Welcome to 2018, a year that begins with the Cleveland Browns coming off an 0-16 season and a year that could very well end with the same result. As the NFL playoffs are about to get underway for 12 teams, the other 20 are beginning offseason preparations and today, we’re going to join them because no one cares about the teams headed for a Super Bowl berth. We care about who is going to get traded and cut this offseason before joining their rival, James Harrison style.
Today, let’s look at five quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers who, for one reason or another, aren’t going to be starters for their team next season. Some may be retiring, others may be hitting the free agent market, and there’s even a player or two who could just be benched for inconsistency. To make things more interesting, each of the replacements are players eligible for this year’s NFL Draft. I know how fun it is to play free agent matchmaker, but consider this almost like an NFL mock draft where we analyze who would make sense in places that aren’t just the first-round.
So if you’re ready to still play matchmaker, let’s get to work!
30. QB Out: Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins
Like we said in the intro, players hitting free agency are eligible for this list, so starting off with Kirk Cousins – arguably the top free agent on this year’s market not named Le’Veon Bell – makes the most sense. Cousins could still return to Washington, but it seems more likely than ever that the former Michigan State quarterback will take his talents elsewhere to get a heavy payday and avoid a Redskins team that seems bound for a couple of transition years.
Denver makes the most sense for Cousins because they have the cap space and the talent on both sides of the ball. Again, Cousins could stay in Washington, but a quarterback the Redskins might want to consider drafting this spring is…
29. QB In: Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
Scouts are already torn on Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph, with some saying he could go in the late first round to anywhere on Day 2 and others suggesting he’s a mid-round pick. We’re higher on Rudolph than most people are at this time, although the senior definitely does need to work on his decision making (on-field, unlike Baker Mayfield) and making his reads. If Rudolph can do that under quarterback guru Jay Gruden, the Redskins should be in better shape going forward.
If the Redskins do take Rudolph, they should try to get him in either the late first-round or somewhere on Day 2 because there’s still plenty of other holes they need to fill. Offensive and defensive line, much? Besides, the NFC East will likely be a battle between Philadelphia and Dallas for years to come.
28: RB Out: Frank Gore, Indianapolis Colts
If this season is any indication, Frank Gore still has plenty left in the tank. But if Gore even thinks about re-upping with the Indianapolis Colts, who parted ways with head coach Chuck Pagano and might be headed for another rebuild, that’s a bad move. Gore ran for just under 961 yards despite a mixed offensive line and the Colts using him as a fullback-type in certain situations, though it is worth noting Gore had some of his best games down the stretch as Indianapolis gradually improved.
Gore should have options, though I get the feeling many will be one-year contracts as he approaches the ancient age of 35 for running backs, but we want to see him in Miami. Let Gore return to where he played his college ball to give the returning Ryan Tannehilll a boost with another weapon on offense.
27: RB In: Saquon Barkley, Penn State
This one might be tough for the Colts, who have the third overall pick behind the Browns (definitely taking a quarterback) and New York Giants (they’ll have options and might want to draft Barkley). But as Barkley’s past three seasons in Happy Valley have shown, this kid can make plays and could really fall into the “generational running back talent” that is only worthy of a top-five pick like this. Sorry, Cadillac Williams.
Saquon Barkley would not be an immediate fix for the Colts, especially not if Andrew Luck is still recovering from his shoulder injury and the to-be-determined new coach gets rid of other offensive weapons. But we do know that Barkley has succeeded once with mediocre talent around him and could likely do the same in the NFL if his offensive line improves.
26: WR Out: Jarvis Landry, Miami Dolphins
If Jarvis Landry’s outburst and subsequent ejection in the same game that saw him set the team record for most catches in a season and nearly have three straight 1,000 yard seasons wasn’t the perfect way to potentially cap his Miami tenure, we don’t know what was. Landry has said he hopes to stay in South Beach and the announcement that all of the power players in the front office will stay could help his case, but the time to move on may be here.
Had the New York Giants not hired Dave Gettleman, who has a notoriously low tolerance for “trouble-makers” and those who could damage the locker room, Landry would be a smart fit there. For now, the Chicago Bears are our team of choice with the Los Angeles Rams at second.
