With the draft wrapping up on Saturday, the NFL’s primary player acquisition window is now over. There are still a few stray veteran free agents available, and we’ve yet to see how the hundreds of players drafted and signed as undrafted free agents will impact the league during their collective rookie season, but the league’s about to enter a relative lull for the next two months before training camps kick off in July.
When you look at the league’s best teams, though, you’ll see rosters filled with players who were acquired outside the draft or amid the first few days of free agency. Think about how the Rams were kept afloat in December and January by C.J. Anderson, whom they signed off the street late in the season. Their starters included players such as Mark Barron, Dante Fowler Jr. and Aqib Talib, all of whom were acquired via trade at distressed prices. The Patriots did the same thing with guys such as Trent Brown and Kyle Van Noy, though the Brown trade did take place during draft weekend.
The various additions made by each team hint at how they feel about the players they’ve kept on their rosters. In some cases, those moves will end up displacing a contributor who might have otherwise had a roster spot locked up.
To that end, let’s run through each of the league’s 32 teams and identify a player who might not have the job security he enjoyed before the offseason began. Some of these guys will be cut — one was released as I was writing this piece on Monday — and others will be trade candidates, either now or before the midseason trade deadline.
LeSean McCoy, RB
No, this isn’t because McCoy tweeted Avengers spoilers. I know Bills general manager Brandon Beane has suggested that McCoy is still the starter in Buffalo, but I’m skeptical that he’ll make it through the 2019 season in upstate New York. He will enter the final year of his five-year, $40 million deal, and the Bills invested in running backs this offseason by signing Frank Gore and T.J. Yeldon before drafting Devin Singletary in the third round. McCoy will have about $3.3 million in base salary left on his deal when the trade deadline approaches; unless the Bills are in playoff contention, it wouldn’t be shocking to see McCoy moved at the end of October. Could a reunion with Andy Reid make sense if the Chiefs are struggling with injuries at halfback?
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB
The rebuilding Dolphins don’t need to move on from anyone, but after their trade for Josh Rosen, Fitzpatrick seems like an unnecessary piece of the puzzle. The Dolphins need to use 2019 to evaluate Rosen before deciding whether to draft a quarterback in 2020. Fitzpatrick might serve as a mentor, but with his base salary of just $1.5 million, the Dolphins could net a midround pick from a team in need of an upper-tier backup or an emergency starter this fall.
Ryan Allen, P
You don’t think Bill Belichick traded up to draft punter Ryan Bailey in the fifth round by accident, do you? I’d also worry a bit about Demaryius Thomas‘ spot on the roster after the Patriots drafted 6-foot-2 wideout N’Keal Harry in the first round. The former Broncos standout was guaranteed only a $150,000 signing bonus when he joined the team, and if Thomas’ rehab from a torn Achilles doesn’t go well, the Pats might be more inclined to hand him an injury settlement in August.
Damien Woody evaluates the players New England added in the draft, including wide receiver N’Keal Harry.
Darron Lee, ILB
It’s a bit of a surprise that Lee is still on the roster, given that the Jets are quite clearly set at inside linebacker after signing Avery Williamson and C.J. Mosley in consecutive offseasons. Lee had his best season in 2018, but the Mosley signing seemingly took the former first-round pick’s job. The Jets have to decide whether to pick up Lee’s fifth-year option by May 2, which is probably about when they’ll want to make a deal. I wonder if a team playing in a 4-3 base might try to acquire Lee in hopes of using him as a weakside linebacker and as part of its sub-packages, given his range.
Kenneth Dixon, RB
Dixon has been generally productive as a pro, but knee injuries have limited the 2016 fourth-rounder to 18 games in three seasons. The Ravens buried Dixon on their depth chart this year by signing Mark Ingram and using a fourth-round pick on speedy Oklahoma State back Justice Hill. With Dixon entering the final year of his rookie contract, a team such as the Buccaneers or Jaguars could take a flyer on Dixon for a late-round pick in hopes of finding an impact young starter.
Bobby Hart, OT
Fans often rush to defend signings that address positions of weakness, even if the deals seem curious to outsiders. It’s telling, then, that the Bengals’ decision to re-sign Hart to a three-year, $16.2 million contract was met by outright derision from Cincy fans. The Bengals guaranteed Hart $5 million but subsequently used a first-round pick on Alabama’s Jonah Williams, who is presumably ticketed for Hart’s starting job at right tackle. Cincy could keep Hart as a swing option, but with a $900,000 base salary, the Bengals could shop him as a seventh lineman, given how badly some of the league needs even middling offensive linemen.
