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HomeSportsNFL players who need a change of scenery this offseason

NFL players who need a change of scenery this offseason

Odell Beckham Jr., Chidobe Awuzie, James Conner and Zach Ertz were among ESPN’s list of players who could use a change of scenery last year. They got theirs and made it work.

OBJ caught a touchdown in the Super Bowl and earned a ring with the champion Los Angeles Rams.

Awuzie started 14 games at cornerback for the Cincinnati Bengals and was a big reason they opposed the Rams in Super Bowl LVI. Awuzie had two interceptions, 14 passes defensed and four tackles for loss — all career highs.

Ertz and Conner were part of the big turnaround for the Arizona Cardinals, who made the postseason for the first time since 2015. Ertz caught 56 balls after he was traded to the desert; Conner posted 18 total touchdowns to rank third in the NFL.

So who needs to move on this year? Some of these names are repeats from last year. And not everyone will make a smash at a new address. But as you’ve just read, it can happen. Our NFL reporters offered up one candidate each from the team they cover who might benefit from new surroundings.

Jump to:
ARI | ATL | BAL | BUF | CAR | CHI | CIN
CLE | DAL | DEN | DET | GB | HOU | IND
JAX | KC | LAC | LAR | LV | MIA | MIN
NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF
SEA | TB | TEN | WSH

NFC EAST

Guard Connor Williams

He started 51 of the 57 games he played for the Cowboys from 2018 to 2021. As a second-round pick, he was supposed to be another stalwart offensive line pick with Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin and La’el Collins. It is not that he played poorly, he just didn’t play great all the time. His strength improved over time and he was able to move well, but he was still subject to being overpowered and getting caught out of position. In 2021, he was penalized 15 times with 12 penalties accepted, which led to him losing his job for a spell. He’s set to be a free agent in March, and the Cowboys aren’t in position to say goodbye to a starting lineman, but for all involved it would be better for Williams to find a new home so he is not constantly reminded of his penalties and falling short of becoming a Pro Bowl type playing alongside Smith and Martin for most of his four seasons. — Todd Archer


Tight end Evan Engram

The talent is always teasing. Every year seems to be the one where the first-round pick from 2017 will finally break out. It’s not going to happen in New York, though. Engram’s best season (64-722-6) was his rookie year. It’s best for both parties if he tries to live up to that potential elsewhere and does not re-sign with the Giants. — Jordan Raanan


Wide receiver Jalen Reagor

Expectations were high in Philly when Reagor was selected 21st overall in the 2020 draft, especially considering the Eagles passed on Justin Jefferson to take him. Jefferson’s career immediately took off, Reagor’s has yet to, and that has created an awkward strain between player (33 catches for 299 yards and two TDs last season) and city. A fresh start would alleviate some of the pressure and allow Reagor to play more freely. — Tim McManus


Guard Brandon Scherff

There’s no doubt Washington would like him back; he remains a top player at his position. He has made one All-Pro team and he’s a five-time Pro Bowler. But he also has played on the franchise tag the past two seasons and there has been little legitimate movement toward a long-term deal, whether that’s because of a desire to leave or because the tag made a deal difficult. Washington did make an offer that would have made Scherff the highest-paid guard, but playing on the tag was a smarter business decision. The hard part for Washington now would be: What sort of contract do you offer? Scherff has not played a full season since 2016 and has missed a combined 22 games the past four years. As good as he is, and despite a desire to keep him around, this relationship appears to have run its course. — John Keim

NFC NORTH

Wide receiver Allen Robinson II

It wasn’t long ago that Robinson was the guy in Chicago, but 2021 changed everything. He and Justin Fields never connected in a meaningful way, while second-year man Darnell Mooney emerged as the rookie QB’s go-to guy. He can be a solid No. 2 while the Bears search for a No. 1. At this point, Robinson is like fitting a square peg into a round hole. He needs to move on. — Jesse Rogers


Outside linebacker Trey Flowers

This isn’t a knock on the Lions organization, which is in the midst of a rebuild, but at this point in Flowers’ career he could be a great asset to a championship contender or playoff-ready franchise. At 28, Flowers is a two-time Super Bowl champion with New England, but was injury plagued this past season for the Lions, which forced the team to place him on IR for the second straight season after he hurt his knee. His contract could be an issue, though, after Detroit gave him $90 million over five years in 2019 with $56 million guaranteed. — Eric Woodyard


Outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith

Smith went from being the Packers’ most important defensive player in 2019 and 2020 to a nonfactor in 2021. Yes, he dealt with a back injury that essentially ended his season after Week 1 (he did return for the playoff game), but there were issues even before that. He wanted a new contract last offseason and didn’t get one. He missed the entire offseason program and most of training camp, and then got upset when he wasn’t elected a team captain. The Packers need all the cap space they can get, and they’d gain $15.75 million by moving on from him. — Rob Demovsky


Defensive end Danielle Hunter

The Vikings have until March 20 to decide whether they’re picking up Hunter’s $18 million roster bonus that was added into his current deal last offseason. Minnesota reworked the defensive end’s contract to set him up to earn a massive extension, but a pectoral tear last October limited Hunter to just seven games in two seasons after a neck injury forced him to miss all of 2020. No one knows Hunter’s medicals and whether he’ll be able to bounce back to being the player who became the fastest to notch 50 career sacks better than the Vikings. If they believe they can get a deal done with their star defensive end at a discounted cost due to those injuries, he’ll be in purple going forward. But after two disappointing years and with his defensive line coach Andre Patterson now on the Giants, a trade or release would allow Hunter a much-needed fresh start, and the Vikings would save $14.64 million against the cap. — Courtney Cronin

NFC SOUTH

Tight end Hayden Hurst

The 2018 first-round pick’s role changed once Atlanta drafted Kyle Pitts last year. Hurst, whose fifth-year option wasn’t picked up by the team, had 31 targets last season (he had 25 more catches than that in 2020) and only 26 catches for 221 yards and three touchdowns. He has the skills of a No. 1 or a No. 1B tight end, and in Atlanta he likely wouldn’t get the pay or reps commensurate with that, so it makes sense for Hurst to go play somewhere else, where opportunity could be more plentiful. — Michael Rothstein


Tight end Ian Thomas

He has been a training camp star since being selected in the fourth round of the 2018 draft, but he has never emerged as a regular-season star. Sure, he’s a dependable blocker. But in terms of the receiving threat Carolina desperately needs at this position … not so much. Thomas had only 18 catches this past season and only 54 in the past three combined. He has only four touchdowns in four seasons. It just has never been a great fit. — David Newton


Cornerback Bradley Roby

The Saints traded a third-round pick for the veteran starter during Week 1 of last season. But he wound up playing only about one-third of their snaps while rotating in with rookie starter Paulson Adebo. Roby, 29, is still a quality cornerback, but the Saints might not want to pay his $10 million salary considering their tight cap constraints. — Mike Triplett


Tight end O.J. Howard

The 19th overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft had a few bouts of bad luck in the form of injuries — a ruptured Achilles ended his season prematurely in 2020 — and the team expressed faith in him by picking up his fifth-year option last season. But even when Rob Gronkowski missed five games in 2021 due to injury, Howard was still nowhere to be found. He managed just 14 catches for a career-low 135 yards in 17 regular-season games. He bettered that mark in just four games last year. He’s set to become a free agent. — Jenna Laine

NFC WEST

Linebacker Jordan Hicks

Hicks asked for a trade last offseason after the Cardinals drafted his replacements in the first round of back-to-back years. When he didn’t get it, he went out and started all 17 games and led the team in defensive snaps. But after going through that last offseason, Hicks — like every player — deserves to be on a team that appreciates him. That clearly isn’t Arizona. — Josh Weinfuss


Offensive tackle Joe Noteboom

The Rams drafted Noteboom with a third-round pick in 2018, with the plan being that he would learn from and take over for Andrew Whitworth. However, despite Noteboom’s development, that plan never materialized given Whitworth signed an extension and proved that he could not only continue as a starter, but compete at the highest level. With several opportunities to fill in as a starter, including in an all-important divisional-round win over the Buccaneers, Noteboom proved he is also entirely capable of starting at left tackle in the NFL. If Whitworth puts off retirement again, it would be best for Noteboom to move on as an unrestricted free agent to somewhere he can start. — Lindsey Thiry


Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo

Garoppolo and the Niners have been on the path to a divorce since San Francisco traded up to No. 3 and drafted Trey Lance in April. Now, it’s just a matter of finding the right fit. Chances are, the Niners and Garoppolo’s representatives will work together to get the best compensation package while sending Garoppolo somewhere he can have success. Take it from Jimmy G himself, there’s something to be said for a fresh start: “Absolutely,” Garoppolo said. “I don’t know if it’ll be easier or harder. Each year’s difficult in this league. I mean, it always is, but that’s part of the reason I love it. Nothing’s given to you, you’ve got to earn everything in this league and it’s not easy. I think that’s just something that I embrace and I sort of enjoy in a way.” — Nick Wagoner


Defensive end L.J. Collier

The 29th pick of the 2019 draft was a healthy scratch in seven of the first 10 games of last season as Seattle went with bigger bodies in the middle of its new-look defensive line. If the Seahawks stick with that in 2022, then they might again view Collier as too small to play inside and not twitchy enough to play on the edge. He had three sacks plus a game-saving stuff while starting every game in 2020, but produced little in his other two seasons. — Brady Henderson

AFC EAST

Guard Jon Feliciano

Moving on makes sense for both sides. It’s not a must, but it would be a smart step. Feliciano lost his starting role during the 2021 season to Ike Boettger and Ryan Bates after stints on injured reserve and the COVID-19 list. The Bills would save over $4 million by designating him as a post-June 1 cut. Former Bills offensive line coach Bobby Johnson is now in the same role with the Giants, and Feliciano has worked with Johnson for most of his professional career. It would be a logical reunion. — Alaina Getzenberg


Offensive tackle Jesse Davis

Davis still has another year remaining on his contract but was the Dolphins’ second-worst pass-blocking lineman in 2021. The worst was 2021 second-round pick Liam Eichenberg, and he’s not going anywhere considering his draft status. Miami needs to improve its offensive line and, logically speaking, is more likely to move on from Davis, who is the lone starting offensive lineman from last season who was not drafted by the team. — Marcel Louis-Jacques


Wide receiver N’Keal Harry

The 32nd pick in the 2019 draft was a healthy scratch in a Week 17 win over the Jaguars, and then when he returned to action in the team’s next two games, his impact was minimal. It had an end-of-the-road type of feel to it. Harry played 28% of the offensive snaps and finished with 12 catches for 180 yards and no touchdowns last season, with his primary contributions coming as a blocker. Perhaps a team that had a high draft grade on him would consider dealing a conditional late-round pick to see if a change of scenery brings out his potential. — Mike Reiss


Wide receiver Denzel Mims

The 2020 second-round pick has been a disappointment and could be on the move before or during the draft. The current coaching staff didn’t draft him and hasn’t embraced Mims, a sloppy route runner who struggled to learn the offense. He has had hard luck, too — injuries, food poisoning (dropped 15 pounds) and COVID-19. In 20 games, he has only 31 catches and no touchdowns. There’s no denying his physical talent, but it’s not clicking in New York. Maybe he can reunite with his former college coach, Matt Rhule, with the Panthers. — Rich Cimini

AFC NORTH

Offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva

It’s expected that the Ravens will cut Villanueva after one season to create $6 million in salary-cap room. A longtime offensive lineman for the Steelers, Villanueva was a bad fit at right tackle and was unable to fill the void left by injured left tackle Ronnie Stanley. Villanueva allowed 17 sacks this past season, three more than any other player, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. This was a disappointing free-agent addition for Baltimore, which gave Villanueva $8 million guaranteed. — Jamison Hensley


Cornerback Trae Waynes

Waynes came across some of the worst luck in two seasons with the Bengals. An injured pectoral kept him out of all of 2020 and a hamstring problem kept him off the field long enough in 2021 for him to lose his starting job. With a cap hit of more than $15 million for the final year of his deal, it’s best for both sides to move on from each other. — Ben Baby


Wide receiver Jarvis Landry

While playing through injury last season, Landry finished with just 52 catches, 570 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns (though he had two more on the ground), and didn’t do a single interview through the team after Odell Beckham Jr. was released midseason. Landry has an upcoming cap hit of $16.6 million but no guaranteed money left, creating an opportunity for the Browns to move on, should they want to. Landry said Tuesday that he would “like to stay” in Cleveland but added that he is confident he can still be a contributor elsewhere. — Jake Trotter


