Detroit Lions 2014 Off-Season Report

2013 Recap

The Lions went 4-12 in 2012, but everything suggested they would be much better in 2013. They were killed by turnovers (-16), inability to recover fumbles (32.6%), return touchdowns (-10 touchdowns), and inability to win close games (3-8 in games decided by a touchdown or less). Through 9 games, things were great. They started 6-3, going +1 in turnovers, recovering 39.1% of fumbles, going +1 in return touchdowns, and going 3-2 in games decided by a touchdown or less. However, they won just 1 of their final 7 games, despite a fairly easy schedule (a combined 50-60-2 record by those 7 opponents). They went -13 in turnovers in those 7 games and 0-4 in games decided by a touchdown or less, some of the same things that plagued them before.

Those types of things tend to even out in the long run, but they haven’t really been doing that with the Lions. They have the talent to be one of the best teams in the NFL, finishing 6th in rate of moving the chains differential, moving the chains at a 73.92% rate, as opposed to 68.50% for their opponents (both of which were top-10), a differential of 5.42%. On top of that, they aren’t going to lose much this off-season, in spite of the fact that they don’t have a ton of cap space. They absolutely made the right move firing Jim Schwartz. It might not fix the problem, but at this point they had no other choice.

They’ve replaced him with Jim Caldwell. He’ll probably be better than Schwartz, but I don’t know if that was the right hire. They’re banking on him being more of the man that was recommended by Peyton Manning, led the Colts to a 24-8 record and a Super Bowl appearance in 2 seasons with Manning, and orchestrated the Ravens’ offense during their Super Bowl run, rather than the Peyton Manning puppet that finished 2-14 in the one season with Manning, led one of the worst offenses in the NFL this season with the Ravens, and went 26-63 as head coach of Wake Forest. I’d bet on the Lions winning more than 7 games rather than less than 7 games in 2014, but I don’t know if they’re going to reach their potential.

Positional Needs

Wide Receiver

The Lions drafted Titus Young and Ryan Broyles in back-to-back 2nd rounds because they wanted a talented trio of wide receivers with them and Calvin Johnson. However, Titus Young is out of the league because of off-the-field problems (to put it lightly), while Ryan Broyles has suffered significant leg injuries in each of the last 3 seasons dating back to his time at Oklahoma. His career is now in doubt. Now they have nothing after Calvin Johnson and they really struggle to move the ball when he’s out of the lineup. They need a good receiver opposite him. Nate Burleson is going into his age 33 season and could be a cap casualty, while the likes of Kris Durham and Kevin Ogletree aren’t getting it done.

Center

Dominic Raiola had a fantastic season this year, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd ranked center this season. However, he’s a free agent this off-season and could just retire, going into his age 36 season. They may need to replace him for next season and even if they don’t, they will have to at some point. They need a center of the future.

Tight End

Brandon Pettigrew is a free agent this off-season. He’s never lived up to his potential as a former first round pick and especially struggled in his contract year, catching just 41 passes for 416 yards and 2 touchdowns. He probably won’t be back next season so they’ll need another tight end to go with talented rookie Joseph Fauria.

Safety

Louis Delmas could easily be a cap casualty this off-season. If he is, they’ll need to replace him.

Cornerback

The Lions have spent a lot of picks on cornerbacks over the past few drafts, including Darius Slay in the 2nd round in 2013, Bill Bentley in the 3rd round in 2012, Chris Greenwood in the 5th round in 2012, and Jonte Green in the 6th round in 2012. However, they still don’t have another cornerback opposite Chris Houston. Veteran Rashean Mathis was the savior for them at the position this season, but he’s a free agent going into his age 34 season. They could spend another pick on this position in this draft.

Defensive End

Ezekiel Ansah had a strong rookie year, but they might need help opposite him. Willie Young, a talented starter, and Israel Idonije are free agents this off-season, while Jason Jones could be a cap casualty after a suffering a serious injury this season.

Kicker

David Akers is a free agent this off-season and could retire going into his age 40 season. If he’s not back, they’ll need to replace him.

Key Free Agents

DE Willie Young

A talented reserve since being drafted in the 7th round in 2010, Willie Young broke out as a starter this season, playing 801 snaps and grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 16th ranked 4-3 defensive end. Just in time for his contract year. He should be the Lions’ number #1 priority in terms of free agents this off-season. He’ll get a deal around 4-5 years, $20-$25 million this off-season.

C Dominic Raiola

Dominic Raiola had a fantastic season this year, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd ranked center this season. However, he’s a free agent this off-season and could just retire, going into his age 36 season. If he continues playing, it’ll probably be on a one year deal with the Lions.

TE Brandon Pettigrew

Brandon Pettigrew is a free agent this off-season. He’s never lived up to his potential as a former first round pick and especially struggled in his contract year, catching just 41 passes for 416 yards and 2 touchdowns. He probably won’t be back next season.

QB Shaun Hill

Shaun Hill is one of the best backup quarterbacks in the NFL. He’s not a starting caliber quarterback at all, going into his age 34 season, but he’ll get a good amount of money to be a backup somewhere. In his career, he’s completed 62.0% of his passes for an average of 6.69 YPA, 41 touchdowns, and 23 interceptions. If I had to bet, I think he’ll be back in Detroit.

DE Israel Idonije

Idonije remained unsigned late into last off-season because of his age (going into his age 33 season), but he provided the Bears with great play at two spots on the defensive line in 2012, lining up at defensive end in base packages and rushing the passer from the interior in sub packages. He also moved to defensive tackle for a few games late in the season. His composite grade would have been 8th among 4-3 defensive ends and 6th among defensive tackles on Pro Football Focus in 2012. That being said, he played just 347 snaps in 2013 and now is going into his age 34 season so job offers will be limited.

CB Rashean Mathis

Rashean Mathis randomly had a very strong season in 2013 in his age 33 season, after being let go by the Jaguars. Believe it or not, he actually finished as Pro Football Focus’ 27th ranked cornerback in 799 snaps, allowing opponents to complete 48.7% of his passes against him. He won’t be a hot commodity going into his age 34 season, but he should get picked up at some point. He’s probably looking at one year deals though.

K David Akers

David Akers is an incredibly accomplished kicker, who has 1721 career points, 11th most all-time. He’s hit 80.9% of his field goals for his career and bounced back from a rough 2012 by hitting 19 of 24 in 2013. However, he’s going into his age 40 season and may opt to hang them up. If he doesn’t, he might have to wait a little bit for a chance at a job.

Cap Casualty Candidates

G LeRoy Harris

LeRoy Harris was brought in on a two-year deal last off-season to compete for the right guard job, but ended up losing the job and didn’t play a single snap all season. The Lions can save 1.95 million in cap space and cash by cutting him this off-season and given Larry Warford’s breakout year as a rookie, Harris is entirely superfluous. He’s probably gone.

S Louis Delmas

After playing in just 19 of 32 possible games in 2011 and 2012, Louis Delmas didn’t miss a game in 2013, playing 1058 snaps, 2nd most on the team. He was a pretty solid starter. However, his history of injury problems is still there and he probably isn’t worth his 6.5 million dollar cap number for 2014 on a cap strapped team. The Lions can save 6 million in cap space and cash by cutting him and there’s already talk that they’re going to do so.

RB Montell Owens

Montell Owens is a running back/fullback/special teamer, who played just 2 snaps on offense in 2013. The Lions are pressed for cap space and can save 1.205 million by cutting Owens. That’s too steep of a cap number for a special teamer coming off of a serious knee injury.

WR Nate Burleson

The Lions can save 5.5 million in cap space and cash by cutting Nate Burleson going into his contract year in 2014. Burleson is going into his age 33 season and has missed 17 games over the past 2 seasons. That seems like a no brainer for a cap strapped team. A paycut is another option here.

OT Corey Hilliard

Corey Hilliard started the first 7 games of the season at right tackle for the Lions and wasn’t bad, but he was benched for undrafted rookie LaAdrian Waddle, who impressed down the stretch. The Lions may cut him to save 1.6 million in cap space. It wouldn’t be hard to find a cheaper backup at right tackle.

DE Jason Jones

Jason Jones’ first year of a three year deal was disappointing, as he played just 87 snaps before suffering a serious knee injury. Willie Young, who took over at left end for him, was very solid and, provided he’s brought back as a free agent, the Lions may just go ahead and cut Jones. They’d save 6 million in cash over the next 2 seasons and about 2 million on next year’s cap by cutting him.

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Denver Broncos vs. Seattle Seahawks: Super Bowl XLVIII Pick

Denver Broncos (15-3) vs Seattle Seahawks (15-3) at MetLife Stadium

The big matchup in this game is Denver’s offense vs. Seattle’s defense. Because the media loves hyperbole, the Broncos’ offense is being billed as one of the top offenses of all time, while the Seahawks’ defense is being billed as one of the top defenses of all time. Only one half of that hyperbolic statement is accurate. The Broncos are one of the greatest offenses of all time. It can be tough to compare across eras, but they’ve scored the most points in a single season in NFL history. The Seahawks ranked #1 in points allowed this season, allowing 14.4 points per game, but I don’t think they’re in all-time great territory. There’s some team that allows that few points pretty much every season.

