1 Move Each NFL Team Should Make Before the Regular Season Begins
All of the good free agents were scooped up long ago, but that doesn't mean that NFL teams can't make moves before the regular season begins. Plenty of free agents remain unsigned yet, and some teams need some help.
Of course, not every team needs to make a roster move. Some just need to make decisions about how to manage depth charts or whether to start rookies. Others need to ink current players to extensions to ensure stability or that they get a good price.
Here is one move each team should make before the preseason flames out.
Move They Should Make: Sign a Linebacker
The Arizona Cardinals had a stout defense last season, but that unit is in danger of sinking the team this year.
Why? The middle linebacker position is the biggest culprit.
Arizona has lost both starters from last season—Karlos Dansby to free agency and Daryl Washington to knuckleheadedness. The latter’s year-long suspension gutted the middle of a defense that was rather solid last season.
In their place are unproven Kevin Minter and old man Larry Foote, quite the drop-off from a Defensive Player of the Year candidate and a young, athletic stud. Washington and Dansby rated fifth and 20th at the inside linebacker position over at Pro Football Focus (subscription required) last season.
The Cardinals may want to sign an inside linebacker to make up for those losses, Minter and Foote notwithstanding. The players left on the market may be there for a reason—guys like Jonathan Vilma, Erin Henderson and Paris Lenon—but better to bolster depth and shore up the position than to be exposed come Week 1.
Move They Should Make: Move Sam Baker to the Right Side
The offensive line was atrocious in Atlanta last season. Starting left tackle Sam Baker was injured early, and Lamar Holmes was an animated dumpster fire as his replacement.
Baker is back and healthy, but the Falcons may have better use for him than plugging him back in on the left side.
That is because Atlanta drafted Jake Matthews with the No. 6 pick in the draft. The big tackle out of Texas A&M is a natural left tackle, arguably the best in the class.
We saw a couple of highly drafted left tackles struggle when moved to the right side last season. Kansas City’s Eric Fisher was one of the worst-rated tackles in the league according to Pro Football Focus, and Luke Joeckel didn’t fare much better before injuring himself shortly after being moved back to the left side.
It might behoove the Falcons to keep Matthews on the left side and let Baker start on the right side. The veteran has no real experience on the right side himself, but his NFL experience should make the transition far smoother than it might be for a rookie.
Move They Should Make: Bring Ed Reed Back
Yes, Ed Reed is a shell of his Hall of Fame self. That doesn’t preclude him from bringing value back to his old club.
His split with the Baltimore Ravens may have been a tad bit acrimonious, but Reed is destined to go into the Hall of Fame as a Raven. That alone is no reason to bring a washed-up player back to play for your squad, but what about the veteran leadership and mentorship he might provide a young secondary?
Baltimore moved on from Reed rather quickly, drafting Matt Elam and Terrence Brooks in consecutive drafts. Both should start this season, leaving little room for Reed to see the field.
As a backup—should he choose to accept that role—Reed would provide some leadership that has been lacking among the players since he and Ray Lewis departed. It would also provide a mentorship opportunity.
Move They Should Make: Move Preston Brown to the Outside
The Buffalo Bills defense was primed for a big year, but major injury struck early when former Rookie of the Year candidate Kiko Alonso was lost for the season.
The stud linebacker tore his ACL, leaving a hole at outside linebacker, where he was to ply his trade this year after a rookie season in the middle. The Bills already have some veteran outside linebackers that can step in, but their best choice might be rookie Preston Brown
They already plan to give him a look there, per Tim Graham of The Buffalo News, but third-round pick Preston Brown should immediately get run at the position.
There wasn’t much buzz around him before or even after the draft, but Brown should make a solid pro. He is more of a run-stopper in the Brandon Spikes mold—something that might give the Bills pause when it comes to putting him on the outside—but he has looked good in nickel packages thus far.
Move They Should Make: Sign an Offensive Tackle
The offseason was a rough one for the Carolina Panthers, who saw their wide receiver corps decimated and offensive line take a hit.
The latter could be particularly problematic for the Panthers and quarterback Cam Newton, who lost left tackle Jordan Gross to retirement. Despite his relatively advanced age of 34, Gross was among the best-rated tackles in the league last season.
