Release Candidate

Release Candidate: Jackson Carman

The Bengals fell just short of their first ever Super Bowl win this past year and many blamed the loss on a less than stellar offensive line. This issue is something that the Bengals have certainly been attempting to address in the last few drafts selecting four offensive linemen in the last two years and seven in the last four. One of those draft investments may be nearing the end of his opportunities, despite the fact that he is only headed into his second NFL season. 

In a recent roundtable discussion for The Athletic, Bengals writer Jay Morrison put forth the idea that Cincinnati may be losing patience with 2021 second-round pick Jackson Carman. The guard out of Clemson was brought in with the expectation that he would take over at right guard as a rookie. Carman was unable to unseat Quinton Spain and, perhaps even more concerning, was unable to provide an improvement anywhere on an offensive line that continued to struggle throughout the season.

The Bengals set out this offseason to nearly completely renovate their offensive line. The team brought in Ted Karras on a three-year, $18MM deal to start at center and signed guard Alex Cappa to a four-year, $40MM contract to start on the left side of the line. In a third big free agency signing, The Bengals were able to ink tackle La’el Collins to a three-year, $21MM deal to start opposite the only bright spot of the offensive line last year, blindside tackle Jonah Williams. Williams became an immediate starter for the Bengals after being selected 11th-overall in 2019 and, after missing six games due to injury as a rookie, Cincinnati was happy to see him start in every game but the season finale last year.

With four spots effectively manned for the 2022 season, that left only the right guard spot left to fill. Once again the door to a starting spot was left wide open for Carman. With a year of NFL conditioning under his belt, all the former second-round pick had to do was step in and not let the job slip through his fingers.

Yet, in the weeks leading up to the regular season, that seems to be exactly what we’re seeing, with reports that fourth-round rookie Cordell Volson seems to be pushing Carman out of the starting role. The lineman out of North Dakota State has experience playing both tackle and guard in college and turned heads early at camp. After impressing the coaching staff in practices and the team’s first preseason game, Volson was offered more of an opportunity to receive first-team reps. Carman certainly didn’t help his own case after testing positive for COVID-19 and granting more playing time for his competition.

The latest danger for Carman’s roster spot comes just after the 53-man roster cuts, when the Bengals made claims on three players, one of them being former second-round pick Max Scharping. Scharping has underwhelmed a bit, as well, in his young career, but has extensive experience over Carman after starting 33 games for the Texans.

Carman has lost two position battles in as many years despite the odds being stacked in his favor. His lack of ability to clinch either of those starting jobs could certainly have resulted in a loss of trust from his coaches. According to Morrison, if Scharping comes in and can quickly get up to speed with the offense, Cincinnati may have no need to retain Carman.

Release Candidate: Chiefs RB Ronald Jones

Ronald Jones joined the Chiefs this offseason, but he may not even make it to the regular season with his new squad. As Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports writes, the veteran RB “may find himself on the outside looking in” once the Chiefs reduce their roster to 53 players.

When Jones first joined the Chiefs, he was considered a potential starter or (at the very least) a high-level backup for Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Reports out of Kansas City don’t seem to indicate that Jones has necessarily done anything to lose his job. Rather, it’s been the performance of Kansas City’s other RBs that has put Jones’ gig in jeopardy.

While Edwards-Helaire has consistently been the No. 1 running back during training camp, the Chiefs have given extended looks at Jones, veteran Jerick McKinnon, and seventh-round rookie Isaih Pacheco as the No. 2 RB. As Jones writes, Pacheco has “already turned heads,” while McKinnon has the luxury of having already spent a year in Kansas City’s system. The Chiefs could realistically keep all four of those aforementioned running backs, but considering Jones’ lack of versatility, the organization may prefer to keep a less experienced option (like Derrick Gore or UDFA Tayon Fleet-Davis) instead of a veteran who probably won’t leave the bench.

Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy was recently complimentary of Jones’ energy, but he seemed to hint that the player’s lack of pass-catching and/or blocking prowess is still a work in progress.

“RoJo is doing a heck of a job,” Bieniemy said (h/t to Charles Goldman of ChiefsWire). “He’s obviously a big man, he’s done some good things running the football.

“He just needs to continue becoming the football player we expect him to be because we expect our guys to do a lot from that running back position. The thing that he’s done is he’s accepted the challenge and he’s doing things he really hasn’t done in the past.”

Jones found himself in and out of the lineup during his four years in Tampa Bay. He had his best season in 2020, finishing with 978 rushing yards and seven touchdowns before collecting another 139 rushing yards in the postseason. He spent the majority of the 2021 campaign behind Leonard Fournette on the depth chart, and after topping 1,000 yards from scrimmage in both 2019 and 2020, he finished last year with only 492 total yards.

The 25-year-old has averaged a respectable 4.5 yards per carry throughout his career, but he’s never been able to establish a role in the passing game. In four season, Jones has hauled in 76 receptions. For comparison’s sake, McKinnon has twice as many career receptions despite playing only two more seasons than his teammate. It goes beyond the counting stats; while Jones didn’t have enough snaps to qualify for Pro Football Focus’ grades, he would have ranked in the bottom-fourth among RBs in pass-catching ability. Jones also earned ugly grades in his blocking prowess, including a pass-blocking score that would have ranked as the second-worst among all RBs.

The Chiefs inked Jones to a one-year, $1.5MM contract this past offseason. The team could recoup about half of that cap hit by releasing the veteran. That $750K savings isn’t significant enough to make a major impact on the cap sheet, and that’s why if the Chiefs do ultimately move on from Jones, the move probably won’t be attributed to money.

Of course, this isn’t to say that Jones doesn’t have a place in the NFL. However, he doesn’t seem to have a clear role in Kansas City, and that fact could ultimately earn him his walking papers by the end of the preseason.

Release Candidate: Dolphins RB Salvon Ahmed

Two years ago, injuries decimated the Dolphins’ running backs room, leading to Miami turning to two former Washington Huskies: Myles Gaskin, drafted in the seventh round of the 2019 NFL Draft, and Salvon Ahmed, an undrafted rookie in 2020. After some eventual health and free agent additions over the following two years, it’s looking like Gaskin and Ahmed may be battling for a roster spot, according to ESPN’s Marcel Louis-Jacques. 

In the 2020 NFL season, Gaskin and Ahmed were the teams two leading rushers in terms of yardage. Gaskin led the team with 584 yards on 142 attempts, while Ahmed was second on the team with 319 yards on 75 carries. Both had three rushing touchdowns, trailing only Jordan Howard who scored touchdowns on 4 of his 28 carries.

Ahmed’s rookie season saw him start four games. Two of those starts still hold as his best career games. His first career start saw him run for 85 yards on 21 carries with a touchdown. His third start, five weeks later, saw him rush for 122 yards on 23 carries while scoring his second touchdown of the season.

In 2021, Ahmed was relegated back to a backup role. Gaskin started the most games for the Dolphins with 10 while Duke Johnson, now with the Bills, and Malcolm Brown, currently a free agent, started the seven remaining games. Regardless of starts, Ahmed still finished third on the team in carries and rushing yards behind only Gaskin and Johnson.

The 2022 offseason saw the Dolphins go shopping in the free agent market, signing three new running backs to the roster. Raheem Mostert will return to his home-state after spending just over five seasons on the opposite coast in San Francisco. After a 2019 season in which Mostert led the 49ers in rushing yards without starting a single game, he was tabbed as the starter the following two seasons but only played in nine games with both of those years getting cut short due to injury. Chase Edmonds will have a chance to compete for the starting job in Miami after serving as the No. 2 running back behind the likes of Kenyan Drake and James Conner during his time in Arizona. Finally, Sony Michel will head back to the AFC East after a one-year hiatus in Los Angeles. Michel’s lone year with the Rams saw him return to form after an injury-plagued season in New England.

Michel has seen the most consistent success of the three, but Mostert has shown an ability to do more with less, touting a career 5.7 yards per carry, and Edmonds has shown effectiveness rushing and receiving out of the backfield for the Cardinals. It’s anybody’s guess who could end up starting for Miami at running back, but, with three solid options, Gaskin or Ahmed may find themselves in the dog house.

Both have served the Dolphins well in their short tenures, but Gaskin has had the clear preference over Ahmed in the past two seasons, being chosen to start over Ahmed and receiving 315 carries to Ahmed’s 129. Not to mention the fact that Gaskin offers much more to the passing game than Ahmed has so far in his career. Compared to Ahmed’s 23 career receptions for 178 yards, Gaskin has 97 catches for 673 yards and 6 touchdowns.

