The NFL is all about “What have you done for me lately?” It doesn’t matter what contract you just signed, or if you were a Pro Bowler three years ago. You have to prove you’re worthy of holding one of the ever-valuable 53 roster spots on a respective team each year. If not, you’ll be on the open market looking for another job.
Considering the way NFL contracts are structured, teams aren’t completely committed to a player for several years. As a result, moving on from a player is often easier than it is in leagues such as MLB or the NBA.
As we approach the end of the season, every team has at least one player who shouldn’t be back in 2017. Whether it’s purely performance based, due to their contract or a mixture of both, they should be playing elsewhere next year -- and that even includes a pair of Pro Bowl running backs.
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Arizona Cardinals: CB Justin Bethel
Bruce Arians said this week that Justin Bethel’s transition to full-time cornerback has been a “failure in progress” after his mostly being a special teamer for years. That says about all you need to know when it comes to his chances of being a contributor in 2017. It’s about time they end that experiment and save themselves $3.75 million next season
Atlanta Falcons: DT Ra’Shede Hageman
Back in September, it was announced that Hageman was charged with domestic violence stemming from an incident in March. The Falcons kept him on the roster, but it’s time for them to move on from the defensive tackle. He’s not a big contributor, and his contract makes him expendable.
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Baltimore Ravens: WR Mike Wallace
Mike Wallace has revitalized his career this season, but that doesn’t make him worth keeping in 2017. He carries an $8 million cap hit next year, and for a wide receiver who will be 31 by the start of the season, that’s a hefty price – especially for a player who hasn’t eclipsed 1,000 yards since 2011. The Ravens can save $5.75 million by cutting him in the offseason, which would be a wise move.
Buffalo Bills: QB Tyrod Taylor
The Bills have a big decision to make regarding Taylor this offseason. If they want to keep him around, they can pick up his option, which will commit them to $27.5 million in 2017. They could also opt to re-do his contract, which -- considering the way he’s played this season -- is the more likely route. However, they should do neither. He hasn’t improved at all in his second year as the starter, and there will be cheaper options out there.
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Carolina Panthers: TE Ed Dickson
The Panthers have their feature tight end in Greg Olsen, which minimizes Dickson’s impact. He’s not a receiving tight end (nine catches, 106 yards), and for his price of $2.7 million, the Panthers can find a cheaper option in the draft.
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Chicago Bears: QB Jay Cutler
Whether it’s by way of a trade or releasing him outright, Cutler shouldn’t be back in Chicago. He’s injured far too often, and when he does play, he’s not worth $16 million. By moving on from Cutler, the Bears will save $14 million in cap space next season. It’s time to start a new era in Chicago.
Cincinnati Bengals: LB Vontaze Burfict
Burfict is a good player, but he’s also an old-school one. I say that in describing both his play and his actions. He hits hard, plays downhill and tiptoes on the line of “dirty.” That doesn’t fit in today’s NFL. Linebackers are becoming smaller and rangier, and Burfict is small nor rangy. The Bengals would be smart to sever ties with the controversial linebacker and save themselves $3.95 million on next year’s cap.
Cleveland Browns: QB Robert Griffin III
Sorry, Browns fans: The RG3 experiment just didn’t work. Unless he sets the world on fire in the next three weeks, he shouldn’t be back. Cleveland has the cap space to make it work, but it’s simply not worth the distraction of having an oft-injured quarterback in the fold for another year. They should save $7.5 million by cutting him and find a real franchise QB in the draft.
Dallas Cowboys: RB Alfred Morris
The Cowboys clearly have their franchise back in Ezekiel Elliott, and it’s a good thing they do. Morris has not been good this season, a fact that has been masked by the success of Elliott. He’s carried just eight times in the past four games and has completely disappeared from the game plan. Next year’s running back class is deep, so Dallas could find Elliott’s backup in the later rounds.
