The Best Player Who Could Be Cut from Every NFL Roster This Offseason
This summer, a shadow will begin to spread across NFL training camps. A cold, dark wind will blow through locker rooms from Miami to Seattle. Fear will soon wrap its bony fingers around the hearts of players all over the league.
The specter of the grim reaper known as "The Turk" will stalk the land.
For those of you who haven't seen Hard Knocks, The Turk is football vernacular for the assistant coach who gets the unenviable task of fetching players so that they can walk the green mile to the meeting where they will be informed they're no longer on the team.
Usually, those players are late-round rookies and veteran journeymen who spend their football lives on the fringes of rosters. They come to expect that every knock at the door is the one that will send them packing.
Sometimes, however, The Turk catches players off guard. Maybe it's a high-priced veteran nearing the end of the line. Or a Day 2 pick who has disappointed in a big way.
Whatever the case, the players listed here had best keep their guard up. There's not much margin for error.
Or else they might just hear a knock at the door one night.
Wide Receiver Aaron Dobson
I was going to kick things off here with recently reinstated linebacker Daryl Washington, but the Arizona Cardinals were one step ahead of me there. Per ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss, the Cardinals released Washington last week.
Back to the old drawing board.
As a rookie with the New England Patriots in 2013, Aaron Dobson hauled in 37 passes for 519 yards and four touchdowns. Since then, however, the second-round pick has caught only 16 passes total. Last year in Detroit, Dobson didn't see the field.
The Cardinals signed Dobson back in January to a futures deal, mainly as some insurance against the injuries that ravaged their receiving corps last season. But with John Brown's sickle-cell symptoms under control and speedster J.J. Nelson and rookie Chad Williams also ostensibly higher up the depth chart than Dobson, unless someone gets hurt it's unlikely that Dobson will survive final cuts.
He's living proof that even the Patriots occasionally make mistakes.
Defensive End Adrian Clayborn
There was a time, not too long ago, when the argument could be made that Adrian Clayborn was the best defensive lineman the Atlanta Falcons had. In 13 games with the Falcons in 2016, Clayborn tallied 4.5 sacks—good for second on the team.
At 28, the seventh-year veteran is still a capable edge-setter when healthy, and by no means is it a sure bet that Atlanta will choose to cut ties with him just one year into the contract he signed in 2016.
But make no mistake—it's a genuine possibility.
The biggest issue is that "when healthy" part. Clayborn has missed time in three of his six NFL seasons, including 2016. In addition to a knee injury early in the year, Clayborn was a spectator for the Falcons' loss in Super Bowl LI after tearing his biceps.
Also, Atlanta's depth chart on the defensive front looks a lot different than it did when Clayborn arrived back in 2015. In addition to reigning sack king Vic Beasley, the Falcons added a prominent free agent in tackle Dontari Poe and another speedy edge-rusher in first-round pick Takkarist McKinley.
It's believed that Clayborn will be a full go for training camp, and if that's the case, he'll have a chance to earn a spot as a rotational lineman in 2017.
But he's going to have to earn it. If he can't stay on the practice field this summer, Clayborn has the makings of one of the bigger "names" who could be getting that knock at the door.
Tight End Benjamin Watson
This one just stinks.
Baltimore Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson is a renaissance man who enjoyed a renaissance season for the New Orleans Saints back in 2015, posting career numbers well past his 30th birthday.
Watson parlayed that big season into a free-agent deal with the Ravens, but last year Watson tore his Achilles tendon before ever seeing the field for the team in a game that counted.
Now, Watson is a 36-year-old tight end attempting to make a comeback from a major injury for a team with salary cap issues that can clear $3 million off the books by showing him the door.
It really does stink. Watson appeared to have more than a little left in the tank two years ago, and his books on race relations and parenting show him to be one of the more thoughtful (or at least publicly thoughtful) players in the NFL.
While some tight ends are conducting party cruises, he's attempting to address some of society's biggest and stickiest issues.
But the harsh reality is the Ravens don't pay Watson to be profound. They pay him to catch a football.
And unless he can show he's 100 percent ready to do that in pretty short order, the cap-strapped Ravens may be forced to make a business decision.
Outside Linebacker Preston Brown
I'll confess I don't understand this one.
With Zach Brown now in Washington and second-year pro Reggie Ragland yet to play in a meaningful NFL game after losing his rookie season to a knee injury, Preston Brown is arguably the most proven linebacker for the Buffalo Bills.
The fourth-year pro has topped 100 tackles in each of his first three seasons, including a career-high 139 stops a year ago.
And yet, almost from the moment new head coach Sean McDermott landed in Buffalo, there have been rumblings that Brown isn't a good "fit" for what McDermott wants to do defensively.
Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News wrote recently that it wouldn't surprise him to see Brown not last the summer in Western New York.