Miami has given Ahmed an opportunity not often afforded to young, undrafted players, but, sadly, everything above could be pointing to the end of his time with the Dolphins. I expect Ahmed to hang around through the preseason, given the injury history Miami has experienced at the position over recent years, but it’s hard to picture a scenario where the Dolphins hang on to five running backs or one where Ahmed is able to beat out one of the above four.

Release Candidate: Colts DE Ben Banogu

The Colts have a strong recent history picking in the second round of the NFL draft. General manager Chris Ballard has hit multiple homeruns on both sides of the ball with picks like linebacker Darius Leonard in 2018 and running back Jonathan Taylor in 2020. Defensive end Ben Banogu, though, a 2019 second-round draft pick, may soon see his opportunity in Indianapolis come to end, according to Mike Wells of ESPN.

Banogu’s college career granted him access into the league. After one year of play at Louisiana-Monroe as a redshirt freshman, Banogu transferred to TCU, sitting out for a year before he could play in Fort Worth. The Nigerian-native made the most out of his final two years of eligibility, compiling 8.5 sacks in each of his two seasons with the Horned Frogs and totaling 34.5 tackles for loss in those years. In both seasons of Big 12 play, Banogu was named first-team All-Big 12.

Banogu’s domination at the collegiate-level justified Ballard’s use of a second-round pick at the time. The Colts saw what he did at TCU and wanted to see that production in their blue and white, putting him on the field early and often during his rookie season. That first year in the league, under the mentorship of Justin Houston while playing with Al-Quadin Muhammad and Jabaal Sheard, was Banogu’s best. While he only tallied 11 total tackles, he recorded 2.5 sacks, 3.0 tackles for loss, 5 quarterback hits, a forced fumble, and a pass defensed. He was on the field for a quarter of the team’s defensive snaps as a back up, getting a good amount of experience as a rookie.

In the two years since, Banogu has only made 8 total tackles and 1 quarterback hit. He hasn’t collected a sack or tackle for loss since November of 2019. While Banogu has seen a significant drop in snap count when he’s active, the other factor that has crushed his production is his availability. Banogu has seen long stretches of time over the past two seasons as a healthy scratch, a situation where an injury is not the reason a team lists a player as inactive for a game.

Banogu has seen his opportunity begin to wane. The Colts drafted pass rushers in the first and second rounds last year in Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo, who both currently sit above Banogu on the depth chart. Indianapolis also brought in former Pro Bowler Yannick Ngakoue to add a veteran presence to the ends-group.

Banogu has seen the field less and less each season, spending most of last year on the inactive list. The team’s moves to add production to the defensive end position over the past year or so points to the end of their patience. Banogu is trending fast towards a bust-label and it could cost him his job by the end of August.

Release Candidate: Seahawks RB Chris Carson

About a month ago, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll seemed ready to envision a future for Seattle’s running backs room that didn’t include Chris Carson, hinting that the 27-year-old’s career in the NFL could be coming to an end following a neck injury that sidelined him for the majority of the 2021 NFL season. Days later, Carson made it clear that he had no intentions of hanging up his cleats. 

Oh, we still going right now,” Carson said, via Heavy.com’s Jonathan Adams. “I see myself playing until I feel like stopping. My mindset is never to give up, so I’m staying positive like I said, and [will] continue to fight and get back onto the field.”

After a broken ankle kept Carson from being a full-time starter in his rookie season, Carson bounced back, leading the team in rushing yards for the next three years. His consistency, paired with the injury history of backup running back Rashaad Penny, landed Carson a two-year deal to stay in Seattle during last year’s offseason. Four weeks into the season, though, Carson suffered a neck injury that would require surgery, prematurely ending his season and leading to the comments mentioned above from Carroll and Carson.

While there doesn’t seem to be any bad blood between the two parties, the moves Seattle has made recently make it seem as if Carroll has no intention of handing the ball off to Carson ever again. The most recent move was spending a second-round pick on Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III. Walker was a bell-cow back for the Spartans last year carrying the ball 263 times for 1,636 yards and 18 rushing touchdowns. The next closest running back on the team had 70 rushing attempts for 278 yards. Walker’s ability to carry an offense is extremely attractive to a team that wants to thrive on the ground but hasn’t had the health to do so.

The former first-round pick, Penny, ended last season on fire rushing for 632 yards and six touchdowns over four of the last five games of the season. While Penny has certainly had his own issues staying healthy, he was drafted with the intention that he could eventually be the team’s franchise running back. If Penny starts next season anywhere near how he ended 2021, a recovering Carson is going to have a tough time seeing the field.

