Fans of any professional sport can feel attached to certain players. There might be been a highlight play that led to fans being draw to the athlete. “Their catch in the fourth quarter against New York saved the season and was the launching point to our Super Bowl run.”
That kind of statement is common for every team in the National Football League. It could be a catch, a throw, a run or a defensive play that sparked a major comeback or clinched a conference championship. These players are often loved by their fans who would assume that they will always remain with their favorite team.
Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. Even some of the greatest legends in NFL history went from one team to another at least once in their respective careers. After 13 seasons and four Super Bowl wins with the San Francisco 49ers, legendary quarterback Joe Montana would spend the last two years of his career with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Brett Favre was one of the more recent quarterback legends for the Green Bay Packers from 1992 until 2007. But he was traded to the New York Jets for one season before joining the rival Minnesota Vikings for the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Great players can often move. The reasons can vary. The team might want to go another direction in an effort to save money or bring in a new face.
There’s a business side to every professional sport; the NFL is no different. Neither is the offseason that will lead into the 2017 NFL regular season this fall. The following is a list of where 15 NFL players are likely going to play next season.
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15 Luke Willson - New England Patriots
The New England Patriots don’t need to have two tight ends that are worth big money. While Rob Gronkowski is their top man, Martellus Bennett is still a capable No. 1 tight end for any team in the NFL. The New England offense hasn't seemed to suffer much since Gronk went down with a back injury. Depending on what the Patriots plan to do in the offseason, they may have to consider not re-signing Bennett after making $5.1 million last season.
One free agent target for the Patriots would be Luke Willson. After four seasons with the Seahawks, Willson finished with 976 yards and seven touchdowns on 74 receptions. But he’s also shown versatility in run blocking. Having a secondary tight end who can do both well is a great move. It would also be a cost-saving move for New England.
14 Jay Cutler - New York Jets
Jay Cutler has worn out his welcome in Chicago. His time as the Bears quarterback had one good season with a trip to the 2010 NFC Championship. The rest was filled with numerous injuries and interception issues that caused fans to scream for his dismissal for the past few seasons. However, it isn’t until now that his contract will not have any guaranteed money for the 2017 season.
With Chicago likely releasing Cutler during the offseason, Cutler is going to have to find a new team willing to bring in an aged veteran with questionable skills. But the New York Jets might be a perfect fit for him considering they already have former Chicago teammates already on the roster – wide receiver Brandon Marshall and running back Matt Forte.
13 Colin Kaepernick - Cleveland Browns
The San Francisco 49ers have fallen from Super Bowl contender in 2012 to one of the worst teams in the NFL in only a few years. It’s no secret that people have begun to sour on quarterback Colin Kaepernick in recent years. He hasn’t been able to play at a consistent level that is expected from the six-year, $114 million deal the 49ers signed him to before the 2015 season.
It’s bad enough he was benched for Blaine Gabbert to begin the 2016 season. He’s still under contract and would either have to be cut or traded. It’s more likely he will be released and find a way to the Cleveland Browns. Kaepernick has said in the past that he would want to play for head coach Hue Jackson in Cleveland.
12 Johnathan Cyprien - Chicago Bears
While the Chicago Bears are going to be looking for younger stars in the NFL Draft, there are still options on the free agent market. One name that the Bears need to circle is strong safety Johnathan Cyprien. In four seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars, he’s played 60 games as a starter with 339 tackles and two interceptions. At only 26 years of age, the Bears could be picking up someone who has yet to reach his full potential.
It also wouldn’t be too costly considering he could be signed for a couple million dollars per season. It would certainly be an upgrade in the Chicago secondary as safeties Harold Jones-Quartey and Adrian Amos showed signs of limitations compared to their potential upside as 23-year-old players.
11 Calais Campbell - Oakland Raiders
The Arizona Cardinals were expected to be a contender for a Super Bowl title entering the 2016 season. However, the team had a number of players who didn’t meet expectations set by the officials and the fans. Despite having some room to make deals, the Cardinals are likely going to have a few down seasons coming up. With Calais Campbell’s deal expiring, he’s a veteran who may want to win a championship now rather than later.
