With the Super Bowl now in the rear-view mirror, the NFL Combine officially wrapped, and free agency set to kick off, the NFL offseason is officially here. The excitement is in the air as teams and players will look to make moves that will lead to more wins, more income, and hopefully a Lombardi Trophy. The flip side of that of course are players like Jared Allen who choose to ride off into the sunset after a long and illustrious career.
Some of the aforementioned movement has already started to begin as the franchise tag has already ensured that big name players like Von Miller, Josh Norman, Kirk Cousins, Eric Berry, Alshon Jeffery, and Muhammed Wilkerson, among others will remain with their current teams for at least 1 more year. The Baltimore Ravens and Philadelphia Eagles have also taken progressive steps to sign important parts of their teams when they gave new deals to Quarterbacks Joe Flacco and Sam Bradford respectively.
Player signings, coaching changes, team relocation, retirements, and especially wins and losses will ultimately shape what happens for the 2016 season. With that said, we here at theSportster present to you the top 15 predictions for the NFL offeason and the 2016 year in general.
15. Laremy Tunsil Will Be The 1st Overall Pick
While the Tennessee Titans have recently been rumored to be open to trading the number one pick in the draft so that they could stockpile picks, and potentially select someone like Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey, or Ohio State’s Joey Bosa that would strengthen their defense, and then choose an offensive tackle later on, don’t believe the hype. Titans’ quarterback Marcus Mariota is the face of the franchise, and keeping him upright should be the organization’s top priority as the second year QB was forced to miss 4 games due to a knee injury behind an Offensive Line that gave up a league-high 54 sacks. Getting him the best OT in the draft would go a long way to solving that problem.
14. Jim Caldwell Will Be The First Coach Fired
The Detroit Lions head coach was given a stay of execution when newly-hired general manager Bob Quinn elected not to fire Caldwell in January. The move was a bit surprising given that most GMs like to bring in their own bench boss. With face of the franchise, Calvin Johnson now retired, quarterback Matthew Stafford taking a beating behind an inept offensive line, and throwing too many interceptions in the process, years of bad drafting coming back to hunt the team, and the fact that they play in the same division as the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings, means that the Lions are going nowhere fast.
13. Mario Williams Will Return To Form
The recently cut Buffalo Bill had a disastrous final year with the team as he produced a near career-low 19 tackles and 5 sacks. After playing the majority of his career with his hand in the dirt as a 4-3 defensive end, Williams was a poor fit in Rex Ryan’s 3-4 system which often required the first overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft to drop into coverage, instead of rushing the quarterback which is his specialty.
Heading into his 11th NFL season, the former North Carolina State product who only recently turned 31 years old, had a career-high 14.5 sacks just two years ago, which would suggest that he still has plenty of gas left in the tank. It seems Williams is taking his talents to South Beach to join the Bills’ division rival Miami Dolphins. Expect him to look like himself again.
12. The Indianapolis Colts Will Recapture The AFC South
Last year couldn’t have gone any worse for the Colts. The team added veterans Frank Gore, Andre Johnson, Todd Herremans, and Trent Cole in free agency to get them over the hump. The Colts then watched in horror as their franchise quarterback took a beating behind arguably the worst offensive line Line in football. None of the free agents worked out either (Gore was the best of the bunch, but his O-Line failed to consistently create holes for him). All that took place while head coach Chuck Pagano was playing out the final year of his contract.
The Pagano situation was put to rest when the club gave him a four-year contract extension. General manager Ryan Grigson said that improving the club’s offensive line and pass rush (the team’s other glaring weakness) would be the top priorities this offseason. Futhermore, the Colts also happen to play in the weakest division in the NFL. The AFC South champion Houston Texans still have no QB, and with the recent release of Arian Foster, don’t have a legit starting RB either. The Tennessee Titans are nowhere near competing for the South crown, and the Jacksonville Jaguars are missing too many pieces on defense to be taken seriously.