25. WR In: Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
Is Christian Kirk a first-round pick and, more importantly, would the Miami Dolphins be willing to take a chance on him with the 11th overall pick? The answer to both of those questions is no, but that doesn’t mean the Dolphins wouldn’t not consider Kirk, who caught 71 passes for 919 yards and ten touchdowns this season for the Aggies. Truth of the matter is that the Dolphins are going to need to add another playmaker and Kirk has proven that he is capable of being one.
Miami has a lot of work to do this offseason – and don’t worry, we’re going to discuss their quarterback problems later on. But for now? Don’t be surprised if Christian Kirk is hanging out in South Beach starting this spring…
24. QB Out: Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals
This one has actually already been made official, with Palmer announcing his retirement. After missing the bulk of another season with injury and looking fairly ineffective while healthy, Palmer decided he was done in the NFL. He’ll finish career with a 92-88-1 record (but he was on some awful Bengals and Raiders teams) and having completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 294 touchdowns and 187 interceptions. Palmer likely isn’t close to being a Hall of Famer, but he definitely will be remembered fondly by this generation.
What happens next if you’re the Cardinals, though? Do you go out and try to get an Eli Manning or Kirk Cousins through free agency? Do you let Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert battle it out? We think we have a better idea…
23. QB In: Drew Lock, Missouri
Arizona is in a win-now mode, but the problem with being in that state and having just lost your franchise quarterback means you’re going to have to either (A. start a journeyman or mediocre backup player (i.e. Stanton or Gabbert) and hope his surrounding core can do enough to overcome that or (B. draft a rookie quarterback and give him development time before letting him take over midseason.
Ideally for the Cardinals, that first option is the one that would be better for their franchise and drafting Lock, who threw for 44 touchdowns as a junior this year at Missouri, is a smart choice as well. Arizona has holes they need to fill elsewhere (cornerback!) and waiting until the middle rounds for a quarterback could help extend the team’s contending years.
22. RB Out: Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
You have to give Tampa Bay some credit for trying with Doug Martin, but the former first-round pick might be on his last legs…literally. A year after rushing for 2.9 yards per carry and three touchdowns in eight games, people looked at that year and said, “Well, things couldn’t get much worse.” But like Attack of the Clones to The Phantom Menace, Martin’s sequel was even more disappointing as the ex-Boise State star again ran for 2.9 yards per carry and finished with 406 yards in 11 games. Not good!
There will always be a market for running backs who haven’t hit ancient age, but Martin may have to wait a bit for teams to show him some interest. Would another NFC South team consider him as a scat back?
21. RB In: Kerryon Johnson, Auburn
This one could be fun. Kerryon Johnson quietly was one of the nation’s more electric running backs, even if 1,300 rushing yards in college football isn’t what it once was. At this rate, 2,000 rushing yards is going to become what 4,000 passing yards in the NFL is: everyone will do it! Still, Johnson won’t be a first-round pick and can be grabbed sometime on Day 2, a perfect solution for the Buccaneers as they look to fill other holes.
If the Buccaneers really want to get back to contending, for what it’s worth, they should draft a mid-round quarterback to motivate Jameis Winston going forward. Winston has the vocal leadership qualities, but is still struggling with rookie mistakes in his decision making. But we’ll see next year if he’s on a list like this…
20. WR Out: Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys
Unfortunately for Dallas Cowboys fans who truly love Dez Bryant and what he’s meant to this organization, I think it’s time for both parties to go elsewhere. Bryant has been falling off in recent years and the Cowboys need more youth on offense, especially as tight end Jason Witten approaches the final years of his career. It’d be a sad departure for Bryant, who came to the Cowboys after they made the NFC Divisional Round in 2009 and had the potential to be Super Bowl champions in the coming years, and instead never made it past the second round.
Bryant will definitely get interest on the free agent market, but the team I’d really like to see him go to is San Francisco. There’d just be something so poetic about a Cowboy leaving for an upstart 49ers team..
