The Best Player Who Could Be Cut from Every NFL Roster in 2021 Offseason
NFL teams are dealing with bloated rosters after taking in plenty of new players via free agency and the draft. Organizations have also been coming to terms with undrafted rookie free agents, loading up their cupboards to prepare for training camp and the preseason.
Many of these players will end up going back onto the open market before the 2021 season kicks off, giving teams a chance to shuffle the deck once again by bringing in talent who didn't pan out elsewhere.
Plenty of recognizable names will be jettisoned before the offseason wraps up, with this article focusing on the best player from each team that has a chance to be cut.
Several factors were considered when choosing these release candidates, including age, dips in production, high salaries, their franchise's cap space and the potential to be replaced by a younger or cheaper player on the roster.
With that in mind, here are the top talents who could be cut in 2021.
Buffalo Bills: DE Mario Addison
The aging Bills defensive line got much younger this offseason after the club used a pair of early draft picks on Gregory Rousseau and Carlos "Boogie" Basham Jr. These additions, along with the development of A.J. Epenesa—the edge-rusher Buffalo selected in the second round last year—may render one of the incumbent defensive ends expendable.
Both Mario Addison and Jerry Hughes are on the wrong side of 30 and being paid big bucks in 2021. Addison has an $8.2 million cap hit, a higher figure than all but four other players on the roster. His contributions don't exactly warrant that type of deal, as Addison recorded just five sacks last year, his fewest since 2013. The Bills could free up an additional $3.4 million by parting ways with him after his one season with the club.
Hughes might even make more sense to cut given the team could save more than $6 million by releasing him, but he's the longest-tenured player in the Buffalo locker room and served as the defensive captain last year.
Miami Dolphins: WR Jakeem Grant
The Dolphins went from having one of the poorest receiving corps in the league to one of the more intriguing ones this offseason. The free-agency addition of Will Fuller V and the draft selection of Jaylen Waddle have injected a ton of talent into this unit, opening the door for at least one incumbent wideout to be released.
Jakeem Grant could be a cut candidate after failing to live up to his potential during five seasons in South Beach. The 28-year-old is owed $4.7 million for the upcoming campaign, a hefty price to pay for a player who caught just 36 passes for 373 yards and a score last year.
While Grant did earn second-team All-Pro honors for his contributions in the return game last season, he's being paid to contribute as a receiver. Considering he hasn't done that at an adequate level, Miami can safely show him the door.
New England Patriots: RB Sony Michel
The Patriots once felt strongly enough about Sony Michel to make him a first-round pick, but he has struggled to live up to the lofty expectations that come with such a selection.
He played a key role as a rookie during the team's 2018 campaign and subsequent Super Bowl run, but injuries and poor production have plagued the Georgia product since. He saw action in just nine games (starting six) last year, amassing a career-low 79 totes for 449 yards and a single touchdown.
New England declined to exercise Michel's fifth-year option earlier this month, potentially making 2021 his final season with the organization. Damien Harris has the chops to be the team's starting running back, and the Pats used a fourth-rounder on Rhamondre Stevenson, leaving Michel as a depth option at best.
Getting rid of Michel now would free up snaps to develop Stevenson and save New England almost $1 million.
New York Jets: OL Greg Van Roten
The Jets were one of the more active teams during free agency and the draft. Some of their acquisitions have made their incumbent contributors expendable, including offensive lineman Greg Van Roten.
Van Roten has played every interior line spot for Gang Green, including 76 percent of the team's offensive snaps at right guard in 2020.
With Van Roten accounting for a $3.6 million cap hit, the Jets would be wise to release the 31-year-old this offseason. The team drafted an elite OL prospect in first-rounder Alijah Vera-Tucker, plus signed Dan Feeney in free agency, giving this group plenty of depth to overcome the loss of a starter in Van Roten.
Baltimore Ravens: DL Brandon Williams
The Ravens have a ton of work to do next offseason, which is when guys like Calais Campbell, Jimmy Smith, Pernell McPhee, Mark Andrews and many others are set to hit the open market. They can start freeing up the space to keep some of these veterans now by releasing polarizing defensive lineman Brandon Williams.
