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2022 NFL season: Biggest surprises, notable moves as teams cut rosters down to 53

Tuesday's deadline for NFL teams to reduce their rosters to 53 players is always good for a few surprises and notable cuts. Before we thankfully turn to regular-season mode, here were the moves that caught my eye:

Biggest surprises

1) The Saints' trade of Chauncey Gardner-Johnson to the Eagles made no sense. The 2019 fourth-rounder is headed into the final season of his rookie deal, and a few team-friendly explanations suggested New Orleans wanted to get something for Gardner-Johnson now, given that he wasn't going to be a priority in free agency next year -- but that explanation doesn't hold water. The Saints essentially received nothing in return: a 2023 fifth- and 2024 sixth-round pick in exchange for one of the league's best hybrid slot players and a 2025 seventh-rounder. 

One season of "Ceedy Deuce" should be worth way more than that, and his production would have likely yielded the Saints a third-round compensatory pick if they'd been patient enough to wait for him to sign elsewhere in free agency next offseason. It was a salary dump before they even had to pay Gardner-Johnson his big salary. Per NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport, "he really reacted to not getting the contract that he wanted" in extension talks with the team, but there have been no indications otherwise he was going to skip work or be a problem. Even the reports defending the Saints' position painted the decision as business, not personal. (The Saints, for what it's worth, also have a ton of cap space this season, having cleared room ahead of their failed pursuit of Deshaun Watson.)  

It's clear the Saints feel great about their secondary depth. I do, too! But it's still puzzling that they gave away one of the league's best young players at his position. To put it another way: If Gardner-Johnson had been available in a trade in February, he would have been worth a second- or third-round pick at worst.

2) The 49ers have a better chance to win the Super Bowl with Jimmy Garoppolo on their roster. Perhaps keeping him as a backup on a restructured contract was general manager John Lynch's ace in the hole all along, but the 49ers sure seemed to misunderstand (and, based on a report, which was later denied by Lynch, that he was telling teams he had an offer of two second-round picks for the quarterback) misrepresent Jimmy G.'s trade value throughout the offseason. In the end, the 49ers played hardball. They didn't let Garoppolo see the playbook or practice with his teammates throughout camp and kept him on the roster until he couldn't get a better contract than the $6.5 million guaranteed that comes with his new pact, essentially the same backup deal as the ones given to Teddy Bridgewater and Tyrod Taylor. (Jimmy G. has incentives that could make it worth a lot more if he plays.)

Garoppolo knows he won't find a better chance to succeed than on the 49ers, and he could always approve a trade, despite his no-trade clause, if another team comes calling in the future. Garoppolo's presence makes Trey Lance's press conferences more complicated, but it shouldn't be a problem, as long as the 49ers are winning.

"Trey actually likes having Jimmy in the building," Kyle Shanahan said Tuesday.

I haven't believed much of what the 49ers have said about their quarterback situation in the last year, but I do believe that.

3) One way you can tell the 49ers never planned on any of this: They handed quarterback Nate Sudfeld $2 million guaranteed in March and cut him Tuesday. 

4) The Cardinals had some gaping holes on their roster at cornerback and edge rusher, so perhaps I shouldn't be surprised they traded for Raiders cornerback Trayvon Mullen. Unlike a lot of players moved Tuesday in smaller deals, Mullen has shown quality starter potential when healthy. The Cardinals needed the help, and Mullen, a second-round pick in 2019, wasn't a fit for the type of press man corner the Raiders now want.

Bad news

5) The Bills placed ace cornerback Tre'Davious White, who is coming back from a torn ACL, on the reserve/PUP list, knocking him out for at least the first four games of the season. This is how the situation was trending for a while, and it should be a big concern for the Bills, considering the overall quality of their cornerbacks, first-round pick Kaiir Elam's shaky training camp and the opening matchup against the Rams.

6) The Dolphins' roster looks better overall, but it will be short on cornerbacks early in the season. Placing starter Byron Jones (who underwent lower-leg surgery this offseason) on the PUP list further limits one of their thinnest positions on the roster beyond their top duo of Jones and Xavien Howard. Expect a veteran addition in the coming days.

7) The 49ers placed Jimmie Ward, who is dealing with a hamstring injury, on injured reserve, meaning he'll miss the first four games of 2022. He's quietly been their best player in the secondary the last few years, someone who makes everyone around him better by filling different roles each week.

