Every year after the draft, a number of players find themselves in danger of being released. Whether it has to do with past injuries, a lack of production, or a high draft pick having a good chance to displace them in the starting lineup, veteran cuts are just a part of playing in the NFL.
Most of the big-name cuts come after June 1 so that teams save more cap space and incur less dead money, so we could see a few well-known veterans on the chopping block relatively soon.
Here are 13 players who could be in danger of being released this offseason.
Benjamin Watson, TE, Ravens
Watson missed all of 2016 with an Achilles injury after he was expected to add a new wrinkle to the Ravens’ offense. Now, he’s in danger of never playing a game in Baltimore. The Ravens are deeper at tight end than just about every other team, having three capable starters besides Watson.
Dennis Pitta, Maxx Williams and Crocket Gillmore will all see snaps this season, leaving Watson as the odd man out. The Ravens can save $3 million in cap space by releasing the injury-prone 36-year-old.
Getty ImagesPatrick Smith
Dion Lewis, RB, Patriots
The Patriots are masters of getting production out of running backs who cost very little, and that’s likely to continue in 2017. They signed both Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee, and applied a rarely used tender to LeGarrette Blount, opening the door for a return. All of these moves could signal the end of Lewis’ up-and-down tenure in New England.
The 5-foot-8 back is similar to the player that James White is, only he comes with fewer injury concerns and is under contract for three fewer years. That could lead Bill Belichick to make the decision to cut Lewis, save more than $1.2 million and give White more playing time.
Adam Jones, CB, Bengals
Jones continues to find himself in trouble off the field, yet the Bengals refuse to cut ties with the veteran cornerback. Whether it was his arrest earlier this offseason or going off on a 911 operator after a fender-bender, Jones can’t stay out of the headlines – and not the good headlines.
The Bengals need to move on from the troubled cornerback and avoid any further incidents. They’re going to have enough distractions with the Joe Mixon situation, and having a bad influence like Jones in the locker room won’t help anything.
Ryan Mathews, RB, Eagles
The Eagles aren’t exactly loaded at running back, but Mathews has done little since signing with them in 2015. Now, the 29-year-old is on the chopping block. Philadelphia drafted Donnel Pumphrey in the fourth round, and although he’s a smaller back, he brings more to the offense than Mathews.
The Eagles could potentially go with a three-headed monster this season by splitting carries between Pumphrey, Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood. With Mathews set to make $5 million this year and the Eagles able to save $4 million by cutting him, he’s probably not worth keeping.
Michael Oher, T, Panthers
Oher has had a rough offseason. He was in the concussion protocol for months, then last week, he turned himself into police following a misdemeanor assault charge. He’s now in danger of being cut by the Panthers, particularly after signing Matt Kalil in free agency to take over at left tackle.
That leaves Oher competing for playing time on the right side, which is likely to be occupied by Daryl Williams. Oher has an uphill climb to make the team, especially with his $5.5 million cap hit. If he can’t win a starting job, he’ll likely be out of Carolina.
Haloti Ngata, DT, Lions
Ngata was once a premier defensive tackle in the NFL, dominating with the Ravens for a long, long time. His reign with that title has come to an end after seeing him struggle mightily in 2016. The 33-year-old only had 22 tackles last season and 25 the year before, providing very little production for the Lions.
Detroit can save more than $5.7 million by releasing Ngata and giving A’Shawn Robinson and Akeem Spence more playing time.
Eric Decker, WR, Jets
Not that Decker is rooting for anyone to get injured, but Devin Smith’s torn ACL could allow him to keep his job. After undergoing both shoulder and hip surgery, Decker was in danger of missing time to start the season. He’s expected to be back for the start of 2017, but it may not be with the Jets.
If New York releases him, it would save $5.75 million in cap space – not something the Jets are desperate for, but is keeping a declining receiver for $8.75 million really worth it? That’s a question they’ll need to answer in the coming months.
Alfred Morris, RB, Cowboys
Ezekiel Elliott is obviously the future at running back for the Cowboys, and with the way he was used last season, there’s little room for other players on the depth chart. Darren McFadden will likely be Elliott’s backup, making Morris a potential cap casualty.
He’s only set to make $2.1 million in 2017, but the Cowboys are right up against the cap and can use every penny they can get. They’d save $1.6 million by releasing Morris, who had very little impact in 2016. There won’t be many touches leftover after Elliott gets his.
David Harris, LB, Jets
The Jets are pretty obviously trying to get younger on both sides of the ball, parting ways with Darrelle Revis, Kelvin Beachum, Nick Mangold and Brandon Marshall just this offseason. Harris could be next, and he should be. He’s not the player he once was, and with Darron Lee holding down one inside linebacker spot, the Jets can find a player to slide into the other.
Harris simply isn’t worth paying $6.5 million in 2017, especially with the Jets facing no penalty for cutting him. He’ll be a free agent in 2018 anyway, and is unlikely to receive an extension.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Giants
It’s unlikely that the Giants move on from Rodgers-Cromartie, but he’s a player to keep an eye on when it comes to veteran cuts. His cap number is $9 million this season, while a release would net the Giants $5 million -- $7 million after June 1. With Eli Apple and Janoris Jenkins firmly entrenched as starters, Rodgers-Cromartie’s main role will be as a nickel corner.
That’s a hefty price to pay for a player who probably won’t play all three downs on defense. He only played 66 percent of the Giants’ snaps last season – or only 34 more than Apple.
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Lamarr Houston, OLB, Bears
Houston is coming off of his second torn ACL in three years, which is obviously concerning. Take into account that he’s set to make $6.99 million in 2017 and you can understand why the Bears would be smart to move on from him. He’s produced only nine sacks since the start of 2014, so it’s not as though he’s overly productive, either.
The Bears would be smart to give Leonard Floyd, Pernell McPhee and Willie Young more snaps next season by moving on from the 29-year-old injury-prone linebacker. They can save $5 million by cutting Houston, too.
Getty ImagesJonathan Daniel
Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers
Stewart probably wasn’t real pleased when the Panthers drafted Christian McCaffrey eighth overall, especially after he just signed a contract extension in March. That probably makes him somewhat safe for the upcoming season, but he still has to be wary of his roster spot.
If McCaffrey comes in and dominates right away as a three-down back, Stewart and his $6.2 million cap hit could be on their way out of Carolina. McCaffrey can handle the main workload with Fozzy Whitaker and Cameron Artis-Payne chipping in as role players – all of whom will be cheaper options than Stewart. By cutting him after June 1, the Panthers could save $3.1 million.
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Sammie Coates, WR, Steelers
Martavis Bryant tweeted shortly after the Steelers drafted JuJu Smith-Schuster that the rookie will replace Coates in the lineup. That could take some time to actually happen, but don’t be surprised to see Coates on the chopping block this summer.
The Steelers can save more than $630,000 by releasing Coates after June 1, which would be a wise move considering he won’t see many snaps in the coming season. Pittsburgh is incredibly deep at wide receiver, even without Coates.