Williams has a $12.9 million cap hit this year, the third-largest on the roster. It's a massive amount to pay for a player who not only missed three games but also played just 33 percent of Baltimore's defensive snaps in 2020.
While Williams has been a steady asset in the past, it appears as though the 32-year-old's best days are now behind him. Keeping an overpaid run-stuffing specialist around just doesn't make sense for the Ravens anymore.
Cincinnati Bengals: TE C.J. Uzomah
Although the Bengals may want to keep C.J. Uzomah around for his good blocking capabilities and decent hands for a tight end, he's an ideal candidate to cut for cap savings.
Uzomah only participated in two games before a torn Achilles tendon cut his 2020 campaign short. That devastating injury, plus the promise that Drew Sample showed while filling in, could push Cincinnati to part ways with its incumbent starter at the position.
Releasing Uzomah—who is going into the final season of his three-year, $18.3 million contract—would open up more than $5 million in cap space. The club would still have Sample and Mason Schreck under contract, and they make far less than Uzomah ($2.4 million combined).
Cleveland Browns: WR JoJo Natson
The Browns already had one of the league's deeper receiving corps going into the offseason. They recently added even more talent by drafting Anthony Schwartz in the third round.
With that pickup, it would be a shock if Cleveland didn't cut at least one holdover from last year. One possible ax is JoJo Natson, the part-time wideout, part-time returner going into his fifth season as a pro.
Natson barely made an impact offensively for the Browns last year, logging just nine snaps and picking up one rush for three yards during his three appearances. He returned only three punts and a single kick in that span as well.
Given the 5'7", 153-pounder relied on his speed to make an impact, it stings even more that his campaign was cut short by an ACL injury. While the Browns did dole out a one-year, $1.1 million contract to potentially keep Natson around for 2020, the team can clear most of that off the cap by releasing him.
Pittsburgh Steelers: CB Joe Haden
The Steelers had to make some tough decisions this offseason because of the shrinking salary cap, but one player who has remained safe so far is cornerback Joe Haden.
That could change if the organization decides it would rather have $7 million in savings to shore up the rest of its roster. While Haden has been a steady starter for Pittsburgh, he's been playing average football at best. Pro Football Focus gave Haden a grade of 66.6 in 2020, leaving quite a bit to be desired for a player on his salary.
Unfortunately for the Steelers, they didn't take any cornerbacks in the draft and would be relying heavily on unproven guys to fill the void. If the Pittsburgh brass feels young players such as Justin Layne, 23, and James Pierre, 24, can fill in for Haden, this surprise cut could happen.
Houston Texans: CB Bradley Roby
The rebuilding Texans have problems plaguing nearly every area of their roster. The cornerback spot isn’t one of their worst issues, but it certainly doesn't help that their top player at the position has been unreliable over the past few seasons and already won't be available in Week 1.
Bradley Roby has to finish serving the last game of a six-game suspension he received for violating the league's performance-enhancing drugs policy. The 29-year-old hasn't played all 16 games in a season since 2017 and hasn't seen the field for more than 61 percent of Houston's snaps since he joined the club in 2019.
Considering the Texans could save over $8 million by releasing Roby—who is under contract through the 2022 season—it would give them plenty of flexibility to address the myriad of holes remaining in their lineup.
Indianapolis Colts: TE Jack Doyle
The Colts have a decent amount of talent at the tight end position right now, with Jack Doyle penciled in as the starter, Mo Alie-Cox serving as the No. 2 option and promising rookie Kylen Granson entering the mix after being selected No. 127 overall.
The depth behind Doyle could entice Indianapolis to release the 31-year-old, who has never quite panned out as a pass-catching playmaker since entering the league. He's shown plenty of promise—notably in 2017 when he hauled in 80 receptions for 680 yards and four touchdowns—but is coming off a disappointing season during which he caught just 23 balls for 251 yards.
That kind of production makes it difficult to justify paying Doyle almost $6 million for the upcoming season. Releasing him would save around $4 million, plus clear the way for the younger Alie-Cox, 27, and Granson, 23, to take on bigger roles in the offense.