The Seahawks might not even be the best defense in the NFL. Points per game allowed isn’t the end all of defensive statistics. I feel the statistic rate of moving the chains allowed is the best way to determine how good a defense (or an offense) has played because the goal of any team on any given 1st and 10 (or 1st and goal) is to move the chains (or score). It also does a good job of lessening the value of inconsistent things like turnovers and return touchdowns.

The Seahawks finished the regular season 3rd in rate of moving the chains differential allowed at 66.29%, very good, but hardly all-time great status like the Broncos’ offense. After two playoff games, the Seahawks are now at 66.73% in terms of rate of moving the chains allowed, which makes sense because teams’ schedules obviously get tougher in the playoffs.

The Broncos, meanwhile, finished the regular season, first, by far, moving the chains at an 81.09% rate. However, after two playoff games, that number is even higher, as they are now moving the chains at an 81.62% rate. They’ve punted just once in two playoff games. Granted, they haven’t played tough defenses in either game, but that’s still incredibly impressive. The Seahawks can slow them, but they won’t be able to stop them. I think Richard Sherman has a good chance to shut down one side of the field (contrary to popular belief he doesn’t shadow #1 receivers and will not shadow Demaryius Thomas in this game), but Peyton Manning has plenty of other weapons and he knows how to use them. The Broncos will probably be in the 20-27 point range so the Seahawks will have to keep up.

Can the Seahawks keep up? Well, the Broncos defense is not nearly as good as their offense. The Broncos finished the regular season 20th in rate of moving the chains against, allowing opponents to move the chains at a 71.86% rate and now they are at 72.24%. The Seahawks, meanwhile, finished the regular season 13th in rate of moving the chains, moving the chains at a 72.35% rate, and now they are at 71.64%. They’re not a great offense, but they’ll be able to move the chains on this defense, especially with Percy Harvin back for the Seahawks and Von Miller and now Chris Harris out for the season for the Broncos.

In terms of rate of moving the chains differential, the Broncos are at 9.38%, including playoffs, while the Seahawks are at 4.91%. That suggests this line should be around 4.5 in favor of Denver instead of 2. Why are the Broncos significantly better than the Seahawks in this category in spite of their identical records? Well the Seahawks have been much more reliant on winning the turnover battle as they are +23 on the season, including playoffs, while the Broncos are -2. Winning the turnover battle tends to be a tough thing to do on a consistent basis, so the fact that the Broncos have been able to win without winning the turnover battle, while the Seahawks have had more issues doing so works in Denver’s favor. Seattle is going to find it much harder to pick off Peyton Manning than any other quarterback in the league anyway.

That being said, I’m not crazy about Denver for two reasons. One is that aforementioned injury situation with Harvin, Miller, and Harris. Two, rate of moving the chains differential doesn’t take into account strength of schedule and the Seahawks have had the much tougher schedule this season. The Seahawks finished the regular season with a 17th ranked strength of schedule, according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA, while the Broncos finished with a 31st ranked strength of schedule. The Broncos also played two easier playoff games than the Seahawks, coming out of the easier AFC. I hate not having a confident pick for the Super Bowl, because obviously it’s the biggest game of the year, but I’m only a little bit confident in the Broncos.

Denver Broncos 24 Seattle Seahawks 20

Pick against spread: Denver -2

Confidence: Low

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Buffalo Bills 2014 Off-Season Report

2013 Recap

The Bills were the only team in the NFL to select a quarterback in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. While most teams, even the neediest at quarterback, shied away from spending a premium pick on anyone from the 2013 quarterback class, the Bills took EJ Manuel out of Florida State after a trade down. It was certainly a risk, but for a team searching for a franchise quarterback really since the Jim Kelly days, having last made the playoffs in 1999 and last won a playoff game in 1995, it was understandable. However, given the risk, the Bills season can be best evaluated on the basis of EJ Manuel’s development and, by those standards, 2013 was a failure.

Part of the problem was that Manuel missed too many valuable reps both in practice and in the game with injury. Manuel attempted just 306 of the Bills’ 522 pass attempts this season, as he missed 6 full games and parts of others with injury. He was also pretty ineffective when on the field, getting outplayed by backup Thad Lewis, who was on the practice squad to start the season. Lewis completed 59.2% of his passes for an average of 6.96 YPA, 4 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions, while rushing for 52 yards and a touchdown.

Meanwhile, Manuel completed 58.8% of his passes for an average of 6.44 YPA, 11 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions, while rushing for 186 yards and 2 touchdowns and grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 3rd worst ranked quarterback. As a result, the Bills were 28th in the NFL, moving the chains at a 66.27% rate, in spite of a decent running game. It’s obviously way too early to make any determination on Manuel’s future, but Bills fans can’t feel happy with his progress thus far. If he continues struggling into next season, they may have to give Thad Lewis a longer look. At the very least, Lewis is a decent backup.

Lewis’ emergence as a decent backup wasn’t the only positive from the Bills’ 2013 season as they had one of the league’s best defenses this season. Not only were they 2nd in the NFL in both sacks and interceptions, but they also rank 6th in rate of moving the chains against, allowing opponents to move the chains at a 67.58% rate. They were actually better than their 6-10 record would have suggested, in spite of their weaknesses on offense, ranking 19th in rate of moving the chains differential and posting a -49 point differential. Kyle Williams, Mario Williams, Jairus Byrd, Mario Williams were all deserving Pro-Bowlers, while Kiko Alonso, their 2nd round pick, is in the running for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

The bad news is the Bills lost the architect behind this defense as defensive coordinator Mike Pettine took the Cleveland Browns’ head coaching job. The Bills have talent independent of him and they’re going to be in good hands under new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, but Pettine was really the one to get the most out of them. They could also lose stud safety Jairus Byrd in free agency. They’ll have to continue playing like a top-10 unit on defense if they have plans to make the playoffs in 2014. For right now, it looks like they’re headed towards another year of mediocrity unless the offense can take a huge step forward.

Positional Needs

Guard

Andy Levitre is one of the best guards in the NFL, but the Bills let him go last off-season as a free agent. Their efforts to replace him were a train wreck. Colin Brown got the first crack at the job, starting 5 games and, in spite of his limited playing time, he finished the season as Pro Football Focus’ 4th worst ranked guard. Doug Legursky then took over and he was better, but only by default. He finished the season as Pro Football Focus’ 63rd ranked guard out of 81 eligible. If you combined them, they would have been the 2nd worst guard in the league last year. They need to address this position this off-season.

Offensive Tackle

Offensive tackle is another problem on their offensive line. Right tackle Erik Pears could be upgraded, especially as he heads into his age 32 contract year. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 55th ranked offensive tackle out of 76 eligible. They could draft someone like Auburn’s Greg Robinson with the 9th overall pick and then move Pears to left guard for the short-term. They could also draft an offensive tackle and slot him at left guard for the time being until Pears’s contract runs out. Cutting Pears could also be an option.

Tight End

Scott Chandler is a free agent this off-season. He was their leader in receptions and receiving yardage last season, in addition to his work as a blocker, so he’d obviously need to be replaced if they were unable to bring him. No other tight end caught more than 5 passes this season for them. They could also add another tight end early in the draft to bring in another receiver to the mix. Chandler is more of an inline tight end and they don’t have a true pass catching tight end.

Safety

Jairus Byrd is a free agent. If they aren’t able to bring him back, they’ll need to replace him at safety. The Bills would frequently use 3 safeties in obvious passing situations with Jairus Byrd, Aaron Williams, and Da’Norris Searcy who is the biggest of the bunch and would often play linebacker. Everyone would have to move up a role if Byrd left unreplaced.

Wide Receiver

No Bills receiver had more than 600 yards receiving last year. Steve Johnson could be a cap casualty next off-season if he continues to disappoint, while youngsters Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin, and TJ Graham have yet to develop into #1 receivers. Robert Woods, a 2013 2nd round pick, could be a solid #2 receiver long-term, but Goodwin, a 2013 3rd round pick, hasn’t shown much on offense, while TJ Graham, a 2012 3rd round pick, has been awful when on the field. They could add someone else to the mix this off-season.

Kicker

Dan Carpenter nailed 91.7% of his kicks this season and his career kicking percentage is 83.8%. However, he’s a free agent this off-season. They’ll need to replace him if he can’t be re-signed. Dustin Hopkins is an option to replace him because they drafted him last season, but he struggled so much in training camp and the pre-season that they brought in Dan Carpenter. Hopkins also missed all of the season with a groin injury suffered in September.

Key Free Agents

S Jairus Byrd

Jairus Byrd is not just one of the top safeties in the NFL, but one of the top defensive players at any position. He’s what everyone thinks Earl Thomas is (not that Thomas is bad by any stretch of the imagination). Byrd was Pro Football Focus’ 3rd ranked safety in 2011 and 2nd ranked in 2012. He ranked 8th in 2013, which wasn’t as good, but he missed a few games with injury to start the year so that had something to do with it. Upon his return, he was just as good as he was before the injury. The Bills now have a choice between franchise tagging him for the 2nd straight year or letting him hit the open market, where he could become the highest paid safety in the NFL. Either way, he’ll get paid.

