Community Tailgate

Community Tailgate: Fifth-Year Options

A few of the NFL’s best players find themselves in contract predicaments due largely to the CBA, and their courses of action could become major issues for their respective teams.

Thanks to the fifth-year option, Odell Beckham Jr., Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack — and many others from a talented 2014 first-round contingent — are tied to the franchises that drafted them for two more seasons as part of their rookie contracts. Despite several of these players having outperformed their deals, none more than the aforementioned trio, these performers are all attached to 2017 salaries far below their market values.

Beckham did not show for Giants OTAs before reporting in advance of minicamp, and although the superstar wideout has downplayed concerns about his contract going into his fourth season, John Mara categorized this extension as a lower-priority matter right now. That likely wouldn’t be the case if Beckham had been a second-round pick.

Donald gave a non-answer regarding a potential training camp holdout. Though he’s been in talks with the team on a new deal, that situation appears to be dragging. The two-time All-Pro has become the league’s top defensive tackle, but his situation doesn’t leave him the kind of leverage then-UFA Ndamukong Suh had when he set the bar at six years and $114MM.

Despite being the defensive player of the year, Mack looks like he will have to wait until 2018 to secure a long-term commitment from the Raiders. While Reggie McKenzie said Mack will be re-signed — likely for more money than any defender has made — the fact that the player who is probably the Raiders’ best has to wait behind other standouts from his draft class simply because Derek Carr and Gabe Jackson‘s deals didn’t include fifth-year options is a loophole. It affects top talents annually.

Other players like Mike Evans, Anthony Barr and Jadeveon Clowney are part of the above group. But in the case of Beckham, Mack and Donald, these are three elite NFL talents who are tied to modest amounts while lesser players from the ’14 draft are prioritized because they are entering their contract years. Von Miller and Muhammad Wilkerson had to wait five years for their extensions, with teams also having the more lucrative franchise tag to apply as a stall tactic. It worked out for those stalwart defenders, but this system creates drama consistently.

Teddy Bridgewater can be used as an example of it backfiring, although the timing was different. The Vikings declined Bridgewater’s fifth-year option months after his knee injury put his career in jeopardy. While Bridgewater was not eligible for an extension at the time he was hurt, the Vikings almost certainly would have picked up his option in March to keep him around on an $11MM-plus salary in 2018. Now, the quarterback’s camp could be preparing for a battle since a PUP list stay could cause the fourth-year passer’s contract to toll, thus tying him to his Year 4 salary ($2.18MM) for another season. That would be quite the fall after being in line for a possible extension down the road.

Attached to respective salaries of $3.23MM, $3.31MM and $5.94MM, Donald, Beckham and Mack don’t have many courses of action. They could hold out, however, to apply pressure to their teams.

The Giants and Raiders wouldn’t be the same without their superstar 2014 draftees, and while the Rams haven’t made the playoffs with Donald around and are in more of a rebuilding phase now, they would certainly be weakened without Donald’s services. But the players could incur $30K fines per day by doing this. That’s not exactly a harsh deterrent to someone who stands to sign for more than $100MM at some point, but given that such money isn’t assured yet, these penalties would be more severe.

These options have turned out to be quite team-friendly, despite the pay increases that come in Year 5. They also delay a first-rounders’ prospective free agencies as peers chosen in later rounds venture onto the open market, forcing teams to pay for another prime year of service. Robert Griffin III and D.J. Fluker found out how unfriendly the options can be to players after their teams rescinded them free of charge over the past two offseasons.

But this setup is the law until a new CBA emerges. For the time being, fourth- or fifth-year players who feel they’ve outperformed their deals will be thrust into uncertainty the way some of their peers drafted later aren’t.

