NFL Free Agency: Breaking Down Landscape After First Round of Cuts

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NFL Free Agency: Breaking Down Landscape After First Round of Cuts
Uncredited/Associated Press
Former Chicago Bears safety Adrian Wilson

On this past Tuesday, all NFL teams were required to narrow down their respective rosters to 75. 

This piece will look at the the big names left on the market. It will also delve into players whose talents and efforts have in flying under the radar, as well as younger players whose upside remains tantalizing.

*An entire list of the players cut can be found here, courtesy of CBSSports.com

 

Biggest Names Cut

Perhaps the most noteworthy transaction was the release of former All-Pro safety Adrian Wilson, who had signed a one-year deal in June with the Chicago Bears but lasted only two months. 

At 34, Wilson's best football is clearly behind him. However for an NFL team in need of depth at the safety position, he could fit the bill. Wilson also bring high character and experience. The Washington Redskins in particular could kick the tires on the five-time Pro Bowler. 

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Veteran defensive tackle Alan Branch was waived by the Buffalo Bills, as reported by John Breech of CBSSports.com. This is unsurprising to an extent, as Branch was recently arrested for a DUI charge.

I'd still imagine him garnering some interest from around the league. Although he's not exactly had a great offseason, he's still got some talent at what is a position of need for some teams.

Buffalo did think highly enough of Branch to give him a three-year extension (before legal troubles popped up). Branch is versatile enough to play anywhere on the DL, depending on scheme. Although he doesn't put up huge numbers, he's a solid rotational player, if not a starter. Should at least one team overlook his character concerns, expect Branch to be on an NFL roster this year. 

According to Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com, the New England Patriots released a trio of veteran defenders in defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, defensive end Will Smith and linebacker James Anderson.

Kelly and Smith, both 33, bring experience to a team in need of it on the defensive line. Smith is coming off of a torn ACL. At his age, there are questions as to how he'll be able to hold up through the rigors of a 16-game regular season.  However, he does bring 67.5 career sacks to the table, and is a former Super Bowl winner with the New Orleans Saints. This sort of credibility could go a long way in helping the development of young defensive ends on an NFL roster. 

Veteran kicker Jay Feely was unable to beat out rookie kicker Chandler Catanzaro, and thus was released by the Arizona Cardinals

Feely does have the experience and resume to find work in the league. He was the starting kicker for the Cardinals the past four seasons, and connected on 83.3 percent of his chances a year ago.

The veteran kicker be on the short list for many teams, in the event of an injury or ineffectiveness to that franchise's starting kicker. 

Wide receiver Jacoby Ford was also released by the New York Jets, per Dom Cosentino of NJ.com

Ford was brought in with the potential to be the Jets' returner. This scenario never panned out, and thus he's left without a team. Ford has great speed, and it would not be a shock to see him snapped up by a team in need of help in both the return game and at wide receiver. 

 

Under-The-Radar Names Available

Per Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times, tackle Wade Smith was released by the Seattle Seahawks. Prior to his short stint in Seattle, Smith had started the past 64 games for the Houston Texans. The 33-year-old veteran could get looks in an offense that utilizes a zone-blocking scheme for its running game. 

At the very worst, Smith likely would be able to give a team some cover should it be grooming a young prospect at the position. And his experience could come in handy in mentoring a young prospect.

JACK DEMPSEY/Associated Press
Justice was unable to stick with Denver.

Multiple quarterbacks were cut at the deadline, including Ryan Lindley, Thad Lewis and Dennis Dixon. All three have varying degrees of NFL game experience and would function perfectly as a third-string signal-caller. 

Curiously, tackle Max Starks was released by the Arizona Cardinals, per Josh Alper of NBCSports.com. The longtime member of the Steelers helped pave the way for a vaunted Pittsburgh rushing attack. He has the ability to play both a left and right tackle, a versatility that will be attractive to NFL teams in need of help up front.  

Similarly, tackle Winston Justice was let go by the Denver BroncosA seven-year veteran, Justice could provide depth and experience to an offensive line in that of it.

 

Highest Upside Cuts

Corner Ras-I Dowling could be the player cut this past week with the most upside. 

A former high draft pick of the Patriots, Dowling linked up with the Jets this past year. Dowling has the physical traits to be a very good pro corner. However, his biggest issue has been his inability to stay healthy. This ultimately led to him being cut, per Cosentino

He represents the new ideal of NFL corners (in terms of his length and height). If he can stay off of injured reserve, he could be a steal for someone. He also has the versatility to play as either a corner or a safety. 

Linebacker Victor Butler was released by the New Orleans Saints, as reported by Mike Triplett of ESPN.com. A torn ACL, in addition to the emergence of younger players, ultimately cost Butler his job with the Saints. 

Only 27, Butler does have some ability. Her was able to accrue 11 sacks in four years with New Orleans as a pass-rushing specialist. Teams needing someone to get after the quarterback on third down would be wise to look at Butler.

The Oakland Raiders released former University of Arizona star wide receiver Juron Criner, per Alper. Criner was never able to make a huge impact. Although he doesn't have a ton of NFL experience, his film from days at the University of Arizona shows a dynamic athlete with tremendous leaping ability.  

At only 24, he is worth looking at as a developmental project.

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