As we lead up to the draft I thought it might be fun to start looking ahead at some teams rosters and futures to help determine likelihood of trading down, good spots for undrafted free agents, and teams that will still be shopping in the bargain bin. We start with the AFC East:
The Bills have 44 players under contract in 2014, which is the upper tier of the NFL. The only projected starters set to be unrestricted free agent are C Eric Wood and TE Scott Chandler, while reserves RT Sam Young, OLB Bryan Scott, DT Alan Branch, and OLB Arthur Moats will also see free agency in 2014. I have the Bills estimated to carry around $107 million in cap charges in 2014, which is a pretty safe figure considering their roster size with likely cap casualties of WR/KR/QB Brad Smith and DE Mark Anderson either this summer or next season. Clearly the Bills are in desperate need of a QB and could be a team that would look to move up if there was one they felt they loved and needed in round 1 or 2. Because the team seems to be set in a lot of positions this may not be a great fit for undrafted players unless they played the ILB position where the Bills are completely lacking or the OLB position where a prospect could show enough to eventually displace the players set to leave next season. That, of course, depends on the defense that the team runs. If they switch to a 34 Defensive end could be a more pressing concern. In terms of positional drafting QB, DE, and LB would seem to be major areas. If any type of cornerback comes here they have pretty much no shot of making it.
Miami looks to be an interesting team as they head into the draft. Clearly they were big spenders in free agency and they do have 41 players under contract next season with more than enough cap room for 2014, but they have a ton of projected starters and reserves whose contracts expire at the end of the 2013 League Year. The names include DT Paul Soliai, DT Randy Starks, CB Brent Grimes, G Richie Incognito, TE Dustin Keller, S Reshad Jones, and S Chris Clemons. That’s nearly half of the projected defensive starters. The Dolphins have clearly been built as a win now team and with that in mind they are a team that could look to make an impact in the coming weeks. By 2015 the Dolphins only have 15 players under contract, 6th lowest in the NFL as of April 18th. They are already rumored to be trading for Branden Albert from the Chiefs, a bit of a strange move since they could have kept Jake Long for probably lesser money, so they would be out at least one draft choice to make that move. I’d imagine on draft day they want a player that they think can slot in right away and play for the team. Miami has a ton of draft picks and even if they trade two away will still have 9 picks in the draft. I doubt that will draft for anything but positional need with an eye on both this year and next year, specifically improving the secondary. Considering the moving of parts that could occur after this season I would consider this a decent landing spot for UDFAs to have a as low cost active roster players or Practice Squad players to get noticed and perhaps stick around in the future. The one negative to signing with Miami is that with so many draft picks and big name new acquisitions it will be much more difficult for a UDFA to stand out.
New England Patriots
The Patriots essentially have no draft this year. They have late picks in the 1st thru 3rd round and then don’t pick again until the 7th round. The Patriots have a large number of free agents after this season but only 4 project as starters. The team has 44 players under contract for 2014 and limited cap space. The Patriots I think would like to find a receiver and could also look for more interior linemen as both their center and backup are free agents next season. Given that the Patriots are a “now” team I could see them trading back or out entirely and trying to stockpile picks in the future. The team is going to have holes at ILB, WR, CB, C, and potentially DT in the near future making those areas of interest, but if they don’t see the payoff this year and a more desperate team comes calling Id expect the Patriots to play the trade game and wait to reload at a later date.
New York Jets
The Jets are clearly in the midst of a massive rebuild. The team only has 36 players under contract in 2014, 8th fewest in the NFL, and of those 36 many are not likely to be here during or after this season. Of their current projected starting lineup 5 offensive players are free agents after 2013 and 3 defensive starters will be free agents. By 2015 over half of the current projected starters will have their current contracts expire a number that does not include Mark Sanchez and Santonio Holmes, players who are as good as gone as soon as the cap allows. This is a long term plan with no real quick fix here. If you notice the Jets signed no long term deals this past offseason, the longest contract running all of 3 years. The Jets did not go off the deep end restructuring contracts and did not extend the terms of Antonio Cromartie’s contract for added cap relief nor get deeper on C Nick Mangold for a quick fix in 2013. They did not seem to approach a number of former starters about coming back, including Dustin Keller and Mike DeVito, both of whom signed reasonably priced contracts elsewhere. Those are often signs of a team with plans of jettisoning a number of players and playing the compensatory pick game as best they can. The Jets are trying to move CB Darrelle Revis and with all the holes on the team there is no reason why they should not do it. This is a long term rebuild which means a ton of draft selections are of the utmost importance and it’s a great home for UDFA’s. The only position where the Jets will have stability is at the DE position where Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples look like long term building blocks. Otherwise this is a clear BAP draft and I would think the Jets will actively shop players, both big name and small name, all summer long.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.