Good news

8) Shaquille Leonard was moved from the PUP list to Indianapolis' active roster. While a short-term stay on injured reserve remains possible in the coming days, this is a sign the Colts have hopes the All-Pro linebacker, who had back surgery in June, will return sooner rather than later.

9) Linebacker Deion Jones, who had shoulder surgery, is off the PUP list and will enter the season on Atlanta's roster. There was widespread reporting he'd be cut or traded this offseason, but with no market and no financial relief coming in a release, the Falcons smartly realized they need all the help they can get.

10) Laquon Treadwell led the Jaguars in receiving after Week 11 last season. Laviska Shenault finished second on the team in yards and receptions. Consider it a great sign of the quality of Trevor Lawrence's supporting cast in 2022 that neither receiver could make this Jaguars roster.

Jobs won

11) The Broncos chose Brett Rypien over journeyman Josh Johnson as their backup quarterback for Russell Wilson. Like a lot of veterans cut Tuesday, Johnson is an option for the practice squad.

12) The Tim Boyle experiment in Detroit is over. After he started three games last season as Jared Goff's backup, the Lions apparently decided they just couldn't withstand his wild swings between brilliance and befuddlement. David Blough is set to be the No. 2 QB, but it wouldn't surprise me if Detroit keeps looking to upgrade. (UPDATE: The Lions waived Blough on Wednesday after he had made the initial 53-man roster and signed QB Nate Sudfeld to back up Goff.)

13 Former Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones was reported to be on the wrong side of the bubble during most of Chiefs training camp, but he made the team. For now, he's expected to be a depth piece behind Clyde Edwards-Helaire and rookie Isiah Pacheco. Former Browns receiver Josh Gordon, unfortunately, did not make the Chiefs roster in his latest comeback attempt.

Notable moves

14) There were times during his rookie season with the Jaguars that the Laviska Shenault hype made sense. The receiver was overdrafted (with the 42nd overall pick in 2020), but he was rugged. The Panthers are a nice second home for him. They badly need a third receiver in the middle of the field, and their offense is all about yards after the catch. After the C.J. Henderson deal last year, the Jags-pick-to-Panthers pipeline remains strong. 

15) When the Vikings selected quarterback Kellen Mond in the third round of last year's draft, he was positioned by the regime in place at the time as a potential successor and threat to Kirk Cousins. One year later, there's a new coaching staff, Cousins has extended his contract yet again and Mond is no longer on the roster. Sean Mannion was also cut, so Nick Mullens is set to be the team's backup.

16) Josh McDaniels and Raiders GM Dave Ziegler continue to clean house of the personnel decisions made by Jon Gruden and former GM Mike Mayock. Last year's first-round pick, Alex Leatherwood, was cut only 16 months after he was taken No. 17 overall. Sometimes the draftniks are right!

17) When the Bills signed former Bucs first-round pick O.J. Howard in March, it seemed like a perfect opportunity for him to re-ignite his career after injuries sapped his explosiveness. Howard did not make the Bills' roster, with GM Brandon Beane eating $3.195 million in guaranteed money. That's extremely high for a player that didn't make the team, possibly the most of anyone signed this offseason and released Tuesday.

18) Sony Michel didn't make it to a deep Miami backfield. New Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel seemingly only accepts skill position talent if they can run a sub-4.4 40.

19) The Titans and Steelers both traded for offensive linemen. (Tennessee got Dennis Daley from Carolina; Pittsburgh picked up Jesse Davis from Minnesota.) The names and details are less interesting than what the moves say about how the Titans and Steelers see themselves. They both know they need help up front.

20) The Steelers also traded for Broncos edge rusher Malik Reed, who flashed plenty in the past. Pittsburgh is no longer deep at outside linebacker, and Alex Highsmith has had some injuries.

21) The Cowboys dumped quarterbacks Cooper Rush and Will Grier, so they don't currently have a backup on their roster. It's safe to say that won't still be true a week from now. (My guess is Rush makes a brief trip to the practice squad.)

22) The Dolphins kept seventh-round rookie quarterback Skylar Thompson. He flashed serious comfort in coach Mike McDaniels' offense in the preseason, and I can already imagine some Nick Mullens-like graphic on a Monday Night Football game where Thompson's yards-per-attempt mark in his first five career starts rivals Patrick Mahomes.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter.

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