TE Scott Chandler

Scott Chandler is not explosive at all, but he’s a great blocker at 6-7 265 and he’s also a good possession receiver and end zone threat, in spite of his inability to get separation. Over the past 3 seasons as a starter, he’s caught 134 passes for 1615 yards and 14 touchdowns in 45 games. Last season was the best season of his career, as he caught 53 passes for 655 yards and 2 touchdowns, reaching career highs in receptions and yardage, in spite of inconsistent quarterback play on a run heavy team. He was the team’s leader in both receptions and receiving yardage. He won’t command a ton of money on the open market, but the Bills will definitely need to replace him if he leaves.

K Dan Carpenter

Dan Carpenter was cut by the Dolphins before this season, but it was for financial reasons, not because of his performance. He was then cut by both the Cardinals and Jets, who brought him in purely as competition, but he caught on with the Bills, where he nailed 91.7% of his kicks. His career kicking percentage is 83.8% and it shouldn’t be hard for him to find work this off-season. My guess is the Bills want to bring him back.

Cap Casualty Candidates

QB Kevin Kolb

Yeah remember this guy? He’s still on the roster. The Bills signed Kevin Kolb to a two-year deal in the off-season to give them a stopgap for their rookie quarterback. However, Kolb continued to be injury prone and suffered a significant concussion in the pre-season that not only knocked him out for the season, but potentially for his career. He reportedly didn’t know his own name or where he was after that hit. There’s no chance the Bills keep him on the roster at a 3.1 million dollar salary. The Bills would save 3.1 million on the cap by cutting him and there’s a very good chance he just retires for his health. Hopefully he can live a normal life.

OT Erik Pears

Erik Pears isn’t terrible, but he was Pro Football Focus’ 55th ranked offensive tackle out of 76 eligible and he’s heading into his age 32 contract year. The Bills can save 2.9 million in cash and cap space by cutting him and they’d have their choice of upgrades over him with the 9th overall pick. He could also be moved to guard.

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Minnesota Vikings 2014 Off-Season Report

2013 Recap

In 2012, the Vikings rode a historic season from Adrian Peterson all the way to the post-season. In 2013, Peterson went back to being just very good and the Vikings ended up winning just 5 games. Peterson rushed for 831 fewer yards in 2013 than 2012. 1266 yards and 10 touchdowns on 279 carries is definitely not a bad season, especially considering Peterson missed 2 meaningless games with injury, but because he wasn’t averaging 6.0 yards per carry, it exposed their quarterbacks.

Christian Ponder was benched after 3 games for Matt Cassel and then returned to the starting job after mid-season pickup Josh Freeman bombed his only start of the season. Ponder then played until he got hurt and then Matt Cassel took over for the rest of the season. Cassel attempted 254 passes on that quarterback carousel. Christian Ponder attempted 239 and Josh Freeman attempted 53. All in all, Minnesota quarterbacks completed 59.5% of their passes for an average of 6.68 YPA, 18 touchdowns, and 19 interceptions, a quarterback rating of 76.0 that ranked 9th worst in the NFL.

In spite of that, their offense wasn’t as much of the problem and the reason why they declined this season, as their defense was horrible. In terms of rate of moving the chains against, they ranked 30th, allowing opponents to move the chains at a 75.91% rate. Their offense wasn’t great, ranking 19th and moving the chains at 70.56% rate, but they weren’t the biggest problem. They’re a quarterback away from being a very solid offense, with a great offensive line and running game and a solid set of weapons in the receiving game. I expect them to target quarterbacks early in the draft, but they are picking 8th with a bunch of quarterback needy teams ahead of them so they might have to move up to get their guy.

So what happened to their defense? Well, they suffered more injuries than they did in 2012, when they barely suffered any injuries. The loss of secondary leader Harrison Smith was the most notable one. They also missed Antoine Winfield, who played great in 2012, but left as a cap casualty and eventually retired. Other 30+ veterans did not play up to their standards, including Kevin Williams, Jared Allen, Brian Robison, and Chad Greenway.

One year after he was being touted as a Coach of the Year candidate, the Vikings fired Leslie Frazier after the season, in part because of the struggles of the defense, which is his specialty. He was replaced with another defensive coach in Mike Zimmer and he should be an upgrade. Zimmer has been an above average defensive coordinator for 14 years in the NFL, with the Cowboys, Falcons, and Bengals, but didn’t get his first head coaching job until now, when he’s going into his age 58 season, a testament to the NFL’s obsession with offensive coaches. 2013 was perhaps Zimmer’s best season as his Bengals were one of the best defenses in the NFL, despite losing Geno Atkins and Leon Hall to injury.

Zimmer will get the most out of the Vikings’ defense, just like he did with the Bengals’ defense. They don’t have nearly as much talent, especially since they could be undergoing a veteran purge, but Zimmer will do the best he can. I’m very excited to see what he can do with 2013 first round picks Xavier Rhodes and Sharrif Floyd, who will have bigger roles in 2014, as well as Harrison Smith, who had a strong rookie year in 2012, but missed most of 2013 with injury. Teams that have a big regression in win total tend to improve about half the total the following season. Given that, we could see the Vikings back in contention next season, especially if they can get the quarterback position right.

Positional Needs

Quarterback

Christian Ponder was benched after 3 games for Matt Cassel and then returned to the starting job after mid-season pickup Josh Freeman bombed his only start of the season. Ponder then played until he got hurt and then Matt Cassel took over for the rest of the season. Cassel attempted 254 passes on that quarterback carousel. Christian Ponder attempted 239 and Josh Freeman attempted 53. All in all, Minnesota quarterbacks completed 59.5% of their passes for an average of 6.68 YPA, 18 touchdowns, and 19 interceptions, a quarterback rating of 76.0 that ranked 9th worst in the NFL. I expect them to target quarterbacks early in the draft, but they are picking 8th with a bunch of quarterback needy teams ahead of them so they might have to move up to get their guy.

Cornerback

The Vikings took Xavier Rhodes in the first round in 2013, but they still need help at the position. Chris Cook and Marcus Sherels are both free agents and both struggled this season. Cook has had an inconsistent tenure in Minnesota, after being drafted in the 2nd round in 2010, which has included off the field problems. Sherels, meanwhile, is much more valuable as a return man than as a defensive back. Josh Robinson will still be under contract, but he’s been miserable in two seasons since being drafted in the 3rd round in 2012, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ worst ranked cornerback in terms of coverage grade in 2012 and 12th worst in terms of coverage grade in 2013. He shouldn’t be considered an option to start on the outside opposite Rhodes, so that’s a big need of theirs.

Defensive Tackle

The Vikings also took Sharrif Floyd in the first round in 2013, but defensive tackle remains a position of need. Kevin Williams and Fred Evans are both free agents this off-season and both are over 30, going into their age 34 and age 31 seasons respectively in 2014. Letroy Guion, meanwhile, is a mediocre at best player who could easily be a cap casualty this off-season. Floyd can be a replacement for Kevin Williams long-term, but they still need a long-term replacement for Pat Williams, who they have yet to replace since he retired following the 2011 season. This is something they need to address.

Defensive End

The Vikings have a bunch of free agents this off-season and things are no different at defensive end. Brian Robison was locked up on an extension this season, as he goes into his age 31 season, but Jared Allen and Everson Griffen are both free agents. Allen is going into his age 32 season anyway. My guess is they’d prefer to lock up Griffen, who is much younger and has thrived as a rotational player over the past few seasons, but it’s unlikely they’re going to be able to bring both back. They need to add depth at the very least.

Outside Linebacker

Chad Greenway used to be a great player, but he hasn’t graded out above average on Pro Football Focus since 2010 and last season he was Pro Football Focus’ 2nd worst ranked 4-3 outside linebacker, struggling in coverage and against the run and missing a league leading 21 tackles. He’ll make 6.5 million in 2014 and count for 8.4 million on the cap, in his age 31 season, so the Vikings could definitely cut him, which would free up 4.8 million in cap space. They may also keep him as a veteran presence if they don’t feel they need the cap space, but even if they don’t, he won’t be around much longer. They also may need to add someone opposite him as Marvin Mitchell is a free agent, though the two-down linebacker spot is much easier to fill.

Guard

The Vikings quietly have one of the best offensive lines in football. The only hole is left guard, where Charlie Johnson is a below average starter. Fortunately, he’s a free agent so the Vikings can use this opportunity to upgrade the position and improve even further on their dominant offensive line. After the quarterback position, this is their only real hole on offense.

Middle Linebacker

Erin Henderson is a decent starting linebacker, but he was arrested for DUI twice this season. He was benched following the first one and is now expected to be cut. The Vikings would save 2 million both in cash and on the cap by letting him go before his contract year next season. They’d need to replace him in that scenario, though Audie Cole, who flashed in limited action this season, could be a cheap internal option.

Punt Returner

I mentioned under the cornerback section that Marcus Sherels is a free agent. In spite of his issues in coverage, they need to bring him back because of his dominance as a punt returner. He was 2nd in the NFL in punt return average, returning 22 punts for 335 yards and 1 touchdown, an average of 15.2 yards per punt return. In his career, he averages 10.3 yards per punt return. If he isn’t brought back, they’ll need to replace him.

Key Free Agents

DE Jared Allen

Jared Allen is has declined in Pro Football Focus’ rankings in every season since 2011, when he was Pro Football Focus’ 5th ranked 4-3 defensive end. That makes sense as he’s getting older and he has played a significant snap total in almost every season in the league. He’s going into his age 32 season in 2014 and the Vikings don’t seem like they’re going to bring him back. Given the cold market that met Dwight Freeney and John Abraham last off-season, similar pass rushers in similar stages of their careers, Allen will probably have to settle for a short-term deal, hopefully with a contender.

