For most, the NFL stands for “Not For Long.” After all, perhaps more than any other professional sport in the world, the NFL is a “what have you done for me lately” league. Fortunes change quickly; today’s superstar could be tomorrow’s has-been. In some cases, talented players even become the “never was.”
Every year we see quality players simply run out of time. Sometimes it’s due to injury, other times it’s due to circumstance, but it’s always a possibility.
With that in mind, here’s a look at five NFL players who are running out of time to prove themselves.
5. John Ross, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
A first-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, John Ross was expected to join the Bengals and create the league’s most elite one-two punch alongside A.J. Green. That, of course, did not happen, as Ross has failed to live up to the hype, while Green has seen injuries derail his career a bit. After having his fifth-year option declined and being the subject of past trade rumors, Ross now enters the final year of his rookie deal and faces what could be his last opportunity to prove his worth to any onlooking general manager. He did take a step in the right direction a season ago, posting career-highs across the board, but the production was still nowhere near what many expected of the Washington product and speedster. With a new quarterback (Joe Burrow) in town and his name dropping on the depth chart, things won’t come easy for Ross in 2020, but he has to find a way to maximize whatever opportunities come his way or risk saying goodbye to the NFL for good.
4. Josh Rosen, QB, Miami Dolphins
Josh Rosen has had it rough since the first moment he entered the NFL. In Arizona, he was billed as the franchise quarterback, but that lasted only a single season before the Cardinals switched head coaches, drafted Kyler Murray, and shipped Rosen off to Miami. With the Dolphins, Rosen was thrust into a new system and eventually found himself replaced by Ryan Fitzpatrick. Now, similarly to how things played out in Arizona, Rosen enters the 2020 season in a battle with Tua Tagovailoa, on whom the Dolphins spent a high first-round pick. Several teams have reportedly called Miami to inquire about Rosen, who is very realistically running out of time — from an NFL standpoint and likely a mental standpoint. Whether he remains in Miami or ends up elsewhere, Rosen has to shake off the bad hand he’s been dealt and find a way to put it all together. Quickly.
3. DeAndre Baker, CB, New York Giants
It may be somewhat unfair to put Baker, a 2019 first-round pick, on this list, but after struggling mightily as a rookie, the Georgia product only compounded his problems by getting arrested and charged in connection with an armed robbery earlier this year. Even if Baker is proven to be innocent and has his charges dropped, he faces league discipline under the personal conduct policy. Prior to his arrest, Baker drew criticism from his teammates for unprofessional behavior and had been reported to have fallen asleep during several team meetings last season. Even after trading up for Baker and investing a first-round pick in him, the Giants won’t hesitate to make a change should these issues persist. Perhaps more than any other second-year player, Baker is on extremely thin ice.
2. O.J. Howard, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
A first-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, O.J. Howard was widely expected to become the next Rob Gronkowski or Tony Gonzalez. Instead, Howard has been only moderately successful despite being surrounded by a high-end cast. He has yet to play a full 16-game slate, and his best season came in 2018 when he hauled in 34 receptions for 565 yards and five touchdowns. The Buccaneers have picked up his fifth-year option, so Howard does have some wiggle room, but with both Tom Brady and the aforementioned Gronkowski coming to town, he’ll have to remain healthy and find a higher level of production if he wants to stick. Short of that, Howard might be facing the end of his time in Tampa Bay, as well as some questions about his durability and value across the league.
1. David Johnson, RB, Houston Texans
Once upon a time, David Johnson looked like the next big thing. He displayed power, elusiveness, quickness, and every other attribute an NFL running back needs to be elite. However, injury issues cropped up in 2017 and then again in 2019, and he’s never been able to regain his early-career form. Those issues made Johnson expendable, which led to a trade from Arizona to Houston earlier this offseason. Now Johnson will get a fresh start with the Texans, but with just two years remaining on his current contract and only one season until there’s a potential out, Johnson does not have much room left. The opportunity to revitalize his career is being served up on a silver platter, but if he’s unable to regain his footing, the end may be near.
