Once the hype of the Super Bowl was over, NFL teams started their version of spring cleaning.
That is, they cut ties with some players who still have some game left in them by releasing them. We might see Tony Romo and Jay Cutler — who is reportedly mulling retirement — added to the list of released. Stay tuned.
While some of the veterans released were practice squad fodder or bench depth, there have been some very notable players put on the market.
Not only that, it wasn’t just mediocre teams purging themselves of formerly glorious talent (to make cap space), but playoff teams ridding their squads of high-priced help too.
Last year, a slew of players found themselves without a team at this time, including Denver Broncos TE Owen Daniels, Miami Dolphins CB Brent Grimes and Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III.
Here are 10 who have already been cut and made instant free agents, with a few more likely to follow leading up to the official March 9 opening of free agency.
10. Josh McCown, QB – Cleveland Browns
When a deplorable team like the Cleveland Browns uses no fewer than seven quarterbacks in a season like they did in 2016, it’s inevitable that at least one would get cut. The first to go was McCown, a 14-year veteran who started three games last season. He completed 90 of 165 passes for 1,100 yards, six touchdowns and six interceptions. McCown was also sacked 18 times and finished with a rating of 72.3. One of the team’s most respected leaders, McCown set a Browns’ single-game record with 457 yards in a game against Baltimore in 2015. Otherwise, he was 1-10 as a starter in two injury-plagued seasons with Cleveland. McCown, 37, was due to make $3.6 million next season and was released by the Browns before they had to pay him a $750,000 roster bonus in March.
9. Leodis McKelvin, DB – Philadelphia Eagles
It was just like the movie Groundhog Day for McKelvin again this February, as he was cut by the Buffalo Bills about the same time last year. The Eagles, who needed help at corner, eagerly scooped him up and signed him to a two-year, $6.4 million contract. The nine-year veteran had a so-so campaign with Philly, making 43 tackles, swatting away 16 passes and recording two interceptions, one for a pick six. As a whole, the Eagles secondary was ranked in some circles as the worst in the league and the team’s three starting corners ranked in the top eight for receiving yards allowed among all defenders in the NFL. By cutting McKelvin loose, the team will save $3.2 million against the cap. At 31, the former first round pick isn’t washed up and would be suited to team that utilizes more dynamic nickel and dime defensive schemes.
8. Rashad Jennings, RB – New York Giants
The Giants, who made the playoffs after a 11-5 season, weren’t happy with a first round exit and pulled the rug out from under veteran running back Rashad Jennings in a move to get younger and save money. Signed to a four-year, $14 million contract in 2014, Jennings rushed for just 593 yards and three TDs in 2016, a year after setting a career high with 863 yards. He also caught 35 passes for 201 yards and another score in 2016. Jennings, a seventh-round pick in 2009, was pretty much a non-factor in the Giants 38-13 wild card game loss to Green Bay, carrying the ball five times for 29 yards and catching one pass for four more. The Giants will save $2.5 million towards the cap with the move. Jennings, who will turn 32 in a month, played three seasons with New York and would be best employed in a committee running back role.
7. Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB – New York Jets
Technically, Ryan Fitzpatrick wasn’t cut by the New York Jets. Realistically, he was. The 12-year veteran signed a one-year, $12 million pact with the Jets last July, but technically the contract was for two years, but contained language in which the second year would be automatically voided five days after the Super Bowl. That came to fruition, as expected, on Feb. 10. In that contract, Fitzpatrick received a $10 million bonus, prorated over two year to help with the Jets’ 2016 salary cap. Therefore, the team is on the hook for $5 million in “dead cap” money for the upcoming season. Free to sign with any team (prior to the March 9 free agency period), Fitzpatrick is still adrift and not likely to re-sign in New York, which may also lose soon-to-be free agent QB Geno Smith. The Amish Rifle started 11 of his 14 games last year, throwing for 2,710 yards, 12 TDs (17 INTs) and a career low passer rating of 69.6.
