Top 3 Offseason Needs

Top 3 Offseason Needs: New England Patriots

In advance of March 14, the start of free agency in the NFL, Pro Football Rumors will detail each team’s three most glaring roster issues. We’ll continue this year’s series with the New England Patriots, who, following a trade of their future quarterback and reports of disfunction in the organization, lost a high-scoring Super Bowl to the Eagles.

Depth Chart (via Roster Resource)

Pending Free Agents:

Top 10 Cap Hits for 2018:

  1. Tom Brady, QB: $22,000,000
  2. Stephon Gilmore, CB: $12,600,000
  3. Devin McCourty, S: $11,935,000
  4. Rob Gronkowski, TE: $10,906,250
  5. Dont’a Hightower, LB: $9,125,000
  6. Brandin Cooks, WR: $8,459,000
  7. Martellus Bennett, TE: $6,412,500
  8. Marcus Cannon, T: $5,800,000
  9. Dwayne Allen, TE: $5,000,000
  10. Stephen Gostkowski, K: $5,000,000


Three Needs:

1) Reinforcement on front seven

Bill Belichick’s defensive “bend, don’t break” mantra showed major cracks in the Super Bowl. New England allowed 538 yards in their championship loss, although the defensive breakdown wasn’t all that surprising. Despite only allowing 18.5 points per game in 2017 (the fifth-best mark in the NFL), the Patriots defense still allowed the fourth-most passing yards in the league.

Sure, this could certainly be attributed to the Patriots’ defensive backs, but their core of safeties and cornerbacks looks solid heading into free agency. Sure, Malcolm Butler is likely out the door, but the Patriots still have a solid trio of Devin McCourty, Stephon Gilmore, and Patrick Chung. While the team could certainly use an upgrade at their second cornerback spot (Jonathan Jones, Eric Rowe, and Cyrus Jones are ultimately destined for backup/nickel roles), the Patriots don’t really have too much they can improve with this unit.

Rather, the team should be focusing on adding some talent to their front seven. The Patriots did limit opponents to only six rushing touchdowns (second-best in NFL) while compiling 42 sacks (tied for seventh), but their 114.8 rushing yards allowed per game certainly left a lot to be desired. These numbers also don’t tell the full story, as the front-seven was always susceptible to the big run, and they often let opposing quarterbacks sit in the pocket (thus allowing the signal-callers to pick the defensive backs apart). In fact, despite some of the encouraging counting stats, Football Outsiders ranked the team’s rushing defense 30th overall.

The struggles were all but confirmed by the organization late in the season, as they were forced to bring in a 39-year-old James Harrison for some help on the edge. While the veteran looked fine in his four regular season/postseason games (13 tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble), it’s a bit telling when a team is forced to rely on one of the oldest players in the NFL for an important role. Pro Football Focus also wasn’t fond of the team’s front-seven. The Patriots had nine linebackers, edge defenders, and interior defenders play more than 300 snaps last season, and only two were rated as above-average (defensive tackle Malcom Brown and defensive end Trey Flowers).

The return of a healthy Dont’a Hightower and the addition of defensive tackle Danny Shelton will certainly help. There’s also optimism due to the team’s youth, as nine of the 10 defensive lineman currently under contract are 25 or younger. However, there’s no denying that the Patriots could use some talent in their front seven, whether it comes via a defensive end or linebacker. The Patriots generally don’t like to spend big on an edge rusher, so it’d make sense to pursue some reinforcement with one of their early-round draft picks. Considering the youth on defense, New England could also pursue an older, productive lineman or linebacker who is looking for a chance a chance to win. Spending big money on a defensive end or linebacker may not be the wisest decision, but pursuing some talent on the unit should still be atop the team’s wish list.

2) Re-sign Nate Solder or a comparable replacement

While he may be 40-years-old, the Patriots top asset is still quarterback Tom Brady. Considering much of the team’s success in 2018 (and beyond) will rely on the future Hall of Famer, it only makes sense that the organization would look to protect their golden boy.

Well, for some reason, that hasn’t happened recently. Brady was sacked 35 times last season, the fourth-highest total in his career (he was also sacked 38 times in 2015). Regardless of whether the Patriots pursue a future replacement for Brady in the draft (more on that later), the team is still relying on their franchise quarterback for at least another couple of seasons. In that case, it makes plenty of sense to assure that the team’s offensive line is top-notch.

Re-signing offensive tackle Nate Solder would certainly solidify the line. The 2011 first-round pick has started 95 games for New England during his seven years with the organization, including all 16 in 2017. Pro Football Focus only rated him 32nd among 81 offensive tackle candidates last season, but the site rated him as a “high quality” option in three of the previous five campaigns. The Patriots would clearly like to retain the free agent, but Solder could be one of the most popular free agents on the market. The lineman was listed fifth on our rankings of the NFL’s top-50 free agents, and previous reports indicated that he’s expected to receive a deal that’s around $12MM annually. New England is currently staring at around $16MM in cap space, so a hefty offer could knock the Patriots out of the race.

Outside of Solder, guard Shaq Mason is truly the only other lineman the Patriots can anticipate above-average production from. David Andrews, Joe Thuney, and Marcus Cannon have all shown flashes of being solid starting lineman, and 2017 third-round Antonio Garcia (who missed his entire rookie campaign) is intriguing. However, if the team is relying on these four to round out their offensive line, they better hope that Brady “TB12 Method” is effective. In other words, Brady could conceivably see a career-high in sacks.

The Patriots haven’t been shy about taking a lineman early in the draft, so they could look to add a talented rookie to the unit. The team could also eye some of the other top free agent offensive lineman, a list that nows includes Justin Pugh or Ryan Jensen (although those two wouldn’t be replacements for Solder, per se). Either way, assuming the Patriots want to keep Brady upright (and in the starting lineup), they should either be pursuing reinforcement on their offensive line or focusing hard on locking up Solder.

3) Find a future replacement for Tom Brady

Think what you want of the Patriots’ underwhelming haul for Jimmy Garoppolo, but the team’s decision to trade the quarterback was at least rooted in logic. Presumably, the Patriots believe they can squeeze a couple more seasons out of Tom Brady, and they wanted to get some value for Garoppolo before he hit free agency (it never seemed like that the Patriots were going to pay two players starting-quarterback money, even if Brady is underpaid).

However, with Brady’s former heir apparent now out of the picture, the Patriots seemingly don’t have a plan for when their franchise quarterback ultimately retires (unless Belichick believes a 32-year-old Brian Hoyer can reinvent himself as a contending signal-caller). In other words, although the Patriots may have recently traded a 26-year-old quarterback, they should be looking at young options in this year’s draft.

Now, the Patriots shouldn’t necessarily dedicate a first-rounder (or even a second-rounder) to selecting a rookie quarterback. However, they should definitely be eyeing some candidates slated for the third-round or later. The Patriots (and their fans) shouldn’t be wary of “wasting” a pick on someone who may never take the field. Since 2010, the Patriots have selected three quarterbacks in the fourth-round or earlier, and they’ve managed to receive some sort of compensation for each of those players (Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett, and Ryan Mallett) via trade. Sure, there is some lost value in trading, say, a former third-rounder for a seventh-round pick, but the Patriots don’t have the time to be patient with the quarterback position.

While the Patriots may have some more pressing needs on their 2018 roster, finding a future replacement for Brady should still be one of the team’s top priorities. Brady’s clock is ticking, and the team should be doing everything in their power to find a replacement. If the 2018 pick doesn’t pan out, then they should try again in 2019 or 2020. Playing under Belichick and Brady could be key for a young signal-caller, so the organization shouldn’t delay in their pursuit of a future starter.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Top 3 Offseason Needs: Minnesota Vikings

In advance of March 14, the start of free agency in the NFL, Pro Football Rumors will detail each team’s three most glaring roster issues. We’ll continue this year’s series with the Minnesota Vikings, who stormed back to contention and ventured to their first NFC championship game since the 2009 season.