Even veteran players are prone to bad seasons. Despite their experience and talent, sometimes things just don’t click, be it an underlying injury, a bad supporting cast, or a poor scheme fit. It’s particularly troublesome when vets go through bad seasons, as NFL teams rely on their most experienced and accomplished players to drive them forward. If that doesn’t happen, the whole team suffers.
So which NFL veterans really need to turn things around and get back on track in 2020? Here are five to watch for.
The much-discussed trade between the Houston Texans and Arizona Cardinals has not officially gone through yet, and the teams have less than three weeks to complete it as it’s currently constructed.
DeAndre Hopkins and David Johnson both need to pass physicals in order to complete the trade. While there is no reason to believe that either player will fail their physical, the clock is ticking on the completion of the trade.
Both teams are swapping 2020 draft picks as part of the deal, which raises more important questions. According to Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk, if the physicals are not done by the start of the NFL Draft in 19 days, new terms would have to be agreed, since the teams cannot just draft for each other to complete a deal that isn’t done.
The Hopkins trade has not gone over well in Houston, so some Texans fans are probably rooting for it to fall through. It seems unlikely that both teams would let it get to a point where it may be in jeopardy, though, so expect this to come to fruition.
Johnson didn’t really thrive in Kliff Kingsbury’s Cardinal offense, and quickly became a bad contract the team wanted to get rid of. He was owed $10.2 million in 2020, far more than he’s worth to Arizona. That’s why there was some thought that the Cardinals might outright release Johnson, but they found a taker on the trade market.
Johnson ran for 1,239 yards in a breakout 2016 season. Since then, he’s been hit by injuries, and he essentially lost his job to Kenyan Drake last season. If he can bounce back, this could be a very smart move by the Texans.
The Arizona Cardinals may be considering moving on from David Johnson this offseason, but they are apparently not going to simply release him.
Cardinals general manager Steve Keim told reporters on Friday that cutting Johnson is “not an option.” The GM also spoke about having multiple running backs that you can rely on, which seemed to be an indicator that Johnson could be back with Arizona in 2020.
.@AZCardinals GM Steve Keim, talking on @AZSports about RB David Johnson: "Cutting him is not an option."
Added that in backfield, "you can't just have one back."
Johnson is set to earn $10.2 million next season, so the Cardinals would probably trade him if an opportunity arose. The 28-year-old had just 715 total yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns in 13 games this past season. There’s no reason to think he will be a major part of Kliff Kingsbury’s offense going forward.
Kenyan Drake exploded for the Cardinals down the stretch after they acquired him in a trade with the Miami Dolphins, rushing for 363 yards and scoring seven touchdowns over Arizona’s final three games. Drake averaged 6.0 yards per carry through that span and looked to be a great fit, but he is set to become a free agent. He may have earned himself a huge contract with his performance.
The ideal scenario for the Cardinals this offseason would probably be trading Johnson and re-signing Drake, but neither of those things are a given.
David Johnson had a disappointing season in 2018 after he returned from a wrist injury, but many believed he was poised for a breakout this past year in new head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s innovative offense. That did not happen, and it would not be a surprise if Johnson is playing for a team other than the Arizona Cardinals next season.
Johnson had just 715 total yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns in 13 games this season. That is disappointing production, to say the least, for a player who signed a three-year, $39 million extension at the start of the 2018 season. With Johnson owed a base salary of $10.2 million in 2020, ESPN’s Josh Weinfuss predicts that the running back will be released by Arizona this offseason.
Johnson’s $10.2 million salary becomes fully guaranteed on the third day of the new league year, which is March 20. Unless Kingsbury has big plans for Johnson, it makes no sense to pay him like one of the top running backs in the NFL.
The Cardinals would probably like to bring back Kenyan Drake, who exploded for them down the stretch after they acquired him in a trade with the Miami Dolphins. However, Drake’s breakout over the final weeks of the season may have earned him a big payday in free agency. The 26-year-old rushed for 363 yards and scored seven touchdowns over Arizona’s final three games. He averaged 6.0 yards per carry through that span.
