2011 NFL Predictions: 20 Surprising Cuts That Will Occur During Training Camp
Every year in the NFL there are major surprises as teams wind down their preseason and have to trim their rosters to the final 53 players. This year will be no exception, as there will be surprises both of long-standing veterans and young players that were hurt by the shorter time period in which to receive proper coaching.
You know that teams will do whatever they can to stash away some talent that they don't want to lose. But, some teams that are hurting for depth at certain positions, or got hit hard by injuries over the last few weeks of preseason will be anxiously scanning the waiver wire to see if someone is there that can help them out.
There will be four anxious days for a large number of NFL hopefuls. Teams have to cut down to 80 players by Aug. 30th. Then, just a mere four days later on Sept. 3rd, they have to get down to their final roster of 53. Doing the math, that is 32 teams times 27 released players or 864 players that will be hitting the waiver wire, placed on Injured Reserve, the PUP list or demoted to the practice squad.
That is one busy waiver wire. But with that many players, you know that the law of numbers suggests there will be quite a few big-name cuts.
It wouldn't be a surprise if a decent amount of rookies are stashed on practice squads, only to see them leave as some other needy team offers them a spot on their active roster. So, with all of that in mind, let's look ahead and see what surprising cuts might be making headlines in the near future.
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The National Football League is as much about "What Have You Done For Me Lately" as any other business endeavor imaginable. Dallas Cowboys running back Tashard Choice has been limited in practice time due to injuries, and now he faces the uphill battle of trying to surpass two players that have moved ahead of him, Lonyae Miller and Phillip Tanner.
Not only that but the Cowboys drafted running back DeMarco Murray, the standout rookie from Oklahoma, so that offers up even more competition. Murray has missed practice time as well, so the pressure is on for both Murray and Choice to try to impress the coaching staff that they deserve a roster spot.
Choice had a chance to impress Jason Garrett during the stretch run last season, but came up way short. Out of the final four games, he broke 20 yards only once, and turned in some real clunkers like seven rushes for 16 yards, seven rushes for 20 yards, etc.
His rushing totals have dropped each year from 472, to 349 to 243 yards. His receiving yards same thing. From 185, 132, to 109 yards. While he averaged 5.1 and 5.5 yards per rush in his first two years, that average dropped to 3.9 yards last year. Looks like he will not be the Cowboys running back of "Choice" this year.
Dennis Dixon or Charlie Batch
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The Pittsburgh Steelers have only room on their roster for three quarterbacks. With starter Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich secure in holding down the first two spots, that leaves veterans Charlie Batch and Dennis Dixon to fight it out for the final spot.
What direction will the Steelers go? They can take the younger, more athletic Dixon, or have a seasoned pro like Batch on the sidelines to be able to offer Big Ben counsel during the games.
Both of them saw action last year when Roethlisberger was serving his four-game suspension. Batch went 1-1 and Dixon went 2-0. Batch was very active in the negotiations process for the Collective Bargaining Agreement, but I doubt that would become a factor in the Steelers' decision.
My educated guess is that the Steelers will go with youth, keep Dixon and waive Batch. If it goes down that way, don't be surprised if Batch is fought over on the waiver wire by a number of teams that would place value on him.
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Albert Haynesworth returned to practice on August 23rd, having sat out the prior 20 days of activity. With a shortened training camp, and inability to be working on running with the defense due to his injury, Haynesworth is behind the eight-ball.
Now that he is back to practice, he will have to impress upon no-nonsense head coach Bill Belichick that his attitude and mind are in the right place and that he wants to have a shot at a Super Bowl. Then again, there is no guarantee that his attitude and mind will allow him to make a positive impression on his coaches.
Ever since Haynesworth signed his huge contract with the Washington Redskins, his attitude has appeared to take a turn for the worse. Is he able to show that he is hungry again? It would seem far-fetched to consider that someone with so much money is hungry. He just got out of his settlement with the waitress that he allegedly fondled in public. My guess is that Belichick will come to the conclusion that Haynesworth just does not have that many redeeming qualities left to offer his team, and they cut him.
As badly as the Patriots need a pass rush, they have been showing a revamped defense so far in the preseason and did it all without Haynesworth. If the Patriots could waive a great teammate and locker room presence like Maurice Stroud, then Haynesworth will not be far behind, following him out the door.
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After two weeks of preseason games, the Philadelphia Eagles were hoping to know how much Ronnie Brown had left in the tank. They have received their answer, not very much.