Campbell had another good season in 2016 with eight sacks, three fumble recoveries and one interception. The Oakland Raiders could use another pass rusher to have one of the most dominant units in the league. Campbell would join defensive end Khalil Mack on the defensive line (11 sacks) with linebacker Bruce Irvin in hopes of providing depth in Oakland's pass rush.
10 Adam Thielen - Los Angeles Chargers
Adam Thielen had a breakout season in 2016 with the Minnesota Vikings. Fantasy football owners quickly tried to pick him up after he collected seven receptions for 127 yards and one touchdown against the Houston Texans in Week 5. He had an even better game in Week 16 at Green Bay – 12 receptions for 202 yards and two touchdowns. Minnesota is really going to have a hard time keeping Thielen on the roster.
The wide receiver is looking for a big contract after making only about $500,000 in each of his first three seasons. The Los Angeles Chargers could make the move to help improve their wide receiving corps as they move from San Diego. Veteran quarterback Philip Rivers will certainly look forward to 2017 if Thielen is signed.
9 Eric Decker - New York Giants
The New York Jets have an interesting situation as they will likely be going into a rebuild mode. When looking at the wide receiving corps of the Jets offense, they have a trio of young receivers to focus on. Quincy Enunwa had 857 yards in 2016, while Robby Anderson had 587 yards and Charone Peake had some plays here and there. All three will be 25 years of age or younger next season.
The Jets have two veteran wide receivers in Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker who they could deem expendable. Marshall is likely safe if the Jets bring in former teammate Jay Cutler. Decker only played three games and could be cut in a cost-cutting measure. The Jets' loss could be a big gain for the New York Giants, who could use a veteran player to be a possible No. 2 option to Odell Beckham Jr.
8 Jason Pierre-Paul - Detroit Lions
Before the 2016 season, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul turned down a contract offer with the Arizona Cardinals. He signed a one-year contract with the New York Giants with something to prove. Despite missing the last few games of the season due to a sports hernia surgery, he still had seven sacks and eight pass deflections through 12 games. It wasn’t long ago when he had 12.5 sacks in the 2014 season with the Giants.
Pierre-Paul still looks like he can be a big factor for a team that needs a pass rusher. The Detroit Lions were missing that in 2016 and are reportedly looking at Pierre-Paul. It would certainly make the Lions a much bigger threat to the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North and possibly a deep run in the playoffs.
7 Eric Berry - Indianapolis Colts
The Indianapolis Colts had a number of problems that led to an 8-8 record in 2016. Part of the issue was a defense that allowed nearly 400 points for the season. Safety Mike Adams was a team leader with 62 tackles and two interceptions, along with two forced fumbles. But the 35-year-old is going to become a free agent. It’s unlikely that the Colts will want to sign him to a long-term contract because of his age.
With that in mind, Eric Berry is a free agent safety that would be a boost for the Colts. Last season, Berry made 62 tackles with four interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns. He’s been a big part of the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense for the past seven seasons. Berry will probably want to aim for one last max contract with age on his side.
6 Adrian Peterson - New York Giants
It’s hard to picture Adrian Peterson running in anything other than purple and gold. However, he’s likely going to viewed as an expendable piece of the Minnesota Vikings roster. Last season saw injury problems and a sharp decline in play, which is what usually happens when a running back in the NFL turns 30 years old. Still, the 2015 season where he had 1,485 yards and 11 touchdowns will lead to some interest.
Next season, Peterson’s cap hit for the Vikings would be about $18 million. It would be better for the Vikings to find a way to trade him to a team that is desperate for a running back. The New York Giants were one of the worst running offenses in the NFL; only six rushing touchdowns in a 16-game season. With Eli Manning getting up there in age, the Giants will likely want to make one last serious run at the Super Bowl while Eli is still under center.
