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Tim Tebow released by Jaguars: Former Heisman Trophy winner joins list of notable all-time NFL roster cuts

Tim Tebow incredibly unique athletic career took yet another turn on Tuesday, when he failed to survive the Jaguars‘ first round of roster cuts. After a rocky debut as an NFL tight end, the former quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner saw his time in Jacksonville come to an abrupt end. And while him getting yet another NFL opportunity seems like a long shot, Tebow’s career has certainly taught us that few things are not beyond the realm of possibility. 

One thing we do know is that Tebow’s name is included among the ranks of the NFL’s most notable roster cuts over the past quarter-century. The list includes five players whose careers have already been immortalized in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Many of these notable cuts were due to age and declining skill, while others were simply salary cap casualties. 

Here’s a look at the 10 most notable NFL cuts over the past 25 years, starting with the release of arguably the greatest receiver of all time. 

1. Jerry Rice (2001)

The most accomplished receiver in league history became a free agent on June 4, 2001. Rice’s breakout with the 49ers was expected, especially after the team declared their final home game of the 2000 season “Jerry Rice Day”, a game that is equally remembered for Terrell Owens’ 20-catch, 283-yard performance. The breakout was somewhat about money (Rice was on the books to make $4.1 million that season) and more so about the 49ers’ roster reconstruction. 

A day after being released, Rice penned a four-year, $5.4 million contract with the Raiders, who the previous season had fallen one game shy of the Super Bowl. Rice was selected to his 13th and final Pro Bowl in 2001 while helping the Raiders get back to the playoffs. At age 40, Rice played in his fourth Super Bowl, as he caught a 48-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter of the Raiders’ loss to the Buccaneers. He had another solid season in Oakland before finishing his career with the Broncos in 2005. 

This was in many ways the “perfect storm” for what was previously considered a perfect marriage between a player and a franchise. As Manning recovered from multiple neck surgeries, the 2011 Colts went just 2-14. The silver lining was that the Colts would have the No. 1 pick in the draft, with Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III and Stanford star Andrew Luck available for the taking. Given their position in the draft, the quarterbacks available with the pick, Manning’s uncertain physical status as well as the fact that his $28 million roster bonus was set to be paid by week’s end, Colts owner Jim Irsay made the difficult decision to part ways with the best players in Indianapolis Colts history. 

The soon-to-be 36-year-old Manning took his talents to Denver, where he helped lead the Broncos to Super Bowls that included a victory in Super Bowl 50. Manning also won his fifth and final league MVP award in Denver while setting a still-standing record for passing yards in a single season. The Colts chose Luck as Manning’s successor, and while his career was relatively short, Luck was named to four Pro Bowls and was also tabbed as the 2018 NFL Comeback Player of the Year. He also led the Colts to four playoff appearances that included a win over Manning’s Broncos in the 2014 divisional round. 

3. Emmitt Smith (2003)

Just months after breaking Walter Payton’s career rushing record, the future Hall of Fame running back was waived by the team he helped lead to three Super Bowls in a four-year span during the 1990s. But with the Cowboys coming off of three 5-11 seasons, and Smith slated to count for $9.8 million against the cap, Jerry Jones decided it was time to part ways with the former league MVP. 

Smith said that he still believed that he was a 1,300-yard back at the time of his release. He gained 1,193 yards during his two seasons in Arizona. Despite contemplating retirement after a dismal first season in Arizona (he rushed for just 256 yards in 10 games), Smith decided to honor the final year of his contract. Smith’s decision paid off, as he rushed for 937 yards and nine touchdowns in 15 games at age 35. Meanwhile in Dallas, Troy Hambrick, handpicked by Jones as Smith’s successor, spent one more season in Dallas before ironically spending his final season as Smith’s backup in Arizona.

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4. LaDainian Tomlinson (2010)

While it wasn’t a big surprise, emotions still ran high in San Diego when the Chargers released the former league MVP and one of the most popular players in franchise history. The Chargers believed that Tomlinson’s better days were behind him after he rushed for a then career-low 730 yards in 2009. Tomlinson, who said at the time that he was hoping to sign with a contender, got his wish when he inked a two-year deal with the Jets, who were coming off an AFC Championship Game appearance. 

