2017 NFL Roster Bubble: Biggest Names Who Could Be Cut
It's dress rehearsal time!
This week, 32 teams across the NFL will compete in their most important preseason game. Starters will see their most playing time of the preseason by far. It's also the last, best opportunity many veterans will have to remove themselves from the roster bubble and secure a roster spot for 2017.
Yes, there's still a final preseason game to be played next week. But the vast majority of players who take the field for that game will no longer be members of an NFL team by Sept. 2.
When that fateful day arrives, it won't just be journeymen and youngsters who receive their walking papers. As is the case each year, a number of recognizable veteran names will be among the released players.
In 2016, tailback Justin Forsett, offensive guard Josh Sitton and cornerback Dee Milliner wound up on the outside looking in with their respective teams.
In 2017, the following players find themselves on the thinnest of ice as cutdown day looms.
The following veterans are also in jeopardy, even if they don't have the highest of profiles.
Branden Bolden, RB, New England Patriots
Bolden has made some noise over his five years in New England, but with Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillislee, James White and Dion Lewis all potentially ahead of him on the depth chart...well, you do the math. It helps that he's a favorite of Darth Hoodie, according to Oliver Thomas of Pats Pulpit.
Sammie Coates, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin already suggested Coates and Justin Hunter are fighting for the team's last wide receiver spot, according to Dale Lolley of the Observer-Reporter. It'll be hard for Coates to win that contest from the sidelines after a knee scope, especially with Hunter looking good during the preseason.
Cody Latimer, WR, Denver Broncos
Latimer was once a second-round pick, but this stat line says it all about his three years in Denver: 16 catches for 158 yards. That isn't his best game—it's his career total. Him dealing with knee soreness also isn't helping his chances of surviving roster cuts.
Geno Smith, QB, New York Giants
Geno Smith's second preseason game against the Cleveland Browns was a perfect microcosm for why he may not make the team. For most of the evening it looked like he had the backup job sewn up...right up until he threw a back-breaking interception near the goal line.
Sean Spence, ILB, Indianapolis Colts
After Spence had a career year with the Tennessee Titans in 2016, the Colts brought him in as a potential starter inside. Instead, he's steadily slid down the depth chart in OTAs and training camp. It will be a mild upset if he isn't cut.
Blake Bortles, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Two years ago, Blake Bortles finished second in the NFL in touchdown passes. His star appeared to be on the rise. But after a substantial backslide in 2016, Bortles entered the 2017 campaign under a ton of pressure to rebound.
So far, no dice.
The fourth-year signal-caller and former top-10 pick has looked awful both in training camp and preseason action. Many pundits have already begun calling for Jacksonville to sit Bortles, if not release him outright.
After the team's 12-8 preseason loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday, Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone made it clear that Bortles' role as the team's starter is in grave jeopardy.
"I'm looking for someone that's going to lead this offense," Marrone said, per ESPN.com's Michael DiRocco. "I'm not happy with the performance. I'm not going to sit here and B.S. anyone. Everyone saw it out there. Whatever you want to call it, I'm still trying to evaluate who the best person is at that position."
For his part, Bortles told John Reid of the Florida Times-Union he's confident he can hang onto the No. 1 job.
"I don't watch cable sports news channels and I got to stay off social media and all that stuff because it does nothing for you," Bortles said. "Anything you guys say, I have no idea. I think it's all I can do is go out there and go earn, prove and show them with each play I can do it and I can consistently do it."
At this point, Bortles might be the only person who still believes in himself. Given how well youngster Brandon Allen has played in reserve duty, the Jaguars may soon decide enough is enough.
Brock Osweiler, QB, Cleveland Browns
It's rare to find a quarterback who could either win a starting job or be cut over the next few weeks.
Welcome to the world of Brock Osweiler.
Headed into Monday night's preseason game against the New York Giants, Ian Rapaport of NFL Network said Osweiler had the support of the Cleveland Browns' veterans and was close to being named the Week 1 starter (via Bleacher Report's Scott Polacek).
