Release Candidate

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.

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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.

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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.

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Release Candidate: Redskins RB Adrian Peterson

Adrian Peterson has big plans for 2020. The 35-year-old is 1,054 rushing yards away from passing Barry Sanders on the league’s all-time board and he believes that he might have enough gas in the tank to overtake Emmitt Smith’s No. 1 position. In February, the Redskins exercised his option for 2020, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the veteran will be in D.C. this year. 

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Peterson was already facing backfield competition from Derrius Guice and Bryce Love when the Redskins picked up his option, but the RB depth chart became even more crowded in the spring. First, the Redskins signed former Buc Peyton Barber to a two-year, $3MM free agent deal. Then, in April, they used a third-round pick to select Antonio Gibson out of Memphis. Gibson, a young and sure-handed playmaker, more or less has his roster spot cemented. That leaves no more than three – and, possibly, only two – running back spots up for grabs. Peterson, one of the most electrifying rushers the game has ever seen, could be the odd man out.

Peterson is set to earn $2.25MM in base pay this year, but the Redskins can drop him without much fiscal penalty. Cutting Peterson would leave the Redskins with just $750K in dead money, versus $2.48MM in savings. Would that be the smart move? There’s a case to be made in both directions. Peterson offers veteran leadership for the Redskins’ inexperienced backfield and could serve as a safety net for Guice if the former LSU star gets sidelined again. He’s also delivered for the last two years in D.C., despite the skeptics who said he was washed up. Between 2018 and 2019, Peterson has averaged a solid 4.2 yards per carry while suited up for 31 of a possible 32 games.

Ultimately, we expect the Redskins to do what’s best for business. Or, at least, what they think will be best for business. If the rest of the Redskins’ RB room stays healthy through training camp, Peterson could easily wind up on the curb this summer.

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Release Candidate: Jets LB Avery Williamson

In the 2018 offseason, the Jets pounced early to land linebacker Avery Williamson. At the time, the three-year, $22.5MM deal made plenty of sense, even though the $16MM in guaranteed cash was on the high side. 

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Williamson, then 26, was tough and durable, having missed only one game for the Titans since entering the league as fifth-round pick. In his walk year, Williamson started all 16 games and notched 52 tackles and three sacks. Pro Football Focus anointed him as the NFL’s tenth-best linebacker and the Jets figured they were getting a top-end defender in his prime.

In Year One, the deal seemed to be panning out. Williamson racked up a career-high 120 stops, recorded two forced fumbles, and matched his three sacks from the previous year. Then, 2019 happened – his whole season was wiped out before it could even begin, thanks to a torn ACL in August.

The Jets shopped Williamson before the draft, but they were unable to find any takers. Now, they have a decision to make. If they’re unable to find a suitable trade between now and September, do they bet on Williamson coming back healthy and reprising his ’18 season (when he ranked 20th on PFF’s LB list), or do they cut ties and save ~$6.5MM against the 2020 cap?

It seems likely that the Jets will opt for the latter. Whether Gregg Williams leans more towards a 3-4 or a 4-3 set this year, the Jets can use C.J. Mosley, Blake Cashman, Patrick Onwuasor, and James Burgess to hold down the ILB spot(s). There’s tons of questions about Mosley, of course, but releasing him is simply not an option right now – his five-year, $85MM deal includes $43MM in fully guaranteed money, and the Jets would be saddled with a $30MM dead cap hit for dropping him. Since signing that deal, Mosley has suited up for just two games in green and white.

The Jets – who are aiming to fill their cornerback need by signing Logan Ryan – could shed Williamson’s contract soon in order to make the numbers work.

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Release Candidate: Alec Ogletree

Giants GM Dave Gettleman is entering a make-or-break offseason. While plenty of fans were clamoring for his ouster at the conclusion of the 2019 campaign, team ownership elected to give him another shot to right the ship, but if Big Blue should disappoint again in 2020, Gettleman will almost certainly be gone.

So he needs to tread carefully when navigating free agency and the draft and in determining which players to jettison from the roster. LB Alec Ogletree, whom Gettleman acquired via trade with the Rams in 2018, presents an interesting case study in that regard.

Ogletree, a former first-round pick of the then-St. Louis Rams in 2013, has never been an advanced metrics darling. But he has been a full-time starter throughout his first seven years in the league, and he has even been something of a playmaker, accumulating 12 interceptions and four pick-sixes in his career. He typically plays all or almost all of his team’s defensive snaps, and in the years in which he has played a full 16-game slate, he has recorded well over 100 tackles.

