0 of 8
Icon Sportswire/Getty Images
As roster battles heat up with organized team activities underway across the NFL, veterans will start to sweat as they face in-house competition for starting jobs and roster spots.
A majority of teams have close to 90 players on the roster, but as we know, clubs must narrow it down to 53 before the regular season. Among the cuts, we’ll probably see some surprises that put quality veterans on the open market.
Front offices make shocking cuts for a variety of reasons, though there are often financial implications involved. If a cheaper backup can provide 75 percent of what a starter produces on a bloated salary, teams will release the latter and take the cap savings on a costly contract, especially if those savings are substantial.
In some situations, clubs may shop a player and strike out on finding a trade partner or a reasonable offer. In others, a coaching staff may believe it’s time to move on from an underperforming veteran who’s taking snaps from a younger player with upside.
With those scenarios in mind, we’ll predict this offseason’s most surprising cuts. We didn’t include foreseeable moves such as the San Francisco 49ers releasing Dee Ford after general manager John Lynch voiced his doubts about the edge-rusher’s future with the team.
Let’s take a look at eight cuts that seem less predictable but still realistic.
1 of 8
Justin Casterline/Getty Images
After a career-turning 2020 season with the Las Vegas Raiders in which he hauled in 48 passes for 896 yards and eight touchdowns, Nelson Agholor signed a two-year, $22 million contract with the New England Patriots. He didn’t make a strong impact in his first term with the AFC East club, registering 37 receptions for 473 yards and three scores.
With the addition of wideout DeVante Parker, whom New England acquired from the Miami Dolphins, and rookie seconder Tyquan Thornton, the Patriots may have written enough on the wall to signal Agholor’s departure in the coming weeks.
However, some people may see this move as a surprise because the Patriots will hold $10 million in dead money if they release Agholor, per Over the Cap. He’s more likely to restructure his deal or become the subject of a trade.
Nevertheless, New England may opt to cut Agholor and save approximately $4.9 million if team brass cannot find a trade partner for him. He may also push back against a pay cut.
If Agholor hits the open market, he could resurface with the receiver-needy Chicago Bears, who need a No. 2 option to complement Darnell Mooney.
2 of 8
Paul Sancya/Associated Press
As a team in the second year of a rebuild, the Detroit Lions may want to hold on to Michael Brockers because of his leadership qualities. Though he didn’t serve as a team captain in his first year with the club, the veteran defensive lineman held that honor during his tenure with the Los Angeles Rams.
With that said, Brockers will head into his age-32 term. Additionally, he didn’t make a big splash in Detroit after the Lions acquired him from the Rams last offseason. As a starter in 16 contests, Brockers recorded 52 tackles, four for loss, a sack and five pressures. The Lions have younger, versatile defensive linemen who can fill Brockers’ role and potentially replicate or exceed those stats in their new even-man front.
In the second round of the 2022 draft, the Lions selected Josh Paschal, who, at 6’3″, 268 pounds, can line up on the inside or rush from the edge. He’ll likely have a chance to play a decent number of snaps in the upcoming season. After two injury-plagued campaigns, Austin Bryant made notable contributions in 2021, recording 31 tackles, five for loss, 4.5 sacks and 10 pressures.
The Lions can cut Brockers and allow their young defensive linemen to soak up meaningful snaps. If Brockers hits the market, he would make a good fit with the Los Angeles Chargers, who have made an attempt to patch up their porous, 30th-ranked run defense from the 2021 campaign by signing Sebastian Joseph-Day and Austin Johnson.
As Brockers has done with the Rams and Lions, he would play in an odd-man front in a rotational role.
3 of 8
Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press
The Dallas Cowboys may have to make a tough cut within their cornerback unit if they allow 2021 second-rounder Kelvin Joseph a shot at a starting role.
As a passenger in a vehicle connected to a homicide, Joseph has to go through a legal process, and the league could suspend him based on what it finds in an investigation. Head coach Mike McCarthy didn’t have an update on the matter.
In the meantime, Joseph will likely have a chance to carve out a starting role because of his draft pedigree. If he impresses the coaching staff, the Cowboys could move on from Anthony Brown, who played a majority of the snaps out wide in 2021.
Last season, Brown had his most productive pro campaign, logging career highs in pass breakups (17) and interceptions (three) while allowing a 53.3 percent completion rate in coverage. With that said, the Cowboys can release him, save $5 million in cap space and go with a younger defender who has more upside.
The Cowboys signed primary slot cornerback Jourdan Lewis to an extension (2021) more recently than Brown (2020), so the latter could be the odd man out if they make a cut at the position.
Coming off a strong 2021 season, Brown should have multiple suitors. He could start Week 1 for the Seattle Seahawks over unproven cornerback Tre Brown or become an insurance policy for Sidney Jones IV, who has missed 34 games through five seasons.
4 of 8
Steven Senne/Associated Press
Denzelle Good opened the 2021 season as the starting right guard, but he tore his ACL in the first game. Even though the veteran lineman is coming off a serious knee injury at 31 years old, The Athletic’s Las Vegas Raiders beat reporters, Vic Tafur and Tashan Reed, penciled him into a starting spot at guard in their early depth chart projections.
While that’s possible with the uncertainty along Vegas’ offensive line, the Raiders may also release him, save about $3.7 million in cap space (post-June 1) and add that on to the $19.8 million they’ll receive from designating Cory Littleton and Carl Nassib as post-June 1 cuts.
The front office can use those financial resources to make a couple of notable free-agent signings late in the spring or during the summer to shore up an unsettled offensive line.
