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Projecting Every NFL Team's Most Difficult Roster Cut

Russell S. BaxterContributor IAugust 12, 2014

Projecting Every NFL Team's Most Difficult Roster Cut

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    Is quarterback Christian Ponder going to be sacked by the Minnesota Vikings?
    Is quarterback Christian Ponder going to be sacked by the Minnesota Vikings?USA TODAY Sports

    Let’s get this out of the way early.

    This is not one of these pieces where you want to be right. But we are willing to give it the old professional try.

    There are 32 teams in the NFL, and every one will be making difficult decisions in the next few weeks when it comes to personnel.

    But in this case of mirror, mirror on the wall, which move will prove to be the hardest of them all?

    For the record, we will not be afraid to take some chances here. Conversely, that could result in 32 swings and misses. We will certainly try not to opt for the easy way out by selecting a rookie free agent who has seen very little playing time to date.

    Remember, the title of the piece includes the word “difficult.” And it also includes the word “projecting.” So of course, there will be the occasional obvious exception.

    You will see your share of veterans in the next 32 slides, with some of our decisions being based on matters other than just performance, such as the inability to stay healthy. There may or may not be a few players who signed with teams this offseason or were one of the 256 players drafted in May who proved not to be the ideal fit (although the latter could still wind up on a team’s practice squad).

    In any case, here’s a little food for thought when it comes to each team having to say goodbye to a player.

    And kudos to those coaches and general managers who have the stomach to make such decisions.

Arizona Cardinals: RB Jonathan Dwyer

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    The move made all the sense in the world, especially in today’s NFL and its own version of “Six Degrees of Separation.”

    This offseason, the Arizona Cardinals added running back Jonathan Dwyer to their backfield for depth. The four-year pro ran for 197 yards in 2013 with the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he began his career under head coach Mike Tomlin and then-offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.

    “The relationship goes far back,” said Dwyer recently to Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM (h/t Vince Marotta of ArizonaSports.com). “He called me personally and told me they wanted me here and wanted me to help out. So it was kind of hard to say no.”

    But what will his role actually be with the Cards? The team intends to make second-year pro Andre Ellington a major focal point, and Dwyer—who signed only a one-year, $795,000 contract with the club courtesy of Spotrac (subscription required)will be battling Stepfan Taylor for backup duties rather than a starting role.

    Don’t be shocked if Dwyer’s biggest role in 2014 only comes this summer as a teacher and not a performer.

Atlanta Falcons: OL Gabe Carimi

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Does anyone remember that the Chicago Bears made offensive lineman Gabe Carimi the 29th overall pick in the 2011 draft?

    That fact is quickly becoming a trivia question.

    The former University of Wisconsin’s tenure in the Windy City was short-lived. In two seasons with the Bears, he started a combined 16 games at both right guard and right tackle, as his rookie season was cut short with a knee injury after two games.

    With the new coaching staff in place in 2013, Carimi was dealt to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that June for a sixth-round draft choice in 2014. He played in 14 games and made three starts but was released by the club back in February. He quickly latched on with the Atlanta Falcons.

    Of course, that was before his newest club added right guard Jon Asamoah in free agency and right tackle Jake Matthews in the first round of the draft.

Baltimore Ravens: DL Terrence Cody

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    When general manager Ozzie Newsome selected 6’4”, 345-pound Terrence Cody in the second round of the 2010 draft, it appeared that the Baltimore Ravens had found yet another stout defensive force.

    But the massive man from the University of Alabama has never lived up to the billing. In 12 games this past season, Cody totaled a mere 15 tackles. In 56 regular-season games with the Ravens, he’s amassed a combined 45 stops, zero sacks and two pass breakups.

    Cody is currently on the Ravens' physically unable to perform list. This may, Newsome added promising defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan in the second round and defensive end Brent Urban in the fourth round.

    We may have seen the last of Cody in a Ravens uniform.

Buffalo Bills: DE/OLB Manny Lawson

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    Gary Wiepert/Associated Press

    The Buffalo Bills haven’t been to the playoffs since 1999. This year, it won’t be for a lack of trying, especially on the defensive side of the football.