"Ragland, who missed all of his rookie season with a knee injury," Carucci said, "was drafted last year exclusively to Ryan's scheme. He doesn't have the ideal speed or quickness that McDermott's defense requires. Preston Brown could very well go from starter to off the team. At this point, ninth-year veteran Ramon Humber, signed as a free agent last year, has a better shot at starting."
As I said, I don't get it. Brown may not be Lavonte David, but he's a capable pro with some experience in the 4-3 who would appear at least an OK fit as the Bills' weak-side linebacker.
Things happening in Buffalo that don't make a lot of sense aren't unheard of, though, and from all indications McDermott has been given carte blanche to remake the team in his image.
If Brown is let go, he won't be out of work long.
Offensive Tackle Michael Oher
Despite the fact that offensive tackle Michael Oher has been in the NFL's concussion protocol dating all the way back to last October, Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman was still optimistic about Oher's 2017 status while speaking to Bryan Strickland of the team's website in March.
"He looks great, he sounds great, but he's still in the protocol," general manager Dave Gettleman said. "He's working out five days a week. He's working his fanny off. He's doing NFL workouts. He's fully engaged in that weight room."
A month later, Oher was still in the protocol, and Gettleman was a bit more terse about Oher's participation in OTAs, per Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer.
“We’re in OTAs right now and it’s voluntary and I don’t take attendance, so I’m not going to reply to that,” Gettleman said.
I'm guessing that Oher's recent arrest for allegedly assaulting an Uber driver didn't improve Gettleman's mood.
Oher's concussion issues are no joking matter. It's ominous that so many months later the much-publicized inspiration for the movie The Blind Side still hasn't been cleared for contact.
Given that the Panthers spent big free-agent money on Matt Kalil and used a second-round pick on tackle Taylor Moton, it would appear Carolina is preparing itself for the possibility he won't be.
Trouble with the law doesn't help the odds the team will wait around to find out.
Safety Harold Jones-Quartey
As Bleacher Report's Chris Roling wrote just after the 2017 NFL draft, the Chicago Bears were not good at the back end in 2016.
"Adrian Amos finished as the 27th-graded safety at PFF," Roling said, "which seems generous given the performance of the defensive backfield as a whole. Harold Jones-Quartey finished 67th and Deon Bush 75th."
Of course, the Bears weren't good on the front end, either. Or the sides. But I digress.
The Bears were aggressive about addressing the safety position in the offseason. One spot will all but surely have a new starter in veteran free-agent Quintin Demps. He could be flanked by another new face in rookie fourth-round pick Eddie Jackson of Alabama.
Given Demps' age and skill set, it's reasonable to suspect he'll start at strong safety—the position Jones-Quartey made 12 starts at in 2016.
Is Jones-Quartey a great player? Hardly. Calling him a good player might be stretching it, although in his defense he's only been in the league two years and it's hardly unheard of for a young defensive back to struggle early in his NFL career.
However, Jones-Quartey does have 16 starts on his NFL resume, and the notion of the "most talented" player to be cut is relative to the talent on each NFL roster.
Sadly for the Bears, that talent level in 2017 isn't all that high.
Defensive End Wallace Gilberry
Wallace Gilberry is the definition of a veteran journeyman. The 6'2", 270-pound defensive end has played for three teams over nine NFL seasons, splitting time in 2016 between the Detroit Lions and a second stint with the Cincinnati Bengals.
It's in the Queen City where Gilberry enjoyed his most successful NFL seasons. Over a two-year period from 2012 to 2013, Gilberry was a capable strong-side edge-setter for the Bengals, averaging 24 tackles and seven sacks a season over that span.
Cincinnati may also be the end of the line for the 32-year-old.
It's just a numbers game. Gilberry was already clinging to a spot at the edge of the Bengals roster. He played only 140 snaps for the team last year, per Pro Football Focus, last among its defensive ends.
And that spot became all the more precarious after the draft. The Bengals added two more edge-rushers in Carl Lawson of Auburn and Kansas State's Jordan Willis who will all but certainly make the team. They also added some additional depth at tackle in the fourth round in Ryan Glasgow.
Given those additions and the younger players like Will Clarke and newcomer Chris Smith ahead of him on the depth chart, the writing is on the wall.
Maybe Gilberry will latch on somewhere else, but there's no shame if he doesn't.
Nine years is a very nice run for a player who wasn't drafted back in 2008.
Quarterback Brock Osweiler
When the Cleveland Browns traded for Brock Osweiler (and by "traded for" I mean "bought," as it was the dumpiest salary dump that ever dumped when the Texans sent a second- and sixth-round pick along with Osweiler to Cleveland just to get out from under his abomination of a contract), the prevailing wisdom was that the Browns would either trade the 26-year-old or release him.
Sixteen million dollars to sit at home and watch TV is nice work if you can get it.
However, as ESPN.com's Pat McManamon reported as time passed and no trade developed, Browns vice president of football operations Sashi Brown's tune changed a bit in regard to the lanky quarterback.
