2021 NFL Roster Bubble: Biggest Names Who Could Be Cut

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistAugust 11, 2021

2021 NFL Roster Bubble: Biggest Names Who Could Be Cut

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    The 2021 Hall of Fame Game was last Thursday, and the first full week of the NFL preseason is about to begin. This means, of course, that the regular season is right around the corner. 

    Teams can currently carry 90 players on their rosters, but that number must be trimmed to 80 players on Aug. 24 and then 53 players on Aug. 31. Practice squads will soak up a few of those who don't make the final 53, but a huge chunk of talent will be left looking for work. As is usually the case, that group will include many notable veterans.

    Well-known players are often cut for reasons other than talent. Diminishing skills and/or poor preseason performances can play a role, of course, but so too can factors like roster makeup, contract status and cap implications.

    Here, we'll examine eight noteworthy NFL vets who could find themselves on the cut pile in a couple of weeks. We'll look at each player, his situation and why he could wind up being let go.

    Players are listed in alphabetical order.         

Jordan Hicks, LB, Arizona Cardinals

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Arizona Cardinals linebacker Jordan Hicks views himself as an NFL starter, but he has been told that he cannot compete for that role in Arizona, according to ESPN's Josh Weinfuss.

    "I think at this point, I think I've proven that I'm a starter in this league by the resume that I have, by the past two years of being here and showing my leadership, showing my play on the field," Hicks said.

    The selection of first-round linebacker Zaven Collins in April has clouded Hicks' future with the Cardinals. Collins was arrested on reckless driving charges in June and could face league discipline, but he, not Hicks, appears to be the focus of the Cardinals' long-term picture.

    Shortly after it drafted Collins, Arizona granted Hick permission to seek a trade, according to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport.

    Yet Hicks—who racked up 118 tackles, an interception and 11 tackles for loss last season—has not found a team willing to acquire him. This could lead to a situation where the Cardinals let Hicks go before the regular season.   

    While Arizona would create no cap space this season by releasing Hicks, it would potentially avoid having a disgruntled veteran on the roster. Releasing him would also erase is $9 million 2022 cap hit.

Jordan Howard, RB, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Running back Jordan Howard had an explosive start to his NFL career. Drafted in the fifth round by the Chicago Bears in 2016, he was a rookie Pro Bowler and logged 1,000-yard rushing seasons in his first two years.

    However, Howard fell below the 1,000-yard mark in 2018, was a role player with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2019 and was a virtual non-factor with the Miami Dolphins last season before being cut. Howard rejoined the Eagles late in 2020 and is back this year to try to revitalize his career.

    He has performed well in camp too.

    "Honestly, he came back looking the best that I've ever seen him look," fellow back Boston Scott said, per Reuben Frank of NBC Sports Philadelphia.

    The problem is Howard faces a crowded backfield that also features Scott, starter Miles Sanders, rookie fifth-round pick Kenneth Gainwell and recent addition Kerryon Johnson. Sanders and Scott are established Eagles commodities, and Gainwell is a draftee. So Howard may be vying for the No. 4 role at best. And while his 2021 cap hit is only $990,000, none of the money is guaranteed. 

    If Johnson, a 2018 second-round pick of the Detroit Lions, becomes Philadelphia's preferred reclamation project, cutting Howard and saving nearly $1 million could be an easy decision.    

Allen Hurns, WR, Miami Dolphins

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    Marta Lavandier/Associated Press

    Wideout Allen Hurns has never been a Pro Bowler, but he was a 1,000-yard receiver in 2015. While Howard was an afterthought in the Dolphins offense last season, Hurns was a valuable role player who racked up 32 receptions for 416 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

    The problem is that Miami added two big pieces to their receiving corps this offseason. They signed speedy deep threat William Fuller V in free agency and drafted Alabama's Jaylen Waddle sixth overall.

    With DeVante Parker, Preston Williams and promising 2020 third-round pick Lynn Bowden Jr. also on the roster, Hurns faces an uphill climb to crack the rotation.

    According to Kyle Crabbs of Dolphins Wire, Hurns is already buried on the preseason depth chart, behind Fuller and Mack Hollins at the No. 3 receiver slot. Hollins provides special teams value (he played 57 percent of those snaps in 2020), while Hurns does not (0 percent).

    Miami would also save $1.2 million by cutting Hurns. Ultimately, when it comes to back-end roster decisions, teams often shy away from players who can't contribute on special teams.

Mark Ingram II, RB, Houston Texans

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    Justin Rex/Associated Press

    Running back Mark Ingram II is a three-time Pro Bowler who last made the all-star game in 2019. However, he quickly fell out of favor with the Baltimore Ravens last season, logging just 72 carries as the Ravens relied more and more on then-rookie J.K. Dobbins.

    Ingram has a chance to revitalize his career with the Houston Texans, and he feels good heading into the preseason.

    "I feel really good coming into this year," Ingram said, per Coty Davis of Texans Wire.

    But Houston has a crowded backfield that features one-time Pro Bowlers in David Johnson and Phillip Lindsay. The Texans also have Dontrell Hilliard and Rex Burkhead.