Johnson is still just 28, so he should attract significant interest on the open market if the Cardinals decide to release him.
Week 11 saw the first team of the season mathematically eliminated from playoff contention — sorry, Bengals fans, we know you were holding out hope. While that’s not exactly a surprise, it does illustrate that we’re getting to the part of the season where teams are going to start facing a lot of mathematical must-wins to keep their playoff hopes alive in any realistic sense.
With high stakes come high expectations, and some people can’t reach those. Here are ten big disappointments from Week 11.
Mitch Trubisky, Matt Nagy, Bears
Trubisky had another listless showing for the Bears and was replaced by Chase Daniel with just over three minutes to go in a 17-7 loss. The Bears and Matt Nagy said the QB had a hip injury, though skeptics will question whether that information is a coverup for a benching in the latest lackluster performance by the former No. 2 overall pick. The conversation NBC showed Nagy having with Trubisky will only further the speculation that this was a benching. Whatever the case, Trubisky is just not getting the job done in Chicago, and many will question the timing of the move. Many viewed it as Nagy’s way of trying to pin the blame on his quarterback. Both Trubisky’s play and Nagy’s handling of it were disappointing.
Kyle Allen, QB, Panthers
Maybe the Falcons defense did discover something last week, or maybe Allen was just awful. Maybe it’s both. Whatever the reason, Allen demonstrated that he does not look like the future of the Carolina Panthers or any other team. Allen was sacked five times and picked off four times, frequently missing his targets. This was not a fluke, either; Allen just has not shown any real ability to consistently get the job done.
Week 10 of the NFL season produced quite an impressive share of dramatic finishes and exciting moments, as well as some serious letdowns. After all, the Miami Dolphins won a game, and that has to come at someone’s expense.
Who didn’t have it together in Week 10? Here are ten big disappointments.
Jared Goff, QB, Rams
Take Goff out of his home stadium and this appears to be what he is. It gets even worse when he’s facing a good defense like Pittsburgh’s. He turned the ball over three times, including one very bad interception, and couldn’t even hook up with Cooper Kupp once in a loss to the Steelers. In tough road environments, Goff barely even looks like an NFL starter. The fact that his great disparity in play between home and road games has not ceased suggests has to be a major worry for the Rams.
Josh Allen, QB, Bills
Allen completed just over half his passes, but didn’t find the end zone against a Browns defense that has been vulnerable this year. He was fortunate not to turn the ball over, as he had it punched out on a pass just shy of the goal line that could have been disastrous had a teammate not fallen on it. The Bills are a good team buoyed by a great defense, but it’s easy to see what happens to them if they run into an equally solid defensive unit — Allen might not be good enough to overcome it.
Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson has once again injured his wrist.
Johnson was listed as questionable to return after suffering a wrist injury against the Baltimore Ravens. Reports indicated that Johnson’s left wrist was the problem — the same one he had surgery on in 2017, which caused him to miss virtually the entire season.
David Johnson (wrist) return is questionable. Wrist injury caused him to miss almost all of ‘17
The past history is a real concern here. It’s been two years since Johnson dislocated that wrist and needed surgery on it. His numbers had never reached the heights they had before that injury, and now the same wrist could be troubling him again. It bears watching closely.
Training camps across the NFL are well underway and the battles are beginning to play out. There are many reasons to pay attention to what happens on the practice field. There can be significant injuries, players who are surprising, others who don’t look sharp, and those who are putting their stamp on a job. There are also comeback stories and players to watch for a whole host of reasons.
Here are ten players whose training camp performance bears watching closely.
Andrew Luck, QB, Colts
After missing all of the 2017 season with a shoulder injury, Andrew Luck returned in 2018 and put on a show. He bounced back with 39 touchdown passes and a career-best 430 completions and 67.3 completion percentage while leading the Colts to a 10-6 record and playoff appearance. Everything looked good for 2019, but now Luck is dealing with a calf injury that has kept him out of minicamp and the start of training camp. The Colts better hope Luck is healthy in time for Week 1. If not, it would be Jacoby Brissett time.