Tomlinson enjoyed one last hurrah with the Jets, amassing 1,300 total yards in 15 regular-season games. He scored a touchdown in the Jets’ shocking win over the Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs. The Chargers, meanwhile, enjoyed several solid seasons from Tomlinson’s successor, Ryan Mathews, before the two sides parted ways after the 2014 season. 

Revis was left stranded on his own island after the Buccaneers released the perennial Pro Bowl cornerback after just one year in Tampa. The Buccaneers released Revis after being unable to trade him and his $16 million salary. Revis wasn’t a free agent for long, as he came to terms with the Patriots on a one-year, $12 million deal later that night. 

Revis spent just one season in New England, but it was certainly a memorable one. He earned his sixth Pro Bowl and fourth All-Pro nod in 2014. Revis recorded a sack of Russell Wilson in the Patriots’ 28-24 win over the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX.  

Less than two years after leading the league in interceptions for a second time, the Packers released the future Hall of Fame defensive back. Woodson, who was set to make $9 million in Green Bay that season, was moved to strong safety during his final season with the Packers. He also missed nine games that season after suffering a broken collarbone.

A Super Bowl champion and NFL Defensive Player of the Year with the Packers, Woodson re-signed with the Raiders, the team he helped lead to a Super Bowl appearance in 2002. Woodson lined up at free safety during his three seasons in Oakland. During his final season, Woodson, then 39, picked off five passes and was named to his ninth Pro Bowl. 

With two years and $21.5 million remaining on his current contract, the Texans waived the best offensive player in franchise history in March of 2015. Johnson, who caught 85 passes for 936 yards and three touchdowns during the 2014 season, was granted his release after being told by then-Texans coach Bill O’Brien that he shouldn’t expect to catch 40 passes if he remained with the team in 2015. 

Two days after his release, Johnson signed a three-year, $21 million deal with the Colts, who beat out the Chargers for Johnson’s services. Johnson caught 41 passes for 503 yards and four touchdowns during his lone season in Indianapolis, who were without quarterback Andrew Luck for more than half of the season. Johnson (who will be eligible for the Hall of Fame for the first time in 2022) finished his career with the Titans in 2016. 

8. Terrell Owens (2009) 

After being part of one of the most highly publicized breakups in NFL history, Owens had an unceremonious release from the Cowboys following the 2008 season. Despite catching 69 passes for 1,052 yards and 10 touchdowns that season, the Cowboys decided a culture change was needed after the team sputtered through a disappointing season that saw Dallas miss the playoffs a year after winning 13 games. Owens signed with the Bills two days later, where he would catch 55 passes for 829 yards and five touchdowns during his lone season in Buffalo. Owens (who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018) spent his final season in Cincinnati, catching 72 passes for 983 yards and nine touchdowns in 14 games. 

One of the greatest pass rushers in Cowboys history, the team’s decision to release Ware was mostly based on salary cap issues, with Ware slated to make $12.25 million for the 2014 season. Broncos president John Elway — less than two months after watching his defense fail to sack Russell Wilson once in Super Bowl XLVIII — quickly swooped in to sign Ware, who Elway hoped would be the perfect complement for fellow EDGE rusher Von Miller. It was indeed a perfect match, as the duo notched 42.5 sacks during their first two seasons together. Ware, who was selected to the Pro Bowl during his first two seasons in Denver, played an integral role in the Broncos’ 2015 championship run. Ware (who will be eligible for the Hall of Fame for the first time in 2022) retired after the 2016 season. 

10. Tim Tebow (2021)

Tebow’s release was not a surprise, given his age (34), the position change and the fact that he hasn’t played in a regular-season game since 2012. But Tebow’s name recognition and unbelievable popularity was enough to warrant a spot on this list. In a preseason weekend that included the debut of several high-profile rookie quarterbacks, it was Tebow’s preseason debut that went viral on social media. Unfortunately for Tebow, his performance went viral for all the wrong reasons, which undoubtedly expedited his release from Jacksonville.  




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