The final game of the preseason has come and gone. Now, executives across the NFL have to cut their rosters down from 90 players to 53 as the regular season looms — and it won’t be easy.
A long list of accomplished veterans will have to grind their teeth and cross their fingers when final rosters are set at 4 p.m. ET Saturday afternoon (we’re keeping track of them all here). Several big name players could wind up unemployed when tough decisions have to be made. Some won’t linger long as free agents; others could be facing the end of their pro careers. Here are the 10 biggest names — some Pro Bowlers, some former first-round picks, and even a former multiple time All-Pro — who could wind up on the wrong side of the transactions ledger come Sept. 1.
Robert Griffin III, QB, and Breshad Perriman, WR, Ravens
Griffin looked like a shrewd signing for Baltimore back when the team’s only backup quarterback was Josh Woodrum — and then the 2018 NFL Draft hit. The Ravens traded back into the first round to make 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson the final pick of Day 1, throwing the former Offensive Rookie of the Year’s comeback into question.
Griffin’s future in Maryland hinges on whether Baltimore is willing to carry three quarterbacks this fall, as Jackson and Joe Flacco are locks to make the roster. The former Washington standout was solid this preseason, completing nearly two-thirds of his passes and extending plays with his feet — but he also took a few risks downfield and was sacked on more than 14 percent of his dropbacks. With the Ravens’ present and future accounted for, that leaves little space for Griffin, even if he can be a high-value backup.
As for Perriman, he’s made just four starts since coming into the league as the 26th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. He needed a big preseason performance to prove he belongs on an NFL roster — especially after the Ravens added Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Willie Snead this offseason. While he led the team in both receptions and receiving yards in the preseason, he hasn’t looked like a first-rounder, and his underwhelming tenure in Baltimore may be coming to an end.
Paxton Lynch, QB, Broncos
Lynch is another 26th overall pick who has failed to live up to expectations with the team that selected him. The Memphis product was regarded as a project despite putting together a 28-touchdown, four-interception junior year with the Tigers, but the Broncos’ post-Peyton Manning quarterback conundrum forced him into the lineup early in his career. It did not go well; he threw as many touchdowns (four) as interceptions, notched slightly more than 155 passing yards per start, and averaged a Brock Osweiler-ian 6.2 yards per pass.
Still, he’s only 24 years old and was expect to be Case Keenum’s backup this fall until he was outplayed by 2017’s Mr. Irrelevant Chad Kelly. The former Ole Miss star has earned the No. 2 spot on the Denver depth chart, and that could mean Lynch is expendable.
Though Lynch had his best game yet in the Broncos’ preseason finale, it might not have been enough. If he does get cut, expect a needy team to gobble him up in hopes of unlocking his franchise passer potential.
Mike Glennon, QB, Cardinals
Just one year ago, Glennon was a $15 million quarterback pegged to be the Bears’ starter. Now he’s in a similar position as Griffin — a middling one-year signee wedged between a steady veteran and a potential-laden first-round pick. The 6’7 passer was a gamble that failed to pay off in Chicago. Glennon made only four starts and failed to do much with one of the league’s worst receiver rotations before giving way to 2017 No. 2 overall pick Mitchell Trubisky.
The Bears cut him rather than pay eight figures for a backup, and he migrated to Arizona, where he’s orbiting somewhere around Sam Bradford and rookie Josh Rosen on the Cardinals’ QB wish list. Bradford’s injury history and Glennon’s ability to be a caretaker backup option could convince Steve Wilks to hold on to him, but a mediocre preseason has the former Buccaneers and Bears starter dangerously close to the cut line.
For now though, he appears safe:
The #AZCardinals are going with 3 QBs to begin 2018 and that includes Mike Glennon, I’m told. One potential backup QB off the market. To keep 2 or 3 QBs is among the toughest decisions for teams today
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 31, 2018
Ameer Abdullah, RB, Lions
It’s been nearly five years since the Lions have had a 100-yard rusher, a so-bad-it’s-impressive figure that showcases how disappointing Abdullah’s tenure has been in Motown. The former second-round pick has sparked Detroit in fits and starts over the past three seasons but failed to develop into a steady threat thanks to a combination of injuries, ball security problems, and general ineffectiveness.
