“Hash Marks” refer to covering every team.
NE: RB Shane Vereen, RB Stevan Ridley, CB Darrelle Revis, S Devin McCourty, K Stephen Gostowski
Vereen is a passing down back, mostly used as a receiver. Ridley got injured in a contract season. Both are replaceable as no snaps are guaranteed in New England’s backfield. Revis and McCourty are also going to hit the market, unless the Patriots can afford to extend one or both standout defensive backs. Keeping the secondary in tact should be the top priority. Gostowski is one of the best kickers in the game and he’s also a free agent.
BUF: RB C.J. Spiller, DE Jerry Hughes, LB Brandon Spikes, S Da’Norris Searcy
Spiller has expressed interest in joining the rival Jets, reuniting with offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, who he had his best season under. For Spiller, the talent and production are there, but he gets banged up and that constantly put him in a timeshare role. Hughes has made a name for himself rushing the passer, he should be the team’s top priority to re-sign. Spikes is a solid linebacker that plays well downhill, against the run. Searcy has quietly become a reliable safety. All these players are free agents.
MIA: RB Knowshon Moreno, WR Mike Wallace, TE Charles Clay, DT Jared Odrick, S Jimmy Wilson
Moreno signed a one-year deal to return to Miami, where he played college ball, and he was lost for the season early. He’s a do-it-all back that will get interest, but I see him staying home to form the tandem with Lamar Miller that the Dolphins had in mind. Wallace can’t stay out of the headlines for whatever reason, and he ended the season behind rookie Jarvis Landry on the totem pole of targets. He’s been rumored to be traded or even released, it keeps happening and this would be the offseason to move on. Clay is good, he’s an H-back, as in a tight end that can catch, block, and also play fullback. In fact, they don’t involved him enough, but he gets these nicks that affects his play and they drafted Dion Sims last year that plays similarly. Miami has said that they want to keep him. Odrick was a draft pick that they hit on, he was part of a stout unit before the D fell apart and out of the playoff picture late in the season. Wilson is a good young safety they should want to move forward with, if someone doesn’t chime in and up the ante a little bit.
NYJ: QB Michael Vick, LB David Harris, CB Kyle Wilson
Vick isn’t thought to be a starter for the rest of his career, especially entering free agency. David Harris is coveted by former coach Rex Ryan, who is now with the rival Bills. Harris is getting up there in age, but has been a mainstay as an inside linebacker of a 3-4 scheme. Wilson was a first round draft pick of former coach Ryan, a status he hasn’t lived up to yet. New head coach Todd Bowles is a secondary guy and I would imagine wants to keep Wilson.
DEN: TE Julius Thomas, OG Orlando Franklin, DT Terrence Knighton, LB Brandon Marshall, S Rahim Moore
Assuming Demaryius Thomas is the top priority and stays with the Broncos, that could leave another team to swoop in on Julius Thomas. A young tight end teetering between breaking out to the elite level and fighting off injuries, perhaps his price range is too high to re-sign. He was the x-factor for the Broncos and before missing games, led the league in touchdown receptions as the redzone go-to guy. Franklin has played a couple of positions along the O-line, his versatility could warrant a bigger paycheck from elsewhere. Knighton is a solid veteran to have in the trenches, they could sure use him moving forward. Brandon Marshall is playing like he wants people to know he’s a linebacker, not to be confused with the ex-Broncos receiver now in Chicago. Marshall is an above average starter that is still getting better. Moore is a good safety that played in a secondary with 3 other Pro Bowlers, that experience could help make him a leader on another team, if he’s offered more green than Denver can afford.
KC: WR Dwayne Bowe, LB Justin Houston, S Ron Parker
Bowe was praised for being a team player and blocking for the majority of snaps. As a receiver he seems mediocre at best despite flashes of breaking a tackle for a chunk gain. His production simply doesn’t match the contract and he is a candidate to get released. Houston led the NFL in sacks, something he has mastered and showed us in recent seasons. The Chiefs want to ink him long-term, and it’s hard to see him leaving when the franchise tag is an option too. Parker filled in very well for the ill and retired Eric Berry, he was a key player in a good defense and will start next season, you would think in KC.
SD: RB Ryan Mathews, LB Dwight Freeney, CB Brandon Flowers
Mathews just got banged up too much for me to say he’s a reliable starting running back. Maybe he can have a DeMarco Murray type of season next year or at some point. Whatever it is, if he understands the risk/reward he brings to a team, there’s a chance he returns. He will play next season without a doubt, but if it’s my team I prefer a timeshare role for Mathews to keep him healthy as possible. Flowers showed he can still play at a respectable level since recovering from his knee injury, the Chargers want to keep him and other teams would love to snag him away. Freeney can probably contribute as a pass rusher in a situational role, but at some point, the age and injuries make you feel like hanging the cleats up for good.
OAK: RB Darren McFadden, RB Maurice Jones-Drew, C Stefen Wisniewski, S Charles Woodson, P Marquette King
McFadden is clearly out of the picture after getting so many opportunities, even if the offense hasn’t been great for a running back to succeed. Latavius Murray is going to get a crack at the starting role and the Raiders are likely to move on from the veterans in the backfield. Maurice Jones-Drew is closer to retirement as he’s ever been. Wisniewski is a good young center that should stick in the black hole. Woodson looks like he is going to retire in Oakland. King is an elite punter and the Raiders usually lock up their special teams players long-term.
