Deal or No Deal: Negotiating Every Team's Priciest Contract Decision

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystJanuary 5, 2018

Deal or No Deal: Negotiating Every Team's Priciest Contract Decision

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    Difficult financial decisions are made every NFL offseason, whether they involve signing available free agents, releasing overpaid veterans or agreeing to long-term extensions with on-the-cusp stars

    The league's competitive balance is built through the salary cap. No team can sign all of the league's best and brightest talent. Difficulties arise for each organization to retain top performers.

    Signing the right talent at the right time to the right contract isn't easy. Usually, organizations have to deal with bloated contracts a few years down the road while trying to manage the salary cap around up-and-comers.

    A cycle of turnover occurs. Each team makes moves based on what's best for its direction. These moves create a butterfly effect throughout the league.

    Before that can happen, potential problem areas for each roster must be identified and addressed.

Arizona Cardinals

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    OT Jared Veldheer

    The Arizona Cardinals' facelift started right after the regular season ended when both head coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Carson Palmer announced their retirements.  

    Changes to the team won't stop there. 

    Larry Fitzgerald hasn't indicated whether he'll return. But that's up to him. The organization, meanwhile, must address its aging and underperforming offensive line. 

    Jared Veldheer is the most likely to be released since he struggled at right tackle and D.J. Humphries is the team's future at left tackle. Also, the Cardinals can save $6.9 million against the 2018 salary cap by cutting the eighth-year blocker. 

    No Deal

Atlanta Falcons

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    DT Grady Jarrett

    Drafting well keeps a team viable and competitive for extended periods. Eventually, a front office must pay the price for doing its job better than others. 

    The Atlanta Falcons, for example, must consider extensions for Grady Jarrett, Jake Matthews and Vic Beasley this offseason. The organization should exercise the fifth-year option on Beasley's rookie contract, which leaves Matthews and Jarrett as potential free agents in 2019. 

    Jarrett is a more pressing concern because he's developed into a dominant interior defender. The organization must emphasize making him happy now instead of worrying about his search for a big payday elsewhere.

    Matthews, on the other hand, is set to make $12.5 million in 2018 based on his current contract. There's no hurry for him to negotiate a long-term deal. 


Baltimore Ravens

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    C Ryan Jensen

    Ryan Jensen wasn't supposed to start this season for the Baltimore Ravens. However, John Urschel's abrupt retirement thrust Jensen into the lineup, and the 2013 sixth-round pick started every game. 

    Jensen enters the offseason as one of the top available free-agent centers alongside the New York Giants' Weston Richburg. 

    "It's been an awesome five years, and I hope to be back here, but I'm going to see where life takes me," the Ravens' snapper said Monday, per Ryan Mink of the team's official site. "I'm going to go with the ebbs and flows of life."

    Fellow 16-game starter James Hurst is also a free agent, but guards Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis will return to the lineup after an injury-played 2017 campaign. That makes Hurst far less of a priority compared to Jensen. 


Buffalo Bills

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    QB Tyrod Taylor

    The Buffalo Bills are basking in the afterglow of making the postseason for the first time since the 1999 campaign. The playoff appearance is merely a precursor to an inevitable showdown between the team and its quarterback. 

    The Bills organization has never fully committed to Taylor as its starter. He had to win a quarterback competition to gain the job, and the previous general manager openly questioned his status.

    Then, the franchise dragged its feet when asked to pick up his option last offseason. The new staff hasn't been much better by benching Taylor for a rookie fifth-round pick, Nathan Peterman, who wasn't ready to play. 

    Next season, Taylor holds an $18.1 million cap hit. But the Bills can save $9.4 million by releasing the 28-year-old. At this point, it's best for the two sides to part ways and allow head coach Sean McDermott to identify the type of quarterback he wants in his system. 

    No Deal

Carolina Panthers

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    OG Andrew Norwell

    Last year's free agency taught everyone an important lesson: Veteran offensive linemen are more valuable than ever. Young blockers are coming into the NFL less and less prepared to play due to college football's spread renaissance. 

    Andrew Norwell will be counted among the best available linemen and the top free-agent guard. The undrafted free agent started every game the last two seasons, and he's been one of the NFL's most consistent interior blockers. 

    The Carolina Panthers already invested heavily in the offense's other starting guard, Trai Turner, with a four-year, $45 million deal. The organization isn't likely to do the same for the 26-year-old Norwell.

    Another franchise looking for a reliable, hard-working and nasty interior blocker will almost certainly offer a massive contract to upgrade their offensive front.  

