Bring back Brady … right? Barnwell predicts five moves for each AFC East team

Bring back Brady … right? Barnwell predicts five moves for each AFC East team

While the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers might just have finished a thrilling Super Bowl, the NFL is only going to get busier in the weeks to come. The league’s 32 teams are planning their offseason agendas, identifying targets in free agency and beginning to narrow down prospects they’ll want to pay close attention to at the scouting combine ahead of the 2020 NFL draft.

Last week, I ran through all 16 NFC teams and projected the first five things each should be thinking about as they prepare for the new league year, which begins March 18. I’ll head to the AFC this week. Here’s the schedule:

  • Monday: AFC East

  • Tuesday: AFC North

  • Wednesday: AFC South

  • Thursday: AFC West

Jump to a team:
AFC East: BUF | MIA | NE | NYJ
NFC East: DAL | NYG | PHI | WSH
NFC North: CHI | DET | GB | MIN
NFC South: ATL | CAR | NO | TB
NFC West: ARI | LAR | SF | SEA

AFC EAST

Let’s start in the AFC with the East, where arguably the greatest player in NFL history might be leaving the only team he has ever known. Nothing dramatic or anything. We’ll get to the Patriots in a bit, but let’s begin with the division’s other playoff team:


Projected 2020 cap space: $82.8 million

1. Pick up Tre’Davious White‘s fifth-year option and extend him. In most cases, we would look at the Bills letting Stephon Gilmore leave in free agency for the Patriots as a disaster. The Bills administration didn’t think Gilmore was worth a franchise tag, but he went to New England and took his game to a new level under Bill Belichick, eventually winning Defensive Player of the Year this past season.

One way to mitigate losing the best cornerback in football is by drafting the second-best cornerback in football, which is what the Bills did one month later by taking White in the 2017 draft. The former LSU star has shown the ability to move around the field and take on the opposing team’s top wideout on a weekly basis. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, White allowed a passer rating of just 36.3 as the closest defender in coverage last season, which was the league’s second-best mark for corners with at least 200 coverage snaps. Quarterbacks would have been better off throwing the ball into the ground, given that the passer rating for a season full of incompletions is 39.6.

Picking up White’s fifth-year option is academic. Getting him signed to an extension will be tougher. As I mentioned in the NFC section, the cornerback market has been stagnant over the past four years. Josh Norman signed a five-year, $75 million deal with Washington in 2016, while Xavien Howard narrowly topped Norman’s average annual salary when he inked a five-year, $75.3 million extension with the Dolphins last year. Howard’s deal pays only $39.3 million over its first three seasons, though, while Norman’s much older contract netted the recently cut corner $51 million over the same time span.

White’s representatives should look to top Howard’s overall compensation and get a more player-friendly structure to his deal. With Rams corner Jalen Ramsey coming due for what should be a record-setting extension, the Bills should be motivated to get their deal done first. A five-year, $80 million contract with $50 million due over Years 1-3 would make sense for both sides. The good news for Bills fans is that White shouldn’t be leaving Buffalo for a long time.

2. Bring back Jordan Phillips (or find a replacement). The most difficult decision of the offseason for coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane is what to do with one of their breakout stars from 2019. Phillips was a waiver-wire acquisition from the Dolphins in 2018 who signed a one-year, $4.5 million deal to stick around last season, but no one could have anticipated what was going to happen next. Phillips doubled his snap rate and produced more sacks (9.5) in one season than he had over his four prior NFL campaigns (5.5). The only defensive tackle in the league to rack up more sacks was Aaron Donald.

Can Phillips keep that new rate of play up? It’s hard to say. More advanced metrics weren’t as kind to the Oklahoma product. His 16 knockdowns were good, but not great; they would typically be in line with a seven-sack season. According to ESPN’s pass rush win rate methodology, Phillips ranked 71st in the league with a win rate of 10.1%, and he created just five sacks on his own, which was tied for 64th. On tape, while Phillips came up with an impressive bull rush against Rodger Saffold for one sack and managed to take down Ryan Fitzpatrick with no hands for another, four of his sacks would clearly be of the coverage variety. He looked like a functional part of a very good defense as opposed to someone who was the force of nature making things happen.

Phillips is going to get a big raise this offseason, but should Buffalo offer him a significant multiyear deal? It’s a tough decision. With no other obvious candidate for the franchise tag, the logical thing for the Bills to do would be to franchise Phillips and see if he can repeat this feat for a second season before giving him a long-term extension. (Shaq Lawson, who also saw an uptick in his performance, might also be an interesting candidate for a transition tag.)

3. Add an offensive lineman. The Bills brought in seven new offensive linemen for Josh Allen last season, and their young quarterback reaped the benefits of extra protection. Now, the Bills need to figure out how they can get that line to the next level. Left guard Quinton Spain and reserve tackle LaAdrian Waddle are both free agents, but the key figure is second-year right tackle Cody Ford, who was the weakest link along the line in his rookie year.

If the Bills want to kick Ford inside to guard, they can let Spain leave. Ty Nsekhe, 34, would be first in line at right tackle, but they would likely want to at least consider bringing in somebody like Jack Conklin as a major upgrade on the right side. Lesser options such as former Panthers tackle Daryl Williams would figure as competition for Nsekhe and short-term depth.

On the other hand, if Ford is going to stick at tackle, Buffalo will probably look to add a guard. Spain could return, and it could promote utility interior lineman Spencer Long to the starting lineup, but the Bills have the cap space to get more aggressive if they are inclined. With Brandon Scherff likely getting the franchise tag from Washington, the best guard on the market would be New England’s Joe Thuney.

4. Add a cornerback. The Bills have finished second and sixth in defensive DVOA over the past two seasons, so while they don’t have many weak spots, they could try to upgrade on Levi Wallace. Taron Johnson is a solid slot cornerback, but Kevin Johnson is also hitting free agency. It wouldn’t shock me if this team added at least one cornerback to either compete with Wallace or take his job in the lineup.

One name that pops out is Norman, given that he played for McDermott in Carolina and is a street free agent. The Bills have gone down the veteran-reclamation route before when they signed Vontae Davis to a one-year deal, which didn’t work out, but Norman, 32, would be a low-cost option with reasonable upside.

Free agent James Bradberry would be the other fellow Panthers corner in play, but he would come at a much higher price tag. More realistically, this is probably a spot the Bills address in one of the first two rounds of April’s draft.

5. Work on extensions for Dion Dawkins and Matt Milano. White will garner the most significant deal from Buffalo’s 2017 draft class, but the Bills have other work to do. Milano has quietly emerged as a playmaker and an above-average linebacker against both the pass and run, with the Boston College product allowing 6.1 yards per completion in 2019. The former fifth-round pick already got a raise to $2.1 million when he qualified for the NFL’s proven performance escalator, but Milano could be in line for something like a four-year deal in the $56 million range.

Dawkins’ deal will be trickier. After he impressed as a rookie, Buffalo traded Cordy Glenn and happily installed Dawkins as its left tackle for 2018, only for the second-round pick to rack up 91 penalty yards and allow eight sacks. The team brought in all those linemen over the offseason but gave Dawkins another season on Allen’s blind side, and he responded with a much more effective campaign. The Bills clearly believe in Dawkins, and they’ll need to spend about $37 million to hit the 89% four-year floor, so his extension could also come this spring.


Projected 2020 cap space: $93.7 million

1. Cut Reshad Jones and Albert Wilson. The Dolphins are hardly in need of cap space, and they would have cut Jones last year if it weren’t for the fact that his salary had guaranteed the year before. Jones is already guaranteed $2.1 million in 2020 and his release would still result in $10.2 million in dead money, but Miami would free up $5.4 million in cap room and save $9.4 million in cash by releasing the former Pro Bowler. Cutting Wilson, who has been limited by injuries to 742 receiving yards over two seasons, would free up $9.5 million in cash and on the Miami cap. These two moves get the Dolphins to $108.6 million in cap space, which should be enough to add a piece or two.

2. Focus on building infrastructure. I wrote about this in September when it became clear that the Dolphins were going to lose a bunch of games, but one of the ways the Browns did themselves a disservice during their tanking effort was by letting go of Mitchell Schwartz. Schwartz was one of the NFL’s best right tackles, and while the Browns were happy to net a comp pick for him in free agency, their logic was faulty.

Schwartz was 27 and would have been a building block along the line for years. Replacing him meant that whoever the Browns did eventually take as their quarterback of the future would be at a disadvantage. It hurt DeShone Kizer and Baker Mayfield. The Browns eventually signed away tackle Chris Hubbard from the Steelers on a larger deal than the one Schwartz got in free agency, and Hubbard has been disappointing. Schwartz just won a Super Bowl with the Chiefs.

To bring this back to the Dolphins, it’s clear that Miami’s plan stretches beyond Ryan Fitzpatrick‘s tenure with the team. The Dolphins need to build their offensive infrastructure now so it’s ready when their quarterback of the future takes over. They’ve already locked up players such as DeVante Parker and Jesse Davis, but they should focus on adding young pieces who are likely to serve as the support network for their quarterback in 2020, 2021 and beyond.

I wonder whether the Dolphins will try to emulate the Bills by just adding piece after piece to their offensive line and focusing on depth as opposed to standout individuals. Like the Bills, the Dolphins have one starter they’re definitely going to keep: Davis, who will either stick at right tackle or move inside to guard. Veteran center Daniel Kilgore could come back for another year, but the team is expected to be interested in former Patriots interior lineman Ted Karras, who would likely take over at the pivot.

The tackle spots are key. Miami is more likely to use free agency to target the right side, given that there is a pair of young options in their prime with 26-year-olds Jack Conklin and Germain Ifedi among the unrestricted free-agent pool. (If the Dolphins plan on drafting left-handed quarterback Tua Tagovailoa — they have three first-round picks — the right side would become their long-term starter’s blind side and make a player like Conklin even more appealing.) Most of the left tackles coming free are in their 30s, with major question marks such as D.J. Humphries (injuries) and Greg Robinson (penalties) as the exceptions. The Dolphins seem more likely to address the left side with one of their five picks in the first or second round.

3. Upgrade the pass rush. The Dolphins simply couldn’t get after the quarterback in 2019. They ranked last in sack rate, adjusted sack rate and pressure rate. Taco Charlton led the team with five sacks, and he played only 10 games. Unsurprisingly, given the injuries and turnover in their secondary, they also posted the league’s worst pass defense DVOA.

Miami will return young pieces such as Charlton and former first-round picks Charles Harris and Christian Wilkins, but it needs to add difference-makers along the defensive line. Jadeveon Clowney has suggested he wants to play for a winner, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Dolphins target Dante Fowler Jr., who was born, raised and went to college in Florida. Fowler had 11.5 sacks last season and is still just 26, which means he should still be in his prime as the Dolphins improve over the next few years. Fellow young free agents such as Arik Armstead (26) and Bud Dupree (27) should also be in the discussion.

4. If you love Tagovailoa, move up. If the plan for 2019 was really to Tank for Tua, there’s a chance the Dolphins could stay put and still grab the Alabama star. Tagovailoa’s hip injury and the emergence of Joe Burrow have pushed the presumed first overall pick down to where the Dolphins could conceivably still draft him with the No. 5 selection. The Bengals seem set to take Burrow at No. 1. Washington doesn’t need a quarterback and can take franchise edge rusher Chase Young at No. 2. The Giants don’t need a quarterback at No. 4 and haven’t traded down since 2006.

With the Lions lurking at No. 3, though, Miami could get pipped to its man. Detroit could draft Tagovailoa and trade Matthew Stafford. It could credibly move down in a swap with the Chargers (who pick sixth), Panthers (seventh), Jaguars (ninth), Raiders (12th) or Colts (13th), each of whom could be looking for their quarterback of the future. The Jags and Raiders both have an extra first-round pick, while the Colts have the 34th selection to trade. They’re all possible trade partners who could leap ahead of Miami.

If you’re the Dolphins and you’re in love with Tagovailoa, you can’t risk waiting for the Lions to take a defensive piece with the third pick. The Jets sent three second-round picks to the Colts to move up from 6 to 3 and draft Sam Darnold two years ago. If the Lions call the Dolphins and ask for the 39th and 56th picks to move up from No. 5 to No. 3, the Dolphins probably have to say yes.

5. Look for opportunities to create value in the draft. Having said that, the Dolphins should continue to think about their rebuild as a multiyear effort. If they can draft Tagovailoa and a bunch of talented pieces around him with those five first- and second-round selections, that’s great.

If another team gets desperate and wants to make the Dolphins an offer with future possibilities, though, they should be realistic and consider it. Take the 26th pick. Last year, Washington wanted to move up and draft Montez Sweat, and it offered the Colts its second-round pick and a 2020 second-rounder for the 26th selection. Indy took it and turned the 46th pick into the 49th and 144th selections. The 2020 second-rounder Washington sent became the 34th pick I mentioned earlier, which is nearly a first-rounder.

Independent of the players involved, turning No. 26 into Nos. 34, 49 and 144 is a victory for the Colts. Miami should be similarly patient and try to create value in future years if the option presents itself this April.


Projected 2020 cap space: $44.1 million

1. Re-sign Tom Brady. What, you thought I was going to talk about locking up James Ferentz? While it’s fun to think about where Brady might go, a reunion between the future Hall of Famer and the only professional team he has ever played for still makes the most sense. Brady is already comfortable with the coaching staff and still lives in the Boston area, even if his mansion is for sale. The Patriots had the league’s best defense in 2019 and likely give Brady the best chance of winning a Super Bowl relative to the other teams likely to pursue him this offseason.

And from the Patriots’ side, letting Brady leave would mean that $13.5 million in dead money would accelerate onto their cap in 2020. This is an uncommonly deep veteran free-agent quarterback market, and the Pats could target passers such as Teddy Bridgewater or Philip Rivers, but are they really better off with one of those quarterbacks than they would be with Brady? The 42-year-old unquestionably declined in 2019, but that had much to do with his lack of healthy, effective receiving options. A deal that pays Brady $30 million for 2020, likely with voidable years attached for cap purposes, is still the most likely outcome for the league’s most legendary pending free agent.

2. Upgrade — massively — at tight end. If Brady does come back, New England needs to give him more weapons. Where it is going seems clear. At wideout, the Patriots already have Julian Edelman, Mohamed Sanu and 2019 first-round pick N’Keal Harry under contract for this season. Unless they can go get somebody like A.J. Green or Amari Cooper, the wide receivers who are going to be available in free agency are going to be of a similar caliber to those three. I could see the Patriots adding a low-cost speed threat, but I don’t think paying $13-14 million per year for somebody like Robby Anderson to play ahead of Harry is where they will go.

On the other hand, the Pats’ tight ends for 2020 are Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo. It’s much easier to upgrade there, and there will be plenty of options in free agency. They should be at the top of the bidding for Hunter Henry and Austin Hooper. Henry is a slightly better blocker, but Hooper has been the far healthier option. Regardless of whom the Patriots prefer, upgrading from LaCosse to Henry or Hooper is where they should focus their efforts this offseason.

I wouldn’t stop at one tight end. The Patriots should target an athletic option such as Tyler Eifert or Jimmy Graham to play as their second tight end and give Brady another weapon in the red zone. It’s a position they should address in the draft, too. Losing arguably the greatest tight end in NFL history without executing a viable plan to at least approximate replacing him was uncharacteristic for Bill Belichick. I can’t see him going through another offseason without correcting that misstep.

3. Convince Devin McCourty to return. The Pats have four regulars from that dominant defense hitting free agency in McCourty, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Danny Shelton. Of the four, I would focus most on McCourty, who would have been a Defensive Player of the Year candidate if he hadn’t been overshadowed by Stephon Gilmore, who eventually took home the honor. McCourty’s intelligence, preparation and ability to communicate from free safety are a massive help to the Patriots in coverage, even when he’s not the primary defender on a given play.

McCourty had been considering retirement in years past, but that apparently isn’t in the cards for the 32-year-old this offseason. When he hit free agency in 2015, the Patriots didn’t franchise their star safety and let him receive offers on the open market. McCourty eventually turned down a bigger offer from the Eagles to come back to the Patriots on a five-year, $47.5 million deal. While there are a few organizations with ties to the Patriots that could make McCourty a significant offer on a two- or three-year deal, the Pats should do enough to convince their longtime defensive back to return.

4. Bring back one of the linebackers. I don’t think New England will have the cap space to make the moves mentioned previously and retain all of its pending free agents on defense. Belichick will find a nose tackle on the cheap to replace Shelton. Those aforementioned organizations filled with former Patriots will likely want to make a run at Van Noy, who emerged as a leader for the Patriots at linebacker after being acquired from the Lions. He could be priced out of New England’s range.

The most logical fit would be to bring back Collins, who was a revelation upon his return to the Patriots on a one-year, $2 million deal. There’s no way they will be able to get away with signing Collins on that sort of deal, but having seen what life was like with the rebuilding Browns while making top-tier off-ball linebacker money, the 29-year-old might very well be willing to take a discount to stick with the Pats.

5. Rebuild the special-teams unit. In addition to losing longtime coordinator Joe Judge to the Giants, Belichick has a lot of special-teams staffing to do. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski was struggling before going on injured reserve with a hip injury that required surgery. He has a cap hold of $4.8 million for 2020, and New England could need the $3.5 million it would save by releasing Gostkowski, 36, to make moves elsewhere. At the very least, I wouldn’t be surprised if the team asked Gostkowski to take a pay cut.

One NFL executive once suggested to me that there was a rule in which fans and media members were capable of knowing about only five special-teams gunners and coverage players at any one time. By the end of this past season, the Patriots had three of them in Matthew Slater, Nate Ebner and Justin Bethel, who was cut by the Ravens to preserve a compensatory pick. Slater and Ebner are both free agents, while Bethel’s $2 million compensation is unguaranteed. Belichick would obviously love to keep his special teams stocked with veterans, but the needs elsewhere on the roster might force him to cut back.


Projected 2020 cap space: $56.4 million

1. Pick up Jamal Adams‘s fifth-year option and sign him to an extension. As with the Bills and Tre’Davious White, it goes without saying that the Jets will pick up their star safety’s fifth-year option. After the organization talked with the Cowboys about a possible deal at the trade deadline and seemed to infuriate Adams, it looked as though the 24-year-old’s time in New York would be coming to an end. Things have changed; Adams has said he expects to be extended this season and wants to be in New York.

As a first-team All-Pro and one of the Jets’ few success stories from recent drafts, he isn’t going to come cheap. The natural comparison will be to Eddie Jackson, who made two Pro Bowls and a first-team All-Pro in his first three seasons, just like Adams. Jackson signed a four-year, $58.4 million extension on Jan. 3, which set the top of the safety market in terms of average annual salary at $14.6 million per season. Adams will likely hope to become the first $15 million safety, so let’s peg our estimated Adams deal at four years, $60 million.

2. Rebuild at cornerback. The Jets will cut Trumaine Johnson in the coming weeks. While moving on from one of the most disastrous free-agent signings in recent memory will free up only $3 million in cap space, they will save $11 million in cash on a player who never looked like the guy who starred with the Rams. Darryl Roberts allowed a passer rating of more than 100 in both of his seasons with the Jets, and his $5.8 million cap hit in 2020 is unguaranteed.

General manager Joe Douglas will need to bring in reinforcements to take their place. Relatively unknown players such as rookie sixth-rounder Blessuan Austin and undrafted free agent Arthur Maulet carved out roles as last season went along and should get more opportunities, but I’m surprised the team hasn’t made more of an effort to re-sign slot corner Brian Poole, who was its best corner from start to finish in 2019. Poole will likely look to top the three-year, $25.8 million deal Tavon Young signed with the Ravens last offseason, and the Jets should seriously consider a deal in that range. Adding at least one other cornerback beyond Poole should be in the cards as well.

3. Fix the offensive line. The bad news is that quarterback Sam Darnold was under siege behind a porous offensive line last season. The good news is that most of those linemen aren’t coming back. Starting tackles Kelvin Beachum and Brandon Shell, starting guard Alex Lewis, and late-summer acquisition Ryan Kalil are all free agents. Kelechi Osemele, who was supposed to start at guard, was cut amid one of the many embarrassing fiascos that enveloped the Jets organization during the first half of 2019. Fellow guard Brian Winters has a $7.3 million unguaranteed cap hold and could be cut.

The only offensive lineman on the roster who is guaranteed a starting job in 2020 is third-round pick Chuma Edoga. Douglas, a former offensive lineman himself, could add as many as four starters this offseason. Given that he left the Eagles to join the Jets, I wonder if he’ll pursue Philadelphia swing tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai as a solution on Darnold’s blind side. The Jets could keep Winters to make their life a little easier, but Douglas has a lot of work to do even if they do.

4. Acquire a replacement for Robby Anderson. The organization hasn’t been able to retain Anderson, who should attract significant attention as arguably the best young wideout available in free agency if Amari Cooper and A.J. Green get franchised. The Jets could consider franchising Anderson to try to create a trade opportunity, but Anderson might choose to sign a tag that is projected to come in around $18.5 million. My best guess is that Anderson would come away with something like four years and $55 million if he hits the market without a tag.

Complicating matters for the Jets is the status of Quincy Enunwa, who hit injured reserve for the second time in three years with a neck injury. Anderson and Enunwa are very different players, but New York also might cut Enunwa to free up $2.4 million in cap space, which would possibly leave it more inclined to make a serious run at re-signing Anderson.

If the Jets want to target a downfield threat to replace Anderson, their options would include players such as Paul Richardson, Breshad Perriman and Seth Roberts. Anderson is the most exciting option of the bunch, but he’s going to be more expensive than any of the alternatives. With so many needs elsewhere, New York might need to let Anderson move on.

5. Get edge-rushing help. When Anthony Barr reneged on his agreement with the Jets last offseason and returned to the Vikings, it left Gregg Williams without the athletic edge rusher the longtime defensive coordinator wanted for his first season in New York. The Jets never really found a solution and finished 26th in the league in sack rate at 5.3%. The only Jets defenders to top three sacks all season were Adams, who plays safety, and Jordan Jenkins, who is now a free agent.

Jenkins has 15 sacks over the past two seasons. Bart Scott has suggested that total is boosted by coverage sacks, but ESPN’s pass rush win rate analysis is a little more optimistic. The automated analysis suggests Jenkins has won 16.8% of his pass-rush battles over the past two seasons, which ranks 34th in the NFL. He has created 14 sacks over that time with pressures, including nine for himself and five for other players. I don’t think Jenkins is a No. 1 edge rusher, but he should see a multiyear deal on the market.

Ideally, the Jets would be in at the top of the market for guys such as Jadeveon Clowney and Dante Fowler Jr. They desperately need someone in that class to kick-start their defense. With so many expensive problems to solve elsewhere, though, they likely don’t have the money to compete when those guys get deals north of $20 million per year without drastically compromising another spot on their roster.

Douglas can free up an additional $6.5 million by cutting Avery Williamson, who missed all of 2019 with a torn ACL, but there’s little reason to think the Jets will be able to convince another team to take on running back Le’Veon Bell‘s contract without sending a midround pick as part of the package. When it comes down to it, I suspect Douglas will either sign one key pass-rusher in free agency and use his first-round pick (No. 11) on a left tackle or vice versa.

Published at Mon, 17 Feb 2020 12:47:31 +0000

Sources: Lions entertain trade talks for CB Slay

Sources: Lions entertain trade talks for CB Slay

The Lions have spoken with multiple teams about a potential trade for Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay, league sources tell ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Any team that trades for Slay would have to compensate Detroit and Slay with a new contract.

Other teams believe Slay ultimately will be traded this offseason, according to Schefter.

Slay, a three-time Pro Bowler, is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2020 season. He will make $10 million in base salary this season.

Published at Mon, 17 Feb 2020 18:35:05 +0000

Can the Cowboys really not keep Dak? Barnwell predicts five moves for NFC East teams

Can the Cowboys really not keep Dak? Barnwell predicts five moves for NFC East teams

While the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers might just have finished a thrilling Super Bowl, the NFL is only going to get busier in the weeks to come. The league’s 32 teams are planning their offseason agendas, identifying targets in free agency and beginning to narrow down prospects they’ll want to pay close attention to at the scouting combine ahead of the 2020 NFL draft.

Over the next two weeks, I’ll run through every team and the first five things they should be thinking about as they prepare for the new league year, which begins on March 18. Here’s the schedule:

Jump to a team:
NFC East: DAL | NYG | PHI | WSH
NFC North: CHI | DET | GB | MIN
NFC South: ATL | CAR | NO | TB
NFC West: ARI | LAR | SF | SEA

NFC EAST

Let’s head to the NFC East, where the ninth-highest-paid quarterback in 2019 should become the highest-paid quarterback in the division …


Projected 2020 cap space: $74.0 million

1. Lock up Dak Prescott. Quincy Carter, Anthony Wright, Ryan Leaf, Clint Stoerner, Chad Hutchinson, Quincy Carter, Vinny Testaverde, Drew Henson and Drew Bledsoe. Those are the quarterbacks the Cowboys started between the end of Troy Aikman’s run and the beginning of Tony Romo’s, and they stumbled onto Romo as an undrafted free agent. When Dallas was ready to replace Romo, owner Jerry Jones had to be talked out of drafting Johnny Manziel and only ended up with Prescott after the Broncos and Raiders beat him to Paxton Lynch and Connor Cook, respectively.

The overwhelming evidence suggests the Cowboys have had virtually no idea of what makes a good quarterback in the draft for two decades now. (If they were really confident Romo was going to turn into a starter, they would have used an actual draft pick on the Eastern Illinois product.) While there are other quarterbacks available in free agency, none of them are in Prescott’s league. The 2016 fourth-round pick finished fourth in the NFL in Total QBR.

It would cost the Cowboys $59.2 million to franchise Prescott twice and $105.6 million to get him a third time, which is right in line with the league’s highest-paid quarterbacks. They might not want to pay that much, but after years of signing their homegrown talent to massive extensions, they can’t suddenly expect Prescott to take a discount. No, Prescott isn’t Patrick Mahomes. If the Cowboys decide to play hardball or actually move on from Prescott thinking they can just find another quarterback, their chances of finding another Hutchinson or Cook are far greater.

2. Transition tag Amari Cooper on the way to an extension. Given how aggressively the Cowboys restructure deals, they can create plenty of cap room to retain Prescott and at least one of their other star free agents without much effort. Cooper should be the first one to target. Since the start of 2018, Prescott averages 8.2 yards per attempt and a passer rating of 102.3 with Cooper on the field. Those marks fall to 7.0 yards per attempt and 89.5, respectively, without the former Raiders first-rounder.

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Keyshawn Johnson explains how Dak Prescott and the Cowboys could meet in the middle to get a new deal done.

Injuries appear to be part of the reality with Cooper. Even though he has only missed three games in his five-year career, the former Alabama star has spent months of his career battling injuries like plantar fasciitis and ankle sprains. There’s no doubting his toughness, but the healthy Cooper we saw swing the division for the Cowboys in 2018 was likely the exception as opposed to the rule.

Even with that reality, the Cowboys can’t justify moving on from Cooper after trading away a first-round pick to grab him from the Raiders in 2018. If they can get a deal done with Prescott, they should franchise Cooper; if not, they should start with the transition tag and work quickly toward an extension. There are going to be teams that take a shot at signing Cooper without any compensation attached.

3. Rebuild the defensive line around DeMarcus Lawrence. Beyond re-signing their stars on offense, the Cowboys have major work to do up front on defense. Robert Quinn, Michael Bennett, Maliek Collins, Christian Covington and Kerry Hyder are all free agents, and it’s probably time to move on from Tyrone Crawford, who hasn’t lived up to a $45 million extension. Those guys combined for more than 3,500 defensive snaps last season, and the only linemen left who played more than 500 snaps for the Cowboys in 2019 is Lawrence. Randy Gregory is suspended indefinitely, while Antwaun Woods is likely to return as an exclusive-rights free agent.

Dallas has also turned over its defensive coaching staff, replacing Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard with former 49ers coach Mike Nolan. The defense is likely to stick with four down linemen as its base defense package, which means it needs to do some work. Woods might figure in as a run-plugging defensive tackle, but the Cowboys likely need to give him help and find a penetrator to play alongside hum. They would surely love to bring back Quinn, but if we assume that he gets a bigger deal elsewhere, Nolan will need a starter across from Lawrence and a replacement for Bennett behind them. If the Cowboys can convince Crawford to come back on a reduced salary, he would figure in as part of the tackle rotation, but there are four or five players the team realistically needs to add this offseason.

Nolan just came over from the Saints, where he was linebackers coach; there’s not a flood of defensive linemen leaving New Orleans, but I wonder if the Cowboys might look at David Onyemata, who was a solid starter for the Saints and is likely to leave in free agency. Former Packers standout Mike Daniels might also look to reunite with new Dallas coach Mike McCarthy after a frustrating season in Detroit. In the much bigger picture, you can’t count out the Cowboys in the Jadeveon Clowney pursuit, even if it means paying two defensive ends like franchise players.

4. Sign a star defensive back. The Cowboys don’t appear to have much interest in retaining cornerback Byron Jones, who is likely to get something close to top-of-the-market money in free agency. Safeties Darian Thompson and Jeff Heath are both free agents, and while the latter has seemingly been with the Cowboys since the Jimmy Johnson days, safety is due for a refresh.

The team seemed to signal that it wanted to make a significant investment at safety near the trade deadline when it was reportedly attempting to add Jamal Adams from the Jets, which would have likely cost a first-round pick. While I don’t think the Adams negotiations are likely to open up again, I wonder if they’re more likely to target safeties than cornerbacks this offseason.

Just based on their new coaching staff, the Cowboys could target Vonn Bell of the Saints and former Packers standout Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Picking No. 17 over in April’s draft, though, they could also target LSU’s Grant Delpit, who is one of the top safeties in this class. In his most recent mock draft, Todd McShay has them preferring Alabama safety Xavier McKinney. Either way, it wouldn’t be shocking see the Cowboys looking toward safety in Round 1.

5. Find a solution at tight end. Jason Witten returned to the Cowboys after a year here at ESPN and basically re-created the season he had before retiring; he caught 63 passes on 87 targets for 560 yards and five touchdowns in 2017, then returned with 63 catches on 83 targets for 529 yards and four touchdowns last season. He is going to be a reliable set of hands who catches the ball 8 yards downfield and falls down (he ranks 135th out of 140 receivers in average yards after catch) for as long as he wants.

It’s unclear whether he will play in 2020 or if he’ll do so for the Cowboys, with rumors linking Witten to a season in New York with new Giants offensive coordinator (and former Dallas coach) Jason Garrett. The Cowboys will likely bring Witten, 37, back for another season if he wants to return, but they will need a short-term starter if he doesn’t. This is also a position the team should look to address with a younger player for the long term, although given the work they have to do on defense, they might have to put it off until 2021.


Projected 2020 cap space: $61.3 million

1. Free up additional room. While the Giants can afford to go into free agency without making any cuts, there are some logical moves they should consider to free up both cap space and cash in their offseason budget. Alec Ogletree hasn’t lived up to expectations in New York, while fellow linebacker Kareem Martin missed virtually all of 2019 with a knee injury. Cutting those two would free up just over $13 million.

Rhett Ellison is an underrated player who would be a useful part on a more cohesive offense, but he’s likely going to be the third tight end behind Evan Engram and Kaden Smith, and that’s without considering a possible Witten signing. Ellison’s $7.2 million cap hit for 2020 is generous, and while I would encourage the Giants to try to bring him back at a lower number, releasing him would free up an additional $5 million in cap space. The three veterans also account for $19.2 million in base salaries they can likely put to better use elsewhere.

2. Franchise tag Leonard Williams. I went into the argument on Thursday surrounding Mitchell Trubisky and why picking up his fifth-year option makes sense if you believe in him the way Ryan Pace does. Likewise, while the Giants’ trade for Williams made no sense at the time and looks even worse after general manager Dave Gettleman attempted to explain its logic. They clearly think Williams is a franchise defensive lineman, though, and if you work with that assumption, the best way for them to keep him around before negotiating a long-term deal is to use the franchise tag.

