NFL Veterans Who Need to Prove They’re Not Washed in 2020

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    A handful of NFL veterans stand on precarious ground headed into the 2020 season.

    While names do indeed carry weight in the league, former stars whose production has tapered off in recent years represent a red flag and a crossroads—are they at a point of no return or ready for a second wind?

    The only certainty with veterans in a such a position is that the NFL will only wait around so long for the resurgence, especially with another class of prospects inbound via the draft.

    Veterans who need to prove they’re not washed have experienced diminishing returns over the years and appear at the tail end of their careers. There’s still hope, but their current teams—second-chance spots or otherwise—presumably won’t wait long.

    These are the veterans who need to shed the washed label in 2020.

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    David Johnson is a little younger than most when it comes to the “washed” label, yet the clock simply ticks faster for running backs.

    Johnson, now 28 years old, was one of the league’s premier backs, even surpassing the 2,000-yard mark as an MVP contender in 2016. After missing most of the season with a dislocated wrist in 2017, he averaged just 3.6 yards per carry in 2018 over 258 attempts. He then largely lost his job to Kenyan Drake in 2019, rushing just 94 times on a 3.7 average.

    Now the penciled-in lead back for the Houston Texans, Johnson might see more usage by Bill O’Brien sheerly because he was part of the widely panned DeAndre Hopkins trade. That, and his biggest competition is Duke Johnson.

    But Johnson has an $11.2 million cap hit this year and $9 million the next. Houston might not want to pay up if the veteran’s play doesn’t improve—and if it doesn’t, the rest of the NFL probably won’t be interested in a 30-year-old veteran at one of the least valuable positions.

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Two seasons ago, the idea of Jimmy Graham joining Aaron Rodgers on the Green Bay Packers was a thought worthy of causing the rest of the NFC North some worry.

    Now in 2020, Graham quietly joining the Chicago Bears just doesn’t have the same impact on the rest of the division.

    Graham had scored 10 touchdowns in 2017 with Seattle before joining the Packers. He then scored five times over two seasons, playing 32 games but failing to hit the 700-yard mark once.

    Clear decline or not, Chicago decided to bring in Graham on a two-year deal worth $16 million. But the contract has an out built into it after the first year—and $10 million of that total hit happens in 2021.

    Translation? If Graham doesn’t experience a bounce back with either Nick Foles or Mitchell Trubisky under center, he might be out of chances to prove he has anything left in the tank.

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Not too long ago, Josh Norman was one of the scariest names in football at one of its most premier positions.

    Last year with the Washington Redskins, Norman got himself benched halfway through the season.

    Now 32, Norman finished 2019 with a 45.7 grade at Pro Football Focus, down from 68.9 the year prior. Not exactly close to his 83.7 grade in 2015. Over the past two seasons, Norman was targeted 132 times and coughed up 15 touchdowns, for context.

    Norman is another example of a veteran possibly on his last chance. This one comes with the Buffalo Bills, likely in part due to his past connections with names like head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane.

    But if Norman doesn’t rebound in new surroundings, it won’t be long before he’s watching as younger guys on the depth chart take his snaps for the second season in a row.

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    The New England Patriots letting Nate Solder get away after the 2017 season despite needing to protect Tom Brady should have been a warning sign.

    The New York Giants were (understandably) willing to take the risk anyway, and while Solder played solid ball in 2018, he let up seven sacks and regressed even more last season with 11 alongside a declining PFF grade of 64.8.

    Solder is now 32 years old and carries a cap hit of $19.5 million in 2020, plus another $20.5 million in 2021, painting a clear cause for concern in the Big Apple in front of Daniel Jones.

    The Giants already started to aggressively hit the O-line this offseason, especially at offensive tackle, taking Andrew Thomas fourth overall and Matt Peart in the third round just inside the top 100. If Solder doesn’t prove the regressions last year were a fluke, there could be a youth movement in the trenches in front of Jones.

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    Frank Victores/Associated Press

    The Cincinnati Bengals hit star wideout A.J. Green with a franchise tag this offseason, a hardline stance indicating he’ll get one more shot to prove it in 2020 with a new quarterback under center.

    And Green has a lot to prove after missing all of last season due to an ankle injury suffered on the first day of camp. The year prior, he only played nine games and had a ho-hum 694 yards and six scores. The 2017 season seems like it was a warning shot, as Green played in all 16 contests but had just 1,078 yards with eight scores and finished with a career-low in yards per game (67.4) and his worst mark in yards per catch (14.4) since 2012.

    If the franchise tag wasn’t indicative enough of where the Bengals stand on the matter, the front office then used the first pick of the second round to draft Tee Higgins, a Clemson product whose most common comparison was…A.J. Green.

    Green still has a chance to prove he’s a legitimate No. 1 wideout, and there’s reason for optimism with Joe Burrow under center. But when he’s been healthy over the last three or so seasons, Green hasn’t matched past production.

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    Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    Philip Rivers’ play taking a nosedive is a big part of the reason the Los Angeles Chargers were content with moving on this offseason after regressing from 12 wins to five.

    While the 38-year-old Rivers completed 66 percent of his passes last year for 4,615 yards, he dipped from 32 touchdowns to 23, and his interceptions jumped from 12 to 20. That last number was tied for the second-worst total of his career and marked only the third time since 2004 he’s hit that total.

    Another illustration of the dip came via his PFF grade, which went from 90.8 in 2018 to 74.3 last season.

    Rivers, now in front of Jacoby Brissett as starter for the Indianapolis Colts, wants to prove he’s not washed.

    “At times what may have aggravated me a little bit last year was [critics saying] that I couldn’t play anymore,” Rivers said, according to ESPN’s Mike Wells. “When you heard that, it bothered me because I wanted to go, ‘Shoot, let’s go turn on the tape and watch all the good things.'”

    Rivers now has what is presumably a last chance to prove he can take a team to the playoffs. He’s got a good line in front of him and intriguing weapons like T.Y. Hilton and Parris Campbell, as well as rookie back Jonathan Taylor.

    If Rivers is going to prove he’s still got it, 2020 is the time.

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