“Hash Marks” refer to covering every team.
DAL: RB DeMarco Murray, OT Doug Free, DE Anthony Spencer, LB Bruce Carter, LB Rolando McClain
We all know that Dez Bryant isn’t going anywhere, via long-term extension or the franchise tag. I like Murray’s chances to stay, via the franchise tag, if Bryant agrees to a long-term extension. The cap situation is tight for Dallas, and it looks like Murray will don a different jersey next season. Doug Free is a veteran lineman, part of a very good unit that many teams will contact. If I had to guess, Free moves on. Spencer, Carter, and McClain all played parts of turning the defense around. With Rod Marinelli returning as defensive coordinator, Spencer and McClain are in good spots moving forward. Carter probably appeals the most to other teams, and again with salary issues, I would say he starts for a different team after a breakout year.
PHI: WR Jeremy Maclin, DE Cedric Thornton, LB Trent Cole, LB Brandon Graham, S Nate Allen
After leading the Eagles in stats similar to DeSean Jackson the previous season, Maclin proved his worth on a one-year deal. Or did he? A couple things work against Maclin, if if the Eagles like him a lot. Moving on from Jackson and seeing how Riley Cooper flopped after an extension last offseason, Maclin posted career highs and that can be accredited to Chip Kelly’s system. Maclin is a good pro so the money has to be right, but I could see another team overpaying to steal him away. All signs point towards him staying, but rookies Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff showed a lot of promise despite their understandable lumps. Thornton worked his way into a very good 3-4 defensive end, he is a starter that played a bigger role than stats suggest. Cole has been gradually slipping while Graham has been limited because he plays behind Cole. Graham should have been the starter for a couple seasons now, but he wants to return to 4-3 defensive end. Allen has flashed some things, certainly not enough to start and be given the benefit of the doubt.
NYG: DE Jason Pierre-Paul, LB Jacquian Williams, CB Walter Thurmond, S Antrell Rolle, S Stevie Brown
J.P.P. is still young so the G-Men would be inclined to do whatever it takes to keep him. Williams looked more solid as the season played on. Rolle continues to be one of the more reliable safeties in the league. Brown has his ups and downs but I like the fact that he’s around the ball a lot. Thurmond came over from the Seahawks. He may not be a priority, but teaming him up with healthy corners, Prince Amukamura and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, would look strong since it is a passing league. The Giants are faced with defensive decisions, from rushing the passer to defending the pass, and they could choose to keep it all together for returning defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo.
WAS: RB Roy Helu, TE Niles Paul, LB Brian Orakpo, S Brandon Meriweather
Helu, to me at least, deserves a bigger role like Ahmad Bradshaw. Mostly used as a receiver out of the backfield, he brought life to the Redskins offense. I like how he fits in Jay Gruden’s system with Alfred Morris. Niles Paul is a starting caliber tight end. He should only want to stay if Jordan Reed is out of town, which is unlikely. Unless they promise Paul that they want to run more dual-tight end sets, I hope another team saw the talent he has to grow into. Word is that they are willing to move on from Orakpo after franchise tagging him last offseason. Another case of an injured good player. I feel like Meriweather is always getting an incomplete grade for missing games. If he comes cheap then why not re-sign him?
SEA: RB Marshawn Lynch, LB Malcolm Smith, CB Byron Maxwell
Beats Mode has been rumored to mutually part ways with Seattle, or even considering retirement. He’ll wear one of two uniforms next season, the Seahawks because he’s still under contract, or his hometown Raiders. Smith was the Super Bowl MVP against the Broncos and the Seahawks can’t afford to keep everybody in the Legion of Boom, including Byron Maxwell who is prime for a big payday. Maxwell played at a high level, picking his game up after shaking off an early injury. This is the time for him to capitalize playing in the NFL’s best defense across Richard Sherman. I would say Smith lands a starting gig elsewhere too.
ARI: WR Larry Fitzgerald, DT Dan Williams, CB Antonio Cromartie
We’ve heard the back and forth about Larry Fitzgerald and his contract situation. We get it, he makes a lot of money because he’s been such a great receiver. Bruce Arians likes him, but this comes after drafting Michael Floyd and John Brown in back-to-back drafts. Fitzgerald is obviously the team’s #1 target still, but only returns if he restructures. Williams made the Pro Bowl and he’s been a force inside, keeping him next to Calais Campbell is a big deal so they probably will. Cromartie will either be on the Cardinals or following former coach, Rex Ryan to the Bills, less likely. Cromartie and Patrick Peterson form an elite duo, that would be tough to leave, especially since they had the best record in the NFL before their quarterbacks got hurt.
SF: RB Frank Gore, WR Michael Crabtree, OG Mike Iupati, DT Ray McDonald, CB Perrish Cox, CB Chris Culliver
Gore’s out with Carlos Hyde in. They are changing things up in the Bay and ridding the veteran sounds like one of those moves. Crabtree, I think he re-signs, but if another team overpays for him I don’t believe it to be a great signing. Iupati, one of the league’s better interior linemen, is probably gone and will definitely start somewhere. McDonald is a beast inside and his house is for sale. At 30 years old, even though he’s a good player, it looks like he’s another veteran heading toward the exit. The cornerbacks both started for the 49ers. Granted, they weren’t the best, they can tackle well and are familiar with the new head coach. Like most things in the offseason, finances come into play here, so maybe one stays and the other goes. Cox is 28 and Culliver is 26, keeping both would be a win for the franchise.
