When it comes to the NFL offseason, it is easy to get excited before it starts at all the potential studs that are going to be testing the market. Yet the history of the NFL is also littered with players who got paid an incredible amount, and then proceeded to fall off the face of the earth.
It can be evident that when you look at some of the best teams in football, they are the ones who were able to draft well. The Seattle Seahawks, for all the skill they have on the field, are matched by the efforts of Pete Carrol and John Schneider. Countless late round picks or undrafted players have come on to make an impact, and help really show that depth is what matters when creating a winner. They are one of many teams that are going to see many of their depth players hitting the free agent market this offseason.
If you are only looking at biggest names in football, you start to miss out on all the smaller depth roles that are integral to success. You signed Sam Bradford to be your quarterback this offseason? That’s wonderful, but you better believe you also signed Ryan Schraeder (if you don’t know who that is, keep reading) to help keep him on his feet.
These are 15 players that may not jump out at you as being impact players, but once you check it over, you’ll find that these players are just as intriguing to follow during free agency as any other. I've also checked out every team's cap space to help make predictions that are both realistic, and can cause optimism in their fan base. Just don't come yelling at me if it doesn't come true!
14 Jermaine Kearse
When it comes to hometown heroes, one of the first names that come to my mind is Jermaine Kearse. Kearse played at the University of Washington and when he was an undrafted free agent, took the natural opportunity to play for the local team (The slightly bigger, Seattle Seahawks). The Seahawks have Paul Richardson, Tyler Lockett, and Doug Baldwin all returning next year and it may make for a crowded locker room for Kearse. Kearse has a habit of disappearing for stretches of games (…or weeks) but there might not be a player in the league that is hitting free agency that has made more big-time plays.
Prediction: He Signs With The Los Angelas Rams. They have 30+ million in cap space and are in need of receivers to help flesh out their team.
14. Marquette King
Wait what? A punter is on the list? Yes! Marquette King is not just any punter. King is one of the best in the game. King has been valuable for the Oakland Raiders who for the past little while, had to rely on their punting game more then they would have liked. But they are seemingly on an upswing, and if that’s the case, you really cannot discredit the role of field position. It’s really rare to see a punter or kicker get anything significant in free agency, but I am sure the Raiders will still give King what is necessary to keep him in Oakland.
Prediction: He stays in Oakland. The Raiders have some cap space and they will know to value their own player.
13 Marvin Jones
There is no doubting that over the last few years, the Bengals have been one of the better teams during the regular season. Unfortunately, they have faltered in the postseason, but the fault for that cannot be on Marvin Jones. A 5th round pick, Jones has turned into a serviceable #2/#3 on the Bengals and could attract some relatively decent offers this offseason. He won’t blow you away, but he did put up 700 yards last year and and had 10 TD’s in 2013, so you know he is at least familiar with the endzone.
Prediction: He signs with Chicago. If the Bears can't get Jeffrey back, they have a ton of cap space and not a lot of great receievers out there. If Kevin White can perform for them next year, Marvin Jones could take on a role similar to the one he has with the Bengals.
12 Rishard Matthews
There might not be a more frustrating division to play football then the AFC East. I mean, I hate Brady and all he did was beat my team in the Superbowl (..Go Hawks), imagine if he was the reason your team didn’t even make the playoffs? Rishard Matthews may have been a wide receiver for the Dolphins, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see him take off to another franchise. Matthews had been largely quiet for most of his career before putting together some great games this past season. Logic would tell you that he should stay in the city that he is building chemistry in, but money talks and Matthews may definitely be walking.
Prediction: He Signs With The Giants. The Giants need someone they can count on outside of OBJ. If Cruz comes back healthy, then Matthews is a great #3. If not, then him and OBJ will at least be a potentially dangerous team.
11 Trumaine Johnson
Trumaine Johnson is one of the best cornerbacks in football, but unfortunately he has been stuck on a painfully average Rams team for the entirety of his career. He had a successful 2015 campaign in which he played a career high, 906 snaps. On top of this, he tracked down 7 interceptions. There is no doubting that the league is constantly looking for players with true playmaking ability, and that's Johnson to a tea. If the Rams can start a turnaround in their new city, Johnson would be a tremendous player for the franchise. Question will be if they value him enough to pay him to stay?