Duke Johnson Jr., RB
Seemingly not a favorite of the John Dorsey regime, Johnson has been the subject of trade rumors for nearly a year now. The 25-year-old requested a trade after the Browns signed Kareem Hunt, and while Hunt will be suspended for the first half of the 2019 season, Johnson would be in a limited role behind starter Nick Chubb until Hunt returns. Johnson still holds some value to the Browns, with just $2.2 million in 2019 compensation coming, so it would probably take a meaningful trade offer from a team that loses a running back to injury to pry Johnson free before 2020.
Artie Burns, CB
This time last year, the Steelers were hoping Burns would emerge as their No. 1 cornerback in 2018. He instead played so poorly that Pittsburgh benched him for virtually all of the second half of its disappointing campaign. The Steelers followed up by making a rare foray into unrestricted free agency to sign Steven Nelson before using a third-round pick on Michigan State corner Justin Layne. Pittsburgh will likely decline Burns’s fifth-year option, though teams that remember how Kyle Fuller managed to turn his career around after the Bears declined his fifth-year option could be interested in taking a shot on a corner who turns 24 this week.
The Texans might not have come away with a sorely needed guaranteed upgrade at tackle this offseason, but they certainly added options to address the weakest spot on their roster. GM Brian Gaine signed Matt Kalil to a one-year deal before using two of his first three picks on tackles Tytus Howard and Max Scharping. Both could be considered developmental prospects, but the 6-foot-7 Henderson isn’t exactly a finished product either. He signed with the Texans last year, only to break his ankle during the season-opening loss to the Patriots. Even if the Texans move Martinas Rankin to guard, the presence of Howard and Scharping on the roster could push Henderson off of it.
Jihad Ward, DL
There isn’t much in the way of fluff on Indy’s roster, given that the Colts didn’t spend much in free agency and will continue to rely on the drafts of general manager Chris Ballard. After they kept Margus Hunt and used a second-round pick on an edge rusher by drafting TCU’s Ben Banogu, I wonder if the Colts might not have room for Ward, who racked up three sacks in six games last season.
Mel Kiper Jr. suggests the Colts are Super Bowl contenders after having the best 2019 NFL draft of any team.
Keelan Cole, WR
While the Jags are publicly unhappy with Telvin Smith for daring to treat voluntary workouts as such, they’ve already guaranteed $5 million of his $9.8 million base salary for 2019 and would incur the wrath of the NFLPA if they did cut Smith. Leonard Fournette‘s future is also in question, but Jacksonville made only minor additions at halfback this offseason. I would be paying closer attention to Cole, who fell down the depth chart after a promising second half in 2017 and might lose his spot as the fourth wideout to Chris Conley. The former undrafted free agent should have a trade market if that happens, even given his drop issues from a season ago.
Tajae Sharpe, WR
I might have gone for Austin Johnson if Jeffery Simmons were going to be healthy for Week 1, but with the Titans signing Adam Humphries and drafting A.J. Brown in the second round, there aren’t going to be many reps left for Sharpe. The 24-year-old started 13 games last season, but he lined up for only five special-teams snaps. Most teams ask their No. 4 or 5 wideouts to play special teams, so if Sharpe isn’t starting, the UMass product might not be able to justify his roster spot.
Jake Butt, TE
The Broncos have been hoping for Butt to turn into the receiving threat they’ve lacked at tight end since the Julius Thomas era, but knee injuries have sidelined him. Butt has played just three games across his first two pro seasons, thanks to his second and third ACL tears. When John Elway traded down and subsequently used his first-round pick on Noah Fant out of Iowa, it blocked Butt’s path to a role in the starting lineup. Butt could stick as a third tight end behind Fant and Jeff Heuerman, but it’s difficult to see him lasting the full season in Denver.
Tyreek Hill, WR
Obviously, the horrific audio recording involving Hill that surfaced on Thursday has created significant doubts about the 25-year-old receiver’s NFL future. The Chiefs clearly prepared to replace Hill by using a second-round pick — the team’s first selection in the draft — on 5-foot-10 Georgia wideout Mecole Hardman, who profiles as a downfield burner and return man in Hill’s image.
