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SportsPulse: Mackenzie Salmon highlights some of the most notable characters from our NFL guru Nate Davis selection.

USA TODAY

It’s probably fair to say that most NFL coaches would try to convince you that the league is a meritocracy – and in some of the league’s cities (including Baltimore, Foxborough, Seattle) it holds true.

But this is professional football, and financial considerations are usually part of the equation when teams so often try to get younger players who can do the same job as a veteran who gets paid more.

Monday was a perfect example, left tackling Charles Leno Jr., a Pro Bowler in 2018, tweeting that the Chicago Bears are releasing him even though he has started 93 games in a row. The move, which is slated to take effect after June 1, saves $ 9 million compared to this year’s salary cap. On Friday, Chicago traded up in the second round for Oklahoma State tackle Teven Jenkins, who was expected to play on the right side but apparently will now go to the left.

Life in the NFL is often not fair, and with the 2021 draft now complete, other veterans will share Leno’s fate sooner or later. Here are 21 who are officially paying attention to move on:

San Francisco 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo

His countdown clock started running in March when the Niners were about the No. 3 pick of the draft. On Thursday, it was finally revealed that Trey Lance will be Jimmy G’s possible replacement – although the question will be … when? Garoppolo quickly reached out to Lance, so it looks like their relationship is off to a good start. But now it’s up to Garoppolo, who is under contract for another two years, to keep Lance as long as possible – and if it’s a long period, all the better for San Francisco. But if Garoppolo fights or goes down again – he has only started more than six games in a season once in his career – he will probably find himself on another list by 2022.

Denver Broncos RB Melvin Gordon

It’s only a few weeks ago that he told a local TV station that “I get overlooked a lot and I’m a little tired of it.” Puppy. Fan favorite Phillip Lindsay is gone, but second-rounder Javonte Williams may be the anointed one after new GM George Paton acted to get him. Despite a rocky season on the personal front in 2020, Gordon still finished with 1,144 yards from scrimmage and 10 TDs and remains a valuable artist … but one who might bring something good back in a trade, which would also save Paton about $ 7 million if done before the season.

NFL DRAFT RATE: The Bears, Jets are among the best team classes in 2021, while the Raiders are among the worst

LARGEST STEEL: Patriots, Jets add top value with moves in Class 2021

Dallas Cowboys LB Leighton Vander Esch

He looked like a long-term defensive staple as a first-round pick in 2018. But he has missed 13 games over the last two seasons, one regarding neck surgery one of the reasons for a longer absence. The writing now appears on the wall as Dallas rejected Vander Esch’s fifth-year option after drafting LBs Micah Parsons (round 1) and promising Jabril Cox (round 4) as potential wingers for Jaylon Smith.

New York Giants WR Sterling Shepard

He is consistent – but that means about 60 catches and 700 yards a year. When you earn $ 10 million a season, it does not seem like much, especially for a team that signed free agent Kenny Golladay to a four-year $ 72 million deal, chose Kadarius Toney in the first round and has a more explosive option, Darius Slayton, on a rookie deal for two more years. Trading Shepard in a few weeks would save GM Dave Gettleman $ 7 million this season and possibly bring a nice player or other draft to add to his newfound move in 2022.

New York Jets WR Jamison Crowder

Another nice Big Apple game receiver that suddenly seems to be being used considering the second round just invested in Elijah Moore. NYJ can save $ 10.35 million by trading or releasing Crowder, which enters the final year of its contract and only started seven games in 2020.

Jets RB Tevin Coleman

He was signed for 2021 to add life to a rushing attack led by anti-Diluvian Frank Gores 653 yards in 2020. But Coleman is not a workhorse or particularly durable, and the jets can quickly decide they are best served by youngsters – Lamical Perine , Ty Johnson – and it would not be a shock if fourth-round Michael Carter, who had nearly 2,700 yards from scrimmage during his last two years in North Carolina, leads.

Atlanta Falcons TE Hayden Hurst

He was a first-round pick for the Ravens in 2018 and was traded to the Falcons last year and now appears likely to leave Atlanta in 2022. Hurst established career highs in 2020 – 56 catches, 571 yards, six TDs – but with highly regarded TE Kyle Pitts , who comes to town as the biggest choice for No. 4, and who does not have a buck with a salary cap, it is not surprising that Hurst’s fifth-year option was rejected. Still not a bad place to showcase your skills to your next employer.

