Steven Lourie

Feb 222015
 

Positions of Need

Defensive Tackle

Defensive tackle has been a strength for the Lions for years, but all three of their top defensive tackles, Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, and CJ Mosley, are free agents this off-season. Mosley is the most likely to re-sign and will be the cheapest, but he’s going into his age 32 season. The Lions will find it borderline impossible to bring back all 3 of them and they’ll also have trouble bringing back even two of them. Defensive tackle help is needed this off-season and the Lions could turn to the early rounds of the draft to fill this need.

Cornerback

Rashean Mathis and Darius Slay were a great cornerback duo in 2014 for the Lions, grading out 12th and 19th among cornerbacks respectively on Pro Football Focus. However, Mathis is a free agent going into his age 35 season and they really lack depth at the position. Bill Bentley was drafted in the 3rd round in 2012, but he hasn’t delivered yet, grading out below average in both 2012 and 2013 and then missing all but 3 snaps with a torn ACL in 2014. They need to add another cornerback to the mix, especially if Mathis isn’t brought back on a short-term deal as a stopgap.

Wide Receiver

Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate each broke the 1000 yard barrier last season, one of just 4 wide receiver duos to do so (Jordy Nelson/Randall Cobb, Demaryius Thomas/Emmanuel Sanders, and Mike Evans/Vincent Jackson were the other 3). However, they were the only two Lion wide receivers to play a snap and grade out above average in 2014, which becomes a serious problem if Johnson or Tate ever get hurt, as Johnson did for a period of time in 2014. Depth needs to be added.

Defensive End

Jason Jones was Pro Football Focus’ 47th ranked 4-3 defensive end out of 59 eligible last season and the Lions could cut him, to save 3.15 million in cash and cap space. Even if he returns, it could be as a defensive tackle. George Johnson was solid as a 3rd defensive end last season and could be a candidate to replace Jones as a starter. Johnson played 502 snaps last season, grading out slightly above average, but he’s still unproven, after playing 156 snaps in his first 4 seasons combined. They could add to this position this off-season.

Guard

Rob Sims is a free agent going into his age 32 season. He’s aging, but he still showed the ability to be a capable starter in 2014, so they should try to bring him back. That being said, if they’re unable to, they’ll need to replace him, as they don’t really have a good internal replacement.

Center

Dominic Raiola seems to be at the end of his line, a free agent going into his age 37 season, after grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 37th ranked center out of 41 eligible in 2014. The Lions drafted Travis Swanson in the 3rd round in 2014 to be a long-term solution, but he struggled as a rookie, primarily at right guard. He only played 277 snaps, so he wasn’t eligible for Pro Football Focus’ rankings, but no one played fewer snaps at guard and graded out worse.

Key Free Agents

DT Ndamukong Suh

Ndamukong Suh has a good chance to be the best free agent on the open market this off-season. Guys like Justin Houston, Dez Bryant, and Demaryius Thomas can all make arguments that they’re the best player with an expiring contract this off-season, but all 3 of those players figure to get franchise tagged. Because of franchise tag rules and Suh’s massive cap number in the contract year of his rookie deal in 2014, franchising Suh would cost the Lions 26.7 million, so that’s not really an option. The Lions could still sign Suh before free agency hits, but more than likely he’s going to want to test the market, in search of the richest deal that a defensive player has ever signed. He wants a deal bigger than the 6-year, 100 million dollar extension JJ Watt got last off-season. Suh isn’t quite Watt, but some team could still be willing to give him that. Suh joins Gerald McCoy (who got a 7-year, 98 million dollar extension last off-season) as the only defensive tackle to grade out in the top-4 among defensive tackles on Pro Football Focus in each of the last 3 seasons.

DT Nick Fairley

Nick Fairley is a frustrating player. He went 13th overall in the 2011 NFL Draft, but, 4 years into his career, it’s still not clear how good of a player he is. It’s clear how good he can be, but he’s been so inconsistent. Fairley only played 236 snaps as a rookie, largely because of injuries, but he still played well and, in 2012, he was even better, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 5th ranked defensive tackle on just 511 snaps. Fairley looked primed for a breakout year in 2013, but weight problems caused him to only grade out slightly above average on 693 snaps. As a result, the Lions didn’t pick up his option for 2015, making 2014 his contract year, and briefly benched him for CJ Mosley last off-season. That seemed to wake him up as he played very well to start the season, but he missed 8 games with injuries. He still graded out 18th among defensive tackles on just 297 snaps, but now he heads into free agency still an enigma. He’s shown top defensive tackle talent and he’s only going into his age 27 season, but he’s inconsistent, he’s had discipline problems dating back to his collegiate days, discipline problems that won’t get better if he gets a ton of money, and he’s missed 18 games with injuries in 4 years in the league. He’s a high risk, high reward signing at 6-7 million annually.

G Rob Sims

Rob Sims is an ironman who has made all 80 starts over the past 5 seasons since arriving in Detroit, but he’s going into his age 32 season and graded out below average last season for the first time since 2008, back when he was a reserve with the Seahawks. He still played pretty well last year, grading out slightly below average, but he’s been Pro Football Focus’ 37th and 40th ranked guard in 2013 and 2014 respectively, so the days of him grading out in the top-13 at his position, like he did in 2011 and 2012, and being one of the better guards in the NFL are gone. Still, he’s a starting caliber guard who won’t break the bank, so he’ll draw plenty of interest. I don’t expect him to get much guaranteed money past 2015 though.

CB Rashean Mathis

Rashean Mathis looked done after 2012, as he graded out below average in 2012, missed 11 games with injury in 2011 and 2012 combined, and was going into his age 33 season. He didn’t get signed until mid-August in 2013, but he turned back the clock in Detroit over the past 2 seasons, making 29 starts and grading out 26th in 2013 and 12th in 2014. He’s a free agent going into his age 35 season this off-season so he won’t command a large salary, but the Lions would love to bring him back as a stopgap in their secondary and he should draw interest from other cornerback needy teams as well.

DT CJ Mosley

CJ Mosley has been the 3rd defensive tackle for the Lions over the past 2 seasons, but he’s made 9 starts, played 836 snaps, and graded out above average in both seasons so he’s been very important to the Lions. When you take into account that he graded out above average in 2011 and 2012, this is one of the best reserve defensive linemen in the NFL. He’s going into his age 32 season so he won’t get a ton of money on the open market, but he should get paid like a low-end starter. If the Lions are unable to bring back Suh and Fairley, Mosley could easily be a starter in Detroit next season.

C Dominic Raiola

Dominic Raiola has been with the Lions since they drafted him in the 2nd round in 2014, making 203 starts over that time period, but he appears to be at the end of the line and is expected to retire this off-season, after grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 37th ranked center out of 41 eligible last season. If he does decide to play another season, what would be his age 37 season, it probably won’t be in Detroit, as they appear ready to move forward with 2014 3rd round pick Travis Swanson at center in 2015. He might not draw any interest at all on the open market.

Cap Casualty Candidates

RB Reggie Bush

Bush never really became the otherworldly talent that the NFL was expecting him to be, after the Saints drafted the former Heisman winner 2nd overall in 2006, but after an injury plagued tenure in New Orleans that saw him max out at 157 carries, Bush became a solid starter from 2011-2013 with the Dolphins and Lions, averaging 222 carries for 1026 yards and 5 touchdowns and 44 catches for 365 yards and 2 touchdowns over that time period. Those days appear behind him now though, as he heads into his age 30 season, coming off of a season where he was more of a complementary back behind Joique Bell. Bush rushed for 297 yards and 2 touchdowns on 76 carries (3.91 YPC) and caught 40 passes for 253 yards. He also missed 5 games with injury and Theo Riddick did a solid job as the complementary back in his absence. The Lions could cut Bush to save 3.5 million in cash and 1.72 million on the cap and move forward with the significantly cheaper Riddick behind Bell.

DE Jason Jones

Jason Jones was signed to a 3-year, 9.5 million dollar deal two off-seasons ago by the Lions, but he was limited to 87 snaps in 2013 by a torn patellar tendon and then graded out 47th out of 59 eligible this season as a starter. The Lions could cut him to save 3.15 million in cash and cap space, but he’s only going into his age 29 season and he’s had more career success at defensive tackle than defensive end so the Lions could bring him back and move him inside. As a defensive tackle, the 6-3 274 pounder has graded out above average on limited snaps inside in both 2009 and 2012 and graded out 6th among defensive tackles on Pro Football Focus as a starter in 2010.

Feb 222015
 

Positions of Need

Cornerback

Ike Taylor is done, as a free agent going into his age 35 season, after struggling in 2013 (98th out of 110 eligible cornerbacks) and missing 11 games with injury in 2014. They gave Cortez Allen a long-term contract in the off-season, but he struggled mightily before being benched and could be cut after just one year, a move that would save them 1.58 million on the 2015 cap. He was Pro Football Focus’ 103rd cornerback out of 108 eligible. William Gay was fine, but journeymen Brice McCain and Antwon Blake were a mixed bag. I expect they’re going to target cornerbacks early in 2015.

Outside Linebacker

Jarvis Jones was a first round pick of the Steelers’ in 2013, but he’s graded out below average in each of his first 2 seasons in the league, doing so on 646 snaps as a rookie and 237 snaps last year, when he missed 9 games (he also missed 2 games as a rookie). He’s still part of their long-term plans at outside linebacker, but he’s tough to count on and they need other players at the position as Jason Worilds and James Harrison are both free agents this off-season. The latter is going into his age 37 season.

Defensive End

Cameron Heyward was fantastic for the Steelers again last season, but they need help around him at the position. Stephon Tuitt and Cam Thomas were among the worst players at their position last season, grading out 40th and 47th respectively out of 47 eligible 3-4 defensive ends. Brett Keisel was better, but he’s going into his age 37 season. Tuitt was a 2nd round rookie last year so he could be better in 2015 and he remains a big part of their future, but they need to add another young guy at the position.

Safety

Michael Mitchell was signed to a 5 year, 25 million dollar contract last off-season and did a decent job in his first season in Pittsburgh. However, there’s uncertainty about who the long-term solution is next to him. Troy Polamalu is going into his age 34 season and the Steelers can save 6 million in cash and 3.75 million in cap space by cutting him this off-season. He could also outright retire. Polamalu is still a capable player, grading out above average last season for the 8th straight season, but he’s expensive, aging, declining (last season he ranked 48th out of safeties, worst since 2009 when he played just 5 games), and has missed 24 games over the past 6 seasons combined. He probably doesn’t have a lot of time left as a starter in Pittsburgh. Shamarko Thomas was drafted in the 4th round in 2013 as a potential successor, but he’s played just 195 snaps in 2 seasons, as he’s been unable to move ahead of Will Allen on the depth chart. Allen is going into his age 33 season. More youth needs to be added into the mix.

Running Back

The Steelers lost in the first round of the playoffs at home to the Ravens by a score of 30-17. The Ravens were a tough opponent and it’s possible they would have lost anyway, but it definitely hurt their chances of winning significantly when Le’Veon Bell got hurt towards the end of their week 17 win over the Bengals. That’s partially because Bell is so good (Pro Football Focus’ #1 overall running back last season), but it’s also partially because they have no depth behind him. The Steelers needed to sign Ben Tate the week before that game out of desperation. Tate actually got the first carry for the Steelers and his 7 touches were 2nd by a Steeler running back in that game behind Josh Harris’ 11. Tate isn’t a long-term solution and neither Josh Harris nor Dri Archer seem like the type of player who can be counted on to carry the load if Bell misses time. Harris was an undrafted free agent and had just 18 carries as a rookie, rushing for just 41 yards. Archer had even fewer carries as a rookie, carrying the ball 11 times for 39 yards. The 2014 3rd round pick might have a future role as a scatback, but the 5-8 173 pounder can’t carry much of a load. This is especially a concern considering Le’Veon Bell is facing a two game suspension to start 2015 for marijuana possession.

Key Free Agents

OLB Jason Worilds

Jason Worilds was Pro Football Focus’ 12th ranked 3-4 outside linebacker in 2013, but he was a bit of a one year wonder so the Steelers used the transition tag on him, rather than giving him a long-term deal. Prior to 2013, the 2010 2nd round pick played a combined 979 snaps in his first 3 seasons in the league, maxing out at 501 in 2011. However, he graded out above average in 2 of those 3 seasons and he shed the one-year wonder label in 2014 in his 2nd full season as a starter, grading out 11th at his position. He heads into free agency off of back-to-back top-12 seasons as a 3-4 outside linebacker, having made 31 of 32 starts over those 2 seasons. He made 9.75 million for 1 year on the transition tag last year and figures to get paid well on the open market this off-season. The cap strapped Steelers will have a tough time keeping him.

OLB James Harrison

James Harrison was out of the league to start last season, but he rejoined the Steelers for week 4 after they needed help at the rush linebacker position and he proved to be a huge pickup, grading out 10th at his position on just 439 snaps. No one played fewer snaps at his position and graded out better. He’s going into his age 37 season so the end of the road is right around the corner, but he proved last season that he still has something left in the tank. He has graded out above average in every season in Pro Football Focus’ history (since 2007), including last season and a 2013 season with the Bengals where he was Pro Football Focus’ 8th ranked 4-3 outside linebacker on just 383 snaps as a base run stopping outside linebacker. No one played fewer snaps and graded out better at the position that season. Scheme versatile, he’ll draw interest on cheap, one-year deals this off-season, assuming he still wants to play.

CB Brice McCain

Brice McCain was Pro Football Focus’ 24th ranked cornerback in 2011 and looked like a potential future star, but that was the only season of his 6 year career that he’s graded out above average. He was Pro Football Focus’ 103rd ranked cornerback out of 113 eligible in 2012 and dead last ranked in 2013. He played 615 snaps for the Steelers out of necessity, despite not playing a snap in weeks 1-3, but he wasn’t that good. He’ll be looking at deals near the minimum this off-season.

RB Ben Tate

Ben Tate was a 2nd round pick in 2010 by the Texans and he’s shown talent, but injuries have been a serious issue for him. As a rookie, he broke his ankle in the pre-season, which opened the door for Arian Foster to emerge as one of the best running backs in the NFL. Ben Tate impressed as his backup, averaging 5.09 YPC on 240 carries in 2011 and 2012 and got his shot to be the starter in 2013 when Arian Foster went down with a season ending back injury. Unfortunately, the injury bug reared its head for Tate again as he broke several ribs. He only missed 2 games, the final two of the season, but was definitely hampered by the injury as he averaged just 4.26 yards per carry on 181 carries. He signed a 2-year, 7 million dollar deal with the Browns last off-season, but he lasted just 8 games with Cleveland, missing 3 with injuries, being limited to 3.14 YPC when on the field, and getting cut mid-season. The Vikings gave him a chance, but he had just 38 yards on 13 carries in Minnesota and was eventually let go there too. The Steelers signed him out of desperation for the playoffs, but he had just 28 yards on 7 touches. Tate could be on his 5th team in about 18 months if he’s signed elsewhere this off-season. He’ll be looking at one-year prove it deals near the minimum.

CB Ike Taylor

Ike Taylor has had a solid career and was Pro Football Focus’ 40th cornerback ranked as recently as 2012, but he missed 5 games down the stretch that season with a broken arm, graded out 98th out of 110 eligible in 2013, and then missed another 11 games this year with arm problems. Going into his age 35 season, there’s a good chance that Taylor’s career is done. He might either retire this off-season or go unsigned in free agency.

Cap Casualty Candidates

CB Cortez Allen

Cortez Allen was a 4th round pick by the Steelers in 2011. He barely played as a rookie, but he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 17th ranked cornerback on 563 snaps in 2012 and their 37th ranked cornerback on 718 snaps in 2013. He was given a 5-year, 26 million dollar deal last off-season, but he was horrible in the first season of that extension. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 103rd ranked cornerback out of 108 eligible, got benched after week 7, played 42 defensive snaps the rest of the way, and ended the season on IR. The Steelers can save 5.631 million in cash and 1.581 million on the cap by letting him go this off-season.

WR Lance Moore

Lance Moore was a 1000 yard receiver in 2012 with the Saints, but that was over two years ago, that was the only 1000+ yard season of his career, he’s missed 17 games over the past 6 seasons combined, he’s going into his age 32 season, and he’s combined for 51 catches for 665 yards and 4 touchdowns over the past 2 seasons. If he returns to the Steelers, he’ll be their 4th receiver at best behind Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, and Markus Wheaton. The Steelers can save 1.5 million in cash and cap space by letting him go and he’s basically asked for his release so I expect him to be let go this off-season.

DE Cam Thomas

Cam Thomas was decent in limited action in 2011 and 2012 with the Chargers, grading out above average on 395 snaps in 2011 and 404 snaps in 2012, while showing the versatility to play 3-4 defensive end and nose tackle. However, he struggled in 2013, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 51st ranked defensive tackle out of 69 eligible and he struggled even more in 2014 in his first season with the Steelers, grading out dead last among 3-4 defensive ends. The Steelers can save 2 million in cash and cap space by letting him go.

S Troy Polamalu

Troy Polamalu has graded out above average in all 8 seasons of Pro Football Focus’ history, but he’s going into his age 34 season and coming off of a season where he ranked 48th among safeties, worst since 2009 when he played just 5 games. He’s also missed 24 games in the last 6 seasons combined. He’s still a capable player and he’s a future Hall of Famer and I ultimately expect him back in Pittsburgh, but the cap strapped Steelers can cut him to save 6 million in cash and 3.75 million in cap space immediately so they’ll consider it.

DE Brett Keisel

Brett Keisel is one of the oldest players in the NFL, going into his age 37 season. He was decent on 451 snaps last season, but the end is near for him, especially coming off of a season ending triceps tear. He was Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked 3-4 defensive end in 2011, but he’s graded out below average in each of the last 3 seasons, missing 8 games over that period of time. If he returns in 2015, it’ll be as a reserve and the Steelers may opt to cut him to save 1.5 million in cash and cap space and bring him back on a minimum deal or let him leave outright.

Feb 222015
 

Positions of Need

Defensive End

Other than Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins, the Bengals’ defensive line was horrible last season as only those two players played a snap for the Bengals on the defensive line and graded out above average. Wallace Gilberry and Robert Geathers were horrible as the Bengals #2 and #3 defensive ends last season, grading out 46th and 59th respectively out of 59 eligible 4-3 defensive ends. Geathers can be a cap casualty, while Gilberry can be a reserve. Margus Hunt and Will Clarke are recent early picks, 2013 2nd round and 2014 3rd round respectively, but neither has been able to make it on to the field much early in their careers. Hunt has played 352 snaps in 2 seasons, while Clarke only played 64 snaps as a rookie, despite the aforementioned significant struggles ahead of him on the depth chart. More talent needs to be added this off-season.

Defensive Tackle

Geno Atkins had a down year by his standards this season, grading out just 20th at his position, but he’ll be better in 2015 in his 2nd year since the ACL tear. The issue is next to him, where Domata Peko has graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 66th ranked defensive tackle out of 69 eligible in 2013 and 80th out of 81 eligible in 2014. Going into his age 31 season, the Bengals should cut him to save 3.7 million in cash and cap space for 2015. Even if they don’t let him go, they should still bring in an upgrade and make him a reserve. Peko should not be starting for this team next season.

Middle Linebacker

The Bengals need to figure out their linebacking situation. Rey Maualuga was only a part-time player in 2014 (for good reason after how he struggled in 2011, 2012, and 2013) and now he’s a free agent. Vontaze Burfict was limited to 5 games by knee problems and then had a serious knee procedure that has put his 2015 in doubt. Emmanuel Lamur and Vincent Rey both saw significant playing time this season, but both struggled. Lamur was Pro Football Focus’ 39th ranked 4-3 outside linebacker out of 40 eligible, while Rey graded out below average in action at both outside linebacker and middle linebacker.

Outside Linebacker

I detailed the Bengals’ linebacker problems above. Emmanuel Lamur is currently penciled into one 4-3 outside linebacker spot, but he struggled mightily last year. Vontaze Burfict was great at outside linebacker in 2013, but his future is clouded by injuries. Vincent Rey can play outside linebacker, but he struggled there in 2014 and he can also play middle linebacker. There should be more clarity before the draft, but I still expect them to add one linebacker at least in the early to middle rounds.

Guard

Clint Boling and Kevin Zeitler have been a great guard duo over the past 3 years, since they drafted Zeitler in the 1st round in 2012. Both have graded out above average in all 3 seasons for the Bengals. However, Clint Boling is a free agent this off-season and the Bengals are in danger of losing him. If he’s not able to be re-signed, he’ll need to be replaced.

Center

I know the Bengals like him, but 4th round rookie Russell Bodine played like one, grading out 33rd out of 41 eligible. I’m not convinced he’s their center of the future. They should add some competition for him this off-season.

Quarterback

The Bengals are in an awkward spot with Andy Dalton. Dalton has lost each of his first 4 playoff games, the 2nd quarterback in NFL history to do that. That has led some to wonder if he can ever possibly win a playoff game, which is an absurd question considering the list of quarterbacks who have won playoff games (TJ Yates and Tim Tebow are recent examples). Dalton is there every year, making the playoffs in each of his first 4 years in the NFL, and he is a quarterback capable of winning the Super Bowl if everything is right around him, but he’s also far from the ideal signal caller. The problem is the Bengals aren’t exactly in a position to find an upgrade on him any time soon. Jason Campbell is a free agent this off-season though, so the Bengals should at least find a better backup quarterback in case they need to turn to him.

Key Free Agents

G Clint Boling

Boling, a 2011 4th round pick, barely played as a rookie (175 snaps), but he’s been a starter over the past 3 seasons, making 44 of 48 starts (2 of which were at right tackle) and grading out above average in all 3 seasons. He was Pro Football Focus’ 22nd ranked guard in 2012, 18th ranked in 2013, and 19th ranked in 2014. He’s quietly one of the better guards in the NFL and will command a decent amount on money on the open market. He’s expressed interest in returning to Cincinnati and they’d love to have him back.

CB Terence Newman

Terence Newman looked done after his 2011 season with the Cowboys, when he graded out 94th out of 109 eligible cornerbacks, but he revived his career in Cincinnati over the past 3 seasons, making 41 starts and grading out above average in 2 of 3 seasons. The issue is the one season he did grade out below average was last season, which is especially concerning for two reasons. The first reason is that it was his first season in Cincinnati without legendary defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, who Newman was successful with in Dallas as well. The second reason is simply age, as Newman heads into his age 37 season. He might not have another left in him. He’ll probably have to wait a while for the phone to ring if he wants to keep playing. Perhaps a reunion in Minnesota with Zimmer would be good for both sides.

MLB Rey Maualuga

Rey Maualuga started his career at outside linebacker and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 17th and 11th ranked 4-3 outside linebacker in 2009 and 2010 respectively, after the Bengals took him in the 2nd round in 2009. However, the Bengals moved him to middle linebacker for 2011 and it’s been a steady decline. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 36th ranked middle linebacker out of 51 eligible in 2011 and worst ranked in 2012. He was re-signed to a 2-year deal after that disastrous 2012 season, but he started seeing progressively fewer passing down snaps, playing 610 snaps in 2013 and 452 snaps in 2014. He graded out below average in both 2013 and 2014 once again and he missed 7 games with injuries combined in those 2 seasons. He’s decent against the run, but horrible in coverage. He’d be best off as a two-down 4-3 outside linebacker somewhere in his next stop.

TE Jermaine Gresham

Jermaine Gresham, a 2010 1st round pick, somehow made the Pro-Bowl in both 2011 and 2012, but has hardly been a Pro-Bowl caliber player thus far in his 5 year career. His receiving numbers aren’t horrible (280 catches for 2722 yards and 24 touchdowns in 74 career games), but he’s a terrible run blocker and one of the most penalized tight ends in the game. He’s graded out below average in 4 of 5 seasons in the NFL, including each of the last 3. He was a little better in 2014, but he ranked 61st out of 62 eligible tight ends in 2012 and 64th out of 64 eligible in 2013. With 2013 1st round pick Tyler Eifert in the mix and ready for a bigger role in 2015, I don’t expect Gresham back with the Bengals.

Cap Casualty Candidates

DE Robert Geathers

Robert Geathers was Pro Football Focus’ worst ranked 4-3 defensive end in 2014. This should not be a surprise considering he ranked 58th out of 62 eligible in 2012, 57th out of 67 eligible in 2011, 65th out of 65 eligible in 2010, and 70th out of 73 eligible in 2009. He wasn’t going to be better in 2014, on the other side of 30, coming off of torn elbow ligaments that limited him to 22 snaps in 2013. Now he’s going into his age 32 season in 2015 and the Bengals can save 3.050 million in cash and on the cap by releasing him. It shouldn’t be a hard decision.

DT Domata Peko

Domata Peko was once a solid starter for the Bengals, but he has really struggled over the past 2 seasons, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 66th ranked defensive tackle out of 69 eligible in 2013 and 80th out of 81 eligible in 2014. Going into his age 31 season, the Bengals could easily cut him to save 3.7 million in cash and cap space for 2015.

CB Leon Hall

Leon Hall made 15 starts for the Bengals in 2014, but graded out below average last season for the first time in his 8-year career. That shouldn’t be a surprise considering he tore his Achilles twice and had a 3 year stretch from 2011-2013 where he played 28 games. Now going into his age 31 season, Hall’s best days are likely behind him. Hall is owed 7.8 million non-guaranteed in 2015 and the Bengals can save all 7.8 million of that in cap space by letting him go this off-season. Even though they’re not starved for cap space, they might still pull the trigger on that move, especially if they want to be big free agency players, and go into 2015 with Dre Kirkpatrick, Darqueze Dennard, Adam Jones, and maybe Terence Newman at cornerback.

Feb 222015
 

Positions of Need

Cornerback

Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher both graded out below average this season as the Eagles’ starting cornerbacks. Williams graded out 49th out of 108 eligible, while Fletcher graded out 92nd. Fletcher is a free agent and won’t be back as a starter, while Williams could be a cap casualty, owed a non-guaranteed 6.5 million in 2015. He’s not terrible, but they could just find that too rich for a cornerback of his caliber. That would leave them with Brandon Boykin and Nolan Carroll. Carroll, their 4th cornerback last season, has some starting experience and Boykin is a fantastic slot cornerback, but they’d need another cornerback in that situation. Even if Williams is brought back, they still should add another cornerback to the mix at some point.

Wide Receiver

Jeremy Maclin was fantastic last season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 14th ranked wide receiver. Riley Cooper was the opposite, grading out dead last in the first year of a 5-year, 22.5 million dollar deal he signed the previous off-season. Even if Maclin is re-signed, they’ll need help at the position. They can’t really cut Riley Cooper because doing so would cost them on the cap, but they need competition for him as the 3rd receiver behind Maclin and Jordan Matthews, a 2014 2nd round pick who showed a lot of promise as a rookie. If Maclin isn’t re-signed, this becomes a much bigger issue.

Quarterback

The Eagles thought they had their quarterback of the future when Nick Foles completed 64.0% of his passes for an average of 9.12 YPA, 27 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions in 2013 in his first year as a starter, but those numbers slipped to 59.8% completion, 6.96 YPA, 13 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions in 2014. Much of Foles’ strong production in 2013 was as a result of the scheme, as he only graded out 17th at his position on Pro Football Focus. As you can imagine, that slipped to 25th out of 39 eligible in 2014, barely better than backup Mark Sanchez (27th), who made 8 starts in Foles’ absence. The fact that their offense wasn’t significantly worse with Sanchez under center is a concern. Sanchez is a free agent this off-season. He’s not a long-term solution either, but the Eagles could bring him back as competition for Foles because he might be the best option they have, given the free agency market and where they’re picking in the draft. Even if it’s not Sanchez, I expect them to bring in some competition for Foles this off-season.

Middle Linebacker

DeMeco Ryans was limited to 8 games by injury this season and the Eagles really struggled at middle linebacker in his absence as Casey Matthews, Emmanuel Acho, and Marcus Smith (their 1st round pick and a converted outside linebacker) all graded out below average in his absence. Smith is moving back to outside linebacker in 2015 and neither of the other two is a long term option. If the Eagles cut Ryans this off-season, which they easily could, as he’s owed a non-guaranteed 6.9 million in his age 31 season in 2015, they’ll need a long-term solution inside next to Mychal Kendricks.

Guard

Evan Mathis is still fantastic at left guard, but the Eagles have an issue at right guard. Todd Herremans was limited to 585 snaps and 8 starts by injuries and he was horrible, grading out 57th out of 78 eligible guards, despite limited playing time. He’s expected to be a cap casualty going into his age 33 season and Andrew Gardner wasn’t really that impressive in his absence. Competition for Gardner is needed.

Safety

Malcolm Jenkins and Nate Allen both played well at safety for the Eagles last season, but Allen is a free agent this off-season and, if he’s not re-signed, the Eagles will need to find a replacement because they don’t really have an internal one.

Key Free Agents

WR Jeremy Maclin

Jeremy Maclin missed all of 2013 with injury and was terrible in 2012, grading out 101st out of 105 eligible, but he bet on himself with a 1-year, 5.5 million dollar deal in free agency last year and it paid off in a big way. Maclin had career highs across the board in Chip Kelly’s offense, despite quarterback problems, catching 85 passes for 1318 yards and 10 touchdowns, while grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 14th ranked wide receiver. He’s still a bit of a one year wonder in terms of being a top level receiver so the franchise tag could be a nice middle ground for the Eagles between letting him leave and giving him a huge extension, but, either way, Maclin will get a good amount of money this off-season.