Denver Broncos: LT Russell Okung
The Broncos’ offensive line has gone from a strong point to abysmal in one year. Okung has not done a good job replacing Ryan Clady, whom Denver traded before the season, and he shouldn’t be back in 2017 – especially considering the cost he carries. The Broncos can save $10.9 million by moving on from their left tackle.
Detroit Lions: SS Tavon Wilson
Wilson has started 12 games for the Lions in his first year with the team after being a role player with the Patriots. He’s had a decent season, but he has some serious competition in Miles Killebrew at strong safety. Killebrew would cost the Lions about half as much as Wilson next season, so they could move on from him in the offseason.
Green Bay Packers: CB Sam Shields
Shields is a good player for the Packers … when he’s healthy. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened very often the past two seasons due to a rash of concussions, which are no fault of his own. Still, the NFL is a business, and paying a cornerback $12 million next season is difficult when he’s not certain to play.
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Houston Texans: C Tony Bergstrom
Bergstrom was expected to compete for the starting center job this season, but he was beaten out in camp and hasn’t started a single game. He carries a $3.25 million cap hit in 2017, which is high for a backup center.
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Indianapolis Colts: DE Arthur Jones
Jones was suspended four games this season for violating the PED policy, and it might have been just enough to end his tenure in Indy. The Colts should move on from him in the offseason, saving themselves more than $5 million against the cap. He has zero sacks this season and just 30 tackles.
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Jacksonville Jaguars: DE Jared Odrick
The Jaguars have a young, talented defense, and as a result they’re in good shape in regard to the cap. However, keeping Odrick around in 2017 would be unwise. There’s no penalty for releasing him, so they'll save $8.5 million in cap space if he’s not on the roster. Considering he has one sack and 12 tackles in six games this season, it should be easy for them to move on.
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Kansas City Chiefs: RB Jamaal Charles
The Chiefs have proved in the past two years that they can have success without Charles. Though it’s not his fault he’s often injured, he isn’t worth the money or the false hope for the Chiefs going forward. He’ll count $7 million against the cap if he’s on the roster next season and won’t cost the Chiefs anything if he’s not. This should be an easy decision, though one that carries some emotion and sentiment.
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Los Angeles Rams: TE Lance Kendricks
The Rams are looking ahead to 2017 with a new head coach and Jared Goff as the starting quarterback, and Kendricks may not fit the direction they’re going in. He’ll cost the Rams $4.25 million next season after catching just 44 passes so far this year, and with Tyler Higbee emerging as a viable replacement, Kendricks probably isn’t worth the money.
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Miami Dolphins: DE Mario Williams
Williams was expected to be Olivier Vernon’s replacement, serving as a valuable pass rusher opposite Cameron Wake. He’s been anything but that, recording just 1.5 sacks and 13 tackles. His downward spiral has been baffling, and with him turning 32 years old in January, he’s well past his prime. He’s definitely not worth $10.5 million in 2017.
Minnesota Vikings: RB Adrian Peterson
Paying a running back $18 million is crazy in today’s NFL. Paying a 31-year-old back that money is ludicrous. Peterson has been out most of the season with a knee injury, and it’s no certainty he’ll be himself in 2017. If the Vikings aren’t confident he’ll be an All-Pro, they should move on from him and save themselves $18 million. Because for that price, anything short of a second-team All-Pro campaign would be overpaying.
New England Patriots: WR Danny Amendola
The Patriots have gotten solid contribution from Malcolm Mitchell this season, essentially making Amendola expendable. He’s caught just 23 passes in 12 games and is now injured once again. It’s time to move on from the 31-year-old wideout and his $7.9 million cap hit in 2017.
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New Orleans Saints: FS Jairus Byrd
The Saints thought they landed an Earl Thomas-type player when they signed Byrd to a huge contract in 2014. He’s been anything but that in New Orleans for three years. He has just one interception and two forced fumbles since joining the Saints, which is fewer than he had with the Bills in 2012 alone in both categories. He’s played better of late, but with Kenny Vaccaro and Vonn Bell in the fold, Byrd and his lucrative contract should be out of New Orleans.
