With every draft class comes a wave of rookies who are primed to unseat veterans and ultimately lead to their roster demise. With the rookie wage scale in place for a decade now, the cost of young, springy players makes it alluring for teams to utilize them as contributors over pricey, established players if there's some element of unknown with the first-year pros.
And in 2021, with the salary cap reduced, more clubs will be looking for cost-saving options to fill out their rosters. Let's take a look at the veterans most likely on the chopping block after the draft.
Cap savings if released: $10.3M
Potential rookie replacement: Elijah Moore
Crowder is in a very classic but difficult scenario for him, his team, and fans. He's a good player. Really good. One of the most consistent, reliable slot receivers in the NFL. Besides 2018, when he was limited to nine games due to injury, Crowder has 50-plus grabs and at least 600 yards in every season as a pro and a very respectable 26 career touchdowns in the regular season.
But now, a dynamic, ultra-consistent slot wideout picked in the second-round round is awkwardly on the roster. Sure, the Jets likely want as many weapons for Zach Wilson as they can muster, but Elijah Moore was likely picked at No. 34 to replace Crowder, eventually. When "eventually" gets here is the ultimate question.
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The massive cap saving if Crowder is released has to be enticing to GM Joe Douglas. However, the Jets currently have the third-most cap space in the league and are set to have the fourth-most in 2022. Still, money rules all in the NFL when it comes to roster management, and if Moore looks like a clear upgrade over Crowder in the slot before the season begins, do not categorize a release of the veterans as stunning if it occurs, although I don't fully expect it to happen. And there would be a positional redundancy if they're both on the roster in 2021. The free-agent acquisitions of Corey Davis and Keelan Cole, along with 2020 second-round pick Denzel Mims, have to be factored in too.
Cap savings if released: $3.6M
Potential rookie replacement: James Hudson
Hubbard played 29% of the snaps in 2020 as the rotational depth blocker for the Browns, a team with a luxurious, elite offensive line. And teams love insurance up front. So this release isn't incredibly likely.
But Cleveland did draft twitched up mauler James Hudson in the fourth round of the 2021 draft. Hudson isn't fully ready to go. He's raw in pass protection -- balance, lunging -- but the run-blocking component of his game is impressive, and we know head coach Kevin Stefanski adores pounding the rock.
While there's a decent chance the Browns view Hubbard's veteran presence as valuable, there's also a chance they believe they can get similar production from Hudson in Year 1 and would love to save $3.6M if Hubbard is let go.
Cap savings if released: $2M
Potential rookie replacement: Paulson Adebo
Robinson was only on the field for 248 snaps last year in the third season of his second stint with the Saints, and he'll be 34 years old right before the 2021 season begins.
Is a $2M saving significant? For most teams, no, it's not. For the Saints, the club with the least amount of cap space in football in 2021 and the fourth-lowest amount in 2022, it means more. Every dollar counts.
Robinson's situation likely precipitated the third-round selection of Adebo. The Stanford star opted out of the 2020 campaign, but his two years in Palo Alto popped -- eight interceptions and 27 pass breakups. While a tick stiff, Adebo has light feet and plays with tremendous instincts and ball skills.
Cap savings if released: $5M
Potential rookie replacement: Joe Tryon
The second-longest tenured player on the Buccaneers roster after Lavonte David, Gholston was a fourth-round selection in 2013 and has appeared in 119 regular season games for the team that drafted him.
To summarize Gholston's NFL career, he's never been bad enough to be a wart on the roster but has never resembled a star. And he'll be 30 in July. Not really old. But that round number has a negative connotation in the NFL.
And, unfortunately for Gholston, the Buccaneers used a first-round pick on Tryon, a thick, high-motor defensive end certainly capable of setting a rock-solid edge against the run.
What makes this scenario fascinating -- Gholston set a career high with 56 pressures in 2020 on just 57% of the defensive snaps.
His previous high in a single season was 34, and that came all the way back in Jameis Winston's rookie season of 2015. Traits-wise and due to age, Tryon has more pass-rushing upside. But was that 56-pressure 2020 an aberration from Gholston or a sign of a late-career resurgence? Tampa Bay is loaded up front and we know they made it a priority to bring everyone back from their Super Bowl win a few months ago. But this battle on the edge is definitely worth monitoring this summer.
Cap savings if released: $2.1M
Potential rookie replacement: Ernest Jones
Jones was a liability on the 46% of the snaps he played in Los Angeles' defense in 2020. In fact, his poor play likely led to the Rams picking the hyperactive Jones in the third round of the 2021 draft.
At South Carolina, Jones had 97 tackles with five pass breakups in 12 games in 2019 then followed with an 86-tackle campaign in just nine contests last fall. He's a better run defender than he has covering tight ends down the seam, but Jones plays with zero hesitation and has big-time burst and range to the football. At just under 6-2 and 230 pounds with long arms and a huge pro day workout on his resume, Jones can be the sideline-to-sideline roamer at the second level of the Rams defense as a rookie.
His presence on the roster likely spells the end of Young's time in Los Angeles. There are currently 10 teams with fewer cap dollars available to them than the Rams.