On the other hand, the only Ogletree team that has qualified for the postseason was the 2017 Rams, so perhaps Ogletree’s playing time and the raw numbers that go along with that are attributable at least in part to the fact that he hasn’t played on particularly good clubs. He has never made the Pro Bowl and has not quite lived up to his status as a first-round pick, which suggests that the Giants could part ways with him this offseason and save $8.25MM against the cap in the process.

That savings must look tempting to Gettleman, but keeping the Georgia product also has its merits. Although the Giants do not lead the league in cap space, their $61MM of estimated room is nothing to sneeze at, so the financial benefits of releasing Ogletree are not as critical as they might otherwise be. And the team’s defense is young and will be learning a new scheme under DC Patrick Graham, so Ogletree’s experience and leadership could be a boon to Graham’s unit. Plus, Gettleman has never been one to put much stock in advanced metrics, so the fact that Ogletree doesn’t score highly in that department probably doesn’t bother him too much (though he did dangle Ogletree in trade talks in advance of the 2019 deadline).

Ralph Vacchiano of recently suggested that a pay cut may be in the cards, and it’s easy to see why. Ogletree is certainly not worth the $10MM he is due to make in base salary in 2020, and he would not fetch that much on the open market. A reduction, though, may still pay him more than he would earn as a free agent, it would give him a shot at staying with the Giants in 2021 and earning the $9MM that he is due for that season, and the Giants would get a little more cap flexibility.

That sounds like a win-win for both sides, but if Ogletree doesn’t agree to a pay cut, either on principle or because he might want an opportunity to catch on with a team that gives him a better chance at a title, he could be playing elsewhere in 2020.

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Release Candidate: Trumaine Johnson

The Jets will have some tough decisions to make in the months ahead. Will they part ways with running back Le’Veon Bell, even though that would result in an absurdly high dead money hit? Will they give safety Jamal Adams a top-of-the-market deal, stand pat, or open up the phone lines on trade inquiries, as they did before last year’s trade deadline? And how about free agent wide receiver Robby Anderson, who is gunning for big bucks after posting a so-so stat line?

Those are just some of the issues that need to be addressed by GM Joe Douglas this offseason. However, there are also easier calls to be made, including the future of cornerback Trumaine Johnson.

In 2018, former GM Mike Maccagnan inked Johnson to a five-year, $72.5MM deal with $34MM guaranteed at signing. Previous to that, Johnson performed as one of the league’s better cornerbacks with the Rams across six seasons. In New York, Johnson fell way, way short of expectations.

In his first year with Gang Green, Johnson missed significant time with a quad injury that some Jets staffers believe he could have played through. He did come away with four interceptions in 2018, but that stat doesn’t tell the whole story – Johnson struggled in coverage and looked like a shell of his former self.

Things deteriorated even further in 2019 – Johnson appeared in only seven games before landing on IR in early November. He was also benched for performance reasons and, unsurprisingly, they were unable to find any takers for him at the trade deadline.

Coach Adam Gase was vocal about his frustration with Johnson, but there was no sense in releasing him last year due to his deal. Cutting Johnson in 2019 would have resulted in $24MM in dead money with zero cap relief. This year, they’d still be saddled with $12MM in dead money, and they’d only save $3MM by dropping the 30-year-old, but that’s exactly what the Jets will do, in all likelihood.

The $3MM saved won’t be enough to sign a new starting cornerback, but it’s at least something. Expect Douglas to tack that on to his existing ~$50MM in cap room, a number that could grow even further by cutting vets like guard Brian Winters, cornerback Darryl Roberts, wide receiver Quincy Enunwa, and linebacker Avery Williamson.

Release Candidate: Ravens’ Brandon Williams

At 337 pounds, Brandon Williams has been a force on the interior for the Ravens. However, with a $14.1MM scheduled cap hit in 2019 and other options, the Ravens could consider releasing the veteran before the start of the season.

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Williams was once among the best defensive tackles in football, but his production has slipped in recent years. Last season, Williams graded out as just the No. 33 ranked interior defender in the league, according to Pro Football Focus, a major drop off from his 2014 and 2015 form.

