The Top Player Each NFL Team Should Cut Before the 2020 Season
The 2020 NFL season is slated to kick off in roughly three weeks, which means football will soon be back. However, the start of the regular season also means several players will soon be out of a job.
Teams have to get down to 53 players by 4 p.m. on Sept. 5. With training-camp rosters currently at 80 for most teams, that means more than 800 players will have to be let go. Due to factors like injuries, undesirable contracts and position depth, many of these players will be quality ones.
Here, we'll examine the best player who should be cut from each NFL roster.
Under slightly different circumstances, these players might make the team, and they can still provide value to another squad. Because of their lack of NFL experience, rookies have been excluded from this article, as have players likely to spend 2019 on injured reserve.
Arizona Cardinals: LB Haason Reddick
It's time for the Arizona Cardinals to pull the plug on the Haason Reddick experiment.
They used the 13th overall pick of the 2017 draft on the former Temple linebacker, hoping to land a field general for their defense. Instead, they've gotten a middling linebacker who hasn't developed into a consistent starter.
Arizona declined the fifth-year option on Reddick's contract and drafted linebacker Isaiah Simmons in the first round this offseason. With Simmons potentially becoming the player Arizona hoped Reddick could be, the latter will only get pushed further away from a prominent role.
Reddick is due to carry a cap hit of roughly $4.3 million in 2020, and the Cardinals can recoup more than half that amount by parting with him. It's worth saving that cash to dump a player who probably isn't destined to be part of the franchise's future.
Atlanta Falcons: G Justin McCray
The Atlanta Falcons added guard Justin McCray in free agency this offseason, but they may not carry him into the regular season.
Ideally, 2019 first-round pick Chris Lindstrom will lock down one starting guard spot after being limited to five games as a rookie. James Carpenter, who started 11 games last season, and Jamon Brown are competing for the other starting gig.
While McCray is also in the mix at guard, it's worth noting he has just 17 NFL starts under his belt and is on his fourth team in five seasons. He might be a valuable backup on another roster, but he's likely a low-end backup at best on Atlanta's revamped line.
The Falcons can save more than $700,000 of his $1.075 million salary by releasing him.
Baltimore Ravens: RB Kenjon Barner
Kenjon Barner has been a quality backup running back and return specialist for the past seven seasons, but he's going to struggle to find a role with the Baltimore Ravens. They're loaded at running back with the likes of Mark Ingram II, J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill on the roster.
While Barner, who has a career kick return average of 23.4 yards, could provide some prime special-teams value, Baltimore has other options. They include Hill, wideout Willie Snead, rookie receiver Devin Duvernay and even 2019 first-round pick Marquise Brown.
"Everybody's an option," head coach John Harbaugh said, per Jonas Shaffer of the Baltimore Sun.
While the Ravens only stand to save $750,000 in salary by releasing Barner, he may simply be part of a numbers game he's highly unlikely to win.
Buffalo Bills: DE Trent Murphy
Three years ago, Trent Murphy shined as a situational pass-rusher for the Washington Football Team. He amassed 9.0 sacks that season and signed a three-year, $22.5 million deal with the Buffalo Bills the following offseason. However, he has been far less impactful as a pass-rusher in his new home.
Murphy has just 9.0 sacks in two seasons with Buffalo. Despite playing 65.1 percent of the defensive snaps, according to Football Outsiders, he had just 5.0 sacks in 2019. Two of them came in a meaningless Week 17 game against the Miami Dolphins.
With players like Ed Oliver, Mario Addison and Jerry Hughes on the defensive line, Buffalo could part with Murphy and lose little in the pass-rushing department. Doing so would save the Bills more than $8 million in cap space for the season.
Carolina Panthers: RB Mike Davis
Running back Mike Davis has been a valuable depth player throughout his time in the NFL. However, now in his second season with the Carolina Panthers—he was claimed off waivers in November—he may not provide enough value to warrant keeping.
Christian McCaffrey is the clear-cut workhorse in the Panthers offense, and Reggie Bonnafon showed a lot of promise as an explosive change-of-pace option last season. He had a 7.3 yards-per-carry average. With 2019 fifth-round pick Jordan Scarlett also on the roster, there isn't much of a role left for Davis.