"Yeah, we expect Brock to be here," Brown said when asked whether Osweiler would be on the team in training camp. "He is in [for the offseason program] and has done a good job coming in the first couple days. He is a positive young man who has some ability and talent. We look forward to him trying to establish himself here and have a chance to compete to be the starting quarterback."
Now, it makes sense that Brown would at least see what he has in Osweiler before setting over $15 million on fire. Cleveland head coach Hue Jackson has a reputation for developing quarterbacks, and the Texans saw something that led them to give Osweiler $72 million over four years a season ago.
No, really. They did.
In fact, in my recent predictions of Week 1 starting lineups for every AFC team, I listed Osweiler as Cleveland's starting quarterback.
That was well-received, lemme tell ya.
But if Osweiler loses a camp battle to Cody Kessler and/or rookie DeShone Kizer proves a quick study, it's still a real possibility that Osweiler spends 2017 on the best paid vacation ever.
Running Back Alfred Morris
Once upon a time, Alfred Morris looked to be a star in the making, a young tailback who gained over 1,600 rushing yards as a rookie and topped 1,000 yards on the ground in each of his first three NFL seasons.
Now, Morris is a 28-year-old running back who picked up less than 250 yards on the ground in 2016 as Ezekiel Elliott's understudy.
He's also squarely on the roster bubble in Big D.
The reason is that Morris isn't special. Or more accurately, he isn't special teams. With the Cowboys re-upping Darren McFadden this offseason, Morris is effectively a third-stringer who doesn't play on special teams. And Cowboys VP Stephen Jones allowed to Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that's far from an ideal scenario.
“I will say this: You’d love for your third back, in a perfect world, to be a contributor on special teams,” Jones said. “Obviously, [McFadden and Morris] are first- and second-down running backs for us, and they’re going to compete. They’re pros. We’re lucky to have them. You never know what tomorrow brings, and we’ll see what happens. A little bit they play similar roles in our offense, and you’d like for that third back to be able to contribute on special teams, whether it’s a [third-down] back or a third back who happens to be really good on special teams.”
The Cowboys have been trying to deal Morris this offseasn but haven't found any takers.
Likely because NFL teams know just as well as I do Morris' days in Dallas are numbered.
Offensive Tackle Donald Stephenson
Some may find it a bit odd that a Denver Broncos team hurting for help up front might cut bait on one of its starting tackles from the previous season.
However, there are a couple of things that point to Donald Stephenson getting the axe in Denver this summer.
For starters, there's Stephenson's level of play in 2016, which was, in a word, awful. Among 76 qualifying tackles at Pro Football Focus, Stephenson graded out dead last in the AFC. He allowed four sacks and the third-most QB hits (10) in the league.
Also, with the arrival of free-agent signee Menelik Watson and first-round pick Garett Bolles, Stephenson's odds of starting in 2017 aren't especially good. If their performance last year is any indication, Stephenson will be lucky to hold on to swing tackle duties over third-year pro Ty Sambrailo.
Finally, there's the matter of Stephenson's reworked contract. As Josh Alper reported for Pro Football Talk, Stephenson received $2 million when he restructured his contract in March.
Two million more becomes due if (and only if) Stephenson makes the 53-man roster.
If Watson can stay healthy and Bolles picks up the NFL game quickly, Stephenson may not ever see that money.
Defensive Tackle Haloti Ngata
As Justin Rogers reported for the Detroit News, before deciding to play a 12th NFL season, Detroit Lions defensive tackle Haloti Ngata took the extraordinary step of consulting an independent neurologist.
"I went and talked to a neurologist, wanted to make sure my head was good, all that," Ngata said. "He said everything was pretty good, really good actually. I was like, 'All right, I'm going to keep on playing.' My wife was like, 'I guess so.' ... With all the things that going on with brain stuff throughout the league, you definitely keep an eye on it. You hear that stuff and you don't want to have problems when you're older. I want to be able to raise my kids and be able to play with them when they're older and still be able to beat them in wrestling matches and stuff when they're teenagers."
That level of self-awareness from Ngata is admirable. But there's no guarantee that when Week 1 rolls around Ngata will be part of Detroit's plans.
Once one of the NFL's most feared 1-technique tackles, Ngata is, at this point in his career, an average player at best. He barely cracked the top 50 options at the position in 2016, per Pro Football Focus.
The Lions brought in a pair of young tackles in free agency who could, in theory, man the 3-technique tackle slot. That would allow A'Shawn Robinson to kick over to his more natural spot at nose tackle.
It would also make Ngata expendable and save the team over $5.5 million against the cap.
Green Bay Packers
Wide Receiver Jeff Janis
Jeff Janis of the Green Bay Packers certainly looks the part of an NFL wide receiver. And Janis has had his moments in the NFL, most notably on the receiving end of an Aaron Rodgers Hail Mary against the Arizona Cardinals.
However, after watching an undrafted rookei leapfrog Janis on the depth chart last year, Zach Pereles of Sports Illustrated believes that Janis' time in Titletown may have run out.
