Top NFL Players Who Could Use a Change of Scenery in 2018

Sean Tomlinson@@SeanGTomlinsonNFL AnalystDecember 28, 2017

Top NFL Players Who Could Use a Change of Scenery in 2018

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    It might be hard to imagine Eli Manning playing for a team other than the New York Giants, but brace yourself for it. He'll likely be wearing a different uniform in 2018.

    A change of NFL scenery can happen without warning, and often times, it benefits both the player and the team. In Manning's case, the four-time Pro Bowl quarterback could have a chance to size up one last championship ring.

    Manning is the most prominent veteran who needs to relocate this offseason, but others should be itching to escape situations where they're underused, have been overtaken on the depth chart or want one more Super Bowl shot. That includes Joe Thomas, the Browns' star left tackle who's on the back end of his career, and Doug Martin, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back whose role has been reduced in recent weeks.

    Plenty of notable names could have their careers rejuvenated by a move. Let's look at some of the top candidates as another season winds down and an offseason of shuffling is about to begin.

Joe Thomas, OT, Cleveland Browns

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    This might be wishful thinking.

    Joe Thomas is one of the best left tackles in NFL history. He just turned 33 in December, and he'll be a free agent following the 2018 season. After suffering a season-ending triceps tear in October, the seven-time All-Pro told Pat McManamon of ESPN.com that he's unsure of his long-term future.

    Thomas is content with the Cleveland Browns, who originally drafted him third overall in 2007. The comments he made to Sports Illustrated's Greg Bedard in 2016 about his lack of desire to move elsewhere are a reminder that loyalty still exists in the NFL.

    "Imagine if you grew up in a place and the team was bad for a long time, and there's almost like a pride in being able to stay here and stick it out, knowing that you're going to get to where you promised yourself and you've been promised at some point. You don't know when it's going to be, but you know the payoff is going to be so great and so amazing that you want to finish your career there. I feel in many ways that's the most important thing to me."

    That's admirable, but it still would be nice to see Thomas get a legitimate shot at a ring before he retires.

    Prior to his injury, Thomas was one of only eight offensive tackles to not allow a sack in 2017 over seven games, according to Pro Football Focus. He would significantly boost a team like the Seattle Seahawks, a perennial playoff contender with a poor offensive line always threatening to derail championship dreams.

Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    There's lots of blame to go around for the flaming wreckage that is the 2017 New York Giants.

    A feeble offensive line made consistently moving the ball impossible. Combine that with a defensive regression and early injuries to the Giants' top two receivers, and you get a team that fired its head coach along the way to a top-three pick in the 2018 draft.

    Quarterback Eli Manning's play is further down the list of reasons for the flameout, but he still deserves a mention after averaging a meager 6.1 yards per pass attempt through Week 16.

    The soon-to-be 37-year-old still has some life in his arm, however. In Week 15, he lit up the NFC-leading Philadelphia Eagles with a season-high 434 yards and three touchdowns. 

    Manning has the potential to fade out just like his brother did—as a game manager who mostly stays out of the way but can make key throws when needed. Though Manning turns the ball over far more frequently than a typical game manager, his postseason experience should appeal to a potential contender such as the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Doug Martin's career is equal parts baffling and maddening.

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back is a two-time Pro Bowler who has finished with 1,400-plus rushing yards in two of his six NFL seasons. But he ended each of his other four seasons with less than 500 rushing yards, partly due to injury and partly because of continuing off-field issues.

    Late last year, Martin received a four-game suspension for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy, which spilled over into the 2017 season. The Buccaneers hoped he would return refreshed and ready to run with his signature punishing style—in June, general manager Jason Licht told NFL Network's Mike Garafolo that Martin "looks like the Doug Martin of 2015"—but that honeymoon period fizzled out quickly.

    After picking up 74 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries against the New England Patriots in Week 5, Martin's production steadily declined. He's averaging a paltry 3.0 yards per carry, and he has also been benched twice, including in Week 15 for violating an undisclosed team rule.

    At this point, it would be stunning if Martin returns to Tampa in 2018, especially since the guaranteed portion of his five-year contract is done. That means another team soon must attempt to solve the riddle that is Doug Martin.

    Somewhere, there's an effective running back inside of him who runs with violence. And at 28, he's still young enough to churn out another productive season or two. It's a matter of finding the right situation and coaching staff to bring that out of him again.

Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver Broncos

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    The quarterbacks who have started for the Denver Broncos since 2015 can be described as serviceable at best and a colossal failure at worst. Denver mostly had the latter as of late, which makes the steady production of wide receiver Demaryius Thomas that much more impressive.

    Peyton Manning started nine games and stayed under center throughout the playoffs in 2015 during a championship season. But it wasn't the future first-ballot Hall of Fame version of the eldest Manning. No, the 2015 Manning was a rapidly fading quarterback whose declining arm strength led to 17 interceptions on only 331 regular-season pass attempts.

    More misery followed after Manning stepped aside. Trevor Siemian flashed brief promise, but the 2015 seventh-round pick has now thrown 24 interceptions in 26 career games. Then there's Paxton Lynch, the first-round draft bust with a per-attempt passing average of only 5.5 yards, and Brock Osweiler, the journeyman with a career passer rating of 76.5.

    Thomas has had depressingly little to work with while attempting to generate a downfield passing attack for the Broncos. Despite that, he's only 108 yards shy of recording his sixth straight 1,000-plus yard season. He isn't likely to get there this year, but the fact it's even possible is a Herculean accomplishment.

    The Broncos desperately need to solve their quarterback problem. If they can't do that quickly, then a full-scale rebuild could be considered, which is what makes moving on from Thomas unlikely but not impossible. He's a 30-year-old due $8.5 million in 2018, and a team that might not be ready to compete could find better use for that money.

Jarvis Landry, WR, Miami Dolphins

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    Similar to Thomas, Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry has consistently produced despite playing alongside less than ideal quarterbacks.

    Prior to tearing his ACL in August, Ryan Tannehill had progressed in recent years. But he still averaged only 6.9 yards per attempt in 2014, Landry's rookie year, and finished 2015 with an 88.7 passer rating.

    Jay Cutler took over in 2017 as an emergency replacement following Tannehill's injury, but he has recorded only four interception-free games and has reached the 300-yard passing mark just once. Aside from a three-touchdown outing in an upset win over the New England Patriots in Week 14, Cutler has been maddeningly up-and-down, as usual.

    None of the Dolphins' inconsistent quarterback play has mattered much for Landry. He hasn't dazzled in 2017, but he's only 105 yards short of his third straight 1,000-plus yard season despite dealing with Cutler's erratic play.

    Landry is slated to become a free agent in March and was already in the rumor mill at the trade deadline, according to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald. Soon enough, Landry likely will be freed from a mediocre offense.

Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans Tight End

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    Delanie Walker is reaching the end of both his age-33 season and likely a fourth straight year with 800-plus receiving yards (he's 12 yards short heading into Week 17).

    Those things often don't go together at tight end, a position where blocking can add physical wear and tear. But the 6'2", 248-pound Walker is still an advantageous mismatch. He can streak downfield and win contested catches by separating with his size and speed.

    But his career clock is ticking louder. Quarterback Marcus Mariota has regressed, and the team has taken a step back while clinging to a wild-card spot.

    The 8-7 Titans may still head to the postseason, but they'll do it with Mariota's 78.6 passer rating and 206.3 passing yards per game over his last four starts. The Titans aren't championship contenders, and Walker might not have many more chances to pursue a ring.

    All parties involved could benefit from a change.

    The guaranteed money on Walker's contract is done, and by moving him in the offseason the Titans would avoid paying a 34-year-old $5.4 million in 2018, per Spotrac. They have a stable of other young pass-catchers, which includes wide receivers Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor, along with tight end Jonnu Smith, a third-round pick in 2017.

Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills Quarterback

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    The Buffalo Bills seem to have little long-term faith in Tyrod Taylor.

    Management doesn't need to say it, as its actions speak far louder. Head coach Sean McDermott benched Taylor during a critical Week 11 tilt, and backup quarterback Nathan Peterman promptly threw five interceptions in one half.

    The 8-7 Bills have clung to playoff contention, though that loss to the Los Angeles Chargers could haunt them. Taylor, meanwhile, has thrown few interceptions and created enough positive yardage to keep the offense moving.

