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32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

It won’t be long before NFL teams begin their preparation for the 2021 season, as training camps open at the end of July. While much of the anticipation from a fan’s perspective is based on seeing rookies and offseason additions for the first time, that’s not the only thing that bears watching.

Along with rookies trying to make their mark, established players will be fighting to maintain their current roster spots and prolong their NFL careers. From former Super Bowl MVPs to underachieving former top draft picks to highly decorated players trying to justify their salary and status over younger, more inexpensive players to backups looking to just hang on to a roster spot for another year, our NFL Nation writers picked one veteran player from the teams they cover who could be on the bubble to break camp with their current teams.

So as you get hyped up for training camp and the NFL action to come, here are some players you’ve heard of that will be scratching and clawing to keep their roster spots.

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32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

AFC EAST

32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

Veteran in danger: Matt Breida, RB

Why he could get cut: Breida signed with the Bills this offseason and, on paper, immediately added a home run-hitting element that no other player on the roster possesses. But his place on the final 53-man roster is not set in stone; Breida still has to beat out Antonio Williams and Christian Wade for the final seat in Buffalo’s running backs room — which might not have more than three backs considering how often the Bills throw the ball. If Breida can make himself valuable on special teams, such as fellow running back Taiwan Jones, it will help his cause. — Marcel Louis-Jacques


32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

Veteran in danger: Allen Hurns, WR

Why he could get cut: The Dolphins’ receiver room got a lot deeper with the additions of Will Fuller V and Jaylen Waddle to pair with 2020 starters DeVante Parker and Preston Williams. Add promising 2020 third-round pick Lynn Bowden Jr. and that’s five receiver spots likely locked down, leaving veterans such as Hurns (a versatile backup), Albert Wilson (an enormous performer in yards after the catch when healthy), Jakeem Grant (All-Pro returner with a $3.6 million salary) and Mack Hollins (special teams standout) competing for one or two remaining spots. All could be vulnerable, but Wilson and Grant might have an early edge over Hurns. — Cameron Wolfe


32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

Veteran in danger: N’Keal Harry, WR

Why he could get cut: Calling a third-year player a veteran might be questionable, but Harry not only has a crowded depth chart ahead of him in Nelson Agholor, Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne, but also competition for the No. 4 or 5 role from others who seem to provide more value on special teams (e.g. Gunner Olszewski as a punt returner) or have a standout trait (e.g. Isaiah Zuber‘s speed). Harry’s contract might help him stick around, as the Patriots would take a $2 million cap hit for letting him go. That could ultimately buy the 2019 first-round pick a bit more time to see if things turn around. — Mike Reiss


32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

Veteran in danger: Chuma Edoga, OT

Why he could get cut: Edoga has started 12 games since being drafted in the third round in 2019 but has slipped so far down the depth chart that his roster spot is in jeopardy. He’s no better than the fourth tackle, behind Mekhi Becton, George Fant and the recently-signed Morgan Moses. Edoga was a risky pick at the time because of inconsistent play and off-the-field concerns, but the hope was that he’d mature and grow into his potential. — Rich Cimini

32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

AFC NORTH

32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

Veteran in danger: Andre Smith, OT

Why he could get cut: The No. 6 overall pick in the 2009 draft opted out last season and then skipped all of the voluntary workouts this offseason, a questionable decision given there’s a prime opportunity for him in Baltimore. The Ravens could use an experienced swing tackle because Ronnie Stanley is coming off season-ending ankle surgery and Orlando Brown Jr. was traded to the Chiefs. Smith participated in mandatory minicamp but will need an impressive training camp to grab one of the final spots on the offensive line. — Jamison Hensley


32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

Veteran in danger: Xavier Su’a-Filo, OL

Why he could get cut: Su’a-Filo was signed last offseason to be in the mix for a starting guard spot. But with the midseason acquisition of Quinton Spain, who appeared to end the offseason with the inside track at left guard, Su’a-Filo is at risk of not making the roster. Releasing Su’a-Filo also represents $2.4 million in cap savings for the Bengals, according to Roster Management System. — Ben Baby


32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

Veteran in danger: Mack Wilson, LB

Why he could get cut: The Browns just spent their second-round pick on Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, whom they considered taking in the first round before settling on CB Greg Newsome II. Owusu-Koramoah plays weakside linebacker, the same position as Wilson, who was drafted in 2019 by the previous front-office regime. Whether Owusu-Koramoah eventually starts or not, Wilson can still carve out an important role in the linebacking rotation, but to do that, he’ll have to play better than he did last season. — Jake Trotter

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Rob Ninkovich says he’s willing to bet that the Steelers will end up being last in the AFC North this season.


