Analyzing the Green Bay Packers 2018 Offseason

2018 Green Bay Packers (Cap Numbers as of 1/26; source Over The Cap.com; projected $179.5 M cap)

2018 Team Cap = $184,403,050

Total Cap Liabilities = $165,025,417

Top 51 = 159,826,884

Dead Money = $4,718,533

Team Cap – (Top 51 + Dead Money) = Cap Space

Cap Space = $19,857,633

Rookie Pool = $8,864,072

Cap Space – Rookie Pool = $10,993,561

Draft Picks:

11 draft picks: 1/14, 2/45, 3/76, 3/101, 4/116, 5/152, 5/173, 5/175, 5/177, 6/189, 7/232

Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com Team Needs:

  • CB, OL, WR
  • “They added a CB (Kevin King) in the 2017 draft, and it might be time to go back to the well at the position. The Packers could look to add competition along the offensive line. Randall Cobb is a potential cap casualty, so WR could become a priority.”

Team’s Free Agents:

Green Bay is at a stage of their franchise where they’ve become over invested in the passing game with Aaron Rodgers, Randall Cobb, plus Jordy Nelson as their top three cap hits at 25.52% of the cap and the team extending Davante Adams to a deal that’s going to pay him a projected 5.87% of the cap in 2018 as their seventh most expensive player. This over-investment in one phase of the game is something I talk about often in Caponomics: Building Super Bowl Champions. As a team gets heavily invested in one phase of the game, most typically passing because of the high costs of quarterbacks with about half of the NFL paying over 10% of the cap to their top quarterback, wide receivers, and left tackles, other phases of the game begin to suffer, which is what has happened for the Packers over the last few seasons. To this point, they have Pro Football Focus’ #1 left tackle for 2017 in David Bakhtiari, but there’s a large investment in the singular discipline of offensive passing. The Packers are one of the most well run organizations in the NFL, so this can happen to anyone and they’re still in their Super Bowl window. They even have the potential to expand it, if they can make the right moves this offseason.

The 2017 Packers might have looked a bit better on defense if Aaron Rodgers played the whole season, but as it worked out they were ranked 26th in points allowed at 24.0 per game and 22nd in yards allowed at 349 yards per game. Even if Rodgers was healthy, there is no doubt this team had defensive issues and has weak spots heading into 2018. The team needs that I have for the Packers start with cornerback as the number one team need, then the interior of their offensive line, wide receiver if they have to move on from Randall Cobb or Jordy Nelson, tight end, safety, outside linebacker, defensive end, and back-up quarterback.

Cornerback is their biggest need and it’s also a need that could be solved for them right now if they were able to re-sign Casey Hayward in 2016. They were then unable to sign the versatile safety and cornerback Micah Hyde in 2017. This is a great example of what I mean about an over-investment in one phase of the game creating holes elsewhere on the roster, these are two of their biggest needs this offseason for a team that traditionally builds from within their roster and has been second in the NFL in draft picks from 1994 through 2016 with 204 to the Patriots 210.

I must acknowledge that part of the reason they couldn’t re-sign Hayward and Hyde was because the team has drafted so well, the top 10 most expensive players currently on the roster for 2018 were drafted by the team, so this is a case where they couldn’t re-sign everyone. Alternatively though, Hayward and Hyde were such good values that maybe the Packers should have planned out their spending better, rather than investing in both Cobb and Nelson. I’m just presenting both sides to this though because the Packers also drafted potential replacements for Cobb and Nelson in Ty Montgomery, Jared Abbrederis, and Jeff Janis, but they didn’t pan out as the team planned. Adams has panned out though, which has made Cobb more expendable in 2018.

Similarly, in the defensive backfield, the Packers drafted players like cornerbacks Damarious Randall and Kevin King who haven’t worked out as well as the team would have hoped. Maybe 2017 second round picks King and safety Josh Jones play at a similar production level to Hayward and Hyde after a season in the league and the Packers have a greatly improved secondary. The Packers haven’t replaced Hayward and Hyde yet, but in their defense, they’ve made the moves to deal with their departures and invested their draft picks wisely. Considering their track record of draft success and player development, it wouldn’t be surprising to see King and Jones become good NFL starters in year two as they learn more about being a pro and the organization understands more about how to use their strengths in their system. The team has to be hoping that 2015 second round pick Quinton Rollins, a cornerback who started 10 games for them in 2016, will return from an Achilles injury that cost him more than half of the 2017 season and continue to develop into a competent player for them.

Hayward was signed away by the Los Angeles Chargers on a three-year, $15.3 million contract, which is pennies for a player who was already one of the top 15 to 20 cornerbacks in the NFL when he left Green Bay and was Pro Football Focus’ #1 cornerback in 2017. Hyde was signed away by the Bills for a five-year, $30 million contract that’s a great value for a player with his versatility as a safety for the Bills and the Packers lost their slot cornerback from 2016. Hyde was a top 15 safety according to Pro Football Focus. Heyward’s contract is in the 3-3.5% of the cap range, which is low second tier costs for a top player at a position that can cost as much as 9% of the cap. Theoretically, the Chargers are getting a potential 9% of cap value from a player they’re paying 3% of the cap. Hyde’s cap costs will be in the 2.4-4% of the cap range, which is near the bottom of the first tier for the safety market, which peaks at 7%.

As I wrote in Caponomics, the NFL is about value and versatility and the Packers lost out on two valuable players who would have added versatility to their defense, but again they did make a strong attempt at replacing them with low-cost players. One thing regarding losing out on Hayward and Hyde, but having Cobb and Nelson is that I also believe that when a team has a truly elite quarterback, they should be looking to save costs at wide receiver as that quarterback can elevate the play of his wide receivers and a team wants to avoid becoming over-invested in one phase of the game. An elite quarterback can make lesser receivers produce at a higher rate with his arm strength and accuracy, while his decision making can elevate the receivers through understanding where to throw the ball on each play and the whole offense through knowing when to audible to the right play call versus each specific defense. I saw future cap issues coming when they signed Nelson and Cobb to such high costs within nine months of each other in 2014 and 2015. It’s hard to guess what the cap issue will be, but you can foresee the team losing productive players and having holes on their roster elsewhere on the roster when so much of the cap is allocated to one phase of the game.

Because the Packers are such a great organization, almost their entire roster has been constructed through the draft, so they have veterans who are on reasonable contracts mostly due to being signed to extensions prior to hitting free agency and being forced into bidding wars with the rest of the league. They have an expensive top 10 of their roster with 63.08% going to this group, but they have saved some cap space due to signing six of these players to extensions, while only allowing three to hit unrestricted free agency. The tenth player is Ha Ha Clinton-Fix on the fifth year of his first round rookie deal. The six signed to extensions are Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, Clay Matthews, David Bakhtiari, Davante Adams, and Mike Daniels. One could argue that all six of these players are on contracts that are below what they would have received on the open market and even on contracts that are good values for the teams or more team friendly deals. With the Packers ability to draft well, they also have contributors on their rookie contracts like Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Randall, Ty Montgomery, Jake Ryan, Aaron Ripkowski, Kenny Clark, Blake Martinez, King, Jones, Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones. These players are low-cost, so while some of them might not be high performers right now, they can cost as little as 0.30% to 0.50% of the cap and even if they’re just an average starter, the team could be getting 1.50% of the cap worth of value out of them because that’s what an average veteran starter in the NFL can cost.

Now, especially with safety Morgan Burnett hitting free agency, they’re going to have to try and find values in free agency or through the draft that can immediately come in and contribute for the two weak spots of cornerback and safety for a team that was 23rd in passing yards allowed, 29th in passing touchdowns allowed, and 29th in net yards per attempt allowed. In defense of their defensive backs, the Packers were 19th in sacks, so maybe they weren’t getting enough pressure on the quarterback as well, but that’s something they’ll likely end up having to solve through the draft because of lack of cap space, which we’ll get to later.

As it currently stands, the Packers are estimated to have about $11 million in cap space after paying out their 11 draft picks in their rookie pool. As I said, they’re traditionally a team that builds through the draft, but, with how many needs they have and the opportunity to extend that Super Bowl window, this might be the year to go out and get a first rate player like when they signed Reggie White, Charles Woodson, and Julius Peppers. Two of those signings helped the team win championships. This is a great example of how the right big signing can help win a championship with much of the rest of the team being built through the draft. Worth noting that the three of these players were signed by the Packers at ages 32, 30, and 34, so maybe the team has identified that certain elite players can a) continue to be productive into their 30s and b) can be had at a lower price than they would have been had at 26 or 27 when their earning potential is at it’s peak. Elite edge rushers and safeties can tend to have longer careers, so they picked players at two positions that had a reasonable chance of continuing to be productive.

The first move they can make to clear the cap space required to make necessary short-term improvements is to ask slot receiver Randall Cobb to either take a pay cut or be released as he’s not worth the 7.09% of the cap he’s about to be paid. As Bill Barnwell points out, Cobb would be entering a flooded slot receiver market with Jarvis Landry, Tavon Austin, Danny Amendola, Jordan Matthews, and Kendall Wright, which means after a down 2017 season, he might not be in line to earn much more than he’d be offered by the Packers on a pay cut. While Cobb’s down season could be attributed Rodgers being injured, he hasn’t been an elite first tier player since he signed his contract during March 2015. He was a first tier caliber player the year before with 91 catches for 1287 yards and 12 touchdowns, but he’s averaged just 68 catches for 697 yards per season with 14 touchdowns since. The Packers could clear $9,468,750 worth of cap space if they cut or trade Cobb, but extending him and keeping him on the roster at a discount that clears $7 million in space is also a viable option. A one-year extension through 2019 could accomplish that and give the Packers the chance to still have one of the best receiving groups in the NFL with all three. With Nelson and Adams on such expensive contracts though, it might be time to move on from him, especially if they can draft a receiver with the potential to replace him immediately in the first three rounds. I also think the signing of Adams to an extension that has him at 5.87% of the cap in 2018 was an indication that something will be done regarding Cobb. Clearing $7 million in cap space would give them about $18 million in cap space, while releasing Cobb would put them near $20.5 million.

Nelson is a player I’m more likely to keep if I’m the Packers because in the three years coming into his 53 catch, 482 yards, six touchdown campaign in 2017, he averaged 93 catches for 1363 yards per season with 35 touchdowns. Still, at 6.97% of the cap, that’s pricey for a player who had such a down 2017 and will be 33 in 2018, regardless of who was quarterback. I don’t think they’ll cut both Cobb and Nelson this offseason after a 2017 season where they didn’t have a chance to play their best football with Brett Hundley under center. When I appeared on Chris Harris’ Football podcast on January 11th. I had both Nelson and Cobb as potential cuts, but I think Nelson is the one who is more likely to sign an extension of the two because he probably still has something left in the tank, plus at an older age he could probably be had for a lower price on an extension. He’s more of a Green Bay institution at this point as one of the greatest receivers in franchise history, so I don’t think either side will want to part ways.

Nelson will turn 34 during May 2018, so it’s unlikely he could demand a contract over 4 or 5% of the cap, even after a great season, so they might be able to work out an extension that gives the team a bit of a break, while paying Nelson a reasonable expectation of his worth. Could he still be a first tier type receiver with near 1300-yards this season? Potentially, but after just 482 in 2017, even with Hundley at QB, I’m not sure how likely that is and the low-production might also scare teams off who don’t have Aaron Rodgers as their quarterback as they might think Nelson is a product of Rodgers being his quarterback. I could see an extension that converts Nelson’s $9.25 million salary for 2018 into a signing bonus, then prorates it out over the next two or three years to give the Packers a discount in 2018, while extending his costs into 2019 and 2020 where the team has a projected $73.5 and $130.6 million respectively. I think with Rodgers as his quarterback, Nelson could continue to give the team 4% of the cap worth of value, or around 900+ receiving yards per season, especially if they start to go younger at the position with the release of Cobb. Adams could be growing into the #1 receiver in Green Bay right now, so Nelson’s role might become the second receiver during this last contract and he’d be a good second option rather than relied on to be the #1 facing off with the opponent’s top cornerback each week. The game is about match-ups, so if Adams develops into the kind of player defenses have to focus their best cornerback on, Nelson could then be in a position to beat the opponent’s less talented second cornerback.

Maybe the team will clear $4 million in cap space through a Nelson extension, which would get them to $22-24.5 million. Regardless of how they deal with the situation they have at wide receiver this offseason, the Packers have a second round pick, two thirds, and a fourth, so I’d like to see them take a receiver in this window. I love Anthony Miller out of Memphis in this area as he could be a slot receiver, but could also be much more over time. He could be Cobb’s immediate replacement and at a far lower cost, probably as a second round pick, which would then allow the team to invest more in more pressing needs than keeping a first tier receiver in terms of cost, but who hasn’t produced like a first tier receiver in terms of production since he signed the deal.

Since we’re on the offensive side of the football, tight end is a need they must address through free agency and the draft this year. Unfortunately for the Packers and for Jermichael Finley, he’d be nearing the entering his 31-year old season and might be a pass catcher who could be relied on to gain 700+ yards per season if he stayed healthy. He dealt with injuries throughout his time in the NFL, but from his second year in 2009 through his sixth year, he averaged 11 games per season with 43 catches for 542 yards and 19 total touchdowns. His 48.4 yards per game during this time averages out to 775 yards per 16-game season.

In his last two 16 game seasons, 2011 and 2012, Finley had 58 catches for 717 and 5 touchdowns per season. In his last six games of his career in 2013 before a neck injury ended it, Finley had 25 catches for 300 yards and three touchdowns, he was on pace for 67 catches for 800 yards in his 26-year old season. That was in an offense that had Nelson, Cobb, and James Jones too. He was becoming one of the better tight ends in the league if he could have stayed healthy, so he could still be their starter if they held on to him and in a lower cost positional market as great tight ends can be much more of a value than receivers.

Instead, the team hasn’t had any consistency at the position since then and they’re looking for a new tight end to lead the group like they have the last two years as they thought the signings of Jared Cook and Martellus Bennett would finally be a short-term solution through free agency to help push these team into the Super Bowl. Tight end is one of the key spots the Packers should be looking to free agency for because tight end is a position that takes some time to develop and it’s a lower cost positional market, so free agency is less of a risk.

I had lunch with an NFL free agent tight end this weekend and we got on the topic of tight end play. In Caponomics I note that part of the reason tight ends take a bit of time to develop in the NFL is because they have to block for the run and run routes at a professional level, two distinctly different tasks. This tight end took it further, mentioning that they have to do that, but they also have to block people who specialize in stopping the run and rushing the passer on the defensive line, then they can run routes against safeties who specialize in covering receivers. Not only that, but a tight end has to learn multiple positions, he has to know the tight end spot, slot receivers, outside receiver, H-back, and even fullback. He has to understand the line calls, he has to understand which routes to run against which coverages. It’s a very, very complex position.

This need for a veteran tight end is part of the reason it’s so important to decrease the costs of Cobb and Nelson. As teams like the Patriots and Eagles illustrate, you need multiple mismatches in the passing game with the tight end being one of the most important and dynamic mismatches that a team can present. Richard Rodgers has been one of their starting tight ends over the last few years and is a free agent this offseason, but he’s not someone I’d be looking to re-sign if I were the Packers considering they’ve gotten very little out of him. Lance Kendricks is under contract for one more season, but he’s never been a leading tight end. Kendricks was signed by the Packers to be Bennett’s back-up and he’s best suited for that role in 2018 as well. Speaking in terms of mismatches, you want Kendricks lined up against a team’s second best coverage defensive back or linebacker, not the guy who covers the #1 tight end or TE1. Maybe they clear a little more cap space by signing Aaron Rodgers to a long-term contract extension, but with at most about $25 million in cap space after those receiver moves and multiple needs in free agency, they should probably go after the second tier of tight ends and look for a player who is likely to exceed his contract’s value. Trey Burton is the most intriguing name in this market this offseason as he’s shown quite a bit of production and ability in limited playing time, while he might be on a deal in the $5 to 7 million range during the prime of his career. By comparison, Jason Fitzgerald has Jimmy Graham at a projected $7 to 7.5 million per year and while he might be on the decline heading into his 32-year old season, Burton might be on the upswing heading into this 27-year old season. Burton also has the potential to be more of a long-term solution than Graham

While Burton was PFF’s 13th ranked tight end with a 75.6 rating and a nice stat line of 23 catches for 248 yards and 5 touchdowns in just 345 snaps, Graham was PFF’s 33rd ranked tight end with a 53.8 rating. Graham had 57 catches for 520 yards and, a very good, 10 touchdowns in 729 snaps. It’s not that Graham wouldn’t be a nice signing for the Packers or anyone else, he still could be, but Burton might provide more long-term and at a better price, which would be ideal for a Packers team that hasn’t had stability at the position since 2013.

Burton reminds me of Brandon Lafell when he was signed by the Patriots after four years in Carolina. It was the first time I realized how smart coaching staffs will look at a player’s production in a system where he’s getting less targets or snaps, then extrapolate that out to what would happen if he had an increased role. In his three years prior to being signed by the Patriots in 2014, Lafell averaged 43 catches on 72 targets for 639 yards and four touchdowns per season. His yards per reception were 14.9 and his yards per target average was 8.87.