For the second straight game, Osweiler proceeded to go out and lay an egg. He went 6-of-8 for just 25 yards, and he also threw an interception.
Regardless, Osweiler was still thought to be in the running to earn the starting nod for Week 1, with head coach Hue Jackson stating a decision was coming this week..
"I kind of want to put this thing to bed by Wednesday," Jackson said after his team's 10-6 victory over the Giants on Monday, per Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon-Journal. "I kind of want to say, 'Here is where we are going' because I think this upcoming game, we will play a little longer with the first group because I think it is important to do so and have as many guys that are going to play in the opener playing because this is the dress rehearsal game."
It appears that Jackson has made his choice. In a surprise move (via ESPN) Jackson named rookie DeShone Kizer the starter for the third preseason game.
"[Kizer] has made a lot of progress by investing the time necessary to learn our offense, working hard to improve on his fundamentals while also effectively moving the offense in preseason games," Jackson said. "Development is so important for a young quarterback, this is the next step he needs to take and he deserves this opportunity.
Osweiler isn't slated to plat at all in the game.
Unless Kizer is God-Awful, Osweiler's days with the team are numbered.
DeAngelo Hall, DB, Washington Redskins
Over a 13-year career with the Atlanta Falcons, Oakland Raiders and Washington Redskins, DeAngelo Hall has intercepted 43 passes, scored 10 touchdowns and been named to three Pro Bowls. But at 33, he is nearing the end of the line.
Hall entered training camp on the physically unable to perform list as he continues to recover from the torn ACL he suffered last September. That wasn't the only serious leg injury he has suffered in recent years, as he also tore his Achilles—twice!—back in 2014.
Despite that growing list of injuries, Hall told Stephen Czarda of the team's website he still has plenty left in the tank.
"I just have to prove to myself and everybody else that I can stay healthy," Hall said back in March. "The injuries have been so fluke in nature and a lot of them have been non-contact. It's not like I'm out there just getting broke up because people are hitting me [and] I am just wearing down. I'm still a guy who can go out and play corner if I need to, if guys get banged up. I can go in at the nickel and obviously I have played both safety roles. I'm very comfortable be able to go out there and be a Swiss Army knife if they need me to."
However, Hall hasn't had a chance to demonstrate this to Washington's coaching staff. He may not get one before the season begins, either.
Hall's saving grace may be second-year safety Su'a Cravens, who is on the shelf after preseason knee surgery. With Cravens' Week 1 status up in the air, the team might be leery of cutting Hall loose.
Jamaal Charles, RB, Denver Broncos
Like Hall, Denver Broncos tailback Jamaal Charles has been exceptional throughout his nine-year NFL career. The 30-year-old has gained over 7,000 career rushing yards, made four Pro Bowls and holds the NFL record for career rushing average among running backs at 5.5 yards per carry.
But after knee injuries wiped out each of his last two seasons, the Kansas City Chiefs let him go this offseason. As cutdown day gets closer, Charles still hasn't had the opportunity to show the Broncos he isn't finished.
Charles told Nick Kosmider of the Denver Post he doesn't feel the need to prove himself to his new team by playing in the preseason.
"I don't think I have to prove anything," he said. "… People know what I can do. I feel confident. Whatever Coach Vance [Joseph] and the trainers say, that's their direction. I'm just out here every day just getting healthy and getting my craft ready and preparing to play whenever."
However, Denver's head coach said the team "probably" needs to see Charles on the field before making a decision on his future with the club, per Kosmider.
This week, Charles will get his shot. Per Kevin Patra of NFL.com, he will play against the Green Bay Packers in a game where the starters will be on the field for most of the first half...at least.
Joseph said Charles will play "a lot," per Patra. He also stated Charles will not play in the finale, so this is it.
It's time for Charles to put up or shut up.