    No Deal

Chicago Bears

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    CB Kyle Fuller

    Sometimes, a first-round pick needs a little extra time before he blossoms. The Chicago Bears used their 2014 first-round pick on cornerback Kyle Fuller. He experienced ups and downs during his first three seasons before everything came together in his fourth campaign. 

    The Bears' top cover corner tied for second overall with 22 defended passes; he managed 19 through his first 32 games. 

    "His preparation was outstanding," general manager Ryan Pace said Monday, per CBS Chicago's Chris Emma. "I think you can tell when a corner is prepared to play, and he can anticipate routes and things of that nature. Just a very professional approach. Very even-keeled approach. I think it started really with the way he attacked the offseason, and he had a good season because of that."

    Due to his age and recent play, the 25-year-old defensive back will be the top available cornerback if the Bears allow him to test the market. They shouldn't.


Cincinnati Bengals

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    TE Tyler Eifert

    Tight end Tyler Eifert is a mismatch nightmare, and he's about to enter free agency as the best available tight end under 30 years of age. The 6'6", 255-pound target managed 20 touchdown receptions during his 39 career games.

    Although, Eifert's injury history could scare away a few suitors, including the Cincinnati Bengals. The 2015 Pro Bowl selection already required back surgery twice within the past two years. 

    "Doc said I'll be recovered to 100 percent, so I was happy to hear that," Eifert said in October, per's Katherine Terrell

    Questions about the tight end's health make his market value a moving target, and the Bengals found another quality target in Tyler Kroft. The third-year tight end caught 42 passes for 404 yards and seven touchdowns this season. More importantly, he played in 46 of 48 possible games. 

    No Deal

Cleveland Browns

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    RB Isaiah Crowell

    Due to the amount of youth found on the Browns roster, the organization doesn't have any significant contract decisions to make this offseason. Wide receiver Josh Gordon is an exclusive-rights free agent, and defensive tackle Danny Shelton's fifth-year option is pending. Both of their long-term futures can be settled next offseason. 

    However, Isaiah Crowell, who led the team in rushing the past three seasons, is an unrestricted free agent. Crowell didn't break the 1,000-yard plateau in any of those campaigns, but he still managed 2,511 yards and averaged 4.3 yards per carry. 

    The 225-pound back is an effective downhill runner, although he struggles running in outside zone schemes and his balance is suspect. As such, the Browns should look to upgrade the position and allow Crowell to leave, while simultaneously creating more opportunities for the explosive Duke Johnson. 

    No Deal

Dallas Cowboys

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    DE DeMarcus Lawrence

    Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence will be the most sought-after non-quarterback in free agency. Lawrence experienced a breakout campaign when he finished tied for second overall with 14.5 sacks. 

    The list of pass-rushers to provide as much or more sack production in the last three seasons is short and impressive. The 25-year-old joined Chandler Jones, Calais Campbell, Vic Beasley, J.J. Watt, Khalil Mack and Ziggy Ansah. 

    Three of those are due for their first extensions, while Jones, Campbell and Watt all own contracts worth $60 million or more. Campbell's $60 million deal is much lower than the others because he turned 31 years old last season. Otherwise, his contract may be closer to Jones', who signed an $82.5 million extension in March. 

    The Cowboys can't waver on re-signing a premium pass-rusher despite the hefty price tag. Lawrence is far too talented to allow a bidding war for his services. 


Denver Broncos

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    DE Derek Wolfe 

    The Denver Broncos' Derek Wolfe signed a four-year, $36.7 million contract extension prior to the 2016 NFL draft. He could be released less than two years later due to a neck injury and a significant cap hit. 

    Wolfe battled multiple injuries throughout the 2017 campaign, but continued numbness in his right arm eventually forced him onto injured reserve after 11 games. The defensive lineman has spinal stenosis. 

    "We get [the neck] fixed up, and I won't have to deal with it ever again," Wolfe said, per ABC 7 Denver's Troy E. Renck. "I did a lot of neck strengthening [after a neck injury in 2013]. And sometimes that closes the holes where the nerves come out. I have to make sure to keep those clear and keep pressure off the neck."

    While Wolfe expects a full recovery, the Broncos may not be willing to retain his $10.8 million cap hit considering his history. The team saves $7 million by releasing the defensive end. 

    No Deal

Detroit Lions

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    DE Ezekiel Ansah

    A premium is placed on pass-rushers. Right now, DeMarcus Lawrence is the top available free-agent edge-rusher because of his production this season (14.5 sacks) and age (25).

    Ezekiel Ansah will be nearly as valuable to many teams, but he's three years older and not quite as productive. The latter point hints at a potential problem.