Jacksonville Jaguars: DT Taven Bryan
Taven Bryan has been one of Jacksonville's biggest defensive draft-pick whiffs. The club used a first-rounder on the Florida product back in 2018, but he has hardly performed at an acceptable level in the three years since the Jaguars selected him.
Bryan has played in all 48 regular-season games since turning pro but hasn't participated in even 50 percent of the team's defensive snaps in any season. He hasn't done much when he is on the field either, recording just 71 tackles (11 for a loss), 17 quarterback hits, 3.5 sacks, one pass deflection and one forced fumble.
Although the move wouldn't be a big cap-space saver—Jacksonville would get about $1.2 million back by releasing him—it would open up a roster spot the club can use to find a more impactful player.
Tennessee Titans: C Ben Jones
The Titans have leaned heavily on Ben Jones for the past half-decade, installing him as their starting center in 2016 and getting 79 out of a possible 80 games from the stalwart lineman.
While Jones has been a reliable part of Tennessee's trenches, he's going into the final year of his contract. With a sizable cap hit of $7.3 million—and a dead cap number of just $1 million—the Titans can loosen up a lot of cash by parting ways with the 31-year-old.
Jones is a quality center. He graded out at a 78.6 and didn't allow any sacks last year, according to PFF; however, he did commit four penalties. He's also getting older and could hit a decline soon, leaving the door open for the Titans to not only save a few dollars but also get younger at the position.
Denver Broncos: CB Bryce Callahan
The Broncos landed one of the more exciting cornerback prospects in years when they drafted Patrick Surtain II at No. 9 overall. The Alabama product should be a Day 1 starter in Denver, opening the door for the organization to part ways with Bryce Callahan.
Callahan was highly effective during his second season in the Mile High City last year—grading out at an 84.1 by PFF—but he was only able to suit up for 10 games because of a foot injury. He’s under contract through the 2021 campaign with an $8.5 million cap hit, and the Broncos could recoup almost $7.2 million of that figure by releasing him.
Now that the team has one of the deeper secondaries in the league, Denver’s brass may decide it could better utilize the funds currently tied up in Callahan’s contract to improve a shaky offense. This team has the talent to make a playoff run but might not get there without splurging on a few more pieces that can help put points on the board.
Kansas City Chiefs: LB Anthony Hitchens
The Chiefs spared little expense when they overhauled their offensive line this offseason. While the team accomplished the goal of greatly improving the trenches, it doesn't have much financial flexibility to tweak the rest of the roster with.
One way Kansas City can get an infusion of salary-cap space is by cutting Anthony Hitchens, the veteran linebacker who has a $10.6 million cap hit in 2021 and a $12.7 million cap hit in 2022 before coming off the books.
Hitchens has been a great player for the Chiefs, but designating him as a post-June 1 release would give the team an additional $6.4 million in financial flexibility. It's a significant amount of cap space for a team that is loaded with veterans and pushing for another Super Bowl ring this coming season.
Being able to sign a few more pieces at more problematic areas may force Kansas City to cut ties with a player who only chipped in 78 tackles last year while missing two games and playing 56 percent of the defensive snaps.
Las Vegas Raiders: RB Jalen Richard
The Raiders have utilized Jalen Richard as a viable third-down back for the last five years, but his tenure with the team may be coming to an end.
He is due to make $3.5 million in 2021, but none of it guaranteed, which would allow Las Vegas to release him and get a good chunk of change back that it could use on the open market.
Given the running back logged a career-low 261 yards from scrimmage and scored just one touchdown last year, there are far more impactful players the team could sign with his salary.
With Heavy.com reporting that Richard recently scrubbed all mentions of the Raiders from his social media pages, the writing seems to be on the wall.
Los Angeles Chargers: DT Linval Joseph
The Chargers are rapidly morphing into one of the league’s most exciting up-and-coming teams. The club will be looking to make a postseason run in the near future but may need some financial flexibility to acquire impact pieces to fill some holes along the roster.
