Best Players Available After NFL Roster Cuts
We can view roster cut-down day from different perspectives. While front-office executives and coaches have the unfortunate task of telling over 1,000 players to turn in their playbooks, several rookies who signed as undrafted free agents will take the next step in what they hope becomes a long NFL career.
After the final cuts, front offices also see an opportunity to bolster weak spots on the roster.
Teams can continue molding depth charts with developing players and proven veterans in preparation for the 2019 campaign. Several notable names will bypass the waiver-wire process because they have four or more years of service in the league; their representatives can reach out to teams and weigh destination options.
Let's take a look at eight players who can provide immediate impact for a new team. Most of the selections are veterans, some of whom were released well before Saturday's final cuts, but one rookie lands on this list because of his draft pedigree and upside.
RB Jay Ajayi
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Dr. James Andrews cleared running back Jay Ajayi for football activities after he suffered a torn ACL in October. Despite the significant knee injury, he should have a lot to offer going into his age-26 term, with only 562 career rushing attempts in four seasons.
Teams that missed out on LeSean McCoy, who signed with the Kansas City Chiefs, per Schefter, should turn to Ajayi if the backfield needs more of a ball-carrier than a pass-catcher. He hasn't accumulated more than 158 receiving yards in a single season but averages 4.5 yards per carry for his career.
Last year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished 29th in rushing yards with Peyton Barber leading the backfield. Following Ronald Jones II's uninspiring exhibition performances, averaging 3.3 yards per carry, the front office should look to bolster the ground attack.
Ajayi could handle the Buccaneers' early-down duties with 12 to 14 carries per contest.
WR Demaryius Thomas
Because of his recovery from a torn Achilles, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas only appeared in the preseason finale for the New England Patriots, registering seven catches for 87 yards and two touchdowns. In a small sample size, he looked healthy enough to contribute to a team right away.
But the Patriots have options: The league reinstated Josh Gordon. Undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers emerged as a playmaker during the preseason with 20 catches for 253 yards and two touchdowns. Rookie first-rounder N'Keal Harry expectedly made the roster.
Gordon's return to the team, the new talent at the position and Thomas' extended recovery made it difficult for him to earn a spot on the depth chart.
But because of Thomas' production in the final preseason game, teams in need of wide receiver help like the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins may pursue him on the open market.
In 2018, the Denver Broncos traded Thomas to the Houston Texans before the deadline; he recorded 59 receptions for 677 yards and five touchdowns in 15 games. If healthy, he's a solid possession perimeter target who can still haul in 50 or more catches.
WR Josh Doctson
As a 2016 first-rounder, Josh Doctson's best football years should be ahead of him. He experienced a slow start with the Redskins, which led to his departure Saturday. The 26-year-old recorded 81 receptions for 1,100 yards and eight touchdowns in 33 games.
While Doctson's early exit from Washington raises eyebrows about his ceiling, he'll have a second chance to perform at the level of a top-25 pick.
The Minnesota Vikings cut ties with another 2016 first-rounder in Laquon Treadwell, who had a less productive three-year stretch in the league, logging 56 catches for 517 yards and a touchdown.
Doctson took the field with quarterback Kirk Cousins in Washington during the 2017 campaign. He only converted 44.9 percent of targets into catches that season, but as a third option in the passing attack with the Vikings, the TCU product could show improvement in their second stint together.
With less pressure on Doctson to blossom into a lead wide receiver, he could potentially carve out a role behind Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.
OL Stefen Wisniewski
The Eagles opted to keep undrafted rookie Nate Herbig, which likely spelled the end for Stefen Wisniewski in Philadelphia for the moment. Brandon Brooks and Isaac Seumalo, last year's primary starters at guard, will open the season at their respective positions.
Wisniewski started 101 out of 123 contests at guard and center in eight seasons. He opened seven games with the Eagles' first unit last year. The versatile offensive lineman can still perform at a solid level. The 30-year-old can clear lanes for the ground attack. In 2018, he only allowed one sack, per Washington Post's STATs. Clubs in need of short-term interior line help or depth may show interest in his services.
