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FR: Cutbacks update

As the league year ended, we compiled a list comparing the cuts teams made  in this post. But in the time that’s followed, there have been several more high-profile cuts that we need to address. So we’ve started a new relativity poll to address the cuts between Feb. 27 and the beginning of the draft. 10 is the most impactful cut; 1 is a cut that just doesn’t matter. (Note: After the release of Torry Holt, the Rams replaced the Cowboys on the top rung of this comparison.)

10 – Rams (cut OT Orlando Pace, WR Torry Holt, and TE Anthony Becht) – Pace played 12 years with the Rams, and was at a high level for most of those. He made 7 Pro Bowls and was a top 5 left tackle for quite a while. (I always considered him behind Walter Jones and Jonathan Ogden but on par with anyone else in the league.) But Pace was hurt much of ’06 and ’07, and he wasn’t the same player when he came back last year. The Rams don’t yet have an adequate replacement, but they figure to take one at No. 2 overall in the draft next month. As for Pace, at this point he’s a marginal starter who would probably fit best as a veteran backup for a contender than as a starter somewhere. He’s also big enough to move to the right side if he’s willing to do so. Becht started 11 games last year but has never lived up to his hype as a first-round pick back in 2000.
Holt spent 10 years in St. Louis and played at a high level throughout. He’s made 7 Pro Bowls and compiled numbers that will put him on a Hall of Fame short list when his career is done. While he’s no longer the unstoppable force he was in the Greatest Show on Turf days, he still is an above-average receiver who would be a boon to a contender like Tennessee, Philadelphia, the Giants, or his hometown Panthers (if they ever clear adequate cap space). I’d take Holt over Marvin Harrison in a heartbeat. As for the Rams, they’ve now lost two of the stalwarts of their Super Bowl teams in Holt and Pace. That has to be a huge blow to their fans, who must now hope that these moves will expedite the rebuilding process. The Pace move might, but losing Holt isn’t worth saving what was a fair price ($8M) against the cap.

9- Cowboys (cut WR Terrell Owens, S Roy Williams) — Owens’ release has been huge news this week because he is still one of the best known players in the entire league. He’s a true No. 1 receiver, even though his dominance is starting to wane just a bit. (He’s behind Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Smith, Andre Johnson, Randy Moss, Calvin Johnson, and maybe a couple of others on the wide receiver hierarchy now.) But the idea that Roy Williams (receiver edition) can replace what Owens did is farfetched. The Cowboys will undoubtedly miss Owens’ talents. But few players in the last decade have made the waves Owens has, and that’s something the Cowboys won’t miss. The question is whether the absence of T.O.-related hullaballoo will help Dallas in the end. The Cowboys still have weapons, and they have the talent and the offensive line personnel to be a dominant running team. That’s the approach that will make this cut work. If the Cowboys try to fling the ball around as much as they did last year, the offense will start to sputter because of T.O.’s absence.
As for Roy Williams (the safety edition), that move doesn’t hurt nearly as much. Williams was a top-10 draft pick, but he is a safety who plays the run really well and plays the pass unbelievably poorly. Ever since the Cowboys moved to a 3-4 scheme under Bill Parcells several years ago, Williams has been a bad fit for the defense. So moving on is better for him and for the Cowboys. Dallas still needs safety help, but Williams’ tenure had gone so far south that he was never going to be able to provide it there.

8 – Giants (cut WR Plaxico Burress) –  Burress delivered on his big salary with the Giants until last year, when he was suspended for chronic disregard for team meetings and then shut down following his hyper-publicized gun incident. He can still play at a high level, but his problems make his ‘09 availability a question. Still, some team will take a flier – for 2010 if not next season.

7 – Redskins (cut DE Jason Taylor) – Taylor battled injuries and only had 3.5 sacks in his year in Washington, and he agreed to be released instead of staying in D.C. in the offseason for the team’s training program. The best analysis I’ve heard on this is that it might have been because he was so misused by the Redskins. For some reason, the Redskins left Andre Carter in the prime pass-rushing position and used Taylor more as a run-stopper. Taylor can still help a team in a pass-rush role, especially if he can save his dancing legs for somewhat limited duty. Washington wasn’t going to use him correctly, but someone will figure out how to.

6 – Panthers (cut CB Ken Lucas) – Lucas was a solid starter in Carolina for four years after arriving as a big-ticket free agent from Seattle. In fact, in his first year as a Panther, Lucas was a top-5 corner league-wide. His physical style fit well in Carolina’s off coverage system. But Lucas has slipped a bit over the past couple of years, and Carolina was ready to move Richard Marshall into the starting lineup across from Chris Gamble. Lucas is still good enough to be at least a starter somewhere else, but given the Panthers’ roster and ultra-tight salary cap situation, the move makes sense. Still, it’s going to be a loss for the Panthers.

6 (con’t) – Ravens (cut CB Samari Rolle and LB Nick Griesen) – Rolle had been with the Ravens for four years, and when he started in Baltimore he was still among the elite corners in the league. But last year was not a good one for Samari (or Doorknob, as I still like to call him). He missed six games because of injury and never was able to get healthy enough to play at an elite level. He wasn’t going to start for Baltimore, so he requested his release. The Ravens also cut Rolle’s fellow starting CB Chris McAlister, and so their secondary is in major upheaval. Baltimore has signed Dominique Foxworth, who will definitely start even though he’s probably not even above average as an NFL starter. The other starting spot goes to Fabian Washington, at least for now. The Ravens tried to do right by Rolle by letting him go as he wanted, but they might have done wrong by themselves in the process. Griesen signed a 3-year deal last year to be an inside linebacker and special-teamer, but he never could make an impact in the defensive 11 last year. He could be a decent backup for someone but not much more.