3. Add a significant edge rusher. The Giants’ two-game winning streak over Miami and Washington in December took them out of the Chase Young sweepstakes at the top of the draft, which is the sort of Pyrrhic victory the recent editions of this team seem to inflict on themselves every season. Edge rusher Markus Golden had a quietly impressive bounce-back season on a one-year contract, racking up 10 sacks and 27 knockdowns, but he’s a free agent.

A reunion with Golden on a multiyear deal would make sense, but the Giants shouldn’t be stopping there. Guys like Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines have shown some potential, but there’s no reason to count on them as likely long-term starters. Gettleman should be looking at the top of the market, and this team should conceivably be in the Clowney hunt. With longtime Panthers standout Mario Addison hitting free agency, the long-underrated end could also be in the conversation for New York.

4. Solve the right tackle problem. Gettleman’s attempts to fix the offensive line have only been upgrades if you consider just how bad the Giants’ line was before he arrived. Left tackle Nate Solder has been a massive disappointment. Former Panthers starter Mike Remmers wasn’t effective last season. Patrick Omameh didn’t even last a full season after signing a three-year, $15 million deal, while incumbent Ereck Flowers was also cut in midseason in 2018. Kevin Zeitler was his usually solid self last season, but second-round pick Will Hernandez has been inconsistent through his first two years.

The Giants could try utility lineman Nick Gates at right tackle in 2020, but having him as the first lineman off the bench is a better option for a team with perennial depth issues up front. They need to do a meaningful job of addressing the right tackle spot this offseason instead of plugging in a short-term solution like Flowers or Remmers. Bryan Bulaga, Jack Conklin and Germain Ifedi are all free agents, and guys like Chris Hubbard and Rick Wagner could become cap casualties.

It wouldn’t shock me if the Giants made an even bigger investment and used the fourth overall pick on a tackle such as Alabama’s Jedrick Wills or Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs. Those guys could step in immediately on the right side and then possibly transition over to the left side in 2021 if Solder continues to disappoint. Gettleman loves talking about hog mollies, but he needs to do a better job of actually finding some to protect Daniel Jones this offseason.

5. Fix the secondary. While things got better in the second half, this defense was embarrassing in coverage at points during the 2019 season. While I can’t fault the Giants for moving on from Janoris Jenkins after he tweeted out a slur from the team facility and refused to apologize, Jenkins was also their only effective cornerback for most of the season. First-round pick DeAndre Baker looked overmatched in his rookie season.

The Giants likely need to add at least one veteran cornerback to push Baker, Grant Haley, Julian Love and supplemental pick Sam Beal, who has played six games in two season. Gettleman might need to do even more at safety, where Michael Thomas is a free agent and Antoine Bethea, 35, is a likely candidate for release. Jabrill Peppers will start at strong safety, but adding a free safety should be one of the many leaks Gettleman tries to plug in the weeks to come.


Projected 2020 cap space: $42.3 million

1. Address the secondary. General manager Howie Roseman’s game plan for years on defense has been to build around a deep line and a pair of effective safeties. At cornerback, he has generally devoted draft picks and a deep well of hope to the position. In 2017, that worked when Ronald Darby played well and Patrick Robinson delivered an excellent campaign for the veteran minimum. In 2019, despite paying Darby $6.5 million on a one-year deal and counting on 2017 draftees like Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas to round into form with more experience, cornerback was a disaster in Philadelphia.

The Eagles’ team-building philosophy doesn’t lend itself to spending exorbitant sums on cornerbacks, but they can’t come back in 2020 with the same questions at corner. At the very least, they need to hope different low-cost options work out. Robinson, a likely cap casualty in New Orleans after two disappointing seasons, would be a good fit to return. Philly already added Trevor Williams, who was a starter for the Chargers in 2017 and 2018 before injuries limited him to special-teams snaps with the Cardinals in 2019. Buy-low cap-casualties like Xavier Rhodes and Trumaine Johnson could interest Philly, as could disappointing first-rounders of the past such as Artie Burns and Eli Apple. Basically, if you’re a cornerback with some upside who is going to come cheap, this team should be interested.

What’s different about this offseason, though, is that the Eagles might also be turning things over at safety. Rodney McLeod is a free agent, while Malcolm Jenkins has said that he won’t return to the team unless they redo his deal. Jenkins, 32, is still a useful player, but they might not be interested in offering him another meaningful contract extension. Declining Jenkins’ option would free up $4.8 million in space, but after the Eagles cut Andrew Sendejo in midseason, their depth chart at safety is essentially a blank canvas. Avonte Maddox could move to safety on a full-time basis, but if the team moves on from Jenkins and McLeod, they’ll need to add a starter and at least one meaningful reserve.

2. Find a backup quarterback for Carson Wentz. While the Eagles couldn’t have anticipated that their franchise passer would suffer a concussion early in the wild-card loss to the Seahawks, Wentz has now seen his 2017, 2018 and 2019 seasons end via injury. The Eagles lost Nick Foles to free agency last year and replaced him with the combination of Nate Sudfeld and Josh McCown, signing the latter out of retirement after Sudfeld broke his wrist in the preseason. McCown tore his hamstring when forced into action during the playoff loss, and if it weren’t for him playing through severe pain, the Eagles would have been in line to play wideout Greg Ward as their emergency quarterback in a playoff game.

McCown and Sudfeld are both free agents, but Philly needs to look for a higher-floor option behind Wentz. Chase Daniel‘s first tenure with the Eagles didn’t go well in terms of opportunities, but he did collect $12 million for throwing exactly one regular-season pass in an Eagles uniform, so he should have at least some fond memories of his year there. More realistically, this could be a landing spot for somebody like Marcus Mariota if he doesn’t have a clear path to a starting job elsewhere.

Could the Eagles somehow bring back Foles? It’s unlikely, but the Jaguars could restructure Foles’ deal and eat a significant portion of the $20.6 million in guarantees remaining to facilitate a trade back to Philadelphia. More likely is that Foles sticks with the Jaguars in 2020 before an emotional reunion with Eagles fans in 2021.

3. Add speed at wide receiver. While the Eagles have DeSean Jackson under contract for 2020, what we saw in 2019 was a reminder of why they can’t depend on the three-time Pro Bowler. The 33-year-old had a monster game against Washington in the opener, suffered a core injury the following week, and played just four snaps the rest of the way. Getting 65 offensive snaps all season out of Jackson was another scenario the Eagles couldn’t have anticipated, but he also hasn’t played a full 16-game slate since 2013.

They can’t project Jackson to be healthy for all of 2020, and they need to add someone who can serve as Jackson’s backup and as a viable replacement in the starting lineup if/when he does get injured. Whoever they get will be taking Nelson Agholor‘s spot on the roster, with the former first-round pick likely leaving after playing out his fifth-year option. DeMarcus Robinson, formerly of the Chiefs, has popped up as a possible free-agent addition. Seth Roberts, who has some Agholor-esque drops in his past, also fits the profile.

4. Depth along both lines. Roseman is always going to focus on keeping his lines right, and the Eagles will need to make moves on both sides of the ball this offseason. Future Hall of Famer Jason Peters is likely to leave after slipping at age 37, with the team handing the job to 2019 first-round pick Andre Dillard. Swing tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai is a free agent and should earn a starting job somewhere, which would price him out of Philly’s price range. Adding a veteran tackle to play behind Dillard and Lane Johnson, who hasn’t played a full 16-game slate since 2015, would make sense.

The Eagles also dealt with a frustrating season from an offseason addition named Jackson on the defensive side of the ball, as former Broncos and Jags star Malik Jackson went down with a season-ending Lisfranc injury in Week 1. He will be back, but the Eagles will still have to contend with losing Vinny Curry, Hassan Ridgeway and Tim Jernigan to free agency. Roseman has been a genius when it comes to finding useful defensive linemen on the cheap in recent years, and the Eagles clearly hope that Genard Avery will figure into their pass-rushing rotation on the edge in 2020, but they’ll need to add at least one defensive tackle this offseason to play behind Jackson and Fletcher Cox.

5. Pick up Derek Barnett‘s fifth-year option. Injuries have limited him to 35 games in three seasons, but he assumed a larger role in the defensive end rotation in 2019 after Chris Long left the team. Barnett’s 6.5 sacks weren’t eye-opening, but the Tennessee product racked up 22 knockdowns, which hint at a larger sack total coming in 2020.


Projected 2020 cap space: $40.4 million

1. Rebuild the secondary. That’s right: Every single team in the NFC East needs to do something dramatic in the secondary this offseason. Washington might have more to do than any of them. Landon Collins and Fabian Moreau are locked in as starters, but this team seems sure to move on from Josh Norman after benching one of the league’s highest-paid cornerbacks for most of the second half (Note: Washington cut Norman on Friday). Cutting Norman will free up $12.4 million in cap space.

The bright spot in the secondary in 2019 was Quinton Dunbar, who deserved a Pro Bowl nod over guys like Kyle Fuller and Xavier Rhodes. Dunbar, 27, was one of the few bright spots for a depressing franchise, but he has already requested to be released or traded this offseason. This could be a contractual ploy given that Dunbar is entering the final year of his three-year, $5.7 million extension and surely wants a new deal, but it’s not exactly an auspicious start to the offseason for Washington.

Dunbar might look toward Fuller’s deal as a possible comp, although it required the Packers to submit an offer sheet. Fuller signed a four-year, $56 million contract with $42 million due over the first three years; Dunbar likely won’t get Fuller’s friendly guarantee structure, but he’s probably thinking about something in the range of four years and $60 million.

With Ron Rivera taking over in Washington, the easy thing is to link his new team to a player from his old team in free-agent corner James Bradberry. We’ll see if it’s that simple. If Washington signs Dunbar to a significant deal, it might prefer to address cornerback in the draft. It is missing the 34th pick after trading up with the Colts last year, but it could draft Jeff Okudah with the No. 2 overall selection, although they should instead …

2. Draft Chase Young. With no disrespect to Okudah, who should turn out to be a fine player, Washington should have draft cards already printed for Joe Burrow and Young and hand whichever one doesn’t get picked first to the commissioner in Las Vegas.

3. Get Trent Williams and Brandon Scherff in the lineup for Week 1. While Williams has reportedly sworn to never play for Washington again, both team president Bruce Allen and the medical team that misdiagnosed Williams’s cancerous growth are gone. Williams, 31, might stick to his stance after sitting out an entire season, but I wonder if Washington could convince him to come back into the fold by offering him a new contract. Getting its star left tackle back would be a massive upgrade for second-year quarterback Dwayne Haskins.

Re-signing Scherff should be a priority regardless of what happens with Williams. The only concern with the star guard is injuries, as the 2015 fifth overall pick has missed 17 games over the past three seasons with various maladies. I would expect this team to use the franchise tag on Scherff before making him the first guard in the league with an average annual salary of $15 million per year, topping divisional rivals Brandon Brooks ($14.1 million) and Zack Martin ($14 million).

4. Address tight end. Vernon Davis retired in the middle of a pregame skit with Rob Gronkowski just before the Super Bowl, and Jordan Reed missed all of 2019 after suffering a concussion during the preseason. Reed’s $10.3 million cap hit in 2020 is the third highest in football at his position, so even if he’s cleared to play, Washington will probably move on from him.

Unsurprisingly, this team has already been linked to Greg Olsen, 34, who is familiar with Rivera and available after the Panthers cut him. Given Olsen’s recent injury history, advancing age and the slim likelihood of Washington competing for a playoff berth in 2020, Olsen isn’t a great fit in something more than a part-time role. Jeremy Sprinkle should figure in the rotation as a blocker, but this is a team that really needs to find Haskins his long-term tight end. Not having a second-round pick hurts, but Washington could be in the market for a tight end with its third-round selection, which will be the 66th pick.

5. Move on from Ryan Kerrigan. Kerrigan was the best player on Washington’s defense for several years, but 2019 wasn’t his best year. The 31-year-old missed four games with a concussion and a calf injury and racked up a career-low 5.5 sacks in 12 games. By ESPN’s pass-rush win rate metric, he fell from 21st in the league with a 19.5% win rate to 43rd, at 15.9%.

Kerrigan is still a useful player, but with Washington using consecutive first-round picks on Montez Sweat and (presumably) Young, Kerrigan doesn’t have a future on the roster. The Purdue product has one year and $11.7 million remaining on his contract, which is probably slightly more than what he would get as an average annual salary in free agency. Washington should shop him and see if it can come away with a draft pick, but if nobody bites, it will have to cut him and move on.

NFC NORTH

Let’s head to the NFC North, where three of the division’s four starting quarterbacks held the league’s largest cap hits last season. That isn’t the case in 2020, but each of the teams in the North will have to improve their rosters while overcoming some cap obstacles this upcoming offseason:


Projected 2020 cap space: $13.4 million

1. Pick up Mitchell Trubisky‘s fifth-year option. When I write these pieces, I have to toe a line between what I would do and what makes sense given what we know about the opinions of the coaches and executives actually making the decisions. It might make sense for the Titans to move on from Derrick Henry because of how poorly big second contracts have gone for running backs, but there’s little chance of that happening after Henry’s stellar run in the 2019 playoffs.

Likewise, let’s talk about Trubisky. Last season was supposed to be the year he took a step forward after a successful 2018 campaign. Instead, he continued to make questionable decisions, stopped using his legs to gain valuable first downs for most of the season and ended up in one of the most conservative passing attacks in recent memory. He averaged 6.1 yards per attempt; after adjusting for era, that’s the 11th-worst mark since the merger.

It’s fair to say that Trubisky’s long-term viability as a starter is in question. I would argue that the Bears have seen enough and need to bring in someone who will either start ahead of Trubisky or serve as meaningful competition. General manager Ryan Pace, on the other hand, has already said that Trubisky is going to be starting in 2020.

With that in mind, if you’re operating under the assumption that Trubisky is the Week 1 starter for the Bears, it makes little sense to decline his fifth-year option. The chances of him breaking out as a guy worth a second contract, at least to Pace, are almost certainly higher than the chances he’ll suffer the sort of injury which prevents him from passing a physical and keeps the Bears on the hook for a quarterback they don’t want in 2021.

Pace has also made a mistake in this scenario before. The Bears declined Kyle Fuller‘s fifth-year option before the 2017 season, but when the 2014 first-rounder finally put things together and had an above-average run, the team didn’t have Fuller under contract for a fifth year in 2018. Instead of having Fuller on a below-market deal for one season, Chicago ended up matching a Packers offer sheet which made the corner one of the highest-paid players at his position. (That was just fine in 2018 when Fuller was an All-Pro, but not quite as impressive when his passer rating allowed jumped by nearly 40 points last season.)

Trubisky’s fifth-year option for 2021 will end up somewhere between $24 million and $25 million and will be guaranteed for injury only. The decision depends on what you feel about him right now. If he’s not a guy with whom the Bears can win a Super Bowl, they need to decline the option and find a new starter. Given that Pace still seems to think Trubisky is on his way to stardom, though, they should be inclined to pick up his fifth-year option and hope for the best.

2. Find a quarterback 1A. Even if I’m going to defer to Pace’s opinion on Trubisky’s future, it would be foolish for Chicago to not target a backup quarterback in 2020. Beyond the concerns about Trubisky’s talent level, he has missed games in both 2018 and 2019 with injuries and often puts his body at risk to extend and/or make plays. The Bears need somebody who can challenge Trubisky and step in as a viable replacement.

Their backup over the past two seasons was Chase Daniel, who is a free agent. While he gave them a veteran who supported Trubisky off the field, it would make sense for Chicago to target a more mobile quarterback who can step in and continue to give teams pause with his legs. The logical suggestion as the offseason approached was Marcus Mariota, who had played under Bears offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich at Oregon, but Helfrich was fired after the team disappointed in 2019.

The Bears replaced Helfrich this offseason with former Bengals coordinator Bill Lazor. While Lazor isn’t expected to make the playcalls with Matt Nagy in charge, the Bears could consider going after one of Lazor’s former charges in Andy Dalton, 32, who is still technically under contract with the Bengals. Cincinnati will likely cut Dalton to hand the starting job to presumed first overall pick Joe Burrow. Dalton is a more mobile quarterback than people think and just good enough to challenge Trubisky without immediately demanding the No. 1 job.

3. Make a decision on Leonard Floyd. The breakout season hasn’t yet come for Floyd, whose sack totals have dropped in each of the past three years after racking up seven in 12 games as a rookie. Floyd has stayed healthy over the past two seasons, which is promising, but despite playing across from the perpetually double-teamed Khalil Mack, he has a middling seven sacks and 23 knockdowns over that time frame. He ranked 57th in pass rush win rate a year ago.

For a team that starts the offseason with less than $14 million in cap space and has holes to fill on both sides of the ball, Floyd is a problem. As Floyd enters his fifth-year option, he has a cap hold of $13.2 million, which is the third-highest on the team. Chicago has already restructured Fuller’s contract and could cut players like Prince Amukamara (which would free up $9 million in cap space) and Cordarrelle Patterson ($4.8 million), but its clearest path to creating cap room is by doing something with Floyd.

From a football sense, the best thing to do would be to let him play out his fifth-year option. Pass-rushers occasionally break out in Year 5 — Nick Perry comes to mind — but for cap reasons, the Bears should probably move on from Floyd and go after a replacement on the edge. If Pace thinks Floyd is still an above-average pass-rusher, they should pursue an extension to help reduce his 2019 cost.

4. Find a new starting guard. You can’t fault Kyle Long for retiring this offseason. After missing just one game and making it to three Pro Bowls across his first three seasons in the league, he looked like he was on a Hall of Fame track. Since then, Long has played just 30 of 64 games while battling multiple injuries. He characterized it as “stepping away,” but whether he returns in the future or not the Bears will need to find a guard this offseason.

Last year, the Bears turned to veteran Ted Larsen, who was felled by a knee injury of his own and replaced by converted defensive lineman Rashaad Coward. Larsen is a free agent, and Coward is probably best suited as a backup tackle. This isn’t a great free-agent market for guards, but if Chicago reduces Floyd’s cap hit, it could have enough room to target somebody like Quinton Spain as a mid-tier option.

This team isn’t in great draft shape, as its first-, third-, and fourth-round picks are all gone. The Bears do have an extra second-rounder from the Raiders as the last spoil of the Mack trade. Pace has exhibited a propensity for trading up in the draft to grab players he loves, but he needs to trade down and amass extra picks this year. If that means taking a guard in the third or fourth round as opposed to the second round, so be it.

5. Address the holes at inside linebacker and safety. Former free-agent imports Danny Trevathan and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix are both free agents again, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if both moved on. Clinton-Dix will likely find a multiyear deal in free agency, while Trevathan will turn 30 in March and completed just one 16-game season in his four seasons in Chicago.

The team was actually slightly better by some measures last season without Trevathan. Chuck Pagano’s defense allowed a 50.5 QBR and 21.2% first-down rate against the run with Trevathan on the field, but those marks fell slightly to a 48.0 QBR and 20% first-down run rate without the former Broncos standout. In part, that was due to the emergence of Nick Kwiatkoski, who impressed in Trevathan’s absence.

The problem with simply plugging Kwiatkoski in for Trevathan? Kwiatkoski is a free agent too. There will be teams interested in him, but with a limited history as a starter and inside linebackers typically coming cheap on the open market, I would guess he’s worth more to the Bears than most other teams. Re-signing Kwiatkoski and using some of the savings to target a safety in free agency makes the most sense for the Bears.


Projected 2020 cap space: $45.1 million

1. Pick up Jarrad Davis‘ fifth-year option. Davis hasn’t consistently impressed since the Lions drafted him with the No. 21 pick in 2017. Injuries held him back at the beginning and end of 2019, and in between, he seemed to struggle to translate the athleticism and instincts he showed in college into consistent, reliable linebacker play, especially against the pass. The Lions have guys who are arguably better against the run in Jahlani Tavai and Christian Jones, so they need Davis to be someone they’re confident with in pass coverage.

Davis’s résumé doesn’t sound much different from Trubisky’s, but here’s where draft order matters. As a top-10 pick at quarterback, Trubisky’s fifth-year option is the average of the top 10 salaries at his position, which is a lot. Davis was taken late in the first round, and his fifth-year option would be the average of the salaries ranked third through 25th among linebackers. Even if something catastrophic happened and Davis suffered a career-threatening injury, as Ryan Shazier sadly did after the Steelers picked up his fifth-year option, there’s not much risk for the Lions in terms of their 2021 cap.

2. Address the interior of the defensive line. A’Shawn Robinson and Mike Daniels are both free agents, while run-plugger Damon Harrison is reportedly considering retirement. The Lions will likely use Da’Shawn Hand as a defensive tackle in passing situations in 2020, but even if Harrison comes back, they need to target at least one tackle to play significant snaps in their rotation.

They will have plenty of options, although the identity of the player(s) they’ll want to go after depend upon whether Harrison returns. The logical fit if Harrison retires would be Danny Shelton, who is both an excellent run defender and — crucially for general manager Bob Quinn and coach Matt Patricia — a former Patriots player. If Harrison returns, Detroit would be looking for a more explosive player to play alongside him. I wonder if the Lions will be the team which makes a huge offer to Jordan Phillips, who broke out with a 10-sack campaign in 2019. Guys like Jarran Reed and Shelby Harris could also be in play here, and the team could even consider reuniting with Ndamukong Suh.

3. Resolve Darius Slay‘s situation before the draft. With one year left on his deal, the Lions probably need to determine whether the three-time Pro Bowler fits into their future before making a call on what they’re going to do with the No. 3 pick. Slay, 29, didn’t have his best season in 2019, but he hasn’t gotten much help from the rest of the Detroit defense while spending the vast majority of his time covering No. 1 wideouts.

The top of the cornerback market is Josh Norman‘s five-year, $75 million deal from 2016, which guaranteed the former Panthers defender $36 million and paid $51 million over Years 1 through 3. Jalen Ramsey will likely push that market forward this offseason, but even if Slay doesn’t get a Ramsey-sized deal, he could feasibly expect to top those Norman figures on a contract extension. A four-year, $64 million deal would be a reasonable expectation from his side.

Part of the equation here involves Ohio State corner Jeff Okudah, who has been the popular pick in mock drafts for the Lions at No. 3 overall after Joe Burrow and Chase Young come off the board. If the Lions think Okudah is a franchise corner and worth taking with the third pick, they might not want to devote significant resources to three cornerbacks, since Justin Coleman is one of the league’s highest-paid slot corners.

The logical move would then be to trade Slay, who would have a market. We haven’t seen many star corners traded in recent years, with Aqib Talib moving twice on what amounted to salary dumps. Marcus Peters went to the Rams for second- and fourth-round picks before being dealt to the Ravens for a fifth-rounder. He was still on a rookie deal, though, and whichever team that trades for Slay would be in line to give him a new deal, which reduces his value further.

Would the Lions be willing to accept a third-round pick for their star corner? There are teams that would likely be interested at that price tag; the Cowboys, Jets and Raiders need help at cornerback, and the Texans have a late second-rounder, a need for cornerback help and a general manager who doesn’t seem to value draft picks. The best thing for the Lions would be to keep Slay around, though.

4. Consider trading down in the first round. I know there have been rumors suggesting the Lions could use the No. 3 overall pick on a quarterback and trade Matthew Stafford. It’s not impossible to imagine, although it doesn’t make much sense to me. Stafford was playing some of the best football of his career before getting hurt last season, which was the first time he had missed a game since 2010. The Lions were 0-8 without him. Stafford is essentially under contract for three years at a total of $51.3 million, which is below market value. The Lions would also see their cap hold for Stafford in 2019 rise from $21.3 million to $32 million if they traded him. Maybe a team blows away Detroit with a trade offer and it happens to love a prospect such as Tua Tagovailoa, but this feels more like trying to create a market for the third pick than anything else.

While the Lions will be better in 2020, they’re not realistically a player away from the Super Bowl. Outside of quarterback and receiver, they either need a starter or meaningful depth just about everywhere on their roster. There are a total of two players — Slay and punter Sam Martin — left from Martin Mayhew’s final six drafts with the organization, including nobody from the 2014 or 2015 classes. They have been active in free agency to try to paper over the holes on their roster, but this team needs multiple impact pieces.

It’s going to be tempting to draft Okudah or Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons with the No. 3 pick, but Detroit needs to consider dealing this pick to a team that wants to move ahead of the Dolphins for a quarterback. When the Jets wanted to move up from No. 6 to No. 3 for Sam Darnold in 2018, the Colts were able to extract three second-rounders. With the Chargers, Panthers and Jaguars all likely considering a quarterback in the top 10, getting a similar sort of haul in terms of draft capital would be worth it for Detroit.

5. Extend Taylor Decker. Quinn’s first draft pick after arriving in Detroit was Decker, who has rounded into form as an above-average left tackle since taking over for Riley Reiff. Decker missed half of 2017 with a torn labrum and committed a career-high five holding penalties in 2019, but he has generally been a solid protector on the blind side for Stafford. Teams don’t typically let those guys walk.

The guy who comes to mind for me when I see Decker is Jake Matthews, who hadn’t made it to a Pro Bowl when he signed a five-year, $75 million deal with the Falcons before starting his fifth year in 2018. Adjusting that deal for inflation would get Decker up to five years and $85 million, which would make Decker the highest-paid left tackle in football. Ronnie Stanley and Laremy Tunsil are likely to get larger deals, so even if it means going to $17 million per season, the Lions would be smart to get the Decker deal done first.


Projected 2020 cap space: $22 million

1. Cut Jimmy Graham. General manager Brian Gutekunst’s forays into free agency have been successful on defense, as Adrian Amos, Preston Smith, and Za’Darius Smith all delivered during the 2019 season. On offense? Not so much. Billy Turner was a below-average guard last season, while Graham has averaged just 33.8 receiving yards per game and caught five touchdowns in 32 contests with the Packers.

The Packers were dreaming about a telepathic red zone connection between Graham and Aaron Rodgers when they signed the former Seahawks tight end to a three-year, $30 million deal in 2018, but Graham’s 10-touchdown run in 2017 was an outlier. He’s also one of the league’s worst blocking tight ends. Graham will still have a job somewhere, but the Packers should move on and free up $8 million in cap space by cutting him.

2. Re-sign Bryan Bulaga. While health has been an issue for the 31-year-old right tackle, the 2010 first-round pick was able to start all 16 games in 2019. He did miss most of two contests, and one of them was quite memorable, as it was the 49ers game where Rodgers spent most of his time running for his life. The numbers with and without Bulaga aren’t quite as significant as that one game would seem; over the last three season, Rodgers has posted a passer rating of 99.9 with Bulaga on the field and 88.6 without him, although his QBR is actually six points better without Bulaga over that time frame.

The Packers could let Bulaga leave and replace him from within; both Turner and Elgton Jenkins have played tackle in the past, and with Lane Taylor returning from a torn biceps, the Packers could push one of their starting guards to tackle. The best scenario? Start Jenkins and Taylor at guard with Bulaga at right tackle and Turner as the first man off the bench.

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The NFL Primetime crew discusses how the Packers’ offense couldn’t take down the 49ers.

3. Add another receiver. Davante Adams is great. What the Packers were working with after Adams was … not as great. Graham was a shell of his former self, and the rest of Rodgers’ targets were either undrafted free agents (Geronimo Allison, Allen Lazard, Jake Kumerow) or late-round picks (Marquez Valdes-Scantling). While Green Bay was successful when Adams missed four games with turf toe, Rodgers’ best receiver for most of that stretch was running back Aaron Jones.

Finding a second weapon at receiver has to be the biggest priority for the Packers in terms of adding new talent to the roster. They can and probably should address wideout early in the draft, but I would imagine that they’ll think about going after an option in free agency. While I don’t think they would be inclined to make an Adams-sized offer to Amari Cooper, there are downfield options available in Robby Anderson and Breshad Perriman, both of whom were impressive at the end of the season.

The addition doesn’t have to be a wide receiver, either. If they cut Graham, there’s every reason to think the Packers would consider going after one of the two star tight ends on the market in Hunter Henry and Austin Hooper. If Gutekunst can nab one of the big-name tight ends and then draft a wide receiver in the first or second round, Green Bay should be able to stave off further regression from Rodgers, 36, in 2020.

4. Clean up things at linebacker. You saw the NFC Championship Game, right? It’s unfair to pin what the 49ers did solely on Green Bay’s inside linebackers, given that everybody in their front seven had a terrible game, but the Packers ranked 23rd in rush defense DVOA during the regular season, too. They are locked into their edge rotation for years to come with the two Smiths and first-round pick Rashan Gary, so they’re not going anywhere.

At inside linebacker, though, the Packers are going to make changes. Blake Martinez and B.J. Goodson are both free agents, and 2018 third-round pick Oren Burks hasn’t been able to stay healthy. Martinez routinely racked up gaudy tackle numbers, but I can’t imagine the Packers bringing him back on any sort of meaningful deal after what happened against the 49ers. Options like Joe Schobert and Cory Littleton would be significant upgrades in free agency, though this seems like a position the team might prefer to address with fresh legs in the draft.

5. Lock up Kenny Clark. While Jones is also in the queue for a possible extension, I’d be worried about the clear divide between his production and what the Packers think of the talented running back. Jones has been massively productive and the Packers still seem hesitant to even give him something close to an every-down workload when Jamaal Williams is healthy. While Williams is a free agent, it seems likely that they will bring in someone to split snaps with their starter. Jones could be a candidate for the franchise tag if he continues to produce in 2020.

While Clark will want to burn the 49ers tape, he has been one of the more quietly impressive defensive linemen in football for a while now. The UCLA product should be in line to top the four-year, $68 million extension Grady Jarrett signed with the Falcons before the 2019 season. Clark’s deal could come in somewhere around five years and $80 million.


Projected 2020 cap space: -$12.3 million

1. Create some cap space. Just in case you missed that minus symbol above, the Vikings are in a tight cap squeeze. While they aren’t going to end up in the sort of apocalyptic cut spree that teams like the Ravens and Titans dealt with 15 years ago, general manager Rick Spielman & Co. have some work to do over the next few weeks.

Minnesota would instantly get under the cap if Everson Griffen exercises his right to opt out of his deal, which would free up $13 million in room. It would also deprive the Vikings of a productive defender, as he racked up eight sacks and 24 knockdowns during the regular season and was excellent during the two-game playoff run. Griffen has said he wants to stay with the team, and the Vikings probably aren’t ready to stick Ifeadi Odenigbo into the starting lineup. My guess is that the two sides agree to terms on a modified contract and Griffen stays.

The next move would be to cut cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who has struggled mightily over the past two seasons and was moved in and out of the lineup at times in 2019. The Vikings will create $8.1 million in cap space by cutting the 2013 first-round pick, which has sadly become an inevitability. Rhodes could come back on a much smaller deal, but a split probably makes sense for both sides at this point.

Minnesota typically doesn’t like to restructure deals to create cap space, but unless it wants to cut someone like Linval Joseph (who would free up $10.4 million in room) or Kyle Rudolph ($3.7 million) or trade Stefon Diggs ($5.5 million), it might not have a choice if it wants to create meaningful cap space. There’s one player whose cap hit could fall …

2. Work on a Kirk Cousins extension. I’m going to save a lengthier Cousins debate for another day. Briefly, in the playoffs, he was good enough to beat Drew Brees and the Saints at home and was horribly overmatched against the 49ers’ pass rush in a game in which I don’t think any quarterback would have played well. The Vikings have gotten about what they should have expected when they signed Cousins to a three-year, $84 million deal in 2018.

You might remember that he signed a deal that was fully guaranteed at the time of signing. The Vikings structured the deal with a $3 million signing bonus and huge base salaries of $22.5 million, $27.5 million and $29.5 million. There wasn’t any reason to hide salary at the end of the deal because it was all guaranteed anyway, but it’s not the easiest contract structure for cap purposes. Cousins has the third-largest cap hit in all of football at $31 million.

