The National Football League (NFL) is a cutthroat business. Many players joke that the "NFL" really stands for "Not For Long" because of all the major roster changes that take place each offseason. While some star players are all but guaranteed to have a roster spot each season, most players are constantly one mistake away from being on the chopping block. For players to maintain security, they most continue to play at superior levels to their opponents and even their teammates.
While the offseason often brings hope for each NFL franchise, it also brings a litany of tough decisions for general managers and owners. There are always decisions that have to be made that involve money, loyalty, talent, age, and position. The most heartbreaking of these decisions comes when it involves an aging or injured fan favorite. Should the franchise move on and begin finding younger pieces to replace them? Or should the franchise respect what that player has done for them and allow them to go out on their own terms? That is the case for many of the players on this list. Read below to find out if your team can be affected by one of these major decisions this offseason.
16 Tyrann Mathieu - Arizona Cardinals
Tyrann Mathieu, also known as the "Honeybadger" by many NFL fans, is an All-Pro talent when he is healthy. But health has been a major issue in his young career as Mathieu suffered a torn ACL in his rookie season and another ACL tear in 2015, which cut short a potential NFL Defensive MVP season for the safety. His playmaking skills is second to none, when healthy and confident.
While injuries are certainly a concern and have affected his play the past two seasons, the bigger issue at hand is Mathieu's large contract. He signed an extension with the Cardinals heading into the 2016 season under the assumption that he would return to his former ball-hawking style. Although he had a good season last year, Mathieu failed to make many of the "splash" plays that are expected of him, which may not be fair to him. The emergence of rookie Budda Baker might have signaled the end of the Honeybadger's time in Arizona.
15 Who Should Sign Him: New Orleans Saints
This selection is more based on significance and storyline than it is about actual player need for the Saints. While the Saints currently have stud Kenny Vaccaro and promising rookie, albeit recent playoff goat, Marcus Williams, occupying their Safety positions, the team could still absolutely use a player like Mathieu. Realistically, every team could use a player like Mathieu.
Not only does this allow Mathieu to be close to the ball at all times, he has also shown an above average ability to blitz from the corner position. This is scary for opposing quarterbacks because of Mathieu's tenacious pursuit and ability to strip the ball out and make game changing plays. Plus, it would be great to see Mathieu return to his home of New Orleans and become a pillar of support in the community to help troubled teens from avoiding the mistakes that he made as a young adult.
14 Jonathan Stewart - Carolina Panthers
For the past 10 seasons, Jonathan Stewart has been a staple in the Carolina Panthers backfield. Although he suffered from injuries in 2012 and 2013, Stewart has been like a pillar of strength for the Panthers. Stewart has consistently put up good numbers as the Panthers starting running back, but he's never been truly dominating at any given time.
It would be very difficult for the Panthers to give up Stewart because of his loyalty to the team and his stronghold on the Panthers fanbase. He's the franchise all-time leading rusher and is also great in protecting Newton from weak side blitzes. But Stewart is 30 years old and that is a typical age for regression to start setting in for running backs. If they believe that rookie Christian McCaffrey can be the lead back, then Stewart may be replaced by a cheaper alternative to serve as backup.
13 Who Should Sign Him: Seattle Seahawks
No team started more players at running back than the Seattle Seahawks did in 2017. Seattle even took a shot on Eddie Lacy because they have been so desperate to find a replacement for their once dominant Beastmode running game. It's no coincidence that the Seahawks have struggled offensively since the departure of Marshawn Lynch. His talent and ability to break tackles masked how porous the Seattle offensive line really is.
While it would be unfair to expect him to provide the output that Lynch did in Seattle, Stewart could provide the Seahawks with the stable running back play that they desperately need. Russell Wilson is getting killed without a complimentary ground game, so signing Stewart would help Wilson immensely. This type of signing could help Seattle compete for the rest of their closing championship window.
12 Alex Smith - Kansas City Chiefs
Has anybody in the history of football gotten as short of a stick as Alex Smith has? All this guy has done is win everywhere he goes, yet he is consistently ridiculed and called out by the fan bases. What is it about him that fans just can't rally around? Is it his uber-conservative passing game? Is it his demeanor? While I can't really figure it out, it appears to be happening again in Kansas City.