Cardale Jones, QB
The makeup of the Chargers’ roster means they don’t have many obvious candidates for release or trade after this offseason; they still need to add a punter after making it through free agency and the draft without bringing one aboard. I’m tempted by the idea of a Philip Rivers-led offense never punting, but that’s another story for another day. The Chargers did add passers behind Rivers by signing Tyrod Taylor and using a fourth-round pick on Easton Stick, which would seemingly push Jones out of a job.
Karl Joseph, S
Every Raiders player who was acquired before Jon Gruden came to town is on perpetually thin ice. That’s doubly true for Joseph, who hasn’t lived up to expectations since the Raiders drafted him in the first round in 2016. Gruden’s starting safeties in 2019 will likely be Lamarcus Joyner and first-round pick Johnathan Abram, and though Joseph could theoretically feature if the Raiders go with a Big Nickel look and play three safeties at a time, I wouldn’t count on the Raiders making him a priority this offseason. They might even consider declining Joseph’s fifth-year option later this week.
Mel Kiper Jr. expects the Raiders to win the AFC West next season after Jon Gruden’s great 2019 NFL draft.
Tavon Austin, WR
The Cowboys head into 2019 with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup entrenched as their top two wideouts. After that, the depth chart pivots on the availability of Allen Hurns, who suffered a serious ankle injury during the postseason. The Cowboys picked up Hurns’ $5 million option for 2019, suggesting that either they think he’s going to play or his option was quietly guaranteed for injury. With Hurns in the fold, the Cowboys might not have a need for Austin, who signed a one-year deal to remain with the team. Austin could figure as Dallas’ punt returner, but the Cowboys drafted Memphis weapon Tony Pollard in the fourth round and could very well see whether a return man who scored seven times on kickoffs in three years could extend himself to punt duties.
Janoris Jenkins, CB
Much as is the case with Gruden and the Raiders, any Giants player who wasn’t acquired by GM Dave Gettleman has to be looking over his shoulder at all times. Jenkins has generally played well during his time in New York, but the Giants drafted three cornerbacks this year and return supplemental third-round pick Sam Beal, who missed all of his rookie season with a shoulder injury. The 30-year-old Jenkins has a reasonable $22.5 million left in the final two years of his deal, which would make him a trade candidate for a team in need of help at corner.
There are several players we could pick here, including wideout Nelson Agholor and running backs Wendell Smallwood and Josh Adams, but the drafting of Andre Dillard pushes Vaitai onto the trading block. The 25-year-old swing tackle filled in capably on the left side when Jason Peters went down in 2017, and with just $2 million due to Vaitai in the final year of his rookie deal, Vaitai would have a meaningful market. The Eagles might prefer to cash in on a trade offer now, in lieu of waiting for a compensatory pick in 2021.
Colt McCoy, QB
Nobody in the league has a more crowded quarterback room than Washington. Drafting Dwayne Haskins with the 15th pick added a clear quarterback of the future for a group that already included Case Keenum, McCoy and Alex Smith, who is likely out for the 2019 season. It would be a surprise if Washington carried both McCoy and Keenum into Week 1, given that their two salaries combine to about $6.5 million. With Keenum’s more recent success, my guess is Washington will keep the former Vikings standout and save $3 million by cutting or trading McCoy.
Taquan Mizzell, RB
Mostly sitting out free agency and with no picks in the first two rounds of the draft, the Bears don’t have a notable player who stands out as a possible target to move on from. The only option that comes to mind is Mizzell, whose role in the lineup could be threatened by the selections of David Montgomery and Kerrith Whyte Jr. in this year’s draft. Even then, I’d figure that Mizzell beats Whyte for a roster spot.
Theo Riddick, RB
Riddick is yet another running back whose role might be limited by a move to a new offense. It seems likely that the Lions will rely more heavily on the duo of Kerryon Johnson and C.J. Anderson under Darrell Bevell. Detroit also brought back Zach Zenner and used a sixth-round pick on Ty Johnson, which could squeeze Riddick’s chances at meaningful reps. Riddick has a $3.5 million base salary in the final year of his deal, which isn’t palatable for a third or fourth back.
Josh Jones, S
The 2017 second-round pick has to be on notice after this offseason. Brian Gutekunst signed Adrian Amos from the Bears in free agency to take over at one safety spot and moved up to draft Darnell Savage Jr. with the 21st pick in the first round. Jones could figure as a third safety, but the Packers might prefer Tramon Williams in that role. The Packers could look to move Jones to a team looking for help against the run.