If the Vikings want to negotiate a new deal with him, I’m not sure whether he would attempt or expect to get a second fully guaranteed deal. Regardless of what he wants, they should be able to use the bonus structure to reduce his cap hit for 2020. Let’s say Cousins wants to sign a three-year, $100 million extension, which would mean the Vikings would have to pay a total of $129.5 million to him over the next four years. They could give him a $40 million signing bonus and spread the money out this way while creating much-needed cap space now:

While I brought up the idea of Cousins potentially heading somewhere via trade in my offseason dominoes piece, he has a full no-trade clause and would need to approve any deal. If the Vikings want to reduce his cap hold, it will almost surely have to be via an extension.

3. Replenish the secondary. In addition to the pending release of Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander are both free agents. Anthony Harris, who impressed in his first year as a starting safety, is also a free agent. Those four players combined for 3,004 defensive snaps last season. The Vikings have young corners Mike Hughes, Holton Hill and Kris Boyd, star safety Harrison Smith, and virtually nothing of note behind them.

I don’t think the Vikings will keep Waynes or Alexander. Harris seems more plausible, but they might not want to invest significant money in a second safety given their roster issues elsewhere. Mike Zimmer has a long track record of working with teams who use first-round picks at cornerback, which means the team could take a corner with the 25th overall pick in April’s draft.

Zimmer coaxed six seasons out of veteran corner Terence Newman when most thought he was toast after his time in Dallas, and the Vikings could go after at least one reclamation project at the position this offseason. In addition to free agents like Aqib Talib and Johnathan Joseph, we’re likely to see players like Josh Norman and Trumaine Johnson become cap casualties. Don’t be surprised if one of those guys goes to training camp in Minnesota.

4. Re-sign Dan Bailey. After the Blair Walsh fiasco and a year and a half with Kai Forbath, the Vikings were delighted to sign Bailey after the longtime Cowboys kicker was cut by Dallas in camp. He promptly hit 75% of his field goals in 2018. When he struggled in training camp last summer, the Vikings traded a fifth-round pick to the Ravens for Kaare Vedvik, only to cut Vedvik after he missed three kicks in the preseason.

Bailey promptly went 27-of-29 on field goal tries, and while he missed four of his 44 extra points, he was one of the better kickers in football on scoring plays. Past performance isn’t indicative of future results for kickers, as the Vikings know very well, but there’s nobody available who is a clear upgrade on Bailey.

5. Don’t re-sign Dalvin Cook to a huge extension. I covered this a bit in my column on running back contracts, but as talented as Cook is, he profiles as a dangerous candidate for a second contract. He has a track record of injuries and only really broke out when he was dropped into a Gary Kubiak/Kyle Shanahan offense, which has a long track record of making just about every back it touches look like superstars.

Minnesota’s cap situation makes this an even easier decision. The best thing for the team is to let Cook play out the final year of his rookie deal, move on and turn the job over to Alexander Mattison. Teams typically ignore history, assume their guy is the exception and pay their standout back before regretting it shortly thereafter. The Vikings are in such a tight cap bind that they might be forced to listen to history.

NFC SOUTH

Let’s head to the NFC South, where as many as three teams could be searching for new quarterbacks this offseason …


Projected 2020 cap space: $6.1 million

1. Clear out cap space. The Falcons don’t have much room to work with as they try to rebuild their defense. What’s even worse is that they don’t even really have all that much flexibility to create room; after converting $12.5 million of Matt Ryan‘s $20.5 million base salary into a bonus in January, there’s no other massive salary they would feel comfortable turning into a signing bonus for space. The best Atlanta can really do is convert $10 million of Julio Jones‘ $11.2 million base salary into a signing bonus, which would free up $7.5 million in room.

Instead, the Falcons are going to have to create room the hard way. They can start by cutting Devonta Freeman, who has failed to live up to the expectations he set while excelling under Kyle Shanahan. The team would be responsible for $6 million in dead money for Freeman, but it would free up $3.5 million in space. Adding Ty Sambrailo to the discard pile would free up an additional $3.7 million in room.

Given that they still need to leave space to sign their draft picks, there’s just not a clear path for the Falcons to add a couple of stars on the defensive side of the ball. They’re more realistically looking at one star or a couple of depth pieces. And even that requires the Falcons to make a couple of tough choices …

2. Let Austin Hooper follow Vic Beasley Jr. out the door. In a move I’ve never seen, the Falcons publicly announced before free agency even began that they weren’t going to negotiate with Beasley. I was a bit surprised; they picked up Beasley’s fifth-year option last year, and the former first-rounder racked up 6.5 sacks over the second half of the season. This is likely the right move, though, given Beasley’s inconsistency.

As tough as it might be, Atlanta needs to pursue the same track with its starting tight end. Hooper set career highs in catches (75), receiving yards (787) and touchdowns (six) despite missing three games in 2019, but the Falcons already have too much committed on the offensive side of the ball. This is a team that already has four players making top-tier money at their respective positions in Ryan, Jones, Jake Matthews and Alex Mack (plus Freeman if he’s not cut) and three recent first-round picks in Calvin Ridley, Kaleb McGary and Chris Lindstrom. This team really needs to take the assets it has left and commit them to fixing the defense, and that means letting Hooper leave.

I suppose it’s possible the Falcons could franchise Hooper and try to work out a trade for a draft pick or a defensive piece, though it might limit what they can do in the early days of free agency or prevent them from making a move altogether if he signs the tag. The dream would be to negotiate a trade for a pass-rusher; Yannick Ngakoue comes to mind because of how thin the Jags are at tight end, though Atlanta would probably need to throw in a meaningful pick to make that deal work.

3. Find a No. 1 pass-rusher. The Falcons have to be considered candidates for each of the top available edge rushers, though they’re going to need to get creative to compete for Jadeveon Clowney. This could be a landing spot for Dante Fowler Jr. or short-term options like Robert Quinn or Jason Pierre-Paul.

Atlanta’s late-season surge means it will be picking 16th in April’s draft. The Falcons could move down and add extra picks, but it wouldn’t be the worst idea if they ended up using their pick on an edge defender, too.

4. Add a nose tackle. The Falcons got by with former Saints backup Tyeler Davison in 2019 and could bring back Davison, but there’s something to be said for adding an impact defender next to Grady Jarrett. The Falcons were much better against the run (14th in DVOA) than the pass (25th), but there’s a chance for them to get even better against the run if they upgrade the nose and finally get a healthy season (or a healthier season) from safety Keanu Neal.

The big names in this category could be fun. I’d love to see Jarrett next to Ndamukong Suh, who is among the free agents on the market. Michael Pierce is a brutally effective run defender who could fit in Atlanta. Danny Shelton was great for the Patriots in 2019 and might come at a cheaper price. This is also a spot Atlanta might address in the draft.

5. Draft a running back. If the Falcons cut Freeman, they would be left with one of the league’s least-imposing running back rooms. The good news is that there’s virtually an endless supply of useful running backs. Atlanta could easily add someone like Lamar Miller or Carlos Hyde on a one-year deal without significantly impacting its ability to address the defense.

In the big picture, though, it makes sense for this team to look at drafting a running back in the middle rounds to take over. Atlanta has had success finding guys like Freeman and Tevin Coleman there in the past, and it can use the extra second-rounder it has from the Mohamed Sanu deal with the Patriots to trade down and grab extra selections.


Projected 2020 cap space: $32.2 million

1. Figure out whether to keep Cam Newton. This is the obvious one, but everything depends on what the Panthers see from Newton when they work him out in March. If Newton doesn’t look like he’s healing, Carolina could cut him and pair one of the veteran quarterbacks available in free agency with second-year passer Will Grier. Cutting Newton would free up $19.1 million in cap room.

If Newton looks healthy, the Panthers could keep him and let him play out the final year of his deal. There’s a case for extending him with a structure that would allow the Panthers to get out of the deal with a small payment after the 2020 season, similar to the extensions signed by guys like Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tyrod Taylor in recent seasons, but I imagine Newton would prefer to play out the season and try to negotiate off a productive campaign this time next year.

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Jeremy Fowler says the Panthers don’t love their draft options, and they are staying open-minded about Cam Newton.

While the Panthers have mooted a possible Newton trade, I don’t see the middle ground where that happens. Whichever team trades for Newton is going to put him through a significant physical, and he would only pass if he were healthy. If he’s healthy, the Panthers are probably going to want to keep him around unless somebody blows Carolina away with an offer, which isn’t likely given that we haven’t seen an effective Newton since the first half of 2018. Then again, I didn’t think Odell Beckham Jr. or Antonio Brown were getting traded last year, either.

2. Rebuild the defensive line. I liked what general manager Marty Hurney did last offseason to add to a deep, talented defensive line, but the Panthers will need to go back to the well this offseason. Carolina will return Brian Burns, Kawann Short and reserve end Efe Obada, but everyone else is up in the air. Wes Horton retired. Dontari Poe has a team option that might not be picked up after he tore a quad. Veterans Mario Addison, Gerald McCoy, Bruce Irvin, Kyle Love, Vernon Butler and Stacy McGee are all free agents. If Poe departs, the Panthers would need to replace nearly 3,500 defensive line snaps.

Burns and Short will play more snaps if they’re healthier in 2020. There’s obviously not one player the Panthers can target to solve their issues here. I’m a bit surprised they haven’t yet re-signed Addison, who seemed to be on pace to become a lifelong Panthers player. They need to sign at least one veteran starter, and even that number assumes they flood the back half of their draft with defensive linemen.

3. Get a linebacker and a leader to replace Luke Kuechly. Having to rebuild most of a defensive line during an offseason is tough enough. Replacing a franchise icon and future Hall of Famer makes things even more difficult. The Panthers did re-sign Shaq Thompson, who will help shoulder some of the load as they move on from Kuechly, but they still need to add a starter to replace the seven-time Pro Bowler.

The good news for the Panthers is that there’s a deep class of options available in free agency. Carolina could look toward Kyle Van Noy, Cory Littleton, Joe Schobert, Blake Martinez and Patrick Onwuasor to replace Kuechly. Veterans like Alec Ogletree, Denzel Perryman, Avery Williamson and Todd Davis are all also possible cap casualties in the weeks to come.

4. Add a tight end to replace Greg Olsen. If losing one franchise icon wasn’t enough, the Panthers also decided to move on from Olsen, who has the third-most receiving yards in franchise history. You can certainly understand where the team was coming from, as Olsen had missed 18 games over the past three seasons while averaging just 36 receiving yards per contest and had an $11.6 million cap hit coming in 2020. He deserves a chance to play a more defined role on a team closer to a possible championship.

I’d like to see the Panthers give Ian Thomas meaningful snaps — the Indiana product has played well when given the opportunity. Thomas has taken 70% or more of the snaps in a game nine times over the past two seasons, and he has caught 37 passes for 356 yards and three scores in those games. Those numbers aren’t far off from what Olsen was posting, but just two of those starts came with a healthy Newton, and Thomas’ $660,000 base salary for 2020 is a fraction of what Olsen was going to take home.

New coach Matt Rhule didn’t use a significant percentage of two-tight end sets over the past couple of years — Baylor used two or more tight ends 10.6% of the time, which was below the FBS average — but I suspect that he’ll want to bring in somebody to challenge and/or supplement Thomas, especially as a blocker. The veteran pool at tight end is already getting thin with Olsen not returning and Vernon Davis, Garrett Celek and Ben Watson all retiring, so this might be a position the Panthers look to address in the draft.

5. Replace James Bradberry. It doesn’t seem like the Panthers intend on re-signing Bradberry, who had his best season in 2019 and looks to be an ascending top-15 cornerback. He saw plenty of No. 1 receivers last season; on plays in which Bradberry was the nearest defender in coverage, 61% of targets against him came against No. 1 wideouts, per NFL Next Gen Stats.

Donte Jackson, a second-round pick in 2018, has struggled since a hot start to his career, making the question of what to do without Bradberry even more pressing. Perhaps they hope improved defensive line play would render their cornerback play less important. Carolina could presumably use the No. 7 overall pick on a corner like Jeff Okudah if he fell that far, but I get the sense that the Panthers are more likely to use that selection on a defensive lineman.

Finding a Week 1 starter across from Jackson is one of the many things the Panthers need to do this offseason. There’s so much to do, in fact, that I couldn’t even fit signing Christian McCaffrey to a contract extension into their five steps.


Projected 2020 cap space: $12.3 million

1. Re-sign Drew Brees. Unlike the Panthers, who aren’t sure whether they expect to contend in 2020, the Saints are pulling out all the stops to win a Super Bowl over the next couple of years. With Brees playing at a high level in 2019 after his thumb injury, they have little reason to look in a different direction. And with New Orleans unexpectedly coming up short at home in a wild-card loss to the Vikings, Brees has every reason to come back to try to win one more ring with Sean Payton & Co.

As usual, expect the Saints to sign Brees to a three-year deal that realistically amounts to a one-year pact with two voidable years for cap purposes (they could also free up $8.1 million by releasing Kiko Alonso, who tore his ACL against the Vikings). They will need to get this deal done to avoid owing $21.6 million in dead money for Brees on their 2020 cap, but unless Brees unexpectedly decides to retire, he’s going to be back in New Orleans in 2020.

2. Tender Taysom Hill at a second-round level and replace Teddy Bridgewater. I’m fascinated to see whether there’s a market for Hill. You would figure the Saints are more creative and open-minded to finding opportunities for him than the vast majority of offensive staffs around the league, but he nearly swung that playoff game against the Vikings. There are almost certainly teams who saw that and imagined Hill making an impact in a larger role with their team than he can ever realistically expect behind Brees.

The Saints can choose one of three restricted free-agent tenders for Hill, which amount to one-year deals with a right to match any offers he receives. The three tiers dictate the compensation the team would receive if they decline to match the offer. Over the Cap estimates that the first-round tender in 2020 will come in at $4.7 million. The second-round tender will fall around $3.3 million, while the original-round tender will be $2.1 million. Because the 29-year-old Hill was an undrafted player, the Saints would not receive any compensation if they tender him at the latter level and lose him to another team.

The Saints can create cap room with a Brees extension, but they aren’t exactly the Colts or Dolphins when it comes to space. Hill played 23% of the offensive snaps last season, though that rose to just over 38% across the final five games. Hill, who would be an unrestricted free agent after the season, is healthy and coming off a wildly impactful performance on national television. Would the Saints match if a team offers him, say, $10 million per season?

I can’t say for sure whether they would be willing to match that sort of deal, but the logical path to pursue would be tendering him at the second-round level. Tendering Hill at the original-round level virtually guarantees a team will make an offer, and while using the first-round tender would ensure he returns to the fold for one more season, the Saints could probably use that extra $1.4 million in cap room. A second-round pick for one year of Hill wouldn’t be a terrible trade for the Saints, either.

As for the other New Orleans backup quarterback hitting free agency, though, the team could become victims of Bridgewater’s success. Payton would surely like to bring back Bridgewater, who went 5-0 in Brees’ absence and remains hugely popular in the city, but it seems likely that he has done enough to earn a starting job somewhere else. If Bridgewater doesn’t land one, they should absolutely welcome him back with open arms, but they’ll more than likely need to find a new backup for Brees.

The Saints haven’t been comfortable with Hill in that role. It could be a position they address in the draft, though they are already down their second-round pick after trading up to grab Erik McCoy last year. The most realistic option is likely Chase Daniel, who would be making his third tour of duty holding clipboards in New Orleans after a two-year stint with the Bears.

3. Re-sign Vonn Bell. The secondary is the biggest looming question apart from quarterback for this team. At cornerback, Eli Apple and P.J. Williams are both free agents, while Patrick Robinson is likely to be released given his $6.2 million cap hold. With their cornerbacks, apart from Marshon Lattimore, struggling last December, they claimed Janoris Jenkins off waivers from the Giants, and he’s likely to serve as the full-time starter across from Lattimore on the final year of his deal.

At safety, the Saints are also in danger of losing the free agent Bell, whose athleticism and versatility allow the former Ohio State standout to serve as a plus defender against both the pass and the run. New Orleans could move C.J. Gardner-Johnson to strong safety to take Bell’s spot in the lineup, but that would just open up the slot corner job in the process. If the Saints plan to keep Robinson, it would probably be at Bell’s expense, but the best secondary for this defense includes Bell in the fold. The market might dictate whether they are able to keep Bell, who could be looking north of $10 million per season on the open market.

4. Add line depth. On the other hand, the Saints are almost sure to lose offensive lineman Andrus Peat, who struggled over the past couple of seasons and could attract teams who want to try him as a left tackle. The Saints signed center Nick Easton last offseason to replace the retiring Max Unger, but after trading up to grab McCoy, the rookie excelled and forced Easton into a job as an injury replacement. The former Vikings starter should be first in line to take over for Peat at left guard this season, but the Saints will want to bring in somebody who can serve as their first backup on the interior off the bench. Will Clapp will compete for that role, but they still need at least one backup offensive lineman, if not two.

Likewise, injuries sapped the Saints’ defensive line by the end of the season. Both Marcus Davenport and Sheldon Rankins have ended the past two seasons on injured reserve. Shy Tuttle has emerged as a promising rotation option on the interior, but New Orleans probably needs to add another edge rusher to compete with Trey Hendrickson behind Davenport and Cameron Jordan. The Saints were reportedly interested in Robert Quinn last offseason, and while he might have priced himself out of their range after an 11.5-sack campaign, adding a veteran on the edge would make a lot of sense for a Super Bowl contender.

5. Extend Alvin Kamara. While the Saints will need to work on extensions with 2017 first-round picks Marshon Lattimore and Ryan Ramczyk, the fifth-year option in their respective deals gives them some flexibility in waiting for 2021 to hand out new contracts. Both players are going to get extensions at or near the top of their respective positions whenever they sign new deals.

As a third-round pick, though, Kamara has no fifth-year option and is entering the final year of his rookie deal. After a relatively modest season in which his touchdown rate regressed all the way past the mean, the Saints might also prefer to try to get a deal done with Kamara before the Panthers negotiate their own extension with Christian McCaffrey.

The top of the running back market, at least in terms of average annual salary, is Ezekiel Elliott at $15 million per season. Kamara’s résumé doesn’t match up with Elliott’s, but it’s certainly favorable to that of David Johnson, who took home $13 million per year on his extension in 2018. With inflation, Johnson’s three-year, $39 million deal would project right around $44 million; it wouldn’t shock me to see Kamara top that mark and come away with a four-year extension in the $60 million to $64 million range.


Projected 2020 cap space: $85 million

1. Franchise Shaq Barrett. The most obvious offseason move for the Bucs is to ensure that the league leader in sacks sticks around for another season. The franchise tag could easily be a prelude to locking him up on a long-term deal. Barrett could be set to top the four-year, $66 million deal Za’Darius Smith signed in free agency last offseason; Smith had a similarly short résumé as a top-tier pass rusher, but he also didn’t lead the league in sacks in his final season with the Ravens, either. A Barrett deal could come in around five years and $90 million.

2. Figure out the quarterback position. Do Bruce Arians and the Bucs actually know what they want to do with Jameis Winston? He just became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in the same season and finished with a league-best 5,109 passing yards, but there’s little reason to believe he is suddenly about to cut the one or two awful decisions he makes per game out of his picture. This is what Winston is and will be.

Is that worth somewhere north of $30 million per season? Probably not. There also might not be a huge market for Winston given his inconsistency and off-field history. While general manager Jason Licht is still around five years after drafting Winston, Arians has less motivation to stay committed to the former first overall pick. A possible union between Arians and Philip Rivers just seems to make too much sense after the former Chargers star moved his family to Florida.

3. Rebuild the defensive front. Even if we assume that the Bucs will keep Barrett, there’s a lot to do here. Tampa got a breakout season from Vita Vea on the interior, but Ndamukong Suh, Jason Pierre-Paul, Beau Allen, Rakeem Nunez-Roches and Carl Nassib are all free agents. Those five combined for more than 2,500 snaps on a Bucs defense that quietly finished the season fifth in defensive DVOA.

Bringing back Suh and Nassib wouldn’t be the worst idea, although Suh has been happy to settle for one-year deals with the highest bidder in recent years. Pierre-Paul is likely to leave after restructuring his deal following his offseason car crash. Even if they spend $30 million per year on a quarterback, the Bucs also have the cap space to compete with the rest of the league on the top-end pass rushers in free agency, including Jadeveon Clowney and Chris Jones.

4. Find a new right tackle. Demar Dotson has been Tampa’s right tackle seemingly forever, but despite him being a candidate for replacement each offseason, the team has kept the Southern Miss product around since 2009. After a 10-penalty season, though, the 34-year-old Dotson is a free agent and unlikely to return as the Bucs’ starter. Free agents Bryan Bulaga, Jack Conklin and Germain Ifedi might not interest the Bucs for financial reasons, so this could be a position Tampa addresses early in the draft, where they have pick No. 14.

5. Extend Chris Godwin. After a breakout season, the rising star receiver is entering the final year of his rookie deal. While the Bucs have already paid Mike Evans an enormous contract and Breshad Perriman had a massive game without Godwin during the fantasy postseason, the Bucs still have little choice but to pay the fourth-year wideout superstar money. Evans got $16.5 million per season when he signed his extension in 2018, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Godwin topped that mark on his new deal.

NFC WEST

We’ll start with the NFC West, where four different teams have won the division over the past five seasons …


Projected 2020 cap space: $51.5 million

1. Let Kenyan Drake go. If you played fantasy football in 2019, you probably remember what a superhero Drake was during the fantasy postseason. After racking up 137 rushing yards and four touchdowns against the Browns in Week 15, the former Dolphins running back followed it up with 166 rushing yards and two scores against the Seahawks in Arizona’s Week 16 upset win. Drake was supposed to be an injury fill-in and part of the running back rotation after the Cardinals traded for him at midseason, but he was the featured back for Kliff Kingsbury’s offense by the end of the year.

If the Cardinals could count on that sort of production from Drake for an entire season, he’d be considered an essential re-sign. He had 162 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown against the 49ers in his Cardinals debut, but in his five other games with Arizona, he carried the ball 62 times for 230 yards with just one touchdown, averaging 3.7 yards per carry.

The bigger picture for the Cardinals, though, is figuring out how much they want to invest at running back. They are already committed to two backs in 2020 in Chase Edmonds and David Johnson, whose $10.2 million base salary is already fully guaranteed. Johnson would have negative trade value if the team tried to shop him after two disappointing seasons, so there’s little chance of getting out of his deal.

Drake did enough to likely earn something in the range of $5 million per season on the open market. Would it be smart for the Cardinals to retain him and commit something in the range of $17 million to their various running backs in 2020? No team spent more than $15.8 million in cash on their running backs last season. If the price tag drops and Arizona can re-sign Drake on a one-year deal in the $3.5 million range, I’d vote for the Cardinals to retain the 26-year-old, but this team has too many problems elsewhere to go overboard.

2. Figure out the offensive tackle situation. Here’s one place the Cardinals will need the money. Left tackle D.J. Humphries, a first-round pick in 2015, is a free agent and just finished his first healthy 16-game season. On the right side, veteran Marcus Gilbert missed the entire season with a torn ACL, leaving the Cardinals to start waiver-wire acquisition Justin Murray. Gilbert is also a free agent and might be on his way out of the league after missing 36 games over the past three years.

The Cards are in a tough spot with Humphries, who has played just 43 games over five seasons. Penalties were a problem for him in 2019 — he committed 13 for 87 yards — but Stats LLC suggests he allowed only two sacks, and Humphries posted a pass block win rate of 90%, which ranked 21st out of 69 qualifying tackles.

With such a limited track record, could Arizona consider using the franchise or transition tag on Humphries to see whether he can do this again in 2020? Right tackle seems like a position the team might try to address in the draft, with Murray moving into a swing role. Justin Pugh also played right tackle with the Giants and could move back outside if the Cardinals add a guard.

3. Decline Haason Reddick‘s fifth-year option. The Cardinals have repeatedly moved Reddick between inside and outside linebacker with little success. The Temple product came into the league as a freak athlete who projected to excel at one linebacker spot, but the Cardinals haven’t done enough to develop his potential. Playing for three defensive coordinators in three years probably hasn’t helped.

Reddick was an every-down player in the first half of 2019, but he played just under 28% of the defensive snaps in December. The Cardinals could pick up his fifth-year option, stick him in one position and hope he finally breaks out in the way they’ve hoped, but it seems more likely that they could move on from the 2017 first-round pick after the season.

4. Add defensive line help. The Cardinals didn’t have much to work with along their defensive line in 2019, as they essentially used their linemen in mass rotations. The only lineman to play more than 50% of the defensive snaps was Rodney Gunter at 53.1%, and he’s a free agent. They were counting on former Chargers end Darius Philon, but he was arrested and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon stemming from an incident in May, and the team released him in August.

He was signed to a two-year, $10 million deal, and I imagine the Cardinals will pursue one or two players in that price range, as opposed to going after one marquee addition. The Broncos have defensive linemen Derek Wolfe, Shelby Harris and Adam Gotsis all hitting free agency, and with former Denver coach Vance Joseph serving as Cardinals defensive coordinator, it’s easy to wonder whether he’ll encourage general manager Steve Keim to look toward adding one of them. Harris impressed in his first season as a full-time starter and might have the most upside of the bunch.

5. Lock up Budda Baker. After making both the Pro Bowl and the first-team All-Pro roster as a special-teamer during his rookie season in 2017, Baker went back to the Pro Bowl as a safety in 2019. He is listed as a free safety but plays slot corner and even occasionally chips in as a linebacker for the Cardinals.

While Tyrann Mathieu has excelled since leaving Arizona, Baker has been an able replacement and worthy of a long-term deal. Entering the final year of his contract, the former second-round pick will likely be looking for something in the range of $14 million per season.


Projected 2020 cap space: $19.6 million

1. Figure out what’s going on at left tackle. Legendary tackle Andrew Whitworth recently suggested he was planning to play in 2020. The Rams have to figure out whether they want the 38-year-old free agent back. Whitworth took a major step backward in 2019, committing 14 penalties. Ten of those were holding calls, which was the NFL’s second-highest total and more than the seven he had racked up over the prior two years combined.

Even if Whitworth’s play has slipped, though, the Rams don’t have many options. They don’t have a first-round pick from the Jalen Ramsey trade. Nobody else on their roster profiles as a better left tackle candidate. They don’t have much cap space, and even if they did, the best left tackle options on the market are likely to be players like Jason Peters, Kelvin Beachum and D.J. Humphries, none of whom are sure things to be an upgrade on Whitworth. One more run with Whitworth might be the most logical thing, although they really need to convince the veteran to take a pay cut from his $10.3 million base salary in 2019.

2. Restructure Jared Goff‘s contract. The largest cap hit in football for the 2020 league year currently belongs to Goff, who is set to count for just over $36 million. To put that in context, there are only three other players with a cap hit larger than $27 million. The quarterback is set to occupy more than 17% of Los Angeles’ cap in 2020.

It seems exceedingly likely that the Rams set up Goff’s contract to allow for a simple restructure in Year 2. He has a $21 million roster bonus due on March 20, which currently counts 100% against the 2020 cap. By converting this to a signing bonus, they can pay Goff the exact same amount on the same day but spread it over five years for cap purposes. Doing so would free up $16.8 million and drop his cap hit to a much more manageable $19.2 million. The restructure would add more dead money down the line if the Rams want to cut or trade him, but I don’t think he’s going anywhere soon.

3. Address the defensive line. Remember that dominant front four with Ndamukong Suh, Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers and Dante Fowler Jr. from Super Bowl LIII? The Rams might have only one of those guys left on their roster come Week 1 of 2020. I suppose it’s good news that the one they’ll keep is Donald, but Suh left after his one-year deal expired and both Brockers and Fowler are free agents in March.

The Rams could consider promoting Samson Ebukam to the starting lineup, but he’s probably best in his role as a rotation end. Again, this is a spot Los Angeles will have to address in free agency. Fowler probably priced himself out of a return after he racked up 11.5 sacks and 16 knockdowns; could L.A. look toward trying to convince someone like Vic Beasley Jr. to come to town on a one-year deal to follow in Fowler’s footsteps? The 25-year-old Fowler will probably be aiming for something in the range of five years and $90 million on his deal.

Brockers could still make a return, but the Rams could go after Arik Armstead as a bigger defensive end who could also offer more as a pass-rusher than Brockers. Whether L.A. brings back Brockers and Fowler or signs veteran replacements, this is going to take up a bunch of its cap space. I wonder whether it’ll be able to …

4. Try to re-sign Cory Littleton. Littleton is one of the biggest success stories of the Wade Phillips era, a guy who came into the league as a 228-pound undrafted free agent without a clear position and just finished his Rams contract as one of the best inside linebackers in football. Don’t get fooled by the fact that he was named as a Pro Bowler in 2018 and didn’t make it back this past season; Littleton continues to improve and just had his best year.

It’ll be interesting to see where Littleton’s deal lands. C.J. Mosley‘s contract last offseason pushed the top of the linebacker market from a peak annual average of $14.3 million to $17 million, and Bobby Wagner bumped it up to $18 million when he signed his extension in July. Littleton might not get there, but it wouldn’t be shocking if he ended up with something in the range of four years and $60 million. The Raiders picked LaMarcus Joyner off the Rams’ roster in free agency a year ago, and while that move didn’t look great in Year 1, they could make a similar move for Littleton.

It’s tough to see the Rams committing $15 million per season to him, in part because of their needs elsewhere. If his price tag somehow drops somewhere closer to $10 million per season, he would be a more realistic re-signing. The Rams acquired Kenny Young in the instantly disastrous Marcus Peters trade and didn’t play him for a single defensive snap, but he would likely be first in line to see more snaps if Littleton does leave. The Rams could also pursue cheap veterans in the market, with fellow former Wade Phillips project Danny Trevathan one option.

5. Lock up Jalen Ramsey. I thought the Rams were going to negotiate an instant extension with Ramsey after they traded for him in midseason, but the two sides never came to terms. You don’t trade multiple first-round picks for a player unless you plan on keeping him around for a long time, and Ramsey’s representatives know that. There’s no way this team is going to get a meaningful discount here.

The top of the cornerback market has been flat since Josh Norman signed his five-year, $75 million deal with Washington in 2016. Just adjusting for cap inflation alone, a record-setting five-year deal in 2020 would be worth $96.6 million. It wouldn’t be typical to see the biggest annual contract for a position jump from $15 million to more than $19 million, but the combination of the cornerback market staying stagnant and Ramsey holding so much leverage makes it more likely the Rams will simply have to pay up.


Projected 2020 cap space: $19.6 million

1. Listen for whispers from Tom Brady. Yes, it’s silly and there’s approximately a .01% chance of it happening. The 49ers can win a Super Bowl with Jimmy Garoppolo, and if he had pulled up about 1 yard on that fourth-quarter throw to Emmanuel Sanders, he probably would have been both a Super Bowl winner and Super Bowl MVP already. If it were just about any other veteran quarterback, it wouldn’t be worth discussing.

Tom Brady, though, is Tom Brady. The future Hall of Famer grew up in the Bay Area with Joe Montana as his hero. He has been left in a vulnerable position with the Patriots, who don’t have the sort of weapons and/or offensive line that can help compensate for Brady’s decline. The 49ers have a better line, better weapons and just as good of a defense. They almost certainly have a better offensive playcaller. The Patriots are more familiar and have Bill Belichick. I still think Brady will end up staying in New England, but if he were to leave, the 49ers would be a very tantalizing opportunity.

There are roadblocks — this would be complicated. The 49ers already have a quarterback, of course, and Garoppolo is represented by agent Don Yee. Brady is represented by … Yee. That’s awkward. Getting the money to work wouldn’t be a problem — the 49ers would owe just $4.2 million in dead money and free up $22.4 million in cap space if they were to move on from Garoppolo this offseason — but the Niners couldn’t realistically expect to keep both Brady and Garoppolo on their roster.