Tight end Eric Ebron

Ebron entered Steelers training camp as the No. 1 tight end, but rookie Pat Freiermuth built a strong connection with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and supplanted Ebron as the top tight end target by midseason. Ebron, set to be a free agent, had a career-low 18 targets in 2021, down significantly from 91 in his first year with the Steelers. After a season-ending knee injury on a touchdown against the L.A. Chargers in Week 11, Ebron spent the majority of his rehab with his family away from Pittsburgh. Ebron has the talent and athletic ability to be a receiving threat, but to return to his 2018 Pro Bowl form, he needs a fresh start. — Brooke Pryor

AFC SOUTH

Safety Justin Reid

Reid outplayed his third-round draft pick status in his four seasons in Houston, but he and the Texans did not get a contract extension done before or during the season. During the season, Reid was benched for violating team rules after he challenged head coach David Culley’s coaching in a team meeting. Now that Reid can hit the open market, the Texans don’t expect Reid to be back in 2022. — Sarah Barshop


Running back Marlon Mack

It’s easy to forget that it was just in 2019 that Mack rushed 1,091 yards because the Colts have Jonathan Taylor, who the led the NFL in rushing in 2021, on the roster. It’s because of Taylor and Nyheim Hines that Mack was basically an afterthought on the depth chart last season. Mack, who tore his Achilles in Week 1 of the 2020 season, appeared in only six games while spending most of the season as a healthy inactive. The Colts failed to move Mack at the trade deadline last season. He’ll be only 26 while coming off a season where he had only 28 carries in 2022, so there shouldn’t be any questions on his ability to contribute still. — Mike Wells


Center Brandon Linder

Linder’s issue is he can’t stay healthy. He has missed 41 games in eight seasons — including 15 the past two seasons — because of various injuries/illnesses. He also has the third-highest cap value ($10 million) on the roster in 2022. There’s no dead money to cut him. Backup Tyler Shatley has been solid in relief of Linder — and hasn’t missed a game in the past six seasons. The Jaguars could opt to re-sign Shatley instead. — Michael DiRocco


Linebacker Rashaan Evans

Evans, a first-round pick in 2018, fell out of the rotation last season. Over four seasons, he started 59 games but was a healthy scratch for the Titans’ divisional-round loss to the Bengals. The midseason acquisition of Zach Cunningham and emergence of David Long have led to Evans’ likely departure via free agency. — Turron Davenport

AFC WEST

Running back Melvin Gordon III

The Broncos have enough cap space to re-sign several of their own free agents. It is a big list that includes three linebackers and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Gordon has spoken of his sometimes-bumpy relationship with the team’s faithful. First, he was the guy who got the big contract when Phillip Lindsay didn’t, and then last season he was the guy who was keeping Javonte Williams from getting more carries. For a team that has labored to score touchdowns, Gordon has had 20 of them over the past two seasons and has led the team in rushing in back-to-back years. He has said he would like to come back, but Williams figures to be a quality fit in Nathaniel Hackett’s offense and Gordon might simply want a little less drama about the whole thing. — Jeff Legwold


Defensive end Frank Clark

The Chiefs cut linebacker Anthony Hitchens on Tuesday, and Clark could be next. He has had some big moments for the Chiefs but not enough of them. The team can save almost $13 million against their salary cap by releasing Clark, though they would need to find some help for their pass rush if they move on without him. — Adam Teicher


Linebacker Cory Littleton

What, you thought I was going to say Derek Carr? Look, Littleton was supposed to be the crown jewel of the Raiders’ free-agent class of 2020 as a game-changer in pass coverage. Instead, he struggled — mightily — and was replaced by rookie Divine Deablo as the team made its playoff run late in the season. Perhaps new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham and his 3-4 scheme sensibilities can get more out of him. Because otherwise, Littleton’s $15.7 million cap number is a huge figure with which to deal. — Paul Gutierrez


Offensive tackle Storm Norton

Norton stepped in when Bryan Bulaga went on injured reserve after Week 1, but lacked quick-reflex skill for the position. He improved as the season went on but is certainly not a full-time replacement. The team might be able to find a better right tackle in the draft or in free agency, and Norton might benefit from a fresh start elsewhere. — Shelley Smith

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