Behind Penny and Walker, the Seahawks also roster two former Miami Hurricanes in Travis Homer and DeeJay Dallas. While neither has added much value to the running game over the past few years, both hold tremendous value on special teams that seems to solidify their roster status year in and year out. Other running backs on the roster are Darwin Thompson and Josh Johnson, who will likely end up on the practice squad or may be camp cuts.

With Penny, Walker, Homer, and Dallas all in line to make the 53-man roster, it starts to become difficult to justify a fifth roster spot for a running back who would only split carries with Penny and Walker. Combining that roster logjam with Carroll’s sentiments about Carson’s career potentially being over, it makes sense to start looking into the idea of offloading Carson’s contract.

The team could work with Carson to look for an ideal trade destination in an effort to return some value from the departure. If not, though, the Seahawks still would stand to benefit in cap savings. Cutting Carson would only leave Seattle with $1MM in dead cap while creating $4.6MM in cap space. Carson’s career may not be over, but there’s a real possibility that his time in Seattle may soon come to an end.

Release Candidate: Ravens OT Alejandro Villanueva

In the week before the 2021 NFL Draft, the Baltimore Ravens gave in to the wishes of Pro Bowl offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and traded him away to the Chiefs. This trade left a hole on the Ravens’ offensive line opposite All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley. To address this issue, the Ravens signed Alejandro Villanueva, a free agent whom the Steelers felt ready to move on from

After not falling in love with any of the tackles the Draft had to offer at their position in the early rounds, Baltimore opted for a stopgap solution, signing Villanueva to a two-year deal worth $14MM. Villanueva had performed admirably over his sevens years in Pittsburgh, but was never really considered an elite tackle. His best years saw him make consecutive Pro Bowls in the 2017 and 2018 NFL seasons.

As a Raven, Villanueva did his job, and then was asked to do more. After four years of starting at left tackle as a Steeler, Villanueva struggled initially when asked to fill in at right tackle. He got to go back to his more natural position after ankle surgery sidelined Stanley for the all but one game of the 2021 season.

Villanueva had an up and down year. Often Villanueva’s age showed during some rough outings, but the 33-year-old showed some resiliency, playing through some discomfort knowing that another absence for the injury-devastated Ravens could spell disaster. He seemed to find his footing with time, though, playing a pretty good stretch of football to end the season.

But was Villanueva’s performance in 2021 worthy of a $9.25MM cap hit in 2022? Likely not. The Ravens will hope for a strong return for Stanley and they signed Ja’Wuan James to a low $9MM, two-year contract knowing that he likely would be out with a torn Achilles tendon for much of the 2021 season. The likeliest scenario sees Baltimore cutting Villanueva loose to rely on a combination of Stanley and James to bookend the offensive line. The Ravens also recently signed utility offensive lineman Patrick Mekari to a three-year extension. The former undrafted free agent has started at all three offensive line positions for Baltimore and could continue to fill in at right tackle until the next franchise tackle shows up.

Baltimore could also opt to address the position in the 2022 NFL Draft. While, with the 14th overall pick, the Ravens are not in a position to take one of the Draft’s more exciting tackle prospects like NC State’s Ikem Ekwonu or Alabama’s Evan Neal, if Mississippi State’s Charles Cross were to fall to Baltimore, the Ravens, who are known for drafting for value over fit, would likely find it hard to pass on Cross’s potential. Cross, who ranks as the 8th best Draft prospect on The Athletic’s Dane Brugler’s Top 100, impresses many evaluators, but, reportedly, hasn’t convinced the entire league that he’s a top ten draft pick. If the Ravens were to trade back later into the first round, another common move by the draft-savvy franchise, they could find smaller school prospects like Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning or Central Michigan’s Bernhard Raimann falling into their laps. They could even wait until their second-round or third-round selections come up and opt to take a flyer on Minnesota’s massive Daniel Faalele or Ohio State’s Nicholas Petit-Frere, respectively.

Regardless, most paths that make sense for Baltimore don’t entail the team stomaching a $9.25MM cap hit for a tackle that struggled much of the year for them. Turning 34 at the beginning of the 2022 season, Villanueva could save the Ravens the trouble and simply retire. Whether retired or released, it wouldn’t be a surprise if we don’t see Villanueva in purple and black next season.