One way the Bolts can save a large amount of money is by cutting veteran defensive lineman Linval Joseph. The 32-year-old is about to enter the final season of a two-year, $17 million deal he signed last offseason. While his cap hit is $11.9 million for 2021, releasing him would still unlock $7.9 million after factoring in $4 million of dead money.
Los Angeles has been getting quality production out of Joseph, but his cap hit is the fourth-largest on the team. The organization signed Christian Covington this week, a player who could fill in at the nose tackle position while developmental prospect Breiden Fehoko gets up to speed as a potential long-term solution.
Dallas Cowboys: LB Jaylon Smith
The Cowboys changed the outlook of their linebacking unit when they drafted Micah Parsons at No. 12 overall. The Defensive Rookie of the Year favorite should be a force to be reckoned with in 2021, and his presence could make Dallas decide to part ways with a disappointing incumbent at the position.
Jaylon Smith, an early second-round pick in 2016, has had an up-and-down tenure with the Cowboys. He missed his entire rookie season as he recovered from a knee injury but eventually bounced back and even made a Pro Bowl in 2019.
Smith earned a six-year extension worth $68.4 million following that campaign, but he fell off hard in 2020. PFF graded him out a paltry 54.2.
Dallas could save $7.2 million by designating Smith as a post-June 1 cut, which would be a huge amount of money for an organization that must continue retooling its entire defense after an horrid year.
New York Giants: OL Will Hernandez
The Giants appeared to have found a stalwart left guard when they drafted Will Hernandez early in the second round in 2018, but his promising career went off the rails a bit in 2020.
The UTEP product started all 32 games and played 100% of Big Blue's snaps over the first two years of his career. He was expected to continue down that path last season, but missed time with COVID-19 and then was relegated to backup duty, playing just 95 snaps following his return.
The G-Men were able to plug in Shane Lemieux effectively, although the rookie did have issues with pass protection at times. His development and perceived better fit for the offensive line could make Hernandez an expendable asset for the club, which would save $2.2 million by releasing the fourth-year guard this offseason.
Philadelphia Eagles: TE Zach Ertz
The Eagles came into the offseason needing to shed salary and clear out veterans as part of a rebuilding effort. One player long rumored to be on his way out of the City of Brotherly Love is Zach Ertz, the veteran tight end who has spent the better part of the past decade plying his trade with the club.
It's hard to fault Philadelphia brass for holding out hope that it could return something of value for Ertz, who is only a season removed from three consecutive Pro Bowl appearances. The 30-year-old veteran is coming off arguably his worst year since he was a rookie, however, accumulating a meager 36 catches for 335 yards and a touchdown.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, it doesn't appear any worthwhile offers are materializing. Ertz will likely end up as a post-June 1 cut, which would give Philadelphia another $8.5 million in cap space.
Washington Football Team: S Landon Collins
Landon Collins signed a colossal six-year, $84 million contract with Washington back in 2019. The deal gives the safety the second-highest cap hit on the club's roster this season ($16.9 million), a figure far too high in comparison to his recent production.
He participated in only seven games last year due to a torn Achilles and was having a mediocre season before it was cut short by the injury. PFF gave him a grade of 60.0, and he recorded 41 tackles, two sacks and an interception in those contests.
Seventh-round rookie Kamren Curl stepped in to fill the void left by Collins. He racked up 88 tackles, snared three interceptions and took down the opposing QB twice. More importantly, the 22-year-old showed he can play the position at a high level at a much cheaper cost. Washington could designate the 27-year-old Collins as a post-June 1 designation to free up $7.7 million in cap space.
Chicago Bears: TE Jimmy Graham
The Bears surprisingly haven't released Jimmy Graham, keeping the aging tight end on their roster despite his somewhat limited production for his high price tag.
Graham did have a resurgent outing during his first year in the Windy City, playing all 16 games while notching 50 catches for 456 yards and eight touchdowns. The 34-year-old does have a $10 million cap hit for 2021 though, a lofty figure for an aging veteran.