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Dan Orlovsky and Dan Graziano discuss the possibility of the 49ers moving on from Jimmy Garoppolo and acquiring Tom Brady.

Of course, if they were somehow able to convince Brady to join their organization, another team would need a starting quarterback. The Patriots would almost assuredly be interested in Garoppolo, and sending Jimmy G back to his original franchise would be the most gentle landing possible. San Francisco originally sent a second-round pick to the Patriots for Garoppolo, so with New England’s second-rounder in Atlanta, one logical move would be for the Patriots to send the 23rd and 85th picks to the 49ers for the 31st selection and Garoppolo.

Logical might not be the right word. Each step of this makes some small amount of sense, but it’s almost impossible to imagine all of the pieces coming together for a deal to work. Brady will probably be a Patriots quarterback in 2020. Garoppolo will almost certainly be starting for the 49ers. Fun to think about, though.

2. Decline Solomon Thomas‘ fifth-year option. John Lynch’s debut draft in 2017 is a reminder of just how ridiculous roster-building can be. This was unquestionably a great draft for the 49ers when you consider just one pick in superstar tight end George Kittle. The 49ers also found players like D.J. Jones and Trent Taylor in the later rounds.

Their first five picks in that draft? Thomas, Reuben Foster, Ahkello Witherspoon, C.J. Beathard and Joe Williams, a running back for whom Kyle Shanahan reportedly banged the table to move up and acquire. Williams is out of football; Foster was cut, signed by Washington and hasn’t played since the middle of 2018; Witherspoon and Beathard were both beat out for starting jobs at different times by undrafted free agents; and Thomas hasn’t lived up to expectations as the No. 3 overall pick.

As a top-10 pick, Thomas’ fifth-year option is equivalent to the average of the top 10 salaries at his position. It’s difficult to imagine the 49ers seeing that as reasonable value for someone who played only 41% of the defensive snaps in 2019, down from 60% in 2018. He also suited up for just 32% of the defensive snaps during the postseason. The 49ers are unusually blessed up front, but Thomas hasn’t been forcing them to give him more playing time. He could break out in Year 4, but the 49ers probably need to be realistic here.

3. Let Arik Armstead walk. One way Thomas could end up seeing more snaps would be if the 49ers aren’t able to retain Armstead. The fellow former first-round pick impressed as a run-defender on the edge in 2018, but he followed things up with a career year as a pass-rusher in 2019. After putting up nine sacks and 29 knockdowns over his first four seasons, he had 10 sacks and 18 knockdowns last season.

As an impact player against both the pass and run, Armstead is going to attract significant interest in free agency; it would hardly be shocking if he came away with a four-year, $70 million contract. The 49ers are in decent cap shape and could create an additional $13.1 million in cap space by releasing Jerick McKinnon, Marquise Goodwin and Tevin Coleman, but there’s also a point at which they can’t realistically invest much more into their defensive line. Dee Ford is on a significant deal, and DeForest Buckner is in line to get one this offseason. Nick Bosa is a bargain right now, but the Niners used the No. 2 overall pick to get him last year.

One option for the Niners would be to spread around the Armstead money to keep their depth up front. Sheldon Day, Anthony Zettel and Ronald Blair are all free agents — they would rather have Armstead than any of those three, but they might be able to keep all three with room to spare versus paying Armstead.

4. Lock up DeForest Buckner. Buckner, on the other hand, isn’t going anywhere. The former Oregon star is under contract for 2020 on his fifth-year option at $14.4 million, but the 49ers will almost certainly use the offseason to negotiate a new deal. He’s not going to come cheap.

Buckner can’t realistically expect to look toward Aaron Donald‘s six-year, $135 million deal, but after generating 28.5 sacks and 74 knockdowns over his first four seasons, he can expect more than Grady Jarrett‘s $17 million average annual salary. Something in the $18 million to $19 million range makes sense.

5. Pay George Kittle too. He is going to blow away the tight end market. Jimmy Graham is the only tight end in the league to hit $10 million per season in average annual salary, having done it on each of his last two deals. The only question is whether Kittle, Austin Hooper or Hunter Henry resets it first.

Of those three, Kittle is by far the best player. He’s a much more significant blocker than either of the others and has been healthier than Henry. With Rob Gronkowski retiring, there’s nobody else in the league like Kittle, and there’s nobody this 49ers offense could plug in to take his place. The 49ers averaged 5.0 yards per carry and turned 24.1% of their runs into first downs with Kittle on the field. Without him, they averaged 3.5 yards per carry and converted 16.1% of their runs into first downs.

What happens next is up to Kittle. He could credibly argue that he’s worth much more than a regular tight end and should negotiate off a different position’s pay scale. Wide receiver is an option, but perhaps a more realistic one would be right tackle, where the top of the market comes in at just under $17 million per year. If he wants to hold out for position-changing money, the 49ers would have to pay him something extraordinary.

If not, Kittle will just have to settle for the biggest tight end deal in history. Gronk’s six-year, $54 million deal is the largest maximum value for a multiyear deal, though that had an extremely team-friendly structure. My guess is that Kittle’s contract ends up somewhere around five years and $75 million. Not bad for a guy who took home $645,000 last season.


Projected 2020 cap space: $59.7 million

1. Work to re-sign Jadeveon Clowney and Jarran Reed. Let’s start with the big one. The Seahawks can’t franchise Clowney after trading for him just before the season, and while he finished the regular season with only three sacks, he was far more productive on film when healthy. The former first overall pick finished the season with a 24.8% pass rush win rate, the fifth-best mark in football.

The Seahawks are paper-thin along the edge, with Ziggy Ansah struggling through an anonymous season and first-round pick L.J. Collier a healthy scratch during the postseason. If they don’t get Clowney, they are almost certainly going to need to pay to go after someone like Jason Pierre-Paul or Everson Griffen as a veteran stopgap or Dante Fowler Jr. as a long-term replacement for Clowney. Seattle would almost surely rather just keep Clowney.

How much will they be willing to pay? Pass-rushers with his upside almost never hit unrestricted free agency in the prime of their careers without a serious injury or some sort of problem attached. Clowney’s “problem” is that he has still somehow never hit 10 sacks in a season. There’s more to edge rushers than sacks, but if his representation asks the Seahawks to give him something like Khalil Mack‘s six-year, $141 million contract, can the Seahawks take that sort of risk? Or can they stomach the risk of letting Clowney walk?

He has said he wants to play for a winner, and the Seahawks have been consistently competitive. If we just look at plausible playoff teams in 2020, they could very well be bidding against the Titans, Ravens, Bills, Cowboys, Falcons, Colts and even the Rams. They’re not going to get much of a discount.

Independent of Clowney, bringing back Reed would also be wise. The Seahawks haven’t typically valued defensive tackles, instead preferring to focus on spending at other positions while cycling cheaper veterans and rookie-deal players through the line. The former second-round pick broke out with a 10.5-sack, 24-hit season in 2018, but he didn’t top two sacks or eight knockdowns in any of his other three campaigns. With Reed looking for something north of $10 million per year in free agency, my guess is he gets it from another team.

2. Pursue defensive line depth. Even beyond Clowney and Reed, the Seahawks will need to rebuild their defensive line. Ansah, Quinton Jefferson and Al Woods are all free agents. The only defensive linemen under contract in 2020 who saw meaningful snaps in 2019 are Rasheem Green and Poona Ford. They have an extra second-round pick and almost always trade down, but they’ll need to look toward veteran free agency for at least one starter and one playable reserve.

3. Let Germain Ifedi go. The Seahawks a year ago declined Ifedi’s fifth-year option, and he has been a competent right tackle if you don’t consider penalties; no player has been flagged more over the past four seasons. (Clowney, notably, is second.) It’s a problem that doesn’t appear to be getting much better either; Ifedi tied for seventh in penalties last season with 13.

It would have been nice for Ifedi to develop into more after the Seahawks used a first-round pick on the Texas A&M product, but it’s time to move on. The Seahawks should consider bringing back Mike Iupati, who had a solid bounce-back year after struggling with injuries in Arizona.

4. Work out an extension with Shaquill Griffin. After an uneven 2018 season, the third-year cornerback stepped up in 2019 and deserved his Pro Bowl nod. The replacement for Richard Sherman at left corner, Griffin is just a step or two below his predecessor’s level. He’s a defender the Seahawks are going to want to keep around.

Griffin is still a year away from free agency, but the team will probably want to start negotiations with him now. He likely hasn’t been productive enough to justify the five-year, $75 million deal handed to Xavien Howard by the Dolphins, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see Seattle offer Griffin a four-year extension in the range of $55 million.

5. Pursue the big-name tight ends. You might have noticed Russell Wilson‘s habit of making his tight ends look better. After Jimmy Graham returned from his torn patella, he and Wilson hooked up for a 923-yard season in 2016 and a 10-touchdown campaign in 2017. Graham has a combined 1,083 receiving yards and five scores over his two ensuing seasons in Green Bay. Over the past two years, it has been fourth-round pick Will Dissly and practice-squad find Jacob Hollister who have looked like impressive receiving tight ends with Wilson throwing to them.

As a card-carrying member of team Let Russ Cook, I want to see what he can do with a healthy star tight end. Seattle brought in 34-year-old Greg Olsen for a visit, and he would be an upgrade on Dissly and Hollister, but they should aim higher. What about Hunter Henry or Austin Hooper? Neither of them is in Kittle’s class as a blocker, but just having one of them on the field as a dual threat should make it easier for Seattle to both run and pass. Even Eric Ebron would be a massive upgrade. The Seahawks have the cap space to get aggressive in the bidding at the top of this market. While counting on Henry to stay on the field is dangerous, I want to see what Wilson can do with a healthy difference-maker at tight end.

Published at Fri, 14 Feb 2020 12:49:17 +0000

Barnwell sets off NFL offseason dominoes: 8 star players, 144 moves

Barnwell sets off NFL offseason dominoes: 8 star players, 144 moves

It’s hard to imagine Brady leaving the Patriots … but it sure is fun. If he hits the market in March, how could it shake up the league?

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The Bears sign Tom Brady to a four-year, $110 million deal

Trying to link up with the NFL’s best non-Patriots defense and win one more Super Bowl, Brady signs what really amounts to a one-year, $35 million deal with voidable years attached. Allen Robinson, weeping after six years of catching passes from Blake Bortles and Mitchell Trubisky, hands Brady his No. 12 jersey at the G.O.A.T.’s unveiling.

Chicago trades Leonard Floyd to the Giants for a sixth-round pick

To free up cap room, the Bears need to move on from their former first-round pick, who has $13.2 million in unguaranteed salary left on the final year of his rookie deal. A Giants team desperate for pass-rushing help sends a late-round pick to the Bears for Floyd, whose sack total has dropped each season since a seven-sack campaign in 2016.

The Patriots trade a third-round pick to the Panthers for Cam Newton

Looking for an option with both short- and long-term potential, the Patriots go for the highest-upside passer left in the market by sending a pick to Carolina for the 2015 MVP. The 30-year-old passes a physical before the trade, but both sides agree that Newton should play out the final year of his deal before considering an extension.

Marcus Mariota signs a two-year, $18 million deal with the Panthers

With Carolina coach Matt Rhule looking for a quarterback who protects the football and offers some mobility if the Panthers want to use RPOs, he goes after a former Heisman Trophy winner in Mariota. This deal locks in Mariota as either a low-end starter or a high-end backup to compete with 2019 third-round pick Will Grier.

Teddy Bridgewater signs a four-year, $120 million deal with the Colts

After years of waiting for his opportunity, Bridgewater finally finds a long-term fit in Indianapolis, where the Colts are looking for an upgrade on Jacoby Brissett. Bridgewater’s deal really amounts to a two-year commitment, but the beloved former Vikings, Jets and Saints quarterback is the Week 1 starter for the Colts.

The Bears trade Mitchell Trubisky to the Dolphins for Josh Rosen

With the Trubisky era coming to a close in Chicago, the Bears decline his fifth-year option and free up much-needed cap space by trading him and a seventh-round pick to the Dolphins for a cheaper backup in Rosen, who joins his third team in three years. Miami passes on a quarterback in the 2020 draft and evaluates Trubisky behind Ryan Fitzpatrick.

The Chargers sign Tom Brady to a five-year, $180 million deal

In desperate need of both a reliable quarterback and a marquee player to sell tickets in their new stadium, the Chargers find both in one fell swoop by inking the greatest player in NFL history. Brady’s deal crucially includes three guaranteed years, meaning that L.A. is committing to Brady’s long-discussed plan to play until he’s 45.

Philip Rivers signs with Jacksonville on a four-year, $100 million deal

With Rivers parting ways with the Chargers, the three teams in the Sunshine State are able to try to sign Rivers at a discount. The Jaguars have to add voidable years to the end of the deal and make another big move to make the money work, but Rivers will start in 2020 and mentor Gardner Minshew.

The Jags trade Nick Foles to the Colts in a salary dump

To get out of the $20.6 million guaranteed owed to Foles over the next two years, the Jaguars ship their deposed starter to Indy. To get the Colts to eat the money, though, Jacksonville has to send the 20th overall selection it received from the Rams in the Jalen Ramsey trade — similar to the Brock Osweiler deal in 2017 — although Indy ships the 110th pick back to the Jags.

The Colts package their first-round picks to trade up for Tua Tagovailoa

With plenty of cap room and draft assets left, general manager Chris Ballard decides to add Indy’s quarterback of the future, too. The Colts package the 13th, 20th and 44th selections and send them to the Lions for the third overall pick and a fifth-rounder to draft the Alabama star, who will spend most of 2020 recovering from his hip injury behind Nick Foles and Jacoby Brissett.

Taysom Hill signs a two-year, $20 million offer sheet with the Raiders

When the Saints hand Hill the second-round tender in restricted free agency, it opens up the possibility of the 29-year-old going elsewhere. The uniquely gifted Hill finds another unique coach in Jon Gruden, who sees the jack-of-all-trades as a supplement to Derek Carr. Since Las Vegas doesn’t have a second-round pick in 2020, it sends two third-round picks to the Seahawks to get the second-rounder.

New England gives Teddy Bridgewater a three-year, $60 million deal

With Brady leaving, the Patriots go after a quarterback whose comfort in the pocket, accuracy and smarts all might remind Bill Belichick of his now-departed passer. After going 5-0 while temporarily replacing Drew Brees, Bridgewater now has to replace another Hall of Famer. The Saints have to head into the draft for a backup.

Tom Brady gets a four-year, $160 million deal from the Colts

What’s the ultimate revenge on Josh McDaniels for leaving the Colts at the altar? I don’t seriously think they would be signing Brady merely to exact some revenge on their rivals, but it couldn’t hurt. Indianapolis has a sound offensive line, a strong long-term plan and the cap space to make Brady the league’s first $40 million-per-year quarterback.

The Patriots trade their first-round pick to the Lions for Matthew Stafford

With rumors that the Lions are considering moving on from their longtime starter, the Patriots aren’t likely to find a better option than the 2009 No. 1 overall pick. They would be acquiring the 31-year-old Stafford on a manageable three-year, $51.3 million deal. Detroit would eat a record $32 million in dead money on its cap, but it can take Tua Tagovailoa with the No. 3 pick in April.

Teddy Bridgewater signs a two-year, $60 million deal with the Chargers

After years of the Philip Rivers roller coaster, the Chargers opt for a smoother ride by handing their starting job over to Bridgewater. The contract is really a one-year deal, but it’s a clear path to a starting job on a would-be playoff contender. New Orleans fans can even thank Teddy when the Chargers come to town in 2020.

The Jaguars trade with the Dolphins to move up and draft Justin Herbert

If the Dolphins don’t want any of the passers in this year’s class, they could decide to spread their assets around. They drop down from pick No. 5 to No. 9 here, with the Jags moving ahead of the Chargers and Panthers to take the former Oregon star. The Jaguars also send their 2021 first-round pick, which could end up as one of the top selections in next year’s draft.

The Eagles somehow acquire Nick Foles

The other part of that trade sees Foles momentarily head to Miami, where the Dolphins restructure his deal and eat a significant portion, with the Jags sending along a fourth-round pick to sweeten the deal. Foles takes a pay cut in 2021 and 2022, and Philly then trades a fourth-round pick to reunite with its legendary backup.

The Saints sign Andy Dalton to a one-year, $6 million deal

After the Bengals draft Joe Burrow with the first pick and cut their longtime starting quarterback Dalton, the Saints pounce on him as a replacement for Bridgewater. With Dalton looking at backup jobs around the league, the opportunity to join a Super Bowl contender behind Drew Brees is the best opportunity available.

All options are on the table for the former MVP. With one year left on his deal, the retooling Panthers could keep him, trade him or cut him.

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The Chargers trade a second-round pick to the Panthers for Cam Newton

With Philip Rivers entering free agency, the Chargers are left with Tyrod Taylor and Easton Stick on their depth chart. Adding Newton is a rare chance to acquire a 30-year-old former MVP in what could be the middle of his career, and the Chargers can install a roughly similar scheme for all three of their quarterbacks. Newton is signed through only the 2020 season.

Carolina signs Taysom Hill to a two-year, $18 million deal

While the Panthers might want to give Will Grier a legitimate chance to prove himself in 2020, here’s a way for them to add another threat to what will likely be a run-first offense under new coach Matt Rhule. Acquiring Hill hurts a divisional rival — though the Saints would net a second-round pick if the restricted free agent Hill is tendered as expected — and sets up all kinds of trick plays with Christian McCaffrey.

So long, Nick Foles. The Jags dump his contract on the Dolphins

In desperate need of cap space, Jacksonville makes a deal with the Dolphins to rid itself of the $20.5 million remaining on Foles’ deal. Miami, which paid $5 million for a fourth-round pick as part of the Ryan Tannehill deal, grabs its fourth first-round pick by moving up from No. 39 to No. 20 as part of the deal.

Jacksonville brings in Andy Dalton after he’s released by the Bengals

In need of veteran competition for Gardner Minshew, the Jaguars reunite a once-successful pairing by linking up Dalton with Jay Gruden, his former offensive coordinator in Cincinnati. Dalton joins the Jags on a three-year, $48 million deal that is really a one-year, $7 million pact with options.

The Patriots trade a late-round pick for former top-10 pick Josh Rosen

After being deemed unplayable by a Dolphins team that was actively trying to lose, Rosen’s stock can’t be much lower. New England has a history of trying to buy low on high draft picks after ugly starts to their careers, and it can send the 182nd pick to Miami to evaluate Rosen behind Tom Brady, who signs a new deal with the Pats.

Marcus Mariota signs a two-year, $14 million deal with the Eagles

The Eagles couldn’t have anticipated Carson Wentz would suffer a concussion in the wild-card round, but the fact that he missed each of his two prior playoff runs via injury means backup quarterback is more of a priority in Philly than most other places. Mariota gives the Eagles a mobile, high-floor No. 2 option.

The Dolphins trade Ryan Fitzpatrick to the Panthers for Cam Newton

While Miami plans to bring back the 37-year-old Fitzpatrick for 2020, he’s a stopgap, not a long-term solution. Newton might not end up as the answer, but he’s the sort of flier with massive upside the Dolphins should take while they wait to find its quarterback of the future. They add the 68th pick in the draft to get the trade over the line.

The Panthers flip Ryan Fitzpatrick to the Eagles for a fifth-round pick

Carolina doesn’t particularly need Fitzpatrick — the third-round pick in the Newton deal is the asset — so the team restructures his deal to eat $1.5 million and then sends the remaining $6.5 million to the Eagles, who install the Fitzchise as the backup to Carson Wentz.

The Lions trade Matthew Stafford to the Raiders for two first-round picks

If Detroit needs to be blown away by a Stafford trade, the Raiders and Jon Gruden are the most likely team to pony up the draft capital. Gruden has moved on from virtually every other player he inherited and would covet Stafford’s arm and marketability in Las Vegas. The Lions could use the third overall pick on a quarterback and add more valuable draft capital.

Derek Carr signs with the Chargers on a two-year, $50 million deal

With the Raiders no longer needing Carr’s services, he gets released with a small dead-cap charge. He can then stay in the Los Angeles area by taking over as the new starter for the Chargers. This deal has no guaranteed money after 2020, freeing the Chargers to pursue a more exciting option next offseason if Carr struggles.

Teddy Bridgewater re-signs with the Saints

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Nothing would make Saints fans happier this offseason than bringing back Bridgewater. While the 30% rule prevents the Saints from giving him a small 2020 salary with a significant raise to start in 2021, a one-year deal brings the former Louisville star back into the fold for one more season with Sean Payton & Co.

Taysom Hill returns to New Orleans, too

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RE-SIGN

Hill was a talented college quarterback, and teams are more open-minded about quarterbacks than they have been in decades, but let’s be realistic: It’s tough to imagine him having the same impact elsewhere. The Saints re-sign the restricted free agent to a three-year, $15 million deal.

The Raiders trade a third-round pick to the Panthers for Cam Newton

If the Raiders want a star for their new city, they can just hold on to their two first-round picks and trade a later pick to get their guy. Newton has box-office appeal, and his upside is literally as league MVP. Jon Gruden might prefer that upside in 2020 to another season with Derek Carr. Vegas also has two third-round picks.

Released by Vegas, Derek Carr signs a one-year, $7 million deal with Tennessee

The Titans made a move last year to add an unexciting veteran backup for their starter and landed on Ryan Tannehill, who had a career season. While they re-sign Tannehill, his injury history should lead general manager Jon Robinson to sign another veteran backup, with Carr, who gets cut by Las Vegas, fitting the bill.

Teddy Bridgewater signs a three-year, $90 million deal with the Panthers

With Carolina looking for a starter to replace Newton, Bridgewater emerges as the superior option to passers like Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston. The Panthers pay Bridgewater $35 million in Year 1 as part of this deal, but there’s no guaranteed money afterward, allowing them to pursue a prospect in the 2021 draft if it doesn’t work out.

The Chargers land Jameis Winston on a three-year, $99 million deal

With Philip Rivers “permanently” entering free agency, the Chargers decide to target a Floridian of their own to take over as their new starter. Winston’s mix of brilliant moments and inconceivably bad interceptions is reminiscent of Rivers, but the 26-year-old has some time to improve. In theory.

The Bears sign Marcus Mariota to a two-year, $14 million deal

I was more enthused about the idea of Mariota joining Chicago when former Oregon coach Mark Helfrich was on staff as offensive coordinator, but Mariota’s mobility and ability to avoid takeaways still make him a high-end backup. He’s just good enough to sign without threatening Mitchell Trubisky.

Joe Flacco gets a one-year, $3 million deal to be the backup in Pittsburgh

Flacco joining his former rivals seems strange — and it’s unclear whether he will return from a season-ending neck injury — but the Steelers just saw their season go up in flames thanks to subpar backup quarterback work. Ben Roethlisberger should be healthy for 2020, but Flacco would give the Steelers a veteran option.

Rivers has moved out of California and cut ties with the Chargers. Where could the 38-year-old land in 2020?

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The Bucs give Philip Rivers a three-year, $90 million deal … with an out

It warms my heart to see Rivers and Bruce Arians come together for one ride into the sunset. It’s a great fit for both player and scheme, as both would throw the ball vertically every play if they could. This deal has minimal guaranteed money after 2020, freeing up the Bucs to pursue another quarterback in 2021 if it doesn’t work out.

Teddy Bridgewater signs a three-year, $90 million deal with the Chargers

The Chargers might rightfully feel like they’re a consistent quarterback away from the playoffs, and Bridgewater’s success filling in for Drew Brees in New Orleans makes him an obvious source of stability. With the Chargers loath to trade away draft picks, signing Bridgewater makes short-term and possibly long-term sense.

Baltimore trades a seventh-round pick to L.A. for Tyrod Taylor

The most logical landing place for Taylor is as a backup is Baltimore, given the presence of former Bills offensive coordinator Greg Roman. He would be stuck behind the league MVP in Lamar Jackson, but trading for Taylor would allow Baltimore to run the same exact scheme if Jackson were to get injured in 2020.

The Raiders use their draft capital to trade up for Tua Tagovailoa

One way for the Raiders to mark the end of the Khalil Mack discussion and start their time off in Las Vegas with a bang is to find a new franchise quarterback. They send pick Nos. 12 and 19 plus a 2021 second-round pick to the Lions to draft the Alabama star, who spends 2020 on an injury redshirt behind Derek Carr.

Jameis Winston gets a one-year, $9 million pact from Chicago

While the Bears are publicly committed to Mitchell Trubisky, they need to bring in a quarterback who can compete for the starting job. Winston’s market is totally uncertain; there might not be any team that thinks he’s worth starter money, and if not, he might need to settle for a one-year deal and a competition. Trubisky’s backup Chase Daniel can return to Kansas City to sit behind Patrick Mahomes.

The Packers add Joe Flacco to be their backup on a one-year, $4 million deal

The current backup behind Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay is undrafted free agent Tim Boyle. Rodgers hasn’t missed a game in two years, but the Packers should still consider investing in a more experienced backup for their 37-year-old starter. Flacco can chase a ring with the NFC North champs.

The Colts give Philip Rivers a two-year, $62 million deal to be their starter

While the location isn’t ideal for Rivers, the three Florida teams are much further away from the playoffs than the Colts, who could upgrade on Jacoby Brissett. Rivers played under Colts coach Frank Reich when the two were in San Diego and would get one final shot at competing for a Super Bowl on this year-to-year pact.

Indy adds some help and signs Austin Hooper to a four-year, $44 million deal

Rivers loves throwing to his tight ends, and with Eric Ebron hitting free agency, the Colts add a second tight end to work alongside Jack Doyle for their new quarterback. Hooper’s career year likely priced him out of the cap-strapped Falcons’ price range. Ebron could end up as the replacement for Jimmy Graham in Green Bay.

The Vikings trade Kirk Cousins to the Chargers for a second-round pick

With the Vikings and Cousins unable to come to terms on a new contract — his deal ends after the 2020 season — both sides agree that a parting of the ways would make sense. The Chargers can negotiate a deal with their new starting quarterback, while the Vikings get to reunite with an old one …

Teddy Bridgewater reunites with Minnesota on a $100 million deal

I’m crying. Are you crying? The Vikings bring back their former first-round pick, who steps back into a starting role. Minnesota, which is in a salary-cap crunch, saves several million dollars by signing Bridgewater to a four-year deal, and it can use the space to keep the likes of Everson Griffen.

The Bills give Taysom Hill a two-year, $20 million offer sheet

While the Bills are happy with Josh Allen‘s development, you could understand if the coaching staff wanted to see its quarterback of the future take fewer hits in 2020. Allen excels on designed runs, but Hill can take some of those snaps and continue to make an impact without threatening Allen’s role as the long-term starter.

Marcus Mariota heads to New Orleans on a three-year, $21 million deal

After losing both their backup quarterback and their gadget athlete, the Saints try to fill both vacated spots by going after Mariota. This is really a one-year deal with two voidable years tacked on, but Mariota gets a chance to revitalize his career while backing up future Hall of Famer Drew Brees in New Orleans.

The Panthers sign Philip Rivers to a three-year, $96 million deal

Signing Rivers, who played his college ball a couple of hours away at NC State, gives Carolina a veteran who can help get the Panthers back to the postseason quickly. A deal like this would have one year of fully guaranteed money, allowing the Panthers a quick out if the 38-year-old Rivers struggles.

Marcus Mariota signs with the Chargers on a one-year, $12 million deal

With Rivers gone, Mariota and incumbent Tyrod Taylor create value in the same ways: They’re effective runners and avoid turning the ball over, although sacks are an issue for both. Anthony Lynn should be able to install a roughly similar scheme for both Mariota and Taylor, who would compete for the starting job.

Carolina trades Cam Newton to the Broncos for a third-round pick

Denver is excited about Drew Lock‘s late-season run, but after false hope with young passers like Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch quickly faded, general manager John Elway should know that five starts isn’t proof of much. Bringing in the 6-foot-5 Newton to compete with Lock is a low-risk, high-reward move by the Hall of Famer.

Jameis Winston signs a four-year, $128 million deal with the Dolphins

While Miami was expected to draft a quarterback to take over from Ryan Fitzpatrick in the long term, it heads in a different direction and signs the 26-year-old Winston, hoping to tap some level of consistency from the former No. 1 overall pick. Winston’s deal includes two guaranteed years, locking him as the starter through the end of 2021.

Tampa Bay gives Joe Flacco a one-year deal to be its short-term starter

Despite having one of the league’s strongest arms, Flacco has spent the past half-decade in offenses designed around checking down the ball. Here, he gets $12.5 million and a chance to play in a downfield passing attack under Bruce Arians, who isn’t done making moves ahead of the 2020 season …

The Buccaneers trade up to draft Justin Herbert in the top five

While there’s a chance that the Oregon product would fall to the Buccaneers at No. 14, Tampa isn’t taking that risk with the Dolphins, Chargers, and Panthers all in the market from picks 5-8. Herbert’s arm strength appeals to Arians, who gets one final shot at developing a franchise passer. The Bucs send pick Nos. 14 and 45 plus a 2020 first-rounder to Detroit to get the No. 3 pick.

The Seahawks can’t franchise Clowney, who will hit the market as the top edge rusher available. Only 27 or 28 teams should be interested.

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The Giants make Jadeveon Clowney the first $25 million-per-year edge rusher

With Clowney looking to play for a winner, New York needs to pay over the odds to persuade the 2014 No. 1 overall pick to solve its edge-rushing problem. Clowney gets a five-year, $125 million deal with $75 million guaranteed over the first three years. It’s a record annual salary and three-year guarantee among edge defenders.

Dante Fowler Jr. signs a four-year, $92 million deal with the Seahawks

The Jaguars once drafted Fowler with the third overall pick to serve as the “Leo” pass-rusher in Gus Bradley’s scheme. After losing Clowney, Seattle can acquire Fowler to play that same role for Pete Carroll’s defense. Signing Fowler also takes him away from the division-rival Rams, who could also lose free agent Michael Brockers this offseason.

The Panthers add Bud Dupree on a four-year, $64 million pact

Dupree was inconsistent for most of his time in Pittsburgh, but he matched his sack total from 2017 and 2018 combined by racking up 11.5 sacks in 2019. There’s obvious risk in paying him, but the Panthers are thin on the edge after Brian Burns and can add a 26-year-old from owner David Tepper’s former organization.

Michael Pierce signs a four-year, $60 million deal with the Dolphins

With Miami looking to start fielding a competitive team, it should focus on adding players who are both valuable now and who could still be valuable in 2022. The 27-year-old Pierce is a run-stuffing nose tackle who should immediately help the league’s 27th-ranked rush-defense DVOA.

Ndamukong Suh heads to New England on a one-year, $14 million deal

Suh seems destined to move around the league on one-year contracts. The Patriots need to address their offense, but with guys such as Danny Shelton and Kyle Van Noy hitting free agency, Bill Belichick might need to adapt. Suh’s rare athleticism and ability to stay on the field has to appeal to the legendary coach.

The Broncos sign D.J. Reader to a four-year, $44 million deal

Reader isn’t a household name, but like Pierce, he’s a valuable interior lineman for a team looking to improve its run defense. Signing him away from the Texans should help improve an inconsistent Broncos run defense and give Vic Fangio the closest thing he’ll have to Akiem Hicks in Denver.

The Raiders sign Jadeveon Clowney to a five-year, $125 million deal

Las Vegas invested a fourth overall pick on Clelin Ferrell and got an impressive rookie season from Maxx Crosby, but adding Clowney would end the discussion over the Khalil Mack decision and give the Raiders a superstar defender for their new digs. You can never have too many good edge rushers.