OLB Brandon Graham

Graham was a first round pick by the Eagles in 2010, but he was limited to 491 snaps in his first 2 seasons combined by injuries. However, he played well when on the field in those 2 seasons and he had somewhat of a breakout year in 2012. He didn’t get a ton of playing time (435 snaps), which is why it’s hard to call it a true breakout year, but he still graded out 2nd among 4-3 defensive ends that season, despite the limited playing time. The Eagles moved to a 3-4 in 2013, which Graham wasn’t seen as a good fit for, so he only saw 331 snaps, but he still graded out 15th at his position, making it two straight years where no one played fewer snaps than him and graded out better at his position. In 2014, he was still the 3rd outside linebacker, but he played ahead of 1st round pick Marcus Smith all year, set a career high in snaps played with 524 snaps and graded out 3rd among 3-4 outside linebackers. For the third straight year, no one graded out better at his position on fewer snaps. Now he hits free agency with scheme versatility on his resume and the potential to become one of the best edge rushers in the NFL if he’s finally given regular playing time. He’s the type of player who you could sign to a 5-year, 30 million dollar deal and watch it become a bargain over the next couple of years.

S Nate Allen

Nate Allen has been a starter with the Eagles for 5 seasons since they drafted him in the 2nd round in 2010. Over that period of time, he’s played 74 of a possible 80 games, including 70 starts, but he has been up and down, grading out below average in 3 of 5 seasons and never having back-to-back above average seasons. His worst year came in 2012, when he graded out 84th out of 88 eligible safeties. However, he graded out above average last season (28th), his terrible 2012 is more than 2 years ago, and he’s an experienced starter, so he should get solid starter’s money on the open market this off-season, if the Eagles are unable to re-sign him prior to that. A recent arrest complicates matters a bit.

CB Bradley Fletcher

Bradley Fletcher started all 16 games at cornerback last season for the Eagles, but he was horrible, grading out 92nd out of 108 eligible cornerbacks. Fletcher was a 3rd round pick of the Rams’ in 2009, but last season was the first season in his career that he made all 16 starts and, though he’s had decent success as a reserve in his career, he’s not a starting caliber cornerback. He’s a depth cornerback at best and not a very reliable one, as he’s missed 25 games in 6 seasons in the NFL.

QB Mark Sanchez

Everyone was quick to say that Mark Sanchez had turned it around in Philadelphia last year working with Chip Kelly instead of Rex Ryan, but Sanchez was still a backup caliber quarterback. The Eagles moved the chains at a 72.34% rate with Nick Foles and a 72.49% rate with Mark Sanchez, even though Sanchez had a much stronger offensive line and running game in front of him. The fact that Sanchez was worse than Foles last season and Foles was having a bad year shows that, overall, he really didn’t turn it around. He completed 64.1% of his passes for an average of 7.83 YPA, 14 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions, mediocre numbers in today’s NFL. Out of the league in 2013 because of injury, Sanchez has ranked 27th (2014), 37th (2012), 36th (2011), 27th (2010), and 39th (2009) on Pro Football Focus since being drafted in 2009. He’s somehow made 76 starts over that period of time, but any team he makes starts for next season is probably not making the playoffs. He’ll get a decent amount of money on a weak quarterback market.

Cap Casualty Candidates

MLB DeMeco Ryans

There are five things I look at to determine whether or not a player will become a cap casualty and DeMeco Ryans meets four of them. He’s aging, expensive, declining, and coming off of a significant injury. The only thing is the Eagles won’t be able to find a replacement that easily, but I still expect them to let him go. He missed 8 games with a torn Achilles last season, is going into his age 31 season, is owed 6.9 million non-guaranteed (all of which they can save on the cap by letting him go), and, in his last full season as a starter in 2013, he was horrible, grading out 53rd out of 55 eligible middle linebackers. While it will be hard to find a starting caliber middle linebacker to replace him inside next to Mychal Kendricks, Ryans isn’t a starting caliber middle linebacker either and he’s definitely not worth his salary.

TE James Casey

When the Eagles signed James Casey to a 3-year, 12 million dollar deal two off-seasons ago, they envisioned the fullback/tight end as a jack of all traits matchup nightmare. That vision hasn’t become a reality though as he’s played just 330 snaps on offense in his first 2 seasons in Philadelphia. The Eagles don’t need to be paying him 4 million dollars non-guaranteed in 2015 to be a de facto #3 tight end behind Brent Celek and Zach Ertz. The Eagles would save that full amount on the cap by letting him go.

G Todd Herremans

Todd Herremans was limited to 8 games by injuries in 2014 (7 at right guard, 1 at right tackle) and he graded out Pro Football Focus’ 57th ranked guard out of 78 eligible. He’s now going into his age 33 season, owed a non-guaranteed 4 million. He was a solid starter in 2013 and he has good versatility, but the Eagles may opt to move on from the aging veteran in favor of finding a younger option at right guard. The Eagles would immediately save 2.8 million on the cap by letting him go.

OLB Trent Cole

There’s been talk of the Eagles releasing Trent Cole this off-season since Chip Kelly showed up. Cole was never seen as a great fit for the Eagles’ 3-4, but his contract didn’t let them get any sort of real cap relief by cutting or trading him in either of the last 2 off-seasons so the rumored plan has always been to cut him this off-season. Doing so would save them 10.025 million in cash and 8.425 million immediately on the cap and Cole is going into his age 33 season. Cole has been solid in 2013 and 2014 in the 3-4, grading out 7th in 2013 and 19th in 2014, but the Eagles already have Connor Barwin and Marcus Smith and might prefer to cut Cole to free up cap space to re-sign Brandon Graham.

CB Cary Williams

Cary Williams has made all 32 starts for the Eagles at cornerback over the last 2 seasons, but he’s graded out below average in each of them. Even though he wasn’t that bad in 2014 (49th out of 108 eligible), the Eagles might cut him anyway. His salary for 2015 is 6.5 million non-guaranteed and they can save that entire amount on the cap by letting him go. There are better cornerbacks to be had for that price.

Feb 222015
 

Positions of Need

Quarterback

Kyle Orton wasn’t good in 2014, but he was sadly one of the best quarterbacks the Bills have had in the last decade and a half. In the 12 games he started, the Bills moved the chains at a 66.67% rate, which isn’t good, but it was significantly better than the 63.30% rate they moved the chains in the 4 starts that EJ Manuel made. However, Orton retired, ahead of his age 33 season, so the Bills are stuck with just Manuel, who has completed 58.6% of his passes for an average of 6.43 YPA, 16 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions. The Bills’ options will be limited, especially without a first round pick, but they’ll have to add competition for him this off-season.

Guard

The Bills’ guard play was horrible last season. Erik Pears started on one side, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 76th ranked guard out of 78 eligible. On the other side, Chris Williams, Cyril Richardson, and Kraig Urbik split snaps and all 3 graded out significantly below average. Urbik graded out 53rd on 636 snaps, Richardson 60th on 321 snaps, and Williams struggled mightily on 132 snaps before going down with a back injury. Williams was brought in to be a starter last off-season, but he’s never been a starting caliber player, so he should be a cap casualty. Urbik could be a cap casualty as well (though he’s been better in the past), while Pears is a free agent going into his age 33 season. They need at least one, if not two new starters at the position this off-season.

Offensive Tackle

Guard isn’t the only place on the offensive line where the Bills have problems. Left tackle Cordy Glenn was the only player to play more than 100 snaps for them and grade out above average. Seantrel Henderson started 16 games at right tackle despite being a mere 7th round rookie and it showed, as he graded out 82nd out of 84 eligible offensive tackles. The Bills drafted Cyrus Kouandjio in the 2nd round last year, but he didn’t play a snap, even behind a struggling Henderson, and now there’s talk that he could be moving to guard. Right tackle is still a problem area.

Tight End

Scott Chandler is a decent tight end, but they need more of a pass catching threat from the tight end position. Chandler caught just 47 passes for 497 yards and 3 touchdowns last season, grading out 47th out of 67 eligible overall, and his career best slash line is 53/655/2. #2 tight end Lee Smith is a solid blocker, but doesn’t offer anything in the passing game and he’s also a free agent.

Wide Receiver

No wide receiver for the Bills graded out above average on Pro Football Focus last season. The Bills like Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods for the future, but they could find competition this off-season for slot receiver Chris Hogan. Hogan had 188 career snaps in 3 seasons as an undrafted free agent from the 2011 class coming into 2014 and in 2014, he caught 41 passes for 433 yards on 58 targets (70.7%) and 345 routes run (1.26 yards per route run), while grading out 72nd out of 110 eligible wide receivers.

Outside Linebacker

The Bills are presumably moving back to a 3-4 under Rex Ryan in 2015. This shouldn’t be an issue because they ran this exact scheme in 2013 under former defensive coordinator Doug Marrone, a Rex Ryan disciple. Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes graded out 9th and 14th respectively among 4-3 defensive ends on Pro Football Focus this season, but Hughes is a free agent this off-season and he’ll need to be replaced if he’s not re-signed. Even if he is, their depth is very suspect at the position. Their top reserve in 2014 by snaps played was Manny Lawson, who graded out 48th out of 59 eligible on 348 snaps. He could be a cap casualty this off-season, owed a non-guaranteed 2.35 million in an age 31 season in 2015.

Key Free Agents

DE Jerry Hughes

Jerry Hughes was a bust in Indianapolis as a first round pick in 2010, playing a combined 240 snaps in 2010 and 2011 and then struggling in his first serious action in 2012, grading out 25th out of 34 eligible 3-4 outside linebackers. The Bills acquired him after that season for basically nothing and he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 8th ranked 3-4 outside linebacker in 2013 and their 14th ranked 4-3 defensive end in 2014. There are some concerns about his ability to produce outside of the Bills’ talented front 7, but he answered concerns about his scheme versatility and about him being a one-year wonder with his play this season. He’s a talented, scheme versatile edge rusher who will get a lot of money somewhere this off-season. The Bills will try to bring him back, but he might get more money elsewhere.

S Da’Norris Searcy

Searcy was a 4th round pick by the Bills in 2011 NFL Draft. He played just 511 snaps in his first 2 seasons in 2011 and 2012, but he made 20 starts over the past 2 seasons as a hybrid safety/linebacker. He’s never played more than 753 snaps in a season, but he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 18th ranked safety in 2014 (on 666 snaps), so someone will give him starter’s money to be a traditional starting safety for them.

MLB Brandon Spikes

Spikes is only a two down middle linebacker, but he’s very good at what he does. He’s graded out 4th, 22nd, 1st, 1st, and 9th among middle linebackers against the run in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 respectively (2010 was his rookie year after the Patriots drafted him in the 2nd round that year). However, he’s never played more than 742 snaps in a season because of his issues in coverage and he’s never ranked higher than 20th at his position in coverage. I don’t expect the Bills to bring him back because Preston Brown and Nigel Bradham had breakout years in 2014 and Kiko Alonso returns in 2015, but Spikes will get decent money somewhere because he serves a valuable role.

RB CJ Spiller

CJ Spiller, a 2010 1st round pick, had a fantastic 2012 campaign, rushing for 1244 yards and 6 touchdowns on 207 carries (6.01 YPC), with 43 catches for 459 yards and 3 touchdowns. He looked poised for a breakout year in 2013 as a 300+ touch back, but he struggled with injuries over the last 2 seasons (missing 8 games combined and being limited in several others) and he was never a great fit for Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett’s offense. Over the past 2 seasons, he’s rushed for 1233 yards and 2 touchdowns on 280 carries (4.40 YPC), with 52 catches for 310 yards and a touchdown, combined numbers that many people thought he’d be able to surpass in 2013 alone. He hits free agency having never surpassed 207 carries with annual issues in pass protection (grading out below average in 4 of 5 seasons) and coming off the worst season of his career, 300 yards on 78 carries (3.85 YPC) in 9 games. He could be a nice buy low candidate though, as he has a 4.97 YPC average and shows clear first round talent at times. A reunion with former Head Coach Chan Gailey (now offensive coordinator of the Jets) has been rumored and would make a lot of sense. Spiller had his huge 2012 season under Gailey.

G Erik Pears

Erik Pears graded out below average in 3 straight seasons from 2011-2013 as the Bills’ starting right tackle (making 39 starts) so they moved him inside to right guard. The results weren’t good. Pears graded out 76th out of 78 eligible guards. Going into his age 33 season this off-season, Pears will be met by a very cold market. It’s very possible he’s done in the NFL.

Cap Casualty Candidates

OLB Keith Rivers

Keith Rivers struggled on 192 snaps last season, the only Bills linebacker who graded out below average last season. The Bills are stacked at linebacker, even if they don’t bring Brandon Spikes back, with Preston Brown and Nigel Bradham breaking out last year, and Kiko Alonso returning from injury, so there’s no need to keep Rivers at his non-guaranteed 1.7 million dollar salary for 2015. The Bills can save that entire amount on the cap by letting him go this off-season.

G Chris Williams

For some reason, the Bills decided to give a 4-year, 13.5 million dollar deal to Chris Williams last off-season, even though he was Pro Football Focus’ 74th ranked guard out of 81 eligible in 2013. That wasn’t anything new for him. The 14th overall pick by the Bears in 2008 has been a massive bust, struggling at pretty much every position on the offensive line in his career. With the exception of his rookie year, when he played just 16 snaps, he’s never graded out above average on Pro Football Focus. He wasn’t a starter in 2012, but he was Pro Football Focus’ 70th ranked guard out of 82 eligible in 2010 and 60th ranked guard out of 78 eligible in 2011. In 2014, he struggled on 132 snaps before going down for the season with a back injury. Maybe the Bills will admit their mistake and let him go, to save 2.475 million in cash. They’d save just 725K on the cap by doing that, but it would get him off their cap completely for 2016 and he’s not a starting caliber player.

DE Manny Lawson

Manny Lawson was horrible last season at 4-3 defensive end, grading out 48th out of 59 eligible, despite playing just 349 snaps in a reserve role. Even if Jerry Hughes isn’t retained, the Bills could let Lawson go. He’s simply a better player as a non-rush linebacker than he is at 4-3 defensive end and, even if they don’t bring Brandon Spikes back, the Bills are still set in terms of non-rush linebackers with Preston Brown, Nigel Bradham, and Kiko Alonso. Cutting Lawson, ahead of his age 31 season in 2015, would save them 2.35 million in cash and 1.6 million immediately on the cap.

Feb 222015
 

Positions of Need

Wide Receiver

Everyone knows by now that no Chief wide receiver caught a touchdown this season, but it wasn’t just that they were being kept out of the end zone. Chief wide receivers combined for just 129 catches for 1588 yards. For comparison, Antonio Brown had 129 catches for 1698 yards by himself and also scored 13 times. Part of their wide receiver issues have to do with Alex Smith’s playing style and his hesitance to throw downfield outside the numbers, but there’s no denying this is the worst wide receiving group in the NFL. Dwayne Bowe was the best of the bunch, catching 60 passes for 754 yards, but he could be an off-season cap casualty. The Chiefs can save 5 million on the cap by cutting him and they need all the financial flexibility they can get to re-sign Justin Houston. Even if Bowe sticks around, wide receiver is a massive need. There might not be a single team that needs anything more than the Chiefs need receivers.

Guard

The Chiefs’ guard play was horrendous in 2014. Zach Fulton and Mike McGlynn graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 64th and 78th ranked guard respectively out of 78 eligible last season. Fulton was just a 6th round rookie so he could be better in 2015, but McGlynn is a tried and failed veteran who has always struggled as a starter. They need at least one new starter at the position this off-season, if not two. Fulton fell to the 6th round in that year’s draft for a reason, so he could easily never become even an average starter in the NFL.

Offensive Tackle

Things weren’t much better at offensive tackle for the Chiefs last season. Eric Fisher was the 1st overall pick in 2013 and he’s largely been a bust in the first two seasons of his career. In 2013 at right tackle, he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 70th ranked offensive tackle out of 76 eligible and in 2014, at left tackle, he graded out 72nd out of 84 eligible. It’s too soon to give up on him now and he’ll be back as a starter in 2015, but they need insurance for him and help at the right tackle position. Ryan Harris, a mediocre starting right tackle, is a free agent going into his age 30 season.

Cornerback

Sean Smith did a fantastic job as the Chiefs’ #1 cornerback this season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 5th ranked cornerback, but Ron Parker and Chris Owens, who were #2 and #3 in terms of snaps played last season at cornerback for the Chiefs, are both free agents this off-season. Phillip Gaines, a 2014 3rd round pick, will have a bigger role in 2015, but they’ll need to add depth at the position if Parker and Owens don’t return. Even if Parker does return, it could be as a full-time safety, as that’s also a position of need for the Chiefs.

Safety

Obviously I hope for the best for Eric Berry, but, as a result of his cancer diagnosis, his career is very much in danger. The Chiefs will need to make plans for 2015 as if he won’t be available. Husain Adbullah will be back as a starter in 2015 as he did a solid job, but Ron Parker, a cornerback/safety hybrid, is a free agent, as is Kurt Coleman. The Chiefs like to have 3 good safeties anyway because they like to have one play around the line of scrimmage instead of a 2nd linebacker in obvious passing situations and right now they only have one.

Middle Linebacker

Derrick Johnson went down for the season with a torn Achilles week 1 and the Chiefs struggled at middle linebacker in his absence. Josh Mauga and James-Michael Johnson graded out 54th and 50th respectively out of 60 eligible last season. Derrick Johnson will be back in 2015, but he’ll be in his age 33 season coming off of a serious injury. Best case scenario, Johnson comes back 100% in 2015 and Mauga does better in the two-down role next to him (the Chiefs like to play a 3rd safety around the line of scrimmage instead of a 2nd linebacker in sub packages), but that’s banking on Johnson’s health and requires the Chiefs to maintain safety depth, which is going to be tough, as I just mentioned. They should add someone else to the mix this off-season.

Center

Center Rodney Hudson was the only Chief offensive lineman to play a snap last season and grade out above average. He did a very good job, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 3rd ranked center, but he’ll be a free agent this off-season. The Chiefs aren’t in a great cap situation and already need to re-sign Justin Houston so Hudson could easily be elsewhere in 2015. If he is, the Chiefs will need a replacement because they don’t have an internal one.

Key Free Agents

OLB Justin Houston

If Justin Houston were to hit the open market, he’d be the top free agent available regardless of who else hits the open market. Needless to say, the Chiefs won’t let that happen as they have the franchise tag available and ready to use. If it wasn’t for JJ Watt’s existence, everyone would be talking about how good Houston has been, not just last season, when he came within a sack of the all-time single season record, and but the last 3 seasons. Houston, a 2011 3rd round pick, started the final 6 games of his rookie year and ended up grading out 13th at his position. He turned that into a starting job in 2012 and never looked back, grading out 4th at his position in 2012 and then 1st in each of the last 2 seasons. He’s the top edge rusher in the NFL, strong against the run, and versatile enough to drop in coverage if you need him. Only going into his age 26 season, Houston will get a boatload of money whenever he’s signed to a long-term deal.

C Rodney Hudson

Rodney Hudson, a 2011 2nd round pick, has been a starter for the Chiefs at center over the past 3 seasons and he’s been very good. He only made 3 starts in his first year as a center in 2012, but he graded out above average then and he’s done that as well over the past 2 seasons, while making all 32 starts. He graded out 17th in 2013 and then had the best season of his career in 2014 at the perfect time in his contract year, as he graded out 3rd at his position. One of the better centers in the game, Hudson will be paid like that this off-season.

OT Ryan Harris

Ryan Harris is a veteran journeyman who has bounced from Denver to Houston to Kansas City, but, from 2008-2014, he graded out above average 4 times, below average twice, and didn’t play a snap in 2011. He graded out below average in 2014, his first full season as a starter since 2009, but only barely. He’s going into his age 30 season, but he’s not completely over the hill yet so he could be brought back as a starter or end up with a starting job elsewhere.

S Ron Parker

Ron Parker played a combined 122 snaps in the first 3 seasons of his career from 2011-2013, after going undrafted in 2011, but he played 1037 snaps last season at cornerback and safety. He struggled, grading out below average and he shouldn’t be anything more than a 3rd cornerback or a 3rd safety, but the Chiefs like his versatility and, with depth problems in the secondary outside of Sean Smith and Husain Abdullah, will try to bring him back this off-season.

S Kurt Coleman

Kurt Coleman was a mere 7th round pick by the Eagles in 2010, but he started for them in both 2011 and 2012. However, he graded out well below average in both of those seasons, including 85th out of 88 eligible in 2012. He was limited to 74 snaps as a reserve in 2013 with the Eagles, but he bounced back a little bit in 2014 with the Chiefs, grading out above average on 396 snaps. He’ll get a reserve job somewhere this off-season.

CB Chris Owens

Owens was Pro Football Focus’ 87th ranked cornerback out of 108 eligible last season on 500 snaps, though he has been better in the past, grading out above average in both 2012 and 2013. He’s graded out above average in 3 of 6 seasons since he was drafted in the 3rd round in 2009 (2010 was the other season), though he’s maxed out at 545 snaps. He’s a decent depth cornerback at best.

MLB Josh Mauga

Josh Mauga was an undrafted free agent in 2009 and played just 235 snaps from 2009-2013. He was out of the league entirely in 2013. The Chiefs brought him in last off-season and he ended up starting 15 games in place of an injured Derrick Johnson. His tackle numbers (103) looked nice, but he graded out 54th out of 60 eligible middle linebackers. He’s a reserve at best going forward.

G Jeff Linkenbach

Jeff Linkenbach has graded out below average in all 5 seasons he’s been in the league since going undrafted in 2010. He’s made 36 starts in 5 seasons in the league and struggled mightily in his only season as a full-time starter, grading out 70th out of 76 eligible offensive tackles in 2011. He’s versatile, but he’s a 6th offensive lineman at best and a pretty poor one at that. He won’t draw a lot of interest this off-season.

G Mike McGlynn

Mike McGlynn has been arguably the worst starting guard in the NFL over the past 3 seasons, grading out dead last at his position in 2012, 74th out of 81 eligible in 2013, and then dead last again in 2014. He was only a starter for the Chiefs in 2014 out of necessity and he won’t be a starter in the NFL in 2015. I’m not even sure he should be in the league next year, going into his age 30 season.

Cap Casualty Candidates

WR Donnie Avery

As bad as the Chiefs were at wide receiver this season, Donnie Avery barely saw any playing time, playing just 233 snaps and grading out below average. There’s a reason for that, as he was horrible in 2012 and 2013 both as a starter. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 100th ranked wide receiver out of 105 eligible in 2012 back when he was with the Colts and 105th out of 111 eligible in 2013 in his first season with the Chiefs. The Chiefs weirdly gave him a 3-year, 8.55 million dollar deal two off-seasons ago even though he was horrible in 2012, but they can get out of his non-guaranteed 3.4 million dollar salary for 2015 by cutting him this off-season and they would save that entire amount on the cap. This won’t be a tough decision for them.

MLB Joe Mays

As I mentioned earlier, the Chiefs had serious issues at middle linebacker this season. In spite of that, Joe Mays only played 122 snaps and couldn’t crack the starting lineup. The career journeyman is going into his age 30 season and isn’t worth his non-guaranteed 2.7 million dollar salary for 2015. The cap strapped Chiefs will save that entire amount on the cap immediately by letting him go this off-season, so it’s a no brainer.

S Eric Berry

Eric Berry is a solid starter when healthy, but he’s not healthy right now and not in terms of injuries. Berry is battling lymphoma, which he was diagnosed with late in the season. His career is very much in doubt and, as sad it is, the Chiefs will have to operate this off-season as if Berry won’t be able to play in 2015. That means cutting Berry to get out of his 5.455 million dollar non-guaranteed salary. The Chiefs can save that entire amount on the cap by letting him go. They can still bring him back on a minimum deal to keep him around, but it’s financially irresponsible to keep him on his current salary when they’re already backed up against the cap and need to bring back Justin Houston and Rodney Hudson.

WR Dwayne Bowe

From 2007-2012, Dwayne Bowe caught 415 passes for 5728 yards and 39 touchdowns in 88 games in his career, despite playing with the likes of Brodie Croyle, Damon Huard, Tyler Thigpen, Matt Cassel, Tyler Palko, Kyle Orton, and Brady Quinn at quarterback. Alex Smith over the past two seasons has been easily the best quarterback he’s had in his career, but Bowe has put up 57/673/5 and 60/754/0 slash lines in 2013 and 2014 respectively, since the Chiefs signed him to a 5-year, 56 million dollar deal. Fortunately for the Chiefs, Bowe was suspended 1 game for a marijuana arrest in 2014, which voided any guaranteed money he had for 2015. The Chiefs can save 11 million in cash and 5 million in cap space by letting Bowe go now and he’d be off their cap completely for 2016. As bad as the situation is at wide receiver, the Chiefs need the financial flexibility that cutting Bowe would help give them.

TE Anthony Fasano

Anthony Fasano played 678 snaps in 2014 for the Chiefs at tight end, but he struggled mightily, grading out 61st out of 67 eligible. Meanwhile, Travis Kelce was Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked tight end on 688 snaps. The Chiefs should give Kelce, a 2013 3rd round pick, a bigger role in his 3rd year in the league in 2015 at the expense of Fasano. Fasano is going into his age 31 season and isn’t worth his non-guaranteed 3.1 million dollar salary for 2015. The Chiefs would save 1.959 million on the cap immediately by cutting him.

OLB Tamba Hali

Tamba Hali has graded out above average in every season since 2009, since switching to 3-4 outside linebacker, but he still might not be back in 2015. Hali was Pro Football Focus’ 13th ranked 3-4 outside linebacker in 2014, which is good, but it’s the 2nd worst he’s ranked out over the past 6 seasons, which concerning considering he’s going into his age 32 season. The Chiefs can save 9 million in cash and on the cap by letting him go this off-season and they have a readymade internal replacement in Dee Ford, their 2014 1st round pick, who was drafted with this exact situation in mind. That 9 million in cap space will go a long way towards keeping Justin Houston around for the future and he’s the younger and better player.

DE Mike DeVito

From 2010-2013, Mike DeVito was one of just two 3-4 defensive ends to grade out in the top-10 at that position on Pro Football Focus in every season and he did it despite playing about half the snaps in all 4 of those seasons. He doesn’t get much pass rush, but he graded out 2nd, 5th, 7th, and 4th in run stopping grade in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 respectively. However, DeVito missed all of 2014 with a torn Achilles (except 28 snaps in the opener) and the Chiefs essentially replaced him by giving Allen Bailey a long-term extension this season. The Chiefs now have Bailey and Vance Walker with long-term deals at the 3-4 defensive end position, along with DeVito. Given their cap situation and their need to re-sign Houston and Hudson, they might not want to give DeVito his non-guaranteed 4 million dollar salary. As good as he is at what he does, he’s a two-down player coming off of a significant injury going into his age 31 season. The Chiefs would save the full 4 million on the cap immediately by cutting him this off-season.

Feb 222015
 

Positions of Need

Guard

Chad Rinehart and Johnnie Troutman were awful last season at guard for the Chargers, grading out 73rd and 77th respectively out of 78 eligible. Chris Watt, a 2014 3rd round pick, was decent as a rookie on 496 snaps at both guard and center. He should have a bigger role in 2015 and could easily be a future starter, but they need someone else who can start opposite him at the very least.

Offensive Tackle

Guard wasn’t their only issue on the offensive line last season. In fact, far from it. Left tackle King Dunlap was the only offensive linemen to play a snap for the Chargers and grade out above average and he’s a free agent this off-season. Right tackle DJ Fluker struggled, grading out below average for the 2nd straight season to start his career, after the Chargers drafted him with the 11th overall pick in 2013. Even if Dunlap is re-signed, they need help at the position. Dunlap is going into his age 30 season, while Fluker’s future might be at guard. I’d be surprised if the Chargers didn’t bring in some sort of offensive lineman with their first or second round pick and that offensive lineman could easily start week 1 in 2015.

Center

You guessed it. The Chargers need help at the center position as well. Nick Hardwick was the Chargers’ long-time center, but he played just 16 snaps this season, going down for the year week 1 with a serious neck injury that forced him to retire, ahead of age 34 season. In Hardwick’s absence, 4 different players started games at center for the Chargers and all 4 of them graded out below average. Best case scenario, Dunlap is re-signed, Fluker moves inside to guard, Watt moves to center, and they need to find two new starters at left guard and right tackle.

Defensive End

Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes were the starters at 3-4 defensive end for the Chargers last season. Both are going into their contract year in 2015 and Reyes has been horrible over the last 2 seasons anyway. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd worst 3-4 defensive end in both 2013 and 2014. Top reserve Ricardo Mathews is a free agent this off-season as well.

Cornerback

The Chargers had arguably the worst cornerbacks in the NFL in 2013, so they spent their first round pick on Jason Verrett and signed Brandon Flowers from Kansas City. It worked out pretty well at the start of the season as both played very well, but then Verrett got hurt and their lack of depth showed. Shareece Wright, who was horrible as a starter in 2013, ended up having to play 853 snaps in 2014 and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 105th ranked cornerback out of 108 eligible. Wright is a free agent this off-season anyway. Verrett will be back healthy in 2015, but Flowers was only signed to a one-year deal, so he’s a free agent again. If he’s not brought back, they’ll really need help at the position and, even if he is, depth will still be needed.

Running Back

Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead were a solid running back duo in 2013, but both got hurt early in 2014, leaving undrafted rookie Branden Oliver to lead the team in carries. He flashed at times, but predictably struggled overall, rushing for 582 yards and 3 touchdowns on 160 carries, an average of just 3.64 YPC. As a result, the Chargers averaged 3.43 yards per carry this season, 31st in the NFL, only ahead of Arizona. Danny Woodhead will be back healthy in 2015, but he’s more of a passing down back than a starter. Donald Brown was brought in as insurance last off-season, but he couldn’t even see playing time ahead of Oliver, as he averaged a pathetic 2.62 yards per carry on 85 carries. He could easily be cut this off-season, owed a non-guaranteed 3 million in 2015. Cutting him would save 1.92 million on the cap immediately. If the injury prone Mathews isn’t re-signed, they’ll have a big need at the position.

