Every NFL Team's Biggest Flight Risk in 2018 Free Agency

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistDecember 27, 2017

Every NFL Team's Biggest Flight Risk in 2018 Free Agency

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    It's almost never too early to start talking NFL free agency. Yes, the regular season is still ongoing, but the majority of teams have already been eliminated and many more will soon fall. 

    As that happens, teams and their fans are beginning to consider who they might land and/or lose when the new league year gets underway on March 14. 

    With that in mind, here's a look at each team's most likely key free-agent departure for 2018. 

Arizona Cardinals: WR John Brown

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    While the Arizona Cardinals won't have to worry about losing any superstars in free agency, they do have several key contributors—including guards Alex Boone and Earl Watford, linebacker Karlos Dansby, cornerback Tramon Williams, safety Tyvon Branch and wide receivers Jaron and John Brown—slated to hit the open market. 

    The Browns haven't done enough to draw a ton of attention, Boone and Watford have under-performed, Dansby is 36 years old, Williams is 34 and Branch is recovering from a torn ACL. That probably means the Cards won't face a lot of competition for any of them.

    Still, John Brown is more likely than the others to slip away. For starters, the Cards already have Larry Fitzgerald (who signed a new contract during the season), and the younger, more productive J.J. Nelson. And John is likely to get more money than Jaron simply because John has a 1,000-yard season under his belt, while Jaron Brown barely has 1,000 yards in his five NFL campaigns combined. 

    As long as John is healthy, he'll probably be valued slightly more than the Cardinal who shares his position, his age (they're both 27) and his surname. 

Atlanta Falcons: WR Taylor Gabriel

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    Yes, Atlanta Falcons defensive linemen Dontari Poe (a two-time Pro Bowler) and Adrian Clayborn (enjoying a 9.5-sack season) are higher-profile impending free agents than wide receiver Taylor Gabriel. But Poe hasn't done a lot on a one-year contract and the soon-to-be-30-year-old Clayborn picked up 63 percent of those sacks in one game against a Pop Warner-caliber replacement left tackle. 

    And because the Falcons already have so many offensive weapons under contract, they might have to prioritize those defensive veterans over Gabriel, who will likely receive plenty of interest from teams intrigued by his speed. 

    The 26-year-old Abilene Christian product is known for being fast, but he's quietly caught a strong 68 percent of the passes thrown his way in his two years as a Falcon. He's yet to play a major role in that loaded offense, but it's still become obvious the Cleveland Browns made a mistake by releasing him prior to the 2016 season. 

    The Falcons, who are paying Gabriel $2.7 million on a restricted-free-agent tender, surely want to keep him around. But don't be surprised if they wind up in a bidding war.

Baltimore Ravens: OL Ryan Jensen

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    The Baltimore Ravens have finally discovered some much-needed offensive balance this season, and breakout running back Alex Collins is receiving a lot of the credit for that. That's fine, because Collins has been simply running dudes over, and his numbers during the second half of the season have been fantastic. 

    Still, teams searching for interior offensive line help this offseason won't overlook the role center Ryan Jensen has played in 2017. In his first full season in the middle, the nasty fourth-year, sixth-round pick has often been dominant as a run-blocker, paving the way for Collins with his strength and physicality. 

    Jensen is also versatile enough to play pretty much anywhere along the offensive line, which will only help his cause on the open market. A lot of teams have been facing issues with their lines this season, and many will try to poach the 26-year-old from Baltimore. 

    Those dynamics probably put him in higher demand than veteran wide receiver Mike Wallace, who is slated to hit the market at the age of 31.

    The Ravens lost Kelechi Osemele in 2016 and Ricky Wagner in 2017, but they kept Jensen on board as a restricted free agent last offseason. The emergence of Collins will likely force them to go out of their way to ensure that they don't lose a high-quality offensive lineman for the third consecutive offseason. 

Buffalo Bills: WR Jordan Matthews

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    Cornerback E.J. Gaines is without a doubt the most important impending free agent on the Buffalo Bills roster. But because Gaines missed several games due to injury and has just one interception in his first season with the team, there's a good chance he doesn't receive as much attention this offseason as wide receiver Jordan Matthews. 