So far, Brown has been given the rock 15 times, and has an average of 3.1 yards to show for their investment. Since he has failed his tryout as a running back, the Eagles are now going to see if he can return kicks. This is another way of saying that Brown is not very long for the Eagles roster.
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Relax, Eagles fans. We are not stating that Nate Allen will be cut. But, don't be surprised if he is deemed not ready for the season opener, and the Eagles have to put him on the Physically Unable to Perform list.
Allen has been trying to recover from an injury he suffered late in the 2010 season. So far, the results have not been encouraging, as was evident in the game against the Steelers. Maybe the Eagles can let one of their three All-Pro corners slide over to safety until Allen is finally healthy.
It takes quite some time to get over a ruptured patellar tendon, and by the looks of it, Allen needs more time to heal. Allen isn't happy with his progress either, so taking some pressure off of him, and removing him from the active roster might make sense.
Kevin Faulk and Sammy Morris
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Out with the old and in with the new. That could be one way to describe what is going on this year with the New England Patriots backfield. The two grizzled veterans, Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk are collectively coming in to their 25th NFL season, many of them as teammates on the Patriots.
They must have been staring at the television screen in horror as the Patriots announced that they had invested two high draft picks during day two of the NFL draft. The Patriots selected Shane Vareen and Stevan Ridley, and just like that, Morris (34) and Faulk (35) were put on notice that a pink slip was probably going to be part of their future.
It is not out of the question that the pair might at least get a look see from some other NFL team that is need of a third-down back, or for a team that needs a positive leader type in the locker room. But for all intensive purposes, the combination of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead, plus the drafting of the two rookies, spells the end for this talented duo.
Joe McKnight or Bilal Powell
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Completing our run through the AFC East running back committees, we now try to figure out who is the least valuable Jets running back. You already have a healthy committee lined up with Shonn Greene at the head, and LaDainian Tomlinson quite capably backing up Greene.
So then we have Joe McKnight and rookie Bilal Powell left to fight it out for the third running back. John Conner, the fullback known as "The Terminator", is also a lock to make the team, so there appears to just be room for either McKnight or Powell on the 53 man roster.
Maybe the Jets will try to place Powell on the practice squad, so that they can keep both of them with the team. It is only a matter of time before age catches up to Tomlinson, so in theory the Jets could employ all of the backs. But, that means that the Jets would be exposing Powell to the rules of the practice squad, where another team could pluck him off and offer him a roster spot. My educated guess is that the Jets will keep McKnight and take their chances by trying to put Powell on the practice squad.
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Shawn Nelson is an enigma, in the sense that nobody knows if he is actually playing on the team, or what his latest ailment is. The tight end for the Buffalo Bills was thought to have been a steal in the 2009 draft, because he had tremendous upside.
But that was then and this is now. Whether Nelson was suffering due to severe migraine headaches, or other physical ailments, Nelson has managed to miss 15 out of the possible 32 games so far in his career. In 2010, he appeared in five games, catching three passes for 25 yards.
Nelson was supposed to be healthy and ready to challenge for the starting tight end role this year. But surprise of surprises, Nelson has been sidelined with an undisclosed injury, and has not played in either preseason game yet. Today, he was a bystander once more, watching from the sidelines.
It has been a point of frustration with head coach Chan Gailey that Nelson can't get healthy. Soon enough, he will be somebody else's problem.
Vernon Gholston and Aaron Maybin
Aaron Maybin and Vernon Gholston. We are putting them together for one slide to remember that once a bust, always a bust. The Chicago Bears took a gamble and brought Vernon Gholston for a look-see. The New York Jets did the same thing, and brought in Aaron Maybin off the waiver wire after the Bills released their former first-round draft pick.
So, the lesson is if a team wasn't getting any production from their former first-round draft pick and went to the lengths of waiving him while he was still under contract, there is probably a pretty good reason for why they were waived.
The Jets and Bears will be releasing both of these "sack masters" soon enough.
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According to a story from the Washington-Observer Reporter, things are not looking great for Pittsburgh Steelers corner Bryant McFadden.
The report says that the Steelers might decide to go with younger, cheaper options such as Crezdon Butler and Cortez Allen. Keenan Lewis is also viewed as a starter, making McFadden expendable.
The other factor is that McFaddden has a salary of $2.5 MM and that will figure into the final decision as well.