Outside Linebacker

Melvin Ingram was a first round pick by the Chargers in 2012, but he’s largely been a disappointment. He’s graded out below average in two of three seasons, missed 19 games in 3 seasons with injuries, and maxed out at 518 snaps. He’ll be back in 2015, but that should be his contract year as I don’t expect the Chargers to pick up his 5th year option for 2016. Meanwhile, Jarret Johnson and Dwight Freeney are going into their age 34 and age 35 seasons respectively. The former is expected to be a cap casualty or consider retirement, while the latter is a free agent who could also consider retirement. If neither of those two are back in 2015, that would leave the Chargers with Ingram and Jerry Attachou, a 2014 2nd round pick who played 182 snaps as a rookie, at the position. Attachou should have a bigger role in 2015, but depth would obviously be needed in that situation.

Wide Receiver

Malcom Floyd, Keenan Allen, and Eddie Royal were the Chargers’ top 3 receivers last year, but Floyd is going into his age 34 season and last year was just the 2nd season of his career where he played all 16 games. He’s missed 28 games over the past 7 seasons combined. On top of that, Eddie Royal is a free agent. The Chargers like Dontrelle Inman, a CFL import who flashed down the stretch last season, but the mere 123 snaps he played last season was the first NFL action of his career so he’s incredibly unproven.

Safety

Marcus Gilchrist has started all 32 games at safety for the Chargers over the past 2 seasons combined and he’s done a decent job, but he’s a free agent this off-season. The Chargers don’t have a good internal replacement, so if he isn’t re-signed, he’ll need to be replaced.

Key Free Agents

CB Brandon Flowers

Brandon Flowers was a top-9 cornerback on Pro Football Focus in every season from 2009 to 2012, the only cornerback in the NFL who could say that, but he fell all the way to 85th in 2013, weirdly the only season he went to the Pro-Bowl. Instead of giving him a chance to bounce back in 2014, the Chiefs cut Flowers last off-season, which turned out to be a big mistake, as Flowers bounced back all the way to 15th and with divisional rival San Diego no less. Flowers now hits free agency for the 2nd time in as many off-seasons, but he should get much more than the one-year prove it deal he got last off-season. Only going into his age 29 season, Flowers is one of the best, if not the best cornerback available on the open market this off-season.

RB Ryan Mathews

Matthews has talent, but injuries are a serious issue, as he’s missed 20 games in 5 seasons in the league since the Chargers made him the 12th overall pick in 2010. Mathews rushed for 678 yards and 7 touchdowns on 158 carries (4.29 YPC) in 12 games as a rookie and looked primed to become one of the better backs in the NFL after a strong 2011 season that saw him rush for 1091 yards and 6 touchdowns on 222 carries (4.91 YPC). He also had 50 catches that season. However, Mathews did not live up to the expectations in 2012, missing another 4 games, seeing just 184 carries and being limited to 3.84 YPC when on the field. Mathews finally put it all together in 2013, rushing for 1255 yards and 6 touchdowns on 285 carries, an average of 4.40 YPC (though he only caught 29 passes, significantly fewer than the 50 he caught in 2011). Unfortunately, he did that only to miss 10 games with injury the following season, rushing for 330 yards and 3 touchdowns on 74 attempts, an average of 4.46 YPC. Mathews likely isn’t going to become more durable as he goes into his age 28 season so, while he’s talented, any team that signs him needs to have a good insurance policy.

OT King Dunlap

King Dunlap, a 2008 7th round pick, made a career high 12 starts with the Eagles in 2012, after making just 6 starts in his first 4 seasons combined. He graded out above average, but only got a 2-year, 3.7 million dollar deal in free agency the following off-season, signing in San Diego. Dunlap won the starting job in San Diego and more than lived up to his contract, making 27 starts in 2 seasons (all at left tackle) and grading out above average in both seasons, including 6th in 2013. Dunlap is going into his age 30 season in 2015, but still should get starter’s money on the open market, if the Chargers don’t reach an agreement to bring him back before then.

OLB Dwight Freeney

Dwight Freeney bounced back from a 2013 season where he missed 12 games with injury. In 2014, he played all 16 games, making 9 starts, playing 590 snaps, and grading out above average, as he’s done in every season of Pro Football Focus’ history, since 2007. The issue is Freeney is now going into his age 35 season so he’s near the end of the line. He should still get starting caliber money this off-season, but I don’t expect him to get any guaranteed money beyond 2015.

WR Eddie Royal

Eddie Royal caught 91 passes for 980 yards and 5 touchdowns as a 2nd round rookie in 2008, but combined for just 138 catches for 1361 yards and 5 touchdowns from 2009-2012 combined. Royal bounced back over the past 2 seasons though, catching 47 passes for 631 yards and 8 touchdowns in 2013 and 62 catches for 778 yards and 7 touchdowns in 2014, grading out above average in both seasons. Royal should get a decent amount of money on his next contract to be someone’s #2 or #3 wide receiver.

S Marcus Gilchrist

Marcus Gilchrist was a 2nd round pick of the Chargers’ in 2011. He struggled in his first 2 seasons in the league at cornerback, but was moved to safety in 2013 and ended up making all 16 starts and grading out 20th at his position. Gilchrist graded out below average in 2014, but he wasn’t terrible, he made all 16 starts again, and I still expect him to get starting caliber money this off-season. He won’t break anyone’s bank though.

CB Shareece Wright

The Chargers took Shareece Wright in the 3rd round in 2011 and he played sparingly in his first 2 seasons in the league, playing a combined 124 snaps. Wright got a bigger role over the past 2 seasons, but he’s been a trainwreck. In 2013, he was Pro Football Focus’ 103rd ranked cornerback out of 110 eligible. Going into 2014, the Chargers brought in Jason Verrett in the first round of the draft and Brandon Flowers through free agency to send Wright to a #3 cornerback role, but an injury to Verrett forced Wright to play 853 snaps and make 14 starts. He once again struggled, grading out 105th out of 108 eligible cornerbacks. He won’t get much on the open market as he’s only a depth cornerback at best.

Cap Casualty Candidates

OLB Jarret Johnson

The Chargers signed Jarret Johnson to a 4-year, 19 million dollar deal three off-seasons ago, but he was only a part-time player with the Chargers, specializing in stopping the run off the edge in base packages, maxing out at 556 snaps. Now he’s going into his age 34 season, owed a non-guaranteed 5 million, an amount the Chargers can save on the cap immediately by releasing him ahead of his contract year. He’s been a solid player for a long-time, but he graded out below average last season and in two of his last three seasons and isn’t worth his salary. Close to the end of the line, Johnson reportedly will consider retirement this off-season.

RB Donald Brown

The Chargers signed Donald Brown to a 3-year, 10.5 million dollar deal last off-season and it was a weird deal. That was the highest average salary a running back got on the open market last off-season and the Chargers didn’t appear to have a huge need at the position with Ryan Matthews and Danny Woodhead in the fold. Well, Matthews and Woodhead both got hurt in 2014, opening up an opportunity for Brown, but he only rushed for 223 yards on 85 carries (2.62 yards per carry). Even with Matthews heading to free agency, Brown could be released this off-season, a move that would save 3 million in cash and 1.92 million immediately on the cap. A first round pick bust of the Colts’ in 2009, Brown has never topped 134 carries in a season, has a 4.09 career YPC average, and is useless on passing downs.

TE John Phillips

Phillips is a decent player, but he only played 202 snaps last season as the 3rd tight end behind Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green. Both Gates and Green will be back in 2015, so there isn’t a need to pay Phillips 1.45 million non-guaranteed. The Chargers would save that entire amount on the cap by cutting him.

G Chad Rinehart

Rinehart started 16 games in 2014 for the Chargers at left guard, but, as I mentioned earlier, he was a disaster, grading out 73rd out of 78 eligible guards. Rinehart signed a 2-year, 6 million dollar deal last off-season after grading out below average in 2013 and the Chargers can save 3.25 million in cash and cap space by letting him go this off-season. Rinehart hasn’t been the same since a significant ankle injury he suffered in 2012 with the Bills.

Feb 212015
 

King Dunlap, a 2008 7th round pick, started 6 games in his first 4 seasons combined, but he’s started 39 games (38 at left tackle and 1 at right tackle) over the past 3 seasons, 2012 with the Eagles and 2013 and 2014 with the Chargers. He graded out 37th in 2012, 6th in 2013, and 23rd in 2014. The big 6-9 310 pounder took a while to put it all together, but he’s developed into an above average offensive tackle and he’s only going into his age 30 season so he has at least a couple years left at that level most likely. This 4-year, 28 million dollar deal has an average salary of 7 million dollars of 16th in the NFL, which might be a little bit of an overpayment, but this isn’t a bad contract at all, especially for a team that has as many problems on the offensive line around Dunlap as the Chargers do.

Grade: B

Feb 212015
 

This is a terrible move for the Cardinals. Yes, it lessens Fitzgerald’s cap hit for 2015, which was scheduled to be 23.6 million, but if this was the most of a pay cut that Fitzgerald was willing to take, they should have just outright cut them, a move that would have saved them about 9 million on the cap immediately and gotten him off their cap completely for 2016. This deal pays Fitzgerald 22 million dollars over the next 2 seasons, all of which will show up on their cap at some point because it’s all fully guaranteed.

That 11 million dollar annual average is 5th highest in the NFL behind Calvin Johnson, Mike Wallace, Dwayne Bowe, and Vincent Jackson. Fitzgerald is not the 5th best wide receiver in the NFL at all, not any more. From 2005-2011, Fitzgerald averaged 94 catches for 1309 yards and 10 touchdowns per 16 games, even though he never really had great quarterback play, except for those couple Warner years. He was fantastic then. That’s why he got an 8-year, 128.5 million dollar deal before the 2011 season.

However, 2011 was his last 1000+yard season. His 71/798/4 line in 2012 was understandable because he had supremely terrible quarterback play, but even with better quarterback play in 2013 and 2014, he only averaged 73 catches for 839 yards and 6 touchdowns in 15 games. He was Pro Football Focus’ 25th ranked wide receiver in passing grade in 2013 and their 28th ranked in that category in 2014. He’s still a solid receiver, but he’s not the same player he was when he was in his prime. Things aren’t going to get much better in 2015 and 2016, the guaranteed years in this deal, as they are his age 32 and age 33 seasons. He’s not worth a fully guaranteed 2-year, 22 million dollar deal.

Grade: D

Feb 152015
 

Positions of Need

Safety

Kendrick Lewis and Danieal Manning both played well last season, grading out above average on 1097 snaps and 591 snaps respectively. However, both are free agents this off-season. The Texans still have DJ Swearinger, but he plays around the line of scrimmage instead of a linebacker in sub packages and he struggled last season anyway, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 78th ranked safety out of 87 eligible. Even if they keep the 2013 2nd round pick as a starter, even though he’s struggled in that role in both of his two seasons in the NFL, they need significant help at this position.

Cornerback

Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph were a solid pair of cornerbacks last season, grading out as Pro Football Focus 11th ranked cornerback and 23rd ranked cornerback respectively. However, Jackson is a free agent this off-season, as the 2010 1st round pick’s 5-year rookie deal expired, while Johnathan Joseph could be a cap casualty this off-season. He’s owed a non-guaranteed 8.5 million in 2015 and the Texans could save that entire amount on the cap if they let him go. The Texans are somewhat backed up against the cap so it might be tough for them to bring back both in 2015. AJ Bouye, their #3 cornerback, did not appear ready for a starting job in 2014. The 2013 undrafted free agent struggled in the first significant action of his career.

Quarterback

Ryan Fitzpatrick graded out below average in every season from 2008-2012, with Buffalo and Cincinnati, but he’s graded out above average in each of the last 2 seasons. In 2013 with the Titans, he was Pro Football Focus’ 21st ranked quarterback and last season he was 12th, completing 63.1% of his passes for an average of 7.96 YPA, and a 17:8 TD:INT ratio, all career bests in Bill O’Brien’s system. In the 11 games he started and finished, the Texans moved the chains at a 71.90% rate, as opposed to 66.06% in their other 5 games, when Fitzpatrick was out with a broken leg. Fitzpatrick is signed cheaply for 2015 at 3.25 million and should return as the starter, but the issue is long-term. Fitzpatrick is going into his age 33 season, off of a serious injury, and it’s a contract year. Ryan Mallett, Tom Savage, and Case Keenum all graded out below average in his absence last season. Mallett was brought in last off-season to compete for the starting job, but he only made 2 starts, one of which he played with a torn pectoral. It’s still unclear if he can be a starter in the NFL and now he’s a free agent. Tom Savage was brought in as a potential long-term solution with a 4th round pick last year, but he struggled as a rookie and he was only a 4th round pick, which historically suggests he’ll struggle to make an impact at the quarterback positon. Keenum, meanwhile, was only signed late in the season out of necessity and is a free agent again now. They’ll need to add someone else to the mix with Fitzpatrick and Savage if Mallett can’t be retained.

Wide Receiver

DeAndre Hopkins had a breakout year in 2014 in his 2nd year in the league, catching 76 passes for 1210 yards and 6 touchdowns, but Andre Johnson went under 1000+ yards for the first time in a 15+ game season since his rookie year in 2003. That’s concerning to see, as he’s going into his age 34 season in 2015. Johnson is currently #12 on the NFL’s all-time receiving yardage list, but even the average top-20 receiver (in terms of yardage all-time) has his last 1000 yard season at age 34-35, averages 48 catches for 594 yards and 3 touchdowns for 2 more seasons after age 34-35, and is done playing by age 36-37. They need a long-term solution opposite Hopkins because their depth was terrible at the position last season. Hopkins and Johnson were the Texans’ only two receivers who graded out above average, while #3 receiver Damaris Johnson was Pro Football Focus’ 107th ranked wide receiver out of 110 eligible last season.

Defensive End

Everyone knows what JJ Watt did last season (and what he’s done for the last 3), but Jared Crick is a solid starter opposite him, making 15 starts and grading out about average. However, their depth at the position is terrible. All the rest of the Texans’ 3-4 defensive ends graded out below average last season, while their top reserve at the position, Tim Jamison, graded out 44th out of 47 eligible at the position. Depth needs to be added this off-season, especially with Crick going into a contract year.

Offensive Tackle

Duane Brown remains one of the better blindside protectors in the NFL at left tackle, while Derek Newton had a breakout year this off-season. However, Newton will become a free agent this off-season. If they can’t re-sign Newton, they’ll need to find a replacement, as their depth at the position is less than stellar.

Defensive Tackle

Jerrell Powe was horrible at nose tackle last season. He was Pro Football Focus’ 6th worst ranked defensive tackle last season, despite playing just 252 snaps. No one played fewer snaps and graded out worst at his position. The Texans still like Louis Nix, their 3rd round pick from 2014, but he didn’t play at all as a rookie because of injuries and he had injury problems in his final season at Notre Dame as well, so he’s no sure thing going forward. They could add more here this off-season.

Center

Chris Myers has done a great job in recent years for the Texans at center, grading out above average on Pro Football Focus in every season since they began in 2007, but last season was the worst recorded season of his career, as he was only Pro Football Focus’ 16th ranked center. That’s concerning because he’s going into his age 34 season contract year and might not even be back next season. The Texans can save 6 million in cash and cap space this off-season by cutting him and that just might be too much money for a cap strapped team to have devoted to an aging, declining center. Even if he’s back, they need a long-term solution at the position.

Key Free Agents

CB Kareem Jackson

Kareem Jackson was Pro Football Focus’ 11th ranked cornerback in 2014 and he’s not a one year wonder, because he graded out 12th among cornerbacks in 2012 as well. However, he’s graded out below average in his other 3 seasons in the NFL, including each of his first two seasons after the Texans drafted him in the first round in 2010. There’s two ways to look at this. One is to see him as an inconsistent player. The other is to see him as someone who got off to a slow start in his career, but has generally been good since then. He’ll get a good money of money on the open market, but he’s a risky signing.

OT Derek Newton

Derek Newton, a 7th round pick in 2011, has been a starter on the right side for the Texans for 3 seasons, making 46 starts. Newton was horrible in 2012 and 2013, grading out 64th out of 80 eligible offensive tackles in 2012 and 72nd out of 76 eligible offensive tackles in 2013, but he turned in the best season of his career in 2014, just in time for his contract year, as he graded out 19th. He could get a decent amount of money on the open market, as an experienced starter coming off of the best year of his career. However, he’s still only a one year wonder and, even during his good year, he graded out below average as a pass protector, getting by on strong run blocking. He could get overpaid.

OLB Brooks Reed

Brooks Reed, a 2011 2nd round pick, has graded out above average in 3 of the 4 seasons he’s been in the league, making 54 starts in the process. The only exception was 2013, when he graded out 41st out of 42 eligible players. However, Reed has graded out negatively as a pass rusher in all 4 seasons, doing his best work against the run and, to a lesser extent, in coverage. Because of that, there has been talk that he’d be better off as a 4-3 outside linebacker or moving to middle linebacker in a 3-4. He’s a decent player and he has some versatility, but he won’t break the bank for anyone.

S Kendrick Lewis

Lewis was a mere 5th round pick in 2010, but he still started for 4 years with the Chiefs before coming to Houston, making 51 starts from 2010-2013. Lewis graded out above average in his first 2 seasons in the league, but below average in 2012 and 2013, the final 2 years of his rookie contract in Kansas City, which led to a depressed market for him last off-season, forcing him to settle for a cheap, one-year deal in Houston. With the Texans, he had a bounce back year, grading out above average. Now he hits free agency again with 67 career starts in 5 seasons with a solid history of success as a starter, including a solid contract year. He should get more money and years than he did last off-season, but he could still be a cheap starting option for a team that needs one.

QB Ryan Mallett

Ryan Mallett was a 3rd round pick by the Patriots in 2011, but he attempted just 4 passes in 3 seasons with New England (completing just 1) and not showing much in the pre-season. Texans’ Head Coach Bill O’Brien was on New England’s offensive staff when they drafted Mallett and brought him to Houston with him last off-season for the price of a late round pick. Mallett was briefly given the starting job over Ryan Fitzpatrick mid-season, but lasted just 2 games before going down for the season with a torn pectoral. He actually played one of his starts with that torn pectoral and, as you can imagine, it was a trainwreck, as he completed 21 of 45 for 189 yards and an interception. He was better in his other start, completing 20 of 30 for 211 yards, 2 touchdowns, and an interception, but he heads into free agency still completely unproven. He’ll get a decent amount of money on the open market because there are still people in the league who like his potential and he could make a few starts next off-season, but he’s going to have to work for whatever playing time he gets in 2015.

S Danieal Manning

Daniael Manning looked done last off-season, as an aging safety who graded out below average in both 2012 and 2013 and was limited to 6 games in 2013 by injuries. However, Manning bounced back in 2014 with his former team, the Texans, grading out above average on 591 snaps as a 3rd safety who came into the game in sub packages, when Swearinger would move to the line of scrimmage in place of a 2nd linebacker. That being said, Manning is going into his age 33 season, so he won’t have a hot market this off-season, but, if he wants to keep playing, he should get a chance to.

Cap Casualty Candidates

OT Tyson Clabo

Clabo was once a solid starter on the right side in Atlanta, but he struggled in 2013 in Miami and played just 101 snaps as a reserve in 2014 with the Texans. The Texans don’t need to be paying him a non-guaranteed 1.22 million to play a reserve role, especially since he’s declining and going into his age 34 season.

CB Johnathan Joseph

The Texans signed Johnathan Joseph to a 5-year, 48.75 million dollar deal four off-seasons ago and it’s largely been a good deal for them as Joseph has missed just 4 games in 4 seasons and graded out above average in all 4 years. Joseph’s best season came in the first season of his deal in 2011, when he graded out 11th at his position, but he’s played at about a level lower in the other 3 seasons, grading out 44th, 25th, and 23rd. Joseph is now going into his age 31 season owed a non-guaranteed 8.5 million, all of which the Texans can save on the cap by releasing him ahead of his contract year. While Joseph still has a lot to contribute to a team, the Texans might not find him worth it. As I said earlier, it’s going to be tough for the Texans to be able to bring back both Joseph and free agent Kareem Jackson.

WR Andre Johnson

This one is really a long shot, but Johnson is going into his age 34 season coming off the worst statistical season of his career in terms of yards per game since his rookie year. Johnson is currently #12 on the NFL’s all-time receiving yardage list, but even the average top-20 receiver (in terms of yardage all-time) has his last 1000 yard season at age 34-35, averages 48 catches for 594 yards and 3 touchdowns for 2 more seasons after age 34-35, and is done playing by age 36-37. Johnson is a declining player who could soon become a rapidly declining player and he’s owed a non-guaranteed 8.5 million in 2015, an amount the Texans can save on the cap entirely by letting him go this off-season. They reportedly want him to take a pay cut and, if he doesn’t agree to one, they could pull the trigger on his release.

C Chris Myers

Like Johnson, Myers is an accomplished player, but an aging, declining, and expensive one as well. He’s also going into his age 34 season and, though he’s graded out above average in every season since Pro Football Focus started in 2007, he had his worst recorded season in 2014, grading out 16th among centers. He also especially struggled in pass protection, getting by largely on strong run blocking. The Texans owe him 6 million non-guaranteed in his contract year in 2015 and can save that amount on the cap by letting him go.

Feb 142015
 

Positions of Need

Defensive End

Justin Smith and Ray McDonald were a strong duo at 3-4 defensive end for the 49ers last season on a defense that still played very well in an overall disappointing 8-8 season. They were Pro Football Focus’ 11th and 12th ranked 3-4 defensive ends last season. However, Smith is expected to retire, going into his age 36 season, while McDonald was cut late in the season after allegations of violence against women surfaced for the 2nd time that season. The 49ers have decent depth at the position, specifically 2013 2nd round pick Tank Carradine, who could start in 2015, and Quinton Dial, a talented reserve who graded out above average on 329 snaps last season. However, Tony Jerod-Eddie was their top reserve at the position last season in terms of snaps played. He started in McDonald’s absence down the stretch and he was terrible overall, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 43rd ranked 3-4 defensive end out of 47 eligible on just 426 snaps. Smith and McDonald are going to be tough to replace and help is definitely needed at the position.

Wide Receiver

Michael Crabtree is coming off of one of the worst seasons of his career and now he’s a free agent. Crabtree caught 68 passes for 698 yards and 4 touchdowns on 102 targets (66.7%) and 474 routes run (1.47 yards per route run). He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 95th ranked wide receiver out of 110 eligible. Brandon Lloyd is a free agent as well and he doesn’t have any long-term value to them, considering he was retired in 2013 and now is going into his age 34 season. Steve Johnson is proven, still young, and played well in limited action in 2014, but he’s owed a non-guaranteed 6.025 million in 2015 so he could be cost-prohibitive for the cap strapped 49ers. Meanwhile, recent 4th round picks Bruce Ellington (2014) and Quinton Patton (2013) are completely unproven, while #1 receiver Anquan Boldin is going into his age 35 season. The 49ers will look hard at both DeVante Parker and Kevin White if either is still available with the 15th overall pick.

Tight End

Vernon Davis had easily the worst season of his career in 2014. Not only was his 26/245/2 slash line his worst production since his rookie year in 2006, but he also struggled as a run blocker, an area he’s generally been very good in. Davis had that minimal production despite 47 targets (55.3% catch rate) and 417 routes run (0.59 yards per route run) and was Pro Football Focus’ 62nd ranked tight end out of 67 eligible. Davis isn’t over the hill completely yet, but he is going into his age 31 season and the 49ers don’t have the cap flexibility to give him another shot at his scheduled 4.9 million dollar salary. Vance McDonald is their #2 tight end, but the 2013 2nd round pick hasn’t really done much in 2 years in the league, playing a combined 712 snaps in 2 seasons in the league, including just 218 last season.

Cornerback

Perrish Cox and Chris Culliver led 49er cornerbacks in snaps played last season and both graded out above average, but both are free agents this off-season. Jimmie Ward was their 2014 1st round pick and he’ll have a bigger role in his 2nd year in the league after struggling on 270 snaps as a rookie, but his long-term future might be at safety. Fellow rookie Dontae Johnson, a 2014 4th round pick, also struggled as a rookie, grading out below average on 502 snaps. Tramaine Brock will be back in 2015 after an injury plagued 2014 season, but this is still a position where they need to add this off-season.

Guard

Mike Iupati is a free agent this off-season, while Alex Boone is going into his contract year and held out until right before the season started last year because he was unhappy with his contract. Joe Looney was their primary reserve at the position last year, but he was horrible. They need to add depth at the position this off-season, especially if their cap situation prevents them from re-signing Iupati.

Running Back

Frank Gore’s 10-year tenure with the 49ers could be coming to an end. Gore is a free agent this off-season and going into his age 32 season with 2442 career carries. Gore is 20th all-time in rushing yardage at 11,073 and could be bound for Canton, but of the top-25 all-time leading rushers who have played in the last decade and a half, the average one has his last 1000 yard season in his age 30 season at 2602 carrier carries. He might not have looked it last year, but he’s close to the end. I don’t expect the 49ers to bring him back, opting instead to make 2014 2nd round pick Carlos Hyde the starter. They need depth behind him though as he’s completely unproven, rushing for 333 yards and 4 touchdowns on 83 carries as a rookie (4.01 yards per carry).

Quarterback

Colin Kaepernick had the worst year of his career in 2014, completing 60.5% of his passes for an average of 7.05 YPA, 19 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions, while grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 28th ranked quarterback out of 39 eligible. He’ll be the starter once again in 2015 and he could bounce back, but they need a solid backup they can turn to if he struggles again. Neither Blaine Gabbert nor Josh Johnson, both of whom are free agents this off-season, was that last season.

Key Free Agents

G Mike Iupati

The 49ers drafted Mike Iupati 17th overall in 2010 and many saw him as one of the top guard prospects of the decade. He hasn’t quite lived up those expectations, but he’s still been a very good guard, grading out in the top-14 at his position on Pro Football Focus in 4 of the 5 seasons he’s been in the league, with the exception coming in an injury plagued 2013, when he still graded out above average. Despite that injury plagued 2013 season, he’s missed just 4 games in 5 seasons, all coming in 2013. One concern is that, while he’s annually one of the top run blocking guards in the NFL, he has graded out below average as a pass protector in 3 of 5 seasons so, as talented as he is, he’s not that well-rounded and he does have a glaring weakness. Still, he should top the 5-year, 30 million dollar deal Zane Beadles got last off-season and deservedly so.

CB Chris Culliver

Chris Culliver was just a 3rd round pick of the 49ers in 2011, but he’s quietly one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL. He had a significant role from the word go in 2011, playing 425 snaps and then 691 in 2012, grading out above average in both seasons, including 29th at his position in 2012. He’s graded out above average in all 3 seasons he’s been healthy, missing all of 2013 with a torn ACL. However, he bounced back in a big way from that torn ACL in 2014 in his first full season as a starter, making 14 starts and grading out 14th at his position. On top of that, that 2013 ACL tear is really the only issue he’s had with injuries, missing a combined 2 games in his other 3 seasons as a pro. The 49ers have cap problems so they’ll have to hope that the rest of the league doesn’t realize he how good he is so that they can re-sign him cheaply.

WR Michael Crabtree

Crabtree was seen as a steal when the 49ers drafted him 10th overall in 2009, but he never really lived up to expectations. He looked like he was on his way towards living up to those expectations in 2012, when he caught 85 passes for 1105 yards and 9 touchdowns on 118 targets (72.0%) and 433 routes run (an average of 2.55 yards per route run), grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked wide receiver. He was even better down the stretch that season, catching 61 passes for 880 yards and 8 touchdowns in his final 10 games, including playoffs. That’s 98 catches for 1408 yards and 13 touchdowns over 16 games. However, he tore his Achilles the following off-season and was never the same. He caught just 19 passes for 284 yards and a touchdown in 5 games in 2013 (34 catches for 487 yards and a touchdown if you count playoffs) and then was even worse on a per game basis in 2014. He played all 16 games, but caught just 68 passes for 698 yards and 4 touchdowns on 102 targets (66.7%) and 474 routes run (1.47 yards per route run). His per game yardage numbers in 2014 were the worst of his career and he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 95th ranked wide receiver out of 110 eligible. 2012 remains his only 1000+ yard season and he’s graded out below average on Pro Football Focus in 3 of 6 seasons, including each of the last 2 seasons and his contract year was arguably the worst year of his career. There’s bounce back potential in a different offense, but if Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant, Jeremy Maclin, and Randall Cobb all get franchise tagged, Crabtree leaps to the top of the wide receiver class and becomes a strong candidate to get overpaid.

RB Frank Gore

Frank Gore has had a fantastic 10-year run with the 49ers, rushing for 11,073 yards and 64 touchdowns on 2442 carries, playing all but 12 games at one of the most physical positions in the NFL. He added 342 catches for 2883 yards and another 11 scores through the air, while being one of the best pass protecting running backs and one of the best teammates in the NFL. He was everything the 49ers could have asked out of the 2005 3rd round pick, talented, complete, durable, and a great teammate. His rushing yards rank 20th all-time and he could be bound for Canton. He’s definitely bound for the 49ers’ Ring of Honor. However, all good things must come to an end. Gore is going into his age 32 season with 2442 carries. Of the top-25 all-time leading rushers who have played in the last decade and a half, the average one has his last 1000 yard season in his age 30 season at 2602 carrier carries. He might not have looked it last year, but he’s close to the end. I don’t expect the cap strapped 49ers to bring him back, instead going with 2014 2nd round pick Carlos Hyde as the starter in 2015. Whoever signs Gore could be very disappointed with his play on the field because of where he is in his career. Retirement is also an option.

