Veteran NFL Stars on the Roster Bubble in Training Camp
Every summer, NFL training camps present a personnel paradox: As young and eager rookies begin to climb the depth chart and impress during practice, established veterans get pushed to the edge of the roster bubble. It's all part of the ebb and flow of business in the NFL, but it's never easy to close the door on veterans.
Some of the following players are still performing well enough to help their teams but may be cap casualties; others' skill sets aren't enough to compensate for their off-field issues.
There's no guarantee the following eight players won't make the rosters of their respective teams, but they're certainly ones to keep an eye on as final cuts approach.
When a rookie struggles in his first season, especially a second-round pick like Stephen Hill, he's given a second year to develop. But Hill has been underwhelming in both of his seasons so far with the Jets, which lands him on the bubble heading into his third year.
In 23 games, Hill has 45 receptions for 594 yards and four touchdowns. He underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in December 2012 and has spent time on injured reserve in both of his seasons so far. The injury history and the lack of production are both reasons why Hill is now fighting for a roster spot in training camp.
The pressure manifested itself at camp practice on July 25, as Hill lost his temper at fans who were jeering him. "Take me out of the game?" Hill yelled at the crowd, according to ESPN.com's Jane McManus. "You act like I didn't hear that s--t."
Eric Decker, David Nelson, Jacoby Ford, Clyde Gates and Shaq Evans are all looking for roster spots on the outside, with Jeremy Kerley and rookie Jalen Saunders competing in the slot. General manager John Idzik may well decide fixing former GM Mike Tannenbaum's projects isn't his problem and Hill's possible spot is better spent on other players. If cut before the 2014 season, Hill would count $933,582 against the Jets' cap, which isn't prohibitive.
The importance of BenJarvus Green-Ellis' experience in the locker room and the Bengals backfield can't be quantified, but what can be is the fact he will count $3 million against Cincinnati's cap in 2014 as a third-string running back if he makes the roster.
Giovani Bernard has been a breakout star, and Cincinnati's pickup of Jeremy Hill in Round 2 of the 2014 draft was a strong indication Green-Ellis' days with the Bengals have entered their twilight.
Earlier this month, Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson said Green-Ellis and the Bengals are involved in "a very tough numbers game." While Green-Ellis is the "ultimate pro's pro" and well respected in the organization, Hobson noted, both Green-Ellis' age (29) and cap number factor into a decision to keep him in Cincinnati.
Knowing he would likely be third on the depth chart behind Bernard and Hill, Green-Ellis might also prefer to play for a team that would give him a more significant role. While the most likely outcome here is that the Bengals give Green-Ellis another year to mentor the developing backs, the numbers are making less and less sense to keep him.
The Tennessee Titans put left tackle Michael Roos on notice when they signed Michael Oher in free agency to play right tackle and drafted standout left tackle Taylor Lewan in Round 1.
The Titans could choose to keep Roos on the roster for depth, but he's entering the last year of his contract with a cap number of $6.625 million. The Titans would not incur dead money against the cap for cutting him.
Roos was middle-of-the-pack in 2013, finishing 16th in Pro Football Focus' rankings for offensive tackles (subscription required). He allowed two sacks and seven hits, but 36 hurries.
If the Titans are looking to the future and looking for the right time financially to reshuffle their line, then Roos won't survive final roster cuts. Tennessee may also choose to use Roos as trade bait, as he still has value on the market.
Knowshon Moreno's guaranteed pay, rather than his play or fitness this offseason, has to be the main reason Miami is giving him strong consideration for a roster spot. Moreno's one-year contract with the Dolphins includes $1.25 million in guaranteed money.
Miami placed Moreno on the physically unable to perform list on July 24, but he is expected to return sometime during training camp, per Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post. Moreno had an arthroscopic procedure on his knee shortly after minicamp.
The Dolphins would be hit with $1.25 million in dead money by cutting Moreno, and they need help at running back. But Daniel Thomas remains the team's starting third-down back, per Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, and Damien Williams is getting reps there as well.
While his guarantee alone probably ensures Moreno finishes out his one-year deal, the Dolphins may not ever get the help they needed by signing him in free agency. They may also have a rude awakening when they realize Moreno's 1,038 yards in 2013 were likely a product of the light boxes Denver's offense enjoys with Peyton Manning at the helm.
Jerome Simpson is waiting to hear if he will be suspended for pleading guilty for refusing to submit to a chemical test and careless driving back in January, for which a misdemeanor DWI charge was dropped, per Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
If Simpson is handed the second substance-related suspension of his career this offseason, the Vikings could turn to Jarius Wright, Adam Thielen or Rodney Smith for help behind starters Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson, per ESPN.com's Ben Goessling.
Simpson had 48 receptions for a career-high 726 yards and one touchdown in 2013, but his catch rate was only 50 percent, per Pro Football Focus, one of the lowest among all receivers. Wright also had two more touchdowns than Simpson last season. Simpson struggled to get yards after contact last season with just 182, compared to 355 for Jennings, though he was targeted just five more times than Simpson.
If Simpson is being outperformed by his teammates and continues having off-field issues, the Vikings may be better off to cut ties with him before the season.
If the 49ers hadn't acquired Stevie Johnson via a trade with Buffalo in May, Brandon Lloyd probably wouldn't be in danger of falling off the roster bubble.
It comes down to whether San Francisco keeps five or six receivers on the 53-man roster. With Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree, Johnson, Bruce Ellington, Quinton Patton and Kassim Osgood also in the mix, a roster spot for Lloyd is far from guaranteed.
Lloyd had a productive year in New England in 2012 with 911 yards and four touchdowns. He didn't play in 2013 even though six teams approached him with contract offers, but he finally agreed to a one-year, $1.005 million contract in April with San Francisco, all of which counts against the cap. He played for the 49ers for the first three years of his career.
If the 49ers keep six receivers on the roster, Lloyd can be expected to be among them. But one downside to San Francisco's impressive stockpile of depth all over the roster is that allocating six positions to receiver would be a luxury. As ESPN's Bill Williamson illustrates with his projected roster, keeping six receivers could mean Craig Dahl, Dan Skuta, Demarcus Dobbs or LaMichael James doesn't make the roster.
Speaking of Craig Dahl, the 49ers' aforementioned depth means veterans at multiple positions will have trouble making the 53-man roster, and Dahl falls into that category.
As of training camp, the top of the depth chart projects to be Antoine Bethea and Eric Reid starting at strong safety and free safety respectively, with rookie Jimmie Ward behind them playing the slot in nickel packages. After them, Bubba Ventrone and C.J. Spillman could push Dahl off the edge of the roster bubble.
Dahl will count $1.283 million against the 49ers cap in 2014.
St. Louis certainly isn't reaching for bodies to fill its depth chart at wide receiver. The question is whether the players they need to step up are capable, including boom-or-bust free-agent acquisition Kenny Britt.
Newly acquired from Tennessee, Britt could either elevate this Rams receiving corps or be yet another area of concern for this unit. His troubled career has been marked by a torn ACL and MCL, multiple arrests and a twice-strained hamstring.
Pro Football Focus graded Britt as the third-worst receiver in the league in 2013 with a league-low catch rate of 33.3 percent and seven drops.
He's demonstrated playmaking ability this offseason, but with his injury and character concerns, the Rams, who also have Chris Givens, 2013 first-rounder Tavon Austin, Austin Pettis, Stedman Bailey and Brian Quick on the depth chart, could decide he's not worth the risk or investment. His guaranteed money is $550,000.
All contract details courtesy of OverTheCap.com.