The NFL Draft is an exciting time for the 253 players selected. It’s also a sobering time for veterans, who watch their teams draft their eventual replacements.
Let’s take a look at the players who were put on notice last weekend with their team’s draft picks (and we won’t include the two obvious ones, Chiefs QB Alex Smith and Bears QB Mike Glennon).
These players might be safe for 2017, but they will soon find out why the NFL is nicknamed, “Not For Long.”
■ Seahawks CB Richard Sherman, SS Kam Chancellor, and FS Earl Thomas: Pete Carroll can deny it on local Seattle radio all he wants, but the entire Legion of Boom was put on the hot seat when the Seahawks drafted three safeties and a cornerback in Rounds 3-6. Sherman, 29, has two years and $22 million left on his contract but was very publicly available on the trade market this offseason. Chancellor, 29, is entering the final year of his contract and is coming off surgery on both ankles. And Thomas, 28, is coming off a broken leg with two years and $17 million left on his deal. The league’s best secondary is aging quickly and might not remain intact past 2017.
■ Patriots WR Julian Edelman and LT Nate Solder: Edelman was productive as ever in 2016, playing in all 19 games and catching 98 passes for 1,106 yards in the regular season. But he’ll be 31 in two weeks, is entering the final year of his contract, and the Patriots traded for the speedy Brandin Cooks in the offseason (and also added intriguing slot receiver Austin Carr as an undrafted rookie). Wes Welker was 32 years old when the Patriots decided to move on. As for Solder, he’s also entering the final year of his contract, and the Patriots just drafted Antonio Garcia in the third round. The Patriots still had Matt Light in place at left tackle when they drafted Solder in 2011.
■ Ravens OLB Terrell Suggs, Dolphins OLB Cameron Wake, and Steelers OLB James Harrison: These pass rushers were already “on notice” given their ages — Harrison is 39, Wake is 35, and Suggs will be 35 in October. But their teams used high draft picks on their replacements — the Dolphins took Charles Harris in the first round, the Steelers took T.J. Watt in the first round, and the Ravens drafted Tyus Bowser in the second round. The three veterans are each signed through 2018, but none has fully guaranteed money in that second year.
■ Jets WR Eric Decker and S Calvin Pryor: A youth movement is underway in Florham Park, and Decker likely won’t last long. He only played three games last year because of a shoulder injury, has two years and $14.75 million left on his deal with no money guaranteed, and the Jets just used two mid-round draft picks on receivers. Pryor, the 18th overall pick in 2014, has been a bust, with just two interceptions in 44 career games. He’s entering the final year of his contract after the Jets declined his fifth-year option, and the Jets drafted safeties with their first- and second-round picks. Pryor might not make it to the regular season with the Jets.
■ Bills WR Sammy Watkins: He hasn’t been a total bust, but chronic foot injuries haven’t helped him reach his potential, either. Watkins is entering the last year of his contract after the Bills declined his fifth-year option (which is likely tied to his foot injuries, since the option is guaranteed for injury only), and the Bills drafted receiver Zay Jones in the second round. The Bills’ new regime also has no emotional ties to Watkins, as the GM who drafted him (Doug Whaley) was just fired.
■ Giants RB Shane Vereen: He hasn’t made much of an impact in two seasons, and a triceps injury limited him to five games last year. The Giants drafted Wayne Gallman in the fourth round, Vereen is entering the final year of his contract, and the Giants can save $2.65 million if they release him.
■ Saints RT Zach Strief: The durable Saint is safe for this year, but he’ll be 34 in September and the Saints have their two tackles of the future — 2015 first-round pick Andrus Peat and 2017 first-rounder Ryan Ramczyk.
■ Bengals RB Jeremy Hill: The 235-pounder has scored 30 touchdowns in three seasons, but is entering the final year of his deal and averaged 3.6 and 3.8 yards per carry the last two years. Gio Bernard just signed a four-year deal, and the Bengals didn’t draft Joe Mixon in the second round to sit him on the bench. We could see Hill on the trade block this training camp.
■ Packers S Morgan Burnett: Still a productive and versatile safety, but he’s entering the final year of his contract. The Packers drafted safety Josh Jones in the second round, and it likely wasn’t to replace 2014 first-round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
■ Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart: He’s safe for this year after renegotiating his contract, but the Panthers just took Christian McCaffrey in the first round, Stewart is 30 years old, and the Panthers can save $3.75 million on him next year.