So, should talents like Beckham and Donald follow through with holdouts to ratchet up the pressure? Or would showing goodwill toward their teams by working until an extension comes be a better course of action? Should teams display more expediency regarding these deals to avoid these situations, in an effort to show future players they are valued? Or are the pay bumps that come in Year 5 enough to justify the delays? Weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Community Tailgate: Derek Carr’s Deal

Derek Carr is now the highest-paid player in the NFL…depending on how you look at it. The “new money” average annual value of Carr’s deal gives him $25MM per year, beginning in 2018 when the contract kicks in. That tops Andrew Luck‘s new money yearly average of $24.769MM, giving Carr the mantle by a slim margin of $271K per season. There’s also the matter of cashflow. Luck’s three-year value ($75MM to $67.6MM) and four-year value ($96.125MM to $87.7MM) tops Carr’s. Any way you slice it, Carr probably won’t be at the top for long anyway since Matthew Stafford is on deck for a new deal and the Lions are not hesitant about making him the highest-paid player in the NFLDerek Carr (vertical)

[RELATED: Derek Carr Discusses Extension]

When asked about his new contract at a press conference earlier this week, Carr explained that he structured the deal with his teammates in mind. The Raiders will soon begin extension talks with right guard Gabe Jackson, linebacker Khalil Mack, and (perhaps a little further down the line) wide receiver Amari Cooper. The way the deal is designed, Carr said, should help the Raiders keep all of those key pillars for years to come.

When looking at the fine print, Carr’s deal isn’t exactly the market-pushing deal that the initial reports would have led us to believe. There was speculation that Carr would push the Raiders for larger-than-usual guarantees or perhaps even a set percentage of the yearly salary cap to account for the team’s ever-increasing revenue. Neither one of those things happened and Carr didn’t exactly shatter the glass ceiling for top quarterbacks.

Jason Fitzgerald of Over The Cap estimates that the quarterback market should really be around $27-$30MM by now rather than $25MM. Because a few QBs like Tom Brady accepted team-friendly deals, the going rate for elite signal callers has not increased at the same rate as the salary cap. Carr’s deal will help out the Raiders and his teammates, but it doesn’t necessarily blaze a trail for his fellow quarterbacks.

Do you like Carr’s decision to structure his deal in a way that suits Oakland? Or do you think the youngster should have pushed for more? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Community Tailgate: Jets’ Long-Term QB Solution?

As Rich Cimini of reported several days ago, Jets quarterback Christian Hackenberg exceeded expectations in minicamp and has narrowed the gap between himself and presumptive starter Josh McCown. Gang Green, of course, is in full tank mode, and the team wants to give Hackenberg a chance to show what he can do in 2017, even if McCown ultimately opens the season as the starting signal-caller.

Jun 13, 2017; Florham Park, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Christian Hackenberg (5) throws during mini camp at Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

That does not mean, however, that the Jets are married to their Hack for the long haul. As Cimini wrote this morning, New York’s rebuilding plan is centered around its selecting a quarterback from the allegedly QB-rich 2018 draft. Players like USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, and Wyoming’s Josh Allen are generating the most buzz at the moment, though all are underclassmen and may choose to stay in college in 2018. Nonetheless, assuming (as most do) that the Jets will be bad enough in 2017 to have an early pick in next year’s draft, they could have their choice of elite quarterback prospects.

From a prospect standpoint, Hackenberg does not have the same upside as the above-mentioned collegiate passers, so there is plenty of doubt as to whether he can be a legitimate long-term starter in the league. Further complicating matters, as Brian Costello of the New York Post opines, is that it will be difficult to truly evaluate Hackenberg this year because of the fact that he really has no proven pass catcher to throw the ball to now that the team has cut ties with Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. Costello, like Cimini, believes Hackenberg showed significant improvement this spring, but if he struggles in 2017, it will be hard to argue that he was given a fair shake.

But now we want you to weigh in on this matter. How do you see the Jets’ long-term quarterback situation shaping up? Do you think Hackenberg will seize control of the job, thereby allowing the team to pursue other options in the 2018 draft (which was mentioned as a distinct possibility several weeks ago)? Or do you think Hackenberg will struggle to produce or just not play well enough to convince the Jets that he is the answer under center?

