When NFL training camps begin in about a month, we’ll hear the time-honored coachspeak about no roster spot being guaranteed.
Well, some stars will have to forget how to put on their pads on to lose their jobs. Almost every August, however, a big-name player is released. There are several veterans who have their work cut out for them to hang on to a roster spot in 2017.
If the following players want to be employed by their current teams in Week 1, they’ll have to earn it.
Gary Barnidge’s release, and the Browns’ 1-15 record last season, should make any holdovers a little uneasy about their job security.
That includes two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden.
Haden’s most recent Pro Bowl honor came in 2014. Since then, he’s missed 14 games. He sat out 11 games with a concussion in 2015 and had ankle surgery after the season. He played in 13 games last year, but battled a groin injury and had surgery to fix that problem in January.
According to Pro Football Focus, Haden was responsible for six touchdowns last season and allowed a 97.7 passer rating on throws into his coverage. The 28-year-old Haden is due $11.1 million in 2017. That’s second on the team only to Brock Osweiler’s $16 million salary, and Osweiler shouldn’t be looking to buy a house in Cleveland.
If Haden doesn’t show signs of a bounceback season in training camp, he could be another pillar taken down in the Browns’ rebuilding effort.
Sammie Coates seemed to be skyrocketing toward stardom when he caught six passes in two straight games for a total of 218 yards last October.
He had 139 of those receiving yards and two touchdowns in the Steelers’ Week 5 win over the Jets, but he cut and broke his finger in that game and caught just two of the 18 passes thrown his way for the remainder of the regular season.
Coates underwent offseason groin surgery and in late June he told ESPN he was “getting there” in talking about his recovery.
He might have to get there a little faster.
Martavis Bryant is back from his year-long suspension and as long as he stays clean he and Antonio Brown figure to have roster spots locked up. The Steelers drafted JuJu Smith-Schuster in the second round, and he’s earned praise from Ben Roethlisberger.
Undrafted Eli Rogers is coming off a consistent season as a possession receiver. He caught 48 balls in 2016 and in nine of his 13 games caught between three and six passes.
Coates will have to fight for a roster spot with Darrius Heyward-Bey, a 30-year-old who’s hung around because of his work on special teams, Cobi Hamilton (17 receptions last season), second-year man Demarcus Ayers and free-agent signing Justin Hunter.
Even if the Steelers keep six receivers, it wouldn’t be a shock if the 24-year-old Coates is cleaning out his locker sometime in August.
Victor Cruz told ESPN.com that he has “something to prove.”
He’s got that right.
Although what Cruz meant was that he goes into every season feeling he has something to prove no matter the circumstances, this summer the Bears wide receiver has to prove that he’s good enough to make the team.
After missing a year and a half with a torn patellar tendon and a calf injury, Cruz caught just 39 passes last season. His receiving yards per game was 39.1 and his catch percentage was 54.2, both career lows.
The Giants moved on from the popular receiver and the Bears signed him to a one-year, $2 million contract. Even though the Bears are trying to replenish their receiving corps after losing Alshon Jeffery, Cruz will have to earn a roster spot.
Cameron Meredith led the team in receptions last year, so his roster spot is secure. It’s anyone’s guess who will fill the depth chart behind him. The Bears signed Kendall Wright. Like Cruz, he’s been on the decline, but he’s three years younger. Kevin White, the seventh overall pick in 2015, has been limited to four games in his first two seasons because of injuries. He has more to prove than Cruz, but if he can flash any upside he could get the nod over Cruz.
Markus Wheaton and former teammate Rueben Randle also are among the castoffs Cruz will have to compete with for a job.
Jace Amaro isn’t on the Titans’ roster bubble because he’s an aging veteran who’s hung on too long. The 25-year-old’s roster spot is in jeopardy because the former second-round draft pick has been a bust.
The Jets drafted the tight end in the second round in 2014. He caught 38 passes in his rookie season, but missed 2015 with an injury. The Jets cut him before the 2016 season and the Titans picked him up. He was targeted just four times, catching three of those passes, and appeared in three games.
Delanie Walker is the king of the hill on the Titans’ tight end depth chart. Amaro has to compete with Phillip Supernaw and 2017 third-round draft pick Jonnu Smith.
Supernaw caught just one more pass than Amaro last season, but played in 15 games. Walker told USA Today that Smith will one day be better than him.
That doesn’t bode well for Amaro.
