It happens every year in the NFL - players that are expected by fan bases everywhere to contribute in some manner to their local team end up being released prior to the regular season for any of a variety of reasons.
The Buffalo Bills have made surprise pre-season cuts in the past. Just last year, veterans CB Will James and LB were released as part of the team's final roster cut-down. James was signed earlier last off-season and was expected to compete for the nickel corner role; Spragan was signed as veteran insurance to an injury-depleted linebacker corps (then-rookie and had both succumbed to injury at the time), but got beat out by the team's youth at the position anyways. In 2007, the big names were QB and OT (who was the starter at right tackle for the second half of the 2006 season).
The longer a regime is handling personnel decisions, however, the less surprising roster cut-down day is. For the past two seasons, Buffalo's roster has been largely set heading into training camp, and only a surprise or two occurs when the official cut-down is made. That's likely to continue this year, as the coaches have personally scouted and acquired nearly every player on the roster; they know the people they're working with. Still, that doesn't mean there aren't players on the roster that have a lot to think about heading into next weekend's open of Bills training camp. Head on in past the jump to check out five guys who are unmistakably bubble players and will have to stave off serious competition to spend the 2009 regular season in Buffalo.
WR Justin Jenkins. Jenkins didn't make the final roster in 2007, but after a season-ending injury to , he was activated from the practice squad and carved out a niche as a special teams ace for coordinator Bobby April. That's what earned him a spot on the team last year as well. This year, however, the Bills are loaded at receiver after the free agent signing of Terrell Owens. Buffalo's depth chart at the position runs legitimately six deep, and Jenkins isn't part of that equation. His fate ultimately rests with the fate of Roscoe Parrish, a disgruntled player that wouldn't mind being traded. If the Bills make that happen - and it'll take a serious offer, they're not just going to give a player like Parrish away - then Jenkins has a shot to stick. If not... well, you get the picture.
DE Chris Ellis. Drafted in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft, Ellis had a very quiet rookie season in which his impact was minimal. He appeared in just seven games, recording three tackles, and ended the season on Injured Reserve. Young veteran Copeland Bryan saw more playing time and had a far bigger impact on the field than Ellis. Now rookie DE Aaron Maybin is cluttering up the depth chart, and Aaron Schobel is returning from a foot injury. Buffalo hasn't hesitated to release high draft picks before, cutting 2007 fourth-round pick RB just last season. If Ellis doesn't have a strong camp, he could be next.
LB Pat Thomas. Signed just this past March, Thomas may be headed down the path of James and Spragan. Thomas is a known commodity - a solid athlete with a significant amount of game experience in zone-based schemes. He's been semi-productive early in his career, and he's solid on special teams as well. The Bills would like to see somebody unseat Keith Ellison as the starter at strong-side linebacker, but Thomas didn't get preferential treatment for that role in team mini-camps, running largely with the third unit defense at middle linebacker. Strong camps from young linebackers like Alvin Bowen and rookie Nic Harris could make Thomas expendable.
SS John Wendling. With the Bills spending a second-round pick this year on Oregon FS Jairus Byrd, Buffalo suddenly has a logjam at the safety position. Three players are safe - Byrd and veterans Donte Whitner and Bryan Scott. George Wilson is likely safe, too, as a special teams captain that has shown a flair for the dramatic when he's been given an opportunity to play defensively. The Bills have kept five safeties in each of the past two seasons; that's not a lock to happen this year, but if it does, the battle for that final spot could be between fourth-year FS Ko Simpson and third-year SS John Wendling. Don't be shocked if it's Wendling that gets the boot, even though he has been a centerpiece of April's coverage units through his first two NFL seasons. Simpson has shown an ability to be a factor on special teams as well; if Simpson has a strong camp, Wendling might be done in Buffalo.
LS Ryan Neill. It might seem strange to see a long snapper on this list. Neill has not been spectacular, but he's gotten better in each of his two seasons. Still, Buffalo's interest in (and eventual signing of) rookie long snapper Garrison Sanborn is not insignificant. Neill will make $460,000 this season and is a restricted free agent after the season. If Sanborn is consistent enough with his snapping in the pre-season, Neill might be expendable in a (very) minor salary purge.