CB Perrish Cox

Perrish Cox was a 5th round pick by the Broncos in 2010 and graded out above average on 787 snaps as a rookie, but was let go after one year after being arrested on multiple sexual assault charges. Cox was out of the league entirely in 2011 thanks to those charges coupled with a history of off-the-field issues from his collegiate days at Oklahoma State. However, early in 2012, he was found not guilty and the 49ers gave him another chance. He didn’t play much in either 2012 or 2013, playing 168 snaps in 2012 and 81 snaps in 2013 (11 of which were actually with the Seahawks), but injuries opened up a starting role for him back with the 49ers in 2014 and he didn’t look back. Cox led the 49ers with 965 snaps played, made 14 starts, and graded out above average. Cox clearly has talent, showing it in both of his stints as a starter, but the off-the-field stuff can’t be ignored. Still, he’ll come cheap for a starting cornerback this off-season so he definitely wouldn’t be a bad signing for any cornerback needy team and that includes the 49ers.

OLB Dan Skuta

The amount of different positions Skuta has played in the NFL is incredible. He’s played 4-3 defensive end, fullback, 4-3 outside linebacker, 4-3 middle linebacker, 3-4 outside linebacker, and 3-4 middle linebacker, while excelling on special teams. The 2009 undrafted free agent never played more than 163 offensive or defensive snaps in 4 years with the Bengals to start his career, but always made the roster because of his versatility. He’s carved out a bigger role with the 49ers over the past 2 seasons, primarily at 3-4 outside linebacker, playing 302 snaps in 2013 and 398 snaps in 2014, grading out above average in both seasons. He’d be a nice, cheap signing for any team who needs pass rushing depth because he’s talented and can do so many other things for you if you need him to.

WR Brandon Lloyd

Lloyd started his career in San Francisco in 2003, after they drafted him in the 4th round that year, but it was a weird road that led him to come full circle and end up with the 49ers again in 2014. Lloyd bounced around 4 different teams from 2003-2009, ending up in Denver, where, in 2010, he went from never having a 1000 yard year to leading the league in receiving at age 29 season, catching 77 passes for 1448 yards and 11 touchdowns, despite a combination of Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow at quarterback. He was Pro Football Focus’ #1 ranked wide receiver that year as well. However, Lloyd lasted just 4 games into the 2011 season with the Broncos before he was traded to the Rams for a mere 5th round pick. His composite numbers in 2011 weren’t bad, as he caught 70 passes for 966 yards and 5 touchdowns, nor were his numbers bad in 2012 with the Patriots, as he caught 74 passes for 911 yards and 4 touchdowns, but the same reports that had followed him his whole career continued to surface, that his personality was a weird fit and his teammates didn’t really like him. Lloyd sat out all of 2013 before returning in a reserve role to the 49ers in 2014. Lloyd played just 347 snaps, caught just 14 passes for 294 yards and a touchdown, and graded out below average. Now going into his age 34 season, he’ll be greeted by a very cold market and could be at the end of the line.

QB Blaine Gabbert

Blaine Gabbert was about as big of a bust as you can be as the 10th overall pick in 2011. The Jaguars traded their 1st and 2nd round pick to move up to get him and he was horrendous in 3 seasons for them, completing 53.3% of his passes for an average of 5.61 YPA, 22 touchdowns, and 24 interceptions. He made 27 starts and won just 5 of them. That’s not completely his fault, but obviously he had a lot to do with that. The Jaguars traded him to the 49ers for a 6th round pick last off-season, but even Jim Harbaugh couldn’t get the talent out of him. He struggled mightily in the pre-season and attempted just 7 passes as the backup to a struggling Colin Kaepernick. This off-season, he won’t be guaranteed to get a #2 job or even make someone’s final roster in September. Only going into his age 26 season, Gabbert could be out of the league in 2015.

Cap Casualty Candidates

TE Vernon Davis

Vernon Davis held out for a while last off-season because he was unhappy about his contract and ended up turning in one of the worst seasons of his career. Not only was his 26/245/2 slash line his worst production since his rookie year in 2006, but he also struggled as a run blocker, an area he’s generally been very good in. Davis had that minimal production despite 47 targets (55.3% catch rate) and 417 routes run (0.59 yards per route run) and was Pro Football Focus’ 62nd ranked tight end out of 67 eligible. Now the man who wanted an extension last off-season has a very good chance to get cut outright this off-season. He has a chance to bounce back in 2015, but he’s going into his age 31 season and the 49ers don’t have the cap space to really give him a 2nd chance. The 49ers can save 4.9 million in cash and immediately on the cap by letting him go this off-season.

OLB Ahmad Brooks

Brooks was Pro Football Focus’ 5th ranked 3-4 outside linebacker as recently as 2012, but he graded out below average in both 2013 and 2014. Now he’s going into his age 31 season and the cap strapped 49ers could easily cut him and go forward with Aldon Smith, Aaron Lynch, Corey Lemonier, and potentially free agent Dan Skuta at the 3-4 outside linebacker position, which is arguably the 49ers’ deepest position. The 49ers would only save 1.509 million on the cap by letting him go this off-season, but it would save them 7.3 million in cash and get him off their cap completely for 2016.

S Craig Dahl

Dahl was signed to a 3-year, 5.25 million dollar contract by the 49ers two off-seasons ago to potentially be a starter, but when they drafted Eric Reid a month later in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, Dahl became a reserve, playing 89 snaps in 2013 and 184 snaps in 2014. He also wasn’t very good as a starter in St. Louis in 2012, grading out 77th at his position out of 88 eligible. There’s no reason the cap strapped 49ers need to be paying him 1.7 million in 2015 and they can save all that money immediately on the cap by cutting him this off-season.

WR Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson is an interesting case. Ordinarily, a cap strapped team like the 49ers would cut someone like Johnson easily. He’s owed a non-guaranteed 6.025 million, all of which can come off their cap immediately if they were to cut him, and he played just 305 snaps last season. However, the 49ers could easily lose both Michael Crabtree and Brandon Lloyd this off-season and they really need a starter opposite Anquan Boldin. Johnson has proven in the past that he’s more than capable of being a starter, putting up 1000+ yard seasons in 2010, 2011, and 2012. Even though he’s going to be 3 years removed from his last 1000+ yard season in 2015 and even though he combined for less than 1000 yards in 2013 and 2014, Johnson is still relatively young (going into his age 29 season) and he was very efficient in limited action for the 49ers in 2014. Despite the limited playing time, Johnson graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 22nd ranked wide receiver, with no one playing fewer snaps and grading out higher. He caught 35 passes for 435 yards on 49 attempts (71.4%) and 204 routes run (2.13 yards per route run). A restructure could make the most sense for both sides.

Feb 132015
 

Positions of Need

Guard

The Dolphins had one of the worst offensive lines in football in 2013 and their solution was to basically have an all new starting 5 in 2014, with 4 new starters and no one playing at the same spot as they played in 2013. It didn’t really work out as only left tackle Branden Albert graded out above average and he went down for the season with a torn ACL week 10. Rookie 1st first round pick Ja’Waun James struggled at both tackle spots, especially struggling on the blindside with Albert gone, while former center Mike Pouncey struggled mightily in his first season at right guard. At left guard and center respectively, veteran journeymen Daryn Colledge and Samson Satele showed why they were so easily available the previous off-season. The Dolphins expect Albert to make a full recovery at left tackle and they still like James’ long-term upside at right tackle and Pouncey could turn it around in 2015 back at his natural position, but they still have major holes at the guard positions. Their current options at the position are Shelley Smith, who could be a cap casualty after barely playing in the first season of a multi-year deal, Dallas Thomas, a 2013 3rd round pick who was horrible in limited action at both guard and tackle in 2014, after barely playing as a rookie in 2013, and Billy Turner, who played just 17 snaps as a 3rd round rookie in 2014. They need to add talent at the position.

Wide Receiver

The Dolphins signed Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, and Brandon Gibson to significant contracts to be their top-3 receivers two off-seasons ago, but none of them lived up to it and all 3 are candidates to be cap casualties this off-season. Wallace has been the best of them, but he’s also the highest paid, as he’s owed 9.9 million in 2015, only 3 million of which is guaranteed. He’s had issues with the coaching staff and the Dolphins have publicly talked about cutting him, a move that would save them 2.5 million immediately on the cap and 6.9 million in cash. Brian Hartline has been with the team for 6 years and is trusted by Ryan Tannehill, but he was the worst of the trio last year, grading out 103rd out of 110 eligible wide receivers and the Dolphins can save 5.95 million in cash and 3.15 million immediately on the cap by letting him go. Gibson seems like the most likely to be cut as he’s fallen to 4th at best on the depth chart. He played just 516 snaps in 2014, grading out 100th out of 110 eligible wide receivers, and the Dolphins can save 3.26 million both in cash and immediately on the cap by letting him go. The Dolphins like the long-term potential of 2014 2nd round pick Jarvis Landry, who was their best receiver last season as a rookie, but they need a long-term option opposite him. This is something they could address with the 14th overall pick of the draft. DeVante Parker and Kevin White would both fit the range.

Cornerback

The Dolphins signed Cortland Finnegan to an ill-advised 2-year, 11 million dollar contract last off-season to start opposite Brent Grimes, after a horrendous 2013 season in St. Louis, and he responded by grading out 74th out of 108 eligible cornerbacks. He’s expected to be cut this off-season, a move that would save them 5.475 million in cash and immediately on the cap. Meanwhile, slot cornerback Jimmy Wilson is a free agent this off-season and could be moved to safety if he’s re-signed. Their #2 and #3 cornerback positions are wide open right now, while #1 cornerback Brent Grimes is going into his age 32 season and won’t be able to play at a high level much longer. They need a long-term successor for him. The Dolphins have used picks on Jamar Taylor (2nd round in 2013), Will Davis (3rd round in 2013), and Walt Aikens (4th round in 2014) in recent drafts, but none of them have played much so far in their respective careers. Taylor and Davis have played 345 and 200 snaps respectively in 2 seasons in the league combined, while Aikens played 64 snaps as a rookie. Adding a blue chip talent to the mix this off-season could be an option and this is another position they could look at with the 14th overall pick.

Safety

Louis Delmas was the starter next to Reshad Jones at safety last season, but he’s a free agent this off-season. On top of that, he tore his ACL week 14 and his status is very much in doubt for the start of the 2015 season, especially given his history of knee problems. The 2009 2nd round pick has missed 18 games in 6 seasons in the league, been limited in countless others, and only played all 16 games once in a season. The Dolphins could easily be looking at a new starter at the position this off-season. Jimmy Wilson was their in house replacement for him last season, but he’s a free agent as well and the Dolphins also like him as their nickel cornerback.

Running Back

Running back depth is needed with both Knowshon Moreno and Daniel Thomas set to hit free agency. Lamar Miller had a very impressive 5.09 YPC average in 2014, but the Dolphins are hesitant to make him a 250-300 carry back because of his tendency to wear out as the game goes on (he was at 216 carries in 2014). He’s also not great on passing downs. The Dolphins need to add a running back behind him who is capable of both passing down duties and giving Miller regular breathers on running downs.

Tight End

Charles Clay has put up solid numbers as a pass catcher over the past two seasons, going for 69/759/6 in 2013 and then 58/605/3 in 2014 in 14 games. He’s not a great inline blocker, but he can line up all over the formation and the Dolphins don’t have another pass catching tight end on the roster. If they’re unable to re-sign him this off-season, he’ll need to be replaced. Dion Sims is a solid #2 tight end, but not much more.

Defensive Tackle

Things are in flux at the defensive tackle position. Jared Odrick was their best defensive tackle last season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 19th ranked defensive tackle, but he’s a free agent this off-season and might sign elsewhere. Earl Mitchell and Randy Starks are their other two defensive tackles, but neither of them was very good in the first season of their new multi-year deals. Mitchell still has guaranteed money left on his deal, and he’s still under 30 and played decently last season, so he’ll be back, but the same might not be true of Starks, who they are rumored to be interested in letting go. Starks graded out slightly below average last season, for the first time since 2007. They may opt to give him another chance because of his history, but he’s going into his age 32 season and owed 5 million non-guaranteed, all of which they can save on the cap immediately by cutting him, so they may just outright cut him instead. Even if they don’t, he’s aging and going into a contract year so a long-term solution at the position is needed.

Outside Linebacker

The Dolphins gave Dannell Ellerbe a 5-year, 34.75 million dollar deal and Philip Wheeler a 5-year, 26 million dollar deal two off-seasons ago. Neither of those deals worked out at all. Both were among the worst in the NFL at their respective positions in 2013 and neither was much of a factor in 2014. Ellerbe was limited to 18 snaps by a season ending injury suffered week 1 and Wheeler played 384 snaps in a situational role. Fortunately, Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi stepped up as starting caliber players this season. They just need one more starter in the linebacking corps, a 3rd linebacker who plays only in base packages. Jason Trusnik and Wheeler had small roles in the linebacking corps last season and did decently, but Trusnik is a free agent going into his age 31 season, while Wheeler could be a cap casualty this off-season. Cutting Wheeler would only save 200K on the cap, but it would get them out of a 3 million dollar salary and get him completely off their cap for 2016.

Center

Mike Pouncey missed the first 4 games of the season with a hip problem and the Dolphins played Samson Satele at center in his absence. Upon his return, they opted to leave Satele at center and move Pouncey to right guard, a move that didn’t work out at all. Satele finished the season as Pro Football Focus’ 31st ranked center out of 41 eligible and Pouncey (Pro Football Focus’ 14th ranked center in 2013), struggled mightily out of position at right guard, grading out 69th out of 78 eligible at his position. Pouncey will be moving back to center for 2015 and could easily bounce back now that he’s fully healthy and at his natural position, but there are no guarantees and he’s going into a contract year anyway.

Key Free Agents

DT Jared Odrick

Odrick was a first round pick in 2010, but it took him a few years to get it together. Odrick was limited to 22 snaps as a rookie in 2010 by injury, struggled in his first year as a starter in 2011 as a 3-4 defensive end, and then struggled even more in 2012 as a 4-3 defensive end, grading out 59th out of 62 eligible at his position that year. However, the Dolphins moved him back to his natural position of 4-3 defensive tackle in 2013 and the results have been great. He was 16th at his position in 2013 and then 19th in 2014. Coming off two straight strong seasons, Odrick will command a lot of money on the open market, especially from 4-3 teams who need someone who can get to the quarterback from the interior like Odrick can. The Dolphins obviously want him back and may consider the franchise tag as an option if they can’t reach a long-term deal ahead of the deadline.

TE Charles Clay

Clay, a 2011 6th round pick, has broken out as a solid pass catching tight end over the past 2 seasons, catching 69 passes for 759 yards and 6 touchdowns in 2013 and 58 passes for 605 yards and 3 touchdowns. He’s not much of an inline blocker, but the collegiate fullback can line up all over the formation and create matchup problems. The Dolphins will try to bring him back on a medium sized deal and, if he reaches the open market, he’ll draw a good amount of interest.

S Louis Delmas

Louis Delmas looked like a promising young safety in 2009 and 2010, starting 30 games in his first 2 years in the league after the Lions drafted him in the 2nd round in 2009, grading out above average in both seasons. However, knee problems limited him to 19 games in 2011 and 2012 and he graded out below average in both of those seasons. He seemed to turn his career around in Miami, making 29 straight starts and playing decently as a starting safety, but he tore his ACL week 14 this season, which puts his 2015 in doubt, given his history. He’ll draw interest on the open market, but not a lot of guaranteed money and he might have to wait into the summer to sign.

QB Matt Moore

Moore only attempted 29 passes over the past 3 seasons combined in Miami as Ryan Tannehill has made 48 straight starts to begin his career, but he wasn’t horrible in his last extended playing time in 2011, completing 60.5% of his passes for an average of 7.20 YPA, 16 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions. He graded out 13th among quarterbacks on Pro Football Focus that season. The fact that he hasn’t played much in the last 3 seasons hurts him, but he’s only going into his age 31 season and got 8 million over 2 years on his last deal. He should get a similar deal this off-season from a team with more of a quarterback need than the Dolphins and he could make a few starts somewhere in 2015.

CB Jimmy Wilson

Wilson was just a 7th round pick by the Dolphins in 2011, but he’s played 600+ snaps in each of the last 3 seasons, including a career high 791 snaps in 2014, as he was their primary nickel cornerback and made several starts at safety as well, with Delmas getting hurt to end the season and Jones getting suspended for the start of the season. He graded out below average in 2014, making it twice in three seasons that he’s done that, but the Dolphins like his versatility a lot and will probably extend him a decent sized offer to try to bring him back to a secondary that has a lot of questions outside of Brent Grimes and Reshad Jones. If he’s not back with the Dolphins, he’ll play a similar role elsewhere.

RB Knowshon Moreno

Knowshon Moreno had over 1500 yards from scrimmage in 2013 (1038 rushing and 548 receiving), but was still available about 3 weeks into free agency and was forced to sign a 1-year deal worth 3 million. There were reasons for that. The running back position has been strongly devalued in the NFL. Also, as much production as Moreno had in 2013, much of it was the product of Peyton Manning. Moreno rarely faced stacked boxes and, much more often than not, was running against boxes of 6 or fewer defenders. In spite of that, he actually just rushed for 4.31 yards per carry, which isn’t a spectacular average. He also missed 20 games from 2010-2012 and had just 426 touches over those 3 seasons. In his one year in Miami, he was limited to 31 carries by knee problems and now he’s rehabbing the second torn ACL of his NFL career. He won’t draw a lot of interest on the open market. In 6 years since the Broncos drafted him in the 1st round in 2009, he’s rushed for 3616 yards and 27 touchdowns on 876 carries (4.13 YPC), while catching 158 passes for 1409 yards and another 9 touchdowns, very unspectacular overall numbers.

C Samson Satele

Satele was Pro Football Focus’ 32nd ranked center out of 35 eligible in 2013 with the Colts and had to wait until August to get signed, but the Dolphins started him week 1 at center and left him there even after Mike Pouncey returned from injury after 4 games. As I mentioned earlier, that was a huge mistake and not just because Pouncey mightily struggled at right guard. Satele also struggled, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 31st ranked center out of 41 eligible. Going into his age 31 season, off of three straight years in which he’s graded out below average, Satele won’t draw a lot of interest on the open market. He’ll have to wait a while to get signed again and might not find starting work.

RB Daniel Thomas

Daniel Thomas was a 2nd round pick by the Dolphins in 2011, but he never turned into the starting running back they wanted him to be. He rushed for 1480 yards and 10 touchdowns on 409 carries (3.62 YPC) in 4 seasons with the Dolphins and didn’t contribute much as a pass catcher, with 55 catches in those 4 seasons. He had a career low 44 carries in 2014 and won’t draw much interest on the open market.

G Daryn Colledge

Like Satele, Colledge was signed late last off-season and ended up playing a significant role, signing in late June and eventually starting 13 starts at left guard. Colledge was horrible though, grading out 74th out of 78 eligible guards. He wasn’t that bad even as recently as 2013 in his last stop in Arizona, but, going into his age 33 season, he could be at the end of the line.

Cap Casualty Candidates

MLB Dannell Ellerbe

Ellerbe was about as bad as a free agent signing can be. Ellerbe signed a 5-year, 34.25 million dollar deal with the Dolphins two off-seasons ago and proceeded to grade out as Pro Football Focus’ 50th ranked middle linebacker out of 55 eligible. He moved to outside linebacker for 2014, but ended up missing all but 18 snaps with a hip injury, which actually probably helped the Dolphins, considering how bad he was in 2013 and how well Jelani Jenkins played in his absence in his first season as a starter. Ellerbe was essentially 14 million guaranteed down the toilet. The deal didn’t make any sense for the start.  Ellerbe, a 2009 undrafted free agent, maxed out at 456 snaps in a season from 2009-2011, but he had a solid 2012 season, grading out 14th among middle linebackers on Pro Football Focus on 667 regular season snaps and then followed that up with a strong post-season, en route to a Super Bowl victory by the Ravens. That’s what got him paid, but he was a one year wonder that wasn’t worth his contract even at his best. Cutting him to save 8.45 million in cash and 5.65 million on the cap is about as much of a no brainer as there is.

CB Cortland Finnegan

Cortland Finnegan was Pro Football Focus’ 109th ranked cornerback out of 110 eligible in 2013 with the Rams, despite being limited to 364 snaps by injuries. No one played fewer snaps at the position and graded out worse. That led to his release from St. Louis, but the Dolphins clearly didn’t watch his 2013 tape as they handed him a 2-year, 11 million dollar deal last off-season. Finnegan proceeded to grade out 74th out of 108 eligible cornerbacks. Cutting him would save the Dolphins 5.475 million on the cap and in cash, so I expect them to do that. Finnegan, going into his age 31 season, seems done as a starting caliber cornerback in the NFL.

WR Brandon Gibson

As I mentioned earlier, Gibson is one of three wide receivers that the Dolphins gave a significant contract to two off-seasons ago and, while all 3 could be cut this off-season, Gibson is the one who is most likely to be gone. Gibson’s deal was worth 9.755 million over 3 years, but he played just 771 snaps combined in 2 seasons and graded out 100th out of 110 eligible wide receivers in 2014. He was limited to 7 games by a torn patellar tendon in 2013 and then fell behind talented rookie Jarvis Landry on the depth chart in 2014. Cutting him would save the Dolphins both 3.26 million in cash and immediately on the salary cap.

OLB Philip Wheeler

Like Dannell Ellerbe’s, Philip Wheeler’s 5-year deal from two off-seasons ago went about as bad as it could have and it was predictable from the start. Wheeler was Pro Football Focus’ worst ranked 4-3 outside linebacker in 2013 and then was limited to 384 snaps and 4 starts in 2014 after getting benched. Wheeler was Pro Football Focus’ 6th ranked 4-3 outside linebacker in 2012, which got him a 5-year, 26 million dollar deal from the Dolphins, even though, prior to 2012, he had graded out below average in 3 of 4 seasons in the league, since being drafted in the 3rd round in 2008. Also prior to 2012, he never had played more than 537 snaps in a season, so, like Ellerbe, he was the definition of a one year wonder and, over the past 2 seasons, he’s been 13 million guaranteed down the toilet. He’s not as much of a lock to be cut as Ellerbe because he showed enough last season in limited action to suggest that he could be valuable as a 3rd linebacker who only plays in base packages and because the Dolphins would only save 200K by cutting him, as a result of how his contract is structured, but the Dolphins would save 3 million in cash by cutting him now and he’d be completely off their 2016 cap.

WR Brian Hartline

Brian Hartline has been with the Dolphins since they drafted him in the 4th round in 2009, 6 seasons, and he was their leading receiver in both 2012 and 2013, but he’s coming off of an awful 2014 campaign. He caught just 39 passes for 474 yards and 2 touchdowns on 62 attempts (62.9%) and 490 routes run, an average of 0.99 yards per route run. He was Pro Football Focus’ 103rd ranked wide receiver out of 110 eligible and the Dolphins would save 5.95 million in cash and 3.15 million on the cap by letting him go this off-season.

WR Mike Wallace

Wallace is a solid receiver, but his last 1000+ yard year was in 2011 and, in his final year in Pittsburgh, he held out long into the off-season, which caused him to have a horrible season. His 64/836/8 slash line wasn’t terrible, but he caught just 55.2% of his targets and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 91st ranked wide receiver out of 105 eligible. That didn’t stop the Dolphins from giving Wallace a 5-year, 60 million dollar deal and he hasn’t lived up to it, grading out below average in both seasons, putting up slash lines of 73/930/5 and 67/862/10, and reportedly quitting on his team on multiple occasions. Wallace has 3 million guaranteed left on his deal for 2015, but the Dolphins have already publicly said that he might not be back next season. Cutting him would save 6.9 million in cash, 2.5 million on the cap, and get him completely off their cap for 2016.

DT Randy Starks

Randy Starks graded out slightly below average last season, but this was uncharacteristic for him as he had previously graded out above average in every season since 2007. Still, he’s going into his age 32 season so his best days may be behind him and the Dolphins are reportedly considering cutting him, a move that would save 5 million in cash and immediately on the cap. What they decide to do with him may hinge on how confident they feel that they can re-sign Odrick.

G Shelley Smith

The Dolphins signed Shelley Smith to a 2-year, 5.5 million dollar deal last off-season, but he only played 367 snaps, despite terrible play on the Dolphins’ offensive line all season. Smith himself was also terrible, grading out 54th out of 78 eligible despite the limited playing time. The Dolphins can save 2.75 million in cash and cap space by cutting him this off-season and if they don’t feel he can be a starter in 2015, they could easily pull the trigger on that move.

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Feb 102015
 

Positions of Need

Cornerback

The Saints missed on Champ Bailey last off-season, cutting him before the season even started, despite giving the ex-Bronco a 500K signing bonus. Even worse than the 500K down the toilet is the fact that he didn’t give them the cornerback opposite Keenan Lewis that they desperately needed. Lewis didn’t have a very good season in 2014, grading out 98th among 108 eligible cornerbacks on Pro Football Focus and neither did really anyone else at the position. Lewis could bounce back in 2015, but they need help after him on the depth chart. Corey White and Patrick Robinson were their #2 and #3 cornerbacks last season, but White graded out 106th out of 108 eligible, while Robinson is a free agent this off-season.

Defensive End

Other than Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette, no Saint had more than 3 sacks last season. Jordan rushes the passer from the interior in sub packages anyway. They desperately need an edge rusher opposite Galette in sub packages, preferably one who is capable of playing in both a 3-4 and a 4-3 because Rob Ryan is staying as defensive coordinator and likes to use both schemes.

Guard

The duo of Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs has been very good for the Saints recently, but not in 2014, as both graded out below average. Maybe if the Saints were in a better cap situation, this wouldn’t be as big of a deal, but Evans and Grubbs are going into their age 32 and age 31 seasons respectively, owed 7.5 and 6.6 million respectively, and the Saints can save 6 million and 3.6 million on the cap respectively by cutting them. I don’t expect both back, so the Saints should need one, if not two new starters at the position this off-season.

Center

Jonathan Goodwin struggled at center last season, grading out 27th out of 41 eligible centers. A free agent going into his age 37 season, I don’t expect Goodwin to be back as a starter this off-season. They need to add at this position this off-season because their best internal option is Tom DeLito, a 2013 undrafted free agent who has graded out below average in his first 2 seasons in the league and played a combined 457 snaps.

Wide Receiver

The Saints drafted Brandin Cooks in the first round last year and he played pretty well before going down for the season with a wrist injury. He should be a big part of their future receiving corps, as should Kenny Stills, a 2013 5th round pick who has been solid in his first 2 seasons in the league. However, Marques Colston is going into his age 32 season and coming off arguably his worst season as a pro. He caught 59 passes for 902 yards and 5 touchdowns, the first season of his career in which he played more than 11 games and caught fewer than 60 passes and the first season of his career in which he played all 16 games and had fewer than 1000 yards. He was Pro Football Focus’ 100th ranked wide receiver out of 110 eligible last season. He hasn’t had 1000+ yards in a season since 2012 and the Saints can save 4.3 million on the cap and 7 million in cash by releasing him this off-season. Even if they don’t let him go this off-season, they need a long-term replacement as he’s declining, aging, and expensive on a team with little long-term financial flexibility.

Middle Linebacker

Curtis Lofton was Pro Football Focus’ 57th ranked middle linebacker out of 60 eligible last season. Lofton has graded out below average in all 3 seasons he’s been with the Saints since signing a 5-year, 27.5 million dollar deal. The Saints can save 7.25 million in cash and 4.25 million on the cap by letting him go this off-season, but, if they do that, they’ll need a replacement because they don’t really have an internal one.

Outside Linebacker

David Hawthorne was another free agent signing from 3 off-seasons ago by the Saints that didn’t really work out. He’s graded out below average in all 3 seasons since signing a 5-year, 19 million dollar deal. The Saints can save 4.5 million in cash and 2.99 million on the cap. He’s less likely than Lofton to be cut because he’s cheaper and a better player, but, even if he’s back, Parys Haralson is a free agent while Ramon Humber was Pro Football Focus’ worst ranked 4-3 outside linebacker last season in limited action.

Running Back

Mark Ingram was finally valuable for the Saints in 2014, as the 2011 1st round pick rushed for 964 yards and 9 touchdowns on 226 carries (4.27 YPC), after rushing for 1462 yards and 11 touchdowns on 356 carries (4.11 YPC) in his first 3 seasons combined. However, now he’s a free agent and, if he’s not back, the Saints will need to add at the position. Pierre Thomas is going into his age 31 season and has rushed for just 771 yards on 192 carries over the past 2 seasons (including a career low 45 carries in 11 games in an injured plagued 2014 season), an average of just 4.02 yards per carry. He’s purely a 3rd down back at this stage of his career. Khiry Robinson, meanwhile, has potential, but the 2013 undrafted free agent still has just 130 career carries.

Quarterback

Drew Brees is still playing a high level. The Saints didn’t make the playoffs in 2014, but don’t blame Brees as he led the offense to a 79.14% rate of moving the chains (2nd behind only Green Bay) despite issues on the offensive line and in the receiving corps, completing 69.2% of his passes for an average of 7.51 YPA, 33 touchdowns, and 17 interceptions. He was Pro Football Focus’ 2nd ranked quarterback behind Aaron Rodgers for his efforts. However, he’s going into his age 36 season and his successor doesn’t seem to be on the roster. Brees’ case is especially interesting because he has such an expensive contract on a team with so little financial flexibility so he’s basically always one bad season away from not being worth it anymore.