Davis is set to carry a cap hit of $3 million, none of which is guaranteed. With just over $11 million in cap space remaining, the Panthers may find the potential savings more precious than Davis' role as a third or fourth running back.
Chicago Bears: LB Barkevious Mingo
The Chicago Bears decided to take a flier on linebacker Barkevious Mingo this offseason, signing the 2013 first-round pick to a one-year, $1.19 million deal. It's difficult to see him carving out a role in Chicago's talented linebacker corps, however.
Mingo, who had just six tackles with the Houston Texans last season, is not beating out Roquan Smith, Khalil Mack or Danny Trevathan for a starting role. He can be a fine depth player, and he does have 37 NFL starts on his resume. However, it would make more sense for Chicago to use his roster spot on a promising youngster like undrafted free agent Rashad Smith.
The Bears wouldn't save any money on the 2020 cap by releasing Mingo, but they could potentially clear the way for a valuable piece of the franchise's future. The soon-to-be 30-year-old is probably a short-term player at best.
Cincinnati Bengals: RB Giovani Bernard
It appears Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor doesn't value backup running back Giovani Bernard as highly as his predecessor, Marvin Lewis, did.
Bernard had 404 combined rushing and receiving yards in 2019, which is solid production for a backup running back but is also the lowest total of his career.
The numbers don't quite match up with his salary, either. The 28-year-old is set to earn nearly $10 million over the next two seasons, which is closer to the salary of a low-tier starter than a backup.
Seeing as the Bengals have younger and cheaper depth options like Trayveon Williams and Samaje Perine on the roster—and with just $1.33 million in dead cap remaining on Bernard's deal—it makes sense for them to trim the financial fat and part with the veteran.
Cleveland Browns: TE Stephen Carlson
Former Princeton tight end Stephen Carlson signed with the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted free agent last year. While he only saw limited action as a rookie, he did catch five passes for 51 yards.
He also had a touchdown catch in a win over the rival Pittsburgh Steelers, which might be a sign of bigger and better things to come. He had 683 yards and five touchdowns at Princeton in 2018 and possesses plenty of upside.
However, those things are unlikely to come in Cleveland.
The Browns added Pro Bowl tight end Austin Hooper in free agency and used a fourth-round pick on Harrison Bryant. With David Njoku reversing his stance on a trade request, there simply isn't room for Carlson to stick.
"Yes, I want to be here long-term," Njoku recently said, per Marla Ridenour of the Akron Beacon Journal.
There's little reason for Cleveland to keep four tight ends on its roster.
Dallas Cowboys: LB Sean Lee
Dallas Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee is still a productive defender when healthy, as he was in 2019. He amassed 86 tackles and a sack while appearing in all 16 games. However, he's becoming less of the field general he once was and has largely taken a backseat to youngsters Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith.
In 2019, Lee played 59.1 percent of the defensive snaps, per Football Outsiders. That was a higher percentage than Vander Esch played, but the younger linebacker also missed seven games due to injury.
Cutting Lee would save $2.5 million in cap space, which could be extremely valuable since Dallas has just under $6 million in cap room remaining and may want to roll over some space for the 2021 season when quarterback Dak Prescott will again be scheduled for free agency.
Denver Broncos: RB Royce Freeman
Royce Freeman, a 2018 third-round pick, has rushed for more than 1,000 yards during his two seasons with the Denver Broncos. However, he was the clear backup behind Phillip Lindsay and now finds himself further down the depth chart after Denver signed Melvin Gordon in free agency.
Freeman is now battling undrafted rookie LeVante Bellamy for the No. 3 role.
Bellamy, who had 1,472 rushing yards at Western Michigan last season, has plenty of upside and could be kept on a modest three-year, $2.3 million deal. Cutting Freeman would save the team roughly $800,000 in 2020 and $1.5 million over the next two years.
Detroit Lions: LB Jarrad Davis
The Detroit Lions declined linebacker Jarrad Davis' fifth-year option this offseason, potentially previewing the end of his time with the franchise. He has never emerged as the playmaking defensive leader the Lions were hoping to get at 21st overall in 2017, and Detroit has since invested in the linebacker position.
