The NFL offseason is fully upon us, leaving fans with little to do but trade rumors about the eventual 2012 season.
Fortunately, there's plenty for us to speculate about.
With free agency, trades and the NFL draft still to come, plenty will be shaken up in the world of professional football over the next several months. The composition of every team will change a little bit as everyone does their best to retool and improve in the offseason while staying under the salary cap.
Which big names are potentially on the move in the NFL? Who has a legitimate chance of finding himself wearing a different uniform in 2012 than he did in 2011?
This article isn’t about players like Drew Brees and Ray Rice who will likely either strike a lucrative bargain or be franchised by their teams.
Instead, in this slideshow we’ll take a look at the three most likely landing spots for some of the big names in the NFL who, by all recent reports, are very likely to be on the move in the next several months.
After the antics that he pulled during the 2011 season, it looks like DeSean Jackson’s time with the Philadelphia Eagles may be quickly drawing to an end. The niceties are quickly breaking down, and in the end, it's coming down to money.
More specifically, it seems as though Jackson feels that he is worth more than the Eagles seem to be willing to pay him.
In the likely probability that Jackson decides to test the free-agent waters, he will possibly find that he is right. There are plenty of teams in the NFL who are so desperate for a talented downfield and special teams threat that they’ll pay what Jackson is looking for despite knowing about his attitude problems:
The Jacksonville Jaguars have a lot of problems to solve before their offense can become competitive, but the good news is that they have a lot of salary cap space to work with. They need go-to receivers who have a proven track record of success down the field to match up with the quarterback that they will certainly also bring in this offseason.
Since money doesn't seem to be an issue, they will likely be able to come up with an offer that's much more to DeSean Jackson’s liking.
Sam Bradford had an injury-plagued year that many have written off to a sophomore slump, but he’ll look to bounce back in 2012. In order to do so, he’ll need an improved receiving corps to support him down the field. There's no guarantee that Brandon Lloyd will return to the Rams, but even if he does, the team should be looking to acquire a second deep threat to support him.
Another team that needs some help upgrading their passing game, the Cleveland Browns might swoop in to try to nab Jackson from the Eagles. There's some promise in their current lineup, but one thing they certainly lack is a speed threat. That's a role that DeSean Jackson plays to perfection. The Browns should have the cap space to cater to Jackson’s financial demands, and Jackson will be able to shine among a comparatively lackluster group of receivers.
It’s a sad offseason in Indianapolis as the Colts appear ready to part ways with more than one of their long-time veteran players. Re-signing Reggie Wayne, who still has plenty left in the tank despite his age, seems to be low on the list of priorities for the Colts staff.
Indy’s loss will be someone else’s gain. There will certainly be a market out there for Wayne’s services, although his highest-paying days are probably behind him. There are plenty of teams around the NFL who are looking to add a veteran wide receiver to bring a jump start to an ailing receiver corps:
With all of the unpleasant surprises in Minnesota in 2011, it is often overlooked that the Vikings are a few key players away from turning the 2012 season around. One of the missing pieces is a passing game to complement their solid running game.
Christian Ponder showed a lot of potential during his time as a starter, and he will surely improve by leaps and bounds with a full offseason under his belt. Bringing in Reggie Wayne will give Ponder an athletic receiver and help round out the current roster.
The Bears have shown in recent years that they’re searching for answers at wide receiver, and that they’re willing to bite at even the most remote possibility of finding someone who will fit in and perform well. Wayne could play that role for the Bears for a few years and help mentor a group of receivers that has never seemed to quite gel.
While the Houston Texans will certainly make a reasonable effort to re-sign star defensive end Mario Williams, there’s a good chance that he will be lured away by a lucrative offer elsewhere in free agency.
The loss will sting, but not that much. After all, Williams was sidelined during the majority of the Texans' first franchise playoff run, so it’s clear that the team can move on without him.
That being said, this decision will probably come down to money. Which teams are desperate enough to bribe Williams away from Houston?
The Jaguars are entering the free-agency market in a mindset that is similar to the one the Philadelphia Eagles had last year: They’re looking to buy themselves a team, and they have the money to do it. There's no reason at all why they won’t try throwing some big bucks at Mario Williams to see if he’ll bite.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs are reportedly heading into the offseason with about $55 million in salary cap space, which leaves them plenty of room to go after some key players to bolster their terrible defense. Williams would be a good fit as a pass rusher who can also stop the run, both of which are areas in which the Bucs desperately need help.
Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers mostly had it going on offense in 2011, and it showed. They were able to dominate most of their opposition, even when the defense collapsed time and time again.
From a defensive perspective, many of the Packers problems boil down to the lack of an effective pass rush. Letting Cullen Jenkins go in free agency last year may have been one of the biggest contributions to that problem.
Although the Packers don’t often participate in the free-agency frenzy, they have occasionally made exceptions in the past to fill key positions. In light of the apparent difference that a pass-rusher of Williams’ caliber makes to the entire defense, it is not outside the realm of possibility that Ted Thompson might try to make a grab at him while the Texans deal with keeping Arian Foster.
Vincent Jackson may yet find himself agreeing to a long-term contract with the San Diego Chargers before he ever tests the waters of free agency. He may want to see what he’s worth on the open market, though, and it looks like the Chargers might be willing to let him do just that as they deal with their plethora of other significant free agents.
