If you accept that Von Miller won’t be let go by the Broncos, then the field to snap up the best free agents and talent on the market becomes an arms race. The NFL is not just a blood sport on the field, the opportunity to jump on players who can quickly plug gaps, offer depth and give your football team a different dimension doesn’t come around too often.
Those that stick solid to a formula will wait for the draft to solve most of their problems but getting experienced, hardened professionals will only accelerate a teams improvement. Teams that are rebuilding through youth like the Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Titans shouldn’t stick to a stubborn philosophy of solving all their problems in the draft because they still need veteran players to pave the way for younger talent. With College kids coming to the baptism of fire that is NFL football, the next generation will need to rely on those who've accumulated valuable experience throughout their careers.
There is a reason why a lot of these players haven’t been tied down. With their egos put into overdrive, and agents that tell them they're the best thing since sliced bread, they feel like a golden handshake is at the end of the rainbow. Sometimes this will pay off big time, but for others it can put them in an awkward position where they’re waiting to become an injury replacement. Winding down the contract is a players right, yet it remains very much a gamble.
So fresh after a season is done, fans, owners and commentators know exactly where everyone stands. The wins, losses, points for and points against illustrate how the 2015 season panned out and tells everyone how far some teams need to go. Here at TheSportster we’ve reviewed the NFL players on the open market and where each franchise needs to strengthen to gain that extra 1% edge missing from 2015.
32 Arizona Cardinals - Alex Mack
Taking out the NFC West with 36-year old veteran quarterback Carson Palmer had the Arizona Cardinals skyrocketing towards glory. Then they ran into the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship game and all that progress dissolved at the drop of a hat. Without an anchor on the offensive line, the Cardinals will likely fold again when it counts the most. 30-year old Browns center Alex Mack would be a top edition to give the offensive line some edge.
31 Atlanta Falcons – Jason Pierre-Paul
With Matt Ryan at quarterback, Dan Quinn had a system that seemed to be paying off for the Atlanta Falcons. The Carolina Panthers win in the last game of the season showed that they can smother teams when required, but there is no one rushing off the edge to consistently put the other QB on their backside. While Jason Pierre-Paul had a strange 2015, he can still get after the QB and help the Falcons push their way into the playoffs.
30 Baltimore Ravens – George Iloka
2015 was a shocking season to forget for Baltimore Ravens fans but if they’re being honest, the organization never gave themselves a chance. At too many stages players were dropping like flies and the injuries made it impossible to mount a decent run. During their 11 losses of 2015 they conceded 401 points which indicates that a safety should be top priority. George Iloka from the Cincinnati Bengals isn’t a superstar at 25 but he’s been coached to play in a fierce defensive unit.
29 Buffalo Bills – Gino Gradkowski
Under Rex Ryan the hope was for the Buffalo Bills to take the next step in their development. They were supposed to be the quiet achievers, making strides while others looked on, but that didn’t pan out and they finished 3rd in the AFC East at 8-8. The offensive line needs serious reinforcements and Super Bowl winning center Gino Gradkowski might be able to pass on his quality and experience to Ryan’s system.
28 Carolina Panthers – Marvin Jones
With a touch over $20 million in cap space to spend, the team that choked massively under the pressures this past Super Bowl should be looking to add some more offensive weapons to their arsenal. Jared Allen gave a spectacular farewell message and literally rode off into the sunset, but what Cam Newton needs more than anything is another quality receiver. That option could be 25-year old Marvin Jones from the Bengals. His stats haven’t been great of late and with a $7 million price tag it might be too much, yet Newton’s killer accuracy might make Jones a star.
27 Cincinnati Bengals – Sean Smith
The Bengals locker room culture needs a serious reassessment in 2016. Players and coaching staff have to cool off and people need to become accountable for their playoff implosions. With clouds over the likes of Adam Pacman Jones, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu they could have a lot more space under the cap. Steady veteran CB Sean Smith has the right build to play in the Bengals' system and could help their defense remain dominant.