The Panthers did little to replace him in free agency or the draft, presumably expecting Nate Chandler to take over and be an adequate replacement. But what happens if he fails?
Carolina doesn’t have much recourse other than unproven backups, which is why the Panthers should wade into the free-agent waters to scoop up one of the remaining veterans. They may not be starting-caliber anymore, but Bryant McKinnie, Levi Brown, Eric Winston or Sean Locklear—among others—could prove valuable as a backup.
Move They Should Make: Reunite with Kyle Orton
Having a quality backup quarterback may not be high on the list of needs to be a successful team, but it is important nonetheless.
The Chicago Bears know this all too well, having relied upon journeyman Josh McCown when Jay Cutler went down with injury for a spell. McCown was magnificent, overcoming an awful defense and keeping the Bears afloat in the NFC.
The 34-year-old is gone now, reunited with his former coach Lovie Smith in Tampa Bay. That leaves Jordan Palmer, Jimmy Clausen and rookie David Fales to back Cutler up.
Fales is more of a project, so really this is about Palmer and Clausen. Do either of those strike you as a quality backup?
Then again, did McCown before last offseason?
One thing is certain, though: Orton is a proven commodity. He may be getting a bit long in the tooth—even contemplating retirement, per CBS Sports’ John Breech—but the 31-year-old would still be a valuable backup to many teams.
The Bears would clearly have an upgrade there, and Orton has a real chance to start at least a game or two given Cutler’s injury history.
Move They Should Make: Bite the Bullet with Andy Dalton
Gauging quarterback Andy Dalton’s value is a bit of a tricky proposition.
Franchise quarterbacks don’t grow on trees, but whether Dalton fits that bill is still in question. He has led his team to a playoff berth in each of his first three seasons, but he has performed miserably in three early exits. He has put up increasingly nice numbers from year to year, but he has the benefit of playing with A.J. Green, one of the best receivers in the game.
The cost of doing business is going up in the NFL, however, and quarterbacks seem to be reaping the biggest rewards. Every year, we see one or two massive deals, some of which have caused consternation among the ranks in the land of punditry.
A massive deal for Dalton—like the one owner Mike Brown recently alluded to, per Cincinnati's website—would draw perhaps the most criticism out of all the deals made in recent years. Brown mentioned it could be in the "Colin Kaepernick range," which would be $126 million over six years with all bonuses attained.
Still, Brown may have little choice. From all outward appearances, the Bengals seem confident that Dalton is their quarterback of the present and the future. If that’s the case, they must get him locked into a long-term deal before the price goes up. Every year the salary cap jumps, prices for players climb too.
Move They Should Make: Hand Johnny Manziel the Reins Early
The Cleveland Browns are being somewhat coy by keeping Brian Hoyer at the top of the depth chart at quarterback.
Sure, he is the experienced one, having backed up Tom Brady in New England for years before a successful three-game stint as the starter in Cleveland last season. An ACL injury robbed us and the Browns of what might have been, and Hoyer only recently declared himself fully healthy, per John Kampf of The News-Herald.
There is the small matter of Cleveland’s first-round pick, however: Johnny Manziel.
There should be no pretense with Manziel. Sure, the Browns passed on him with their first pick in the draft, but they moved up from No. 26 to 22 to snag him and ensure that they get their quarterback of the future.
Unlike some of his contemporaries, Manziel is ready to rock right out of the gate. His improvisational wizardry is something Hoyer cannot match, and the Browns may need someone with his dynamic talents to buoy an offense lacking in receiving weapons.
Move They Should Make: Expand Gavin Escobar's Role
Tight end Jason Witten has been fantastic for the Dallas Cowboys over the years. But he has been slowing down with age, and it may be time to get his successor some more run.
The Cowboys drafted Gavin Escobar in the second round of the 2013 draft, but he had just nine receptions for 134 yards last season. Two of those went for touchdowns, however.
Part of the reason for his meager statistical output is the fact that he wasn't on the field much—he saw just 207 offensive snaps.