32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

Veteran in danger: Benny Snell Jr., RB

Why he could get cut: Snell had moments where he looked to be the Steelers’ next bell-cow back, most notably in the 2020 season opener against the Giants, when he racked up 113 yards on 19 carries in James Conner‘s absence. But he never came close to matching those numbers the rest of the season and wound up averaging just 3.3 yards per carry with four touchdowns. In addition to drafting Najee Harris, the Steelers also signed veteran RB Kalen Ballage in the offseason. And while Ballage, who averaged 4.3 yards per carry with the Jets and 3.3 ypc with the Chargers last season, isn’t going to be fighting Harris for the starting job, he could push Snell for a roster spot. — Brooke Pryor

32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

AFC SOUTH

32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

Veteran in danger: Mark Ingram II, RB

Why he could get cut: The Texans’ running back group is deep right now, and it seems unlikely that there’s room for Ingram, David Johnson, Phillip Lindsay and the newly signed Rex Burkhead on the final 53-man roster. Given that the Texans restructured Johnson’s contract in March and doubled his guaranteed money, he will probably make the team. Ingram, who signed a one-year deal in March, could be the odd man out. — Sarah Barshop


32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

Veteran in danger: Ben Banogu, DE

Why he could get cut: Banogu, a second-round pick by the Colts in 2019, only played in nine games in 2020. It wasn’t because Banogu was injured, either. It was because he was inactive for several games due to falling so far down the depth chart. A sign of how the Colts feel about Banogu, who only has 2½ sacks in two seasons, was when they used their first two picks in this year’s draft on defensive ends — Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo. “It has to be done on the practice field, it has to be done in drills because we study everything and we look at every single thing that every player does,” defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said about Banogu in early June. — Mike Wells


32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

Veteran in danger: Taven Bryan, DT

Why he could get cut: Bryan, the 29th overall pick in 2018, has been a disappointment in his first three seasons and lost his starting job last season to undrafted rookie Doug Costin. Bryan is one of the strongest and most physically gifted defensive linemen on the roster but his feel for the game isn’t at the same level, which was one of the concerns draft analysts had about him coming out of Florida. He’ll play some end in training camp as the Jaguars switch to a 3-4 defense and maybe that will be the spark to ensure that he’s around to finish out his rookie contract. — Mike DiRocco


32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

Veteran in danger: Ty Sambrailo, OT

Why he could get cut: Sambrailo’s versatility is what he’ll lean on as he competes for a roster spot. He can play both tackle spots and has started at guard before. But second-round pick Dillon Radunz has impressed by playing snaps everywhere except center during OTAs and minicamp. Sambrailo and Radunz will be strong competitors for the starting right tackle spot along with veteran tackle Kendall Lamm. If Radunz doesn’t win the starting job, he’ll likely be a swing tackle. Lamm’s contract holds a $3 million dead hit if he’s released, whereas releasing Sambrailo would only cost $750,000. If the Titans go with one veteran reserve, Sambrailo might be the odd man out. — Turron Davenport

32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

AFC WEST

32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

Veteran in danger: Royce Freeman, RB

Why he could get cut: This will be George Paton’s first year as general manager, so it will be the first time anyone sees what his roster decisions will be. But the Broncos haven’t kept four running backs in their cut down to 53 players — not including a fullback — since 2017. Rookie Javonte Williams is going to get plenty of work and one of Paton’s first moves was to sign running back Mike Boone. With Melvin Gordon III still on the roster, it puts Freeman in a position to need a quality camp to force the Broncos to keep four backs or to choose him over one of the others. — Jeff Legwold


32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

Veteran in danger: Andrew Wylie, G

Why he could get cut: Wylie started 35 games for the Chiefs over the past three seasons, but the additions of guards Joe Thuney and Trey Smith and the return of Laurent Duvernay-Tardif from opting out leaves Wylie vulnerable. Thuney will start at left guard and a battle is brewing on the right side between Smith and Duvernay-Tardif. Wiley’s best hope is to claim a backup spot. — Adam Teicher


32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

Veteran in danger: Brandon Parker, OT

Why he could get cut: The third-round pick in Jon Gruden’s first draft class since returning in 2018 should have solidified his hold on the right tackle spot by now, no? Well … after starting 12 games as a rookie, Parker has started just seven times, and the Raiders drafted Alex Leatherwood this spring to play right tackle. Unless Parker grabs hold of that backup swing tackle spot, that already tenuous bubble could very well burst. Bonus — also keep your eyes on RB Jalen Richard, CB Nevin Lawson and WR Zay Jones. — Paul Gutierrez


32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

Veteran in danger: Justin Jackson, RB

Why he could get cut: I can’t see the Chargers keeping four running backs (Austin Ekeler, Joshua Kelley being two that are safe) and they just drafted Larry Rountree out of Missouri in the sixth round. So one’s got to go and I think it could be Jackson, who is entering his fourth season. Rountree has massive thighs, a good thing for a running back, and he will fit in nicely as a third back. Ekeler is fully healthy and Kelley is really fast and showed potential as a rookie last season. — Shelley Smith

