Best Players Available After NFL 2021 Roster Cuts

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistSeptember 1, 2021

Best Players Available After NFL 2021 Roster Cuts

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    Noah K. Murray/Associated Press

    Every NFL roster is now down to 53 active players, and several accomplished veterans are unemployed as a result. Some will likely sign elsewhere soon, but those new free agents will also be competing with several notable players who were lingering on the open market even before Tuesday's mandatory leaguewide cutdown. 

    Let's take stock of them all. 

    Based on recent production, career trajectory and durability, here's a look at the top 11 players on the free-agent market as September gets underway in the new-look NFL. 

QB Cam Newton

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    Rich Schultz/Associated Press

    The highest-profile release on cutdown day came when the New England Patriots dropped 2015 MVP quarterback Cam Newton, who just hasn't been right in recent years and might be running out of gas as a 32-year-old passer. 

    Rookie first-round pick Mac Jones outplayed Newton in the preseason, making it difficult for head coach Bill Belichick to stick by a guy who can still dominate at times with his legs but has thrown just eight touchdown passes to 13 interceptions in his last 19 games dating back to his 2018 campaign with the Carolina Panthers. 

    Will he find another home quickly? It's debatable, but in Newton's defense, he did look more comfortable carrying the New England offense this summer than he often did in 2020.

    ESPN's Jordan Schultz reported that the Dallas Cowboys could have interest in the three-time Pro Bowler as a backup, but it's also possible that he'll wait for an injury to open up a starting opportunity somewhere this fall.    

WR Breshad Perriman

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    It's admittedly not a great sign if you're a wide receiver and you're unable to make the Detroit Lions' roster. That's what Breshad Perriman has to live with right now, but it's possible the 27-year-old first-round pick (2011) could still excel in more of a complementary role within a quality offense.

    He might not be an ideal starter at this stage, especially considering his durability concerns, but Perriman did put up 234 yards and three touchdowns in a three-week span as a member of the New York Jets last November, and he compiled 419 yards and five touchdowns in a four-week span the previous December with Jameis Winston and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

    We know he has the talent, and he's certainly had some encouraging stretches. Look for several teams to take a low-risk shot to see if he can finally put it all together in the right setting. 

    How 'bout a reunion with Winston in New Orleans? Keep in mind that, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Saints won't have top receiver Michael Thomas for the first five weeks of the season.    

WR Travis Fulgham

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    Wide receiver Travis Fulgham was a surprise sensation for the 2020 Philadelphia Eagles, but Philly decided Tuesday to go with a group of young but unproven receivers with higher draft statuses than the 2019 sixth-round pick of the Detroit Lions. 

    General manager Howie Roseman could regret that decision because Fulgham was a diamond in the rough with 539 yards and four touchdowns despite making just eight starts in an inconsistent and unreliable Eagles offense last season. 

    Maybe that was an aberration for a player who wasn't widely known in the pro football world prior to his breakout experience in Philly. But the Old Dominion product dropped just two of the 67 passes on which he was targeted.

    He's only 25 and is likely to catch on as a No. 2 or No. 3 outside receiver somewhere else. The Saints, Patriots and Atlanta Falcons are potential fits. 

WR John Brown

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    As a 31-year-old speed receiver, it's possible John Brown doesn't have a lot left in the tank. But we're still talking about a two-time 1,000-yard receiver who has been a consistent starter for much of his seven-year career. 

    Like Perriman and Fulgham, Brown would be a good fit with a contending team that isn't looking for him to become the centerpiece but needs another option on the boundary to stretch the field on occasion. His experience could also give him a leg up on those guys, especially with a team that is all-in on 2021 and doesn't expect him to do much beyond this year or next year. 

    The Saints, Falcons and Patriots again make sense in that regard, and we might want to throw the Indianapolis Colts in there considering T.Y. Hilton's injury.

OT Russell Okung

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    Durability and age are likely not working in veteran offensive tackle Russell Okung's favor. The 32-year-old two-time Pro Bowler has played in just 13 games the last two seasons, but he still took just two holding penalties on 407 snaps in that span. 

    He's a highly accomplished, talented veteran leader at a critical position, but he appears to be waiting for the right opening and scenario (he tweeted in May that the Pittsburgh Steelers couldn't afford him before stating he'd like to be paid in Bitcoin). 

    I'd imagine he's already received some offers on the open market. Now, it might just take an injury somewhere for a team to become desperate enough to meet Okung's required price. The Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts are logical potential landing spots, and a return to the Carolina Panthers would make a lot of sense as well. 

OT Mitchell Schwartz

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    Kansas City Chiefs offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz (71) blocks during an NFL football game between the between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Peter Joneleit)
    Peter Joneleit/Associated Press

    The same dynamics likely apply to Mitchell Schwartz's situation, except at the right tackle spot instead of on what is typically the blind side with Okung. 