The premise the Patriots were working under was that where other teams saw a 600-700 yard receiver, the Patriots saw a player who could produce the kind of 74 catch, 953 yard, and seven-touchdown season on 119 targets that he had for the Patriots in 2014. He had about 25 more targets with Tom Brady as his quarterback and he was asked to stick to his strengths as a route runner in that offense, which helped the team get almost 1000-yards out of a player who cost just 1.50% of the cap. That is at the intersection of the third and fourth tiers of the wide receiver market and typically a player who is likely to produce a 400 to 500-yard season at best. The Patriots got almost double the production value compared to his cost.

Trey Burton could be the same kind of player for the right team as he would be on a second tier contract for tight ends between one and a half and three percent of the cap. He only had 31 targets thrown his way in 2017, so what could his stat line look like if he got the 77 targets the Packers threw at Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks in 2017 as the Packers starter in 2018? He could end up being a 600-800 yard player behind the Packers receiving leaders like Adams and Nelson. As I note in Caponomics, “players in this [second] tier are great as a supplementary piece who can produce a mismatch against some teams, but who can’t provide the weekly consistency to build an offense around. Since the position takes time to develop, this tier is where teams will invest in a second contract player they believe could become a bigger contributor than he was previously as teams are willing to make a small risk of overpaying in an inexpensive market for the potential reward of a difficult mismatch. While top tier tight ends [between three and six and a half to seven percent of the cap] are the types that teams can trust to provide 800 to 900-yard plus seasons in a versatile pass catching group, second tier tight ends are the 400-yard plus type of players.” I also write, “targeting tight ends who have been underutilized, as second tight ends during their rookie contracts behind top tight ends can be a good strategy for finding production value at the position,” which is a mold that Burton fits.

Other potential signings at tight end could include Tyler Eifert, although his injury history is cause for concern. It’s up to whoever signs him to structure a deal that takes this into account, while also having a back-up who could start behind him, which is something I don’t think the Packers will have. What’s the price that makes it worth taking a chance on a player who has shown the potential to be a first tier tight end, but has played in just 24 of 64 potential games over the last four seasons? Is a one-year deal worth $3 million a good price? If Eifert is at that price, then it might be worth taking a risk on him no matter the situation regarding a team’s back-up. Austin Seferian-Jenkins is an interesting candidate, so is Cameron Brate who has the potential to be a highly valuable player just like Burton in that $5 million range. I think the Packers have to sign one of these tight ends, then also draft one in the middle rounds.

The Packers have four fifth round picks, which is a very good time to strike when it comes to tight ends. Here’s a draft success by position chart from Caponomics:

As you can see, tight end is the most successful position to draft in the fifth round out of any position and with the Packers slew of picks here, along with the depth of this draft at tight end, I’d love to see them draft two. I’d even draft two to present the opportunity to release Kendricks and gain $1,625,000 in cap space to use that more wisely than an investment in PFF’s 69th ranked tight end out of 71. I’ve already gone over the tight ends I really like in the last few write ups (which are linked at the bottom of this article), but just looking at Walter Football’s tight end rankings as a base for this, the tight ends who he has projected in the middle rounds is deep. Just to re-iterate what I’ve said elsewhere, I love Troy Fumagallli from Wisconsin and Adam Breneman from UMass, but the Packers will be doing much deeper work into this market and should choose whichever two late round players they think are best for their system.

Imagining that the Packers sign a tight end with a cap hit of $3 to $5 million in 2018, they’ll still have over $20 million in cap space after the wide receiver moves. The big need they have to solve this offseason, above all else, is cornerback, it was a huge hole in 2017. Damarious Randall was their best-ranked cornerback per Pro Football Focus in 2017 as the #81 ranked cornerback with a 70.9 rating. Their #2 cornerback was Davon House and he had a 50.4 rating as their 98th ranked cornerback. The inexperienced Josh Hawkins and Kevin King were equally bad with rankings of 107 and 115 while both graded under a 44.0 rating. Austin Gayle from Pro Football Focus has Malcolm Butler as the Packers “Dream Splash Signing” this offseason and I like that fit considering he’s still a good player and could be had for probably about $8 to $10 million a year after a drop in his PFF grade to 79.2 in 2017 from 88.1 in 2016 and his quizzical benching in the Super Bowl. The Packers being a team that looks for value and looks for the discounted player over the expensive one, this seems like a potential fit. An $8 million cap hit in 2018 would be 4.46% of the cap, which is a good second tier value for a player who has the potential to be a first tier player. Other signings could be Trumaine Johnson, Prince Amukamara, Kyle Fuller, Rashaan Melvin, or EJ Gaines. They could also be drafting a cornerback either with their first round pick or one of their other picks in the first three rounds, it’s an immediate need and Josh Jackson from Iowa could be available at #14. If they don’t want to go to free agency for a cornerback, then they should definitely be using the first round pick on a cornerback. If they believe they can get a true #1 cornerback in the first round, then maybe they can use the $8 to $10 million that might go to a free agent cornerback on an edge rusher, an interior offensive lineman, or they split it between both. Even if the young players already in Green Bay’s defensive backfield develop and improve in 2018, they need a potential #1 cornerback, which would then create depth and better match-ups down the line.

Say they spend $10 million on a cornerback, then the team has a little over $10 million in cap space. If Butler’s signed for $8 million, then they’d have over $12 million in cap space. At the safety position, they have to either re-sign Morgan Burnett or find a replacement. He could likely be had for a deal similar to the $7 million average per year that Darian Stewart got from the Broncos before the 2016 season. Say they re-sign him for that, which is probably what the Packers will do considering their homegrown philosophy, then they’ll have about $3 to $5 million in cap space to address their other needs. They should also be drafting a safety at some point in the draft considering their need for depth, their excess of draft picks, the way safeties can contribute on special teams, and the prevalence of nickel defense in the NFL.

With that $3 to $5 million left, the Packers need to solve some issues on the interior of their offensive line. Maybe they re-sign free agent Jahri Evans as he was their highest rated guard in 2018 as he could likely be retained for less than $3 million per year or maybe they find another replacement in a weak interior line class. Lane Taylor, exclusive rights free agent Justin McCray, and center Corey Linsley all had PFF ratings of 68.8 or below, so this is a spot that the Packers should be heavily focused on in the draft. It’s not a dire need though, Green Bay was Football Outsiders’ fifth best run blocking line, while they were the 28th ranked pass blocking line, which could be attributed to the loss of the mobility and pocket awareness that Rodgers has, plus both tackles, David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga, missing time during the season. This is why the Packers don’t necessarily need to make a big offseason investment on the line. The interior of the offensive line can be found in later rounds as the Patriots have proven over and over again, but it’s likely they should use one of their four picks in the first three rounds on an interior lineman, but also one of those fifth round picks.

With the signing of an interior offensive lineman, the Packers would have, at most, about $2 million in cap space, so they wouldn’t be able to make wholesale improvements to their front seven in free agency, but their front seven is better than one would think considering their issues in 2017 and it might be something they could supplement through the draft and with the right situational edge rusher for a few million dollars. They could make some more moves to clear cap space and hope to sign someone to a similar one-year, $3.5 million contract to the one Ahmad Brooks was on in 2017, but who will hopefully produce at a higher level. Players like Trent Murphy, Kony Ealy, Junior Galette, and Mitch Unrein might be candidates for this kind of contract. Maybe they can even use one of their 11 draft picks to trade for a younger and less expensive edge player.

For the edge rushers already on their roster, Clay Matthews is still a top player at his position and Nick Perry is a good player. Interior linemen Kenny Clark, Mike Daniels, and Dean Lowery are all good starters. Linebackers Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez are top 25 starters at their position. Other than increasing the talent in their rotation, their front seven is in good enough shape to win with improvements to the rest of the roster, including an offense with Rodgers at QB and at defensive back because teams will be forced to play more of a shoot-out style of football against Rodgers, which will make opponents more one dimensional and the Packers will have a defensive backfield more prepared to stop the pass.

So through this article so far we’ve addressed potentially drafting one receiver, one cornerback, one safety, two tight ends and two interior offensive linemen. With 11 draft picks, some of them coming through compensatory picks due to players they drafted going on to bigger veteran contracts elsewhere, the benefit of great drafting, the Packers still have four picks after addressing those needs. They should address their defensive line with two of those picks to increase their ability to rotate linemen, then use the other two on an inside linebacker and potentially another running back in an attempt to ensure they have a rushing offense in 2018. Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones, and Ty Montgomery could form a good three-headed backfield, but a fourth back could add necessary depth and prepare them for Montgomery’s free agency bid in 2019. A good draft pick at inside linebacker could prepare them for Jake Ryan hitting free agency in 2019 as well.

As stated earlier, the Packers are on the cusp of greatness still. They’re just a year removed from their NFC Championship Game loss to the Falcons and Aaron Rodgers is still one of the three best quarterbacks in the NFL, so that alone will help them compete for a championship. It’s up to one of the best front offices in the NFL to continue to make the homegrown moves with supplementary free agent pieces like the great organizations typically do. I think the Packers can make the necessary adjustments in their positions of need to compete for a Super Bowl in 2018, but potentially more well-rounded contenders like the Eagles, Cowboys, Rams, Saints, and Vikings could be road blocks for a Packers team that may have too much invested in the top of their roster to build a similarly well rounded roster.

Zack Moore is a writer for OverTheCap.com, an NFLPA certified agent, and author of the recently released book titled, “Caponomics: Building Super Bowl Champions,” which is now available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @ZackMooreNFL. 

Other Offseason Overviews:

New York Jets

Miami Dolphins

Philadelphia Eagles

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Are the Jets Prepared to Pay Kirk Cousins $60M in 2018?

Brian Costello wrote an article yesterday that indicated that the Jets were hot for Kirk Cousins and might be willing to do whatever it takes to get him. The number of $150 million over 5 years was mentioned and I think that is feasible for a team to consider. However the number that did really surprise me was when a source indicated that $60 million in the first year might be what it takes to get a deal done. So I wanted to explore that number and how it could possibly work for the Jets or any other team. Continue reading Are the Jets Prepared to Pay Kirk Cousins $60M in 2018? »

Top 100 Free Agent List

Since I have been receiving so many questions about free agents I thought it might be fun to put together a top 100 unrestricted free agents list. I ranked the players in order of where I think their APY might land. I didn’t put in estimated values but the cutoff for the bottom of the list is around $3.5 million. I am sure there are a few names I simply missed here and there so feel free to ask about any players and Ill try to answer in the comments. Remember these are just one persons opinion to give a general overview of free agency. Clicking on the table headers should allow you to sort by team, position, age, etc…

RankNamePositionTeamAgeSnapsNotes
1Kirk CousinsQBRedskins301012Biggest name QB to hit free agency since Peyton Manning in 2012. Could challenge for $30 million a year if market breaks right.
2Drew BreesQBSaints391034Veteran QB still plays at a high level. Likely to stay in New Orleans with a deal signed right before start of free agency
3Demarcus LawrenceDECowboys2670414.5 sack season makes him a lock for the franchise tag. Would make a massive payday if he goes to market.
4Case KeenumQBVikings301016Right place, right time for Keenum last year. When a QB hits like that they generally get a good payday. Transition  tag could be in play, though likely too expensive.
5Ziggy AnsahDELions29516Ultra talented player but injuries are a concern. Hard to see a number 5 pick off a 12 sack year not getting close to $15M no matter what negatives exist.
6LeVeon BellRBSteelers26945Most used running back in the league will likely get tagged again and earn close to $15 million in the process.
7Jarvis LandryWRDolphins26932Market dynamics for receivers changed again this year and Landry should benefit. Only once in the last 5 years have the top receivers not gotten massive free agent paydays
8Nate SolderLTPatriots301116Left tackles are like QBs when it comes to the payscale. None are available so those who are get paid near the top.
9Andrew NorwellGPanthers271079Will see the new high water mark for guards. Hottest free agent position the last two years and Norwell upped his stock significantly this year.
10Trumaine JohnsonCBRams28938Versatile corner is probably the only player more teams than not think could be a top cover corner. Generally such players hit double digit APYs.
11Justin PughGGiants28435Positional need and versatility make Pugh a good bet to reach the $10 million mark despite nagging injuries.
12Allen RobinsonWRJaguars253Best receiver available but coming off injury has me concerned about the kind of offers that will come in. Could be tagged, but I could see logic in taking 1 year deal with a contending team with a good QB.
13Malcolm ButlerCBPatriots281040Stock took a big hit this year but he should still do well in free agency since most corners do pretty well.
14Sheldon RichardsonDTSeahawks28655Cant see teams risking a long term contract with Richardson, but he is too talented for a team to pass up on a one year contract. Last year this position saw multiple players take deals like this.
15Sammy WatkinsWRRams25778Wouldn’t surprise me for Watkins to earn $11 million a year from the Rams or be lucky to find $7 million elsewhere. Inconsistent but very young and has a high pedigree.
16LaMarcus JoyerSRams28688Stood out in his walk year and is pretty versatile in coverage. Those players in recent years have scored big contracts in free agency.
17Prince AmukamaraCBBears29848Solid corner that has taken one year contracts since leaving the Giants. Probably time to take a 3 or 4 year deal for over $8 million a season.
18Dontari PoeDTFalcons28742Good player but injury issues and inability to pressure the QB will likely keep him out from making the kind of money the better interior d-line players make.
19Sam BradfordQBVikings3191A pure gamble given that a strong gust of wind might break him. Not sure any free agent lost more money this year than Bradford.
20Jimmy GrahamTESeahawks32730Aging tight ends best days are behind him, but he is a solid red zone threat and has to be respected in passing game. Doubtful he matches his old contract but $8 million isnt a reach considering his name.
21Kyle FullerCBBears261015Too many questionable years for teams to gamble on a big contract.  Would expect a moderate one year contract knowing big money awaits next year.
22Eric ReidS49ers27740Versatile player that can do a lot on the field but has been a bit lost in the 49ers shuffle the last few years. Team could get a big bargain here if in the $8M range.
23Star LotuleleiDTPanthers29590Solid defensive tackle will get a lot of looks from teams looking for an affordable player that can play both run and pass.
24AJ McCarronQBBengals2826Somehow I have a feeling his stock increased by never playing and the Browns almost making a ridiculous trade for him. Still hard to see him breaking the bank in a crowded field of options this year.
25Kenny VaccaroSSaints27618Salary may be based more on where he was drafted and potential than anything done on the field. Still upside gets players paid in free agency.
26Morgan BurnettSPackers29728Should gain interest as a second safety similar to the crop of players who all got contracts in the $7 million range last season
27Tre BostonSChargers261041Plays pretty much every down and doesn’t make many blatant mistakes. Doesn’t have the kind of upside other might.
28Brent GrimesCBBuccaneers35781Part of me wants to say his age should put him down in the $3 million range, but hes been good enough to probably hold out and wait for something close to the $6.5M he earned last season.
29Jay CutlerQBDolphins35764If Cutler had a better attitude hed be locked in somewhere at close to $20 million a year. Since he doesn’t I guess the question is will he play for $7 million in 2018?
30Bennie LoganDTChiefs29574One year gamble didn’t hurt or help him. Probably lands on a 43 team looking for a situational player.
31Isaiah CrowellRBBrowns25536Consistent year to year and some teams may see more upside since he put up all his numbers on the worst team in the NFL. Can he break the $6m barrier?
32Teddy BridgewaterQBVikings269Another enigma because of injury, but a 1st round guy who certainly didn’t bust should be worth between $6 and $7 million for a year or two. Could be a steal if healthy.
33Josh McCownQBJets39819McCown had best year of his career before his annual injury cut it short. Still its hard to see his stock improving any from last year given age.
34Trey BurtonTEEagles27300High upside tight end should get more action than Graham though not as much money. Should top $6M and $7m is a possibility given the way teams pay for tight ends.
35Paul RichardsonWRSeahawks26816Should have established himself in the lower second tier of receivers. Intriguing because of down field ability and chance to thrive in a different style offense.
36TJ CarrieCBRaiders281024Should get the top slot money this year unless teams see him playing the outside. If he sticks with Raiders his money could go up based on how they paid others.
37Marqise LeeWRJaguars27738Decent second target on a team with a top level 1 to draw defenses. Likely doesn’t have the big play upside to see stock rise despite lack of top options this year.
38EJ GainesCBBills26654Had a good year in Buffalo and should have no problems earning similar to the $6-$6.5M contracts the decent slot guys have received in recent years.
39Bashaud BreelandCBRedskins26856Has the physical tools to score a big contract and it would not stun me is someone reached big for him, but more likely he’ll earn a mid/lower level 2nd corner contract.
40Aaron ColvinCBJaguars27705Everything about Gaines pretty much applies here.
41NaVorro BowmanLBRaiders30999Often injured and doesn’t play a position that typically gets paid big, but he plays big enough when healthy to top the $6 million a year mark.
42Nigel BradhamLBEagles29923Had a great year for the Eagles and was in almost every play, but position rarely gets paid big in free agency. Maybe he will be the exception.
43Adrian ClaybornDEFalcons30533Most of his top line production all came in one game so his overall numbers will be discounted because of that. Still a solid veteran that can rush the passer should get a decent raise over his current $4.25M per year deal.
44Morris ClaiborneCBJets28921Had a solid year with the Jets but had to be near top of the NFL in defensive holding calls.  Affordable second corner but teams wont look for upside.
45Carlos HydeRB49ers27786Shown that he can play in all phases of the game over last two seasons and three down players will break $5 million.
46Weston RichburgCGiants27239The best available center, though season ending on IR with a concussion could scare some teams off.
47Ryan JensenCRavens271086Had a good season in his walk year and overall effort week in and out will make him a solid 2nd tier center.
48Byron MaxwellCBSeahawks30584Play looked worse because of his contract but veteran players like Maxwell can usually find in the mid $5 million range.
49Denico AutryDTRaiders28592Productive pass rusher. If teams think he can start and be more consistent could be worth more.
50Austin Seferian JenkinsTEJets26655Expect ASJ to get paid based on narrow salary band at position and his draft status.
51Kyle WilliamsDTBills34758Veteran DT should be able to score a nice two year contract in Buffalo or elsewhere.
52Mike WallaceWRRavens32714Wallace is still productive as a secondary target and is a known quantity. He should be able to be in the $5 million range again on a short term deal.
53Josh KlineGTitans291023Not a difference maker, but a solid professional that can solidify the guard position.
54Kony EalyEdgeJets27452Enigma player. Has ability to be one of best bargains in the NFL if he develops or wasted cap space if he doesn’t.
55Paul PoslusznyLBJaguars34481Aging linebacker should earn close to what he did last season, likely with the Jaguars.
56Chris HubbardRTSteelers27781Made the most of opportunity last season and should have a chance to earn a low end starting contract for a right tackle.
57Dion LewisRBPatriots28404Solid run at the end of the season to improve his stock. If teams think he can catch he should find a nice market.
58Patrick RobinsonCBEagles31710Really good season for the Eagles, but at 31 and an up and down career the ceiling is pretty limited.
59Trent MurphyEdgeRedskins280Spent the year on IR and was also suspended. Lost a chance to cash in because of that but should get 3rd tier rusher money with incentives to increase.
60John BrownWRCardinals28898Ultimate boom or bust type. Numbers down the last two seasons but could find that 1,000 yard form with new setting. Could see him earning more if teams get hot for him.
61Ross CockrellCBGiants27681Should add solid depth to a secondary. Has started the last two years more often than not, but ultimate role will probably be as an extra DB.
62DaQuan JonesDETitans27437Fills the role of professional lineman on a team with talent.  Paired with right personnel could surprise.
63Jordan MatthewsWRBills265092017 was a lost year. If teams discount the season expect him to earn in the $6-7M range, but if they don’t hell stick here in the $4.5M range.
64Avery WilliamsonLBTitans26654Jack of all trades linebacker, but unless you standout its hard to breakout in free agency as a linebacker.
65Jack MewhortGColts27313Solid player that could hit the $6 million range, but injuries have derailed him and he didn’t stand out enough when not injured. Could be a 1 year deal.
66Tahir WhiteheadLBLions28950On the field nearly every down and a pretty sure tackler. Id imagine a new contract very similar to last extension at $4 million.
67Alex OkaforEdgeSaints27486Was on track to potentially have a career year but a late Achilles ended his chances. If teams think he is healthy he should double his salary from last year.
68Taylor GabrielWRFalcons27508Bit of a niche player that didn’t stand out enough this year to move into the 2nd WR tier, but should be in the 3rd tier of players.
69Marcus GilchristSTexans30817Did enough this past season to remove stigma of Jets years and move back into solid veteran money.
70Zach BrownLBRedskins29834Not a lot of interest last year at a big money number and cant see anything this year that will change that.
71Jerick McKinnonRBVikings26528Good receiever and receiving skills are always sought after and paid for in free agency.
72Anthony HitchensLBCowboys26547Flashes at times and that could push his price up a little but should settle in the $4 to $5 million range.
73Zach FultonG/CChiefs27794Utility interior lineman that should be an affordable part of a good line.
74Justin EllisDTRaiders28462This the price range for most interior players who can log 40% playtime.
75Demario DavisLBJets291118Good season in his return to the Jets, but its hard to picture any more interest than when he was a free agent a few years back.
76Antonio GatesTEChargers38500Nearing the end of his career but can still fill a role for a team if he doesn’t call it quits.
77Julius PeppersEdgePanthers38500Can still dominate in the pass rush and is worth more, but he signed in this range last year and given his age expect it to be the same.
78Todd DavisLBBroncos26522Good run defender in the Broncos defense. Probably doesn’t do enough other things to have big value elsewhere.
79Albert WilsonWRChiefs26538Had a big standout game at the end of the season, but overall has been too inconsistent to earn more than 3/4 money.
80Tyler EifertTEBengals28104$8 million talent in an $8 body. Hasn’t been able to hold up to NFL grind and its only his talent level that will have a team take a risk for more than the minimum.
81Rashaan MelvinCBColts29552Had best season of his career, but only 10 games and has already bounced around the NFL.
82Spencer LongCRedskins28394Injury kept him from enhancing status but he should be able to break out from the $3M and under players.
83Nickell Robey-ColemanCBRams26658Decent 3rd or 4th corner whose salary is probably a bit compromised based on prior contracts.
84Connor BarwinEdgeRams32659Since this is not a big year for free agent rushers expect Barwin to sign a similar one year contract for a team needing a steady presence.
85Kareem MartinEdgeCardinals26458Intriguing prospect is only 26 and could find a team to gamble in the $3M tier for a season.
86Beau AllenDTEagles27422Didn’t have the kind of year he needed to make a free agent splash, but he still plays a role that is valuable around the league.
87William HayesEdgeDolphins33274Struggled in Miami but probably has enough name value to get a one year deal in the $3 million tier but with a low guarantee.
88Barkevious MingoEdgeColts28501Mingo is pretty much settled into this group now as a part time jack of all trades but with a very limited upside.
89Dontrelle InmanWRBears29457I could see him moving up a tier but nothing stands out enough for me to really justify it.
90Terrelle PryorWRRedskins29378Awful season and his expectations are going to be terribly low this year as he takes another one year contract to try to salvage his career.
91Ryan FitzpatrickQBBuccaneers36299Probably the top rated backup available.
92Bradley McDougaldSSeahawks28681Think he is worth more than this but something turned teams off last season and has that really changed?
93Tramon WilliamsCBCardinals35670Veteran had a good season last year which should set him up for a 3rd corner kind of contract.
94Haloti NgataDTLions34145No idea if Ngata wants to keep playing for a low price but expect a $3 millionish base value with incentives based on playtim.
95Jaron BrownWRCardinals28415May draw more interest than this based on skillset but hard to picture a team really going in too deep.
96Kendall WrightWRBears29580Should find a home as a third target on a team with a bad or young group of receivers.
97Erik WaldenEdgeTitans33581Veteran that can still rush the passer a bit should find a home on a pass rush needed team.
98Terrence NewmanCBVikings40560Ageless player seemingly signs almost the same contract every season.
99Brandon FuscoG49ers301088End of stay with the Vikings probably damaged him too much but should be a cheaper option to plug in on a good line and he wont hurt you.
100Ryan GrantWRRedskins28616Does just enough to have a role for a team but not enough for a team to overreach on him.