Key Free Agents

RB Mark Ingram

As I mentioned earlier, Ingram had a breakout year in his contract year in 2014. The 2011 1st round pick was largely a bust for the Saints (especially since they gave up a 1st and 2nd round pick to move back up into the first round to get him), rushing for 1462 yards and 11 touchdowns on 356 carries (4.11 YPC) in his first 3 seasons combined. However, he rushed for 964 yards and 9 touchdowns on 226 carries (4.27 YPC) in 2014. Still, his injury history is concern (14 games missed in 4 seasons), he’s still a one year wonder, and he doesn’t contribute as a pass catcher (53 catches in 4 seasons). Running backs haven’t been getting much on the open market recently and, as good of a natural runner as he is, I don’t expect him to get much on the open market either. A reunion with the Saints would make some sense, but they won’t break the bank for him.

CB Patrick Robinson

Patrick Robinson has essentially been a bust as a 2010 1st round pick, but it hasn’t been for lack of talent. He’s just missed 22 games in 5 seasons and had serious trouble consistently staying healthy and on the field. His best season came in 2011, when he played 15 games (7 starts) and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 19th ranked cornerback, but whoever signs him shouldn’t expect that kind of play from him. In 2014, he played 624 snaps in 14 games, starting 6 of them, and grading out about average. That’s more par for the course from him. He’ll be looking at smaller multi-year deals to be someone’s #2 or #3 cornerback. Considering the Saints’ desperate need at the cornerback position and that Robinson was their best cornerback in 2014, a reunion could make sense.

OLB Parys Haralson

Haralson played 4-3 outside linebacker for the Saints in base packages this season and rushed the passer off the edge in base packages. He graded out above average, excelling as a run stopper, ranking 5th among 4-3 outside linebackers in run stopping grade, but he didn’t get much pass rush. This is nothing new for him, as he’s graded out above average in 4 straight seasons since 2010 (he missed all of 2012 with injury), but he’s never gotten much of a pass rush. He’s only going into his age 31 season, is only a two-down player, and has only played 2068 snaps in the past 5 seasons combined so he won’t draw a ton of interest on the open market, but he has scheme versatility and can still play a role for someone.

C Jonathan Goodwin

Jonathan Goodwin is going into his age 37 season and, after grading out 27th out of 41 eligible centers in 2014, could be at the end of his line. If he plays another season, he won’t be guaranteed a starting job, but it’s worth mentioning that he’s just one season removed from a 2013 season in which he graded out 13th at his position, that he graded out above average in all 3 seasons from 2011-2013, and that centers tend to have longer careerspans than other positions.

Cap Casualty Candidates

DT Brodrick Bunkley

Brodrick Bunkley has been a free agent bust since signing a 5-year, 25 million dollar deal three off-seasons ago, after grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 5th ranked defensive tackle in 2011, including 1st against the run. Bunkley hasn’t been horrible when on the field in New Orleans, but he’s struggled to find a role in either the Saints’ 3-4 or the Saints’ 4-3 since arriving in town and he’s played just 899 snaps in 3 seasons as a result. He’s also graded out below average in 2 of 3 seasons and missed 10 games. Even when he had his strong 2011 season, he only played 485 snaps and, even at his best, he’s a two-down player because of his inability to get to the quarterback. The Saints can save 4.5 million in cash and 2.88 million in cap space by letting him go this off-season, going into his age 31 season, and the cap strapped Saints won’t think twice about it unless he restructures and takes a paycut.

MLB Curtis Lofton

Like Bunkley, Lofton is a free agent signing from three off-seasons ago that didn’t really work out. Lofton has graded out below average in all 3 seasons he’s been with the Saints, with his worst coming in 2014, as he ranked 57th out of 60 eligible middle linebackers on Pro Football Focus. His 22 missed tackles led the NFL regardless of position and he was a big part of why the Saints’ defense was so horrible in 2014. The Saints can save 7.25 million in cash and 4.25 million in cap space by letting him go this off-season, a move that would make a lot of sense given their cap situation.

G Jahri Evans

Jahri Evans was a 4th round pick of the Saints’ in 2006 and was a starter basically from the word go, as rare as that is for a 4th round rookie. He’s missed just 2 starts due to injury over those 9 years, so he’s been as durable as they come and he’s also been as consistently dominant as they come, at least up until 2014. From 2007-2013, he graded out in the top-30 in 7 straight years and the top-9 in 5 of those 7 years, maxing out at #1 overall in 2009. However, in 2014, he struggled, grading out below average, 46th out of 78 eligible. Ordinarily, a player of Evans’ caliber would be able to get away with a down season, but the Saints are about as cap strapped as they come and Evans is going into his age 32 season. The Saints can save 6 million on the cap and 7.5 million in cash by letting him go this off-season. If he’s let go, he shouldn’t have much trouble finding another starting job, given his history.

WR Marques Colston

Colston has been with the Saints since 2006 and has been such a big part of their offensive success, but, like Evans, they could be moving on from him this off-season.  He’s aging (going into his age 32 season) and coming off arguably the worst season of his career. He caught 59 passes for 902 yards and 5 touchdowns in 2014, the first season of his career in which he played more than 11 games and caught fewer than 60 passes and the first season of his career in which he played all 16 games and had fewer than 1000 yards. He was Pro Football Focus’ 100th ranked wide receiver out of 110 eligible last season. He’s purely a complementary receiver at best at this stage of his career and could really struggle statistically if he went somewhere without a quarterback like Brees throwing him the ball. He hasn’t had 1000+ yards in a season since 2012 and the Saints can save 4.3 million on the cap and 7 million in cash by releasing him this off-season. Another option is a paycut and Colston is rumored to be open to that in order to stay with the Saints and Drew Brees.

TE Ben Watson

Watson has had a solid, but unspectacular career since he entered the league in 2004 as a 1st round pick of the Patriots, playing 11 seasons for New England, Cleveland, and now New Orleans, but he’s going into his age 35 season and could be at the end of the line. He played a significant role as the #2 tight end behind Jimmy Graham for the Saints last year, playing 578 snaps, but the veteran graded out 48th out of 67 eligible at his position. His salary for 2015 isn’t a ton (1.5 million), but the cap strapped Saints need all the financial flexibility they can get and they can save that whole amount on the cap immediately by cutting him.

OLB David Hawthorne

Like Lofton and Bunkley, Hawthorne is a free agent signing from three off-seasons ago that didn’t work out as he’s graded out below average in the first 3 seasons of his 5-year, 19 million dollar deal. He’s more likely to stay than Lofton because he’s cheaper and better, but he was Pro Football Focus’ 28th ranked 4-3 outside linebacker out of 40 eligible last season and the Saints can save 4.5 million in cash and 2.99 million on the cap by letting him go this off-season.

G Ben Grubbs

Ben Grubbs was another free agent signing from three off-seasons ago. He actually worked out a lot better than Lofton, Bunkley, and Hawthorne, but the Saints can save 6.6 million in cash and 3.6 million on the cap by cutting him and he’s not an absolute necessity, which is why he makes the bottom of this list. Grubbs was a top-16 guard on Pro Football Focus for 5 straight seasons from 2009-2013, but graded out slightly below average last season and now he’s going into his age 31 season. I do expect him to stay, but it’s not a guarantee.

Feb 042015
 

Positions of Need

Wide Receiver

Josh Gordon has been suspended for the entire 2015 season and the Browns weren’t expected to keep him even before that. As talented as he is, the Browns seem to have grown tired of all the off-the-field issues and he seems to be out of chances. The Browns’ receiving corps wasn’t terrible in Gordon’s absence, as free agent signing Andrew Hawkins, veteran Miles Austin, and undrafted rookie free agent Taylor Gabriel all exceeded expectations, but Austin is a free agent going into his age 31 season this off-season and none of those guys are the #1 receiver they need. With two first round picks, I’d be surprised if they didn’t use one on a wide receiver.

Quarterback

This seems to always be on the Browns’ list. The Browns paid 100K for a study that determined that Teddy Bridgewater was the best quarterback in last year’s draft class and lo and behold he was easily the best rookie quarterback in 2014. The only problem is the Browns chose to ignore that study and draft Johnny Manziel and his rookie year went about as bad as possible. Manziel struggled to learn the playbook and make it on the field, even though veteran journeyman Brian Hoyer was flopping as a starting quarterback, finishing the season with 55.3% completion, 7.59 YPA, 12 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions in 13 starts. When Manziel did make it onto the field, he was worse than Hoyer, completing 51.4% of his passes for an average of 5.00 YPA, 0 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. After the season, reports about his behind the scenes issues started coming out, ultimately culminating with a report that Manziel checked himself into a rehab facility a few weeks after the season ended. The Browns will obviously hope their 2014 1st round pick can turn it around, but they obviously need competition for him. Bringing back Hoyer is an unspectacular, but realistic option.

Defensive End

The Browns’ defense overall was solid, but they were weak on the defensive line. Desmond Bryant hasn’t really lived up to his 5-year, 34 million dollar contract yet, after signing two off-seasons ago. I don’t expect them to let him go yet because they have so much cap space, but they still need help on the defensive line. Phil Taylor is coming off of a rough year and might not be back in 2015 at his scheduled 5.5 million dollar salary, as his 4-year career has been full of inconsistency and injuries. Even if Taylor is back, he could move back to his natural position of nose tackle, with Athyba Rubin headed to free agency. Billy Winn struggled at the other 3-4 defensive end spot in Taylor’s absence in 2014.

Defensive Tackle

As I just mentioned, nose tackle Athyba Rubin is a free agent this off-season. He probably won’t be back as a starter, if he’s back at all, because he was horrible in 2014, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 74th ranked defensive tackle out of 81 eligible. Taylor could move inside to nose tackle, but, like I said, he might not be back either. The Browns have to add on the defensive line both at defensive end and defensive tackle.

Tight End

Jordan Cameron missed 6 games with injuries in 2014 and the Browns showed their lack of depth at the position when that happened, as neither Jim Dray nor Gary Barnidge showed much in the passing game. This is a problem as Jordan Cameron is heading into free agency. If he’s not re-signed, he’ll need to be replaced.

Center

Alex Mack suffered a horrible leg injury in 2014. He should be back in 2015 and he’s never missed a game in his career with injuries other than that one. However, the Browns’ depth in Mack’s absence was so bad that they might want to consider adding to this position this off-season. Paul McQuistan, Nick McDonald, and Ryan Seymour were all horrific in Mack’s absence and were big parts of the reason why their offense was so terrible down the stretch.

Key Free Agents

OLB Jabaal Sheard

Sheard, a 2011 2nd round pick, has emerged as a solid edge rusher, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 10th ranked 3-4 outside linebacker in 2013 and 16th ranked in 2014. He has experience playing in both a 4-3 and 3-4. He graded out below average in both of his seasons as a 4-3 defensive end, but those were also his first two seasons in the league, so he necessarily wouldn’t be a bad signing for a 4-3 team. Either way, Sheard should get a decent amount of money on the open market, in the 6-7 million dollars per year range, assuming the Browns let him. The Browns have a ton of cap space so they could easily re-sign him before free agency.

TE Jordan Cameron

Jordan Cameron had a breakout year in 2013, catching 80 passes for 917 yards and 7 touchdowns, after playing just 398 snaps and catching 26 passes in his first 2 seasons in the league. Cameron didn’t match that production in 2014 though, as he missed 6 games and caught just 24 passes for 424 yards and 2 touchdowns. Cameron heads into free agency as a one year wonder with a concerning concussion history and no full 16 game seasons played. Even his 2013 season wasn’t as good as his numbers looked as he was fortunate enough to be on one of the pass heaviest teams in the NFL. His 1.47 yards per route run was 19th among eligible tight ends. He’s also graded out below average as a run blocker in each of the last 3 seasons, including 60th out of 67 eligible in that facet in 2014. He could be overpaid this off-season.

DT Athyba Rubin

Rubin was one of the worst defensive tackles in the NFL last season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 74th ranked defensive tackle out of 81 eligible. He did that at the wrong time as the veteran is going into free agency this off-season. He’s not generally this bad, but the last time he graded out above average on Pro Football Focus was 2009, so he’s not great. He won’t get a ton of money this off-season, even only going into his age 29 season.

QB Brian Hoyer

Hoyer had his moments in the first extended starting experience of his career in 2014, but ultimately proved to not be anything more than a solid backup caliber quarterback. He completed 55.3% of his passes for 7.59 YPA, 12 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions, while grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 35th ranked quarterback out of 39 eligible. The former undrafted free agent’s career numbers aren’t much different, as he’s completed 56.5% of his passes for an average of 7.23 YPA, 19 touchdowns, and 19 interceptions on 630 career attempts. He’ll probably get a chance to compete for the starting job wherever he goes next and he’ll be paid decently, but he’s not a long-term option, especially since he’s already going into his age 30 season. As I said earlier, a reunion with the Browns would be unspectacular, but practical.

WR Miles Austin

Austin had somewhat of a bounce back year last year, catching 47 passes for 568 yards on 67 attempts (70.1%) and 314 routes run (1.81 yards per route run) with the Browns. This was after catching 24 passes for 244 yards on 46 attempts (52.2%) and 323 routes run (0.76 yards per route run) in 2013 with the Cowboys. However, he’s going into his age 31 season, has missed 15 games in his last 4 seasons, and last had 1000+ yards in 2010. He won’t draw a ton of interest on the open market this off-season and should only be a depth receiver. A reunion with the receiver needy Browns in that role would make a lot of sense.

CB Buster Skrine

Skrine was just a 5th round pick of the Browns’ in 2011, but he made 37 starts in 4 seasons with the Browns and started 31 of 32 games over the past 2 seasons. The problem is he’s not very good, grading out below average in all 4 seasons, with his worst year coming in 2013, when he graded out 105th out of 110 eligible, leading the position in both missed tackles and touchdowns allowed. The Browns drafted Justin Gilbert in the first round in 2014 to be an upgrade over him, but Gilbert struggled to get on the field as a rookie. Gilbert should see more playing time in his 2nd year in the league in 2015 though and, with fellow 2nd year players Pierre Desir and K’Waun Williams also in the mix, the Browns could easily move on from Skrine. Wherever he ends up, his market won’t be strong and he’ll struggle to find another starting job.

Cap Casualty Candidates

WR Josh Gordon

At the end of the season, it looked like Josh Gordon was done with the Browns. He had one last chance with the team and he appeared to use it up when it he was late to a practice and got suspended for week 17. Then he got suspended for the entire 2015 for failing an alcohol test, after being prohibited from drinking as the terms of his DUI agreement. Weirdly enough, that actually makes it less likely they cut him loose, because they won’t have to pay for him 2015. However, he’s on very, very thin ice with the team and, despite his talent, could be let go.

G Paul McQuistan

McQuistan’s salary isn’t very big, as he’s owed 1.395 million for 2015, but he’s not a very valuable backup. McQuistan made one start in 2014, slotting in at guard with John Greco moving to center after Alex Mack went down. He was so bad that he didn’t make another start, even though Nick McDonald and Ryan Seymour were both horrible in Mack’s absence. McQuistan is going into his age 32 season and was horrible in 2013 too, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 71st ranked offensive tackle out of 76 eligible with the Seahawks that season. He’s close to the end of the line.

DT Phil Taylor

The Browns picked up Taylor’s 5th year option for 2015 last off-season and will owe him 5.477 million in 2015. That 5th year option money is not guaranteed so teams still have the option to go back on their option. I don’t think that will happen very much as this new process moves into the future, but one team that could change their mind is the Browns with Phil Taylor. Taylor struggled on 133 snaps this season thanks to injuries. He’s now missed 20 games in 4 seasons in the NFL since getting drafted in the first round in 2011 and only graded out above average once, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 25th ranked defensive tackle in 2013. Overall, he doesn’t seem to be worth his salary for 2015 so the Browns could easily cut him loose or ask him to take a paycut.

Feb 012015
 

Positions of Need

Guard

The Vikings need an upgrade over Charlie Johnson at left guard. He’s struggled there for 3 years. He was Pro Football Focus’ 61st ranked guard out of 81 eligible in 2012, 52nd out of 81 eligible in 2013, and 56th out of 78 eligible in 2014. Prior to that, he was 53rd out of 76 eligible offensive tackles on the blindside in 2011. Going into his age 31 season, owed 2.5 million non-guaranteed, I don’t expect him back this off-season.

Offensive Tackle

Matt Kalil, the 4th overall pick in 2012, had a great rookie year, grading out 21st at his position. He slipped to 51st in 2013, but a knee injury was blamed as the culprit. I don’t know what happened in 2014 though, as he graded out 81st out of 84 eligible, allowing 12 sacks and committing 12 penalties. Going into his contract year, the Vikings have a huge decision to make on Kalil. Do you pick up his 5th year option? Do you let him go into his contract year? Do you leave him at left tackle? Do you move him to left guard? Even if they don’t move him, I expect them to add someone who could take his job this off-season. Drafting someone with the 11th overall pick who can play both guard and tackle makes a lot of sense.

Defensive End

Brian Robison has generally been a solid starter, but he was Pro Football Focus’ 52th ranked 4-3 defensive end out of 59 eligible in 2014. He’s going into his age 32 season in 2015 so it’s time to start looking at long-term help at the position opposite Everson Griffin. Griffin and Robison ranked 2nd and 5th in snaps played by 4-3 defensive ends last season, so their 3rd defensive end, Corey Wootton, only played 275 snaps and still managed to grade out 55th out of 59 eligible 4-3 defensive ends. He’s a free agent this off-season.

Wide Receiver

Two off-seasons ago, the Vikings committed to rebuilding their receiving corps, taking Cordarrelle Patterson in the first round and giving Greg Jennings a 5-year, 45 million dollar deal. Neither of those has really panned out. Patterson has managed 78 catches for 853 yards and 5 touchdowns combined in 2 seasons, while Jennings has a combined 127 catches for 1546 yards and 10 touchdowns. Patterson will get another chance in his 3rd season in the league in 2015, though maybe not as a starter after losing his starting job to Charles Johnson down the stretch. However, Jennings is owed 9 million non-guaranteed and the Vikings can save 5 million on the cap by cutting him. The Vikings like Johnson’s upside, but they need to add to the mix, especially if Jennings is let go.

Middle Linebacker

Middle linebacker was only a two-down position for the Vikings last season as Chad Greenway, Anthony Barr, and even reserve Gerald Hodges played most of the sub package snaps at linebacker last season. Because of that, it’s not that important of a positon. However, they could still need help at the position this off-season because Jasper Brinkley, the starter last season, is a free agent. Hodges could be an option to play in the middle linebacker next season, but Chad Greenway could be a cap casualty this off-season so Hodges might have to replace him there.

Running Back

There’s a good chance that Adrian Peterson is released by the Vikings this off-season, going into his age 30 season with 2054 career carries, coming off of a season in which he missed 15 games with suspension for child abuse. The Vikings like Jerrick McKinnon, their 3rd round pick in 2014. As a rookie, he rushed for 538 yards on 113 carries (4.76 YPC), while catching 27 passes for 135 yards. They’ll need some competition for him though, if they let Peterson go. Matt Asiata, is their other running back, and he has a career average of 3.53 YPC.

Key Free Agents

FB Jerome Felton

Jerome Felton has a 2.45 million dollar player option for 2015, but he’s expected to decline it and head into free agency. The reason behind this is underuse as the Vikings used way more one-back sets under new offensive coordinator Norv Turner in 2014. Felton played just 175 snaps, after playing 304 in 2013, and 402 in 2012. He still graded out above average (7th at his position) and, when used properly, he’s one of the best fullbacks in the NFL, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 6th ranked fullback in both 2012 and 2013.

MLB Jasper Brinkley

Brinkey’s 2nd stint as the Vikings’ starting middle linebacker went better than the first. Brinkley was Pro Football Focus’ 50th ranked middle linebacker out of 53 eligible in 2012 and only played 210 snaps in Arizona in 2013 as a result. Brinkley was brought back by the Vikings last off-season and given another chance in the middle and fared better, grading out slightly above average. The reason for this is that he wasn’t an every down player and didn’t have to cover much. He did struggle in coverage when he was asked to do that, but it wasn’t often and he did well enough against the run to make up for it. He’s purely a two-down player, but should have a role wherever he goes.

DE Corey Wootton

Wootton was a 4th round pick in 2010 by the Bears and graded out below average in all 4 seasons in Chicago, playing both defensive end and defensive tackle. He got a cheap one-year deal to be a reserve in 2014 with the Vikings, but struggled mightily. He was Pro Football Focus’ 55th ranked 4-3 defensive end out of 59 eligible in 2014, despite playing just 275 snaps. No one played fewer snaps and graded out worse. He’ll have to settle for a minimum deal this off-season.

QB Christian Ponder

Ponder was a bust as the 12th overall pick in 2011. He made 36 starts in 4 seasons, but struggled mightily, completing 59.8% of his passes for an average of 6.30 YPA, 38 touchdowns, and 36 interceptions. 2014 was his worst season as he entered the year as the 3rd quarterback behind Teddy Bridgewater and Matt Cassel and made just one start, completing 22 of 44 for 222 yards and 2 interceptions in a 42-10 loss in Green Bay. He’ll look for backup work this off-season and could have trouble finding it.

Cap Casualty Candidates

G Charlie Johnson

The Vikings really need an upgrade over Johnson at left guard and he’s not worth his 2.5 million dollar non-guaranteed salary for 2015. He was Pro Football Focus’ 61st ranked guard out of 81 eligible in 2012, 52nd out of 81 eligible in 2013, and 56th out of 78 eligible in 2014. Prior to that, he was 53rd out of 76 eligible offensive tackles on the blindside in 2011. Going into his age 31 season in 2015, I don’t expect him to be back.

RB Adrian Peterson

Adrian Peterson is one of the best players in Vikings history, but all good things come to an end. Peterson’s 13 million dollar salary is non-guaranteed for 2015 and Peterson is going into his age 30 season with 2054 career carries. In today’s NFL, he’s simply not worth that kind of money, and that’s before you even get into the fact that he missed 15 games with suspension last season for child abuse. The Vikings have said they’d welcome him back, but, financially, it just might not make sense.

QB Matt Cassel

Matt Cassel isn’t necessarily not worth his non-guaranteed 4.75 million dollar salary, but he isn’t really needed by the Vikings the way they needed him last off-season, when they signed him to compete for the starting job with a rookie quarterback. That rookie quarterback turned out to be Teddy Bridgewater, who completed 64.4% of his passes for an average of 7.26 YPA, 14 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions after Cassel went down for the season with a foot injury. Bridgewater is the clear cut starter heading into 2015 so they don’t need to be paying top dollars for a backup quarterback. Even going into his age 33 season and coming off of a lost season with a foot injury, Cassel would draw interest as a backup on the open market. In his career, he’s completed 59.0% of his passes for an average of 6.64 YPA, 96 touchdowns, and 70 interceptions.

WR Greg Jennings

The Vikings signed Jennings to a 5-year, 45 million dollar deal two off-seasons ago, expecting to get the guy who had 3 seasons of 1000 yards or more in Green Bay. However, Jennings hasn’t been able to come close to those numbers without Aaron Rodgers. He’s now going into his age 32 season and hasn’t had a 1000+ yard season since 2010. All of the guaranteed money on Jennings’ deal has been paid out and the Vikings can save 5 million on the cap immediately by cutting him, rather than paying him 9 million dollars in 2015.

OLB Chad Greenway

Greenway signed a 5-year, 40.6 million dollar deal after the 2010 season, but he hasn’t graded out above average since then. He’s been especially bad over the past 2 seasons, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd worst ranked 4-3 outside linebacker in 2013 and their 3rd worst ranked 4-3 outside linebacker in 2014. The Vikings can save 7.1 million in cash and cap space by cutting him this off-season, ahead of his age 32 contract year. Gerald Hodges showed well in limited action at outside linebacker last off-season and could be an in house replacement.

Jan 312015
 

Seattle Seahawks (14-4) vs. New England Patriots (14-4) at Arizona

Well, 266 games have come down to this. Two teams left standing at the end of 5 months, competing for the right to call themselves one of 49 Super Bowl champions all-time. Purely from a narrative’s perspective, this game couldn’t be better for the NFL. Not only would most agree these were the NFL’s two best teams this season, but they’re the two closest things we’ve had to a dynasty in the NFL in the new millennium. The Patriots won 3 times in 4 seasons from 2001-2004, but haven’t won a Super Bowl since, despite making another 6 AFC Championships and 3 Super Bowls (including this year) in the 10 years stretch from 2005-2014. The Seahawks won last year and are looking to become the first team since the 2003-2004 Patriots to repeat. Doing so would effectively be a passing of the torch in the NFL and establish a new NFL dynasty, if you buy all that.

Of course, we haven’t really been talking about any of that all that much, as the two biggest stories involving this game have been the Deflategate Scandal and the Marshawn Lynch doesn’t like talking to the media and wears non-NFL approved hats scandal. With the Deflategate scandal, there is really only one, maybe two parties that know what happened. The Patriots obviously know what they did or did not know and you can make an argument that the NFL knows what they did or did not do and are waiting for until after the Super Bowl to tell us, so as not to distract from the game.

The parties that don’t know what happened are pretty much everyone else and they’re the ones who have been doing all the talking over the past two weeks. The Patriots laid out their side of the story and the NFL has made some generic comments on their ongoing investigation, but other than that, everything that’s being said on the matter is being said by people who don’t know what happened and can’t possibly know what happened better than the NFL or the Patriots, on either side of the argument.

Here’s what we do know. 11 of the 12 balls the Patriots used in the first half were measured at the end of the half and did not have enough air in them, and at least one of them was 2 PSIs lower than the required amount. We don’t know how they got that way or what the refs measured the balls to be before the game or if the refs even measured the balls. We know Tom Brady, like every quarterback in the NFL, likes his footballs a certain way. We can presume that he likes them a little lighter, though some quarterbacks (Aaron Rodgers specifically) enjoy them a little heavier. It seems to be more of a personal preference thing than a “having the balls this way definitely gives you an advantage” thing.

We know the balls the Patriots used in the 2nd half (when they outscored the Colts 28-0) were properly inflated. We know the balls the Colts used (when the Patriots held them to 209 yards for the game and 12 of 33 passing) were properly inflated. We don’t know how Andrew Luck likes his footballs, what those footballs were measured at before the game, or if those footballs were even measured before the game. We know that cold wet air can affect the pressure of a football, though the scientific community seems to be split on whether or not that could be the sole cause of the deflation. We know it was cold and rainy in Foxboro that night. Belichick says he spent 3 days researching the topic and concluded that the weather was the cause. Some scientists have refuted that claim, but some have said it’s plausible. The split in the scientific community on the matter hasn’t stopped random Joe Schmo from Twitter from claiming to be an expert on the matter, but that’s never stopped anyone before.

We know that multiple former and current NFL players have come out and said that everyone adjusts the footballs to their liking and not necessarily always within the rules of the NFL. There have also been former and current players saying that this is blatant cheating and that Brady and Belichick should be punished severely, but there have been enough former players say that everyone does this to suggest that, while probably not everyone does this, this does happen more than we would have thought 2 weeks ago.

We can easily assume that the Patriots would have beaten the Colts in the AFC Championship regardless of what balls they were using. Multiple Colts players have come out and said this and the margin of victory in that game was so massive that it’s easy to agree with them. It seems naïve to suggest that if the Patriots did in fact deflate the balls in the AFC Championship that it was the first time they had done that. We can’t easily assume that the Patriots would definitely have even been in that game regardless of whether or not they were deflating the footballs. We know this is against the NFL’s rules and that, by definition, if the Patriots are found guilty of this, it was cheating and they should be punished.

But, at the end of the day, we don’t know how the balls got that way. We don’t know if they were properly checked by the refs and if they weren’t, that’s on them. If a cornerback or an offensive lineman blatantly holds a player on every play, but it’s never called by the refs, that’s not cheating. That’s taking advantage of a ref who is bad at his job. This would be the same thing, if that is, in fact, what happened. At some point, we’ll get an explanation from the NFL and punishment will be handed down if the NFL deems it necessary.

The NFL doesn’t need to prove anything to punish the Patriots. As they’ve shown in the past, they kind of make this up as they go along when it comes to discipline. Innocent until proven guilty is generally a good idea though and ultimately I think, barring a confession, the NFL is going to have a hard time proving anything here. When an explanation comes out and when and if punishment is handed down, we can evaluate that based off of the explanation and any other facts we know. The NFL has certainly shown incompetence in the past and deserves to have their authority questioned in controversies they’re involved in, but let’s wait until the facts and explanations come out. Jumping the gun and pretending like you know what you’re talking about might be fun and it’s both easy and a good way to fill time in the 24-hour news cycle and the 24-hour social media cycle, but ultimately it can end with people looking stupid for jumping the gun.

On top of that, regardless of the outcome of this whole mess, I think it’s going to look like much ado about nothing. Enough former players have come out and said that either everyone does this or that it doesn’t make a huge difference to suggest that. 5-10 years from now, when we’re looking back at the Brady/Belichick era, it will be hard to have the discussion without talking about some of the gray areas and lines they might have crossed, whether it’s this situation or when they taped opponent’s public practices after the league told them not to. But anyone trying to convince you that the Patriots’ penchant for getting themselves into situations like this is the whole reason behind their success doesn’t understand how the sport works.

The NFL will also have to re-evaluate their ball inflation policies and processes this off-season, even if they don’t ultimately make any changes. Should they continue to allow teams to bring their own balls? Should they better enforce the rules and make sure that the balls are always inflated properly, not just at the beginning of the game, but in between quarters and during timeouts? Should they increase the range of acceptable PSIs and just let quarterbacks throw the type of ball they’re best comfortable with, to a reasonable extent? These are questions they’ll have to discuss.