This offseason, the Lions added Jamie Collins and Elijah Lee in free agency. They also have 2019 second-round pick Jahlani Tavai sitting behind Davis at middle linebacker.
Davis is a serviceable linebacker who had 100 tackles just two seasons ago. However, Detroit could save nearly $2 million by cutting him while also opening the door for Tavai to take hold of a starting role. Tavai only made six starts in 2019 but finished with 58 tackles, 2.0 sacks and a forced fumble.
Green Bay Packers: RB Jamaal Williams
Running back Jamaal Williams is a tremendous receiving back and one of the better backups in the league. Despite playing behind reigning NFL rushing-touchdowns leader Aaron Jones, he still produced 39 receptions and more than 700 combined rushing and receiving yards last season.
However, the Packers used a second-round draft pick on Boston College product AJ Dillon in April, which means Williams' roster spot could be in jeopardy. Running back/returner Tyler Ervin provides more roster versatility, and the Packers also appear high on second-year man Dexter Williams.
"The guy I'm excited about seeing more is Dexter Williams," head coach Matt LaFleur said, per Zach Kruse of Packers Wire. "He's a guy that's been working really, really hard in all the video I've seen of him in the conditioning phases."
Green Bay could save more than $2 million by parting with Jamaal Williams this offseason, and that could be enough to make him the odd man out.
Houston Texans: WR Kenny Stills
Houston Texans wideout Kenny Stills is a fine complementary pass-catcher who produced 561 yards and four touchdowns in 2019. However, he finds himself on a crowded depth chart that also includes Will Fuller V, Brandin Cooks, Keke Coutee and Randall Cobb.
Fuller has established chemistry with quarterback Deshaun Watson, while Cooks and Cobb were offseason additions and are now unlikely cut candidates. Coutee, meanwhile, appears to be making progress after dealing with an ankle injury and some sophomore struggles in 2019.
"Keke has done a really good job of coming back and doing everything that we've asked him to do," head coach Bill O'Brien said, per Mark Lane of Texans Wire.
If Coutee continues to build momentum, Stills will become expendable. Houston could save $7 million in cap space by releasing him.
Indianapolis Colts: RB Jordan Wilkins
While running back Jordan Wilkins has only seen limited action in his two seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, the 2018 fifth-round pick has shined when given the chance. He's averaged a strong 5.8 yards per carry and has rushed for at least 300 yards in each of his campaigns.
However, while Wilkins would stick on most rosters as a high-value backup, the numbers don't favor him staying in Indianapolis this season. The Colts added rookie second-round pick Jonathan Taylor to a backfield that already includes Wilkins, Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines.
Mack is likely to remain the starter for at least another season, while Hines is a terrific pass-catcher with 107 receptions over two seasons. Wilkins is primarily a runner and had just seven catches in 2019.
There is too much positional redundancy with Taylor and Mack to warrant keeping him on the roster. While the Colts would save $750,000 by releasing him, they'll find plenty of value in his roster spot.
Jacksonville Jaguars: WR Keelan Cole
Jacksonville Jaguars wideout Keelan Cole signed as an undrafted free agent in 2017 and had a significant impact on the offense that year. He finished with 748 receiving yards and three touchdowns. However, his production has dwindled in each of the past two seasons, and he finished with just 24 catches and 361 yards in 2019.
With rookie second-round pick Laviska Shenault Jr. joining a receiving corps that also includes budding star DJ Chark Jr., Chris Conley and Dede Westbrook, it's perhaps time to let Cole try to reemerge on a different roster.
Cole has a cap hit of $3.26 million for 2020, but none of that contract is guaranteed. That's a fair bit of cash for a receiver likely to see yet another dip in production and a small role in the Jacksonville offense.
Kansas City Chiefs: S Armani Watts
Kansas City Chiefs safety Armani Watts came into the NFL with a high ceiling as a four-year starter for Texas A&M. However, he's been largely buried on the depth chart and has shown most of his promise on special teams.
According to Football Outsiders, Watts played just 6.6 percent of the defensive snaps in 2019.