The problems keep piling up for Packers defensive tackle Letroy Guion.
Already coming off a disappointing 2016 season, Guion is facing a four-game PED suspension. Then he celebrated a little too much on his 30th birthday and was arrested for driving under the influence. That incident could tack a few more games onto his suspension.
The Packers could increase his suspension to 16 games, in other words release him. They’ve already laid the groundwork for that by restructuring his contract and pushing offseason roster bonuses into the regular season.
This wouldn’t be the first time Guion is suspended. He sat out the first three games of the 2015 season for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. The Packers added a couple of bodies to the defensive line by signing Ricky Jean-Francois and drafting Montravius Adams in the third round. If either player makes enough of an impression, Guion might be out of chances in Green Bay.
The Titans drafted wide receiver Corey Davis with the fifth overall pick in April and took Taywan Taylor in the third round. They also brought in Eric Decker.
The writing is on the wall for Harry Douglas.
Douglas, who turns 33 in September, was active for just 11 games last year and caught a career-low 15 passes. His moment in the sun came in 2013, when he caught 85 passes for 1,067 yards for the Falcons. He caught 51 for 556 the next year, but hasn’t caught 40 passes or had 500 receiving yards in any other season. He’s also never caught more than two touchdown passes in a season.
Rishard Matthews shared the team lead with tight end Delanie Walker last year, catching 65 passes. Decker and one of the rookies figure to take the next two spots. Also in the mix is second-year receiver Tajae Sharpe, who caught 41 passes last year but is recovering from foot surgery.
Douglas was no lock to make the roster last season, but was kept around for his leadership. Decker could help with that this year and Marcus Mariota is a year older. The Titans could make big strides this year without Douglas.
It’s hard to believe that Alfred Morris ran for only 18 fewer yards in his rookie season than Ezekiel Elliott did in his.
Morris ran for 1,613 yards for the Redskins in 2012. But his carries, yardage and yards per carry have gone down every year since then.
Morris’ decline in 2016 can be attributed to Elliott, who led the NFL with 1,631 rushing yards. Morris carried the ball only 69 times and still was second on the team in that category. Darren McFadden missed most of the year with an arm injury, but the Cowboys re-signed him and he appears to be penciled in as Elliott’s primary backup.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys have reportedly been trying to trade Morris throughout the offseason, but found no takers. Depending on how the preseason goes, cutdown day could be filled with anxiety for the 28-year-old Morris.
Ryan Mathews is expected to be a free agent in 2018, but he might hit the open market a little early.
The running back’s days with the Eagles appeared to be numbered even before LeGarrette Blount was signed. Mathews is recovering from neck surgery and didn’t take part in minicamp. He has a hard time staying healthy and has played a 16-game season just once in his career, and that was in 2013.
Darren Sproles is still around. Wendell Smallwood enters his second season and unlike Mathews plays special teams. Donnel Pumphrey was drafted in the fourth round. With all these guys competing for carries behind Blount, there doesn’t seem to be a place for Mathews.
Michael Oher’s career doesn’t look like it’s heading for a Hollywood ending. In his third and final game for the Panthers last season, the left tackle allowed two sacks and five quarterback pressures in a 22-10 loss to the Vikings. He was placed in the concussion protocol and remained there for the rest of the season.
Oher didn’t take part in any of offseason workouts and the Panthers look like they’re ready to move on from him after signing Matt Kalil as a free agent.
Matt Jones has been on the Redskins’ roster bubble since fumbling on the 2-yard line in a 20-17 loss at Detroit in Week 7 last season. It was his third fumble of the year.
The running back actually wants that roster bubble to burst. According to the Associated Press, he’s asked the Redskins for his release.
Jones has three 100-yard games under his belt since being drafted in the third round in 2015, including a 135-yard performance in a 27-20 win over the Eagles the week before he dropped the ball in Detroit. That loss to the Lions was the last game that Jones has played.
Jones didn’t take part in organized team activities but did take part in minicamp. In between, Redskins coach Jay Gruden said that he expected Jones to be there for minicamp because “He’s on our roster. He’s eating up a spot.”
That doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement.
With Rob Kelley, Chris Thompson and probably fourth-round rookie Samaje Perine ahead of Jones on the depth chart, he faces an uphill battle to make the Redskins’ 53-man roster and might have a better chance to crack another roster if he can learn to take better care of the ball.