Unemployment rates have hit all-time highs this year in the United States, and although the following 10 NFL players likely won’t hit the chopping block completely, they could lose their starting gigs and much-coveted playing time before the end of the 2020 season.
Who should prepare to hit the bench? Let's start with an aging quarterback on a new team.
Philip Rivers, Indianapolis Colts
Lifelong Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is looking to land lightning in a bottle and revive his career in Indianapolis after signing a one-year, $25 million prove-it-deal with the Colts.
Rivers had the worst statistical year of his career in 2019, and he’ll be walking into Indy devoid of top offensive weapons like he had in Los Angeles with the likes of Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Austin Ekeler, Melvin Gordon and Hunter Henry.
Indy has talent across the board on offense, but it’s a notch less than what the Chargers had last year. A stronger Colts offensive line should buy the lead-footed, 38-year-old Rivers more time to make sound decisions — a skill that was clearly lacking last year.
The AFC South is still as consistently wide open as ever, and if Rivers can rekindle the same magic on the field as he’s shown in the bedroom, he’ll be a lock to keep Jacoby Brissett on the sidelines.
Derek Carr, Las Vegas Raiders
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr’s ceiling has been falling since depositing an outstanding season in 2016, leading the team to a 12-4 finish and a playoff berth for the first time since 2002.
Now in a new city and stadium, the Las Vegas Raiders want to “Just Win, Baby!” and the pressure solely falls on Carr. If he doesn’t complete the turnaround, the Raiders will be ready to gamble and go all-in on Marcus Mariotta.
The Raiders signed Mariotta to a two-year, $17.6 million contract in the offseason, including a fully guaranteed $7.5 million in the first year.
That’s a hefty price to pay someone to hold a clipboard, and if Carr doesn’t rev up his game, expect coach Jon Gruden to kick the tires on the former Titans quarterback who he’s long had an affinity for.
Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears
Bears general manager has to wake up to the grizzly notion every morning that he traded up to the No. 2 overall pick to take Mitchell Trubisky in the 2017 NFL Draft while Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson were staring at their phones waiting for a phone call from the 773 area code.
The former North Carolina passer had an abysmal 2019 for the Monsters of the Midway after leading Chicago to the playoffs the year before. That resulted in the Bears declining Trubisky’s fifth-year option which puts a ticking clock on his Chicago tenure.
Adding yet another blow to Trubisky’s pride, the Bears traded for Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles.
Trubisky has tasted the pine before, as coach Matt Nagy had a heart-to-heart talk on the sidelines last year with his embattled quarterback before pulling him for Chase Daniel against the Rams in Week 11 with the game still within reach.
Both sides chalked up the move to health reasons, but with Foles now in the picture, expect more concrete communication as the Bears decide which direction they’re headed in.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Miami Dolphins
Ryan Fitzpatrick is an evergreen candidate to lose his starting job every year. Someone is always waiting in the wings to replace him, and this season is no different.
The Dolphins traded for Josh Rosen last year, who stunk up the joint at Hard Rock Stadium worse than a makeshift cover band trying to play “Deep Down in Florida” for the first time.
The former 10th overall pick Rosen is still in the picture, but he was supplanted by Tua Tagovailoa, the latest high-priced purchase in South Beach as the Fins once again try to fill the void left under center by Dan Marino over two decades ago.
The fifth-overall pick is a former Heisman finalist and national champion out of Alabama who’ll be champing at the bit to prove the bum hip that cost him No. 1 draft status is no longer an issue.
Coach Brian Flores doesn’t need a Harvard education to insert Tagovailoa at the right time in what should be another lost season in Miami.
Tyrod Taylor, Los Angeles Chargers
As evidenced by the aforementioned passers of which we’ve waxed poetic prose on, the backup quarterback is sometimes a team’s sexier option. The adage is true in Tinseltown, too.
Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said Tyrod Taylor is “probably” the Chargers' Week 1 starter soon after snatching Justin Herbert with the sixth pick in April.
The Hard Knocks stars are moving into a new stadium and want to capture market share and new fans in Los Angeles. Taylor does not have any designs for being the future face of the franchise.
