NFL Teams with the Most to Lose in Free Agency
We’re getting down to the nitty and the gritty in the National Football League this time of the year.
Next Tuesday, teams must be at or below the salary cap (numerous reports have the number at 123 million). And three days earlier, clubs may begin negotiating with perspective free agents from other organizations.
So how do you determine that teams actually have the most to lose? Well, it’s pretty obvious that a number of factors must come into play. And that’s why the teams below, for the most part, are either recent playoff participants or clubs on the rise.
In a case of a few teams, there may be a large number of free agents that must be addressed. For others, being too close to the cap with less than a week before March 12 may make it near impossible to bring back their own talent.
So here’s a look at the teams that stand to lose the most starting next week. And you will notice a fairly prevailing theme with all of these clubs, one that usually proves to be the difference between a great season and a championship one.
It should be noted that all financial and salary cap information for the teams in this piece comes courtesy of www.spotrac.com.
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It’s been a decent run for the Atlanta Falcons as of late…but not great.
That’s only because the franchise has yet (yet) to at least reach the Super Bowl in any of the last five seasons, most notably two of the last three years when head coach Mike Smith and company owned the top seed in the NFC.
As for the future, we already know the team will have a bit of a different look. Atlanta recently released veterans such as running back Michael Turner, defensive end John Abraham and cornerback Dunta Robinson.
While Turner’s fate appeared sealed long ago and Abraham would be entering his 14th NFL season, Robinson’s departure could be considered somewhat of a surprise. While he totaled just one interception, he was third on the team in tackles in 2012.
And that brings us to the Falcons’ secondary in general, which made a lot of plays for a defensive unit that proved to be somewhat average, especially against the run. But players like Robinson, cornerback Asante Samuel and Pro Bowl safeties William Moore and Thomas DeCoud came up big for the most part.
Moore is currently unsigned, as are cornerbacks Brent Grimes and Chris Owens. The Falcons can least afford to lose too many members of a secondary that set the tone for their defense in 2012.
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Huh? Didn’t the Baltimore Ravens just re-sign Super Bowl XLVII and quarterback Joe Flacco to a new six-year contract.
While this may be a quarterback-drive league, there are certainly a lot more parts to the car. And John Harbaugh’s club has some key parts that still perform very well but are not ensured of returning as we type.
On the defensive side of the ball alone, safety Ed Reed, outside linebacker Paul Kruger, inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and cornerback Cary Williams could be unrestricted free agents. In 2012, Reed and Williams tied for the team lead with four interceptions, Kruger led the club with 9.0 sacks and Ellerbe finished second on the team in tackles.
As of this morning, the Ravens are roughly 13 million dollars under the cap and Flacco’s new contract certainly helps. But the team’s championship run was not strictly the result of their quarterback throwing 11 touchdown passes and zero interception in four postseason games. John Harbaugh’s opportunistic club forced a combined 10 turnovers in those victories.
Although certainly not impossible, keeping that defensive unit together will be difficult indeed. And perhaps the one thing the Ravens stand to lose the most this offseason is that special chemistry needed to win a title.
But that may only be a slight perhaps.
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Getting to the playoffs has suddenly not been the issue for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Winning a playoff game continues to be.
Marvin Lewis’ club has been rejuvenated the last two seasons thanks in part to quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green. But the team’s pride and joy in recent seasons, the defense, has a lot of unfinished business. And keep in mind the impact that unit had in 2012.
Only five teams in the NFL allowed fewer yards last season. The Bengals totaled 30 takeaways and finished with 51 sacks, that latter totaled topped only by the Denver Broncos and St. Louis Rams (51). And in the team’s final nine outings, including the playoff loss to the Houston Texans, Cincinnati held eight of those opponents to fewer than 20 points.
As we have already seen, the team has designated defensive end Michael Johnson (11.5 sacks in 2012) as its franchise player. But the club also has 11 defensive players, including five starters, slated to become unrestricted free agents in six days.
The list includes linebackers Rey Maualaga and Manny Lawson, cornerbacks Nate Clements and Terrence Newman (although 2012 first-rounder Dre Kirkpatrick is waiting in the wings) and defensive lineman Robert Geathers and Pat Sims.
The Bengals apparently have plenty of spending room (roughly 46 million under the cap) so they would apparently appear to be in good shape to bring back the majority of these players so they so choose. But they also stand to break up that old gang of coordinator Mike Zimmer’s as well, especially if they can outbid some worthy suitors.
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What could a team that finished 4-12 in 2012 possibly have to lose this offseason?
Of course, we’re talking about a Detroit Lions’ franchise that did finish 0-16 in 2008. But up until last season, the franchise appeared to be on the upswing and in 2011 reached the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade.
The current Lions enter 2013 riding an eight-game losing streak. Yes, there’s quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson and a team with the ability to score points. But Detroit continues to defy explanation on the defensive side of the football.
What with the talent the team has accumulated over the years via the draft, things should be better. But the team has allowed well over 400 points in four of the last six seasons, including 437 points in 2012.
Defensive end Cliff Avril led the team with 11.0 sacks. Linebackers Justin Durant and DeAndre Levy and cornerback Chris Houston finished second, third and fourth on the team, respectively, in tackles. All four are slated to become free agents, as is veteran defensive tackle Corey Williams and starting strong safety Louis Delmas.