11. The Eagles Will Finish Last in the NFC East
Almost a year to the day Chip Kelly gutted their roster by trading LeSean McCoy, watching Jeremy Maclin leave for Kansas City in free agency, and releasing Pro-Bowl Guard Evan Mathis. The Eagles have tried extremely hard to rid themselves of virtually all of their former coach’s 2015 offseason additions. Gone are DeMarco Murray, Kiko Alonso, and Byron Maxwell. While all three crashed and burned in their lone season in the city of brotherly love, there are also no clear cut replacements for them on Philly’s roster right now. Add that to the fact that the team will run by first-year head coach Doug Pederson.
With the defending NFC East Champion Redskins having more than $20 million in salary cap space, the Giants having almost $60 million, and the Cowboys presumably having Tony Romo for more than 4 games in 2016, it’s hard to imagine the Eagles who will be rolling with Sam Bradford at quarterback, who went an underwhelming 7-7 in Kelly’s offense that was designed to fit the QB’s strengths, will finish anywhere but last place.
10. Thomas Rawls Won’t Make Seahawk Fans Forget About Beast Mode
Rawls had an impressive rookie season with the Seahawks as he had 147 carries for 830 yards and four touchdowns while filling in for Marshawn Lynch. While his stats were nice, if you take a closer look at his numbers, he only ran for more than 50 yards against two top 15 defenses (the Minnesota Vikings and the Cincinnati Bengals) his other big yardage game came against the likes of the 49ers, Chicago Bears, Oakland Raiders, and Pittsburgh Steelers, not exactly defensive juggernauts. More importantly, Beast Mode wasn’t just a game changer for the Hawks’ offense, he represented a cultural change for the entire franchise.
9. The Jacksonville Jaguars Will Make The Playoffs
While I have the Colts taking back the AFC South, I think that a second team from the Division will make the playoffs, and that team is the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jags have two really good young wide receivers in Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson, the latter of which scored 14 touchdowns and made the Pro-Bowl. Throwing them the ball is soon-to-be 3rd year quarterback Blake Bortles who made a big leap in his game this past season by throwing for 35 TDs and nearly 4,500 yards. They also have a promising RB in T.J Yeldon, and the team gave him a running mate in Chris Ivory, who is coming off his first 1,000 season.
On defense, the team used some of their more than $80 million in cap space on Malik Jackson, who is seen by many as the biggest name in free agency. The D will also be getting back 2015 first round pick Dante Fowler Jr. who missed all of last season with a torn ACL, and they will also selecting 5th overall, and are expected to add a player like Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey, Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves, or UCLA’s Myles Jack. All three players would address the Jags’ biggest defensive need, which is pass coverage. With a maturing nucleus on offense, reinforcements on their way on defense, and the most cap space in the league, the Jags are in poised to make their first post-season appearance since the 2007 season.
8. The Cincinnati Bengals Will Finally Win A Playoff Game
Seven games and counting. That’s how many playoff games the Bengals have made under head coach Marvin Lewis. Zero, is the amount of post-season games they have won under his watch. That will change this year as the defending AFC North champions will finally break through and earn their first playoff win since the 1990 campaign. There are a few factors as to why I think they will pull off the minor miracle, but I’ll give you the two biggest. They will presumably have a healthy Andy Dalton at QB, and hopefully the team will have learned something from this year’s meltdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2015 Wild Card.
7. RG3 Will Start The Season As A Backup Once Again
If you would read that headline two years ago, you rightfully would’ve thought I was crazy. Fast forward to today however, and that seems to be the reality. While the Rams and Texans have been rumored landing spots for Robert Griffin III, heading to a team with a strong offensive coordinator and quarterback coach would be the best idea for the soon to be former Washington Redskin, as it wold allow RG3 to work out the kinks in his game, learn behind a seasoned veteran, and regain some of his lost confidence.
6. J.J Watt Will Not Repeat As NFL Defensive Player Of The Year
One reason Watt won’t repeat is injuries, as Watt’s aggressive style of play, as well as his usage on both sides of the field do him no favors. Last year alone, he broke his left hand (in practice no less) and he reportedly tore his groin during the team’s playoff loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Another reason is the expected return of Green Bay Packer Clay Matthews III to his natural position of outside linebacker after playing nearly all of the last two seasons at middle linebacker. The Packer who averages nearly 1o sacks a year will undoubtedly be energized by the position switch which will allow him to pass rush more.