New head coach Matt Patricia has overseen an overhaul in the backfield, drafting Auburn runner Kerryon Johnson in the spring and later adding familiar face LeGarrette Blount in free agency. That overstuffs a rotation that already has Zach Zenner and Theo Riddick as holdovers. Abdullah’s value as a special teamer could earn him a stay of execution from the Lions roster, but he’s only returned eight kicks after his rookie season — and Johnson averaged more than 25 yards per return in his three years in college.
Jason McCourty, CB, and Mike Gillislee, RB, Patriots
New England has already discarded a handful of notable veterans this summer, shedding the contracts of Jordan Matthews, Kenny Britt, and Troy Niklas in the run up to the regular season. McCourty and Gillislee could be next.
Gillislee was a priority addition in 2017 after a season with the Bills where he led the league in yards per carry, but the bruising back was unable to carry that performance with him to New England. While he was the team’s featured back over the first half of the season, his output dropped dramatically over the final eight games, culminating in a string of healthy scratches from the active roster. Former Bengal Jeremy Hill is pushing for his roster spot and has been the more effective runner throughout the preseason.
McCourty still brings plenty of talent and veteran leadership to the secondary, but the 2018 Patriots are experiencing a youth movement in the backfield after drafting cornerbacks Duke Dawson and Keion Crossen and adding J.C. Jackson as a priority undrafted free agent. If the team doesn’t think it can sneak the latter two onto its practice squad, McCourty could be a casualty.
Greg Robinson, OL, Browns
The No. 2 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft is already on the third team of his career, and his inability to stick either as a tackle or a guard could signal the end of a disappointing professional run. Cleveland needed help after giving up 50 sacks last season and losing future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas to retirement. If Robinson can’t earn a role with the Browns, it’s tough to see him finding a roster spot elsewhere.
Kendall Wright, WR, Vikings
Minnesota is set at the top of its receiving depth chart with the dynamite duo of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Behind them, former first-round pick Laquon Treadwell looks ready to finally drop his career into gear after making just 21 receptions his first two seasons. After that, things get murky.
Wright was supposed to add a veteran presence and push Treadwell for that WR3 spot. Instead, he’s languished through the preseason and could see his roster spot usurped by unheralded youngsters like Stacy Coley, Chad Beebe, and Brandon Zylstra. It’s been five years since Wright was a 1,000-yard receiver with the Titans; 2018 could mark the end of a solid NFL career.
Brandon Marshall, WR, Seahawks
Seattle needs all the playmaking talent it can get, but the Seahawks are also in the midst of a rebuild. Does the 34-year-old Marshall have a place there? The six-time Pro Bowler is coming off the worst season of his career, as injuries limited him to just five games in 2017. He wasn’t especially effective when he was on the field, either; the veteran wideout averaged a career-low 8.6 yards per catch and failed to find the end zone even once.
Keeping Marshall could mean cutting a younger talent elsewhere on the roster. That includes 2017 third-round pick Amara Darboh. Will Pete Carroll decide to keep a modest win-now, short-term piece at the expense of a fringe long-term roster candidate? He’ll be faced with a similar decision on 30-year-old Byron Maxwell, who will either be a starter at cornerback for the team or cut Sept. 1, with no middle ground.
10 more notable names who could be cut: AJ McCarron, Bills; EJ Manuel, Raiders; Stevan Ridley, Steelers; Kony Ealy, Cowboys; Datone Jones, Cowboys; Samaje Perine, Washington; Stephone Anthony, Dolphins; Tony Lippett, Dolphins; Mark Herzlich, Giants; Cardale Jones, Chargers