7 familiar names (and more!) on the roster bubble heading into 2019’s NFL cutdown day

Carlos Hyde, T.J. Yeldon, and other players who weren’t Jaguars last season.

NFL teams have several tough decisions to make heading into the final weekend of the offseason. Rosters will be sliced from 90 to 53 players in advance of the regular season, leaving large swaths of gridiron hopefuls looking for jobs. Many of these players will be young, overmatched, and undrafted camp bodies. Some will be veterans who were once Pro Bowlers, fantasy mainstays, and longtime starters.

The Patriots already got a head start on the process by releasing Mike Pennel, a useful defensive lineman they’d signed away from the Jets with a two-year, $5 million contract in March. T.J. McDonald had started 75 games in his six seasons as a pro, including 14 last fall with the Dolphins. That wasn’t enough to keep the safety in camp through August in Miami. Semi-notable young players like Josh Jones, D’Onta Foreman, and Kevin White were all served their walking papers before they could finish the preseason slate.

These releases ranged from mildly surprising to predictable, but the action will ramp up with final cuts looming. So which well-known veterans could be changing addresses — or wrapping up their careers — when teams finalize their rosters?

Carlos Hyde, RB, Chiefs

Kansas City signed Hyde to help ease the pain of Kareem Hunt’s release, but the five-veteran has made little impact so far. Fresh off a season in which he averaged only 3.3 yards per carry, Hyde has struggled to earn reps in the Chiefs’ high-impact offense.

Hyde looks like a near-certain casualty of final roster cuts. He’s no longer practicing with the first-team offense and has just eight carries through three preseason games — while averaging a consistent 3.3 yards per touch.

His production has fallen off significantly the past two years as he’s developed from a potential breakthrough tailback to an unreliable space-filler. He had 59 receptions in 2017 to help establish himself as part of the 49ers’ passing game, but that number fell to only 10 in 14 games last season between the Browns and Jaguars — for an inefficient 33 yards. That trend has continued this summer; he hasn’t earned a single target this preseason.

Potential landing spot: Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers need warm bodies in the backfield, and Hyde could be a useful short-term replacement while the club hopes Ronald Jones can find his groove. It’s very possible Hyde’s days as an active roster participant are behind him, though.

T.J. Yeldon, RB, Bills

Yeldon is another former Jacksonville back who could be looking for a new home. He never quite followed up on a promising rookie campaign, but his ability to contribute as both a runner and receiver made the now 25-year-old a versatile tool for Jaguars offenses that ranged from competent to awful.

Unfortunately for him, he may not get the chance to prove he can level up outside of Florida. The Bills have plenty of talent and big names in their backfield for 2019, starting with LeSean McCoy and Frank Gore. While McCoy entered the offseason as a potential cut candidate, general manager Brandon Beane has reassured the press the back will be with the team for the regular season. The ageless Gore has remained effective through the preseason (6.4 yards per carry). Throw in rookie third-round pick Devin Singletary (66 rushing touchdowns in three seasons at Florida Atlantic) and you can see how Yeldon gets squeezed out of Orchard Park and onto the open market.

Potential landing spot: Houston. The Texans have a gaping hole in their backfield after Lamar Miller’s ACL injury. Yeldon could be the most sought-after runner on the September market. Houston would give him the greatest opportunity to rebuild his value as a tailback.

Laquon Treadwell, WR, Vikings

Minnesota has been trying to move away from its disappointing young wideout the past couple years. The Vikings have previously searched for trade partners for the former first-round pick, but haven’t been able to find a buyer for a receiver with just 56 receptions in three NFL seasons. They can still try to recoup some value for Treadwell, though a conditional seventh-round pick may be the best for which they can hope.

It’s more likely the club cuts its losses with a pending 2020 free agent who may not be able to crack the top four of its wideout rotation in 2019. Treadwell has scored only one touchdown in his three seasons as a pro. His longest play only sprang for 25 yards.

Potential landing spot: Seattle. The Seahawks need wideouts. Doug Baldwin retired. D.K. Metcalf is fighting off a knee injury. David Moore is fighting through a broken arm. Taking a flier on a reclamation project makes sense for Pete Carroll. The opportunity to catch passes from one of the league’s most consistent QBs would make this an enticing destination for Treadwell, too.

DeShone Kizer, QB, Packers

Kizer was thrown to the wolves in a 22-interception rookie season with Cleveland in 2017. A change of scenery after a 2018 trade to Green Bay has failed to jumpstart his career. The former second-round pick struggled mightily in relief of Aaron Rogers last season, completing only 47 percent of his passes while getting sacked on nearly nine percent of his dropbacks.