DE Everson Griffen

Everson Griffen has played a significant role as a rotational player in the last two seasons, playing 623 snaps in 2012 and 717 snaps in 2013 and grading out about average. He’s going into the prime of his career, going into his age 27 season in 2014, and the Vikings, in a re-build, are much more likely to bring him back than Jared Allen. That would lead to a large role for him and he could thrive in Mike Zimmer’s defense. Expect him to re-sign with the Vikings on a multi-year deal that pays him like a starting caliber player.

DT Kevin Williams

Kevin Williams has been with the Vikings for 11 seasons since they drafted him 9th overall in 2003, but it appears that his tenure with the team is up as he heads into his age 34 season. The Vikings have an in-house replacement for his 3-technique role in Sharrif Floyd, a 1st round pick in 2013. He could retire, but he’s still got something left in the tank, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 27th ranked defensive tackle last season. He’ll probably be looking at short-term deals this off-season.

RB Toby Gerhart

Toby Gerhart was a premium pick in the 2nd round in 2010, but has served purely as Adrian Peterson’s backup in 4 seasons. He’s been impressive when given a chance, rushing for 1305 yards and 5 touchdowns on 276 carries, 4.5 yards per carry, while adding 77 catches for 600 yards and 3 touchdowns through the air. He could draw some interest as a lead back going into his age 27 season on the open market this off-season.

CB Marcus Sherels

Marcus Sherels isn’t much of defensive player. He had played 384 snaps in 2 seasons from 2011-2012 and this season, when he saw significant action, playing 545 snaps, he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 20th worst ranked cornerback in terms of coverage grade. That being said, they need to bring him back because of his dominance as a punt returner. He was 2nd in the NFL in punt return average, returning 22 punts for 335 yards and 1 touchdown, an average of 15.2 yards per punt return. In his career, he averages 10.3 yards per punt return.

CB Chris Cook

Chris Cook had a very disappointing 4 years in Minnesota after they drafted him in the 2nd round in 2010. He played just 34 of a possible 64 games, for a variety of reasons, including injuries and off the field issues. And while he flashed in coverage from time to time, he was terrible in 2013, his most significant season in terms of snap count. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 95th ranked cornerback out of 110 eligible, allowing 9 touchdowns to no interceptions and 71.2% completion. Only Justin Rogers allowed a higher QB rating. It’s easy to see why the Vikings drafted Cook so high. He has a rare combination of size and speed at 6-2 212 and at his best, he can be pretty damn good. My guess is his tenure in Minnesota is done and he’ll have to settle for one year prove it deals like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Aqib Talib did last off-season.

G Charlie Johnson

A 6th round pick in 2006, Charlie Johnson has been a starter for quite a few years, playing both left guard and left tackle, dating back to his time in Indianapolis with the Colts. He’s never been particularly good though as he struggled to protect Peyton Manning’s blindside, arguably the easiest blindside to protect, and then in Minnesota he got replaced by 1st round pick Matt Kalil and moved back to left guard. He’s the weakness on an otherwise strong Minnesota offensive line and the Vikings should take this opportunity to upgrade the position as he goes into his age 30 season. As for Johnson, he’s probably looking at one year deals without guarantees of a starting job.

WR Jerome Simpson

Simpson had a career high 726 receiving yards on 48 catches this season, though he did score just once. Still, he needed to have that kind of season after his miserable 2012 season, in which he struggled through injuries and caught just 26 passes for 274 yards. That being said, anyone signing him should know that he caught fewer than 50% of his targets not just last season, but in 2011, his other big receiving year (50/725/4). He also has a history of off the field problems. He’ll be greeted with a stronger market this year than last year, but he might still be looking at one year deals. The Vikings might be wise to bring him back cheap as a depth receiver.

OLB Marvin Mitchell

Marvin Mitchell was the 3rd linebacker in Minnesota this season, but only played 310 snaps. He’s never played more than 361 snaps in a season since being drafted in the 7th round in 2007 and he’s already going into his age 30 season. He’s almost definitely looking at one year deals this off-season. He wasn’t bad in his role last season so it might make sense for the Vikings to bring him back cheap, but he’ll also be very easy to replace if they don’t. Finding a two-down outside linebacker isn’t hard.

QB Josh Freeman

I’m not entirely sure what happened to Josh Freeman, but in his last 8 starts, Josh Freeman has completed 47.8% of his passes for an average of 5.80 YPA, 8 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions. He was demoted to 3rd string in Tampa Bay and cut despite still being owed a guaranteed salary. He then picked up 3 million from Minnesota, but ended up making just one start, a national televised trainwreck against the Giants in which he completed 20 of 53 for 190 yards and an interception. Sure, he probably didn’t have the playbook down yet, but the fact that the Vikings never went back to him for the rest of the season says something. Many members of the media have suggested there’s something deeper to his struggles, though those in the know seem uncomfortable divulging this information. Whatever it is, NFL teams are likely aware of it as well and Freeman should consider himself lucky if he even gets a chance to compete for a starting job anywhere this off-season.

Cap Casualty Candidates

DT Letroy Guion

Letroy Guion has graded out well below average in a rotational role over the past 2 seasons, including ranking dead last among defensive tackles on Pro Football Focus in 2012 on just 509 snaps. In 2013, he played just 397 snaps behind Kevin Williams and Sharrif Floyd. The Vikings can save 4 million in cash and on the cap by cutting him this off-season so he’s probably as good as gone.

MLB Erin Henderson

Erin Henderson is a decent starting linebacker, but he was arrested for DUI twice this season. He was benched following the first one and is now expected to be cut. The Vikings would save 2 million both in cash and on the cap by letting him go before his contract year next season.

OLB Chad Greenway

Chad Greenway used to be a great player, but he hasn’t graded out above average on Pro Football Focus since 2010 and last season he was Pro Football Focus’ 2nd worst ranked 4-3 outside linebacker, struggling in coverage and against the run and missing a league leading 21 tackles. He’ll make 6.5 million in 2014 and count for 8.4 million on the cap, in his age 31 season, so the Vikings could definitely cut him, which would free up 4.8 million in cap space. They may also keep him as a veteran presence if they don’t feel they need the cap space.

TE John Carlson

The 5 year, 25 million dollar deal the Vikings gave John Carlson last 2 years ago was absurd. He caught just 31 passes in 2010 and missed all of 2011 with injury and the Vikings already had Kyle Rudolph. Carlson caught just 8 passes in his first year with the team. This year, with Kyle Rudolph missing time with injury, Carlson had an opportunity to shine, but caught just 32 passes on the season. Carlson could easily be cut this off-season, which would free up 2 million in cap space. With Kyle Rudolph coming back, that’s definitely a possibility. He wouldn’t be worth his 4 million dollar salary as a backup.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2014 Off-Season Report

2013 Recap

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have dished out more big contracts over the past few years than perhaps any team in the NFL. They’ve re-signed Davin Joseph (7 years, 52.5 million), Donald Penn (6 years, 41.7 million), Mike Williams (6 years, 40.25 million), and Quincy Black (5 years, 29 million), signed Carl Nicks (5 years, 47.5 million), Vincent Jackson (5 years, 55.5 million), Dashon Goldson (5 years, 41.25 million), and Eric Wright (5 years, 37.5 million), and traded for Darrelle Revis (6 years, 96 million).

Some of those deals have panned out. Vincent Jackson has been their #1 receiver with 150 catches for 2608 yards and 15 touchdowns in the past 2 seasons combined. Donald Penn has been a fixture as an above average blindside protector. Darrelle Revis shook off a torn ACL and re-emerged as one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL last season. However, most of those deals have been disappointing.

Quincy Black and Eric Wright were both gone within 2 years of signing those deals. Davin Joseph suffered a knee injury in 2012 and was one of the worst guards in the league in 2013. Carl Nicks has been a very good guard when on the field, but has played just 9 games in two years because of a toe injury and a subsequent infection. Both could be cap casualties this off-season. Dashon Goldson graded out below average on Pro Football Focus in his first year with the Buccaneers after signing a record deal for a safety. Mike Williams has the potential to bounce back going forward, but he missed 10 games with injury and caught just 22 passes in the first year of his extension this season.

The Buccaneers’ problems have not been limited to free agency. High draft picks committed to Josh Freeman, Brian Price, Arrelious Benn, Da’Quan Bowers, Adrian Clayborn, and Mark Barron have yet to pay the dividends they were supposed to. As a result, the Buccaneers are a 4-12 team pressed up against the cap and GM Mark Dominik was fired this off-season after 5 seasons with the team, in which they went 28-52 and failed to make the playoffs. They haven’t made the playoffs since the 2007 season under Jon Gruden and they’re already on their 3rd head coach since Gruden was let go.

The Buccaneers might have been even worse than their 4-12 record would suggest. Sure, they went 2-4 in games decided by a touchdown or less and had a tough schedule, but they also went 4-12 despite a +10 turnover margin, which can be tough to maintain on a year-to-year basis, especially for bad teams. The Buccaneers went 1-11 this season when they didn’t win the turnover battle. They’re way too reliant on that. In terms of rate of moving the chains differential, they ranked 30th, which is about right. This is one of the worst teams in the NFL in spite of all the money they spent.