26 Chicago Bears – Chris Johnson
Where to begin with the poor old Bears? John Fox had steadied the ship to a degree but it didn’t prevent them from finishing dead last in the NFC North at 6-10. The good news for the Bears faithful is that Jay Cutler is not the busted flush he looked like 12 months ago. But he has very little to work with offensively. 30-year old Chris Johnson of the Cardinals is on the market, and the 4-time Pro Bowl player looks like a suitable option.
25 Cleveland Browns – Brandon Tate
With Johnny Manziel MIA and out on the curb, the Cleveland Browns desperately need someone to lead the franchise back to a competitive standing. For so long they have been the laughing stock of the league and taking a new moneyball approach means they will most likely get a new QB in the draft rather than the handful of decent options in free agency. This puts the onus on a wide receiver to score enough touchdowns to apply scoreboard pressure. This should be perfect territory for Brandon Tate from the Bengals, a receiver who can also play special teams.
24 Dallas Cowboys – Eric Weddle
Despite a terrible season, the Cowboys have a lot of high profile players chewing up cap space. With barely more than $9 million to play with, tough decisions will have to be made. Tony Romo’s continual injury problems put strain on the game's most important position while Dez Bryant and Greg Hardy’s respective problems were well documented. But what the Cowboys are still missing is a good story and some good people. Eric Weddle struggled towards the end of his time in San Diego, but he's shown he can play and can help Dallas compete for a Super Bowl this year.
23 Detroit Lions – Jermaine Kearse
With Calvin Johnson's future in the NFL currently in limbo, the Detroit Lions could use another set piece at wide receiver to help recover from the speed hump that the 2015 season ultimately became. Defensively they did alright for the most part and the roster on that side of the field is their best asset moving forward. But who is going to make the runs and take the touchdown passes if Johnson doesn't return in 2016? Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Jermaine Kearse – that’s who! The 26-year old went for 5 receiving TDs and over 600 yards in 2015 and given the opportunity, he could kill it in Detroit.
22 Denver Broncos - Chris Ivory
Arguably one of the best defenses to play in any Super Bowl, the Denver Broncos will look to defend their title come 2016. It seems unlikely Peyton Manning will be the starting QB next season with Brock Osweiler ready to go. What they can do with is some better offensive options, and breakout running back Chris Ivory could make the Broncos pack a great one-two punch with CJ Anderson - should they retain him.
21 Green Bay Packers – Mohamed Sanu
The Packers showed they are still are a good all-round football team. Star quarterback Aaron Rodgers got them out of trouble time and time again, with a defensive line that held it’s own until they were undone against the Arizona Carindals. Eddie Lacy’s stellar runs gave the offensive some penetration, but Rodgers needs more options to throw to avoid some of those last-minute Hail Mary’s. Cincinnati wide receiver Mohamed Sanu has 4 years experience at the top level and should only improve at 26.
20 Houston Texans – Brock Osweiler
The quarterback merry-go-round in Houston in 2015 was unforgivable. Bill O’Brien ended up changing his QB more than his underwear and bundling out at the first stage of the playoffs was the result of a complete meltdown in direction and leadership. The defense is in good hands with JJ Watt marshaling the troops and with DeAndre Hopkins, the offense has some punch too. All they need is for someone to take the team by the scruff of the neck in the pocket. The Broncos have not tied down Brock Osweiler as the Super Bowl are most probably preparing for life after Peyton Manning. Big Brock would have a new lease of life in Houston.
19 Indianapolis Colts – Greg Hardy
Inexplicably Chuck Pagano remains in the hot seat with the Colts, but the natives in Indianapolis are getting restless. Andrew Luck’s continual injury concerns aren’t helping matters and it showed in the final wash. The 8-8 season in the terrible AFC South division outlined that the team lacked bite and desire. A lack of speed and aggression on defense could go a long way and even with a history of misdemeanors, Greg Hardy might be the best defensive end on the market if he sorts himself off the field. That’s a big if, but the Colts need an injection of something outside-the-box.