32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

NFC EAST

32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

Veteran in danger: Jayron Kearse, S

Why he could get cut: The Cowboys do not have a lot of veterans in danger for the traditional reasons, like money, age or draft resources at that spot. So it comes down to Kearse or Darian Thompson, though both could make the final roster. Thompson started seven games last year and is a core special teamer. Kearse, who is guaranteed just $137,500 on the one-year deal he signed, can do the same. It could come down to the development of sixth-round pick Israel Mukuamu. If he shows he can make the transition from college corner to safety, then Kearse and Thompson will be in a battle. Thompson’s time with the current staff gives him the slightest of edges. — Todd Archer

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0:58

Mike Tannenbaum outlines how far he thinks Dak Prescott can lead the Cowboys this season.


32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

Veteran in danger: Nate Solder, OT

Why he could get cut: Solder opted out last year and didn’t play particularly well the two years prior. And now it has been 18 months since the veteran offensive tackle has been in a full-contact practice or game. Who is to say his body can hold up at 33 years old after more than a year off? Or that he’s willing to go through this full grind to potentially be a backup for the first time since he was a freshman at Colorado? Only time will tell. Solder is competing this summer, not only for the starting right tackle job with Matt Peart, but also a roster spot. — Jordan Raanan


32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

Veteran in danger: Jordan Howard, RB

Why he could get cut: The running back room has gotten crowded since the Eagles re-signed Howard to a one-year deal in April. Philadelphia selected Memphis RB Kenneth Gainwell in the fifth round of the draft, then claimed former Lion Kerryon Johnson off waivers in May. Howard, 26, will be competing with the likes of Johnson and Boston Scott for a spot on the depth chart behind lead back Miles Sanders. — Tim McManus


32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

Veteran in danger: Steven Sims Jr., WR

Why he could get cut: There are a few receivers who could be in this spot, but Sims has been the most productive of the players who are in trouble. Two years ago Sims ended the season with 23 catches in the last five weeks, creating separation with short-field quickness. He finished with 34 catches overall and entered 2020 as Washington’s top slot receiver. But injuries and drops hurt him last season — he dropped three balls on 39 targets, including in some key situations. Washington then signed Adam Humphries and drafted Dax Milne to play in the slot. Sims can return punts, but there’s concern about ball security there as well. Sims still looks quick but has an uphill battle in Washington. — John Keim

32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

NFC NORTH

32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

Veteran in danger: Nick Foles, QB

Why he could get cut: From an experience and ability standpoint, Foles is worthy of a spot on Chicago’s 53-man roster. Throughout the offseason, the Bears spoke and acted as if they expected Foles to be on the team. Still, the possibility exists that Foles could play elsewhere in 2021. The Bears are unlikely to simply release Foles, but the veteran is logical trade bait if another team suffered an injury at quarterback in the preseason. Foles is, after all, the Bears’ No. 3 quarterback behind Andy Dalton and Justin Fields, so it’s fair to label him as expendable. — Jeff Dickerson


32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

Veteran in danger: Jahlani Tavai, LB

Why he could get cut: It might seem like an oxymoron, but the same guy who was one of the biggest surprises of Lions minicamp could also be on the roster bubble. Let me make sense of this: Part of the reason that Tavai cut nearly 20 pounds this offseason is because he knew he had to come in with a different approach. He wasn’t drafted by the new regime, and it’s understood that Tavai hasn’t played great in his first couple of seasons, so this could be his last chance to showcase his ability to the new staff. He has to prove himself. — Eric Woodyard


32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

Veteran in danger: Devin Funchess, WR

Why he could get cut: Funchess looks the part when he walks onto the practice field: Tall (6-foot-4), well-built (225 pounds) and confident. But he’s played only one regular-season game the past two years. He broke his collarbone in the 2019 opener for the Colts and missed the rest of the season, then was a COVID opt out last year. He skipped OTAs this spring and then dropped out from one of the three minicamp practices after getting banged up. Coach Matt LaFleur made it sound like Funchess is not a sure thing, saying “there is a lot to learn there and he’s got to continue to grind over the summer so he can put his best foot forward come training camp.” — Rob Demovsky


32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

Veteran in danger: Dru Samia, G

Why he could get cut: Much of the Vikings’ pass-blocking woes in 2020 (ranked 29th, according to PFF) point to the interior of the offensive line. It’s not likely Dakota Dozier or Samia, two of the poorest performing guards last season, earn starting roles in 2021, but the former fourth-round pick from Oklahoma might not even make the roster. Samia allowed 14 pressures (3 sacks) in four starts at right guard before being supplanted by Ezra Cleveland. Dozier is better suited as depth, along with Mason Cole, with third-rounder Wyatt Davis battling for the starting job. Samia will have to show major signs of improvement if he wants to crack the roster as a backup. — Courtney Cronin

