The 2018 NFL offseason is shaping up to be one of the best in recent memory. You almost never have franchise quarterbacks hit the open market, but there are a number of guys who could be available in both free agency and the trade market. Are Eli Manning, Kirk Cousins, Drew Brees and Alex Smith bound to leave their own teams? That remains to be seen. Will other superstars get traded if they can’t agree to a long-term contract by their respective teams? Guys like Le’Veon Bell and Malcolm Butler are among the many players awaiting a big payday from their teams.
This is also a superstar-filled free agent class, led by the likes of Sheldon Richardson, Trumaine Johnson, Jarvis Landry, Terrelle Pryor and others. It’s safe to assume that a number of NFL stars will change homes this offseason, but a number of them are sure to stay put. With the end of the season rapidly approaching, many teams now know exactly what they need to shop for, and teams who find themselves on the outside looking in for the playoffs may be ready to dish out the cash to get the pieces they need.
Here are eight major NFL offseason moves that will happen, and eight that won’t – even though you think they should.
16. Will: Steelers Trade Martavis Bryant
Despite forming into a nice receiving option for Ben Roethlisberger, Martavis Bryant asked for a trade earlier this season, and you have to believe the Pittsburgh Steelers are willing to oblige. Bryant showed promise in 2014 with eight touchdown catches, then had a strong showing in 2015 where he caught 50 passes for 765 yards. But he was suspended for all of 2016, and has struggled aplenty in 2017.
Pittsburgh won’t want a disgruntled player in the locker room, and Bryant is just 25 years of age and entering his prime years. A team that’s desperate for receivers like the Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks or New York Jets could make a play for Bryant — while only surrendering a mid-round pick. Expect 2017 to be Bryant’s last year in the Steel City.
15. Won’t: Chiefs Trading Alex Smith
The Kansas City Chiefs turned heads when they decided to trade up and select quarterback Patrick Mahomes 10th overall in the 2017 NFL Draft. Alex Smith has always been an above-average quarterback, but the Chiefs made it clear that they don’t have full confidence in him to be their long-term solution. Smith got off to a blistering start in 2017, which included a shocking Week 1 win over the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. The Chiefs started out 5-0 on the season, but have lost six of their last seven games.
Many are calling for Smith to get benched in favour of Mahomes, but that’s unlikely to happen right now. Furthermore, the Chiefs would be silly to think about trading Smith this offseason. He doesn’t have much support from his offensive line, and the defence has been brutal since Eric Berry’s season-ending injury. K.C. won’t trade Smith, they’ll try to refine him in 2018.
14. Will: Malcolm Butler Signs With Cowboys
The last three years have been real kind to Malcolm Butler. An un-drafted signing by the New England Patriots, Butler became the Super Bowl 49 hero, then was named to the 2015 and 2016 Pro Bowls. However, Butler and the Patriots couldn’t agree on a long-term contract this past offseason, and he was close to joining the New Orleans Saints this offseason. We know how much Bill Belichick loves to play hardball, and he’s made it obvious Butler won’t make top dollar in Foxborough.
So look for the two-time Super Bowl champion to chase a big day while he’s in his prime. The Dallas Cowboys have money to spend, and they desperately need a cornerback in that awful secondary. A five-year deal worth about $60 million should get the deal done. Butler maxes out, and Dallas gets their shutdown corner. Perfect.
13. Won’t: DeAndre Hopkins Leaving Houston
DeAndre Hopkins has been one of the NFL’s top wide receivers since the Houston Texans drafted him in 2013. Unfortunately for Hopkins, every quarterback not named Deshaun Watson have been terrible in Houston. Watson and Hopkins were generating excellent chemistry, until Watson tore his ACL last month and had to miss the rest of the season.
Many may believe that Hopkins will 1) Want to cash in during free agency and 2) Leave for a team with a better quarterback. But the Texans have to keep their best offensive playmaker around, and the franchise tag is an option. Don’t expect Hopkins to go anywhere. He’s far too talented for the Texans to let go, and they have the cap space to extend him, and Watson will be back next season to keep this dynamic duo going.
12. Will: Broncos Sign Jimmy Graham
2017 has been a major disaster for the Denver Broncos. The season isn’t already over, and they’ve already endured their longest losing streak (eight games and counting), in 50 years. The Broncos are 3-9 on the year and will experience their first losing season since 2010.