Depth Chart (via Roster Resource)

Pending Free Agents:

Top 10 Cap Hits for 2018:

  1. Xavier Rhodes, CB: $13,400,000
  2. Anthony Barr, LB: $12,306,000
  3. Everson Griffen, DE: $11,600,000
  4. Riley Reiff, T: $11,400,000
  5. Harrison Smith, S: $10,000,000
  6. Linval Joseph, DT: $8,050,000
  7. Kyle Rudolph, TE: $7,675,000
  8. Sharrif Floyd, DT: $6,757,000
  9. Latavius Murray, RB: $6,350,000
  10. Jarius Wright, WR: $4,760,000


  • Projected cap space (via Over the Cap): $56,497,939
  • 30th pick in draft
  • Must exercise or decline 2019 fifth-year option for CB Trae Waynes

Three Needs:

1) Pick a quarterback option: Over the past decade, the Vikings have been one of the more unique NFL teams. While playoff brackets are annually populated by teams with long-term solutions at quarterback, the Vikings have managed to be a frequent presence in NFC postseasons without one. Since 2008, Minnesota’s booked playoff berths with five different quarterbacks, with each — Tarvaris Jackson (2008), Brett Favre (’09), Christian Ponder (2012), Teddy Bridgewater (’15) and Case Keenum (’17) — of Keenum’s predecessors never repeating that feat with the team.

Due to his status entering the season, Keenum may have been the unlikeliest of this contingent to be a playoff quarterback. But he elevated the Vikings to a borderline-dominant regular season and was involved in one of the most improbable moments in NFL history. He’s one of the Vikes’ three UFA QBs, assuming Bridgewater’s contract does not toll, but not a certainty to come back. Keenum departing would add to that unique list of one-and-done Vikings playoff QBs, but he’s a key component in a complex decision-making process.

The Vikings have decided not to place the franchise tag on Keenum and are now heavily connected to Kirk Cousins, who would stand to be the kind of long-term solution Minnesota has sought since Daunte Culpepper. Winning this unique race would leave other franchises scrambling. But how committed are the Vikings to make Cousins the highest-paid player in NFL history when they’ve been arguably the best team at making do without such an expense on their payroll?

As a starter, Cousins has as many playoff berths as the rest of the players on the Vikings’ modern-era QB list. But an argument could be made paying him approximately $30MM per year is safer than authorizing a long-term deal for Keenum at a starter-level price. Cousins has submitted multiple above-average seasons, holds single-season Redskins passing records and played well despite working for one of the least stable organizations in American sports.

However, Minnesota should understandably be leery of Cousins becoming the next Joe Flacco: a talented but unspectacular passer who used extraordinary circumstances to land a monster contract — the kind that can make finding supporting-cast help difficult and harm salary caps. However, it’s not like the Vikings didn’t have franchise-QB money on their 2017 books. Their three passers took up more than $22MM of the ’17 payroll. Only six teams paid more to quarterbacks last season than the Vikings did. And a Cousins $30MM-per-year (or close to it) deal wouldn’t comprise a significantly greater percentage of the Vikings’ cap in a $177.2MM-cap universe than recent QB contracts.

Peyton Manning‘s $19.2MM-AAV contract represented approximately 15.5 percent of Denver’s 2012 cap (in a $123MM-cap universe), and Aaron Rodgers‘ $22MM-per-year extension (16.5 percent of the ’13 Packers’ cap) turned out to be a team-friendly accord considering Rodgers’ talents and where the cap went in the coming years. Matthew Stafford‘s $27MM-AAV re-up actually comprised less of the 2017 Lions’ payroll than Rodgers’ 2013 deal did of Green Bay’s. While Cousins’ guarantees will likely be surpass Stafford’s record $60MM, a deal for the soon-to-be 30-year-old QB wouldn’t be that far out of step with recent-past agreements.

Cousins is not on the Rodgers/Drew Brees/Tom Brady/Ben Roethlisberger tier and it’s arguable he may never reliably be a top-10 passer, either. But it will cost more to pay him than it will any other NFL player to date. And the advanced-metrics community did not enjoy Cousins’ 2017 season.

Although, he was deprived of the kind of weapons he had in 2016 (or the kind he’d have in Minnesota). Cousins led the NFL with 1,359 yards on deep throws in 2016, but that figure — per Pro Football Focus — dropped to 825 last season. His adjusted completion percentage dropped from 51 to 40 on deep throws, and his third-down grade ranked 31st (Twitter link; h/t Matthew Coller of ESPN1500). PFF tabbed Cousins as the No. 19 QB last season. Football Outsiders slotted the then-Redskins passer 16th in DYAR — 12 spots behind Keenum, and no team has more intel on Keenum’s ceiling than the Vikings.

A Keenum re-up would be banking on the 30-year-old signal-caller being able to continue his out-of-nowhere progression and do so without Pat Shurmur. It wouldn’t cost as much as a Cousins contract, but considering Keenum’s resume as either a backup or stopgap in his five-year pre-Twin Cities career, his future is harder to project than Cousins’. That makes Keenum’s market difficult to determine.

The Vikings not tagging him could make Keenum — whose 2017 season (22 TD passes, seven INTs, 7.6 yards per attempt, and a 67.6 percent completion rate) made him look like a different quarterback — more open to deals outside of Minnesota. Fellow Cousins chaser Denver has been linked to Keenum at multiple junctures. Football Outsiders was sold on Keenum’s 2017 work, for what it’s worth, placing his 1,298 DYAR behind only Brady, Philip Rivers and Brees — and nearly 900 yards north of Cousins’ figure.

Mike Zimmer is a known Bridgewater defender. Despite the former first-round pick not exactly lighting it up during Minnesota’s 2015 playoff season (14 TD passes, nine INTs in 16 starts), the Louisville product saw career-defining injuries deny him the chance to show further growth. Having two full seasons taken away from him, the 25-year-old QB now profiles as a stopgap option in free agency or a high-end backup. But the Vikings could well be the team that takes him on as a reserve.

The Vikings’ decision could well shape the quarterback market. Minnesota has proven it can manage without the services of franchise quarterback, but securing one could elevate the franchise to a higher level.

2) Identify extension candidates: Part of the reason the Vikes could be hesitant to throw a king’s ransom at Cousins is its 2019 free agent class. It’s one of the best in the league and contains several core performers. Set for UFA status a year from now: Anthony Barr, Stefon Diggs, Danielle Hunter, Trae Waynes and Eric Kendricks.

With a Cousins-Bridgewater setup, the Vikings will be hard-pressed to keep everyone here. But that wouldn’t be likely even if the team went with Keenum and Bridgewater. However, with the 2019 cap likely to settle in at around $190MM, making these kind of plans has become easier than it was in previous stretches.Read more

Top 3 Offseason Needs: New Orleans Saints

In advance of March 14, the start of free agency in the NFL, Pro Football Rumors will detail each team’s three most glaring roster issues. We’ll continue this year’s series with the New Orleans Saints, who finished with an 11-5 record before suffering a devastating loss to the Vikings in the Divisional Round.