32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

NFC SOUTH

32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

Veteran in danger: Jonathan Bullard, DL

Why he could get cut: If we’re being honest here, there aren’t many veterans on the roster who make a ton of sense for Atlanta to move on from since most of its experienced players have pretty clear roles. Bullard, though, is a free-agent signing on a defensive line where both help is needed and a lot of veterans are present. It’s possible he makes the team, for sure, but any defensive lineman who is not a starter is in danger and Bullard fits in that category. — Michael Rothstein


32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

Veteran in danger: J.J. Jansen, DS

Why he could get cut: Jansen has been one of the best deep snappers in the NFL since he arrived at Carolina in 2009. But when a team drafts a deep snapper, much less in the sixth round — when the Panthers selected Alabama’s Thomas Fletcher — it’s doing so with the mindset he’ll make the roster. It simply doesn’t make sense to keep two deep snappers, particularly when one counts $1 million toward the salary cap. — David Newton


32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

Veteran in danger: Trevor Siemian, QB

Why he could get cut: The Saints essentially released every “bubble” veteran on the roster already while shedding more than $100 million in cap space this offseason. So I’ll go with an under-the-radar long shot who could sneak his way onto the roster instead. Siemian, 29, quietly has 13 career wins, and Sean Payton has talked him up a couple times this offseason. Although he isn’t likely to push Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill for the starting job, he could stick around if New Orleans wants to keep using Hill in a versatile role and doesn’t think rookie Ian Book is ready to be the No. 2. — Mike Triplett

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1:01

Jeff Darlington explains how Tom Brady nearly signed with the Saints before ultimately joining the Buccaneers.


32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

Veteran in danger: Ryan Griffin, QB

Why he could get cut: You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone in the Bucs’ organization who doesn’t like Griffin. He’s been with the team since 2015, serving primarily as the third-string quarterback. But with Tom Brady under contract for two more seasons, the Bucs have to look towards the future, which is why they selected Kyle Trask in the second round of the NFL draft. So it’s up to Griffin to try to beat out Blaine Gabbert, who has significantly more experience. Griffin’s played in just two career games, while Gabbert has started 48. — Jenna Laine

32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

NFC WEST

32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

Veteran in danger: Jordan Hicks, LB

Why he could get cut: Hicks, 29, has been one of the most durable and productive players in the NFL during his two seasons with the Cardinals, playing the sixth-most snaps and having the sixth-most tackles since 2019. But with Arizona’s decision to announce rookie Zaven Collins and second-year linebacker Isaiah Simmons as their starting inside linebackers before summer camp was over, there’s a good chance that Hicks, who started all 32 games the past two seasons, is not in the team’s plans going forward. He could either be moved through a trade or be released at the end of camp despite his veteran leadership. — Josh Weinfuss


32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

Veteran in danger: Johnny Hekker, P

Why he could get cut: Hekker has had an outstanding nine-year career for the Rams. However, he’s the highest-paid punter in the NFL and averaged a career-low 45.6 yards per punt last season. Though Rams coach Sean McVay insisted that the addition of a new punter to the roster this offseason did not signal a competition for Hekker’s job, Hekker is not taking any chances. “When push comes to shove they have to make the best decisions for this roster,” Hekker said. “For me to for a second not think that this is a competition and not prepare myself everyday like it is a competition would be doing myself and this team a disservice.” — Lindsey Thiry


32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

Veteran in danger: Kentavius Street, DL

Why he could get cut: The 49ers have kept up to 10 defensive linemen in recent years, which has allowed Street to stick on the roster the past two seasons after missing his rookie year with a knee injury. Street played in 15 games with two starts in 2020 but the Niners brought in defensive tackles Maurice Hurst and Zach Kerr and defensive ends Samson Ebukam and Arden Key in the offseason. They’ll likely keep plenty of linemen again in 2021, and Jordan Willis‘ suspension opens things up a bit, but Street will have plenty of competition to earn another season on the active roster. — Nick Wagoner


32 NFL veterans on the roster bubble: Which players could struggle to make the team?

Veteran in danger: Aldon Smith, DE

Why he could get cut: The terms of Smith’s one-year deal — for the minimum salary and only $137,500 guaranteed — indicated that he wasn’t assured of sticking with the Seahawks even before his most recent legal troubles. His chances of making the team are further complicated by a battery charge in Louisiana, for which he’s yet to be arraigned. Smith had an excused absence from mandatory minicamp because he didn’t feel that he was in good enough shape to participate. For a team with a deep group of edge rushers, the Seahawks are viewing the 31-year-old Smith as a potential luxury as opposed to someone they’re counting on. — Brady Henderson

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