    Enter new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who hopes to help a team that finished second in the NFL in 2013 with 57 sacks. Still, stopping the run has been an issue in Orchard Park for too many years, and free agency this offseason brought linebackers Brandon Spikes and Keith Rivers. General manager Doug Whaley also drafted promising Preston Brown in the third round. He and Nigel Bradham (suspended by the league for Week 1) will try and fill the void left by the injury to Kiko Alonso this offseason.

    So where does that leave veteran linebacker/defensive end Manny Lawson? The eight-year veteran made 15 starts for Doug Marrone’s team last season and totaled four sacks. He has started at least 10 games in each of the past six seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, Cincinnati Bengals and Bills. This year, he appears to be slated for reserve duty behind defensive end Jerry Hughes, who totaled 10 sacks last season and could be primed for more.

    Lawson seems far more suited as an outside linebacker in the 3-4, which means he could become expendable in Buffalo and quickly wind up with another team this season.

Carolina Panthers: WR Tiquan Underwood

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    This offseason, the Carolina Panthers overhauled their wide receiver corps due to the release of veteran Steve Smith, while Ted Ginn Jr. (Arizona Cardinals), Brandon LaFell (New England Patriots) and Domenik Hixon (Chicago Bears, since retired) left via free agency.

    In their place are veterans Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant and Tiquan Underwood and rookie Kelvin Benjamin, who enjoyed an impressive debut in the team’s preseason loss to the Buffalo Bills...maybe.

    The choice here is Underwood, who is now with his fourth NFL team in six years. The reasoning has to do with the quick progress of Benjamin and another offseason addition in tight end Ed Dickson, who was picked up from the Baltimore Ravens this offseason.

    Underwood comes off a season in which he totaled just 24 catches but also posted career highs in receiving yards (440) and touchdown grabs (four). Still, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him be the odd man out later this month.

    It also wouldn’t be a surprise if he wound up back on the Panthers roster sometime in 2014.

Chicago Bears: DT Stephen Paea

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    When you allow the third-most total yards in the NFL, give up the most rushing yards in the league and manage only 31 sacks, there will be changes.

    This offseason, the Chicago Bears were busy addressing the team’s various defensive deficiencies via free agency, adding defensive ends Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young and drafting defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton.

    The Bears are excited about what former Dallas Cowboys Pro Bowler Jeremiah Ratliff could bring to the table now that he’s healthy. But what about former second-round pick Stephen Paea, whose play has been underwhelming during his brief stint in the Windy City?

    If Marc Trestman’s rookie defensive tackle combo can make an immediate impact, Paea (who enters the final year of a four-year contract) could find himself out of a starting job (or worse) by the time September rolls around.

Cincinnati Bengals: QB Jason Campbell

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    Colin E. Braley/Associated Press

    In recent seasons, few teams have had a deeper roster than the Cincinnati Bengals.

    The team has drafted extremely well as of late, been able to keep its own players and build a squad that has reached the playoffs a franchise-record three straight years.

    This offseason, Marvin Lewis’ team looked to add a little experienced depth behind starting quarterback Andy Dalton. Enter veteran Jason Campbell, who was released by the Cleveland Browns this offseason. In nine games with Cincinnati’s AFC North rivals in 2013, the one-time first-round draft choice of the Washington Redskins threw more touchdown passes (11) than interceptions (eight).

    Then again, Campbell completed just 56.8 percent of his throws, which was his worst showing since his rookie campaign in 2005.

    Last Thursday night at Arrowhead Stadium, the veteran signal-caller was busy spreading the ball around…to both teams. Campbell threw a pair of touchdown passes, but both of his interceptions were returned by Kansas City defenders for touchdowns.

    Lost in the team’s solid season in 2013 was the fact that quarterback Andy Dalton and Co. committed 30 turnovers during the regular season. The last thing Lewis (still seeking his first playoff win as a head coach) needs is one more thing to worry about.

Cleveland Browns: RB Chris Ogbonnaya

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    Should we talk about the elephant in the training room?

    When people aren’t taking about the Cleveland Browns starting quarterback battle between Brian Hoyer and rookie Johnny Manziel, they are pondering whether either will be able to throw the ball to Pro Bowl wide receiver Josh Gordon in 2014…or ever again.

    But there’s another battle going on in Mike Pettine’s training camp this summer, and this one also includes the backfield. Free-agent addition Ben Tate and rookie Terrance West, a third-round pick in May, are vying for the starting job at running back.

