NFL Veterans Who Could Find Themselves on the Roster Bubble in Training Camps

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistJuly 13, 2021

NFL Veterans Who Could Find Themselves on the Roster Bubble in Training Camps

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    Brett Duke/Associated Press

    A number of NFL veterans have to keep their head on a swivel heading into training camp.

    Big names like Richard Sherman and Justin Houston remain on the free-agent market. Other high-profile players could join them this summer after sitting on the roster bubble and ultimately getting cut. 

    The most notable veterans who might find themselves in that position either have major name recognition or a huge contract. Regardless, some other teams should be interested in scooping them up right away.

N'Keal Harry, WR, New England Patriots

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    Wide receivers don't have many chances to prove they can make a difference in the NFL given the sheer number of players at the position who get drafted every year. 

    Just look at N'Keal Harry of the New England Patriots.

    The third-year wideout has reportedly asked for a trade, according to NFL Network's Mike Garafolo, after failing to establish himself in the Patriots offense. Over 21 career games, the 2019 No. 32 overall pick has caught only 45 passes for 414 yards and four touchdowns.

    The Patriots signed tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith this offseason, so Harry isn't likely to carve out a larger role in New England this year. Rather than trade for him, other teams may prefer to see if the Patriots cut him in the coming weeks.

    Either way, Harry would have qualified for this list even before his trade request.

Mark Ingram II, RB, Houston Texans

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Mark Ingram II has been a mainstay in NFL backfields for the past decade, but his roster spot heading into this season is far less secure.

    The 31-year-old signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract with the Houston Texans in March after spending the past two seasons with the Baltimore Ravens. After rumbling for 1,018 yards and 10 touchdowns on only 202 carries in 2019, Ingram mustered a career-low 299 yards and two touchdowns on 72 carries last season.

    In Houston, he'll be fighting for touches with David Johnson, Phillip Lindsay and Rex Burkhead, among others. The Texans would incur a dead-cap hit of only $500,000 if they waive him, while Lindsay ($1 million) and Johnson ($4.3 million) would be more costly to cut. 

    Johnson and Lindsay are no stranger to injuries, so Houston may prefer to keep Ingram around as insurance. But considering his diminished production in 2020, he may find himself fighting for one of the Texans' final few roster spots.

Josh Jackson, CB, Green Bay Packers

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    The Green Bay Packers selected cornerback Josh Jackson with the No. 45 overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft, but he could soon be on his way out of Titletown.

    The Iowa product has missed six games over the last two seasons and has yet to play more than 68 percent of Green Bay's defensive snaps in a season.

    Last season, Jackson earned a 52.0 Pro Football Focus grade (which falls into "replaceable" territory), allowing 15 catches on 22 targets. He has yet to grade above a 60.4. 

    The Packers have responded in kind over the last few months, bringing back Kevin King and Chandon Sullivan and then using a first-round pick on Eric Stokes. They also spent a fifth-rounder on Shemar Jean-Charles. 

    Heading into the final year of his contract, Jackson may need a strong summer to secure his roster spot.

Landon Collins, S, Washington Football Team

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    Susan Walsh/Associated Press

    The Washington Football Team has a long history of overpaying free agents. Safety Landon Collins is among the latest examples.

    After Collins made three Pro Bowls and an All-Pro team in his four seasons with the New York Giants, Washington signed him to a six-year, $84 million contract in 2019, making him the NFL's highest-paid safety. He proceeded to miss 10 games across the 2019 and 2020 seasons, and he has yet to post a PFF grade higher than 69.2 with the WFT, which puts him firmly in the "backup" category.

    Collins tore his Achilles in late October, but he told the team website in late May that he felt "awesome" and "like myself again." However, he'll face increased competition for playing time upon his return.

    After Collins went down, 2020 seventh-rounder Kamren Curl turned heads with some impact plays. Washington also spent a fifth-round pick this year on Cincinnati safety Darrick Forest.

    Collins' contract may be his saving grace, as Washington would save only around $200,000 by releasing him. However, trading him would free up $12.7 million in cap space, so the WFT might consider that route if he doesn't appear to be fully recovered from his Achilles injury in training camp.

