Predicting the Biggest Spenders of the 2015 NFL Offseason
We’re about to spend a little time talking about what could happen once the NFL free-agent market opens for business in March.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. Because if it was up to certain teams like the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions, the only big money they would be spending would be on their own players.
The Cowboys and Lions are just two of the teams on this list that we expect will be extremely busy when it comes to signing player checks this offseason. You won’t be surprised by most of the teams listed here, mainly because the majority of them have plenty of anticipated cap room, according to the fine folks at Spotrac. Then again, no team has more cap room than the Jacksonville Jaguars, but we're not sure they will be a big player in free agency.
We also factored in the team’s recent history in terms of free agency. In other words, those clubs that usually use the free-agent field to aid their teams will likely do so again.
Remember, free agency does not actually begin until March 10. Some of our suggestions may be re-signed by their clubs, and anticipated salary-cap casualties may never transpire.
But a little speculation never hurt anyone. Give whoever came up with that concept a cigar.
2015 Cap Space (as of Feb. 5): $22 million
It’s start-over time again for the Atlanta Falcons.
Well, sort of.
After a pair of disappointing seasons, the franchise let go of head coach Mike Smith and recently replaced him with Dan Quinn, the defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks the previous two seasons.
The club’s new sideline leader will also have some additional responsibilities. While Thomas Dimitroff is still the man in charge per se, Quinn will have quite an impact on who will be making the team in 2015.
“To be specific, Thomas, as a general manager, will have final authority over free agents and draft picks, Scott (Pioli) now has responsibility for running free agency and the draft,’’ said owner Arthur Blank to Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com. “Dan will have final authority over the 53- and 46-man rosters and practice squad.’’
So does that mean you can expect the Falcons to raid the defending NFC champions for defensive help? Led by quarterback Matt Ryan and talented wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones, Atlanta can score points. But no team in the NFL gave up more total yards and passing yards per game in 2014.
Could cornerback Byron Maxwell as well as outside linebackers Malcolm Smith (the Super Bowl XLVIII MVP) and O’Brien Schofield be in Quinn’s plans for fixing the defense? Don’t rule out at least one of these players joining their former coach.
Could Atlanta take a look at Washington Redskins outside linebacker Brian Orakpo to help a pass rush that has struggled in recent seasons? That’s certainly a real possibility as well.
2015 Cap Space (as of Feb. 5): $30.3 million
Some would say the Buffalo Bills have already made a huge splash with the hiring of new head coach Rex Ryan.
Well, at least it won’t be quiet in Orchard Park, and that’s a good thing. The team finished 9-7 in 2014 and comes off its first winning season since 2004. But the Bills haven’t made any real noise since reaching the playoffs way back in 1999.
Ryan inherits a team that will have a new offensive coordinator in Greg Roman, and we will see if he can work some magic with young quarterback EJ Manuel. Ryan also brings over defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman from the Jets, and he might not be the only one-time member of the Green and White to switch forces in the AFC East.
Unheralded inside linebacker David Harris could hit the free-agent market in March. The New England Patriots also have to make a decision on whether they will retain Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis. Obviously, Ryan is more than familiar with both of these standouts, and both would command big dollars. It’s also worth noting that middle linebacker Brandon Spikes signed only a one-year contract with Buffalo last offseason.
Offensively, could the Bills add running back Bilal Powell to a crowded backfield that may no longer include C.J. Spiller?
Things are about to get interesting in upstate New York.
2015 Cap Space (as of Feb. 5): $8.68 million
Things are looking up these days in Big D.
A year ago, fixing the “D” was the issue at hand. The Dallas Cowboys did just that by keeping it off the field as much as possible. Isn’t it amazing what a commitment to the run can do?
Both the NFL rushing leader (Murray) and the leader in touchdown receptions (Bryant) in 2014 can become unrestricted free agents in March. So with somewhat limited maneuverability in terms of the cap (as of the first week of February), can Jones and the franchise afford to actually to re-sign both standouts?
Recently, Tim Cowlishaw of The Dallas Morning News gave his thoughts on the decision the Cowboys may have to make via a recent chat with readers:
Question: What are the chances we keep both Murray and Bryant?
Cowlishaw: My guess is very high. About 100 percent certain Bryant will be back. Probably 70 to 75 on Murray.
How can that possibly happen? One thought is that either Murray or Bryant will get the franchise tag, with the running back the logical candidate. In any case, the Cowboys are going to have to rework some contracts.