    The fact that Ingram is a 31-year-old running back with 1,595 NFL carries on his body is working against him. He's also set to carry a cap hit of $2.3 million, while the Texans could save $1.8 million by releasing him.

    If Ingram appears to be merely a depth option during the preseason, Houston could go with younger and cheaper options instead.    

Josh Jackson, CB, Green Bay Packers

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    The Green Bay Packers selected cornerback Josh Jackson in the second round of the 2018 draft. The Iowa product quickly ascended to a prominent role, appearing in all 16 games and starting 10 as a rookie.

    However, he has fallen out of the game plan over the last two years, playing just 32 percent of the defensive snaps in 2020. He's buried behind starters Kevin King and Jaire Alexander and could be pushed further down the depth chart by rookie first-round pick Eric Stokes.

    "It seems like it's only a matter of when, not if, that Stokes takes over [a starting] position," Mark Eckel of 247Sports wrote.

    While it could make sense for Green Bay to keep Jackson as depth, releasing him before the start of the season would save the team $1.3 million. That isn't a huge sum, but every million saved could be important for a squad that has $12.6 million in cap space and is looking to extend All-Pro wideout Davante Adams.

    If Jackson isn't going to have a prominent role, the money saved by cutting him could be more valuable to Green Bay.    

Denzel Mims, WR, New York Jets

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    Corey Sipkin/Associated Press

    Denzel Mims is not an accomplished NFL receiver. He is only entering his second season and has just 11 games and 23 receptions on his resume. As a 2020 second-round pick of the New York Jets, however, he is a notable name.

    While it would be a surprise to see the Jets give up on Mims after only one campaign, New York's new coaching staff—led by Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur—has no ties to the Baylor product. More importantly, Mims doesn't seem to be fitting in with New York's system.

    "After some promising moments in an abbreviated rookie season, Denzel Mims is sixth, maybe seventh in the New York Jets' pecking order at wide receiver," ESPN's Rich Cimini wrote. "Leapfrogged on the depth chart by three offseason additions, Mims is finding his way in an offensive system that might not be suited to his skill set."

    The Jets added Corey Davis, Keelan Cole and second-round rookie Elijah Moore this offseason, presumably three targets well-suited to LaFleur's offense. New York is also set to trot out this year's No. 2 overall pick in quarterback Zach Wilson. This means that keeping the best pass-catchers, regardless of draft status, will be critical.

    "It's different because in this system, we are much tighter and we're more in a phone booth as wide receivers," Saleh said. "It's not just playing out in space and having easy releases and having wiggle room."

    Mims, a long-striding perimeter receiver with unpolished route skills, may not be among the best. He also isn't a contributor on special teams.

    New York would likely explore its trade options first, but if it cannot find a taker, moving Mims to the practice squad or releasing him could be a possibility.

Jalen Richard, RB, Las Vegas Raiders

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    Steve Marcus/Associated Press

    Running back Jalen Richard has merely been a role player for the Las Vegas Raiders. However, fans can tell you that he's been an extremely valuable one over the years.

    An undrafted free agent in 2016, Richard quickly established himself as one of the league's most reliable receiving backs. He logged 160 receptions in his first four years with the Raiders and racked up 2,550 yards from scrimmage during that span.

    In 2018 and 2019, Richard provided quarterback ratings of 97.9 and 98.0 when targeted, respectively.

    However, he was less of a factor in 2020, when he had career lows in receptions (19) and yards from scrimmage (261). Then, Las Vegas signed dual-threat back Kenyan Drake to a two-year, $11 million deal in free agency.

    With Drake and Josh Jacobs leading the backfield, Richard was already likely battling for a roster spot. He's now also out indefinitely with a foot injury, according to The Athletic's Tashan Reed.

    "He missed the first few practices of training camp after being placed on the COVID-19 list and will now miss more time. Vegas has [five] other active RBs on the roster," Reed tweeted.   

    While teams don't often cut players for injury alone, the Raiders could save $2.4 million by releasing Richard. There's a real chance the 27-year-old fan favorite will end up looking for work elsewhere.    

Trevor Siemian, QB, New Orleans Saints

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    Derick Hingle/Associated Press

    While New Orleans Saints quarterback Trevor Siemian isn't a star, he is one of the more notable journeymen in the NFL. A starter for the Denver Broncos in 2016 and 2017, Siemian has also spent time with the Minnesota Vikings, Tennessee Titans (practice squad) and the Jets.

    But Siemian is stuck in a situation in which he has virtually no shot at winning the starting job. The Saints are looking to replace future Hall of Famer Drew Brees, but their camp competition is centered around Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill. That battle is likely to run through all three weeks of exhibition play.

    "With the first preseason game looming at the end of the week, the battle for the starting job still appears way too close to call," Luke Johnson of NOLA.com wrote.

    While the Saints should have room for a third QB on their roster, they also have rookie fourth-round pick Ian Book. The Notre Dame product may not have a role this season, but the Saints may not want to risk losing him off the practice squad. If New Orleans does carry three quarterbacks, Book will likely be the third.

    Siemian could find a home on the practice squad under its revamped rules. However, he could also be an attractive pickup for a team like the Jets, who don't have an experienced veteran behind rookie Zach Wilson.


    *Contract and cap information via Spotrac. Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference.