Some within the football community may not yet be able to imagine the start of the 2019 NFL regular season, while others, particularly those who cheer for teams that didn’t qualify for the postseason this time around, can’t wait to put the 2018 campaign in the past and move on to offseason activities, free agency, the draft and all that follows. Those who say that the NFL is now a 12-month-a-year competition with no off time are accurate, but the majority of viewers and fans who don’t tune into the league’s official network throughout the winter, spring and summer months are really only all-in once the next season starts.
Much around the NFL will change between the final seconds of Super Bowl LIII and the first official snap of the 2019 season. Many recognizable names and big stars will be linked with different clubs, but some, to the surprise of fans and observers, may remain with their current employers for at least one more year for a variety of reasons. Remember that just because a player wants to be traded by his current employer, that doesn’t mean that he will get his wish. One wide receiver, in particular, needs to realize this and understand he may have to give some money back if he is serious about playing home games elsewhere in the fall of 2019.
20 Eli Manning: New York Giants
The more one looks around the NFL and understands the situation hovering over the New York Giants this winter, he or she probably realizes Big Blue is bringing two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning back to play under center at the start of the 2019 season. Granted, the Giants may, and definitely should use a first-round pick on Manning’s heir, but that rookie can learn while sitting behind the greatest quarterback in franchise history. As we saw in 2004 when Manning was given the keys to the New York offense his first year in the league, it wouldn’t be surprising if a rookie replaced the 38-year-old in the fall. As of the start of the season, though, the job is Manning’s to lose.
19 Latavius Murray: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Latavius Murray wants to be a starting running back in the NFL as a 29-year-old who may not have many years left in the tank considering the market for backs past the age of 30. That’s not happening as long as he remains with the Minnesota Vikings, and that’s why he’s expected to depart that club via free agency. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers could use Murray immediately, as in the team’s former coaching staff would’ve loved to have been able to hand him carries in 2018. Rookie Ronald Jones deserves a second chance to figure life in the NFL out, but let’s not pretend he showed much of anything his first season. Murray to Tampa Bay is a logical move for all involved.
18 Randall Cobb: Indianapolis Colts
The Indianapolis Colts may be the scariest team in the NFL entering the offseason. According to Spotrac, the Colts, already a playoff team as of January 2019, are set to have more available salary cap space than any other franchise. Quarterback Andrew Luck is healthy and is playing behind an offensive line that should only get better. Wide receiver Randall Cobb may not be what he was during his prime, physically speaking, but the veteran is looking to continue playing through 2019, at least, and he still has plenty to offer to an offense lacking weapons at the position. Cobb and Luck could become fast friends in the Indy offense.
17 Tyler Eifert: New England Patriots
The Cincinnati Bengals are heading in a different direction in early 2019, and the team moving on from tight end Tyler Eifert, who has dealt with multiple injuries over the years, seems to be the inevitable conclusion to his tenure with the organization. Bill Belichick taking a flier on Eifert, assuming the veteran can pass a team physical, is almost too perfect. Those rumors of Rob Gronkowski entering retirement aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, and while recent reports suggested he might not be WWE-bound after all, who knows? Even if Gronk remains alongside Tom Brady one more season, Eifert could be an excellent second option at the position and someone who could resurrect his career with the league’s only dynasty of the 2000s.
16 DeMarcus Lawrence: Dallas Cowboys
Those in charge of the Dallas Cowboys will soon need to make some complicated and, maybe, difficult salary cap decisions, such as how much money to invest on quarterback Dak Prescott once his rookie contract expires after the 2019 season. Letting defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence walk in free agency isn’t an option for a team that should enter September with the best roster in the NFC East and better than decent odds to win the division and host a playoff game. Lawrence is a top-tier pass-rusher, and the Cowboys may have to utilize the franchise tag to keep him through the end of the 2019 campaign. He’s worth the money.
15 Ndamukong Suh: Cleveland Browns
Criticisms that defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh may take some plays, or sometimes games, off probably won’t keep him from getting paid and in a big way during the offseason. We have just a spot for Suh unless he gives the Los Angeles Rams a discount, a move that would be out of character for him at this stage of his career. The Cleveland Browns are building something special, and that roster is already close to earning either a Wild Card berth or winning the division. Cleveland needs to improve the team’s defensive line, though, and Suh would be a tremendous fit for a franchise that could afford to overpay him by a couple of million dollars this March.