Or maybe you see an entirely different scenario unfolding. Maybe you see the world through green-and-white glasses and think McCown will keep the team in contention this year, which would be a pleasant surprise for Jets fans but which would not help them in their search for a long-term solution at quarterback. Or do you think Bryce Petty will emerge from the shadows and throw his hat in the ring? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Community Tailgate: Where Will Eric Decker Play In 2017?

Two talented wide receivers in Jeremy Maclin and Eric Decker are up for grabs, making receiver-needy clubs around the league smack their lips in anticipation. Given that Maclin is a free agent, has visited two clubs, and has been hypothetically linked to others, it’s a little easier to project where he might wind up, and yesterday, we asked our readers to weigh in on that very topic (which you can still do).

Eric Decker (Vertical)

Decker, though, is still under contract with the Jets, which makes it a little more difficult to guess where he will be playing in 2017. New York and Baltimore have engaged in trade discussions concerning Decker, but it is unclear where the two teams stand at this point. It could be that the Ravens, who are one of the two teams that Maclin has visited, prefer Maclin and are waiting on him to make a decision. If he should choose to sign somewhere other than Baltimore, the Ravens could pursue a Decker swap with a little more urgency (although the Ravens would need to restructure Decker’s contract or release/restructure one of their own players in order to fit Decker under the salary cap).

The Jets, too, are probably waiting on Maclin to make a decision, because when Maclin is off the table, Decker becomes the undisputed top wideout available, thereby increasing New York’s leverage in trade talks (although Rich Cimini of believes the Jets are unlikely to get more than a late-round draft choice for Decker regardless of what happens with Maclin).

Decker, a 2010 third-round pick who broke out in Denver from 2012-13, carried his strong production from the Mile High City to New York in his first two years with the Jets. The 6-3, 206-pounder combined for 154 catches, 1,989 yards and 17 touchdowns (including 12 in 2015) over 28 games during those seasons. And before injuries derailed him last September, Decker again looked on track for a big year, catching nine passes for a whopping 194 yards and two scores.

His physical presence, strong hands, and red-zone capabilities would make him an excellent complement to Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman in an otherwise thin receiving corps in Baltimore, and the Lions were also mentioned as a possible destination for Decker last week (although that was more speculation than anything else). Outside of those two clubs, though, we have not heard who else might be interested in Decker’s services.

So we will put the question to you. Where do you think Decker will wind up this year, and why? Let us know in the comment section below.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Community Tailgate: Biggest Deadline Surprise

The July 15 deadline for a club to extend a franchise-tagged player came and went accompanied by a typical flurry of activity, and now that the dust has settled, we would like for you to weigh in on the biggest surprise of deadline day. However, given that the whole football world was taken aback by the Muhammad Wilkerson extension, we’ll make it a little harder on you and take that development off the table for this discussion.

As of July 14, the franchise-tagged club looked like this (of course, the extension that Cordy Glenn signed with the Bills and the Panthers’ decision to rescind Josh Norman‘s tag removed two players from this group):

Franchise players (exclusive):

Franchise players (non-exclusive):

At one point, it seemed likely that Berry and the Chiefs would put pen to paper on a long-term deal, but while both sides remain optimistic that Berry will be manning the defensive backfield in Kansas City for the foreseeable future, they could not come together on a multi-year contract and will have to revisit those talks after the season.

And while it had been reported for some time that Cousins would likely play out the 2016 campaign under the franchise tag, did anyone think Wilkerson was more likely than Washington’s quarterback to score a massive extension? After all, both the Redskins and Cousins are taking major gambles here. If Cousins’ 2016 season looks anything like his 2015 campaign, the Redskins will have cost themselves a great deal of money–although it’s hard to imagine they would be complaining too much–but if Cousins should struggle, he might have cost himself any semblance of long-term security. Plus, although neither Rich Tandler nor Tarik El-Bashier of believe Cousins will feel added pressure in 2016 as a result of the fact that he does not have a multi-year deal under his belt, it is hard to imagine it will not at least cross his mind.

