By Nick Shook
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Free agency has yet to arrive, and even the scouting combine is still a couple of weeks away, but that hasn’t stopped NFL teams from trimming the fat.
The first two weeks following Super Bowl LI have seen a handful of notable players cut by their respective teams, as some organizations aim to clear cap space in anticipation of the start of the new league year. Veterans who are suddenly deemed expendable have been released, as have underachieving players who entered the league as high draft selections. We’ve assembled a round-up of the most notable moves so far.
» Kelvin Beachum, offensive tackle, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars are not picking up Beachum’s four-year, $35 million option, sending the 27-year-old tackle to free agency after just one season in Jacksonville.
» Ryan Clady, offensive tackle, New York Jets
» Victor Cruz, wide receiver, New York Giants
Cruz was considered a bubble guy as training camp came to a close for the Giants, and though he contributed in spurts during the season, it’s clear he and his $7.4 million 2017 salary were more than expendable. It brought an end to the New York chapter of one of football’s great stories of the last decade, with Cruz earning his place in the league as an undrafted free agent who became a star receiver for Big Blue.
» Justin Gilbert, cornerback, Pittsburgh Steelers
Selected eighth overall in the 2014 NFL Draft, Gilbert was dealt to Pittsburgh after two very underwhelming seasons in Cleveland that included multiple healthy scratches and reports of maturity issues. Gilbert was relegated to return man in Pittsburgh, where he was cut soon after the Steelers‘ postseason run fell short in the AFC title game, drawing a tweet from Browns tackle Joe Thomas that referenced Gilbert’s purported lack of passion for the game.
» Rashad Jennings, running back, New York Giants
Jennings was splitting carries with the younger Paul Perkins midway through the season (injuries didn’t help Jennings’ cause), and at 31 years old, it wasn’t at all surprising to see the Giants cut Jennings loose.
» Josh McCown, quarterback, Cleveland Browns
McCown performed valiantly for the Browns, but Cleveland is no place for a 37-year-old quarterback. The Browns cut the veteran before he entered his third and final year of his contract. McCown intends to play elsewhere in 2017.
» Leodis McKelvin, cornerback, Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles are in dire need of salary cap space, and while McKelvin was a carryover from Buffalo and familiar with Jim Schwartz’s defense, injury issues (concussion, hamstring) limited him to 12 games. At 31 years old, Philadelphia is going younger as it searches for needed improvements.
» Jared Odrick, defensive end, Jacksonville Jaguars
Odrick’s cap number was the second-highest on Jacksonville’s roster, and as Gregg Rosenthal wrote, he would probably be best used as a rotational defensive end. For a Jaguars team that spent plenty in recent years, Odrick was a prime candidate to get cut as Jacksonville trims the unnecessarily expensive contracts from its roster moving forward.
» Sam Shields, cornerback, Green Bay Packers
Shields was one of Green Bay’s most reliable and effective defensive backs in recent years, but concussion-related issues in 2016 — Shields played in just one game all season — leave him with an uncertain future, though the corner said he hopes to play in 2017.
» James Starks, running back, Green Bay Packers
Green Bay released Starks with a non-injury designation on Feb. 7, but his time as a Packer quickly headed toward the end once Mike McCarthy implemented wide receiver-turned-running back Ty Montgomery into the team’s gameplan.
» Mike Tolbert, fullback, Carolina Panthers
Carolina released Tolbert on Feb. 21 after five seasons with the Panthers, in which he served as a forceful, bowling-ball type of power back who was an effective blocker and short-yardage back, and also excelled as just about the largest person anyone would see catching a pass out of the backfield. Tolbert had one year remaining on his deal, but as Carolina needs to get younger in the backfield, the Panthers decided to release the veteran in favor of Darrel Young, who was signed shortly after the 2016 concluded.
» Mario Williams, defensive end, Miami Dolphins
Williams went from major free agent addition in Buffalo to afterthought in Miami in five years, and just one season with the Dolphins. The defensive end who departed Buffalo on terms that weren’t the best was also called out by defensive coordinator Vance Joseph for needing to work harder, and at 32 years old, will be looking to latch on via a one-year deal with a team in need of a veteran pass rusher.