"Last year seemed to be a big opportunity for the Saginaw Valley State product," he said, "but he was eventually surpassed on the depth chart by guys such as undrafted rookie free-agent Geronimo Allison. Piling on that, the Packers added two big wide receivers in Purdue’s DeAngelo Yancey (fifth round) and LSU’s Malachi Dupre (seventh) in the draft. Janis carries a minuscule dead cap of about $12,000 this season, and it looks like the Packers are moving on."
It's hard to argue with that logic. The injuries that swept through the Packers receivers in 2016 presented a golden opportunity for Janis to establish himself—to make a move up a crowded depth chart at his position.
Instead, if anything, Janis lost ground.
And that depth chart is even more crowded now.
Inside Linebacker Brian Cushing
Speaking of albatross contracts from the desk of Houston Texans general manager Rick Smith.
In his defense, when the Texans signed Brian Cushing to a six-year, $52.5 million extension back in 2013, the former USC standout was one year removed from a 114-tackle season. He hit triple digits in two of his first three years in the league.
As it turns out, Cushing's injury-marred 2012 campaign was the more accurate barometer of how things were going to pan out from there.
Since signing that fat contract, Cushing has made it through all of one 16-game season. In addition to numerous lower-body injuries, the 30-year-old received a PED suspension.
And if you've seen Cushing play of late, it's not hard to see that those injuries have taken a toll. A player who was never great in coverage is now a big liability in that regard—in an era where linebackers are asked to do that more than ever before.
The Texans added the player most believe will eventually replace Cushing in the second round of the 2017 NFL draft, and the most likely scenario is Cushing remains a nominal starter next to Benardrick McKinney, with rookie Zach Cunningham taking the field in subpackages.
But if Cunningham, who oozes speed and athleticism, shines in camp, the Texans might be left considering another scenario—either asking Cushing to take a substantial pay cut or letting him go.
The latter move would save the team over $6.5 million against the cap even with the dead money Houston would take on.
Inside Linebacker Jon Bostic
When the Chicago Bears drafted Jon Bostic in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft, the hope was that the former Florida star would anchor the middle of the Bears defense for years.
Now, four seasons into a wildly disappointing career, Bostic is preparing to try out for his fourth team. However, he insisted to the team's website, via Kirk Larrabee of 247 Sports, that a wide-open depth chart in Indianapolis presents him the perfect chance to get his career back on track.
“It’s a big opportunity," Bostic said. "For me, it’s just finally being healthy. It took a while, but sometimes the body has to go through it. For me, going before then not missing a game since my ninth-grade year in high school, I went a long time not missing a game, not missing practice. It took a toll though. At the end of the day, the body feels good, feel fresh. So, I’m ready to go."
There's one big problem with Bostic's rebound plans.
That depth chart at inside linebacker isn't so wide open anymore.
In addition to incumbents Edwin Jackson and Antonio Morrison, the Colts signed free-agent Sean Spence and drafted Northwestern's Anthony Walker in the fifth round of this year's draft.
Granted, none of those players are world-beaters. But the argument can be made Bostic is now the low man on a Five Guys totem pole.
Mmmmmm. Five Guys.
In a two-man race, that ain't good.
Running Back Chris Ivory
As Jim Kleinpeter of the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported, Jaguars executive vice president for player personnel Tom Coughlin raved about LSU tailback Leonard Fournette after the Jaguars selected him fourth overall in April's draft.
"He's special," said Coughlin. "We need playmakers. We need people to put the ball in the end zone. We need balance, do something about creating a better situation where the quarterback doesn't have the entire game on his shoulders."
That might be good news for the Jaguars, but it was most assuredly not good news for Jacksonville running back Chris Ivory.
One year after signing a five-year, $32 million contract with the Jags, the 29-year-old Ivory now finds himself third on Jacksonville's depth chart. Fournette will all but certainly be the team's lead back, and T.J. Yeldon is a superior receiver to Ivory.
Being the third back for a team that ranked 24th in the NFL in rushing attempts while also receiving a hefty salary is not a combination that screams "job security."
The structure of Ivory's contract will probably keep him in town one more season. But the Jaguars have plenty of wiggle room under the salary cap.
Enough that the Jags could easily just eat the cap hit if they so chose.
Kansas City Chiefs
Running Back C.J. Spiller
C.J. Spiller's days as a difference-maker in the National Football League were a long time ago. The 29-year-old's lone 1,000-yard season came back in 2012, and Spiller touched the ball all of 19 times during the 2016 season.
A 2016 season split between three different teams.
Spiller landed with a fourth team in a year after the season ended, signing with the Chiefs as a free agent. But per Terez Paylor of the Kansas City Star, Chiefs GM John Dorsey said there was good reason why the team inked Spiller off the street.
"Dorsey says," Paylor tweeted, "he saw that speed and twitch back in C.J. Spiller."
I'd like to believe this. Back in 2012, Spiller was a lethal ball-carrier in space. His star was on the rise. The sky was the limit.