The 6'6", 250-pound tight end out of San Diego State should see an improvement in his second season, at least if Cowboys coaching has anything to say about it. He has more upside than the 32-year-old Witten, as reliable as the latter has been.
Move They Should Make: Start Cody Latimer on the Outside
The Denver Broncos made several splashes this offseason, including signing Emmanuel Sanders to help replace the departed Eric Decker. But could they have drafted Decker’s replacement?
Cody Latimer is a far better analog to Decker than Sanders. The 6’2”, 215-pound receiver out of Indiana certainly has a more similar build to Denver’s departed wideout, as opposed to the 5’11”, 180-pound Sanders or the even more diminutive Wes Welker.
Oh, and Latimer ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash on a broken foot during draft season.
He is already a great blocker coming out of college, giving him an edge over other rookies around the league fighting for jobs. If Latimer can pick up the offense quickly, the Broncos may not miss Decker much this season.
Move They Should Make: Sign a Cornerback
The Detroit Lions have made strides toward fixing their cornerback woes, but the position is far from complete.
Darius Slay and Bill Bentley are penciled in as the starters, but they are by no means sure bets. Behind them are Rashean Mathis—who will be 34 when the season starts—and rookie Nevin Lawson. It would behoove the Lions to shore up the position a bit, and soon.
There are still some guys who could make a positive impact on the market. Namely, Terrell Thomas sits there, awaiting another opportunity. He has had injury woes in the past, but he bounced back after nearly two years off to have a respectable 2013 campaign, all things considered.
Drayton Florence had a nice season for the Carolina Panthers last season, too, coming in the top 20 over at Pro Football Focus despite turning 33 in December. He may retire, but the Lions would be getting some quality, veteran depth if Florence could be convinced to move north.
Green Bay Packers
Move They Should Make: Give Davante Adams a Shot to Start Outside
James Jones was a bit of an underrated commodity for the Green Bay Packers. He headed west this offseason, signing with the Oakland Raiders.
While he goes from Aaron Rodgers to Matt Schaub, the rest of the Green Bay receiving corps just inched closer to more targets from their MVP-caliber quarterback. The question is, who will replace Jones on the outside?
Jordy Nelson has the X-receiver position on lockdown, and Randall Cobb is more of a moveable chess piece at 5’10” and 192 pounds than a Z. That leaves the position up for grabs between Jarrett Boykin and a host of rookies, including Davante Adams. None might be better suited than Adams, however.
Adams has nearly the same measurables as the departed Jones, which is likely what drew the Packers to him. The Fresno State product also had ridiculous output in college, something Jones didn’t have coming out of San Jose State.
At 6’2” and 216 pounds, Adams is a fine candidate to start outside, opposite Nelson. If he develops quickly, there is little reason for the Packers to hold him back. Perhaps Boykin has the upper hand as a veteran, but he’s only two years ahead of Adams in the league.
Move They Should Make: Give Andre Johnson His Bonus
There is too much drama in Texas these days.
The Houston Texans have benefited from the elite wideout play of Andre Johnson since they drafted him in 2003, but the marriage is in danger of dissolution thanks to some rancorous decision-making in the front office.
Per the Houston Chronicle's Jerome Solomon, Johnson is being denied a $1 million bonus because he skipped voluntary workouts and minicamp earlier this offseason due to discontent with the direction of the team.
Who could blame him? A career spent in the cellar—save a few seasons—can wear on a guy.
The spat has Johnson saying he doesn't know whether he will be playing for Houston again. Trade rumors began flying, but the reality is that the Texans cannot trade him—his $11 million salary would be a huge hit, and they are unlikely to get a good offer for Johnson.
The Texans should stop playing hardball and give the man his bonus.
Move They Should Make: Sign Kyle Orton
Matt Hasselbeck is still in the NFL, a fact that might shock you like it does yours truly every time it is rediscovered.
If the Chicago Bears don’t bring back quarterback Kyle Orton, the Indianapolis Colts might want to pounce. It’s not that Hasselbeck is a bad backup. It’s that we don’t know what a revived mummy might do if pressed into action.
Well, that may be a bit harsh—Hasselbeck is only 38 after all—but Orton certainly seems like an upgrade and is seven years younger.
