With NFL teams now preparing for minicamps and training camps this summer, there are a ton of veterans wondering whether they will have roster spots this upcoming season.
The New York Jets are one team that has not been afraid to cut the fat. After finishing in last place this past season, New York has overhauled a talent-stricken roster. That could potentially continue with the release of a couple underperforming skill-position players here soon.
Meanwhile, the Denver Broncos added a Pro Bowl running back to the mix after struggling on the ground last season. But will said running back actually be on the team’s 53-man roster in 2017? That’s a huge question mark for Denver heading into the latter part of the offseason.
These are among the veteran players that could be released between now and the start of training camp.
Matt Forte, running back, New York Jets
Could Forte be the next veteran to go? The 31-year-old two-time Pro Bowler is set to count $5 million against the cap in 2017. He’s also coming off a substandard 2016 campaign that saw him put up an average of just 3.7 yards per attempt. As New York continues its rebuilding project with youth, Forte himself could be the odd-man out.
And while releasing him wouldn’t save anything against the cap, it would enable youngsters to shoulder the load in the backfield. That includes impressive rookie sixth-round pic Elijah McGuire, who put up a stellar college career at Louisiana-Lafayette.
Ahmad Brooks, linebacker, San Francisco 49ers
Now that San Francisco has signed Pro Bowler Elvis Dumervil, there’s a good chance the team moves on from its second-longest tenured player. Suggestions earlier in the offseason were that San Francisco would release Brooks to save $5-plus million against the cap.
But San Francisco currently finds itself in a different situation. Despite acquiring nearly two dozen veteran players, the 49ers are currently $67 million under the cap. This means that the team doesn’t really need to cut the proverbial fat.
Even then, is Brooks the type of player that’s willing to take on a backup role? Prior to signing Dumervil, he was penciled in as the team’s starting LEO under first-year defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. At this point, that’s far from a guarantee.
at 33 years old and with a wealth of starting experience, there’s no telling whether Brooks wants to be part of the rebuild in San Francisco. If he’s asked with taking on a smaller role, a potential exit from the team after eight seasons seems to make the most sense.
Jamaal Charles, running back, Denver Broncos
When Charles signed with Denver earlier in the offseason, most figured that he would earn the team’s starting running back spot. After all, an injury plagued C.J. Anderson and still inexperienced Devontae Booker struggled on the ground last season. More so than signing Charles away from the division-rival Chiefs, this move was meant to give a struggling passing game some help on offense.
Then, news came out about the terms of the contract. Charles, who has played in a grand total of eight games the past two seasons, was not guaranteed a single penny. Shortly after that news broke, reports came out suggesting that Charles had a 50 percent chance of making the final 53-man roster (more on that here).
It could really be a numbers issue here. Anderson and Booker are locks to make the roster. Meanwhile, undrafted rookie free agent De’Angelo Henderson has looked great during OTAs. If Charles can’t beat out Anderson or Booker for one of the top-two spots, there’s no real reason for Denver to keep him over Henderson. That’s the sad reality of the situation for the four-time Pro Bowler.
Dorial Green-Beckham, wide receiver, Philadelphia Eagles
Now that the Eagles have signed both Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffery, the remainder of the team’s depth chart at receiver remains up in the air. We heard rumors that former No. 1 receiver Jordan Matthews was on the trade block earlier in the offseason. That’s unlikely to unfold, with Matthews potentially set to maintain his role as a starter opposite Jeffery. After that, everything seems to be up in the air.
Pretty much taken out of the rotation last year, former first-round pick Nelson Agholor isn’t a lock to make the 53-man roster. Though, Philly did invest a lot on him. The same can’t be said for Green-Beckham, who is both raw and extremely talented.
Last season saw the former Tennessee Titans’ second-round pick record 36 receptions for 392 yards and two touchdowns while catching less than 50 percent of the passes thrown in his direction. That’s surely not sustainable. It’s also one of the primary reasons Philadelphia went out there and picked up two top-end free agent receivers.
