With teams wrapping up a round of organized team activities and allocating precious practice time to rookies and veteran free agent signings, there are whispers regarding a number of veteran players and whether they are likely to retain a roster spot with their current teams.
OTA’s represent an opportunity for teams to see where newly acquired players might fit into rosters, and journeyman veterans generally spend more time on the sidelines than they prefer. It’s often noted around this time of the year that the NFL stands for "Not For Long."
Every year veterans are squeezed off rosters by younger, cheaper players often more willing to fulfill marginal roles on special teams while backing up at their regular position. For many veterans that don’t play special teams, they lose their roster spot once they lose their starting spot.
Here is a list of ten players that for various reasons are candidates to be with new teams by the time opening day rolls around. Some of these players have been on the trading block for months, while others are in danger of losing their spot due to younger players breathing down their neck or because their salaries don’t match their production.
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Buffalo
When the Bills chose to use their first round pick on running back C.J. Spiller, the writing was clearly on the wall for the disappointing Lynch. The enigmatic running back lost his starting spot to Fred Jackson last year and will likely lose his roster spot with Spiller on board.
Essentially, the Spiller pick showed that the Bills view Lynch as being more bother than he is worth and there are numerous reasons for that. There have been numerous reports of Lynch’s loutish behaviour in the Buffalo area to go along with his numerous off the field troubles.
Since joining the Bills, Lynch has been investigated for his involvement in a hit and run accident, plead guilty to misdemeanour weapons charges after police found weapons in a vehicle they searched after smelling marijuana coming from the vehicle, and been accused of stealing $20 from the wife of a Buffalo police officer.
Odds of remaining in Buffalo: nil. Look for Lynch to be traded for a low round draft pick during training camp.
Julius Jones, RB, Seattle
With a new coach in Seattle and Jones coming off of two largely disappointing seasons, there was a strong possibility entering the offseason that Jones would be looking for a new team in 2010. When Pete Carroll traded for veteran running backs Lendale White and Leon Washington, Jones situation became even more precarious.
With a $2.5 million base salary and third year player Justin Forsett being a similar player scheduled to earn $2 million less than Jones, it is a surprise that the Seahawks haven’t released Jones already. However, look for that to happen prior to training camp since it is unlikely the Seahawks will want to expose Jones to injury and be on the hook for his salary should he get hurt during the preseason.
Odds of remaining in Seattle: nil. Look for Jones to be released before training camp opens.
Mark Clayton, WR, Baltimore
After Clayton had 67 receptions for 939 yards and five touchdowns during his second year in the league in 2006, it appeared that the former Oklahoma product was on his way to eventually replacing Derrick Mason as the Ravens top wide receiver.
However, after three consecutive disappointing seasons, Clayton is now more likely to be looking for a new home in 2010. He hasn’t topped 700 yards over the last three years and is coming off a season in which he had 34 receptions for 480 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
The Ravens acquired Anquan Boldin and Donte Stallworth during the offseason and Boldin will start opposite Mason with Stallworth expected to contribute in the deep passing game. Clayton doesn’t contribute on special teams so it is unlikely the Ravens would dress him on game day even if he were on the roster.
Odds of remaining in Baltimore: 25 percent. Look for Clayton to be traded for a low round draft pick during training camp.
Michael Clayton, WR, Tampa Bay
Remarkably, the Buccaneers signed Clayton to a 5 year, $25 million contract prior to the 2009 season; this for player coming off a 38 reception, 484 yard, one touchdown season. In return, Clayton gave the Bucs the worst year of his career, producing 16 receptions for 230 yards and one score.
With the team having used its first and fourth round draft picks on Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams and acquiring former Eagle Reggie Brown in a trade, there are clear signs that the Bucs plan on revamping their group of wide receivers. Holdovers Sammie Stroughter, Maurice Stovall and Mark Bradley also remain on the roster.
With Benn, Williams and Stroughter guaranteed roster spots and Stovall showing some promise last year as a receiver and also a strong special teams contributor, Clayton’s roster spot is clearly in jeopardy.
Odds of remaining in Tampa Bay: 50 percent. No teams are going to trade for his massive contract so Clayton will be released if the team’s younger wide receivers show promise.
Deion Branch, WR, Seattle
Branch has been a bust for the Seahawks since they traded their 2006 first round pick to acquire him. During his four years in Seattle, Branch has averaged 558 yards receiving and three and a half touchdowns, hardly justifying his acquisition.