Insert cliche here.
Then Spiller got hurt, and one injury after another sapped his speed and explosiveness.
In all honesty, about the most Spiller can hope for in Kansas City is that word gets around that Dorsey wasn't just blowing smoke. That he really does appear to be healthy and moving well.
Spiller's not cracking a depth chart that includes Spencer Ware, Charcandrick West and now rookie Kareem Hunt, but positive reviews of his time in K.C. might at least get him another shot somewhere else.
Los Angeles Chargers
Offensive Guard Orlando Franklin
Editor Update: Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, Franklin was released Monday morning.
Back in 2015, Orlando Franklin got a big payday from the (then) San Diego Chargers—nearly $37 million over five seasons.
That the team spent two of its first three draft picks in its first year as the Los Angeles Chargers on guards shows how well that deal's worked out.
In 2016, Franklin was 70th out of 77 qualifiers among guards at Pro Football Focus. The year before, he ranked 76th.
It's not any sort of stretch to say that Franklin may have been the worst starting left guard in the NFL the past two years. A player whose deficiencies (along with any number of injuries) have left both a shaky Chargers line and their quarterback exposed.
However, in the opinion of many pundits, second-round pick Forrest Lamp is the real deal. Mike Mayock of NFL Network wrote that Lamp's tape against the University of Alabama last year was "the single most dominant offensive line performance I've seen against that front in five years."
Now, Lamp is switching from tackle to guard at the NFL level. So there will be a learning curve. But if he and fellow rookie Dan Feeney emerge in training camp as the Chargers starters, a $7 million reserve who hasn't blocked anyone in two years is going to raise eyebrows.
Los Angeles Rams
Wide Receiver Mike Thomas
No, not that Mike Thomas. The kid in New Orleans is about as safe as safe gets.
As a rookie season in which he made highlight reels for all the wrong reasons wound down, wide receiver Mike Thomas of the Los Angeles Rams told ESPN.com's Alden Gonzalez he was trying hard to shake the perception that those gaffes define him.
"I don't want people to identify me as, 'Oh, he just makes mistakes all over the field,'" Thomas said. "I'm not like that. At the end of the day, I can't control that. I have been doing a good job on special teams and trying to help out offensively. And I'm just looking forward to keep playing. That's out of my control. I can't do nothing about that."
However, those gaffes did rather define Thomas in 2016. In just over 100 offensive snaps, Thomas caught only 33 percent of the passes thrown in his direction, per Pro Football Focus. He had almost as many drops (two) as he did receptions (three).
Never mind the botched punts and special teams miscues.
I included Thomas here because it wasn't that long ago he was billed a Day 3 sleeper in the 2016 draft. An athletic youngster from Southern Miss with potential to do some real damage in the NFL with time.
But Thomas' first season saw him buried at the bottom of arguably the worst receiving corps in football, and the Rams added two more pass-catchers in this year's draft.
Potential or no, the squeeze is coming.
Outside Linebacker Koa Misi
Miami Dolphins linebacker Koa Misi has already had something of a bumpy offseason. Amid rumors the 30-year-old could be a cap casualty, Misi took a pay cut to remain with the team. And his agent insisted to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald that Misi will be both medically cleared for training camp and a part of the Dolphins in 2017.
“He’s in the Dolphins’ plans,” agent Kenny Zuckerman said. “If he’s healthy, he’ll be there. He will be [medically] cleared during the offseason.”
Of course, Zuckerman said that before the Dolphins selected Ohio State linebacker Raekwon McMillan on the second day of the 2017 NFL draft.
Courtney Brunious of Dolphins Wire expects Miami to give the youngster every opportunity to win the third starter's role with veterans Kiko Alonso and Lawrence Timmons.
"The Dolphins will likely give McMillan every chance possible to earn the starting role," Brunious said, "as they hope to definitively fix the team’s run defense issues. If he can find his footing on the outside, his youth and propensity to be around the ball should earn him a spot next to Alonso and Timmons as part of a group of linebackers that are wholly different than what the team rolled out in 2016."
McMillan is going to win that battle. He's much more athletic than Misi, every bit as hard-nosed and infinitely more durable.
It's that last part that may be the end of Misi in Miami. When on the field, he's a capable run-stuffing SAM linebacker who will land a second chance elsewhere.
But Misi hasn't played in all 16 games since he was a rookie—in 2010.
Wide Receiver Jarius Wright
As Chris Tomasson reported for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Jarius Wright was glad to be back on the practice field at the team's first round of voluntary workouts.
"The first day went really well," said Wright. "It was good to get a chance to get back in with my teammates and with all the new guys, just start building some team chemistry. It was great. I enjoyed meeting all the new players we had. It was fun being back."
We'll see if he still feels that way in a few months.
As things stand today, Wright is the Vikings' nominal No. 3 receiver. However, the Vikings don't want him in that role to start the season.
