A familiar adage among people within the football community is that the NFL has no real offseason. That is going to be the case throughout 2019, as the Super Bowl will be followed by the NFL Scouting Combine and then an offseason that will feature multiple big names changing teams via major signings that will generate headlines for networks and among national sports talk radio hosts. It seems almost a guarantee a quarterback who has a Super Bowl championship and Super Bowl MVP award on his resume will find himself a new home and an improved contract via free agency. Just how much money he’ll earn come March has yet to be determined.
Not every NFL player moves the needle and will raise the eyes of fans and observers upon signing with a different franchise either in March or later in the free agency process. They will quietly join organizations and, in turn, hope to become steals for teams that may be able to get them on relatively inexpensive contracts compared to the cash offered to the top stars at certain positions. One quarterback, a man who is currently a backup, may once again have to settle for being second on a depth chart unless the person ahead of him suffers some sort of physical setback. If that occurs, his quiet change of teams could become much louder in the blink of an eye.
The Washington Redskins should do whatever possible to convince Nick Foles to activate his contract buyout clause, leave the Philadelphia Eagles and sign with the Redskins this offseason. Alex Smith may never take the field again following the fractured leg and subsequent post-surgery complications he endured in late 2018, and the Redskins cannot enter training camp with multiple journeymen inside of their QB room. Foles has shown he can win the biggest game of the year and can notch wins over NFC East opponents. The Redskins can’t let him get away, assuming he will become a free agent able to pick his next employer in free agency.
The plan for the Cleveland Browns to start Tyrod Taylor ahead of rookie Baker Mayfield lasted until the veteran went down to a concussion on September 20 and lost his job to the first-year pro who has taken Cleveland and the NFL by storm. Taylor’s career in the NFL shouldn’t be finished following his one-and-done stint in Northeast Ohio. He’ll be only 30- years-old before the preseason comes to an end. Some team will need a proven backup to sit behind a starter, and Taylor shouldn’t have to wait too long to receive a gig. Taylor would be an upgrade over Robert Griffin III for the Baltimore Ravens and a better mentor to Lamar Jackson.
It’s been reported that the Houston Texans want to keep the team’s defense together. Just how much money can that club invest in the combination of J.J. Watt, Tyrann Mathieu, and Jadeveon Clowney if the Texans are serious about using the franchise tag to keep Clowney around for at least one more season? Mathieu spent 2018 playing on a one-year “prove it” deal. He proved his worth, and he’s going to want to get paid. The Oakland Raiders have money to spend and a need in the secondary. Mathieu and his camp have to realize he’d make more money moving out west to the rebuilding Raiders than if he remained with the Texans through the end of the decade.
It wasn’t all that long ago when Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews would have been a major signing for just about any franchise. That isn’t the case heading into March 2019, though, as the 32-year-old isn’t what he was during his physical prime. He could quietly join the Cleveland Browns, the team his father played for decades ago, and attempt to help that team make a return to the playoffs. This wouldn’t just be an emotional signing for the Browns. Cleveland needs an upgrade at the position, and Matthews could head to Cleveland at a good price for all parties during the offseason.
Latavius Murray has made it clear he wants to be a team’s top option at running back, which won’t happen if he remains with the Minnesota Vikings. The unfortunate news for Murray is that he won’t be the best running back to hit the open market in free agency. That shouldn’t prevent him from finding a new home and signing a good deal, however, as there are multiple clubs that would upgrade its backfield by adding the 28-year-old to the mix. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a new coaching staff that wants to try to salvage Jameis Winston’s career. Giving Winston a ball-carrier who can remove some pressure from the signal-caller would be a wise move for the Bucs to make during the offseason.
In early 2018, ESPN wrote that interest in wide receiver Jermaine Kearse “as an unrestricted free agent this offseason is likely to be tepid.” That may be putting the situation nicely. After enjoying a career season with the Jets in 2017, Kearse took steps in the wrong direction at the worst time when a big contract could have been on the table following the past campaign. 37 receptions and only a single touchdown don’t leap off a box score for any head coach or general manager. The veteran will sign with a different team during the offseason, but he’ll do so quietly, without much fanfare and as a secondary option for a passing attack. The Tennessee Titans are in need of a veteran at the position, and somebody such as Kearse who should come at an inexpensive price could be perfect for the club still looking to get the most out of Marcus Mariota.