Cincinnati Bengals K Austin Seibert

A kicker was chosen in the 2021 draft … and that would be Cincy’s Evan McPherson in round 5. Good luck with that, Austin.

Tennessee Titans LB Rashaan Evans

Another first-rounder in 2018, whose opportunity was not picked up, however, per. NFL network, he could still earn an extension before reaching for free agency. Still, Evans has not just lit the league on fire in his three seasons and could soon find himself competing with third-round Monty Rice.

49ers RBs Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson

Both are entering into a contract year, and they each had injury problems in 2020, when the Niners base game jumped to a No. 15 ranking after the pace in the NFC during their Super Bowl season in 2019. Third round RB Trey Sermon must prove , that he can handle a bun role, but he is exciting as he was on average better than 7 yards per. Wearing each of the last two seasons and spending 2019 in Oklahoma before moving to Ohio State and appearing as the Buckeyes’ lead back. It would not be a surprise if he lands on top of the depth map.

Chicago carries QBs Andy Dalton and Nick Foles

Dalton signed a one-year deal in March and was publicly assured of QB1 status by GM Ryan Pace. That was before the Bears were all about Ohio State star Justin Fields in the draft and gave him the No. 1 jersey. Dalton may still start the season below center, but the chances of him keeping the role seem remote. What about Foles? He should be a good mentor for Fields, as Dalton is likely to be, and perhaps the most decorated QB3 ever. But if Pace can find a place to read Foles’ contract this summer, he could add $ 4 million to the pay cap after June 1st.

Arizona Cardinals WRs Christian Kirk and Andy Isabella

Kirk was a second-round pick in 2018 and Isabella was a second-round pick in 2019 … neither has been exceptionally productive, especially Isabella. Go into another Round 2 receiver, Rondale Moore, to add to the logjam behind veterans DeAndre Hopkins and AJ Green. Looks like there could be a weird man out here – especially if the cards and still unsigned Larry Fitzgerald decide to reunite at some point.

Jacksonville Jaguars OTs Cam Robinson and Jawaan Taylor

Over the last two seasons, they have formed a lasting – if overwhelming – tandem. But Walker Little was not drawn in the second round to ride the forty ride forever. With Robinson on a $ 13.75 million franchise tag in 2021, a decent chance he could play his final year in Duval County.

Jaguars RB James Robinson

Unnamed in 2020, he had a remarkable rookie year – 1,070 rushing yards, 49 catches, 10 TDs in 14 games – for a really bad team after beating Leonard Fournette in training camp. But since then, new coach Urban Meyer has signed former Ohio Star star Carlos Hyde and then drafted Travis Etienne in the first round. There’s nothing wrong with a stacked treadmill … but if Jags can potentially trade an undeveloped backup downstream for e.g. A third round, should they not consider it strongly?

Denver Broncos C Lloyd Cushenberry

Last year’s election in the third round is hardly in danger of losing its list. But after starting all 16 games as a rookie and running – by far – as Pro Football Focus ’36. ranked center out of 36 qualifiers … yes, there’s a reason Paton snatched Division III demigod Quinn Meinerz in round 3 this year, even though he goes on guard and forces veteran Graham Glasgow into the focal point.

Los Angeles Rams WR DeSean Jackson

He projected as the No. 4 recipient behind Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods and Van Jefferson … and that was before LA drafted Tutu Atwell, which essentially delivers Jackson’s skill in a body 13 years younger, in the second round.

New England Patriots QB Cam Newton

Wouldn’t it make sense for the Pats to switch him to the Bears for Dalton? Because designing an offense for Newton with the first round of pocket QB Mac Jones waiting in the wings makes about as much sense as bringing multidimensional squares in behind the pocket-bound Dalton … but I’m going away. The point is that everyone knew that Newton’s second contract in New England was only for one year with a guaranteed $ 3.5 million. If it quickly becomes clear that Jones is jibbing better with all the free agents who also just get on board this offense, what’s the point of trying to force things along with Newton when it can mean him and the Patriots if he goes a elsewhere faster than later?

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Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.

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