The famous adage says that nobody likes change. That’s often untrue in professional sports competitions, particularly the NFL, where big-name players change clubs every offseason for different reasons. Salary-cap limitations result in franchises making difficult decisions regarding the 53 men who can make final rosters. In other instances, players with expiring rookie contracts get paid by organizations that didn’t draft them. Unlike in the NHL and MLB, an NFL club with a losing record can turn things around seemingly overnight with a handful of signings coupled with a solid draft class. That reality gives players who join different teams in March or later in an offseason hope that they will find success with their new employers.
Numerous compelling storylines will dominate the 2019 offseason in the days and weeks following the Super Bowl. Pro Bowl talents on both sides of the football will become hot commodities even before would-be new teams can “officially” speak with them ahead of offering them contracts. Of course, some rumored moves appear impossible for financial reasons. Situations change quickly in the NFL, but those speculating that either Odell Beckham Jr. or Antonio Brown will be traded ahead of Week 1 of the 2019 campaign should realize several roadblocks stand in the way of such transactions. As of the middle of January, it appears more likely they’ll have to find success with their current clubs later this year.
20 Success On New Team: Ezekiel Ansah
Detroit Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah may be the latest example others around the league point to for why they refuse to play under a franchise tag. Ansah, 29-years-old, agreed to feature for the Lions on that one-year deal worth $17.5 million, but he underperformed during the contract season. Even worse, Ansah, who has a history of shoulder problems, ended his season on injured reserve after a similar problem cost him nine total contests. The chances of a healthy Ansah returning to Detroit in 2019 were always slim. After all that occurred with the Lions on and off the field, these two entities should go in different directions.
19 Team: San Francisco 49ers
Similar to what happened with the New York Giants during the 2017 season, a plague of injuries infected the San Francisco 49ers before the team could obtain any momentum in 2018. Those issues shouldn’t prevent the Niners from continuing the plan of attempting to return to the playoffs with Jimmy Garoppolo under center. San Francisco could use multiple improvements up front on defense, and Ansah could be an ideal fit, largely because he’ll come at a slight discount compared to what he would have been paid on the open market in March of last year. A healthy Ansah could easily return to double-digit sacks wearing San Francisco colors.
18 Success On New Team: Golden Tate
Golden Tate began the 2018 season as one of the most consistent and reliable wide receivers in the NFL who probably was going to make a move from the Detroit Lions via free agency. Detroit made that decision easy for the veteran when the team dealt him to the Philadelphia Eagles ahead of the trade deadline. Tate wasn’t an immediate fit in the Philly offense, and he was always meant to be a rental for the defending Super Bowl champs. Sure, the Eagles will have some time to convince him to remain with the NFC East outfit, but the 30-year-old should want to get paid in March.
17 Team: New York Jets
This one is so obvious, it seems as if the only way that the New York Jets won’t end up with Golden Tate is if the franchise somehow screws up during negotiations. Quarterback Sam Darnold needs better weapons during his second season in the league, and the Jets have money to burn during the offseason. There are differing opinions among the fanbase and also among New York sports media regarding the Jets possibly signing running back Le’Veon Bell. With Tate, there shouldn’t be any doubts as long as the receiver doesn’t mind joining a team that is still at least another offseason away from pursuing January football.
16 Success On New Team: Tyrann Mathieu
Houston Texans safety Tyrann Mathieu bet on himself when he signed a one-year deal to join that franchise in March 2018. The 26-year-old shouldn’t do so again unless money just doesn’t mean all that much to him. Mathieu finding success with a new team in 2019 has less to do with what he has offered the Texans — he has played well during his brief tenure with the club — and more with the fact that Houston will have money tied-up on other aspects of the defense. J.J. Watt probably isn’t going anywhere, and the Texans can keep Jadeveon Clowney around another season via the franchise tag. Mathieu may be left without a real offer from Houston.