18 Jacksonville Jaguars – Bruce Irvin
What the Jacksonville Jaguars need in the 2016 off season could fill an entire public library. At 5-11 the Jags leaked an incredible 448 points to lose 7 of their 8 games on the road. Put simply they don’t have an enforcer. With the New York Giants possibly sniffing around for his services, the enigmatic and ferocious Bruce Irvin from the Seattle Seahawks would fit the bill. Although he is the only player in the history of the NFL to be ejected from the Super Bowl, Irvin knows what it takes to create a reputation like the “Legion of Boom.” The Jags need to get a piece of that.
17 Kansas City Chiefs – Malik Jackson
Every so often a team will unearth a player that had been around for a while but somehow no one seemed to notice. For the championship winning Denver Broncos, one of those was Malik Jackson. The defensive end was a monster when rushing the passer and he was the one who dived on that Cam Newton fumble in SB50. Going to a direct AFC West rival would not sit well but as a free agent the Chiefs could pounce. Kansas City has a consistent offensive unit with Alex Smith at the helm, what they need is some added muscle on the defensive side.
16 Los Angeles Rams – Ryan Fitzpatrick
The feeling with the Rams now is that the switch to LA has to be a big splash and not a gradual uplift. They cannot go from what they were in St. Louis and slowly pick away at the problems facing them, it has to be a quick ripping off of the band aid. This means a QB who can throw clutch passes when it matters. Ryan Fitzpatrick was surprisingly solid for the New York Jets last year and with a defense that can compete, Fitzpatrick can help the Rams adapt to life in California.
15 Miami Dolphins – William Gay
New head coach Adam Gase needs defensive steel. It is expected that Ryan Tannehill will be given more time to develop in 2016, and try to right the wrongs of a campaign that bottomed out at 6-10 to finish last of the AFC East. But the defense that was supposed to win them enough games to make the playoffs collapsed spectacularly. This means the Dolphins should be looking at a quality corner to intimidate the opposition in Miami. Steelers 31-year old William Gay became Pittsburgh’s premier corner in 2015 and his AJ McCarron interception showed that he can deliver when it matters.
14 Minnesota Vikings – Marvin Jones
This one would be an improbable dream come true for Minnesota. The Vikings were one Blair Walsh kick away from eliminating the Seattle Seahawks, yet it still feels like Minnesota are a long way off becoming a force in the National Football League. Teddy Bridgewater is showing gradual improvement and with Adrian Peterson on board they have someone to throw the ball when they’re under pressure. But they need an option to take pressure off Peterson and to give the opposition a headache. Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery would've been the best option on the market, but he's been franchised tag, so the Vikings should look at the next best option, Marvin Jones.
13 New England Patriots – Ryan Harris
Tom Brady's protection is the biggest piece of the puzzle missing for Bill Belichick. He has the Gronk to score all the touchdowns the Patriots need and a screening defense that will give most offensive coordinators nightmares. But for too long they’ve relied on Brady getting rid of the pass in no time at all – imagine if he had more time in the pocket? 30-year old Ryan Harris has been around the block a bit, but he has the size and experience to give Brady the protection he desperately needs.
12 New Orleans Saints – Janoris Jenkins
The Saints need everything to go right in 2016. With coach Sean Payton staying put and a healthy Drew Brees back in the picture, they’re giving the New Orleans faithful the best possible chance at a win. A strong defensive back is probably their best bet, even though they will be targeting the draft to bring in a lot of fresh blood. Scanning the free agency list, with the Rams leaning towards franchising Trumaine Johnson, that means that Janoris Jenkins will likely hit the market and could help New Orleans' struggling secondary.
11 New York Giants – Mike Neal
Ben McAdoo has inherited a squad left by Tom Coughlin with plenty of talent. In OBJ and Eli Manning, there are going to be plenty of touchdowns on the score board, but what they need more than anything is to fix the defense. Mike Neal of the Green Bay Packers might not look like a game changing pick at first, but the 28-year old linebacker has racked up 47, 33 and 36 tackles respectfully in the last 3 seasons. He’s a really solid defensive option, so GM Gerry Reece should pounce and fit him easily under the cap.
