Big names on thin ice

Big names on thin ice

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The completion of any NFL draft heralds an infusion of younger (and, often, cheaper) labor into the league.

For established veterans, the consequences can be immediate or lingering. Free agents like DL Ndamukong Suh and WR T.Y. Hilton might have a harder time returning to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts, respectively, after both teams drafted potential replacements (DL Logan Hall, WR Alec Pierce).

For others, there’s suddenly suggestive writing on the wall portending a camp battle or the possibility that it might be time to look for a new employer in 2023.

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Here are 22 veterans who should consider themselves on notice following the 2022 NFL draft:

They took record-setting passer Bailey Zappe – 5,967 yards and 62 TDs last season for Western Kentucky – in Round 4, which means it’s unlikely the Pats will be able to stash him on the practice squad. That means either longtime backup Brian Hoyer and/or Jarrett Stidham, a fourth-rounder in 2019 entering the final year of his rookie deal, probably won’t stick.

When you miss all but one game in 2021 due to a knee injury and have pushed 400 pounds, as ESPN reported, thin ice is no place to be. But that now seems to be Becton’s reality as he stays away from voluntary workouts at a time when George Fant could take the left tackle job permanently while Becton could also have to fend off fourth-rounder Max Mitchell on the right side.

Neck surgery had already cast doubt upon his availability for 2022. The arrival of second-rounder Kenneth Walker III and re-signing of former first-rounder Rashaad Penny have further clouded the outlook for Carson, who’s entering the final year of his contract.

It’s no mystery that No. 1 overall pick Travon Walker will be playing extensively. But Jacksonville also recently signed Arden Key to bolster a pass rush that includes Josh Allen. Not great signs for Chaisson, a first-round pick two years ago who has just two sacks and 13 quarterback hits since.

Solid player who’s started for three years. But with Marcus Williams coming aboard with a five-year, $70 million contract, followed by the first-round selection of Kyle Hamilton, hard to see Clark fitting in beyond usage in sub packages.

He was briefly released in March before re-signing for $14 million in 2022. But as good as the six-time Pro Bowler, who’s 31, has been in Philly, he and Javon Hargrave will likely fully give way to first-round DT Jordan Davis by the time 2023 rolls around.

For better or worse, the Panthers are stuck with him and his $18.9 million salary for 2022. But if, like last year, Darnold fails to sustain his early-season momentum – or even falters during the offseason or training camp – expect him to get a quick hook in favor of third-rounder Matt Corral, a better athlete who has a shot to be the long-term solution here … or might alternatively let this franchise know if it needs to go back to the drawing board in 2023.

QB Sam Darnold’s first year with the Panthers was an up-and-down affair.

Though the speedster makes the occasional explosive play, he’s never developed into a reliable component of this offense. Though Pro Bowl WR Tyreek Hill is gone, the signings of JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and – most notably – selection of Skyy Moore in the second round make it quite possible Hardman will have to sign somewhere else next year.

Las Vegas Raiders RB Josh Jacobs

Not a great weekend for the former first-rounder, whose fifth-year option was declined as his likely replacement, Georgia’s Zamir “Zeus” White, arrived in Round 4. That’s not to say Jacobs, a Pro Bowler in 2020, won’t produce given he’s averaged nearly 1,300 yards from scrimmage during his three-year career … but it’s equally possible he’ll be steadily phased out if White continues to be the tone setter he was at Georgia.

Atlanta Falcons LB Deion Jones

An expensive player who’s been declining in recent years, he could find himself losing snaps to highly intriguing second-rounder Troy Andersen sooner than later. And the Falcons could add another $13 million to their projected 2023 salary cap windfall by moving on from Jones next offseason.

Eagles C Jason Kelce

Like Cox, the four-time All-Pro is probably heading into his final season in Philadelphia. Uber-athletic second-round pick Cam Jurgens projects as the next-gen Kelce.

Ravens P Sam Koch

He’s been one of the most effective and innovative at his position since 2006. However, the Ravens tabbed Penn State’s Jordan Stout in Round 4 – the first of four punters taken in this draft – an almost stone-cold indicator that Koch has reached the end of the line in Baltimore.