Prediction: He Signs With Oakland. The Raiders have the most cap space of any other team, and are losing Charles Woodson to retirement. Johnson is still a young player and would fit in well to their rebuilding.
10 Danny Trevathan
If you looked at the Denver Broncos 3 years ago and told me that they would be advancing in the playoffs largely due to the play of their defense, I would be shocked. Yet, the Denver D is a force to be reckoned with and the advancement of Travathan has been a huge reason for that. Trevathan is a tackling machine and his role in coverage cannot be understated. Given that the Broncos also need to try and lock down Von Miller this offseason, let’s hope they don’t forget about Trevathan (because the league hasn’t).
Prediction: He Signs With Tampa. The Bucs need to do something to help shake themselves from a disappointing defensive season. Winston is going to carry the offense, but they need a young defender (alongside McCoy) who can make a difference. Trevathan is continuing to get better.
9 Brandon Mebane
When it comes to succeeding in the NFL, it can be easy to say that you need a great quarterback. Yet, if you are going to be a great quarterback, there is nothing more helpful then having a strong running game. Just good luck running by the 300+ pound Mebane. Mebane has been a focal point of the run defense for the Hawks, and helped make them one of the most dominant defensive teams. Plus he rolls his big belly when he gets a sack and that needs to be worth extra right? Seattle struggled mightily when he’s battled injury, and if he leaves, they may look at grabbing a defensive tackle early in this years draft.
Prediction: He Signs With Cincinatti. The Bengals are far from weak on their defensive line, but I also don't think Mebane signs somewhere that doesn't have a shot at winning. He may return to Seattle, but Cincy has the space, and could offer him a smaller role that may be appealing to an older player.
8 Mason Crosby
If you are wondering if kickers are important, just ask the Packers rival, the Minnesota Vikings who got eliminated in the playoffs after their kicker, Blaire Walsh, missed a 27 yard field goal. When you have Aaron Rodgers slinging the ball around, you need to hope that you are constantly going to find yourself in fieldgoal range. When you combine that with the fact that Green Bay gets stupid cold in November-January, when football really matters. There is no doubting the impact that Crosby has on the Packers, and it would be shocking to not see him back in the green and gold next year. If not, you can expect ignorant fans to go “wait, what happened to our kicker?” next year when the Packers miss a 40 yarder that Crosby would have nailed.
Prediction: He Stays With Green Bay. As I said above, they don't want to become like the Vikings! They'll keep Crosby a Packer for the rest of his career.
7 Jeremy Lane
It may pay very well to be a member of the Seattle Seahawks. There is no doubting the hall of fame potential of Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, and Richard Sherman so when you are surrounded by them, it’s easy to look good. Or so we thought, but Cary Williams being a disaster clearly shows you need a little more than just a good supporting cast. Lane has had some moments of brilliance (including an interception in the Super Bowl….that led to him tearing his ACL and *insert full injury*). It is the first time that Lane gets to touch free agency, and the corner feels like he has put 4 good years on film. While he won’t get the money that Byron Maxwell got when he left Seattle, someone will still make Lane a comfy man.
Prediction: He Signs With The Redskins. I think the Redskins realize their division had a poor season, but if they are going to compete their defense needs to step up. Lane is a great addition that won't cost too much but could be a huge reward.
6 Justin Tucker
When it comes to needing a good kicker, the Baltimore Ravens have a more negative experience than most franchises. It was Billy Cundiff that missed a chipshot for them several years ago, and the result led to them being eliminated from the playoffs at the hands of the Patriots. As a result, they went out and drafted Justin Tucker who is one of the best kickers in football. With the PAT being moved back this season, there has perhaps never been a bigger emphasis on the value of field goal kickers. It will be very interesting to see if Tucker receives offers from other teams, and if Baltimore values him enough to keep him there.