Moving on from Williams could open up more opportunities for Michael Pierce, who is four years younger at the age of 26. Pierce is a quality pass rusher, a stronger defender against the run, and finished out as PFF’s No. 5 ranked DT in 2018. There’s also fifth-round rookie Daylon Mack to consider. The Texas A&M product is undeniably green, but he has a lot of potential as a run stuffing nose tackle.

Historically, the Ravens haven’t been big on using the post June 1 designation for release, but employing that with Williams would save them $6.25MM for the coming season.


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Release Candidate: Lions RB Theo Riddick

Calling Theo Riddick a running back is a bit misleading, as he’s really more of a pass-catcher than a ball-carrier. In three of his six seasons with the Lions, the 28-year-old Riddick has garnered more pass targets than rush attempts. He’s been a valuable asset in Detroit’s receiving game, but is he a lock to remain on the club’s roster in 2019?

The Lions’ run game has been a disaster for most of Matthew Stafford‘s tenure under center. Detroit famously went without a single-game 100-yard rusher from 2013 until September of 2018, when rookie Kerryon Johnson accomplished the feat against the Patriots. Johnson is expected to handle the majority of the Lions’ carries next season, although Detroit management has refrained from labeling him a “bellcow.” The Auburn product posted 641 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 118 attempts last year, but missed most of the second half of the campaign with a knee injury.

Detroit set out to add at least one more option to its backfield this offseason, and general manager Bob Quinn & Co. zeroed in on a pair of Rams alums. First, the Lions inked Los Angeles restricted free agent Malcolm Brown to a two-year, $3.3MM offer sheet, but the Rams ultimately matched those terms and retained the 26-year-old. The Lions looked elsewhere on the market and found fellow ex-Ram C.J. Anderson, signing the veteran to a one-year pact worth $1.5MM.

Johnson and Anderson are locks for the Detroit roster, so assuming the Lions keep four running backs, Riddick will compete with Zach Zenner and sixth-round rookie Ty Johnson for a roster spot. If the Lions feel as though they need a dedicated pass-catching back, Riddick should be safe. If not, or if Detroit thinks Kerryon Johnson will handle enough receiving work on his own, the Lions could retain the special teams skills of Zenner and take a flier on a minimum salary player like Ty Johnson.

Riddick’s contract — not his talent — is his true barrier to making the Lions’ roster. The Notre Dame product agreed to a three-year, $11.5MM extension with Detroit in 2016, and he’s set to count for $4.625MM on the team’s 2019 salary cap. If the Lions release Riddick, they’ll clear all but ~$963K of that total.

There’s an argument to be made that if the Lions wanted to cut Riddick, they would have already done so. But it’s also possible that Detroit will wait until the regular season is closer to part ways with Riddick. He’d have little leverage at that point, and could probably be pressured into accepting a pay cut (or simply re-signing with Detroit at a cheaper rate after being released).

Riddick can still be a valuable player as a pass-catcher, but it’s hard to see the Lions being comfortable with his near $5MM cap charge, especially given the projected workload of Johnson and Anderson. Therefore, Riddick could find himself on the free agent market later this summer.

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Release Candidate: Redskins OL Ereck Flowers

With little in the way of options at the tackle position, are the Redskins really in a position to release a former first-round pick who just celebrated his 25th birthday? The short answer is no, but it’s still possible that Ereck Flowers could wind up out of work between now and September. 

The film on Flowers is not inspiring – he failed to protect Eli Manning in New York despite being given three full seasons as the team’s starter. When things fizzled with the Giants, Flowers reunited with Tom Coughlin in Jacksonville and didn’t exactly set the world on fire in his seven games as the team’s starting tackle.

With a need at guard, the Redskins inked Flowers to a one-year, $3.2MM deal to help shore up the interior. Later, their plans for Flowers were interrupted when Trent Williams pushed for a relocation, forcing Flowers to take reps at tackle in practice.

To recap: The Redskins are thin on the offensive line, Flowers is guaranteed $1.5MM for the year, and they may need someone other than Williams to hold down the most important spot on the front five. Still, Flowers hasn’t inspired much confidence since leaving the University of Miami and the left guard spot that he was supposed to fill could be occupied by fourth-round rookie Wes Martin.

Flowers could turn things around in training camp and show the Redskins that he is deserving of a major role up front. Or, if Flowers continues his so-so spring play, he could wind up on the chopping block. If Flowers doesn’t cut the mustard, the Redskins may release him to save $1.7MM and look to the trade market for veteran help.

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