7 Players Who Could Lose Their Starting Job Because of 2020 NFL Draft
The NFL draft is annually one of the biggest events in the offseason. This is because for teams and fans alike, it represents hope. With one home-run selection, a franchise can change the course of its future for the better.
For NFL veterans, however, the draft can be a stressful occasion. For every incoming rookie who makes an early impact, there's a guy who loses his starting gig.
Here, we'll examine (an unlucky) seven notable veterans who could be out of a starting job by the end of draft weekend. We'll be basing these choices off of several factors. Recent buzz and mock draft trends will be considered—we'll specifically use Bleacher Report draft analyst Matt Miller's mock as a guide—as well as the recent play of the veterans in question. Factors like NFL-readiness and salary cap implications will also be considered.
Tune in to our 2020 NFL Draft Show for live, in-depth analysis on what each pick means for your team, with hosts Adam Lefkoe, Matt Miller and Connor Rogers. No fluff, no B.S. Download the B/R app and watch starting Thursday, April 23, at 8 p.m. ET.
Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals
This is the obvious choice, so we'll go ahead and get it out of the way. The Cincinnati Bengals are almost certain to take LSU quarterback Joe Burrow with the first pick in the draft. If they do, the end of the Andy Dalton era will soon follow.
Now, there's no guarantee Burrow will be ready to be a Day 1 starter—especially with the NFL likely to experience a condensed offseason. There's also a slim chance the Bengals will trade out of the No. 1 pick for a treasure trove of additional draft selections.
Therefore, Cincinnati is smart for keeping Dalton on the roster.
However, Dalton clearly isn't the future, and his 2019 salary includes absolutely nothing in terms of guarantees. He'll essentially lose his starting job the moment Cincinnati turns in its draft card.
Nate Solder, OT, New York Giants
New York Giants left tackle Nate Solder may be a bit safer simply because he has $16 million in dead money remaining on his contract. However, this doesn't mean New York actually wants Solder to start in 2020. Last season, Solder was responsible for five penalties and 11 sacks allowed, according to Pro Football Focus.
While Miller has the Giants taking Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons in his mock, there's plenty of draft buzz surrounding New York and an offensive tackle.
"It is by no means a lock this early in the process, but the consensus of sources who spoke to SNY is that the Giants will take a tackle at No. 4," SNY's Ralph Vacchiano wrote.
If the Giants do pull the trigger on a tackle like Iowa's Tristan Wirfs or Alabama's Jedrick Wills, Solder could quickly be relegated to a backup/mentor role. He'll likely be out of New York entirely next offseason, as only $6.5 million in dead money will remain.
Olivier Vernon, DE, Cleveland Browns
Like the Giants, the Cleveland Browns could target an offensive tackle in the first round. In fact, it's likely, given their lack of a reliable starter on the left side. However, it wouldn't be a shock to see the Browns target an edge-rusher with one of their three Day 2 selections.
The Browns have been linked to free-agent edge-defender Jadeveon Clowney, so there could be some legitimate interest in adding a new running mate for Myles Garrett.
"Cleveland Browns have shown interest in Jadeveon Clowney, and some people around league believe Cleveland got closer with Clowney than other suitors," ESPN's Jeremy Fowler tweeted.
If the Browns do add a pass-rusher in Round 2 or 3—or possibly in Round 1, if they pull off a surprise—it could mean the end of the line for Olivier Vernon in Cleveland.
Vernon's first season with the Browns wasn't spectacular—he had just 26 tackles and 3.5 sacks—and he's set to carry a cap hit of $15.5 million in 2020. None of that money is guaranteed, so Cleveland could trade or release Vernon outright and owe nothing on the final year of his deal.
Tyrell Williams, WR, Las Vegas Raiders
Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Tyrell Williams probably won't be traded or released over draft weekend because of his $11.1 million cap hit for 2020 and $11 million in dead money. The Western Oregon product could be out of a starting job, though, if the Raiders select one of the top wide receivers in the draft.
Miller, by the way, has Las Vegas taking Alabama wideout Henry Ruggs III with the 12th overall selection.
Given the depth of this year's receiver class, it wouldn't be a shock to see the Raiders double down on the position, drafting another wideout on Day 2. Such a strategy would make sense long-term, as Williams has no dead money remaining on his contract after this year—meaning he will be easy to release.
The addition of just one young wideout could be enough to push Williams out of the starting lineup, though. Rookie Hunter Renfrow emerged as one of Derek Carr's favorite targets last season, and tight end Darren Waller is a budding superstar.
The Raiders also signed Nelson Agholor and Jason Witten in free agency. With a guy like Ruggs in the lineup, Williams could be bumped into the No. 3 or 4 receiver role and out of the lineup entirely in two-tight-end sets.
Jordan Howard, RB, Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins only signed Jordan Howard this offseason, but he is expected to walk into the starting role—at least for now. Miami had the league's worst rushing attack in 2019 (72.2 yards per game), so Howard should be an upgrade over virtually everyone on the roster.
However, this will change if the Dolphins select a running back early. Miller has the Dolphins taking Georgia running back D'Andre Swift, and there has been plenty of buzz about the potential pairing.
"A Dolphins official has been telling people how much the team likes Georgia's D'Andre Swift, and Miami planned to bring him to team headquarters this month before the NFL banned such visits, according to a source with direct knowledge," Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald wrote.
If Miami draft a prospect like Swift, Howard could quickly become the veteran backup to the young runner—just like he did with Miles Sanders and the Philadelphia Eagles last season.
Cam Robinson, OT, Jacksonville Jaguars
Could the Jacksonville Jaguars move on from 2017 second-round pick Cam Robinson as their starting left tackle? It's certainly possible, as Robinson played just two games in 2018 and then struggled with health and consistency issues last season.
"Cam didn't play as well as his first year with us," Coach Doug Marrone said, per John Reid of the Florida Times-Union. "He was injured and missed a lot of practice time."
Jacksonville owns two first-round picks thanks to their trade of cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Using one on an anchor offensive tackle wouldn't be out of the questions, and Miller, in fact, has them taking USC's Austin Jefferson with the 20th pick.
"It's time to get a left tackle for 2020 and beyond after learning that Cam Robinson isn't the long-term answer," Miller wrote.
If the Jaguars do use a first-round pick on a tackle, Robinson is probably going to the bench.
James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Two years ago, Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner had the unenviable job of replacing Pro Bowler Le'Veon Bell. He responded by rushing for 973 yards, racking up 497 more yards through the air and scoring 13 touchdowns.
Last year, however, Conner fell back to earth, barely topping 700 combined rushing and receiving yards. This could lead the Steelers to draft his replacement this year, according to Ed Bouchette of The Athletic.
"I don't think they will sign Conner to a new contract this year as he enters the final year of his rookie deal," Bouchette wrote. "The rest, really, is up to Conner. He has shown he can be a good halfback but he also has not been durable. I fully expect for them to draft a halfback."
If Pittsburgh drafts a running back highly, Conner could be out of the starting role almost immediately. The Steelers needed him to carry the offense when Ben Roethlisberger was out last season, and he failed to deliver. With Roethlisberger coming off a significant elbow injury at 38, the Steelers won't want to make that gamble a second time.
*All contract information via Spotrac.