10 New York Jets – LeGarrette Blount
Depending on what they do with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, Todd Bowles will need to look at the roster he has around the aging QB. The defense looked solid enough, particularly during the regular season victory over the New England Patriots. If they are coy enough, then perhaps poaching running back LeGarrette Blount from under the noses of their AFC rivals might be a good option.
9 Oakland Raiders – Sean Smith
The Raiders are as close to becoming a quality football team as they are to moving to Los Angeles. With Derek Carr and a host of other 20 somethings who are on the rise in their careers, all they need is a bit of steel and experience to take them to the next level. AFC rivals Kansas City have a good player in Sean Smith and the corner would help the leaking of points in the defensive backfield.
8 Philadelphia Eagles – Brandon Brooks
Doug Peterson’s introduction came at the expense of Chip Kelly who quickly found greener pastures in the form of the San Francisco 49ers. The roster in the City of Brotherly Love - on the surface - looks decent, yet the call on quarterback Sam Bradford will dictate all the other moves on the board that follow it. But it won’t matter who is throwing the ball in the pocket until they sort out the position of guard which was at 6s and 7s all of 2015. Brandon Brooks from Houston can plug the gap, at least initially.
7 Pittsburgh Steelers – Donald Penn
The playoffs were absolutely brutal for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Even though they somehow escaped from Cincinnati with the win, the victory came at a cost. Ben Roethlisberger was hit multiple times and Antonio Brown missed the next game. The Steelers really need some secondary cover and competition in the shielding positions. Huge unit Donald Penn of the Raiders is an offensive tackle who can give Big Ben the protection to do what he does best – throw touchdowns.
6 San Diego Chargers - Malik Jackson
Mike McCoy will be hoping like hell Philip Rivers can have a healthy squad to play around him and if that happens, then the Chargers can only improve on a woeful 2015. The LA move won’t be of immediate concern either so the San Diego faithful will be hoping the team can grow a backbone and get someone on the defense to sack QBs at will. In Jets defensive end Malik Jackson, they'd get someone whose proven that he can do just that. Just re-watch the Super Bowl if you don't believe us.
5 San Francisco 49ers - Jason Pierre-Paul
The 49ers were an absolute mess in 2015. Words fail to do San Francisco justice in terms of how disorganized and pitiful the organization performed in the season just gone. Huge decisions remain over the quarterback slot with Colin Kaepernick having reportedly asked for a trade, but it is expected that he will stay and try and fit the offense Chip Kelly will have in play. But that defense needs quality. Giants defensive end Jason Pierre Paul has an ongoing hand injury but JPP could be anything. He is a tackling beast.
4 Seattle Seahawks – Janoris Jenkins
Having someone like Janoris Jenkins come from the Rams to a team with the culture of the Seahawks is an exciting prospect. Marshawn Lynch’s retirement leaves a void of character and leadership as much as anything else, so bringing in a corner like Jenkins who has gradually improved his game every season will mean Pete Carroll can rest easy on the defensive side of the game. This will give Russell Wilson better field position with a tackling unit at its best.
3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Matt Forte
Lovie Smith’s firing divided opinion. Looking back on the history of the best coaches in the sport since the 1960s up until the last 10 years, head coaches usually start slow then get rolling later on in the NFL. The Bucs had a lot going wrong in 2015 and the corner area on defense needs a serious upgrade. But perhaps a running back like Matt Forte from the Bears would give their backfield an injection of quality and experience to mask the issues on defense. Especially if they happen to loose the next player on this list.
2 Tennessee Titans - Doug Martin
Tampa Bay will be making a lot of changes and one of those casualties could be running back Doug Martin. The Titans will be looking for upgrades across the board, particularly on the defensive tackle side of the field. But if the team wants to give Marcus Mariota a dynamic weapon, then the best option would be someone who can run the ball as effectively as Martin can.
1 Washington Redskins - Danny Trevathan
A quality linebacker can change the game for the Redskins. 25-year old Super Bowl winning player Danny Trevathan had 2 fumble recoveries in the big game and Jay Gruden would love to have someone of his talent giving the Redskins some teeth on the defensive end. The Kirk Cousins saga will be the biggest call of their off season, but without a game changer like Trevathan, then it won’t matter too much who they pick at QB.