Move They Should Make: Sign a Center
Brad Meester was a stalwart at center for Jacksonville, spending his entire career with the Jaguars. Unfortunately for them, he retired this past offseason, leaving a bit of a hole in the middle.
The Jaguars didn't really do much to find a direct replacement, instead relying on a smattering of offensive guards to vie for the starting job. While that may work out alright, perhaps they would be better served by signing someone to take over.
After all, Mike Brewster hasn't exactly been great in his career thus far, and Brandon Linder is a fifth-round rookie.
There are some viable options available—namely, Fernando Velasco, Ryan Cook and Andre Gurode—who could feasibly step in and start on this team. The Jaguars might be rebuilding, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't do everything to field a quality offensive line all around.
Kansas City Chiefs
Move They Should Make: Extend Alex Smith
Much like the Cincinnati Bengals and Andy Dalton, the Kansas City Chiefs and Alex Smith have some business at hand.
Smith is clamoring for a big extension after leading the Chiefs to an unexpected playoff berth last season. He says he wants to be a Chief for a long time, per Randy Covitz of Kansasity.com. The question is whether he is worth a massive deal like some of his peers have gotten in recent years.
Smith has engineered a career revival that nobody expected just a scant few years ago, which is why the Chiefs might be reticent to give him a massive contract. But Kansas City needs to maximize what it got when it shipped two second-round picks to the San Francisco 49ers for Smith, and that means retaining him long term.
He may not have a big arm, but Smith has evolved to become a quality quarterback worthy of a long-term deal. Is he worth paying Aaron Rodgers or even Tony Romo money? Probably not. But the Chiefs need to pay him something close.
Move They Should Make: Sign a Center
Center Mike Pouncey has been embroiled in some controversy with the Miami Dolphins over the past year. From his ill-advised public support of accused murderer Aaron Hernandez to his role in the bullying scandal, it's a wonder Pouncey hasn't been suspended or worse.
He has managed to skate through it all unscathed, at least from an employment standpoint. His health, however, has become another matter.
Pouncey had unexpected hip surgery that will keep him out for several weeks at the beginning of the season, leaving the Dolphins scrambling to figure out a backup plan for their downed starter.
They signed Daryn Colledge to shore up the offensive line, but he is a 32-year-old career guard who hasn't been very good in recent years.
It might be a good idea to sign a bona fide center with a track record.
Move They Should Make: Make Teddy Bridgewater the Starter
The Minnesota Vikings managed to land Teddy Bridgewater at the end of the first round in the 2014 draft. Why not get him experience sooner than later?
After all, Christian Ponder has been a bitter disappointment, and Matt Cassel's ceiling isn't terribly high. Bridgewater was the most polished quarterback in the draft class, meaning he should be the most ready to start in Week 1.
New England Patriots
Move They Should Make: Extend Devin McCourty
Safety Devin McCourty has turned into quite the player for the New England Patriots.
Once an oft-maligned cornerback, McCourty has blossomed into one of the best safeties in the league in recent seasons. Pro Football Focus rated him the best in the land last season thanks to outstanding coverage skills.
McCourty is entering a contract year, but that doesn’t mean the Patriots should wait to re-sign him. After years of mediocrity or worse, that New England secondary is fantastic on paper. It would befit the Patriots to try to keep it together for longer than one year.
New Orleans Saints
Move They Should Make: Let the Mark Ingram Experiment Die
The New Orleans Saints traded away a future first-round pick to draft Mark Ingram back in 2011, so he had an abundance of rope to work with during his first three seasons.
Ingram did have a better 2013 campaign, averaging 4.9 yards per carry on just 78 carries. But he has utterly failed to live up to expectations while unheralded backs have shined around him. His career average is 4.1 yards per carry, and he brings almost nothing to the table in the passing game.
Even with Darren Sproles gone, New Orleans has versatile Pierre Thomas, Khiry Robinson and Travaris Cadet to share time in that backfield. Ingram is on the final year of his rookie contract, and three years seems like long enough to call it an experiment.
