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Bill BarnwellESPN Staff Writer
- Bill Barnwell is a staff writer for ESPN.com.
Free agency and the 2020 NFL draft have been completed, and now the league enters into an uncertain hiatus. The NFL deliberately kept both of those activities on their original timelines, but with no way to safely practice social distancing, the league canceled organized team activities, and it could do the same for June’s usually mandatory minicamps. Teams might not meet again until training camps kick off in July, and even that might be an optimistic timeline.
In a typical year, players at the bottom of NFL rosters are dealing with uncertainty. This year might make that uncertainty even more acute. Players might get only a handful of practices to fend off a new addition in free agency or a midround draft pick. Of course, a fresh start in a new place might be the exact thing some of those players need, as Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill showed last season.
Let’s run through one player on each roster who is likely to be released or become a trade candidate over the next few months:
Wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton
The Broncos used their top two picks on wide receivers, adding Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler to surround 2020 breakout star Courtland Sutton in their new-look wideout corps. Hamler seems likely to win the slot receiver job away from another former Penn State Nittany Lion in Hamilton, who has averaged just 9.3 yards per catch over his first two NFL seasons.
With Hamilton playing just one special-teams snap last season, he wouldn’t retain much value on the roster as Denver’s fourth or fifth wideout.
Running back Darrel Williams
Williams and Darwin Thompson were the dark horses to pick up meaningful snaps for the Chiefs last season, but neither was impressive enough during the preseason to keep the Chiefs from signing LeSean McCoy. The LSU product scored a touchdown during the postseason, but Damien Williams and first-round pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire are likely to split the bulk of the touches at running back in 2020, and the Chiefs also have former Raiders back DeAndre Washington on the roster.
Darrel Williams and Thompson both took special-teams snaps in 2019, but I suspect the Chiefs would prefer the player they once drafted (Thompson) to a street free agent in Williams.
Wide receiver Zay Jones
The decision to trade a fifth-round pick for Jones in October seemed curious at the time, and he averaged just 7.4 yards per catch on 20 receptions across his 10 games with the Raiders.
Las Vegas overhauled its receiving corps this offseason, signing Nelson Agholor and Keelan Doss, while drafting Henry Ruggs III (Round 1), Bryan Edwards (Round 3) and Lynn Bowden Jr. (Round 3), who is moving to running back for the Raiders but could see wideout snaps. With Tyrell Williams and Hunter Renfrow likely guaranteed roster spots, Jones could be the odd man out.
Linebacker Denzel Perryman
The oft-injured Miami product was able to tie his career high by playing 14 games in 2019, but the Chargers were using Perryman as only a two-down linebacker. He took just 20 snaps on third down all season, and when they traded up to draft Kenneth Murray in the first round, it likely came at the expense of Perryman’s spot in the lineup.
Los Angeles would save only about $1.7 million by cutting the 27-year-old Perryman, but that would help free up space for the team to pursue a veteran left tackle such as Jason Peters. Perryman’s contract also is tradable, and the Chargers could recoup a sixth- or seventh-round pick for the veteran.
Wide receiver Kenny Stills
It’s admittedly naive to try to apply typical NFL logic to what the Texans will do, but after signing Randall Cobb and trading for Brandin Cooks, the Texans are now paying Stills $7 million to serve as the fourth wideout. None of that money is guaranteed, so they could either try to force Stills to take a pay cut, release him or find a trade partner for the 28-year-old.
Running back Marlon Mack
Mack has been an effective two-down back during his three seasons with the Colts, but after drafting Jonathan Taylor in Round 2, general manager Chris Ballard seemed to make the 24-year-old’s future with the organization clear. Mack is entering the final year of his rookie deal, and backups Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins already have defined complementary roles Mack can’t fill.
The Colts could carry four backs and split carries between Mack and Taylor. But Mack also could be trade bait if a team sees its starting running back go down in preseason, like Lamar Miller did for the Texans last year.
Wide receiver Keelan Cole
Cole had an impressive rookie season as an undrafted free agent in 2018, but he has fallen down the depth chart as Dede Westbrook and DJ Chark have emerged. Jacksonville drafted Laviska Shenault Jr. in the second round and Collin Johnson in the fifth, leaving Cole to compete with veteran Chris Conley for a roster spot.
The Jaguars handed Cole a second-round restricted tender at $3.3 million, but that contract is unguaranteed, and Conley played ahead of Cole last season. One of the two is likely to leave, and the additional cash savings makes it slightly more likely Cole is that guy.