They want second-year pro Laquon Treadwell to start living up to his first-round billing. They want recent pickup Michael Floyd to recapture his 1,000-yard form from his days in Arizona.
They want one of those outside receivers to materialize so that the Vikings can kick Stefon Diggs into the slot and roll out a trio of Diggs, Floyd or Treadwell and Adam Thielen.
Wright's managed to stick in Minnesota for five seasons despite never reaching 600 receiving yards, but last year the 27-year-old missed half the season and managed only 11 grabs.
In other words, that Minnesota ice is pretty thin under Wright's feet.
New England Patriots
Running Back Dion Lewis
If you've followed the New England Patriots for any amount of time, then you know this to be true.
With a precious few exceptions, no spot on the Patriots roster is "safe."
It's especially true in the backfield, where things have become more crowded than Boston streets at rush hour.
The Patriots added both Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead in free agency to a backfield that already included Brandon Bolden, James White, youngster D.J. Foster and Dion Lewis.
As it turns out, LeGarrette Blount could be back, too!
That sets up a numbers crunch in Beantown, and Ian Glendon of Yahoo Sports thinks the odd man out could surprise some.
"Dion Lewis is the only player with an extensive injury history," he said. "On a team that is utterly stacked on offense before you get to the running back group, it seems unlikely that the Patriots will hold six running backs on the roster. As fun and exhilarating as it is to watch Lewis play, most of the time you hold your breath when he takes a hit."
A couple of years ago, I'd have been laughed at for agreeing with Glendon. But since Lewis burst into prominence early in the 2015 season, he's been known much more for showing up on the injury report than in the box score.
It would be a tough break for a talented 26-year-old tailback. But the Patriots have never shied from making the tough calls before.
They won't now.
New Orleans Saints
Inside Linebacker Manti Te'o
No matter what Manti Te'o does in the NFL, he's always going to be known as that guy who had the imaginary girlfriend who died.
It's too bad, because over four seasons in San Diego, Te'o had actually become a pretty good linebacker, especially against the run.
At first glance, he'd appear to be a nice addition to a Saints defense that can use all the help it can get. But Te'o wasn't the only addition the Saints made at the linebacker position.
Far from it.
Before bringing in Te'o, the Saints signed A.J. Klein. Klein plays the same position, has been much more durable than Te'o and inked a contract that had quite a bit more meat in its gumbo.
Sorry. I forced that metaphor.
The Saints also drafted Florida linebacker Alex Anzalone in Round 3, who offers more in the way of athleticism and coverage skills than Te'o.
And that's without even mentioning holdovers Craig Robertson, Dannell Ellerbe and Stephone Anthony.
Now, not all of those linebackers will be vying for the same spot, and if he can stay healthy, Te'o might stick as a reserve in the middle or on the strong side.
But after making it through only three games last year, that "if" is anything but imaginary.
New York Giants
Outside Linebacker J.T. Thomas
New York Giants linebacker J.T. Thomas missed almost all of 2016 after tearing his ACL in the season opener, but Thomas told ESPN.com's Jordan Ranaan he should be a full go for training camp.
"I'm taking it one day at a time. I'm at about 75-80 percent. I'll be ready to go in training camp," Thomas said. "I'm really, really trying to time the thing up, so when that light comes on Sunday there isn't any excuses why you won't see No. 55 on the field."
On one hand, that's a good thing. Despite the fact that they have arguably the weakest LB corps in the NFL, the New York Giants ignored the position on draft day in 2017, which could open up substantial snaps for Thomas in 2017.
But the team is reportedly high on youngster B.J. Goodson as this year's starter in the middle. Defensive captain Jonathan Casillas will likely reprise his role at WILL. And the Giants have a veteran capable of backing up both spots in Keenan Robinson.
Now, if Thomas can show his knee is 100 percent healed, an argument can be made he's the best middle linebacker on the team. If Goodson fails to meet expectations, Thomas could wind up both starting and playing in subpackages.
However, if the knee's still an issue and/or Goodson takes off like the Giants hope, Thomas could just as easily wind up on the street, the victim of a cap-clearing move that would save the G-Men $3 million in 2017.
New York Jets
Wide Receiver Eric Decker
Given the dearth of talent on the New York Jets roster, one would think the last thing the team wants to do is sever ties with its best receiver.
So of course rumors have swirled for weeks that Gang Green might amputate wide receiver Eric Decker.
Get it? Gang Green? Amputate?
Oh, c'mon! That was good!
Decker's 2016 was an injury-marred mess, and the 30-year-old is coming off both hip and shoulder surgeries. But Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan told Darryl Slater of NJ.com he anticipates having Decker in the fold for training camp.
"I think he should be able to compete in most of the OTAs, maybe some non-contact stuff. When we go into training camp, we may restrict him a little bit, just to make sure he's good and ready to go. But he's been making good progress and he should be fine, I think. I anticipate him being ready to start the season, unless there's a setback that we're not aware of."