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New York Giants: RB Rashad Jennings
The Giants have one of the worst rushing offenses in the NFL, and Jennings is a big reason for that. He’s been a substantial disappointment in New York and it’s time for the Giants to give the reins to Paul Perkins. He can be an every-down back with better elusiveness and pass-catching ability than Jennings at a fraction of the cost.
New York Jets: LT Ryan Clady
The Jets have a handful of veterans who shouldn’t be back in 2017, but Clady gets the nod for his contract and atrocious play. He’s been awful in replacing D’Brickashaw Ferguson, which is no easy task, admittedly. But one of the worst left tackles making $10.5 million in 2017 is absurd. Darrelle Revis at least has a chance to succeed at safety next season.
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Oakland Raiders: OLB Aldon Smith
Smith isn’t a player anyone can count on, and the Raiders should no longer do so by keeping him on the roster. He’ll cost Oakland $5.75 million next season, and it’s not even guaranteed he’ll contribute at all. It’s time to move on from the troubled pass rusher, as great as his potential may be.
Philadelphia Eagles: RB Ryan Mathews
The Eagles have had a mess at running back since moving on from LeSean McCoy, with Mathews failing to fill his shoes. He’s started six games in two years and has just 1,026 rushing yards combined. The oft-injured running back is good around the goal line, but he’s surrendered snaps to Wendell Smallwood and Darren Sproles this season. That’s never good for a guy making $5 million in 2017.
Pittsburgh Steelers: WR Darrius Heyward-Bey
Heyward-Bey isn’t a costly receiver, but he’s also not worth keeping on the roster. The Steelers have plenty of depth at wideout with Eli Rodgers emerging as a contributor. They’ll also have Martavis Bryant back next season, essentially eliminating Heyward-Bey’s already minimal role.
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San Diego Chargers: LG Orlando Franklin
The Chargers just signed Franklin to a lengthy deal last offseason, but it’s time to move on already. He’s struggled in pass protection at left guard and will cost the Chargers $7.6 million in cap space next season. Instead, they can trade or cut him and save $2.8 million in 2017.
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San Francisco 49ers: QB Colin Kaepernick
Kaepernick has the choice of opting out of his contract this offseason, and though it’s not clear what his decision will be, the 49ers’ should be clear: They need to move on and start fresh at quarterback. He carries a $19.37 million cap hit in 2017, which is monstrous for a guy who wasn’t even the starter to begin the year.
Seattle Seahawks: WR Paul Richardson
The Seahawks are one of the best-run franchises in the NFL, so terrible contracts are unsurprisingly absent. Richardson doesn’t cost them much, but he also doesn’t contribute on offense. He has just 13 catches for 206 yards this season and he’ll cost the Seahawks $1.49 million in 2017.
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers: CB Alterraun Verner
Verner is a decent cornerback, but is he worth $6.5 million for the Buccaneers? Probably not, especially with Brent Grimes and Vernon Hargreaves on the roster next season, too. There’s absolutely no penalty for the Bucs to move on from Verner in the offseason, which they should probably do. He has one interception this season.
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Tennessee Titans: WR Harry Douglas
Douglas has gotten more attention for one dirty play against Chris Harris Jr. than he has for any plays he’s made on the field. That’s never a good thing for a guy who should be a contributor on a team that’s not exactly deep at wide receiver. He has just 10 catches for 162 yards this season and will take up $4.48 million in cap space next season. You can do the math and see that doesn’t add up.
Washington Redskins: FS DeAngelo Hall
Hall has had some terrible luck, having his season end due to an Achilles injury in two of the past three years. By the end of the season, he’ll have played just 17 of 48 possible games since the start of 2014, which is far too many games to miss when you’re expected to be a starter. The Redskins can save $4.25 million by cutting him in the offseason.