Indianapolis Colts LT Matt Pryor

He’s a versatile blocker, though he doesn’t have much experience at left tackle during his three-year NFL career. As highly regarded as third-rounder Bernhard Raimann is – and given Pryor is on a one-year deal – the rookie should have the inside track to watch newly acquired QB Matt Ryan’s back.

Eagles WR Jalen Reagor

A first-round pick in 2020, he’s been a disappointment (64 catches for 695 yards and 3 TDs) – to put it mildly – in the two years since. No fault of Reagor’s that he was taken one spot ahead of Justin Jefferson, something Eagles fans understandably can’t let go of. But GM Howie Roseman’s draft day trade for A.J. Brown could rectify matters … while potentially spelling an imminent exit for Reagor.

Buffalo Bills RB Devin Singletary

He finished strongly in 2021, averaging 97 yards from scrimmage over the final five games of the regular season. However, Singletary, who’s scheduled to hit free agency next year, will suddenly be sharing snaps with second-rounder James Cook after Buffalo resourced a run game that’s too frequently become reliant on QB Josh Allen.

New York Giants WR Darius Slayton

After averaging nearly 50 receptions and 750 yards in his first two seasons, Slayton’s production plummeted in 2021 (26 receptions for 339 yards). As he enters a contract year, he looms as the odd man out again given the arrival of second-rounder Wan’Dale Robinson. Per reports, the Giants are already shopping Slayton.

Dallas Cowboys LT Tyron Smith

Good chance the eight-time Pro Bowler winds up in the Hall of Fame. Maybe an equally good chance he winds up on the street in 2023. Smith hasn’t made it through a full season since 2015 and missed 20 games over the past two years. Dallas drafted Tulsa OL Tyler Smith in Round 1 and, though he’s expected to compete for the left guard job in 2022, he spent his entire college career at left tackle. The Cowboys would be able to save nearly $10 million on next year’s cap if they move on from Tyron Smith.

Tennessee Titans QB Ryan Tannehill

His $29 million salary for 2022 is already guaranteed. But Tannehill knows what the arrival of Malik Willis – taken in the third round even though he may be the most gifted QB from this draft – means. Tannehill’s comment Tuesday that “I don’t think it’s my job to mentor (Willis), but if he learns from me along the way, that’s a great thing,” sounds similar to quotes of veteran passers in past years who knew their situations had become tenuous. In Tannehill’s case, barring obvious signs Willis’ readiness to play is in doubt, a deep playoff run for the two-time defending AFC South champions is probably his only path to long-term job security.

New Orleans Saints WR Michael Thomas

Since snatching a record-setting 149 receptions in 2019, he’s appeared in seven games – and has been occasionally at odds with the organization over the lengthy rehabilitation of his 2020 ankle injury. The best-case scenario would be for Thomas to revert to All-Pro form, which would not only help the team but might allow for a trade next year – if ideal for both parties – if first-round WR Chris Olave, whom the Saints traded up to select, proves as good as advertised.

Pittsburgh Steelers QB Mitch Trubisky

If he was hoping to resurrect his career as a QB1 in the Steel City, it seems that opportunity is quickly slipping away from the recently signed free agent given the first-round pick invested in Pitt’s Kenny Pickett. Coach Mike Tomlin has indicated Pickett could start in Week 1, which effectively installs the rookie as the favorite.

Green Bay Packers WR Sammy Watkins

The first pass catcher taken in a receiver-rich 2014 draft, Watson just joined his third team in three years and has only surpassed 50 receptions once in the past six seasons. Second-rounder Christian Watson headlines the Pack’s three-receiver draft haul, so could be pretty tough for Watkins to survive the final cutdown coming out of preseason.

Washington Commanders QB Carson Wentz

It’s now been a decade since Washington drafted Robert Griffin III and his eventual replacement, Kirk Cousins. Could a similar scenario be playing out this year? Wentz was acquired in March, but the seventh-year vet’s recent history – on the field and off – certainly suggest fifth-rounder Sam Howell could find his way into the lineup at some point even if it’s unlikely he’ll vie for QB1 duties in training camp. But as good as Howell generally was at North Carolina, it wouldn’t be a shock if he winds up replacing Wentz just as then-rookie Jalen Hurts did in Philadelphia in 2020.

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Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL draft 2022: These big-name veterans on thin ice after teams’ moves



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