Good can hold onto his starting spot or serve in a backup role at three positions (left guard, right guard or right tackle) behind John Simpson, rookie third-rounder Dylan Parham or Alex Leatherwood, but he’s not a roster lock at this stage in his career.
If the Raiders cut Good, he can sign with the Indianapolis Colts for a second stint and start at right guard. The AFC South club needs an immediate plug-and-play replacement for Mark Glowinski, who signed with the New York Giants.
5 of 8
Stephen Maturen/Getty Images
Robert Quinn might be unhappy with the direction of the Chicago Bears as the team goes into a rebuild period under a new regime.
According to CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora, Quinn “wants out” of the Windy City.
“I continue to hear that Quinn wants out of Chicago—and who could blame him?—and there are a host of interested teams,” La Canfora wrote. “Bears brass has told everyone he ain’t going anywhere, but they will keep asking and that’s not lost on the veteran defensive end.”
Coming off a Pro Bowl campaign with 18.5 sacks, 34 pressures and 17 tackles for loss, Quinn would hit the free-agent market as arguably the biggest prize among the unexpected cuts. As La Canfora noted, the 32-year-old pass-rusher has garnered interest from multiple suitors, so Bears should be able to deal him in exchange for at least a middle-round pick.
Nevertheless, if Chicago doesn’t entertain offers and plays hardball with teams in trade talks, Quinn may try to force his way out for a chance to pick his next destination. If he goes public about his reported desire to suit up elsewhere, the veteran pass-rusher could hurt his trade value as teams may wait to see if the Bears release him to avoid a messy situation.
If available on the open market, Quinn should consider a second stint with the Miami Dolphins, who could use a high-end veteran edge-rusher opposite second-year pass-rusher Jaelan Phillips.
6 of 8
Matt Rourke/Associated Press
Sheldon Rankins had a decent 2021 season with the New York Jets, recording 32 tackles, five for loss, three sacks and 11 pressures while on the field for 57 percent of the defensive snaps.
However, Rankins may become a cap casualty because of the influx of talent along the Jets’ defensive line. Between free agency and the 2022 draft, Gang Green added Jermaine Johnson II (rookie first-rounder), Micheal Clemons (rookie fourth-rounder), Jacob Martin and Vinny Curry. Don’t forget that Carl Lawson will return to action after he missed the 2021 season with a ruptured Achilles.
The Jets can employ John Franklin-Myers and Curry as interior pass-rushers in sub-packages to create opportunities for a deep group of edge-rushers, which would put a squeeze on Rankins’ snaps at defensive tackle.
The Jets can cut Rankins, save $5.4 million in cap space and still field a strong pass rush, which makes his release a plausible move.
At 28 years old, Rankins can play more than half of the defensive snaps in a starting role and could fill a void in the Cleveland Browns’ front line. They haven’t re-signed defensive tackles Malik Jackson and Malik McDowell, who faces charges of aggravated battery on a police officer, resisting arrest, and exposing sex organs in public, per TMZ Sports.
With Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney on the edge, Rankins can see some open pass-rushing lanes on the interior.
7 of 8
The New York Giants should try to keep all their pass-catchers as Daniel Jones tries to show he’s a starting-caliber quarterback.
Even though the Giants selected wideout Wan’Dale Robinson in the second round of the 2022 draft, they’ll need depth at the position because of the recent injury history within the group. Kenny Golladay and Sterling Shepard have both missed 14 games since 2020. Last season, Kadarius Toney missed seven outings, and he recently underwent a “minor arthroscopic knee procedure”, per Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News.
Darius Slayton sat out four games last season, though he’s played in 43 of 49 games in his three-year career. Initially, the 2019 fifth-rounder looked like a draft-day steal, racking up 98 receptions for 1,491 yards and 11 touchdowns between 2019 and 2020.
In 2021, Slayton hauled in just 26 passes for 339 yards and two touchdowns. According to The Athletic’s Dan Duggan, the Giants shopped him on the trade block.
With a good start to his career, Slayton will likely remain with the Giants or draw enough interest for a transaction. However, clubs may take a conservative approach in trade discussions because he’s in the final year of his contract and they might be willing to wait for him to hit free agency next offseason.
If New York lets Slayton go, the Baltimore Ravens should make an aggressive offer for him.
Averaging 15.2 yards per catch through his first two seasons, Slayton can make big plays for the Ravens as a field-stretching replacement for Marquise Brown, whom Baltimore traded to the Arizona Cardinals.
8 of 8
David Becker/Associated Press
Though Logan Thomas turns 31 years old in July, he could be a reliable pass-catcher for incoming quarterback Carson Wentz. In 2020, the veteran tight end hauled 72 passes for 670 yards and six touchdowns.
Last season, Thomas missed 11 contests but still caught three touchdown passes—all within 11 yards of the goal line.
Even though John Bates caught 20 passes for 249 yards and a touchdown through his 2021 rookie term, he’s still unproven in a full-time starting position. The Washington Commanders should wait to see a little more from the second-year tight end before they feature him in a bigger role.
If the Commanders release Thomas, they would hold about $4 million in dead money and save approximately $2.2 million (post-June 1), which isn’t much of a financial gain. Also, keep in mind that the club just signed him to a three-year, $24.1 million extension last offseason.
However, Bates and rookie fifth-rounder Cole Turner may show enough through the preseason to make Thomas expendable at his age.
If that scenario plays out, the Minnesota Vikings can take a look at Thomas as a No. 2 tight end after they lost Tyler Conklin in free agency. He could serve as an insurance policy for Irv Smith Jr., who missed the entire 2021 campaign after undergoing surgery on a torn meniscus.
Player contract details courtesy of Over the Cap.
Maurice Moton covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @MoeMoton.