The final reason is the play of youngsters Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack. For Donald, the Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle, he is coming off his second straight Pro Bowl selection, as he has looked impossible to block at times. His 11 sacks have drawn comparisons to former All-Pro DT Warren Sapp. In Mack, the Oakland Raider is a solid run defender like Watt, had 15 sacks this past season, and became the first player in NFL history to be named All-Pro at two positions.
5. Adrian Peterson Will Lead The League In Rushing Again
After a suspension limited him to just one game in 2014, the man known as AP came back with a vengeance, and regained his spot as the best running back in the league, as he ran 1,485 yards. While he will be challenged by younger backs like Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliot, Devonta Freeman, and veterans returning from injury like Jamaal Charles, Le’Veon Bell, and LeSean McCoy, the 30 year-old Peterson has shown zero signs of slowing down. The fact that Vikings’ teammate and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has also shown steady improvement doesn’t hurt either, as it should translate into Peterson seeing less 8 and 9 man boxes.
4. The Cowboys Will Not Draft A Quarterback In The First Round
The Dallas Cowboys finished the season at 4-12. The main source of their ineptitude was the absence of Pro Bowl quarterback Tony Romo who missed all but four games last year due to a collarbone injury. The other reason was the play of backup QBs Matt Cassell, Brandon Weeden, and Kellen Moore. Due to their poor record, the Boys’ earned the 4th overall pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. As soon as the year had ended, rumors began circulating that America’s Team would draft Romo’s replacement with their top 5 pick. The Boys’ have too many holes on their roster to pass up taking an immediate impact player in favor of a QB who might not see the field for at least a year with their 1st pick.
3. Colin Kaepernick Will Start Week 1 For The San Francisco 49ers
Will he stay, or will he leave? That has been the biggest question surrounding the team and their franchise quarterback so far this off-season. The NFL Combine brought absolutely zero clarity to the situation, as Niners General Manager Trent Baalke said that the organization “absolutely” expected him to be on the roster, while the QB’s agents reportedly requested permission from the club to seek a trade a few days later.
Trading Kap makes little sense for the organization or the quarterback. The club has him under contract for the next five seasons under a team-friendly deal. They also must know that they would never receive equal value in return if they they decided to trade him. Finally, the Nevada product has to realize that new San Fran coach Chip Kelly is his best chance at winning and reviving his career, as Kelly’s spread offense plays up to the pivot’s strengths. There are just too many reasons for the 49ers to keep their embattled QB.
2. Joey Bosa will be the Draft’s Biggest Disappointment
The defensive end from the Ohio State is regarded by most as not only the best DE, but the best defensive player in this year’s draft class. At various points during the College Football season, the junior was projected to be the first player selected in the upcoming NFL Draft. While Bosa is no doubt talented, he also played on a defense that had many play-makers around him including Adolphus Washington, Darron Lee, Eli Apple, and Vonn Bell.
Despite being surrounded by those aforementioned players, the Junior only had 5 sacks. He also had an extremely slow 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine, as he ran it in 4.86 seconds. His college also shows that he can be dominated one-on-one at times, as well as a lack of strength at the point of attack. Those last two flaws scream average player, and not elite pass rushers, which is what Bosa is being projected to be.
1. The Panthers Will Return To The Super Bowl
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Quarterback Cam Newton had a Super Bowl performance to forget both during and after the game. As bad as he played however, Newton still had a fantastic season as he was still the NFL’s Most Valuable Player. He might even be better with the return of Kelvin Benjamin who missed all of last season after tearing his ACL in training camp. On the other side of the ball, the Panthers return all their core players, even as they look to replace aging vets Charles Tillman, Roman Harper, and the recently departed Charles Johnson and Jared Allen. The latter will be aided by the almost $20 million in salary cap space that the team has.
As far as the other NFC contenders, the Seahawks are bound to experience a letdown without Marshawn Lynch, the Packers don’t have the defense to stop Carolina’s offense, and the Panthers seem to have the Arizona Cardinals’ number. If the NFC Champs can stay healthy, there is no reason why they can’t pick up where they left off.
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