There are a ton of flaws with this team, but it starts on the offence. Emmanuel Sanders is the only legit wide receiver, while Demaryius Thomas continues his annual regression. Denver doesn’t have any good options at tight end, and they have a very awful offensive line. With Jimmy Graham disappointing in Seattle, he’ll likely look for a new home come free agency. Look for the Broncos to give him a multi-year deal worth around $40 million a season. Graham will give them another big weapon and top blocker — exactly what they need.
11. Won’t: Sammy Watkins Leaving Rams
The Buffalo Bills wasted the great potential of wide receiver Sammy Watkins, and opted to trade him to the Los Angeles Rams for Jordan Matthews. However, the trade hasn’t exactly worked out on either side — with Watkins catching just 51 passes for 528 yards and six touchdown through his first 12 games.
But don’t expect the Rams to let Watkins go to free agency. Quarterback Jared Goff has broken out and finally given this team its first legitimate No. 1 signal-caller since Kurt Warner. The Rams have to ensure that Goff has the weapons around him to succeed long-term. He and Watkins should develop better chemistry over time, and it’s too soon to give up on this project. Expect the Rams to work out a deal to keep Watkins with the Rams.
10. Will: Vontae Davis Signs With Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens are one of the best at finding great value in free agency. Ozzie Newsome knows a great player when he sees one, and Indianapolis Colts cornerback Vontae Davis should be next on his radar. The budget-conscious and unraveling Colts probably have very little chance of keeping Davis around, so expect him to join free agency. Davis would be an excellent fit on a Ravens’ D that has established their identity on owning a top-flight secondary.
Top corner Jimmy Smith has suffered his second straight season-ending injury, and the Ravens have to find a suitable replacement. A secondary consisting of Davis, Eric Weddle and rookie sensation Marlon Humphrey would put the Ravens back into the AFC elite. Look for the Ravens to get Davis on a three-year deal worth around $30 million.
9. Won’t: Minnesota Vikings Keep Bradford, Keenum
Things are a little complex for the Minnesota Vikings right now. Sam Bradford was cutting it as their starting quarterback, until an injury knocked him out and put Case Keenum behind centre. Keenum has been excellent filling in, but the Vikings have stated that Teddy Bridgewater is their franchise quarterback. The problem for Minnesota is that all three of their quarterbacks are slated to hit free agency, and all of them are capable of being starters. You may expect the Vikings to find a way to keep two of them, but it’s not happening.
Expect Bradford to leave for a team in desperation of a quarterback, like Chicago, Denver, Buffalo, Cleveland, Arizona or even the New York Jets. Keenum will do the same or go somewhere that allows him to compete with a struggling quarterback for the main job. That means it’s Bridgewater time again in Minnesota. They’d probably like to maintain two of the quarterbacks, but it’s not happening. Ultimately, the Vikings choose Bridgewater.
8. Will: Kirk Cousins Signs With Bills
There aren’t many indications that the Washington Redskins are keen on making Kirk Cousins their franchise quarterback, and he’s about to become the most sought-after free agent in recent memory. Cousins is among the game’s top passing quarterbacks, but the Redskins don’t seem willing to pay up the big bucks. At least a dozen teams could be in on Cousins, but the Buffalo Bills make way too much sense.
With the Tyrod Taylor era coming to an end, Buffalo needs a quarterback. They have an above-average defence, and the receiving duo of Kelvin Benjamin and Jordan Matthews is dangerous. LeSean McCoy continues to flash as one of the NFL’s best running backs. Buffalo needs a quarterback to compete, and Cousins is the guy. If they are willing to pay him north of $80 million, you have to think he’ll take the chance. They give him many good weapons to work with, and a chance to win.
7. Won’t: Le’Veon Bell Leaves Pittsburgh
Le’Veon Bell had a contract holdout with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and signed his franchise tender just before the season started. With the two sides unable to reach an extension, there have been rumours about him leaving the Steel City — but don’t get your hopes up, non-Steelers fans.
Pittsburgh has finally built up an elite defence to complement their explosive offence, and Bell is arguably the game’s top running back. He and Antonio Brown are the glue that hold this offence together, and the Steelers cannot let him go. When all is said and done, expect Bell to sign a long-term deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers. A five-year contract worth around $40-50 million should get it done. There’s just no way they will let their franchise running back go.
