There are six new members of Jon Gruden’s Fired Football Coaches of America, Free Agency rumors are whirling, and the NFL is still just in the playoffs. For the 20 teams that didn’t make it in, though, the offseason has begun.
That means it’s time for front office personnel to toe the fine line between publicly fawning over free agents, and tampering. The risk is justified to get an early start in courting big-name players, especially for teams that were only one or two pieces away from squeaking into the playoffs.
It also means Adam Schefter’s Twitter page gets a lot more interesting.
It means it’s time for Tim Tebow to come out of hybernation, shave his beard, warm up his arm, and sweet talk his way into his annual tryout.
Every year there are hundreds of free agents looking to get paid more than what their previous contracts were worth, so it can be tough knowing where to get the most boom for bucks. It’s a delicate balance between roster needs and cap space, but every year there is at least one team that makes a big splash in free agency.
Last year, the Eagles let Jeremy Maclin leave, and signed DeMarco Murray and Byron Maxwell in free agency. Then traded away LeSean McCoy and Nick Foles for Kiko Alonso and Sam Bradford, respectively.
These were poor enough decisions to get the offseason architect, Chip Kelly, fired. Spending big money on outside talent doesn’t always translate to on-field production.
Most free agents will end up re-signing with their current teams, but it’s always fun to speculate and hypothesize about where the top guys are going.
These are 15 free agents that could affect the balance of power throughout the league, and where they might go.
15 Chris Johnson, RB
Chris Johnson had a resurgence in 2015. Arizona took a flyer, giving him a backup’s salary and it paid off for them. Now he will be looking to get paid in return, at least more than the $870,000 he made this year. Johnson has hit that proverbial 30 year-old mark, though, presumably meaning his prime is behind him. He would disagree. The Cardinals have a rookie, David Johnson, who appears ready to seize the feature-back duties, so “CJ2K” will likely be looking to relocate this offseason.
Prediction: Johnson ends his career back in Tennessee.
14 Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB
“Fitz-Magic” has proven capable of running an offense, but how far he can bring a franchise is the question. New York is the journeyman quarterback’s fourth city in four years. This “game manager” nearly guided his underdog Jets into the playoffs, but fell one game short. Fitz is signed as a backup almost everywhere he goes, but ends up starting, and playing pretty good football year in and year out. He’s better than Geno Smith, so unless the Jets draft another QB, they would be smart to hold onto “Fitzy.”
Prediction: Fitzpatrick re-signs with Jets.
13 Mike Tolbert, FB
The bowling ball that is Mike Tolbert. It’s a testament to how good he is that he has such high usage from the fullback position, since it is a position that has been getting phased out in the NFL. Poured from the Jerome Bettis mold, Tolbert earned first-team All Pro honors for the second time of his career this season. The Panthers are stacked with four solid runners in the backfield, so they are going to have to make some decisions.
Prediction: Tolbert signs with Minnesota, who’s Offensive Coordinator is Norv Turner, whom Tolbert played for in San Diego.
12 Eric Berry, S
After beating Lymphoma in 2014, “EB” came back strong in 2015. The do-it-all Safety made first-team All Pro for the second time of his career this season. The fifth overall pick by the Chiefs in 2010 is easily top 3 at his position when at full strength. Since Berry’s ceiling is so high, it’s unlikely Kansas City will watch him leave at the end of the year. The Chief’s Free Agent list will be extensive, especially on defense, with fellow safeties Hussain Abdullah and Tyvon Branch slated for unrestricted status as well.
Prediction: Berry re-signs to Chiefs.
11 Eric Weddle, S
Eric Weddle is one of the toughest guys in the NFL. This was unquestionably his last season for the Chargers, and it was rocky to say the least. He was banged up and missed four games, he didn’t play anywhere near his standard when he was on the field, and had a very public feud with the front office in San Diego. The five-time All Pro will be looking for a fresh start, presumably somewhere near the West Coast, being a Southern California native and having played his college ball at Utah.
Prediction: San Francisco, Oakland, or Los Angeles Rams
10 Sam Bradford, QB
The Eagles gambled by trading for Sam Bradford last offseason. They took on his nearly $13 million contract, and shipped Nick Foles, with his back-loaded deal, to St. Louis. That forced Philly to offload LeSean McCoy’s contract as well. Bradford has not played up to the potential that earned him that big contract and was one of Chip Kelly’s (now fired) personnel decisions. That puts the onus on Bradford to find the best deal he can. His best bet at being a starter still would be to stay with the Eagles.
Prediction: Re-signs for one year in Philly.
9 Alfred Morris, RB
“The Butler” has had his ups and downs for sure, but his ups show just what this beefy bruiser of a back is capable of. Morris rushed for only 751 yards this year, but topped 1,000 yards the three years prior. Also, he only had one touchdown the whole season, but a respectable 28 over the last three years. “AlMo” could easily have a Doug Martin-esque resurgence next year. It will be his decision if he wants to return to Washington and split carries with Matt Jones.
