September 4, 2012
The NFL preseason came to a close last week, much to the relief of most football fans. After all, no one wants to pay full price to see a bunch of guys that will end up bagging groceries (no offense Kurt Warner) or doing other jobs by the time the regular season gets underway. With the end of preseason action, teams were left to make tough decisions over who to keep on their roster and who to cut as the deadline to pare down to 53 players came and went at 9 p.m. ET Friday evening.
That means that 704 people that were on the sidelines for preseason game number four wearing a uniform will no longer have one or be a part of things when the season gets underway beginning tomorrow with the Cowboys and Giants. There were agonizing decisions by every team, trying to make tough choices as to who fits best in the grand scheme of things and what players may need to be placed on injured reserve. Some teams made the choice to try and sneak younger players on the practice squad in an effort to keep them under wraps should they be needed down the line.
With that, let’s take a spin through some of the cuts around the league, both veterans who were expected to contribute and younger players trying to make a name for themselves.
Seattle Seahawks: Less than a week after parting ways with wide receiver Terrell Owens and dealing last year’s starting quarterback, Tarvaris Jackson, to Buffalo for a late round pick, the Seahawks were at it again. The team cut tight end Kellen Winslow Jr., who they had acquired earlier in the offseason via trade from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was expected that Winslow would provide a veteran receiving threat for the team but he never really panned out in training camp and failed to produce much in preseason action.
The move was puzzling when it happened to begin with, as Seattle spent big money a year ago to ink free agent TE Zach Miller away from the Raiders and he was a colossal flop due to injuries and the inability of Seattle’s offensive line to block. After Seattle cut Winslow, they went out and signed Evan Moore, who was cut by Cleveland earlier in the day. He’ll back up Miller and more than likely play in two tight end sets, as he is more developed than Anthony McCoy.
Of course, the team also named Russell Wilson the starter over Matt Flynn at quarterback but that’s an entirely different story all together.
Cleveland Browns: In addition to Moore, the Browns also bid adieu to quarterback Seneca Wallace and tight end Dan Gronkowski. After the drafting of Brandon Weeden and the installation of him as the starting quarterback for the club going into training camp and subsequently the regular season, the depth chart got a little bit crowded. Originally, the plan was to deal Colt McCoy, who was the starter for the past season and a half. The market wasn’t too high on McCoy, especially given his lack of production (one start with more than 250 yards passing last year) and the Browns eventually decided to keep him as the backup and part with Wallace.
As for Gronkowski, the simplest way to sum up the move is this: he’s not his brother. While Rob Gronkowski hauled in 90 passes and 17 touchdowns a year ago for the Patriots, Dan has been a part of four teams since being drafted in 2009. His career numbers: 9 catches for 69 yards with no touchdowns. Eight of those catches came in 2010 with Denver; he caught no passes last year, splitting time with Cleveland and New England.
Denver Broncos: The Broncos made the decision to cut loose cornerback Drayton Florence mere months after signing him once the Bills cut him. The decision was made to go with younger players at the position who were ready to play (not to mention cheaper) and fit the system better. The Broncos also have to deal with D.J. Williams being suspended, but that’s a different story. Denver also parted ways with tight end Cornelius Ingram, who was a talent in college but has sustained a series of knee injuries that have stunted his career.
New England Patriots: The Patriots made a couple of interesting moves in their attempts to cut down to 53 players. The team parted ways with former Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch after cutting Jabar Gaffney and Donte Stallworth, leaving them extremely thin at the position behind Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd. In a corresponding move that seemed to acknowledge the lack of depth at the spot, New England subsequently dealt for Greg Salas, who caught 27 passes for the Rams a year ago, in exchange for a pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
The team also parted ways with backup quarterback Brian Hoyer. The surprising move means that if something should happen that causes Tom Brady to miss time, Ryan Mallett would be called into action. With the talent on the team, it may not seem like much of an issue (ask Matt Cassel) but with all the hits that Brady has taken in limited preseason action, it could prove to be something to keep a closer eye on as the season progresses. The team signed Olympian Jeff Demps during the preseason and ended up placing him on injured reserve. It’s unclear whether it was of the season ending variety or the shorter term injured reserve.
Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles made some moves cutting veteran personnel that may come as a surprise, especially as it leads to a distinct thinning of their depth in the secondary. After trading Asante Samuel to Atlanta earlier in the offseason, the Eagles cut loose Joselio Hanson and O.J. Atogwe. Hanson had been a valuable nickel and dime back for the Eagles the past six seasons and had 30 tackles and four pass defenses while playing in every game a year ago.
Atogwe was trying to catch on with the Eagles after being dumped following one season in Washington after signing a five year, $26 million deal. The safety, which had a penchant for creating turnovers with the Rams, was unable to stay healthy, suffering through a groin injury in camp and subsequently a hamstring issue that kept him out of two preseason games. He reinjured his hamstring during the first half of the preseason finale against the Jets.
In another move, the Eagles cut Mike Kafka, who was the number three quarterback last season. Kafka did see limited action in the regular season during the stretch where Michael Vick was hurt and Vince Young was ineffective. With Kafka’s departure, it means that Captain Checkdown Trent Edwards will be the number two man and rookie Nick Foles will sit third on the depth chart.
San Diego Chargers: In what was probably the cut that moved the needle the least on this list, the Chargers parted ways with kicker Nick Novak. Novak stepped in for the injured Nate Kaeding last season and performed admirably. Novak booted 27 of 34 field goal attempts and 41 of 42 extra points on the season though his miss total is misleading: three of his misses were from beyond 50 yards. His 122 points were tied for 11th in the league with Billy Cundiff. With Kaeding reportedly healthy, the Chargers opted to let Novak go. It’s unlikely he’ll be unemployed for long; there were plenty of musical kicker moves in the past week or two and someone will take a flier on him.
Buffalo Bills: The list wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t take the time to review the Bills cuts. There were no major shockers, though some would point to the releases of defensive tackle Dwan Edwards and wide receivers Naaman Roosevelt, Derek Hagan, Ruvell Martin and Marcus Easley are potential surprises. The bottom line is that, from a Buffalo fan’s perspective, nothing jumps out and grabs you.
Edwards was a high priced free agent when he came over from Baltimore but he never really turned in the kind of numbers he did with the Ravens. On top of that, he was better suited for a 3-4 defense, not the 4-3 Buffalo will employ under defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt. Edwards was a backup at defensive tackle behind Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams and carried too heavy a price tag for a reserve. Had he restructured his deal like Tyler Thigpen did, he may have been able to keep a spot on the team. As it is, he signed with Carolina over the weekend.
The receivers that didn’t make the squad were nothing special. Martin and Hagan were veteran guys that didn’t cut the mustard elsewhere and failed to stand out with the Bills. Roosevelt was a factor of the numbers game; he had some good moments during the regular season last season and is a hometown guy after playing college ball at the University of Buffalo; it’s probably a matter of time before he gets back with the team.
Easley was the surprise; I thought he had locked down his spot after running a kickoff back 100 yards for a score against the Lions, then bulling his way to the end zone for the subsequent two point conversion. Ultimately, it wasn’t enough. Easley has had serious health issues the past two years which may have been a contributing factor to his being cut. The fact that he had practice squad eligibility may have played a role as well and the Bills are happy to let him hone his craft there.
The main thing to remember is that football season is here and for the next five months, things will be great.