    So where does that leave Chris Ogbonnaya, who certainly made his presence felt a year ago? He totaled 240 yards rushing on 49 carries and finished third on the club with 48 catches for 343 yards and his only two touchdowns in 2013. Cleveland also orchestrated a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles for running back Dion Lewis.

    This could be an interesting call for Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer.

Dallas Cowboys: MLB Rolando McClain

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    Gus Ruelas/Associated Press

    When middle linebacker Sean Lee went down this offseason during OTAs with a torn ACL, the sky once again began falling for the Dallas Cowboys.

    Coming off a year in which the team allowed the most total yards in the league, Jason Garrett’s club was already trying to figure out what to do without DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher.

    When it comes to filling Lee’s cleats, the Cowboys have seemingly found a solution in veteran Justin Durant, who has made stops around the league with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Detroit Lions and had six starts for Dallas in 2013.

    So what about multi-retired linebacker Rolando McClain, who wound up with Jerry Jones’ club this offseason following a trade with the Baltimore Ravens? He may wind up being just a camp body for a defensive unit that can’t seem to stay in one piece.

    That's interesting considering that McClain has had his own problem staying on the field.

Denver Broncos: CB Tony Carter

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    Byline Withheld/Associated Press

    Following last season’s successful regular season and not-so-successful postseason, you would think that the Denver Broncos would need all the defensive help they can get.

    They certainly seemed to address those deficiencies this offseason. General manager John Elway added free agents such as defensive end DeMarcus Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib and strong safety T.J Ward to the club. He used the team’s first overall pick in the 2014 draft on Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby.

    So how could cornerback Tony Carter find himself on the outside looking in when it comes to the 2014 Broncos? Check out Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com last month:

    Last season, the Broncos kept seven cornerbacks on the opening night roster, including the injured Champ Bailey, but this time around Carter will enter camp squarely on the bubble, especially if one of the younger corners with some additional size, like rookie Louis Young, shows promise and some special-teams chops. But the top four spots are solidly in place, and the Broncos can sport the four-cornerback look they’d like to in the dime.

    Those four spots, according to Legwold, belong to Talib, Roby, Chris Harris and second-year pro Kayvon Webster.

    This past season, Carter totaled just 13 tackles in 12 games but did have one interception and knocked down six passes. He may be doing his knocking elsewhere this upcoming season.

Detroit Lions: RB Mikel Leshoure

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    This past season, the Detroit Lions finished sixth in the NFL in total yards and third in the league in passing. They averaged just less than 25 points per game.

    With the addition of new head coach Jim Caldwell came new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, who hopes to improve on the team’s 112.0 yards per game rushing in 2013, which was good enough to rank just 17th in the NFL.

    It’s been a rough three years for former second-round running back Mikel Leshoure, who missed his entire rookie season in 2011 and was not on the field for the vast majority of 2013. In between, he made 14 starts for the Lions in 2012 and ran for 798 yards and nine touchdowns.

    Last week, Kyle Meinke of MLive.com talked about the surprising amount of work Leshoure was getting during camp. In Saturday’s preseason win over the Cleveland Browns, he totaled 31 yards rushing on eight carries.

    Does that mean Leshoure will be a factor in the Motor City this fall? The jury is still out.

Green Bay Packers: DE Jerel Worthy

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Back in 2010, the Green Bay Packers rode red-hot quarterback Aaron Rodgers and an opportunistic defensive unit into the franchise’s 13th NFL title.

    One year later, despite the team’s 15-1 record and NFC North title, Dom Capers’ defense allowed the most passing yards in a season in NFL history.

    To cure what ailed the Packers, general manager Ted Thompson used the first five rounds and his top six picks on the defensive side of the ball. The list included outside linebacker Nick Perry, defensive end Jerel Worthy, cornerback Casey Hayward, defensive end Mike Daniels, safety Jerron McMillian and linebacker Terrell Manning.

    Health has been the biggest issue when it comes to this group. For different reasons, both McMillian (Kansas City Chiefs) and Manning (New York Giants) are no longer with the club.

    Could Worthy be the next departure? The second-round pick played in just two games in 2013 after injuring his knee late in his rookie season. He’s currently on the team’s non-football injury list, and as Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com points out, time could be running out for the former Michigan State product.