5 – Jaguars (cut WR Matt Jones) – Jones, a former college quarterback turned first-round pick at receiver, is coming off his best season (65 catches, 761 yards, 2 TD) of four in Jacksonville. But off-the-field problems led to his release. Jones missed three games last year on a league-mandated substance-abuse suspension after a cocaine-related arrest last summer. But recently, he spent a week in jail for violating the plea agreement that resolved that charge by drinking alcohol. It seems that Jones was given an ultimatim and didn’t abide by it. It’s a loss for the Jaguars, who have also cut WR Jerry Porter and let former first-rounder Reggie Williams enter free agency as well. They need to find some wide receiver help and may be hoping that Michael Crabtree falls to them at No. 8 overall in the draft.

5 (con’t) – Dolphins (cut DE Vonnie Holliday) – Holliday is a long-time veteran defensive end who is still an acceptable part of a rotation. But he’s no longer an impact starter, and his Dolphins contract paid him as one. Holliday would actually be a pretty good fit as Taylor’s replacement in Washington or in a similar role where he’s looked at more as a run-stuffer than a pass rusher.

5 (con’t) – Saints (cut FB Mike Karney, CB Mike McKenzie and S Kevin Kaesviharn) – Karney is a good, old-fashioned fullback. He’s not much of a runner outside of short-yardage sets, and he doesn’t catch many passes, but he can block. The Saints replaced him with Heath Evans, who has more skills with the ball in his hands. But Karney has a place as a blocker somewhere. (That somewhere will be St. Louis.) McKenzie used to be a big, physical corner, but he has missed most of the last two years with two separate knee injuries. It makes sense for the Saints to release him and save $4.5 million, especially once they added CB Jabari Greer. McKenzie might have trouble finding work because of his physical situation, but he’s worth noting because his 11-year career was quality. Kaesviharn was let go after the Saints signed safeties Darren Sharper and Pierson Prioleau. He’s an average safety, or maybe a little below that level, and so no great loss. Still, he could hook on elsewhere.

4 – Browns (cut OT Kevin Shaffer) – Shaffer started all but one game over the past three years, playing one season at left tackle before moving to the right side after Cleveland drafted Joe Thomas. He’s probably still good enough to start, and his ability to play both sides makes him even more valuable. He should be able to find a new gig relatively quickly.

4 (con’t) – 49ers (cut OT Jonas Jennings) – Jennings was a big-money signing in San Francisco a couple of years back, but injuries kept him from full effectiveness in San Francisco. He was released to make room for Marvel Smith, who will likely take over Jennings’ ORT spot.

3 –  Bears (cut OL Terrance Metcalf) – Metcalf spent 7 years with the Bears after joining the team as a third-round pick, but he never panned out as a starter – getting just 25 starts during his Chicago tenure. Metcalf should have seized a starting guard last year to replace Ruben Brown, but he couldn’t. That’s why he’s gone. He could fit in as a backup elsewhere, but if he doesn’t, it wouldn’t be a shock.

2 –  Broncos (cut LS Mike Leach, RB Cory Boyd, and QB Darrell Hackney) – Good long snappers can work forever, and so Leach won’t have trouble getting a new gig. The Broncos decided he was expendable after new head coach Josh McDaniels imported his former New England snapper Lonnie Paxton and paid him a million bucks a year. Leach won’t get that kind of coin (no longer snapper should), but he’ll find work somewhere. (That somewhere will be Arizona.)

2 (con’t) – Bengals (cut S Dexter Jackson) – Cincy let Jackson, a former Super Bowl Most Valuable Player, go after three seasons. Jackson had started 25 total games for the Bengals in 2006 and ’07 but only three last season. Jackson might be close to being done, but he could also be a solid veteran reserve for a team with playoff aspirations — kind of a “break glass in case of emergency” guy.

2 (con’t) – Browns (cut WR Joe Jurevicius) – Jurevicius has had some productive seasons over his 11-year career, but a staph infection cost him the entire ’08 season. If he can get healthy, he could still step in somewhere as a No. 4 receiver and possession specialist. But health is still a huge question.

2 (con’t) – Steelers (cut RB Gary Russell) – Russell got to play in some short-yardage situations last year because rookie Rashard Mendenhall was hurt, and Russell scored three regular-season touchdowns and one in the Super Bowl, but he didn’t really distinguish himself. He could fit in as a third or fourth tailback for someone, but he’s not really a rotation-quality runner.

1- Chiefs (cut QB Quinn Gray, WR Will Franklin, and LS Jean-Phillippe Darche) – The six-year vet still could be a decent No. 2 quarterback, but with Matt Cassel joining Tyler Thigpen and Brodie Croyle in K.C., Gray wasn’t going to make that roster. But with many other talented quarterbacks still on the market (J.P. Losman, Rex Grossman, Kyle Boller, Byron Leftwich, etc.), Gray will have a hard time finding work anytime soon.

1 (con’t) – Colts (cut RB Clifton Dawson) – Dawson had a moment or two, but a numbers crunch knocked him out of Indy. He could be a backup elsewhere.

1 (con’t) – Vikings (cut LB Vinny Ciurciu) – This move made me laugh because it reminded me of a story. Ciurciu is a decent backup linebacker and special teamer who got his first real NFL action in Carolina when I was covering the team. The writers on the beat with me always laughed about an interview in which one of Ciurciu’s teammates was talking about him and kept calling him “Choo-Choo” (instead of the proper Chur-choo). So I hope that Choo-Choo gets another job, because a name that good needs to stick around.

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