19. WR In: Courtland Sutton, SMU
Maybe the best receiver in this year’s class you’ve never heard of, SMU’s Courtland Sutton is quickly rising up draft boards and figures to be a first-round pick in this year’s class. Dallas will have holes to fit at linebacker and likely in the secondary, but there is an immediate need for a playmaking receiver if they part ways with Bryant, which is all but a certainty at this point. Sutton would be a day one starter in an offense that will likely still be reliant on Ezekiel Elliott, but won’t have to worry about doing nothing if the rising third-year back misses time.
18. QB Out: Jay Cutler, Miami Dolphins
There’s two sides to this one, the first being that Cutler wasn’t going to be back as the starter with Ryan Tannehill returning from a torn ACL and the former Pro Bowler only on a one-year contract. The other is that Cutler said if he plays next year, he doesn’t want to do it as a backup, so he’s definitely not returning to Miami where the best he could hope for is to compete with Tannehill in training camp. If Cutler wants to play, his best bet is Arizona, but maybe he’ll take that open spot in ESPN’s Monday Night Football booth…
If this truly is the end for Culter, he’ll end his career a 74-79 record and having completed 62 percent of his passes for 35,133 yards and a 227-160 TD-INT ratio. Not great, but not awful. It could be worse!
17. QB In: Riley Ferguson, Memphis
So if the Dolphins allow Jay Culter to walk, why would they add Memphis’ Riley Ferguson? Let’s say Ryan Tannehill is either slow to come back from his torn ACL or just doesn’t look like his old self anymore (which, if we’re being fair, was never anything special). Wouldn’t it be a smart move for the Dolphins to draft a young quarterback they can groom for a year and potentially hand the starting job in 2019?
But wait, isn’t that what the New York Jets did with Christian Hackenberg? I’d argue that Ferguson is a bit better coming out of college than Hackenberg, so he’d be taking Cutler’s job as the quarterback who could potentially replace Tannehill when the time is right. Sorry, Matt Moore. At least you can still collect a paycheck!
16. RB Out: Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland Browns
To Crowell’s credit, his numbers in four years haven’t been bad with the ex-Alabama State star even running for 853 yards on 4.1 yards per carry in the Browns’ 0-16 campaign this year. What hurts Crowell, a free agent to be, is his inconsistency – Crowell had four games this year with a yards per attempt number of 2.10 or worse (!) – and that the Browns are in the position where they need to do SOMETHING.
Because Crowell is only 25 and hasn’t been terrible, the rising fifth-year back will have more than enough options to choose from in free agency. The Giants are a team that makes sense, but I wouldn’t rule out the Seattle Seahawks, especially in light of them not making the postseason because of a disappointing offense.
15. RB In: Bryce Love, Stanford
I know what you’re thinking: this pick makes too much sense for the Browns and is likely to backfire. Perhaps! What we do know is that the Browns are going to need another running back even if they bring Crowell back and Love, the Heisman finalist that ran for over 2,000 yards this season for the Stanford Cardinal, is among their best options. Love is currently projected to go anywhere from the late first round to the end of the second round, meaning the Browns and their surplus of picks can definitely make something happen.
14. WR Out: Brandon Marshall, New York Giants
Though Marshall is under contract for next year, there’s no guarantee he’ll return as he could either retire – which he originally said he would do after the 2018 season – or be cut with new general manager Dave Gettleman in charge. Marshall has been a model citizen for years, but Gettleman may want to clean house of players who could provide a distraction or who aren’t in the prime of their career. Would that be unfair to Marshall, who has been such a prominent face in the mental health movement? Possibly, but Marshall also was going to retire in the coming years as well.
13. WR In: James Washington, Oklahoma State
If the New York Giants somehow land James Washington, it would be a safe, smart, and solid pick – and we’re not just saying that. The Giants need to add players who have been consistent at the college level for multiple years and Washington, who has three straight 1,000 yard and double-digit touchdown seasons while staying healthy, would be a perfect addition.
Also, don’t forget that the Giants aren’t sure what they’re going to do with Odell Beckham Jr. long-term; and while we’re not saying Washington would even come close to providing the impact that Beckham does on a weekly basis, it would help to get someone who has put up big numbers for more than only one year rather than reaching on a college prospect who had a big 2017.
