Out with the old, in with the new: Players on watch after NFL draft and free agency
- Sorry Sammie Coates and Jeff Janis—your teams may have drafted your replacements this year.
With the NFL draft complete and free agency mostly settled, each team's rosters look significantly different than they did four months ago. And while plenty of attention will be focused on the new members of the teams, those additions will have ramifications. Stockpiling at some positions will put these players on notice as we move toward the summer and then into training camp.
Sammie Coates, WR, Steelers
When the Steelers drafted JuJu Smith-Schuster in the second round, Pittsburgh WR Martavis Bryant tweeted (and later deleted) that Coates’s job—not his—is hanging in limbo. And he’s probably right. Coates is a deep-ball threat, differentiating himself from Smith-Schuster, but the Steelers WR, who’s coming off off-season groin surgery, struggled with drops last season. To top it off, deep-ball specialist Martavis Bryant was just reinstated. If not Coates, there will likely be a well-known name cut out of the Steel City’s receiving corps that currently includes Smith-Schuster, Coates, Bryant, Antonio Brown, Eli Rogers and Darrius Heyward-Bey, among others.
Matt Jones, RB, Redskins
Two years ago, Jones showed enough potential sharing touches with Alfred Morris that the Redskins let Morris—who holds the franchise’s single-season rushing record—become a free agent. Then Jones struggled mightily last season with fumbling, injuries and general ineffectiveness and was eventually replaced by undrafted rookie Rob Kelley. With Kelley and third-down back Chris Thompson returning and fourth-rounder Samaje Perine coming in, Jones is looking more and more like the odd man out. The Redskins have already moved him to the trading block, but if they can’t find any partners, it wouldn’t be a stretch to see Jones out of the nation’s capital just over two years are being drafted.
Donald Stephenson, OT, Broncos
With first-round pick Garett Bolles now in the mix to start at left tackle for Denver, Stephenson and free-agent signing Menelik Watson are left to battle it out at the right tackle spot. The issue for Stephenson, though, is that he re-negotiated his contract this year and is owed a $2-million bonus if he’s on the roster come Week 1. He was also among the worst linemen in the league last year—Pro Football Focus rated him the worst. Because it saves $2 million, the Broncos could very easily show Stephenson the door.
Jeff Janis, WR, Packers
Even casual fans will remember Janis as the guy who caught Aaron Rodgers’s Hail Mary two years ago to help force overtime against the Cardinals. Janis is an incredible athlete with a monstrous 6' 4" frame, but he’s never been able to become a consistent target. Last year seemed to be a big opportunity for the Saginaw Valley State product, but he was eventually surpassed on the depth chart by guys such as undrafted rookie free agent Geronimo Allison. Piling on that, the Packers added two big wide receivers in Purdue’s DeAngelo Yancey (fifth round) and LSU’s Malachi Dupre (seventh) in the draft. Janis carries a miniscule dead cap of about $12,000 this season, and it looks like the Packers are moving on.
Orlando Franklin, OG, Chargers
There may not be anyone happier with his team’s draft than Philip Rivers. The Chargers used their first three picks on offensive players, giving him a big target (Clemson’s Mike Williams) and two pro-ready guards (Western Kentucky’s Forrest Lamp and Indiana’s Dan Feeney) in the following two rounds. The Chargers’ oft-injured and inconsistent line—two words that also describe Franklin’s time in Charger blue—is in for a shape-up, and that could start with Franklin. Brought in from Denver in 2015, Franklin’s dead cap number for next season falls from nearly $5 million to $1.6 million if released after June 1. If Lamp and Feeney impress, Franklin could be on the cutting board.
Koa Misi, LB, Dolphins
Misi is entering the final year of the four-year, $17-million contract he signed with Miami back in 2013, but the contract has been restructured twice and looks very different than it did when he first signed. After struggling to even get on the field —and not impressing when he could—Misi has seen the Dolphins add the ultra-dependable Lawrence Timmons as a free agent and Charles Harris and Raekwon McMillon in the first two rounds of the draft. Timmons will be able to mentor the rookies, and the Dolphins can save over $1 million if they cut Misi this year.