The short-lived period between the Super Bowl and the start of the new league year is upon us. Over the next few weeks, veterans will be released as teams prepare their layouts for the offseason ahead.
From the future of two enigmatic quarterbacks with some previous NFL success to just how teams with new head coaches will map out the free-agency period, here are your top 11 storylines for the NFL offseason.
1. Where will these two enigmatic quarterbacks end up?
By now it’s safe to conclude that the Washington Redskins will release Robert Griffin III before his 2016 salary becomes guaranteed. That’s the primary reason he was inactive the vast majority of the time this past season. After all, RGIII is set to count $16.2 million against the cap.
With quarterback situations the way they are today, there is little doubt that the former Heisman winner will get another shot in the NFL.
The Houston Texans, New York Jets, Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles could all very well be looking for starting quarterbacks. This seems to be an indication RGIII will at least find himself competing for a starting job during camp.
The situation surrounding San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick is a bit more convoluted. He’s also set to count $16-plus million against the cap. Unlike RGIII, though, this embattled signal-caller has an injury he’s currently rehabbing from that could impact his guarantees.
If Kaepernick is unable to pass his physical in early April after undergoing multiple surgeries — including one on his throwing hand — his $16.1 million salary for 2016 becomes guaranteed. If he’s able to pass it, San Francisco can release him while saving about $10 million against the cap.
Even more so than the Redskins former starter, Kaepernick could very well draw some interest on the trade market. He still boasts a ton of upside from a pure physical standpoint and has put up more success than his counterpart in Washington.
All this is dependent on whether new 49ers head coach Chip Kelly actually wants to part ways with a quarterback that seems to fit his spread system to an absolute T.
2. How will the franchise tag play out?
There are at least two teams that will be in precarious positions when it comes to this long outdated NFL rule. Will Washington seriously pay Kirk Cousins $20-plus million in 2016 after one decent season? Who will the defending champion Denver Broncos decide to place this tag on?
We will cover Denver’s decision in the blurb below, but Doug Martin, Alshon Jeffery, Muhammad Wilkerson, Josh Norman and Eric Berry are a few other players that could see themselves placed with the archaic franchise designation before hitting free agency.
As we have seen in previous years, this waters down the free-agent market a great deal when it actually gets going in March. Granted, there are some questions regarding those players listed above.
Does Tampa Bay actually want to guarantee Martin more than $10 million next season? That question takes on a whole new meaning with Charles Sims on the roster.
Meanwhile, the Jets are left wondering whether franchising Wilkerson makes much sense with defensive linemen Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams on the roster. Are they really going to allocate that much cash to one position group?
We then have the potential of a few surprises on this list like 49ers defensive tackle Ian Williams, Jason Pierre-Paul of the New York Giants and even Janoris Jenkins of the Rams could all end up being franchised.
3. Denver’s difficult decisions
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) February 9, 2016
We covered this a bit above. While it seems rather obvious that Denver will place the franchise tag on Von Miller, there is something else in play here. If Peyton Manning does decide to call it quits, the team is going to be in a difficult position at quarterback.
Add in the fact that Brock Osweiler will likely be in high demand in the free-agent market, and the decision becomes a little less clear cut.
As with Cousins in Washington, franchising Osweiler would be a dangerous move. This would guarantee a quarterback who has made seven NFL starts $21-plus million for one season — something he won’t command on the open market but would be the price of keeping him away from free agency.
This scenario would also leave the Broncos in the unfavorable position of having to get into a bidding war with multiple teams for the services of Miller, who is coming off an MVP performance in Super Bowl 50 and is considered one of the best overall football players in the league.
Now, take into account the fact that Ryan Harris, Evan Mathis, C.J. Anderson, Danny Trevathan, Malik Jackson and Brandon Marshall are also set to become free agents.
Even with Manning’s contract likely coming off the books, these players might price themselves out of the Broncos’ range.
We have seen this story repeated over and over again. Bottom-feeding teams going after average players from a championship roster and overpaying them in the process.