With safeties like Juan Thornhill, who was recently activated from the PUP list, Tyrann Mathieu, Daniel Sorensen and Tedric Thompson on the roster, Watts isn't likely to see a significant defensive role any time soon. While the Chiefs would only save under $800,000 by cutting him, they could free up a valuable roster spot and avoid paying the majority of his $1.09 million 2021 salary.
Watts, meanwhile, could get the opportunity to catch on with a team featuring less depth at safety.
Las Vegas Raiders: G Gabe Jackson
NFL Network's Michael Silver reported back in April that the Las Vegas Raiders were shopping guard Gabe Jackson and that "the asking price is not high."
While general manager Mike Mayock did label Jackson as the team's starting right guard after a draft-weekend trade didn't occur, one has to believe the Raiders have soured on the Mississippi State product—at least at his current price.
Las Vegas brought in Eric Kush and used a fourth-round pick on Clemson guard John Simpson. Jackson, meanwhile, is set to carry a cap hit of $9.6 million in each of the next three seasons, though no dead money remains on his deal.
It's hard to think the Raiders want to spend that sort of cash on a guard who has missed eight games over the last two seasons and who allowed five sacks in 707 snaps last year, according to Pro Football Focus. While Jackson can still be a serviceable starter elsewhere, its time for the Raiders to move on.
Los Angeles Chargers: TE Virgil Green
Though he has never been a star at the NFL level, Virgil Green has been a quality backup tight end for the better part of a decade. He's entering his 10th season in the NFL and his third with the Los Angeles Chargers.
However, the Chargers may want to go with a cheaper option behind starter Hunter Henry—perhaps fifth-year pro Stephen Anderson. While Anderson is set to carry a cap hit of just $750,000, Green will have a hit of $3.5 million, $2.7 million of which can be saved by releasing him.
While Green is a quality veteran with 131 games and 69 starts on his resume, the Chargers could use the extra cap space to get an extension done with pass-rusher Melvin Ingram III, who has lobbied for a new deal this offseason.
Los Angeles Rams: RB Malcolm Brown
Los Angeles Rams running back Malcolm Brown has held the backup job for the past five seasons. He's in the second year of a two-year deal, though it's worth noting the Rams only gave him two years to match an offer made by the Detroit Lions.
While Brown is a capable runner—he's averaged 3.9 yards per carry for his career—he isn't likely to replace the departed Todd Gurley as the team's workhorse running back. Rookie second-rounder Cam Akers and 2019 third-rounder Darrell Henderson will likely vie for the starting role.
Undrafted rookie Xavier Jones should also be in the mix to provide depth this season.
The Rams can save just over $1.2 million by cutting Brown and going with a younger group of backs. With just over $4 million in cap space and needing to get an extension done with cornerback Jalen Ramsey, every bit of extra room will help.
Miami Dolphins: RB Kalen Ballage
In 2018, the Miami Dolphins used a fourth-round pick on former Arizona State running back Kalen Ballage. While he showed plenty of promise as a rookie—he rushed for 191 yards and 5.3 yards per carry—he struggled mightily last season.
In 2019, he averaged just 1.8 yards per rush and saw double-digit carries in only one game. He's gotten off to a rocky start in training camp, too.
"Ballage, who has oodles to prove after averaging 1.8 yards last season, was off to a poor start, dropping a pass and fumbling after a hit by Eric Rowe," Hal Habib of the Palm Beach Post wrote.
This offseason, the Dolphins added Matt Breida, Jordan Howard and converted wideout Malcolm Perry. They also have Myles Gaskin, who showed some flashes of his own as a rookie last season.
Ballege has potential, but he'll probably need to unlock it with a different club.
Minnesota Vikings: RB Ameer Abdullah
Running back Ameer Abdullah has flashed at various points in his NFL career. He rushed for 597 yards as a rookie with the Detroit Lions and averaged 5.0 yards per carry in limited action with the Minnesota Vikings last season.
While he could provide some valuable depth behind oft-injured starter Dalvin Cook, the Vikings have other options, including top backup Alexander Mattison and Mike Boone, who rushed for 462 and 273 yards last season, respectively.
Providing insurance for a potential Cook holdout won't be necessary as the Pro Bowler is focused on playing in Week 1, not on his contract, according to Tom Pelissero and Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.