    Ansah's production wildly varied in recent years. He finished third overall three seasons ago with 14.5 sacks before managing only two in 2016 while battling nagging injuries. The 2013 first-round pick experienced a bounce-back campaign this past season with 12 sacks, yet nine of those came in three games. 

    Even so, the Detroit Lions lack any true pass-rush presence without Ansah in their lineup. He sets the tone along the defensive front and serves as the catalyst for the unit. 


Green Bay Packers

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    WR Randall Cobb

    Randall Cobb never lived up to the expectations after signing a four-year, $40 million extension prior to the 2015 campaign. 

    Cobb finished with a career-high 91 receptions for 1,287 yards in 2014. He hasn't come close to replicating those numbers during the following three campaigns. Instead, he averaged 68.3 receptions for 697.3 yards since signing the contract. 

    His deal becomes far more manageable this offseason, though. The Packers have an option to release the veteran pass-catcher and save $9.5 million against the cap. This makes Cobb a likely salary-cap casualty since the team invested a four-year, $58 million contract into Davante Adams, who now serves as the offense's top target. 

    The Green Bay Packers' wide receiver corps is about to experience a major change since Jordy Nelson may receive the same fate as Cobb. 

    No Deal

Houston Texans

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    LB Brian Cushing

    Availability is the most important trait for any NFL player. Linebacker Brian Cushing hasn't been available to the Houston Texans multiple times during his career due to suspensions, and it's time to reconsider his standing with the team. 

    The NFL suspended Cushing 10 games in 2017 for a performance-enhancing drug violationthe second such violation of his career. Considering his suspension and injury history, the Texans should consider moving on from the soon-to-be 31-year-old. Cushing already missed 40 games during his nine-year career. 

    Although, those factors are only part of the equation. The Texans can save $7.6 million against the salary cap by releasing the linebacker. Also, a pair of talented young defenders in Zach Cunningham and Dylan Cole are ready to take over full-time roles at inside linebacker.

    Cushing moved to outside linebacker this season, but Whitney Mercilus will return next season after suffering a torn pectoral muscle. 

    No Deal

Indianapolis Colts

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    CB Rashaan Melvin

    A lost season for a team can present lesser-known individuals with an opportunity to flourish. The injuries the Indianapolis Colts suffered among their defensive backfield allowed Rashaan Melvin to start 10 games before he ended the year on injured reserve. 

    The collegiate walk-on and undrafted free agent is a self-made man after being released by five different teams before finding a home in Indianapolis. Melvin performed poorly during the 2016 campaign, but he didn't quit and developed into the Colts' best cover corner this past fall. 

    "My name might [not] be high-profile, but when I'm out on the football field, I make a difference," Melvin said, per the Indianapolis Star's Zak Keefer. "And that's cool with me. I continue to prove myself right. I continue to prove I can play in this league, make plays in this league, and become one of the best cornerbacks in this league."

    The 28-year-old free agent will draw plenty of interest if the Colts don't re-sign him. 


Jacksonville Jaguars

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    WR Allen Robinson

    Two seasons ago, Allen Robinson looked well on his way to becoming a dominant wide receiver and the Jacksonville Jaguars' long-term top target. He's no longer viewed in the same way after a disappointing 2016 campaign and a lost 2017 season. 

    Was Robinson's 1,400-yard sophomore effort an aberration? This question will be asked by teams once he hits free agency. 

    The likelihood of the 2014 second-round pick re-signing with the Jaguars is slim. Keelan Cole, Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns form a young and effective trio without adding another large contract to the equation. 

    Plus, Robinson is coming off a torn ACL he suffered in Week 1. At his best, the 24-year-old averaged 17.5 yards per reception. His value is built around being an explosive vertical option with his ability to win 50-50 balls. His recent injury history may give teams pause before agreeing to a significant deal. 

    No Deal

Kansas City Chiefs

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    QB Alex Smith

    The Kansas City Chiefs are prepared for life without quarterback Alex Smith. Financially, it makes sense to move on from the veteran signal-caller even though he's in the midst of his best professional season. 

    Smith set new career highs with 4,042 passing yards, 26 touchdowns and an average of 8.00 yards per attempt. The Chiefs quarterback also led the NFL with 17 completions on passes thrown at least 30 yards downfield this season, per ESPN Stats & Info

    His future will likely be determined by how well he performs in the playoffs, because everything else points toward his eventual departure. 