As Slater points out, the best move from a cap savings standpoint would be to retain Decker through this season—never mind that it might make sense for New York's quarterbacks to have someone to throw to in 2017.
But regardless of whether Decker's there, the Jets are going to be truly, abjectly terrible this year, so it's entirely possible Macaggnan will just move on and see what else he has in the youngsters at the position.
If you're going to tank, do it right.
Offensive Tackle Austin Howard
The Oakland Raiders had the best offensive line in the AFC in 2016, a line that helped propel them to the postseason for the first time in over a decade.
However, every line has a weak link, and for the Raiders last year that weak link was right tackle Austin Howard. The eighth-year veteran, who made 10 starts on the right side, allowed four sacks and ranked well outside the top 50 at his position, per Pro Football Focus.
It's not a coincidence that the Raiders looked to bolster the tackle position in the 2017 NFL draft, adding Florida tackle David Sharpe, who drew praise from head coach Jack Del Rio, according to Jimmy Durkin of the San Jose Mercury News.
“He’s a big, talented guy,” Del Rio said. “We think he can play either side. Again, much like we’re doing with all of these guys, they’re going to get a chance to come in and compete and earn their way. We’re looking forward to getting started with him. He’s a big man. He has really good feet. We think his best football is in front of him.”
Or that the team also signed a veteran free agent in Marshall Newhouse who had a significantly higher grade at PFF last year than Howard did.
There will be a three-way battle royal to win the starting job opposite Donald Penn in 2017, and while Howard's the incumbent, he's not exactly the favorite.
Is it more likely that even if Howard comes in last the Raiders would just hang on to a veteran lineman who has starting experience at both tackle and guard? Yes.
But $6 million is a lot to pay a guy who isn't getting on the field.
Running Back Ryan Mathews
There have been rumblings that Ryan Mathews was living on borrowed time in Philadelphia for a while now. The 30-year-old tailback has had both injury and fumbling issues throughout his career, and Mathews' release would save the Eagles a cool $4 million against the salary cap in 2017.
It's all but certainly going to happen.
When Jimmy Kempski of the Philly Voice asked Eagles GM Howie Roseman about Mathews back in March, Roseman was both coy and revealing as to why Mathews is still on the team.
"Ryan’s doing great, and we fully expect him to be ready to play," Roseman said. "He’s under contract, and so, I think it’s as simple as that at this time."
When asked about being able to release a player who was injured the year before, however, Roseman added, "It all depends on the specifics of that, and the timeline, it would probably have to be player-specific to answer, but certainly the league rules prohibit you from cutting a player who is injured."
And there it is. Mathews is still rehabbing from neck surgery, and the Injury Protection Benefit in the new collective bargaining agreement states that if an injured player is released before passing a physical, his team is liable to pay him a benefit of either half his salary or $1.15 million, whichever is smaller.
Now, if another team then signed Mathews and he passed that team's physical, the Eagles would be off the hook. But the safer play is to just bide their time until Mathews can pass that physical in Philly.
As soon as he does, he's as good as gone.
And that could quite possibly be it for a seven-year veteran who has twice topped 1,000 yards in a season.
Wide Receiver Sammie Coates
When the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted USC wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster in the second round of the 2017 NFL draft, recently reinstated wide receiver Martavis Bryant made it clear on Twitter that it wasn't his job that was in jeopardy.
As Curt Popejoy of Steelers Wire reported, Bryant first tweeted, "that's Sammie Coates' replacement not mine. Take it how you want to. I am back."
Just in case there was any doubt what he meant, Bryant then followed that up with, "It's a business so I treat it like that."
The tweets drew a laugh from Coates and admonishment from head coach Mike Tomlin. Why Coates was laughing I do not know...
Because Bryant is right.
Obviously, Antonio Brown will nab a starting spot (how's that for analysis?). Provided he can stay out of trouble, the other outside spot is likely Bryant's given the ability he's shown to hurt defenses deep. Eli Rogers and Smith-Schuster will battle for slot duties, but regardless of the winner, both will make the team.
That leaves Coates, who is coming off an uneven season where he caught only 21 passes, fighting for a reserve spot with the likes of veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey, free-agent signee Justin Hunter and others.
If Coates drops as many passes in camp as he did last season (10 of his 54 targets in 2016 were flubbed, per Pro Football Focus), he isn't going to be laughing long.
San Francisco 49ers
Linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong
Given the state of the roster that John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan inherited when they took over the San Francisco 49ers, they probably aren't going to be in a rush to release any "talented" players.
However, there are still going to be a few odd men out, especially with the 49ers moving to a four-man defensive front in 2017.
It might seem odd to talk about the talent and potential of a former waiver-wire claim who made all of 11 tackles in two seasons with the 49ers. But it's been an odd couple of years for linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong.
Last year, it appeared Armstrong was finally going to get a chance to show what he can do with extended playing time. But injuries (as they often have with the 28-year-old) cut his ascension short, with a torn pectoral ending his season in September.
