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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Houston Texans 2015 NFL Off-Season Preview

Positions of Need

Safety

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

Cornerback

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

Quarterback

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

Wide Receiver

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

Defensive End

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

Offensive Tackle

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

Defensive Tackle

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

Center

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

Key Free Agents

CB Kareem Jackson

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

OT Derek Newton

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

OLB Brooks Reed

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

S Kendrick Lewis

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

QB Ryan Mallett

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

S Danieal Manning

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

Cap Casualty Candidates

OT Tyson Clabo

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

CB Johnathan Joseph

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

WR Andre Johnson

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

C Chris Myers

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

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San Francisco 49ers 2015 NFL Off-Season Preview

Positions of Need

Defensive End

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

Wide Receiver

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

Tight End

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

Cornerback

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

Guard

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

Running Back

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

Quarterback

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

Key Free Agents

G Mike Iupati

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

CB Chris Culliver

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

WR Michael Crabtree

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

RB Frank Gore

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

CB Perrish Cox

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

OLB Dan Skuta

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

WR Brandon Lloyd

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

QB Blaine Gabbert

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

Cap Casualty Candidates

TE Vernon Davis

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

OLB Ahmad Brooks

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

S Craig Dahl

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

WR Steve Johnson

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

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Miami Dolphins 2015 NFL Off-Season Preview

Positions of Need

Guard

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

Wide Receiver

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

Cornerback

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

Safety

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

Running Back

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

Tight End

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

Defensive Tackle

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

Outside Linebacker

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

Center

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

Key Free Agents

DT Jared Odrick

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

TE Charles Clay

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

S Louis Delmas

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

QB Matt Moore

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

CB Jimmy Wilson

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

RB Knowshon Moreno

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

C Samson Satele

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

RB Daniel Thomas

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

G Daryn Colledge

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

Cap Casualty Candidates

MLB Dannell Ellerbe

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

CB Cortland Finnegan

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

WR Brandon Gibson

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

OLB Philip Wheeler

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

WR Brian Hartline

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

WR Mike Wallace

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

DT Randy Starks

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

G Shelley Smith

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

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New Orleans Saints 2015 NFL Off-Season Preview

Positions of Need

Cornerback

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

Defensive End

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

Guard

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

Center

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

Wide Receiver

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

Middle Linebacker

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

Outside Linebacker

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

Running Back

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

Quarterback

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

Key Free Agents

RB Mark Ingram

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

CB Patrick Robinson

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

OLB Parys Haralson

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

C Jonathan Goodwin

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

Cap Casualty Candidates

DT Brodrick Bunkley

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

MLB Curtis Lofton

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

G Jahri Evans

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

WR Marques Colston

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

TE Ben Watson

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

OLB David Hawthorne

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

G Ben Grubbs

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

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