Houston Texans: FS Kendrick Lewis

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Before we get to the heart of the matter, let’s take a look at a roster move that happened recently.

    It was thought that running back Andre Brown, who led the New York Giants in rushing in 2013, was signed this offseason to serve as the main backup to Arian Foster.

    On Monday, via John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, Brown was released by the Houston Texans.

    Meanwhile, the choice here is veteran free safety Kendrick Lewis, who was added as a free agent this offseason because of his familiarity with new defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel’s system.

    However, Lewis struggled with the Kansas City Chiefs late last season. Add in the fact that the Texans also added former Miami Dolphins safety Chris Clemons in the latter stages of free agency, and the writing seems to be on the wall for Lewis.

Indianapolis Colts: ILB Kelvin Sheppard

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    It’s a unit that never seems to get any better.

    Perhaps this is the year that the Indianapolis Colts defense makes its mark in the league. The last two seasons have seen the club make the playoffs despite a unit that gives up its share of points and total yards.

    The main problem has been rushing defense. In head coach Chuck Pagano’s two-year stint alone, Indianapolis has ranked 29th and 26th, respectively, in the league against the run. The offseason free-agent additions of defensive tackle Arthur Jones and inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson figure to help.

    The Colts also figured inside linebacker Kelvin Sheppard would aid the cause last season when they obtained him from the Buffalo Bills for defensive end/outside linebacker Jerry Hughes.

    According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Sheppard was less than stellar in 2013 despite the fact that he totaled 46 tackles for the Colts. General manager Ryan Grigson also added inside linebacker Andrew Jackson in the sixth round of May’s draft.

    So far the Bills have gotten the best of the Hughes/Sheppard deal. We may find out just how much better if the Colts part ways with the three-year veteran.

Jacksonville Jaguars: WR Tandon Doss

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    Gary McCullough/Associated Press

    This offseason, the Jacksonville Jaguars were doing everything they could to help a team that scored a league-low 247 points in 2013.

    One of those moves was signing running back Toby Gerhart. Another was signing former Baltimore Ravens wideout Tandon Doss to a two-year, $1.505 million contract.

    Eventually, the team would also add a pair of wide receivers in the second round in Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson. The former could be in the starting lineup come Week 1, especially with Ace Sanders preparing to serve a four-game suspension.

    Last week versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Doss did not play in the team’s 16-10 win. Last season with the Ravens, he totaled 23 receptions for 359 yards and one score.

    We’ll see if he proves to be a fit for a club that is looking for an offensive spark this upcoming season.

Kansas City Chiefs: WR A.J. Jenkins

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    Ed Zurga/Associated Press

    A first-round pick by the San Francisco 49ers in 2012, wide receiver A.J. Jenkins has already totaled more NFL teams (two) than he has professional starts (one).

    Could a third employer be on the horizon?

    A non-factor as a rookie with Jim Harbaugh’s team, Jenkins played in just three games two years ago and didn’t catch a pass. He was dealt for fellow wideout Jonathan Baldwin last offseason, and while Jenkins played in 16 games for the Kansas City Chiefs this past season, he totaled just eight receptions for 130 yards.

    Unless there’s a dramatic turnaround in the next month or so, Jenkins might be redoing his resume once again.

Miami Dolphins: WR Brandon Gibson

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    David Goldman/Associated Press

    While the signing of free-agent wide receiver Mike Wallace made headlines last offseason, there was this other little item somewhere buried on the back page and/or want ads.

    Miami also added wideout Brandon Gibson, a pickup from the St. Louis Rams. He missed the final nine games of 2013, but before he went down with a patellar tendon injury, he totaled 30 catches for 326 yards and three touchdowns for Joe Philbin’s team.

    Gibson is back, and last week versus the Atlanta Falcons, he caught two passes for 14 yards, including a six-yard touchdown.

    But does that mean he’s caught on with the 2014 Dolphins? The receiving corps has Wallace as well as Brian Hartline, third-year pro Rishard Matthews, free-agent addition Damian Williams and rookie speedster Jarvis Landry, a second-round pick.

    Could Gibson be a surprise cut later this summer? It might not be a major surprise.

Minnesota Vikings: QB Christian Ponder

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Last week, in Mike Zimmer’s debut as head coach, the Minnesota Vikings used three different quarterbacks and scored 10 points in a win over the Oakland Raiders.