Depth Chart (via Roster Resource)

Pending Free Agents:

Top 10 Cap Hits for 2018:

  1. Cameron Jordan, DE: $14,247,000
  2. Terron Armstead, T: $13,500,000
  3. Larry Warford, G: $9,000,000
  4. Max Unger, C: $8,000,000
  5. Coby Fleener, TE: $8,000,000
  6. Mark Ingram, RB: $6,245,000
  7. Drew Brees, QB: $6,000,000 (dead money)
  8. Nick Fairley, DT: $6,000,000 (dead money)
  9. A.J. Klein, LB: $5,200,000
  10. Thomas Morstead, P: $4,850,000


  • Projected cap space (via Over the Cap): $31,065,354
  • 27th pick in draft
  • Must exercise or decline 2019 fifth-year option for G Andrus Peat

Three Needs:

1) Re-sign Drew Brees: The entire Saints’ offseason hinges on re-signing 39-year-old quarterback Drew Brees. Nearly every report has indicated Brees wants to return to New Orleans, and it’s frankly difficult to imagine him leaving for another club. General manager Mickey Loomis & Co. had planned meet with Brees and his representatives at the scouting combine over the next week, and Brees’ unique contract structure means the two sides must agree to a new deal before the 2018 league year begins on March 14.

Brees worked out a one-year extension in September 2016 that locked him up through the 2017 campaign. Technically, the pact runs through the 2020 season, but the typically cap-strapped Saints used three void years in order to spread out Brees’ $30MM signing bonus. Signing bonuses prorate on NFL salary caps, so tacking on “fake” seasons to the end of a contract allow clubs to save cap space in the present while knowing they’ll have to pay the bill down the line.

Because Brees was given a $30MM signing bonus, the Saints are responsible for a $6MM cap charge ($30MM divided by five years) in each season of the deal. Brees’ contract will void on March 14, and if he hasn’t inked a new agreement at that point, the remaining $18MM in signing bonus proration will immediately accelerate onto New Orleans’ 2018 salary cap. What the Saints need to do, then, is extend Brees for a few more years, which would allow them to once again spread out that remaining $18MM.

If the Saints’ history of salary cap management is any indication, they’ll attempt to kick the can down the road again by signing Brees to a new contract that contains more void seasons. A five-year deal that contains a void provision after year two would allow New Orleans to retain Brees for the time being while giving the team even more wherewithal to spread out his signing bonus. Yes, such a plan would simply force the Saints to address Brees’ deal again in say, 2020, but given that New Orleans is squarely in its contention window, Loomis can afford to sort out any contractual problems when the time comes.

For what it’s worth, there’s little question the Saints need to retain Brees despite his advanced age and the surprisingly large number of quarterback alternatives available this offseason. Brees didn’t post his typically gaudy offensive statistics in 2017, but that was largely by design, as he attempted only 536 pass attempts, his lowest in a full 16-game slate since 2005 (his final year with the Chargers).

New Orleans built an offense that doesn’t have to fully rely on Brees, as the club ranked first in rushing DVOA and second in pressure rate allowed. Buoyed by Mark Ingram, Alvin Kamara, and a strong offensive line, Brees ranked second in passer rating and adjusted net yards per attempt, and third in Football Outsiders‘ DVOA, which measures value on a per-play basis.

2) Back to the drawing board opposite Cameron Jordan: The Saints struck gold in 2017 by inking former Cardinals edge rusher Alex Okafor to a one-year, $3MM deal. After years of trying (and failing) to find a defensive end to play alongside standout Cameron Jordan, New Orleans finally landed Okafor, who graded as Pro Football Focus‘ No. 22 edge defender before going down with a torn Achilles in late November. With Okafor in tow, the Saints ranked sixth in adjusted sack rate, their best showing since 2013, and finished 11th in pressure rate.

Okafor was one of the best one-year signings in the NFL a season ago, and the now 27-year-old has indicated that he’d like to return to New Orleans in 2018. While the Saints could explore a new deal with Okafor, they shouldn’t overpay to do so. Okafor didn’t have much of a market last season, and New Orleans doesn’t need to reward him for a (admittedly solid) 10-game sample. If Okafor is willing to re-sign for the $3MM he landed last year, the Saints should be interested. But given that he’s coming off an Achilles injury (which could limit his explosion and first step going forward), Okafor doesn’t need to be a high priority for New Orleans.

The Saints could also look at other internal options before scouring the free agent market in search of edge defenders. Trey Hendrickson was a third-round draft pick last year, and he offered an adequate performance as a situational rusher during his rookie campaign. On 235 pass-rushing snaps, Hendrickson put up 13 quarterback pressures. If New Orleans believes Hendrickson could advance to a full-time role in 2018, the club may not need to find another defensive end. The Saints also have 2017 sixth-rounder Al-Quadin Muhammad on the roster, but the Rutgers product only played 24 defensive snaps last season.Read more

Top 3 Offseason Needs: Oakland Raiders

In advance of March 14, the start of free agency in the NFL, Pro Football Rumors will detail each team’s three most glaring roster issues. We’ll continue this year’s series with the Oakland Raiders, who underwhelmed with a 6-10 record after receiving significant offseason hype because of their 2016 playoff berth. The team opted to fire Jack Del Rio months after giving him an extension and bring back Jon Gruden, who has not coached since the 2008 season. After being viewed to be in better shape in 2017, the franchise is in a less cozy place as far as needs go as well entering Gruden 2.0’s first offseason.

Depth Chart (via Roster Resource)

Pending Free Agents:

Top 10 Cap Hits for 2018:

  1. Derek Carr, QB: $25,000,000
  2. Khalil Mack, LB: $13,846,000
  3. Gabe Jackson, G: $10,500,000
  4. Kelechi Osemele, G: $10,500,000
  5. Sean Smith, CB: $8,500,000
  6. Rodney Hudson, C: $8,350,000
  7. Bruce Irvin, LB: $8,250,000
  8. Donald Penn, T: $8,131,250
  9. Michael Crabtree, WR: $7,687,500
  10. Amari Cooper, WR: $7,210,993


  • Projected cap space (via Over the Cap): $15,775,913
  • Ninth/tenth pick in draft
  • Must exercise or decline 2019 fifth-year option for WR Amari Cooper

Three Needs:

1) Restock the cornerback spots: The player most associated with Raiders cornerbacks over the past three years is now gone. Gruden and Reggie McKenzie showed David Amerson the door, and he’s now with the rival Chiefs. Sean Smith has not been what the franchise envisioned upon signing him in 2016, and the legal entanglement he’s gotten into paves a path for the soon-to-be 31-year-old corner out of Oakland. Releasing Smith comes free of charge thanks to McKenzie’s usual method of frontloading deals; the Raiders will see $8.5MM in cap relief with a Smith cut. The question then evolves to how to repair this area.

With slot man T.J. Carrie a free agent, the Raiders will be incredibly thin here if/when they cut Smith. Only 2017 first-rounder Gareon Conley qualifies as a building block, and he missed all but two games of his rookie season with a troublesome shin injury. Nevertheless, Conley will be expected to commandeer one of Oakland’s starting jobs this coming season.

Despite being a UFA, Carrie — a Bay Area native — already met with Gruden and members of the new coaching staff. He’s expressed a desire to stay. Although Carrie had his best season in 2017 after winning the slot job full-time following D.J. Hayden‘s exit, the 27-year-old defender will be in a market with other (more proven) slot stoppers Patrick Robinson, Aaron Colvin and Nickell Robey-Coleman. A midlevel deal might be enough to keep Carrie in Oakland, thus locking down another of the team’s de facto starting spots.

With the Raiders no longer having a high-end cornerback salary on their books, in the event they cut Smith, they could target one of the upper-echelon free agents. And Tony Pauline of reports they don’t intend to go exclusively after bargain buys, with Trumaine Johnson being their top UFA target.

With needs across their defense, steering clear of the Johnson/Malcolm Butler/Kyle Fuller tier may be the wiser choice. The team visited with Vontae Davis, but he opted for a Bills agreement. Other members of this upper-middle class of veterans include Prince Amukamara, Bashaud Breeland, Rashaan Melvin and E.J. Gaines.