Seattle trades second- and third-round picks to the Ravens for Matthew Judon

Seattle sends the 59th pick and the compensatory pick it will receive for Earl Thomas signing with the Ravens to Thomas’ new team. The franchise-tagged Judon signs an extension and takes over Clowney’s role as the Seahawks’ primary pass-rusher, although the organization obviously still holds out hope for 2019 first-rounder L.J. Collier.

The Giants bring back Jason Pierre-Paul on a two-year, $32 million pact

JPP was quietly impressive during his two-year stint in Tampa, racking up 21 sacks and 36 knockdowns in 26 games. A reunion with the Giants would make sense for both sides. While it seems like the two-time Pro Bowler has been around forever, he turned only 31 on New Year’s Day.

Miami signs Arik Armstead to a five-year, $80 million deal

Armstead is another former first-round pick who broke out in 2019. While he had already proved himself to be a useful defender against the run, he topped the nine career sacks he racked up between 2015 and 2018 with 10 in 2019. The Dolphins just need talent, and Armstead could be massively valuable if he keeps up this level of disruption.

The Dolphins also add Danny Shelton on a four-year, $28 million contract

One defensive lineman shouldn’t be enough for the Dolphins. Signing away Shelton from the Patriots gives Miami one of the best two-down run-stoppers in football and a player to line up next to Christian Wilkins in the years to come.

The Chiefs franchise-tag Chris Jones … then trade him to the Cowboys

The Cowboys can move on from Tyrone Crawford with just $1.1 million in dead money, which would open up a spot in the lineup for an interior penetrator like Jones. If the Chiefs don’t want to re-sign Jones, they would probably be looking at a second-round pick from the Cowboys as the focal point of the return. The Eagles could pursue Crawford as defensive tackle depth.

The Ravens sign Jadeveon Clowney to a five-year, $115 million contract

After years of being hindered by the Joe Flacco deal, Baltimore finally celebrates its freedom from tyranny by going after one of the rarest things you’ll ever see: a healthy superstar edge rusher in his prime in unrestricted free agency. Clowney takes a slight discount to play for a Super Bowl contender.

Baltimore trades Matthew Judon to the Jets for second- and fifth-round picks

Rumors have already suggested the Ravens are shopping Judon, who will be an unrestricted free agent. As the Chiefs did with Dee Ford, Baltimore could franchise-tag Judon before trading him. The Jets desperately need a pass-rusher across from Jordan Jenkins; they send pick Nos. 48 and 138 to add Judon, who had 33 quarterback hits this past season.

Seattle signs Robert Quinn to a four-year, $60 million contract

To replace Clowney, the Seahawks go after Quinn, who led the league in pass rush win rate for the second consecutive season. Quinn receives interest from teams like the Patriots and Saints, but the Seahawks can offer more money and a second guaranteed season.

The Cowboys sign Vic Beasley Jr. to a one-year, $16 million deal

Beasley’s hot finish to the season — he had 6.5 sacks and two forced fumbles over the second half — made him millions. The Falcons have already said they won’t be bringing him back, so Dallas can offer a one-year deal with a chance to get back in free agency after a potential big 2020 season.

Dante Fowler Jr. inks a five-year, $110 million deal with the Giants

The Jets aren’t the only New York team longing for edge-rushing help; the Giants need building blocks up front, and in addition to re-signing Leonard Williams, they add the 25-year-old Fowler after an 11.5-sack season in Los Angeles. If this seems like a lot for a guy with one effective season as a starter, well, go look at the Giants’ depth chart.

The Bills sign Mario Addison to a three-year, $42 million deal

Sean McDermott has brought in plenty of his favorites from Carolina and just hired former Panthers defensive coordinator Eric Washington as defensive line coach. Addison has been wildly underrated for years — he’s 11th in the league in sacks since 2016 — and would step in for Shaq Lawson in Buffalo’s defensive line rotation.

If Green persuades Cincy to let him leave, he’ll have a robust market. You’ve seen him with Andy Dalton; now, imagine him with …

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The 49ers sign A.J. Green to a four-year, $84 million contract

While San Francisco would likely be interested in bringing back Emmanuel Sanders, Green is a clear step above Sanders and would be an ideal primary receiver in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. Injuries are becoming a concern for the 31-year-old Green, who didn’t play a snap this past season, but this is a chance to add a transformational receiver.

Emmanuel Sanders gets a four-year, $40 million deal with the Jets

With Quincy Enunwa‘s future uncertain after suffering his second neck injury in three years, the Jets could add a replacement for the 27-year-old by signing Sanders. The SMU product played well after returning from a torn Achilles and enjoyed his time under Jets coach Adam Gase when both were in Denver.

Robby Anderson signs a four-year, $52 million contract with the Packers

Aaron Rodgers also needs a second receiver behind Davante Adams; after a mostly successful free-agent spree from Brian Gutekunst in 2019, the Packers’ general manager could try to put his team over the top by adding a downfield threat in Anderson, who had 18 touchdowns in his past three seasons in New York. Rodgers ranked third in deep attempts but 25th in deep completion percentage in 2019.

Austin Hooper signs a five-year, $55 million deal with the Patriots

With Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry and Mohamed Sanu signed for 2020, the Pats really need to add a tight end (and add some cheap speed with someone like Seth Roberts). They need a tight end more than a wide receiver, so signing Hooper makes sense, especially if New England prefers Hooper’s ability to stay on the field to Hunter Henry‘s superior blocking.

The Patriots send a 2021 fifth-round pick to the 49ers for Dante Pettis

Let’s be real: The Niners probably owe the Patriots a favor after the Jimmy Garoppolo trade. Pettis has gotten buried on the depth chart, but New England could use the 2018 second-round pick as a Julian Edelman understudy and punt returner.

Nelson Agholor signs a one-year, $8 million deal with the Colts

Agholor’s best season as a pro came in 2017, when the Eagles moved their first-round pick into the slot and he responded with 768 yards and eight touchdowns. Frank Reich was the Philly offensive coordinator that season, and a one-year deal for Agholor to rebuild his value in Indy could make sense for both sides.

The Colts sign A.J. Green to a four-year, $80 million deal

If Indianapolis wants to improve its passing game but can’t land on a better quarterback than Jacoby Brissett, bringing in Green could kick-start Frank Reich’s offense. Green and T.Y. Hilton both have injury concerns, but this would be one of the best one-two wide receiver punches in the league.

Robby Anderson lands a four-year, $48 million deal from Arizona

The Cardinals have Christian Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald under contract, and it’s too early to give up on second-rounder Andy Isabella, but they desperately need somebody who can win on the outside and run past defensive backs. That’s Anderson to a T, and he would offer Kyler Murray a much-needed vertical threat.

The Chiefs release Sammy Watkins, who signs a three-year deal with the Jets

New York was supposed to get Sam Darnold some weapons in the 2019 offseason. The Jets still need to get Darnold weapons in 2020. Signing Watkins would give them a more physically impactful option. While he has disappeared at times in Kansas City, Watkins’ numbers would likely improve as the No. 1 target in New York.

Nelson Agholor gets a one-year prove-it deal from Kansas City

The Chiefs and Eagles organizations are intertwined, and while Kansas City doesn’t lack receivers, it could lose two regulars with Sammy Watkins released in this scenario and Demarcus Robinson hitting free agency. Mecole Hardman will pick up some of the slack in 2020, but Agholor would give the Chiefs another weapon out of the slot and come cheap at $4.5 million.

Green Bay cuts Jimmy Graham and signs Austin Hooper to a $60 million contract

With Graham disappointing during his two seasons in Green Bay, he’s an obvious candidate for release. He has the record contract for a tight end at $10 million per season, but Austin Hooper (among others) will likely top that mark this offseason. Hooper would get five years from the Packers, while Atlanta could very well sign Graham on a much smaller one-year deal.

The Patriots sign Eric Ebron to a one-year, $8 million deal

While nobody outside of George Kittle is ever going to be able to replace Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots got a league-low 37 catches from their tight ends in 2019. Ebron isn’t close to the caliber of blocker that Gronk was, but he’s a receiving threat who can make spectacular catches and run past linebackers in the play-action game.

Las Vegas trades for A.J. Green after he gets franchise-tagged by the Bengals

The Raiders tried to get a No. 1 receiver last offseason when they traded for Antonio Brown. That didn’t work out. Trading for Green is their second chance, with Las Vegas moving down from No. 19 to No. 33 in exchange for the longtime Cincinnati star and a swap of fourth-rounders. An extension follows shortly. The Raiders still have the No. 12 pick to help their defense.

Breshad Perriman lands a three-year, $33 million deal with the Colts

Perriman’s hot finish to the season — 25 catches for 506 yards and five touchdowns over the final five games — attracted some attention. He’s probably too expensive to be Tampa’s third wideout, but his downfield ability could serve him well as the second wideout behind T.Y. Hilton in Indianapolis.

The Ravens sign Emmanuel Sanders to a one-year, $9 million contract

The Ravens have built their passing offense around the speed of guys like Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin, but Sanders would give them another option as an intermediate receiver who can still get upfield and make big plays. He’s also a good blocker, which is essential when a team runs as much as the Ravens plan on running in 2020. Sanders, who turns 33 in March, might not have a huge market.

Cleveland signs Hunter Henry to a four-year, $40 million deal

Everybody knows the deal here. When Henry’s healthy, he’s a red zone weapon and a threat after the catch. He just isn’t healthy often, having missed 23 games in four seasons. New Browns coach Kevin Stefanski’s Vikings offense targeted tight ends just over 24% of the time last season, the ninth-highest rate in the league. The Browns were 28th in the same category.

The Patriots trade a sixth-round pick for David Njoku

The Browns appeared to sour on Njoku and barely played the former first-rounder after he returned from a wrist injury. Just about everyone who was making decisions for Cleveland in 2018 is gone, but if Njoku is following them out of town, the Patriots make sense as a landing spot for a number of reasons.

New England also brings back Danny Amendola on a one-year deal

While Julian Edelman is still an effective slot receiver, adding depth in the way of Amendola gives the Patriots more options with spread attacks and a backup if Edelman goes down injured or gets suspended. Amendola’s upside is limited by his own injury history, but a deal in the $3 million range makes sense for both parties.

Williams has sworn he’ll never play for Washington again. After sitting out all of 2019, where would the franchise left tackle fit in 2020?

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Cleveland trades a second-round pick for Trent Williams

Washington can’t realistically expect to net the 10th overall selection for its disgruntled left tackle, but Cleveland’s second-round pick at No. 41 would be a reasonable return. The Browns desperately need to upgrade on Greg Robinson at left tackle and would likely sign the 31-year-old Williams to an extension.

The Colts sign Jason Peters to a one-year, $8 million deal

Peters wants to continue his career, but the Eagles are likely going to move on with 2019 first-rounder Andre Dillard as their starting left tackle. There aren’t many other viable tackles on the market, so with Anthony Castonzo potentially retiring, the Colts could go for a short-term option by importing the 16-year veteran.

Jack Conklin signs a five-year, $70 million contract with the Dolphins

Tennessee’s decision to decline Conklin’s fifth-year option is Miami’s gain. If the Dolphins do plan on drafting Tua Tagovailoa, they’ll want to invest more at right tackle, since that will be the left-handed Alabama star’s blind side. Conklin is the highest-upside option available at the position, and he’ll still come in handy for right-handed throwers.

Miami also adds Andrus Peat on a five-year, $60 million deal

Peat played left tackle during his time at Stanford before moving to guard with the Saints, so the Dolphins could give the two-time Pro Bowler a shot at the most important position on the line. Peat has struggled at times, but his floor is still as an above-average guard for a team that needs linemen everywhere.

The Lions sign Joe Thuney to a four-year, $36 million pact

Any time a Patriots player leaves the nest, the first places to look are the various New England outposts around the NFL. With Graham Glasgow a free agent, the Lions could sign another former Patriots player by adding Thuney. The 27-year-old is an underrated contributor, but the Patriots already paid fellow guard Shaq Mason, so they might not pony up for Thuney.

The Panthers sign Kelechi Osemele to a one-year deal

Osemele is a couple of years removed from his All-Pro form, and his brief stint with the Jets was a fiasco when the team tried to prevent him from undergoing shoulder surgery, but the 30-year-old should be ready for 2020. Osemele’s run-blocking would make him a great fit at left guard for Matt Rhule in Carolina.

The Dolphins trade the 26th pick for Trent Williams and a second-round pick

It might seem a little weird for the Dolphins to go after a veteran, but Williams is still only 31 and should have years of good-to-great play at left tackle ahead, if he stays healthy. Giving Williams an extension would protect both Ryan Fitzpatrick and whoever follows and fill a huge hole along the Miami offensive line.

Ron Leary signs a one-year, $4 million deal with the Browns

Leary wasn’t able to make his mark in Denver thanks to injuries, with a torn Achilles and a series of concussions limiting him to 29 games over three seasons. Denver should decline his option. While the Browns need to upgrade at tackle, Leary could fill in at right guard under offensive line guru Bill Callahan, who coached Leary in Dallas.

The Colts trade a fourth-round pick to the Bengals for Cordy Glenn

If free agent Anthony Castonzo retires, Indy could either address left tackle in the draft or fill the void in March. Glenn feuded with the Bengals organization in October and will cede his spot on the blind side to 2019 first-round pick Jonah Williams. With more buyers than sellers in the left tackle market, Glenn will have some trade value.

The Jets sign D.J. Humphries to a four-year, $56 million deal

Humphries just finished his first full healthy season as a pro, but the Jets are desperate for offensive line help. The former first-rounder has played just 43 games during his five years in the desert, and he could be one of the top veteran options available in free agency. New York left tackle Kelvin Beachum is also a free agent, so the Jets have a hole to fill.

Ben Garland signs a three-year, $18 million deal with the Jets

After the Ryan Kalil experiment went disastrously, Adam Gase will be looking for a new center this offseason. Garland has earned a long-term deal from some team after he impressed for the 49ers, where he has ably replaced the injured Weston Richburg.

Bryan Bulaga signs a four-year, $48 million deal with the Browns

While the Browns fired many of the former Packers in their front office, they could still opt to upgrade at right tackle by shelling out for Bulaga, who has spent his entire career in Green Bay. The move would lead the Browns to cut Chris Hubbard, who has disappointed in Cleveland after leaving the Steelers in 2018.

The Patriots trade their top pick for Trent Williams and a second-round pick

It’s too early for the Pats to give up on 2018 first-rounder Isaiah Wynn, but he has missed 24 games over his first two seasons with a torn Achilles and turf toe. They can’t wait, with Tom Brady to make a decision, and trading for Williams would give them a franchise left tackle. Wynn could kick inside to left guard to replace Joe Thuney, who could leave in free agency.

Andrus Peat lands a five-year, $60 milion deal from Washington

If Williams leaves, Washington would probably look for a veteran replacement to protect Dwayne Haskins. It is likely to re-sign guard Brandon Scherff, and the former college left tackle could kick over to the blind side, but I wonder if they would do the same thing instead with Peat, who might be a better fit to make the switch.

The Bears sign Quinton Spain to a three-year, $21 million deal

In need of help at guard after Kyle Long retired and missing several picks in April’s draft, the Bears could look again toward free agency to build support around Mitchell Trubisky. The 28-year-old Spain impressed as a run-blocker for the Bills this past season and has likely done enough to earn a multiyear deal.

The Giants sign Germain Ifedi to a four-year, $40 million pact

Ifedi has been frustrating during his time in Seattle — he commits too many penalties — but teams are going to like the former first-rounder’s athleticism and what he does as a run-blocker. General manager Dave Gettleman will want to address right tackle after failing to find a solution the past two offseasons.

Jack Conklin signs a five-year, $80 million deal with the Jets

Gang Green’s recent big-ticket free-agent signings have mostly been disasters, but under new general manager Joe Douglas, they probably need to go back into the market for at least one significant offensive lineman. With no great left tackles available, signing the best right tackle on the board makes sense, but he’ll be expensive.

Gordon held out for a new contract and didn’t get it. Now that he’s a free agent, will any team pony up to pay the 26-year-old running back?

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Melvin Gordon signs a four-year, $36 million deal with the Bucs

If Bruce Arians tries to bring in Philip Rivers to play quarterback, the second-year coach might consider adding Rivers’ former teammate to play alongside him in the backfield, too. Gordon would be an upgrade on Ronald Jones and the sort of receiving back Arians hasn’t had since David Johnson‘s breakout year in 2016.

The Patriots send third- and fifth-round picks to the Chargers for Austin Ekeler

With the restricted free agent Ekeler likely to be tendered at the second-round level, the Patriots wouldn’t be able to sign the Chargers back, since they don’t have a second-round pick. Trading for Ekeler would allow the Pats to get more creative in terms of compensation and use the wildly efficient back as a slot receiver on a regular basis.

LeSean McCoy signs a one-year, $1 million deal with the Chargers

The veteran running back was reportedly negotiating with the Chargers in August before agreeing to terms with the Chiefs, and while McCoy ended up winning a Super Bowl in Kansas City, it was as a healthy scratch. Going to the Chargers would give him a chance at a starting job, which he probably wouldn’t get elsewhere.

New England cuts Rex Burkhead, who signs with the Lions

The Patriots can free up $2.9 million by cutting Burkhead, who played 23% of the offensive snaps in 2019 and hasn’t been able to consistently stay healthy. The Lions have struggled to keep Kerryon Johnson on the field in both of his first two seasons, and Burkhead would enter the Lions’ lineup as a change-of-pace back and special-teamer.

The Falcons cut Devonta Freeman, who signs a two-year deal with the Texans

Atlanta needs to get cheaper at running back, and Freeman should still attract interest around the league as the better half of a timeshare. He’s a great fit in Houston, where he would take the early-down carries and goal-line reps and cede the other snaps to Duke Johnson.

Kenyan Drake signs a four-year, $30 million deal with Washington

With Washington rebuilding under Ron Rivera, I’m not sure this organization is going to be as patient waiting for former second-round pick Derrius Guice, who has played five games in two seasons thanks to injuries. Drake would take over the Christian McCaffrey role in Scott Turner’s offense, which is likely to interest fantasy players.

Melvin Gordon signs a five-year, $50 million deal with Washington

From 2017 to 2019, Ron Rivera built his offense in Carolina around Christian McCaffrey, who could shoulder a heavy workload in both the running and passing game. Gordon isn’t exactly that sort of player, but at his best, he has been an effective runner and receiver while shouldering a significant workload. Signing Gordon also takes some pressure off Dwayne Haskins.

The Chargers add Kenyan Drake on a one-year, $8 million contract

Drake isn’t quite an exact replacement for Gordon, but the Cardinals improved dramatically on offense after he took over lead back responsibilities from David Johnson. If Drake doesn’t see a great multiyear deal on the table, he could take this one-year pact and head back into free agency after a stellar full season.

Lamar Miller signs a one-year, $2.5 million deal with the Dolphins

While Miller once left the Dolphins in free agency, much of the front office that chose to let him go has been turned over. The born-and-raised Miami native might prefer a trip home, especially since he’ll have the inside shot at lead-back duties. Miami has more than $100 million of cap space this offseason.

The Bucs send a seventh-round pick to the Jets for Le’Veon Bell and a fourth-round pick

There’s no way the Jets will get meaningful value for Bell, whose contract is underwater, but they might be able to dump salary if they attach a draft pick. I’d love to see Bell in Bruce Arians’ system, though Tampa would be on the hook for $13.5 million in 2020. The Jets might be able to make this deal without attaching a draft pick if they eat some of his contract.

Jordan Howard signs a one-year, $1.5 million deal with the Jets

Without Bell in the fold, the Jets suddenly have a hole at running back. Adam Gase has long struggled to find a running back solution, but Howard is a cheap short-term investment who played under offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains in Chicago.

The Bills sign Devonta Freeman to a one-year, $3 million contract

With Freeman likely to be cut by the Falcons and veteran Frank Gore moving on from Buffalo, the Bills need a back to take some of the reps away from Devin Singletary. Freeman would take over as the goal-line and early-down specialist.

The Texans sign Melvin Gordon to a five-year, $50 million deal

With Bill O’Brien officially taking over as general manager and the Texans firing contract negotiator Chris Olsen, chances are that we’re going to see O’Brien wielding his checkbook. Gordon’s versatility should make him an effective threat in the screen game and when Deshaun Watson scrambles.

The Chargers sign Lamar Miller to a one-year deal

Miller missed all of 2019 with a torn ACL but should be ready for Week 1. The former Texans back was a league-average starter before his injury, so the Chargers could get a relative bargain — something like $2 million — in using him as half of a rotation with Austin Ekeler.

Kenyan Drake inks a three-year, $21 million contract with the Bucs

Bruce Arians seemed unsure about committing to Ronald Jones during the second half of the season, and fumbles were a concern for the second-year back. Adding the resurgent Drake would give Arians a difference-maker in the passing game, which should help regardless of who ends up playing quarterback in 2020.

Atlanta cuts Devonta Freeman, who signs a one-year deal with the Dolphins

The cap-strapped Falcons can free up $3.5 million by releasing Freeman, who hasn’t been consistently effective or healthy since signing a big extension in August of 2017. A return to Miami, where Freeman grew up, would make sense given the Dolphins’ wafer-thin depth chart at running back.

Seattle signs Jordan Howard to a one-year, $1.5 million contract

There’s no such thing as too many backs for the Seahawks, who were forced to call Marshawn Lynch out of retirement for the postseason thanks to injuries. With Rashaad Penny and Chris Carson recovering from serious injuries, Howard could fill in between the tackles, particularly early in the season.

Jerick McKinnon gets a one-year flier from the Browns

McKinnon has missed the past two seasons with knee troubles and will surely be cut by the 49ers. New Browns coach Kevin Stefanski had McKinnon in Minnesota and could give him a shot to compete for the receiving back role with Kareem Hunt, who is a restricted free agent this offseason.

Harris’ last contract ended up becoming one of the NFL’s biggest bargains. The former Broncos star deserves top dollar this time.

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The Chiefs sign Chris Harris Jr. to a four-year, $48 million deal

Kansas City’s Super Bowl win came with transient cornerbacks. The only Chiefs corner set to come back who played significant snaps is Charvarius Ward. Let’s get them a star in Harris, who solidifies the weakest spot on their roster as they try to get back to the big game.

Bashaud Breeland signs a four-year, $40 million deal with the Dolphins

The Super Bowl hero finally gets his multiyear deal after having his Panthers deal rescinded in 2018. Breeland has generally been an above-average cornerback when healthy, and the Dolphins badly need secondary help. Having just turned 28, Breeland should lock down one corner spot for at least a couple of years during the Miami rebuild.

Miami cuts Reshad Jones, who signs a two-year, $11 million deal with the Bucs

Jones’ enormous deal will still require the Dolphins to eat $10.2 million in dead money to move on. He shouldn’t have to go far, though; Jones started his career in Miami under defensive wizard Todd Bowles, who is now the coordinator in Tampa. The Bucs could use Jones’ range and instincts in either safety spot.

The Jets sign Logan Ryan to a three-year, $42 million deal

Ryan had an active season in Tennessee; he was the nearest defender in coverage on 99 targets, the fifth-most in football. Trumaine Johnson is almost surely going to be cut by the Jets, and Brian Poole is a free agent, so Ryan could step in as a much-needed starting corner outside or (preferably) in the slot.

The Eagles sign Patrick Robinson to a one-year, $2 million contract

Cornerback was a disaster for the Eagles last season, and they have to do something to address the position this offseason. Let’s start by bringing back Robinson, who had a career year in the slot for the Eagles in 2017 and then got lost in the shuffle with the Saints.

Philadelphia signs Xavier Rhodes to a one-year, $3.5 million pact

Likewise, Rhodes was great in 2017 and then hasn’t been anywhere near as effective over the past couple of seasons. The Eagles, who don’t have a ton of money to spend, would be hoping that a fresh start and an offseason to heal would get the 29-year-old Rhodes looking like his former self. He is likely to be a cap casualty in Minnesota.

Chris Harris Jr. signs a four-year, $62 million deal with the Jets

Can you name the only cornerback with an average annual salary of $15 million? It’s Josh Norman. Jalen Ramsey will likely sign a record-setting deal soon, but Harris might be the next to top that $15 million mark. The Jets desperately need help at cornerback and will clear out Trumaine Johnson‘s deal this offseason.

The Giants land Trumaine Johnson on a one-year, $4 million contract

The Giants are going young at corner but likely need to add a veteran after cutting Janoris Jenkins in December. Johnson was a disaster with the Jets, but he just turned 30 and was one of the league’s best corners with the Rams as recently as 2017.

Bashaud Breeland signs a three-year, $30 million deal with the Broncos

If the Broncos lose Harris, they’ll need to add a cornerback to take his place. Bryce Callahan should be back to play the slot after missing all of 2019 with a foot injury, so Denver will likely look for a corner to play outside. Signing Breeland also steals from the rival Chiefs.

The Eagles sign Eli Apple to a one-year, $5 million contract

The 2016 first-round pick has had an up-and-down career, mixing impressive seasons in 2016 and 2018 with disappointing campaigns in 2017 and 2019. Apple played his high school football a half hour away from the Linc, and both sides of this deal could benefit from giving him a chance to prove himself in 2020.

Philly signs Brian Poole to a three-year, $18 million deal

Poole quietly rebuilt his career after being cut by the Falcons as one of the few bright spots for the Jets on defense — or really anywhere — in 2019. He would take over as the Eagles’ slot corner and reunite with former Falcons defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel, now the secondary coach in Philadelphia.

Byron Jones signs a five-year, $60 million deal with the Raiders

Let’s get Jon Gruden’s 31st-ranked defense by DVOA a new star. Cornerback has been a mess for the Raiders over the past couple of years, but Jones’ size, speed and physicality gives Las Vegas somebody who can compete with the likes of Keenan Allen, Travis Kelce and Courtland Sutton.

The Texans sign Chris Harris Jr. to a four-year, $56 million deal

A year ago, the Texans signed former Broncos corner Bradley Roby to a one-year deal to try to shore up a thin cornerback group. Now, they’ll make a more substantial deal with Harris, who will start alongside Lonnie Johnson and Gareon Conley in 2020. This contract would have two fully guaranteed seasons.

The Browns sign Bradley Roby to a three-year, $33 million pact

With former Broncos defensive backs coach Joe Woods taking over in Cleveland as defensive coordinator, the Browns might look to add a player in his peak with a Super Bowl ring to help serve as a leader on that side of the ball. Roby, a first-round pick in 2014, would beef up a corner position that includes Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams.

Washington cuts Josh Norman, who signs a one-year deal with the Bills

Norman has been a below-average player since signing a record-setting deal with Washington. He could retire, but I wonder if the Bills would give him a chance. Sean McDermott was the Panthers’ defensive coordinator when Norman broke out in 2015, and the deal likely wouldn’t have much guaranteed money.

The Jets cut Trumaine Johnson, who inks a one-year deal with the Vikings

Mike Zimmer will need to rebuild at cornerback with Xavier Rhodes a likely cap casualty and Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander hitting free agency. The Vikings will likely address corner in the draft, but taking a low-cost flier on Johnson after two disastrous years with the Jets is the sort of thing Zimmer should consider.

Byron Jones signs a four-year, $48 million deal with the Jaguars

Jones’ size should attract interest from teams who run variants of the Pete Carroll Cover 3 Buzz scheme. The Jags still do under Todd Wash and could use a cornerback to replace Jalen Ramsey on the outside across from A.J. Bouye, although this would be a tough squeeze given their cap situation.

Aqib Talib signs a one-year, $3 million deal with the 49ers

Talib and Richard Sherman? It’s rare to see a team start two cornerbacks on the wrong side of 30, but talent means more than age. Talib was good when he got on the field for the Rams the past two seasons, but he played only 11 total regular-season games in L.A. before a salary dump trade to Miami. He’s still good enough to get an opportunity to play.

Published at Mon, 10 Feb 2020 13:46:23 +0000

Barnwell sets off NFL offseason dominoes: 8 star players, 144 moves

Barnwell sets off NFL offseason dominoes: 8 star players, 144 moves

It’s hard to imagine Brady leaving the Patriots … but it sure is fun. If he hits the market in March, how could it shake up the league?

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The Bears sign Tom Brady to a four-year, $110 million deal

Trying to link up with the NFL’s best non-Patriots defense and win one more Super Bowl, Brady signs what really amounts to a one-year, $35 million deal with voidable years attached. Allen Robinson, weeping after six years of catching passes from Blake Bortles and Mitchell Trubisky, hands Brady his No. 12 jersey at the G.O.A.T.’s unveiling.

Chicago trades Leonard Floyd to the Giants for a sixth-round pick

To free up cap room, the Bears need to move on from their former first-round pick, who has $13.2 million in unguaranteed salary left on the final year of his rookie deal. A Giants team desperate for pass-rushing help sends a late-round pick to the Bears for Floyd, whose sack total has dropped each season since a seven-sack campaign in 2016.

The Patriots trade a third-round pick to the Panthers for Cam Newton

Looking for an option with both short- and long-term potential, the Patriots go for the highest-upside passer left in the market by sending a pick to Carolina for the 2015 MVP. The 30-year-old passes a physical before the trade, but both sides agree that Newton should play out the final year of his deal before considering an extension.

Marcus Mariota signs a two-year, $18 million deal with the Panthers

With Carolina coach Matt Rhule looking for a quarterback who protects the football and offers some mobility if the Panthers want to use RPOs, he goes after a former Heisman Trophy winner in Mariota. This deal locks in Mariota as either a low-end starter or a high-end backup to compete with 2019 third-round pick Will Grier.

Teddy Bridgewater signs a four-year, $120 million deal with the Colts

After years of waiting for his opportunity, Bridgewater finally finds a long-term fit in Indianapolis, where the Colts are looking for an upgrade on Jacoby Brissett. Bridgewater’s deal really amounts to a two-year commitment, but the beloved former Vikings, Jets and Saints quarterback is the Week 1 starter for the Colts.

The Bears trade Mitchell Trubisky to the Dolphins for Josh Rosen

With the Trubisky era coming to a close in Chicago, the Bears decline his fifth-year option and free up much-needed cap space by trading him and a seventh-round pick to the Dolphins for a cheaper backup in Rosen, who joins his third team in three years. Miami passes on a quarterback in the 2020 draft and evaluates Trubisky behind Ryan Fitzpatrick.

The Chargers sign Tom Brady to a five-year, $180 million deal

In desperate need of both a reliable quarterback and a marquee player to sell tickets in their new stadium, the Chargers find both in one fell swoop by inking the greatest player in NFL history. Brady’s deal crucially includes three guaranteed years, meaning that L.A. is committing to Brady’s long-discussed plan to play until he’s 45.

Philip Rivers signs with Jacksonville on a four-year, $100 million deal

With Rivers moving his family to Florida, the three teams in the Sunshine State are able to try to sign Rivers at a discount. The Jaguars have to add voidable years to the end of the deal and make another big move to make the money work, but Rivers will start in 2020 and mentor Gardner Minshew.

The Jags trade Nick Foles to the Colts in a salary dump

To get out of the $20.6 million guaranteed owed to Foles over the next two years, the Jaguars ship their deposed starter to Indy. To get the Colts to eat the money, though, Jacksonville has to send the 20th overall selection it received from the Rams in the Jalen Ramsey trade — similar to the Brock Osweiler deal in 2017 — although Indy ships the 110th pick back to the Jags.

The Colts package their first-round picks to trade up for Tua Tagovailoa

With plenty of cap room and draft assets left, general manager Chris Ballard decides to add Indy’s quarterback of the future, too. The Colts package the 13th, 20th and 44th selections and send them to the Lions for the third overall pick and a fifth-rounder to draft the Alabama star, who will spend most of 2020 recovering from his hip injury behind Nick Foles and Jacoby Brissett.

Taysom Hill signs a two-year, $20 million offer sheet with the Raiders

When the Saints hand Hill the second-round tender in restricted free agency, it opens up the possibility of the 29-year-old going elsewhere. The uniquely gifted Hill finds another unique coach in Jon Gruden, who sees the jack-of-all-trades as a supplement to Derek Carr. Since Las Vegas doesn’t have a second-round pick in 2020, it sends two third-round picks to the Seahawks to get the second-rounder.