PIT: LB Jason Worilds, LB Arthur Moats, S Troy Polomalu
Some questions on the defensive side of the ball. With new defensive coordinator Keith Butler running the linebackers last season, I don’t know why he didn’t play Moats more. Worilds could stay but I would think another team tries to pay him a little extra to leave, and maybe that opens things up for Moats to stay. Polomalu is a future Hall of Famer, they may very well keep him since he’s under contract, but he’s definitely a candidate to be a cap casualty.
CIN: TE Jermaine Gresham, LB Rey Maualuga, LB Emmanuel Lamur, K Mike Nugent
Whether Gresham played better as the season unfolded or the Bengals were forcing him to block more than catch, he became a factor in the passing game with Tyler Eifert sidelined to injury. Knowing that Eifert will return, that opens the door for Gresham’s departure. However, it doesn’t coincide with offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, who prefers a blocking tight end in a run-predicated offense. Nugent has his ups and downs, the guy has a big leg and he’ll be a starter next season. There are some better free agent kicker options if the Bengals want to upgrade. Maualuga has been outplayed by backups in recent seasons, one of them being Lamur. Odds are that one of them stays and the other goes.
BAL: RB Justin Forsett, WR Torrey Smith, TE Owen Daniels, DT Terrence Cody, S Will Hill, K Justin Tucker
Forsett followed Gary Kubiak from Houston and had a career year. Approaching 30 years of age, Forsett has less mileage on him since he was mostly a backup or in a spell role before 2014. Daniels also followed and became the starter when Dennis Pitta was lost for the season, again. Daniels was the redzone target with and without Pitta, but could be an option to follow Kubiak again, this time to Denver to play with Julius Thomas or replace him. Smith had a slow start but came on to look like the emerging player he was in 2013. He would fit well in new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman’s system, it’s just a matter of price range if he stays or starts for someone else. Cody is one of the better linemen in the trenches, especially playing with Haloti Ngata. As much of a priority I think he should be, how much can the Ravens spend in one position group? Hill was suspended for part of the season, but when he played he sure was a standout in a weak secondary. Tucker is a top-2 kicker that is hitting free agency, they ought to keep him.
CLE: WR Josh Gordon, TE Jordan Cameron, DT Ahtyba Rubin, LB Craig Robertson, CB Buster Skrine, S Tashaun Gipson
Gordon continues to be mentioned as a candidate to be traded, and less likely, released. The playmaking receiver has had suspension issues and didn’t give the Browns his all to end the year. With his suspension history, he’s probably worth a 3rd round pick at best, but a good team can fork up a second if they wanted to get a deal done without many other suitors. For some reason, I think the Browns only get a 4th rounder with future picks if a trade is made. Cameron caught the injury bug this past season, after breaking out in 2013 with the previous regime. He’s a good player without a good offensive situation. Who knows if he really wants to stay in Cleveland or not, but they have the money to keep him or the franchise tag in their back pocket. Rubin and Robertson were strong players for a good defense under head coach Mike Pettine. If drafting offense is the priority to improve the team, then they can afford to keep their impact players on D. Skrine played well opposite of Joe Haden, other teams have noticed but his starting case is better as a #2. Gipson played like the best safety in football, leading the league in interceptions too, before his season ended to injury. The fact that he got hurt will lower the price for the Browns to keep him next to Donte Whitner.
IND: WR Reggie Wayne, LB Jerrell Freeman
Wayne is likely to retire after a Hall of Fame career. He set a good tone and example and leaves the receiver position in young, but promising hands. Freeman, you would think he gets inked long-term because he’s a sideline to sideline linebacker, but only if they don’t get outbid. You can only fork up so much of your cap space to a player that gets nicked up more than you would like.
HOU: RB Arian Foster, WR Andre Johnson, CB Kareem Jackson
You could say that Foster is likely to stay, but his salary is high and Bill O’Brien inherited most of the roster, including the injury-hampered running back. In favor of Foster, the Texans lost their college scouting director, who is now general manager of the Jets. Johnson is in a similar situation, who mended fences with the coach and staff after being frustrated by losing and changes. Jackson has really come on as a good corner in the league and will demand a higher price than most free agent cornerbacks. With that said, it’s entirely possible that the Texans hang onto him.
JAC: LB Geno Hayes, LB J.T. Thomas
If Hayes can get past his knee issue, he can find a home under Gus Bradley next to a healthy Paul Posluszny. Hayes was playing great football in a defense trying to turn things around. Thomas came in because of injuries and played at a high level, you bet that Coach Bradley thinks he can keep coaching him up as a starter.
TEN: LB Colin McCarthy
He’s missed a lot of games, including all of 2014 due to his shoulder. McCarthy should come cheaper than most options as a starter, and his strength lies against the pass which is hard to find, so he has value. If former Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LaBeau becomes a consultant, this would be a good player to keep but he’s obviously replaceable for not being on the field as often.