13 NFL veterans who could be on bubble as cutdown to 53-man rosters for 2021 looms
Next week will be one of the busiest on the NFL calendar, all 32 teams required to finalize their (initial) 53-man rosters by 4 p.m. ET Tuesday. Clubs are authorized to carry 80 players heading into the final weekend of preseason, but that means more than 1,000 – all rosters have already been trimmed by at least 10 players over the course of August – will be available as teams stock their practice squads and continue to tweak depth charts once the Aug. 31 deadline passes.
Invariably, several prominent veterans will shake loose, typically losing their jobs to younger and/or cheaper talent. Here are a few who could be on the bubble in the coming days and possibly looking for new employment thereafter:
Eagles WR J.J. Arcega-Whiteside
A second-round pick in 2019 – taken 57th overall, seven spots ahead of Seattle's DK Metcalf – Arcega-Whiteside has 14 career receptions for a Philadelphia team that's been desperate for production at the position in recent seasons. Nevertheless, he's probably no better than fifth on the depth chart at this point and doesn't offer any value on special teams.
Washington RB Peyton Barber
Useful as a goal-line option, he's otherwise fairly limited given his 3.5 yards-per-carry career average and inability to provide much on passing downs. Hard to believe undrafted rookie Jaret Patterson, who's flashed as a rusher and receiver, won't stick behind Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic ... which puts Barber in a precarious position.
Chargers K Michael Badgley
The Bolts' primary place-kicking specialist since 2018, his field-goal accuracy has steadily degraded every year, bottoming out at 72.7% last season. Badgley must fend off Tristan Vizcaino to keep his job.
Steelers P Jordan Berry
Pittsburgh's punter since 2015, the Australian seems unlikely to survive the challenge of rookie Pressley Harvin III, last year's Ray Guy Award winner as college football's top punter. And when a team invests a draft pick (even a seventh-rounder) at this position, the writing is usually on the wall for the incumbent ... and Harvin has been impressive during preseason.
Jaguars DL Taven Bryan
A first-round pick in 2018, he's had negligible impact for Jacksonville – 3½ sacks, 11 tackles for loss, 17 quarterback hits in his career – and the Jags have already declined his fifth-year option. The club's new regime also has no investment in a player who's never played in as many as 50% of the defensive snaps in a season.
Steelers LS Kameron Canaday
Surely you knew he'd been Pittsburgh's deep snapper since 2017? Well, he may not be in 2021, converted former Duquesne LB Christian Kuntz, 27, trying to stick on an NFL roster for the first time by displacing Canaday. And, yes, going with Kuntz would save Pittsburgh (just a little) money on the cap. Coach Mike Tomlin even acknowledged he was "excited about watching the culmination of the specialist battle" as the Steelers look to their fourth and final preseason game Friday, at Carolina, to settle their long snapping and punting positions.
Bears TE Jimmy Graham
The 34-year-old was surprisingly productive in 2020 (50 catches, 456 yards, 8 TDs). But 2020 second-rounder Cole Kmet is listed as the starter, and veteran Jesse James was signed last month. Chicago can save $7 million by letting Graham, never known for his blocking – an area where the Bears need help – move on.
Rams P Johnny Hekker
With apologies to Guy apologists, there's a legitimate case that Hekker is the greatest punter in league history. The four-time All-Pro is also 31, had the lowest yards per kick (45.6) of his nine-year career in 2020, remains the league's highest-paid at his position ($3.8 million annually) and is currently on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Wednesday, Los Angeles GM Les Snead, who signed former Bills P Corey Bojorquez in the offseason, declined to commit to Hekker for 2021. A divorce would allow the Rams to save the aggregate $12 million in base salary Hekker would be due through 2023.
Cardinals LB Jordan Hicks
Barring a trade, it would make more financial sense for Arizona to keep the veteran this season and save $6 million by letting him go next year. GM Steve Keim has already told Hicks, who's started every game for the Cards the past two seasons, that he won't start ahead of first-round LBs Isaiah Simmons (2020) and Zaven Collins (2021). If Keim takes the long view – and he very well may not have that luxury – he could cast the organization in a better light to future free agents by letting Hicks, 29, who hasn't played especially well since leaving the Eagles, move on to a situation where he could play regularly.
Patriots QB Brian Hoyer
New England rarely keeps three quarterbacks on its active roster – at least, that's how Bill Belichick operated for much of the Tom Brady era – which means Hoyer, who turns 36 in October, might have a relatively brief third stint in Foxborough. But there may be extenuating circumstances in play given Cam Newton is unvaccinated and first-rounder Mac Jones could benefit from Hoyer's familiarity with the offense and the "Patriot Way." The calculus might shift further assuming Jarrett Stidham, 25, eventually comes off the physically unable to perform list.
Cardinals WR Andy Isabella
Since blazing a 4.31-second 40-yard dash at the 2019 scouting combine, which led the Cards to spend a second-round pick on Isabella, not much production from the diminutive (5-9, 188 pounds) UMass product. He's landed on the reserve/COVID-19 list twice since training camp began ... and that was after Arizona spent a Round 2 selection this year on Purdue's Rondale Moore, ostensibly to do the damage from the slot Isabella (30 career catches) seldom has. Coach Kliff Kingsbury has already shown a penchant to get Moore the ball this preseason (6 catches, 3 rushes, plus return duties), which may not bode well for Isabella, who was already behind DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green and Christian Kirk.
Saints RB Latavius Murray
He's been a steady backup behind Alvin Kamara the past two seasons, carrying the ball 146 times in both for more than 630 yards each time. However Murray is now 31, has 12 yards on nine carries (with a fumble) this preseason and certainly seems to have fallen behind Tony Jones on the depth chart. Moving on would also save New Orleans, which always seems to be in a salary cap crunch, nearly $7 million over the next two seasons.
Saints QB Trevor Siemian
If New Orleans is that high on fourth-round rookie Ian Book – he could theoretically back up Jameis Winston in weeks when Taysom Hill is integrated elsewhere into the game plan – then it's hard to see why they need a luxury like Siemian at a time when teams almost never keep four QBs.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.