Prediction: He Stays With Baltimore. You don't let one of the best kickers in the game walk out the door.
5 Ryan Schraeder
It can be hard to tell how effective a lineman is, but I assure you *Falcons guy* is one of the best in the game at his position. On top of that, he’s a local boy and if that doesn’t make fans cheer for him all the harder, nothing will. Not a lot went right in Atlanta this year after they started 5-0 and then had a historic collapse. Yet, one of the bright spots was the play of their running back Davante Freeman. Freeman wouldn’t have been nearly as effective if Schraeder wasn’t there to help blow up the defenders and create the gaps needed. While fans may not recognize dominant offensive linemen, you can better believe the league does.
Prediction: He Signs With LA. The Rams have some cap space and may be an incredibly desirable franchise to get on board with. If their quarterback situation isn't going to improve overnight, they may as well try and get some protection.
4 Russell Okung
The Seattle Seahawks do not have a very good offensive line. In fact, when ProFootballFocus ranked the leagues O-Lines, they came in 30th (out of 32). Thankfully their Quarterback, Russell Wilson, is part Houdini and can escape sacks with the best of them.
Yet, if their line was THAT bad, and I’m still here writing about one of their linemen, you must know they have some talent. Okung was not only a first round pick, he was a top 10 pick and it was hopeful he would be the future at left tackle for the Seahawks. Unfortunately, he has battled injury problems throughout his career and that makes it harder to get an assessment on his value. There is no doubting that Seattle need help on the line, and losing one of their veterans may be a huge blow if they can’t find someone to replace him, because I don’t think that replacement is on the bench.
Prediction: Whoever pays the most. Okung has come out and stated he will be his own agent, which may lead to a player thinking he's worth something that is far above realistic. The 49'ers could use help, but it would sting to see him go to a rival.
3 Bilal Powell
When it comes to the New York Jets, they may have their hands full trying to bring back Chris Ivory and Ryan Fitzpatrick for next offseason. Yet, towards the later stretch of the season, it was Powell’s versatility out of the backfield that was giving teams fits. Powell was an outstanding change of pace back, is shifty, and has great hands. When you put him in the right offense, he could be an incredibly electrifying back (similar to how Sproles has been used). There is no doubting that Powell knows this isn’t a huge opportunity to prove himself, so it may not be shocking if he takes less money to sign with a team and get his crack at the spotlight.
Prediction: He Signs With The Chargers. San Diego clearly likes shifty backs and had great success with Sproles when he was in town. They may not have a need for Powell, with Gordon and Woodhead, but I'm confident he would make great use of any time he would see on the field.
2 Sean Smith
The Kansas City Chiefs went on an absolute tear, winning 10 straight and earning themselves a playoff spot. They even had a shutout in the playoffs! As if the shutout wasn’t a big enough indicator, one of the big reasons for this was their outstanding defense. Sean Smith is a great cornerback, but there just might not be a spot for him in Kansas City next season. The Chiefs went ahead and drafted Jason Peters last year in the draft and he had an outstanding season for them. There is no doubting the value of a great cornerback though, and Smith has enough experience to help make a very convincing offer to another franchise this offseason.
Prediction: The Redskins need help in the secondary if they're to compete with the amazing recievers in their division (such as OBJ and Dez). Sean Smith can turn games around, which is great for a team that can often let things get out of hand.
1 Bruce Irvin
When Bruce Irvin was selected in the first round, it was a selection that largely came out of nowhere. As a Seahawk fan, I was blown away that we clearly (according to experts) reached for a player that was being touted as being incredibly one dimensional. Irvin has worked hard, and despite battling a suspension, has largely been a strong contributor for the Seahawks. Clearly a talented pass rusher, Irvin also worked on his game to help improve his cover skills. As a result, someone is going to grab a much more polished Irvin than the one who was drafted all those years ago.
Prediction: He Stays In Seattle. There has been talks of Irvin leaving, but I do think he ends up staying in Seattle. He's continued to improve as a player, and I think Seattle will let other players (such as Mebane and Lane) walk, in order to secure the services of Irvin.