And then we have the sheer numbers of Miller’s contract, which are beyond staggering. Although both sides did a fair amount of predictable posturing over the course of their negotiations, it was hard to imagine that Miller would sit out the 2016 season, or that the Broncos would trade their superstar pass rusher. But did even those who predicted that the two sides would strike a deal think the deal would be quite as lucrative as it is?

So have at it. What was the biggest surprise of deadline day (non-Wilkerson division)? The Miller deal, the Cousins or Berry non-deal, or something else entirely? And if you want to weigh in with your thoughts about the Wilkerson extension, feel free to do so.

Community Tailgate: Franchise Tag Deadline

Varying degrees of uncertainty engulf seven players as July begins, with their respective teams having placed their franchise tags on them. With the deadline for these talents to reach long-term deals with their organizations looming on July 15, multiple members of this contingent likely will not agree to a long-term accord with their respective team.

Here’s how the franchise-tagged club looks as of July 4:

Franchise players (exclusive):

Franchise players (non-exclusive):

Cordy Glenn‘s Bills extension and the Panthers rescinding Josh Norman‘s tag removed two players from the group, but several should remain unsigned by next Friday. With teams having until 3 p.m. CT that day to finalize these agreements, there’s a decent chance multiple tagged performers will play this season on one-year deals. 

Of this septet, Eric Berry and Justin Tucker seem most likely to sign contracts with the Chiefs and Ravens, respectively. We’ve heard no acrimony coming from either side in these negotiations, pointing to Baltimore and Kansas City being in good positions to find common ground and secure the rights for the remainder of their tagged cogs’ primes.

But elsewhere, it hasn’t been so smooth. The Broncos have tagged three players — Matt Prater, Ryan Clady and Demaryius Thomas — since John Elway began functioning as the team’s top personnel executive, and they signed each to long-term deals. But Miller’s standoff with the Broncos has surpassed those impasses.

The nature of the deal the linebacker’s seeking, one that would make him the highest-paid defender in league history, was already going to complicate this. But after Miller turned down Denver’s six-year, $114.5MM proposal over money guaranteed at signing, the Broncos rescinded the offer (technically), and Miller vowed not to play the season on the exclusive tag. We could soon learn how serious he is about holding out.

Jeffery, Johnson and Cousins may reside in the same boat, with their respective teams possibly angling to see how they fare this season before being certain of their statuses as cornerstones, respectively.

Ascending into the Bears‘ No. 1 receiver role after Brandon Marshall‘s third career trade, Jeffery couldn’t display the form he showed as an overqualified No. 2 after he missed seven games due to multiple leg injuries. We heard in early June the sides expected the fifth-year receiver to play 2016 on the tag and reassess after the season, but a few weeks later, the bridge to a Jeffery long-term Bears pact doesn’t appear as long as previously thought. The team still has some obvious reservations on whether or not Jeffery’s body can hold up before giving him a $15MM+ AAV deal in line with A.J. Green or Dez Bryant, however.

Not as much has surfaced on Johnson, but news emerged last month the Rams cornerback may view Janoris Jenkins‘ $12.5MM-AAV deal with the Giants as a floor. The fallout from that rumor pointed to the sides not being close enough to agree on a sufficient offer that would keep the breakout corner on the Rams’ books for a while.

In a market that overpays quarterbacks and keeps them away from free agency, Kirk Cousins doesn’t look to be going anywhere else anytime soon. But the talks between the fifth-year passer and the Redskins aren’t progressing just yet. Of course, that could turn by next Friday, with the market for franchise quarterbacks being essentially set. Cousins, whom Washington wants to see perform again after his strong stretch run put him in this spot, would receive approximately $44MM if given the tag again in 2017.

Wilkerson’s prospects of a Jets contract remain slim. The perpetually disgruntled 2011 first-rounder has been angling for a commitment from Gang Green for over two years, threatening a holdout last season before reporting and playing on his fifth-year option. Fletcher Cox‘s extension looks like it will serve as the sixth-year 3-4 end’s floor in terms of asking price, at least in the mind of Wilkerson, who has made the same number of Pro Bowls (one) as the Eagles standout. But Wilkerson’s notched 33.5 sacks since 2012 compared to Cox’s 22.