The Raiders’ budget will be tighter because they will not be making rumored cuts. Both Bruce Irvin ($8.25MM in potential savings, no dead money) and Michael Crabtree ($7.27MM would-be savings, no dead money) will not be released. Each’s upper-middle-class salary will remain on the Raiders’ books. While these cuts would have created key needs as well, the veteran duo remaining on the roster will limit the team to some degree. And a long-rumored Khalil Mack extension coming to fruition could shrink the the signing bonus-averse franchise’s spending allotment further.

That said, Johnson offers reliability the Raiders haven’t had in years. Amerson had a strong 2015 season en route to his extension but was inconsistent a year later and experienced extensive injury trouble last season. Smith did not play as well as he did in Kansas City and has off-field troubles to attend to.

Johnson turned 28 in January and has been a solid corner for years, enough so that the Rams felt the need to tag him twice. And Los Angeles’ trade for Marcus Peters ensures Johnson will hit the market. And he will not come cheap.

Former teammate Janoris Jenkins signed for $12.5MM per year in 2016 — a $155MM cap universe — so it would be hard to see Johnson signing for less when the cap will approach or exceed $180MM. And if McKenzie would continue his usual contract policy to ensure protection in deals’ later years, a Johnson pact would eat into Oakland’s funds considerably. And the 6-foot-2 corner with a history of press-man ability will have an extensive market.

The more prudent method would be spreading money around their defense, which indeed needs help at all levels after the Raiders inexplicably ignored their biggest needs in free agency last year. They opted to spend money to augment a top-10 offense, which interestingly became much worse, and the defensive problems remained.

Despite the resources poured into their cornerback position in recent years, the Raiders have not posed much trouble to opposing quarterbacks. The two Amerson/Smith years produced pass-defense rankings of 24th and 26th, and the Raiders also finished 26th in air deterrence in 2015.

The Raiders picked two cornerbacks in the first round this decade in Hayden and Conley but did not supplement them with other high picks. The team could turn back to the draft again, now that finances are tighter than they have been in many years.

Read more

Top 3 Offseason Needs: Jacksonville Jaguars

In advance of March 14, the start of free agency in the NFL, Pro Football Rumors will detail each team’s three most glaring roster issues. We’ll continue this year’s series with the Jacksonville Jaguars, who finished with a 10-6 record before advancing to the AFC Championship Game for the first time in more than 20 years.

Depth Chart (via Roster Resource)

Pending Free Agents:

Top 10 Cap Hits for 2018:

  1. Calais Campbell, DL: $17,500,000
  2. Malik Jackson, DT: $15,500,000
  3. A.J. Bouye, CB: $15,500,000
  4. Telvin Smith, LB: $11,810,235
  5. Marcell Dareus, DT: $10,175,000
  6. Blake Bortles, QB: $10,000,000
  7. Brandon Linder, C: $9,406,250
  8. Dante Fowler Jr.: $7,474,167
  9. Tashaun Gipson, S: $7,050,000
  10. Allen Hurns, WR: $7,000,000


  • Projected cap space (via Over the Cap): $29,848,410
  • 29th pick in draft
  • Must exercise or decline 2019 fifth-year option for DE Dante Fowler Jr.

Three Needs:

1) Add competition for Blake Bortles: The Jaguars will run it back in 2018 — instead of exploring a quarterback upgrade via the free agent market, where they could have gone after Kirk Cousins or Case Keenum, the Jags will stick with Blake Bortles after agreeing to a new three-year, $54MM deal that contains $26.5MM in guarantees. Bortles was already under contract for more than $19MM in 2018 thanks to Jacksonville exercising his fifth-year option. That option is guaranteed for injury only, but given that Bortles is recovering from wrist surgery and likely wouldn’t have been able to pass a physical, the $19MM+ figure could be considered effectively fully guaranteed.Blake Bortles (Vertical)

Under the terms of Bortles’ new contract, his cap charge will be reduced to just $10MM, giving the Jaguars about $9MM in additional cap space. The pact will add a partially guaranteed base salary in 2019 ($6.5MM of $16MM is fully guaranteed), which will make it difficult for Jacksonville to part ways with Bortles: a $16.5MM dead money charge would accelerate onto the club’s salary cap if it releases Bortles next offseason. That number might not be as scary given that Bortles’ contract now contains offset language (meaning the Jaguars will be off the hook for whatever salary Bortles theoretically earns with a new team), but there’s no doubt Jacksonville has committed to keeping some form of Bortles — either the flesh-and-blood player, or simply the remnants of his salary — on its 2019 books.

But the move to extend Bortles wasn’t about the 2019 campaign — no, it was about the upcoming season, when the Jaguars clearly feel they can once again compete for the AFC championship and a Super Bowl title. Once it became clear Bortles and his $19MM salary would stick due to injury, Jacksonville didn’t have a ton of other options. So decision makers Tom Coughlin and Dave Caldwell opted to double down on 2018, create cap space to solidify other parts of the Jaguars roster, keep Bortles in place as the team’s starting quarterback, and worry about 2019 when the time comes.

However, Bortles’ new contract shouldn’t preclude the Jaguars from adding long-term competition under center, and while that will likely need to occur in the draft, there is one free agent signal-caller who could make sense for Jacksonville. Teddy Bridgewater will officially hit the free agent market after five seasons with the Vikings, and while all the tea leaves point to him returning to Minnesota, the former first-round pick could be interested in moving on, especially if the Vikes bring in Kirk Cousins.Teddy Bridgewater (Vertical)

Bridgewater, of course, hasn’t played a full season since 2015 while recovering from a gruesome knee injury, but he’s still only 25 years old. Perhaps he’ll want to land with a team that will allow a clearer shot at a starting job, but I question whether NFL clubs will trust Bridgewater’s health. Jacksonville, though, could promise Bridgewater the chance to start later in the 2018 season if Bortles fails, and might be able to ink him to a contract that would keep him in town through 2019 or 2020.

In the draft, the Jaguars aren’t likely to get a shot at Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield, or Josh Allen, but Louisville’s Lamar Jackson could be available at pick No. 29. Jackson, the 2016 Heisman winner, would be fascinating entrant as Bortles’ backup in 2018 and a future starter in 2019 and beyond. Lance Zierlein of calls Jackson a “maestro of improv who is Second City worthy,” and Jackson would be deadly utilizing run-pass options in Jacksonville’s offense. He needs work — Zierlein says Jackson needs to improve his accuracy on the run and his pocket awareness — but the former Cardinal seems like a high-risk, high-reward option that would mesh with the rest of the Jaguars’ roster.

2) Bolster the offensive line: Jacksonville invested in its offensive line in 2017, using the 34th overall selection on Alabama tackle Cam Robinson. Although he started 15 games on the blindside during his rookie campaign, Robinson graded as a bottom-five tackle in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus, seemingly confirming pre-draft concerns that he was a right tackle or guard. Ideally, the Jaguars would add new left tackle, shift Robinson to the right side, and release incumbent right tackle Jermey Parnell, but the utter lack of left tackles in both free agency and the draft makes that strategy untenable.

Instead, the Jags will likely give Robinson another shot on the blindside and seek upgrades on the interior. Center Brandon Linder is an excellent pivot and under contract through 2022, so he’s not going anywhere, but Jacksonville should pursue improvement at guard. Patrick Omameh and A.J. Cann finished 36th and 37th, respectively, among 77 PFF qualifiers, so the Jags can certainly aim for more production. Additionally, neither Omameh or Cann is signed to a long-term deal: Omameh, in fact, is scheduled to hit free agency next month, while Cann has one year left on his rookie contract.Read more

Top 3 Offseason Needs: Tennessee Titans

In advance of March 14, the start of free agency in the NFL, Pro Football Rumors will detail each team’s three most glaring roster issues. We’ll continue this year’s series with the Tennessee Titans, who advanced to the Divisional Round but still replaced head coach Mike Mularkey with former Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel.