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Sometimes a player gets waived because they have had so many operations that they will never be the same. Consider that St. Louis Rams wide receiver Danario Alexander has already had five operations on his left knee, and he still has some swelling going on inside the knee.
It doesn't help Alexander's chances that Donnie Avery has been turning it on lately in camp. Alexander has opted not to have anything else done to his knee for now, but if he is put on PUP, or the I.R., he will probably go ahead and have something done. Of course, the Rams could just waive him as well.
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Sometimes a player will be cut for making too much money. But if he gets cut even after agreeing to a reduced salary, well that is just the cut-throat nature of the NFL.
Such might be the case with Tennessee Titans safety Vincent Fuller. According to this story from the Nashville Tennessean, Fuller has his work cut out for him as he is behind safeties Chris Hope, Michael Griffin, Jordan Babineaux and Anthony Smith.
Fuller reduced his salary in 2011 from $2.06 MM to $750,000, but since he is practicing on the third team, that may even be too expensive for third string.
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Some rookies are a surprise cut in camp because even though they had a great college career, they never really got a great shot in the NFL training camp to show what they can do. That appears to be the case with former Penn State running back Evan Royster, who is buried in the Washington Redskins backfield depth chart.
Evan Royster had a great career with the Nittany Lions, but that is in the past. In Washington, he has Tim Hightower, Ryan Torain and rookie Roy Helu in front of him, and as such, hasn't been asked to do much.
Royster can only hope that he earns a spot on the practice squad and can make his impression that way.
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According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, there has been a three-way competition for the starting right outside linebacker job with the Green Bay Packers.
The competitors are Brad Jones, Frank Zombo and Erik Walden. Whoever finishes third, is likely going to lose his job.
It doesn't help Frank Zombo fractured his shoulder blade prior to the Packers Week 2 game, so things are very much up in the air right now.
If forced to make a guess, I would venture that Brad Jones will be the Packer linebacker that is in the most jeopardy.
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Sometimes a very capable player is waived because they just couldn't get healthy enough in time for the start of the regular season to prove to their team that they were ready to contribute.
That might very well be the case for Seattle Seahawks tight end John Carlson. For one thing, the starting tight end job is now in the very good hands of Zach Miller. Complicating matters is that Carlson has a shoulder injury, and it is compromising his potential roster spot, according to Pro Football Weekly.
Once healthy, there should be other teams that would make sure he doesn't stay unemployed very long.
Donald Brown or Darren Evans
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Joseph Addai and rookie Delone Carter now appear to be the top two running backs for the Indianapolis Colts. So, assuming that the Colts just keep three running backs, who is the odd man out?
The competition for the third back is now boiling down to Donald Brown and Darren Evans. Other guys struggling for reps are Javarris James and Chad Spann according to the Indianapolis Star.
So which guy gets waived? I will go with Darren Evans, but at this point how much action will the third guy receive in Indianapolis?
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Another case of a team letting an older, more-expensive player go for the younger, cheaper version is probably in the works for San Francisco 49ers fullback Moran Norris.
Norris is 33 years old, and the 49ers are very high on seventh-round draft pick Bruce Miller. This is about both economics and getting younger as a team.
Stephen Spach vs Rob Housler
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When the Arizona Cardinals were able to acquire Todd Heap as their starting tight end, it put the roster spot of the fourth-string tight end in jeopardy.
The battle to become third-string has been narrowed to rookie Rob Housler or veteran Stephen Spach. Housler is trying to make up for lost time due to the short training camp, but he is having trouble with the playbook, which is not helping his cause.
This battle might come down to the final week. If Housler can't pick up the playbook fast enough, he may be ticketed for the practice squad.
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Supplemental draft picks are just as likely to become a waiver wire victim as are free agents, and drafted players as well.
The Chicago Bears invested a supplemental draft pick in running back Harvey Unga. As it turns out, Unga is so far behind the rest of the running backs that he probably will not make the team, according to ProFootballTalk.com Unga right now is trailing Matt Forte, Marion Barber, Chester Taylor and Kahlil Bell.
On top of that, Unga left camp for personal reasons, which further seals his doom.
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For our final slide, we look at an interesting situation with the New Orleans Saints, where a family member might be the reason that a relative is going to lose his job.
That is the case with special teams return man Courtney Roby. It turns out according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune that Roby is the cousin of Darren Sproles. Sproles looks to employed as both a kick returner and punt returner, which diminishes the roster value of Roby.
No word yet if Sproles will be leaving tickets at the will call window for his cousin to say thank you.