However, the Jets’ deep defensive end stable, scant cap room and the lack of a starting-caliber quarterback on the payroll make this a dicey proposition, given their history with Wilkerson. The subject of trade speculation for months, Wilkerson would earn a projected $18.8MM if tagged again in 2017.

So, how many among this contingent will play 2016 under the terms of the franchise tag? Which has the best chance to play elsewhere in 2017? Who has the biggest gripe if they don’t see an acceptable long-term offer by next week? Which isn’t worth a long-term deal right now? Weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section!

Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Community Tailgate: First $25MM Player?

Though the period between the end of OTAs and the beginning of training camp is usually relatively quiet — at least, by NFL standards — one of the bigger stories of the past calendar year broke yesterday, as quarterback Andrew Luck agreed to an extension with the Colts that will lock him up through the 2021 season. The details of the pact show that Luck will be extremely well-paid, as he’ll average $24.594MM over the life of the deal; he also received a hefty $47MM in full guarantees and $87MM in injury guarantees.Andrew Luck

But despite those figures, some observers have noted that the contract is a little underwhelming. Luck will be the highest-paid player in the league on an annual basis, but he didn’t set a new record for guarantees. Ndamukong Suh still holds that mark after scoring $60MM fully guaranteed from the Dolphins last season, while Aaron Rodgers is tops among quarterbacks, at $54MM.

Additionally, Luck didn’t break the $25MM per year barrier. Now, that distinction could seem inconsequential — Luck came close, and he’s only $406K per year short. But most expected him to shatter that mark, and the fact that he came up a little light was somewhat surprising. Perhaps it’s simply that fact that we like round numbers, but that $25MM figure seems like the next annual salary that players — more specifically, quarterbacks — will look to attain.

So which signal-caller will be the one to crash through that ceiling? Just this morning, former agent and current CBS Sports contributor Joel Corry argued that Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford could be the most logical candidate, given that he’s posted comparable statistics to Luck and only has a couple years left on his deal. From my vantage point, Stafford does look like he could reach the $25MM mark because he could opt for a contract with a short length, as he did last time around when he agreed to a three-year extension. Without having to worry about large guarantees on the back end, or a massive signing bonus that could make it untenable to cut Stafford loose down the road, Detroit could be willing to meet $25MM per year.Drew Brees (Vertical)

What about Drew Brees? Yes, the Saints quarterback will be 38 years old when free agency begins next year, but he’s showed no signs of slowing down, and plenty of teams would back up the Brinks truck to lure him in. Kirk Cousins, too, could be a free agent in 2017 if the Redskins don’t use the franchise tag again. Clearly, Cousins isn’t in the same class as Brees, but with the quarterback scarcity around the league, even a merely above-average talent like Cousins can cash in. Rodgers, meanwhile, is signed through the 2019 season, but the Packers could be open to reworking his deal in order to make him the highest-paid QB in the NFL.

It’s always possible that we’ll have to wait until the current crop of young quarterbacks hits free agency before someone cracks the $25MM mark. Blake Bortles, Jameis Winston, and Marcus Mariota have all had varying levels of success at the NFL level, and none can even sign an extension yet, but if one of those three truly breaks out in the next few years, they could be looking at a record-breaking deal. Further down the line, rookies such as Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, and Paxton Lynch could be in line for hefty contracts, but it won’t probably won’t take until 2018-19 until someone tops $25MM.

A non-quarterback theoretically could cross over the $25MM line, but Suh currently leads all defenders at around $19MM per year, so there’s a long way to go before someone on the defensive side of the ball redefines contracts to that level. Wide receivers, meanwhile, are currently topping out at $15MM, while offensive lineman haven’t even hit $14MM. J.J. Watt, perhaps, could have gotten to $25MM had he hit free agency, but it’s probably going to be a quarterback.