New England gives Teddy Bridgewater a three-year, $60 million deal

With Brady leaving, the Patriots go after a quarterback whose comfort in the pocket, accuracy and smarts all might remind Bill Belichick of his now-departed passer. After going 5-0 while temporarily replacing Drew Brees, Bridgewater now has to replace another Hall of Famer. The Saints have to head into the draft for a backup.

Tom Brady gets a four-year, $160 million deal from the Colts

What’s the ultimate revenge on Josh McDaniels for leaving the Colts at the altar? I don’t seriously think they would be signing Brady merely to exact some revenge on their rivals, but it couldn’t hurt. Indianapolis has a sound offensive line, a strong long-term plan and the cap space to make Brady the league’s first $40 million-per-year quarterback.

The Patriots trade their first-round pick to the Lions for Matthew Stafford

With rumors that the Lions are considering moving on from their longtime starter, the Patriots aren’t likely to find a better option than the 2009 No. 1 overall pick. They would be acquiring the 31-year-old Stafford on a manageable three-year, $51.3 million deal. Detroit would eat a record $32 million in dead money on its cap, but it can take Tua Tagovailoa with the No. 3 pick in April.

Teddy Bridgewater signs a two-year, $60 million deal with the Chargers

After years of the Philip Rivers roller coaster, the Chargers opt for a smoother ride by handing their starting job over to Bridgewater. The contract is really a one-year deal, but it’s a clear path to a starting job on a would-be playoff contender. New Orleans fans can even thank Teddy when the Chargers come to town in 2020.

The Jaguars trade with the Dolphins to move up and draft Justin Herbert

If the Dolphins don’t want any of the passers in this year’s class, they could decide to spread their assets around. They drop down from pick No. 5 to No. 9 here, with the Jags moving ahead of the Chargers and Panthers to take the former Oregon star. The Jaguars also send their 2021 first-round pick, which could end up as one of the top selections in next year’s draft.

The Eagles somehow acquire Nick Foles

The other part of that trade sees Foles momentarily head to Miami, where the Dolphins restructure his deal and eat a significant portion, with the Jags sending along a fourth-round pick to sweeten the deal. Foles takes a pay cut in 2021 and 2022, and Philly then trades a fourth-round pick to reunite with its legendary backup.

The Saints sign Andy Dalton to a one-year, $6 million deal

After the Bengals draft Joe Burrow with the first pick and cut their longtime starting quarterback Dalton, the Saints pounce on him as a replacement for Bridgewater. With Dalton looking at backup jobs around the league, the opportunity to join a Super Bowl contender behind Drew Brees is the best opportunity available.

All options are on the table for the former MVP. With one year left on his deal, the retooling Panthers could keep him, trade him or cut him.

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The Chargers trade a second-round pick to the Panthers for Cam Newton

With Philip Rivers relocating to Florida, the Chargers are left with Tyrod Taylor and Easton Stick on their depth chart. Adding Newton is a rare chance to acquire a 30-year-old former MVP in what could be the middle of his career, and the Chargers can install a roughly similar scheme for all three of their quarterbacks. Newton is signed through only the 2020 season.

Carolina signs Taysom Hill to a two-year, $18 million deal

While the Panthers might want to give Will Grier a legitimate chance to prove himself in 2020, here’s a way for them to add another threat to what will likely be a run-first offense under new coach Matt Rhule. Acquiring Hill hurts a divisional rival — though the Saints would net a second-round pick if the restricted free agent Hill is tendered as expected — and sets up all kinds of trick plays with Christian McCaffrey.

So long, Nick Foles. The Jags dump his contract on the Dolphins

In desperate need of cap space, Jacksonville makes a deal with the Dolphins to rid itself of the $20.5 million remaining on Foles’ deal. Miami, which paid $5 million for a fourth-round pick as part of the Ryan Tannehill deal, grabs its fourth first-round pick by moving up from No. 39 to No. 20 as part of the deal.

Jacksonville brings in Andy Dalton after he’s released by the Bengals

In need of veteran competition for Gardner Minshew, the Jaguars reunite a once-successful pairing by linking up Dalton with Jay Gruden, his former offensive coordinator in Cincinnati. Dalton joins the Jags on a three-year, $48 million deal that is really a one-year, $7 million pact with options.

The Patriots trade a late-round pick for former top-10 pick Josh Rosen

After being deemed unplayable by a Dolphins team that was actively trying to lose, Rosen’s stock can’t be much lower. New England has a history of trying to buy low on high draft picks after ugly starts to their careers, and it can send the 182nd pick to Miami to evaluate Rosen behind Tom Brady, who signs a new deal with the Pats.

Marcus Mariota signs a two-year, $14 million deal with the Eagles

The Eagles couldn’t have anticipated Carson Wentz would suffer a concussion in the wild-card round, but the fact that he missed each of his two prior playoff runs via injury means backup quarterback is more of a priority in Philly than most other places. Mariota gives the Eagles a mobile, high-floor No. 2 option.

The Dolphins trade Ryan Fitzpatrick to the Panthers for Cam Newton

While Miami plans to bring back the 37-year-old Fitzpatrick for 2020, he’s a stopgap, not a long-term solution. Newton might not end up as the answer, but he’s the sort of flier with massive upside the Dolphins should take while they wait to find its quarterback of the future. They add the 68th pick in the draft to get the trade over the line.

The Panthers flip Ryan Fitzpatrick to the Eagles for a fifth-round pick

Carolina doesn’t particularly need Fitzpatrick — the third-round pick in the Newton deal is the asset — so the team restructures his deal to eat $1.5 million and then sends the remaining $6.5 million to the Eagles, who install the Fitzchise as the backup to Carson Wentz.

The Lions trade Matthew Stafford to the Raiders for two first-round picks

If Detroit needs to be blown away by a Stafford trade, the Raiders and Jon Gruden are the most likely team to pony up the draft capital. Gruden has moved on from virtually every other player he inherited and would covet Stafford’s arm and marketability in Las Vegas. The Lions could use the third overall pick on a quarterback and add more valuable draft capital.

Derek Carr signs with the Chargers on a two-year, $50 million deal

With the Raiders no longer needing Carr’s services, he gets released with a small dead-cap charge. He can then stay in the Los Angeles area by taking over as the new starter for the Chargers. This deal has no guaranteed money after 2020, freeing the Chargers to pursue a more exciting option next offseason if Carr struggles.

Teddy Bridgewater re-signs with the Saints

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RE-SIGN

Nothing would make Saints fans happier this offseason than bringing back Bridgewater. While the 30% rule prevents the Saints from giving him a small 2020 salary with a significant raise to start in 2021, a one-year deal brings the former Louisville star back into the fold for one more season with Sean Payton & Co.

Taysom Hill returns to New Orleans, too

NO

RE-SIGN

Hill was a talented college quarterback, and teams are more open-minded about quarterbacks than they have been in decades, but let’s be realistic: It’s tough to imagine him having the same impact elsewhere. The Saints re-sign the restricted free agent to a three-year, $15 million deal.

The Raiders trade a third-round pick to the Panthers for Cam Newton

If the Raiders want a star for their new city, they can just hold on to their two first-round picks and trade a later pick to get their guy. Newton has box-office appeal, and his upside is literally as league MVP. Jon Gruden might prefer that upside in 2020 to another season with Derek Carr. Vegas also has two third-round picks.

Released by Vegas, Derek Carr signs a one-year, $7 million deal with Tennessee

The Titans made a move last year to add an unexciting veteran backup for their starter and landed on Ryan Tannehill, who had a career season. While they re-sign Tannehill, his injury history should lead general manager Jon Robinson to sign another veteran backup, with Carr, who gets cut by Las Vegas, fitting the bill.

Teddy Bridgewater signs a three-year, $90 million deal with the Panthers

With Carolina looking for a starter to replace Newton, Bridgewater emerges as the superior option to passers like Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston. The Panthers pay Bridgewater $35 million in Year 1 as part of this deal, but there’s no guaranteed money afterward, allowing them to pursue a prospect in the 2021 draft if it doesn’t work out.

The Chargers land Jameis Winston on a three-year, $99 million deal

With Philip Rivers “permanently” relocating to Florida, the Chargers decide to target a Floridian of their own to take over as their new starter. Winston’s mix of brilliant moments and inconceivably bad interceptions is reminiscent of Rivers, but the 26-year-old has some time to improve. In theory.

The Bears sign Marcus Mariota to a two-year, $14 million deal

I was more enthused about the idea of Mariota joining Chicago when former Oregon coach Mark Helfrich was on staff as offensive coordinator, but Mariota’s mobility and ability to avoid takeaways still make him a high-end backup. He’s just good enough to sign without threatening Mitchell Trubisky.

Joe Flacco gets a one-year, $3 million deal to be the backup in Pittsburgh

Flacco joining his former rivals seems strange — and it’s unclear whether he will return from a season-ending neck injury — but the Steelers just saw their season go up in flames thanks to subpar backup quarterback work. Ben Roethlisberger should be healthy for 2020, but Flacco would give the Steelers a veteran option.

Rivers has moved out of California and seemingly cut ties with the Chargers. Where could the 38-year-old land in 2020?

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The Bucs give Philip Rivers a three-year, $90 million deal … with an out

It warms my heart to see Rivers and Bruce Arians come together for one ride into the sunset. It’s a great fit for both player and scheme, as both would throw the ball vertically every play if they could. This deal has minimal guaranteed money after 2020, freeing up the Bucs to pursue another quarterback in 2021 if it doesn’t work out.

Teddy Bridgewater signs a three-year, $90 million deal with the Chargers

The Chargers might rightfully feel like they’re a consistent quarterback away from the playoffs, and Bridgewater’s success filling in for Drew Brees in New Orleans makes him an obvious source of stability. With the Chargers loath to trade away draft picks, signing Bridgewater makes short-term and possibly long-term sense.

Baltimore trades a seventh-round pick to L.A. for Tyrod Taylor

The most logical landing place for Taylor is as a backup is Baltimore, given the presence of former Bills offensive coordinator Greg Roman. He would be stuck behind the league MVP in Lamar Jackson, but trading for Taylor would allow Baltimore to run the same exact scheme if Jackson were to get injured in 2020.

The Raiders use their draft capital to trade up for Tua Tagovailoa

One way for the Raiders to mark the end of the Khalil Mack discussion and start their time off in Las Vegas with a bang is to find a new franchise quarterback. They send pick Nos. 12 and 19 plus a 2021 second-round pick to the Lions to draft the Alabama star, who spends 2020 on an injury redshirt behind Derek Carr.

Jameis Winston gets a one-year, $9 million pact from Chicago

While the Bears are publicly committed to Mitchell Trubisky, they need to bring in a quarterback who can compete for the starting job. Winston’s market is totally uncertain; there might not be any team that thinks he’s worth starter money, and if not, he might need to settle for a one-year deal and a competition. Trubisky’s backup Chase Daniel can return to Kansas City to sit behind Patrick Mahomes.

The Packers add Joe Flacco to be their backup on a one-year, $4 million deal

The current backup behind Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay is undrafted free agent Tim Boyle. Rodgers hasn’t missed a game in two years, but the Packers should still consider investing in a more experienced backup for their 37-year-old starter. Flacco can chase a ring with the NFC North champs.

The Colts give Philip Rivers a two-year, $62 million deal to be their starter

While the location isn’t ideal for Rivers, the three Florida teams are much further away from the playoffs than the Colts, who could upgrade on Jacoby Brissett. Rivers played under Colts coach Frank Reich when the two were in San Diego and would get one final shot at competing for a Super Bowl on this year-to-year pact.

Indy adds some help and signs Austin Hooper to a four-year, $44 million deal

Rivers loves throwing to his tight ends, and with Eric Ebron hitting free agency, the Colts add a second tight end to work alongside Jack Doyle for their new quarterback. Hooper’s career year likely priced him out of the cap-strapped Falcons’ price range. Ebron could end up as the replacement for Jimmy Graham in Green Bay.

The Vikings trade Kirk Cousins to the Chargers for a second-round pick

With the Vikings and Cousins unable to come to terms on a new contract — his deal ends after the 2020 season — both sides agree that a parting of the ways would make sense. The Chargers can negotiate a deal with their new starting quarterback, while the Vikings get to reunite with an old one …

Teddy Bridgewater reunites with Minnesota on a $100 million deal

I’m crying. Are you crying? The Vikings bring back their former first-round pick, who steps back into a starting role. Minnesota, which is in a salary-cap crunch, saves several million dollars by signing Bridgewater to a four-year deal, and it can use the space to keep the likes of Everson Griffen.

The Bills give Taysom Hill a two-year, $20 million offer sheet

While the Bills are happy with Josh Allen‘s development, you could understand if the coaching staff wanted to see its quarterback of the future take fewer hits in 2020. Allen excels on designed runs, but Hill can take some of those snaps and continue to make an impact without threatening Allen’s role as the long-term starter.

Marcus Mariota heads to New Orleans on a three-year, $21 million deal

After losing both their backup quarterback and their gadget athlete, the Saints try to fill both vacated spots by going after Mariota. This is really a one-year deal with two voidable years tacked on, but Mariota gets a chance to revitalize his career while backing up future Hall of Famer Drew Brees in New Orleans.

The Panthers sign Philip Rivers to a three-year, $96 million deal

Signing Rivers, who played his college ball a couple of hours away at NC State, gives Carolina a veteran who can help get the Panthers back to the postseason quickly. A deal like this would have one year of fully guaranteed money, allowing the Panthers a quick out if the 38-year-old Rivers struggles.

Marcus Mariota signs with the Chargers on a one-year, $12 million deal

With Rivers gone, Mariota and incumbent Tyrod Taylor create value in the same ways: They’re effective runners and avoid turning the ball over, although sacks are an issue for both. Anthony Lynn should be able to install a roughly similar scheme for both Mariota and Taylor, who would compete for the starting job.

Carolina trades Cam Newton to the Broncos for a third-round pick

Denver is excited about Drew Lock‘s late-season run, but after false hope with young passers like Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch quickly faded, general manager John Elway should know that five starts isn’t proof of much. Bringing in the 6-foot-5 Newton to compete with Lock is a low-risk, high-reward move by the Hall of Famer.

Jameis Winston signs a four-year, $128 million deal with the Dolphins

While Miami was expected to draft a quarterback to take over from Ryan Fitzpatrick in the long term, it heads in a different direction and signs the 26-year-old Winston, hoping to tap some level of consistency from the former No. 1 overall pick. Winston’s deal includes two guaranteed years, locking him as the starter through the end of 2021.

Tampa Bay gives Joe Flacco a one-year deal to be its short-term starter

Despite having one of the league’s strongest arms, Flacco has spent the past half-decade in offenses designed around checking down the ball. Here, he gets $12.5 million and a chance to play in a downfield passing attack under Bruce Arians, who isn’t done making moves ahead of the 2020 season …

The Buccaneers trade up to draft Justin Herbert in the top five

While there’s a chance that the Oregon product would fall to the Buccaneers at No. 14, Tampa isn’t taking that risk with the Dolphins, Chargers, and Panthers all in the market from picks 5-8. Herbert’s arm strength appeals to Arians, who gets one final shot at developing a franchise passer. The Bucs send pick Nos. 14 and 45 plus a 2020 first-rounder to Detroit to get the No. 3 pick.

The Seahawks can’t franchise Clowney, who will hit the market as the top edge rusher available. Only 27 or 28 teams should be interested.

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The Giants make Jadeveon Clowney the first $25 million-per-year edge rusher

With Clowney looking to play for a winner, New York needs to pay over the odds to persuade the 2014 No. 1 overall pick to solve its edge-rushing problem. Clowney gets a five-year, $125 million deal with $75 million guaranteed over the first three years. It’s a record annual salary and three-year guarantee among edge defenders.

Dante Fowler Jr. signs a four-year, $92 million deal with the Seahawks

The Jaguars once drafted Fowler with the third overall pick to serve as the “Leo” pass-rusher in Gus Bradley’s scheme. After losing Clowney, Seattle can acquire Fowler to play that same role for Pete Carroll’s defense. Signing Fowler also takes him away from the division-rival Rams, who could also lose free agent Michael Brockers this offseason.

The Panthers add Bud Dupree on a four-year, $64 million pact

Dupree was inconsistent for most of his time in Pittsburgh, but he matched his sack total from 2017 and 2018 combined by racking up 11.5 sacks in 2019. There’s obvious risk in paying him, but the Panthers are thin on the edge after Brian Burns and can add a 26-year-old from owner David Tepper’s former organization.

Michael Pierce signs a four-year, $60 million deal with the Dolphins

With Miami looking to start fielding a competitive team, it should focus on adding players who are both valuable now and who could still be valuable in 2022. The 27-year-old Pierce is a run-stuffing nose tackle who should immediately help the league’s 27th-ranked rush-defense DVOA.

Ndamukong Suh heads to New England on a one-year, $14 million deal

Suh seems destined to move around the league on one-year contracts. The Patriots need to address their offense, but with guys such as Danny Shelton and Kyle Van Noy hitting free agency, Bill Belichick might need to adapt. Suh’s rare athleticism and ability to stay on the field has to appeal to the legendary coach.

The Broncos sign D.J. Reader to a four-year, $44 million deal

Reader isn’t a household name, but like Pierce, he’s a valuable interior lineman for a team looking to improve its run defense. Signing him away from the Texans should help improve an inconsistent Broncos run defense and give Vic Fangio the closest thing he’ll have to Akiem Hicks in Denver.

The Raiders sign Jadeveon Clowney to a five-year, $125 million deal

Las Vegas invested a fourth overall pick on Clelin Ferrell and got an impressive rookie season from Maxx Crosby, but adding Clowney would end the discussion over the Khalil Mack decision and give the Raiders a superstar defender for their new digs. You can never have too many good edge rushers.

Seattle trades second- and third-round picks to the Ravens for Matthew Judon

Seattle sends the 59th pick and the compensatory pick it will receive for Earl Thomas signing with the Ravens to Thomas’ new team. The franchise-tagged Judon signs an extension and takes over Clowney’s role as the Seahawks’ primary pass-rusher, although the organization obviously still holds out hope for 2019 first-rounder L.J. Collier.

The Giants bring back Jason Pierre-Paul on a two-year, $32 million pact

JPP was quietly impressive during his two-year stint in Tampa, racking up 21 sacks and 36 knockdowns in 26 games. A reunion with the Giants would make sense for both sides. While it seems like the two-time Pro Bowler has been around forever, he turned only 31 on New Year’s Day.

Miami signs Arik Armstead to a five-year, $80 million deal

Armstead is another former first-round pick who broke out in 2019. While he had already proved himself to be a useful defender against the run, he topped the nine career sacks he racked up between 2015 and 2018 with 10 in 2019. The Dolphins just need talent, and Armstead could be massively valuable if he keeps up this level of disruption.

The Dolphins also add Danny Shelton on a four-year, $28 million contract

One defensive lineman shouldn’t be enough for the Dolphins. Signing away Shelton from the Patriots gives Miami one of the best two-down run-stoppers in football and a player to line up next to Christian Wilkins in the years to come.

The Chiefs franchise-tag Chris Jones … then trade him to the Cowboys

The Cowboys can move on from Tyrone Crawford with just $1.1 million in dead money, which would open up a spot in the lineup for an interior penetrator like Jones. If the Chiefs don’t want to re-sign Jones, they would probably be looking at a second-round pick from the Cowboys as the focal point of the return. The Eagles could pursue Crawford as defensive tackle depth.

The Ravens sign Jadeveon Clowney to a five-year, $115 million contract

After years of being hindered by the Joe Flacco deal, Baltimore finally celebrates its freedom from tyranny by going after one of the rarest things you’ll ever see: a healthy superstar edge rusher in his prime in unrestricted free agency. Clowney takes a slight discount to play for a Super Bowl contender.

Baltimore trades Matthew Judon to the Jets for second- and fifth-round picks

Rumors have already suggested the Ravens are shopping Judon, who will be an unrestricted free agent. As the Chiefs did with Dee Ford, Baltimore could franchise-tag Judon before trading him. The Jets desperately need a pass-rusher across from Jordan Jenkins; they send pick Nos. 48 and 138 to add Judon, who had 33 quarterback hits this past season.

Seattle signs Robert Quinn to a four-year, $60 million contract

To replace Clowney, the Seahawks go after Quinn, who led the league in pass rush win rate for the second consecutive season. Quinn receives interest from teams like the Patriots and Saints, but the Seahawks can offer more money and a second guaranteed season.

The Cowboys sign Vic Beasley Jr. to a one-year, $16 million deal

Beasley’s hot finish to the season — he had 6.5 sacks and two forced fumbles over the second half — made him millions. The Falcons have already said they won’t be bringing him back, so Dallas can offer a one-year deal with a chance to get back in free agency after a potential big 2020 season.

Dante Fowler Jr. inks a five-year, $110 million deal with the Giants

The Jets aren’t the only New York team longing for edge-rushing help; the Giants need building blocks up front, and in addition to re-signing Leonard Williams, they add the 25-year-old Fowler after an 11.5-sack season in Los Angeles. If this seems like a lot for a guy with one effective season as a starter, well, go look at the Giants’ depth chart.

The Bills sign Mario Addison to a three-year, $42 million deal

Sean McDermott has brought in plenty of his favorites from Carolina and just hired former Panthers defensive coordinator Eric Washington as defensive line coach. Addison has been wildly underrated for years — he’s 11th in the league in sacks since 2016 — and would step in for Shaq Lawson in Buffalo’s defensive line rotation.

If Green persuades Cincy to let him leave, he’ll have a robust market. You’ve seen him with Andy Dalton; now, imagine him with …

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The 49ers sign A.J. Green to a four-year, $84 million contract

While San Francisco would likely be interested in bringing back Emmanuel Sanders, Green is a clear step above Sanders and would be an ideal primary receiver in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. Injuries are becoming a concern for the 31-year-old Green, who didn’t play a snap this past season, but this is a chance to add a transformational receiver.

Emmanuel Sanders gets a four-year, $40 million deal with the Jets

With Quincy Enunwa‘s future uncertain after suffering his second neck injury in three years, the Jets could add a replacement for the 27-year-old by signing Sanders. The SMU product played well after returning from a torn Achilles and enjoyed his time under Jets coach Adam Gase when both were in Denver.

Robby Anderson signs a four-year, $52 million contract with the Packers

Aaron Rodgers also needs a second receiver behind Davante Adams; after a mostly successful free-agent spree from Brian Gutekunst in 2019, the Packers’ general manager could try to put his team over the top by adding a downfield threat in Anderson, who had 18 touchdowns in his past three seasons in New York. Rodgers ranked third in deep attempts but 25th in deep completion percentage in 2019.

Austin Hooper signs a five-year, $55 million deal with the Patriots

With Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry and Mohamed Sanu signed for 2020, the Pats really need to add a tight end (and add some cheap speed with someone like Seth Roberts). They need a tight end more than a wide receiver, so signing Hooper makes sense, especially if New England prefers Hooper’s ability to stay on the field to Hunter Henry‘s superior blocking.

The Patriots send a 2021 fifth-round pick to the 49ers for Dante Pettis

Let’s be real: The Niners probably owe the Patriots a favor after the Jimmy Garoppolo trade. Pettis has gotten buried on the depth chart, but New England could use the 2018 second-round pick as a Julian Edelman understudy and punt returner.

Nelson Agholor signs a one-year, $8 million deal with the Colts

Agholor’s best season as a pro came in 2017, when the Eagles moved their first-round pick into the slot and he responded with 768 yards and eight touchdowns. Frank Reich was the Philly offensive coordinator that season, and a one-year deal for Agholor to rebuild his value in Indy could make sense for both sides.

The Colts sign A.J. Green to a four-year, $80 million deal

If Indianapolis wants to improve its passing game but can’t land on a better quarterback than Jacoby Brissett, bringing in Green could kick-start Frank Reich’s offense. Green and T.Y. Hilton both have injury concerns, but this would be one of the best one-two wide receiver punches in the league.

Robby Anderson lands a four-year, $48 million deal from Arizona

The Cardinals have Christian Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald under contract, and it’s too early to give up on second-rounder Andy Isabella, but they desperately need somebody who can win on the outside and run past defensive backs. That’s Anderson to a T, and he would offer Kyler Murray a much-needed vertical threat.

The Chiefs release Sammy Watkins, who signs a three-year deal with the Jets

New York was supposed to get Sam Darnold some weapons in the 2019 offseason. The Jets still need to get Darnold weapons in 2020. Signing Watkins would give them a more physically impactful option. While he has disappeared at times in Kansas City, Watkins’ numbers would likely improve as the No. 1 target in New York.

Nelson Agholor gets a one-year prove-it deal from Kansas City

The Chiefs and Eagles organizations are intertwined, and while Kansas City doesn’t lack receivers, it could lose two regulars with Sammy Watkins released in this scenario and Demarcus Robinson hitting free agency. Mecole Hardman will pick up some of the slack in 2020, but Agholor would give the Chiefs another weapon out of the slot and come cheap at $4.5 million.

Green Bay cuts Jimmy Graham and signs Austin Hooper to a $60 million contract

With Graham disappointing during his two seasons in Green Bay, he’s an obvious candidate for release. He has the record contract for a tight end at $10 million per season, but Austin Hooper (among others) will likely top that mark this offseason. Hooper would get five years from the Packers, while Atlanta could very well sign Graham on a much smaller one-year deal.

The Patriots sign Eric Ebron to a one-year, $8 million deal

While nobody outside of George Kittle is ever going to be able to replace Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots got a league-low 37 catches from their tight ends in 2019. Ebron isn’t close to the caliber of blocker that Gronk was, but he’s a receiving threat who can make spectacular catches and run past linebackers in the play-action game.

Las Vegas trades for A.J. Green after he gets franchise-tagged by the Bengals

The Raiders tried to get a No. 1 receiver last offseason when they traded for Antonio Brown. That didn’t work out. Trading for Green is their second chance, with Las Vegas moving down from No. 19 to No. 33 in exchange for the longtime Cincinnati star and a swap of fourth-rounders. An extension follows shortly. The Raiders still have the No. 12 pick to help their defense.

Breshad Perriman lands a three-year, $33 million deal with the Colts

Perriman’s hot finish to the season — 25 catches for 506 yards and five touchdowns over the final five games — attracted some attention. He’s probably too expensive to be Tampa’s third wideout, but his downfield ability could serve him well as the second wideout behind T.Y. Hilton in Indianapolis.

The Ravens sign Emmanuel Sanders to a one-year, $9 million contract

The Ravens have built their passing offense around the speed of guys like Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin, but Sanders would give them another option as an intermediate receiver who can still get upfield and make big plays. He’s also a good blocker, which is essential when a team runs as much as the Ravens plan on running in 2020. Sanders, who turns 33 in March, might not have a huge market.

Cleveland signs Hunter Henry to a four-year, $40 million deal

Everybody knows the deal here. When Henry’s healthy, he’s a red zone weapon and a threat after the catch. He just isn’t healthy often, having missed 23 games in four seasons. New Browns coach Kevin Stefanski’s Vikings offense targeted tight ends just over 24% of the time last season, the ninth-highest rate in the league. The Browns were 28th in the same category.

The Patriots trade a sixth-round pick for David Njoku

The Browns appeared to sour on Njoku and barely played the former first-rounder after he returned from a wrist injury. Just about everyone who was making decisions for Cleveland in 2018 is gone, but if Njoku is following them out of town, the Patriots make sense as a landing spot for a number of reasons.

New England also brings back Danny Amendola on a one-year deal

While Julian Edelman is still an effective slot receiver, adding depth in the way of Amendola gives the Patriots more options with spread attacks and a backup if Edelman goes down injured or gets suspended. Amendola’s upside is limited by his own injury history, but a deal in the $3 million range makes sense for both parties.

Williams has sworn he’ll never play for Washington again. After sitting out all of 2019, where would the franchise left tackle fit in 2020?

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Cleveland trades a second-round pick for Trent Williams

Washington can’t realistically expect to net the 10th overall selection for its disgruntled left tackle, but Cleveland’s second-round pick at No. 41 would be a reasonable return. The Browns desperately need to upgrade on Greg Robinson at left tackle and would likely sign the 31-year-old Williams to an extension.

The Colts sign Jason Peters to a one-year, $8 million deal

Peters wants to continue his career, but the Eagles are likely going to move on with 2019 first-rounder Andre Dillard as their starting left tackle. There aren’t many other viable tackles on the market, so with Anthony Castonzo potentially retiring, the Colts could go for a short-term option by importing the 16-year veteran.

Jack Conklin signs a five-year, $70 million contract with the Dolphins

Tennessee’s decision to decline Conklin’s fifth-year option is Miami’s gain. If the Dolphins do plan on drafting Tua Tagovailoa, they’ll want to invest more at right tackle, since that will be the left-handed Alabama star’s blind side. Conklin is the highest-upside option available at the position, and he’ll still come in handy for right-handed throwers.

Miami also adds Andrus Peat on a five-year, $60 million deal

Peat played left tackle during his time at Stanford before moving to guard with the Saints, so the Dolphins could give the two-time Pro Bowler a shot at the most important position on the line. Peat has struggled at times, but his floor is still as an above-average guard for a team that needs linemen everywhere.

The Lions sign Joe Thuney to a four-year, $36 million pact

Any time a Patriots player leaves the nest, the first places to look are the various New England outposts around the NFL. With Graham Glasgow a free agent, the Lions could sign another former Patriots player by adding Thuney. The 27-year-old is an underrated contributor, but the Patriots already paid fellow guard Shaq Mason, so they might not pony up for Thuney.

The Panthers sign Kelechi Osemele to a one-year deal

Osemele is a couple of years removed from his All-Pro form, and his brief stint with the Jets was a fiasco when the team tried to prevent him from undergoing shoulder surgery, but the 30-year-old should be ready for 2020. Osemele’s run-blocking would make him a great fit at left guard for Matt Rhule in Carolina.

The Dolphins trade the 26th pick for Trent Williams and a second-round pick

It might seem a little weird for the Dolphins to go after a veteran, but Williams is still only 31 and should have years of good-to-great play at left tackle ahead, if he stays healthy. Giving Williams an extension would protect both Ryan Fitzpatrick and whoever follows and fill a huge hole along the Miami offensive line.

Ron Leary signs a one-year, $4 million deal with the Browns

Leary wasn’t able to make his mark in Denver thanks to injuries, with a torn Achilles and a series of concussions limiting him to 29 games over three seasons. Denver should decline his option. While the Browns need to upgrade at tackle, Leary could fill in at right guard under offensive line guru Bill Callahan, who coached Leary in Dallas.

The Colts trade a fourth-round pick to the Bengals for Cordy Glenn

If free agent Anthony Castonzo retires, Indy could either address left tackle in the draft or fill the void in March. Glenn feuded with the Bengals organization in October and will cede his spot on the blind side to 2019 first-round pick Jonah Williams. With more buyers than sellers in the left tackle market, Glenn will have some trade value.

The Jets sign D.J. Humphries to a four-year, $56 million deal

Humphries just finished his first full healthy season as a pro, but the Jets are desperate for offensive line help. The former first-rounder has played just 43 games during his five years in the desert, and he could be one of the top veteran options available in free agency. New York left tackle Kelvin Beachum is also a free agent, so the Jets have a hole to fill.

Ben Garland signs a three-year, $18 million deal with the Jets

After the Ryan Kalil experiment went disastrously, Adam Gase will be looking for a new center this offseason. Garland has earned a long-term deal from some team after he impressed for the 49ers, where he has ably replaced the injured Weston Richburg.

Bryan Bulaga signs a four-year, $48 million deal with the Browns

While the Browns fired many of the former Packers in their front office, they could still opt to upgrade at right tackle by shelling out for Bulaga, who has spent his entire career in Green Bay. The move would lead the Browns to cut Chris Hubbard, who has disappointed in Cleveland after leaving the Steelers in 2018.