12. QB Out: DeShone Kizer, Cleveland Browns
DeShone Kizer declaring early for the NFL Draft last year was a mistake. DeShone Kizer going to the Cleveland Browns was a mistake. DeShone Kizer being given the Browns’ starting job was a mistake. DeShone Kizer being benched and constantly reinserted as the team’s starting quarterback job was a mistake. Kizer had 31 total mistakes this year, throwing 22 interceptions and fumbling nine times. That’s not good! In fact, there’s a legitimate argument that Kizer’s season was among the worst quarterback years in Browns history…
While Hue Jackson does appear to be coming back for next season, I don’t know how Kizer even has a chance to start in 2018. Even if the quarterback they take first overall tears his ACL in training camp, would you really want to start Kizer?
11. QB In: Josh Allen, Wyoming
Not only would the Browns do this because they’re the Browns, but everything is shaping up for this to happen. As Peter King wrote for the MMQB just after New Year’s:
“I heard this from a veteran college scout, a man who was one of the first to trumpet Carson Wentz as a high first-rounder during his final season at North Dakota State, on the fate of the first pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, and on what Cleveland GM John Dorsey might do: ‘I believe there is no way Cleveland, at number one, will pass on [Wyoming quarterback] Josh Allen. This is Wentz reincarnated. Allen’s a perfect Dorsey quarterback. Just watch.'”
10. RB Out: Marshawn Lynch, Oakland Raiders
Is anyone concerned we haven’t heard anything about Lynch’s future for 2018? Quietly, Lynch looked more and more like Beast Mode as the season went on, rushing for 434 yards on 5.17 yards per carry in the Raiders’ final five games, including two 100+ yard performances. However, with a new coach on the way in and that likely being Jon Gruden, Lynch could see his days in Oakland numbered and decide to simply retire again.
If Lynch is retained for next season, he might see a reduced role depending on the offense Gruden decides to run, but would Beast Mode be willing to accept that? Don’t be surprised if Lynch is off riding camels and joining Dennis Rodman in North Korea by this time next year…
9. RB In: Rashaad Penny, San Diego State
If you’re the Oakland Raiders, why not draft yet another 2,000 yard rusher from San Diego State? Penny did what Donnel Pumphrey succeeded at, joined the formerly-exclusive 2,000 yard club, and seems primed to go on Day 2 of the NFL Draft. But as scouts and draft analysts are explaining, Penny still has some work to do.
“For the NFL, Penny is a one-cut downhill runner. He has a nice build, but runs upright and could stand to improve his knee bend to run behind his pads,” Walter Football wrote in his scouting report. “Penny may not have special speed or power in order to be a starter in the NFL. He could still be a rotational backup, but he will need to improve his pass protection.”
8. WR Out: Sammy Watkins, Los Angeles Rams
Technically, Watkins is a free agent, but did he really show enough for the Rams to consider paying him the money he’ll probably get from some teams (looking at you, Cleveland Browns) when he hits the open market? Watkins did catch eight touchdowns on 39 receptions, but his 15.2 yards per reception was the fewest since his rookie year and there were games where the former Clemson star looked somewhat lost.
If it’s not Cleveland who tries to land Watkins, it will be someone like Chicago, San Francisco, or even the New York Jets. Would Watkins ever rule out a return to Buffalo, especially after they made the postseason with a mediocre passing offense? Seeing as it was first-year coach Sean McDermott who helped organize the trade, I think the answer is no.
7. WR In: Simmie Cobbs Jr., Indiana
Some people are writing Simmie Cobbs Jr.’s name as Sammie. It’s Simmie and this kid has the potential to do really special things in the NFL if he’s put in the right offense. Cobbs’ numbers aren’t close to some of the other receivers on this list but he does have strong speed and has been a productive player in his last two full seasons…which raises the question of how a missed 2016 season with an ankle injury will affect his draft stock.
There’s also a one-game suspension Cobbs had in the Hooisers’ first game last year, but that might be water under the bridge. Besides, the NFL is seemingly the only league left where as long as you’re not a distraction and you can play, you will play.
