Analysis

8/30/23

7 min read

NFL Cut Day Takeaways: 13 Most Surprising Moves

Almost 1,200 players were waived, had their contracts terminated — as vested veterans — or landed on various injured lists during this week’s NFL final cutdown from 90 to 53 players. Here are the unlucky 13 players who caught my attention by being released. Some of the veterans on this list could return to teams after Week 1 when their full-season salaries aren’t guaranteed. 

13 Notable Players Who Were Cut

Bailey Zappe, QB, New England Patriots

In probably the biggest surprise, the New England Patriots released their 2022 fourth-round pick, leaving them with only one quarterback on the roster — starter Mac Jones.

Bailey Zappe played in four games last season, starting two (wins over the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns). He completed 71 percent of his passes as a rookie with an impressive quarterback rating of 100.9 and took the majority of preseason game snaps.

Coach Bill Belichick obviously will look to the waiver wire or available free agents to sign a backup for Jones in advance of next week’s opener against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Zappe and waived QB/WR Malik Cunningham were signed to the practice squad Wednesday and could return on the active roster.  


Colt McCoy, QB, Arizona Cardinals

Colt McCoy was the Arizona Cardinals' presumed starter until Kyler Murray came off the physically unable to perform list (PUP). McCoy started late last season after Murray tore his ACL. Murray can't return until after Week 4, so the team will choose between recently acquired Josh Dobbs and fifth-round rookie Clayton Tune for its opener against the Washington Commanders.

Is drafting USC’s Caleb Williams on the Cardinals’ radar if they wind up with the No. 1 overall pick?


Will Grier, QB, Dallas Cowboys

Will Grier was a goner as soon as the Dallas Cowboys traded for San Francisco 49ers QB Trey Lance. Grier was a Carolina Panthers third-round pick in 2019 who started two games that season. He joined the Cowboys in 2021 and lasted two years behind Dak Prescott and Cooper Rush.

The Cincinnati Bengals snapped up Grier, signing him to their practice squad.

Rush's 5-1 record when replacing an injured Prescott (including 4-1 last season) tilted this decision his way. Rush could be on the move as well, depending on Lance’s progress. 


Kenyan Drake, RB, Indianapolis Colts

Kenyan Drake rushed for 482 yards (4.4-yard average) and four TDs, adding 17 catches in five starts for the Baltimore Ravens last season. Drake has played seven seasons in the NFL.

The Indianapolis Colts brought him in for veteran depth in the absence of star RB Jonathan Taylor, who is seeking a trade because the Colts haven’t extended his contract. Drake could return with Taylor still on the PUP list, especially if backup Zack Moss has not recovered from a broken arm sustained early in training camp. 


James Robinson, RB, New York Giants

After a promising start to his career with 1,070 rushing yards as an undrafted rookie in 2020 — and 767 rushing yards the following season — James Robinson was replaced by Travis Etienne as the Jacksonville Jaguars starter in 2022.

Robinson was traded midseason to the New York Jets, where he played only four games. He signed for $4 million per year with the Patriots but was released due to injury contingencies in the contract.

He signed with the New York Giants but couldn’t stick there as a backup to Saquon Barkley. 


Zonovan “Bam” Knight, RB, New York Jets

Zonovan Knight started four games last season and had 300 rushing yards and 13 receptions as an undrafted rookie. He was the No. 2 back in preseason behind Michael Carter as starter Breece Hall was recovering from his ACL injury.

The Dalvin Cook signing cost Knight his roster spot, especially considering the Jets drafted RB Israel Abanikanda in the fifth round this year.


Denzel Mims, WR, Detroit Lions

Denzel Mims was waived last week with an injury settlement after the Lions had made a conditional trade for him. He had a good training camp until ankle and calf injuries slowed his progress.

It appeared the former Jets second-rounder had a good chance to make the Lions' roster due to an ankle injury to Amon-Ra St. Brown and Jameson Williams' gambling suspension. Mims was often injured with the Jets, too. He missed 20 games and had only 42 catches in his first three seasons. 


Jamison Crowder, WR, New York Giants

Jamison Crowder had 415 career receptions with 28 TDs in eight seasons with the Washington Commanders, Jets and Buffalo Bills before signing with the Giants. He also has punt return experience. An ankle injury limited him to only four games and six catches with the Bills last season.

He lost out to the Giants’ packed wide receiver group. 


Alex Leatherwood, OL, Chicago Bears

The 2021 Las Vegas Raiders first-round pick started every game as a rookie before being waived and claimed by the Chicago Bears on the final cut last season. The team tried him at tackle and guard, but he only played in four games.

Leatherwood made it through waivers before the Cleveland Browns signed him to their practice squad. Chicago absorbed a $4.59 million cap charge for Leatherwood's remaining guaranteed money under his rookie contract, per Over The Cap. 


Christian Kirksey, LB, Houston Texans

New Houston Texans coach DeMeco Ryans released Christian Kirksey, who started all 17 games last season and had 124 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions last season.

But Kirksey missed most of training camp because of a hamstring injury and was behind Blake Cashman on the depth chart. The team saves $5.2 million in cap space by releasing Kirksey, who joined the Buffalo Bills' practice squad. 


Deion Jones, LB, Carolina Panthers

Deion Jones was a six-year starter with the Atlanta Falcons as a former second-round pick. The Falcons traded the 2017 Pro Bowler to the Cleveland Browns last season but was limited to 11 games (44 tackles) due to a shoulder injury. He couldn't secure a spot in the Panthers’ linebacker corps. 


Jaylon Smith, LB, New Orleans Saints

Jaylon Smith overcame a major knee injury in his final college game to become a 2019 Pro Bowl linebacker for the Cowboys, who picked him in the 2016 second round.

In 2019, he signed a five-year, $64 million contract with the Cowboys. Smith eventually moved on to the Green Bay Packers in 2021 and then the Giants later that season. He started 11 games and had 88 tackles last season.

He signed a one-year, minimum-salary deal with the New Orleans Saints. The Saints went with other options when Smith couldn’t crack the starting lineup but the team resigned him to the practice squad.


Michael Badgley, Kicker, Tennessee Titans

The Tennessee Titans were without a kicker after cutting their three kickers in camp, including Michael Badgley, who has kicked for seven NFL teams (including the Titans in 2021) during his five-year career. Badgley made 24 of 28 field goals for the Bears and Lions last season and didn’t miss an extra point in 33 attempts. He had one missed field goal this preseason. The Detroit Lions signed Badgley to their practice squad. 

The Titans traded a 2025 seventh-round pick to the Patriots for Nick Folk, who was replaced by fourth-round pick Chad Ryland, a better option on kickoffs with his stronger leg.  


Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis. Follow him on Twitter at @jeffdiamondnfl.


RELATED