Analysis

2021 NFL roster bubble: Notable players who could be traded or cut

This will be an NFL roster cut-down period unlike any in memory. Teams are required to get down to the 53-man roster by 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday, August 31, a deadline that's four days on the league calendar before it was in previous years (when there were four preseason games).

This change allows for more time to make trades before the roster-cut deadline -- and during the elongated buildup to Week 1. The Patriots and Rams got the fun started with Wednesday's Sony Michel deal; look for a bevy of positional logjams to get settled in low-stakes veteran trades for late-round conditional picks. A Sam Bradford-type headline trade before Week 1 is always possible, too.

While we are all anxious by now for the season to start, here's a quick look at some notable players who could pop up on the transaction wire in the coming days:

POTENTIAL TRADE CANDIDATES

Jaylon Smith
Dallas Cowboys · LB

I've written about this a few times already, but the Cowboys have officially started rookie Micah Parsons and free-agent pickup Keanu Neal over Smith and 2018 first-rounder Leighton Vander Esch during the last two preseason games.


It could be awkward to keep one of the team's highest-paid players and vocal leaders as a rotational player. The depth at the position is buoyed by rookie fourth-rounder Jabril Cox, and the Cowboys could probably find a taker for a late-round pick if they are willing to pay some of Smith's guaranteed $7.2 million base salary.

Zach Ertz
Philadelphia Eagles · TE

He's enjoyed a solid training camp by all accounts, but the two most likely days for an Ertz trade were always going to be the third day of the NFL draft and cut-down day. The Eagles probably can't get more than a late-round pick for the 30-year-old, so they probably don't see the value when they need as many reliable pairs of hands for Jalen Hurts as they can get.

O.J. Howard
Tampa Bay Buccaneers · TE

It's a shame that we might not get to see a fully healthy Howard play with Tom Brady. Howard is the team's third (or even fourth) tight end and doesn't seem all the way back from his torn Achilles. The team also likes Tanner Hudson at the position. If untradeable, Howard's $6 million guaranteed contract may counterintuitively secure his spot on the Bucs. Tampa Bay's the rare team that could afford the luxury of sitting out Howard for much of the season before seeing if he could help them in the stretch run.

N'Keal Harry
New England Patriots · WR

His recent shoulder injury could inspire Bill Belichick to put him on short-term injured reserve to start the year. I doubt the team could get a draft pick for the former first-rounder at this stage.

Stephon Gilmore
New England Patriots · CB

UPDATE: The Patriots will keep Stephon Gilmore on the PUP list to start the season, meaning he won't be eligible to play until Week 7, Ian Rapoport reported Tuesday. 


There has been radio silence on Gilmore's status a year removed from his Defensive Player of the Year award, despite him staying on the PUP list following a surgery to repair his torn quad. It looks like a game of chicken on whether Gilmore will practice before getting a raise or get a raise before practicing. Belichick appears to love Gilmore too much to trade him when they are trying to make the playoffs, but a stunning deal just before Week 1 is Belichick's version of playing the hits.

NOTABLE PLAYERS WHO COULD BE CUT

Breshad Perriman
Detroit Lions · WR

UPDATE: The Lions released Perriman on Monday, per NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport.


Projected as a starter and possibly the Lions' No. 1 receiver earlier this offseason, Perriman might not even make the team, according to The Athletic. The Lions would have to swallow $2 million in wasted guarantees. Perriman reportedly struggled before injuring his hip.


Dan Campbell made it clear the receiver room is "up for grabs," but Detroit may as well stash Perriman on injured reserve since his salary is a sunk cost.


Jahlani Tavai
Detroit Lions · LB

Taken at No. 43 overall in the 2019 NFL Draft, Tavai was reportedly a favorite of the Patriots during the pre-draft process, too. Patriots assistant Matt Patricia will likely get the chance to reunite with his draft pick in Foxborough if he is interested.

Rashaad Penny
Seattle Seahawks · RB

Penny has stayed mostly healthy in training camp, but it's an open question whether he's one of the Seahawks' top four running backs, especially after DeeJay Dallas' strong preseason. Pete Carroll said Penny will play a lot this week, which sounds like they are still trying to evaluate him three years after taking him in the first round.

Peyton Barber
Washington Football Team · RB

UPDATE: Washington released Barber on Tuesday, per NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport.


Rookie Jaret Patterson may have made Barber's spot on the team redundant. We know that third-down back J.D. McKissic isn't going anywhere.

Miles Boykin
Baltimore Ravens · WR

A playoff starter seven months ago, Boykin's spot on the team may be saved by other injuries at the position.

Vernon Butler
Buffalo Bills · DT

The former Panthers first-round pick could get squeezed out in a deep Bills defensive line. 

Benny Snell
Pittsburgh Steelers · RB

Everyone's favorite Week 1 hero of a year ago may not have a place in a Steelers backfield led by first-round pick Najee Harris, with Anthony McFarland as the backup.

Anthony Miller
Houston Texans · WR

My guess is the Texans carry Miller -- who was just acquired in an August trade -- on the roster past the cuts deadline, then place him on injured reserve. He could be a late-season injury replacement.

Trey Pipkins
Los Angeles Chargers · OT

General manager Tom Telesco unfortunately has some experience cutting top-100 picks from the offensive line.

Shaq Lawson
Houston Texans · DE

UPDATE: The Texans traded Lawson to the Jets for a sixth-round pick, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Sunday.


A roller coaster Buffalo career ended with a three-year, $30 million contract reward by the Dolphins. He lasted one year in Miami and his Texans career may end before playing a regular-season down for the team.

J.J. Arcega-Whiteside
Philadelphia Eagles · WR

The Eagles have a lot of receivers and it would just seem weird at this stage to keep Arcega-Whiteside, a 2019 second-rounder, again after a quiet training camp when guys like Travis Fulgham and Greg Ward have produced in actual games for the team.

Latavius Murray
New Orleans Saints · RB

Sean Payton telling the Monday Night Football crew that 2020 practice squader Tony Jones is probably the team's No. 2 running back is a sign in flashing lights to not take Murray in fantasy leagues. If Devonta Freeman looked better, I'd assume Murray would not make the team as a No. 3 running back with no special teams value. He's probably on the right side of the bubble, but that can change if the Saints see anyone they like on the waiver wire.

Andy Isabella
Arizona Cardinals · WR

Coach Kliff Kingsbury just said the preseason finale in New Orleans is part of a "big week" for the 2019 second-round pick, which is never what you want to hear your coach say at this stage of the process.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter.

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