Cornerback Chris Milton
There’s no obvious candidate on this roster, but the closest thing might be Milton. The Titans signed him off waivers from the Colts last year and used the Georgia Tech product on special teams amid calf and ankle injuries.
Tennessee brought back fellow special-teamer Tye Smith and used a second-round pick on Kristian Fulton; if it also re-signs Logan Ryan after the slot corner’s market failed to develop, Milton’s future with the team would be in question.
Wide receiver Jaleel Scott
A 2018 fourth-round pick, Scott missed his entire rookie season with a hamstring injury and was active for only three games in 2019. The Ravens lost Seth Roberts this offseason, but the selection of Devin Duvernay on Day 2 will almost surely bump Scott off the roster.
Quarterback Andy Dalton
The Bengals refused to admit whether they had received any trade offers for Dalton during the draft, which is most likely admitting they didn’t. They lost virtually all their leverage with Dalton after the Bears traded for Nick Foles, given that no other team was going to be comfortable paying Dalton the remainder of his one-year, $17.5 million deal. Nobody believes they are going to pay Dalton that much money to serve as the backup to No. 1 pick Joe Burrow.
The only unsettled starting quarterback job left is in New England, and while Dalton would be a logical fit, the Patriots don’t have the cap space to offer the 32-year-old much money. Plenty of teams would be interested in him as a backup — the Steelers, Titans, Seahawks and Rams all need one — but not at this price tag. Dalton could restructure his deal and take less money, but that restructure would likely be in line with what he would get on the open market as a free agent, with the latter scenario having the added benefit of allowing him to choose his destination. This situation is probably heading toward an outright release.
Cornerback Terrance Mitchell
Former Browns general manager John Dorsey once systematically released and traded away the draft picks of the Sashi Brown era. New Cleveland GM Andrew Berry has suggested he won’t purge the Browns’ roster of Dorsey’s favorites in response, but it does make sense to move on from Mitchell, who is owed $3 million in 2020 and would likely be the fourth corner behind Denzel Ward, Greedy Williams and Kevin Johnson.
The Browns didn’t draft a cornerback, which might give Mitchell a respite, but they did guarantee undrafted free agent A.J. Green $145,000 to join the team. And yes, that name is correct.
Wide receiver Deon Cain
After drafting 6-foot-4 wideout Chase Claypool in Round 2 and running back Anthony McFarland Jr. on Day 3, the Steelers have too many wide receivers and too many backs. There are questions about the futures of the guys atop those respective depth charts, but I’m not projecting trades for James Conner or JuJu Smith-Schuster here.
More realistically, it’s tough to see a path to a roster spot for Cain, who doesn’t play special teams and isn’t going to stick on the roster ahead of Claypool, Smith-Schuster, James Washington or Diontae Johnson. Cain is likely competing with slot receiver Ryan Switzer, who caught just eight passes over nine games last season, for a place on the team.
Wide receiver Robert Foster
Foster looked like a potential breakout candidate after racking up three 100-yard games in the second half of his 2018 rookie season, but general manager Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott quickly buried him on the depth chart with their offseason moves, suggesting they didn’t see greatness in the cards for the undrafted free agent.
Foster caught just three of 18 targets for 64 yards last season and was pushed further into obscurity by the arrival of Stefon Diggs via trade. Some team is going to look back at that tape from 2018 and give Foster a shot, but Buffalo probably wouldn’t be able to net much more than a conditional pick from a trade.
Quarterback Josh Rosen
Once more unto the breach with Rosen, who has now been disastrously bad in each of his first two pro stops. The Cardinals and Dolphins didn’t give him anything in terms of competent offensive line play, but even when you just focus on unpressured dropbacks, he has been a mess. Over the past two seasons, Rosen has posted a passer rating of 76.4 without pressure, the worst mark in the league for a quarterback with at least 100 attempts. The league average in that situation is 101.6.
It’s possible the 23-year-old Rosen is just shell-shocked beyond the point of no return, but at the right price, a team is likely going to bring him into its building and try to rebuild the former 10th overall pick. The Dolphins surely don’t want that somebody to be the division-rival Patriots, so I wonder if they’ll try to trade Rosen somewhere else for a seventh-round pick.
Tight end Matt LaCosse
Patriots tight ends caught a league-low 37 passes last season, which led Bill Belichick to use a pair of third-round picks on Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene. Both players will be on the roster barring injury, which would likely leave one spot to pick between LaCosse and Ryan Izzo.