Depth Chart (via Roster Resource)

Pending Free Agents:

Top 10 Cap Hits for 2018:

  1. Jurrell Casey, DT: $14,920,000
  2. Logan Ryan, CB: $11,166,666
  3. Taylor Lewan, T: $9,341,000
  4. Brian Orakpo, LB: $9,000,000
  5. Derrick Morgan, LB: $8,500,000
  6. Marcus Mariota, QB: $7,704,446
  7. Delanie Walker, TE: $7,033,334
  8. Johnathan Cyprien, S: $6,750,000
  9. DeMarco Murray, RB: $6,500,000
  10. Rishard Matthews, WR: $5,833,334


  • Projected cap space (via Over the Cap): $49,488268
  • 25th pick in draft
  • Must exercise or decline 2019 fifth-year option for QB Marcus Mariota

Three Needs:

1) Find a young edge rusher: Three edge rushers played more than 50% of the Titans’ defensive snaps in 2017: Brian Orakpo, who will be 32 years old when the 2018 campaign gets underway; Derrick Morgan, who turned 29 last month; and 32-year-old Erik Walden, who is an unrestricted free agent. Tennessee finished in the middle of the pack in both adjusted sack rate (12th) and total sacks (18th), but the team needs to get younger at outside linebacker.Kevin Dodd (vertical)

To be clear, the Titans do have some youthful pass rushers on their roster, but none that have shown anything at the NFL level. Kevin Dodd, selected near the top of the second round in the 2016 draft, missed time with a foot injury during his rookie season and subsequently failed to make an impact in 2017. In total, he’s played only 279 defensive snaps during his first two years in the league. A pair of former seventh-rounders — Aaron Wallace and Josh Carraway — also haven’t produced in their brief NFL tenures.

Tennessee has plenty of 2018 salary space (seventh-most in the league, at present), but general manager Jon Robinson isn’t likely to find what he’s looking for on the open market. The Cowboys intend to use the franchise tag on Demarcus Lawrence, while the next-best edge option, Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, will turn 29 years old in May, meaning he’s probably not a fit. While there are several intriguing pass rushers scheduled to become free agents, they’re likely not the type of premier edge players that will immediately affect opposing offenses.

The most fascinating free agent that could be of interest to the Titans is actually on the restricted free agent market. Shaquil Barrett played two-thirds of the Broncos’ defensive snaps a season ago, and while he posted only four sacks, the 25-year-old managed 30.5 pressures. Denver will likely place a second-rounder tender on Barrett, but I wonder if they’ll be able to match a creative offer from Tennessee. Not only does Denver boast far less cap space than the Titans, but general manager John Elway & Co. will likely spend the early days of the free agent period trying to woo Kirk Cousins or another free agent quarterback into joining his club.

The Broncos have botched the restricted free agent process in the very recent past: in 2016, Denver assigned running back C.J. Anderson the original round tender when a second-round offer would have cost just $900K more. The Broncos ultimately matched a Dolphins offer sheet, but Elway completely misread Anderson’s market from the outset, and ended up paying a financial price.Shaquil Barrett (vertical)

If the Titans craft an offer to Barrett that includes a hefty base salary or roster bonus designed to eat up 2018 cap space, and officially hand that offer to Barrett on the first day of free agency, how will the Broncos react? At a time when they’ll be searching for a signal-caller, possibly fielding trade offers for wideouts Demaryius Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders, and attempting to keep another RFA (center Matt Paradis), the Broncos may be blindsided yet again.

If a Barrett acquisition proves unrealistic, the Titans will still have the option of perusing the unrestricted free agent market. I’ve previously mentioned Aaron Lynch (49ers) and Jeremiah Attaochu (Chargers) as potential additions for clubs in need of upside at the edge position, and the Titans could show interest. Lynch, notably, ranked fifth in the NFL with 34 pressures as recently as 2015, and if he can keep his weight down, he’d be a viable reserve option for Tennessee. With an eye toward youth, the Titans may also consider Cardinals outside linebacker Kareem Martin, who offers 56 games worth of experience and is only 26 years old. Chris Smith (26) flashed in the 2017 preseason with the Bengals and is now freely available. Matching any of these younger defenders with veteran defensive coordinator Dean Pees could result in success.

The draft will offer yet another avenue for the Titans to acquire a pass rusher, but a top heavy class of defensive ends/linebackers means Tennessee might not have a shot at a blue-chip prospect at the end of the first round. Josh Norris of Rotoworld sent Sam Hubbard to the Titans in his most recent mock draft, but there are legitimate concerns about the Ohio State product’s athleticism. Perhaps Tennessee gets lucky and sees Marcus Davenport (UTSA) or Harold Landry (Boston College) slip, but if not, the club will have to be comfortable selecting a player with off-field concerns such as LSU’s Arden Key, or wait until Day 2 and pick up someone like Kansas’ Dorance Armstrong, whom Matt Miller of Bleacher Report calls the draft’s biggest sleeper on the edge.

2) Bring in a complement to Derrick Henry: The Titans are fully expected to release veteran running back DeMarco Murray this offseason in a move that will save the club $6.5MM in both cash and cap space, and while the club and new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur will turn over the rushing attack to second-year back Derrick Henry, Tennessee will need to find a pass-catching back to pair with its bruiser.

LaFleur was the Rams’ offensive coordinator in 2017, and Los Angeles attempted to bring in a back — Lance Dunbar — to spell Todd Gurley on the cheap. Gurley proved he didn’t really require breathers on the way to being named Offensive Player of the Year, and Dunbar was never able to stay healthy, but the Rams at least had the idea in mind. Henry has shown the ability to become an every-down back, a runner who become the foundation of an offense, but I’d expect Tennessee to pursue at least one other RB to play alongside him.Read more

Top 3 Offseason Needs: Atlanta Falcons

In advance of March 14, the start of free agency in the NFL, Pro Football Rumors will detail each team’s three most glaring roster issues. We’ll continue this year’s series with the Atlanta Falcons, who finished with a 10-6 record before being bounced in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

Depth Chart (via Roster Resource)

Pending Free Agents:

Top 10 Cap Hits for 2018:

  1. Matt Ryan, QB: $21,650,000
  2. Julio Jones, WR: $12,900,000
  3. Desmond Trufant, CB: $12,900,000
  4. Jake Matthews, T: $12,496,000
  5. Alex Mack, C: $11,050,000
  6. Robert Alford, CB: $9,600,000
  7. Andy Levitre, G: $8,375,000
  8. Mohamed Sanu, WR: $7,400,000
  9. Ryan Schraeder, T: $6,500,000
  10. Derrick Shelby, DE: $5,750,000


  • Projected cap space (via Over the Cap): $12,035,622
  • 26th pick in draft
  • Must exercise or decline 2019 fifth-year option for DE Vic Beasley

Three Needs:

1) Bring in at least one starting guard: The problem with boasting a solid core on both sides of the ball is that cap space gets eaten up quickly. The Falcons project to only have ~$12MM in available salary cap room this offseason, and even if the club makes a few predictable cuts, it’s difficult to see their funds rising much above $20MM. But with the small amount of cap space that Atlanta does possess, it should target a clear upgrade on the interior of its offensive line.Andy Levitre (Vertical)

The Falcons could potentially need two new guards to play alongside All-Pro center Alex Mack, depending on what they do with incumbent left guard Andy Levitre. Acquired from the Titans prior to the 2015 season, Levitre has been a solid starter in Atlanta, but he’s coming off a relatively down campaign that ended with a trip to injured reserve. The Falcons can create $7MM in cap savings by releasing Levitre this offseason, but they could also approach the 31-year-old about a contract restructure that reduces his cap charge and keeps him on the roster.