So who will it be? Will Brees hit free agency next year and stun the market with a record-breaking deal? Will a surprising option like Stafford hit $25MM first? Will Rodgers renegotiate his deal? Or will we have to wait for a younger quarterback to sign an extension? Weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section!

Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Community Tailgate: Von Vs. Alshon

Nine NFL players were assigned the franchise tag during the 2016 offseason. Here’s a brief rundown, along with each player’s franchise salary:

Franchise players (exclusive):NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos

Franchise players (non-exclusive):

Some of the players listed above have already had their respective situations resolved. Cordy Glenn agreed to long-term extension with the Bills, while Carolina ultimately rescinded Josh Norman‘s franchise tag, allowing him to sign a deal with the Redskins. And while Eric Berry hasn’t yet inked an extension with Kansas City, the most recent reports indicate that the star safety is expected to sign a new contract at some point before the July 15 deadline. The same goes for kicker Justin Tucker, who has signed his signed his franchise tag — he’s confident that he and the Ravens will hammer out a deal in the near future.

A third of the list falls into a separate category — franchise-tagged players who haven’t yet agreed to an extension, and don’t seem likely to any time soon. Kirk Cousins signed his franchise tender almost immediately, locking him into a guaranteed salary of nearly $20MM, but Albert Breer of reported yesterday that talks are “going nowhere,” and both Cousins and Washington expect the signal-caller to play out the season on the tag. Like Cousins, Trumaine Johnson also signed his tender rather quickly, and isn’t expected to reach a new deal with Los Angeles in the next twenty days. On the flip side, Muhammad Wilkerson has not signed his tender, but there’s been no indication that he and the Jets are anywhere close to a new contract.

That leaves us with two remaining franchise players, and the pair — Von Miller and Alshon Jeffery — might be the dominant NFL storylines over the next few weeks. Any recent reader of PFR knows that Miller has garnered a copious amount of headlines as his negotiations with Denver drag on. Miller reportedly rejected a six-year deal worth about $114.5MM (specific guarantees and structure unknown), and then threatened a season-long holdout. Just yesterday, Josina Anderson of reported that the two sides had not talked contract terms since the early part of June.Alshon Jeffery (Vertical)

Reports surrounding Jeffery have been much fewer and far between, and that could be because the Bears wide receiver has already signed his tender, meaning he’ll be with the Bears — and earning a hefty salary — no matter what happens over the next few weeks. But what little news has come about Jeffery’s negotiations has been murky. An early June report indicated that Jeffery was unlikely to reach an extension with Chicago, but just days ago Jeremy Fowler of said the two sides were still discussing terms, noting that a new deal is “certainly possible.”

The question at hand, then, is this: who is more likely to sign a long-term deal, Miller or Jeffery? Certainly talks between Jeffery and the Bears have been more amicable, but more is arguably at stake for Miller and the Broncos. Trying to defend a Super Bowl title, Denver can’t afford to have its most talented player not present, while Chicago doesn’t have to worry about Jeffery not showing up. Still, with negotiations between Miller and the Broncos seemingly turning acrimonious, is there any hope of an extension?

What do you think? Which superstar is more likely to be with their respective team for the long haul? Is it possible that both Miller and Jeffery ink new contracts? Leave your thoughts in the comment section!

Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Community Tailgate: Least Improved NFL Team

Even with the 2016 offseason largely in the rearview mirror, there are still plenty of topics and storylines to discuss, and PFR’s Community Tailgate is designed to address those stories. What’s the Community Tailgate all about? Well, it’s pretty simple. We’ll highlight one of the top talking points in the NFL. Then, in the comment section below, we want you to weigh in and let us know what you think.

Of course, while the debate may get spirited, we ask that it all stays respectful. If you need a reminder of our rules, please check out our commenting policy. Basically, we ask that you refrain from inappropriate language, personal insults, and attacks. Speaking of commenting: we’ve made it much easier to leave a comment here at Pro Football Rumors. You are no longer required to be a registered user – simply put in your name, email address, and comment and submit.