■ Cowboys DE Demarcus Lawrence: The 34th overall pick in 2014 is entering the last year of his contract and coming off a supremely disappointing season in which he had just one sack and was suspended for four games. The Cowboys drafted Taco Charlton in the first round, and it’s now-or-never time for Lawrence.
Stance shift on commitments
Jalen Robinette expected to hear his name called in the NFL Draft, and Weston Steelhammer was receiving calls about signing as an undrafted free agent. The two Air Force Academy players finished their education this spring and had been training for the draft — Robinette, a physical, 6-foot-3-inch receiver, was even invited to the Scouting Combine.
They expected to be able to play in the NFL right away. Just last July, the US Department of Defense had altered its policies to allow athletes from service academies to play pro sports immediately under “ready reserve” status instead of serving two years of active duty.
But the rug was pulled from under Robinette and Steelhammer right before the draft. Last Thursday, the day of the first round, the US Air Force notified the academy that it would not approve any “ready reserve” requests.
Then on Monday, secretary of defense James Mattis signed an order that officially rescinds the pro sports policy that was enacted last summer, requiring all service academy athletes (Air Force, Army, and Navy) to fulfill their two-year commitment before pursuing professional sports.
“Graduates enjoy the extraordinary benefit of a military academy education at taxpayer expense,” Pentagon chief spokesperson Dana W. White said in a statement last week. “Therefore, upon graduation, officers will serve as military officers for their minimum commitment of two years.”
The new policy only affects athletes in this year’s graduating class and those moving forward. Commander David McKinney, US Naval Academy spokesman, confirmed to the Globe that the new policy won’t affect the status of Patriots long snapper Joe Cardona. Cardona, a 2015 graduate of the Naval Academy, served on active duty at the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, R.I., in 2015 while also snapping for the Patriots, and was moved to the reserves in 2016. According to the Military Times, Cardona will spend at least eight years in a naval uniform and is currently working on his supply officer qualifications.
The new policy also won’t affect former Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds, a rookie for the Ravens last season who benefited from the policy change (as did Jets former Jets fullback Chris Swain and Saints tight end Garrett Griffin).
But Robinette and Steelhammer must now serve their two-year commitments, like several athletes before them — Roger Staubach, Basketball Hall of Famer David Robinson, and Falcons offensive lineman Ben Garland, among others.
You're out of your mind if you think I'm gonna let someone else hang up my cleats. Momma raised me better than that— Jalen Rowell (Robinette) (@a_young_raisin) April 30, 2017
Patriots spend up on running backs
The running back position is making a bit of a comeback in the NFL, with Ezekiel Elliott drafted fourth overall last year and two players going in the top 10 this year (Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey). Naturally, the Patriots appear to be on the forefront of the running back revival.
The Patriots had the third-most rushing attempts in the NFL in 2016 — 30.1 per game, behind only Dallas (31.2) and Buffalo (30.8). This year, even with LeGarrette Blount unlikely to return, the Patriots invested significantly more money into the running back position.
In 2016, the Patriots spent a total of $4.32 million on their four running backs (Blount, James White, Dion Lewis, and Brandon Bolden). Blount’s $1.714 million salary was the highest in the group, and he only made that much because he earned $700,000 worth of incentives.
But in 2017, the Patriots are spending $13.24 million on their four running backs — Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, White, and Lewis (assuming Lewis makes the team over Bolden and others). That’s more than triple their spending from last year.
White, the Super Bowl hero, is now the high earner of the group, making $4.69 million this year thanks to a new contract extension that paid him a $4 million signing bonus. Gillislee, signed away from Buffalo as a restricted free agent, will make $4 million as the primary first-down back. Burkhead, signed from Cincinnati, will make $3.15 million as a jack-of-all-trades and special teams contributor. And Lewis is slated to make $1.4 million. If Bolden makes the team, he will make $855,000.
In 2016, the Patriots’ four running backs combined for a salary-cap hit of $4.13 million, or about 2.6 percent of the Patriots’ salary cap. In 2017, the top four running backs have a total cap hit of $10.4 million, or about 6.2 percent of the Patriots’ salary cap.
