Detroit Lions 2015 NFL Off-Season Preview

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.

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Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 NFL Off-Season Preview

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.

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Cincinnati Bengals 2015 NFL Off-Season Preview

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.

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Philadelphia Eagles 2015 NFL Off-Season Preview

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.

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Buffalo Bills 2015 NFL Off-Season Preview

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.

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Kansas City Chiefs 2015 NFL Off-Season Preview

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.

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San Diego Chargers 2015 NFL Off-Season Preview

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.

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