Chicago already has an in-house replacement lined up, with 2020 second-round pick Cole Kmet appearing to be poised for a bigger role this year. Kmet played just a handful fewer snaps than Graham in 2020 (56 percent compared to 59 percent), and while he didn't put up the same sort of receiving marks (catching 28 passes for 243 yards and two scores), he should get better with Justin Fields under center in 2021.
Developing Fields and Kmet together should be a priority for the Bears, who can release Graham to add another $7 million onto their books.
Detroit Lions: DT Nick Williams
A plethora of veterans have already exited Detroit as part of the club's full-fledged rebuild this offseason, but one player who has stuck around is defensive tackle Nick Williams.
The Lions already reduced Williams' base salary from $4.1 to $1.3 million, but the team can still save the rest of the non-guaranteed money and free up a roster spot for a developmental player by releasing the 31-year-old.
Although Detroit isn't hurting for cap space, a club with no illusions about contending this year hardly needs a defensive lineman on the wrong side of 30. Williams has been average at best during his career, and getting rid of him now will allow the Lions to more quickly find the future of the position.
Green Bay Packers: CB Josh Jackson
The Packers cornerback corps was one of its weak points last year, an issue that took center stage when Kevin King was exposed in the NFC Championship Game. The team has made some moves to address it this offseason, and those transactions could pave the way for Josh Jackson to leave Green Bay.
Jackson, a second-round pick in 2018, has failed to integrate himself into this defense over the last three seasons. PFF gave him a grade of 52.0 for his performance last year, a mark that leaves much to be desired. He earned another chance to start while King was recovering from a quad injury, but the coaching staff didn't trust him to remain in that role once the No. 2 corner was healthy.
With first-rounder Eric Stokes and fifth-rounder Shemar Jean-Charles shoring up the secondary, the Packers can finally give up on their attempts to turn Jackson into a useful piece of their defense and release him.
Minnesota Vikings: DL Stephen Weatherly
The Vikings cut Stephen Weatherly for poor play following the 2019 campaign and may rid themselves of the veteran defensive lineman before his second stint in Minnesota even gets underway.
He was a decent rotational piece for the Vikings after being selected late in the 2016 draft and had his best campaign in 2018, when he started six of the 16 games he played in and notched 35 tackles, eight QB hits and a trio of sacks. He failed to generate as much pressure the following year and ended up with the Panthers on a two-year deal in 2020.
Carolina only got nine games from Weatherly before he went down with injury and was released in February. He landed back with Minnesota last month, but the 27-year-old could struggle to crack the final roster.
With the Vikings drafting third-rounder Patrick Jones II and fourth-rounder Janarius Robinson to compete at the same position, the franchise would be better served saving $2 million by releasing Weatherly.
Atlanta Falcons: TE Hayden Hurst
The Falcons just drafted a transcendent rookie tight end, using the No. 4 pick on Kyle Pitts.
That selection is likely the nail in the coffin for Hayden Hurst, the 2018 first-round pick who failed to pan out in Baltimore and was only marginally better for Atlanta after the club traded for him last season.
While Hurst did start nine of 16 games and caught 56 passes for 571 yards and six touchdowns, the Falcons declined his fifth-year option. He's now on the final season of his rookie deal and could be a decent piece of trade bait, but the market for a tight end who would be playing for his third team in four seasons likely won't be too hot.
Even if Atlanta can't find a taker for Hurst, they can save a respectable $2 million by cutting him and clearing a path for Pitts to play an even bigger role in 2021.
Carolina Panthers: S Juston Burris
The Panthers stayed busy improving their defense this offseason, but their secondary still needs some work even after the team drafted Jaycee Horn, making him the top defensive back off the board at No. 8.
One addition could be via subtraction if the Panthers part ways with Juston Burris. The 27-year-old wasn't a viable starter for the club last year, earning a 55.3 grade from PFF. The team should be slotting Jeremy Chinn—a star rookie contributor last season—over to safety and can use a player like Sam Franklin, who performed well for an undrafted rookie in 2020, to man the other spot.
Burris' release would save the Panthers around $3 million while also letting them further develop one of their promising young defensive backs.
New Orleans Saints: CB Patrick Robinson
Despite already parting ways with a ton of talent this offseason to get cap compliant, the Saints may not be done cutting veterans just yet.