    The 32-year-old is coming off a forgettable season that was derailed by back issues that led to offseason surgery, which is almost certainly why he remains unemployed. 

    But the underrated Schwartz didn't miss a single snap in any of his first seven NFL campaigns, and he didn't miss a start until that back became an issue with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2020. He was a first-team All-Pro in 2018, and his 88.3 PFF grade since 2019 ranks fifth among all qualified offensive tackles. When it comes to WAR (wins above replacement), only two tackles have posted better totals than Schwartz since he entered the league nine years ago. 

    So if he can prove he's healthy, he'll wind up with a job at some point this summer or fall—possibly even back in Kansas City. 

G David DeCastro

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    Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert suggested in July that six-time Pro Bowl guard David DeCastro's offseason split with the team could represent the end of the player's career.

    The 31-year-old appears to be dealing with a severe ankle injury, so his future in the NFL is very much up in the air. 

    Still, he played in 13 games in 2020 and has allowed just two sacks in his last four seasons with the Steelers, according to PFF

    Like Schwartz, if DeCastro can prove he's healthy, he'd be worthy of a starting role on the majority of NFL rosters. Three offseason procedures on that ankle aren't a good omen, but elite athletes should never be counted out, and he could be compelled to join a contender in the weeks or months to come. 

    It would be interesting and fitting to see him remain in the AFC North with the Cincinnati Bengals, who could certainly use his talent and experience within the interior offensive line. 

Edge Ifeadi Odenigbo

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    With the Minnesota Vikings practically barren on the edge in 2020, Ifeadi Odenigbo stepped in to make 15 starts. His sack numbers (he had just 3.5) weren't impressive, but that was critical experience for a guy who posted seven sacks in a complementary role the year before. 

    Nevertheless, the 27-year-old has racked up 28 quarterback hits the last two seasons and should be viewed as a No. 3 pass-rusher if not a starter in some spots. 

    That's why it was surprising to see the New York Giants part ways with him on Tuesday, despite the fact that the G-Men aren't exactly stacked on the edge. SNY's Ralph Vacchiano suggested the move had to do with Odenigbo's fit with the Giants, which makes sense because he was playing outside linebacker instead of defensive end. 

    He'll likely catch on somewhere in which he can put his hand back in the dirt on a consistent basis. That could mean a return to the Vikings, but the Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers would also make a lot of sense. 

LB Benardrick McKinney

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    Kamil Krzaczynski/Associated Press

    A shoulder injury marred Benardrick McKinney's 2020 season with the Houston Texans, and after a trade to the Miami Dolphins, he didn't stick around on the Miami roster long enough to play a single game in the AFC East. 

    Now, though, the 28-year-old one-time Pro Bowler should appeal to veteran teams looking to spruce up the linebacker corps in 2021. 

    McKinney is still just 28, he has four 95-plus-tackle seasons on his resume, and he can get after the quarterback when tasked to play that role as well. He's a valuable veteran leader who should still be viewed as a starting-caliber off-ball linebacker at the very least. 

    We're looking at the Kansas City Chiefs, Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams as potential suitors for the 2015 second-round pick. 

CB Richard Sherman

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    A calf injury cost Richard Sherman all but five games with the San Francisco 49ers in 2020, but the three-time first-team All-Pro still surrendered just 6.9 yards per target on limited snaps. At 33 he's no longer the player he was in his prime, but he was a Pro Bowler in his last full season (2019), and his talent and experience still make him a top-three outside corner for any team and likely a starter in most spots. 

    Why does he continue to linger on the free-agent market? For starters, it seems he's been in no rush to sign with whoever throws a contract his way. 

    "I want to get to a team that's competing for a championship, so that's what I'm focused on and waiting for a right opportunity," he told Bloomberg earlier this summer. "When it comes, that's where I'll be."

    To boot, though, Sherman is facing five misdemeanor charges related to a July arrest, and teams might prefer he gets his personal life on track before they attempt to bring him aboard for what would be his 11th pro season. 

    Prior to his arrest, Sherman said he'd been in talks with the Seattle Seahawks, Saints and Las Vegas Raiders this offseason. He's also been connected to the Dallas Cowboys, and it looks as though we can't rule out a return to San Francisco. Still, no movement yet as we hit September. 

CB Jimmy Moreland

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    Cornerback Jimmy Moreland isn't a star, but he didn't surrender a single touchdown in coverage as a solid slot presence for the Washington Football Team the last two years, and he allowed a passer rating of just 74.1 on throws into his coverage in 2020. 

    The surprise Tuesday cut is a quality player with room to grow as a 26-year-old who entered the league as a seventh-round pick in 2019. Altogether, he might have the best combination of accomplishments and promise among all of the players to hit the open market on Tuesday. 

    He's good enough to serve as the primary slot cover man for a ton of NFL teams, namely the Lions, Raiders and New York Jets. Don't expect him to remain unemployed for long.