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NFL AM: Arian Foster, Charles Johnson Among Latest NFL Cuts

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The start of NFL free agency is mere days away, but before it can begin, big name players continue to join the ranks of the, at least temporarily, unemployed.

Several more veteran players found themselves on the chopping block on Thursday, led by running back Arian Foster, who was cut by the Houston Texans after seven seasons with the club. The writing had long been on the wall for the end of Foster’s time with the Texans. Entering the final year of a five-year, $43.5 million contract, Foster was due over $6 million this season, but his production had been falling short of the price tag for some time.

As an undrafted free agent out of the University of Tennessee, Foster earned his spot in Houston during an uneventful rookie season in 2009, then burst onto the scene a year later. In 2010, he led the league in rushing yards, yards per game, yards from scrimmage and rushing touchdowns. He followed that up with two more 1,000-yard campaigns, leading the Texans to back-to-back playoff appearances in the process.

But due to injuries over the last three seasons, the once prolific running back had played just 25 of Houston’s 49 games, a shade over half, which made the decision easy for the Texans.

“There are not many players I respect more than Arian Foster,” Houston general manager Rick Smith said in a statement. “He maximized his opportunity as an undrafted college free agent and worked to become the most productive back in franchise history, and one of the most complete backs in the NFL during his tenure with the Texans. Arian has contributed much, and meant a great deal to the success of the franchise over the past seven seasons and we wish him only the best as he continues his playing career.”

Smith said just last week at the NFL Scouting Combine that Foster would not be cut because of his salary, and while many will look at this as a reversal, the truth is, he was cut because he was no longer a reliable asset for the Texans, regardless of his salary.

The four-time Pro Bowler turns 30 in August and hasn’t had a fully healthy season since 2012, which is enough to put up plenty of red flags. He’ll certainly get an opportunity elsewhere, though he may have to wait out the market a bit. He joins a class of free agent running backs that includes Matt Forte, Doug Martin, Lamar Miller, Alfred Morris and Chris Ivory, who all have a head start on Foster in terms of assessing their options.

As for the Texans, Chris Polk and Jonathan Grimes are also free agents, leaving Alfred Blue as their lone internal option at the position. Blue was Houston’s leading rusher in 2015, but averaged just 3.8 yards per rush. His lack of production with Foster out could cause the Texans to wade back into the free agent pool and look at one of the younger backs like Martin, Miller or Ivory. There’s also the draft, where Houston picks at No. 22 overall and consensus No. 1 back Ezekiel Elliott may still be on the board.

The Texans will certainly need to address the position in some way this offseason, but given the state of their offense at this point, it’s more important that they find their next quarterback, even if that means taking a few shortcuts at running back.

JOHNSON LEADS LIST OF OTHER CUTS

Foster’s wasn’t the only big name added to the long list of free agents on Thursday. The NFC Champion Carolina Panthers parted ways with veteran defensive end Charles Johnson in a cost-cutting move.

The Panthers’ third round pick in the 2007 draft, Johnson spent nine seasons in Carolina, where he became one of the franchise’s most dynamic pass rushers. Over nearly a decade of service, Johnson played in 118 games and compiled 63.5 sacks, second in franchise history behind only Julius Peppers.

“Charles was an impact player for the Carolina Panthers for a long time, both on and off the field,” Carolina GM Dave Gettleman said. “His statistics speak for themselves, and as a team captain he led the way you want your leaders to lead — by example. I wish him the best moving forward.”

Once a prolific member of the Panthers pass rush, Johnson’s production dipped in 2015 due to nagging injuries. His lone sack during the regular season came during a Week 1 win over Jacksonville and he missed two months due to a severe hamstring injury. It marked the first season since his rookie year that he’d missed more than three games.

The 29-year-old did come back strong during Carolina’s Super Bowl run, logging a sack in each of their three games and also forcing a pair of fumbles. But that wasn’t enough to justify his $15 million cap hit for 2016. By cutting him, the Panthers save $11 million of that price and absorb just $4 million in dead money, a much more palatable price.

Even after releasing Johnson, Carolina is in good shape as the defensive end position, with Kony Ealy set to emerge as a star after a memorable playoff run of his own. As for Johnson, he’ll likely have a choice of suitors. He turns 30 in July and, if the postseason was any indication, has plenty left in the tank. He joins Malik Jackson, Mario Williams, Chris Long and Jason Pierre-Paul near the top of the list of available defensive ends, and Johnson might be the best of the bunch.

Elsewhere around the league the Panthers also cut defensive tackle Dwan Edwards and offensive tackle Nate Chandler. The Chargers cut inside linebacker Donald Butler, running back Donald Brown, outside linebacker Kavell Conner and linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo. In addition to Foster, Houston parted ways with tight end Garrett Graham and free safety Rahim Moore. The Baltimore Ravens sent inside linebacker Daryl Smith packing and the Jaguars did the same with defensive end Chris Clemons and guard Zane Beadles.

WAR OF WORDS BETWEEN HARRISON AND T.O. ESCALATES

Wide receivers are often criticized for being over dramatic “divas,” which can sometimes be an unfair characterization. However, two of the greatest ever to do it at the wideout position are lending credence to the theory this week.

Marvin Harrison, who was selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame last month, took to the airwaves on Thursday and laid into Terrell Owens, who did not get into the Hall this year, with an expletive-laden tirade on Talk of Fame Radio.

“The person who was supposed to get in got in. And that was me,” Harrison bristled. “If he didn’t get in, that’s his problem. He can talk all that other bull—- like he’s been doing. That’s on him. But I’m in. My jacket is gold. I will look in the rear view for nobody. So he can get his ass in whenever he gets in … if he gets in. If he doesn’t get in too bad. The hell with him.”

Harrison’s election this year came in his third appearance on the ballot, while Owens was making his first appearance on the ballot. Both drafted in 1996, Harrison in the first round and Owens in the third, each player built what can easily be viewed as a Hall of Fame resume. T.O. played two more seasons and 29 more games, and has Harrison beat in most categories, including yards, yards per catch and touchdowns. But Harrison does have more receptions, a better yards per game average and the distinction of spending his entire career with one team while Owens bounced around the league and gained a reputation as a locker room cancer.

As is his M.O., Owens has spent plenty of time since his snub complaining about the selection process and the alleged disrespect shown to him by the selection committee. However, Harrison’s reaction to such harmless statements by Owens, with such vitriol, was a bizarre turn. The Hall of Fame wideout has been mostly quiet in his post playing career, especially after details emerged about his alleged involvement in a 2009 murder in his hometown of Philadelphia.

Never one to let an opportunity to trade barbs with someone pass, Owens took to Twitter on Thursday with a veiled reference to Harrison’s involvement in that incident.

Owens is likely to join Harrison in Canton soon, and based on his inclusion as a 2016 finalist, that selection could come as soon as next year. But something tells us this war of words isn’t quite over yet. As T.O. would say, “Get your popcorn ready.”


About Devon Jeffreys

Devon Jeffreys