    Matthews has had some issues and has also dealt with injuries this season, but at 25, he already has three 800-yard seasons and 20 career touchdowns under his belt.

    Plus, the Bills are likely to allow him to become more of a flight risk. They need Gaines, who has formed a superb starting duo with rookie first-round pick Tre'Davious White. Matthews isn't without value, but the team traded for Kelvin Benjamin earlier this season and rookie second-rounder Zay Jones has a lot of potential. 

    The Bills could keep both, especially if they move on from veteran defenders Kyle Williams and Preston Brown. But there's a much better chance Matthews gets away than Gaines. 

Carolina Panthers: G Andrew Norwell

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    The Carolina Panthers will almost certainly do everything in their power to keep guard Andrew Norwell around. After all, they extended the 26-year-old a no-brainer restricted-free-agent tender last year after he broke out in his third season, and he's been even more dominant in 2017. 

    Earlier this month, Pro Football Focus rated Norwell as the 12th-best offensive lineman in football and noted his prowess as a shutdown pass-blocker. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton needs all the help he can get, and Norwell is clearly his top pass protector. 

    But according to Spotrac, 23 teams are expected to have more salary-cap space than the Panthers in the 2018 offseason. And Norwell will be in high demand, considering how many offensive lines crumbled across the league in 2017. 

    That could mean that if the Panthers don't use the franchise tag on the Ohio State product, there's a good chance they lose him. 

Chicago Bears: CB Kyle Fuller

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    The Chicago Bears might have to decide which of their two starting cornerbacks to retain this offseason, because Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara are both under the age of 30, slated to become unrestricted free agents, and have performed surprisingly well in 2017. 

    While the 28-year-old Amukamara has been the better of the two players this season and has accomplished more during his seven years in the league, the 25-year-old Fuller has a higher upside and more playmaking ability. That might make the 2014 No. 14 overall pick a little more intriguing to teams around the league. 

    It's also worth noting the the current Bears regime didn't draft Fuller and thus won't have much egg on its face if he walks. General manager Ryan Pace took a chance on Amukamara with a one-year, $7 million contract last offseason, and he has delivered. That might be the impetus for a long-term deal this offseason. 

    Of course, Pace could also decide to pay up for both. And it's also possible Pace won't be a Bears employee come decision time. There's a lot up in the air, but it's probably safe to assume the younger, more highly-touted Fuller will be a little harder to retain. 

Cincinnati Bengals: QB AJ McCarron?

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    A pair of injured offensive skill-position players headline the Cincinnati Bengals' list of impending unrestricted free agents, with tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Jeremy Hill both hoping teams will look past injury-derailed 2017 campaigns and fork up some cash. 

    The one caveat here is that it's still not clear if backup quarterback AJ McCarron will have a chance to hit the open market in March. 

    Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reported that an arbitrator will determine in February whether the 27-year-old former Alabama star will be a UFA or an RFA in the upcoming offseason. The league has argued that McCarron didn't spend enough time on the active roster as a rookie to earn a season toward free agency, while the NFLPA says that McCarron was healthy enough to come off the Non-Football Injury List in time to meet those requirements. 

    That at least makes this case a lot more interesting than Eifert's or Hill's, especially since there's a good chance McCarron gets away regardless. He's one of the most talented backups in a league that continues to place more value on players that possess even a bit of promise at that position, and the Bengals already tried to deal him at this year's trade deadline. 

    That probably indicates they plan on sticking with starter Andy Dalton, who has three years remaining on a team-friendly contract. And if that's the case, there's almost no way they'll be willing or able to pay McCarron the starter money he's likely to earn elsewhere. 

Cleveland Browns: RB Isaiah Crowell

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    The only free-agent flight risk on the Cleveland Browns roster is the lone prominent member of the team slated to hit the open market in March. That distinction belongs to running back Isaiah Crowell, who has rushed for at least 600 yards in each of his first four seasons. 

    The 24-year-old has lacked consistency and hasn't been able to totally grab the reins as an every-down back, but for the second straight year, he's put together several strong performances late in the season.

    The Browns certainly could use him, and they have the money to bring him back. But new general manager John Dorsey isn't tied to anyone on this roster, and Crowell was a steady presence for this team during a historically bad run. Cleveland might be looking for a fresh face in that role, and other teams could be willing to spend more than the Browns on a player with Crowell's abilities. 