Choice topics among selections
A few leftover thoughts from the NFL Draft:
■ It’s easy to praise the 49ers now and mock the Bears for the trade that allowed Chicago to move up one spot to No. 2 to take Mitch Trubisky. Not only did the 49ers acquire three picks (two threes and a four), but they also supposedly drafted two of their top three players on their draft board — defensive tackle Solomon Thomas at No. 3, and linebacker Reuben Foster at No. 31. But let’s check back in three years. Foster has a shoulder injury that many teams believe will require further surgery this offseason, and he failed his drug test at the Combine. And if Trubisky turns out to be a good NFL quarterback, the 49ers will look foolish for passing him over.
Bears GM Ryan Pace is being derided for giving up picks for a player he probably could have gotten at No. 3, but A) How is he supposed to know how many trade offers the 49ers were getting for that pick? and B) He didn’t exactly sell the farm for Trubisky. Third- and fourth-round picks have less than a 50 percent chance of developing into starters, and giving up a few picks to ensure you get the quarterback you wanted is well worth it, in our estimation.
■ Draft strategies that we liked: Teams that went bold at quarterback — the Bears making a play for Trubisky, and the Chiefs and Texans giving up 2018 first-rounders for Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, respectively; the Packers, whose top running back last year was converted receiver Ty Montgomery, using three mid-to-late-round picks on running backs; the Chargers drafting guards in the second and third rounds to boost their woeful offensive line.
■ Draft strategies we didn’t love: The Panthers, who have aging defensive ends Julius Peppers and Charles Johnson as starters, only using one pick (a third-rounder) on a pass rusher; the Jets, who have many, many needs, going safety-safety with their first two picks; the Seahawks, who had one of the worst offensive lines last year, only using a two and a six on offensive linemen.
■ 2017 NFL Draft All-Name Team: Cardinals S Budda Baker; Chargers G Forrest Lamp; Ravens OLB Tyus Bowser; Dolphins LB Raekwon McMillan; Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster; Dolphins CB Cordrea Tankersley; Broncos TE Jake Butt; Panthers CB Corn Elder; Redskins TE Jeremy Sprinkle; Raiders S Shalom Luani; Dolphins WR Damore’ea Stringfellow (undrafted); and Redskins S Fish Smithson (undrafted).
■ Want to feel old? Signing contracts as undrafted rookies last week: WR Trey Griffey, son of Ken Griffey Jr., with the Colts; DL Bryan Cox Jr., son of the former Patriots linebacker, with the Panthers; and LB Hardy Nickerson Jr., son of the former Buccaneers linebacker, with the Bengals.
Former Patriots receiver Michael Floyd is reportedly drawing interest from his hometown Vikings, but don’t expect any team to sign him until after May 9. If Floyd signs on or before May 9, he will count in the compensatory draft pick equation — a plus for the Patriots, and a minus for whichever team signs him. But after May 9, a team can sign Floyd without losing a potential compensatory pick. Floyd served 24 days in Arizona jail for extreme DUI, and is currently under house arrest through June 17 . . . Not surprised that the Jets showed interest in Jay Cutler, and not surprised that he turned it down for an opportunity to join Fox as a game analyst. He has made about $112 million in career earnings, and signing up for a cushy TV gig sounds a lot better than joining a new team and getting your brains beaten in on a team that likely won’t win more than five or six games. In our few experiences with Cutler, he was a cliché machine in news conferences. It will be interesting to see if he can offer more critical analysis in his new role . . . The fifth-year option for first-round picks is guaranteed for injury only, so it makes sense that the Vikings declined the option for Teddy Bridgewater, coming off a horrific and potentially career-ending knee injury . . . 49ers third-round cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon has his post-football plans lined up — he wants to become a surgeon. “Med school is happening, there’s no doubt,” he told reporters. “Whether it’s in a year or 12, I can’t say. It’s my passion. I’ve always been interested in how things work. And I think the body is a great place to jump into, to figure it out.”
Defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon (2nd round, 59th overall) and offensive lineman Brad Seaton (7th round, 236th overall) were selected by the Chiefs and Titans, respectively. They are two of just seven players drafted out of Villanova since 1980.