Switching to the controversy on the other side to the Marshawn Lynch situation, we have a situation that we know has no impact on what happens on the field, but that ultimately could result in a bigger punishment. Some people have said that’s hypocritically, but it comes down to provability. It’s hard to prove that the Patriots intentionally deflated the footballs after they were approved by the NFL. It’s much easier to prove that Marshawn Lynch was wearing a non-NFL approved hat promoting his brand. That’s a clear rules violation. Brian Urlacher was fined 100K for doing it a few years ago. Lynch’s Beast Mode hats are apparently selling very well since he wore them during media sessions this week so it could end up still being profitable for Lynch, but it does seem like the man who said “I’m just here so I won’t get fined” will end up getting fined anyway.

Lynch is no stranger to getting fined, getting fined on multiple occasions this season for everything from not talking to the media to grabbing his dick in celebration of a touchdown. Some say this isn’t fair, but Lynch signed a contract with the NFL (and a very rich contract at that) and, under the terms of that contract, he can be fined for certain things and he has been. I don’t dislike Lynch. I actually find him pretty entertaining, but violating a contract results in fines. That’s how that works. Ultimately, it’s his decision to make. He knows the consequences. If he doesn’t like the NFL’s rules, he can pay the fines and if he doesn’t like paying the fines, he can retire (which it sounds like he might if the Seahawks win this game).

The other side of the debate from the “this is unfair!” crowd seems to be the “Lynch is a thug!” crowd. I think this is equally flawed, considering none of people know Lynch. It ties in with another recent NFL controversy, which is Josh Gordon’s newly minted season long suspension for 2015. As the terms of his DUI arrest bargain, Gordon could be tested for alcohol and a failed alcohol test would result in a yearlong suspension, as a result of his previous history of failed substance abuse tests. He failed a test after the season and will now be suspended for 2015.

This has elicited responses that have ranged from feeling sorry for Gordon and concerned for his future to feeling angry at Gordon for being a negative role model and wasting his talent. As is the case with the people criticizing Lynch or speculating on Deflategate, these responses have all come from people who have never met Gordon. Gordon wrote one of the best articles I’ve read in a while on the topic this week, calling out the media for pretending to know who he is.

Gordon also explained his side of the story, saying that his original failed test for codeine was as a result of not clearing a medication with the league, that his failed test for marijuana was as a result of secondhand smoke, and that his failed test for alcohol was as a result of not understanding the terms of his alcohol ban. I don’t know if those explanations are all legitimate. They make some sense, especially considering the THC count in Gordon’s failed marijuana test was at 16 and the NFL’s limit of 15 is significantly lower than even the military’s (which is at 50). But it’s possible that Gordon is a waste of talent and a failure and a thug and all that. We simply don’t know. And we shouldn’t talk about what we don’t know. I care what Gordon can do on the field, which, for 2015 at least, is nothing.

And now for things that can happen on the field in this game. As I mentioned, the football related narratives in this game are pretty juicy. If you said these were the best two teams in the NFL this season, no one would look at you funny and if you had an alternative opinion, they might look at you funny. In terms of schedule adjusted rate of moving the chains, at least in the regular season, I had the Seahawks and the Patriots as the 2nd and 3rd best teams, both behind the Broncos.

However, while the Broncos struggled down the stretch as Peyton Manning was playing hurt, both of these two teams got significantly better as the season went on. In terms of schedule adjusted rate of moving the chains over the final 8 weeks of the regular season, these two teams were 1 and 2. Seattle was #1, but, if you take out the week 17 game where the Patriots didn’t really try, the Patriots become #1. If you exclude the Patriots slow start to the season (up until week 4) and that week 17 game, the Patriots moved the chains at an 80.87% this regular season, as opposed to 71.51% for their opponents. Meanwhile, in a 10 game stretch from week 8 to week 17, the Seahawks moved the chains at a 75.08% rate, as opposed to 64.48% for their opponents. At their best, both of these two teams have been fantastic and both have been at their best down the stretch.

In the playoffs, both teams have had one close call on the scoreboard and one blowout. The Patriots beat the Ravens 35-31, moving the chains at an 85.00% rate, as opposed to 82.05% for the Ravens in a game that literally could have gone either way. Against the Colts, it was a definitive victory, as the Patriots moved the chains at an 87.18% rate, as opposed to 66.67% for the Colts. For the Seahawks, they beat the Panthers 31-17 in a game that was closer than the final score suggested. The Seahawks moved the chains at a 79.17% rate, as opposed to 74.19% for the Panthers and, if it wasn’t for a 90-yard pick six, the final score of that game could have been a lot different.

However, while fluky turnovers can give, they can also take away, which was the case against Green Bay for the Seahawks, as they turned it over 5 times. Winning a game despite losing the turnover margin by 3 is very hard (teams with -3 turnover margins win about 11.7% of the time) and very impressive, even if it took an onside kick recovery and overtime to pull it off. The Seahawks moved the chains at a 70.59% rate in that game, as opposed to 62.50% for the Packers. While the scoreboard showed it to be a miraculous comeback, the fact of the matter is the Seahawks were the better team that day, particularly dominating on the defensive side of the ball.

At the end of the day, this is a very tough game to pick. Both teams are evenly matched (as is the line at New England -1) and both teams are going to be as motivated as can be, as it’s the Super Bowl. I’m taking the Patriots because of one trend: Tom Brady is 46-19 ATS in his career as an underdog or a favorite of fewer than 3 points. If this was a regular game, this would be a low or no confidence pick, but I’m moving it up to medium because I want to wager on this one.

New England Patriots 20 Seattle Seahawks 17

Pick against the spread: New England -1

Confidence: Medium

Jan 312015
 

Positions of Need

Center

Despite all the money and resources they put into it, the Rams still have massive issues on the offensive line. Nowhere on the offensive line do they have bigger issues than at center. The Rams gave Scott Wells a 4-year, 24 million dollar deal three off-seasons ago, after he was Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked center in 2011 with the Packers, but it didn’t pan out at all. Wells missed 13 games in 3 seasons, graded out below average all 3 times, including a 2014 season in which he was Pro Football Focus’ worst ranked center, the only season in which he played all 16 games. Owed 3.75 million in 2015, he’s not expected back. The Rams will need a replacement. 2013 4th round pick Barrett Jones is one option, but he’s managed just 23 snaps in 2 seasons behind Wells and they’ll need competition for him at the very least.

Quarterback

Sam Bradford is owed a 12.985 million dollar salary in 2015, so the Rams have a very big decision to make. Bradford hasn’t lived up to his billing as the #1 overall pick in 2010, completing 58.6% of his passes for an average of 6.29 YPA, 59 touchdowns, and 38 interceptions in his career, while missing 31 of 80 games with injuries. However, he might still be the best quarterback they have on the roster. The Rams may try to negotiate a paycut with him or cut him outright and even if they keep him, they need to add competition. With Bradford missing all of last season, Shaun Hill and Austin Davis split starts. Hill completed 63.3% of his passes for an average of 7.24 YPA, 8 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions, while Davis completed 63.4% of his passes for an average of 7.05 YPA, 12 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions. Hill is a free agent, going into his age 35 season, while Davis has the look of a long-term backup.

Guard

As I mentioned, the Rams have serious issues on the offensive line and guard is no different. When Jake Long tore his ACL mid-season, Greg Robinson, the 2nd overall pick in 2014, moved to left tackle, leaving a huge hole at left guard. Veteran Davin Joseph moved into the starting lineup, but ended up grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 75th ranked guard out of 78 eligible. A free agent going into his age 32 season, he won’t be back as a starter in 2015. Robinson is expected to stay at offensive tackle long-term, with Jake Long’s future in doubt with injury and Joe Barksdale headed to free agency, so the Rams will need to find a long-term solution at left guard this off-season.

Wide Receiver

Like the offensive line, the Rams have put a lot of resources into the receiving corps and it hasn’t really panned out. They’ve used 7 picks in the first 4 rounds on wide receivers since 2010 and it’s yielded Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Chris Givens, Austin Pettis, Greg Salas, Mardy Gilyard, and Brian Quick. Kenny Britt’s 748 yards last season were the most by a Rams receiver since 2008 and he was signed for the veteran’s minimum. He’s a free agent this off-season and, even if he’s brought back, he’s not the #1 receiver they need. After Britt, their next best wide receiver was Stedman Bailey with 30 catches for 435 yards and a touchdown. Brian Quick was having a decent year before a season ending shoulder injury. He’ll be back in 2015, but that will be his contract year and he doesn’t have #1 receiver abilities. Tavon Austin was the #8 overall pick in 2013. There’s still time for him to turn it around, but after a 31/242/0 sophomore campaign, he is looking like a bust.

Offensive Tackle

Like guard and center, the Rams have issues at offensive tackle. Jake Long could be cut or retire this off-season, after tearing his ACL twice in less than a calendar year. He had injury issues before that and might not be able to make it back. Meanwhile, right tackle Joe Barksdale will be a free agent this off-season. Greg Robinson is expected to play one offensive tackle spot long-term, but he’s only one player and he struggled mightily as a rookie, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 78th ranked offensive tackle out of 84 eligible.

Middle Linebacker

James Laurinaitis signed a 6-year, 42.12 million dollar deal three off-seasons and has graded out below average in all 3 seasons since, including 45th out of 60 eligible in 2014, the worst season of his career. His 3.625 million dollar salary for 2015 isn’t guaranteed so the Rams could move on from him, though it’s unlikely. If they did, they’d need an immediate replacement and I think either way they need a long-term replacement. Laurinaitis, as much as the organization likes his leadership, isn’t that good.

Outside Linebacker

Both of the Rams’ starting outside linebackers graded out below average last season. Alec Ogletree was a first round pick in 2013 so he still has job security, but an upgrade is needed over JoLonn Dunbar, who graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 37th ranked 4-3 outside linebacker out of 40 eligible in 2014 and is going into his age 30 season in 2015.

Key Free Agents

OT Joe Barksdale

Barksdale was a 3rd round pick of the Raiders in 2011, but he barely played in his first 2 seasons in the league, playing 282 snaps in 2011-2012 combined. He became a starter in 2013 with the Rams, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 25th ranked offensive tackle in 13 starts. He couldn’t quite match that in 2014, grading out slightly below average in 16 starts, but he should be looking at starter’s money this off-season. The Rams would be wise to bring him back because, even though he’s not great, but might be their best healthy offensive linemen.

WR Kenny Britt

The 2009 1st round pick looked on his way to a promising career in 2010 and 2011. After averaging 1.86 yards per route run as a rookie in 2009, Britt averaged an absurd 3.07 yards per route run in 2010 and 2011, catching a combined 59 passes for 1064 yards and 12 touchdowns on a combined 347 routes run. However, a torn ACL suffered 3 games into 2011 derailed his career big-time. He averaged just 1.49 yards per route run in 2012, his first year back after the injury. In 2013, his final year in Tennessee, he was a train wreck. He only caught a third of his 33 targets, with 11 catches for 96 yards and he dropped 7 passes. He averaged just 0.48 yards per route run on 201 routes run. He bounced back in 2014 with the Rams, catching 48 passes for 748 yards and 3 touchdowns, but he still won’t draw much interest on the open market with his injury history and his 9 career arrests. He’d be wise to re-sign in St. Louis and stick with Jeff Fisher, who was his coach in Tennessee and under whom he’s always played his best football.

TE Lance Kendricks

Lance Kendricks was a 2nd round pick in 2011, but only caught 129 passes for 1388 yards and 13 touchdowns in 4 seasons with the Rams. He maxed out with 42 catches for 519 yards and 4 touchdowns in 2012, when he played 875 snaps, and largely served as a #2 tight end and blocking tight end over the past 2 seasons with Jared Cook in town. He’ll probably serve a similar role in his next destination and won’t command a lot of money on the open market.

QB Shaun Hill

Shaun Hill’s career numbers aren’t bad. He’s completed 62.2% of his passes for an average of 6.80 YPA, 49 touchdowns, and 30 interceptions. However, he’s going into his age 35 season and wasn’t overly impressive in 2014, his first extended action since 2010. He completed 63.3% of his passes for an average of 7.24 YPA, 8 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 26th ranked quarterback out of 39 eligible. He’ll have to sign as a cheap backup somewhere, if he wants to continue his career.

G Davin Joseph

Joseph is going into his age 32 season and has really struggled over the past few seasons. He was Pro Football Focus’ 82nd ranked guard out of 82 eligible in 2010, missed all of 2012 with injury, and then graded out 80th out of 81 eligible upon his return in 2013, leading to his release from Tampa Bay. He signed as a backup in St. Louis last off-season, but ended up starting 13 games because of injury and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 75th ranked out of 78 eligible. He had to wait until the summer to sign last off-season and could have to wait a while for the phone to ring this off-season, if it ever does.

Cap Casualty Candidates

C Scott Wells

Wells was Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked center in 2011, which led to him getting a 4-year, 24 million dollar deal from the Rams the following off-season. He hasn’t lived up to that deal at all though, missing 13 games in 2012 and 2013 combined, grading out worst at his position in 2014, and not grading out above average once. Owed a non-guaranteed 3.75 million in 2015, he’s expected to be released this off-season, which would save that amount on the cap immediately.

OT Jake Long

Long, the 1st overall pick in 2008, was arguably the best offensive tackle in the game from 2008-2010, grading out 10th, 2nd, and 3rd respectively on Pro Football Focus in those 3 seasons. However, back problems slowed him in 2011 and 2012, causing him to finish 20th and 46th in those 2 seasons respectively and miss a combined 6 games. As a result of these back problems, Long had to settle for a 4-year, 34 million dollar deal from the Rams, when he could have gotten upwards of 10-12+ million dollars yearly if he had continued to play as well as he did from 2008-2010. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 7th ranked offensive tackle in 2013, in his first year with the Rams, but he tore his ACL week 17 and then tore it again week 8 in 2014, leaving his future in serious doubt. The Rams can save 9.25 million in cash and 8 million in cap space by releasing him this off-season and they’re reportedly seriously considering it. He could also retire, even only going into his age 30 season.

QB Sam Bradford

Sam Bradford is going to be a tough decision for the Rams this off-season. He’s the best quarterback they have on their roster, but he’s owed 12.985 million in non-guaranteed salary and he’s not worth that. In 5 seasons in the NFL, he’s missed 31 games (including 25 over the past 2 seasons with a twice town ACL), completed 58.6% of his passes for an average of 6.29 YPA, 59 touchdowns, and 38 interceptions. Some sort of paycut/cheaper extension might be the best move for both sides.

DT Kendall Langford

Langford is a decent player, but he’s owed a non-guaranteed 6 million dollars in his contract year in 2015, after signing a 4-year, 24 million dollar deal three off-seasons ago. He’s simply not worth that kind of money in his current role, playing 494 snaps in 2014. He played well and is probably still a starting caliber player, but he’s stuck between former first rounders Michael Brockers and Aaron Donald, both of whom are coming off of strong seasons, and Langford just isn’t worth it to the Rams.

MLB James Laurinaitis

Laurinaitis signed a 6-year, 42.12 million dollar deal three off-seasons ago, but hasn’t been worth it, grading out below average in all 3 seasons. He was Pro Football Focus’ 33rd ranked middle linebacker out of 53 eligible in 2012, 31st out of 55 in 2013, and 45th out of 60 in 2014. The Rams probably won’t cut him yet because they like his leadership, but they can save 2.725 million on the cap and 3.625 million in cash by doing so.

DE Chris Long

This one is a long shot, but Long is owed 10 million in cash in 2015 and the Rams can save 7.5 million on the cap by cutting him this off-season and have him off their cap completely next off-season. Long graded out above average in every season from 2010-2012, but he’s graded out below average in each of the last 2 seasons, including a 2014 season in which he was limited to 238 snaps by injuries and struggled mightily. I do expect them to bring him back though, even going into his age 30 season.

Jan 302015
 

Positions of Need

Outside Linebacker

With Jacquian Williams and Mark Herzlich heading into free agency, the only linebackers the Giants have for 2015 are Jameel McClain, Jon Beason, and Devon Kennard. McClain and Beason are overpaid and could both be cap casualties. Beason can never stay healthy anyway. Kennard flashed in limited action as a 5th round rookie and could be ready for a bigger role in 2015, but the Giants still need help throughout their linebacking corps, especially on the outside.

Safety

Antrel Rolle, Quentin Demps, and Stevie Brown were the Giants’ top-3 safeties in 2014, but all three are free agents this off-season. Brown is the only one of the three who graded out above average and the only one who isn’t going into an age 30+ season, but he played the fewest snaps of the trio, getting benched for 8 games mid-season. The Giants’ safety position is very much in flux and they could easily have to add to it this off-season.

Offensive Tackle

William Beatty signed a 5-year, 37.5 million dollar deal two off-seasons ago and proceeded to grade out as Pro Football Focus’ 64th ranked offensive tackle out of 76 eligible in 2013. He was a lot better in 2014, grading out 14th at his position, but 2015 is the final season that he has guaranteed money and, with his history of inconsistency and injury, he might not be around much longer. On the right side, the Giants are expected to move Justin Pugh inside to guard this off-season. They could go offensive tackle at 9, plug their draft pick in at right tackle immediately, move Pugh to guard, and then eventually move their draft pick over to the blindside.

Middle Linebacker

As I mentioned under the outside linebacker blurb, the linebacker situation in New York isn’t great. Jon Beason was signed to a 3-year, 19 million dollar deal last off-season to be their middle linebacker, but he played just 4 games thanks to injury, which shouldn’t be a surprise considering his injury history. He’s now played in just 24 games over the past 4 seasons combined. In 2013, when he was healthy, he was Pro Football Focus’ 48th ranked middle linebacker out of 55 eligible. Jameel McClain was the replacement in 2014 and he too struggled, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 51st ranked middle linebacker out of 60 eligible. The Giants can save 3.53 million and 3.1 million on the cap by cutting Beason and McClain respectively and they could easily pull the trigger on one or both of those moves.

Guard

Weston Richburg and John Jerry were the Giants’ starting guards in 2014 and they struggled, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 62nd and 66th ranked guards respectively out of 78 eligible. Jerry is a free agent this off-season and won’t be back in a starting role, while Richburg, a 2014 2nd round pick, is expected to move back to his natural position of center for his 2nd season in 2015. Geoff Schwartz should be back from injury in 2015, after playing just 93 snaps in 2014, but his injury history isn’t exactly clean and they’d still need one more starter. As I mentioned under the offensive tackle write up, Justin Pugh is a strong candidate to move from tackle to guard this off-season.

Defensive Tackle

Johnathan Hankins had a breakout year in his first year as a starter in 2014 and the Giants also have 2014 3rd round pick Jay Bromley ready for a bigger role in 2015, but he was just a 3rd round pick and saw just 113 snaps as a rookie, so he’s completely unproven. Their depth at the position is suspect as well as Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson are going into their age 34 and age 32 seasons respectively. Patterson is a free agent, coming off a season when he was Pro Football Focus’ 73rd ranked defensive tackle out of 81 eligible, while Jenkins could be a cap casualty. They need to add young depth at the position this off-season.

Defensive End

The Giants have a minor need at defensive end that will become a major need if Jason Pierre-Paul leaves as a free agent. Robert Ayers had a strong season this year, but Mathias Kiwanuka is expected to be a cap casualty this off-season, owed a non-guaranteed 4.775 million in an age 32 contract year in 2015, after two straight poor seasons, while Damontre Moore hasn’t really shown much in two years since being drafted in the 3rd round in 2013.

Cornerback

The Giants signed Walter Thurmond to a one-year deal to be their nickel cornerback last off-season, a role he thrived in when healthy in Seattle. However, he played just 67 snaps in 2 games before going down for the season with injury. Injuries have been a huge problem for him in the past, as he’s played in just 36 of a possible 80 career games, and the Giants might not bring him back for a 2nd shot as a free agent this off-season. Depth is needed at the position behind Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Prince Amukamara.

Key Free Agents

DE Jason Pierre Paul

After being eased in as a rookie, playing 410 snaps, JPP has graded out as a top-7 4-3 defensive end in 3 of the last 4 seasons. The only season he didn’t was 2013, when he missed 5 games and was limited to 583 snaps by back problems. However, when healthy, he’s one of the better 4-3 defensive ends in the NFL, getting consistent pass rush despite what sack totals might show and playing strong run defense. He should command a significant contract on the open market.

S Stevie Brown

Stevie Brown, a 2010 7th round pick, played just 151 snaps combined in 2010 and 2011, but had a breakout year in 2012, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 27th ranked safety. Unfortunately for him, he tore his ACL and missed his entire contract year in 2013 and was forced to settle for a one year deal back with the Giants to rehab his value. His 2014 season was a mixed bag. He graded out about average and played all 16 games, but he made just 8 starts and played just 559 snaps as he was benched for a stretch in the middle of the season. He shouldn’t get a ton of interest on the open market, as he’s still a one year wonder.

OLB Jacquian Williams

Williams has been a marginal starter over the past 4 seasons, since the Giants drafted him in the 6th round in 2011. He’s never played more than 622 snaps in a season and he’s graded out below average in 3 of those 4 seasons. The Giants could bring him back on a small deal given the significant issues they have in their linebacking corps, but he’s not guaranteed to be a starter in 2015, wherever he ends up.

S Quentin Demps

Demps is also a marginal player. He’s graded out below average in 5 of the 7 seasons he’s been in the league since he was drafted in the 4th round in 2008 and he’s never played more than 655 snaps in a season. This past season, he was Pro Football Focus’ 71st ranked safety out of 87 eligible on 641 snaps. He’ll look for work as a 3rd safety again this off-season.

CB Walter Thurmond

Thurmond was seen a potential hot commodity on the open market last off-season, after he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 33rd ranked cornerback in 2013. However, the league felt otherwise, wisely being wary of his injury history, and he was forced to sign a one-year deal with the Giants as their #3 cornerback. That turned out to be wise as Thurmond played just 67 snaps in 2 games before going down with a season ending injury. He’s now played just 36 of a possible 80 games in 5 seasons since the Seahawks drafted him in the 4th round in 2010. He’s never played more than 480 snaps in a season. He’ll once again have to settle for a one year deal this off-season.

G John Jerry

Jerry has started 61 games in 5 seasons in the league since the Dolphins drafted him in the 3rd round in 2010, including all 48 games over the past 3 seasons combined, but he’s never been particularly good. He graded out below average in all 4 seasons he was in Miami and ended up having to sign for near the minimum last off-season in New York, after being one of the guys involved in the Dolphins bullying scandal. Jerry ended up starting 16 games because of injuries, but he turned in the worst season of his career, as he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 66th ranked guard out of 78 eligible. Heading into free agency again, with a history of struggles and off-the-field controversy, Jerry will likely have to settle for a backup deal near the veteran’s minimum.

S Antrel Rolle

Antrel Rolle has been overrated for a while, grading out below average in 5 of the last 6 seasons, but now he’s going into his age 33 season and coming off of one of the worst seasons of his career, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 81st ranked safety out of 87 eligible. Any contract he gets this off-season won’t have any guarantees beyond 2015 and he won’t be a hot commodity on the open market.

DT Mike Patterson

Patterson could be at the end of his line, going into his age 32 season. He was Pro Football Focus’ 73rd ranked defensive tackle out of 81 eligible in 2014 and he’s graded out below average in each of the last 3 seasons, coinciding with a brain operation he had 3 years ago. If he gets picked up this off-season, it’ll be on a minimum deal with little guaranteed money.

Cap Casualty Candidates

DE Mathias Kiwanuka

Kiwanuka has had a significant role for the Giants in each of the last 2 seasons, but he’s been one of the worst 4-3 defensive ends in the NFL to have a significant role over that time period, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd worst ranked 4-3 defensive end in 2013 and their 3rd worst in 2014. He hasn’t graded out above average since 2011, when he was still playing outside linebacker and before he signed a 4-year, 21.75 million dollar extension. He’s now going into his age 32 season and the Giants will almost definitely cut him, to save 4.825 million in cash and cap space, ahead of Kiwanuka’s contract year.

OLB Jameel McClain

McClain filled in for the injured Jon Beason at middle linebacker this season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 51st ranked middle linebacker out of 60 eligible. Those struggles shouldn’t have been a surprise as he’s struggled throughout his career. He’s graded out below average in 4 of 7 seasons in the league, including each of the last 3 seasons, playing both inside and outside linebacker. Now he’s owed a non-guaranteed 3.1 million in his age 30 season in 2015, so he very easily could be cut. It’s unlikely that both he and Beason are brought back at their scheduled salaries.

C JD Walton

Walton made all 16 starts at center in 2014 in his first season in New York, giving the Giants some much needed continuity on an offensive line that has had all kinds of shake ups over the past two seasons thanks to injury and poor performance. However, Walton graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 38th ranked center out of 41 eligible. This shouldn’t be a surprise because he ranked 31st out of 34 eligible centers in 2010, 35th out of 35 eligible (dead last) in 2011, and then played in just 4 games from 2012-2013 thanks to injuries. The Giants have an internal replacement in place in the form of 2014 2nd round pick Weston Richburg so Walton should be cut ahead of the 2nd year of a 2-year, 6 million dollar deal. The Giants would save 3 million in cash and cap space by doing so.

MLB Jon Beason

It’s been a never ending struggle for Beason to even get on the field over the past 4 seasons. Beason hasn’t played all 16 games since 2010, when he conveniently signed a 5-year, 50 million dollar deal, and he’s missed 42 of a possible 64 games over that 4 year stretch. He played in a combined 5 games from 2011-2012 with the Panthers and he was forced to renegotiate his contract down to a cheap one year deal for 2013. Beason was then moved to a two-down role, benched, and eventually traded to the Giants for cheap. With the Giants, he started 12 games, but graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 48th ranked middle linebacker out of 55 eligible. Desperate for linebacker help, the Giants re-signed Beason for 19 million over 3 years, but he proceeded to play in just 4 games thanks to injuries. The Giants can cut him this off-season, a move that would save them 5 million in cash and 3.533 million in cap space.

DT Cullen Jenkins

Jenkins seems to be nearing the end of his line. He played just 366 snaps in 12 games last season and now he’s going into his age 34 season. He’s graded out slightly above average in 2 seasons in New York, but the Giants don’t seem to think of him as much more than a backup and for a backup, especially an aging backup, he’s overpaid. The Giants can save 2.25 million in cash and cap space by cutting him this off-season and then they can find a replacement for about half the price.

Jan 252015
 

Positions of Need

Defensive End

Kroy Biermann, Malliciah Goodman, and Osi Umenyiora were their primary edge rushers last season and only Umenyiora graded out above average on Pro Football Focus and he did so on just 347 snaps. Now he’s a free agent going into his age 34 season. Biermann is a free agent as well and Goodman, the only one under contract, was their worst last season, grading out 54th out of 59 eligible 4-3 defensive ends. New Head Coach Dan Quinn has coached guys up before, but he’s not a miracle worker. Tyson Jackson will fit the Red Bryant run stopping defensive end role well in their new Seattle style front, but they need to add at least one, if not two new edge rushers this off-season because they don’t have anyone who can get to the passer from the outside. The Falcons reportedly love Shane Ray, who could be available 8th overall. He’d fit in well.

Tight End

The Falcons used two tight ends less frequently than any other team in the league last year. #2 tight end Bear Pascoe played on just 148 snaps. Levine Toilolo started 16 games and played 958 snaps, but he was one of the worst tight ends in the NFL who played a significant amount of time. He was Pro Football Focus’ 4th worst ranked tight end, catching 31 passes for 238 yards and 2 touchdowns on 457 routes run and struggling as a run blocker. The 2013 4th round pick is a #2 tight end at best. They need a starting caliber tight end who can give them a big receiving threat over the middle. This could be somewhere they look in round 2.

Running Back

Steven Jackson is about done. He’s going into his age 32 season with 2743 career carries. He had a great career, but those are serious red flags, as is the fact that he’s averaged just 3.60 YPC (1250 yards on 347 carries) in 2 seasons in Atlanta. Owed a non-guaranteed 3.75 million in 2015, I don’t expect the Falcons to bring him back and he might just opt to retire. They drafted Devonta Freeman in the 4th round in 2014, but he didn’t show much as a rookie, rushing for 248 yards on 65 carries (3.82 YPC). Jacquizz Rodgers was third on the team in carries, but he’s a free agent with a 3.66 career average. There’s not really a starting caliber back here so this is somewhere else they could target on day 2.

Middle Linebacker

The old regime really liked Paul Worrilow, but it’s unclear what the new regime will think of him. After all, he went undrafted in 2013 and has largely struggled on the field over the past 2 seasons. He was Pro Football Focus’ 45th ranked middle linebacker out of 55 eligible in 2013 and in 2014 he was even worse, grading out 2nd worst at his position, thanks in large part to 21 missed tackles, tied for 2nd most in the NFL regardless of position. They could easily bring in some competition for him this off-season.

Center

The Falcons signed Joe Hawley to a 2-year, 6 million dollar deal last off-season to be their center of the future, but he played just 4 games before tearing his ACL and he graded out below average in the limited action he did see. Prior to 2014, he was a decent, but unspectacular player, grading out below average in 2011 and above average in 2013, while seeing little action in 2010 and 2013. He’s owed a non-guaranteed 3 million in 2015 and might not be brought back. Even if he is brought back for his contract year, they need competition for him because James Stone was horrible in his absence. Stone was Pro Football Focus’ 34th ranked center out of 41 eligible.

Cornerback

The Falcons have a keeper in Desmond Trufant, who has graded out 7th and 6th in 2013 and 2014 respectively since the Falcons drafted him in the first round in 2013. He’s been one of the few bright spots for this team over the past 2 seasons. However, their depth after him is pretty shaky. Robert McClain, Robert Alford, and Josh Wilson were 2nd, 3rd, and 4th on the team in snaps played at cornerback and all 3 graded out below average. McClain and Wilson are free agents anyway. Alford was a 2013 2nd round pick so he still has some potential, but he’s struggled so far in the NFL and even if he develops into a starter, they need depth behind him.