Sheldon Richardson, DE, New York Jets
Sheldon Richardson is a Pro Bowl-caliber edge-rusher when he's on his game. He wasn't on his game last year, however.
In 2016, Richardson managed a career-low 1.5 sacks. He spent more time griping about his contract and bickering with teammates than he did chasing down quarterbacks.
Now, Richardson has supposedly turned over a new leaf. Defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers told Daniel Popper of the New York Daily News that the Jets expect big things from him in 2017.
"I talked to Sheldon about this and we definitely don't see Sheldon Richardson as a backup. We think he's a marquee player and we expect a lot of things out of him. And one thing we stress and are steady working on him: We've got to keep him in a position to do what he does best. Sheldon has been so unselfish that in years before, we've moved him here, we've moved him there. He's done everything we asked of him. But in our last game (a preseason victory over the Titans on Saturday), we left him kind of where he's natural, and he really did some good things. So we got to work to make sure we keep him in that situation."
However, Richardson is on a Jets team that spent most of the offseason purging veterans like it was a going-out-of-business sale, and he's headed into the last year of his contract. The Jets reportedly have been trying to trade him for months with no success.
As with most of the bigger names featured here, the Jets aren't necessarily likely to show Richardson the door outright. It would make more sense to let him play out the season and re-up him at the expense of releasing Muhammad Wilkerson if need be.
But when's the last time the Jets did something that made sense?
Kyle Fuller, CB, Chicago Bears
Kyle Fuller is an abject lesson in how quickly things can change in the NFL.
The Chicago Bears selected Fuller with the 14th overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft. In his rookie year, he showed a nose for making big plays, compiling four interceptions and three forced fumbles over 14 starts.
That first year was also easily the high point of Fuller's career.
The Virginia Tech product was a 16-game starter in 2015, but his numbers declined across the board and he took a substantial step backward in coverage. He then lost his entire 2016 season to a knee injury.
The Bears brought in veteran free agents Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper in the offseason, relegating Fuller to reserve duty. Their arrival gave rise to rumors that Fuller was on the trading block heading into a contract year.
As Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune reported, one NFL personnel man believes that trade will be hard to pull off.
"Anyone interested in him will simply wait for them to cut him," the personnel man said. "Because everyone believes that is what will happen. They want to move him but everyone knows it so it will be hard. If he plays well they might keep him because most teams are waiting for them to cut him."
Fuller has been OK over the Bears' first two preseason games, but little more. It's anyone's guess whether that will be enough to keep him on the team.
Harry Douglas, WR, Tennessee Titans
As Jason Wolf of the Tennessean reported, Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Mularkey recently talked up the leadership veteran wide receiver Harry Douglas brings to the team's locker room.
"Invaluable. He's a coach in the locker room and on the field. He does everything right. He's a guy to follow. He's had a productive career. He's played a long time for a reason. Harry's been very productive. ... I trust him. I've been around Harry for a long time now. I know he's going to run the right route. I know he's going to line up where he's supposed to line up because he works at it. He's great. If you're a young player and you don't follow Harry Douglas, you're not giving yourself a really good chance."
That leadership ability has value in Tennessee's young receiving corps, but on-field performance is important as well. And in the Titans' second preseason game, Douglas looked his age, hauling in just one of his four targets.
When Douglas joined the team in 2016, the receiver group looked far different than it does today. The additions of veteran Eric Decker and rookies Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor combined with holdover Rishard Matthews leaves Douglas battling Tre McBride for No. 5 receiver duties with the Titans.
Against the Carolina Panthers on Saturday, McBride clearly outplayed Douglas, whose 15 catches for 210 yards last year were career lows.
If those struggles continue in the Titans' dress rehearsal, Douglas' leadership and professionalism may not be enough to keep him on the squad.
D.J. Fluker, OG, New York Giants
When the New York Giants signed free-agent guard D.J. Fluker in the offseason, they hoped he would help bolster an offensive line that was among the NFL's worst in run blocking in 2016.