14 Ryan Fitzpatrick: Carolina Panthers
Two things to remember about the notion of Ryan Fitzpatrick joining the Carolina Panthers and playing under center for the club at the start of next season: There are serious concerns that Cam Newton may not be able to go in September 2019, if at all during the fall, and the Panthers likely would welcome Newton back the following season as long as his shoulder is healthy and fully recovered. In this scenario, the Panthers need a unique bridge QB who realizes the situation and also wouldn’t be tasked with tutoring a rookie. The man responsible for Fitzmagic is familiar with such a role, and he could even win a handful of games for the Panthers.
13 Earl Thomas: San Francisco 49ers
Even before safety Earl Thomas sustained a fracture in his leg that unofficially ended his time with the Seattle Seahawks, it seemed unlikely he would receive the type of contract he wanted from the Dallas Cowboys considering that team’s improved secondary play and the money Dallas will spend on other aspects of its defense. Fortunately for Thomas, he should find a new home with the San Francisco 49ers, the franchise that employs former teammate Richard Sherman, and also a team that has the money to pay Thomas and could use the veteran as long as he shows he’s healthy and ready to go by the start of next season. Thomas and Sherman coming together to play against the Seahawks could make for must-see TV.
12 Mark Ingram: New York Jets
The more local media members remain convinced that the New York Jets aren’t going to splash the cash to sign the top free-agent running back of this year’s class (more on him later), the more one assumes the team that has plenty of money to spend in March will, instead, look to acquire somebody such as Mark Ingram. Ingram, who is sharing the backfield with Alvin Kamara while featuring for the New Orleans Saints, likely realizes this could be his last time to make some big money as an active back. New York needs to add weapons to take pressure off young quarterback Sam Darnold. The Jets should call Ingram the first hour they’re allowed to do so per league rules.
11 Dez Bryant: New Orleans Saints
Those who weren’t inside of the locker room of the New Orleans Saints in early November can only speculate about what players and coaches felt about veteran Dez Bryant, the wide receiver who never played a down for the club before an injury cost him the remainder of the campaign that never really started for him in the first place. Unless Bryant sustains a new setback or complications from the original injury, he should be ready to go come Week 1 of next season. The Saints were interested in bringing him back, albeit on a cheap contract, at the end of 2018 as long as he’s agreeable. Bryant won’t be in much of a position to negotiate with a different club. These two may need each other.
10 Ezekiel Ansah: Green Bay Packers
Plenty of teams around the NFL should want to pay defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, even though he had a disappointing campaign that ended prematurely because of a shoulder injury. The Detroit Lions probably aren’t bringing him back either on a franchise tag or via a long-term extension, though, and he’s expected to be a coveted asset in free agency. The Green Bay Packers can’t wait much longer to try to win at least one more championship with Aaron Rodgers starting at quarterback. As great as Rodgers is, he’s also 35-years-old. Green Bay’s window to win with him under center is closing. That reality should make signing a player like Ansah a realistic option for the Packers.
9 Terrell Suggs: Pittsburgh Steelers
As Bryan Deardo of 247Sports explained in January, linebacker Terrell Suggs trading in a Baltimore Ravens jersey for the colors of the Pittsburgh Steelers could be more than fantasy speculation. Suggs has said he wants to continue playing in 2019. Baltimore needs to get younger on defense at multiple positions. Pittsburgh is weak at linebacker and needs to do whatever possible to win another title with Ben Roethlisberger on the roster. Baltimore fans will hate to see it, but they may want to get used to the idea of Suggs spending a season with a hated division rival unless he has second thoughts about remaining in the league.
8 Tyrann Mathieu: Houston Texans
The math tells us that the Houston Texans can, realistically, only invest so much money on J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Tyrann Mathieu and hope to compete for more than a brief playoff run next season. By all accounts, though, that is the team’s plan heading into free agency, and that’s why some are forecasting that Mathieu will remain with the Texans through the start of the 2019 campaign. Eventually, Houston won’t be able to keep all three, and the franchise may even need to entertain trading or cutting Watt over the next year and a half. Houston remains high on Mathieu, though, so we think he’ll stay with the club.