Prediction: Somebody outbids the Redskins and Morris leaves. Indianapolis or New England.
8 Doug Martin, RB
Speaking of Doug Martin... his contract is also up. Martin definitely earned himself a new deal in Tampa Bay. The “Muscle Hamster” was selected as an All Pro this season and led the league with 650 rushing yards after contact. As part of a dangerous two-headed attack with backfield-mate Charles Sims, the Buccaneers appear to be locked in at the running back position. The Bucs would be foolish to let him walk, but crazier things have happened, and of course the final decision is up to Martin.
Prediction: Martin hears multiple offers, resigns with Tampa Bay.
7 Denver Defensive Triad, Line Backer Unit
The Broncos have three outstanding Linebackers who’s contracts add up to less than $12 million, but all expire this year. Von Miller accounts for $9.7 million, and after another first-team All Pro year should cash in again. He led the Broncos with 11 sacks and 4 forced fumbles. Danny Trevathan only cost $1.5 million this season, and Brandon Marshall (Restricted Free Agent) a meager $585,000. Trevathan and Marshall combined for 211 tackles and created six turnovers this season, so bigger paydays are on their way.
Prediction: Denver pays Miller, but lets Trevathan or Marshall walk.
6 Josh Norman, CB
Josh Norman raised eyebrows when he let his thoughts about Odell Beckham Jr. come out unfiltered. Don’t let that overshadow the fact that Norman played with his hair on fire this season. He proved himself a complete ball-hawk early in the year, racking up four picks, two touchdowns, a forced fumble and recovery, as well as seven passes defended... in the first month of the season! Opposing teams had no choice but to abandon Norman’s assignment. He had two excellent match-ups against Julio Jones and ODB, showing he is worth a nice contract.
Prediction: Norman re-signs with Carolina.
5 Lamar Miller, RB
Lamar Miller has the makings of a prototypical modern running back. There is really nothing that Miller is not good at doing; he can get short yardage, he can catch passes, he can use vision to find seams, he can use speed to get the edge, and he has a good mix of agility, power and speed. Plus, there isn’t a city with better football weather than Miami. With all of that in mind, it would be hard to envision a scenario where Miami would let Miller leave or where Miller would want to leave, especially with offensive coach Adam Gase taking over the reigns.
Prediction: Miller re-signs with Miami.
4 Matt Forte, RB
In a business where the bottom line trumps any sentimental value a player endears, Matt Forte may be another running back cast away after turning 30. Fellow backs Jeremy Langford and Ka'Deem Carey both played good football when given touches this season. Forte showed no signs of his skills depleting after he came back from injury, so should be expecting fair compensation for his labor. He was the second highest paid running back at $9.2 million this season, but the problem arises with the Bears having to also pay Alshon Jeffery this offseason.
Prediction: Forte moves South. Dallas or Tennessee.
3 Alshon Jeffery, WR
Speaking of Alshon Jeffery... his first contract year was plagued by a nagging hamstring injury, limiting him to only nine games. He nabbed four touchdowns on 807 receiving yards in those nine games, and displayed his continued progression into one of the league’s most-dominant wide receivers. Offensive Coordinator Marc Trestman has a penchant for using a running back by committee approach and has capable backs available. So, in a monetary decision between Forte and Jeffery, it would not be surprising if the Bears choose to retain the younger Jeffery.
Prediction: Jeffery re-signs in Chicago for big $$$.
2 Kirk Cousins, QB
Will the Redskins finally trade or release Robert Griffin III? Kirk Cousins’ year started slow; he had 10 touchdowns to nine interceptions through the first eight games. Then went 5-1 over the final six weeks of the season, securing a playoff birth in the wacky NFC East. He ended the year with over 4,000 yards passing, a 29-11 touchdown-interception ratio, and a 101.6 quarterback rating. He displayed phenomenal growth in running the Redskins offense. If Washington elects to try the RGIII experiment one more time, Cousins will have no problem finding a job somewhere else.
Prediction: Washington trades/released RGIII and pays Cousins
1 Charcandrick West, RB (Exclusive Rights Free Agent)
If there’s a team out there looking for running back help with giant upside, “Charizard” West is the best option. At only 24 years old, West stepped in to fill Jamaal Charles’ speedy shoes and he showed he’s worth more than his current $510,000 deal. West has all the positive on-field qualities of a young Ray Rice, and could blossom in the right system. He isn't able to negotiate with other teams if the Chiefs tender him, which they will. However, they likely can't keep Charles, West and Spencer Ware, so perhaps they could look to shop his rights to improve in other areas.
Prediction: West will move to a team that runs a zone-blocking scheme to maximize his talents. Denver, Dallas, Houston or Baltimore.