    In the week after his benching, the Bills beat the Kansas City Chiefs on the road. Taylor didn't shine, but he also didn't sink his team during a tight six-point win. He completed 65.5 percent of his passes with a 94.5 rating. He also ran for 27 yards.

    That was the standard Taylor game, and we saw a similar performance during a Week 15 win over the Miami Dolphins. He put up a 58.6 completion percentage, a passing touchdown, a 94.6 passer rating and 42 rushing yards. Over the last two years, he's thrown 10 interceptions among 829 attempts.

    Taylor may never be a Pro Bowl starter. He might not be the centerpiece an offense is built around, and he won't often win games on his own. That's all fine. In a quarterback-starved league, there's value in an average pivot.

    In fact, many teams otherwise filled with talent and potential would be championship contenders with such a quarterback. So if Taylor doesn't have value to the Bills beyond 2017, he'll have plenty around the league.

Cole Beasley, Dallas Cowboys Wide Receiver

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    Since the Dallas Cowboys used a 2017 fourth-round pick on Ryan Switzer, they've had a five-alarm Spider-Man meme situation among their wide receivers.

    Switzer has been used almost exclusively as a returner. But he was highly productive for North Carolina as an elusive slot receiver, finishing with 1,112 receiving yards and six touchdowns in 2016.

    That could make Cole Beasley expendable, which may be best for both sides.

    The Cowboys have decreased Beasley's 2017 usage. He's on pace to finish with 67 targets, which would be 31 fewer than his 2016 total. He also recorded a single-season career-high 833 receiving yards last year but sits at 314.

    The 28-year-old has proved he can be a consistent slot contributor. But the Cowboys aren't featuring him prominently enough to justify paying the Houston native $3.25 million in 2018. So they can move on and elevate the far less expensive Switzer, while Beasley gets a fresh start elsewhere.

Tevin Coleman, Atlanta Falcons Running Back

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    The Atlanta Falcons' rushing offense goes through Devonta Freeman, who brings his unique brand of pain in a small package. Freeman is 5'8" and 206 pounds yet still runs like a wayward bowling ball.

    When Freeman is healthy, Tevin Coleman becomes a complementary option. That's why the 24-year-old has logged only four games with double-digit carries in 2017, three of which came when Freeman was out with a concussion. It's also why Freeman finished with 109 more carries than Coleman during the team's 2016 Super Bowl run.

    That arrangement won't change anytime soon, since Freeman signed a five-year contract extension worth $41.25 million in August. If Coleman wants a bigger role, he'll have to get it elsewhere.

    Coleman has been a reliable contributor on a lesser workload (408 regular-season touches over three years). He's logged 2,237 yards from scrimmage and back-to-back seasons with 500-plus rushing yards on fewer than 150 carries each year. He's also been a quality pass-catcher, with 421 receiving yards in 2016, and an efficient goal-line back with 13 rushing touchdowns over the past two years.

    He has the multidimensional skill to excel in a larger role, and the lack of wear on Coleman's body is appealing. The Falcons would be wise to capitalize on his value and trade him before he becomes a free agent in 2019. Then Terron Ward, who impressed with 46 yards on nine touches during a Week 15 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, could serve as Freeman's wingman.

Sammy Watkins, Los Angeles Rams Wide Receiver

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    Sammy Watkins has the youth, speed and skill to be an explosive wide receiver if he can stay healthy—or at least that was the conventional wisdom surrounding him. The problem in 2017 hasn't been health, though. The Los Angeles Rams haven't needed him.

    The Rams have leaned heavily on running back Todd Gurley (877 yards from scrimmage over his last five games) to lead their top-ranked scoring offense. The passing attack has still been effective, but it's largely run through wide receivers Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods, as well as Gurley, all of whom have recorded 50-plus receptions.

    Watkins, meanwhile, is stuck at 39 catches. Worse, he's been targeted just 70 times.

    He's still only 24 years old. He also consistently displayed his field-stretching ability over the first two years of his career while piling up 2,029 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns for the Buffalo Bills. The impending free agent is a prime bounce-back candidate and will be available at a low cost, possibly on a short-term, prove-it deal.

    A wide receiver-needy team with a solidified quarterback situation is the ideal place for Watkins to land and show he's still capable of being a No. 1 wideout. The San Francisco 49ers come to mind after Jimmy Garoppolo's emergence. The Dallas Cowboys do as well.