Release Candidate: Packers’ Za’Darius Smith

A year ago, Za’Darius Smith was closing in on his second straight season with double-digit sacks. Through his first two years with the Packers, Smith had done nothing but validate the 4-year, $66MM contract he’d earned in free agency. Unfortunately, a back injury that has forced the seven-year veteran to miss all but 18 snaps of the 2021 season will require the Packers and Smith to have some tough conversations. 

A fourth-round pick out of Kentucky, Smith was drafted by the Ravens in the 2015 NFL Draft in hopes that he would replace pass rusher Pernell McPhee who had left in free agency to sign with the Bears. Little did they know, Smith would do quite an impressive imitation of McPhee. Both players had impressive rookie seasons – McPhee had 6.0 sacks and Smith had 5.5 – and fairly pedestrian numbers their second and third years – McPhee had 3.5 sacks over those two years and Smith had 4.5. Both players saved their best performances for their contract years with McPhee tallying 7.5 sacks and Smith racking up 8.5.

Smith leveraged that 8.5 sack season into his current contract with Green Bay. As a Packer, Smith started every game of the 2019 and 2020 seasons leading the team in sacks both years. When Smith missed Green Bay’s second game of the season it marked the first full game he had missed due to injury since Week 14 of the 2017 season.

Still, this injury has proven to be a major one. Smith started the season with his health in doubt due to a lingering back injury and it was clear after only 18 snaps that he was not ready to return to the field. Smith was shut down and hasn’t seen a snap since. The implications of an injury this debilitating have an unfortunate effect on the pass rusher’s contract status.

Now issues have already arisen with Smith’s contract after he showed dismay in the Packers’ handling of restructures this offseason. The Packers chose not to restructure quarterback Aaron Rodgers‘ contract during a tumultuous offseason but utilized an automatic conversion clause in Smith’s contract to help subsidize an extension for running back Aaron Jones. The restructuring of Smith’s contract created a monster $28.1MM cap hit for next year, up from $14MM this season. If the Packers were to release Smith to avoid the cap hit, they would be left with $12.38MM in dead money vs. $15.75MM in cap room.

If Green Bay only had to deal with the cap hit, it would be an easy conversation of how to extend a new deal to Smith and avoid the massive number in 2022. But, in conjunction with a lingering back injury, the cap hit makes Smith’s potential to end up as a cap casualty more and more likely.

Now it’s not a foregone conclusion that Smith won’t work out a deal with Green Bay, but he’d have to be willing to take a bit of a pay cut from a team that has already shorted him in a contract situation. More likely would be Smith’s acceptance of a release that allows him to test his value on the free agent market. The Packers also probably wouldn’t mind the market setting the price, as it will likely be lower than Smith’s initial demands.

It’s also worth noting that a late season return has not been ruled out for the ‘backer, possibly giving him a chance to make his case for another big pay day.

Release Candidate: Dolphins WR Allen Hurns

It was only about two years ago that the Dolphins handed Allen Hurns a two-year, $8MM extension. However, the veteran receiver now finds himself buried on the team’s depth chart, leading to speculation about his future in Miami.

Back in 2015, Hurns looked like a future star in Jacksonville, as the wideout collected 1,031 receiving yards and 10 games during his second season in the NFL. The receiver hasn’t managed to match those numbers since, but he still appeared in at least 10 games per season between 2016 and 2019, and he’s earned three contracts since his stint with the Jaguars ended after the 2017 campaign.

He signed with the Dolphins before the 2019 season, and after only a few months with the organization, the team was willing to give the receiver a two-year extension worth $8MM (with more than $3MM in guaranteed money). Hurns didn’t put up stellar numbers during his first season in Miami, finishing with 416 yards and a pair of touchdowns. 2020 would have been the first season of the veteran’s extension, but Hurns decided to opt out of the 2020 campaign.

That brings us to today, where Hurns now finds himself competing for one of the final receiver spots. The organization brought in veteran Will Fuller, sixth-overall pick Jaylen Waddle, and third rounder Lynn Bowden Jr. this past offseason. The team also returns 2020 starters DeVante Parker and Preston Williams, meaning the team also has five receivers locked in. At most, the Dolphins could hold on to two more receivers, but they could value the continuity of Albert Wilson or the special-teams/returning prowess of Mack Hollins and Jakeem Grant (respectively).