The Oakland Raiders won't have their starting guards, Richie Incognito and Gabe Jackson, to open the season. The former will serve a two-game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy, and the latter continues to recover from an MCL injury.
If the Raiders don't feel comfortable with Jonathan Cooper in place of Incognito at left guard, the front office should gauge Wisniewski's interest in signing with the Silver and Black. Oakland selected him in the second round of the 2011 draft; his uncle, Steve, played 13 seasons for the franchise.
EDGE Jachai Polite
In a shocking move, the New York Jets waived rookie third-rounder Jachai Polite. Although Gang Green's previous general manager, Mike Maccagnan, selected him, it's surprising Joe Douglas gave up on the Florida product's on-field potential.
Polite put together a breakout junior term with the Gators, logging 11 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss, but he struggled with the interview process at the NFL Scouting Combine, per Bleacher Report's Matt Miller.
"Another SEC player tumbling down boards is Florida edge-rusher Jachai Polite, who struggled in interviews at the combine," Miller wrote. "Said one area scout who covers the Southeast: '[Polite] might not even go in the second round. It's bad, man.'"
The Jets selected Polite in the third round, and he didn't stand out in the preseason, which may lead to more questions about his intangibles. However, a club in need of a pass-rusher could take a chance on his talent.
The Buccaneers placed pass-rusher Jason Pierre-Paul on the non-football injury list, which will keep him on the sidelines for the first six weeks of the season. In need of help pushing the pocket, general manager Jason Licht can attempt to claim Polite off waivers with the fifth spot in priority order.
EDGE Nick Perry
The Green Bay Packers released Nick Perry in March, but we've heard little activity from his camp—only one reported visit during the offseason. He set up a meeting at the Seahawks facility, per CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora, and the Miami Dolphins showed interest in him, per Adam H. Beasley of the Miami Herald.
The Dolphins still need help with their pass rush after releasing Cameron Wake and trading Robert Quinn to the Dallas Cowboys. Miami pursued Clowney before Houston shipped him to Seattle, per Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle.
After missing out on Clowney, the Dolphins can circle back to Perry. He's two years removed from a seven-sack season with the Packers. Now healthy, the 29-year-old can restart his career with a rebuilding franchise in Miami. On a depleted front line, the seven-year veteran could lead this team in sacks playing in a full-time starting role.
LB Mason Foster
In July, the Redskins released linebacker Mason Foster days before their first training camp practice. He's coming off a solid year, registering 81 solo tackles, four for loss, a sack, four pass breakups and two interceptions in a full 16-game season.
Typically, teams don't pay big bucks to inside linebackers, but Foster can garner a decent one-year deal to fill a starting role. The 30-year-old has opened 92 of 107 contests with first-unit defenses in Tampa Bay and Washington.
In preseason action, Jets inside linebacker Avery Williamson tore his ACL; he'll sit out the 2019 campaign. The Los Angeles Rams lost Micah Kiser, their projected starter at the position, for the year after he underwent surgery for a pectoral injury, per ESPN's Lindsey Thiry.
Although neither team has a dire need, the Jets and Rams could use a starting-caliber defender to plug holes in their defenses.
S George Iloka
Last year, the Cincinnati Bengals surprisingly parted ways with George Iloka, who started 76 of 83 contests for the club. Since then, he's been unable to hold on to a roster spot. He played just 116 defensive snaps with the Vikings last season on a one-year deal. The Dallas Cowboys released him Saturday.
In a more prominent role, Iloka can provide depth in the secondary, using his 6'4", 225-pound frame to challenge pass-catchers downfield. In seven seasons, he's accumulated 32 pass breakups and nine interceptions.
The Chargers should consider Iloka with safety Derwin James set to begin the season on injured reserve after undergoing foot surgery, per NFL Network's Rapoport. Assuming he returns at some point in the season, Los Angeles wouldn't need the 29-year-old to start through an entire year—just fill in for half the term.
As a Band-Aid asset, Iloka could provide stability at safety while James recovers and rookie second-rounder Nasir Adderley adapts to the professional level.