15 Team: Oakland Raiders
Yes, the Oakland Raiders are clearly in the middle of a roster rebuild that may include the team moving on from quarterback Derek Carr at the start of next decade. Oakland also freed-up some salary cap space and could use a player like Mathieu in the secondary. Mathieu won’t be the first current player linked with the Raiders ahead of free agency, but the team starting with him could ease the fears of fans who aren’t convinced Jon Gruden and company are capable of executing a master plan intended to guide the Raiders back to a Super Bowl appearance. Unless Mathieu wants to immediately chase a ring, this is a good move for everyone.
14 Success On New Team: Latavius Murray
In the past, Minnesota Vikings running back Latavius Murray has claimed that he wants to be a starter with an organization. The future free agent will need to leave the Vikings in order for that wish to come true as long as Dalvin Cook is healthy and on the depth chart. Murray needs to be realistic about his asking price during the offseason. After all, he’s only rushed for over 1,000 yards in a season once over the past five seasons, and he isn’t going to be the top player at his position to hit the market. We have just the team in mind where he could find success in 2019.
13 Team: Oakland Raiders
The Oakland Raiders entered Week 17 of the 2018 season with Doug Martin (yes, THAT Doug Martin), Jalen Richard (who notched 68 receptions on 81 targets) and DeAndre Washington on the depth chart at running back. Oakland could clearly bring multiple new backs into camp without causing any real stir. The Raiders signing Murray theoretically wouldn’t take passing targets away from Richard, and it would give the veteran the starting gig he desired. There’d be no competition for first-choice honors in Oakland, something the Vikings can’t promise Murray before the summer. Is playing alongside Derek Carr an upgrade from receiving handoffs from Kirk Cousins? That’s for Murray, fans, and observers to decide.
12 Success On New Team: Earl Thomas
Safety Earl Thomas ending his holdout and returning to the Seattle Seahawks ahead of Week 1 of the 2018 season provided a glimmer of hope that he could potentially re-sign with the organization. Then, he gave teammates on the sideline a one-finger salute while being carted off the field after he suffered a fracture in his leg during a Week 4 contest. To summarize the situation in two words: He's gone. Thomas probably won’t earn the type of contract coming off the injury he envisioned last summer, which was always the risk that came with taking the field last fall. Fortunately, one team in the division can afford to make him a happy man.
11 Team: San Francisco 49ers
Maybe some men just want to watch the world burn. Those who don’t support the Seahawks would have to admit that Earl Thomas signing with the San Francisco 49ers, a franchise that can afford him, would provide multiple delicious storylines. Thomas would team back up with former Legion of Boom member Richard Sherman. Both Thomas and Sherman would receive chances to earn some revenge against their former employer. Remove emotions from the discussion, and the 49ers signing Thomas would be a great get for a San Francisco side that wants to build a playoff-caliber roster. Unless the Dallas Cowboys swoop in, the Niners may be Thomas’ best option in March.
10 Success On New Team: Cameron Brate
Admittedly, this may not be the sexiest name when one thinks of NFL players who could potentially find success on new teams in 2019. Don’t forget that Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Cameron Brate notched 20 receiving touchdowns over the last three seasons, and he found the end zone six times in 2018 at a time when the club had questions about its quarterback position. Brate signed a six-year extension with the Bucs in March 2018, but the team could afford to trade him with O.J. Howard still signed on a cheap deal up through at least 2020. A couple of organizations could make this deal worth it for Tampa Bay.
9 Team: Detroit Lions
Former Detroit Lions tight end Eric Ebron needed a change of scenery in March 2018, and he found new life for his career as a member of the Indianapolis Colts. We now know, of course, that the Lions attempted to replace Ebron with New England Patriots star Rob Gronkowski, but Gronk apparently decided he’d rather retire than play with a QB other than Tom Brady. The Lions shouldn’t run into a similar problem making a deal for Brate. Matthew Stafford is going to be Detroit’s QB for the next two seasons because of his contract whether the team likes it or not. The least the front office can do is give him some needed weapons.
8 Success On New Team: HaHa Clinton-Dix
Should the Washington Redskins offer safety HaHa Clinton-Dix a new contract after trading with the Green Bay Packers for him during the season? Probably, but these are the Redskins we’re talking about. You can always rely on the front office to make at least one curious decision. Besides, the Redskins don’t know who will play quarterback for the club during the fall with Alex Smith sidelined indefinitely, if not permanently. Washington won’t even flirt with using any kind of tag to keep Clinton-Dix, and he likely understands the Redskins aren’t winning much of anything unless the team makes a blockbuster trade for a QB such as Joe Flacco, which isn’t all that realistic this offseason.