Dallas Cowboys: DE Demarcus Lawrence

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    Dallas Cowboys defensive end Demarcus Lawrence has delivered in a contract year by posting 14.5 sacks and four forced fumbles in a breakout season.

    That's both good and bad news for his team, which isn't expected to have a lot of salary-cap space and will likely look to take care of key potential 2019 free agents Zack Martin and Cole Beasley soon. 

    The franchise tag is a strong possibility here, but if the Cowboys risk allowing a 25-year-old sack machine to hit the open market, there's a good chance they'll be outbid. Pass-rushers are paid significant premiums these days, and a cap-rich team like the Browns, Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts, Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Oakland Raiders would likely be all over Lawrence. 

Denver Broncos: WR Cody Latimer

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    None of the Denver Broncos' impending free agents are stars. Linebacker Todd Davis isn't a playmaker, but the team will likely retain him at a reasonable rate, because he's steady and reliable. Defensive tackle Jared Crick played a similar peripheral role before missing the 2017 season due to a back injury. And the drop-happy Virgil Green has been a replacement-level tight end at best. 

    That leaves wide receiver and special-teams ace Cody Latimer, who has finally flashed as a pass-catcher in his fourth NFL campaign. 

    The 2014 second-round pick has seen his role increase greatly as the 2017 season has worn on. He accumulated nearly as many receiving yards in the month of November as he did during the first three seasons of his career, and he's been even better in December. 

    "He's just taking advantage of his opportunities," receiver Demaryius Thomas said earlier this month, per Ben Swanson of the team's official website. "Since Day 1, Cody's had the ability, the talent and everything to do this. He's just taking advantage of his chances. ... I always knew he had it."

    The Broncos will surely do everything they can to bring Latimer back, but rivals will be after him too, given his strong age-25 season. And many of those teams won't already have a duo like Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. 

Detroit Lions: DE Ezekiel Ansah

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    Detroit Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah hasn't become the superstar many expected, and he's been far from consistent. But the 28-year-old still has 41 sacks in five seasons, he has a 14.5-sack Pro Bowl campaign under his belt (2015) and he's sure to receive plenty of interest as a free agent at a premium position this winter. 

    That might make him harder to keep than fellow defensive starters/impending free agents Tavon Wilson, Nevin Lawson, Tahir Whitehead and Paul Worrilow, all of whom have either underperformed or struggled to stay healthy. 

    The Lions have expressed interest in bringing back Ansah. But it might not be a good sign that Ansah told reporters in May that he'll consult with former Detroit defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh as he approaches free agency. 

Green Bay Packers: WR Davante Adams

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    Since the start of 2016, only three players—and no receivers—have scored more touchdowns than Green Bay Packers wideout Davante Adams, who has been consistently productive regardless of his team's quarterback situation.

    Somewhat of a late bloomer who struggled with inconsistency and drops during his first two seasons in the league, Adams fell just three yards short of 1,000 in 2016 and was on track to hit quadruple digits this year before missing Week 16 because of a concussion. 

    He's been remarkably productive in an offense that has been forced to use backup Brett Hundley under center for the majority of the season. And as the receiver's rookie contract expires, suitors are likely to be encouraged by the fact Adams hasn't missed a beat without Aaron Rodgers

    Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are under contract at that position, and Geronimo Allison is an exclusive-rights free agent. Those dynamics make Adams a much bigger flight risk than other high-profile impending free agents such as safety Morgan Burnett, guard Jahri Evans and center Corey Linsley.

Houston Texans: CB Johnathan Joseph

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    The Houston Texans don't have any major flight risks this offseason. Veteran offensive linemen Chris Clark, Breno Giacomini and Xavier Su'a-Filo are replacement-level impending free agents, as are safeties Eddie Pleasant and Marcus Gilchrist. They might want to look for upgrades in all of those spots anyway. 

    That leaves Johnathan Joseph, who might not have a lot left at the age of 33—and he'll be 34 in April—but has still intercepted a pair of passes, scored a touchdown and recorded 45 combined tackles and nine passes defensed in 15 starts this season. 