It’s not all bad for the Buccaneers though. The trio of Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David, and Darrelle Revis might all be among the top-20 players in the NFL, as they graded out 1st, 2nd, and 1st at their respective positions on Pro Football Focus this season. Their defense was the definition of top heavy as those were the only three players that graded out above average and played more than 300 snaps, but the core is there for them to build around. It’s much easier to upgrade from poor to average than it is to upgrade from average to great. Players like those 3 are rare and represent three positive things from Mark Dominik’s tenure.

Another positive thing he left behind was Mike Glennon, who definitely flashed as a third round rookie quarterback, completing 59.4% of his passes for an average of 6.27 YPA, 19 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions. He’s expected to get another chance as the starter in 2014 and could be the answer at quarterback if he develops properly. The Buccaneers will also get Doug Martin and Mike Williams back from injury for next season.

The other positive thing for the Buccaneers was that they hired Lovie Smith, an accomplished head coach and a defensive mastermind who was sorely missed by the Bears this season. The Buccaneers had to settle for bottom of the barrel coaching options the last two times around in Raheem Morris and Greg Schiano because of the poor reputation of the Buccaneers’ owners around the league, so they should consider themselves lucky that Smith was willing to take the job. Smith is familiar with the organization, serving as linebackers coach from 1996-2000.

I’m very excited to see what he’ll be able to do with Gerald McCoy (in the Tommie Harris/Henry Melton role) and Lavonte David (in the Lance Briggs role) and to see if he can help the rest of the defense play better around them, including former high draft picks Da’Quan Bowers, Adrian Clayborn, Johnthan Banks and Mark Barron and high paid underachieving safety Dashon Goldson. There’s some concern about how Darrelle Revis will fit his scheme because he’s a pure man cornerback, but Smith let Charles Tillman play man in Chicago so I’m not too concerned. He’s not dumb.

Smith’s biggest flaw and what led to his eventual termination in Chicago was his tendency to pick incompetent coaches to run his offense. Smith has tabbed former University of California coach Jeff Tedford as his offensive coordinator and he’ll be tasking with aiding in Mike Glennon’s development, which could make or break this team going forward. Tedford is a bit of a wild card. He coached 6 different future NFL 1st round pick quarterbacks while in college, but only Aaron Rodgers panned out as the other 5 included Kyle Boller, Akili Smith, Joey Harrington, and David Carr, who are among the biggest busts in NFL history (the 6th is Trent Dilfer). I want to give Smith the benefit of the doubt with his judgment of offensive minds, but he hasn’t earned that with his history.

Positional Needs

Defensive End

The Buccaneers used 1st and 2nd round picks on defensive ends in Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers and they haven’t really panned out. Clayborn graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 47th ranked 4-3 defensive end out of 52 eligible in 2013, while Bowers played just 212 snaps behind Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, who was Pro Football Focus’ worst ranked 4-3 defensive end. Clayborn could bounce back next season, another year removed from his torn ACL, and he did flash before the injury. However, even then they need someone opposite him. If any of Jadeveon Clowney, Anthony Barr, or Khalil Mack is still there at #7 overall, I expect them to pull the trigger.

Middle Linebacker

Lovie Smith suggested at his introductory press conference that he’s looking to upgrade the middle linebacker position. That makes sense. Mason Foster has graded out below average in all 3 seasons as a starter since being drafted in the 3rd round in 2011 and he’s a poor fit for the cover 2. Smith will be looking for his next Brian Urlacher. That won’t be easy, but it’ll be easier to find someone better than Foster so expect them to target this position early in the draft, perhaps in the 2nd round.

Tight End

Tim Wright emerged as a solid receiving threat out of the tight end position, this season, catching 54 passes for 571 yards and 5 touchdowns as an undrafted rookie. However, the 6-3 220 pound converted wide receiver is not an inline tight end by any stretch of the imagination and a very poor blocker. Wright would be better served in a joker role, playing out wide, in the slot, at h-back, and as a move tight end, behind a true inline tight end.

Defensive Tackle

It’s really amazing how good of a season Gerald McCoy had considering he was the only one on his defensive line that the opposing team had to worry about. They started 4th round rookie Akeem Spence at defensive tackle next to him and he played as you’d expected a 4th round rookie to play, grading out as Pro Football Focus 3rd worst ranked defensive tackle. He could be better in 2014, but they should bring in some competition for his job.

Guard

The Buccaneers could make both Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks cap casualties this off-season, as Joseph graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd worst ranked guard this season and Nicks has played just 9 games in 2 seasons with foot problems and may never play again because of nerve damage. All of their internal replacements sucked this season so they should replace both of them from the outside if they do cut them.

Outside Linebacker

This is another spot on the defense that needs help, the outside linebacker spot opposite Lavonte David. They could fill this spot by moving Mason Foster here or by drafting someone like Anthony Barr or Khalil Mack to play the Von Miller role. It’s a two-down role anyway so this one isn’t that high up on their list, especially since it’ll be easy to fill.

Wide Receiver

The Buccaneers have no depth behind Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. When the latter went out for the season 6 games into it this season, they didn’t have a suitable replacement. Tiquan Underwood had just 24 catches for 440 yards and 4 touchdowns on 376 routes run and he’s a free agent anyway. Depth needs to be added.

Quarterback

Is Mike Glennon the quarterback of the future? His 19 touchdowns to 9 interception ratio would suggest he is, but he also completed just 59.4% of his passes for an average of 6.27 yards per attempt. He was an obvious upgrade over Josh Freeman, but the Buccaneers still moved the chains at a 66.29% rate this season, 27th in the NFL, with Glennon making 13 starts. He’s the heavy favorite to be the starter in 2014, but they need to add a better backup than Dan Orlovsky, who is a free agent this off-season anyway.

Key Free Agents

WR Tiquan Underwood

Tiquan Underwood was the Buccaneers’ 3rd string wide receiver this season and was pressed into starting action for the final 10 games of the season with Mike Williams hurt. He didn’t impress with his opportunity, as he had just 24 catches for 440 yards and 4 touchdowns on 376 routes run. The man who was infamously cut by the Patriots the day before the Super Bowl in the 2011 season, Underwood has just 63 catches for 1009 yards and 6 touchdowns in 4 seasons. The former 7th round pick of the Jaguars out of Rutgers is purely a depth receiver and situational deep threat.

DE Daniel Te’o-Nesheim

A 3rd round pick out of Washington in 2010 by the Eagles, Te’o-Nesheim has carved out a significant role in Tampa Bay over the past 2 seasons, playing 748 snaps in 2012 and 616 snaps in 2013. However, he’s been terrible, especially in 2013, when he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ worst ranked 4-3 defensive end. He had just 1 sack, 9 hits, and 14 hurries on 328 pass rush snaps, managed 10 total solo tackles, including 9 stops, and missed 7. He shouldn’t get anything close to guaranteed money for next season.

Potential Cap Casualties

DT Derek Landri

The Buccaneers can save 1.5 million in cash and cap space by cutting Landri, so it seems like a no brainer. He played just 124 snaps, despite the Buccaneers need at the defensive tackle position, and graded out well below average on Pro Football Focus on those snaps.

G Davin Joseph

The 7-year, 52.5 million dollar contract the Buccaneers gave Davin Joseph was a mistake from the start. The year before he received it, he was Pro Football Focus’ worst ranked guard, despite playing just 11 games. In 2011, the first year of his contract, he continued to struggle, grading out below average and then he didn’t play at all in 2012 with a knee injury. This past season he was their 2nd worst ranked guard. The Buccaneers have a new front office and coaching staff so Joseph’s hall pass has probably run out as he heads into his age 31 season. The Buccaneers can save 6 million in cap space by cutting him and get out of the remaining 27.5 million he’s owed penalty free.

G Carl Nicks

Carl Nicks received a massive 5 year 48.5 million dollar contract from the Buccaneers and, even though he’s a guard, it was worth it. Nicks has played well when on the field in the first two seasons of the deal, but he’s played just 11 games thanks to a toe injury and a subsequent infection. He now has nerve damage that may potentially end his career. Given that, it makes sense for the Buccaneers to cut him and save 2.286 million on the cap this off-season, as good as he can be when healthy.

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2009 NFL Draft Redo

1. Detroit Lions- QB Matt Stafford (Georgia)

If the Lions had to do it all over again, I don’t think they’d change anything here. After some early career injury problems, Stafford has played all 48 games in the past 3 seasons, completing 60.7% of passes for an average of 7.24 YPA, 90 touchdowns, and 52 interceptions. The Lions still have a lot to build around him, but the quarterback position is the most important one and a franchise quarterback is always worth the #1 pick. That’s what Stafford has been.

2. St. Louis Rams- OT Eugene Monroe (Virginia)

The Rams took Jason Smith here #2 overall and he ended up being one of the being busts of the draft. They had the position right though. Orlando Pace was heading into the final year of his career, which he played in Chicago, so the Rams desperately needed a replacement. Monroe went 8th overall originally, but he could easily go even earlier the 2nd time around considering he’s blossomed into one of the best left tackles in the game. He’s graded out 6th, 15th, and 16th among eligible offensive tackles on Pro Football Focus in 2011, 2012, and 2013 respectively.