5 Alshon Jeffery - Tennessee Titans
The Chicago Bears are likely going to rebuild, again. This means they'll have to let talented players who would cost a lot against the cap walk in free agency. Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery is likely the first to be gone from Halas Hall. He is entering the free agent market after collecting 4,549 yards and 26 touchdowns in five seasons. But last season was a tough one after a failed drug test and only catching two touchdown passes.
The team that is in most desperate need for a wide receiver would be the Tennessee Titans. While Rishard Matthews led the team with 945 receiving yards, no other wide receiver came close to that kind of number. Quarterback Marcus Mariota would be a happy man if he was able to have Matthews and Jeffery line up on opposite sides of the field in 2017.
4 Kirk Cousins - San Francisco 49ers
One would assume that the Washington Redskins would be crazy to let Kirk Cousins go. The quarterback just finished his fifth season in the league with 4,917 yards, 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. But while Washington fans would like to think the team has found their franchise quarterback, the front office might not want to pay him a big money contract. Considering what he’s done recently, he certainly deserves it.
Recent reports from ESPN’s Adam Schefter are also pointing out that the San Francisco 49ers might be interested in pursuing Cousins. If Washington doesn’t offer a franchise tag on Cousins, the 49ers will aggressively try to sign the quarterback. If the Redskins do place the tag, the 49ers are reportedly willing to trade their No. 2 overall draft pick. It all depends on if Washington wants to eventually pay Cousins as a top-tier quarterback. With Kyle Shanahan reportedly set to take the 49ers coaching job, pairing him up with Cousins is an intriguing scenario for the Niners.
3 Joe Thomas - Seattle Seahawks
Pete Carroll recently told the media that no one should be expecting the Seattle Seahawks to pursue a big name offensive lineman. However, that tune could change considering that might have been part of why the Seahawks didn’t have a more productive offense. The running game was inconsistent due to a subpar offensive line. This led to the defense spending more time on the field.
The Seahawks were linked to potential trade rumors regarding the Cleveland Browns late in the 2016 season. That could be a potential move for Seattle as they would surely provide a big boost with Joe Thomas. Thomas has been one of the NFL's best tackles, but has been stuck in Cleveland his entire career. Seeing as how his old teammate Alex Mack has enjoyed a magical season in Atlanta, that could make him open to leaving the dog pound as well.
The Seahawks have potential stars in guys like Justin Britt and Germain Ifedi. Thomas would be the best move possible for the Seahawks.
2 Jimmy Garoppolo - Chicago Bears
One player who benefitted the most from Tom Brady’s four-game suspension to start the 2016 season was backup quarterback Jimmy Garappolo. After three seasons behind Brady, Garoppolo had a great two-game starting stint before an injury. He threw for 264 yards and one touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals before throwing three touchdowns and 232 yards against the Miami Dolphins.
The Patriots are considering trading the former Eastern Illinois University star. Considering he is a native of Illinois, the Chicago Bears would be a good fit for Garappolo. Chicago is likely done with Jay Cutler after several frustrating seasons. It would certainly be welcomed news for Chicago fans who have wanted Cutler gone for a few years now. The Bears would then have a potential franchise quarterback to build the team around.
1 Tony Romo - Denver Broncos
The Dallas Cowboys had a pleasant surprise in 2016 after what could have been a disastrous back injury to quarterback Tony Romo. Fourth-round rookie Dak Prescott became the leader of a powerful offense that complemented fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott. The thing that stood out was that Romo announced publicly that he was going to step back after recovering. He knew Prescott had become the No. 1 quarterback.
Considering how much Romo will earn in the last three years of his current contract with Dallas, the Cowboys would have to consider trading him. The best fit would be in Denver. If Romo can remain healthy, he would give a boost to the Broncos offense that was ranked 22nd in the league. If they were a little better in 2016, they could have had another Super Bowl run behind a strong defense.
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