At right guard, 2016 sixth-round pick Wes Schweitzer played nearly offensive snap for the Falcons, but graded as just the No. 54 guard among 77 qualifiers, per Pro Football Focus, which assigned Schweitzer poor marks in both the run and pass game. The majority of writers at The Falcoholic — SB Nation’s excellent Falcons blog — don’t believe Schweitzer will return as a starting guard in 2018, but Atlanta does have other possible solutions on its roster. 2017 fourth-rounder Sean Harlow could be in for an increased role, as could Ty Sambrailo, whom the Falcons acquired from the Broncos last September.

While Atlanta would surely love to poach Andrew Norwell from the division rival Panthers, the club won’t be able to afford a guard that is expected to reset the positional market. However, given that the Falcons are certainly in win-now mode, the perfect guard fit may have just become available: Josh Sitton will now become a free agent when the market opens on March 14 after the Bears declined his $8MM option for 2018. Sitton will be 32 years old when next season gets underway, but that shouldn’t scare Atlanta, which is squarely in its contention window and won’t be adverse to inking a veteran player to a multi-year deal. A two-year, backloaded pact that allows Sitton to collect that $8MM he won’t be earning from Chicago could make sense for both sides.Senio Kelemete (Vertical)

If Sitton lands elsewhere, the Falcons should still have their pick of veteran guards, and the sheer volume of available experienced players at the position could potentially reduce prices overall. The Saints’ Senio Kelemete has proven himself all over the offensive line, and would offer Atlanta positional versatility at positions beyond guard. Zach Fulton (Chiefs) is only 26 years old and offers 46 starts worth of experience. Alex Boone, Spencer Long, Matt Slauson, Brandon Fusco, Jahri Evans, Josh Kline…the Falcons’ primary weakness has a ton of free agent panaceas, so the club shouldn’t struggle to find a resolution.

A draft selection is also on the table for the Falcons, but keep in mind that general manager Thomas Dimitroff has only selected one interior offensive linemen — Peter Konz in 2012 — prior to the third round. Atlanta either doesn’t value the guard position very highly, or believes it can find competent options later in the draft. Perhaps the Falcons take a shot on Texas’ Connor Williams (who many teams are viewing as a guard) if he slips to the bottom of the first round, but they’ll probably look to find a mid-round gem instead. Wyatt Teller (Virginia Tech), Sean Welsh (Iowa), and Skyler Phillips (Idaho State) are among the collegiate players who could be available at the beginning of Day 3, per Dane Brugler and Rob Rang of

2) Reorganize the defensive line: Only eight 4-3 defensive tackles saw at least 70% playtime in 2017, and the Falcons boasted two of them in Grady Jarrett and Dontari Poe. Jarrett is one of the better interior defenders in the NFL and is now eligible for an extension, but Poe is scheduled to hit free agency in March. While Atlanta could pursue an extension with Poe in the coming weeks, it might be worthwhile to allow the 27-year-old to reach the open market and assess his value before re-opening talks.Dontari Poe (Vertical)

Poe was one of the top defensive tackles available in 2017, but even after garnering interest from multiple clubs around the league, he was forced to settle for a one-year, $8MM deal. Now that he’s now a year older and has nearly 800 more snaps worth of wear, will teams now be willing to commit to Poe for the long term? Poe will likely be targeting something in the Johnathan Hankins range (three years, $27MM, with $10MM in guarantees), but it’s possible he’s not able to reach that payday. The Falcons should hold off on re-signing Poe in the hopes that his price comes down as a result of a weak market.

If Poe is not retained, Atlanta will likely use an early round draft pick on a new defensive tackle. Josh Norris of Rotoworld and Albert Breer of had the same idea in their most recent mock drafts, as both sent Florida’s Taven Bryan to the Falcons at pick No. 26. Lance Zierlein of provides the best prospect profiles around, and he says the 6″4, 290-pound Bryan “flashes disruptive potential that is waiting to be fully cultivated” but notes the ex-Gator’s “below-average power and contact balance.” The 2018 draft class offers a good number of interior options, so perhaps Vita Vea (Stanford), Da’Ron Payne (Alabama), Harrison Phillips (Stanford), or Maurice Hurst (Michigan) could fall to the end of the first round.Read more

Top 3 Offseason Needs: Cleveland Browns

In advance of March 14, the start of free agency in the NFL, Pro Football Rumors will detail each team’s three most glaring roster issues. We’ll continue this year’s series with the Cleveland Browns, who have established the NFL futility standard by being just 1-31 over the past two seasons. There are many areas in need of upgrades for a franchise that went 0-16 last season, but one obviously dwarfs the rest.

Depth Chart (via Roster Resource)

Pending Free Agents:

Top 10 Cap Hits for 2018:

  1. Joe Thomas, T: $14,250,000
  2. Kevin Zeitler, G: $12,400,000
  3. Jamie Collins, LB: $12,400,000
  4. Myles Garrett, DE: $6,911,876
  5. J.C. Tretter, C: $6,250,000
  6. Christian Kirksey, LB: $6,200,000
  7. Joel Bitonio, G: $6,000,000
  8. Jamar Taylor, CB: $5,275,000
  9. Kenny Britt, WR: $4,875,000 (dead money)
  10. Danny Shelton, DT: $3,723,895


  • Projected cap space (via Over the Cap): $110,849,880
  • First and fourth picks in draft
  • Must exercise or decline 2019 fifth-year option for DT Danny Shelton

Three Needs:

1) End a complex QB search with a franchise player: Browns fans know the list of failed quarterback investments by now that there’s no point in rehashing them. But the Sashi Brown-era decisions to trade out of the Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson draft slots did not bode well for the organization. It has a chance to rectify those missteps in April, but the decision won’t be easy.

Unlike past years that featured No. 1-selecting teams making choices between two players — Jared Goff-over-Wentz (2016), Jameis Winston-over-Marcus Mariota (2015), Andrew Luck-over-Robert Griffin III (2012) — the Browns could possibly have four passers on their radar at No. 1. No draft has featured three QBs go in the top five since 1999, which is unique symmetry considering the Browns’ Tim Couch decision set their rebooted franchise on this course.

The Browns are expected to decide between Josh Rosen, Josh Allen, Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield at No. 1. But the franchise is sending some mixed messages about its plans at American sports’ premier position.

Cleveland attempted to unload one of its three second-round picks for Alex Smith, who almost certainly would have been good enough to keep whomever the team selects at No. 1 on the bench throughout the 2018 season. Is that how a franchise that went 0-16 last season and 2-43 in its past 45 games should be operating? Now with A.J. McCarron on the UFA radar, might the Browns be considering him again after being willing to fork over two Day 2 picks for him at the trade deadline?

A bridge quarterback could make sense here. If the Browns go with ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr.’s choice and pick Allen, who is considered raw but a player potentially possessing the highest upside of the ’18 passer crop, they would probably need a veteran to take the snaps while the Wyoming prodigy learns. The same could be said for Darnold or Mayfield, with Rosen being viewed as the readiest pro prospect of this quartet. But the Browns approaching this QB market like they need a multiyear starter doesn’t seem logical.

The Browns’ insane amount of cap space would put them in position to outgun any Kirk Cousins suitor, but that doesn’t really make much sense given Cousins’ preferences and the team’s trajectory. Even a deal for McCarron, who could be viewed by some as a Cousins backup plan, may be too steep for this franchise’s purposes. If the Browns do go after a starter-level veteran as Hue Jackson has said he may want (possibly to increase his chances at keeping the HC job beyond next season?), it should be a player whose market did not meet expectations. Injury-risk Vikings Sam Bradford or Teddy Bridgewater come to mind here.