With the team in a rebuilding mode and having acquired T.J. Houshmandzadeh in free agency last offseason and wanting to find playing time for 2010 second round pick Golden Tate and 2009 third round pick Deon Butler, Branch will need to have a strong preseason to make the roster.
It doesn’t help matters that he is scheduled to make $5.5 million and the team is also trying to resurrect the careers of former first round busts Mike Williams and Reggie Williams.
Odds of remaining in Seattle: 50 percent. His contract is prohibitive which makes a trade unlikely, but he may need Tate and Butler to falter in order to retain his roster spot.
Jeremy Shockey, TE, New Orleans
Shockey played reasonably well last year during the Saints' Super Bowl season, battling injuries to finish with 48 receptions for 569 yards and three touchdowns. It was a nice bounce back season for Shockey who was a disappointing during his first year with the team in 2008.
Even though Shockey played well, the Saints chose to use their third round pick on Miami University tight end Jimmy Graham. In addition, the Saints have former Patriot David Thomas who played well last season in his first chance at extended playing time.
With a $3.8 million salary in 2010, the Saints may well decide that Shockey’s production can be replaced by Thomas and Graham. Perhaps that is why Shockey has chosen to work out with his teammates this spring.
Odds of remaining in New Orleans: 75 percent. His production doesn’t match his cost but the Saints are contenders to repeat in 2010 so they will likely want him back.
Patrick Crayton, WR, Dallas
While Crayton has been a loyal soldier of Jerry Jones in Dallas, it appears that the team doesn’t have a meaningful role for him in 2010.
With Miles Austin coming off a breakout season, Roy Williams unlikely to be jettisoned after signing a big contract and the team using its first round pick on hotshot rookie Dez Bryant, Crayton will struggle to find playing time in Dallas.
Jones has let the unhappy Crayton stay away from OTA's without punishing him and it appears that the Cowboys will likely let Crayton decide his own fate.
Odds of remaining in Dallas: 75 percent. While Crayton might not be happy, look for him to stay in Dallas in 2010. He isn't starting material but could be useful in Dallas in a limited role, including fulfilling the punt returner role.
Dwayne Jarrett, WR, Carolina
The Panthers used a 2007 second round pick to acquire the former University of Southern California product and in three years Jarrett has managed just 33 receptions for 388 yards and a touchdown.
Jarrett’s speed was a concern coming out of college and he has displayed little ability to gain separation at the NFL level. The Panthers have also not been happy that he refuses to use his big frame to shield defenders to make catches.
During the draft, the Panthers used third round picks on Brandon LaFell and converted quarterback Armanti Edwards, as well a sixth round pick on David Gettis. Both LaFell and Gettis are big receivers who have the size to replace Jarrett.
Odds of remaining in Carolina: 50 percent. He needs to beat out the rookies to earn the starting spot because the Panthers aren’t going to keep him around as a backup after three disappointing seasons since he doesn’t contribute on special teams.
Bryant Johnson, WR, Detroit
Since leaving the Cardinals, Johnson has been a disappointment with the 49ers in 2008 and last year in Detroit with the Lions. Although he is a gifted receiver with speed, size and decent hands, Johnson has been a tease, unable to turn his natural ability into production on a consistent basis.
The Lions signed Nate Burleson during the offseason, perhaps the premier free agent wide receiver on the market. His acquisition moves Johnson out of the starting lineup and likely off the roster.
The team employs Dennis Northcutt out of the slot and wants to find playing time for 2009 third round pick Derrick Williams, making Bryant a likely candidate for a new team in 2010.
Odds of remaining in Detroit: 10 percent. It’s unlikely the Lions will be willing to pay their fifth wide receiver $2.6 million in 2010.
Leroy Hill, LB, Seattle
Hill’s problems have nothing to do with his production on the field. Unfortunately, in a little over a year, Hill has been arrested for a domestic dispute and drug possession, and the Seahawks are sending him a message that it’s time to turn his life around.
Fortunately for Hill, his 2010 salary is guaranteed which increases the odds of him being a Seahawk in 2010. However, expect it to his last unless he produces on the field and stays out of trouble off of it.
Odds of remaining in Seattle: 90 percent. Hill has no trade value and the Seahawks are unlikely to pay him millions to play for somebody else in 2010.