The Patriots trade their top pick for Trent Williams and a second-round pick

It’s too early for the Pats to give up on 2018 first-rounder Isaiah Wynn, but he has missed 24 games over his first two seasons with a torn Achilles and turf toe. They can’t wait, with Tom Brady to make a decision, and trading for Williams would give them a franchise left tackle. Wynn could kick inside to left guard to replace Joe Thuney, who could leave in free agency.

Andrus Peat lands a five-year, $60 milion deal from Washington

If Williams leaves, Washington would probably look for a veteran replacement to protect Dwayne Haskins. It is likely to re-sign guard Brandon Scherff, and the former college left tackle could kick over to the blind side, but I wonder if they would do the same thing instead with Peat, who might be a better fit to make the switch.

The Bears sign Quinton Spain to a three-year, $21 million deal

In need of help at guard after Kyle Long retired and missing several picks in April’s draft, the Bears could look again toward free agency to build support around Mitchell Trubisky. The 28-year-old Spain impressed as a run-blocker for the Bills this past season and has likely done enough to earn a multiyear deal.

The Giants sign Germain Ifedi to a four-year, $40 million pact

Ifedi has been frustrating during his time in Seattle — he commits too many penalties — but teams are going to like the former first-rounder’s athleticism and what he does as a run-blocker. General manager Dave Gettleman will want to address right tackle after failing to find a solution the past two offseasons.

Jack Conklin signs a five-year, $80 million deal with the Jets

Gang Green’s recent big-ticket free-agent signings have mostly been disasters, but under new general manager Joe Douglas, they probably need to go back into the market for at least one significant offensive lineman. With no great left tackles available, signing the best right tackle on the board makes sense, but he’ll be expensive.

Gordon held out for a new contract and didn’t get it. Now that he’s a free agent, will any team pony up to pay the 26-year-old running back?

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Melvin Gordon signs a four-year, $36 million deal with the Bucs

If Bruce Arians tries to bring in Philip Rivers to play quarterback, the second-year coach might consider adding Rivers’ former teammate to play alongside him in the backfield, too. Gordon would be an upgrade on Ronald Jones and the sort of receiving back Arians hasn’t had since David Johnson‘s breakout year in 2016.

The Patriots send third- and fifth-round picks to the Chargers for Austin Ekeler

With the restricted free agent Ekeler likely to be tendered at the second-round level, the Patriots wouldn’t be able to sign the Chargers back, since they don’t have a second-round pick. Trading for Ekeler would allow the Pats to get more creative in terms of compensation and use the wildly efficient back as a slot receiver on a regular basis.

LeSean McCoy signs a one-year, $1 million deal with the Chargers

The veteran running back was reportedly negotiating with the Chargers in August before agreeing to terms with the Chiefs, and while McCoy ended up winning a Super Bowl in Kansas City, it was as a healthy scratch. Going to the Chargers would give him a chance at a starting job, which he probably wouldn’t get elsewhere.

New England cuts Rex Burkhead, who signs with the Lions

The Patriots can free up $2.9 million by cutting Burkhead, who played 23% of the offensive snaps in 2019 and hasn’t been able to consistently stay healthy. The Lions have struggled to keep Kerryon Johnson on the field in both of his first two seasons, and Burkhead would enter the Lions’ lineup as a change-of-pace back and special-teamer.

The Falcons cut Devonta Freeman, who signs a two-year deal with the Texans

Atlanta needs to get cheaper at running back, and Freeman should still attract interest around the league as the better half of a timeshare. He’s a great fit in Houston, where he would take the early-down carries and goal-line reps and cede the other snaps to Duke Johnson.

Kenyan Drake signs a four-year, $30 million deal with Washington

With Washington rebuilding under Ron Rivera, I’m not sure this organization is going to be as patient waiting for former second-round pick Derrius Guice, who has played five games in two seasons thanks to injuries. Drake would take over the Christian McCaffrey role in Scott Turner’s offense, which is likely to interest fantasy players.

Melvin Gordon signs a five-year, $50 million deal with Washington

From 2017 to 2019, Ron Rivera built his offense in Carolina around Christian McCaffrey, who could shoulder a heavy workload in both the running and passing game. Gordon isn’t exactly that sort of player, but at his best, he has been an effective runner and receiver while shouldering a significant workload. Signing Gordon also takes some pressure off Dwayne Haskins.

The Chargers add Kenyan Drake on a one-year, $8 million contract

Drake isn’t quite an exact replacement for Gordon, but the Cardinals improved dramatically on offense after he took over lead back responsibilities from David Johnson. If Drake doesn’t see a great multiyear deal on the table, he could take this one-year pact and head back into free agency after a stellar full season.

Lamar Miller signs a one-year, $2.5 million deal with the Dolphins

While Miller once left the Dolphins in free agency, much of the front office that chose to let him go has been turned over. The born-and-raised Miami native might prefer a trip home, especially since he’ll have the inside shot at lead-back duties. Miami has more than $100 million of cap space this offseason.

The Bucs send a seventh-round pick to the Jets for Le’Veon Bell and a fourth-round pick

There’s no way the Jets will get meaningful value for Bell, whose contract is underwater, but they might be able to dump salary if they attach a draft pick. I’d love to see Bell in Bruce Arians’ system, though Tampa would be on the hook for $13.5 million in 2020. The Jets might be able to make this deal without attaching a draft pick if they eat some of his contract.

Jordan Howard signs a one-year, $1.5 million deal with the Jets

Without Bell in the fold, the Jets suddenly have a hole at running back. Adam Gase has long struggled to find a running back solution, but Howard is a cheap short-term investment who played under offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains in Chicago.

The Bills sign Devonta Freeman to a one-year, $3 million contract

With Freeman likely to be cut by the Falcons and veteran Frank Gore moving on from Buffalo, the Bills need a back to take some of the reps away from Devin Singletary. Freeman would take over as the goal-line and early-down specialist.

The Texans sign Melvin Gordon to a five-year, $50 million deal

With Bill O’Brien officially taking over as general manager and the Texans firing contract negotiator Chris Olsen, chances are that we’re going to see O’Brien wielding his checkbook. Gordon’s versatility should make him an effective threat in the screen game and when Deshaun Watson scrambles.

The Chargers sign Lamar Miller to a one-year deal

Miller missed all of 2019 with a torn ACL but should be ready for Week 1. The former Texans back was a league-average starter before his injury, so the Chargers could get a relative bargain — something like $2 million — in using him as half of a rotation with Austin Ekeler.

Kenyan Drake inks a three-year, $21 million contract with the Bucs

Bruce Arians seemed unsure about committing to Ronald Jones during the second half of the season, and fumbles were a concern for the second-year back. Adding the resurgent Drake would give Arians a difference-maker in the passing game, which should help regardless of who ends up playing quarterback in 2020.

Atlanta cuts Devonta Freeman, who signs a one-year deal with the Dolphins

The cap-strapped Falcons can free up $3.5 million by releasing Freeman, who hasn’t been consistently effective or healthy since signing a big extension in August of 2017. A return to Miami, where Freeman grew up, would make sense given the Dolphins’ wafer-thin depth chart at running back.

Seattle signs Jordan Howard to a one-year, $1.5 million contract

There’s no such thing as too many backs for the Seahawks, who were forced to call Marshawn Lynch out of retirement for the postseason thanks to injuries. With Rashaad Penny and Chris Carson recovering from serious injuries, Howard could fill in between the tackles, particularly early in the season.

Jerick McKinnon gets a one-year flier from the Browns

McKinnon has missed the past two seasons with knee troubles and will surely be cut by the 49ers. New Browns coach Kevin Stefanski had McKinnon in Minnesota and could give him a shot to compete for the receiving back role with Kareem Hunt, who is a restricted free agent this offseason.

Harris’ last contract ended up becoming one of the NFL’s biggest bargains. The former Broncos star deserves top dollar this time.

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The Chiefs sign Chris Harris Jr. to a four-year, $48 million deal

Kansas City’s Super Bowl win came with transient cornerbacks. The only Chiefs corner set to come back who played significant snaps is Charvarius Ward. Let’s get them a star in Harris, who solidifies the weakest spot on their roster as they try to get back to the big game.

Bashaud Breeland signs a four-year, $40 million deal with the Dolphins

The Super Bowl hero finally gets his multiyear deal after having his Panthers deal rescinded in 2018. Breeland has generally been an above-average cornerback when healthy, and the Dolphins badly need secondary help. Having just turned 28, Breeland should lock down one corner spot for at least a couple of years during the Miami rebuild.

Miami cuts Reshad Jones, who signs a two-year, $11 million deal with the Bucs

Jones’ enormous deal will still require the Dolphins to eat $10.2 million in dead money to move on. He shouldn’t have to go far, though; Jones started his career in Miami under defensive wizard Todd Bowles, who is now the coordinator in Tampa. The Bucs could use Jones’ range and instincts in either safety spot.

The Jets sign Logan Ryan to a three-year, $42 million deal

Ryan had an active season in Tennessee; he was the nearest defender in coverage on 99 targets, the fifth-most in football. Trumaine Johnson is almost surely going to be cut by the Jets, and Brian Poole is a free agent, so Ryan could step in as a much-needed starting corner outside or (preferably) in the slot.

The Eagles sign Patrick Robinson to a one-year, $2 million contract

Cornerback was a disaster for the Eagles last season, and they have to do something to address the position this offseason. Let’s start by bringing back Robinson, who had a career year in the slot for the Eagles in 2017 and then got lost in the shuffle with the Saints.

Philadelphia signs Xavier Rhodes to a one-year, $3.5 million pact

Likewise, Rhodes was great in 2017 and then hasn’t been anywhere near as effective over the past couple of seasons. The Eagles, who don’t have a ton of money to spend, would be hoping that a fresh start and an offseason to heal would get the 29-year-old Rhodes looking like his former self. He is likely to be a cap casualty in Minnesota.

Chris Harris Jr. signs a four-year, $62 million deal with the Jets

Can you name the only cornerback with an average annual salary of $15 million? It’s Josh Norman. Jalen Ramsey will likely sign a record-setting deal soon, but Harris might be the next to top that $15 million mark. The Jets desperately need help at cornerback and will clear out Trumaine Johnson‘s deal this offseason.

The Giants land Trumaine Johnson on a one-year, $4 million contract

The Giants are going young at corner but likely need to add a veteran after cutting Janoris Jenkins in December. Johnson was a disaster with the Jets, but he just turned 30 and was one of the league’s best corners with the Rams as recently as 2017.

Bashaud Breeland signs a three-year, $30 million deal with the Broncos

If the Broncos lose Harris, they’ll need to add a cornerback to take his place. Bryce Callahan should be back to play the slot after missing all of 2019 with a foot injury, so Denver will likely look for a corner to play outside. Signing Breeland also steals from the rival Chiefs.

The Eagles sign Eli Apple to a one-year, $5 million contract

The 2016 first-round pick has had an up-and-down career, mixing impressive seasons in 2016 and 2018 with disappointing campaigns in 2017 and 2019. Apple played his high school football a half hour away from the Linc, and both sides of this deal could benefit from giving him a chance to prove himself in 2020.

Philly signs Brian Poole to a three-year, $18 million deal

Poole quietly rebuilt his career after being cut by the Falcons as one of the few bright spots for the Jets on defense — or really anywhere — in 2019. He would take over as the Eagles’ slot corner and reunite with former Falcons defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel, now the secondary coach in Philadelphia.

Byron Jones signs a five-year, $60 million deal with the Raiders

Let’s get Jon Gruden’s 31st-ranked defense by DVOA a new star. Cornerback has been a mess for the Raiders over the past couple of years, but Jones’ size, speed and physicality gives Las Vegas somebody who can compete with the likes of Keenan Allen, Travis Kelce and Courtland Sutton.

The Texans sign Chris Harris Jr. to a four-year, $56 million deal

A year ago, the Texans signed former Broncos corner Bradley Roby to a one-year deal to try to shore up a thin cornerback group. Now, they’ll make a more substantial deal with Harris, who will start alongside Lonnie Johnson and Gareon Conley in 2020. This contract would have two fully guaranteed seasons.

The Browns sign Bradley Roby to a three-year, $33 million pact

With former Broncos defensive backs coach Joe Woods taking over in Cleveland as defensive coordinator, the Browns might look to add a player in his peak with a Super Bowl ring to help serve as a leader on that side of the ball. Roby, a first-round pick in 2014, would beef up a corner position that includes Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams.

Washington cuts Josh Norman, who signs a one-year deal with the Bills

Norman has been a below-average player since signing a record-setting deal with Washington. He could retire, but I wonder if the Bills would give him a chance. Sean McDermott was the Panthers’ defensive coordinator when Norman broke out in 2015, and the deal likely wouldn’t have much guaranteed money.

The Jets cut Trumaine Johnson, who inks a one-year deal with the Vikings

Mike Zimmer will need to rebuild at cornerback with Xavier Rhodes a likely cap casualty and Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander hitting free agency. The Vikings will likely address corner in the draft, but taking a low-cost flier on Johnson after two disastrous years with the Jets is the sort of thing Zimmer should consider.

Byron Jones signs a four-year, $48 million deal with the Jaguars

Jones’ size should attract interest from teams who run variants of the Pete Carroll Cover 3 Buzz scheme. The Jags still do under Todd Wash and could use a cornerback to replace Jalen Ramsey on the outside across from A.J. Bouye, although this would be a tough squeeze given their cap situation.

Aqib Talib signs a one-year, $3 million deal with the 49ers

Talib and Richard Sherman? It’s rare to see a team start two cornerbacks on the wrong side of 30, but talent means more than age. Talib was good when he got on the field for the Rams the past two seasons, but he played only 11 total regular-season games in L.A. before a salary dump trade to Miami. He’s still good enough to get an opportunity to play.

Published at Mon, 10 Feb 2020 13:46:23 +0000

Offseason predictions for all 32 NFL teams: Gurley trade, QBs on move

Offseason predictions for all 32 NFL teams: Gurley trade, QBs on move

The Super Bowl is behind us, and now the real intrigue begins for all 32 NFL teams with the start of the offseason.

We asked our NFL Nation reporters to give us a bold prediction for the 2020 offseason. Nothing was off limits — be it free agency, the draft, coaching.

One thing appears certain: Quarterbacks, young and old, will dominate the headlines. And the Rams might try to find a new home for Todd Gurley.

Jump to:
ARI | ATL | BAL | BUF | CAR | CHI | CIN
CLE | DAL | DEN | DET | GB | HOU | IND
JAX | KC | LAC | LAR | MIA | MIN | NE
NO | NYG | NYJ | OAK | PHI | PIT | SF
SEA | TB | TEN | WSH

AFC EAST

The Bills will sign Tre’Davious White to a market-setting contract extension.

The 2017 first-round pick also has a fifth-year option available, but since earning All-Pro honors in his third season, he has established himself as one of Buffalo’s franchise cornerstones. As one league source told ESPN, White is simply too good to have to prove himself again with the fifth-year option. Expect him to be one of the highest-paid cornerbacks in the league, if not the highest-paid, once his extension kicks in. — Marcel Louis-Jacques


The Dolphins will trade up to draft Tua Tagovailoa.

Miami is a top contender to select a quarterback with its top pick in the first round (No. 5), and Tagovailoa appears to be the most likely candidate. Between now and the draft, it seems likely that positive reviews will come out about Tagovailoa’s injured hip, enticing teams behind the Dolphins to trade up for him. General manager Chris Grier says the team has “more than enough” ammunition to trade up if needed, with three first-round picks and 14 projected total selections. Our bold prediction is the Dolphins will feel the need to trade up, possibly to No. 3 with the Detroit Lions, to secure Tagovailoa. — Cameron Wolfe


The Patriots will be aggressive at tight end.

Whether it’s making a run at one of the top free agents (such as Hunter Henry or Austin Hooper) or devoting notable resources in the draft, the Patriots will make a hard push at the position similar to in 2010, when they drafted Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and transformed their offense. While some analysts say this year’s draft isn’t strong at tight end, seeing the success of George Kittle (49ers, fifth round) and Travis Kelce (Chiefs, third round) serves up a reminder that there are always hidden gems to be found. — Mike Reiss


All-Pro safety Jamal Adams will not receive a new contract before the start of the season.

Adams says he expects to have a new deal, but the Jets will slow-play the negotiations because they have the leverage. They have rights to him for two more years, plus a third if they use the franchise tag, so there’s no sense of urgency. They will prioritize other needs before getting to Adams’ contract, which won’t make him happy. — Rich Cimini

AFC NORTH

The Ravens will sign Calais Campbell in free agency.

Baltimore’s top priority is to upgrade its pass rush after recording a league-low nine sacks with its four-man rush. Campbell, an expected salary-cap cut in Jacksonville, has totaled 31.5 sacks over the past three seasons — seventh most in the NFL over that span (and just one fewer than Denver’s Von Miller). Even though he’s 33, Campbell has many of the traits the Ravens love: durability, versatility (can provide rush on the edge and interior) and strong leadership skills. While adding Jaguars pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue would create a bigger splash, Campbell would represent bigger value for a defense looking to restock its front seven. — Jamison Hensley


Joe Mixon will get $45 million guaranteed in a contract extension.

Mixon, who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons, has been one of the NFL’s most productive running backs and is looking to be compensated accordingly. The Bengals have historically been willing to re-sign their top guys and that shouldn’t change with the 23-year-old Mixon, who will be a building block for the Bengals’ rebuilding process. — Ben Baby


The Browns will add two starting tackles.

New general manager Andrew Berry will add one tackle through the draft and one through free agency or a trade. Such a move will shore up Cleveland’s biggest weakness last season. And it will give quarterback Baker Mayfield the time he needs to unlock his talented receiving corps downfield. — Jake Trotter


The Steelers will add a veteran quarterback to the roster.

Even if he’s not one who has been in the system for a decade, an experienced signal-caller could have solved many of the issues that arose when Ben Roethlisberger went down and they were left with Mason Rudolph and Devlin “Duck” Hodges. The Steelers should be able to fix some of those issues with the hiring of new QBs coach Matt Canada, but adding a veteran to the room is a smart insurance policy. — Brooke Pryor

AFC SOUTH

The Texans will let nose tackle D.J. Reader walk, despite an excellent season.

Houston struck gold when it drafted Reader in the fifth round in 2016, but by not having signed him to a new contract before the 2019 season, the team might be priced out of keeping him. The Texans could use the franchise tag on Reader, but after giving extensions to center Nick Martin and outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus and with new deals on the horizon for quarterback Deshaun Watson and left tackle Laremy Tunsil, they might not be able to keep the nose tackle. — Sarah Barshop


The Colts will attempt to move up from the No. 13 pick in the first round of the draft to select Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa.

Indianapolis has questions at quarterback, and general manager Chris Ballard will try to move ahead of Miami, which has the No. 5 pick, to get Tagovailoa. In Ballard’s favor is that Indianapolis has nine picks in this year’s draft. — Mike Wells


The Jaguars will get a deal done with defensive end Yannick Ngakoue — in August.

The Jaguars will use the franchise tag and try to work something out, but Ngakoue’s camp is pretty upset with the team after last year’s attempted negotiations. The sides were roughly $3 million apart on annual salary, and former executive VP Tom Coughlin’s decision to cut off negotiations resulted in a lot of anger. It’s going to take a while for GM Dave Caldwell to repair that relationship and a deal to get done, which means it’s unlikely Ngakoue will be in training camp. — Michael DiRocco


The Titans will sign quarterback Ryan Tannehill and running back Derrick Henry without using the franchise or transition tags.

Signing two of the top players in free agency will not be an easy task for Titans GM Jon Robinson. Armed with about $55 million in cap space, Robinson will keep his offensive formula intact by re-signing Henry and Tannehill. Both players are fully aware that Tennessee is the ideal situation for them, which will influence their decisions. — Turron Davenport

AFC WEST

The Broncos will be the most active team in the offseason.

If the Broncos are going to break their streak of three consecutive losing seasons — their first such streak since the 1970s — John Elway will have to do the best work of his front office career. The Broncos have the biggest combination of cap space (more than $60 million) and draft picks (projected to have 12) since Elway took over in 2011. They will certainly be willing to make trades during the draft, but the Chiefs are the Super Bowl champions with a 24-year-old franchise quarterback in Patrick Mahomes so this is also about improvement and playing the long game. The Broncos will finish out the draft with the largest class in Elway’s tenure as the top football decision-maker to help bolster a roster that has needs in the secondary, offensive line, linebacker and wide receiver.— Jeff Legwold


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Marcus Spears is confident Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs will continue winning for years to come.

The Chiefs will keep their first-round draft pick.

That might not sound bold, but the Chiefs have traded theirs in each of the past two years, and general manager Brett Veach likes to deal. But with a contract extension for quarterback Patrick Mahomes looming this year, the Chiefs, who own the No. 32 pick, need all the good, young and cheap talent they can get their hands on. — Adam Teicher


The Chargers will draft a quarterback in the first round.

Since taking over as GM in 2013, Tom Telesco has selected just two quarterbacks in the draft — Brad Sorensen in the seventh round in 2013 and Easton Stick in the fifth round last year. With 38-year-old Philip Rivers a pending free agent and moving his family for good to Florida, it’s time for Telesco to find his successor. The No. 6 overall selection in the draft provides the best chance for the Bolts to secure a franchise quarterback. — Eric D. Williams


The Raiders will stand pat with Derek Carr at quarterback.

What, the purported franchise quarterback keeping his job isn’t bold enough for you? Well, Carr has become the most polarizing figure in recent franchise history, and predicting that the team would move on from him for the likes of (gulp) Tom Brady as it sets sail for Las Vegas would seem, well, trite. Plus, as Carr has pointed out, he is coming off career bests in passing yards (4,054) and completion percentage (70.4%) and he expects to excel playing in Jon Gruden’s offense for the third consecutive season … so long as the Raiders add a WR1. — Paul Gutierrez

NFC EAST

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Marcus Spears explains how the Cowboys, if they put everything together, can stop the Chiefs from becoming a dynasty.

Jason Witten will play a 17th season … but it won’t be with the Cowboys.

At the end of 2019, Witten said he would make a quick decision on his future, which led many to think he would retire and potentially get into coaching. He still hasn’t made one, which brings the playing element into focus. Witten is the franchise leader in length of service, games played, catches and receiving yards. He is one shy of equaling Dez Bryant’s team record for touchdown catches. He is a Cowboy through and through. The Cowboys like Blake Jarwin‘s development and could look to add a tight end early in the draft. Witten was productive in his return as a blocker and receiver in 2019, but he turns 38 in May and the arrival of Mike McCarthy as coach could mean the right time for an amicable separation. — Todd Archer


General manager Dave Gettleman will trade down in the draft for the first time.

There is a first time for everything; this is the time. The Giants have the fourth overall pick. With quarterback Joe Burrow and defensive end Chase Young expected to go 1-2 in the draft, it puts the Lions (3) and Giants in ideal positions. The demand for QBs Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert will be intense and the price steep, prompting Gettleman to act out of character and make a move down, where the Giants can still get a defensive playmaker or offensive tackle while adding valuable draft assets. — Jordan Raanan


The Eagles will make a splash move at cornerback.

Both starting corners from 2019, Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby, are free agents. While it wouldn’t be a surprise if Mills were brought back into the fold, Philadelphia will want import a proven difference-maker to hold down one side of the field. The Cowboys’ Byron Jones and the Broncos’ Chris Harris Jr. are among the top projected free-agent corners. Whether it be via free agency or a trade, Philly will make some waves. — Tim McManus


The Redskins will draft defensive end Chase Young — and still hold onto Ryan Kerrigan by giving him a contract extension.

While on the surface that might not seem bold, here’s why it is: Kerrigan is 31, is coming off the first season in which he missed games and is owed $11.5 million in base salary this season. They also have Montez Sweat to play end in a 4-3 along with Young, so Kerrigan might not even be a starter. But rather than simply cutting Kerrigan (or trading him, though he would not fetch much because of his age and salary), they can offset his cost by lowering his base salary this year but tacking on another season. He could then fill a role a la Clay Matthews with the Rams or Chris Long when he was with the Patriots and then Eagles — situational pass-rushers. Also, owner Dan Snyder likes and respects Kerrigan quite a bit. That’s important here, too. — John Keim

NFC NORTH

The Bears will acquire an experienced backup quarterback to push Mitchell Trubisky.

Chicago general manager Ryan Pace already committed to Trubisky as the Week 1 starter in 2020, but the Bears have to find better fallback options than Chase Daniel or Tyler Bray. Look for Chicago to either trade for or sign a proven No. 2 such as Andy Dalton or Marcus Mariota when the new league year begins. The Bears can’t afford to waste another season waiting for Trubisky — the second overall pick of the 2017 draft — to develop. It’s now or never. — Jeff Dickerson

The Lions will trade down to No. 5 in the draft and still take cornerback Jeff Okudah.

Yes, this might not seem that bold considering No. 3 is a logical trade-out spot and many mocks have the Lions and Okudah tied together. But saying it in January and having it executed in April are two different things. In trading with the Dolphins, who have the No. 5 pick, the Lions can potentially pick up another first-round selection, which might be able to land them DT Javon Kinlaw or DE Josh Uche — depending which pick it is. That would give Detroit two potential pieces to build its future defense around who would fill massive needs. It’s the smart, shrewd play — if GM Bob Quinn can pull it off. — Michael Rothstein


The Packers will finally draft a wide receiver in the first round.

This is something they haven’t done since 2002, when they took Javon Walker at No. 20 overall. It’s a receiver-rich draft, so even at No. 30 there’s a good chance they can find an impact pass-catcher. In fact, don’t be surprised if they take more than one. GM Brian Gutekunst took three receivers in the 2018 draft, but none higher than Round 4, and only one played last season. — Rob Demovsky


Mike Zimmer will hand over defensive playcalling duties.

We might not see this come to fruition for a while, but the Vikings’ head coach might decide to delegate calling defensive plays to one of his two co-defensive coordinators. Zimmer has been mulling over this idea for several seasons. The reason it’s believable now more than before is that his son, Adam, the Vikings’ linebackers coach, is the co-DC along with defensive-line coach Andre Patterson. What better way for the elder Zimmer to pass on his legacy as a defensive guru than to guide his son through the process of calling plays so he’ll be able to take over those duties this fall, or allow his close confidant in Patterson to finally get an opportunity to call his own game. — Courtney Cronin

NFC SOUTH

The Falcons will lose free-agent tight end Austin Hooper to the Packers.

Sure, they’ll offer Hooper a contract before free agency, but it won’t be enough to satisfy the two-time Pro Bowler. And the Packers, with more cap space and coach Matt LaFleur’s familiarity with Hooper, will make a move. — Vaughn McClure


The Panthers will sign Saints backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in free agency and trade or release Cam Newton.

They’ll then draft Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa with the No. 7 overall pick. OK, maybe they don’t get Bridgewater and Tagovailoa. If they get Bridgewater, they could use the seventh pick on a defensive player to replace Luke Kuechly. But they will make a bold move at quarterback in some form or fashion. — David Newton


Running back Alvin Kamara will miss much of the offseason in a contract holdout.

Kamara has not announced any plans to do this. But it feels like a no-brainer since he is heading into the final year of a supremely discounted rookie contract (he was a third-round pick). Perhaps the Saints will pay Kamara quickly, like they did with wide receiver Michael Thomas last summer. But agreeing on Kamara’s market value could prove more difficult since there aren’t many perfect comparisons for him and since all NFL teams wrestle with how much to pay their backs. — Mike Triplett


The Bucs won’t have a new deal for Jameis Winston before March.

The Bucs haven’t decided if he’s the long-term answer and would rather pursue a shorter-term deal, such as a franchise tag or two-year deal, while Winston wants more long-term security. — Jenna Laine

NFC WEST

The Cardinals will part ways with running back David Johnson, who was once considered the future face of the franchise.

He’s scheduled to earn $10.2 million in 2020, with the entire amount guaranteed on the third day of the league year. But Johnson’s production continued to dwindle in 2019. He ran for just 345 yards, caught 36 passes for 370 yards and was benched throughout the season in favor of Kenyan Drake. While it’s not a guarantee that the Cardinals will bring back Drake, Johnson probably will be a casualty of his production and contract going in opposite directions. — Josh Weinfuss


In a pinch to find space under the salary cap, the Rams will attempt to trade running back Todd Gurley.

Whether L.A. can pull it off remains another question, given Gurley’s massive contract that includes $45 million in guarantees and runs through the 2023 season, as well as the uncertainty that continues to surround the long-term health of his surgically repaired left knee. This past season, Gurley played a diminished role in the offense, rushing for 857 yards, his fewest since the 2016 season (885). — Lindsey Thiry


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Dan Orlovsky and Dan Graziano discuss the possibility of the 49ers moving on from Jimmy Garoppolo and acquiring Tom Brady.

The 49ers will make George Kittle the NFL’s highest-paid tight end … by a lot.

Green Bay’s Jimmy Graham has the highest annual average value contract among tight ends at $10 million per season, as the price tag for top tight ends has remained relatively stagnant. That’s about to change as Kittle is entering the final season of his rookie deal and is scheduled to make just $735,000 in base salary after posting more receiving yards in his first three seasons than any tight end in league history. Kittle is also a dominant blocker, a team leader and one of the most valuable players in the league. All of that should add up to a contract averaging somewhere between $12 million and $14 million per season. — Nick Wagoner


The Seahawks will not re-sign Jadeveon Clowney.

He was the only consistent threat on one of the NFL’s worst pass-rush units, which made it all too evident that the Seahawks need more than just him. But they would have a hard time adding a second high-priced pass-rusher if they have to pay Khalil Mack-type money to keep Clowney, who might command that much since Seattle can’t tag him and thus can’t keep him from reaching free agency. The guess here is that GM John Schneider lets Clowney walk and puts that money toward a pair of pass-rushers a la the Packers, who got a combined 25.5 regular-season sacks from 2019 free-agent additions Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith and then four more of Russell Wilson in their playoff victory over Seattle. — Brady Henderson

Published at Thu, 30 Jan 2020 15:12:21 +0000

32 players who leveled up this season: Rising receivers and Year 2 leaps

32 players who leveled up this season: Rising receivers and Year 2 leaps

Super Bowl LIV on Sunday will showcase some of the NFL’s elite players from the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs — and many of those players have shown great improvement throughout their careers.

In an effort to highlight those players who have made big jumps from one season to the next, we asked our NFL Nation reporters to identify the player on each team who leveled up the most during the 2019 season.

That player could be someone who didn’t play much and became a solid starter, or a good player who broke through to become great.