The hard part for Lynn will be not hearing the fans at SoFi Stadium screaming for the change as it appears for now that Herbert will begin the season sitting on the sidelines.
Rob Gronkowski, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Gregarious party savant Rob Gronkowski is leaving WWE and returning from his one-year sabbatical away from the sport to form a tag-team partnership with Tom Brady in Tampa.
With the addition of Gronk, the new-look Buccaneers now have the league’s top unit at tight end.
O.J. Howard, an injury-riddled 2017 first-round pick, and Cameron Brate have both been consistent contributors in the Sunshine State, but they’ve never reached anywhere near Gronk levels of dominance.
The oft-injured Gronk averaged 52.5 yards receiving per game in 2018, the lowest since his rookie season. Gronk has also missed 13 games in the last three seasons he’s played, and his broken-down body was largely the reason he stepped away from the sport in the first place.
Don’t expect Gronk to be entirely jettisoned from his job, but we wouldn’t be surprised if Arians keeps the 31-year-old fresh for a potential postseason push and uses him judiciously in key situations to begin the year.
The Buccaneers picked up the fifth-year option on Howard this offseason, and ultimately he’s likely longer for Florida than Gronk is.
Ronald Jones, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It’s a boom or bust year for the Bucs in what’s turned out to be an offensive overhaul in Tampa Bay.
Brady, Gronk and No. 13 overall pick Tristan Wirfs are the three big newcomers.
But a shady development that’s a red flag for running back Ronald Jones’ job security is the additions of aging former All-Pro LeSean McCoy and Ke'Shawn Vaughn, a third-round pick who turned in two 1,000 yard rushing seasons at Vanderbilt.
Brady loves consistent dual-threat running backs better than a pirate loves booty, and if the 2018 second-rounder Jones doesn’t finally break out, he might as well take his sails down and dock on the bench.
Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings
Heading into his tenth season in Minnesota, Kyle Rudolph is now the longest-tenured Vikings player.
An accolade like that comes with age, and although Rudolph will be turning 31 later this year, he’s still churning consistent campaigns.
Last year Rudolph tallied 39 catches for 367 yards and six touchdowns, by far his least productive season since 2014. Rudolph did however prove his value in the postseason, snagging the game-winning, goal-line catch in overtime against the Saints.
The Vikings drafted the shifty Irv Smith Jr. in the second round last season, and he received equal love from Kirk Cousins, totaling 36 catches for 311 yards and a pair of TDs.
Rudolph had only one more target thrown his way than Smith Jr. in 2019, so look for that number to skew more toward the sophomore this season. If the Alabama product overperforms with the opportunity, there could be a changing of the guard at tight end in the Twin Cities.
Kerryon Johnson, Detroit Lions
The first two years of running back Kerryon Johnson’s career have been cut short due to injury.
He’s totaled 1,388 total yards and eight TDs in just 18 games. The stats are serviceable, but not enough to keep him on the field, or heading into the 2020 season, as the Lions' RB1.
The Lions infused two new pieces of talent into the backfield by way of the draft this year, taking Georgia running back D'Andre Swift with the 35th overall pick and New Mexico State’s Jason Huntley in the fifth round.
The duo joins Bo Scarbrough and Ty Johnson, who combined to spell Johnson for 681 yards rushing last year.
Johnson will look to stave off the pack in training camp this summer for the lead job in Detroit.
Denzel Perryman, Los Angeles Chargers
Anytime a player is drafted in the first round, the incumbent has to inquire about his job security. It requires even more reflection if the team decides to move up 14 slots and sacrifices substantial draft capital to take said player, which is exactly what the Chargers did in April when they selected Kenneth Murray with the No. 23 pick.
Perryman’s play has infrequently popped off the tape or page, and Murray will look to make his presence felt immediately.
Murray has chosen the jersey number of 56, one of which once belonged to former Rookie of the Year, All-Pro and Chargers great pass-rusher Shawne Merriman.
If Murray can show any signs of Merriman’s playmaking ability during training camp, the conversation as to who’ll be tapped with starting duties come Week 1 is pretty much lights out.
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