The Washington Redskins acquiring safety HaHa Clinton-Dix ahead of the 2018 trade deadline was more about the club attempting to win during the fall than building for the future, and it’s likely the ‘Skins will allow him to exit via free agency. The New York Giants could be an interesting destination for Clinton-Dix to consider even if Big Blue keeps Landon Collins either via the franchise tag or a new contract. New York’s secondary, and defense as a whole, failed the club far too often last season, and the Giants should have more available funds once the team restructures the contract attached to quarterback Eli Manning, as expected.
The football world watched as Fitzmagic flamed out with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Ryan Fitzpatrick will be able to find a new team via free agency. A new Tampa Bay coaching staff guided by Bruce Arians is apparently set on working with Jameis Winston (for now), meaning the time is right for Fitzpatrick to locate his next and, possibly, last team. He may want to wait until after the 2019 NFL Draft to see if clubs such as the Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Oakland Raiders take signal-callers. If nothing else, Fitzpatrick would be an upgrade at the position for the Jaguars, an organization that can’t seriously consider starting Blake Bortles under center this fall.
Ezekiel Ansah did not have the season he envisioned after agreeing to play for the Detroit Lions under the franchise tag in 2019. Even worse, his year ended prematurely because of a shoulder injury. Nevertheless, he should be one of the big-name pass rushers to hit free agency in March, and he will be a major signing for the team that gets him to put pen to paper on a contract. The San Francisco 49ers shouldn’t wait to call him once the team can officially reach out to him about his services. San Francisco needs multiple players to bolster the team’s defensive line, and the Niners can afford to pay Ansah what he wants.
When running back Jay Ajayi suffered a torn ACL during the fall, his tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles unofficially came to an end. While Ajayi is only 25 years old, his stock is bound to be low coming off that injury. He’s only rushed for over 1,000 yards once in his career, a feat he achieved in 2016, and that season is but a distant memory with free agency looming. The value of veteran running backs, particularly those with unimpressive resumes, drops with each season, and Ajayi will likely have to fight for a spot on a roster once he quietly signs with a new team. As long as he can show he is healthy, he should receive multiple offers. With Latavius Murray headed out of town, the Minnesota Vikings could use Ajayi to lighten the load for Dalvin Cook.
Ndamukong Suh may enjoy playing for the Los Angeles Rams and the lifestyle that comes with it, but the Rams have millions of reasons to not retain his services for the 2019 campaign. Things may be much different in Northeast Ohio than they are out west, but Suh would probably be thrilled with cashing the paychecks the Cleveland Browns could give him if he would be willing to sign for a team that will be pursuing a playoff spot with Baker Mayfield leading the charge. Suh is still one of the top players at his position, but this could be his last opportunity to sign a major contract. Head to Cleveland, Mr. Suh, and help give those fans a home playoff game.
Outside linebacker Shane Ray needs a change of scenery after finding himself inactive with the Denver Broncos in December. Ray failed to become what the Broncos had in mind when the team spent a first-round draft pick on him in 2015, and the team declined his fifth-year option in 2018. He won’t be seen as a major signing for the organization that takes a flier on him in March, but he remains young enough that some defensive coordinator will believe that the Broncos didn’t get the best out of the linebacker. The 25-year-old will have plenty of ammunition to prove doubters wrong later this year, and the Oakland Raiders should bring him into camp to provide that defense with a spark, not to mention some inside information on a division foe.
Mark Ingram won’t be the biggest offensive fish to hit free agency in March unless the Pittsburgh Steelers either once again tag Le’Veon Bell or find a way to bring him back (they shouldn't do either). Even still, Ingram has shown that he can be a No. 1 option in a backfield that doesn’t also feature Alvin Kamara. He’ll be a major signing for a team such as the New York Jets that wants to sign a proven back but that also doesn’t want to pay Bell the guaranteed money he has desired since before the 2018 campaign. Ingram would be a good get at a nice price for the Jets.
