Early Predictions for Most Surprising NFL Veteran Cuts
On and beyond June 1, dead money owed to released NFL players can be split between the next two seasons. And on or before Aug. 31, NFL rosters must be reduced from a maximum of 90 to no more than 53 players.
A lot of talented professional football players will be released during that three-month period, and most of those cuts will come in the eleventh hour.
Some surprises are bound to emerge. Every year, veterans who seem relatively safe and worthy of a roster spot become cap casualties or simply find themselves out of work through some combination of poor fit, increased competition, injuries and age. Recent examples include running backs Ronnie Hillman and Justin Forsett in 2016, guard Josh Sitton that same year, safety T.J. Ward in 2017 and defensive end Brian Robison last offseason.
Which names might jump off the cut list this summer? Here are nine vets to keep an eye on.
New England Patriots RB Rex Burkhead
Veteran back Rex Burkhead accumulated 58 yards on nine touches in the New England Patriots' Super Bowl LIII victory over the Los Angeles Rams in February, but the 28-year-old could fall victim to a numbers game this summer.
That's because New England has used premium draft choices on running backs in back-to-back drafts. Sophomore first-round pick Sony Michel became the clear-cut lead dog for the Pats during their Super Bowl run, while third-round rookie Damien Harris has the experience coming out of Alabama to make an immediate impact. It's also safe to assume pass-catching specialist James White isn't going anywhere, either.
Unless an injury occurs or the Patriots decide to carry five backs on the active roster, they could opt to keep special teams ace Brandon Bolden as the No. 4 back over the less versatile Burkhead.
Tennessee Titans WR Tajae Sharpe
Tajae Sharpe is a fairly well-known name at the wide receiver position simply because the 2016 fifth-round pick has started 23 games in his first two seasons with the Tennessee Titans (he missed the 2017 campaign because of a foot injury). But Sharpe's time in Tennessee could be running out.
The 24-year-old is due to make $2.1 million in the final year of his rookie deal, but practically none of that is guaranteed. He isn't really a playmaker (four touchdowns in 32 career games), and he isn't overly reliable when the ball is thrown his way (career catch rate of 51.5 percent).
Tennessee might just need to ensure new receivers A.J. Brown and Adam Humphries are ready to make an impact and that third-year weapons Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor have continued to improve. If all four of those guys are good to go, the Titans would be smart to part ways with Sharpe and either save that money or pay a potential upgrade.
Minnesota Vikings OT Riley Reiff
Highly paid veteran left tackle Riley Reiff isn't the sole reason the Minnesota Vikings offensive line has struggled in recent years, but the 30-year-old has failed to live up to his five-year, $58.8 million contract. And after June 1, Minnesota can get out of his contract at a cost of just $2.2 million in 2019 and $4.4 million in 2020, which would represent $9.5 million in cap savings.
The Vikings may not seem to have significantly better options behind Reiff, but the former Detroit Lion does appear to be out of place.
Plus, 2018 second-round pick Brian O'Neill performed pretty well at right tackle as a rookie. Might Minnesota consider moving him to the blind side?
If that happens and Day 3 rookies Dru Samia and Olisaemeka Udoh make strong early impressions, the Vikes could simply decide to save money and dump Reiff entirely.
Houston Texans G Senio Kelemete
Just a year ago, the Houston Texans signed guards Senio Kelemete and Zach Fulton to multi-year free-agent contracts worth starter money. Both struggled in 2018, and Houston now has two new offensive linemen who were top-60 picks in the 2019 draft.
First-round selection Tytus Howard and second-rounder Max Scharping might have been drafted as future offensive tackles, but it's possible neither is ready for that role early on. Texans head coach Bill O'Brien has already stated both can play guard.
If either player shines this summer, Kelemete or Fulton could be out the door. And since Fulton's contract would make him a more costly cut, we're betting it's Kelemete who could draw the short straw.
Buffalo Bills DT Star Lotulelei
Don't think the Buffalo Bills could give up on Star Lotulelei less than 15 months after they handed the defensive tackle a five-year, $50 million contract? Consider that the team traded away third- and seventh-round draft picks for wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin in 2017, only to release him 13 months later.
Lotulelei was a bigger investment, but he's a sunk cost now. The organization can still save some money by releasing the 29-year-old, as he failed miserably at living up to his hefty contract in 2018. Lotulelei had a zero-sack, zero-forced fumble campaign, and he recorded a career-low 17 tackles in 16 starts to earn an abysmal grade from Pro Football Focus.
With 2018 third-round pick Harrison Phillips and 2019 first-rounder Ed Oliver already on board at defensive tackle, I wouldn't rule out a sudden Lotulelei release this summer.
Green Bay Packers DL Mike Daniels
Mike Daniels remains one of the most accomplished members of the Green Bay Packers defense, but that doesn't mean the seven-year veteran will remain on the roster beyond this summer.
Daniels showed slight signs of decline during an injury-impacted 2018 season, with his sack total dropping from five to two and his tackle total plummeting from 49 to 18 (albeit in four fewer games). And based on recent acquisitions of front-seven defenders Za'Darius Smith, Preston Smith and Rashan Gary, the new regime appears to be going in a different direction.
If Gary and 2016 first-round pick Kenny Clark can put together particularly strong performances in organized team activities and training camp, the Packers could decide to save $8.3 million by cutting ties with the 30-year-old Daniels ahead of a $10.7 million walk year.
Arizona Cardinals DT Robert Nkemdiche
There's a good chance 2016 first-round pick Robert Nkemdiche won't be a member of the Arizona Cardinals for the 2020 season after the team declined to exercise the defensive lineman's fifth-year option. But it's also possible he won't make it to 2020 in red, black and white.
The writing could be on the wall after Arizona signed underrated defensive tackle Darius Philon and then drafted defensive linemen Zach Allen (Round 3) and Michael Dogbe (Round 7). And it makes sense considering the 24-year-old former Mississippi star has just 4.5 sacks, 44 tackles and six starts under his belt through three injury-plagued NFL seasons.
If Nkemdiche underperforms or battles injuries again this summer, the Cards could come to the conclusion that they're better off giving his roster spot to somebody else. And that move would actually pocket them $500,000.
Cincinnati Bengals CB Dre Kirkpatrick
Veteran cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick has started 56 games for the Cincinnati Bengals over the last four years, but the franchise now has a new regime in place and, after June 1, his release would create cap savings of $9.6 million.
William Jackson III has become the clear-cut top corner for a Bengals team that also re-signed the solid Darqueze Dennard and brought in 2018 New York Giants starter B.W. Webb.
If the soon-to-be 30-year-old Kirkpatrick can't outplay those three on the practice field, or if 2018 fifth-round pick Darius Phillips can step up in his first full offseason, he could become a surprise cap casualty in Cincy.
Detroit Lions CB Teez Tabor
Two years into his career, cornerback Teez Tabor has struggled so badly that the Detroit Lions have hardly let him see the field. The 2017 second-round pick would have earned the lowest Pro Football Focus grade for a cornerback by a tremendous margin last season, except he didn't even qualify because he played only 276 snaps.
It's obvious the Lions have lost faith, which is why they signed both Rashaan Melvin and Justin Coleman in free agency before using a fifth-round pick on another corner—Amani Oruwariye out of Penn State.
Those guys could outperform Tabor this summer. Mike Ford, Jamal Agnew and Marcus Cooper could also prove to be better options. In other words, it's entirely possible the Lions might give up on Tabor after just two seasons.
Contract information courtesy of Spotrac