Release Candidate

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.

 

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Release Candidate: Seahawks RB C.J. Prosise

When the Seahawks used a third-round pick on C.J. Prosise in 2016, the former Notre Dame running back looked as though he’d be an integral part of the Seattle offense. Penciled into a backfield that also included Christine Michael and Thomas Rawls, Prosise was viewed as a capable runner and a valuable receiver, a dual threat back who could contribute in multiple facets of the game.

But Prosise simply hasn’t been able to stay on the field. He showed flashes during his rookie campaign, especially during a Week 9 nine start in which he handled 17 carries for 66 yards while adding seven receptions for 87 yards. However, Prosise fractured his scapula in the Seahawks’ next contest and was subsequently placed on injured reserve. An ankle injury ended his season in 2017, and multiple ailments (abdomen, groin, and hip flexor) landed him on IR in 2018.

The injuries haven’t stopped in 2019. Seattle head coach Pete Carroll revealed in March that Prosise had recently undergone surgery. And just last month, the now-25-year-old tweaked his hamstring at Seahawks minicamp.

In three seasons with the Seahawks, Prosise’s totals are unsightly. He’s only managed to play in 16 games, rushing 42 times for 192 yards and one touchdown while hauling in 26 catches for 317 yards. Heading into a critical fourth year in Seattle, what are Prosise’s odds of making the Seahawks roster?

Seattle, notably, was the only NFL team to run the ball on more than 50% of its offensive plays in 2019, so the club certainly needs a cavalcade of running backs. But with 2018 starter Chris Carson and 2018 first-round pick Rashaad Penny locked into roster spots, Prosise will be competing with the likes of J.D. McKissic, Travis Homer, Bo Scarbrough, and Marcelias Sutton for a role.

McKissic is probably Prosise’s main competition, as both offer third-down promise as receiving backs (and both played wide receiver in college). Like Prosise, McKissic has also battled injuries, and he missed the first half of the 2018 campaign with a foot issue. But as recently as 2017, McKissic was productive, posting 34 receptions on 46 targets for 266 yards while ranking as a top-20 back in efficiency in both rushing and receiving, per Football Outsiders.

Another factor working against Prosise is special teams. Prosise has rarely played on teams throughout his pro career, while McKissic has offered at least some special teams capabilities. McKissic is competent in the return game, which could be important if the Seahawks need to give No. 1 wideout Tyler Lockett a breather from return duties.

Given his lengthy injury history and lack of production, Prosise won’t attract much of a trade market. So if he isn’t able to stick on Seattle’s roster, Prosise could be in danger of hitting the waiver wire in early September — or perhaps even sooner.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Release Candidate: Lions S Miles Killebrew

The February release (and subsequent retirement) of Glover Quin, in theory, should have put safety Miles Killebrew in line for an elevated role in 2019. But, instead of moving from the bench to the starting lineup, ESPN.com’s Michael Rothstein believes that he could be on the roster bubble. 

“Killa” has shown bursts of promise while providing valuable special teams help, but he has yet to make a major mark on defense. Even without Quin, the Lions have other safety options from which to choose, including Quandre Diggs, Tavon Wilson, third-round rookie Will Harris, and rising sophomore Tracy Walker.

Killebrew’s practice performance in the coming weeks may dictate his NFL future. There are a number of potential outcomes, ranging from a starting gig at free safety alongside Diggs to a release that could expose him to the waiver wire just prior to the start of the season. There’s also the in-between that could sting the player even more than getting cut – Killebrew could be relegated to a special teams/reserve role yet again as he enters the final year of his paltry rookie contract.

If Killebrew can’t break through this summer, his best outcome might be a release and an opportunity to flex his hard-hitting style elsewhere.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFL Release Candidates Series

As NFL rosters begin to take shape this summer, teams will have some difficult choices to make. Despite having varying degrees of potential and upside, many noteworthy veterans will be released between now and the 53-man deadline.

Here at PFR, we’ve been profiling some of the more interesting release candidates from around the NFL. In case you missed them, here are our entries in the Release Candidates series, so far:

Release Candidates: Seahawks QBs Geno Smith, Paxton Lynch

The Seahawks’ quarterback room has some serious name value. Behind starter Russell Wilson, the club is currently rostering both Geno Smith and Paxton Lynch

The odds of both players making the final cut is slim. Historically, the Seahawks have carried only two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster and both players have their warts.

Smith, a former second-round pick of the Jets, has yet to do much at the pro level. Once positioned as the Jets’ starting quarterback, his last attempt at NFL relevance was stopped by the fist of a teammate and a subsequently broken jaw. Lynch, a former first-round pick of the Broncos, lost the starting QB competition twice to former seventh-round pick Trevor Siemian.

To date, Lynch has four career starts on his resume with a 61.7% completion rate, 792 passing yards yards, four touchdowns, and four interceptions. Smith – who has 40 career appearances with 31 starts – hasn’t fared much better in a larger sample. He’s completed 57.7% of his throws with just 29 touchdowns against 36 picks.

