Release Candidate

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.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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 SNY.tv 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.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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.

 

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: