NFL Players in Serious Danger of Being Cut This Week
It’s the toughest week of the year to be an NFL player.
With teams forced to cut from as many as 90 players prior to Tuesday down to 53 by Saturday, dozens of guys have been or will be released from their jobs on each of the NFL’s 32 teams.
Many of those players have never played in an NFL regular-season game. Most are not well-known by the average NFL fan. And unfortunately for some, being released prior to the start of this season could mark the end of their careers.
You can count on there being a number of notable names who are included among the many players released from their teams this week (mostly between Friday and Saturday).
In the following slideshow, we take a closer look at nine well-known guys who might not make their team’s regular-season roster for one reason or another.
Ryan Williams, RB, Arizona Cardinals
The Arizona Cardinals had high hopes for Ryan Williams when they selected him with the No. 38 overall pick of the 2011 NFL draft, even though he was coming off an injury-plagued redshirt sophomore season at Virginia Tech. Unfortunately, the injury bug has stuck with Williams throughout his first two NFL seasons, and he has just 58 career rushing attempts for 164 yards in five career games.
As a result, Williams’ place on the Cardinals’ running back depth chart has become unclear. They moved in a new direction at the position this offseason, signing free agent Rashard Mendenhall and drafting both Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington. That leaves the Cardinals in a position to decide whether to keep Williams or Alfonso Smith as a fourth running back.
Although the Cardinals invested a high draft pick in Williams, that will not necessarily keep them tied to their third-year back. With a new coach (Bruce Arians) and general manager (Steve Keim), the Cardinals have made many changes this offseason and have moved on from a number of players who failed to live up to expectations for the previous regime.
Williams could be the next to go, and the Cardinals are reportedly shopping Williams, according to CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora. He is unlikely to have much trade value at this point, so the report is a sign that the Cardinals may be ready to move on from Williams completely.
If that is the case, expect him to be among the final cuts this weekend, barring a team biting on whatever potential he has left by offering a late-round pick.
Alex Green, RB, Green Bay Packers
Update, Tuesday Afternoon: Jason Wilde of ESPNWisconsin reported Tuesday afternoon that the Packers have placed Harris on season-ending injured reserve, which should drastically improve Green's chances to make the roster.
Another third-year running back who has failed to live up to expectations, Alex Green has run for just 475 yards with no touchdowns in his first two seasons with the Green Bay Packers. After selecting two running backs in this year’s NFL draft, the Packers could be ready to sever ties with their 2011 third-round pick.
With DuJuan Harris and rookies Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin in line to be the top three running backs on the Packers depth chart, the final running back spot is expected to come down to Green and James Starks.
Earlier this month, Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel suggested that Green’s name has come up in trade talks from the Packers. If true, and the Packers have been unable to find a suitor to trade for Green, he could end up being cut instead.
If the Packers are in fact making a decision between the two players, Green would seem to be a slight favorite over Starks. He had a more productive 2012 season (464 yards on 131 carries for Green, 255 yards on 71 carries for Starks), and he was graded out as a better pass-protector last season by Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Still, Green’s draft status is not going to be enough to save him this week. With a trio of more promising running backs in front of him, it would not come as much of a surprise if the Packers decided to cut Green.
Robert Meachem, WR, San Diego Chargers
In terms of sheer lack of production versus contract value, there may not be a bigger bust from last year’s free-agent class than San Diego Chargers wide receiver Robert Meachem.
After a promising start to his career with the New Orleans Saints, the Chargers signed Meachem last offseason to a four-year, $25.9 million contract, expecting him to emerge as a big playmaker and a legitimate replacement for Vincent Jackson.
The results were disappointing, and that’s an understatement. He caught just 14 passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns, both career lows. He never showed the speed and downfield playmaking ability that he did as a situational player for the Saints and was squarely behind starters Danario Alexander and Malcom Floyd on the Chargers depth chart.