Fluker told Ed Valentine of Big Blue View that he was excited about the opportunity to jump-start his career with one of the NFL's iconic franchises.
"I'm excited. I don't know about you, but I'm very excited. You know, being able to be here and play football for the New York Giants. Where else would you want to be? You know, being here, seeing these teammates, you know, Eli [Manning]. Being a part of this offensive line. This is where it's at. This is where I want to be. Guys that want to buy into winning. They want to win. They want to be great. You can't ask anything else."
Unfortunately, that excitement has petered out since Big Blue hit the practice field. Per James Kratch of NJ Advance Media, Fluker has done nothing to push John Jerry for the right guard job.
According to Kratch, Fluker has played right tackle in some drills, but only with second- and third-team players. But Fluker's far too big and far too slow to play tackle at this point. He'd be eaten alive on the edge.
Considering the G-Men have made no real effort to play Fluker with the first team at either spot, it would imply they view him as no better than a reserve road-grader.
You can never have too much depth on the O-line, but if youngsters like Adam Bisnowaty and Chad Wheeler finish the preseason strong, the Giants could decide to go with cheaper reserve options than Fluker.
Stephone Anthony, OLB, New Orleans Saints
Things haven't gone according to plan for New Orleans Saints linebacker Stephone Anthony.
The 2015 first-round pick started 16 games for the team as a rookie. At first glance, his 112 tackles that year would appear to indicate a relatively successful season.
But the Saints coaching staff appeared to disagree. In his second season, Anthony barely saw the field, making just three starts and accruing 16 tackles.
Given all the changes the Saints made at linebacker in the offseason, Anthony's career with the team may be coming to a close. It isn't just that the team added a number of linebackers in A.J. Klein, Manti Te'o and rookie Alex Anzalone. It's that most of those linebackers have passed Anthony on the depth chart.
Per Larry Holder of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, defensive coordinator Dennis Allen wanted to try Anthony on the weak side, where he could react more and think less.
"I think when you put him out there at the Will, you take a little bit off his plate, as far as the communication process," Allen said. "I thought he had a really good spring and in our league, you never know what's going to happen. There could be an injury or somebody is released and now you have to adjust your thought process."
Unfortunately, Anthony watched last week's matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers in street clothes while Anzalone drew the start and played well.
The Saints aren't going to cut Craig Robertson, who can play both "Will" and "Mike." Te'o appears locked in as the starter in the middle. And Klein has been calling the defensive plays from the strong side.
In other words, Anthony may be the odd man out.
Jarius Wright, WR, Minnesota Vikings
There's been plenty of chatter regarding Jarius Wright's tenuous position on the Minnesota Vikings' 53-man roster on social media dating back to the beginning of training camp.
According to Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer-Press, Wright didn't hold back when responding to naysayers.
"I'm tired of hearing about 'Will Jarius Wright make the 53-man roster?'" he said. "So it's just getting old now. I've been the same player since I got here [in 2012]. I continue to make plays, and if you think I'm a slouch, then you don't watch football, and so that makes you an idiot."
Still, it's fair to wonder whether Wright could be fighting for one of the last spots at receiver. After reeling in 42 passes in 2014 and earning a four-year, $14.8 million contract, Wright's numbers fell the following season. In 2016, they plunged off a cliff—just 11 catches for 67 yards in eight games.
It isn't that the 27-year-old can't play. It's a matter of his role versus the other receivers on the team.
The team's top receiver, Stefon Diggs, does some of his best work from the slot, which is partly why Wright's playing time disappeared a year ago.
The team also has a number of outside options, whether it's Adam Thielen, second-year pro Laquon Treadwell or free-agent acquisition Michael Floyd.
Considering Wright has seen little work this preseason with the starters, as Nathan Jahnke of Pro Football Focus noted, those "idiots" may be onto something.