For their short-term mentor type, it would make sense for the Browns to target a veteran with experience but someone who doesn’t profile as a multiyear starter. It’s difficult to envision, barring an over-the-top offer, a starter-level UFA choosing the Browns over a comparable proposal from another team. But high-level backup types like Chase Daniel — a John Dorsey addition while he was in Kansas City and Smith’s backup for three years — or Matt Moore would make sense. An agreement with a nearing-retirement player like Ryan Fitzpatrick or a reunion with Josh McCown, would make more sense as a groomer for the No. 1 pick-to-be.

None of these options are as exciting as Cousins or even McCarron. But if the team is going to pick a quarterback at No. 1, over-investing here to help only the 2018 team seems short-sighted, as the 2017 Bears’ plan showed.

Since the sports media landscape has expanded significantly since the Couch/Donovan McNabb/Akili Smith trio went Nos. 1-3 in 1999, the next two-plus months should be flooded with headlines involving Darnold, Rosen, Allen and Mayfield. As of now, not much appears to be separating these passers, making the Browns’ decision all the more interesting. After misfiring on Brady Quinn, Brandon Weeden and Johnny Manziel, Cleveland will face pressure to get this one right.

Darnold’s been mentioned as a Browns pick, with’s Charles Robinson reporting multiple evaluators believe it will be a Darnold-or-Mayfield decision by late April. The USC product left two college seasons on the table to leave but has been deemed a candidate for the No. 1 overall pick since his redshirt-freshman campaign. He’s viewed as a better athlete than Rosen but a player whose delivery might need some ironing out before becoming a starting professional passer.

Rosen may be the safest pick from a pure passing standpoint, but the outspoken former UCLA centerpiece hasn’t made a secret of the fact Cleveland might not be the best place for him. And his interviews and visits may be critical leading up to the draft. But the polished signal-caller would probably be the least likely of these quarterbacks to require a bridge passer, and with Jackson wanting to have such a setup in place, maybe the Browns do opt for one of the others over the outspoken signal-caller. However, the longtime offensive coach has been reportedly enamored with the ex-Bruin. Again, it’s too early in the process to make a prediction here.

A high-level personnel executive — one that said in early 2016 the Browns would be set for 15 years if they took Wentz — told’s Mary Kay Cabot that Allen-to-Cleveland would be the most likely scenario unfolding. Allen has been compared to Wentz and Ben Roethlisberger, and the high-ceiling/possibly low-floor talent will obviously be a player to monitor here as the workout season commences.

Mayfield’s path may be the most interesting. The most accomplished college quarterback of this group, the Heisman Trophy winner has turned off some execs with his attitude and drawn Manziel comparisons from scouts and execs. He also is seen as more of a developmental player and one whose 6-foot stature could steer Dorsey and Jackson elsewhere.

Read more

Top 3 Offseason Needs: Philadelphia Eagles

In advance of March 14, the start of free agency in the NFL, Pro Football Rumors will detail each team’s three most glaring roster issues. We’ll continue this year’s series with the Philadelphia Eagles, who overcame the loss of their MVP-caliber starting quarterback to win the Super Bowl.

Depth Chart (via Roster Resource)

Pending Free Agents:

Top 10 Cap Hits for 2018:

  1. Fletcher Cox, DT: $17,900,000
  2. Lane Johnson, T: $12,250,000
  3. Jason Peters, T: $11,666,666
  4. Vinny Curry, DL: $11,000,000
  5. Brandon Brooks, G: $10,886,397
  6. Zach Ertz, TE: $10,345,000
  7. Malcolm Jenkins, S: $10,000,000
  8. Rodney McLeod, S: $8,406,250
  9. Mychal Kendricks, LB: $7,600,000
  10. Nick Foles, QB: $7,600,000


  • Projected cap space (via Over the Cap): -$9,426,190
  • 32nd pick in draft
  • Must exercise or decline 2019 fifth-year option for WR Nelson Agholor

Three Needs:

1) Figure out what to do with Nick Foles: After the Eagles lost starting quarterback Carson Wentz to a torn ACL in Week 14, no one gave them much of a chance to sustain an extended postseason run. Although Philadelphia boasted one of the best overall rosters in the NFL, backup signal-caller Nick Foles didn’t inspire a ton of confidence. And he probably shouldn’t have: aside from one solid 2016 start with the Chiefs, Foles hadn’t been productive since the 2013 campaign (which also came with the Eagles). Philadelphia received a first-round bye after securing the No. 1 seed in the NFC, but a short playoff stint looked exceedingly likely.Nick Foles (Vertical)

We all know what happened next. Despite being the underdog in each game, the Eagles held on against the Falcons in the Divisional Round, destroyed the Vikings in the NFC Championship, and pulled out a classic against the Patriots to win the first Super Bowl in franchise history. Foles was surgical, completing 28-of-43 attempts for 373 yards and three touchdowns while catching a touchdown pass from tight end Trey Burton on a fourth down, Philly Special play call. Two years after contemplating retirement, Foles is the reigning Super Bowl MVP.

So what do the Eagles do with Foles now? He’s not going to return as a starter in 2018, as Wentz is Philadelphia’s franchise quarterback and was on track to be named league MVP before he went down with injury. But that doesn’t mean Foles can’t come back as Wentz’s backup for another season, especially given how he proved his value during the Eagles’ Super Bowl run. But Foles is expensive: discounting Mike Glennon, who is sure to be released this offseason, Foles is the league’s highest-paid No. 2 quarterback. He’s due to count for $7.6MM on Philadelphia’s 2018 salary cap, and will collect $6MM in cash next season.

Most clubs would be able to afford a top-tier backup signal-caller at Foles’ price, but the Eagles’ salary cap situation is dire. At present, Philadelphia ranks dead last in expected 2018 space, and is projected to be nearly $10MM over the cap when the new league year begins in March. If Foles is traded, the Eagles would pick up $5.2MM in cap room, a penance to many teams but a critical amount for Philadelphia. There are other ways for vice president of football operations Howie Roseman to create space, to be sure, but trading Foles would also allow the Eagles to add draft capital, another benefit for a team that currently lacks a second- or third-round pick.

What type of return the Eagles can expect for Foles is an open question. Here’s a look at how much several comparable quarterbacks have cost over the past two seasons:


Jacoby Brissett is the absolute floor for a possible Foles trade, but Jimmy Garoppolo and Sam Bradford are both acceptable comps. Sure, Jimmy G now looks like one of the NFL’s next great quarterbacks, but at the time the Patriots dealt him to the 49ers, Garoppolo boasted only two career starts and 94 career attempts — Foles topped both of those marks (and posted a superior quarterback rating) during the Eagles’ playoff run alone. Of course, Garoppolo hadn’t put any poor performances on film and was 26 years old when he was traded, while Foles does have some substandard play on his record and is entering his age-29 season.

Like Foles, Bradford was an Eagle at the time he was dealt, and was coming off a campaign in which he completed 65% of his passes for 19 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, and an 86.4 passer rating. While he never hit the highs that did Foles, Bradford managed his competent performance over a 14-game stretch, giving an indication that his production would be sustainable going forward. Foles was excellent over a three-playoff-game sample, but will other NFL clubs be willing to bet on him as a starter in 2018?Nick Foles (Vertical)

Given that Foles’ value is at an all-time high, I don’t see how the Eagles can’t at least explore his trade value, especially given their salary cap and draft capital situation. I’d set parameters, though, and likely wouldn’t accept anything less than a early-to-mid second-round selection. The 2018 quarterback market offers more options — Kirk Cousins, Case Keenum, Bradford — than any in recent memory, so teams may not be clamoring to acquire Foles, but clubs such as the Browns (pick Nos. 33 and 35 in the early second round), the Jets (No. 37), the Broncos (No. 40), the Cardinals (No. 47), and Bills (No. 53) could all express interest.