Some will say what does this team truly have to lose if this mix isn’t working? However, if the Lions have to start totally over once again on the defensive side of the football, we may not be hearing from them for another decade or so.
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It’s just one season, but they appear to be building something in South Florida these days.
The Miami Dolphins are a franchise that is in the midst of four straight losing campaigns. Still, following a 1-3 start a year ago, the Dolphins went 6-6 in their final 12 games.
Last season, rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill may have thrown more interceptions (13) than touchdown passes (12) but also completed 58.3 percent of his throws and looks like an up-and-comer. Defensive end Cameron Wake had 15 of the team’s 42 sacks while the Dolphins were amongst the league leaders in fewest points allowed.
The organization slapped the franchise tag on Pro Bowl defensive tackle Randy Starks but also stand to lose some very pivotal parts.
Reggie Bush led the team in rushing yards, wide receiver Brian Hartline was Miami’s top pass catcher and tight end Anthony Fasano caught a team-high five touchdown passes last season. All are slated to hit the open market.
Also apparently available could be left tackle Jake Long, the former number-one overall pick and four-time Pro Bowler, as well as underrated free safety Chris Clemons and veteran backup quarterback Matt Moore.
The Dolphins headed in the right direction and with about 36 million under the cap to play with should get a lot of these deals done. Losing too many of the players could be disruptive for a team that still hasn’t won a playoff game since 2000.
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When you’ve been as successful as the Pittsburgh Steelers, you likely have a roster loaded with star players. And these days, one way or another, you will simply have to pay the piper…
You also have to pay the Ben and the Tory and the LaMarr, etc.
Despite being one of the traditionally least active teams during the free agency period, the Steelers have remained a contender due to outstanding drafts and preparing young players to step in when the time comes.
Many people like to point to the defensive side of the football for Mike Tomlin’s club and stress the unit’s age. And there’s certainly not a lack of that. But the organization has added a lot of young talent on defense in recent seasons, such as defensive ends Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward, outside linebacker Jason Worilds and cornerback Keenan Lewis.
Once again, the Steelers find themselves up against the cap and managed to get under it because numerous players restructured their contracts this offseason. But there’s still more work to be done.
While defenders such as Casey Hampton and Larry Foote, as well as Lewis, could hit the open market, Pittsburgh also has a half-dozen restricted free agents such as wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, running backs Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman and nose tackle Steve McClendon that need to be re-signed.
And we haven’t even mentioned the possible departure of former Pro Bowl wideout Mike Wallace.
Tricky times ahead for one of the league’s steadiest organizations.
San Diego Chargers
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From AFC West perennial power to three straight none-playoff appearances, the sailing has been anything but smooth as of late for the San Diego Chargers.
And things could get worse before they get better.
Yes, there’s a new regime in town, led by head coach Mike McCoy. But this is a franchise that has seen a lot of talented players move on in recent seasons, including recent examples such as wide receiver Vincent Jackson and running back Darren Sproles.
While a 7-9 finish isn’t a total disaster, it was the team’s worst showing since going 4-12 in 2003. And with the potential of losing even more veteran performers, especially on the defensive side of the ball, it will be interesting to see where this team is truly headed. In a league where turnarounds are common place, the Chargers still don’t appear to be that far away.
Veteran outside linebacker Shaun Phillips led the club with 9.5 sacks last season but is slated to become a free agent. So are starting cornerbacks Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason, as well as valuable backups such as linebacker Antwan Barnes and Demorrio Williams.
With young players such as nose tackle Cam Thomas, defensive end Kendall Reyes and linebacker Melvin Ingram, some of the other perspective holes to fill in terms of possible free agent departures have been addressed. But just how different will this team look in 2013, one that scored as many points as it allowed (350) last season?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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Although the Tampa Bay Buccaneers slumped badly following a promising start for the second consecutive season, this is a franchise that made some big strides in 2012.
It would hardly be the right time to take another step backwards.
The Bucs were one of the busiest teams last offseason, adding players such as wide receiver Vincent Jackson and guard Carl Nicks via free agency and safety Mark Barron and running back Doug Martin in the first round of the draft. The result was a 7-9 finish, albeit it following a 6-4 start.
Defensively, the team had its ups and down, dramatically improved in terms of stopping the run while ranking dead last in the league against the pass.
Some of that imbalance was the result of teams opting to throw rather than run, some of that due to a solid season by a defensive front led by Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and a supporting cast up front that included defensive end Michael Bennett and unsung defensive tackle Roy Miller.
Bennett and Miller appear ready to possibly hit the open market, which would undo a lot of the good head coach Greg Schiano and the team accomplished last season. Miller may be the more pressing issue as Da’Qun Bowers is the heir apparent at Bennett’s spot. But this is a team that also needs to generate more pressure on the quarterback, a big issues in recent years.
But on a young defense leadership is needed and veteran Ronde Barber, who made the switch to free safety last season, could also become an unrestricted free agent next week (as could cornerback E.J. Biggers). But Barber’s possible departure, be that going elsewhere or retirement, could leave a bigger hole on the defense than most would admit.
Cap-wise, the Buccaneers appear to be in excellent shape (approximately 33 million under the number) so all of this may be a moot point. Still, it will be interesting to see how this all plays out for a team that may be the team most equipped to unseat the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC South in 2013.