Analyzing the Philadelphia Eagles 2018 Offseason

2018 Philadelphia Eagles (Cap Numbers as of 2/7; source Over The Cap.com; projected $179.5 M cap)

2018 Team Cap = $179,386,843

Total Cap Liabilities = $190,054,390

Top 51 = $187,166,783

Dead Money = $486,941

Team Cap – (Top 51 + Dead Money) = Cap Space

Cap Space = -$8,266,881

Rookie Pool = $4,618,436

Cap Space – Rookie Pool = -$12,885,317

Draft Picks:

6 draft picks: 1/32, 4/132, 4/133, 5/158, 5/171, 6/209

Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com Team Needs:

  • LT, LB, CB
  • “The Eagles addressed their need at RB with the addition of Jay Ajayi, but the season-ending injury to Jason Peters will likely make the left tackle spot a high priority in the offseason. It would be surprising if they didn’t look for help at linebacker, and the CB corps isn’t quite where it needs to be.”

Team’s Free Agents:

Andrew Beaton from The Wall Street Journal and I had a discussion regarding the potential of the Eagles trading Nick Foles for the article at this link, which got me started on my thinking for the Eagles offseason. The Eagles are projected to be almost $12.9 million over the cap after accounting for the cap space currently projected to go to their draft picks, which could be a bit of a concern, but they have almost the entire core of their roster signed through 2018 with many of those players signed through 2019 and beyond. This article from Jimmy Kempski at The Philly Voice appropriately titled “Eagles should be Super Bowl contenders for the foreseeable future,” laid this out, illustrating the years that players on their roster are signed through. It’s worth checking out.

There are three starters who are free agents in 2018: outside linebacker Nigel Bradham, running back LeGarrette Blount, and slot cornerback Patrick Robinson. Safety Corey Graham wasn’t a starter, but was a big contributor and played 84% of snaps in the Super Bowl. Tight end Trey Burton wasn’t a starter either, but was a key role player for the team as a back-up tight end and special teams contributor. Each of these players are candidates to be re-signed, but the cap space needs to get out of the red first before the Eagles can even think about re-signing them. Running back Darren Sproles is also a free agent, but I think that 2017 fourth-round pick Donnel Pumphrey was drafted to replace him, while Corey Clement has shown the potential to help in replacing Sproles’ production.

There are plenty of reasons to not move on from Foles. He just earned a Super Bowl MVP for a franchise that has never won a Super Bowl with 373 passing yards, three touchdowns, an interception, and a 65.1% completion percentage. Over the course of his three-playoff games, Foles completed 72.6% of passes for 324 yards per game, with six touchdowns to that one interception. He had a passer rating of 115.7 with 9.2 yards per attempt. He looked like the quarterback he was during a Pro Bowl 2013 season under Chip Kelly when he had an all-time record of 10.54 adjusted yards per attempt according to Scott Barrett of Pro Football Focus.

With Carson Wentz coming off a torn ACL and LCL that was suffered on December 10th against the Rams, there’s a reasonable chance that he won’t be 100% for Week 1 with a nine to 12 month recovery window. If this is the case, the Eagles need someone who could give them a chance to win their first few games if Wentz is out and I don’t know if 2016 sixth round pick Nate Sudfeld is that guy. The Eagles decision regarding Foles will involve the opinions of doctors regarding the status of Wentz’s knee before they trade Foles. Even if Wentz wasn’t heading into 2018 coming off this injury, Foles is the kind of back-up quarterback that any team would want and be willing to pay as he can obviously come in and win if the starter goes down.

Foles is slated to cost $7.6 million against the 2018 cap, which is projected to be 4.23% of the cap. Wentz is below him at $7,275,365 (4.05%) and they combine for a very manageable 8.28%, which is a great number for two players who have proven themselves talented enough that they’d both likely be worth over 8% of the cap on their own if they were to hit the free agency market tomorrow. The issue for the 2018 Eagles though is that they’re already well above the projected cap and they need to find a way to make space, so Foles with just $2.4 million in dead money if he’s traded before June 1st and $600,000 in dead money if he’s traded after June 1st is a candidate to be moved at the height of his value to clear some of that cap space. In a way, it couldn’t have worked out better for the Eagles to win a Super Bowl and for Foles to play in a manner that shot his value sky high, but it’s also put the Eagles in a position where they might have to trade a player who became a local legend along his Super Bowl run. If they do trade him, it will be a public relations move they’ll have to get in front of and explain the reasons from a salary cap perspective to the fan base.

Before we resign ourselves to shipping away Foles, let’s look at how they could clear some cap space without having to move on from him. Wide receiver Torrey Smith will almost certainly be traded or released with a cap hit of $5 million in 2018 with no dead money and Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson having been drafted as the candidates to replace his deep threat role. Hollins proved he has the potential to be that player during the 2017 season, while Gibson had the explosive big play ability in college that made him an enticing fifth round pick for the Birds. Smith had a good season for the team with 36 catches for 430 yards and two touchdowns, but as the fourth leading receiver behind Zach Ertz, Alshon Jeffrey, and Nelson Agholor, the team can afford to move on from him and gain the $5 million they can from his release. With the team at about $12.9 million over the cap before this, his release brings them to $7.9 million over. With a projected cap hit of 2.79% of the cap in 2018, that’s the kind of player you want to produce at least 700 receiving yards in a season, which is not who Smith is for the Eagles, so they’ll move on from him.

The next likely release is long-time tight end Brent Celek who just turned 33-years old during this Super Bowl run. The Eagles gave him a three-year deal in January 2016 that has $5 million against the cap in 2018 with just $1 million in dead money, which will save them another $4 million for a player who’s totaled just 27 catches for 285 receiving yards with one touchdown in the two years since he signed that contract. Starting tight end Zach Ertz was Pro Football Focus’ fifth best player at the position with an 82.5 rating, Trey Burton was the 13th best tight end with a 75.6 rating, then Celek was the 62nd rated tight end out of 71 with a 43.6 rating. If they want to keep a tight end to back up Ertz, it seems that they’d ideally like to try to re-sign Burton, who could be available around three to four million per year, but who they’d have to clear even more cap space to re-sign. Joel Corry from CBS Sports points out that Burton’s receiving skills could entice some team into giving him something similar to the five-year, $32.5 million extension with $16 million in guarantees that Vance McDonald signed with the 49ers in 2016, which would be too pricey for Philadelphia. Burton would be a loss on special teams as well as he played the second most special teams snaps on the Eagles roster with 308, which was 67.54% of special teams snaps.

With Celek off the books, the Eagles would now be $3.9 million over the cap. Jason Fitzgerald of Over The Cap does think there is the potential for an extension that lowers his salary significantly if he wants to keep playing. As he rightfully points out, “Celek is an institution in Philly, having spent 11 seasons with the Eagles, and it’s hard to imagine the team without him.” With this in mind, if they could get him closer to $1 million, keeping him on the roster might be a good solution and still clear cap space, especially if Burton leaves.

A potential two-pronged option that could keep the rest of the roster intact would be signing defensive end Brandon Graham to an extension and re-structuring center Jason Kelce’s contract. Pushing their cap hits higher in the future has it’s risks as well considering that the team already has $180.5 million going towards their roster in 2019 with a projected cap of $193 million. This is a concern, but considering most of the core of their roster is signed through 2019, it can be managed. Free agents they may want to re-sign that hit free agency after the 2018 season are Graham, linebacker Jordan Hicks, cornerback Ronald Darby, running back Jay Ajayi, defensive end Chris Long, and Nick Foles, so there are some concerns regarding re-signing players, but the roster is in good shape to continue along the path it’s on.

Graham was PFF’s eighth best edge defender in 2017 with the sixth best pass rush rating and that epic sack fumble caused against Tom Brady in the final two minutes of the Super Bowl. He led all Eagles defensive linemen playing 64.37% of snaps in 2017 and was their highest rated edge defender. While he’s about to head into his 30-year old season, it seems he has plenty left in the tank, so extending him past 2018 seems to be a good strategy to lock a productive player in and create a bit of cap space. He is owed a salary of $7 million in 2018 with $1 million prorated against the cap, so an $8 million cap hit. A wrench thrown into this is that 31-year old Calais Campbell just signed a contract worth $15 million per season, which might make Graham and his agent want to wait a year to hit free agency as he’s been one of the most consistent and productive defensive linemen in the NFL for half a decade now. If they don’t think he’ll have that kind of market, he might be convinced to sign a three or four year extension worth $10 million per year. This wouldn’t be an inconceivable figure and would still be managable into the future. If they were to do this, they still might be able to save let’s say $2 million against the 2018 cap and convert most of his current salary into a signing bonus. If they did this, then they’d still be $1.9 million over the salary cap.

The other wrench thrown into a potential extension for Graham is that the Eagles likely drafted Derek Barnett in the first round in 2017 to eventually replace him or Curry, so having that low-cost defensive end might already be factored into their internal future cap spending projections as they consider where their cap will be once Carson Wentz finishes his rookie contract and is on a second contract worth over 10% of the cap. Joel Corry writes that he doesn’t think Graham would accept anything less than a four-year, $58 million extension with $34 million in guarantees similar to what Everson Griffen received in July.

Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan’s cap hit of $13 million in 2019 is one thing that could come back to bite the Eagles as he’s not the same caliber of player as Graham and fellow interior defender Fletcher Cox has a $22 million cap hit himself in 2019. This may force them to move on from Graham after 2018 if they don’t figure out an extension that works for both parties.

Kelce was PFF’s #1 center in 2017 with a 91.3 rating. His run blocking grade of 95.1 was over four points higher than Travis Frederick at number two and while his pass block rating of 62.0 isn’t excellent, centers often get help in pass protection, which makes this an inefficiency that can be avoided through offensive scheme. With two tackles in Jason Peters and Lane Johnson that can win one-on-one match-ups, the interior of the line usually has the numbers to double team defensive tackles. He’s currently signed through 2020, which is his 33-year old season, an age that interior linemen can be effective through because of the position relying more on strength than speed or quickness. A comparison that I often use in thinking about football athletes is a comparison with UFC fighters. The heavyweight division, one filled with strong sluggers, has multiple title contenders in their late-thirties and current champion Stipe Miocic is 35-years old. Similarly, interior linemen can use their strength to stay relevant longer than positions that need to use more athleticism and finesse to succeed.

Kelce’s in the last year with dead money on the books as he has $1.2 million in dead money against a cap hit of $7.2 million. His 2019 and 2020 seasons have salaries of $6.5 and $7 million with no dead money against the cap, so if he were to see his performance decrease in 2018, he’d be at the risk of being released. Now, considering his level of play in 2017, this is unlikely, but they may be able to add another year to the contract, convert much of his $6 million salary in 2018 into a signing bonus and decreasing his cap hit by a few million. Let’s say they create another $2 or 3 million in cap space through doing this. That’d put the team at $100,000 to $1.1 million under the salary cap. Even if they restructured these two deals, the Eagles are still in a position where they wouldn’t be able to do much from a free agency perspective. They’d be able to clear some more space with some cuts on the bottom half of their roster, but they’d basically be in a position where they’d only be able to add draft picks and not be able to re-sign their own free agents.