One player who could rework his contract is quarterback Tony Romo, as Drew Davison of the Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, Texas) reported a few weeks ago. Could cornerback Brandon Carr and left tackle Tyron Smith rework their current deals as well?
Off a 12-4 season and with a chance to reach a Super Bowl in 2015, Jones and the organization will find a way to open up their wallets one way or another to retain Murray and Bryant.
2015 Cap Space (as of Feb. 5): $15.8 million
It doesn’t appear that defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has played his last game for the Detroit Lions.
As you may recall, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen said this past weekend on Sunday NFL Countdown that the team is the favorite to retain their Pro Bowl defender, who led the team with 8.5 sacks this past season.
Meanwhile, Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press says the Lions shouldn’t necessarily break the bank to retain Suh, and overpaying for the five-year veteran could hurt the team.
Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press spoke to Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson last Saturday, and he made it clear he’s all in favor of bringing back the often-controversial defensive tackle. “I'll do whatever I got to do,” said Johnson in regard to the possibility of restructuring his current contract to aid the team’s attempt to re-sign the star defender.
We are not quite sure what it will take for the Lions to keep Suh in the Motor City, but he obviously won’t come cheap. Could players such as running back Reggie Bush, tight end Brandon Pettigrew and defensive end Jason Jones be forced out in order for the team to pay Suh? Of course, using the franchise tag on Suh remains a possibility as well.
Detroit comes off an 11-5 season, the team’s best record since 1991. Only the Seattle Seahawks gave up fewer total yards in 2014, and no team was better at stopping the run. Suh was an enormous part of that defensive success.
One way or another, you get the sense the Lions are getting ready to ante up in a big way.
2015 Cap Space (as of Feb. 5): $49.5 million
A year ago, the Oakland Raiders entered the free-agency period with more cap room than any other team.
General manager Reggie McKenzie opened up owner Mark Davis’ wallet and added defensive ends Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley, defensive tackle Antonio Smith, and cornerbacks Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown. McKenzie also brought back longtime Raiders defender Charles Woodson (released by the Green Bay Packers) with a one-year deal. A few weeks ago, McKenzie made sure he would be back in 2015 via a one-year extension.
M. Jussim of Sports World Report speculates the Silver and Black once again won’t be shy when it comes to spreading the green. Oakland has nearly $50 million in cap room and needs to address the team’s offensive skill positions to aid young quarterback Derek Carr, who will now learn under new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.
So who could the Raiders target this spring? Last offseason, they added wide receiver James Jones from the Packers. Could the team go after another Green Bay standout in wideout Randall Cobb? Might McKenzie and Co. want to make a big splash be adding the likes of San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who wouldn’t have to travel far?
The team finished last in the NFL in both total offense and rushing yards. With Darren McFadden also a potential free agent, could someone with the big-play ability of C.J. Spiller (Buffalo Bills) be on the wish list?
The previous two years, the Raiders have concentrated their free-agent efforts on the defensive side of the ball. New head coach Jack Del Rio and a new defensive coordinator (still to be announced) have some promising young defenders such as linebackers Khalil Mack and Sio Moore to develop. More emphasis in the draft must be put on this side of the ball.
Meanwhile, look for McKenzie to make a big splash with a couple of potential home-run threats for Carr and an attack in dire need of help.
2015 Cap Space (as of Feb. 5): $37.9 million
When your franchise finishes tied for the worst record in the league, you need all the help you can get.
Since we are talking money to spend and salary cap, the expected hiring of defensive wizard Dick LeBeau by the Tennessee Titans this week, according to Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean, was described perfectly.
“They’re getting a national treasure,” said current CBS analyst Solomon Wilcots. The former defensive back was coached by LeBeau during his days with the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers.
Obviously, Wilcots isn’t available. But who could the Titans spend some of their money on that would help them fix a defensive unit that ranked 27th in the league in yards allowed and 31st in rushing defense?
A number of LeBeau’s former “students” could be unrestricted free agents in March. Inside linebacker Larry Foote (Arizona Cardinals) and cornerback Ike Taylor (Pittsburgh Steelers) may hit the open market this offseason. Could outside linebacker Jason Worilds, who tied for the team lead in sacks with the Steelers in 2014, be on the Titans’ free-agent radar?
And here is something to ponder: What if strong safety Troy Polamalu becomes a salary-cap casualty in the Steel City? It’s perhaps a long shot, but could you imagine a reunion with LeBeau in Nashville?
With Bernard Pollard recently asking for his release from the team, also according to Wyatt, could the eight-time Pro Bowler be headed elsewhere if he is indeed released by the Steelers? Once again, it is just something to think about.