An extremely intelligent front office man, John Elway is unlikely going to get into a bidding war for replacement level players. Instead, there’s a darn good chance the Broncos will lose a few key starters from their championship season. Such is the nature of the beast in the salary cap era.
4. Quarterbacks atop the 2016 NFL draft
At this early stage in the process, we have absolutely no idea who is going to be the top quarterback off the board. Even money has to be on former Cal quarterback Jared Goff, but small-school gunslinger Carson Wentz (North Dakota State) surely made an impact during Senior Bowl week.
Then we have Paxton Lynch from Memphis, who was riding a pretty big tidal wave during the latter part of the season.
Contrary to previous years, the top of the draft isn’t necessarily littered with teams in need of a quarterback. The Tennessee Titans (No. 1 pick), San Diego Chargers (three), Dallas Cowboys (four), Jacksonville Jaguars (five), Baltimore Ravens (six), Miami Dolphins (eight), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (nine) and New York Giants (10) are all unlikely to look quarterback within the top 10.
This leaves the Browns at two and 49ers at seven as the only logical teams to even target a quarterback within that group of teams.
It will be interesting to see if anyone tries to jump Cleveland or San Francisco for the right to select the top quarterback in the draft.
If not, we could be looking at a rare scenario where playoff teams are the ones looking to add quarterbacks near the bottom end of Round 1. After all, the Houston Texans and Arizona Cardinals might very well look in that direction as a way to prepare for the future.
Either way we spin it, this is going to be an interesting draft when it comes to the quarterback position. The top signal-caller could go No. 1 overall. He could also drop to the mid 20’s — leaving open a whole host of opportunities in between.
5. The Johnny Manziel situation
It’s important not to jump to conclusions when it comes to Manziel’s most recent off-field situation, an alleged domestic violence spat with ex-girlfriend Coleen Crowley.
What we do know is that she’s claiming Manziel struck her multiple times, threatened to kill her and held her captive. He also allegedly ruptured her eardrum.
We also know that the Browns are likely going to release the former first-round pick next month.
Outside of that, nothing has really been decided. Manziel hasn’t been charged with a crime — an eventuality that could make his potential status as a free agent moot. And even if he avoids jail time, will any team show interest in him knowing the domestic violence backdrop of his case?
These are legitimate football-related questions. They don’t exist in the realm of sensationalism. Manziel’s status as a potential first-round bust should be a topic of conversation, as should his myriad off-field incidents.
6. Potential trades
While everyone was preparing for a slew of free-agent activity when the 2015 league year started last March, it was trades that made the headlines.
From LeSean McCoy and Jimmy Graham to Sam Bradford and Nick Foles, multiple veterans were moved via trades. Could this repeat itself next month?
Pure conjecture here, but we could see a similar approach taken by teams at the onset of free agency in March. Will Calvin Johnson’s retirement talk turn into trade talk? If so, what teams might show interest?
Will the Green Bay Packers finally grow old of Eddie Lacy’s act? What about Kaepernick in San Francisco and DeMarco Murray in Philadelphia? Will there be a trade market for those two enigmatic figures?
It sure seems the NFL trade block has increased in size over the past couple years. There must be an expectation that this will continue when the new league year comes calling.
7. New coaches in new places: Offseason strategies
We will cover Chip Kelly and the 49ers a bit below, but there are five other head coaches who need to make their imprints prior to even manning the sideline for their new teams during the summer.
The largest questions will likely surround Hue Jackson in Cleveland. Here’s a team that will likely find itself looking for a quarterback, a couple wide receivers and a few solid players on all levels of what was an under-performing defense last season.
With the second overall pick in the upcoming draft, the new regime will have to hit on that selection immediately in order to get off to a good start.
And in reality, that’s how they are going to be judged. After all, this crop of draft picks from previous regimes leaves a whole heck of a lot to be desired.
With an obvious need at quarterback, one of the three prospects mentioned above could make some sense here. Though, Cleveland has a whole heck of a lot of holes to fill before it becomes anywhere near competitive. That could lead the team in a completely different direction.
