AFC East: Veterans on the roster bubble

We continue our series looking at one veteran player from each team who could be on their team’s roster bubble this summer.

New England Patriots: Demaryius Thomas

Writer: Deon Bent

Coming off of a Super Bowl winning year, this offseason, the New England Patriots were looking to improve their roster for the 2019 season. Several players were added to the team, however, only 53 men can officially make the roster before training camp. 

Coach Belichick is always looking to add talent to his arsenal for Tom Brady. Whether that is through tight ends, wide receivers or running backs, the Patriots always seem to find that diamond in the rough. Perhaps this was the mindset of New England when they signed wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. 

Thomas was known for his pass-catching abilities when playing for the Denver Broncos. He had stellar seasons between 2012 and 2016, including a Super Bowl win and Pro Bowl nominations. Over the last few years, injuries have riddled the receiver. He was tossed from Denver to Houston until signing most recently with the Patriots. However, a deal of $150K guaranteed money does not mean a guaranteed roster spot. 

Considering that the depth of wide receivers on the Patriots’ roster is sitting at 12 men, Thomas will have to overcome several factors to make the team. The signing of N’keal Harry to a rookie contract snags one available spot. Philip Dorsett, Julian Edelman, and Matthew Slater are all locks to make the team. Braxton Berrios and Dontrelle Inman seemingly round out the last two spots with the squad. The future of Josh Gordon is still unknown, but it is very likely that Thomas starts the year on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list. If this ends up being the case, it may be the end of Demaryius Thomas career as a wide receiver. 

Buffalo Bills: E.J. Gaines

Writer: Vincent Christiano

The Buffalo Bills have one of the most well-rounded defenses in football, and one of the most underrated secondaries in the NFL. With the number one cornerback set, Buffalo is looking for its Week One starter to line-up on the field opposite Tre’Davious White. As of June 20, the Bills had nine cornerbacks on their roster, of which they will keep no more than six. White is all but a lock to make the roster, and UDFA Levi Wallace shined opposite him last year. Rookie Taron Johnson was impressive in the nickel position; he and Wallace are without a doubt expected to make the team. Free agent pickup Kevin Johnson, when healthy, is a proven starting defensive back.

This leaves little room for error, with only one predicted spot left on the roster. E.J. Gaines, former Buffalo Bill, is back on the team after spending a season with the Cleveland Browns. Although looking to relive the success he had with the Bills in 2017, when he had the highest PFF rating of his career, he is in a tough position considering his inconsistency. Impressive when healthy, Gaines has had injury problems for his entire career, never playing a full 16 game season, something the Bills coaching staff is well aware of. Gaines only played six games last year.

Even if he makes the team he’s on the losing side of the battle to start. While Kevin Johnson is also known to have injury problems, he is considered a career starter, while Gaines has been a fringe starter for his whole career. Wallace and Taron Johnson both have the advantage of being familiar with Lezlie Frazier’s current defensive scheme. Even recent free-agent addition Ryan Lewis had a higher PFF grade last season than Gaines, and if he has a good camp, the former New England Patriot could bump Gaines out of a 2019 roster spot.

New York Jets: Matt Darr

Writer: Andersen Pickard

While there are many younger players with three or four years of experience on the Jets’ roster bubble, a player who is a bit more of a veteran who is at risk of being cut is punter Matt Darr, who made his NFL debut in 2015 with the Dolphins.

Between the 2015 and 2016 seasons, Darr appeared in all 32 regular season games for the Dolphins but was a late cut ahead of the 2017 season. He went unemployed in 2017 but found a job with the Bills late in the 2018 season, appearing in just five games. The Jets brought him in this past offseason but he’s not expected to last far beyond training camp.

Lachlan Edwards, who has appeared in all 48 of the Jets’ regular season game since the team drafted him in 2016, is nearly a lock to have the punting duties in 2019, so with only one punter necessary, it would take a very impressive training camp for Darr to edge out Edwards.

Miami Dolphins: Zach Sterup

Writer: Michael Travis Rose

It’s no secret that the Miami Dolphins needed help on the offensive line at the end of last season.  The Dolphins ranked 28th in offensive points, 31st in offensive yards, 30th in passing yards, and 18th in rushing yards. They were rank, indeed! Just ask Ryan Tannehill or Brock Osweiler who, combined, peeled themselves from the turf 52 times.  In the ‘sacks against’ department, they ranked higher, tying for fifth place.

Much of the blame falls directly at the feet of the anemic offensive line they fielded in the 2018 season. Attempting to address these needs, the Dolphins drafted offensive guard Michael Dieter in the third round, and offensive tackle Isaiah Prince in the sixth round. Prince was a standout tackle at Ohio State, garnering first-team All-Big Ten honors and serving as team captain in his senior year for the Buckeyes. This does not bode well for fourth-year journeyman offensive tackle Zach Sterup. It feels weird calling a player with just three years in the league a journeyman, but this is the case with Sterup.

Since signing with the Kansas City Chiefs as a UDFA in 2016, he has bounced to the New York Jets, and Cleveland Browns. On all three teams, Sterup served on the teams’ practice squads. In November 2017, the Dolphins signed Sterup to serve as a backup offensive tackle. Since then, he has played in just 12 games, starting only two of those. With the signing of veteran Buffalo Bills offensive tackle Jordan Mills earlier this year and the drafting of Prince, the writing is on the wall.

Barring any unforeseen heroics, injuries, or other-worldly events in training camp and the preseason, look for rookie Prince to usurp Sterup. Perhaps the Dolphins will sign him to the practice squad.  He has experience there.

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