T.J. Yeldon’s contract season was rather underwhelming, which matches how the Jacksonville Jaguars performed for much of the campaign. Yeldon will now need to convince a new team to pay him, maybe on a short-term deal, so that he can show what he is able to accomplish with a different offense that, ideally, has a better quarterback than Blake Bortles. Yeldon's most productive season, to date, in the NFL was his debut year in 2015 when he received over 180 carries. These days, he’ll be a quiet signing and somebody who is the second part of a team’s one-two punch in the backfield. We wonder how he’d feel about sharing carries with Saquon Barkley.
One can practically write the script for safety Earl Thomas happily trading in his Seattle Seahawks jersey for the colors of the San Francisco 49ers. Thomas’ tenure with Seattle ended with a one-finger salute after he suffered a fracture in his left leg last October, and that injury may cost him some money on the open market. That’s good news for the Niners, as San Francisco should want to upgrade the team’s secondary, and the team has the salary cap space to make Thomas feel alright about not signing with the Dallas Cowboys, his preferred destination as of last fall. Thomas teaming up with Richard Sherman once again would make for a major signing.
Tight end Tyler Eifert has been downright unlucky the past couple of years, and it now looks like the 28-year-old won’t be in the plans of the Cincinnati Bengals as the team goes in a different direction with a new head coach. Some out there may not remember that Eifert caught 13 touchdown passes in 2015 because it was so long ago. The days of Eifert being a major signing are in the past, but he could be a contributor to the right team as long as he is able to stay healthy for more than a few games. We’re looking at you, New England Patriots, a franchise that is probably on the verge of losing Rob Gronkowski to retirement and/or World Wrestling Entertainment.
Unless an unforeseen release occurs during the offseason, Golden Tate will be the best wide receiver available in free agency and the major signing as it pertains to that position. The New York Jets shouldn’t think twice about letting his camp know that he has a home at MetLife Stadium even if that means the Jets overpaying a bit for his talents. Tate isn’t explosive, but he’s a reliable target for Sam Darnold as Darnold works to build upon a rookie season that included multiple highs and lows. Signing Tate should be the first order of business for a Jets team that has a new coaching staff.
Some may say that wide receiver Dez Bryant won’t ever do anything quietly, which may be a fair point. Bryant wasn’t all that coveted among NFL teams when he was healthy, and the fact that he suffered a torn Achilles tendon before officially debuting with the New Orleans Saints in November will further affect his stock assuming that he will be able to return to the field, at all. Bryant is 30-years-old. He’s no longer the dynamic player he was during his best days with the Dallas Cowboys. Bryant joining a team will make news only because of what he was years ago. At best, he’ll be a quiet contributor as a second or third receiver. Not for nothing, but Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns could use a veteran receiver who has size and multiple chips on his shoulders.
There are a handful of teams, at least, that won’t be keen on giving Le’Veon Bell, the best running back in the NFL, the long-term contract and guaranteed cash he wants upon leaving the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Indianapolis Colts shouldn’t be one of those organizations. Andrew Luck is healthy, one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and is playing behind a top-notch offensive line. Adding Bell would make the Colts one of the most feared offenses in the league. Best of all, the Colts have more available salary cap space than any other team, meaning paying Bell won’t prevent the franchise from making other moves.
Teddy Bridgewater may never reach what so many thought was his ceiling following the success he enjoyed with the Minnesota Vikings because of the knee injury that nearly cost him his career. Bridgewater isn’t a starter in the NFL these days, and it’s difficult to imagine any team would trust him to be more than a bridge QB ahead of a rookie. Instead, it’s more likely a team such as the Carolina Panthers will quietly add Bridgewater to the depth chart while hoping that Cam Newton’s shoulder won’t cause him problems next fall. If Newton isn’t 100 percent by, say, November, the Panthers could go to the bullpen and put Bridgewater in the lineup.