If Foles is gone, the Eagles will need a new backup quarterback (although they have indicated confidence in third-stringer Nate Sudfeld). Philadelphia isn’t likely to find a better option than Sudfeld late in the draft, so a free agent signal-caller would represent the expected solution. Of course, any veteran inked by the Eagles would need to come at a cheaper rate than Foles (otherwise there’d be no financial reason to trade him). Josh McCown and Matt Moore stand out as experienced quarterbacks who could competently fill in for Wentz, while a trade acquisition — perhaps the Browns include DeShone Kizer or Cody Kessler in a Foles swap — can’t be ruled out.

2) Part ways with Jason Peters, but find a swing tackle: We’ve already covered the Eagles’ ominous salary cap situation, but trading Nick Foles might not be the only financially-motivated move Philadelphia needs to make over the coming weeks. Veteran left tackle Jason Peters, who played in seven games before tearing his ACL, is set to count for $10.667MM in 2018, an unpalatable figure for a 36-year-old coming off injury. While Eagles head coach Doug Pederson recently indicated Peters will return to Philadelphia next season, Pederson isn’t the one making the tough cap-related decisions — those calls will fall to Howie Roseman, who must weigh Peters’ ability against his cost.Jason Peters

However, the Eagles will almost certainly have to trade Peters if they want to experience any cap relief. Under the terms of his recent extension, Peters garnered a $4.5MM injury guarantee for the 2018 season. Given that he tore his ACL in October, Peters likely won’t be able to pass a physical before that total becomes fully guaranteed in March, so Philadelphia will be paying the sum either way. In fact, it will cost more — $10,833,334 vs. $10,666,666 — to cut Peters than to keep him on the roster next year, provided that $4.5MM guarantee kicks in.

As such, a trade of Peters is the only way the Eagles can get his cap charge off their books, and I’d expect a number of teams to be interested in acquiring a high-quality tackle, even an aged one with a knee injury. Peters, a likely future Hall of Famer, graded as the NFL’s seventh-best offensive tackle before going down in 2017, per Pro Football Focus, meaning he’s still a valuable commodity. Club such as the Patriots (if they lose Nate Solder to free agency), the Bengals, the Texans, the Jaguars, the Buccaneers, and the Cardinals could all use a left tackle, and Peters would only cost an acquiring team $6.75MM next season.Read more

Top 3 Offseason Needs: Detroit Lions

In advance of March 14, the start of free agency in the NFL, Pro Football Rumors will detail each team’s three most glaring roster issues. We’ll continue this year’s series with the Detroit Lions, who missed the postseason in 2017 and subsequently replaced head coach Jim Caldwell with former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia.

Depth Chart (via Roster Resource)

Pending Free Agents:

Top 10 Cap Hits for 2018:

  1. Matthew Stafford, QB: $26,500,000
  2. T.J. Lang, G: $10,916,666
  3. Golden Tate, WR: $9,351,250
  4. Marvin Jones, WR: $8,600,000
  5. Eric Ebron, TE: $8,250,000
  6. Glover Quin, S: $6,516,666
  7. Ricky Wagner, T: $5,900,000
  8. Darius Slay, CB: $5,576,269
  9. DeAndre Levy, LB: $4,800,000 (dead money)
  10. Theo Riddick, RB: $3,887,500


  • Projected cap space (via Over the Cap): $52,184,502
  • 20th pick in draft

Three Needs:

1) Reset the running game: The Lions famously have gone four-plus years without a running back posting 100 yards in a single game — Reggie Bush last managed that feat in 2013, and he’s also the last Detroit runner to put up 1,000 yards rushing over a full season. Those struggles have lead the Lions to address their backfield in recent years, but 2015 second-round pick Ameer Abdullah hasn’t been able to hold up as an every-down back, while Theo Riddick excels far more as a receiver than as a between-the-tackles runner. After ranking dead last in rushing yards per attempt a season ago, Detroit needs to acquire a new running back in the coming months.Dion Lewis (Vertical)

The most obvious free agent target for the Lions should be Dion Lewis, as both he and new head coach Matt Patricia spent the past three years with the Patriots. Detroit general manager Bob Quinn is a former New England staffer, as well, and was the club’s director of pro staffing when Lewis was signed to a futures contract prior to the 2015 campaign. As far as fits go, Lewis and the Lions are like a glove, and Detroit should easily be able to meet Lewis’ reported asking price of $18MM over a three-year term.

While Lewis may have been viewed as a rich man’s Abdullah as recently as last season, he proved in 2017 that he’s capable of being the foundation of a rushing offense. He handled 180 carries last year (eight more than he’d managed over the first four years of his career) and averaged five yards per rush. Lewis also finished first in Football Outsiders’ DYAR (which measures value over a replacement running back), second in DVOA (per-play value), and fourth in success rate (how a back keeps his team “on schedule” with regards to down and distance). Throw in his efforts in the passing game — 32 receptions and a No. 6 ranking in pass-blocking efficiency, per Pro Football Focus — and Lewis is just about as complete a running back as you’ll find on the open market.

Of course, Lewis isn’t the only runner the Lions could consider this offseason. Fellow Patriots free agent Rex Burkhead was given 100 total touches over 10 games in 2017, and could be an option for Detroit if he’s not re-signed by New England. Carlos Hyde and Isaiah Crowell could both offer a bruising style that would mesh well with Abdullah and Riddick. And C.J. Anderson, a rumored candidate for release in Denver, might be on the table, especially given that former Broncos offensive line coach Jeff Davidson is now on staff in Detroit.

The Lions may also look to the draft to find another running back, and while I wouldn’t typically advocate selecting a runner in the first round, the Lions are sitting late enough on Day 1 that a first-round RB contract wouldn’t break the bank. If Saquon Barkley is taken in the top five picks, for example, he’ll receive a four-year contract that pays him nearly $7MM annually. That would immediately place him within the top five highest-paid running backs in the entire NFL. The financial value just isn’t there to make a top-10 running back worth the risk, but the Lions are picking 20th overall. Any RB Detroit takes at that point will only earn roughly $3MM per year, a more than palatable cost.Sony Michel (Vertical)

Barkley will be long gone by the time Detroit gets to turn in its card, but there are other backs who will be worth a Day 1 or 2 selection. Georgia’s Sony Michel should be available at pick No. 20, and Lance Zierlein of says the 215-pounder will “drop his pads and meet force with force when it’s time to finish.” Derrius Guice (LSU), Rashaad Penny (San Diego State), and Nick Chubb (Georgia) are among the other burly runners that could come off the board before Day 3.

2) Fix the interior offensive line: Now entering his second season as the Lions’ general manager, Quinn has shown a willingness to pay for offensive line upgrades thus far during his Detroit tenure. Last year, the Lions opted to move on from competent linemen Larry Warford and Riley Reiff, replacing them with fellow free agents T.J. Lang and Ricky Wagner. Unfortunately, Detroit will need to bring in at least one addition lineman this offseason, as the club’s front five was sub-par in 2017.

The problem for the Lions’ line resides on the interior: while guards Lang and Graham Glasgow offered acceptable play last year, longtime center Travis Swanson ranked as the worst pivot in the league a season ago, per PFF. Detroit was dead last in adjusted line yards, and also finished last in ALY when running up the middle. Swanson is now a free agent, and given Quinn’s focus on offensive line upgrades during his Lions tenure, I’d expect the club to move on from its 27-year-old center.Read more