    Veteran Matt Cassel led the team on its only touchdown drive of the night. First-round draft choice Teddy Bridgewater was next up and hit just six of 13 passes for 49 yards and was sacked twice. Former first-rounder Christian Ponder got the nod for the majority of the second half, completed three passes and was sacked three times.

    It seems that this three-horse race is quickly turning into a two-man duel. But would the Vikings actually release Ponder, the 12th overall pick in the 2011 draft? In three pro seasons, he’s thrown only four more touchdown passes (38) than interceptions. He’s also fumbled 20 times, losing six of those miscues.

    Perhaps the best thing for this former Florida State Seminole may be a change of scenery…sooner than later.

New England Patriots: QB Ryan Mallett

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Perhaps there was a reason that the New England Patriots opted for Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round of May’s draft.

    While the selection of any quarterback that high in the land that Tom Brady built was something new, perhaps it was less about the star signal-caller and more about backup Ryan Mallet, a third-round pick by Bill Belichick and Co. in 2011.

    Last Friday night against the Washington Redskins, the three-year pro completed only five of 12 passes for 55 yards and never appeared comfortable. Meanwhile, Garoppolo hit on nine of his 13 throws for 157 yards and a score. But forget the numbers when it came to the rookie, whose quick release and pocket presence was hard to ignore.

    Mallet was a name out there this offseason in terms of trade rumors, but nothing ever materialized. And while no one expected the youngster to usurp Brady, he apparently hasn’t progressed as many would have hoped.

New Orleans Saints: OLB Victor Butler

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    Off the worst defensive performance in NFL history in terms of yards allowed in a season, the New Orleans Saints hired coordinator Rob Ryan to cure what ailed them.

    For the most part, mission accomplished. Only three teams in the NFL this past season permitted less total yards than the Saints, who also ranked fourth in the league in fewest points allowed.

    Butler was supposed to be a part of that revival and the learning process, having played for Ryan with the Dallas Cowboys. But he suffered a season-ending knee injury last offseason and missed all of 2013. He’s back on the field, per NewOrleansSaints.com, but it remains to be seen if he can recapture the form that made him a promising addition to the Saints last offseason.

    Given the fact that Ryan’s defense managed 49 sacks without him this past season, Butler could find himself out of luck in the Crescent City.

New York Giants: WR Mario Manningham

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Three seasons ago in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLVI, wide receiver Mario Manningham made a remarkable catch that helped propel Tom Coughlin’s club to a win over the New England Patriots.

    Later that calendar year, Manningham was a member of the San Francisco 49ers. In two seasons and just 18 games with Jim Harbaugh’s team, the talented wideout caught just 51 passes for 534 yards and one score.

    Manningham, a third-round pick by the Giants in 2008, returned to the organization this offseason via free agency. But will he still be in the mix when the regular season rolls around? In six NFL seasons, he’s played all 16 games just once.

    With the Giants looking to bounce back after a 7-9 showing and hoping to get more contributions from third-year pro Rueben Randle and rookie Odell Beckham Jr., is Manningham still a fit with Big Blue?

New York Jets: QB Tajh Boyd

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    Associated Press

    Forget the supposed quarterback duel between incumbent Geno Smith and veteran free-agent addition Michael Vick. It doesn’t exist.

    Perhaps the job for the third spot isn’t an issue as well. Smith, Vick and Matt Simms all saw playing time in last Thursday’s 13-10 preseason win over the Indianapolis Colts. Boyd did not play. Last month, Seth Walder of the New York Daily News offered this thought about the Jets’ 2014 draft class and Boyd in particular:

    Boyd is looking like a draft mistake. The sixth-round pick out of Clemson brings plenty of charisma to the locker room but virtually nothing to the field. Boyd has thrown at least six interceptions in camp while getting very few reps.

    Chances are that the sixth-round pick from this past May winds up on the team’s practice squad…maybe.

Oakland Raiders: ILB Kaluka Maiava

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    Last offseason, the Oakland Raiders and general manager Reggie McKenzie basically rebuilt the team’s entire defensive unit via free agency. Among the additions at linebacker were Kevin Burnett, Nick Roach and Kaluka Maiava.