Jump to:
ARI | ATL | BAL | BUF | CAR | CHI | CIN
CLE | DAL | DEN | DET | GB | HOU | IND
JAX | KC | LAC | LAR | MIA | MIN | NE
NO | NYG | NYJ | OAK | PHI | PIT | SF
SEA | TB | TEN | WSH

AFC EAST

Jordan Phillips, defensive tackle. The free agent’s stats speak for themselves — his 9.5 sacks in 2019 not only represent a five-year high but also make up 63% off his career total. While Buffalo decides whether to let the 6-foot-6, 340-pound Phillips walk this offseason, it’s clear he showcased solid production in a contract year with a first-round rookie in Ed Oliver competing at his position. — Marcel Louis-Jacques


DeVante Parker, wide receiver. We finally got the DeVante Parker breakout season in Year 5. Parker was a more confident, explosive and dominant receiver as he finished fifth in the NFL in receiving yards (1,202) one year after the worst season of his career (309). He also played 16 games for the first time in his career. A change in diet, a commitment to taking better care of his body, a coaching staff change and the arrival of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick all played a significant role for Parker, who signed a four-year, $40 million extension as a reward for his play. “I was perceived as a bust. Some of [the media] said it, too,” Parker said in December. “Things change now.” — Cameron Wolfe


J.C. Jackson, cornerback. The second-year player was second on the Patriots with five interceptions and 10 passes defended. After filling in admirably for injured starter Jason McCourty down the homestretch, he has positioned himself well to be a permanent starter in 2020. Jackson made the team as an undrafted rookie in 2018 and played well in his first season, but he took a decisive step up in 2019. — Mike Reiss


Folorunso Fatukasi, defensive tackle. The 2018 sixth-round pick, who barely got on the field as a rookie, emerged as a key contributor in the Jets’ defensive line rotation. He made a smooth transition to coordinator Gregg Williams’ one-gap scheme, finishing with 12 tackles for loss — tied for third on the team. His productive season was solid, considering he played 35% of the defensive snaps. In some ways, he outperformed linemate Quinnen Williams, the third overall pick in 2019. — Rich Cimini

AFC NORTH

Lamar Jackson, quarterback. Did any player make a bigger leap from the previous season? Jackson went from being the 32nd-rated passer to the favorite for NFL Most Valuable Player. As a rookie in 2018, Jackson was a promising quarterback who beat teams primarily with his legs. He improved significantly in every facet of his game in 2019, leading the league with 36 touchdown passes and breaking Michael Vick’s single-season rushing record for quarterbacks. — Jamison Hensley

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Damien Woody and Danny Amendola break down what the Ravens need to do next season to make a run in the playoffs.

Auden Tate, wide receiver. Tate played in seven games and had just four catches in 2018. In 2019, he blossomed under coach Zac Taylor. The 2018 seventh-round draft pick had 40 catches for 575 yards and a touchdown and showed how valuable he can be moving forward. — Ben Baby


Nick Chubb, running back. The 2018 second-round pick was a good player as a rookie, rushing for 996 yards, but he became a Pro Bowler in his second season. Chubb finished second in the league in rushing with 1,494 yards while averaging 5 per carry. Jim Brown is the only Browns running back to have rushed for more yards in a season. — Jake Trotter


Bud Dupree, outside linebacker. Playing out his fifth-year option, Dupree exceeded expectations. Starting every game, he more than doubled his sack total from 2018 and set a career high with 11.5. The 2015 first-round pick was inconsistent during his first four seasons, but with his standout season opposite of Pro Bowler T.J. Watt, Dupree is a likely franchise-tag candidate. Both coach Mike Tomlin and owner Art Rooney II say retaining Dupree is a top priority. Watt agreed, saying: “If anyone asks me that — it’s way above my pay grade — but if anybody asks me that, I’ll 100% advocate for Bud Dupree.” — Brooke Pryor

AFC SOUTH

D.J. Reader, nose tackle. The 2016 fifth-round pick has been a solid player for the Texans, but he took a big step forward during his 15 games played in 2019. Reader finished the season ranked by Pro Football Focus as the No. 6 interior defender, and his excellent play — especially when teammate J.J. Watt was on injured reserve — drove up his price in free agency. If the Texans are not ready to commit to a long-term deal with Reader, they could use the franchise tag on him. — Sarah Barshop


Khari Willis, safety. The Colts moved up in the fourth round of the 2019 draft to select Willis, who was supposed to be a backup behind starters Clayton Geathers and Malik Hooker. Willis instead started nine of the 14 games he played in and eventually replaced Geathers in the starting lineup. Willis’ 620 snaps tied for the eighth most on the Colts’ defense. With Geathers headed for free agency, Willis is in line to become the permanent starter at safety alongside Hooker. — Mike Wells


DJ Chark Jr., wide receiver. He caught 14 passes for 174 yards as a rookie in 2018 and admitted in the offseason that he didn’t realize how hard he needed to work — and that he wasn’t even close to that level. One year later, Chark was the Jaguars’ most improved player, with 73 catches for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s one of five players in Jaguars history to surpass 1,000 yards receiving in a season. — Michael DiRocco


Logan Ryan, cornerback. Ryan once again was a force rushing the passer in sub packages, as shown by his 4.5 sacks. However, he was also around the football a lot more this season. He posted four interceptions in 2019 after going without one in two seasons with the Titans (2017, ’18). Ryan’s 18 pass breakups were more than double what he had last season. — Turron Davenport

AFC WEST

Justin Simmons, safety. Defensive end Shelby Harris, poised to be an unrestricted free agent, was certainly a candidate here given his significant jump in his contract year, but Simmons went from being one of the Broncos’ best defenders in 2018 to playing at an All-Pro level in 2019. Simmons was a perfect fit both in coverage and along the line of scrimmage in coach Vic Fangio’s system. He played every snap on defense for the second consecutive season, with career highs in passes defensed (15) as well as interceptions (four), and he was second on the team in tackles. Simmons is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent, but Broncos general manager John Elway has already told Simmons the team wants to re-sign him. The Broncos will have to make Simmons one of the league’s highest-paid safeties to keep him and are expected to do just that, unless there is some drastic change of heart in the coming weeks. — Jeff Legwold


Tanoh Kpassagnon, defensive end. The 2017 second-round pick was miscast and lost during his first two seasons with the Chiefs as an outside linebacker. But he benefited greatly by a move to defensive end in Steve Spagnuolo’s 4-3 base system. Kpassagnon had four sacks during the regular season and two in the AFC Championship Game. — Adam Teicher


Austin Ekeler, running back. The cat-quick running back benefited from Melvin Gordon‘s holdout at the start of the 2019 regular season, establishing himself as an impact player for the Chargers. Ekeler, who had 563 offensive snaps, finished with a career-high 1,550 scrimmage yards and 11 total touchdowns. — Eric D. Williams


Darren Waller, tight end. The physical tools were always there for the converted receiver. His personal demons in the form of substance abuse were what always got in his way. Until 2019. Waller has remained clean since Sept. 14, 2017, and he exploded on the scene in 2019 with 90 catches for 1,145 yards and three touchdowns (he had 18 catches for 178 yards and two TDs combined in his previous three seasons). Also, Waller’s 570 yards after the catch were the most among all tight ends in 2019. — Paul Gutierrez

NFC EAST

Michael Gallup, wide receiver. He showed flashes as a rookie in 2018, but he made major leaps in his second season, finishing with 1,107 yards and six touchdowns on 66 catches. He and Amari Cooper became the first Cowboys receivers to post 1,000-yard seasons in the same year since Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn did it in 2006. Gallup made some Dez Bryant-like plays in 2019 but still needs to work on route running and making contested catches. With Gallup and Cooper, the Cowboys could have one of the NFL’s best receiver tandems to grow with quarterback Dak Prescott for years ago come. — Todd Archer

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Cowboys new head coach Mike McCarthy breaks down his expectations for the team moving forward and why he can help Dallas make a deep playoff run.

Markus Golden, outside linebacker. He has done it before. The 2015 second-round pick had double-digit sack totals in 2016 with the Arizona Cardinals. But the previous two seasons were a struggle for Golden because of a knee injury; he had 2.5 sacks combined during that span. Golden leveled up in 2019, though, getting back to where he had been prior to the injury. Golden had 10 sacks and was the Giants’ best defensive player this season. — Jordan Raanan


Dallas Goedert, tight end. The 2018 second-round pick nearly doubled his production from his rookie season, finishing with 58 catches for 607 yards to go with five touchdowns, and he did so while sharing the field with Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz. Goedert played his best ball down the stretch, including in a wild-card playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks in which he caught seven balls on eight targets for 73 yards. The Eagles head into 2020 with a nasty 1-2 punch at tight end thanks to the emergence of Goedert. — Tim McManus


Ereck Flowers, guard. He was a disaster as a tackle, both with the New York Giants, who made him a first-round pick in 2015, and with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2018. But he revived his career by playing well at left guard for the Redskins this past season. It’s not as if Flowers was great, but he was good — and better than anticipated considering he didn’t fully make the switch until the middle of training camp. Flowers’ size made him a big help in the Redskins’ power run game, and despite his occasional whiffs, he was a pleasant surprise for Washington. He’s a free agent, but the Redskins would like him back. In November, former Redskins offensive line coach and interim head coach Bill Callahan said: “The thing that I love about him is he’s conscientious, he’s dependable, he’s a reliable guy, he loves football, got a passion for the game and he has a thirst for knowledge and getting better every day.” — John Keim

NFC NORTH

Allen Robinson, wide receiver. Robinson was still recovering from a torn ACL when the Bears signed him away from Jacksonville during the 2018 offseason. The 6-foot-2 receiver had a respectable first season in Chicago with 55 catches for 754 yards and four touchdowns, but the 2014 second-round pick took his game to another level in 2019. Robinson led Chicago with 98 receptions for 1,147 yards and seven touchdowns. The Bears had one of the NFL’s worst offenses in 2019, and Robinson managed to deliver a Pro Bowl-caliber season. — Jeff Dickerson


Matthew Stafford, quarterback. After throwing for under 4,000 yards for the first time in a full season in his career in 2018 and tying a career worst in yards per attempt in a full season (6.8), Stafford once again proved he is Detroit’s MVP. Before a back injury ended his 2019 season after eight games, he was playing at a Pro Bowl and fringe MVP level — on pace for 5,000 yards, 40 touchdowns and 10 interceptions (he had 2,499 yards, 19 touchdowns and five interceptions). While safety Tracy Walker, center Frank Ragnow and receiver Kenny Golladay could all merit inclusion, it is Stafford who took a jump in play once again, and when the Lions didn’t have him, they saw how bad it could get. — Michael Rothstein


Aaron Jones, running back. Most Packers fans wondered what Jones could do if Green Bay gave him the chance to be the outright No. 1 back after two years of splitting time almost evenly with Jamaal Williams. He delivered in a bigger way than perhaps anyone imagined, tying for the NFL team lead in touchdowns (with 19) and totaling 1,558 total yards from scrimmage. Jones went from being a player with much potential to a player whom opposing defenses had to plan against. — Rob Demovsky

Ifeadi Odenigbo, defensive end. The 2017 seventh-round pick by the Vikings was cut, had brief stints with Cleveland and Arizona, re-signed with Minnesota’s practice squad in 2018 and then finally made the Vikings’ 53-man roster last August. His feel-good story of perseverance was made even better as the Vikings found an ideal fit for Odenigbo as an edge rusher, where he totaled seven sacks, which ranked third behind Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen. Odenigbo made the most of the playing time he earned in his third season (34% of defensive snaps) and emerged as a trusted pass-rusher who could play a number of different roles in the D-line rotation. — Courtney Cronin

NFC SOUTH

Grady Jarrett, defensive tackle. The 2015 fifth-round draft pick by the Falcons has been a good player, but he took another step in 2019. Jarrett joined the league’s elite at his position and was named to his first Pro Bowl. He was second on the team with 7.5 sacks while playing on the interior line and had a team-leading 12 tackles for loss (he had six sacks and eight TFLs in 2018). Jarrett’s first step is devastating and his motor never stops. That’s why the Falcons rewarded him with a four-year, $68 million extension in July 2019. — Vaughn McClure


D.J. Moore, wide receiver. The 2018 first-round pick went from 55 catches and 788 yards as a rookie to 87 catches for 1,175 yards and four touchdowns in 2019. That his jump in production came with undrafted Kyle Allen and third-round pick Will Grier at quarterback (since Week 2) made his success all the more impressive considering their combined inexperience. — David Newton


Demario Davis, linebacker. The 31-year-old has actually been leveling up for the past three years, but he finally seems to be getting proper notice as a first-team All-Pro. Davis, who began his career with the Jets and Browns, could make a strong case as the Saints’ best free-agent signing since quarterback Drew Brees, both because of his athleticism as an every-down linebacker and his leadership. He had 111 tackles, four sacks, 12 pass defenses and an interception in 2019. “Demario Davis is one of the most overlooked players in the league from a media perspective,” said Greg Cosell, the executive producer and on-air analyst for ESPN’s NFL Matchup. “Teams that have to play the Saints know what he is, but I think he’s one of the best three-down linebackers in the league.” — Mike Triplett


Chris Godwin, wide receiver. In his first season as a full-time starter, Godwin finished with 1,333 receiving yards — third most in the NFL despite missing the final two games of the season because of a hamstring injury. His nine touchdowns were also tied for fourth among the league’s receivers. Godwin benefited from a move inside in coach Bruce Arians’ offense, the same role once occupied by Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Arians said the priority is “high” to re-sign Godwin to an extension: “He’s earned it.” — Jenna Laine

NFC WEST

Joe Walker, linebacker. The 2016 seventh-round pick made significant strides in 2019 after being relied upon more this season than he has in his NFL career. Walker started 11 of 16 games this season, including the final 10. He had 58 tackles and a forced fumble while making strides in coverage. He was already an athletic linebacker in coordinator Vance Joseph’s system, but 2019 showed his on-field improvement. — Josh Weinfuss


Dante Fowler Jr., outside linebacker. The No. 3 pick in 2015, Fowler had yet to live up to his high draft selection — until the 2019 season. Playing on a one-year deal worth up to $12 million, Fowler proved his playmaking ability as he finished the season with a career-high 11.5 sacks, which ranked among the top 10 in the NFL. He surpassed his previous career best of eight sacks set in 2017. Fowler also forced two fumbles and had a fumble recovery. He is set to become an unrestricted free agent. — Lindsey Thiry


Fred Warner, linebacker. Warner was good as a rookie, but he was even better in Year 2, looking the part of a Pro Bowl-caliber player for a long time to come. Warner was one of three linebackers in the league with at least 90 tackles, four passes defended, three sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception, elevating his game even further after fellow linebacker Kwon Alexander suffered a torn pectoral on Oct. 31. “He’s the quarterback [of the defense], and it all starts with him, and he does a phenomenal job,” coordinator Robert Saleh said. “Major improvement from a year ago, but it started last year.” — Nick Wagoner


Shaquill Griffin, cornerback. After an up-and-down 2018 season, Griffin changed his diet, hired a personal chef and dropped about 20 pounds in 2019. He also ditched what he called a “selfish” mentality that he needed to be Richard Sherman just because he was replacing him. The result was his best season yet. Griffin gave up fewer big plays — which marred his 2018 season — and upped his pass breakups from five to 13, which by Pro Football Focus’ count were tied for second most in the NFL. That helped Griffin make his first Pro Bowl as a replacement. — Brady Henderson

Published at Tue, 28 Jan 2020 19:21:01 +0000

Pro Bowl becomes tribute to Lakers legend Kobe Bryant

Pro Bowl becomes tribute to Lakers legend Kobe Bryant

ORLANDO, Fla. — What started as just another Pro Bowl quickly turned into a tribute to NBA legend Kobe Bryant.

News that Bryant and his daughter Gianna were among several people killed in a helicopter crash Sunday morning in California broke shortly before the Pro Bowl game began. The players found out in the locker room moments before the start of the AFC’s 38-33 victory at Camping World Stadium. Numerous players took time throughout the game to pay tribute to the fourth-leading scorer in NBA history.

Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson led a prayer in the locker room before the teams took the field. NFC defensive players made multiple gestures to honor Bryant, the first coming during a timeout early in the second quarter when all the players in the huddle did a fadeaway jumper. That was Bryant’s signature move during his 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers.

“Everybody in our locker room was hurting,” said Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, who was named the game’s offensive MVP. “Some of these guys don’t know Kobe at all but he’s in our hearts. He did something for the game. … It’s hurtful seeing something like that. … It was devastating, like this has gotta be fake.

“This was my first Pro Bowl so it was right before the game, like it was crazy. But God always calls his angels home for a reason. God knows best.”

Green Bay linebacker Za’Darius Smith, as well as Detroit’s Darius Slay and Tampa Bay’s Shaq Barrett, did step-back fadeaway jumpers following Smith’s sack of Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson later in the second quarter. Smith, Minnesota’s Eric Kendricks and Everson Griffen, and Atlanta’s Grady Jarrett were among a group of players who repeated the gesture after a forced fumble early in the third quarter.

“It was a tribute to Kobe and his family,” Smith said during the game’s broadcast on ESPN. “This what we’re gonna do: two steps, then a fadeaway for him. For everyone to participate as a team, I just hope that touched a lot of people in a special way.”

Jacksonville’s Calais Campbell, who was named the game’s defensive MVP, and Baltimore’s Matthew Judon each took a knee during a moment of silence at the stadium during the two-minute warning. The crowd chanted “Ko-be” after the moment of silence was over.

“Kobe’s one of my heroes. He’s a big inspiration to me. In the few times I got to meet him, I was super encouraged when I left,” Campbell said. “… Honestly when we went into the locker room, our mentality was, ‘Embrace every moment.’ Because every moment is precious. You don’t know if you’re gonna get another one. You can tell the guys locked in. I think we played harder because of that.

“This is Kobe Bryant. His legacy – millions are affected by him. Everybody who plays sports, we have respect for the great Kobe Bryant. It was just devastating for all of us. We definitely all wanted to pay tribute and homage to him because he is the epitome of what an athletes supposed to be.”

Green Bay’s Davante Adams twice flashed two fingers and then four fingers — a reference to Bryant’s No. 24 jersey he wore with the Lakers — after his third-quarter touchdown catch.

Bucs outside linebacker Shaq Barrett said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll came into the locker room and said, “Go play and go play hard, because if [Kobe] was here, that’s what he would do … If he was here that is something that he would do, like if something happened to somebody else, he would go out there and play and leave it all on the field.”

Brees gets the start: Wilson was supposed to be the NFC’s starting quarterback, but he gave up that honor to New Orleans’ Drew Brees, who was making his 13th Pro Bowl appearance. It was clearly a sign of respect for the 41-year-old Brees, who is contemplating retirement. Brees is scheduled to become a free agent in March and said earlier in the week that he was either going to play for the New Orleans Saints in 2020 or not at all. Brees told media after Saturday’s Pro Bowl practice that he would wait until after football is completely finished before announcing a decision.

Ravens fly: Baltimore had a league-high 12 players in the Pro Bowl and its offensive stars accounted for 289 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Lamar Jackson — the game’s offensive MVP — threw for 185 yards and two touchdowns with one interception and tight end Mark Andrews had a game-high nine catches for 73 yards and one touchdown. Running back Mark Ingram ran for 31 yards and caught one pass for 17 yards.

Safety Earl Thomas had one of the AFC’s two interceptions.

ESPN Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter Jenna Laine contributed to this report.

Published at Sun, 26 Jan 2020 23:40:21 +0000

The best, worst and most underrated moves of the 2019 NFL offseason

The best, worst and most underrated moves of the 2019 NFL offseason

Hindsight is the most wondrous of evaluation tools. Just look back on all the “best offseason moves” lists from last summer if you’re looking for a laugh. Almost none of what we expected came true. But that’s the essence of sports anyway, so it’s fine.

With only one game left in the 2019-20 NFL season, we have the luxury of looking back on the 2019 offseason and knowing which moves were the best, worst, most underrated, etc. This isn’t an I-told-you-so exercise, because I didn’t. Like almost everyone else, I didn’t see much of this — or at least the extent of it — coming.

So enjoy this hindsight-driven look back on the 2019 offseason, and please keep it in mind when you read those preseason pieces this summer. The moves that look the best or the worst at the time they’re made often turn out much differently than you expect.

Jump to:
Best | Worst
Underrated | Still waiting…

THE FIVE BEST MOVES OF LAST OFFSEASON

The Chiefs’ defensive makeover

I was skeptical of the move to hire Steve Spagnuolo as defensive coordinator. His track record has many more bad years than good ones. I grew even more skeptical as the Chiefs overhauled their defense on the fly and in ways Spagnuolo clearly had a hand in directing.

But after a bit of a sluggish start, Spags & Co. proved me wrong. The Tyrann Mathieu signing was a difference-maker. Replacing Dee Ford with Frank Clark worked out (though one could argue the Ford thing worked out for the 49ers as well). Chris Jones managed to continue to thrive as a pass-rusher in spite of Spagnuolo’s history of not asking his defensive tackles to be that.

And now the Chiefs are in the Super Bowl after holding Derrick Henry to 69 yards in the AFC Championship Game. With Patrick Mahomes and all those speedsters on offense, the Chiefs only needed their defense to elevate from terrible to OK in order to go further than last year’s Chiefs did. And that defense has been better than OK.

The Ravens’ offensive makeover

They won a bunch of games and made the playoffs when they threw Lamar Jackson into the starting job and retooled the offense around him on the fly in 2018. But offensive coordinator Greg Roman really took things to a new level with what he built for Jackson in the 2019 offseason.

Not only did the Baltimore coaching staff iron out Jackson’s rookie-year turnover issues, they made him the centerpiece of the league’s most dynamic scoring attack, earned the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs and almost certainly won Jackson the MVP award in his second NFL season. In a year with the usual number of head coach openings, Roman might have been snatched up by another team for the big job — and another season averaging 33 points per game with Jackson could make him the hottest candidate for 2021.

This was a straight-up dump by the Dolphins, who were through with Tannehill and picked up a large chunk of his salary as part of the deal. But when Marcus Mariota faltered early in the season and Tennessee replaced him with Tannehill as its starting quarterback, things turned around in spectacular fashion. The Titans went 7-3 to close out the regular season with Tannehill as their QB, ranking third in the league in both points per game (30.4) and yards per game (406.2) before advancing to the AFC Championship Game.

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Tim Hasselbeck, Victor Cruz and Field Yates make their picks for the top free agents this offseason, including Ryan Tannehill and Dak Prescott.

The 49ers drafting Nick Bosa with the No. 2 pick

San Francisco never wavered during the draft process, rejecting offers to trade up and staying the course with Bosa, whom they correctly envisioned as the final Infinity Stone in their gauntlet of first-round defensive linemen. Watching Bosa and his fellow first-rounders dominate the Vikings and the Packers in the playoff games that landed the Niners in the Super Bowl validates the importance of drafting an exceptional edge rusher when you have the chance to do it. Bosa is the star of a stellar group, and he helped elevate that group to the game’s grandest stage.

Tampa Bay’s signing of the former Broncos linebacker to a one-year, $4 million contract generated barely a ripple on the free-agent market, but it may have been the steal of the season. Barrett needed 10 sacks to trigger a $1 million incentive clause, and he got nine in the Bucs’ first four games. He ended up leading the league with 19.5 sacks on the season and should fare considerably better in free agency this time around.

THE FIVE WORST MOVES OF LAST OFFSEASON

The Browns hiring Freddie Kitchens as coach

All of the hope and hype that accompanied the Browns into the 2019 season was alloyed by the question of whether first-year head coach Kitchens could bring everything together and manage his talented group into the playoffs. He could not.

The Browns were a mess from training camp, when Odell Beckham Jr. got hurt and Baker Mayfield had too many conflicting voices in his ear. They were a factory of the wrong kind of headlines all year. Kitchens continually sounded the wrong note publicly whenever he was dealing with a crisis, and the team’s performance indicates he wasn’t sounding too many right notes in private, either. The Browns fired Kitchens after only one year and hired Kevin Stefanski, who was their other finalist for the job last January, to replace him.

The Raiders’ trade for Brown, hailed as a coup when it happened due to the low price, ended up a total bust. He spent training camp feuding with the league about his helmet, freezing his foot in a cryotherapy chamber and arguing publicly with GM Mike Mayock over fine money for workdays he missed. The last bit got him cut right before the season started, and he never played a down for the Raiders.

The Patriots’ move to sign him hours after the Raiders cut him doesn’t look great either, as they’re stuck with $10.5 million in dead money and likely will have to pay Brown his $9 million signing bonus if he wins his grievance against them. (But at least he played a game for them.)

And to top it all off, Pittsburgh really could have used help at receiver this year. Would all of this have been different if he and the Steelers had found a way to patch things up? Probably not. Brown’s spectacular NFL career appears to have imploded due to his self-destructive off-field and social media behavior.

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Hollywood (Florida) Police Department spokesperson Christian Lata says Antonio Brown’s trainer, Glenn Holt, was arrested, and the incident is still being investigated.

Believing themselves to be a quarterback away from the kind of successful season they’d had in 2017, the Jags signed Foles to a four-year, $88 million contract with $42.125 million fully guaranteed in the first two years. But the season turned out to be a disaster.

Star cornerback Jalen Ramsey forced a trade due to his relationship with executive VP Tom Coughlin, and then Coughlin was fired late in the season after the NFLPA won a grievance against the Jaguars and ripped the team for the number of player complaints it had received during Coughlin’s time there. The Foles deal looks like it might be a massive mistake too, as he missed eight games due to injury and then four more due to a late-season benching in favor of sixth-round rookie Gardner Minshew II, who may have already taken the 2020 starting QB job away from him.

The Jaguars owe Foles $15.125 million in fully guaranteed salary for 2020, and a $5 million 2021 roster bonus becomes fully guaranteed if he’s on their roster on the third day of the 2020 league year. They’d absorb a dead-money hit of about $34 million if they cut him and about $19 million if they trade him.

Giants apologists will point to Cleveland’s bad year and Beckham Jr.’s embarrassing behavior at the National Championship Game as evidence that GM Dave Gettleman was right to trade his star wideout. But even if you viewed the Beckham deal as addition by subtraction for the Giants, you can’t be thrilled with their plan for replacing him.

They signed Tate to a four-year, $37.5 million contract even though he’s a very similar receiver to Sterling Shepard, whom they’d just signed to a four-year, $41 million contract. Tate began the season on a four-game drug suspension and ended it with 49 catches for 676 yards and six touchdowns, while fifth-round rookie Darius Slayton looks like the real deal. The Giants still owe Tate $7.975 million in guaranteed salary for 2020.

This was a doozy. Williams, the Pro Bowl left tackle, stayed away all season after making it clear he didn’t want to play for Washington anymore. (He actually reported on the day of the trade deadline, so as not to lose a year of service time, but he was there one day and did not return after the team put him on the non-football injury list.) Williams was upset with the team’s medical staff for misdiagnosing a cancerous growth on his scalp, and he was upset with the front office for not offering to rework his contract after the guarantees ran out.

Washington overhauled its front office and medical staff this offseason, getting rid of a couple of the people with whom Williams was upset. It remains to be seen whether he’ll return there, but in the meantime a lot of damage was done. And the quarterbacks the team used, including rookie Dwayne Haskins Jr., had far less of a chance to succeed with Williams sitting out.

THE FIVE MOST UNDERRATED MOVES OF LAST OFFSEASON

The Titans promoting Arthur Smith to offensive coordinator

They lost Matt LaFleur to a head-coaching job after LaFleur spent only one year as their offensive coordinator. But instead of hiring from the outside, Titans coach Mike Vrabel elevated his tight ends coach to the coordinator job. Smith proved more than capable, designing a Titans offense that, yes, used a ton of Henry but also ranked among the most efficient passing attacks in the league behind Tannehill and rookie receiver A.J. Brown. The Titans may have unearthed a coaching star.

The Bills’ offensive makeover

None of Buffalo’s offseason moves made major waves on its own. But collectively, they rebuilt an offense that helped deliver the Bills’ second playoff appearance in three years. Wide receiver John Brown served as a reliable deep threat for second-year QB Josh Allen, while wide receiver Cole Beasley was a great safety blanket. Veteran Frank Gore and rookie Devin Singletary formed a strong run game. And the retooled offensive line kept Allen clean enough for him to advance as a playmaker.

Coach Sean McDermott and GM Brandon Beane are earning leaguewide praise for their approach to team-building, and you can bet we’ll be watching their 2020 offseason more closely.

This looked like a throwaway deal at the time. The Chiefs were about to cut Hyde at the end of training camp when the Texans, who’d just lost Lamar Miller to a season-ending injury, stepped in and offered backup guard Martinas Rankin. Hyde picked up the Texans’ offense instantly and delivered the first 1,000-yard rushing season of his career as Houston won the AFC South for the fourth time in five years.

The Vikings hiring Gary Kubiak

He was not the offensive coordinator, but Kubiak (as well as run game coordinator Rick Dennison and QBs coach Klint Kubiak, who came with him) helped evolve Stefanski’s offense into one that played more to QB Kirk Cousins‘ strengths. A zone running scheme and an emphasis on play-action helped revitalize the Minnesota offense and propel the Vikings into the postseason.

Stefanski, who’s now off to Cleveland as a head coach, credited Kubiak as an invaluable sounding board and a helpful-but-not-intrusive influence on the offense, which performed at a high level for most of the season.

The preseason talk was that the Dolphins were “tanking” to try to get the top pick in the draft. This, as it turns out, was not true. What the Dolphins were actually doing was trading assets in an effort to stockpile as many early-round picks as they could in the next couple of drafts, which makes a lot more sense in the NFL than “tanking” for a specific pick.

Along the way they signed Fitzpatrick, the well-traveled veteran QB, even though they’d traded for Josh Rosen. And by the time they got halfway through the season, they realized Rosen wasn’t going to be their guy for the long term so they made Fitzpatrick the starter and ended up winning five of their last nine games, including the Week 17 victory over the Patriots that cost New England a first-round bye.

The Dolphins still have the No. 5 pick in the draft, and because of the Minkah Fitzpatrick and Laremy Tunsil trades, they also have the 18th and 26th picks. They’re set up better than fine draft-wise, and in the meantime they have a group of young players who got to feel and enjoy what it’s like to compete for and win something. That should help down the road with whoever ends up staying for the rebuild.

THE FIVE MOVES ON WHICH THE JURY IS STILL OUT

Elliott became the highest-paid running back in the league by holding out of training camp and forcing the Cowboys to confront life without him. The 2019 season was the first of his career in which Elliott did not lead the league in rushing yards per game. The Cowboys’ offense evolved and produced at an extremely high level behind quarterback Dak Prescott‘s career season.

Elliott didn’t play poorly by any means — he still finished fourth in the league in rushing. But given the money involved, and the way the offense seemed to lean on him less after he got it, it’s fair to wonder whether Elliott’s deal will prove to be worth it or whether it will become just another data point for teams that fear overpaying at the running back position.

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Marcus Spears can’t believe Bart Scott would suggest that Dak Prescott take less money from the Cowboys.

The Jets’ free-agent moves

Le’Veon Bell and C.J. Mosley were the headliners, signing deals with a combined $70 million in full guarantees. The Jets had a mess of a season, with second-year quarterback Sam Darnold contracting mono in September and backup Trevor Siemian suffering a season-ending injury in his first start. But it’s likely they weren’t going to contend this year anyway.

If Mosley comes back healthy and the Jets find a way to integrate Bell into the offense more, these moves could pay off in 2020. But for comparison’s sake: The Jets got those two guys for $70 million guaranteed; the division rival Bills signed Gore, Brown, Beasley, Mitch Morse, Ty Nsekhe and Jon Feliciano for a combined total of $53.3 million guaranteed.

Detroit gave Flowers a five-year, $90 million deal with $50 million guaranteed at signing, reuniting him with former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia in hopes of revitalizing the Lions’ pass rush. In turn, Miami was the only team that had fewer sacks than Detroit did this year. Flowers had seven of the Lions’ 28 sacks, which is right on his career average, but his first-year impact on the defense doesn’t seem to have been very much.

The Giants may have been nuts for letting Collins walk without franchising him (or trading him if he really wasn’t going to play on the franchise tag), but Washington may have been nuts-er for giving Collins a six-year, $84 million deal with $36.825 million fully guaranteed.

The safety market went through the roof, with Earl Thomas and Mathieu landing deals in the same per-year average range, but Collins’ deal was the plum from a player’s perspective, and Washington likely could have used the money elsewhere had it been more frugal. Perhaps the defense improves and Collins becomes its centerpiece, but we have to wait to find out.

Obviously, this did not go the way Cleveland hoped it would go in the first year. But nothing did in 2019, and the Browns are hitting the reset button again on the coaching staff and in the front office. Beckham played hurt all year and just had surgery to correct a core muscle injury. He’s 27 years old, and it’s hard to believe he’s done being great. But if the Browns do keep him and don’t start winning, his deal will continue to be viewed as an albatross by those who don’t feel he’s worth the off-field headaches.

Published at Tue, 21 Jan 2020 23:19:35 +0000