6. Will: Larry Fitzgerald Gets Traded
Larry Fitzgerald is among the most dominant wide receivers to ever live. He continues to climb the ladder in career catches, receiving yards and touchdown receptions. But the 34-year-old is stuck on an Arizona Cardinals team whose championship window closed last season. Does Fitzgerald really want to spend the rest of his career on a team that won’t contend? He may, but you have to believe that ‘Fitz’ will also want to chase a championship ring, considering 2018 could very well be his last season.
With the Cardinals having to reset and Fitzgerald nearing the end of this career, don’t be surprised if the two parties agree to make a trade. Fitzgerald could go to a team like the Patriots, Falcons, Seahawks, Packers or Ravens to chase a championship. It’s not happening in Arizona, so he’s going to have to move on if he wants a title.
5. Won’t: Seahawks Trading Richard Sherman
Last offseason, Richard Sherman was part of trade rumours, and a move to the New England Patriots was apparently close. There is simply no reason for Seattle to trade the star corner, who has plenty of gas left in the tank. Sherman ruptured his Achilles, will be 30 years of age this offseason and has one year left on his contract. If Seattle were to trade him, they would not get equal value for the self-proclaimed “best corner in the game.”
With the Legion of Boom all nearing their 30s and Russell Wilson still in his prime, the Seahawks window to win is now – they cannot trade Sherman and lose a key part of their roster. Unless he actually wants a trade (no indication that he does), then expect Sherman to stay put in the Pacific Northwest.
4. Will: Jarvis Landry Signs With Jaguars
Jarvis Landry is one of the most electrifying wide receivers and special teams returners in the NFL. He’s on his way to a third-straight 1,000-yard season and has already set a career high in touchdowns without Ryan Tannehill all year. The Dolphins will try their best to keep Landry, but he’s going to want to chase the big payday. The Jacksonville Jaguars love handing out big contracts (see Malik Jackson and Julius Thomas), so they should be able to out-bid other teams for Landry.
The Jaguars are finally set to make the playoffs with an elite defence, but they still need to find another good pass-catcher for Blake Bortles. This is where they step in and give Landry a massive contract worth around $60-75 million. It could be the move that finally makes Jacksonville a contender.
3. Won’t: Eli Manning Leaves Giants
A year after making the playoffs, the New York Giants have flopped hard and are among the worst teams in football. Head coach Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese were fired, while Eli Manning got benched in favour of Geno Smith. It’s been a complete disaster in East Rutherford.
Many believe it could spell the end for Eli Manning – who turns 37 next month – in a Giants uniform. Realistically, that’s not going to happen. Manning has had to spend almost the entire seasons without his three best receivers in Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard. The goal for the Giants is to find the right head coach that can rebuild Manning and the offence. There are plenty of talented receivers there, and cutting Eli loose doesn’t do much good. Now’s not the time to end the Manning era, so don’t expect the Giants to do it in 2018.
2. Will: Bills Trade Muhammad Wilkerson
After barely missing out on the playoffs in 2015, the New York Jets re-upped cornerstone player Muhammad Wilkerson to a five-year deal worth $86 million contract. But the Jets were absolutely awful in 2016, and are about to begin a rebuilding process. In the NFL, rebuilding usually means moving out expensive veterans.
Wilkerson is one of the game’s elite pass-rushers, and there will be no shortage of interested suitors for him. New York could look at getting a second or third-round pick for Wilkerson, who has worn out his welcome with Gang Green. Teams like the Tennessee Titans, New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons could use more depth on their defensive line, and they all could use one final piece to become a championship contender.
1. Won’t: Drew Brees Leaves New Orleans
Drew Brees is about to turn 39 years of age, and is set to hit the free agent market in 2018. There has been speculation about him leaving the Saints, but don’t get too excited about that. Brees has spent the past 11 years in New Orleans. He and his family have close ties with the city, and the franchise will not let their superstar player go. With many rumours of him heading to Jacksonville, you can put those rumours to bed. He isn’t going anywhere!
The Saints are finally a contender once again, thanks to a great defence led by Marshon Lattimore. Brees hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down, and the reduced workload should help him play at least a couple more years. Brees should be willing to take a pay cut, and the two sides shouldn’t have a problem working out a one or two-year deal. If the Saints were still struggling, moving on from Brees would make sense. But the time to win is now, so they won’t let him leave town in March.
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