If they’re looking for a candidate to take a pay cut, Jason Peters might be one. Joel Corry writes, “It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Eagles asked Peters to take a pay cut. The 36-year-old balked at a salary reduction last year. Instead, he was given a one-year contract extension running through the 2019 season in which his 2017 salary was fully guaranteed while his 2018 pay dropped by almost $3 million. Peters may continue to resist any pay cut efforts because the knee injury limiting his playing time triggered a $1 million salary de-escalator for 2018.”

These are potential solutions to getting closer to their cap breakeven point, but I’m not sure how likely they even are, especially when Nick Foles presents an opportunity to clear cap space and acquire picks in the first three rounds, which would be important with no picks between #32 and #132 currently. There’s the potential to get up to about a million under the cap by restructuring Graham and Kelce, but that feels a bit more unlikely than moving on from a back-up quarterback making 4.23% of the cap who could net you a couple draft picks or even potentially a draft pick and a competent back-up quarterback in a trade as well.

This brings us to the potential landing spots for Nick Foles and why they might move on from him. The first four rounds of the draft are where teams have the highest probability of successfully drafting starters and the Eagles don’t have a draft pick for 100 selections in this window. They traded their second round pick in the Carson Wentz trade, they traded their third round pick with Jordan Matthews for Ronald Darby, and they traded away the fourth round pick they received from Minnesota in the Sam Bradford trade for Jay Ajayi, so they made some moves that directly contributed to their Super Bowl win. Zierlein writes that the Eagles only needs are at left tackle, linebacker, and cornerback with linebacker being the only potential immediate need with the possibility that they won’t be able to re-sign Bradham if they don’t clear enough space. Turning 29 in September, Bradham could still continue to be a very valuable and productive player who might see a contract that pays $5.5 to $7 million a year, so trading Foles to clear space to that kind of player at a position of need could likely be worth it for the team. Corry writes that the Eagles could “revisit trading linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who is under contract the next two seasons for $13 million and has a $7.6 million 2018 cap number. Kendricks would revert back to his role as the third linebacker, where his playing time would be limited with a healthy Hicks and Bradham sticking around because of defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s preference for putting five defensive backs on the field. $4.4 million of cap space would be created by trading Kendricks.”

They might be able to do both if they add the clearance of $5.2 million more of cap space through a Foles trade before June 1st, plus some smaller ancillary moves. If they want to hold on to Foles until after June 1st to give more time to see if Wentz will be ready for the 2018 season, then a trade after June 1st would leave the Eagles with just $600,000 worth of dead money, which would clear $7 million worth of cap space. Foles has a $3 million roster bonus that comes to fruition on March 18th that could make the Eagles want to trade him before then, but that may be unlikely, leaving them with $3 million in sunk cost that they’re fine with taking if it nets them a healthy return in a trade. They’ve proven they’ll sink costs into quarterbacks with their trade value on the market in the past with the Bradford deal.

If they want to hold onto Foles, it might serve them well the same way Bradford did for a desperate team with an injury to their quarterback and in a position where they feel they could succeed shelling out a first round pick. Think about it, in 2016 Teddy Bridgewater went down and Minnesota traded a first and a fourth round pick for Sam Bradford who was a second tier quarterback the year before. In 2017, Ryan Tannehill went down, so the Dolphins gave Jay Cutler $10 million to play for them, which was 5.99% of the cap, and he’s not even worth that lower price. If that trend continues, which it has a decent chance of doing, don’t forget Tony Romo going down in 2016 preseason as well, maybe the Eagles can get another first round pick and a third or fourth in the 2019 NFL Draft for Foles if they can’t that kind of draft haul prior to the 2018 draft.

If the Eagles really want to clear some cap space and gain some draft picks or low-cost talent, trading Vinny Curry could be an option. Curry was terrific in 2017, but it’s still an option. He was PFF’s 21st ranked edge defender with an 84.8 rating and he had the 21st highest pass rush productivity rating of all edge defenders at 10.8, so moving on from him would be a pretty unexpected move. With just $2 million in dead money after June 1st and an $11 million cap hit, I don’t think a trade will happen because of his ability, but the potential clearance of that much cap space makes it worth mentioning. It becomes more possible if they draft a defensive end who seems like he could become a starter with Graham, Derek Barnett, and Chris Long already under contract as edge rushers. Having Curry in that group with Fletcher Cox and Timmy Jernigan on the interior would make their defensive line one of the best in the NFL again in 2018, so I don’t see this move as a likely one, but, again, worth mentioning as it makes it all the more likely that a Foles trade occurs. For the record, I don’t think they move on from Curry, especially not because they’d rather keep a back-up quarterback than a top 20 to 30 edge defender.

As I write in Caponomics: Building Super Bowl Champions, the goal of teams in the NFL seems to either be to win through elite quarterback play or have a low-cost quarterback and build a pass rush that can decrease the performance of the opposing team’s quarterback. The Eagles are in position to have an elite low-cost quarterback in Carson Wentz, probably the best rookie contract quarterback in the NFL, plus the league’s best pass rush. That’s an opportunity for success they probably can’t pass up to keep a back-up quarterback who could net them multiple draft picks and maybe even a back-up quarterback to replace him in the process.

Left tackle still has Peters signed through 2019, Halapoulivaati Vaitai is signed through 2019 as well, and right tackle Lane Johnson, who could become their left tackle one day, is signed through 2021. They’ll likely lose cornerback Patrick Robinson, who was a terrific slot cornerback for them, but it seems that second round pick Sidney Jones will easily slot in and replace him in 2018. Darby is signed for 2018, Jalen Mills is signed through 2019 and Rasul Douglas seems like a future starter for the team who might allow them to move on from Darby after 2018. The team doesn’t have any desperate needs and may be poised to repeat as champions better than any champion we’ve seen this decade, other than the Patriots who are always prepared to repeat.

With this in mind the Eagles don’t really have much in terms of immediate needs, they could survive without a pick in between #32 and #132 because their Super Bowl roster is almost completely intact heading into the 2018 season, but we should be looking towards the free agents in 2019 and 2020 for a picture of positions they would be wise to draft potential low-cost, rookie contract replacements for upcoming free agents. This is something that the best organizations are able to do, when your roster is in good shape, you can plan for needs that are a year or two ahead and the Eagles are in position to do that right now.

Looking at their free agency class for next year, Graham would be one if they don’t agree on an extension, linebacker Jordan Hicks, Darby, Ajayi, Foles if they don’t trade him, Celek if they don’t cut him, Long, reserve offensive guard Chance Warmack, defensive end Steven Means, defensive tackle Destiny Vaeao, and quarterback Nate Sudfeld.

Their free agency class for 2020 includes left tackle Jason Peters, outside linebacker Mychal Kendricks, Torrey Smith in the unlikely case that he’s not released this year, starting guard Stefen Wisniewski, wide receiver Nelson Agholor after the fifth-year option tied to his first round rookie contract, Mills, Vaitai, special teamer Chris Maragos, punter Donnie Jones, reserve guard Isaac Seumalo, running back Wendell Smallwood, linebacker and their leading special teamer in terms of snap count Kamu Grugier-Hill, linebacker Joe Walker, and running back Corey Clement. They have three exclusive rights free agents in long-snapper Rick Lovato, wide receiver Marcus Johnson, and kicker Jake Elliott.

This brings us to potential destinations for Nick Foles if he is to be traded, then after that we can discuss the draft strategy the Eagles could take on. The candidates I have considered are the Browns, Jets, Bills, Bengals, Broncos, Vikings, Cardinals, and potentially the Jaguars with it really coming down to who loses out on the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes or who decides to excuse themselves from paying Kirk Cousins far more than it’s likely he’ll ever be worth.

Just to sort that out before we get into Foles, I think Cousins ends up either going to the Browns or Vikings. The Browns have over $100 million in cap space with a projected cap near $225 million, so they could construct a contract similar to Jimmy Garoppolo’s deal with the 49ers that took advantage of their cap carryover and excess cap space.

Cleveland has had a historic number of players on rookie contracts the last two seasons with all of their draft picks. In those draft picks they have some good pieces on rookie contracts at key positions like defensive ends Myles Garrett and Emmanuel Ogbah, wide receivers Josh Gordon (still under team control at a low-cost with an exclusive rights free agent designation for 2018) and Corey Coleman, tight ends David Njoku and Seth DeValve, cornerback Brien Boddy-Calhoun, and others. They have good veterans on their offensive line. Cousins would be protected and they could draft Saquon Barkley with the #1 or #4 pick and have a great rushing offense to support Cousins. He could be the missing piece to a good roster and I wouldn’t be surprised if this was that strategy of what they’ve been building towards the last few years with the cap space to sign him and a bevy of young players around him to further minimize the impact of his high cap hits. As I wrote in my New York Jets offseason overview, Scot McCloughan believes Cousins is looking for a situation where he can succeed and, surprisngly, the Browns may be one of the best ones.

An issue with Cousins going to the Browns is that McCloughan just started with the Browns as a draft consultant and he said recently that Cousins’ is not a “special” player and McCloughan has Baker Mayfield as his best quarterback on the draft board hands down.

The next potential landing spot is the Vikings as they’re a place where Cousins could succeed, which, along with the ability to pay him, is the main thing I’m concerned with when looking at this situation. I think he and his agent smartly took the money they could from Dan Snyder and moved on knowing something a friend with a unique perspective on the situation told me in 2009: the Redskins will never win with Dan Snyder as their owner. The Vikings have a projected $52.5 million after paying out their rookie pool contracts, so having Cousins at $27 or $28 million would still leave an already good roster with the cap space to pursue some players who could fill some holes. The pass catcher group is already deep and at a reasonable cost with Adam Thielen, Stephon Diggs, Kyle Rudolph, Jarius Wright, and Laquon Treadwell. They have Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray under contract next season and they have a great defense. The Vikings made the NFC Championship with Case Keenum as their quarterback, so Cousins may rightfully be thinking: “if they can do that with him, then shouldn’t they be able to do the same or better with me?”

These are the two prime locations for Cousins, but the loser will be a very likely candidate for Foles, which forces us to consider what kind of package that a) the Eagles would be willing to take for the reigning Super Bowl MVP and b) what each team has to offer. As noted earlier, the Eagles don’t have a draft pick between #32 and #132, which would be helpful considering there’s a probability of finding low-cost starters in that range and a cap crunched team with a high percentage of their cap invested in a big core group of veterans could use. The team could use re-enforcements at cornerback, linebacker, and potentially both wide receiver with the release of Torrey Smith plus quarterback if they trade Foles.

I don’t think they’ll need help at receiver because I believe Hollins and Gibson will replace, and exceed, the 18 catch and 193-yard gap between Smith’s production and theirs in 2017, so a receiver isn’t a need in my opinion. Cornerback is more of a need with Patrick Robinson likely being signed to higher terms elsewhere than the Eagles will be able to afford, but a group with Jalen Mills, Ronald Darby, Sidney Jones, and Rasul Douglas makes it a stable situation and one they’d like to solve through the draft. The linebacker situation with Bradham potentially gone, plus the loss of Foles makes those the two positions to focus on if the team is going to gain one back in a trade. The main focus will be on draft picks, but we’ve seen so many smart trades involving players the last few years that it seems teams are understanding how to put a proper valuation on players within their system.

The only way I see Foles being traded in a situation where the Eagles acquire cornerback is added to the deal is if they somehow pull off a trade for Tre’Davious White of the Bills or William Jackson III from Cincinatti, but I don’t see that happening unless that playoff run convinced one of those franchises that Foles is a far superior option to their other solutions, which could include retaining their starters or cutting them and finding others. The gained cap space from releasing or trading Taylor or Dalton could entice them into trading for Foles at his low-cap number, but I don’t think they’d be willing to give up such prime players.

At linebacker, there are some reasonable candidates as trade pieces in a deal for Foles that also includes draft picks and they are Joe Schobert from the Browns, Matt Milano from the Bills, Haason Reddick from the Cardinals, or Ben Gedeon from the Vikings. Each of those players has varying degrees of value attached to them, so the draft picks associated with them would be determined on their perceived value to the Eagles. If a trade involves a back-up quarterback, a trade with the Browns that includes DeShone Kizer could be attractive to the Eagles. I know Kizer wasn’t good for the Browns in 2017, but he was on a bad offense with a rushing offense in the bottom half of the league, so he could be improved with the talent in Philadelphia, while still having a perceived value low enough for the Eagles to net a second round pick in the deal as well.

If Denver wants Foles, then both Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch could be candidates the Eagles would consider for the back-up role. The Broncos had the fourth worst offensive line in the NFL against the pass in 2017 according to Football Outsiders, giving up a sack rate of 9.1%. Their quarterbacks were getting sacked almost once every ten times they dropped back. If I’m the Eagles, I look at that situation and I think that both players could look much better if they’re behind Pro Football Focus’ top offensive line in 2017. As I note in Caponomics, in 2016, “simply applying pressure to quarterbacks this past season dropped their passer rating from 96.7 to just 62.5 (league-wide averages).” Siemian is only under contract through 2018, but he could likely be retained for a lower cost than Foles as a good back-up to Wentz for the next few seasons. I think the Broncos trade Siemian before Lynch due to Lynch being a first round pick and Siemian being under contract for one more year compared to Lynch’s two. Siemian would still give Philly what they would need most with Foles gone: a back-up quarterback at a lower cost who could still lead a stacked roster to victory in a Doug Pederson crafted game plan.

The thing about Foles that would be very attractive to the Browns if they don’t sign Cousins is that Foles would be an inexpensive one year player and they could still use one of their top four picks to draft their quarterback of the future, while Foles provides a bridge that could secure the coaching staff’s jobs for another year to give them a chance to see this whole rebuilding process through. Hue Jackson cannot afford to go through another season like the last two, even though I believe in the process the Browns are going through, I think he has to go at least 6-10 or 7-9 to retain his job with some reasons for real excitement heading into 2019. Foles could also have a good season for them in that one year, earn an expensive NFL starting quarterback contract and net the team a compensatory pick down the line. If they draft Barkley or another bellcow in the first three rounds, they could have a terrific rushing attack to help Foles carry the offense in 2018 and the understudy turned leading actor in 2019.

For the Foles trade, we’re mostly going to be looking at picks in the first four rounds, so taking what teams in this Foles sweepstakes have for draft picks into account. I’m going to narrow the group of potential landing spots for Foles to the Browns, Broncos, Cardinals, Vikings who just hired Eagles QB coach John DeFillipo to be their offensive coordinator.

The Browns have the #1 and #4 pick, three second round picks, a third round pick and two fourth rounders. The Broncos have the #5 pick, a second round pick, two threes and two fours. The Cardinals have the #15 pick, a second rounder and two third round picks with just $18.6 million in post-rookie pool cap space, which makes them more of a dark horse for Cousins in my opinion. They’ve become too overextended at the top of their cap with Larry Fitzgerald, Chandler Jones, Patrick Peterson, and Tyrann Mathieu all over 7.86% of the cap. They may go in the veteran quarterback direction as that’s been a trend there from Kurt Warner to Carson Palmer now, so Foles could be the best candidate at $5.4 million, which would be just 3.01% and they would be smart to try to use that #15 pick on a quarterback as well. The Vikings have a first, second, and third round pick to trade the Eagles.

For the Browns to acquire Foles I could see them trading a second and third round pick or DeShone Kizer and a third round pick dependent on what the Eagles want from them. The more I think about it though, the more I see them as the front runner to acquire Cousins because of that ability to construct the Jimmy G type of deal with so many rookie contract players making Cousins’ cap hits far more managable.

The Vikings seem like they’re out of the Foles sweepstakes because they don’t have the picks to afford acquiring him when they could just as easily have Case Keenum, Sam Bradford, or Teddy Bridgewater as a fallback plan if they don’t get Cousins. Any of those three would work and would probably cost as much as Nick Foles would over a three or four year window, but without giving up a second and third round pick or a second and fifth round pick if that’s the price. I also don’t see them trading for an Eagles quarterback again as Sam Bradford ended up being a bad deal for them not only with his injury, but also the first and fourth round picks they sent Philly becoming Derek Barnett and Jay Ajayi, two key pieces in the Eagles NFC Championship Game victory. As I wrote two weeks ago, Barnett’s strip sack turned the game around. The Vikings were heading in to score down 14-7 and before they knew it, the Eagles were up 31-7.

This leaves us with the Broncos and the Cardinals. The Cardinals really like Haason Reddick, so I don’t know if they’d move him, but he could be paired with a second or third round pick to net Foles. They have all of their picks in the first four rounds, plus an extra third round pick, and their window for success with the core of this roster is closing. They are a top candidate to make a move for Foles considering a salary cap situation that has Larry Fitzgerald, Chandler Jones, Patrick Peterson, and Tyrann Mathieu all over 7.86% of the projected cap, so they need a low-cost quarterback and it’s unlikely they find one who can help this team win a championship at #15 in the first round.