New York Giants
Move They Should Make: Make Rashad Jennings the Workhorse
The New York Giants had issues running the ball—among other things—last season. They addressed those by signing Rashad Jennings and drafting Andre Williams this offseason.
David Wilson was recently cleared for contact, meaning he will be added back into the mix. But is he a safe option? Aside from health concerns, Wilson has been a liability on the field outside a few moments of brilliance.
Enter Jennings, who has had a solid career as a backup.
He started out last season with the Oakland Raiders as Darren McFadden's backup, and Jennings severely outperformed him. Jennings averaged 4.5 yards per carry to 3.3 for McFadden, who was relatively healthy for much of the season.
Jennings may be 29, but he doesn't have a lot of mileage on those legs. More importantly, he is a tough runner who has averaged nearly 4.9 yards per carry in the years when he wasn't injured or coming off injury. The Giants need to ignore the temptation to rush Wilson back or use a fresh rookie and give Jennings the lead back role.
New York Jets
Move They Should Make: Sign Larry English
Larry English is a first-round bust.
The San Diego Chargers finally cut bait after five disappointing seasons that yielded a grand total of 11 sacks. The outside linebacker simply did not develop into a starting-caliber pass-rusher over the years, and it was time for him to go.
If Rex Ryan gets his hands on him, however, English could experience a career renaissance.
The Jets merely need to add depth at the position with Calvin Pace and Quinton Coples starting, not find their starter of the future. Perhaps lowered expectations would also be a good thing for the failed former first-rounder.
Move They Should Make: Let Latavius Murray Shine
Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie spent a lot of money and effort revamping the Raiders roster this past offseason.
They replaced their most productive running back—Rashad Jennings—with local product Maurice Jones-Drew. The creaky-kneed 29-year-old will team up with woefully ineffective Darren McFadden to form the ambiguously lame duo.
Those two might do a decent job, but Oakland’s running back of the future might be ready sooner than everyone thinks.
Latavius Murray didn’t get much of a chance to strut his stuff as a rookie. He was knocked out for the season early, an unfortunate turn of events for the former sixth-round pick.
He is healthy now, and he might be the best player in that Oakland backfield.
Of course, he will need to prove himself in training camp and the preseason, but the Raiders might find themselves unable to keep him off the field come September.
Move They Should Make: Trade Brandon Graham
Per NFL.com's Chris Wesseling, the Eagles had Brandon Graham on the trade block back in April, before the draft. The reasoning was he had fallen out of favor with Chip Kelly.
Unless they have patched things up, why prolong a broken relationship? Graham would make for a useful addition to many teams. They might not be able to get great value for Graham at this stage, but better to get something for a guy you don't see a future with than nothing.
Move They Should Make: Make Martavis Bryant a Starter
The Pittsburgh Steelers have been bleeding wide receivers over the past couple of seasons. First Mike Wallace left for greener pastures. Then they couldn’t afford to keep Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery around this offseason.
Pittsburgh has attempted to mitigate that by drafting Markus Wheaton in 2013 and Martavis Bryant this year, not to mention signing Lance Moore away from the New Orleans Saints. But only one of these players will start on the outside opposite Antonio Brown.
That man should be Bryant.
Alright, so the rookie out of Clemson was a bit raw coming out of college. That would be why he fell all the way into the fourth round, after all. The Steelers snagged themselves a potential diamond in the rough, however, by drafting the 6’4”, 211-pound receiver with 4.4-second speed.
There would be growing pains if Bryant gets the starting nod, to be sure. But he should also provide the Steelers with a big receiving threat capable of going deep or getting up in the end zone.
San Diego Chargers
Move They Should Make: Get Ladarius Green on the Field More
Antonio Gates is a fixture in San Diego Chargers lore. But it might be time to lead him out to pasture.
The 34-year-old has seen better days, though he was finally healthy for the first time in years last season. Up-and-coming tight end Ladarius Green made some noise last year as well though, and it might be time to let youth win out.
Gates had a productive 2013 season, to be sure. Finally healthy, Gates caught 77 passes for 872 yards and four touchdowns. Green had three touchdowns himself, and he did it on just 17 catches.