7 Joe Flacco: Denver Broncos
The Baltimore Ravens essentially said farewell to quarterback Joe Flacco following the team’s playoff defeat. It’s just a matter of how he and the club part ways, as Lamar Jackson will be Baltimore’s starting quarterback in Week 1 of the 2019 season. Flacco may not be elite, joke intended, but he also is far from the worst starter at his position ahead of the upcoming offseason. The Denver Broncos would probably have a difficult time selling Case Keenum as the team’s signal-caller to fans following what occurred in 2018. Fortunately for that front office, the club can trade for Flacco and then move on from Keenum either later this year or in 2020.
6 T.J. Yeldon: Philadelphia Eagles
Fresh starts could become significant themes in multiple scenarios when free agency begins. The Philadelphia Eagles will move on from a Super Bowl hero, and the franchise needs to provide Carson Wentz with an improved rushing game so he hopefully won’t have to throw the ball 50 times per game. T.J. Yeldon, meanwhile, should escape the Titanic that is the Jacksonville Jaguars and find a better opportunity elsewhere. Yeldon is also going to have to be realistic about the type of money he can expect coming off a lackluster season. The Eagles should give him a chance to rebuild his reputation, and earn more money down the road, in Philly.
5 Golden Tate: New York Jets
There are several reasons why multiple people around the football world have been linking wide receiver Golden Tate with the New York Jets even before the Detroit Lions dealt him to the Philadelphia Eagles ahead of the 2018 trade deadline. As pointed out earlier in this piece, the Jets have the money to pay a veteran like Tate. Tate is probably going to be the top wide receiver available in free agency. He isn’t returning to the Lions, and he wants to put pen to paper on a contract that guarantees him some big bucks. Last but not least, quarterback Sam Darnold needs a reliable and proven target who has been around the block several times.
4 Teddy Bridgewater: Washington Redskins
With each passing day, it appears the Washington Redskins aren’t going to have Alex Smith available at the start of next season, if ever again. Washington can’t insult fans by starting Mark Sanchez in 2019. Teddy Bridgewater could be the team’s best option unless Drew Brees retires and Bridgewater becomes the starter with the New Orleans Saints. Bridgewater should come at a discount since front offices and coaches still don’t know if he’ll ever be the same player he was with the Minnesota Vikings before his career nearly ended following a very serious injury. He’d be better than anybody currently with the Redskins. Meanwhile, Washington could be Bridgewater’s best bet to save his career.
3 Nick Foles: Jacksonville Jaguars
Nick Foles can, and should, spark his own exit from the Philadelphia Eagles by giving $2 million in cash back to the club, as explained by Spotrac. This will provide Foles with the ability to select his next team rather than having to worry about being the subject of a trade. The Jacksonville Jaguars are done with Blake Bortles. They started Cody Kessler over Bortles in 2018, which says plenty about the team’s QB situation. Nobody knows, with any certainty, that Foles will reclaim his Super Bowl magic with a club other than the Eagles, but he’s a risk worth taking for the Jaguars as that franchise ends the Bortles experiment.
2 Antonio Brown: Pittsburgh Steelers
As Jason Fitzgerald from Over the Cap wrote for The Sporting News in January, there are literally millions upon millions of reasons why wide receiver Antonio Brown and the Pittsburgh Steelers need to make up and agree that it’s best for all parties that he remains with the organization and tries to win a Super Bowl alongside Ben Roethlisberger for at least one more season. Fortunately, nobody needs to make a big decision about this for months, meaning cooler heads could and should prevail. Unless Brown wants to give some money back to Pittsburgh or a team wants to do the Steelers a solid and make a trade easier for Pittsburgh, Brown will probably be with the Black and Gold at the start of next season.
1 Le’Veon Bell: Indianapolis Colts
With the amount of money the Indianapolis Colts have to spend this offseason, the franchise can afford to be a little unconventional and give running back Le’Veon Bell, who held out and didn’t play a down for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2018, the guaranteed money he wants across the next several years. In Indianapolis, Bell would find a franchise capable of paying him, one of the best offensive lines in the NFL and a healthy Andrew Luck, who can be the league’s top quarterback as long as he isn’t running for his health each Sunday. Signing Bell could make the Colts favorites to win the Super Bowl, and that’s why he should be playing for Indy at the start of next season.