3. Kansas City Chiefs- OLB Clay Matthews (USC)

The Chiefs took Tyson Jackson here originally. Adding to the front 7 was the right call considering the Chiefs had just 10 sacks the entire season the year before, the fewest by an NFL team ever. However, Jackson never really developed into much more than a strong run stuffer. Tamba Hali, who led the 2008 Chiefs with 3 sacks, eventually developed into one of the better edge rushers in the NFL and the Chiefs drafted Justin Houston in the 3rd round in 2011 to give them a feared duo of edge rushers. However, adding Matthews would have given them that even sooner.

4. Seattle Seahawks- DE Brian Orakpo (Texas)

The Seahawks have a great pass rush now, but that wasn’t always the case. In 2008, the Seahawks’ top-3 defensive ends were Patrick Kerney, who was going into his age 33 season, Lawrence Jackson, a massive bust as a 1st rounder in 2008, and Darryl Tapp, a decent veteran who they would eventually trade to the Eagles for Chris Clemons. Clemons’ addition would give them a feared edge rusher later, but pairing him with Brian Orakpo would have given them one of the NFL’s best pass rushes very quickly.

5. New York Jets- RB LeSean McCoy (Pittsburgh)

The Jets knew they needed to address the running back position in 2009, as they drafted Shonn Greene in the 3rd round. Thomas Jones was heading into his age 31 season in 2009. Greene wasn’t terrible, but having LeSean McCoy would have been much better. In 5 seasons, McCoy has 7600 yards from scrimmage and 49 touchdowns, while Greene has 4239 yards from scrimmage and 22 touchdowns, about half of McCoy’s production. The Jets are unfortunately unable to address the quarterback position here because Stafford was the only good one to come out of this draft, but drafting McCoy 5th would have been much better than using this pick on Mark Sanchez and taking Greene in the 3rd.

6. Cincinnati Bengals- DE Michael Johnson (Georgia Tech)

The Bengals eventually took Michael Johnson in the 3rd round, but they have to take him earlier here to keep him around. Johnson was Pro Football Focus’ 13th ranked 4-3 defensive end in 2012, earning the franchise tag, and then was Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked 4-3 defensive end this season. He’ll get a good amount of money on his next contract. The other option here would be for the Bengals to just draft Andre Smith again as he’s been very good for them at right tackle in recent years, but I think Johnson has been the more important player for them.

7. Oakland Raiders- S Jairus Byrd (Oregon)

Safeties rarely go in the top-10, but that’s because if they don’t become Pro-Bowl caliber players, they’re almost automatically busts. Getting a just solid starter at safety out of a top-10 pick is a failure. However, with complete hindsight, we know that Byrd has become one of the best safeties in the league and even one of the best defensive players at any position. Byrd was Pro Football Focus’ 3rd ranked safety in 2011 and 2nd ranked in 2012. He ranked 8th in 2013, which wasn’t as good, but he missed a few games with injury to start the year so that had something to do with it. Upon his return, he was just as good as he was before the injury. The Bills now have a choice between franchise tagging him for the 2nd straight year or letting him hit the open market, where he could become the highest paid safety in the NFL. Either way, he’ll get paid. As for the Raiders, they needed all the talent they could get at this point. Drafting Darrius Heyward-Bey here didn’t help. The Raiders would eventually take Michael Mitchell in the 2nd round, but he never developed into the starting safety they wanted him to be.

8. Jacksonville Jaguars- CB Lardarius Webb (Nicholls State)

The Jaguars felt the need for a cornerback in 2009, drafting Derek Cox in the 3rd round. He flashed at times, but wasn’t nearly the player they wanted him to be.  Lardarius Webb is much better. Webb was Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked cornerback in 2011 and has been an above average player in all 5 seasons of his career, though he was derailed by a torn ACL in 2012. He wasn’t quite as good as he was in 2011 this year, grading out 21st, but there’s a very good chance he could once again be a top-10 cornerback again in 2014, another year removed from that injury.

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9. Green Bay Packers- RB Arian Foster (Tennessee)

The Packers have been searching for a talented running back to complement their talented passing game for years, finally finding Eddie Lacy in 2013. Arian Foster could have solved the problem a lot faster. He’s had some injury problems of late, but he’s still totaled 6777 yards from scrimmage and 52 touchdowns in 5 seasons. Imagine him and Aaron Rodgers in the same backfield.

10. San Francisco 49ers- WR Michael Crabtree (Texas Tech)

This is one where the pick doesn’t change. Michael Crabtree took a little bit to come around, but he had his first 1000+ yard season in 2012, catching 85 passes for 1105 yards and 9 touchdowns. He missed 11 games and was limited in the others after tearing an Achilles in 2013, but he showed enough down the stretch to suggest he should make a full recovery for 2014. Colin Kaepernick loves throwing to him and he’s the 49ers’ #1 receiver. They don’t let him get away here.

11. Buffalo Bills- OLB Brian Cushing (USC)

The Bills needed another linebacker other than Paul Posluszny going into the 2009 season. Cushing would be a great fit because he’s scheme versatile and the Bills have run both a 3-4 and 4-3 defense over the past 5 years. Cushing has had a lot of issues with injuries, but he was Pro Football Focus’ 2nd ranked 4-3 outside linebacker in 2009 (when he won Defensive Rookie of the year) and 3rd ranked middle linebacker in 2011. He’d be an obvious upgrade over Keith Ellison and Kawika Mitchell, who were their other starting linebackers at the time.

12. Denver Broncos- DT Henry Melton (Texas)

It’s amazing that the Broncos are going to the Super Bowl considering how bad Josh McDaniels messed things up in just 2 years there. It’s a huge credit to Peyton Manning and the new front office and coaching staff. The Broncos desperately needed front 7 help in 2009, but drafted just one front 7 player, outside linebacker Robert Ayers who never fit the scheme and has been a bust. They took Knowshon Moreno here and even to today he hasn’t proven to be worth a first round pick. Henry Melton would have been a much better pick to fix the defensive tackle position, their biggest need. He was Pro Football Focus’ 16th ranked defensive tackle in 2011 and 7th ranked in 2012, before tearing his ACL in 2013 after being franchise tagged.

13. Washington Redskins- OT Andre Smith (Alabama)

The Redskins would take Trent Williams 4th overall in 2010 and he’s been a fantastic player for them, but they needed help at both offensive tackle positions and Andre Smith could be a strong right tackle for them. The right tackle position is still a problem to this day, as the Redskins’ trade for Jammal Brown never panned out. Smith struggled to start his career, but he was Pro Football Focus’ 28th ranked offensive tackle in 2011, 4th ranked in 2012, and 20th ranked in 2013.

14. New Orleans Saints- DE Michael Bennett (Texas A&M)

Not enough people know about Michael Bennett. Bennett has been Pro Football Focus’ 7th, 7th, and 5th ranked 4-3 defensive end from 2011-2013 respectively. He has the versatility to play both inside and outside and can both rush the passer and stop the run at a high rate. He would have been a very valuable complement for Will Smith in New Orleans and helped a pass rush that was, for years, much in need, really up until this season.

15. Houston Texans- CB Vontae Davis (Illinois)

The Texans used to have serious secondary problems. They drafted Kareem Jackson in the 1st round in 2010, but Davis would have solved the problem even quicker and could have formed a very formidable duo with Jackson in a couple of years. That would have allowed the Texans to avoid paying Johnathan Joseph a massive sum of money to be their other starting cornerback. Davis has been inconsistent in his career, struggling with injuries at times and getting traded to the Colts for a 2nd and 6th round pick, but he is coming off of a fantastic contract year. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 3rd ranked cornerback this season and was also 12th in 2010.

16. San Diego Chargers- S Glover Quin (New Mexico)

The Chargers have been in need of safety help for years. They’ve never really replaced Rodney Harrison. Eric Weddle is a fantastic player, but they need another safety opposite him. Glover Quin struggled early in his career, but has turned it around big time since moving to safety. He was a solid starter in Houston at safety for 2 years and then signed a 5-year deal last off-season with the Lions, where he had arguably the best season of his career in 2013, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 11th ranked safety.

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17. Tampa Bay Buccaneers- WR Mike Wallace (Mississippi)

The Buccaneers desperately need wide receiver help in the 2009 draft. Antonio Bryant was their leading receiver in 2008 and no one else had more than 484 yards. As good as Bryant was that season, he was out of the league in 2 years for a variety of reasons. They added Kellen Winslow before the 2009 season and he led the team in receiving yardage in 2009, but they needed help on the outside. They’d eventually use 2nd and 4th round picks of Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams in 2010, but this would have been a better way to go.

18. Denver Broncos- CB Jason McCourty (Rutgers)

As I mentioned the Broncos really messed up the 2009 draft. Even though they had 2 first round picks and 5 picks in the first two rounds, Knowshon Moreno is the only player of substance they drafted. I addressed the front 7 with the 12th pick, but they also had a need in the secondary. The Broncos traded a future first round pick for Alphonso Smith, but that didn’t work out as Smith never developed into a starter and that future first round pick turned into Earl Thomas, one of the best safeties in the game. McCourty solves the problem a lot better. He’s been a top-10 cornerback on Pro Football Focus in each of the last 3 seasons, though much of his positive grade comes against the run.