In yesterday’s Community Tailgate, we asked PFR readers which NFL team had improved the most during the 2016 offseason, tossing out the Jaguars, Bears, Giants, and Raiders as possible contenders for that title. Today, we’ll look at the other side of that coin, examining which NFL clubs did the least to reinforce their respective rosters over the past several months.

The Browns are clearly in full-on rebuilding mode, and I even included them as an off-the-wall option in my write-up of the most improved teams, as one could argue that GM Sashi Brown & Co. did a great job amassing future assets through trading down in the draft. However, despite a draft class that was largely applauded, the on-field product in Cleveland figures to be sub-par once again. During the free agent period, the Browns saw Alex Mack, Tashaun Gipson, Mitchell Schwartz, and Travis Benjamin walk out the door, while the club added low-cost options like Robert Griffin III and Demario Davis. Cleveland figures to come away with the maximum of four compensatory picks in 2017, but the 2016 season is likely to be rough.

While the Browns’ struggles have been well-documented, the Broncos were by definition the most successful team of 2015, winning the Super Bowl in Peyton Manning‘s final season at the helm. And while Denver traded up to acquire their quarterback of the future in Paxton Lynch, the club’s second-round pick, Georgia Tech defensive tackle Adam Gotsis was considered a reach. In free agency, the Broncos, hindered by salary cap issues, let a lot of talent leave, as Brock Osweiler, Malik Jackson, Danny Trevathan, Evan Mathis, David Bruton, Ryan Harris, and others left the building. Denver did add a few offensive line reinforcements in Russell Okung and Donald Stephenson, but it’s hard to say that the team is as good as it was in 2015.

The 49ers didn’t lose a ton of talent during the offseason, as guard Alex Boone was the only major defection, but aside from the draft, Trent Baalke and Chip Kelly didn’t add many play-makers, either. It’s possible to argue that the Niners don’t plan on competing in 2016 and thus are amassing assets (like the Browns), but if that’s the case, this offseason can still be considered a failure. San Francisco didn’t trade down once during the draft, and in fact traded up, sacrificing 136 cents on the dollar to move up only nine spots to select a guard. The 49ers also failed to rid themselves of Colin Kaepernick‘s contract, and didn’t make any meaningful free agent signings (apologies to Zane Beadles).

Elsewhere in the NFC West, the Rams managed to find their quarterback of the future in Jared Goff, and it’s hard to blame them for giving up a king’s ransom to secure a long-term option at the most important position on the field. But Los Angeles, which had the fourth-most cap space entering the offseason, didn’t do much to add talent around Goff. The Rams did not make a single upgrade to their offensive line, either in free agency or through the draft, and only used mid-round picks to add offensive weapons. The club also let two high-profile secondary defenders, safety Rodney McLeod and cornerback Janoris Jenkins, walk in free agency.

The Bengals have made a habit of not entering the free agent market, and it’s a strategy that’s worked out, as they’ve made five consecutive postseason appearances. But with a boatload of key free agents leaving this offseason, one might have argued that Cincinnati should have made an effort to bring in a few outside additions. The Bengals did re-sign Adam Jones and George Iloka, but after seeing Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Reggie Nelson, Leon Hall, and others vanish, Cincinnati made only low-cost free agent signings, including linebacker Karlos Dansby and receiver Brandon LaFell. And instead of considering a trade up to acquire a top-notch receiver in Round 1, the Bengals waited until Day 2, drafting Pittsburgh’s Tyler Boyd, who is thought to be a slot receiver at best.

It’s hard to blame the Chiefs for not making a ton of moves this offseason, as they were strapped for salary cap space. But Kansas City did see quite a few free agent defections, as Sean Smith, Chase Daniel, Jeff Allen, and Donald Stephenson all left for new homes, while Mike DeVito and Husain Abdullah opted to retire. The Chiefs made only one major free agent signing — right tackle Mitchell Schwartz — and drafted only one player, defensive lineman Chris Jones, who can be counted on to contribute in 2016 (although some do think third-round corner KeiVarae Russell has a bright future).

