensive line already. Maybe it’s time to give a younger guy with a little less wear on his tires a shot.
13 Andy Levitre
Just two years after signing a massive 6 year, $46.8 million dollar deal, it’d be a huge surprise to see Tennessee cut their starting left guard Andy Levitre. Levitre came from Buffalo and was expected to play at a high level in Tennessee, but things have not been going according to plan. In two seasons, he’s proven to be mediocre at best, allowing six sacks in 2014. What’s worse is that he does have injury history. While it seems as though he’s finally healthy, the Titans might start looking for alternatives should those issues start popping up sooner rather than later.
12 Lardarius Webb
Cornerbacks have to align themselves against some of the most explosive athletes in the NFL, receivers. Baltimore finds themselves in a division with a whole crop of talented young receivers on opposing teams. Their best cornerback is creeping up on the wrong side of thirty and has had two ACL injuries on both knees as well as a back injury that haunted him all of last season. Lardarius Webb is looking to enter this season healthy, but an aging veteran like himself would be lucky to avoid another string of injuries at this point in his career. Given his history, it’s not completely unlikely he’ll hurt himself again. The Ravens apparently showed some interest in Tarell Brown earlier this week. Who’s to say Webb’s roster spot is safe?
11 Toby Gerhart
Last year, Toby Gerhart looked to be a breakout candidate in his first year with the Jaguars. After doing a solid job of backing up Adrian Peterson in Minnesota, Gerhart seemed ready to handle the bulk of the ball carrier responsibilities somewhere else. However, he burned out early last year and lost his job. Now in his second year in Jacksonville, he’s being looked at as an H-back. With the starting job most definitely out of reach, Gerhart is expected to play a complimentary role akin to what he did with the Vikings. But the power back looked like he’d lost much of his burst last year and wasn’t able to find the hole very often. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Jacksonville let him go if he continues to struggle as we go into training camp.
10 Doug Martin
During his incredibly successful rookie campaign, Doug Martin was named to his first Pro Bowl and looked to have a bright future ahead of him. However, like so many others who have played the game of football, Martin’s career suffered more than one setback due to injury. In his last two season, Martin has played in just 17 games. With under 1,000 yards rushing and a pedestrian 3.6 YPC average, there’s no question that injuries have had their effect on Martin. Still Tampa’s strongest candidate in the backfield, Martin should get the nod at the starting halfback gig if healthy. But more injuries or continuous lack of production could spell trouble for him in a contract year.
9 Ryan Fitzpatrick
The whole situation at quarterback with the Jets is a bit off a mess and will most likely continue to be until the team can find stability at the position. Ryan Fitzpatrick has as good a chance to start as anyone on that roster right now. The journeyman is penciled in as a backup but could be propelled to start should Geno Smith struggle. But the drafting of Bryce Petty puts his place on the Jets roster in danger. Should the team chose to go with two QBs or should Fitzpatrick be outplayed in camp and the preseason, he could very well find himself looking for a job elsewhere.
8 Miles Austin
Not long ago, Miles Austin was one of the Dallas Cowboys' biggest homerun threats. Injuries and age have changed that and Austin now finds himself playing for a division rival in the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles have lost both DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin - two of their biggest stars - in the last two years. Jordan Matthews will look to have a successful follow-up to his stellar rookie year and the team spent a first round pick on USC product Nelson Agholor. There’s also Josh Huff and Riley Cooper in the mix (for some reason). The crowded Eagles receiving corps already makes it a long shot for Austin, but the fact that he hasn’t played a full 16 game season or caught over fifty passes in three years doesn’t help his chances of making this team one bit.
7 Danny Amendola
The reigning Super Bowl champs definitely got a big help from Danny Amendola late in their Super Bowl run this last season. He’s so far looked great in minicamp practices but what’ll happen when the pads come on and he’s asked to make some grabs in contact – which he’s struggled with? Bill Belichick has been known to make tough choices so long as they were good for the team. And while he did have some memorable moments during the playoffs, Amendola could be the latest Patriot cast aside if he fails to progress or is outplayed this summer. Especially with that $3.1 million cap hit.
6 Dee Milliner
A big name going into the draft, Dee Milliner fell into obscurity shortly after entering the NFL. While it might seem early for a team to give up on a top ten pick just two years after selecting him, the Jets look to be set at defensive back. Darrelle Revis is back, as is Antonio Cromartie, and Buster Skrine is doing great as the nickel guy. So by process of elimination that puts Milliner in as the dime guy. Meaning he’d most likely have to cover a team’s 4th receiver. While this might seem like the perfect opportunity for Milliner to learn from seasoned veterans, he’s coming off a serious ACL injury that could keep him out throughout training camp. Despite his status as a first round pick, his job can be in real trouble if he continues to lose reps and risks being outperformed.
5 Chase Daniel
Chase Daniel hasn’t played in many NFL games. Despite this, the back-up qb is set to make $4.8 million this year holding up a clipboard. Obviously, the Chiefs are paying too much for their plan B guy. Especially when you realize that this guy has little to no experience playing in regular season games. It’s not that Daniels is a bad player or bad option as the team’s second qb, but getting rid of him would free up close to $5 million in cap space and that might be too much for the Chiefs to ignore.
4 Malcolm Smith
Malcolm Smith became a household name after winning the MVP in Super Bowl XLVIII, but he soon after fell right back into obscurity, lost in the big names of the Seattle Seahawks defense. Now with Oakland, Smith is still looked at as a backup and special teams guy. With Sio Moore and Khalil Mack ahead of him on the depth chart, Smith will have to make his impact as a special teams player to make the cut in Oakland. He’s got 16 starts under his belt in two years and while that is impressive, he’s fighting for a job along with a handful of undrafted free agents that come way cheaper.
3 Michael Griffin
Michael Griffin is one of the longest tenured players on the Tennessee Titans roster, but he’s getting to that age where sentimentality runs out and money starts dictating who stays and who goes. Griffin is getting paid way too much when you consider his impact on the field, or lack thereof. What’s worse is that the veteran safety is coming off two knee surgeries after playing through a torn labrum in 2014. Unless he takes a pay cut, Griffin’s health issues along with his playing woes and big price tag might force the Titans to look at other options.
2 Jameel McClain
Jameel McClain just hasn’t panned out as a New York Giant. The team already has one injury prone linebacker in Jon Beason and having another thirty-something year old who can’t stay healthy isn’t exactly helping a group that’s being called the weakest position group in the NFL. With younger and more effective guys like Jonathan Casilas and Mark Herzlich to contribute on special teams, McClain’s time in New York might come to an end during final cuts or maybe even before then. Despite his value as a leader, the Giants need players who can be effective on the field as well as the locker room.
1 Matt Cassel
Oh how things can change so quickly in the NFL. Matt Cassel, once thought to be a legitimate option for the Buffalo Bills at QB, might now be in danger of securing a roster spot. The journeyman was brought in to help push EJ Manuel while offering some insurance in case the former first round pick didn’t pan out. Recently, Cassel has been looking worse and worse in team drills, with Manuel getting the slight nod. With other young talent at QB, the Bills might seriously consider releasing the struggling veteran in favor of a younger developmental guy under center. Doing so would clear up $4.15 off the salary cap and give Buffalo one less time bomb calling plays.