Best Available: NFL Names to Watch As Teams Look to Sign Cut Players
- T.J. Ward, C.J. Spiller, Matt Jones and veteran punter Andy Lee are among the prominent names that teams will be looking to pick up after NFL final cuts
An unprecedented number of players—1,184 in total—were cut by their teams in time for the 4 p.m. deadline Saturday to reduce rosters from 90 to 53 players. In previous years there was an intermediate cutdown from 90 to 75 players after the third preseason game, but a rule change this offseason eliminated that step. That also means that potentially a record number of players will be added to teams through waiver claims or signings in the next 24 hours.
Players with less than four years of experience are subject to the waiver wire, where teams submit claims for players they would like to add to the roster by noon on Sunday, and those players are awarded to teams based on draft order. Veteran players—like Broncos safety T.J. Ward, for example—do not go through the waiver wire. They are on the open market as of 4 p.m. Saturday. Thus, another round of cuts is coming once players from those two groups are signed; in the NFL, rosters are never final.
Here are eight names to keep an eye on as teams look to add cut players over the course of the next day:
1. T.J. Ward (free agent): The veteran Broncos safety was part of the team’s 2014 free-agent spending spree and the venerable “No Fly Zone” on the back end of Denver’s defense, which helped the team to a Super Bowl 50 championship. Ward, though, was sidelined by a hamstring injury during the preseason, and second-year safety Justin Simmons stepped in for him, evidently making Ward and his $4.5 million salary expendable in the eyes of the front office. Word that Denver was trying to trade Ward leaked earlier in the week, but with no deal in place the team moved to cut him Saturday.
2. Ahtyba Rubin (free agent): The 31-year-old defensive tackle started every game for the Seahawks each of the past two seasons, after seven years in Cleveland. Seattle’s trade for Sheldon Richardson on Friday crowded out Rubin on the Seahawks’ 53-man roster, but the veteran run-stuffer could be a valuable addition for a team looking to bolster its depth on the defensive line.
3. Matt Jones (waiver wire): The 2015 third-round draft pick entered last season as Washington’s starting running back. But after a minor midseason injury he was surpassed by Rob Kelley and spent the second half of the season inactive. He even sat out Washington’s offseason program as he slid to fifth on the depth chart. He’s been prone to fumbles and is not a special-teams player, but his talent will certainly catch the eye of teams submitting waiver claims.
4. Brock Osweiler (free agent): When the Browns’ starting QB job went to rookie DeShone Kizer, Cleveland made the decision to cut Osweiler and eat his $16 million salary. That’s not as bad as it seems; Cleveland’s trade for Osweiler was always about acquiring Houston’s 2018 second-round pick. Picking up Osweiler, and his albatross of a contract, was simply the cost of the deal. In a fascinating twist, multiple outlets have reported Osweiler is likely to end up back with the Broncos, the only team where he’s had any success as a starter.
5. C.J. Spiller (free agent): The Chiefs release of the veteran running back came as something of a cutdown deadline surprise, particularly after Spencer Ware suffered a season-ending knee injury this preseason. Kansas City GM Brett Veach told reporters that Spiller could still end up on the roster, so it’s possible the Chiefs bring him back after Week 1 when veteran salaries are no longer guaranteed, or that they needed his spot temporarily for some kind of roster manipulation, because they only kept two backs on the roster as of now. Or, it’s possible he ends up elsewhere; the 30-year-old Spiller has bounced around the last few seasons but reports out of Kansas City were that the former first-round pick looked good in camp.
6. Joe Vellano (waiver wire): The 28-year-old defensive lineman has spent most of his NFL career battling for a roster spot; we told his story earlier this summer. Vellano had been vying for a position among a very deep Falcons defensive line, but for another team with less depth in that position group his abilty to play multiple positions on the line and his experience playing in big games—including the Super Bowl and three conference championships—could be attractive. “You do as much you can in the preseason games to show that you belong somewhere in the league,” Vellano said a few weeks ago.
7. Travis Rudolph (waiver wire): The rookie receiver captured the hearts of America last fall when, during a visit to a middle school with a group of Florida State football players, he separated from the pack and ate lunch with a student with autism who was eating alone. That has no bearing on his ability to make an NFL roster, but, Rudolph also turned plenty of heads this preseason with some nifty catches. He was a surprising cut by the Giants, but they had a crowded group at the position.
8. Andy Lee (free agent): The 35-year-old punter, for whom the Panthers gave up a 2018 fourth-round pick just one year ago, lost out on Carolina’s punting job this year. Lee, a three-time first team All-Pro, missed the second half of last season with a hamstring injury, and the Panthers chose this year to stick with his younger, cheaper replacement, Michael Palardy. A team in need of a reliable veteran at the position could take a look at bringing in Lee.