He could lose his understudy role to undrafted free agent Tim Boyle. Boyle wasn’t much in college — he wrapped up his career with a 11:13 TD:INT ratio at Eastern Kentucky — but has been one of the Packers’ top performers this preseason. More tellingly, he was the player head coach Matt LaFleur turned to when he needed a starter to replace Aaron Rodgers on an 80-yard field for a Week 3 exhibition in Winnipeg. Boyle showed out that evening, throwing for 191 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Kizer, comparatively, threw only seven passes for 24 yards ... and an interception.

Potential landing spot: Indianapolis. The Colts have a sudden need for quarterback help, and it’s gotten to the point where they’ve introduced Brock Osweiler into their search. Kizer may be actively worse than Osweiler at the moment, but his arguably higher ceiling could make him an option for a team that needs to develop a franchise passer all over again.

Paxton Lynch, QB, Seahawks

Lynch is in a similar position as Kizer; a onetime valued prospect who risks being the third man in a two-person QB room. The former Broncos starter is battling Geno Smith for the opportunity to back up Russell Wilson this fall, but has failed to separate himself from his competition. In two preseason games so far he’s averaged only 5.9 yards per pass attempt.

He didn’t play at all in Seattle’s preseason Week 3 win over the Chargers. Instead, he watched as Wilson and then Smith handled the team’s offense in a game many teams consider their “dress rehearsal” before the regular season.

Potential landing spot: Dallas. Jerry Jones loved Lynch before the 2016 NFL Draft. If nothing else, pushing Lynch into a competition with Cooper Rush for backup duties would sound like the most Arlington suburbs position battle of all time.

Duke Dawson, CB, and Obi Melifonwu, S, Patriots

Dawson and Melifonwu aren’t household names and haven’t been in the league long, but each was seemingly destined for bigger things not long ago. Melifonwu, a 2017 second-round pick for the Raiders, hasn’t been able to turn his otherworldly athleticism into a consistent role in the NFL. While he played a minor role in the Pats’ Super Bowl run after being released by Jon Gruden, his inability to grasp complex coverage schemes could outweigh his special teams value for the Pats.

Dawson’s tenure in New England may come and go without playing a single regular season snap. Bill Belichick invested the 56th pick of the 2018 draft on the slot cornerback, only to see him miss his rookie season due to injury. He hasn’t been able to keep up with the Patriots’ starters this preseason, and while he’s been trending upward recently he may not have the repertoire needed to crack a deep defensive back rotation in his second year.

The Patriots also have another semi-big name who could end up on the market. Brian Hoyer has been Bill Belichick’s preferred backup for a significant chunk of his pro career, and he could lose his job to rookie fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham. The former Auburn and Baylor signal caller has been one of the preseason’s top passers — but he may need more experience before Belichick trusts him to play understudy to a 42-year-old stalwart.

Potential landing spot: Buffalo for Melifonwu, New York for Dawson. The Bills and Jets have been happy to scoop up Patriots’ draft busts in recent years, adding players like Conor McDermott (Bills, 2017) and Antonio Garcia (Jets, 2018) to their offseason rosters.

The Bills have a solid backline defense with Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, but have room to add a high-upside project like Melifonwu. Dawson could fight for a spot on an unsettled cornerback depth chart in New York.

Approximately 60 percent of the Dolphins roster

Miami’s in the midst of a rebuild, leaving their depth chart in a greater state of flux than anyone else in the league. We’ve already seen general manager Chris Grier be proactive with his decisions. He cut presumptive starters like McDonald, Akeem Spence, and Jordan Mills between his third and fourth preseason game, leaving a handful of empty lockers waiting to be filled by rising prospects. With the team focused on youth, almost every tenured and semi-expensive option on the roster is vulnerable.

Based on a combination of potential, production, and dead cap space investment, only about 15 players are rock-solid locks to make the Dolphins’ roster in 2019. That includes building blocks like Xavien Howard, Reshad Jones, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Christian Wilkins alongside role-filling veterans like Albert Wilson, Jakeem Grant, and Ryan Fitzpatrick.

So if you’re a veteran role player taking up a spot that could be filled by a higher-ceiling, lower-cost prospect, you may not be long for South Florida. Linebackers Raekwon McMillan and Kiko Alonso could each be looking for new homes this September. Same with oft-disappointing wideout DeVante Parker — though his release would only save around $300,000 in cap space — and his depth chart mate Kenny Stills, whose activism and declining production may have pushed him to the roster bubble.

A pink slip could be a blessing, though. This year’s Miami team will be trusting the process all the way to the top of the 2020 NFL Draft order.

Possible landing spots: Pretty much anywhere. The Dolphins aren’t likely to cut any superstars or sure-fire starters on other teams, but Miami could throw off some useful depth as it discards ballast headed into the season. Players who escape the Dolphins’ foundering ship could find themselves on a contender this winter.

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