Jackson is a coveted speed receiver who has the potential to be an explosive force on offense. There are plenty of teams around the league who would like to bring that athleticism to their squad, even if it meant making Jackson the team’s offensive centerpiece:
The Vikings are looking to empower their struggling passing game, which can be done by bringing in a clear first receiver option. Although Percy Harvin was able to find moderate success in that role in the 2011 season, he is better suited to a second receiver position where he has more freedom to roam the field. The Vikings have a bit of salary cap room to work with, and they might target Jackson as one of their desired acquisitions.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers surprised most of the league when they brought a competent offense to the table to complement their stingy defense. The combination served them well, carrying them to the NFC Championship Game. It’s not hard to believe that Coach Harbaugh will try to build on that success in the offseason by acquiring better talent at wide receiver.
St. Louis Rams
Vincent Jackson would be a shot in the arm for the flagging St. Louis Rams receiving corps, which was dominated later in the season by trade acquisition Brandon Lloyd. Whether or not Lloyd chooses to stay in St. Louis for another season, the Rams are in desperate need of additional help at that position. Bringing Jackson in to complement a healthy Sam Bradford could immediately make the Rams more competitive in the NFC West.
Although Brent Grimes would seemingly love to stay in Atlanta with a long-term contract, it is looking more and more like he might price himself out of a job.
While it’s true that he has two excellent years under his belt, Grimes’ production slipped in the later part of 2011. The Falcons can’t afford to spend the kind of money Grimes is looking for on a potentially big-bust gamble.
Where the Falcons may be unwilling to spend the money, though, there are plenty of teams in the free-agency market who may be much freer with the cash:
New England Patriots
The New England Patriots made it to the Super Bowl despite sporting the 31st-ranked defense in the league. No matter how offense-centric Bill Belichick is, he will have to address some of the problems his team faces on defense in the offseason.
Grimes will perhaps cost more than Belichick wants to spend, but he brings a lot of talent to the table. Belichick and his coaching could be an excellent match for Grimes, too.
The Detroit Lions will be on the prowl in free agency to find a cornerback who will make an immediate impact on their defense. Brent Grimes is an excellent fit who should be able to transfer his skills without much trouble to the Detroit defense.
The Cowboys know that their defense needs some renovations, and they will rightly look to the draft for part of the solution. Some of the help they need will have to come from free agency, though, and Grimes is a good candidate to come in and stand out right away. The Cowboys have money to spend in the offseason, a situation from which Grimes could surely benefit.
Perhaps, the most promising younger quarterback to hit the free-agency market this offseason will be Matt Flynn of the Green Bay Packers.
Interest had begun to circulate around Flynn after he was able to keep the Packers competitive in a game against the New England Patriots during the 2010 regular season. When Flynn took the field against a 2011 Detroit Lions team who had everything to play for and had a record-setting day, he flew to the head of the NFL’s most-wanted list.
There's a possibility with Flynn that the Packers will use the franchise tag on him in order to trade him and gain something from his departure, but whether or not that happens, Flynn will be leaving Green Bay in 2012. With that in mind, the teams in the most desperate hope of securing Flynn’s services include:
Things are changing in Miami, including the coaching staff. Former offensive coordinator of the Packers Joe Philbin will take over a struggling Dolphins team to try to right the ship. Rumor has it that Philbin is interested in taking Flynn with him to serve as the foundation upon which he will build his newest offensive powerhouse.
You can argue that Tarvaris Jackson spent most of his 2011 season playing at far less than 100 percent, and you would be right. That doesn’t stop the disappointment at the Seahawks’ 7-9 finish, nor does it keep people from pointing fingers Jackson’s way.
The Seattle offense is very compatible with Flynn’s style of play, including several emerging receivers who could be a big threat with the right quarterback throwing to them. Add in Marshawn Lynch and his powerhouse running game, and Flynn’s fit in Seattle seems like it might be perfect.
It’s possible that the Cleveland Browns will bite on a trade with the Arizona Cardinals to take Kevin Kolb out of the desert or trade up in the draft to acquire Robert Griffith III, but it’s also possible that they’ll simply turn to free agency and throw in their hat for Matt Flynn’s services.
Flynn would be a good fit for the Browns offense, and he’s proved that he’s probably more capable of running an offense than McCoy.
Despite the concerns surrounding his health, Peyton Manning is perhaps this year’s most eligible bachelor in the NFL.
All signs currently point to the Indianapolis Colts picking Andrew Luck in the draft and letting Peyton—and his huge upcoming bonus—go. If the growing tension between Manning and Jim Irsay is any indication, the departure will happen sooner rather than later. If that's the case, there will certainly be many teams waiting for him with open arms:
The Dolphins are in need of a quarterback in the worst possible way, and Peyton Manning could certainly be at the top of their list of candidates. Manning would be a good fit for them offensively, and would likely be able to provide a spark to an offense that has struggled for years.
The Washington Redskins have played quarterback roulette over the past several seasons, but no one has seemed quite able to hang on to the job. Bringing in Peyton might be the perfect way for the Skins to take control of the NFC East for a few seasons while they figure out what to do later.
This one is a little bit of a stretch with trade bust Kevin Kolb (and his upcoming $7 million bonus) still on the roster, but stranger things have happened.
It’s no secret that there is discontent with the quarterback in the desert, though, which means Kolb may find himself cut or traded away to make room for Manning.
This would also set up backup John Skelton with a mentor who could help to grow him into a better quarterback to take over when Manning retires.