While Smith has put up strong numbers again this season (26 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions), the Chiefs fanbase has been calling for rookie, backup quarterback Patrick Mahomes all season. Unless Smith leads the Chiefs to a Super Bowl victory this postseason, expect the Chiefs to trade him or cut him this offseason.
11 Who Should Sign Him: Arizona Cardinals
Okay so this may not be a situation where Alex Smith is actually cut and becomes a free agent, but that is only because his value is too high to simply cut for the Chiefs. One suitor will be the Arizona Cardinals, who would love to take the Chiefs behooved game manager off their hands to replace the retired Carson Palmer. One teams garbage is another teams treasure I guess right? Alex Smith would certainly love the appreciation Cardinal fans would show him.
There couldn't be more different quarterback styles from Palmer to Smith, as Palmer was a gunslinger who loved to push the ball downfield, even if it meant throwing a few more interceptions than normal. But Smith would be perfect for Arizona because the Cardinals defense remains stacked (even without Tyrann Mathieu as stated above) and all Smith would have to do is get the ball to running back sensation David Johnson as much as possible. This is a match made in heaven... hopefully it happens.
10 Doug Martin - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The 2017 season was supposed to be the year that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finally made the leap into being a playoff caliber team. Equipped with a young and improving quarterback in Jameis Winston, a stud wide receiver in Mike Evans, and a bowling ball running back in Doug Martin, the Bucs have the makeup of a strong offensive unit. Unfortunately for Bucs fans, this never truly panned out as planned.
Doug Martin, in particular, was a disappointment. After being suspended for the first four games because of performance enhancing drugs, Martin rejoined the team and showed little of the explosiveness that he was known for in his first few seasons in the NFL. He eventually had some other disciplinary issues with the team and lost his starting job to Peyton Barber. Surely, Martin has burned too many bridges to return to the Bucs in 2018.
9 Who Should Sign Him: New York Giants
The Giants are a mess and need to rebuild as soon as possible. Included in that rebuild is going to be a change at quarterback for the G-men in over 13 years due to the imminent aging of Eli Manning. Whether the Giants use their #2 overall pick this year on drafting the future franchise quarterback or allow Davis Webb a chance to take over the reigns, the new quarterback is going to need a solid, veteran running back to help balance the offense.
The Giants have tried several young runners the past few seasons but none of them have truly stood out as the future cowbell for the team. Doug Martin is still only 28 years old and should have a handful more productive seasons left in him. The Giants should give him a shot to help balance their offense and provide their next young quarterback with a little veteran protection in the backfield.
8 Laquon Treadwell - Minnesota Vikings
I thought about putting another receiver in this spot, (cough . . . cough, Breshad Perriman) but the Vikings accepting that Laquon Treadwell is a bust may be in their best interest. Treadwell was a stud in college and has all the physical tools that an NFL receiver should have: size, speed, and strong hands. But for some reason, Treadwell just can't figure it out at the pro-level.
While drafting a bust receiver in the first round would normally set a franchise back a few season, the Vikings are in an interesting place because of the fact that they hit on Stefon Diggs (5th round) and Adam Thielen (undrafted) as steals. In fact, it may be tough for Treadwell to find many targets in the now stocked Vikings receiver room. The Vikings should try to trade Treadwell first to see if they can get anything in return, but if not they should cut him and move on.
7 Who Should Sign Him: San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers went from a terrible team the first 10 games of the season, to a very formidable opponent in their last six, including an impressive 5-0 ending. Not surprisingly, the 5-0 stretch began as soon as Jimmy Garoppolo took over the starting quarterback position. This signaled a new era in the 49ers regime and one that has their future looking very bright.
What made Jimmy Garoppolo's dominance even more impressive was the fact that the 49ers do not have a lot of pure talent on the offensive side of the ball. Carlos Hyde is a beast but is getting older. Pierre Garcon is solid but is past his prime. If the 49ers could add Treadwell and hope that he improves with increased reps and minutes, it could be a steal for them. In a perfect world, he and Jimmy G would become the next Montana and Rice... but don't hold your breath for that 49ers fans.
6 Kam Chancellor - Seattle Seahawks
The Seattle Seahawks may not even have to cut Kam Chancellor due to talks of his potential retirement because of an ongoing neck injury, but Chancellor is such a competitor that he may attempt one last comeback. If he does, the Seahawks would be better off cutting their ties with the All-Pro safety and finding a younger replacement for the future.