Between the two, I would lean toward Izzo, whose blocking ability could be the difference for a New England team that is likely to try to run the ball more frequently without Tom Brady.
Linebacker Avery Williamson
The Jets spent big money at inside linebacker in consecutive seasons to add Williamson and C.J. Mosley, but the two players combined for just two appearances in 2019. Mosley’s season was ruined by a groin injury, while Williamson tore his ACL during the preseason and missed the entire campaign.
The Jets will likely move forward with some combination of Mosley, Blake Cashman and former Ravens starter Patrick Onwuasor here, given they can save $6.5 million by releasing Williamson from the final year of his deal.
Linebacker Haason Reddick
Reddick has never seemed to find a foothold in Arizona, where the Cardinals didn’t manage to convert the 2017 No. 13 overall pick’s versatility and athleticism into a meaningful role. They already have made moves to replace Reddick by signing De’Vondre Campbell and now using a top-10 pick on Isaiah Simmons.
The Cardinals will likely decline Reddick’s fifth-year option, and it’s probable that they’ll try to shop him for a late-round pick. The first call they’ll make will likely be to the Panthers, whose coach, Matt Rhule, was formerly Reddick’s coach at Temple.
Running back John Kelly
I also nominated Kelly as the most likely candidate for the Rams last year, but after being cut by Sean McVay’s team in November, he retreated to the practice squad and made it back to the active roster the following month. Todd Gurley‘s release temporarily opened up a roster spot, but the decision to draft Cam Akers in the second round took away that opportunity.
Kelly would now likely need to beat out 2019 third-round pick Darrell Henderson to make the roster, and while the Rams seem to be disappointed with Henderson, who got just 39 carries as a rookie, they’ve shown little interest in giving Kelly regular-season opportunities.
Wide receiver Dante Pettis
The 49ers cleared out some of their depth at running back and wide receiver by trading away Matt Breida and Marquise Goodwin during the draft, but the first-round pick the 49ers used on Brandon Aiyuk leaves them with too many wideouts. Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd will make the roster, leaving Pettis, Kendrick Bourne, Richie James, Trent Taylor and Travis Benjamin to compete for what would likely be a max of three jobs.
Pettis fell out of favor with Kyle Shanahan last season, so he might be the odd man out, even if he is the most talented wideout of that bunch. He also is the most likely to return a midround pick via trade.
Tight end Luke Willson
The Seahawks were forced to turn to practice squad tight end Jacob Hollister as their starter last year due to injuries, but that won’t be necessary in 2020. This offseason, they have signed Greg Olsen and drafted Colby Parkinson and Stephen Sullivan to compete with Hollister, Willson and Will Dissly for roster spots.
I can’t see the Seahawks keeping more than four tight ends, and Olsen and Parkinson, who was drafted in the fourth round, seem like locks to make the team. Willson is an underrated player, but he doesn’t have the upside of Seattle’s younger options.
Punter Ryan Allen
Last year, Allen was on this list after the Patriots used a fifth-round pick on Jake Bailey. The rookie won the job, pushing Allen to Atlanta, where the Falcons ranked 24th in punting by Football Outsiders’ metric.
Now, the Falcons have used their seventh-round selection on Syracuse punter Sterling Hofrichter, who also has the ability to handle kickoffs. Seventh-round specialists don’t always make the team, but Allen has to feel like he’s on notice yet again.
Cornerback Corn Elder
The 2017 fifth-round pick has one of the NFL’s best names, but he was waived early in 2019 and spent most of the season on the Giants’ practice squad before making a lone appearance with Carolina. The Panthers drafted four defensive backs and overturned their coaching staff this offseason, leaving Elder up against it as he tries to make the team as a slot corner.
Guard Larry Warford
The Saints keep flooding the interior of their offensive line with assets. Last year, they signed Nick Easton in free agency and then traded up to draft Erik McCoy, who excelled at center as a rookie. This offseason, they re-signed Andrus Peat to a five-year, $57.5 million deal and then used their first-round pick on center Cesar Ruiz, who will shift over to guard.
This raises questions about Warford’s future, given that the former Lions guard — who has started 44 regular-season games over the past three seasons in New Orleans — is owed $8.5 million in the final year of his deal.