    That was last year. Roach has settled in at middle linebacker, while Burnett was released this offseason. This past season, third-round pick Sio Moore made his presence felt, and this offseason, McKenzie used the fifth overall pick in the NFL draft to grab Khalil Mack, who looks like a star in the making.

    So where does that leave Maiava, who totaled just 17 stops in nine games for Oakland in 2013? Like many of the defensive free agents signed by the club a year ago, he could very easily be one-and-done.

Philadelphia Eagles: WR Arrelious Benn

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    Last offseason, the Eagles swung a trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for wide receiver Arrelious Benn, the 39th overall selection in the 2010 NFL draft.

    In three seasons with the Bucs, the former University of Illinois standout totaled only 59 catches for 862 yards and five touchdowns.

    As it turned out, Benn never played a game for the Birds this past season, spending the year on injured reserve after tearing his ACL. According to Joseph Santoliquito of CBSPhilly.com, Eagles head coach Chip Kelly is looking for the former second-rounder to rebound this season.

    That may be easier said than done. Veteran Jeremy Maclin is also looking to bounce back from a lost 2013. Riley Cooper and versatile veteran Brad Smith return this season, and Philadelphia added Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff in the second and third round, respectively, of May’s draft.

    And that could make for a tough hill for Benn to climb.

Pittsburgh Steelers: T Mike Adams

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    In April 2012, Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert used the team’s first two draft choices on first-round guard David DeCastro and second-round tackle Mike Adams.

    While the former has begun to live up to his promise, Adams has had his struggles from the start in the Steel City. Last Saturday night, the former Ohio State standout had his issues in the team’s preseason loss to the New York Giants, as documented by Scott Brown of ESPN.com.

    Pittsburgh’s offensive front seemed to turn the corner during the second half of 2013. But for the large part, that resurgence didn’t include the play of Adams, who got off to a horrific start this past season and saw limited action in December.

    The Steelers don’t often kick their younger players to the curb. But Adams may be the exception if new offensive line coach Mike Munchak can’t get through to him soon.

St. Louis Rams: DE William Hayes

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    USA TODAY Sports

    There are several ways to describe the St. Louis Rams’ situation on the defensive line.

    How about loaded?

    It’s the kind of talent that has helped Jeff Fisher’s team produce an imposing 105 sacks the past two seasons combined. This past season, Rams defenders came up with 53 quarterback traps, one year after getting to opposing passers 52 times.

    Now that’s consistency. And Hayes was a big part of that last season, totaling five sacks, two fumble recoveries, one interception and three passes defensed.

    But the former Tennessee Titans performer signed a three-year, $10.25 million deal in 2013. The Rams are already loaded on the defensive line, led by former first-rounders Robert Quinn, Chris Long and Michael Brockers. And given the fact this offseason the Rams added free-agent Alex Carrington and drafted Aaron Donald in the first round and Michael Sam in the seventh round, Hayes may no longer be an affordable commodity.

San Diego Chargers: OLB Dwight Freeney

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    For a 10-year span, Dwight Freeney was one of the premier pass-rushing defensive ends in the NFL.

    Note the words "defensive end."

    From 2002 to 2011, the persistent defender totaled 102.5 sacks for the Indianapolis Colts. That was second in the league only to defensive end Jared Allen, and Freeney was named to seven Pro Bowls.

    In 2012, enter new head coach Chuck Pagano and the 3-4, meaning both he and Robert Mathis would be making the switch to outside linebacker in the scheme. Freeney started 14 games and registered just five sacks.

    The Colts opted not to re-sign Freeney after 2012, and he latched on late in the summer with the San Diego Chargers. He lasted only four games before going down for the rest of the season.

    Freeney is now back and finds himself on the outside looking in regarding a starter’s role. The Chargers have Jarret Johnson and Melvin Ingram atop the depth chart and also used a second-round draft choice in May on Jeremiah Attaochu.

    It will be interesting to see if this former star can still contribute. But also don’t be surprised if he is among the later cuts by the team in a few weeks.

San Francisco 49ers: T Jonathan Martin

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Let us start with the obvious question first when it comes to the San Francisco 49ers.

    What about outside linebacker Aldon Smith, who according to NFL Media Insider Albert Breer of NFL.com, recently met with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell?

    That situation doesn’t have an ending as of yet. In other words, if Smith is suspended for any length of time, how does it affect his future with the organization?