Andre Smith, OT, Baltimore Ravens

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    Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

    The Baltimore Ravens signed right tackle Andre Smith to a one-year, $1.1 million contract in February 2020 to shore up their offensive line depth. However, he opted out of the 2020 season in late July amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

    The 34-year-old has experience at both tackle spots, which should make him a superb backup behind starters Ronnie Stanley (left) and Alejandro Villanueva (right). The Ravens could use more depth after trading Orlando Brown Jr. to Kansas City this offseason.

    However, Smith skipped voluntary OTAs this offseason "and looked like he was playing catch-up at minicamp," according to Jonas Shaffer of the Baltimore Sun. Over his 254 snaps with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2019, he got called for four penalties and allowed three sacks, which resulted in a miserable 51.0 PFF grade. 

    While Smith's experience might buy him some leeway, he'll need to make a much better impression in training camp to lock down a roster spot.

Jaylon Smith, LB, Dallas Cowboys

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    Emilee Chinn/Associated Press

    The Dallas Cowboys may already regret signing linebacker Jaylon Smith to a six-year, $68.4 million contract extension in August 2019.

    Smith finished with a career-high 154 combined tackles in 2020, but his PFF grade dropped from 70.2 the year prior to a replacement-level 54.2.

    The Cowboys fired defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and defensive line coach Jim Tomsula after the season, so Smith and the rest of the unit may bounce back in 2021. Dallas also selected Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons with the 12th overall pick and spent a fourth-rounder on LSU linebacker Jabril Cox.

    Much like with Landon Collins, Smith's contract might be his best hope of staying put. The Cowboys would get zero cap savings by releasing him, although they could carve out $7.2 million by trading him.

    With Parsons and Cox now in the fray alongside 2018 No. 19 overall pick Leighton Vander Esch, Smith may be expendable. If the Cowboys can find a willing trade partner for him, they might prefer giving more snaps to their younger linebackers.

Tim Tebow, TE, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Tim Tebow hasn't played an NFL regular-season snap since 2012, but that didn't stop the Jacksonville Jaguars from signing him this offseason. Not only did they give him a one-year, $920,000 contract, but he'll be switching from quarterback to tight end.

    New Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer coached Tebow at Florida, and he spoke with USA Today in late June about the soon-to-be 34-year-old's chances of making the roster: 

    "The tough part is 53 and that's new to me. That's the reality of the NFL, that you have 90 players. So to me, he's one of 90. He's a guy that's, you know, what's the difference between him and the other 40 guys trying to make the team? 

    "To me, it's all the same. This is their livelihood, this is a job, this is a way to make a living. And the reality is that a good percentage of your roster's gonna get cut or transition out of here, which, to me, that's completely new. In college, you've got your 85, 95 guys and you fit them in and you put the puzzle together. It's much different here."

    Tebow faces stiff competition from "Tight End University" invitee Chris Manhertz, veteran James O'Shaughnessy and fifth-rounder Luke Farrell. Unless he proves that he can help develop No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence, his long-shot chance of making the roster will end predictably. 

Nick Foles, QB, Chicago Bears

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    After guiding the Philadelphia Eagles to two straight playoff appearances—including a victory in Super Bowl LII—Nick Foles signed a four-year, $88 million contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars in March 2019. He then broke his clavicle in Week 1 of the 2019 season and lost his job to rookie Gardner Minshew II.

    The Jaguars traded Foles to the Chicago Bears last offseason, and he wound up throwing 10 touchdowns to eight interceptions across seven starts. However, the Bears signed quarterback Andy Dalton this offseason and then traded up to draft Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields at No. 11.

    If the Bears decide to keep only two quarterbacks on their roster, that wouldn't bode well for Foles. However, cutting him would leave them with a $11.7 million dead-cap hit, while keeping him on the roster would cost only $6.7 million.

    There isn't likely to be much trade interest in a 32-year-old who has yet to start more than 11 games in any of his nine NFL seasons. But if his playoff heroics with the Eagles do inspire another team to come calling, the Bears could save $4.0 million by trading him.

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