NFL cut down day is not fun for hundreds of players around the league. That took place on Tuesday, roughly a week before the 2021 regular season gets going with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hosting the Dallas Cowboys.
As is usually the case, there were some pretty big surprises as NFL teams cut their rosters down to 53. Below, we look at the 10 biggest surprises from around the league.
Dazz Newsome, wide receiver, Chicago Bears
Two of Chicago’s 2021 NFL Draft picks ended up not earning a spot on the team’s 53-man roster. Regardless of how this turns out, that’s not a great look for embattled general manager Ryan Pace. In addition to seventh-round pick Thomas Graham, the Bears opted to release this sixth-round selection.
A star for North Carolina during his four-year college career, Newsome recorded north of 1,700 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns over his final two seasons with the Tar Heels. He was slowed down by a shoulder injury during camp and the preseason. Let’s hope for Chicago’s perspective that he lands on the practice squad. If not, this is a wasted pick.
Travis Fulgham, wide receiver, Philadelphia Eagles
How often does a team move off its leading receiver from a season ago? Well, that’s the case with the Philadelphia Eagles as they look to upgrade at this position. Fulgham, 25, recorded 38 receptions for 539 yards and four touchdowns during the 2020 NFL campaign. However, he also caught a mere 57% of his targets. That could have been a sign of things to come.
For Philadelphia, it’s now clear that 2020 first-round pick Jalen Reagor will be relied on a lot behind rookie Devonta Smith on its depth chart. It’s also somewhat of a surprise that J.J. Arcega-Whiteside earned a spot on the 53 over Fulgham. The former Stanford star has recorded a mere 14 catches in two seasons and was seemingly on the outside looking in throughout the summer.
Tyrell Crosby, offensive tackle, Detroit Lions
“We didn’t feel like he was one of the best guys.”Lions head coach Dan Campbell on Crosby’s release
These are some very interesting comments given that Crosby is still only 25 years old and boasts a tremendous amount of upside. It’s hard to imagine why a rebuilding team like the Lions would move off someone of this ilk.
A star with Oregon during his college days, Crosby was a fifth-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. He started 11 games at right tackle for the Lions in 2021. Even with rookie Penei Sewell set to start at right tackle, there didn’t seem to be much of a reason to move off Crosby. That’s magnified by Sewell struggling in first-team reps during the preseason.
Jimmy Moreland, cornerback, Washington Football Team
Defense is obviously a strength for the Washington Football Team heading into the 2021 NFL season. That’s also pretty true at corner where the likes of veterans William Jackson III and Kendall Fuller are slated to start on the outside.
None of this explains why Ron Rivera and Co. moved off Moreland after exhausting a draft pick on the James Madison product back in 2019. The slot cover guy started 10 games in his first two seasons, registering five passes defended an interception. In his stead, Troy Apke will transition from safety to take over as Washington’s top slot guy. That should get interesting.
Jacob Hollister, tight end, Buffalo Bills
Given Buffalo’s struggles at the tight end position during the 2020 NFL season (40 receptions), we were shocked to learn that it opted to move off this veteran. After all, Hollister recorded a combined 66 catches for 558 yards while hauling in 67% of his targets with the Seattle Seahawks over the past two seasons.
Could the Bills make a renewed play for Pro Bowl Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz? If not, they will be relying on Dawson Knox and Tommy Sweeney to be Josh Allen’s top targets from the tight end position in 2021. That’s not ideal.
Devonta Freeman, running back, New Orleans Saints
A two-time Pro Bowl performer during his days with the Atlanta Falcons, Freeman is just one season removed from tallying north of 1,000 total yards while averaging 4.4 yards per touch. Despite his relatively advanced age of 29, it seems that the dual-threat back can still be productive in the NFL.
Apparently, New Orleans didn’t think so after signing him during the offseason. The team opted to move off the veteran and will rely on Latavius Murray to be Alvin Kamara’s primary backup in 2021. Freeman now joins other high-profile veteran backs such as Adrian Peterson, Frank Gore, Todd Gurley, Le’Veon Bell and LeSean McCoy on the market. Boy, how times have changed.
Desmond Trufant, cornerback, Chicago Bears
A Pro Bowler during his days with the Atlanta Falcons, Trufant has fallen on hard times recently. He struggled in six games with the Detroit Lions a season ago, ultimately ending up signing a one-year contract with Chicago during the spring.
Unfortunately, the 30-year-old corner remained away from the Bears during training camp and the preseason due to the death of his father. This prevented the veteran from putting tape out there. Even then, it’s surprising that Chicago would simply move off someone with this pedigree. With depth issues at corner, look for some more moves ahead of their Week 1 opener against the Los Angeles Rams. As for Trufant, he still plans on playing in 2021.
Peyton Barber, running back, Washington Football Team
Washington loves what it has in young back Antonio Gibson after he put up north of 1,000 total yards and 11 touchdowns as a rookie. It also has depth with J.D. McKissic. Even then, Barber’s previous success seemed to suggest that he was a lock to remain in the nation’s capital. Obviously, that did not happen.
Barber, 27, will now look to latch on with a new team after the Auburn product averaged north of 600 yards and six touchdowns over the past three seasons. This also means that record-breaking former Buffalo Bulls running back Jaret Patterson will earn a spot on the 53 after going undrafted this past spring.
Pernell McPhee, EDGE, Baltimore Ravens
One of the most-productive players to receive his walking papers on Tuesday, McPhee saw the Ravens move off him despite the fact that the veteran recorded 15 quarterback hits and three sacks in limited action last season.
McPhee, 32, will likely latch one with another team here given his previous success. After all, the veteran has recorded 115 quarterback hits and 37 sacks throughout his 10-year career. As for the Ravens, it’s clear that they are going with the youth movement from a pass-rush perspective.
Cam Newton, quarterback, New England Patriots
Well, that was a pretty big shock to wake up to Tuesday. For pretty much the entire summer and training camp, it was a foregone conclusion that Cam Newton would be New England’s starter Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins over rookie Mac Jones. Instead, the Patriots surprised everyone by releasing Newton outright.
It’s not like the former NFL MVP is the same player he was during his heyday with the Carolina Panthers (eight touchdown passes, 10 interceptions in 2020). Even then, he had seemingly improved with a full offseason in New England under his belt. It also remains to be seen if a recent violation of NFL COVID-19 protocols led to Newton’s release. The Patriots were said to be unhappy about the situation. Regardless, this former top-tier quarterback now finds himself on the open market with pretty much only backup jobs available.