While much of talk in the National Football League over the past several weeks has been about the addition of players either through free agency or the upcoming NFL draft, there have been some players headed the other direction, as teams cut salary in an effort to meet Tuesday's deadline to be compliant with the 2012 salary cap. Hence, the Indianapolis Colts and Minnesota Vikings began what appear to be full-bore roster purges.
And that's not even taking into account a certain four-time MVP quarterback who we'll leave out of this conversation, as he's already the subject of enough speculation to choke a brontosaurus.
Among the players released were several prominent names, including two that could one day find themselves enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Here's a look at where a handful of the top players who have been jettisoned could find themselves in 2012.
One of the first big names to be cut loose this season was also one of the biggest, as the Pittsburgh Steelers parted ways with wide receiver Hines Ward on March 1 after a 14-year career in which the four-time Pro-Bowler caught 1,000 passes for over 12,000 yards and was the MVP of the Steelers win in Super Bowl XL.
The 36-year-old wideout has stated that he would like to play again in 2012, telling the Chicago Sun-Times that “I do feel that I still have more football left in me and I am looking forward to playing in the NFL, again, this upcoming season."
A recent report that Ward signed with the Baltimore Ravens turned out to be a hoax but it's a distinct possibility that Ward can the very least land a veteran minimum deal from a team with a young receiving corps due to his leadership ability and ferocity as a blocker—even though his athletic skills may have diminished considerably.
Projected Destination: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Hines Ward wasn't the only Pittsburgh Steelers stalwart shown the door this offseason, as the team also chose to sever ties with inside linebacker James Farrior, who has been a mainstay of the Pittsburgh defense for a decade, topping over 100 tackle six times over that span.
However, as Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette points out, the Steelers remain wafer-thin at the inside linebacker position. Depending on how free agency and the draft shakes out in the Steel City, it wouldn't be at all surprising to see the 37-year-old back in black and gold before all is said and done.
The Steelers could still be Farrior’s only option. If someone gets hurt or they do not acquire help through the draft or whatever at inside linebacker, they have left the door open for Farrior to return. That would not be a stretch, either, because they have right now Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons as their starters and Stevenson Sylvester and Monty Ivy as the only real backups.
Projected Destination: Pittsburgh Steelers
After releasing Peyton Manning last Wednesday, the Indianapolis Colts began what can only be viewed as a full on roster purge, cutting a bevy of veteran players Friday including Pro Bowl tight end Dallas Clark, who was one of Manning's favorite targets for years in Indianapolis.
Clark is 32 years old and has missed 15 games over the past two seasons after catching 100 passes in 2009. While the 10th-year pro may not have a whole lot left in the tank, he should still generate plenty of interest as a free agent, including the possibility raised by Pro Football Talk that Clark might find himself catching passes from a Manning after all in 2012.
One team that may be interested, however, is the place where Peyton’s brother plays: The Giants lost two tight ends, Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum, to torn ACLs in the Super Bowl, and both are expected to open the 2012 season on the Physically Unable to Perform list. Even if Clark is no longer playing at a Pro Bowl level he’s an upgrade at the position for the defending champions.
Projected Destination: New York Giants
After failing to come to terms on a renegotiated contract that would lower his $4.9 million salary for 2012, the New York Giants released running back Brandon Jacobs on March 9 after seven years with the team in which Jacobs gained nearly 5,000 yards on the ground and scored 56 touchdowns.
Jacobs has had some injury issues, averaged less than four yards a carry two of the past three years, and hasn't gained 1,000 yards in a season since 2008. But when healthy the 29-year-old bruiser is a powerful runner who could at least provide a team with a power back to utilize as part of a committee attack.
The New York Jets have already been mentioned as a potential suitor for Jacobs' services, but there's a team a little ways west of the Big Apple that has cap space to burn and could absolutely use a complementary back to speedster Jamaal Charles.
Projected Destination: Kansas City Chiefs
Much like the Indianapolis Colts, the Minnesota Vikings weren't shy about dumping veteran players this weekend, cutting three 2011 starters in cornerback Cedric Griffin and offensive guards Anthony Herrera and Steve Hutchinson.
Of the trio Hutchinson is easily the biggest name, as the seven-time Pro Bowl performer was one of the best players at his position in the National Football League for much of his 11-year career before age and injuries began to affect his play over the past two seasons.
Hutchinson was due nearly $7 million in salary in 2012 as part of the infamous "poison pill" contract that brought Hutchinson to the Twin Cities from the Seattle Seahawks. While that price tag was apparently too rich for the Vikings' blood and Hutchinson may not be the player he once was at 34 years old, plenty of teams should show some level of interest in Hutchinson, with one location making particular sense according to the National Football Post's Terry McCormack.
Former Vikings guard Steve Hutchinson is a player who could potentially be on #Titans free agent radar.
— Terry McCormick (@terrymc13) March 11, 2012
Projected Destination: Tennessee Titans