STL: QB Sam Bradford, RB Zac Stacy, WR Kenny Britt
Not big gains or losses here. Bradford, who remembers the last game he played for the Rams? They don’t have a franchise guy at the helm, but a one-year prove-it deal would benefit both parties with risk and reward. Stacy got replaced as the feature back and there’s no way he stays to be a backup now. Britt got a second chance and looks at home in St. Louis with Jeff Fisher again.
GB: WR Randall Cobb, OT Bryan Bulaga, DT B.J. Raji, CB Tramon Williams
Cobb will be the talk in town, especially with rookie Devante Adams stepping up in the playoffs. There’s no question that Cobb is a borderline #1, and arguably the best #2 receiver in the NFL. Green Bay prides itself in the draft, where they selected Adams a year ago after extending Jordy Nelson long-term. If another team throws money at Cobb, no way the Cheese Heads match. Bulaga and Raji are other draft picks that have been in the Green Bay trenches for a few years and well, they shouldn’t break the bank to keep. Williams on the other hand, aside from giving up the season-ending touchdown to Jermaine Kearse in the NFC title game, he’s had a good but not great stint. At 31 years of age, it tells me that they are more inclined to move on from his services.
DET: RB Reggie Bush, DT Ndamukong Suh, DT Nick Fairley, K Matt Prater
Bush hasn’t had a healthy career, and there’s a pair of backs that the coaching staff really likes. I think Bush continues his journey to another team. They finally found a kicker that is better than the midseason free agent options, Prater shouldn’t have been let go by the Broncos. Fairley would come at cheaper rate than Suh. The elite defense will probably be without one of these stuffers in the middle, with Fairley being the guy staying if you ask most people. Suh demands a big payday as arguably the best defensive tackle in the league. His baggage can work with the right coach, so hopefully if it’s not the Lions, he chooses a team with strong leadership rather than just the money.
MIN: RB Adrian Peterson, RB Matt Asiata, WR Greg Jennings
This is a young team for the most part, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see these veterans here. A.P. is only on the outs if they don’t want to pay his current contract, but they should want to. With Peterson on the field, a healthy Kyle Rudolph, and Mike Zimmer improving the defense in another season, they could be closer to the postseason than widely perceived. Jennings got surpassed on the depth chart by some younger options, but maybe Norv Turner finds a role for him in the slot or something along those lines. They’ve already drafted Jerick McKinnon, so it doesn’t seem likely that Asiata and Peterson are all on the roster.
CHI: QB Jay Cutler, WR Brandon Marshall, OLB Lance Briggs, CB Charles Tillman, CB Tim Jennings
First and foremost, John Fox was brought here to reign in Jay Cutler, with Brandon Marshall still on board. Fox is about running the football, and instilling discipline in the locker room. Cutler is the quarterback for at least another season, as he will get the Tony Romo treatment, with limited pass attempts, more short throws, and handing the ball to Matt Forte a lot. Marshall is a good player and is one veteran leader that the locker room can’t afford to miss. The defense had some questions before Fox came also, and still does. I think Fox’s presence makes a return for Briggs and Tillman more possible, especially Tillman. Briggs would be the guy I think finally exits after having occasional run-ins with the front office. Jennings is a solid corner, another veteran, but maybe made an example of for his DUI and released.
CAR: RB DeAngelo Williams, DE Greg Hardy
It’s about time the Panthers realize that the wheels are falling off DeAngelo Williams. Things could have been prettier with a better offensive mind on the staff to play Williams in a backup role instead. Retirement is something you have to ask the individual himself, so I’ll just go as far to say that he probably won’t return. Greg Hardy was suspended and that should lower his number, considering the risk of him getting suspended again for whatever reason. Hardy may not necessarily feel that way as a premiere pass rusher, but Carolina has the money to keep them if they want to. Not allowing him to play saved enough face for a return, but with suspension issues, don’t be surprised if he joins another club for a fresh start.
NO: RB Mark Ingram, WR Marques Colston, OT Charles Brown, CB Patrick Robinson
Ingram ran like a mad man, but I mostly point the blame at Sean Payton for using a three-headed committee. Ingram showed what he could do with a full load, and it’s strong running like he did in college. I think he’s out of the picture in New Orleans. Colston is a steady option that should hang around with a pay cut. Brown is a guy they either need to re-sign, or draft his replacement high in the draft to protect Drew Brees. Robinson was the best corner on the roster last season. Cornerbacks always draw interest but if you ask me, they really need him.
ATL: RB Steven Jackson, WR Roddy White, DT Corey Peters, LB Sean Weatherspoon, K Matt Bryant
If Jackson doesn’t retire I think he’ll return to Atlanta. White is under contract, but they could use his money on defense with the viable Harry Douglas just poking to start in the last couple of seasons. Peters is a couple years under 30 and an above average defender that they lack across the board. Weatherspoon can’t shake the injury bug, you would imagine Dan Quinn wants to keep the former first round pick to start rebuilding this D. Bryant is a good kicker that stays if they don’t luck out and surprisingly upgrade with Gostowski or Tucker. Besides, they want and need to score more touchdowns anyways, and Bryant has been good enough.
TB: QB Josh McCown, DE Adrian Clayborn, LB Mason Foster
With Tampa Bay at the top of the draft and Mike Glennon on the roster, McCown would be let go if they drafted a quarterback to kick off the draft. Maybe McCown follows former head coach Marc Trestman to Baltimore, to backup Joe Flacco. Adrian Clayborn is a former first round pick that hasn’t played like it. Lovie Smith may want his own drafted and signed players on the squad, but keeping a high pick for very little sounds appealing to me. Another team would certainly bring Clayborn in. Also inherited, Foster is the quarterback of the defense that played through injury. It looks like he should be part of the defense for awhile with an extension, but you never know with a new regime. He’s definitely starting middle linebacker material.