I think the Broncos are a very likely landing spot for Foles as they’ve built out their defense, plus they have the receivers to compete for a playoff spot with Foles at quarterback and, like the Cardinals, they don’t want to let this window close on them. As I said, I don’t think they move Lynch, so a deal involving a quarterback would likely involve Siemian. I could see the Eagles accepting a trade for Siemian and a second round pick, which might just be what happens. If the Eagles don’t like Siemian more than they like someone they could select in the draft, then they might try to acquire Denver’s second and third round picks, but I don’t think Denver wants both Foles and Siemian under contracts that expire after 2018. If that’s the case, they might need to offer the Eagles a second round pick with him, which wouldn’t kill Denver if they think Foles can give them what they need to compete.

I should note that it’s very hard to determine what Foles’ value is considering the last few years. Bradford netted a first and fourth round pick from the Vikings. Alex Smith got the Chiefs one of the best young cornerbacks in the NFL in Kendall Fuller and a third round pick from the Redskins. Foles could net a second and third round pick, a third and fourth round pick, or a second and a fourth or fifth. I don’t know, but his approximate value is probably in the neighborhood that’s been discussed.

I think Foles lands in Cleveland, Denver, or Arizona and the Eagles clear cap space, while either acquiring a competent back-up quarterback or the draft pick that they hope will select that player. The benefits from a cap and acquisition standpoint of a Foles trade outweigh the Eagles need for a back-up quarterback, even though he is a great one. If they want to draft another position, then go to free agency for a low-cost back-up, then there are viable candidates like Chase Daniel, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Matt Moore, or maybe Tyler Bray who was in the same system in Kansas City, but who is a total unknown. I think it’s very likely they could go back to Daniel because he could be worth under $1 million.

If the Eagles net Kizer or Siemian, then lets say the Eagles have a second or third round pick with them. If this is the case, then their draft needs in my opinion will be a linebacker to replace Bradham, a left tackle, a defensive lineman, probably a defensive end over a tackle with Graham and Long both potentially being gone after 2018, a cornerback, and maybe a big running back to replace Blount. If they do clear enough cap space for him, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them retain Blount as he was a still very valuable even as Ajayi and Clement were added to the rotation. The Eagles have the potential to have the best running back group in the NFL in 2018, especially when Donnel Pumphrey is added after missing 2017 with an injury.

I’m not going to attempt to predict who they draft, but I think the Eagles will go with a linebacker or left tackle at #32. The left tackle would be Jason Peters’ eventual replacement, while also upgrading their previous back-up option of Vaitai. Using the first round pick on an offensive lineman would help prepare them to slightly lower costs in the near future too as Peters retires and they’ll need some more cap space to go to Wentz.

If they don’t retain Bradham, then they should take the best linebacker available, that could be more of a need than left tackle. Even so, considering how much dime is played in the NFL today, Hicks and Kendricks could be a fine combination. Linebacker is a position that’s available later in the draft, so maybe they address another position here like cornerback again knowing that Darby and Mills will be gone in the near future and knowing that saving money and gaining value at cornerback with a first round pick would be a very smart strategy with the upcoming spending on their offense. This team is so well prepared to compete for a championship in 2018 that there isn’t really a clear picture of what position they should take in the first round.

Using the second or third round pick gained from the proposed trades above, the Eagles could take a defensive end to replace Graham or Long when they move on after 2018, which would help keep the line producing pressure moving into the future.

The five picks between #132 in the fourth round and #209 in the sixth round that the Eagles have can be used to bet on talented players they see filling a role for them in the short term with the potential to grow into something more in the future. With back-up tight end Trey Burton, third safety Corey Graham, goal line power back Blount, and rotational defensive tackle Beau Allen as free agents, those are four roles they could be solved with these picks. They could also bet on a linebacker in this area as talent can be found here. Even the small roles they could be losing in free agency can be solved in the draft.

I’m no draft expert right now, but just looking at players that I like that are currently projected in this area, there are some pieces they could add that could replace each of these players. For tight ends there’s Mike Gesicki from Penn State, Dallas Goedert from South Dakota State, Troy Fumagalli from Wisconsin, and Adam Breneman from UMass. Tight ends are deep in this area of the draft, so that could play a role in their decisions regarding Celek and Burton. Safeties in this area include Ohio State’s Damon Webb, Armani Watts out of Texas A&M, Kyzir White from West Virginia, and Siran Neal from Jacksonville State. Power running backs like Bo Scarborough from Alabama, Lavon Coleman from Washington, Josh Adams from Notre Dame, and Darrel Williams from LSU will be there late. Defensive tackle has great finds in the later rounds, I watched much of the University of Texas’ season this year and Poona Ford pops out at me in this later rounds. For linebackers there’s Josey Jewell from Iowa, Oklahoma’s Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, and many others. With Jordan Hicks coming up on free agency after 2018, they may even want to draft two linebackers in this draft.

Like the 2013 Seahawks and the 2016 Patriots, the Eagles are primed to make another run at a Super Bowl in 2018 and they’re my favorite to win the NFC again. They don’t have many holes and they have the resources to fill the holes they do have. The Eagles will have to deal with the Super Bowl brain drain where other teams come hire the people who helped coach you to a championship with their offensive coordinator Frank Reich becoming the Colts head coach and quarterback coach DeFilippo to the Vikings, the Eagles are primed in every way to be the same team they were in 2018 and probably even better considering they’ll theoretically have Wentz for the playoffs this year. After years of no titles, Philadelphia might go back-to-back.

Zack Moore is a writer for OverTheCap.com, an NFLPA certified agent, and author of the recently released book titled, “Caponomics: Building Super Bowl Champions,” which is now available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @ZackMooreNFL. 

Other Offseason Overviews:

New York Jets

Miami Dolphins

Looking at the New York Jets 2018 Offseason

2018 New York Jets (Cap Numbers as of 1/26; source OverTheCap.com; projected $179.5 M cap)

2018 Team Cap = $193,970,542

Total Cap = $122,321,348

Current Cap Top 51 = $117,963,011

Dead Money = $2,918,337

Team Cap – (Top 51 + Dead Money) = Cap Space

Cap Space = $71,589,194

Rookie Pool = $9,660,917

Cap Space – Rookie Pool = $63,428,277

Draft Picks:

8 draft picks: 1/6, 2/37, 2/49, 3/72, 4/109, 5/159, 6/182, 7/235

Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com Team Needs:

  • QB, RB, OT
  • “Upgrading the offense has to be the priority for the Jets. They need a QB, RB and WR. They also need to improve their offensive line, most notably at tackle.”

Team’s Free Agents:

The New York Jets offseason has one of two paths it will go down. First, there is the Kirk Cousins path, which includes likely shelling out $25 to $27 million per season to a quarterback who will then consume between 12 and 15% of your salary cap for the next five to six seasons. The second path is to take a quarterback with the #6 overall pick that the Jets possess or trading up to get into the first few picks to ensure selecting the right quarterback. As detailed in Caponomics: Building Super Bowl Champions, there are two main strategies for success in today’s NFL, there’s the expensive first-tier quarterback route that many teams use, then there’s the low-cost rookie contract quarterback strategy. The Jets will be deciding on which path they want to take over the next half decade this offseason and this choice will determine if they compete for championships or if they continue to be “the Jets.”

With the first-tier quarterback strategy, a team has a veteran quarterback over 10% of the cap, which typically leads to a team reliant on that quarterback to be an elite performer because of his high cost. If you add another higher cap hit or two to the quarterbacks high cap hit, like spending on a top wide receiver to further elevate the passing game like the Packers and Steelers currently are or a defensive end like the 2017 Chiefs did, then it can lead to some holes elsewhere on the roster that could become an issue come playoff time. These may not be glaring holes, but many times they’re slight inefficiencies or mismatches in vital areas of the game, which an elite NFL head coach and coordinator can exploit. When facing a team that’s spent it’s cap space in a more efficient and balanced manner, these teams leave themselves open to being exploited.

One of the big issues for teams across the AFC and the NFL the last couple years has been that the Patriots have hacked the system with Tom Brady just over 8% of the cap, which has allowed the Patriots to build out the best defense in the NFL in 2016 and one of the better defenses in 2017. Mind you, Brady is also still making a lot of money, but he and the team are also taking into account his likely decline as he goes into his forties. He’s made a lot of money in his career and he understands that building a team around him enhances his legacy, which I have a feeling is the same process that Drew Brees and the Saints are going through currently. I think that Brees will re-sign at a reasonable cap number that allows the Saints to continue to build their team in the current model they used in 2017 with rushing offense and defense playing a more significant role in their success, rather than trying to pass their way to a Super Bowl with inefficiencies in the other arenas. The reason there’s become almost these two styles of roster construction and that’s because the middle of the quarterback market is basically non-existent. Rookie contract quarterbacks who prove to be starters get contracts that pay over 10% of the cap if they just prove they’re a starting quarterback. So about half of the NFL’s quarterbacks are over 10% of the cap each year, while in reality there’s only a handful of quarterbacks who can be worth that kind of Quan as Rod Tidwell would say.

The second strategy is one that a few very successful teams used in 2017 like the Eagles, Rams, Jaguars and Titans. Even with Sam Bradford over 10% of the cap, the Vikings sort of executed this strategy as they’d already built out their roster with Teddy Bridgewater’s contract in mind with an elite defense and rushing attack, but then added Bradford after he went down. They then had Case Keenum lead them to the NFC Championship. The risk here is that you have to hit on the right quarterback, then you still have to build a complete roster around that quarterback, which also comes with inherent risks. You still have to spend the money around that quarterback well. The Jets will either have to have almost complete certainty that their choice for their franchise quarterback will fall to them at #6 of make a play to move up in the draft.

This strategy also leaves open the potential for using a lower-cost, bridge quarterback in the quarterbacks first few years and the Vikings trio of Bradford, Bridgewater, and Keenum may be at a price that makes that possible, while bringing Josh McCown back for another year wouldn’t be the worst option. McCown isn’t a great option at quarterback, but with an improved offense around him, which they should have with the cap space they have available to him, he could help the team compete and take a step towards .500 in 2018 with their 2018 first round pick at quarterback becoming the starter in 2019. If the Jets take a Bradford, Bridgewater, or Keenum and select a player in the first round, they could also trade the veteran for draft picks after the 2018 season, which is a strategy the Eagles and Chiefs have recently used with their veteran quarterbacks being bridges to the quarterbacks they drafted. If the Jets need to trade draft picks to move up into the top three to four picks to select the quarterback they want, they can then trade the veteran quarterback to re-coup some of the picks they lost in the trade to move up.

To this point, the Eagles gave up five picks to get two picks and move up to draft Carson Wentz. They then gained two more picks, even getting back a first round pick they used on Derek Barnett, when they traded Bradford to the Vikings after Bridgewater went down. The fourth-round pick they received from the Vikings was eventually traded to the Dolphins to acquire Jay Ajayi, so the Wentz trade worked out in more ways than one. I went over the impact the Bradford trade had on the NFC Championship on OTC two weeks ago.

Before going further, we should discuss the moves the Jets could make to clear even more cap space as that’s a vital part of this decision making process. So to start, after accounting for the money they’re estimated to spend on rookie contract currently, the Jets had almost $63.5 million in cap space. The biggest and most obvious move the Jets will be making is the release or trade of Muhammad Wilkerson, which will come after June 1st as his dead money cap hit will sink to just $3 million, which would save the Jets $17 million in cap space bringing their total cap space near $80.5 million. That’s the most obvious and the only certain release, but we’ll go into five more cuts that could happen. Wilkerson could be used to move up in the draft if a team needy for a defensive end, like the Colts, sees value in him, which is a possibility. He was also performing at a much higher level before he signed his five-year, $86 million contract, so maybe being traded to a team where he won’t have dead money to protect him from being released will help incentivize him to play better.

The first option is Buster Skrine who a lot of Jets fans and writers seem ready to move on from with the majority being in favor of instead re-signing Morris Claiborne if they want to have a veteran cornerback, better yet they should probably use some of that cap space to go after a top cornerback in free agency rather than settle for two players who weren’t great in 2017. Skrine was Pro Football Focus’ 85th ranked cornerback with a 65.7 rating, while Claiborne was their 99th ranked cornerback with a 48.5 rating. If they were to release Skrine, his $8.5 million cap hit would become a $2.5 million dead money charge saving $6 million in cap space, which brings their cap space to $86,428,277.

Offensive tackle Ben Ijalana is the next potential cut with a cap hit of $5,921,875 after being beat out by 2016 fifth round pick Brandon Shell at right tackle in 2017. He has a dead money charge of just $1.25 million, so he’d clear $4,671,875 to bring the team up to $91,100,152 in cap space.

Running back Matt Forte is the next likely cut as he’ll be 33 years old and there just isn’t much there running the football now that could make him worth his $4 million cap hit with just $1 million in dead money. Whether you want to spend that money on someone in 2018 or roll the cap space over into 2019 when the team is more likely to be competitive, either move is better than spending an extra $3 million on a running back whose best skill is receiving the ball, which Bilal Powell can do. The Jets need to draft a running back or select one in free agency who can give this running game a serious boost because whoever is at quarterback needs a rushing offense that ranks better in yardage production than the 19th they ranked in 2017. Powell is only signed through 2018 and he’ll be 30 this year, so they need to draft a running back even if they sign one in free agency. The release of Forte brings the cap space to $94,100,152.

Offensive guard James Carpenter represents the last of the highly probable cap casualties with the opportunity to save $4.7 million against his $6,805,000 cap hit with $2,105,000 in dead money. He was Pro Football Focus’ 60th ranked offensive guard for a line that Football Outsiders ranked as the league’s 29th ranked rushing line and the 27th ranked pass blocking line. The saving grace for Carpenter could be the lack of depth in the group of free agents on the offensive line this offseason. Worth mentioning that with many of these guys having dead money that will count against the cap, that’s not as much of a concern considering the huge allotment of cap space they’ll have to make moves around those dead money charges. The release of Carpenter would bring the cap space up to $98,800,152. If they decide to keep one of these players, other than Wilkerson who is gone, they’ll still have over $90 million in cap space.

One more potential release, but who I don’t think they’ll cut, is wide receiver Jermaine Kearse who has a cap hit of $5 million with $0 dead money against the cap having come over from the Seahawks in the Sheldon Richardson trade September. I think at 2.79% of the cap he could actually be a good value for the team coming off a campaign where he had 65 catches for 810 yards and five touchdowns with a 63.7% catch rate. He’s a great second or third option behind a legitimate #1 receiver with Quincy Enunwa and a WR1 they should be looking to add in free agency. Robby Anderson might no longer be with the team in 2018 after his attempt at conducting police outreach for the NFL by allegedly telling the officer he was going to have sexual relations with his wife, then, for lack of a better word, climax in her eye, which is just rude and not a great way to win friends and influence others as Dale Carnegie would advise. With Anderson’s penchant for douchebaggery, the Jets will likely keep Kearse on board.

With this $98.8 million in cap space in mind, we can take a look at the quarterback situation. I don’t think the Jets win the Cousins’ sweepstake and I don’t think they should want to either for two reasons. The first reason is that I don’t think Cousins will be worth the price tag he will receive in that $25 to 27 million per year range, so the Jets should refrain from making that move. They should instead invest in a lower cost quarterback in free agency, like Bradford, Bridgewater, or Keenum, even McCown, and draft their quarterback of the future. They should then use the cap space they have to make serious upgrades to the rest of their roster with glaring needs at running back, wide reciever, tight end, across the offensive line, then along their defensive front seven and their cornerbacks. Basically, the Jets need to improve their entire roster rather than invest a big chunk of change in a quarterback, who former Redskins GM Scot McCloughan says is a good player, but also added that he doesn’t see a “special” player when he looks at Cousins.

According to this NFL.com article, McCloughan added that when they first tagged Cousins in 2017, Washington was “building a roster around him to make him special,” which in my opinion then wasn’t possible because of the cap hits he had as well as the large cap figures they were giving to cornerback Josh Norman. McCloughan says that while Cousins is “talented” and he “works his tail off,” he warned that for Cousins to succeed, a team needs more than just a signal caller. “You just need to have some talent around him because you don’t want him to be throwing the ball 35 to 40 times to win the game.”

McCloughan promised the interviewer at 104.3 The Fan in Denver, the interview these statements come from that Cousins has definitely done his homework on the various potential situations around the league and will be looking to put himself in the best situation for himself as a player, which I personally think takes the Jets out of the running because they have so many positions and roles to fill. McCloughan says, “personally, knowing him, it’s not about the money. It’s about the right fit, where he knows he has stability, he has good coaches, he has good players, and he has a chance to be successful.” No matter who Cousins signs with he will be a rich man, but he wants to go somewhere that he’ll have success too. Considering the Jets have had five offensive coordinators since 2011, they don’t even have stability, especially with the unexpected firing of John Morton. With Cousins’ desire to play in a situation where he can be successful in mind, teams like the Cardinals, Broncos, Vikings, and Bills make much more sense than New York and each of those teams either have the cap space or could make cap space to sign Cousins if they want him bad enough.

With Cousins likely out of the picture, we move toward one of the lower cost options I mentioned along with a first round pick at QB. The cap space should then be used to build up all these other positions of needs with the other draft picks then becoming supplemental pieces and players who eventually take over for the players taken in free agency. Going over the team needs we have basically every position except safety and defensive tackle are on the list of team needs.

First, the team does have some free agents they will want to re-sign. McCown could be one of them dependent on the strategy they have for addressing the quarterback position in the draft, but I would like to see them use Bradford, Bridgewater, or Keenum as the bridge instead to leave open the potential of receiving a draft pick in a trade after the season. Some Jets beat writers say Claiborne should be re-signed, while also saying Skrine should be gone. Since they covered the Jets more closely than I did, I’ll defer to their judgement and if he’s available for a similar one year deal worth $5 million, then re-signing him to be the veteran prescence at cornerback would be a move.