Tight end Cameron Brate
In my column covering the Rob Gronkowski trade, I wrote about why I thought it made more sense for the Bucs to move on from the more-expensive Brate as opposed to former first-round pick O.J. Howard. Tampa general manager Jason Licht has since gone on to say he wasn’t looking to deal Howard, and while that could be a negotiating ploy, the draft came and went without a Howard deal.
The Bucs could still keep all three tight ends, but as veterans who might help their defense come free, I wouldn’t be surprised if Tampa clears out cap space with a Brate trade.
Tight end Adam Shaheen
The writing is on the wall for Shaheen, a second-round pick in 2017. The Bears hoped to translate his size and athleticism into superstar play, but he caught a total of 26 passes for 249 yards over three years. Injuries stunted his progress, but the team clearly soured on Shaheen quickly; it signed Trey Burton to an enormous deal after Shaheen’s first season, before adding Jimmy Graham, Demetrius Harris and second-round pick Cole Kmet this offseason.
Trading up to draft Mitchell Trubisky before Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes will come to define Ryan Pace’s tenure as general manager in Chicago, but using the No. 45 overall pick on Shaheen when George Kittle would go off the board in the fifth round won’t look much better.
Guard Oday Aboushi
Aboushi has been a borderline starter when healthy, but he hasn’t topped eight starts in a year since 2014. The Lions aren’t in a position in which they can depend on Aboushi to play a meaningful role in 2020.
Running back Jamaal Williams
Packers fans haven’t taken kindly to the team’s draft, but they might find a silver lining in the decision to use a second-round pick on bruising running back AJ Dillon. Williams has been an ineffective change-of-pace back for his entire career and dragged down the Green Bay offense when he was on the field replacing Aaron Jones.
With both Jones and Williams in the final year of their respective deals, it seems likely that the Packers will go with Jones and Dillon as their running back rotation, leaving Williams as a possible special-teamer or candidate for release.
Guard Aviante Collins
The Vikings drafted 15 players, which gave their top-heavy roster some much-needed depth. They used three picks along the offensive line, including second-round tackle Ezra Cleveland and a pair of late-round selections in Blake Brandel and Kyle Hinton. The latter two aren’t locks to make the team, but they’re probably better candidates to make an impact than Collins, who has been limited to two games in three years by various injuries.
Kicker Kai Forbath
Forbath went 10-for-10 on both field goals and extra points over his three-game stretch for the Cowboys last season, which would typically earn a journeyman a shot at the starting job the following campaign. He is still on the roster, but after the Cowboys hired former Rams special-teams coach John Fassel and signed Greg Zuerlein to a three-year, $7.5 million deal, they made their intentions at kicker clear.
Forbath will likely get cut in camp and wait for a job to open up in September.
Running back Wayne Gallman
One of the final draft picks remaining on the roster who was selected by former general manager Jerry Reese, Gallman has averaged an even 4.0 yards per carry as a runner while fumbling six times on just 250 touches. His special-teams role has dissipated, and after the Giants signed Dion Lewis to serve as the receiving back behind Saquon Barkley, Gallman’s path to touches has as well.
New York didn’t draft any running backs, but Gallman doesn’t have a role on the roster.
Wide receiver Greg Ward Jr.
The Eagles loaded up on speed for Carson Wentz at wide receiver over the past week, as they drafted Jalen Reagor (Round 1), John Hightower (Round 5) and Quez Watkins (Round 6), while also trading for Marquise Goodwin. Alshon Jeffery‘s job could be up for grabs under a different contract, but the Eagles would owe $26 million in dead money if they cut him.
Injuries made Ward the Eagles’ top wideout for stretches late in the season, and he very nearly became the team’s quarterback during its playoff loss to the Seahawks after both Wentz and Josh McCown were injured. But it would take a tremendous camp — or a series of new injuries to other players — for Ward to keep his spot on the roster.
Running back Adrian Peterson
Washington’s backfield is a crowded mess, with Peterson joined by Derrius Guice, Bryce Love, Peyton Barber and third-round pick Antonio Gibson. The rookie is the only lock to make the active roster, but I don’t really see any reason for a rebuilding Washington team to stick with the 35-year-old Peterson.
Ownership seemed to keep Peterson on the roster last season, and he came in handy after Guice went down with an injury in Week 1, but new coach Ron Rivera should have enough personnel power to make tough decisions. Peterson could earn a reprieve if one of the backs ahead of him gets hurt, but the Barber signing seemed to point to Peterson’s eventual release.