In Philadelphia, Howie Roseman has resumed control of the team’s personnel after what was a disastrous one-year tenure from Kelly.
We have already seen the Eagles sign a few long-standing players to extensions since the end of the season. How will their moves once free agency starts fit the model new head coach Doug Pederson is looking to build moving forward? Will DeMarco Murray be a part of that future?
These are just a few of the questions surrounding teams with first-year head coaches. What happens early in their tenures will tell us a lot about where said teams will be years from now.
8. With a ton of cap room, who will spend wisely?
Based on a projected cap of $150 million (likely to change), four teams — Jacksonville, San Francisco, the Oakland Raiders and Chicago Bears — will have more than $50 million to spend. San Francisco’s number will rise even more should it decide to release Colin Kaepernick.
These teams, all of whom missed the playoffs this past season, will have to find a way to avoid over-spending on mid-tier free agents.
It’s a story we have seen repeated over and over again. Championship teams present players with slightly above-average talent that seem to be attractive options for lesser clubs. This year, those players could well include Broncos linebackers Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall as well as Kansas City Chiefs guard Jeff Allen.
What’s important for these teams is to avoid overspending on average talent as a short-sighted way to up the level of talent on their rosters. Whoever does this while adding solid talent will ultimately come out as winners.
9. The Oakland Raiders return to relevance
As you saw above, the Raiders are going to have some cash to spend in free agency. Unlike previous seasons, they might actually want to spend that money on viable long-term options.
General manager Reggie McKenzie has done a tremendous job building through the draft while avoiding handing out big contracts to players other teams didn’t necessarily value. That’s worked well for the Raiders. And in reality, it’s a dramatic turnabout from the way the organization was run under the late-great Al Davis during his latter years.
This is going to have to change for the Raiders come March. They are no longer the unattractive destination they were for the past several years. Instead, free agents are going to want to join what is considered an up-and-coming team.
Still, the Raiders don’t have to go out there and overspend on free agents — something McKenzie wisely decided not to do in the past.
Instead, Oakland can hit the market and add a couple talents that fit into both the team’s short- and long-term plans as well as immediately impact on a squad that could contend for a division title next season.
10. Chip Kelly in San Francisco
There is a narrative out there that Kelly in San Francisco will either be a glorious failure akin to all the dumpster fire GIF’s on the Internet or an awesome success. They say there is no in between.
Going over Kelly’s past success and failures as well as the recent issues within the 49ers front office, this seems to be a true narrative.
It’s all going to start next month when the 49ers take $50-plus million in cap room and potentially a dozen draft picks into an offseason that will likely help define the franchise for the next several years.
Is Kaepernick going to be the team’s starter next season? If not, is it going to be Blaine Gabbert or a rookie first-round pick. Are any free agents really going to want to play for Kelly? If so, will he target players that fit his scheme better than the ones he acquired with Philadelphia last year?
How will San Francisco’s defensive personnel perform on the opposite side of Kelly’s fast-paced offense? Who will the team target in the draft? Will Kelly and general manager Trent Baalke work together successfully?
So many questions, so few answers. At the very least, fans in San Francisco can look forward to what will be an exciting time for the franchise. That’s the complete antithesis of what we saw during Jim Tomsula’s short-lived one-year tenure as the team’s head coach.
11. Will Peyton Manning retire?
The answer to this question could have wide-ranging ramifications for multiple NFL teams.
If Manning were to decide to return to Denver next season, there’s a good chance that Brock Osweiler leaves in free agency. If so, the Browns will be one of the teams fully prepared to target him.
That in and of itself could completely overhaul the top of the 2016 NFL draft.
On the other side of the spectrum, a Manning retirement would probably push Denver into the market for a quarterback. Of course, that’s dependent on the team placing the franchise tag on Von Miller.
To say that this would be a rare situation is an understatement. Not since the 2000 and 2001 Baltimore Ravens has a Super Bowl-winning club gone looking for a new starting quarterback less than one month after hoisting the Lombardi.