    Joseph has been to a pair of Pro Bowls and has missed just seven games in seven years with the Texans, so Houston will probably look to bring him back in 2018. But he'll also likely have several suitors looking for veteran help in the secondary. 

Indianapolis Colts: CB Rashaan Melvin

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    Several Indianapolis Colts with higher profiles than cornerback Rashaan Melvin are slated to hit free agency this winter. But Adam Vinatieri is 44. Frank Gore is 34. Barkevious Mingo has underdelivered. And guard Jack Mewhort should also be affordable as he recovers from a knee injury. 

    That might make Melvin the hottest unsigned commodity on the roster because the 28-year-old former Patriot and Raven broke out with three interceptions, 13 passes defensed and 36 combined tackles in 10 starts before suffering a hand injury in late November. 

    With three weeks remaining in the season, Pro Football Focus had Melvin ranked third on its playmaker index, and opposing quarterbacks had a mere 60.3 passer rating when throwing his way. 

    The Colts are expected to have plenty of money to spend this offseason, but they shouldn't be surprised if several of their competitors heavily pursue a player who was one of the few bright spots from their 2017 campaign. 

Jacksonville Jaguars: WR Marqise Lee

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    The Jacksonville Jaguars will also once again have money to spend in free agency, which means they should be able to keep any in-house UFAs. Starting guard Patrick Omameh should be a rubber stamp, and veteran linebacker Paul Posluszny should come cheap at the age of 33, but it's possible the Jags will be compelled to decide between two high-quality young receivers. 

    Both Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee have expiring contracts. But the former isn't healthy, while the latter will be coming off a second consecutive 700-plus-yard, three-touchdown campaign. 

    Robinson has a 1,400-yard Pro Bowl season under his belt, but that was in 2015. He often struggled in 2016 and has missed virtually the entire 2017 season because of a torn ACL. That'll probably force him to accept a prove-it one-year deal with the Jags or someone else this offseason, making Lee the more expensive buy. 

Kansas City Chiefs: WR Albert Wilson

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    The Kansas City Chiefs will have some major decisions to make this offseason regarding players who are technically still under contract. Veterans Alex Smith, Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson all have big cap numbers, and K.C. could send them packing. 

    But the team will also likely try to retain key impending free agents such as versatile offensive lineman Zach Fulton and wide receiver Albert Wilson. While Fulton remains under the radar, Wilson is a quality receiver who should attract plenty of attention as a 25-year-old unrestricted free agent. 

    The Georgia State product has caught a career-high 62.7 percent of the passes thrown his way for 407 yards and a career-high three touchdowns in his fourth pro season. That won't convince any team that he can be its savior, but it might make it tough for the flush-with-weapons Chiefs to match those in pursuit. 

Los Angeles Chargers: S Tre Boston

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    The Los Angeles Chargers pulled off one of the top coups of the 2017 offseason when they signed safety Tre Boston to a one-year, $900,000 deal in May. The 2014 fourth-round pick had just been released by the Panthers after three fairly quiet seasons in Carolina, but the Bolts obviously saw something in him. 

    Boston has delivered, intercepting four passes while recording 72 combined tackles and seven passes defensed as an every-week starter in Los Angeles. 

    The Chargers can't afford to let Boston walk after one strong season there, but they aren't expected to have an abundance of salary-cap space. In other words, they might not be able to afford to outbid the competition. 

Los Angeles Rams: CB Trumaine Johnson

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    A team's top free-agent flight risk isn't always its best impending free agent.

    Take the Los Angeles Rams for example. Cornerback Trumaine Johnson hasn't even been the top performer in the Rams secondary, with Lamarcus Joyner, Nickell Robey-Coleman and John Johnson III all arguably outplaying the big-money veteran.

    But because Johnson made $16.7 million while playing under the franchise tag for a second consecutive year, it'll be particularly tough for the Rams to bring back the soon-to-be 28-year-old at an affordable rate. 

    Besides, the team might be less desperate than it was the last two offseasons. Joyner has excelled tremendously in his first full season as a starter, Robey-Coleman has delivered in the slot on a one-year deal and Johnson has exceeded all expectations as a rookie.