What do you think? Did one of these teams do the least to upgrade its roster? Or did we forget someone? Weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section!

Community Tailgate: Most Improved NFL Team

Even with the 2016 offseason largely in the rearview mirror, there are still plenty of topics and storylines to discuss, and PFR’s Community Tailgate is designed to address those stories. What’s the Community Tailgate all about? Well, it’s pretty simple. We’ll highlight one of the top talking points in the NFL. Then, in the comment section below, we want you to weigh in and let us know what you think.

Of course, while the debate may get spirited, we ask that it all stays respectful. If you need a reminder of our rules, please check out our commenting policy. Basically, we ask that you refrain from inappropriate language, personal insults, and attacks. Speaking of commenting: we’ve made it much easier to leave a comment here at Pro Football Rumors. You are no longer required to be a registered user – simply put in your name, email address, and comment and submit.

NFL teams that “win the offseason” certainly aren’t guaranteed to have success once the regular season begins, especially since the most impactful players in the league are unlikely to even reach free agency — thus earning the right to change teams — in the first place. Additionally, any club that is a contender for the “most improved” moniker likely had a sub-par roster to begin with, meaning expectations should be low. Still, it’s helpful to look back at the past two months and see which teams put in the best efforts, both during the free agent period and through the draft, in order to turn their club into a contender.

The Raiders were very active in free agency, especially on the defensive side of the ball, adding Bruce Irvin, Sean Smith, and Reggie Nelson before drafting West Virginia safety Karl Joseph in the first round and defensive end Jihad Ward and Shilique Calhoun in rounds two and three. Oakland was arguably set at most positions on offense, but they landed former Ravens offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele, paying him $3.7MM more annually than the next-highest paid guard. Veteran left tackle Donald Penn was brought back to anchor the blindside, while Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook was selected as a long-term backup to Derek Carr.

Only one team had more cap space entering the 2016 offseason than the Raiders, and that club — the Jaguars — made it count, landing both Malik Jackson and Tashaun Gipson in an attempt to fortify a defense that ranked 26th in DVOA. That side of the ball wasn’t done being remade, however, as Jacksonville arguably landed two top-10 talents, taking Jalen Ramsey fifth overall before picking up Myles Jack in the second round after injuries caused him to slip. Keep in mind that the Jags have another top defensive talent — edge rusher Dante Fowler Jr. — returning in 2016 after a torn ACL caused him to miss his entire rookie season. Jacksonville didn’t leave the offense untouched, adding left tackle Kelvin Beachum on a very team-friendly deal and signing violent running back Chris Ivory.

The Giants‘ draft left something to be desired, as although Sterling Shepard was an inspired selection in the second round, drafting cornerback Eli Apple at No. 10 overall was thought to be a reach. But New York spent in free agency, signing Olivier Vernon after the Dolphins rescinded his transition tag and also bringing in Damon Harrison and Janoris Jenkins. All three additions got at least $20MM in full guarantees, but Vernon took the cake, securing $40MM in fully guaranteed cash.

Defense was the clear area of need for the Bears over the offseason, and the club knew it, trading up to acquire pass rusher Leonard Floyd in the draft before plucking Jonathan Bullard in the third round. Free agency wasn’t ignored, either, as Chicago revamped its interior linebacking unit by signing both Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan before inking end Akiem Hicks. On offense, the Bears signed Bobby Massie, Ted Larsen, and Manny Ramirez (and drafted Cody Whitehair) to help up front, and added late-round sleepers in running back Jordan Howard and slot receiver Daniel Braverman.

There are certainly other contenders for the title of “most improved” — both the Rams and Eagles landed franchise quarterbacks, the Titans added pieces around Marcus Mariota, and the Buccaneers did the same around Jameis Winston. And depending on how one views the “most improved” label, the Browns had a solid offseason, acquiring assets through the draft in 2016 and amassing draft capital for years to come.

What do you think? Which of the clubs above improved the most over the 2016 offseason? Or did we forget someone? Leave your thoughts in the comment section!