I’m of the mind they should instead use that cap space to sign a better veteran option. Trumaine Johnson would probably be at the top of that list as he’s been established as top cornerbacks for a couple years now. Malcolm Butler might be an option with a lower price after a down 2017 and maybe an even lower price after being sat in the Super Bowl. Bears cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller are both good options with Fuller putting forth PFF’s 23rd best season for cornerbacks in 2017 and Amukamara being a second tier option. Rashaan Melvin of the Colts is another player who came on strong in 2017 with PFF’s 17th best rating at the position. Patrick Robinson is in that same category as PFF’s 4th best cornerback, but he’s a bit older heading into his 31 year old season, which might actually mean he could be a good value if his 2017 level of play can continue. Bills cornerback E.J. Gaines was PFF’s 13th cornerback and Nickell Robey-Coleman of the Rams was the 19th rated cornerback. They have so much cap space and so many good options in free agency that I think they’d benefit from going there rather than settling for re-signing Claiborne, but they have the cap space to do both as well if they want to. If they do sign a top cornerback to pair with Claiborne, then he might be improved in 2018 if he’s put in a position to cover a team’s WR2.

The Jets have two young tight ends hitting free agency in Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Eric Tomlinson. While Tomlinson is more of a veteran minimum guy that the Jets could want to re-sign as a viable third tight end behind 2017 5th round pick Jordan Leggett who is a talented and fluid athlete for his 6’5″, 258-pound frame. Leggett could be the tight end of the future if he develops after missing the 2017 season with a knee injury. Austin Seferian-Jenkins is a very talented player who could be an elite tight end after dealing with substance abuse issues during his first few years in the NFL. He was a 2nd round pick for the Buccaneers in 2014 and started all nine games he played in his rookie year averaging 24.6 receiving yards per game, which is almost a 400-yard season stretched out over 16 games, a great season for a rookie tight end. He improved on that in year two with rookie Jameis Winston under center. ASJ had 338 yards in just seven games, which is 48.3 yards per game and comes out to 773 over 16, so he has the potential to be the top-flight type of tight end. In 2017 with Josh McCown as his quarterback, he had 50 catches for 357 yards and three touchdowns in 13 games. As a tight end, he’s already in a low-cost market, but since he hasn’t broken out as a clear TE1 type of player, he will be even less expensive. There’s the potential that the Jets could re-sign him for something in the $3-4 million range, which would be a great deal for a player who could be a match-up issue at tight end that could produce 35 to 50 yards per game with better quarterback play and better weapons around him. His substance abuse issues may affect the market for him, making him even less costly.

Ever since seeing Seferian-Jenkins play at Washington in college, I’ve thought he has the size, skills, and athleticism to be a serious match-up problem in the NFL, a player with top tier tight end potential, which means more like a five to six percent of the cap production value that the Jets could get near two percent of the cap. So with this in mind, they could keep their tight end group in tact at a low-price if they re-sign the two free agents with Leggett as the long-term player.

Inside linebacker Demario Davis is the next Jet that should be re-signed. He was PFF’s 8th rated linebacker with an 87.3 rating and it’s such an inexpensive position that they could re-sign the 29-year old veteran to a contract in the $3-5 million range, which would be a good value for probably the best player on their defense in 2017. Two edge defenders they should re-sign if they can at a low-cost are Kony Ealy who should cost between $1-2 million per year, which would be worth it for a rotational 3-4 defensive end, plus outside linebacker David Bass who would be a good player to re-sign at the veteran minimum. Wide receiver Quincy Enunwa should be re-signed at a similarly low-rate in the $1-2 million range as he’s coming off missing 2017 with a neck injury. Interior defensive lineman Mike Pennel could be re-signed for $1-2 million a year.

Okay, so starting with $98.8 million in cap space, let’s see where we stand after re-signings. Let’s call the ASJ and Tomlinson re-signings worth $4 million in 2018. We’ll have Davis at $4 million as well, then add $6 million for Ealy, Bass, Enunwa, and Pennel. That brings us down to $84.8 million in cap space.

If they re-sign McCown or they sign Bridgewater, that will probably be in the $6 to 7 million range in terms of cost. Bradford could be a little higher between $8 to 12 million a year dependent on how confident teams are in his knee, while Jason projects Keenum could go in the $12 to 15 million range per year. To play this scenario out, I think Teddy Bridgewater would be the best option out of any quarterback on the market for the Jets and where they are as an organization in 2018. If they bring Bridgewater in on a two to three year deal worth $7 million per season, which I think it’s more likely they get him on a two year deal as he’ll want to hit free agency again as soon as possible, they’re down to $77.8 million in cap space. That’s a lot of space left to sign offensive linemen, edge rushers, a WR1, a CB1, and even a running back if they so choose. That’s enough space that they should even have money they could rollover to take another big step forward in 2019.

This situation provides them the opportunity to build a good roster around Bridgewater like he had in Minnesota before he went down with his injury. The Jets can sell Bridgewater on the opportunity to play on a roster that he could succeed with and elevate the perception of him around the NFL to cash in on his next contract. He’s an accurate, mobile, young game manager who could be the perfect bridge to whoever they hope to draft in the first round. As stated before, with a two-year contract, it would provide the Jets the opportunity to re-coup any draft picks they trade away if they move up into the first three to four picks to draft a quarterback.

Speaking to the idea of signing cornerbacks earlier, the Jets could take who they determine to be the best and the best value of the group mentioned earlier and sign them to a contract in the $10 to 14 million range. Let’s say it’s a $12 million cap hit in 2018, so the team is now at $65.8 million in cap space. For wide receivers they could sign Jarvis Landry as a quick, short passing option who can run every route, while being a chain moving pass catcher. The addition of Landry would make any quarterback better and with low-costs at quarterback, it would be affordable. Say he’s at $12 million as well in 2018, the team is then at $53.8 million in cap space. If they instead signed Allen Robinson to a one-year prove it deal, he could be on a one-year deal at about $10 million, which would put the team at $55.8 million in cap space. Sammy Watkins, Marqise Lee, and Paul Richardson could be had at a lower price, so they’re options as well. In my opinion though, if they keep Anderson on the roster with Kearse, then signing one of those three would add another receiver who does the same things well that their current receivers already do well. Albert Wilson of the Chiefs feels like a good low-cost option if they want to add a second receiver in free agency. If they don’t keep Anderson and they want an inexpensive deep threat, Brice Butler of the Cowboys could be a good low-cost option to bet on.

Looking at the interior of the offensive line, left guard Andrew Norwell of the Panthers has been one of Pro Football Focus’ best and most consistent guards over the first four years of his career and could likely be had for a maximum of $10 million per season. Ravens center Ryan Jensen could be signed for $7-8 million a year, Weston Richburg of the Giants might be a little cheaper. If they just made signings like those at those two positions in free agency, the line would be vastly improved and signings on the interior of the line are less expensive than signings at the tackles. There aren’t many good options at tackle in free agency either, so they may want to ride with Kelvin Beachum and Brandon Shell, then address the position in the second or third round of the draft. The hope will be that improvements on the interior of the line will improve the whole line. Say they make these two moves, they’ll have $37.8 million left in cap space to address edge rusher and running back. This is just an estimation of where the team could stand with moves that would make sense to give a picture of what the offseason could look like.

With that kind of cap space left they can go after more than one solid edge rusher, which is a huge need. The interior of their line is solid, Leonard Williams, Steve McLendon, Muhammad Wilkerson, and Mike Pennel led an interior of the defensive line that Football Outsiders ranked as the sixth best defensive line against the run, but the edge rushers failed in producing pressure consistently, which had them ranked 25th in the NFL with an adjusted sack rate of 5.8%. McLendon might be the best value on the Jets roster currently slated to make 2.30% of the cap with PFF’s second highest run stop percentage at 12.8%, just behind Damon Harrison of the Giants at 13.4%. Williams wasn’t as good against the rush, but he was PFF’s 13th best interior defender in pass rush productivity with a 7.6 rating. Part of the reason that the Jets will find it so easy to move on from Wilkerson is that both of these players are playing at a higher level than him, so he’s not worth the price. McLendon and Williams form a versatile and talented tandem that can cause problems for any line in the NFL.

On the edge, the Jets best pass rusher was Jordan Jenkins who ranked 53rd in the NFL with a 7.9 pass rush productivity rating. As you can see, that’s higher than Williams, but edge defenders as a group have higher PRP ratings than interior defenders. They need help here, so they could go for an expensive player like the soon to be be 26-year old DeMarcus Lawrence who could cost $15 million a year taking the cap space left down to $22.8 million. Or they could go after Ezekial Ansah who might be a little less expensive due to turning 29 in May and some fluctuations in his play over the last two years, but will still be in that class of cost. Another defensive linemen they could consider who might be less expensive would be the soon to be 30-year old Adrian Clayborn of the Falcons who was PFF’s 19th rated edge defender and had 9.5 sacks in 2017. A red flag with Clayborn is that six of those sacks came against a Cowboys team that in their first game without left tackle Tyron Smith, so maybe the sack total was an aberration. He might be more like $8 million a year. Alex Okafor from the Saints could be in a similar range. For an outside linebacker, Trent Murphy of the Redskins could be had at something like $4 to 5 million coming off a season he missed due to injury. After addressing edge defenders, the Jets could have $15 to 25 million in cap space.

We still haven’t address running back in free agency, which is typically not a position I would go to free agency to address, but if the team could sign Le’Veon Bell to pair him with a low-cost quarterback structured roster, the team could really have a nice offense that could elevate the play of the quarterback, while still addressing defensive needs to build a roster that could compete in the playoffs. If they were to sign him, it’d likely be for about $15 million a year, but Bell just said on Twitter he wouldn’t even sign with the Jets for $60 million. Even though he grew up a Jets fan, he says it would take $100 million to sign with the Jets. Maybe he’s just joking around, but it seems like the Jets are off the table.

Let’s act as if he is still an option for the Jets and they could sign him. In that case, I would probably suggest against the big signing of Lawrence or Ansah and instead signing two or three defensive linemen who could play between 40 and 70 percent of snaps with fresh legs that can produce pressure, which is a strategy being used by some of the best organizations around the NFL. That strategy is, rather than invest heavily in one defensive lineman and play them 85 to 90 percent of snaps, instead sign a few less expensive players to create a deep rotation.

Since running back is such a fickle position to address in free agency, the Jets might be better served going for a lower cost option and finding their running back of the future in the draft instead. It’s worth noting that the Steelers gave Bell 742 touches in 27 games over the last two seasons with 582 of those being rushes. Averaged over 32 games, those 582 rushes become 21.5 per game, which is 690 over two years or 345 per season. They were quite literally running him into the ground and planned on discarding him after either 2017 or 2018 if they can fit him into the cap.

There is a reason that Bell is threatening to retire if the Steelers tag him again, he and his agent understand what they’re doing. They’re trying to ride him out on these franchise tag numbers rather than pay him the price that the multi-dimensional weapon that he is would garner on the free agent market. Google “running backs after 300 carries” and you’ll find plenty of analysis that indicates there are strong odds for a statistical drop-off in the year after a 300 carry campaign and in many cases that drop off can be drastic. Here’s an example from Tim McManus of ESPN:

Bell might not be the free agent prize that teams are hoping he is. While he’s obviously immensely talented, he might be due for a down year or an injury due to the abuse running backs sustain. He and his agent have good reason to be pissed off at the Steelers.

Bringing it back to the Jets, or any other team interested in him, Bell could still be a valid option. Maybe he’s a freak like Marshawn Lynch and he can deal with that kind of workload, but lower cost options that could be starting running backs include Isaiah Crowell, Carlos Hyde, and Dion Lewis who could cost in the $4-5 million range, then address running back with a second, third, or even fourth round pick. Jerick McKinnon could be an option, while LeGarrette Blount or Alfred Morris could be signed as a goalline or short yardage back for a team that would be lacking one. Rex Burkhead could be versatile and inexpensive in the $1-2 million range. The second through fourth rounds are stacked with running backs every year and this year could have the following: Kerryon Johnson of Auburn, Derrius Guice from LSU, Sony Michel and Nick Chubb out of Georgia, Akrum Wadley from Iowa, LJ Scott from Michigan State, Ronald Jones II from USC, Royce Freeman from Oregon, Rashaad Penny from San Diego State, and Josh Adams from Notre Dame. Point being, there are a ton of options to choose from and they could even take two if they don’t want to go to free agency and feel it’s appropriate. This route will leave them with over $15 million in cap space to rollover into 2019 with another year invested in this improvement and a higher likelihood

If the Jets can address all of these needs in free agency with smart signings for players who fit their system, then the draft can become a place where they improve their team for the long-term. They could re-address positions of need through these selections, while using the second round pick gained from the Sheldon Richardson trade in a package to move up for the quarterback they desire. The Jets are in a position to succeed in a way they have not been in years, so it should be one of the most exciting offseasons in recent memory for fans of the downtrodden franchise. Hopefully for them the Jets make the right decisions.

Zack Moore is a writer for OverTheCap.com, an NFLPA certified agent, and author of the recently released book titled, “Caponomics: Building Super Bowl Champions,” which is now available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @ZackMooreNFL. 

Looking at the Miami Dolphins 2018 Offseason

2018 Miami Dolphins (Cap Numbers as of 1/26; source OverTheCap.com; projected $179.5 M cap)

Team Cap = $179,366,484

Total Cap Spend= $170,621,126

Top 51 = $168,124,438

Dead Money = $276,688

Team Cap – (Top 51 + Dead Money) = Cap Space

Cap Space = $10,965,358

Rookie Pool = $8,240,213

Cap Space – Rookie Pool = $2,725,145

Draft Picks:

9 draft picks: 1/11, 2/42, 3/73, 4/113, 4/133, 6/186, 7/223, 7/229, 7/247

Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com Team Needs:

  • OG, ILB, RB (Vitti says needs are OL, LB and about 5 other positions)
  • “Miami should be looking for additional talent at guard, linebacker, defensive end and running back (following the Jay Ajayi trade to Philly).”

Team’s Free Agents:

The Dolphins are in a bit of a difficult position as an organization and, of course, it’s by their own doing. The situation they’re in was created almost the day they decided to hire Mike Tannenbaum to play a major role in their decisions as an organization after he’d created an unsustainable situation in New York with the Jets that they’re just now recovering from.

From 2007 through 2010, the Jets had a total of 17 total draft picks. That was just 4.25 per season, which devastated the team over the ensuing years as they didn’t have the young talent on the roster to extend and build the core of the roster because of the lack of draft picks and the lack of success with those picks. Just over four picks per draft could work out if you hit on every draft pick, and the Jets did get to the AFC Conference Championship for two straight seasons in 2009 and 2010, so they had some success, but it was a roster construction strategy that was unsustainable over the long-term; it was betting on a small window strategy with a blow it up sort of feel afterwards that’s severely restricted the Jets’ organization for the better part of a decade.

To his credit, he didn’t make the same mistake with the Dolphins in the draft process, but he set up a similar high risk, short-term solution that won’t work out to Super Bowl glory. His strategy is almost the anti-thesis of what I talk about in Caponomics: Building Super Bowl Champions when I discuss finding values and building sustainable models for success through keeping cap costs at a reasonable level to build a deep well of veteran talent on the roster and building through the draft. While the Dolphins still have the draft picks to build up their roster, they’ve severely restricted their ability to build out a solid roster and stack the meat of the roster with good players through a spending pattern at the top of cap that has never worked for a Super Bowl champion before.

I’ve written about this often here at Over The Cap, but Ndamukong Suh was given one of the worst contracts in the NFL from a value standpoint. While he’s a terrific player and was Pro Football Focus’ 5th best interior defensive lineman in 2017, his contract has had unnaturally high cap figures for a defensive tackle from the start of the contract with the Dolphins re-structuring it in year two to push bigger cap hits down the road, which is being brought to a head in 2018. Maybe they work out an extension that lowers his cap hits over the next three years, but over the next three years he’s projected to have cap hits of 14.54%, 14.56%, and 10.81%, which are numbers that have never worked for a Super Bowl champion on the defensive front and especially not with a quarterback at a high cost as well, which they have with Ryan Tannehill. The Super Bowl records for the front 7 are 9.82% for Warren Sapp leading defensive tackles, Terrell Suggs leads outside linebackers at 9.55%, and Reggie White leads defensive ends at 8.90%.

If they don’t extend Suh, they could release or trade him next offseason to save $15 million with his $28.1 million cap hit, but they would still have a $13.1 million dead money cap hit. If they do extend him, then they would be extending him past the 33-year old season he currently ends the deal after, which will have risks as well. Basically, to put it simply, the contract has created a lot of financial issues they’ve had to deal with. One of the big consequences of his high cost that’s not seen on the surface is that defensive tackle is usually a position where teams can find players at a decent value as it’s a low-cost market, where even the best players are typically closer to 7-8% of the cap.

Meanwhile in their own division the Patriots use the cap savings at the top of the roster to build out versatility on offense and defense with even some primarily special teams players earning roster spots on a yearly basis to improve that unit’s performance. Where the Patriots can afford a second, third, or fourth running back–plus back-up linebackers who play special teams, add versatility on defense, and can become competent starters if a starting linebacker goes down, and a third safety–teams like Miami have to bet on more rookie contract players who are less proven and thus more risky. The more unproven rookie contract players that a team has to rely on the further that risk increases for the overall roster performance. This typically also means the roster doesn’t have much depth behind them and little experience.