Key Free Agents

S Dwight Lowery

Dwight Lowery has always been a solid starting safety when healthy. The Falcons signed Lowery cheap last off-season and there was a reason he was available so cheap, even though he graded out above average in every season from 2008-2012, including 18th among safeties in 2012. Lowery missed 20 games in 2012-2013 combined and he hadn’t played all 16 games since his rookie year in 2008. Lowery proved to be a smart signing by the Falcons, as he graded out above average again and, more important, made all 16 starts. He’s worth a multi-year deal on the open market, but his injury history can’t be ignored.

DE Kroy Biermann

Biermann, a 2008 5th round pick, started his career well, grading out above average in each of his first 3 seasons in the league, including Pro Football Focus’ 9th ranked 4-3 defensive end in 2009 and their 19th ranked in 2010. However, he graded out 57th out of 67 eligible in 2011, below average again in 2012, was limited to 2 games by a torn Achilles in 2013, and then graded out below average again in 2014. Now Biermann heads into free agency, going into his age 30 season. He’s still capable of a significant role, but he’s an unspectacular player and won’t draw a significant deal on the open market.

DT Corey Peters

Peters tore his Achilles in 2013 at the worst possible time, in a meaningless week 16 game, just before he was set to hit free agency. Peters was forced to settle for a cheap one year deal back in Atlanta in an attempt to rehab his value and he did a decent job. He played 15 games (except week 1 when he was kept out for precautionary reasons) and graded out about average on 535 snaps. Other than that Achilles tear, he doesn’t have a significant injury history, as he’s missed just 9 games in 5 seasons combined since the Falcons drafted him in the 3rd round in 2010. Peters struggled in the first 3 seasons of his career, grading out below average in all 3 seasons, including a 2010 season in which he graded out 62nd out of 76 eligible and a 2012 season in which he graded out 83rd out of 85 eligible, but he’s graded out right about average in each of the last 2 seasons. Only going into his age 27 season, he could get a multi-year deal this off-season.

CB Josh Wilson

It’s hard to believe that Josh Wilson was Pro Football Focus’ 6th ranked cornerback in 2010. Wilson has never done anything like that other than that season, but he did grade out above average in each of the first 6 seasons of his career, from 2007-2012. However, he’s graded out below average in each of the last 2 seasons and is arguably coming off of the worst season of his career in 2014, as he played just 458 snaps, 4th among Falcon cornerbacks. Going into his age 30 season, he’s purely a depth cornerback on the open market, but he should draw interest.

OLB Sean Weatherspoon

It’s been a steep drop off for Weatherspoon since he was Pro Football Focus’ 5th ranked 4-3 outside linebacker in his 2nd year in the league in 2011 after being drafted in the 1st round in 2010. He’s played in just 20 of 48 games combined over the past 3 seasons, grading out below average in 2012 and 2013 and missing all of 2014 with a torn Achilles. 2011 remains the only season in his career that he’s played all 16 games and the only season in his career that he graded out above average as he missed 5 games as a rookie and graded out below average when on the field. He’s missed 33 games in 5 seasons. Now going into free agency, he’ll have to settle for a one-year prove it deal.

DE Osi Umenyiora

Umenyiora graded out above average last season, but on only 347 snaps and now he heads into free agency going into his age 34 season. He graded out below average in both 2012 and 2013 and the last time he played more than 500 snaps in a season and graded out above average was 2010. He’s close to the end of the line, but he might have one more season left in him as a reserve on a one-year minimum deal.

CB Robert McClain

Robert McClain had a breakout year in 2012, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 14th ranked cornerback, but he proved to be a one year wonder (the 2010 7th round pick played a combined 134 snaps in 2010-2011). He graded out below average in both 2013 and 2014, with his worst season coming in 2014, when he graded out 90th out of 108 eligible cornerbacks. He won’t draw much interest on the open market.

RB Jacquizz Rodgers

Rodgers has seen a decent amount of action in 4 years with the Falcons since they drafted him in the 5th round in 2011, carrying the ball 305 times, but that’s more out of need than anything and he’s averaged just 3.66 yards per carry. He was a young rookie so he’s only going into his age 25 season and he provides value as a pass catcher, catching 155 passes in 63 career games in 4 seasons, but he’s nothing more than a backup at best.

OT Gabe Carimi

Carimi was a massive bust as a 2011 1st round pick. He played just 2 games as a rookie thanks to a massive knee injury and was never the same. He was Pro Football Focus’ 72nd ranked offensive tackle out of 80 eligible in 2012, leading to the Bears letting him go for a 6th rounder after just 2 seasons. In Tampa Bay in 2013, he played just 218 snaps at left and right guard and was promptly released after the season. Last year in Atlanta, he played left tackle, left guard, right guard, and right tackle and generally struggled, particularly at tackle, where he was 59th out of 84 eligible offensive tackles on 425 snaps. Heading to free agency again, Carimi is probably going to be limited to minimum deals.

Cap Casualty Candidates

RB Steven Jackson

Of the top-25 all-time leading rushers who have played in the last decade, the average one has his last 1000 yard season in his age 30 season at 2602 carrier carries. The Falcons probably should have paid attention to that stat before giving Steven Jackson a 3-year, 12 million dollar deal 2 off-seasons ago, coming off a 1000+ yard year with the Rams, but going into his age 30 with 2396 career carries. Jackson has rushed for 1250 yards on 347 carries (3.60 YPC) in 2 seasons with the Falcons and is fully expected to be released this off-season, owed a non-guaranteed 3.75 million in 2015. He’ll have a hard time finding takers on the open market and might just opt to retire. 16th all-time in rushing yards, only three players all-time have more rushing yards than him and aren’t in the Hall of Fame. Two of those three aren’t Hall eligible yet, while the 3rd (Jerome Bettis) is expected to be enshrined very soon, possibly this year.

C Joe Hawley

The Falcons re-signed Joe Hawley to a 2-year, 6 million dollar deal last off-season. Hawley, 2010 4th round pick, played 40 snaps in 2010 and 2012 combined, but he played 876 snaps in 2011 and 553 snaps in 2013, splitting time at right guard and center in both seasons. In 2011, he struggled mightily at center, grading out as Pro Football Focus 6th worst center despite playing just 230 snaps there, with no one playing fewer snaps and grading out worse. He then moved to right guard, where he graded out slightly above average. In 2013, he also graded out below average at center and among above at right guard. In 2014, he graded out slightly below average at center through 4 games before tearing his ACL. Owed a non-guaranteed 3 million in 2015, there’s a chance the Falcons move on from him.

Jan 252015
 

Positions of Need

Middle Linebacker

Linebacker was a big problem for the Bears last season, as no one played more than 696 snaps and only one player (Jon Bostic) played more than 461 snaps. Bostic was decent in his 2nd year in the league in 2014, after struggling in 2013 as a 2nd round rookie (51st out of 55 eligible middle linebackers). He’ll start at one of the two middle linebacker spots for the Bears, but they need someone else in there inside with him. Christian Jones, a 2014 undrafted free agent, who struggled on 443 snaps at outside linebacker as a rookie, is currently penciled in at that spot.

Defensive End

LaMarr Houston is expected to start at one defensive end spot in the Bears new 3-4 scheme under new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. He tore his ACL week 8 in 2014, but he’s young enough with no real injury history that he should be fine for week 1. Jay Ratliff then seems like a natural fit at nose tackle, where he played in Dallas for many years. He’s an undersized nose tackle, but Fangio worked with undersized nose tackles in San Francisco, particularly Glenn Dorsey, who Ratliff compares favorably too. That just leaves them needing one more starter on the defensive line. Stephen Paea could be an option, but he’s a free agent and not a natural fit for a 3-4. Will Sutton and Ego Ferguson were 3rd and 2nd round picks respectively in 2014, but both struggled as rookies and neither is an ideal fit for a 3-4 either.

Offensive Tackle

The Bears signed Jermon Bushrod to a 5-year, 36 million dollar deal two off-seasons ago, even though Drew Brees always made him look better than he was when he was protecting Brees’ blindside in New Orleans. He’s predictably graded out below average in each of the last two seasons and if he doesn’t turn it around, with a new regime in town, he could be gone next off-season, rather than receiving a non-guaranteed 6.4 million dollar salary in 2016. Meanwhile at right tackle, Jordan Mills was Pro Football Focus’ 74th ranked offensive tackle out of 76 eligible in 2013 as a 5th round rookie and he was only slightly better in 2014, grading out 66th out of 84 eligible. The old regime really liked him for some reason, but the new regime will have no allegiance. Michael Ola, their 6th offensive lineman, struggled last season and the Bears don’t have another good option at tackle on their roster so this is somewhere they should invest this off-season.

Center

Roberto Garza was limited to 12 games thanks to injuries in 2014 and graded out slightly below average when he was on the field. He’s going into his age 36 season in 2015 and Brian De La Puente, who played well in Garza’s absence, is a free agent this off-season. They need to add a center in the mid rounds so they’ll have a long-term starter at the position.

Cornerback

Kyle Fuller was the Bears 1st round pick in 2014. He played well to start the season, but dealt with nagging injuries all year, which proved to be too much for him as he tried to adjust to the NFL and he ended up grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd worst ranked cornerback. Still, he has long-term potential and could easily bounce back in 2015 when he’s healthy. Opposite him, Tim Jennings is still playing well, but he’s going into his age 32 season. They also don’t really have that much depth at the position so this is a need for them this off-season.

Safety

The Bears need help at safety. Chris Conte, who has been there as a starter for the past 4 seasons, has never really been that good and now he’s a free agent. Brock Vereen, a 2014 4th round pick, was decent in limited action last season, but he’s still unproven. Meanwhile, Ryan Mundy was solid as the other starter, but he’s a veteran journeyman going into a contract year. This is somewhere they’ll have to add at some point this off-season.

Running Back

Matt Forte has been incredibly durable in his 7 year career at a positon where it’s really tough to do that, playing all 16 games 5 times and missing a combined 5 games in 7 seasons. However, he’s going into his age 30 season with 1817 career carries so it’s time to start thinking about a long-term successor. They really have no depth behind him as other Bear running backs combined for 36 carries last season. The Bears will run the ball more under John Fox so they’ll need to add depth. Ka’Deem Carey, a 2014 4th round pick, didn’t show much as a rookie.

Defensive Tackle

Assuming Jay Ratliff does play at nose tackle next season, the Bears will need a long-term successor. Ratliff looked done coming into this season, but he ended up grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 6th ranked defensive tackle in 2014. He’s going into his age 34 season so it’s hard to trust him going forward though and the Bears don’t have anyone else who fits that position.

Quarterback

Jay Cutler is coming off arguably his worst season in the NFL. His numbers didn’t look terrible, as he completed 66.0% of his passes for an average of 6.80 YPA, 28 touchdowns, and 18 interceptions and the Bears finished 15th in rate of moving the chains, moving them at a 73.17% rate. However, much of that was because of his offensive supporting cast (guys like Forte, Marshall, Jeffery, and Bennett) and Marc Trestman’s system. Cutler actually finished the season as Pro Football Focus’ 32nd ranked quarterback out of 39 eligible, after ranking 10th at his position in 2013 and 17th in 2012. Unfortunately, the Bears didn’t have anyone else other than Jimmy Clausen to turn to when they decided it was time to bench Cutler and that predictably didn’t work out. Cutler will be the Bears’ starter in 2015 and that’s the right move. They have no one of getting out of his contract and he’s shown in the past that he can be much better than he was last season, but they need someone better to turn to in case Cutler needs to be benched again.

Key Free Agents

DT Stephen Paea

Paea, a 2011 2nd round pick, had the best season of his career in 2014 and at the perfect time, as he was in a contract year. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 11th ranked defensive tackle this year. However, teams should be wary about giving him too much money as he’s still a one year wonder. Paea graded out below average in each of the first 3 seasons of his career from 2011-2013, before 2014. I don’t expect him back with the Bears as he wouldn’t be a great fit for the new 3-4 defense they will be implementing under new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.

OLB Lance Briggs

Briggs is a potential future Hall of Famer and he’s spent all 12 seasons of his career with the Bears, since they drafted him in the 3rd round in 2003, making 7 Pro-Bowls, 3 All-Pros, and starting 170 games. However, he could very easily be done with the Bears as he heads into free agency. Briggs is going into his age 35 season and has missed a combined 15 games with injuries over the past 2 seasons. He could retire this off-season. If he wants to keep playing, he’s played well enough when on the field to suggest that he still has something left in the tank, as he’s still graded out above average in each of the last 2 seasons. He’ll probably have to settle for a 1-year deal though and have to wait a little bit into free agency.

C Brian De La Puente

De La Puente started 47 games for the Saints from 2011-2013 and graded out 13th, 4th, and 16th among centers in 2011, 2012, and 2013 respectively. Still, despite that, he was forced to settle for a cheap one-year deal in free agency last off-season and didn’t have a guaranteed starting role. He ended up making 6 starts between center and left guard as injuries hit the Bears on the offensive line this year and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 7th ranked center despite the limited action. No one played fewer snaps and graded out higher among centers. Only going into his age 30 season, he deserves a starting job and a multi-year deal in free agency this off-season.

CB Charles Tillman

Like Briggs, Tillman has been with the Bears for 12 seasons since they drafted him in the 2nd round in that same 2003 draft (if it wasn’t for the fact that they drafted Rex Grossman and Michael Haynes in the first round that year, it would have been an outstanding draft). However, like Briggs, Tillman has missed significant time with injury over the past 2 season and probably won’t be back with the Bears in 2015. Tillman was Pro Football Focus’ 3rd ranked cornerback in 2012, but he’s missed 22 of 32 games with injuries over the past 2 seasons, has graded out below average when on the field in each of the last 2 seasons, and is now going into his age 34 season. He’ll probably have to wait longer than Briggs for a deal if he wants to keep playing. A move to safety has been discussed in the past.

S Chris Conte

Conte was a 3rd round pick in 2011 and he made 52 starts in 4 seasons with the Bears, but he graded out below average in all 4 seasons, with his worst season coming in 2013, when he graded out 82nd out of 86 eligible safeties. He shouldn’t be looked at as a starter on the open market this off-season and will probably have to settle for backup work.

QB Jimmy Clausen

Jimmy Clausen was one of the worst starting quarterbacks in recent memory as a 2nd round rookie in 2010 with the Panthers, completing 52.5% of his passes for an average of 5.21 YPA, 3 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions on 299 attempts. He understandably didn’t attempt another pass until in 2014 with the Bears, where he actually started week 16 in place of a benched Jay Cutler, before missing week 17 with a concussion. Clausen was facing a tough Detroit defense, but didn’t look good, completing 23 of 39 for 181 yards, 1 touchdown, and an interception.

MLB DJ Williams

DJ Williams graded out above average as a starter in 2010, but it’s been all downhill since then. He graded out 33rd out of 45 eligible 4-3 outside linebackers in 2011 and played a combined 785 snaps in the last 3 seasons from 2012-2014. Now going into his age 33 season, Williams could be at the end of his run in the NFL.

Cap Casualty Candidates

DE LaMarr Houston

The Bears don’t have any real cap casualty candidates, but there’s a slight chance that they move on from Houston, who struggled by his standards early in 2014 before missing the final 8 games of the season with a torn ACL. He’s expected to be back by week 1, but there are no guarantees that he’ll be right away immediately and the Bears could save 6 million in cash and 3.03 million in cap space by cutting him. However, when healthy, he’s the kind of talented defensive player that the Bears are short on and he’d be an ideal fit as a defensive end in Fangio’s new 3-4 so I expect them to keep him.

G Matt Slauson

Slauson is also coming off a significant injury, missing 11 games with multiple injuries, including a season ending torn pectoral. The Bears can save 2.815 million in cash and 2.015 million on the cap by cutting him this off-season, but, when healthy he’s a very solid offensive lineman. He graded out above average in every season from 2010-2013, making all 64 starts, maxing out as Pro Football Focus’ 6th ranked guard in 2013.

Jan 242015
 

Positions of Need

Quarterback

Geno Smith didn’t really work out. In 2 seasons with the Jets, he completed 57.5% of his passes for an average of 6.88 YPA, 25 touchdowns, and 34 interceptions on 810 pass attempts, while rushing for 604 yards and 7 scores on 131 carries, an average of 4.61 yards per carry. This shouldn’t be a surprise as the track record of quarterbacks drafted in the 2nd and 3rd round over the past decade and a half isn’t much better than the track record of guys selected in the 4th round or later. With both Rex Ryan and John Idzik gone, the current regime has no loyalty to Smith and will try hard to replace him this off-season. Unfortunately, they might have won too many games at the end of the season to get either Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston, but if one of those two falls to them at 6, I expect them to pull the trigger and either way this is going to be tops on their to do list.

Cornerback

Gone are the days of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. This year, Darrin Walls led all Jets cornerbacks in snaps played with 776. Going into this season, he was a 2011 undrafted free agent who has played 391 snaps in 3 seasons combined and he predictably struggled in 2014. After him, their next three players in terms of snaps played at cornerbacks were converted safety Antonio Allen, undrafted rookie Marcus Williams, and journeyman Philip Adams, all of whom also graded out below average. Dee Milliner was drafted 9th overall in 2013 to be a long-term starter at cornerback, but he’s played in just 16 games in 2 seasons combined thanks to injuries and hasn’t been that good when he’s been on the field. He could put it together in his 3rd year in the league in 2015, but there are no guarantees, especially since he’s coming off of a torn Achilles tendon. Even if he does, they’ll need another cornerback this off-season. A reunion with Cromartie would make sense, as Cromartie was dominant for new Jets head coach Todd Bowles last season when Bowles was the defensive coordinator in Arizona.

Guard

Right guard Willie Colon struggled last season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 66th ranked guard out of 78 eligible. After missing 36 out of a possible 48 games from 2010-2012 with injuries, Colon has made all 32 starts over the past 2 seasons, but it’s very possible that he’s simply not a starting caliber player anymore psychically, with his injury history and going into his age 32 season. He’s a free agent this off-season and the Jets should not bring him back as a starter. Meanwhile, at left guard, Brian Winters has been a disaster since they drafted him in the 3rd round in 2013. He was Pro Football Focus’ 77th ranked guard out of 81 eligible as a rookie and last year he was 65th out of 78 eligible, despite playing just 381 snaps. Oday Aboushi, a 2013 5th round pick, took over the starting job from him week 7 and was better, but only by default. Guard help is needed this off-season.

Wide Receiver

The Jets have made two big moves to add to their receiving corps over the past year. They signed Eric Decker to a 5-year, 36.25 million dollar deal with 15 million guaranteed and they traded a mid-round pick to the Seahawks for Percy Harvin mid-season. Decker has worked out fine, catching 74 passes for 962 yards and 5 touchdowns in his first season in New York, despite horrible quarterback play, but Harvin was a weird move to begin with and could easily be an off-season cap casualty. Harvin was traded by the Seahawks mid-season even though they were contenders because he missed 15 games with injury in 2013, got into conflicts with his teammates, and had just 22 catches for 133 yards and no scores in 5 games to start 2014. The Jets traded for him even though they were out of the mix and even though he had a non-guaranteed 10.5 million dollar salary schedule for 2015. Harvin wasn’t bad, catching 29 passes for 350 yards and a touchdown, but the regime that brought him in is gone and he’s not worth 10.5 million. He could easily be cut if he doesn’t agree to a paycut and if the Jets do that, they’ll need to add another receiver so they can keep Jeremy Kerley in the slot. Amari Cooper makes a lot of sense at 6th overall if he’s still available.

Safety

Calvin Pryor looked like a keeper in his first year with the Jets, after they drafted him 18th overall in 2014, but they have a hole next to him at safety. Dawan Landry was Pro Football Focus’ 9th ranked safety in 2014, but he has an inconsistent past and he’s a free agent going into his age 33 season. If he’s not brought back, he’ll need to be replaced and even if he is brought back, adding depth and a long-term successor makes sense.

Middle Linebacker

Another veteran who is a free agent this off-season is David Harris, who is going into his age 31 season. Harris finished up a 4-year, 36 million dollar deal in 2014, but he was never really worth that kind of money, grading out below average in 2 of 4 seasons and maxing out as Pro Football Focus’ 18th ranked middle linebacker in 2013. Even if he’s brought back, depth and a long-term successor opposite Demario Davis are needed.

Outside Linebacker

Quinton Coples, Calvin Pace, and Jason Babin were their primary edge rushers last season. Babin played very well in 2014, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 9th ranked 3-4 outside linebacker, despite playing just 470 snaps, with no one playing fewer snaps and grading out better than Babin at his position. However, he’s going into his age 35 season, as is Pace, who struggled in 2014. Coples, meanwhile, has been decent in 3 years with the Jets, but he hasn’t quite lived up to his billing as the 16th overall pick in 2012 and the Jets have a big decision to make on his future this off-season, as he heads into a contract year. Long-term depth is needed at the position.

Running Back

The Jets signed Chris Johnson to a 2-year, 8 million dollar deal last off-season and it didn’t really work out. Johnson finished 2nd on the team to Chris Ivory in both carries (155) and rushing yards (663). Owed a non-guaranteed 3.5 million this off-season, the Jets could easily cut him and add a cheaper complement to Ivory, who rushed for 821 yards and 6 scores on 198 carries, but is useless outside of the tackles and in the passing game.

Key Free Agents

MLB David Harris

As I mentioned earlier, Harris signed a 4-year, 36 million dollar deal 4 off-seasons ago and played out the entirety of the contract despite never really being worth that money, grading out below average in 2 of 4 seasons and maxing out as the 18th highest ranked middle linebacker in 2013. Now he hits free agency going into his age 31 season. He’s still a starting caliber player, but he’s on the decline and shouldn’t be given a deal with much if not any guaranteed money beyond 2015.

S Dawan Landry

Landry was Pro Football Focus’ 9th ranked safety in 2014, but I have skepticism over his ability to keep that up. For one thing, he’s going into his age 33 season. He also graded out below average in 4 of 5 seasons from 2009-2013 before last season, though he did rank 4th in 2010 and he’s played in all 96 games over the last 6 seasons. He should still be a starter next season, but, like Harris, he shouldn’t be guaranteed anything beyond 2015 on his next deal.

QB Michael Vick

Strictly a backup at this stage in his career, Vick completed 52.9% of his passes for an average of 4.99 YPA, 3 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions last season on 121 attempts. Going into his age 35 season, he isn’t going to draw much interest as a starter and will likely have to be a backup somewhere again and won’t make nearly the 5 million he made in 2014.

G Willie Colon

Colon could be done as a starting caliber player in the NFL. He’s going into his age 32 season and coming off of a season in which he graded out 66th out of 78 eligible guards. He’s made all 32 starts over the past 2 seasons combined, but he has the type of injury history (36 games missed in 2010-2012 combined) where it’s definitely plausible that he could be done at his age. He’ll probably be signed at some point, but he could have to wait a while and he won’t get a guaranteed starting job or more than a one year deal.

DE Leger Douzable

Douzable has never played more than 423 snaps in a season (which he did in 2011) and he didn’t even play in 2012, but he’s graded out above average in every season in his career other than that 2012 season when he didn’t play and 2010. Only going into his age 29 season, Douzable is a valuable reserve who specializes in stopping the run. He’d be a solid cheap signing for a team.

CB Kyle Wilson

Wilson was a bust as a 2010 1st round pick. He’s graded out below average in each of the last 4 seasons and made just 27 starts in 5 years with the Jets, including just 1 over the last 2 seasons combined as he could barely get on the field, despite massive issues at the cornerback position. 2012 was his only season as a starter, as he played 966 snaps and made 15 starts, and he graded out 72nd out of 115 eligible that season. He’s going to have to look at short-term deals with little guaranteed money this off-season.

Cap Casualty Candidates

WR Percy Harvin

This seems logical. Harvin is owed a non-guaranteed 10.5 million in 2015 and hasn’t been close to worth that over the past 2 seasons since signing a 6-year deal worth 63 million 2 off-seasons ago. He missed all but 1 game with injury in Seattle in 2013, reportedly caused locker room problems that got him kicked out of Seattle, and combined for 51 catches for 483 yards and a touchdown in 2014 between the Seahawks and the Jets. Even in brighter times in Minnesota, he never went over 1000 yards in a season, missed 10 games in 4 seasons with injury, and had issues at times with his coaching staff. Some kind of restructured contract could be in order, but the Jets would only owe the Seahawks a 6th round pick if they cut him, whereas they’d owe them a 4th rounder if they keep him on the roster.

RB Chris Johnson

CJ2K is long gone. He’s still incredibly durable, having missed just one game in 7 seasons in the league, and he totaled 1000+ rushing yards in 6 straight seasons from 2008-2013, but, by the end of his time in Tennessee, that was mostly on volume than anything. In his final season in Tennessee, before they cut him, he averaged just 3.9 yards per carry, including just 1.8 yards per carry after contact. In his first year in New York, he was more efficient, averaging 4.28 yards per carry, but that was because of decreased volume as he had just 155 carries. Going into his age 30 season, with 1897 career carries, he’s only a part-time player at this stage of his career and he’s not worth the non-guaranteed 3.5 million dollar salary he’s owed in 2015. He was also recently arrested.

TE Jeff Cumberland

Cumberland played all 16 games in 2014, playing 926 snaps, but he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ worst overall tight end. He caught just 23 passes for 247 yards and 3 touchdowns on 369 routes run and struggled as a run blocker as well. Cumberland is owed a non-guaranteed 1.9 million dollars in 2015 and could be cut, a move that would save that total amount on their cap immediately. With 2014 2nd round pick Jace Amaro set to have a bigger role in 2015, the Jets could easily let Cumberland go.

OLB Calvin Pace

Pace wasn’t horrible last season, grading out 39th out of 46 eligible 3-4 outside linebackers, but he wasn’t very good and he’s going into his age 35 season. He’s graded out below average in each of the last 3 seasons so the Jets could cut him and save 2.125 million in cash and cap space immediately. They might also opt to keep him for the final year of his contract or he could just outright retire.

Jan 232015
 

Positions of Need

Cornerback

You know things are bad at cornerback when you desperately miss DeAngelo Hall, who missed 13 games. Hall isn’t great, but those 3 games he played were the only 3 games the Redskins had anyone resembling an NFL starting cornerback out there. David Amerson has been a massive disappointment a 2013 2nd round pick, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 84th ranked cornerback out of 110 eligible as a part-time player as a rookie and then grading out dead last at his position as a starter this season. Bashaud Breeland was a 4th round rookie and looked the part in 2014, grading out 99th out of 108 eligible. EJ Biggers, a mediocre at best veteran journeyman, was their 3rd cornerback and graded out 102nd at the position, giving them 3 of the worst 10 eligible cornerbacks in the NFL. Biggers is a free agent and should not be welcomed back, while the other two should not be guaranteed playing time. There’s also doubt about whether or not Hall will be back in 2015, going into his age 32 season, owed a non-guaranteed 4 million, coming off of a significant injury. He might be back out of sheer necessity, but, either way, they need to add at least two new cornerbacks to the mix this off-season.

Safety

As bad as things were at cornerback, things at safety might be equally bad. Brandon Meriweather and Ryan Clark were the starters last season and both are free agents this off-season. Meriweather has always been pretty mediocre and has missed 29 games over the past 4 seasons combined. Clark, meanwhile, is expected to retire this off-season, rather than play his age 36 season. That’s a good idea, considering he graded out dead last among safeties this year, as age finally caught up to the long-time solid safety. The Redskins will need either one or two new safeties this off-season as they don’t really have any internal options. Their secondary is a complete mess. With limited draft picks because of the RG3 trade, the Redskins couldn’t afford to miss on Amerson, Breeland, Phillip Thomas (2013 4th round), and Bacarri Rambo (2013 6th round) the way they did.

Offensive Tackle

The secondary is the Redskins’ biggest need, but any defensive back might be a reach at #5 (Alabama safety Landon Collins seems like the most logical option if they went that direction). If they can’t trade down, I could definitely see them taking someone like Notre Dame offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, even though he isn’t a defensive back, as right tackle is a serious need too. The Redskins drafted Morgan Moses in the 3rd round last year, but he barely saw the field as a rookie and struggled mightily when he did, filling in for an injured Trent Williams at left tackle. The Redskins need right tackle help as Tom Compton and Tyler Polumbus both struggled mightily there this season, but 3rd rounders often don’t pan out and the Redskins are in no way married to Moses, as evidenced by the fact that he couldn’t get on the field over Compton and Polumbus. Even if they don’t go right tackle at 5, it’s still one of their bigger needs.

Defensive End

Jason Hatcher was a good pickup in the off-season, as the veteran graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 10th ranked 3-4 defensive end, one of the Redskins’ few good defensive players, but they desperately need help opposite him. Jarvis Jenkins, the other starter, was basically Hatcher’s polar opposite, grading out 3rd worst at his position. He’s a free agent anyway, while veterans Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield both struggled mightily in limited action last season and are expected to be cap casualties. If Leonard Williams manages to fall to them at 5, I can’t see them passing on him.

Quarterback

Jay Gruden obviously isn’t sold on RG3 long-term, while backups Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy didn’t prove they were anything more than backups this season. McCoy, the better of the two last season, is a free agent anyway. RG3 is their best long-term solution. He was so good in college and as a rookie in 2012 that I’m not ready to give up on him just because he’s had injuries and isn’t an ideal fit for Gruden’s scheme. The Redskins shouldn’t give up on him either and should instead tailor their offense to fit his skill set better, the way Shanahan did in 2012. The Redskins will almost definitely add competition at some point this off-season though.

