The 2014 NFL playoffs are in full swing, but the upcoming offseason is now the focus of fans supporting the 28 teams not involved in the conference championship games.
There are two main ways for these clubs to improve their rosters and make a Super Bowl run next year, those being the draft and free agency.
Let’s focus on the latter and make some projections on where the top offensive stars set to hit the open market might land.
Knowshon Moreno, RB: Cleveland Browns
It was only a few seasons ago that Moreno was thought by many to be a first-round bust and appeared to be on his way to getting cut. In the second season of the Peyton Manning era, however, the 26-year-old back finally broke through with his first 1,000-plus-yard campaign rushing and scored 10 touchdowns on the ground to boot.
The back gave plenty of credit to his legendary signal-caller for this success:
With just five seasons under his belt, Moreno has plenty of time left in the league. He’s only carried the ball 845 times in the regular season, a figure well below the likes of fellow five-year veterans Arian Foster (1,131 carries) and LeSean McCoy (1,149 carries).
While he was undoubtedly Denver’s best back during a record-setting campaign, it seems Moreno will find himself with a new franchise this offseason.
The Broncos utilized a second-round pick on Montee Ball this past spring and a third-rounder on Ronnie Hillman in 2012, so the team brass will likely want to get some return on investment there and clear room for the younger players to develop.
Cleveland is one organization that would be happy to scoop him up as a free agent. Moreno is the ideal back for the Browns, as he is versatile enough to play every down due to his power running and pass-catching skills.
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The Browns ranked in the bottom five of the league with just 86.4 rushing yards per game in 2013 and clearly need to find a replacement for Trent Richardson after trading him early in the year. They tried filling that vacancy with Willis McGahee, Chris Ogbonnaya, Fozzy Whittaker and Edwin Baker, so clearly there is an opportunity for a talented back like Moreno to earn a prominent role.
As long as Moreno’s agent isn’t swinging for the fences with a big-money demand, he should earn a reasonable, cap-friendly deal that will take him into his 30s.
Jimmy Graham, TE: New Orleans Saints
The Saints were just bounced from the playoffs by the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round, a tough defeat that just happened to coincide with Graham’s worst performance of the season.
The big tight end caught a single pass for eight yards, coming in the waning moments of an inevitable loss. Regardless of his awful showing in the team’s most important contest, Graham is essential to the club’s future.
With Rob Gronkowski’s rapidly increasing number of injuries, there is no longer much of an argument about who the top tight end in the league is. Graham has been dominant since his breakout season in 2011 and just put together an 86-catch, 1,215-yard, 16-touchdown outing—arguably the finest of the 27-year-old’s short career.
Every other team in the league would love to at least explore adding this Miami (Fla.) product to the roster, but there is little chance that the Saints fail to lock him up in the offseason.
Regardless of whether Graham gets a franchise tag or a long-term deal that he deserves, New Orleans will undoubtedly be doing everything in its power to retain the services of this 6’7”, 265-pound machine.
The tight end did leave the door open for an exit and was intentionally vague when asked about his future, as per Larry Holder of The Times-Picayune:
"We'll see. Obviously this is a great city, a great team. I love Drew Brees. I told him I would like to retire with him. Hopefully, it'll happen."
If the Saints brass is wise, they will keep him in the Big Easy for the long term. If not, the absolute worst-case scenario should be a franchise tag for the superstar.