He hasn’t been any better this preseason. He has caught three passes for 58 yards, but according to Chargers beat writer Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune, Meachem “simply can’t get open.”
According to Union-Tribune writer Michael Gehlken, Meachem fell behind Seyi Ajirotutu and Dan DePalma, both of whom are squarely on the Chargers roster bubble, on the depth chart for the Chargers’ most recent preseason game.
Even on a team whose wide receiver corps took a significant hit with a season-ending torn ACL for Danario Alexander in training camp, there may not be a role for Meachem. At the very least, he stands as the No. 5 receiver behind Malcom Floyd, Vincent Brown, Eddie Royal and Keenan Allen (in some order).
Considering his uninspiring performance from last season and thus far this preseason, chances are high that he will also fall behind Mike Willie, DePalma and/or Ajirotutu. Meachem’s $5 million base salary is fully guaranteed even if the Chargers cut him, but the team hasn’t shown much confidence in him this preseason given his lack of playing time.
Update, Tuesday Afternoon: Willie and DePalma were both placed on season-ending injured reserve Tuesday, which increases Meachem's chances of making the final roster.
Rex Grossman, QB, Washington Redskins
With an 87.1 quarterback rating, a three-to-one touchdown-to-interception ratio and 7.3 passing yards per attempt, Rex Grossman has not performed badly for a third-string quarterback this preseason. He is still at significant risk, however, of losing that job for the Washington Redskins.
The Redskins have two talented young quarterbacks ahead of Grossman on the depth chart in Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins, leaving Grossman as an experienced but underwhelming third-string quarterback. Considering that, the Redskins could opt to keep Pat White, who has made a good impression this preseason after three seasons out of the NFL.
Why would the Redskins keep White, whose first attempt at NFL success failed miserably, over a veteran with proven experience in Grossman? Because White has the potential and athleticism to be a much better fit as depth behind RG3.
White is not nearly the passer Griffin is, but he has comparable speed and athleticism. He has the ability to be a dual-threat runner in the option offense and make more plays outside of the pocket. Grossman meanwhile, is a more stagnant pocket-passer.
Should Grossman be released, he would likely find work with a team such as the New York Jets or Buffalo Bills. He isn’t the best man for the job in Washington, however, where the offense has evolved significantly to accommodate the talent and game of Griffin.
Tyler Wilson, QB, Oakland Raiders
There may not be any rookie who has been a bigger disappointment this preseason than Oakland Raiders fourth-round pick Tyler Wilson. As a result, he may be on the verge of getting cut.
When the Raiders drafted Wilson, projected by many to be a first- or second-round draft pick, it seemed they were selecting their quarterback of the future. I was among those who believed that Wilson might even start for the Raiders at some point this season, and if he did, outperform his rookie quarterback counterparts in the process.
Instead, Wilson hasn’t even been a factor in the quarterback competition. Undrafted rookie Matt McGloin has stood firmly ahead of Wilson as the No. 3 quarterback on the Oakland depth chart.
Even as projected starter Matt Flynn has struggled throughout the preseason, the Raiders haven’t given Wilson a chance to see what he can do. He played just 20 snaps in the preseason opener and has not received a single snap in either of the Raiders’ past two preseason games.
For a team without a long-term quarterback, cutting Wilson would be difficult. That said, the fact that he hasn’t even seen the field for a team with one of the NFL’s shakiest quarterback situations is reason to believe that he might not make it onto an NFL roster this season.
Should the Raiders cut Wilson, they will almost certainly try to get him through to the practice squad, though another team could choose to claim him as a developmental third-string quarterback. Whether the Raiders themselves keep Wilson, however, appears to be dependent on whether they are willing to keep four quarterbacks.
Taylor Mays, SS, Cincinnati Bengals
Taylor Mays started out last season as the Cincinnati Bengals' starting strong safety. Though that stint didn't last long, Mays has great measurables (6'3'', 220 lbs) and is a big hitter, but he has proven to be a liability in pass coverage.
