The NFL's Most Stunning Preseason Cuts of the Last 10 Years

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistAugust 27, 2021

The NFL's Most Stunning Preseason Cuts of the Last 10 Years

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    Surprise releases always headline the NFL's last stage of cuts as preseason ends and teams trim rosters down to 53 players for the regular season. 

    But there are surprises, and then there are stunners

    The stunners stick with fans for a long time. It's not, say, Tim Tebow getting cut this preseason. That made headlines, but hardly came as a shocker. 

    Stunning cuts feature teams waving goodbye to franchise greats, often with the player still boasting plenty to offer. The fracturing of relationships sometimes produces those can't believe we're seeing this guy in a different jersey moments.

    Cap space, new arrivals and other factors played a part, of course, but it doesn't change the fact that the following cuts were some of the most stunning of the last decade.  

Fred Jackson, 2015

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    Bill Wippert/Associated Press

    In the age of "devalued" running backs, it's almost hard to think any cut at the position would qualify as stunning. 

    But the Fred Jackson cut in Buffalo back in 2015 fits the bill (pun intended). 

    Jackson was 34 years old at the time of his release, yet he seemed like a roster lock because of his status as a fan favorite and productivity as a rotational back. Yet as soon as the release happened, accusations of drama between the front office and coaching staff made the rounds right as Rex Ryan's tenure as head coach got started. 

    A sign of things to come? After Jackson rushed for 5,646 yards and 30 touchdowns since 2007, Buffalo got just 895 yards and three scores from lead back LeSean McCoy and went 8-8 in 2015, and then 7-9 in 2016 under Ryan before the era ended early. 

    Jackson didn't go on to do major things in Seattle, but sometimes the initial shock of a cut and the fallout from it creates a stunning hindsight look.

Quinton Coples, 2016

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    James Kenney/Associated Press

    A noteworthy free-agent deal for a top-16 pick always means the guy ends up on the final roster, right? 

    Maybe not. 

    Back in 2016, Quinton Coples, the 16th pick in 2012, slipped to the open market and earned a two-year contract worth $6.5 million with the Los Angeles Rams—and he was back out the door again at final cuts. 

    Coples hadn't been the biggest success story considering the New York Jets exercised his option for the 2016 season, then waived him before it kicked in, which saw him claimed by Miami for the 2015 season. But he did have 16.5 sacks over his first three seasons in the league, and the Jets weren't exactly known as the bastion of wins and player development. 

    Making the release even more surprising was Coples' preseason stint, which included two forced fumbles and a sack in one appearance. Most teams would seemingly love that sort of productivity from a rotational player, and the Rams only ended up generating 31 sacks that year.  

Joe Haden, 2017

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    Fred Vuich/Associated Press

    One of the league's premier corners with a heavyweight contract, it always felt like the Cleveland Browns were going to trade Joe Haden—if they did anything with him at all. 

    But the Browns pulled a stunner in late August of 2017, outright cutting Haden (and clearing $7.1 million cap in the process). According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the Browns had attempted to trade Haden for more than a year and eyed Jason McCourty and Briean Boddy-Calhoun as starters. 

    Some buyer's remorse on a five-year extension worth $67.5 million doesn't seem like the best reason to give up on a premier player at a premium position, though. Over seven years in Cleveland, Haden had picked off 19 passes. 

    In a rather big backfire, Haden signed with AFC North rival Pittsburgh Steelers, while Jason McCourty spent just one year in Cleveland and Boddy-Calhoun three. Since, Cleveland has spent repeated massive assets attempting to fix the position, including a pair of first-round picks (one of those fourth overall) since 2018. 

Leonard Fournette, 2020

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Another running back surprise, this one by a team that initially shocked by merely making Leonard Fournette the fourth pick in the 2017 draft. 

    Fournette went on to appear in 36 games for the Jaguars, rushing for 2,631 yards and 17 scores on an average of four yards per carry and catching 134 of his 174 targets. 

    While Fournette wasn't exactly meeting expectations that came with the draft slot (no back seemingly can these days) and the team declined his fifth-year option, it was still a shock to see a dramatic rebuilder like the Jaguars throw in the towel and cut him. 

    "Yeah, we were shocked about it," Jaguars running back Chris Thompson said at the time, according to Sports Illustrated's John Shipley. "We didn't believe it. We thought he was joking because, you know, he laughs and jokes with us all the time."

    While the Jaguars did go on to get something of a breakout season from James Robinson, the team that couldn't afford to lose talent won a single game while Fournette went to Tampa Bay and won a Super Bowl, scoring six times in the regular season and averaging 4.7 yards per carry with four total touchdowns in the playoffs. He also left his best performance for the Super Bowl itself, rushing 16 times for 89 yards and a touchdown.  

David Garrard, 2011

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    David Duprey/Associated Press

    It isn't often a clear-cut starting quarterback loses his job before Week 1. And it's even less often he's cut right after a luncheon introducing him as the starter. 

    Yet that's what the Jacksonville Jaguars and then-head coach Jack Del Rio did to David Garrard, who had played the majority of the team's games under center since 2006. 

    Garrard had gone 8-6 as a starter in 2010 with 23 touchdowns and 15 interceptions for what was statistically one of his more impressive seasons. The sudden cut of Garrard reeked of Del Rio opting to go with 10th-overall pick Blaine Gabbert in an effort to save his job, as ownership had made it clear playoffs were a prerequisite to keep him there. 

    With Garrard gone, Luke McCown appeared in four games without throwing a touchdown pass, and Gabbert threw 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions over 15 games as the Jaguars went 5-11. Del Rio didn't last much longer, going 3-8 in 2011 before leaving midway through the season.  

Jachai Polite, 2019

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    While Jachai Polite didn't go on to make major headway elsewhere, it was still a stunner when the New York Jets cut their third-round pick the same year they drafted him. 

    Polite, an edge-rusher out of Florida, was the 68th pick in 2019 and was done in New York before the calendar turned to September. Considering he had nine starts with the Gators over three years but 15.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles, it was easy to think he'd at least stick as a rookie. 

    Or not. Dysfunction in the front office played a role, as did Polite's ho-hum summer. Still, it's rare as it gets to see a team not even invent a reason to stick a top-100 pick on a practice squad or something similar. 

    Polite surfaced on Seattle's practice squad, then got cut a few weeks later. He played in 11 games for the Los Angeles Rams in 2020, recording three tackles and a sack.  

Shaquem Griffin, 2020

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Shaquem Griffin was a big-name pick for the Seattle Seahawks in the fifth round of the 2018 draft, and he carved out a nice role for himself as a backup linebacker, rotational pass-rusher and contributor on special teams. 

    Players that versatile aren't easy to come by in the NFL, and especially in the fifth round. An additional wrinkle to consider was the Seahawks cutting Griffin while his twin brother and cornerback, Shaquill, was in a contract year. 

    "Definitely a definite surprise for me," Shaquem said, according to John Boyle of "I was coming in for the COVID testing and I end up getting called, I'm like thinking it was just a normal day, and then end up being waived. I was like, 'OK, that was an adjustment.' The big thing for me, having my brother there was pretty big, I can admit to that. … I can't sit here and try to control something that's out of our control."

    To make the story even wilder, Griffin passed through waivers, joined the Seahawks practice squad, got called up in Week 3 and appeared in 14 games before going on to sign with Miami this offseason.