Minnesota can save $750,000 by cutting Abdullah. It's a move that makes as much sense for the roster spot as it does for the extra cash.
New England Patriots: RB Rex Burkhead
Even with running back and special teamer Brandon Bolden opting out of the 2020 season, the New England Patriots are fairly loaded at the running back position.
They have returning starter Sony Michel, 2019 third-round pick Damien Harris, undrafted free agent J.J. Taylor and 2018 Pro Bowler Lamar Miller, who was only recently added as a free agent.
Not all of these backs are going to make the final 53, and the 30-year-old Burkhead should be near the top of the cut list.
While Burkhead has been a useful depth player in New England—he had 581 rushing and receiving yards last season—he's the oldest back on the active roster and would provide nearly $1.4 million in cap relief if released.
New Orleans Saints: C Nick Easton
Last offseason, the New Orleans Saints signed center Nick Easton to a four-year, $23 million contract. They then drafted Erik McCoy in the second round and watched him run away with the starting job. Easton provided depth but only played 409 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.
With rookie first-round pick Cesar Ruiz likely to start in place of the departed Larry Warford at guard, Easton is again looking at a backup role.
If the Saints move on from him, however, they can save more than $5 million in cap space, That's a significant number considering New Orleans currently has just $5.3 million available.
New York Giants: RB Wayne Gallman
New York Giants running back Wayne Gallman doesn't have much of a role in the offense aside from being Saquon Barkley's placeholder when the 2018 Rookie of the Year has to come off the field. But he's shown some promise in limited action and could be a valuable contributor on the right roster.
Gallman has averaged 4.0 yards per carry and 6.5 yards per reception for his career.
With Barkley and receiving back Dion Lewis on New York's roster, however, the right one is likely elsewhere.
The Giants brought in Lewis to be a pass-catching complement in free agency. They also added Javon Leake and Sandro Platzgummer as undrafted free agents. Parting with Gallman would save the team more than $800,000 while potentially opening the door for a player with more upside.
New York Jets: TE Ryan Griffin
New York Jets tight end Ryan Griffin was a serviceable starter in 2019, catching 34 passes for 320 yards and five touchdowns while filling in for Chris Herndon IV. However, Griffin currently finds himself on the PUP list—an ankle injury ended his season last year—while Herndon is thrilling in training camp.
"Chris is making plays, man," quarterback Sam Darnold said, per Brian Costello of the New York Post. "He's making plays all over the field, and it's good to have him back."
Herndon is set to return from his suspension- and injury-plagued 2019 season, and H-back Trevon Wesco could have more of an impact in his second pro season.
If the Jets don't believe that Griffin can make a quick and impactful return, it would make sense to waive him from the PUP list ahead of Week 1. Doing so would save nothing in 2020 but would free up a roster spot—once Griffin is eligible to return from the PUP list—and would save roughly $6 million over the next three seasons.
Philadelphia Eagles: WR Greg Ward
After spending parts of two seasons on the Philadelphia Eagles practice squad, wideout Greg Ward finally got an opportunity to play in 2019. The converted quarterback appeared in seven games, starting two, and finished with 28 catches, 254 yards and a touchdown. He caught 17 passes for 175 yards and a score in the final three weeks of the season alone, proving that he can be a valuable depth player.
Unfortunately, Ward may be forced to depart the roster again this offseason, as there are several receivers likely ahead of him on the depth chart, including DeSean Jackson, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, rookie first-round pick Jalen Reagor and rookie fifth-round pick John Hightower.
While Alshon Jeffery remains on the PUP list, he isn't a candidate to be cut. He has a salary of $15.4 million for 2020 but more than $26 million in dead cap remaining on his contract. Cutting Ward will save less than $700,000, but this is more about the roster numbers than the money.
Pittsburgh Steelers: DT Daniel McCullers
Defensive tackle Daniel McCullers is a longtime backup for the Pittsburgh Steelers who is entering his seventh season with the franchise. While he's never been a major piece of the defensive game plan, McCullers has appeared in 73 games.
However, Pittsburgh may need to turn the page on McCullers, who played just 12 percent of the defensive snaps in 2019, according to Football Outsiders.
Cutting McCullers would save the Steelers $1.5 million in cap space. While that might not seem significant for most teams, it could be huge for the Steelers, who have just $4.6 million in cap room with which to work.
San Francisco 49ers: CB Jason Verrett
The San Francisco 49ers have two recent free-agent additions who have contributed little because of injuries. Running back Jerick McKinnon has yet to play a snap for San Francisco, while Jason Verrett appeared in just one game last season.
However, San Francisco is anxious to see McKinnon on the field, while Verrett is merely part of the cornerback competition.
"I feel he's finally in a position where he has a chance to have this comeback now, and everyone's pulling for him," head coach Kyle Shanahan said, per Keiana Martin of the team's official website.
Verrett's injury history is significant, and he's appeared in just six games over the past four seasons. Releasing him would save $750,000 on the cap and open the door for a younger player like 2019 sixth-round pick Tim Harris or third-year man Emmanuel Moseley.
Seattle Seahawks: RB Carlos Hyde
With running backs Rashaad Penny and Chris Carson recovering from season-ending injuries, the Seattle Seahawks added Carlos Hyde as a bit of insurance. However, his one-year, $2.75 million contract contains no guarantees, making Hyde a prime cap-casualty candidate.
While Penny remains on the PUP list, Carson has returned to training camp. The Seahawks also have rookie fourth-round pick DeeJay Dallas on the roster and appear high on returning backup Travis Homer.
"He's the kind of kid that he's so tough and his mentality is so strong, that he's going to help us at the running back spot," head coach Pete Carroll said, per Liz Mathews of Seahawks Wire.
While Hyde could be a starter for a few teams—he had 1,070 rushing yards last season with Houston—he's a luxury the Seahawks can afford to cut before Week 1.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: TE Tanner Hudson
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a logjam at the tight end position, with Cameron Brady, O.J. Howard and Rob Gronkowski headlining the group.
Tampa almost certainly won't release Gronkowski after trading to acquire him from the Patriots, while both O.J. Howard and Brate have dead money equal to their 2020 cap hits. With blocking tight end Antony Auclair bringing a different skill set to the tight end room, this likely leaves Tanner Hudson as the odd man out.
"Hudson has extremely fluid hands and is quietly one of the best pass-catchers in that room. But the Bucs have an embarrassment of riches in tight ends that can catch," Carmen Vitali of the team's official website wrote.
Tampa would only save $750,000 by releasing Hudson, but the open roster spot could be critical as the Buccaneers try to chase a championship.
Tennessee Titans: OT Ty Sambrailo
Offensive tackle Ty Sambrailo has been a valuable depth player and spot starter—13 career starts—during his five seasons with the Broncos and Falcons. However, he was seldom-used by Atlanta last season, logging just 95 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus, and is probably looking at a similar role with the Tennessee Titans this year.
The Titans signed Sambrailo in March as a bit of veteran insurance while looking to replace the departed Jack Conklin. However, Tennessee also re-signed Dennis Kelly and used a first-round pick on Georgia Tackle Isaiah Wilson, making Sambrailo expendable.
Kelly has more than $6 million in dead money remaining on a three-year deal with a 2020 cap hit of just $3.6 million. Cutting Kelly wouldn't make a ton of sense financially, while releasing Sambrailo would save roughly $1.2 million this season.
Washington Football Team: RB Peyton Barber
When the Washington Football Team signed running back Peyton Barber to a two-year, $3 million deal this offseason, they added a solid role player with nearly 2,000 rushing yards on his NFL resume. However, they may not have a need for Barber with 2019 fourth-round pick Bryce Love making his way back from injury.
Love suffered a ton ACL in his final game at Stanford and spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve. But he appears healthy now and has impressed during training camp.
"This is a guy that could be an every-down back for you," head coach Ron Rivera said, per Alex Brandon of Richmond.com. “He’s an explosive, dynamic player."
With Love in the mix, Washington suddenly finds itself with a deep backfield. Future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson should again be the team's early-down option, while rookie third-round pick Antonio Gibson provides depth.
Seeing as how only $600,000 of Barber's deal is in dead money, it's probably best to cut him and free up opportunities for the other backs.
*All contract and cap information via Spotrac.