One of these QBs will probably be out of Seattle by the time September rolls around, and there’s a chance that both will be gone. Last year, the Seahawks traded for Brett Hundley in the preseason and installed him as Wilson’s backup, so the Seahawks’ next No. 2 QB could be with another team as of this writing.

If things don’t work out for Lynch or Smith, they’ll have options. Despite their missteps, they’re both on the right side of 30 and may still hold appeal for evaluators who considered drafting them just a few years ago. And, if an NFL opportunity doesn’t present itself, both players may find a home in the upstart XFL.

We’re watching the backup quarterback camp battles. One of these guys is going to get cut,” XFL commissioner Oliver Luck said of the Smith/Lynch situation. “There’s a bunch of those going on. We might not get all of those guys, the quote-unquote loser of those, but a Geno or Paxton is not going to end up on a practice squad. There are a bunch of 3-4-5-year guys that are in that boat. They’ve been on rosters, practice squad, been yo-yo’d two years. They need to play, and that’s my argument to them, that it’s very doable here.”

Both players have just $25K guaranteed on their one-year deals, so the Seahawks wouldn’t lose much by releasing either player.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Release Candidate: 49ers G Joshua Garnett

Few were surprised when the 49ers declined guard Joshua Garnett‘s fifth-year option for the 2020 season. The former first-round pick still has one year to go on his original four-year rookie deal, but it’s not a given that he’ll be with the club in 2019. 

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The Niners used the No. 28 pick to select Garnett in 2016, but they’ve yet to see much from him at the pro level. The Stanford product started in eleven of his 15 games as a rookie, but even then, his performance was underwhelming – Garnett racked up penalties and didn’t excel in run blocking or pass blocking. He then missed all of 2017 after undergoing knee surgery and only saw action as a reserve in seven games last year. At a rate of $10.35MM, it made little sense to keep Garnett for 2020, especially since the option would have been guaranteed for injury.

This year, Garnett is said to be healthy, but that ensures little in terms of performance. If he stumbles in training camp this year, the Niners could conceivably cut him to save $1.7MM against $1.2MM in dead money.

For now, Garnett will push to beat out Mike Person for a starting job on the interior line. Ultimately, however, he could be pushed off of the 53-man roster altogether.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Release Candidate: Broncos DE DeMarcus Walker

Two years ago, the Broncos used a second-round pick to select DeMarcus Walker out of Florida State. Today, the defensive end may be on Denver’s roster bubble.

[RELATED: Broncos TE Jake Butt Eyeing Training Camp Return]

Walker appeared in ten games for the Broncos as a rookie, but saw the field just three times in 2018. At one point, the Broncos tried to jumpstart his career by moving him to outside linebacker before shifting him back to defensive end, but, so far, nothing has worked.

Ordinarily, a team would stick things out with a young second-round pick like Walker, but Walker finds himself buried in a defensive line group that also includes Derek Wolfe, Adam Gotsis, Shelby Harris, Zach Kerr, and third-round pick Dre’Mont Jones. To make the 53-man cut, he’ll have to leapfrog at least one veteran while staving off the rest of the pack on the 90-man offseason roster.

If Walker doesn’t stick with the Broncos, you can expect him to immediately draw interest on the waiver wire. The 6’4″, 280-pound defender compiled 16 sacks as a senior at FSU and had the attention of several teams heading into the ’17 draft. In fact, before selecting Walker at No. 51 overall, the Broncos pondered a trade up to land him.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Release Candidate: Texans TE Darren Fells

The Texans signed Darren Fells to a one-year deal in March, adding a proven blocking tight end to their offensive unit. However, the 33-year-old could be looking for work before the summer is through. 

Roughly six weeks after signing Fells, the Texans used a third round pick on San Diego State’s Kahale Warring, a 6’5″ tight end who has shown serious promise as a blocker. Meanwhile, the Texans also have the Jordans – 2018 rookies Jordan Akins and Jordan Thomas – on their TE depth chart. Fells faces an uphill battle, even after the Texans released Ryan Griffin in May.

Fells’ blue collar blocking skills have made him a known commodity in a league obsessed with offensively explosive tight ends, but they might not be enough to get him over the hump in Houston. It’s also worth noting that Fells, despite his rep, wasn’t all that sharp of a blocker last season. Pro Football Focus assigned Fells a 72.9 pass-blocking grade in 2018, which put him near the middle of the pack among his position group, and a 55.9 grade in the run game, a mark which ranked near the bottom of the league.

Fells’ blocking foibles weren’t just recognized by the advanced metrics. The Browns, who inked him to a three-year, $12MM deal in the 2018 offseason, released him this year and took on a dead money hit of $1.4MM.

Fells seems likely to hook on somewhere for the 2019 season, but it might not happen with the Texans, who guaranteed him just $100K on his one-year, $1.5MM deal.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.