How Will Latest Roster Moves Affect 2014 NFL Draft?
It's a somewhat slow time in the NFL. The gap between the conclusion of pro days and the NFL draft (a gap that's wider this year with the draft pushed back to May 8) contains a ton of speculation but very little action.
However, that isn't to say there's nothing going on. With the deadline to exercise a fifth-year option on players entering the fourth year of their contracts rapidly approaching, teams across the NFL are faced with big decisions regarding the stars of the 2011 NFL draft.
The big players in free agency may have already found new homes, but that doesn't mean the signings have stopped altogether. In fact, just last week a former 2,000-yard rusher in running back Chris Johnson changed teams when he joined the New York Jets.
Throw in some player retirements and a roster shakeup or two, and the past few days may have had a significant impact on the draft strategy of several NFL teams.
Here's a look at those teams and how recent roster moves may influence how they approach things in New York next month.
Denver Broncos: Shakeup Up Front
The Denver Broncos, led by quarterback Peyton Manning, shattered all sorts of offensive records in 2013.
Their accomplishments were all the more remarkable given that the team was without its best offensive lineman for much of the year.
The Broncos will have left tackle Ryan Clady—who missed most of 2013 with a foot injury—back this year, and Manning told Mike Klis of The Denver Post, "It's almost like Ryan Clady was a free-agent acquisition."
Clady's return also means some monkey move-up along the line in the Mile High City.
Orlando Franklin, who spent 2013 at right tackle, tweeted Monday that offseason workouts in Denver kicked off for him with a switch to left guard.
Chris Clark, who ranked a respectable 21st among tackles last year, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), while filling in for Clady, will likely flip from the left side to the right.
Assuming Clady returns to anything close to form, it's great news for the NFL's top pass-blocking line from 2013, according to Football Outsiders.
Not only that, but the Broncos can now enter the draft with the knowledge that, while added depth up front is always nice, the offensive line isn't an area Denver has to address early on.
Indianapolis Colts: A Hole Front and Center
The news wasn't as good for another AFC division champion on Monday.
The Indianapolis Colts signed former Dallas Cowboys center Phil Costa back in March, hopeful that the 26-year-old would vie for the starting job in Indy.
Costa lasted about a month.
As Kevin Patra of NFL.com reports, the Colts placed Costa on the reserved/retired list, with general manager Ryan Grigson stating that "Phil feels it's in his best interest to retire from the game. We certainly understand and wish him nothing but the best."
Given that the Colts already released 2013 starter Samson Satele, the team is now precariously thin in front of quarterback Andrew Luck, with second-year pro Khaled Holmes penciled in as the starter.
The hope all along has been that Holmes, who Grigson called the “center of the future” a year ago, according to Kevin Bowen of the team's website, would step in as the starter. But this rather surprising move may lead the Colts to look at a center like Travis Swanson of Arkansas early in the 2014 draft.
Or, the team might even reach out to Satele, who has yet to catch on with a new team.
New York Jets: Offensive Overhaul to Continue?
After a surprising 8-8 season in 2013, the New York Jets hit free agency at a full sprint on the offensive side of the ball.
After adding former Denver Broncos wideout Eric Decker, the Jets warmed up Geno Smith's seat by signing quarterback Michael Vick.
Then it was Chris Johnson, who joined the Jets on a two-year, $8 million deal after six years with the Tennessee Titans, per Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk.
Granted, this doesn't mean the overhaul is finished. Many pundits, including both Don Banks and Doug Farrar at Sports Illustrated, expect the Jets to use their first-round pick in May on a wide receiver (in this case Marqise Lee of USC) to pair with Decker.
Given the depth present at the wide receiver position this year, the Jets could instead look to the defense in the first round and come back for a player like Indiana's Cody Latimer later.
One thing appears certain: The NFL's most extensive offensive overhaul in 2014 isn't over yet.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Defensive Line (Again)?
Over the past several seasons, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have invested several draft picks on the defensive line, from Gerald McCoy and Da'Quan Bowers to Adrian Clayborn and William Gholston.
The results have been mixed. McCoy is becoming one of the league's top young tackles, and Clayborn was solid against the run last year, but Bowers has been a combination of injured and ineffective.
After adding free-agent defensive end Michael Johnson, many thought the rebuild up front in Tampa was finally a done deal.
However, recent news indicates that may not be the case.
With teams across the NFL exercising options on fourth-year veterans, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reports the Buccaneers are not going to do the same with Clayborn, who had 64 tackles and 5.5 sacks a year ago.
On some level it's understandable. Clayborn was the fourth-worst pass-rushing 4-3 end in the NFL last year, according to PFF, and the 2015 option would have cost the Buccaneers nearly $7 million.
Still, with the 25-year-old heading into a "walk" year, don't be surprised if the Buccaneers spend a middle-round pick on an end like Jackson Jeffcoat of Texas.
Dallas Cowboys: Time to Draft an Heir?
There are a couple of teams in the NFC East in a similar predicament this year.
Both the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys face the sobering reality that their franchise quarterbacks are closer to the end of their careers than the beginning, a fact reinforced by the back problems that ended Tony Romo's season early last year.
Now, another development has added a new reason for why the Cowboys might benefit from drafting a quarterback in May.
According to Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, backup Kyle Orton was a no-show at the beginning of offseason workouts. The 31-year-old has reportedly been considering retirement.
If Orton does decide to call it a career, now may be the time for the Cowboys to at least think about a Day 3 prospect like Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas.
Yes, it's been several seasons since the Cowboys carried three active quarterbacks, and the Cowboys did sign former Cleveland quarterback Brandon Weeden during free agency.
However, Romo is 34, Weeden is, well, Weeden, and a rookie signal-caller could be stashed on the practice squad in 2014.
Frankly, in many ways, Dallas is better off if Orton stays home.