    Both Joyner and Robey-Coleman are slated to hit the open market in March, and the Rams might prioritize re-signing both over the overrated Trumaine Johnson. 

Miami Dolphins: WR Jarvis Landry

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    Spotrac only projects four teams to have less salary-cap space this offseason than the Miami Dolphins, which could make it tough for Miami to retain the services of impending unrestricted free agent Jarvis Landry. 

    The 25-year-old 2014 second-round pick out of LSU has caught more passes in his first four seasons in the NFL (391 and counting) than any other player in league history at the four-year mark.

    And although he isn't a home run hitter, Landry has managed to score 22 touchdowns (one rushing). He's played in all of the 63 regular-season games the team has participated in since drafting him, and he's coming off his best season in terms of yards and touchdowns. 

    The Dolphins already have Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker at wide receiver and Julius Thomas at tight end. They might have a lot of in-house free agents to deal with, including running back Damien Williams, safety Nate Allen, defensive end William Hayes, offensive lineman Jermon Bushrod and every quarterback on the active roster.

    That could make it hard to keep Landry. 

Minnesota Vikings: All 3 of Their Quarterbacks

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    While the Dolphins have three quarterbacks scheduled to become unrestricted free agents in March, they at least know that injured starter Ryan Tannehill will remain under their control next season. The conundrum is larger for the Minnesota Vikings, who possess three potential franchise quarterbacks with expiring contracts. 

    There's Case Keenum, who could have been had by any team in football less than a year ago but has seen his stock skyrocket as a result of a surprising breakout campaign. The 29-year-old former Texan and Ram has led the Vikings to 10 victories in their last 11 games, posting a top-10 completion percentage (67.3), adjusted yards-per-attempt average (7.1) and passer rating (98.1) in the process. 

    There's Sam Bradford, who posted the highest completion rate in NFL history as a full-time starter in 2016. The top pick in the 2010 draft also lit up the New Orleans Saints in Week 1 before a knee injury caused him to miss virtually the rest of the 2017 season. He's still only 30, though, so if he can stay healthy—something he has failed to do in three of his last five seasons, dating back to his time in St. Louis—Bradford can serve as a strong starter somewhere. 

    And then there's Teddy Bridgewater, who looked like the future of this franchise after a Pro Bowl sophomore season in 2015. The 25-year-old probably still has a higher ceiling than his older teammates at that position, but a severe knee injury just prior to the 2016 campaign derailed his career for two solid years. Bridgewater has thrown just two passes since that injury occurred. 

    The Vikes won't be able to keep all three because they'll all have a chance to sign lucrative contracts based on what they've done and/or what many think they can still do in the years to come. 

    There's a good chance the Vikings will only retain one of their signal-callers, and that decision will likely be either praised or mocked for years to come.

New England Patriots: CB Malcolm Butler

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    Less than a year ago, the New England Patriots handed free-agent cornerback Stephon Gilmore a five-year, $65 million contract, making the five-year veteran one of the highest-paid players in the NFL at that position. 

    That could make it tough for the Pats to justify competing with suitors for impending free-agent corner Malcolm Butler, who is likely in for a big payday. Butler has a Pro Bowl on his resume, is a Super Bowl hero and has eight interceptions and 43 passes defensed in the last three seasons. 

    According to ESPN.com's Mike Triplett, New England tried to trade him to the New Orleans Saints in the 2017 offseason. 

    This offseason, the Patriots might be more concerned with bringing back left tackle Nate Solder, veteran receiver Danny Amendola and underrated backs Rex Burkead and Dion Lewis, all of whom have expiring contracts. 

New Orleans Saints: S Kenny Vaccaro

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    This might have gone to defensive end Alex Okafor, who was having a big season on a one-year deal before he suffered a torn Achilles in mid-November. But that injury will make it harder for Okafor to attract attention on the open market, so he could return to New Orleans on the cheap.

    Instead, safety Kenny Vaccaro could walk.

    The 2013 first-round pick is also on injured reserve as a result of groin and wrist injuries, but those aren't as serious as a torn Achilles. Vaccaro's generally been a disappointment in New Orleans and has struggled to stay healthy, but his strong pedigree and his slot coverage ability will likely compel somebody to pay a premium for his services in 2018.