Laquon Treadwell, WR
Trade rumors circulated around several Vikings starters during the draft, including tight end Kyle Rudolph and corners Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes. I suspect one or more of those players will be off the roster come 2020, but the Vikings can afford to keep them around for one more season. By drafting Irv Smith Jr., though, I suspect Minnesota will be inclined to use more two-tight-end sets in 2019. In doing so, the Vikings will be taking the disappointing Treadwell off the field. The former first-round pick might not make the roster in 2019.
Dan Graziano explains why Kyle Rudolph could be traded from Minnesota after the team drafted Irv Smith Jr.
The Falcons went all over the place to add offensive line help this offseason. They signed Jamon Brown and James Carpenter in free agency and used a pair of first-round picks to draft Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary. The Falcons can’t fit all of those guys with Jake Matthews and Alex Mack inked as starters, so it’s likely that one of them will fill in as the sixth lineman. The Falcons weren’t going to pay Fusco $4 million to serve as their seventh lineman, and they responded by releasing the former Vikings starter on Monday.
Torrey Smith, WR
The veteran downfield threat is an excellent locker room presence, but Smith has seen his yards per catch drop in four consecutive seasons and racked up just 190 receiving yards on 31 targets a year ago. Smith has a $5 million base salary due in 2019 and is likely to cede snaps to Chris Hogan and Curtis Samuel.
Ken Crawley, CB
A starter for the Saints heading into 2018, Crawley struggled to begin the season and lost his job when New Orleans traded for Eli Apple. With Patrick Robinson returning from injury and the Saints re-signing P.J. Williams, Crawley’s role as the fifth cornerback would be dependent upon his playing special teams. Unfortunately for Crawley, though, the Saints signed former Vikings standout Marcus Sherels to take over that spot in the lineup.
Cairo Santos, K
Tampa used a fifth-round pick on kicker Matt Gay, who admitted afterward that even he was surprised the Bucs took him that early. When you’re a kicker and you think you were overdrafted, it’s not a good sign. The Bucs have been beyond awful at identifying and developing kickers the past few years, but by drafting Gay, it’s likely that they’ll be giving the rookie the inside edge in a competition with Santos.
Chad Williams, WR
The Cardinals are going to need plenty of receiving weapons for new quarterback Kyler Murray in Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid offense. After drafting Murray, Steve Keim added a trio of weapons for him by drafting Andy Isabella, Hakeem Butler and KeeSean Johnson. 2018 second-round pick Christian Kirk pieced together a promising three-game stretch before getting injured in December, and he could be a breakout candidate. And, of course, Larry Fitzgerald is Larry Fitzgerald. Williams caught just 37 percent of the passes thrown in his direction last season, and it’s no guarantee that the 2017 third-rounder beats someone such as Malachi Dupre or Pharoh Cooper for a roster spot.
John Kelly, RB
Kelly attracted some deep fantasy league interest after running for 197 yards and three touchdowns in the preseason, but the Rams signed C.J. Anderson off the street in lieu of giving Kelly the starting role in December last season. Sean McVay & Co. signaled their lack of interest in Kelly by matching an offer sheet for Malcolm Brown and drafting Darrell Henderson in the third round. His path to playing time is murky at best.
Arik Armstead, DL
The 49ers have moved Armstead around the lineup and eventually settled on using him as a rush-stopping defensive end last season, which is a position teams generally fill relatively cheaply. San Francisco reloaded on the edge by trading for Dee Ford and drafting Nick Bosa with the second pick, and both of those guys will start at defensive end as the 49ers begin to show more wide-nine looks from their ends next season. Armstead is set to make $9 million in the fifth-year option of his rookie deal, which is a lot to pay for a guy who would be playing 30 to 40 percent of the defensive snaps in 2019.
C.J. Prosise, RB
Once seen as a promising halfback with the floor of contributing as a back within the passing game, Prosise’s career has been waylaid by injuries. The Notre Dame product has played just 16 games in his first three pro seasons and has fallen down the depth chart in the process. He’s currently buried behind Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny, and the Seahawks drafted Travis Homer in the sixth round with the intention of finding a more reliable replacement for Prosise. J.D. McKissic could also beat Prosise for his roster spot.