6. QB Out: Bryce Petty, New York Jets
Can we just use the video here of Petty struggling to put his helmet on against the New England Patriots because he forgot that his beanie was still on? In three games as the Jets’ starter this year, Petty completed 53 of 103 passes for 530 yards, one touchdown, and three interceptions. Over a full season, that comes to five touchdowns against 16 interceptions, which is far from what the Jets need right now.
If the Jets bring back Josh McCown as their quarterback next year, Petty would lose his starting job anyway, but I think the ex-Baylor star might have played his final snap in New York. When you play so miserably for two straight years, there’s not much you can say to help your case – other than the fact that Petty isn’t Colin Kaepernick.
5. QB In: Quinton Flowers, South Florida
Again, if the Jets bring Josh McCown as their starting quarterback next year – and with Todd Bowles signing an extension, that seems increasingly likely so long as McCown wants to play again – this point is null. But in terms of replacing Petty (and by extension, Christian Hackenberg), it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see the Jets take a late-round quarterback they can try grooming as an eventual starter. What would they have to lose?
Enter Quinton Flowers, who impressed at USF as a dual-threat quarterback over the past three years and might raise his draft stock with a strong performance at the NFL Combine. Jets fans just have to hope this would go over better than when Rex Ryan and John Izdik drafted Clemson’s Tajh Boyd.
4. RB Out: Orleans Darkwa, New York Giants (and teammates)
Say what you want about the New York Giants’ performance this year, but running back Orleans Darkwa quietly had a career year. As the Giants’ full-time starting running back, Darkwa – a free agent to be, by the way – ran for 751 yards and five touchdowns on 4.4 yards per carry. However, Darkwa was incredibly inconsistent and posted five games of fewer than three yards per carry. I know the Giants’ offensive line was in really bad shape, but there were plays where Darkwa is to blame for some of those losses.
Still, Darkwa should get plenty of calls in free agency and the rest of the Giants running back core is unimpressive, so I fully expect them to draft someone this offseason. Who haven’t we discussed that would be available?
3. RB In: Nick Chubb, Georgia
If you’re the New York Giants and you want to get back into contention, you’re drafting impact players who can immediately make a change. While we don’t have Saquon Barkley going to New York, we think the Giants will be fine if they’re still able to land Georgia’s Nick Chubb, who wisely returned to school this year and can go in either of the draft’s first two rounds without issue.
What will definitely help Chubb’s case is that he looks bigger, he’s more physical, and he’s a perfect example of what today’s NFL running back needs to be. Put him in a Giants offense that is likely to see Odell Beckham Jr. return and New York could finally start scoring over 40 points again. Wouldn’t that be nice?
2. WR Out: Brandon LaFell, Cincinnati Bengals
LaFell has shown he can be a solid receiver, but he’s not a top two receiver and the Bengals – as well as the rest of the league – need to realize that. LaFell caught 52 balls for 548 yards and three touchdowns this season in another down year for Cincinnati. One of LaFell’s biggest supporters, Marvin Lewis, is coming back, but you wonder if Lewis will stay with LaFell another year.
Don’t be surprised if the Bengals bring LaFell back in a reduced role, but if they don’t, I think a fair number of teams will come calling. New England, maybe? Don’t rule out the Baltimore Ravens either, especially with them realizing their offense needs to play well over a full season if they want to play in the postseason.
1. WR In: Antonio Callaway, Florida
With Marvin Lewis staying, it wouldn’t be unlike the Bengals to draft a player with character risks. Callaway didn’t play in 2017 after legal issues that include felony fraud charges for allegedly transferring money from a stolen credit card and hanging out with bad influences.
“Scouts across the league say that Callaway has first-round talent. They’ve even compared him to Antonio Brown in terms of his skill set and what he can do as a receiver, but teams think that Callaway will fall into the mid-rounds because his off-the-field issues are too serious to draft any earlier,” Charlie Campbell wrote for Walter Football. “They don’t have any confidence that he will change and avoid suspensions in the NFL.”
Again, it’s the Bengals, so watch them scoop up Callaway in the seventh round and he becomes an All-Pro next year.
Which of these moves would best help the respective teams? Make sure to let us know in the comment section below!
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