    With recent high draft picks Vonn Bell, Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Williams emerging in the Saints secondary, New Orleans is unlikely to join a bidding war to keep Vaccaro.

New York Giants: OL Justin Pugh

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    As the offseason gets underway for the New York Giants, all eyes will be on the transitions taking place in the front office, within the coaching staff and potentially even at the quarterback position. But the Giants also have two high-quality offensive linemen on track to become unrestricted free agents in March.

    There's center Weston Richburg, who was one of the best young centers in football in 2015 and 2016 before he missed all but four games in 2017 with a concussion. That could be a huge concern for potential suitors, which probably makes him less of a flight risk than guard-tackle Justin Pugh.

    Pugh also has durability issues. He, too, is on injured reserve with a back injury, and he hasn't played a full season since he was a rookie in 2013. But he has excelled at both left guard and right tackle when healthy, and that versatility could earn him some extra bucks in this market.

    A lot of teams are hurting along their offensive lines, so expect several to take a swing at Pugh. And there's a decent chance the new regime in New York will decide against paying up to keep him around.

New York Jets: LB Demario Davis

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    Per Spotrac, the New York Jets are expected to have more salary cap space than all but three other teams. That essentially means nobody is a major flight risk, and that's especially the case considering they don't have any stars approaching free agency.

    Still, veteran linebacker Demario Davis might have earned himself a nice payday with a strong campaign on an inexpensive one-year contract.

    Davis ranks in the top 10 in football with 124 total tackles. And according to Pro Football Focus, he entered Week 16 ranked tied for sixth out of 50 inside linebackers in yards per cover snap. 

    That might make him tougher to keep at a reasonable price than 25-year-old tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who has also enjoyed somewhat of a breakout season as he prepares to hit the end of his rookie contract. 

Oakland Raiders: LB NaVorro Bowman

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    The Oakland Raiders will have to decide whether to fight to keep five key defensive cogs who are on the verge of becoming free agents this offseason.

    Justin Ellis is having a solid season at defensive tackle, cornerback TJ Carrie has performed better than anyone else in the secondary, safety Reggie Nelson leads the team in tackles, and defensive lineman Denico Autry has a career-high five sacks and seven passes defensed. 

    But veteran linebacker NaVorro Bowman will probably be harder to keep than all of them. The four-time All-Pro didn't play a ton of football from 2014 to 2016, but he's performed well with the Raiders following an October release from the San Francisco 49ers.

    Bowman is still on the right side of 30, and his body of work speaks for itself. He's no longer a superstar, but there's a good chance his 76 tackles in only nine games with the Raiders will cause somebody to pay him semisuperstar money. 

Philadelphia Eagles: TE Trey Burton

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    The Philadelphia Eagles have bigger names than Trey Burton scheduled to become free agents, but that's part of the reason Burton is likely to get away. 

    While the cap-strapped Eagles will probably do everything in their power to keep solid starting linebacker Nigel Bradham, veteran cornerback Patrick Robinson and grizzled running backs LeGarrette Blount and Darren Sproles, Burton won't likely be a priority for a team that already has Pro Bowler Zach Ertz and the experienced Brent Celek. 

    A lot of other teams will be willing to offer the 26-year-old Florida product a larger role than the one he has in Philly, simply because he's been so good when given opportunities with the Eagles. Burton has caught 75.9 percent of the passes thrown his way and accumulated five touchdowns despite being on the field for only a quarter of the team's snaps this season, per Pro Football Reference, and he also flashed at times in 2015 and 2016. 

    That explains why NFL Network's Mike Garafolo expects Burton to earn a "significant" deal in free agency. If that happens, it won't be in Philadelphia. 

Pittsburgh Steelers: RB Le'Veon Bell

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    Look at the list of Pittsburgh Steelers players slated to hit free agency in March, and it;s clear the only one that matters is running back Le'Veon Bell. 

    The three-time Pro Bowl is still in his prime and isn't likely going anywhere, but a second consecutive franchise tag would cost the cap-strapped Steelers a pretty penny. Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports expects that to happen, noting that the tag would take a $14.5 million chunk out of Pittsburgh's 2018 payroll. 