More importantly, Green averaged 22.1 yards per reception. That is likely due to the small sample size, but he clearly has upside like Gates used to possess.
San Francisco 49ers
Move They Should Make: Extend Michael Crabtree
Michael Crabtree has had a roller-coaster career with the San Francisco 49ers. The problem is the peaks haven’t been terribly tall after a rough start to his career.
Crabtree was lost for much of last season with a torn Achilles tendon, coming back toward the end of the season in time to get clowned by cornerback Richard Sherman in the playoffs.
He is healthy now, and he is San Francisco's best option at wide receiver. But he doesn't hold much leverage, making him a relatively cheap extension in all likelihood.
While he has not ascended to great heights, the 49ers would be wise to keep their top receiver, especially if it will come relatively cheap.
Move They Should Make: Put Christine Michael in a Time Share
The Seattle Seahawks have ridden Marshawn Lynch to great success. But is it time to make way for his successor?
Beast Mode hasn’t given much indication that he is wearing down, but the 28-year-old has seen plenty of touches over the past couple of seasons. Second-year back Christine Michael, meanwhile, is a powder keg of talent ready to explode.
He dazzled in the 2013 preseason as a rookie, tantalizing Seattle fans and fantasy owners alike. Alas, he was meant to languish in the depths of the depth chart behind Lynch and Robert Turbin.
With a year of seasoning under his belt, Michael could and should push for more playing time, perhaps supplanting Turbin as the No. 2 running back. It will take a scorching preseason where he proves his value as a blocker and pass-catcher to get there, but the Seahawks would be better with him on the field more often this year.
St. Louis Rams
Move They Should Make: Start Four Offensive Tackles on the Offensive Line
This is already in the works, but the St. Louis Rams might have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL if they get this done.
Jake Long is coming back from a torn ACL, and No. 2 pick Greg Robinson might not be polished enough of a pass-blocker to start at left tackle. The Rams plan to move Robinson to left guard for the season—regardless of Long's status—where he should thrive given he is such a good run-blocker.
That would leave Joe Barksdale at right tackle and former tackle Rodger Saffold at right guard, a rather interesting lineup. If Long can make it all the way back sooner than later, the Rams might have an answer to the NFC West's stout defenses.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Move They Should Make: Give Mike Glennon a Fair Shot
There wasn’t much to lose for the Buccaneers by the time quarterback Mike Glennon was pressed into action last season. Tampa Bay was mired in drama and controversy, and Josh Freeman played and talked his way out of town after a 0-3 start. Little was expected of Glennon, and he looked like a carefree rookie.
Glennon put up a respectable 2,608 passing yards and 19 touchdowns to just nine interceptions, though his completion percentage (59.4) and yards per attempt (6.3) left something to be desired.
He figured to have a leg up for the starting job this year if the Buccaneers didn’t make a major move like draft one of the top quarterbacks. Unfortunately for him, Josh McCown followed his old coach down from Chicago.
Head coach Lovie Smith signed the 35-year-old veteran after the latter had a fantastic season with the Bears.
Move They Should Make: Sign Jurrell Casey to an Extension
Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey has been an important part of the defensive front in Tennessee.
The Titans stalwart has been among the best defensive tackles in the league in recent seasons, ranking in the top 10 over at Pro Football Focus in each of the past two seasons.
He’s due to be a free agent after 2014, however, and the Titans shouldn’t tempt fate or the use of the franchise tag if they can help it. Now is the time to extend Casey’s contract before it’s too late.
Move They Should Make: Demote or Cut Brandon Meriweather
Brandon Meriweather is known for one thing, and it’s not for interceptions. He is, quite simply, a dangerous headhunter. Worse, he has been an awful safety.
Meriweather has been rated among the worst in the league by Pro Football Focus, ranking in the bottom 10 in the three of the four past seasons when he has been healthy.
Unfortunately, Washington isn’t exactly deep at the position. Ryan Clark was imported from Pittsburgh to shore up the free safety position, though the 34-year-old wasn’t exactly great himself.
None of Washington’s safeties were good last season, but why not give second-year man Bacarri Rambo a chance to shine? Meriweather’s dangerous game has no place in today’s NFL.