19. Philadelphia Eagles- WR Jeremy Maclin (Missouri)

Jeremy Maclin never turned into the 1000+ yard receiver the Eagles were hoping he would, but he still had 258 catches for 3453 yards and 26 touchdowns from 2009-2012, before tearing his ACL and missing the entire 2013 season. Still, he’s expected to make a full recovery and the Eagles still have interest in bringing him back on a one year deal. I have to think that, if given the chance, they’d take Maclin once again in this situation.

20. Detroit Lions- CB Keenan Lewis (Oregon State)

The Lions went 0-16 the year prior to the 2009 NFL Draft so they really had needs at every position. Cornerback was a big one as they allowed 8.8 yards per pass attempt in 2008, not only the most in the NFL that season, but most seasons. Keenan Lewis has graded out above average in back-to-back seasons since becoming a starter in 2012, grading out 40th and 26th on Pro Football Focus. He’s probably the best available left here.

21. Cleveland Browns- C Alex Mack (California)

Here’s another team that stays with their original pick. The Browns drafted Alex Mack in the first round in 2009. It was a risky proposition, even though he was widely considered one of the top center prospects of the decade, because they would need him to emerge as a perennial Pro-Bowler. If he was just an average starter, he would have been a bust because center isn’t that valuable of a position. However, he’s been top-10 on Pro Football Focus among centers in all 5 seasons, so he’s been well worth this pick.

22. Minnesota Vikings- WR Percy Harvin (Florida)

Percy Harvin’s tenure in Minnesota was up and down. He never went over 1000 receiving yards despite getting the lion’s share of the targets and he also missed 10 games in 4 seasons, but he was an explosive all-purpose weapon, returning kicks and carrying the ball, in addition to his work as a receiver, despite working with terrible quarterbacks for the most part. In his final 25 games with the team, he averaged 83.4 yards from scrimmage per game and also got the Vikings a 1st round pick in return when they traded him to the Seahawks. I think they’d do it all over again in this situation.

23. Baltimore Ravens- OT Phil Loadholt (Oklahoma)

The Ravens originally drafted Michael Oher here and he started for 5 seasons for them on the offensive line, playing both left tackle and right tackle. However, he was very inconsistent and had a terrible year in 2013, grading out 68th out of 76 eligible offensive tackles on a terrible Baltimore offense. Phil Loadholt would have been a better fit. He’s broken out as a great right tackle over the past few years, grading out 24th, 22nd, and 10th on Pro Football Focus among offensive tackles from 2011-2013 respectively.

24. Atlanta Falcons- DE Paul Kruger (Utah)

The Falcons have been struggling for pass rush for years. They’ve been looking for a complement for John Abraham for years, using a 4th round pick in 2009, a 5th round pick in 2012, and a 4th and 5th round pick on defensive ends, as well as giving a large contract to Ray Edwards that was a huge failure. Paul Kruger would solve that problem, a problem that was especially bad over the past season with John Abraham gone.

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25. Miami Dolphins- G Louis Vasquez (Texas Tech)

The Dolphins have had needs on the offensive line for years. Louis Vasquez is too good to pass on here. He’s graded out above average in all 5 seasons on Pro Football Focus that he’s been in the league and would be a real asset on the offensive line. He maxed out at 3rd overall among guards on Pro Football Focus in 2013. If they had him, they never would have needed to bring in Richie Incognito.

26. Green Bay Packers- DT BJ Raji (Boston College)

The Packers originally drafted BJ Raji 9th overall. He hasn’t been quite that good because he’s been very inconsistent, but he was an integral part of their Super Bowl team so they’d probably want to hang on to him here with their 2nd pick in the first round. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 3rd worst ranked 3-4 defensive end in 2013 and last ranked defensive tackle in 2011, but he was also their 7th ranked 3-4 defensive end in 2012 and 28th ranked defensive tackle in 2010.

27. Indianapolis Colts- G Andy Levitre (Oregon State)

The Colts have needed offensive line help dating back to the Peyton Manning days and grab one of this draft class’ many talented interior offensive linemen here. Andy Levitre has graded out above average on Pro Football Focus in 4 straight seasons as a starter, grading out 6th, 9th, and 13th in 2011-2013 respectively. He became one of the league’s highest paid interior linemen before the 2013 season, when he signed a 6 year, 46.8 million dollar deal with the Titans, leaving Buffalo.

28. Buffalo Bills- OT Sebastian Vollmer (Houston)

The Bills acquired this pick from the Eagles for Jason Peters, but they didn’t replace the left tackle, opting instead for center Eric Wood, who has been just alright. Vollmer would be an upgrade on the blindside over the terrible Demetress Bell, who took over for Peters. Bell was eventually replaced by Cordy Glenn, who has done a solid job over the past 2 seasons, but Vollmer and Glenn would form quite a tandem today if they had drafted both of them.

29. New York Giants- WR Hakeem Nicks (North Carolina)

Hakeem Nicks has had a bunch of injury problems in his tenure in New York, missing 10 games and being limited in countless others, but he’s overall had a solid 5 years, catching 311 passes for 4622 yards and 27 touchdowns. The Giants are probably moving on from him this off-season, but I think, given their current choices, they’d do it all again with Nicks, who had 2 seasons of 1000+ yards and was an integral part of their Super Bowl team.

30. Tennessee Titans- C Max Unger (Oregon)

The Titans take another one of this draft class’ talented interior linemen. They’ve had issues at the center position since Kevin Mawae retired following the 2009 season. Unger could play guard for a season until then and then move to center, where he’s been one of the NFL’s best over the past few years. He had some issues with injuries in 2013, but he was Pro Football Focus’ 3rd ranked center in 2012.

31. Arizona Cardinals- G Alex Boone (Ohio State)

Alex Boone took an interesting road to the 49ers’ starting lineup. He went undrafted in 2009 because of concerns about his alcohol abuse, after he was arrested for DUI, jumping on car hoods, yanking on a tow truck cable, and trying to break a window. The 49ers snatched him up as an undrafted free agent and he got his life clean, moving into the starting lineup in 2012. He was Pro Football Focus’ 3rd ranked guard that season and even though he struggled through injuries in 2013, he’s still worth a pick here, especially for an Arizona team that has been hurting for offensive line help for years.

32. Pittsburgh Steelers- DE Desmond Bryant (Harvard)

The Steelers originally used this draft pick on Ziggy Hood, a collegiate defensive tackle converted to 5-technique defensive end in Pittsburgh. Hood struggled through weight problems though and was largely a bust. Here they do the same thing with Bryant, a much better player. Bryant was very good on the defensive line for the Raiders in 2011 and 2012, playing both defensive end and defensive tackle, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 6th ranked defensive tackle in 2012. He wasn’t quite as good in 2013, struggling through injuries, but he’s still worth this pick.

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Atlanta Falcons 2014 Off-Season Report

2013 Recap

The Falcons were definitely going to regress this season. The average 13-win team wins 9.5 games the following season. The Falcons played just 2 eventual playoff teams in 2012 and went 7-2 in games decided by a touchdown or less. They had an unsustainable +13 turnover margin, which was powered by an unsustainable 64.3% fumble recovery rate. They also had significant off-season losses. They lost their best two defensive linemen, John Abraham and Vance Walker, and only replaced them with an aging Osi Umenyiora. They lost two offensive line starters and had just two players playing in their 2012 spot on the line. The switch from Michael Turner to Steven Jackson appeared to be an upgrade, but with Jackson heading into his 30s, it was tough to expect much.

However, the Falcons regressed in a way that no one saw coming. They went from 13 wins to 4 wins as injuries ravaged the team. Sean Weatherspoon, Sam Baker, Kroy Biermann, and Julio Jones all missed significant time with injury, while Roddy White was limited by lower body injuries all season. Steven Jackson also missed significant time with injury and struggled when he did play, showing his age. White and Jackson were a part of a group of 30+ veterans who disappointed on this team, including Asante Samuel, Stephen Nicholas, and Osi Umenyiora, all of whom were benched at one point or another.

Baker and Weatherspoon also struggled when they were in the lineup, hurting their linebacking corps and offensive line significantly. The former unit was forced to rely significantly on two undrafted rookies, Joplo Bartu and Paul Worillow, while the latter saw two 2nd year players, Lamar Holmes and Peter Konz, play among the worst in the league at their respective positions. Add in a disappointing year from safety Thomas DeCoud and you had a team that had little around the quarterback position.

It’s very hard for a team to win just 4 games with a strong quarterback and Matt Ryan is not to blame, as he completed 67.4% of his passes for 6.94 YPA, 26 touchdowns, and 17 interceptions, despite a lack of talent around him. However, the Falcons had ones of the worst defenses in the NFL, struggling in all facets and the only thing that worked on the offensive side was the passing game, as they were unable to pass protect or establish anything on the ground.

The good news is that things should turn around in 2014. Teams that see significant drops in win totals often rebound and wind up, on average, right in the middle of their strong season and their bad season. That would put the Falcons at 8 or 9 wins, which isn’t hard to imagine given their recent history of success. They should have significantly fewer injuries and they have plenty of cap space to build their roster. They also have the 6th overall pick in the draft to add a much needed cheap blue chip. Also, things that are usually kind to the Falcons were not in 2014. They went 3-7 in games decided by a touchdown or less and their turnover margin was -7 as they forced just 21 takeaways. Those things should turn around in 2014 and allow this team to compete for a playoff spot.