If Suh was the big cap hit for the team while their quarterback was on a rookie contract, it might be a sustainable model, but Tannehill has his high costs as well. Over the next three years he is projected to consume 11.03%, 10.91%, and 9.54% of the cap. Actually, if you just look at these cap hits by themselves, they’re very manageable costs for a player who can produce as a first tier quarterback in many ways with accuracy, plus mobility. Without Suh’s cap hit, the team could probably build a championship caliber roster around Tannehill, but instead they’re in a situation where they have just over $2.7 million worth of cap space after the rookie pool is accounted for with many needs on their roster and big decisions to make regarding how they’ll clear some cap space to make some of those roster improvements through free agency and before the draft.

It doesn’t just stop with those two large cap expenditures, which take up 25.57% of the projected 2018 cap of $179.5 million; there are quite a few more large expenditures that bring their Top 10 spending to 68.00% of the cap. These numbers blow past the Super Bowl records for the 23 champions of the salary cap era detailed in Caponomics, which are 21.64% for the 1994 49ers Top 2 of Steve Young and Jerry Rice, then the 2015 Broncos Top 10 of 62.33%. The Dolphins could decrease their Top 10 spending with the release of Ja’Wuan James, their starting right tackle who’s slated to consume 5.20% of the cap with a $9,341,000 cap hit, but that too will just increase the amount of needs they need to fill this offseason, which is already a sizeable list for a team with such a small amount of cap space and some free agents they might want to re-sign. The positive is that the team has 8 draft picks with five of them being in the first four rounds, which is a place teams have a decent chance of finding potential starters with the probability of finding a starter decreasing with each round.

There are some other expensive mistakes as well, though. Reshad Jones is a very good safety and, at 6.45% of the cap ($11,575,000), he’s one of the more expensive players at his position. Then we have what are three straight bad values on the roster in defensive end Andre Branch at 5.57% of the cap ($10 million), Kenny Stills at 5.43% ($9.75 million), and Kiko Alonso at 5.37% ($9,637,500). Their Pro Football Focus ratings and positional rankings for 2017 are as follows: Branch had a 50.9 rating as PFF’s 96th best edge defender out of just over 100, Stills was PFF’s 87th rated receiver with a 49.0 rating, and Alonso was PFF’s 75th rated linebacker out of 87 with a 39.0 rating. That’s 16.37% of the cap dedicated to three players who aren’t likely to produce that level of value, paired with the 25.57% going to Suh and Tannehill; add in Jones at 6.45%, and there’s 48.39% of the cap going to six players. Almost half the cap space going to six players in a sport where the roster has 53. Like I mentioned when discussing Suh’s cap hit earlier, this restricts the team from building up the best complete roster they can build.

Ja’Wuan James represents the first big cap hit they could clear some space with, but he’s one of the better offensive lineman on a roster that already needs to improve on the offensive line. According to Football Outsiders, the team was ranked 30th in run blocking and 11th in pass protection. He had a PFF rating of 80.0 in the 8 games he played in 2017 with a top five pass blocking rating of 85.3, but a weak run blocking grade of 48.6, which could be part of why the Dolphins don’t seem to be sold on him as a player according to reports I’ve read.

He could clear $9,341,000 of cap space with zero dead money, but even in that case they’d then need to replace him, so I don’t see that as a great option. Another option for him would be an extension that lowers his cap hit for 2018, but would push high cap hits into the future for a player that the team reportedly isn’t sold on. He could be looking for the kind of deal that Bryan Bulaga took with the Packers in 2015, adjusted for inflation, which would see him in the three to four and a half percent of the cap range for the next four to five seasons. It depends on how the coaching staff feels about him, but there’s an opportunity to create cap space in one of two ways there. Say they re-structure him, that could create another $3-5 million in cap space or over $9 million from releasing him.

Mike Pouncey is another high cap hit at $9 million, which is just over five percent of the cap and another high cap hit for an offensive line that didn’t perform well in 2018. Everyone covering the Dolphins thinks they need help on the offensive line, which isn’t a great place to be with four players already on the roster over one percent of the cap with Laremy Tunsil and Ted Larsen, then James and Pouncey over five percent. That’s a high investment in players that, like Branch, Stills, and Alonso, aren’t performing at the level their contracts imply. I don’t use PFF ratings as a means of living and dying by what they say, but as a reasonable indicator of where a player stands as no single writer can cover and understand how good every player in the NFL is and still have time to write, plus the team at PFF does a sound, principled job of covering the game. With that said, Pouncey has been one of the better centers in the NFL over his career, but he had a 46.5 PFF rating in 2017. The other issue is that, like defensive tackle, center is a position that can be had at a lower price, but here the Dolphins are spending five percent.

Cameron Wake and Lawrence Timmons are probably reasonable values at 4.81% of the cap and 4.58% respectively. Wake had another good season at 35-years old as PFF’s 29th rated edge defender with the third best pass rush productivity rating in the NFL at 13.3. He ranked behind only DeMarcus Lawrence of the Cowboys and Von Miller of the Broncos, who were by all accounts two of the best in the NFL in 2017, so they’ve kind of gotten a decent value out of Wake because of his age. Timmons wasn’t ranked very well by PFF as their 67th ranked linebacker, but he had a respectable run-stop percentage of 7.4% that ranked 36th, but it wasn’t too far behind Reuben Foster who was #1 with 11.4%. Paired with a good, young linebacker out of this year’s draft he could be a good piece to the group, so he’s a reasonable value. That said, to pay that much money to an inside linebacker, you want that guy to be one of the five to ten best linebackers in the league. They did draft middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan out of Ohio State in 2017, whom they lost to a torn ACL during training camp, so he could be the solution if they don’t want to draft one.

Timmons and Alonso combining for over 10% of the cap is very expensive for 4-3 linebackers as the costs for inside linebackers and even outside linebackers in the 4-3 is decreased relative to costs of 3-4 linebackers. Timmons is an inside linebacker and Bobby Wagner of the Seahawks is one of the best and most expensive in the NFL, yet his contract from 2015 through 2019 averages at 5.08% of the cap, so both of these linebackers are near that cost. In a vacuum, by themselves, the deals aren’t cap killers, but in the broader picture of what the Dolphins have it’s not a great allocation of resources. This is a recurring theme, it isn’t any one cap hit that hurts the team: it’s a combination of sub-par values.

Their 11th cap hit, and their last one over three percent of the cap, is Julius Thomas at 3.68%. He has a cap hit of $6.6 million with $0 dead money, which could be an easy release decision for them. That could bring their cap space after their estimated rookie pool spending up to $9,325,145. If they move on from James as well, they’ll have $18,666,145 of the cap to spend in free agency and address their needs, which are many. Bringing it back to James if they want to clear some space and find a value at right tackle rather than bet on James at a high cost or bet on him long-term when they don’t believe in him, then moving on from him could be a good option to clear the space to make some key re-signings and find a couple free agents to address the holes on the roster.

This would bring their top of cap spending down slightly, but as I mention often in Caponomics when discussing things like Top 2 spending: if you’re spending over 20% of the cap on your Top 2, then will they be worth the kind of production you could expect from a Steve Young and Jerry Rice type of Hall of Fame player? If you’re spending over 60% of the cap on your Top 10, then will you have some valuable players there and find value through the draft like the 2013 Seahawks and 2015 Broncos did? In both of these cases I say the Dolphins have a low-probability of being able to produce the same kind of result to win a Super Bowl with the roster we see in front of us. That said, I could be proven wrong through very good drafting and Tannehill improving further, although at 30-years old and coming off two knee injuries, that also seems unlikely.

Looking at team needs, the Dolphins need a guard, another inside linebacker, a cornerback, a running back to be an RB1A with Kenyan Drake, and they also need a tight end to come in and start with Thomas likely being released, which is difficult to find as tight ends take some time to develop upon entering the NFL. If they get rid of James, they’ll also need a right tackle. Without a tight end to rely on, they’re going to need excellent production out of their receiver group, which brings us to Jarvis Landry who is currently a free agent and believes he is worth a Top 10 contract that would be in the $14 to $15 million per season range.

The issue in this situation isn’t just the financial implications of that kind of contract. If it was a deal with consistent cap hits in each season meaning $14 to $15 million per season, then he’d be at over 7.8% of the cap in 2018 and in the first tier of the wide receiver market over six percent of the cap for probably the entirety of his deal. If they backload the contract, as the Dolphins seem to do, then maybe he’d just consume $8-10 million in 2018. For the purposes of this, let’s call it $10 million. Important to note that this lower cap hit just means higher cap hits for the team down the road, which can create opportunities for re-structures down the road, but I tend to like when a team makes the effort to keep a player’s cap hits as steady as possible.

If they only move on from Thomas, then that consumes all their cap space and even pushes them over the cap space they have left after rookie pool, but they could restructure some contracts to fit him in. If they get rid of James, they’ll have $8,666,145 of the cap left to spend, which could be enough to fill some of their other needs with the eight draft picks to help out. The release of Thomas and James could be the solution to keep Landry in town, but that also brings into question some past moves of the organization.

In the 2016 NFL Draft, after Landry had a season of 110 catches for 1157 yards and four touchdowns in the 2015 season and a year after the team used the #14 overall pick on DeVante Parker, the Dolphins used two draft picks on receivers. The first was a third round pick that they traded away for a 2016 6th round pick, plus a 3rd and 4th round pick in 2017 , and then spent on Leonte Carroo out of Rutgers. The second receiver was kick and punt returning dynamo Jakeem Grant out of Texas Tech who seemed like the likely candidate to replace Landry if they didn’t re-sign him. Then in March of 2017, less than a year after drafting these two players, less than two years removed from using a first round draft pick on Parker, and a year away from their best receiver hitting free agency, the Dolphins gave Kenny Stills a contract that runs through 2020 and has him making $9.75 million in 2018 and 2019, both over five percent of the cap. This signing came after a season where he had just 42 catches for 726 yards with a solid nine touchdowns. Stills is a good field stretching deep threat despite the poor PFF rating I brought up earlier, but not for costs that almost hit the first tier rate of over six percent of the cap. And it feels short-sighted that they prioritized re-signing Stills over Landry.

They’re in a position now where, if they do re-sign Landry, they’re going to be heavily invested in their wide receiver group, while also having the high investments we’ve already discussed. Maybe the goal was to replace Landry’s production with Carroo and Grant once he became a free agent, but neither has developed into the kind of player that could replace his production or replace what he represents for the offense. Few players could. Landry is not only an elite possession receiver, which isn’t the negative pejorative term people think it is, but he’s also the kind of player who can produce over 1100 to 1200 yards in a season, which is near first tier production. So if the team doesn’t re-sign him for 2018, they’ll lose their best offensive weapon and one of the best weapons in the league, which won’t put this team in position to take a step forward in 2018.

Greg Cote from the Miami Herald had an interesting take. He noted that 27 other franchises have had playoff victories since the last time the Dolphins celebrated one on December 30th, 2000, which puts them in the same category of the Bengals, Bills, Browns, and Lions. His idea for taking a step forward may seem a bit more extreme at first glance, but it also makes some sense with the Dolphins holding the #11 pick in a deep quarterback draft. I’m of the belief that the Dolphins are in a tough position with the playoff appearance in 2016 with Tannehill hurt because they could, rightfully, believe that they’re on the cusp of success with the roster they have now and that an opportunity at the playoffs was swiped out from under them in 2017. Alternatively, they could also rightfully believe that this team that went 6-10 without the good, but not great, quarterback wasn’t in a position to be a real contender in 2017 and that even with Tannehill performing at his normal production level they wouldn’t have contended for a championship. I think the Dolphins would have been better served with Tannehill under center than Cutler who averaged just 190.4 passing yards per game compared to Tannehill’s career average of 239.7 per game, but I don’t know how much better they would have been.

The team also would have also been better served not spending $10 million on Jay Cutler and sticking out the season with Matt Moore or trading for a back-up quality level quarterback and understanding the season was a wash with Tannehill down. Cutler has never been the kind of quarterback who’s going to lead a team to the Super Bowl; he’s never become the player who people thought he would become when he was drafted in the first round and he’s rarely shown flashes that he could be an elite quarterback. That $10 million could have been rolled forward into 2018 and used to improve this roster, and Moore could have produced at a similar level to Cutler. In fact, Moore averaged 215.3 yards per game in the four games he saw extended time in, so they could have saved that money and still been 6-10. This is what poorly managed organizations do, though. The Dolphins kind of went all in on the 2016 and 2017 seasons, likely knowing that Suh and Tannehill’s costs as a duo would increase to restrictive levels by 2018, and they’re suffering the consequences of being an organization that manages their roster in the short-term, rather than the long-term.

As Cote points out the Dolphins have been mired in mediocrity for almost two decades now, so it might be worth considering a new roster construction strategy and move on from Tannehill with the likely possibility that they could get a second round pick for the quarterback. They could also use him as a bridge quarterback to 2019 where the quarterback they choose with the #11 pick becomes the starter. By using the first round pick on a quarterback, with Tannehill still on the roster, they would have one less, very important pick to use on filling a key hole. If they moved on from him in 2018 he’d have a dead money cap hit of $4.6 million and the team would save $15.2 million in cap space that could go towards starting to build towards future championships rather than trying to accomplish the unlikely feat of a Super Bowl in 2018. If they move on from him in 2019, he’d have a $2.3 million dead money cap hit, which would save $18.75 million in cap space. A team built around a competent rookie contract quarterback could have a much higher likelihood of future success than the current model has at short-term success. Cote’s idea might be a bit farfetched from where the Dolphins are with the way they were raving about Tannehill heading into his second season with head coach Adam Gase going into 2017, but it’s worth considering as maybe the Dolphins are considering it as well given where the organization stands.

The Patriots are going to be the Patriots again in 2018, the Bills will be competitive, and the Jets are in the best position to build their roster that they’ve had in the last decade, so they’ll be improved in 2018 and for the foreseeable future if their front office manages the 2018 offseason well. The Jets have over $63 million in cap space post-rookie pool estimates, plus eight draft picks including two second round picks. I don’t see this version of the Dolphins they’ll likely to field in 2018 making the playoffs or making a Super Bowl push.

The other option here is to take interest in the quarterbacks in this year’s class, like Baker Mayfield, who the Dolphins reportedly spoke to at the Senior Bowl, and either taking one of the quarterbacks or enticing the teams behind them to trade up in the draft through the perception of interest in these quarterbacks. Cincinnati and Washington are right behind them at #12 and #13 with both teams needing to make a decision at the position this offseason. Could the Dolphins interest in quarterbacks cause the Bengals to jump up a spot and send them a second round pick as well? Could Washington want to leapfrog the Bengals and make the same trade? Could the Bills like a quarterback enough to trade both the #21 and #22 picks in the first round? These three teams could be candidates that return a first round pick to the Dolphins to move down and still get the player they wanted to sign, while adding a second round pick, which has a decent likelihood of becoming a starter if the team does a good job scouting.

With this we get to the Dolphins eight draft picks they currently have and I look at a mock draft done by Kevin Nogle of The Phinsider that addresses many of the holes in the roster with draft solutions. In this mock draft, he suggests taking inside linebacker Roquan Smith from Georgia, which would solve an immediate team need with what seems like a can’t miss prospect and also one that will likely be available even in the early-twenties where the Bills picks are as inside linebacker, like running back, isn’t traditionally a position that teams are jumping at drafting in the first round. Considering the value potential found in later rounds, Malik Jefferson out of Texas or the very productive Josey Jewell out of Iowa could both be available as second or third round picks. If they draft one of these middle linebackers, he could become the starter, while McMillan becomes the eventual outside linebacker who replaces Timmons as many scouts saw him as a strong-side outside linebacker coming out of the draft.

Nogle thinks their second round pick could be used on center Billy Price out of Ohio State. He could be their starter at guard and eventually take over for Pouncey at center. Walter Football writes the following about Price: “Price impressed NFL evaluators, both with his work in fall training camp and in the games of the 2017 season. They say that Price plays within himself. They like his awareness and call him an above-average athlete. He isn’t overly fast or twitchy like the Pouncey brothers, but Price has movement skills and is better than average in space. The sources also like that Price handles big nose tackles well, which can be difficult for centers and is a hard-to-find talent.” He’s also a well balanced player who can block the run and pass.

The 2018 draft class seems to be fairly deep at tight end, which feels like it’s becoming a trend at the position as its importance at the NFL level might be pushing the trend. The third and fourth round could be a great spot to take whoever the Dolphins identify as the best tight end, specifically someone who can come in and start immediately, but also develop into an elite tight end over time. If they lost Landry, then this tight end becomes a key part of the pass offense. I wouldn’t be opposed to letting Landry walk if they believe Carroo and Grant can take over the production and they draft the right tight end as the costs of Landry with other cap costs will be tough to manage. Nogle has tight end Mark Andrews out of Oklahoma as the Dolphins selection in the third round and I love the pick. I’ve thought Andrews would be a productive NFL tight end from the moment I first saw him play with his 6’5″, 250-pound frame, his plus speed and his college production. He caught 62 passes for 958 yards and eight touchdowns in 2017, which are excellent numbers for a college tight end. To the point about it being a deep class, there are countless others worth considering and maybe the Dolphins even draft two tight ends in this draft to a) hedge their bets knowing they need one of them to produce and b) have the opportunity to have two big mismatches at the position.