6. Mike Tolbert, RB – Carolina Panthers
As a teammate, not many are as revered for their personality as Tolbert was in Carolina. The compact fullback, who was lovingly called “Fat Boy” by Panthers’ teammates because of his 5’9″, 243 lb. frame, was an end zone dancing fireplug for five seasons in Carolina. However, due to diminishing returns, was cut on Tuesday, saving the Panthers $1.725 million on the cap. Tolbert, who once ran for 735 yard and 11 TDs with San Diego in 2011 (along with 216 receiving yards for a career high 951 all-purpose yards) had slipped all the way to just 114 yards last season (two starts in 16 games). He had no rushing touchdowns, but caught 10 passes for 72 yards and a score. The three-time Pro Bowler and two-time First Team All-Pro is 31 and would best be utilized in a pro set offence that relies on the run-pass option (RPO).
5. Jared Odrick, DL – Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jags were not near as good as they thought they were going to be in 2016, leading to another off-season re-make. One veteran casualty of the house cleaning was former Miami Dolphins first round pick (28th overall in 2010 out of Penn State), defensive lineman Jared Odrick. After leading the Jaguars in sacks with 5.5 in 2015, the versatile DL missed 10 games in 2016 and registered just one sack. He was cut on Monday in a move that can mostly be quantified as cost-cutting, since the 29-year-old was due $8.5 million on the third year of a five-year, $42.5 million contract ($22 million guaranteed) that he signed in 2015. The Pennsylvania native and former Nittany Lion might be a nice fit in Pittsburgh, which suffered a lot of man games lost on their defensive line last year and could use a seasoned rotational player like Odrick.
4. Sam Shields, DB – Green Bay Packers
His career might really be in the dumper, as former Super Bowl champion and 2014 Pro Bowler Sam Shields missed all but one game in 2016 after yet another concussion (of a reported four in his seven-year career). The Packers cut the 29-year-old cornerback earlier this month, making him an instant free agent and saving the team a reported $9 million in cap space. Shields has insisted that he still wants to play, despite having concussion-like symptoms, and a team wanting to take a gamble on the veteran DB would get a player not far removed from a stellar 2014 campaign that saw him make 44 tackles, successfully defend 11 passes and record two interceptions.
3. Victor Cruz, WR – New York Giants
Wide receiver Cruz, who spent six injury-marred years in New York after signing as an undrafted free agent in 2010 was officially released on Feb. 13. No suitors have as of yet lined up for the services of the Super Bowl champion and 2012 Pro Bowler, but it may not be long. Cruz, who is 30, suffered a torn patellar tendon after just six games in 2014, and then missed the entire 2015 season. In his comeback year in 2016, Cruz had 39 receptions in 12 starts, with 586 yards and a single TD, caught in week 1 against Dallas. He hasn’t been able to regain the form that saw him make 82 catches and roll up 1,536 yards in his rookie 2011 campaign, but at this point in his career he has the veteran savvy to play in the slot (his preferred place).
2. Mario Williams, DE – Miami Dolphins
Just like a couple of players on this list, it’s deja-vu all over again for Dolphins’ DE Mario Williams. One year after being cut by Buffalo after four seasons in the Queen City, the 11-year veteran defensive end and three-time First Team All-Pro finds himself on the unemployed line again. The Dolphins parted ways with Williams on Feb. 16, saving the team $8.5 million in salary cap space. Williams had back-to-back down years in 2015-16, recording 13 tackles and 1.5 sacks for Miami in 2016 and 19 tackles and five sacks for Buffalo in 2015. However, he was in double digits in sacks each of his first three seasons with the Bills, including a career high 14.5 in 2014 (along with 42 tackles). The Carolina Panthers, who are looking for help at defensive end, could be a good fit.
1. D’Qwell Jackson, LB – Indianapolis Colts
The Colts must really need to save money in 2017. Why else, then, did they cut LB D’Qwell Jackson, their second leading tackler from 2016 (and team leader the two previous seasons)? Jackson, 33, was released to save the Colts $5.5 million against the salary cap, despite registering 78 tackles, one sack and three pass defences. After breaking in with Cleveland in 2006, the Maryland alumnus has led his teams in tackle eight different times. He has 1,119 career tackles in 141 games, along with nine interceptions (two pick-sixes), 19.5 sacks, 43 passes defended and seven forced fumbles. The 2014 Pro Bowler would be a good fit for a team that doesn’t necessarily need a great pass defender at linebacker, but rather a great point-of-attack guy who just plain makes a lot of tackles.