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On Saturday afternoon each of the 32 NFL franchises trimmed their rosters down from 75 players to 53. Every year coaches and executives are forced to make some difficult decisions, and this year was no different. However one teams trash often proves anothers treasure, and chances are there will be a number of future NFL contributors who were let go this weekend. Here’s a list of players who are either talented, well known or both and have grabbed my attention as potential diamonds in the rough amongst the hundreds of newly unemployed footballers.
Tebow certainly suits the ‘well known’ category more so than ‘talented’, but it’s worth remembering that he led the Denver Broncos to a play-off win over Pittsburgh just eighteen months ago. Tebow was acquired by the dysfunctional New York Jets last off season and he never really stood a chance within the organisation where Mark Sanchez is considered untouchable. Following his release from the Jets, Tebow was picked up by New England, but some poor pre-season performances meant that the former Florida Gator had blown possibly his last opportunity to make it in the NFL – as a quarterback. I’d be very surprised if another team picked him up right away, but Tebow could prolong his time in the league if he’s prepared to convert to a tight end/running back hybrid role.
Like Tebow Watkins was a first round pick, selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2011 draft. However Watkins was 26 (nearly 27) at the time and although he was considered talented by NFL scouts his age was a concern even then. The lockout that followed that years draft didn’t help Watkins and he never came close to living up to his potential in Philly, and as a result his release comes as no surprise. Watkins run blocking is his strength so he could catch on with a team who likes to pound the rock, although his reported lack of passion for the sport he only took up as a 22 year old is a major red flag. The Miami Dolphins are rumoured to have had Watkins in for a tryout, so that’s one potential destination for the now 29 year old. (Update: Watkins has in fact just sign for Miami on a one year deal.)
Another player released by the Patriots, Cunningham was the teams second round pick back in 2010. The defensive end never established himself as a starter although he has at various stages seen significant time on the field as part of a line rotation. Cunningham is only 25 and with his NFL experience he’s one of the better options available on the defensive side of the ball, leading me to believe he’ll get a few more chances yet to forge a career in the league. Having played in the 3-4 during his entire tenure with the Pats look for other teams who run that system, such as the Steelers, Jets and Ravens, as potential landing spots.
Smith is instantly recognisable as the second overall pick from the 2009 draft but he has so far failed to come anywhere close to matching the performances expected of a player drafted that high. The offensive lineman has bounced around from the St. Louis Rams to the Jets and then New Orleans, before most recently re-signing with the Jets until he was dumped for a second time by Rex Ryan and co. It appears that Smith may well have played his last game in the league, a sad tale for someone so talented.
The Steelers struggled to move the ball on the ground last season and Dwyer could be seen as part of the problem, as he averaged just 4 yards per carry. He did rack up over 600 yards, however, and at 229 lbs and just 24 years of age he still possesses enough upside for a look see from running back needy teams. According to Steelers beat writer Gerry Dulac the Steelers grew “tired of Dwyer’s lack of dedication to his job”, so character concerns are clearly one of the reasons a player as talented as him is available. According to Dulac the Browns and Ravens are interested in securing Dwyer’s services. Any such role would obviously be as a back up, as the two teams employ Ray Rice and Trent Richardson, respectively.
Banks’ story is an inspiring one, but his dream of playing in the NFL appears to have hit the skids after Atlanta released him this week. Banks was a top high school linebacker before being convicted of rape, a conviction that was later overturned after his accuser withdrew her accusations – but not until he’d already served five years in prison. Unfortunately Banks is already 27, but it would be nice to see a team pick up the ‘backer. He’s practice squad eligible so he could end up there for someone, although it is very rare for a team to use up a developmental spot on someone his age.
The former Notre Dame signal caller was released by the Carolina Panthers three years after they drafted him in the second round. Clausen was extremely poor back in 2010, his rookie year, when he led the Panthers to a 1-9 record in his ten starts. The teams poor performance that season allowed them to draft Cam Newton first overall and the rest, as they say, is history. Clausen retains some pedigree, however, and I’d be interested to see how a QB and offensive guru could develop his game and turn him into a viable backup. It’s a bit of a long shot, but the situation he inherited in Carolina was dire and a change of scenery could see him tap into some of his potential – if any remains.
Young looked like he may have disappeared from the NFL forever after the Eagles released him following the teams ill-fated 2011 spending spree, highlighted by Youngs “dream team” remark. However Green Bay gave him a chance to compete for a roster spot this summer and Young looked like he may have just snuck onto their 53 man when fellow QB Graham Harrell was released. The team ultimately decided to keep just two QBs however, and Young was subsequently released. He did play fairly well during the pre-season and didn’t cause any disruptions to team chemistry, so perhaps he’ll get another chance down the road. With Young and Matt Leinart both now unemployed the 2006 quarterback draft class is looking weaker by the minute, and a stark reminder that the draft is far from an exact science.
Are there any more names you think could still have an impact in the NFL? Let me know in the comments or on twitter @fredjstanley. I’ll be back tomorrow with my AFC preview for the upcoming season, which begins on Thursday night.