7 Team: New York Giants
You can scratch this one off the list if the New York Giants bring Landon Collins back either on a new contract or a tag. The Giants began rebuilding the team’s defense last offseason, however, and the team could use a safety who covers better than Collins. Clinton-Dix won’t come cheap for Big Blue, who shed some salary cap space by trading Jason Pierre-Paul to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2018. Convincing quarterback Eli Manning to restructure his current contract to provide the front office with additional space may be key in the club signing Clinton-Dix, who should thrive, with his skill set, in the New York secondary.
6 Success On New Team: Mark Ingram
The four-game ban the NFL handed to New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram has been erased from our memories because of the play of the 29-year-old during the 2018 campaign. Ingram, who averaged 4.7 yards per carry during the regular season, showed he can still rush for over 1,000 yards if he is able to appear in 16 contests. He also is no longer the first-choice back in the New Orleans offense thanks to Alvin Kamara. Kamara will be the star of the Saints backfield moving forward as Ingram prepares to enter free agency and leave the only NFL home he has known since first entering the league via the 2011 NFL Draft.
5 Team: Houston Texans
A handful of teams should come calling for Ingram, but it’s the Houston Texans that could be the best fit for him at his age and for the money he will earn on the market. The Texans are already a playoff team with a potential franchise quarterback playing on a rookie deal, but the team’s rushing attack could use a change. Houston’s front office could get creative and trade Lamar Miller, who is about to enter the final year of his contract, and then sign Ingram to a deal that would benefit both. The Texans are in a win-now mode because of the money invested in the team’s defense. This March will be the time for the club to explore such ideas.
4 Success On New Team: Ndamukong Suh
Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who is a proven player up front, hasn’t been any kind of negative during his tenure with the Los Angeles Rams, and the veteran still has the goods to play for a championship contender. Los Angeles merely needs to go in a different direction and spend money elsewhere once free agency arrives. Suh isn’t getting any younger, as he’ll be 32-years-old months before March arrives. This will probably be his last chance to sign a big contract before he rides off into the sunset. Why not put pen to paper on that deal with a franchise that has available funds and is also on the cusp of becoming one of the best stories in North American pro sports?
3 Team: Cleveland Browns
Should the Cleveland Browns, no longer laughingstocks of the NFL thanks to first-year quarterback Baker Mayfield, give Ndamukong Suh a long-term contract that pays him over four or five seasons? No, but the Browns have the available cap space, with Mayfield on his rookie deal for years to come, to hand Suh the big bucks over 2019 and 2020. The Cleveland defense, while underrated considering what it appeared to be, on paper, in August, needs improvements up front. Suh wouldn’t be a mercenary with the Browns. Cleveland is ready to compete today, and the sky is the limit for this much-maligned franchise, assuming Mayfield will continue to make strides.
2 Success On New Team: Le’Veon Bell
Maybe running back Le’Veon Bell knew what he was doing when he sat the entire season rather than playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers under the franchise tag. The Steelers are a complete mess this offseason. Bell, meanwhile, is fully rested and ready to sign what will be the biggest contract of his career. Plenty of hot takes are out there about how much any team should pay a running back in the modern league that protects quarterbacks and passing attacks. Bell remains the best in the business at what he does, and there are at least a few teams that will pay him the guaranteed money he craves.
1 Team: Indianapolis Colts
Many may have their eyes focused on the New York Jets allegedly overpaying for Bell, but it’s the Indianapolis Colts that do so in this simulation. Indianapolis needs to spend the massive amount of available funds the club possesses while Andrew Luck is healthy and in his prime. The Colts don’t have a true franchise running back. Bell has shown he can be a useful weapon in any passing attack. It’s possible Bell could play better than ever in the Indy offense as long as the Colts also continue to improve the team’s offensive line either via the draft or free agency. Bell should find success wherever he goes. He could win a title with the Colts.