Now that the NFL draft has concluded and minicamps are next on the off-season radar, most teams are pretty much set as it relates to their 53-man rosters.
This doesn’t mean things won’t change between now and the start of training camp during the summer. Some veterans could find themselves out of work after their replacements were selected in the draft. Others simply don’t fit into what their team is building moving forward.
Here’s a look at five key veterans that could still be released prior to the start of training camp.
1. Jimmy Graham, tight end, Seattle Seahawks
On the surface this makes absolutely no sense. It’s also highly unlikely to happen. After exhausting a first-round pick on Graham last offseason, Seattle is likely going to want to play this one out.
Though, there is definitely a scenario in play that could lead to this three-time Pro Bowler being sent packing from the Pacific Northwest.
Prior to injuring his knee in late November, Graham struggled to fit into what Seattle had built on offense last season. He recorded just 48 receptions for 605 yards and two touchdowns, numbers that are not indicative of the highest-paid tight end in the NFL ($10 million per season).
Seattle could conceivably release Graham and save $8 million against the cap without a dead cap hit this summer. After picking up former Ohio State tight end Nick Vannett in the third round of this year’s draft, there’s also going to be some competition for reps at tight end in Seattle.
Let’s say Graham, who is still recovering from off-season knee surgery, fails to impress in camp or isn’t at 100 percent. What would stop Seattle from cutting its losses here? We know general manager John Schneider and Co. have not been afraid to admit their mistakes in the past.
This would only be magnified if Seattle found itself in need of having to add a couple players at other positions.
2. Pierre Garcon, wide receiver, Washington Redskins
After selecting Josh Doctson in the first round of April’s draft, the Redskins have themselves quite the solid wide receiver group. It’s also becoming younger by the minute.
Last year’s surprise performer, Jamison Crowder, promises to see more playing time after catching a ridiculous 76 percent of the passes thrown in his direction as a rookie. Meanwhile, DeSean Jackson’s contract makes it a foregone conclusion that he will remain in the nation’s capital.
Enter into the equation a player in Garcon who struggled to perform at a high level with Kirk Cousins under center last season.
Garcon, 29, is set to make $10.2 million for a Redskins team that currently finds itself over the cap. With a dead cap hit of just $2.2 million, there stands a decent chance that Washington will either ask Garcon to take a pay cut or release him altogether.
3. Nick Foles, quarterback, Los Angeles Rams
It’s readily apparent that the Rams are prepared to start rookie No. 1 pick Jared Goff out of the gate. Even if that doesn’t happen, Case Keenum appears to be ahead of Foles in the pecking order.
If that’s the case, there’s absolutely no reason for the Rams to keep a third-string quarterback that’s slated to earn nearly $9 million in 2016. The one issue here is that the Rams would take a $7 million cap hit by releasing Foles after June 1st.
This makes a trade more likely, especially considering any team adding Foles would only take on a salary of $1.8 million.
Of course, that’s dependent on anyone showing interest in a quarterback that led the league’s worst passing attack last season.
If not, the Rams could very well decide that saving nearly $2 million against the cap would be more beneficial than keeping Foles around as a third stringer.
4. Knile Davis, running back, Kansas City Chiefs
We already know Davis is on the trade block. He was during the draft last month, and it’s safe to assume nothing has changed since then.
Davis, a third-round pick out of Arkansas back in 2013, fell out of favor in Kansas City this past season. He put up just 28 rush attempts a year after tallying a total of 134 as the latter half of a dynamic duo with Jamaal Charles.
Davis found himself behind Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware, even after Charles was lost for the season after five games in 2015.
While the dynamic athlete still provides something of substance in the return game, it sure does appear that his role in Kansas City’s offense is all but a thing of the past. With $5 million remaining under the cap, the Chiefs would be smart to cut ties with Davis at a savings of $700,000.
5. Antoine Bethea, safety, San Francisco 49ers
A Pro Bowl performer for San Francisco two years ago, the 31-year-old Bethea missed the final nine games of last season to injury. With the 49ers’ surplus of young and dynamic safeties, there’s a decent chance the team could decide to move on to the future right now.
Youngsters Jaquiski Tartt and Jimmie Ward played at high levels a season ago. Both are now prepared to take on larger roles.
With a former Pro Bowler in Eric Reid also in the mix, there might not be a need for Bethea this season. In fact, an argument could be made that San Francisco should move Reid to strong safety while utilizing Ward’s plus-level coverage skills at free safety.
It’s also important to note that rumors last month suggested Bethea himself was on the trade block. With a $6 million cap hit for 2016, it seems highly unlikely any team would bite on a trade at this point in the offseason.
(all salary information provided by Spotrac)