One player who could be on the chopping block is aging cornerback Patrick Robinson, who at 33 years old is now well on the wrong side of 30 and no longer the impact contributor he once was. With third-round pick Paulson Adebo adding a new piece to this secondary, Robinson may be the odd man out.
Robinson has only participated in 26 games since signing with New Orleans back in 2018 and is tough to rely on at this stage of his career. New Orleans can get another $2.6 million to work with by releasing him before finishing the final year of his contract in 2021.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: DE William Gholston
The Buccaneers have done a remarkable job of retaining just about every key free agent from their Super Bowl run, but those moves have left them with little cap space to work with going forward.
William Gholston is a player who jumps out as the most obvious cut candidate for the Bucs, given the defensive end is due $5.5 million with nothing guaranteed going into the final year of his contract. The Bucs can simply release him without taking on any dead money, removing a player who hasn’t played more than 60 percent of his squad’s defensive snaps since 2015.
With Shaq Barrett coming back after signing a big contract and rookie Joe Tryon entering the picture as an elite edge-rushing prospect, Gholston is a luxury the Buccaneers don’t need to win another championship.
Arizona Cardinals: LB Devon Kennard
The Cardinals brought in Devon Kennard to bolster their pass rush, but the seven-year veteran didn't have the type of impact expected during his first season with the club.
He suffered an ankle injury and landed on the COVID-19 list, eventually losing his starting job to Markus Golden. He finished the year with only three sacks and nine QB hits in 13 games, production that hardly warrants an $8.3 million cap hit in 2021.
With prized offseason acquisition J.J. Watt ready to shore up the edge, the Cardinals can save close to $4 million by releasing Kennard.
Los Angeles Rams: LB Troy Reeder
The Rams have a logjam at linebacker after drafting Ernest Jones. The team now has Jones, Micah Kiser, Derrick Moncrief, Troy Reeder and Christian Rozeboom and Kenny Young at the position, an unsustainable situation that will likely result in at least one cut before the campaign begins.
Reeder may be the odd man out this year, even after a solid sophomore campaign in which he secured 81 tackles, three sacks and two pass deflections. The 26-year-old started seven of his 16 games as well, but a tough camp battle could see him land on the open market.
He should find another home quickly. Releasing him would save less than $1 million, but most importantly, it would free up a much-needed roster spot on this veteran-heavy squad.
San Francisco 49ers: QB Josh Rosen
The 49ers picked up Josh Rosen in December and re-signed for one year, but the quarterback's tenure with the organization could be a short one. San Francisco used the third overall pick on Trey Lance and has indicated it prefers to keep around veteran Jimmy Garoppolo for the upcoming campaign, leaving Rosen as the No. 3 QB at best.
Rosen is only three years removed from being the No. 10 overall pick, but his NFL journey has been a roller coaster since he was taken by the Cardinals. The UCLA product lasted just one season with Arizona before being traded to Miami, where he started just three games in 2019 and was ultimately waived the following offseason.
There is still a chance Rosen will rehabilitate his career, but it won't be in San Francisco.
The Niners would be doing themselves and Rosen a favor by releasing the 24-year-old, letting him catch on with another team that wants to kick the tires and opening up a roster spot for a group that has playoff aspirations in 2021.
Seattle Seahawks: RB Alex Collins
The Seahawks must ditch a running back after they managed to keep incumbent starter Chris Carson in free agency.
The platoon in Seattle not only has Carson returning but also 2018 first-round pick Rashaad Penny, a promising second-year talent in DeeJay Dallas, undrafted rookie Josh Johnson and running back/kick returner Travis Homer in the picture.
With such a logjam in the backfield, the Seahawks may wind up releasing Alex Collins, who was out of the league in 2019 after violating the league's personal conduct policy. He didn't do too much in 2020, recording just 18 rushes for 77 yards and two scores after being promoted from the practice squad.
While Seattle brass clearly thinks Collins can be a contributor, recently re-signing him to a one-year deal, it will be tough to hang on to him when making final cuts.