Middle Linebacker

Keenan Robinson and Perry Riley were Pro Football Focus’ 44th and 48th ranked middle linebackers out of 60 eligible in 2014, so they could add competition at this position. The Redskins really like Riley and he has a long-term deal, so he’s kind of locked in to a starting job, but getting someone to push Robinson, a 2012 4th round pick and a first year starter in 2014, isn’t a bad idea.

Running Back

Roy Helu is a free agent this off-season and, if he leaves, they’ll need a new pass catching running back. Jay Gruden really likes having a running back he can trust in pass protection and as a pass catcher and that’s what Helu was. As good as Alfred Morris is as a runner, he’s not that type of player and he’s strictly a two-down running back.

Key Free Agents 

OLB Brian Orakpo

Orakpo was Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked 3-4 outside linebacker in 2013 and was franchised tagged as a result. However, Orakpo ended up missing 9 games with a torn pectoral in 2014, the 3rd time in his career that he’s torn his pectoral in his career. Now he hits free agency again having missed 24 of 48 games over the past 3 seasons with torn pectorals. He’s very talented when he’s on the field; in addition to his strong 2013, the 2009 1st round pick also ranked 7th at his position in 2011. However, injuries will put a big buyer beware stamp on him this off-season. The Redskins don’t seem like they’re going to bring him back, opting to move forward with Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Murphy.

S Brandon Meriweather

Meriweather made two Pro-Bowls in New England, but, as they tend to be, the Patriots were right to release him before the 2011 season. In 4 years since the Patriots have let him go, he’s missed 29 games and the only season he graded out above average was his 2012 season, which lasted just 1 game. Sadly, he’s the Redskins’ best safety, so they’ll probably try to bring him back this off-season, but he’s barely starting caliber.

TE Niles Paul

Niles Paul was a 5th round pick of the Redskins’ in 2011 and turning the big bodied wide receiver into a pass catching tight end was always kind of a pet project of Mike Shanahan’s. Ironically, Paul didn’t really produce until this year, when Jay Gruden came in. Paul caught 39 passes for 507 yards and a touchdown on 280 routes run, largely in the absence of oft injured tight end Jordan Reed. The 6-1 241 pounder predictably struggles as a run blocker (62nd out of 67 eligible in that aspect this season), but has a role in the league as a #2 move tight end.

RB Roy Helu

Roy Helu only has 255 carries in 4 seasons since the Redskins drafted him in the 4th round in 2011, but he’s averaged 4.44 yards per carry and where he really provides value is as a 3rd down back. In 48 career games, Helu has 129 catches for 1152 yards and 3 touchdowns and he’s been a top-5 pass blocking running back in 2 of the 4 seasons he’s been in the league. In a league that’s becoming increasingly pass heavy, Helu will have plenty of suitors for a backup job this off-season.

QB Colt McCoy

McCoy, a 2010 3rd round pick, was on his 3rd NFL team this year in Washington. He drew a few starts, but once again showed what’s been clear for his whole career, dating back to his time at the University of Texas, that he isn’t anything more than an NFL backup. He’s completed 60.3% of his passes for an average of 6.57 YPA, 25 touchdowns, and 23 interceptions in the NFL. He’ll sign with someone as a backup this off-season.

DE Jarvis Jenkins

Jenkins was yet another draft pick that didn’t work out by the Redskins over the past few years. After missing his entire rookie year with injury, the 2011 2nd round pick graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 23rd ranked 3-4 defensive end out of 34 eligible in 2012, 35th out of 45 eligible in 2013, and 45th out of 47 eligible in 2014. He’s a backup at best and shouldn’t draw much attention on the open market.

OT Tyler Polumbus

Polumbus was randomly Pro Football Focus’ 18th ranked offensive tackle in 2013, but he’s generally been a very poor right tackle for the Redskins. Despite making just 7 starts, he was Pro Football Focus’ 62nd ranked offensive tackle out of 84 eligible in 2014. In 2012, he ranked 77th out of 80 eligible and, in 2011, no one played fewer snaps than his 216 and graded out worse. He shouldn’t be a starter next season.

S Ryan Clark

Clark was a solid safety in Pittsburgh for a number of years, grading out 22nd, 21st, 19th, 24th, 9th, and 45th among safeties in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 respectively, but age finally caught up to him this season, as he graded out dead last at his position. He’ll turn 36 in 2015 and it sounds like he’s going to hang them up, rather than giving another NFL season a try. Even if he doesn’t retire, he might not get any offers.

CB EJ Biggers

Biggers, a 2009 7th round pick, has been in the NFL for 6 years and has only once graded out above average. Some of his bad seasons have been pretty bad as he graded out 107th out of 109 eligible cornerbacks in 2011, 80th out of 86 eligible safeties in 2013, and 102nd out of 108 eligible cornerbacks in 2014. Biggers is a fringe NFL talent and may have run out of chances.

Cap Casualty Candidates

DE Stephen Bowen

Bowen signed 5-year, 27.5 million dollar deal 4 years ago, but hasn’t really lived up to it. He’s graded out below average in all 4 seasons. He was Pro Football Focus’ 27th ranked 3-4 defensive end out of 32 eligible in 2011 and their 26th ranked 3-4 defensive end out of 34 eligible in 2012. He hasn’t graded out quite as low in the last 2 seasons, but that’s mostly because he’s missed 14 games over those 2 seasons combined with injuries. Going into his age 31 season, with serious injury problems, there’s almost no chance the Redskins bring him back at his scheduled 5.5 million dollar non-guaranteed salary. They can save all that money on the cap immediately by letting him go.

CB Tracy Porter

Porter had a pick six in the Super Bowl during the 2009 season, but his career has gone severely downhill since then. He was Pro Football Focus’ 106th ranked cornerback out of 110 eligible in 2013 with Oakland and 91st out of 109 eligible in 2011 with New Orleans, with an injury plagued season in Denver in between (316 snaps in 6 seasons). Still, the Redskins gave him a 2-year, 6 million dollar deal last off-season, but he played just 89 snaps this season, thanks to injuries and poor performance. Cutting him, to save 2.8 million in cash and cap space, should be a no brainer.

DT Barry Cofield

Cofield was signed the same off-season as Bowen and he too has been a disappointment. Signed to a 6-year, 36 million dollar deal, Cofield has graded out above average in just 1 of 4 seasons. He hasn’t been as bad as Bowen, but he’s going into his age 31 season in 2015 and missed 8 games last season with injuries, so the Redskins could easily cut him to save 5 million in cash and 4.1225 million in cap space.

DE Kedric Golston

Kedric Golston has graded out below average in every season he’s been in the league since 2006, with his worst years coming in 2008 (66th out of 86 eligible defensive tackles), 2010 (37th out of 42 eligible 3-4 defensive ends), and 2013 (40th out of 45 eligible 3-4 defensive ends). On top of that, this year he would have been the fifth worst 3-4 defensive end if he played enough snaps to qualify. No one played fewer snaps and graded out worse. Coming off of a year in which he played 182 snaps and going into his age 32 season, he’s pretty useless and the Redskins can save 1.1 million on the cap and in cash. There’s a good chance they let him go and his career is over.

CB DeAngelo Hall

Two off-seasons ago, DeAngelo Hall was cut from his large contract by the Redskins and brought back on a cheap one-year deal worth about a million dollars. It made sense. He was going into his age 30 season and had graded out below average on Pro Football Focus in 4 of his last 5 seasons, dating back to 2008. The only season he graded out above average was 2010. In 2011, he was Pro Football Focus’ 67th ranked cornerback out of 109 eligible and in 2012 he was 64th out of 115 eligible. He struggled again in 2013, grading out 85th out of 110 eligible and, last off-season, going into his age 31 season, I thought he’d have to settle for another cheap one year deal on the open market. I guess the Redskins had different idea as they gave him a 4-year, 17 million dollar deal. Hall proceeded to struggle in limited action and then tear his Achilles. The Redskins can save 4 million in cash by cutting him this off-season. It would only free up 2.375 million on the cap immediately, but he’d be completely off their cap in 2016 and they’d avoid salaries of 4.25 million in 2016 and 2017. However, with the Redskins as thin as they are at cornerback, I expect they’ll bring him back, even as a player going into his age 32 season coming off of a torn Achilles.

Jan 192015
 

Needs

Defensive Tackle

The Raiders’ current trio of Antonio Smith, Justin Ellis, and Pat Sims at defensive tackle is underwhelming. On top of that, Smith is going into an age 34 contract year, while Sims is a free agent this off-season. Ellis has the best long-term potential, as he was a 4th round rookie in 2014 and has 3 three years on his deal, but he still graded out slightly below average last season. They need to add someone else to the mix. They won’t pass on Leonard Williams if he falls to them at 4, assuming Williams’ stock doesn’t fall before the draft and assuming the Raiders are unable to sign Ndamukong Suh, an elite defensive tackle who is expected to be their focus of free agency.

Guard

The Raiders signed Austin Howard to a 5-year, 30 million dollar deal last off-season and made a weird decision to move him from right tackle to right guard. Howard struggled mightily in his first season at his new position, grading out 59th out of 78 eligible guards. The Raiders should move him back to right tackle, where he was Pro Football Focus’ 32nd and 47th ranked offensive tackle in 2012 and 2013 respectively, and where Khalif Barnes and Menelik Watson combined to split starts and be an absolute train wreck for the Raiders in 2014. Look for the Raiders to be on the lookout for a new right guard this off-season.

Cornerback

DJ Hayden hasn’t been what the Raiders expected of him, when they drafted him 12th overall in 2013. He’s missed a combined 14 games in his first 2 seasons in the league and has graded out below average in both seasons when on the field. It’s too soon to write him off as a bust, but he shouldn’t be guaranteed a starting role going into 2015 and they definitely can’t count on him for 16 starts. Meanwhile, Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers are both free agents, so the Raiders will need another cornerback to go with Hayden and promising 2014 7th round pick TJ Carrie.

Defensive End

The Raiders struck gold with Khalil Mack 5th overall in last year’s draft. He was arguably the best defensive rookie in the league and, while he technically played outside linebacker in base packages, he rushes the passer off the edge in sub packages. However, the Raiders need an edge rusher opposite him for the future. Justin Tuck was solid as a starting defensive end last season, but he’s going into an age 32 contract year and often rushes the passer from the interior in sub packages. LaMarr Woodley was supposed to provide help at the defensive end position, but he struggled before predictably going down for the season with injury, leaving the underwhelming duo of CJ Wilson and Benson Mayowa to play in his absence. Woodley is going into an age 31 contract year and could easily be a cap casualty, coming off of the worst season of his career and with a significant injury history. Randy Gregory makes a lot of sense 4th overall if he’s still available and Leonard Williams isn’t.

Middle Linebacker

Nick Roach missed all of 2014 with concussion problems, leaving the incredibly overmatched Miles Burris to start in his absence. He made all 16 starts for the Raiders, despite grading out as Pro Football Focus’ worst ranked middle linebacker by a mile. Roach is expected to be back in 2015, but you never know with concussion problems. They should bring in better insurance than Burris, because he was horrible. Roach wasn’t exactly a great player before the injury either, serving as a solid run stopping 3rd linebacker in Chicago with Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs early in his career, but grading out slightly below average in each of his last two healthy seasons in Oakland as an every down player.

Wide Receiver

Wide receiver isn’t the Raiders’ biggest need, but Amari Cooper still makes a lot of sense for them at #4 overall if Gregory and Williams aren’t available. The Raiders have some decent players at wide receiver, but none of James Jones, Andre Holmes, Kenbrell Thompkins, or Brice Butler is the #1 receiver that young quarterback Derek Carr needs. They can get away with going into 2015 without adding significantly at the position, but it’s not an overall strong group.

Tight End

Mychal Rivera was a decent pass catcher last year, but he wasn’t that good, catching 58 passes for 534 yard and 4 touchdowns, hardly enough to make up for the fact that the 6-3 245 pounder is a horrific run blocker. Overall, he was Pro Football Focus’ 2nd worst ranked tight end last season, including dead last in run blocking grade. The Raiders don’t have much depth behind him on the depth chart so they should add competition for him this off-season.

Running Back

The Raiders offense was noticeably better down the stretch, allowing them to actually win some games. Part of the reason for that was the emergence of Latavius Murray. His 5.17 YPC was a big upgrade over Darren McFadden, who averaged just 3.45 YPC. Murray is very talented, but the 2013 6th round pick is still unproven with only 82 career carries and only averaged about 4.12 YPC aside from one 90-yard run against Kansas City. Some competition should be added because McFadden is unlikely to be back as a free agent this off-season, not that the Raiders should want him back anyway.

Safety

Charles Woodson is a free agent heading into his age 39 season and, while he’s expressed interest in returning and showed enough last season that the Raiders should welcome him back if he wants to play, no one should be surprised if he decides to hang them up or sees his abilities drop off significantly next season. He’s certainly not a long-term solution. Meanwhile, opposite him, Tyvon Branch has missed 28 of 32 games over the past 2 seasons combined and his replacement, Brandian Ross, has not proven to be starting caliber. They should add at this position this off-season.

Center

Stefen Wisniewski has been a solid starter at center for the Raiders over the past 3 seasons, but the 2011 2nd round pick is a free agent this off-season. If he’s not retained, he’ll need to be replaced as the Raiders don’t seem to have an internal replacement.

Key Free Agents

C Stefen Wisniewski

Stefen Wisniewski graded out slightly below average in 2014 (22nd out of 41 eligible centers), but he’s still one of the Raiders’ few talented young starters. After struggling at guard as a rookie, the 2011 2nd round pick moved to center in 2012 and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 17th and 11th ranked center in 2012 and 2013 respectively. They’d be wise to try to re-sign him as he’s not the type of player who is going to break the bank.

DT Pat Sims

An underwhelming reserve in Cincinnati from 2008-2012, after they drafted him in the 3rd round in 2008, Sims had a breakout year in 2013 with the Raiders, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 18th ranked defensive tackle, showing above average abilities as both a pass rusher and a run stopper. The Raiders smartly re-signed him to a cheap 1-year deal for 2014, but he proved to be a one year wonder, grading out below average. Still, with depth problems at defensive tackle, bringing Sims back for a 3rd year in Oakland on another 1-year deal wouldn’t be a bad move. If the Raiders don’t bring him back, expect him to end up with a 1-year reserve deal elsewhere.

CB Tarell Brown

Brown was a 3-year starter in San Francisco, grading out 32nd, 13th, and 31st in 2011, 2012, and 2013. Brown turned down a 3-year, 10 million dollar deal from the 49ers last off-season, instead choosing to bet on himself and rehab his value after missing 3 games and being limited in others by rib problems in 2013, but that seems to have been a mistake. Brown made 3.5 million over 1 season in Oakland, missed another 2 games with injury, and graded out below average. He’d be an intriguing pickup as a cheap starter for a team, but, going into his age 30 season after two down seasons, he won’t command much on the open market.

S Charles Woodson

Woodson looked done after a 2012 season in which he missed 9 games in Green Bay with injury, going into what was an age 37 season in 2013, but, remarkably, Woodson has played at a solid level over the past 2 seasons in Oakland and has made all 32 starts. No longer the shutdown cornerback he once was, Woodson has reinvented himself as a safety and the Raiders seem open to his return as a starter for his age 39 season in 2015. A future Hall-of-Famer, Woodson will contemplate retirement this off-season and it seems like he’d only play for the Raiders, the team with whom he started his career, if he does return, but there’s a decent chance we see Woodson on the field again for an 18th season in 2015.

CB Carlos Rogers

Rogers was a bust of a first round pick in Washington for 6 years from 2005-2010, grading out about average pretty much every season, but the 49ers picked him up on a 1-year deal in 2011 and he responded by grading out 7th among cornerbacks that season. The 49ers rewarded him with a 4-year, 28 million dollar deal, but Rogers did not reward them, ranking 46th in 2012 and 71st in 2013 (below average), which led to his release last off-season. The Raiders picked him up cheap to be their 3rd cornerback, but he struggled in 7 games, before going down for the season with a knee injury. Going into his age 34 season, coming off of that injury, he might have to wait a bit to get signed this off-season. Outside of 2011, he’s never been a particularly effective player in the NFL.

WR Denarius Moore

Moore looked like a steal of a 2011 5th round pick as a rookie, as he caught 33 passes for 618 yards and 5 touchdowns in 13 games, including 19 catches for 406 yards and 3 touchdowns during a 6 game stretch to end the season. However, despite ESPN.com AFC West reporter Bill Williamson saying that Moore would be the best receiver in the AFC West in 3 years, Moore never really progressed, averaging 36 catches for 517 yards and 4 touchdowns over the next 3 seasons, including a very disappointing 12/115/0 2014 season after he fell out of favor with the coaching staff. Purely a deep threat that the NFL figured out very quickly, Moore will have a hard time finding playing time this off-season.

RB Darren McFadden

McFadden has never been able to live up to his billing as the 4th overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft and was never able to live up to his huge 2010 season, in which he rushed for 1157 yards and 7 touchdowns on 223 carries (5.19 yards per carry) and added 47 catches for another 501 yards and 3 scores. In 4 seasons since, he’s played a total of 45 games out of 64 and rushed for just 2234 yards and 13 touchdowns on 601 carries (3.72 yards per carry) and he’s been under 3.4 yards per carry in each of the last 3 seasons. A change of scenery and better blocking could help him, but he’s not going to be a hot commodity on the open market whatsoever this off-season.

Cap Casualty Candidates

RB Maurice Jones-Drew

MJD is about as done as they come. It’s been a steady decline for the ex-Jaguar since he led the NFL in rushing in 2011, rushing for 1606 yards and 8 touchdowns on 343 carries (4.68 YPC) He averaged a solid 4.81 yards per carry in 2012, but he was limited to 84 carries in 6 games by a foot injury and was never the same. He rushed for just 803 yards and 5 touchdowns on 234 carries in 2013, a 3.43 yards per carry average. The Raiders took a flier on him last off-season, but it didn’t pan out, as he rushed for just 96 yards on 43 carries. The Raiders can save 2.5 million in cash and on the cap by cutting him this off-season and, even with minimal depth at the running back position, they won’t think twice about doing so. Even though he’s only going into his age 30 season, his career is probably over.

QB Matt Schaub

Here’s another guy who had a steady decline. Schaub completed 64.3% of his passes for an average of 7.37 YPA, 22 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions for a 12-4 Texans team in 2012, but in 2013, he completed just 61.2% of his passes for an average of 6.45 YPA, 10 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions for a 2-14 Texans team. The Raiders traded a 6th round pick for him last off-season and reworked his contract with the goal of having him as their starting quarterback, but he lost the starting job to 2nd round rookie Derek Carr in training camp and ended up just throwing 10 passes, completing 5 for 57 yards and throwing 2 interceptions. Owed a non-guaranteed 5.5 million dollars, I don’t expect the Raiders to keep him around. Going into his age 34 season, Schaub will have to look for backup work at a cheaper salary elsewhere.

DE LaMarr Woodley

The Raiders signed LaMarr Woodley to a 2-year, 12 million dollar deal last off-season, but he ended up missing 10 games with injury and struggled while on the field. Woodley showed pass rush ability in Pittsburgh, grading out above average there as a 3-4 outside linebacker in every season from when they drafted him in 2007 to when they let him go in 2013, including 6 years as a starter from 2008-2013. However, he missed 14 games in his final three seasons in Pittsburgh and there was serious concern about his durability and conditioning, part of why they released him. Now he’s coming off of the worst season of his career, another injury, and is going into his age 31 season in 2015, owed a non-guaranteed 5.35 million dollar salary. They could easily let him go.

G Kevin Boothe

The Raiders brought in Boothe last off-season to compete for potentially a number of starting jobs on the offensive line, but he ended up only playing 19 snaps. He’s a versatile reserve but, owed 1.7 million next season, his age 32 season, he could easily be cut and replaced with someone who can provide similar depth for half the price.

S Tyvon Branch

Branch has the Raiders’ top cap number for 2015 at 9.657 million. The Raiders can only save 2.986 million on the cap immediately by cutting him, but doing so would get them out of salaries of 5.5 million in 2015 and 6.5 million in 2016 and 2017 and he’d be completely off of their cap by 2016. Branch was once a solid safety, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 11th ranked safety in 2011 and their 30th ranked safety in 2012, but he’s missed all but 4 games with injuries over the past two seasons combined and it’s fair to wonder if he’ll ever be the same player again.

Jan 172015
 

Indianapolis Colts (13-5) at New England Patriots (13-4)

After the Ravens beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh, ensuring that they would go to New England in the 2nd round for yet another Patriots/Ravens playoff matchup, I started discussing on Twitter who the Patriots would choose to play in the 2nd round if they had the choice, the lower seed Ravens or the higher seed Colts. It was pretty unanimous support for the Colts and I agreed. Even ignoring that the Colts have lost by final scores of 59-24, 43-22, and 42-20 to the Patriots in the Chuck Pagano/Andrew Luck era and that the Patriots have never covered against the Ravens in the playoffs in the John Harbaugh/Joe Flacco era (both of those are too small of sample sizes), I thought the Ravens were a significantly better team and matched up with the Patriots better.

Coming into the playoffs, I thought the Ravens were the best playoff team that played on wild card weekend and they didn’t do anything to disprove that theory by beating the Steelers convincingly in Pittsburgh. Le’Veon Bell or no Le’Veon Bell, that’s still impressive. The Ravens went 10-6 despite a 2-4 record in games decided by a touchdown or less, so they were a rare 10+ win team that was actually better than their record. They finished 5th in DVOA, and their +107 point differential was 6th among playoff teams. In terms of rate of moving the chains, they moved them at a 75.93% rate, as opposed to 70.31% for their opponents, a differential of 5.62% that ranked 3rd in the NFL this season, behind only Denver and Seattle and actually ahead of New England.

Baltimore had a weak schedule, but even when you take schedule into account, the Ravens only fall to 4th in differential at 4.94%, trading spots with New England, who is at 5.40%. The Ravens also came into the playoffs as the 4th hottest team, ranking 4th in schedule adjusted rate of moving the chains differential among playoff teams over the final 4 games of the season at 10.56%, only behind Seattle, Carolina, and Dallas. That’s a little skewed because the Ravens faced back-to-back 3rd string quarterbacks against Houston and Cleveland and even schedule adjusted differential doesn’t take injuries into account, but it’s still very impressive, especially since they did it without Haloti Ngata.

The Colts came into the playoffs as the 2nd worst team in the 2nd half of the season in rate of moving the chains differential when adjusted for schedule at -0.21, only ahead of Detroit at -1.18%. The Colts went 6-2 in their final 8 games, but their 6 wins came against the likes of Jacksonville, Washington, Tennessee, Houston, Cleveland and the New York Giants and they didn’t beat them by enough to offset the fact that they were crushed by the only two playoff teams they faced over that time period, Dallas and New England. They also don’t have nearly the pass rush that Baltimore has, which has always been the key to beating New England, because Brady has always struggled mightily when pressured.

The Ravens definitely seemed like they’d be a tougher matchup for the Patriots than the Colts. I’ve always thought giving the top overall seed the choice of which team they want to host in the divisional round would be interesting. It would give an added incentive for getting the top seed and it would make for some very interesting situations. Would the top seed always select the lower seed to avoid pissing off their future opponent and giving them added incentive? Would the lower seed still be pissed off and motivated extra by being chosen by the #1 seed? Would this system make a difference long-term in terms of the results of divisional round matchups involving the #1 overall seed? These are all things that would be interesting to know and, either way, I thought last week that the Colts would be an easier matchup for the Patriots than the Ravens.

The Ravens gave the Patriots a tough game, losing 35-31 in a game that literally could have gone either way. The Patriots moved the chains at an 85.00% rate, as opposed to 82.05% for the Ravens. However, the Colts definitely exceeded my expectations, winning 24-13 in Denver in a game in which they moved the chains at a 76.47% rate, as opposed to 66.67% for the Broncos. Considering the way the Colts played in the 2nd half of the season, and the way they’ve generally played on the road and against tough opponents over the past 3 seasons with Luck and Pagano, and considering the Broncos finished the regular season #1 in rate of moving the chains differential and schedule adjusted rate of moving the chains differential, that was really surprising. The Broncos kind of limped into the playoffs, ranking 9th out of 12 playoff teams in schedule adjusted rate of moving the chains differential over the final 4 games of the season, but I thought Julius Thomas and Brandon Marshall coming back healthy would really help and Peyton Manning never looked as bad as he did against the Colts, not even in the road loss in Cincinnati and definitely never at home.

I’m 5-3 against the spread in the playoffs, but I’ve missed both of the Colts games. I wasn’t concerned that I was underrating the Colts when they beat the Bengals in Indianapolis because I wasn’t confident in Cincinnati, because that was in Indianapolis, and because the Bengals aren’t a very good team without AJ Green. However, last week’s win in Denver was different. It was on the road and against a very good team. I still think they’re the weakest of the 4 remaining playoff teams, but they could give the Patriots more trouble than I thought they would before last week.

I’m still taking the Patriots here. The Colts are still just 3-9 ATS on the road since 2002 against teams with winning records. Of their 8 straight up losses against winning teams on the road over that time period, all 14 of them have come by two touchdowns or more. This season, they are 1-3 against playoff teams on the road, losing those 3 games by margins of 7, 17, and 35. The Patriots meanwhile, have been arguably the best offensive team in the league this season, as long as Gronk is on the field. With the exception of the first 4 weeks of the season, the Patriots moved the chains at an 80.87% rate with Gronk on the field this regular season. They’re a pretty average team defensively, allowing opponent to move the chains at a 71.66% rate, but when their offense is on, they’re a very dangerous team.

On top of that, they are incredible at home, winning 17 straight home games that actually matter over the past 2 seasons, going 11-6 ATS in those 17 games. This regular season, excluding week 17, they move the chains at a 80.00% rate at home, as opposed to 71.37% for their opponents (a differential of 8.63%), while they move the chains at a 75.10% rate on the road, as opposed to 71.90% for their opponents (a differential of 3.20%). Last week was tough for them, but I think this will be an easier game for them and they should cover. I’m not that confident because I still might be underrating the Colts, but the Patriots should be the right side. If you’re concerned that I haven’t made any picks that are medium or higher and need something to wager money on this week, I’d recommend a New England -1, Seattle -1.5 6 point teaser.

New England Patriots 34 Indianapolis Colts 24

Pick against the spread: New England -7

Confidence: Low

Jan 172015
 

Green Bay Packers (13-4) at Seattle Seahawks (13-4)

The Packers beat the Cowboys last week, beating a team that was 8-0 on the road previously and improving to 9-0 at home themselves. However, because they are 9-0 at home, that also means they are just 4-4 on the road this season. Away from Lambeau, they haven’t been the same team. All 4 of their losses came by more than a touchdown (2 of which came against non-playoff opponents) and 3 of them came by double digits. That’s important considering this line is at 7.5. Meanwhile, two of their road wins were by a field goal. On the season away from home, they move the chains at a 77.33% rate, as opposed to 76.15% for their opponents, an underwhelming 1.18% differential.

On the other hand, everyone knows about Seattle’s home dominance. Since 2007, the Seahawks are 49-20 at home, including playoffs, and they aren’t just having success straight up as they are 47-21-1 ATS. They outscore opponents on average by 8.01 points per game at home. This is opposed to a 27-42 record away from home (31-37-1 ATS), getting outscored by 2.80 points per game, a roughly 11 point swing. This homefield advantage wasn’t as pronounced this regular season as the Seahawks were good everywhere they went, moving the chains at a 74.06% rate at home, as opposed to 66.96% for their opponents (a differential of 7.10%), while moving the chains at a 76.10% rate on the road, as opposed to 70.42% for their opponents (a differential of 5.67%). However, they’re still 7-2 ATS at home this year (including playoffs).

Seattle’s home dominance and the Packers’ relative road struggles were on display week 1 when the Packers lost in Seattle by the final score of 36-16. That game was as lopsided as the final score would suggest, as the Seahawks moved the chains at an 85.29% rate, while the Packers did so at a 72.41% rate. The Seahawks are almost definitely a better team now than they were then as they have shaken off some of the complacency that comes with being defending Super Bowl champs and they have gotten healthy at the right time. The Seahawks ranked 1st in schedule adjusted rate of moving the chains differential over the final 4 games of the season, at 16.11%. They also ranked 1st in that aspect over the final 8 games of the season at 11.68%. Green Bay, meanwhile, ranked 8th and 3rd in those two aspects respectively, with differentials of 5.76% and 8.08% respectively.

The Seahawks’ 14 point win over the Panthers last week at home wasn’t as lopsided as the final score suggested. The Seahawks moved the chains at a 79.17% rate, as opposed to 74.19% for the Panthers. If Kam Chancellor doesn’t pick off that pass and take it back 90 yards, that’s a very different final score and you can’t always rely on plays like that. However, Carolina was the 2nd hottest playoff team coming in behind Seattle (in terms of the last 4 games of the season) so it’s somewhat excusable. Green Bay’s win last week was hardly dominant either as the Packers moved the chains at an 83.87% rate, as opposed to 82.76% for the Cowboys. Sure, the Cowboys were an 8-0 road team coming in, but Rodgers being less than 100% with injuries can’t be ignored, especially now that they have to go on the road.

The one reason I’m not making a big play on the Packers is because their loss in Seattle earlier this year could easily work to their advantage. Teams are 28-14 ATS since 2001 in the playoffs against a non-divisional opponent that they already lost to earlier this season in the same location. However, the Seahawks do seem like the right side here. Even better, the public is split on this game so the odds makers won’t take a huge loss if the Seahawks cover, which always makes betting on a favorite easier. I’m not putting any money on this one though.

Seattle Seahawks 27 Green Bay Packers 17

Pick against the spread: Seattle -7.5

Confidence: Low