    La Canfora also reported Bell is looking for a long-term deal worth $15 million per year. 

    Daunting numbers like those make Bell at least a mild flight risk in this unpredictable business. 

San Francisco 49ers: RB Carlos Hyde

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    Let's be real. Jimmy Garoppolo isn't going anywhere. 

    While the sensational young San Francisco 49ers quarterback is slated to become a free agent in March, it's clear the 49ers plan to keep him around. Head coach Kyle Shanahan acknowledged as much when referring to the possibility of a franchise tag for Garoppolo, and that was before the 26-year-old started lighting up defenses to close out the season. 

    And while the 49ers can afford to keep Garoppolo and every other impending free agent on their roster, they might be prepared to move on from veteran running back Carlos Hyde. 

    The 2014 second-round pick hasn't lived up to most expectations in San Francisco, and this year he's averaging a career-low 3.8 yards per carry. He never felt like a good fit for new head coach Kyle Shanahan's zone running scheme, and the 49ers have two other intriguing options in the backfield with Matt Breida and Joe Williams. 

    That will likely cause other teams to value Hyde more than the 49ers do. 

Seattle Seahawks: WR Paul Richardson

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    The Seattle Seahawks' Jimmy Graham and Sheldon Richardson are scheduled to become free agents this offseason, and they'll likely get a lot more attention than wide receiver Paul Richardson. 

    That's understandable because Graham and Sheldon Richardson have Pro Bowl nods on their resumes, but Paul Richardson is actually a bigger flight risk. 

    Why? Because it's apparent the Seahawks have realized just how valuable Graham is, especially in the red zone. The 31-year-old isn't as productive now as he was during his time in New Orleans, but he's caught 10 touchdown passes this season and leads the league with 17 receptions on plays that started in the red zone, per Pro Football Reference.

    They'll likely focus on keeping him and Sheldon Richardson, whom they acquired for a starting receiver and second-round pick at the beginning of the season. You don't give that up in order to use a guy for just one season. 

    And while the fact they were willing to part with Jermaine Kearse in that deal could suggest they believe Paul Richardson is an important part of their future, it would be tough for a team with limited cap space to keep Graham and both Richardsons. 

    Paul Richardson's breakout season—he has a career-high 44 catches for 703 yards and six touchdowns, and he ranks in the top 10 in football with 16.0 yards per reception—might cause someone else to wonder if he can play a larger role than the one he has in Seattle. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: CB Brent Grimes

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    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will have a lot of money to spend this offseason, which should make it easy for them to re-sign the few impending free agents on their roster who play key roles. 

    Still, top cornerback Brent Grimes is 34 years old, and the team used its first-round pick in 2016 on Vernon Hargreaves. It's possible another team will place a higher value on Grimes at this point in his career and that the Bucs will determine they're better off with Hargreaves and Robert McClain starting. 

    Don't be surprised if Grimes walks while the Bucs focus on taking care of offensive linemen Kevin Pamphile and Evan Smith. 

Tennessee Titans: LB Avery Williamson

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    The Tennessee Titans haven't gotten much out of veteran Eric Decker on his one-year contract, which could mean he'll be out this offseason. But it also means the Titans can probably bring the 30-year-old back on the cheap. 

    Instead, they could face challenges for underrated linebacker Avery Williamson, who has recorded 366 tackles in four seasons as a regular starter. The 25-year-old has quietly become one of the strongest and most consistent run-stuffing linebackers in the league.

    If Tennessee gets caught up in bolstering its weaponry on offense or becomes fixated on defensive playmakers, Williamson could be poached. 

Washington Redskins: QB Kirk Cousins

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    The most obvious flight risk is last. The Washington Redskins have hit quarterback Kirk Cousins with the franchise tag in each of the last two offseasons, meaning he'd cost them a silly $34.5 million under the franchise designation in 2018. 

    That's probably not realistic, which means there's a strong chance Cousins will hit the open market in March. 

    Considering the way Cousins has been treated by the organization the last couple of years, he might not be willing to give the Redskins a hometown discount. And with so many teams desperate for an upgrade under center, it'll be hard for Washington to outbid all potential suitors to retain a quarterback who has put up elite numbers in each of his three full seasons as the team's starter. 


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