    However, back to the matter at hand. This offseason, the Niners gave up a conditional draft choice to obtain tackle Jonathan Martin from the Miami Dolphins. It was thought that a reunion with college coach Jim Harbaugh might get the former second-round pick’s career back on track following a forgettable 2013 in South Florida.

    On Thursday night at Baltimore, Chris Strauss of USA Today wrote that Martin had a rough outing versus the Ravens. It will be interesting to see if he progresses in the next few weeks or winds up being a low-risk move that cost the Niners very little.

Seattle Seahawks: QB Terrelle Pryor

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    Just before May’s NFL draft, the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks acquired quarterback Terrell Pryor from the Oakland Raiders for a seventh-round draft choice.

    The real question is, why?

    Pete Carroll’s club appeared very content with backup quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, who even got a chance to see some mop-up duty in the team’s 43-8 win over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.

    Starter Russell Wilson, Jackson and Pryor all took the field in last week’s preseason tilt with the Broncos in Denver. The one-time supplemental draft choice of the silver and black ran for 28 yards, completed nine of 16 passes for 137 yards and threw an interception in the 21-16 loss.

    Did this performance make Pryor expendable? Hardly. But don’t be surprised if Carroll’s club goes with just two quarterbacks this season and keeps open a roster spot for other positions.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: DL Da’Quan Bowers

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    USA TODAY Sports

    In recent seasons, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have spent plenty of money and their share of high draft choices to fix a pass rush that never seems to improve.

    One of those high draft choices was defensive end Da’Quan Bowers, a second-round selection in 2011 who slipped in the draft that year due to injury concerns.

    Those issues were obviously not some sort of smokescreen. Bowers has missed nine games the last two years and has totaled just 5.5 sacks in three NFL campaigns.

    There are new sheriffs in town with head coach Lovie Smith and new defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. There are also free-agent additions in defensive end Michael Johnson and defensive tackle Clinton McDonald. There is also a trio of second-year defensive linemen in William Gholston, Akeem Spence and Steven Means.

    And there is a sense that time could be running out for Bowers.

Tennessee Titans: RB Shonn Greene

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    Ken Whisenhunt, the new head coach of the Tennessee Titans, knows that a persistent ground game is any quarterback’s best friend.

    We saw the San Diego Chargers get a career year out of running back Ryan Mathews this past season. That helped the team reach the playoffs while giving quarterback Philip Rivers a big assist when it came to earning NFL Comeback Player of the Year honors.

    We will see plenty of the ground game in Nashville in 2014. But it will have a few different looks as veteran Chris Johnson was let go (and subsequently signed with the New York Jets), while the team added Bishop Sankey in the draft and Dexter McCluster via free agency.

    So where does that leave Shonn Greene, who ran for just 295 yards and four scores while spelling Johnson last season? The one-time New York Jets workhorse had a 13-yard touchdown run in last week’s win over the Green Bay Packers. But along with Sankey and McCluster, the team also has fullback Jackie Battle, who can line up at tailback if called upon.

    That means Greene could wind up getting a pink slip from the Titans.

Washington Redskins: WR Leonard Hankerson

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    It is easy to notice what the Washington Redskins did at the wide receiver position this offseason.

    In the first week of free agency, general manager Bruce Allen opted to give quarterback Robert Griffin III some help in the form of Andre Roberts, who left the Arizona Cardinals for the nation’s capital.

    When three-time Pro Bowler DeSean Jackson became unwanted in the City of Brotherly Love, the Redskins welcomed him with an open wallet.

    Add these two players to a wideout corps that includes veteran Santana Moss and productive Pierre Garcon, the NFL’s top pass-catcher in 2013 with 113 grabs, and former third-round pick Leonard Hankerson is left in a tough spot. As Mike Jones of The Washington Post explains, the talented performer has had problems staying healthy and is currently on the club's physically unable to perform list.

    With the Redskins using a fourth-round pick this year on Ryan Grant and three-year pro Aldrick Robinson becoming a factor, Hankerson may be running out of time, and head coach Jay Gruden’s roster may be running out of room.

     

    Some statistical support for this piece was provided by Pro Football FocusPro-Football-Reference. NFL.com and ESPN.com. Depth charts are provided by Ourlads and financial information by Spotrac.

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