The one thing working in Hurns’ favor could be his contract. That two-year extension finally kicks in this year, and his dead cap hit ($3.36MM) is larger than his cap hit ($2.8MM). That’s the majority of Hurns’ guaranteed money, so Miami would have to eat that hit if they prefer to keep one of the handful of alternatives. The team could theoretically find a taker for the 29-year-old receiver via trade, but there probably wouldn’t be too many teams willing to give anything of value. More likely, these hypothetical suitors would just wait for the Dolphins to cut Hurns and take their chances in free agency.

Both sides will get more clarity during training camp and the preseason. After all, Hurns hasn’t played professional football in more than a year, and the receiver could ultimately show he belongs on the roster.

“Great feeling just being back in the end zone,” Hurns said last month (via The Athletic’s Josh Tolentino). “It is a great feeling always, but me just getting back out there, being with the guys — it feels good. I took a year off, but being back, seeing the guys, being out there with them, competing — that’s what it’s all about.”

We’ll see if Hurns sticks around long enough to compete during the regular season with his current teammates.

Release Candidate: Packers WR Devin Funchess

Could Devin Funchess‘ stint with the Packers end without him appearing in a game? There’s certainly a chance. As ESPN’s Rob Demovsky recently wrote, the veteran receiver is on the roster bubble heading into training camp.

There’s a variety of reasons why the Packers could look to move on from Funchess. For starters, the wideout has only appeared in a single game since the 2019 season; a broken collarbone limited him to only one content in 2019 (with the Colts), and he opted out of his first season with the Packers in 2020 due to COVID concerns. Funchess is still only 27-years-old, but it’s never easy for any player to return following a two-year absence.

Further, the Packers depth chart is packed. Behind Davante Adams, the Packers are eyeing a grouping that includes holdovers like Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Allen Lazard, Equanimeous St. Brown, and Malik Taylor. There’s also third-round rookie Amari Rodgers, and if you add Funchess to that bunch, that’s seven guys competing for at most six spots…and that doesn’t include the journeymen and undrafted free agents who are rounding out the offseason roster.

The financials aren’t necessarily in the receiver’s favor, either. The team would get around $1.2MM in savings by cutting the 27-year-old…while that doesn’t sound like a significant chunk of money, it still provides more financial breathing room than some of the other receiver options. While Funchess could theoretically give the team some money back, he’s already participated in one restructuring this offseason.

To top it all off, Funchess skipped OTAs earlier this offseason, and he only showed up to two of the three minicamp sessions. As a result, coach Matt LaFleur recently indicated that the six-foot-four receiver has some catching up to do.

“Well, he sure looks the part, there’s no doubt about that,” LaFleur said (via Wes Hodkiewicz of the team website). “You’re talking about a big, strong, long, physical guy that can run, sink his hips. So, I know he’s got a lot to learn, but we’re excited about having him on this team and letting him go compete and we’ll see what he can do.”

Funchess is only four years removed from a campaign where he finished with 840 yards from scrimmage and eight scores, and he hasn’t necessarily had the best luck over the past few years. As a result, there’s a good chance that the receiver will end up cracking a Week 1 roster. However, there’s also a chance that might not be in Green Bay.

Release Candidate: Patriots QB Brian Hoyer

When the Patriots signed Brian Hoyer back in March, many expected him to wind up as the Patriots’ new starter to replace Tom Brady. A few months later, things have changed dramatically. Between the addition of Cam Newton and the presence of youngster Jarrett Stidham, Hoyer may wind up back on the curb this summer.

Hoyer started out with the Patriots way back in 2008. Since then, the one-time undrafted free agent out of Michigan State has been a practice field favorite. This year would mark his third go ’round with Bill Belichick, so he knows the schemes and terminology inside and out.

He’s also signed to a very reasonable one-year, $2MM deal, and it’s fully guaranteed. Financially speaking, the Patriots would gain nothing by releasing the 34-year-old (35 in October).

Since 2010, the Patriots have generally rolled with two QBs on the depth chart, a savvy move to increase flexibility in other areas. Of course, they’re in a very different situation without Brady under center. At one point, in Brady’s rookie year, the Patriots housed four passers on the roster. If they don’t feel the need to backstop Newton and Stidham with their proven – and already paid – signal caller, the Patriots could drop him and create an extra spot for an edge rusher like Shilique Calhoun or a tenth offensive lineman.