Positional Needs

Defensive End

Maybe edge rusher is a better term here because Mike Nolan will want someone who is versatile enough to play in all schemes. The Falcons had just 32 sacks this season, which ranked tied for 3rd worst in the NFL, and they are Pro Football Focus’ 32nd ranked team in terms of pass rush. Osi Umenyiora was their big free agent pass rusher signing, but he was benched towards the end of the season and he’s unlikely to be brought back next season, owed 3.5 million dollars in his age 33 contract year. They need at least one, if not two new starters at defensive end/edge rusher. Jadeveon Clowney or Anthony Barr could be very intriguing at #6.

Defensive Tackle

The Falcons top-3 defensive tackles are all free agents this off-season and the odds are against them bringing all 3 of Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters, and Peria Jerry back. Even if they do, Babineaux is heading into his age 33 season, while Jerry, a 2009 1st round pick, has been a complete bust and is barely a rotational caliber player at this point in his career. Corey Peters, meanwhile, played well this season, but was terrible in 2012 so he’s tough to trust.

Offensive Tackle

The Falcons gave Sam Baker a 6 year, 41.1 million dollar deal last off-season after the 2008 1st rounder had a strong contract year. The first year of that deal went as bad as it possibly could have. Baker’s tendency to get injured returned and he played just 190 snaps. He was horrific on those 190 snaps, allowing a sack, 7 hits, and 12 hurries. No offensive tackle played fewer snaps than him and graded out worse than him on Pro Football Focus in either overall grade or pass blocking grade. Despite such limited snaps, he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 9th worst ranked offensive tackle overall.

He’ll be back next season because he still has guaranteed money left on his deal and cutting him would cost 9.2 million on the cap. However, they need help opposite him. Lamar Holmes, a 2012 3rd round pick, has been awful this far in his career. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd worst ranked offensive tackle in 2013, allowing 10 sacks, 13 hits, and 53 hurries, while committing 12 penalties. He could still turn it around, but given that he was just a 3rd round pick, it’s looking unlikely. They can’t let him come into 2014 as the uncontested starting right tackle.

Tight End

Tony Gonzalez is retiring, at least for now. The Falcons need a new tight end to replace him. Levine Toilolo, a 2013 4th round pick, was their 2nd string tight end last season, but he only played 198 snaps because the Falcons almost never use two-tight end sets, catching 11 passes for 55 yards and 2 touchdowns. He’s a decent blocker and goal line weapon, but I don’t know if he’s a good enough receiver to be a #1 tight end. They should bring someone else into the mix.

Guard

Left guard Justin Blalock was their only good offensive lineman in 2013. They need help at right guard opposite him. Garrett Reynolds has been very inconsistent in his career and was benched last season for Joe Hawley, who took over at center, moving Peter Konz to right guard. Konz was horrible at right guard, just as he was at center. They need to bring in competition for Reynolds, as Hawley, a decent reserve, is a free agent this off-season.

Center

Peter Konz has been a complete bust in 2 years since being a 2nd round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. He was Pro Football Focus’ 6th worst ranked guard in 2012. In 2013, he started the season at center, his collegiate position, but struggled and moved back to right guard. Despite splitting time at the two positions, he was still both Pro Football Focus’ 2nd worst ranked center and their 68th ranked guard out of 81 eligible. They need to bring in some competition for him.

Running Back

The Falcons replaced Michael Turner with Steven Jackson, but Jackson didn’t prove to be much of an upgrade. Jackson fell off a cliff, rushing for a career low 543 yards and 3.5 yards per carry. He only played 12 games and had just 157 carries. That shouldn’t have been a surprise as he had 2396 carries going into his age 30 season in 2013. 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 can get out of his contract fairly easily and replace him, but even if they don’t, they need a running back for the future as Jackson is heading into his age 31 season.

Cornerback

The Falcons used 1st and 2nd round picks on cornerbacks in 2013 NFL Draft, taking Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, but they might still need help at the position this off-season. Asante Samuel is expected to be a cap casualty, while Robert McClain is a free agent. If they don’t retain him, they’ll need to get someone to replace him.

Middle Linebacker

Paul Worrilow took over as the starting middle linebacker as an undrafted rookie this season. He wasn’t terrible, but he did grade out as Pro Football Focus’ 41st ranked middle linebacker out of 55 eligible. The Falcons do seem to like him so he’ll probably be back as the starter next season, but it might not be a bad idea to get a cheap veteran backup just in case he continues to struggle.

Safety

Thomas DeCoud had an awful 2013 season in the 2nd year of his 5-year deal, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 4th worst ranked safety. The Falcons can save a good amount on the cap and 11.2 million in cash over the next 3 seasons by cutting him. If they cut him, they’ll need to find some sort of replacement. Perhaps 2013 undrafted rookie Zeke Motta can be that guy and they might just keep DeCoud as a veteran presence in hopes that he turns it around with so many needs. That’s why it’s at the bottom on this list.

Key Free Agents

DT Jonathan Babineaux

Babineaux has played in 138 games for the Falcons, missing a combined 4 over the past 6 seasons, since being taken in the 2nd round in 2005 out of Iowa. Since Pro Football Focus’ first season in 2008, Babineaux has graded out above average in all 6 seasons, maxing out as Pro Football Focus’ #1 ranked defensive tackle in 2009 and grading out 13th as recently as 2011. Unfortunately, he’s going into his age 33 season this off-season so he’ll probably be looking at short-term deals, but he should still be able to get 3-5 million dollars per year.

DT Corey Peters

A 3rd round pick in 2010, Corey Peters has been a pretty inconsistent player thus far in his career, playing significant amounts of snaps in all 4 seasons and alternating between below average and above average seasons on Pro Football Focus. For example, in 2012, he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd worst ranked defensive tackle, but in 2013, he graded out 30th and significantly above average. He’ll get a decent amount of money on a 3 or 4 year deal going into the prime of his career. Of the Falcons’ 3 free agents at defensive tackle, Peters should be their #1 priority because of his combination of youth and talent.

CB Robert McClain

Robert McClain broke out as the nickel back in 2012 for the Falcons, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 12th ranked cornerback. He wasn’t nearly as good in 2013, grading out right around average, playing about half the snaps, but he still should be retained because he’s one of the few talented young players the Falcons have. He should get a bigger role in 2014.

DT Peria Jerry

Peria Jerry has been a complete bust as a 2009 1st round pick. 2010 was the only season he graded out above average and he did that on 213 snaps. 2013 was his worst season as he played a career high 678 snaps and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 6th worst ranked defensive tackle. He’s looking at rotational work on a one year deal at best this off-season.

Cap Casualty Candidates

CB Asante Samuel

Asante Samuel is going into his age 33 season and he’s as good as gone after getting moved down to 4th string behind rookies Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford late last season. Samuel is owed 4.5 million in salary and bonuses in 2014 in his contract year and the Falcons can save 4.5 million on the cap by letting him go.

DE Osi Umenyiora

Osi Umenyiora is another veteran who is as good as gone. Umenyiora was their big pass rush signing last off-season and though he led the team with 7 sacks, he still wasn’t as good as they needed him to be and they benched him down the stretch to evaluate younger players. The Falcons can save both 3.5 million in cash and cap space by letting him go, as he heads into his age 33 season.

RB Jason Snelling

Jason Snelling was arrested this season and the Falcons have generally displayed a no tolerance policy in the past in terms of players with off the field run ins. Given that, it’s pretty safe to assume that Snelling will be cut, saving 1.375 million in cash and cap space. He’s also going into his age 31 season in 2014 and had just 44 carries in an underwhelming backfield in 2013, averaging just 3.7 yards per carry.

OLB Stephen Nicholas

Stephen Nicholas has been jumped on the depth chart by two undrafted rookies Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu and played just 132 snaps in 2013, the 3rd year of a 5 year deal. The Falcons can save a combined 7.5 million in cash in 2014 and 2015 and 2 million in cap space by cutting him this off-season, as he goes into his age 31 season.

OLB Kroy Biermann

Kroy Biermann missed most of last season with injury and has yet to establish himself as an impact edge rusher. The Falcons can save 3.05 million on the cap next season and in cash by cutting him, but they may keep him around because of how thin they are at edge rusher.

RB Steven Jackson

The Falcons replaced Michael Turner with Steven Jackson, but Jackson didn’t prove to be much of an upgrade. Jackson fell off a cliff, rushing for a career low 543 yards and 3.5 yards per carry. He only played 12 games and had just 157 carries. That shouldn’t have been a surprise as he had 2396 carries going into his age 30 season in 2013. 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 can get out of his contract fairly easily, saving about 1.8 million on next year’s cap in the process, if they choose.

S Thomas DeCoud

Thomas DeCoud had an awful 2013 season in the 2nd year of his 5-year deal, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 4th worst ranked safety. The Falcons can save a 3 million on the cap and 11.2 million in cash over the next 3 seasons by cutting him. They also might just keep DeCoud as a veteran presence in hopes that he turns it around with so many needs.

TE Tony Gonzalez

This is just formality as Gonzalez is technically under contract for 2014 at the salary of 7 million. He’s expected to retire, however, so the Falcons won’t technically have to cut him to realize savings of 7 million in cash and cap space. Gonzalez will now sit and wait for the Hall of Fame to call, though he did leave the window open for him to return mid-season to a contender in 2014.

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