If they don’t re-sign Landry, they could use the money not spent on him to invest in other positions of need and use multiple draft picks on tight ends or use some of the money saved to find a tight end in free agency, while still drafting a tight end of the future. Ed Dickson, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and Nick O’Leary could all be decent low cost options for the team.

Hayden Hurst out of South Carolina is projected to be a second round pick, so if they want to draft the tight end earlier and wait on an interior lineman this could work. Waiting until the third through fifth round to draft a guard is a valid idea considering that productive interior linemen can be found later in the draft as the Patriots have proven on a yearly basis with their starting offensive lines. If they like Troy Fumagalli from Wisconsin in the third round over Andrews, then that’s a good candidate. Players who could be available in the fourth round include Dallas Goedert from South Dakota State who had 164 catches for 2404 and 18 touchdowns over his last two college seasons, Mike Gesicki from Penn State, plus the very productive Adam Breneman from UMass who also had zero drops during his season season.

Moving into the later rounds we get into more developmental prospects in Nogle’s mock draft as that’s what’s available in these rounds. He cites quarterback Luke Falk from Washington State as a good developmental option in the fourth round, which I agree with while also adding Mason Rudolph from Oklahoma State as an option. The incredible and inspirational one-handed linebacker Shaquem Griffen from UCF is who he’d take with their second fourth round pick, which is a solid decision as he adds the hybrid versatility that teams are looking for in today’s NFL with the ability to play safety, linebacker, and rush the passer. He’s also the kind of fourth round pick that can contribute in some way immediately, then grow into a larger role.

I like his sixth round pick in Bo Scarborough from Alabama to pair with their current Alabama running back Kenyan Drake. I think Scarborough has the potential to be the Derrick Henry prototype that we’ve all envisioned he could be since he got to Alabama and it’s worth taking the chance with a sixth round pick. If they unexpectedly decide to move on from Tannehill and draft a quarterback in the first round, then I would suggest using the money saved on Tannehill to address some other needs like on the offensive line, cornerback, or linebacker, then use a higher round pick on a running back as well. If you have a young quarterback, then he needs a running game to lean on for offensive balance and to make play action passing more effective. Nogle selects guard Maea Teulema from Southeast Louisiana who was an LSU transfer after academic and team rules issues, plus tackle Aaron Evans from UCF with the team’s two seventh round picks.

In summation, the Dolphins have a lot of issues they need to solve in 2018 and, while they might be able to create some cap space to fill those needs, I think they’ve wasted too much cap space on overpaying Suh, then overpaying some average to below average performing players at the top of their roster. I don’t think they’ll have the depth on their roster to be a top contender. This will lead to the Dolphins likely being in the same area where they have been since 2009 where they bounce around between 6-10, 7-9 and 8-8. I don’t think they make the playoffs in 2018 unless they have the kind of 2018 draft that the Saints had in 2017 with immediate above average starters in cornerback Marshon Lattimore, tackle Ryan Ramcyzk, safety Marcus Williams, and running back Alvin Kamara. I think the Dolphins have another season at or below .500 and go into the 2019 offseason in a similar position to where they are now. My hope for Dolphins fans is that the organization soon learns the lesson that taking the short-term perspective is not the path to a championship.

Zack Moore is a writer for OverTheCap.com, an NFLPA certified agent, and author of the recently released book titled, “Caponomics: Building Super Bowl Champions,” which is now available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @ZackMooreNFL. 

2018 Free Agent Preview: Quarterback

Though quarterback is rarely a big position of interest in free agency this year might be a bit different based on some odd circumstances involving Kirk Cousins and to a lesser extent Drew Brees. I’ll look at my picks for the top 10 potentially available players in free agency and then put up some estimates for the group of FAs who are out there this season. Ill try to do a few of these positions as time allows through the start of free agency. Feel free to email me requests otherwise Ill just run through offensive skill positions through the line and then the defense.

1. Kirk Cousins, Redskins

Cousins currently played out his second franchise tag with Washington which leave the Redskins the option of franchising him for a whopping $34.5 million and blocking him from free agency, transition tagging him for $28.7 million to maintain a right of first refusal or just letting him walk. All three options are on the table but the franchise tag would be pretty devastating so most likely they would use a transition tag and he would have a market with that.

Cousins is a capable, above average QB but probably not the type of Tier 1 QB that ensures the playoffs and any team signing him should not look at him as a savior but as part of the solution. A team has to surround him with more talent than the Redskins did this past season if they want to break out from the 8-8 pack of teams on a yearly basis. That said we are talking QBs and being a true Tier 1 player has nothing to do with salary.

Cousins market was probably hurt by the 49ers making a trade for a QB at the deadline but there are teams that should make offers. The more teams the higher the bidding can go and I would be surprised if he was not the highest paid QB in the history of the NFL barring an unforeseen extension for an Aaron Rodgers between now and March. I’m not sure if he can reach the $30M a year mark, but it wouldn’t stun me either.

If a team needs a QB I don’t consider the salary cap a barrier for anyone since you simply find ways to make it work. Teams that I think will take a serious look are the Bills, Jets, Dolphins, Jaguars (unless Bortles goes on a big playoff run) and Cardinals. I think he will be too expensive for the Broncos who have been more conservative than others and while the fit may be there with the Browns I don’t see how you could advocate for signing a high priced veteran when you have the 1st and 4th overall pick in the draft. Of those teams I think only the Jets, Jaguars, and Browns could construct an offer that would prove difficult for Washington to match. The others may have issues due to their salary cap to build something out that the Redskins would not match unless they got very exotic with player controlled voids or contract escalators that maintained his position as the highest paid player.

I’d put his market between $27.5 and $29 million a year with over $65 million fully guaranteed at signing.

2. Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers

The 49ers lost a lot of leverage when Garoppolo was forced to come into the lineup due to injury and lit the league up. In hindsight they should have furiously looked to work out a new contract just as soon as they traded for him. Not doing that likely cost them at least a few million.

I’d say it is unlikely that Garoppolo hits the market. Even if the 49ers use the transition tag, which I think is advisable over the franchise tag, they have so much cap space that there is nothing I could see a team offering that they could not match. Given that negotiating contracts takes time and sits on your cap in full while the other team can mull over the offer for a few days I don’t think teams will see it being worth their time. This should make the transition tag a block for free agency.

I’d say for most players who are traded for a 2nd round pick that they typically will sign a long term contract that is near the top of the market but generally behind a few key players. Id say that is in the $22-$22.5M range. However with the escalating salaries at QB and understanding that the 49ers would look bad if he ever walked they should be able to push that number past the $25M contract signed by Derek Carr who is going to be his closest comparable.

San Francisco is tough to deal with and Im not sure the sides can work out a long term contract but I also don’t see him leaving. If they do a long term deal Id say it will be in the $22M range with somewhat reasonable escalators that could push it beyond $25 million a season. If not I would anticipate using the tag.

3. Drew Brees, Saints

Brees took an under market contract for this season to potentially avoid the franchise process which gives him an interesting decision for 2018. The Saints are coming off their best season in ages and it’s primarily because they had an absolutely great draft class. That gives the Saints a young core that should continue to succeed and not force the team to continue to make mistakes in free agency or with contract extensions. I think that makes it less likely that Brees will leave New Orleans since they look like they have broken out of the 0.500 rut in a sustainable manner.

Brees will be 39 years old next season so this is likely his final contract. There are a lot of different ways to take his stats this year. In some ways it was his best year in some time with a terrific completion percentage despite using all of the field while continuing to play mistake free. To outside teams though I think there may be a thought he lost something and that the best is behind him. This latter opinion is probably why Brees got so few mentions this year and fell behind Alvin Kamara as the most talked about Saint.

If the Saints do not make him a solid offer I think he will test free agency. Given his age and fact that his entire career has either been in great weather or indoors I don’t think he would get as robust a market as Cousins. Miami would be a team I could see making a big offer as would the Jaguars if Bortles flames out. The Cardinals if they continue to chase the ring with their current team would be another logical suitor. Most likely he stays in New Orleans on a 3 year contract worth right around $25 million a season with $40 million guaranteed and vesting guarantees for the entire contract.

4. Case Keenum, Vikings

Keenum is one of the most shocking QB stories if 2017. Keenum had stints with the Texans and Rams before coming to the Vikings as a low cost backup. An injury to Sam Bradford saw him take over the Vikings offense and lead them to an 11-3 record in the 14 games he started. Keenum avoided big mistakes and made plays when necessary. Though there is a big dropoff between the first tier of free agents and Keenum, Keenum should find some interest as a decent game manager if they need a QB and are not in a position to draft one.

Though Keenum should be impacted negatively by the failures of Brock Osweiler and Mike Glennon, their success at getting a contract should give Keenum a similar path to earning a reasonable contract. Teams will be more risk averse with Keenum since there is nothing before this season to really indicate that he would be a quality starter so I would not expect a big guarantee, but do think he can get a three year contract from a team.

I think for a team to be interested in Keenum they will need to have some skill position players in place and a solid defense. He is not someone you build a team around so I wouldn’t expect the bad roster teams to chase him. This is the price range where the Broncos could begin to look. If the Cardinals are still bullish on their roster this would be a reasonable stopgap solution with a little upside. Im not sure if you discount the Redskins on him either. The Vikings should be the favorites to retain him.

I’d think a 3 year contract in the $15 million per year range with $17 million or so guaranteed is likely unless teams are still scared in which case I’d look at 2 years $12-13M per year. Any type of good playoff run should increase any price.

5. Sam Bradford, Vikings

No player lost more this year than Bradford who led the Vikings to a great opening week win and then fell to another knee injury that seemed to come out of nowhere. The Vikings tried to bring him back after a few weeks and it was a disaster as he clearly was not capable of playing on his leg. He could be back for the playoffs in relief if Keenum had a bad game, but that may not be advisable to either side.

Bradford’s entire career has been marred by injuries and I don’t think Keenum leading the Vikings to the playoffs a year after Bradford’s team went 8-8 is a big benefit either. Though Bradford still has that draft pedigree and has never had a season so bad that it makes people forget where he was drafted, he is so far removed from being considered a “prospect” that teams shouldn’t be blinded by that anymore.

Bradford is a risky play but because he is likely going to be cheap relative to his potential upside he is worth the risk. Suitors should include the Broncos, Cardinals, Vikings if they fail to retain Keenum, and Redskins if they decide Cousins is too expensive. I guess with all the cap room they have the Browns could go to him to start over a rookie for a portion of the season before replacing him if things go south.

I don’t see Bradford signing for anything more than a 2 year contract worth somewhere around $16 million in base salary with another $10-$12 million available based on tiers of incentives. Cal it $7 million guaranteed and close to $1 million in per game bonuses this year.

6. Teddy Bridgewater, Vikings

A promising career took a bad turn off a horrific injury basically cause Bridgewater to miss the last two seasons. The Vikings did clear him to play this year after missing the first few weeks on the PUP list but we did not see much of him because Keenum and the team was so hot.

If it was known that Bridgewater was fully healthy there is no doubt in my mind he would get a contract at the least equal to Mike Glennon’s $15 million a year contract, but with such a small sample size post injury I don’t believe a team can make that kind of commitment. Most likely he is going to be looked at similar to Robert Griffin III but with less upside. Bridgewater thus far in his career has been little more than a safe game manager, but has Alex Smith upside and in today’s dollars Smith is worth over $22 million a season.

He is best served to take a one year contract with a chance to start even if that means leaving a few dollars on the table. We will see how the Vikings year ends but that could be a place where he had a chance to play if they don’t make the Super Bowl with Keenum this year. The Jets with decent wide receivers would make some sense as would the Bills if they part ways with Tyrod Taylor. Arizona is a great environment and if Larry Fitzgerald returns and they keep one of the Browns it could be a good spot. Denver would be the best spot of all with a terrific defense and good receivers.

I have a hard time projecting a contract here but I think somewhere around $6 or $7 million is fair.  The deal would include significant performance incentives as well. Im not sure given the nature of his injury if some teams might look for an injury waiver to apply in the preseason but he should be able to find a home where they take that risk at this price.

7. Josh McCown, Jets

McCown had the best season of his career at the age of 38 before an injury ended his season after 13 games. McCown is the ultimate journeyman with the Jets being his 8th NFL team and the 6th team he has logged at least 5 starts for.

There is little upside with McCown who will never stay healthy for 16 games and has only posted a winning record once in his career (3-2 with the Bears). However everywhere he goes his teammates seem to love him and he brings a great deal of energy to a team. Many say he is destined to be a coach in the league if he wants that and he seems more than happy to embrace a role as a mentor to a young team.

I think there should be a great deal of interest in McCown as a low level starter or safe backup. Even if the Jets were to plan on drafting a QB I don’t think they would discount keeping McCown for the year. Both Arizona and Denver could look at him as a cheap option to start for a season and pray he stays healthy. Miami and Houston, given their injuries at QB, should look at someone like this as a competent backup in the event rehab is slow or there is some kind of setback.

McCown will probably earn in the $6-$7 million range with incentives that will increase that based on performance if he were to start.

8. Jay Cutler, Dolphins

Cutler had zero interest in free agency last year and was about to move on from the NFL when an injury gave him an opportunity with the Dolphins. He certainly didn’t distinguish himself and hit career lows in yards per game, yards per completion, and yards per attempt. My assumption is that he will still have no interest in the initial stage of free agency this year but could hook up with a desperate team on a one year contract.

I would not completely discount the Dolphins but given how the year went and the fact that they wanted to evaluate David Fales in the final game makes me think they were done with him. I’d think the two more likely spots that could see desperation would be the Cardinals or the Redskins where maybe they think they could catch lighting in a bottle even though hes never had that lightning in his career. Last year the Jets were reportedly interested if he was cheap enough and maybe that could happen this year.

Part of this may depend on if FOX is willing to give him a job again after he left them last year or not. If not he may sign for cheaper which is 1 year for say $7 million with a few incentives for the playoffs. If Fox is an option my guess is a team would need to go to $10 million to bring him out of retirement.

9. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buccaneers

With a season away from the Jets disaster of 2016 the well traveled veteran should be the top backup available. Fitzpatrick has the qualities you need for a spot starter and when he plays under control he can be a decent game manager for a few weeks before teams catch up with him. He went 2-1 with the Bucs this year and kept them competitive in another game he saw extensive time in.

Since he has been in so many spots its hard to say what teams would consider him again but I think anywhere where injuries seem more likely to occur makes sense. The Bucs would certainly remain a strong option too and he indicated he wanted to stay there. To me Tennessee would be a nice spot as would Miami. I don’t think the Bills would be a team he would go back to but anything is possible I guess. Dallas would be a dark horse destination if they wanted to go with a more well known backup.

Someone like Fitzpatrick should sign for 1 or 2 years for $3.5 million a season with some incentivized upside.

10. Drew Stanton, Cardinals

Stanton has come in to relieve an injured Carson Palmer in two of the last four seasons going 8-4 in the process. Stanton isn’t going to put up any fancy numbers but he seems to bring some confidence to his teammates and he hasn’t lost games for the team either. Those are the kind of qualities that make a pretty strong backup QB.

Stanton has had long stints with the Cardinals and Lions so I think he is doing something right to be able to keep his spot as a backup with so few teams. I think that would make most of the NFL open to using him. Any of the teams with an older QB should consider a player like Stanton to backup even if the player hasn’t had any injury history.   For teams with the younger QBs, like a Mariota, I think it is more of a case by case basis.

I think the market for Stanton will probably peak around $3 million unless he comes back to Arizona to compete for a starting job in which case it could be a bit higher.

Here is the list of the players we have listed as unrestricted free agents in 2018 and a rough estimate for a contract annual value.

RankPlayerCurrent TeamAgeSnap % Projected APY
1Kirk CousinsRedskins3099.6%$28,500,000
2Jimmy Garoppolo49ers2732.0%$22,000,000
3Drew BreesSaints3999.5%$25,000,000
4Case KeenumVikings3090.9%$15,000,000
5Sam BradfordVikings318.1%$8,000,000
6Teddy BridgewaterVikings260.8%$7,000,000
7Josh McCownJets3978.8%$6,000,000
8Jay CutlerDolphins3572.3%$7,000,000
9Ryan FitzpatrickBuccaneers3628.9%$3,500,000
10Drew StantonCardinals3428.5%$3,000,000
11Geno SmithGiants286.1%$1,500,000
12Matt MooreDolphins3419.2%$3,000,000
13Chase DanielSaints320.5%$3,500,000
14Ryan MallettRavens305.4%$2,000,000
15Brock OsweilerBroncos2831.1%$2,000,000
16E.J. ManuelRaiders287.5%Minimum
17Blaine GabbertCardinals2930.7%Minimum
18Chad HenneJaguars332.0%$1,500,000
19Derek AndersonPanthers351.5%$2,500,000
20Mark SanchezBears320.0%$1,500,000
21Tom SavageTexans2838.2%Minimum
22Scott TolzienColts314.0%Minimum
23Brandon WeedenTitans350.0%Minimum
24Josh JohnsonTexans320.0%Minimum
25Kellen ClemensChargers353.4%Minimum
26Austin DavisSeahawks290.5%Minimum
27Tyler BrayChiefs270.4%Minimum
28T.J. YatesTexans3118.7%Minimum
29Matt BarkleyCardinals280.0%Minimum