Still, as the team's website reported, the Niners thought highly enough of Armstrong to re-up him for two more years in December.
“Ray-Ray had a strong offseason and was off to a good start in 2016 prior to being sidelined for the season due to injury,” said then-general manager Trent Baalke. “He has continued to work hard in his rehab and is a young player with a bright future in front of him. We look forward to his continued development and contributions, both on and off the field.”
Of course, Baalke isn't the GM anymore. And Armstrong's a curious fit in the 4-3, although it's possible he could back up Malcolm Smith at the WILL spot.
If Armstrong does wind up squeezed out, it isn't going to cause many grumbles.
But it could provide another NFL club a nice opportunity to add a sneaky talent late in the game.
Running Back Alex Collins
Some of the players listed here are included more for what I think they are capable of doing than what they've done to date.
Such is the case with tailback Alex Collins, who had a mostly forgettable rookie season in 2016 with the Seattle Seahawks.
After showing up to training camp a little out of shape and struggling with the playbook, Collins improved as the season wore on. By the end of November, Collins was getting a few carries a game and had earned some praise from head coach Pete Carroll.
“Alex has made a lot of progress,” Carroll told Todd Milles of the Tacoma News Tribune. “He practices with great intensity every day so he’s at his best. He’s ready to go. He’s really healthy and ready for the challenge. I really feel comfortable with him fitting in our offense.”
Collins finished the year with 31 carries for 125 yards and a score, and he tallied 27 yards on eight totes in the postseason.
So what's the problem?
The Seahawks have so many tailbacks on the roster at present that counting them requires the removal of shoes. The team has added them in every way imaginable this offseason, from free agency (Eddie Lacy) to the draft (Chris Carson) and even a waiver claim (Mike Davis)
Depending on how you feel about Davis, that leaves Collins (at best) fourth or fifth on the backfield depth chart.
And that leaves him very little margin for error when camp rolls around.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Kicker Nick Folk
Yes, a kicker.
Last year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo with the 59th pick of the NFL draft. The All-American was going to be a kicking machine, punching balls through the uprights with robotic accuracy.
Um...yeah. About that.
After never missing a field goal from inside 40 yards at FSU, Aguayo missed half of his first eight NFL field goals. By season's end, Aguayo had missed nine times and had a miserable 71 percent success rate.
Enter 32-year-old veteran Nick Folk, who spent the last seven years kicking for the New York Jets.
If this were a 100 percent fair battle, a matter of may the best kicker win, then my money would be on Folk. He doesn't have a huge leg, but he's a reliable veteran who topped 87 percent last year and has missed the same number of extra points in 10 years that Aguayo has in one.
But this isn't a fair fight. Unless Aguayo completely falls apart in camp, the Buccaneers aren't going to throw in the towel on a kicker they traded up in Round 2 to select.
No matter how many times I type that, it feels...unnatural.
Folk will find work at some point in 2017.
But it isn't going to be in Tampa.
Defensive Tackle Antwaun Woods
This one comes with a disclaimer. Well, actually two. Or maybe I'm cheating.
Can you cheat at something you make the rules for?
Anyway, if Tennessee Titans defensive lineman Karl Klug's rehab from a torn Achilles drags on into the regular season, it's entirely possible that second-year lane-clogger Antwaun Woods will make the 53-man roster.
Even if he doesn't, Woods' visit from "The Turk" will come with an asterisk. Woods showed enough in limited late-season duty to at the very least begin Year 2 of his NFL career the same way as Year 1—on the practice squad. That is, unless another team makes a move to add Woods to its active roster.
Woods isn't ever going to be a huge sack guy. What he is, however, is a huge guy—a 320-plus pound, high-motor 1-technique who can afford the Titans (or another team) valuable depth at a position where finding quality reserves can be easier said than done.
There's a reason why Woods was promoted late last season, and if the Titans aren't willing to offer him a spot on the active roster, there's a good chance some other 3-4 team is.
Running Back Matt Jones
What a difference a year makes.
At this point in 2016, Washington Redskins tailback Matt Jones sat atop the team's depth chart at the position. He held that position well into the regular season. As a matter of fact, Jones piled up two 100-yard efforts over Washington's first seven games and was on a 1,000-yard pace.
Then he was benched and spent most of the rest of the season inactive.
Simply put, Jones continued to do that which Jones has always done. That which NFL tailbacks simply cannot do.
He kept putting the ball on the turf.
In two NFL seasons, Jones has fumbled an eye-popping eight times. Even more alarmingly, six of those fumbles wound up in the possession of Washington's opponents.
And it appears the Redskins have had enough. Per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, Washington shopped Jones during the NFL draft, and the selection that weekend of Oklahoma workhorse Samaje Perine leaves Jones buried on the depth chart.
It's looking more and more like Jones is like honesty and common sense—on his way out of Washington.
Still, a 24-year-old tailback who has averaged over 4.5 yards a carry should land on his feet.
Preferably with the ball still in his hands.