This will be a major turning point for the famed Seattle defense and their "Legion of Boom." Earl Thomas is back and stronger than ever, but only time will tell if Sherman will regain all of his elite athleticism after suffering a torn Achilles last season. While the Legion had a great run, it's time for them to start going their own ways and that begins with Kam. Despite the recent injuries, Chancellor will still command a decent market should he become a free agent.
5 Who Should Sign Him: New England Patriots
I know Seattle fans are going to hate me for this one, but honestly this match makes a lot of sense. New England has historically been the place for old-timers to go and find a brief career rejuvenation while having the opportunity to compete for a Super Bowl. Chancellor is a weapon and a mastermind like Bill Belichick would know exactly how to deploy him.
He would also be a great fit in the Patriots locker room because of his unrelenting work ethic and tenacious pursuit of greatness. By adding Chancellor, the Patriots may have finally found somebody who will arrive earlier to the practice facilities than Tom Brady, who is notorious for spending every waking minute at the Patriots facilities. Given his age and potential injury concerns, New England is the best place for Chancellor if he wants to compete for one final Super Bowl.
4 DeMarco Murray - Tennessee Titans
It's crazy how things can change so drastically in the NFL from season to season. This time last year, people would have thought I was crazy if I said the Tennessee Titans should cut DeMarco "Spray Tan" Murray. But this year, I'm sure that even Titans fans would agree with me that it's time for Murray to be cut.
After rushing for over 1,200 yards in 2016, Murray came back down to earth this season with a lowly 660 rushing yards. Part of this decline can be blamed on injuries (Murray had hamstring issues all season), but injuries aside, Murray is no longer the best back on the roster. That title now belongs to former Alabama running back Derrick Henry. Henry shares the same type of running skill set that Murray had in his prime but comes with a younger age and smaller price tag. Murray will be cut before 2018 training camp.
3 Who Should Sign Him: Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns continue to be the bottom feeder for the NFL and there isn't much sign of hope moving forward. Given that DeMarco Murray will be 30 years old before the start of next season, he should not expect to land a job as the main back for any contending teams. If Murray wants to get 15-20 carries next season, he will have to take on a different role for a team like the Browns.
With so much speculation surrounding the Browns possibly drafting a quarterback with the #1 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft and then selecting exciting running back Saquan Barkley with the #4 pick, the Browns could use a veteran like Murray. Murray would help provide immediate leadership in the huddle and would take pressure off the rookie quarterback. He could also help show Barkley the ropes of the NFL, while still creating a dynamic tandem with the rookie running back. Murray may not be interested in that type of role, but this would be a great fit.
2 Eli Manning - New York Giants
What a run Eli Manning has had as the quarterback for the New York Giants. He proved to be worth the #1 overall pick that the Giants had to trade for to get him and he is the only quarterback to dethrone Tom Brady in the Super Bowl... and he did it twice! But at age 37, Eli is in the twilight of his career and shown clear regressions in his play on the field. It's only a matter of time before he either walks away or gets embarrassed at the prospect of becoming a back up.
The Mannings are very prideful, however, and Eli will likely want to prove everybody wrong one more time. The Giants are in no shape to contend for a Super Bowl anytime soon, so it's in their best interest to move on and begin grooming a young quarterback to take over the team. Eli could stay in New York and help teach a rookie quarterback, but that's an expensive contract for the Giants to pay for a role like that. Eli's day as a Giant are numbered.
1 Who Should Sign Him: Denver Broncos
This signing more than any of the others on this list makes the most sense. The Denver Broncos still have a championship caliber defense, but their offensive output was so awful this season that the defense couldn't hold it all together anymore. Even when the Broncos won the Super Bowl a few seasons ago, their offense wasn't great under Peyton Manning but he managed the game well enough to allow the defense to win.
This is exactly what Eli could do for the Broncos. It would be so fitting, and ironic, for the Broncos to land another aging Manning brother and have it be successful. The Broncos have enough weapons surrounding Eli that he could still do some damage of his own too. Out of all the potential cuts/signings that could happen in this sure to be crazy offseason, this is the one I want to see happen the most.