Even with no clear-cut answer at the strong safety position this season, Mays could very well end up being the odd man out.
George Iloka was the Bengals’ first-team safety before breaking his hand punching rookie linebacker Jordan Campbell in the helmet during practice. Rookie Shawn Williams is expected to be the team’s future at the position. Joe Reedy of The Cincinnati Enquirer believes Mays is competing with Jeromy Miles for a roster spot at safety.
Whether the Bengals decide to keep Mays will be interesting, but it would not come as a big surprise if he is released. While he may have the athletic potential to be great, he doesn’t have the instincts or discipline. Iloka and Williams offer more upside than Mays, while Miles offers more on special teams.
Peyton Hillis, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Remember when Peyton Hills was on the cover of Madden NFL 12? After a 1,177-yard, 11-touchdown season for the Cleveland Browns in 2010, Hillis was one of the league’s breakout star running backs. Three years later, he appears unlikely to even make an NFL roster this season.
In the past two seasons combined, Hillis ran for just 896 yards and four touchdowns, looking like a shell of the back he was in 2010. He was signed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in July—his fourth team in a five-year span—but has been the No. 4 running back on the team’s depth chart this preseason, according to ESPN’s Pat Yasinskas.
His preseason statistics through three games (3.9 yards per carry) have been comparable to those of No. 2 running back Brian Leonard (3.8 YPC) and No. 3 back Mike James (4.0 YPC), but Leonard and James have been ahead of Hillis in the pecking order this preseason.
The Buccaneers do not have any true handcuff back to Doug Martin, but the way Hillis has bounced from team to team says something about his perception around the league.
Leonard has more receiving and blocking ability than Hillis, while James has more upside. That could leave Hillis without a job in Tampa Bay by the end of the week if the Buccaneers decide to go with three running backs.
James-Michael Johnson, ILB, Cleveland Browns
An eight-game starter for the Cleveland Browns last season, James-Michael Johnson made an immediate impact for the Browns defense as a rookie outside linebacker. He may not even be back for a second season on the roster, however, as the Browns have switched to a new defensive coordinator (Ray Horton) and a new defensive scheme.
Back in June, Terry Pluto of The Plain Dealer speculated that Johnson was “likely to be cut” and that he was “nowhere in the plans” of the new coaching staff. He has not done anything to change that perception this preseason.
The Browns’ top three inside linebackers in the base 3-4 defense are D’Qwell Jackson, Craig Robertson and L.J. Fort, with Johnson competing with Tank Carder for the final inside linebacker spot. The decision will likely come down to which player the Browns feel is the better fit for their new defensive scheme.
It would be an unusual scenario for Johnson to be cut going into his second year, but if the Browns feel he is a better fit for a 4-3 defensive scheme, they might end up doing it. That would in all likelihood result in him being claimed by a team that runs a scheme where he can play outside linebacker in a 4-3 alignment.
Tim Tebow, QB, New England Patriots
The league's most over-analyzed third-string quarterback is no lock to make the New England Patriots' regular-season roster.
If the Patriots keep three quarterbacks, Tim Tebow is in position to be their third-stringer. While his game is not a great fit for the Patriots offense, it certainly is not a bad thing to have a quarterback with starting experience, including a playoff win, behind Tom Brady and Ryan Mallett.
Whether the Patriots will actually keep three quarterbacks, however, is uncertain. In 2012 the Patriots kept Brady and Mallett as the only quarterbacks on their regular-season roster. While the quarterback insurance Tebow can provide is a good thing to have, he could be one of the Patriots' final cuts if the team decides that a player at another position who would otherwise be released can provide more value on the field.
Keeping a third quarterback is always a good idea in case of injury, so Tebow is more likely to make the 53-man roster than many of the aforementioned players on this list, but it would also not come as a shock if he was released.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.
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