Look for DGB to be placed on the trade block here soon. And if nothing comes to fruition, a release prior to training camp seems to be the likeliest end result.
Joe Haden, cornerback, Cleveland Browns
Much like San Francisco, the Browns aren’t going to make any decisions based on cash. They still have a ton of cap room, even after trading for the high-priced Brock Osweiler back in March. But much like the 49ers, they are in the midst of yet another extensive rebuild.
At 28 years old, some might figure that Haden is in the prime of his career. Unfortunately, it looks like the former top-10 pick has maxed out. After missing all but five games of the 2015 season, Haden returned to the field to start all 13 games in which he appeared this past year. But he just wasn’t much more than average.
Joe Haden is PFF's fourth-worst-graded cornerback over the last four weeks (out of 104 qualifying). https://t.co/n9IpiWuJf9
— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) November 25, 2016
With a salary of $14.4 million, Cleveland would exhaust all but $10 million in dead cap room by releasing Haden. That seems to suggest the team will keep him around for one more season. With youngsters Howard Wilson, Marcus Burley and Darius Hillary slated to take on larger roles, Cleveland simply might decide to go with the youth movement in the secondary.
Despite that dead cap hit, it would not be an absolute shock if the Browns did indeed release Haden. The team is not going to be competitive this season. Why not give younger corners more experience as the team looks to continue its extensive rebuild?
Ryan Mathews, running back, Philadelphia Eagles
Mathews’ release has been expected for some time now. We’re not too sure why the Eagles are waiting, but the veteran will not be a member of the team come training camp. The 30-year-old former first-round pick of the then San Diego Chargers put up nearly 800 total yards with nine touchdowns last season. He also averaged a robust 4.3 yards per rush.
However, it’s readily apparent that Doug Pederson’s offense isn’t a fit for Mathews. That became obvious once Philadelphia drafted Donnel Pumphrey in the fourth round of April’s draft and signed veteran LeGarrette Blount a month later. Add in the presence of holdovers Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood, and there’s really no room for Mathews on the roster.
Set to earn $5 million with just a $1 million dead cap hit in 2017, the Eagles can get out from under Mathews’ contract relatively easy. Maybe the team is holding off on releasing him in hopes of finding a trade partner. But with his salary for the 2017 season, that seems highly unlikely. Look for Mathews to be released here soon.
Kyle Williams, defensive tackle, Buffalo Bills
Williams has been a mainstay on the Bills’ defensive line for 11 years now. He’s coming off another Pro Bowl season that saw him put up 64 tackles and five sacks while remaining one of the best run-stuffing defensive tackles in the NFL.
The issue here is that Williams is set to make $8.3 million with just a $2 million dead cap hit. Only $5.3 million under the cap, Buffalo has visited with free-agent receiver Jeremy Maclin. In order to sign him, the team will want to cut more room. If that’s the case, Williams could be the odd-man out.
With youngster Adolphus Washington behind him on the depth chart, the Bills have a defensive tackle of the future next to Marcell Dareus. Why not expedite his larger role in the defense this upcoming season? It just makes too much sense.
Christian Hackenberg, quarterback, New York Jets
Hitting reporters with erratic passes during OTAs, this 2016 second-round pick has been nothing less than a disaster for the Jets. It was so bad during his rookie season that New York threw the trio of Bryce Petty, Geno Smith and Ryan Fitzpatrick out there while avoiding playing Hackenberg. It really has been just a horrible first year-plus in the NFL for this former Penn State standout.
Sure New York doesn’t have a great quarterback situation. Veteran free-agent signing Josh McCown is slated to start with Petty backing him up. Outside of that, the Jets have no one else to hold down the No. 3 quarterback job.
Even then, it seems that the Jets’ front office is so dismayed by Hackenberg’s struggles that it simply might decide enough is enough. Sure it would lead to GM Mike Maccagnan and Co. admitting a mistake, but that’s better than holding on to someone that most figure has no real future in the NFL.
Even after just one season, Hackenberg simply doesn’t look to be the guy New York can rely on moving forward. Why keep him around as a scout-team quarterback if that’s the case?