    The Chiefs are $3 million over the projected 2018 salary cap, while Smith holds a $20.6 million cap hit next season. Kansas City can save $17 million with his release. Finding a trade partner would be even more beneficial to move the entire contract while adding a draft asset. 

    Plus, Patrick Mahomes has superior arm talent and playmaking ability outside of structure. He's the future after the Chiefs traded up and used the 10th overall pick to select him. 

    No Deal

Los Angeles Chargers

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    S Tre Boston

    The Los Angeles Chargers may not have made the postseason, but their 9-7 campaign provided plenty of hope. Hope came from more than the obvious names. Tre Boston developed into one of the NFL's best free safeties. 

    The chance to play in Gus Bradley's scheme allowed Boston to utilize his balls skills as the last line of defense. The safety tied for fifth overall with five interceptions and finished second on the Chargers with 79 total tackles. 

    Boston's breakout campaign couldn't have happened at a better time since he's scheduled to be a free agent. Although, the Chargers are in a good position to re-sign the safety, because Antonio Gates is the team's only other significant free agent, and he's clearly on the backside of his career. 

    Bradley's defense relies heavily on finding the right talent to fit his base scheme. The Chargers found a terrific pass defender in Boston, and the 25-year-old should be considered a long-term building block. 


Los Angeles Rams

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    DT Aaron Donald

    The Los Angeles Rams need to make Aaron Donald the NFL's highest-paid defender. He's that good. 

    "I think [Donald] is the most dominant defensive player," defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said, per The Ringer's Robert Mays.

    He isn't wrong. Few defenders are even on the same plane of existence as Donald. Von Miller, Khalil Mack and a healthy J.J. Watt are the only players who can even make a similar claim. 

    Donald's contract status has been a growing point of contention, though. The 26-year-old defensive tackle held out of training camp and preseason before reporting to the team Sept. 9. The layoff didn't hurt the four-time Pro Bowler's effectiveness: Donald tied a career high with 11 sacks. 

    At his best, the 2014 first-round pick is unstoppable. His leverage provides a natural advantage against taller blockers. His first-step quickness is among the league's best. Even if the 280-pound defender doesn't beat a lineman off the snap, he's strong enough to bull through them. 

    The Rams better be prepared to offer a contract extension in excess of $100 million this offseason. 


Miami Dolphins

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    WR Jarvis Landry

    As productive as Jarvis Landry has been during his first four seasons, two points can be made on why he won't be with the Miami Dolphins next season. 

    First, the upcoming free agent hasn't set a good example, and the Dolphins showed with the Jay Ajayi trade they're willing to move on from a talented player if he doesn't fit their locker room. Officials ejected Landry from Sunday's contest against the Buffalo Bills when the wide receiver participated in a fight. 

    "This last game was probably the pinnacle of what I've ever seen with him during a game," head coach Adam Gase said, per the Associated Press' Steven Wine. "I don't think I've ever seen it get to a level where it was extremely bad. But the last game was about as embarrassing as I've seen in a long time. It was something we can't have happen."

    Second, the free agent became the first wide receiver in NFL history to catch 100 or more passes and fail to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards. Landry is productive, but he's not explosive. 

    No Deal

Minnesota Vikings

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    QB Case Keenum

    Case Keenum finished top 12 overall in completion percentage (67.6), passing yards (3,547), touchdowns (22) and quarterback rating (98.3). The undrafted quarterback also helped lead the Minnesota Vikings to a 13-3 record and the NFC's No. 2 playoff seed. 

    Keenum performed like a franchise quarterback by almost every standard. His performance in the playoffs will go a long way to determining his value to the organization. 

    All three of the Vikings quarterbacks are free agents once the season is complete. Sam Bradford's time in Minnesota appears to be done after he dealt with lingering knee issues. The front office will then decide between Keenum and Teddy Bridgwater as their future starting option. 

    As long as Pat Shurmur remains the Vikings offensive coordinator, Keenum is an ideal fit for the system and how head coach Mike Zimmer wants his offense to operate. 


New England Patriots

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    OT Nate Solder

    NFL players are often treated like commodities in a world where fans dream of Madden-like scenarios with top players moving willy-nilly to whatever preferred destination. Some things are bigger than football, and they factor into a player's decision whether to stay with his current team or consider other options. 

    Nate Solder is about to enter the most important phase of his professional career. The left tackle will be the top available blocker on the market, and this will likely be the 29-year-old veteran's last chance to sign a significant contract. In the end, it probably doesn't matter, because some things are just too important. 

    Solder's son, Hudson, suffers from a rare form of pediatric kidney cancer, per Sports Illustrated's Kalyn Kahler. He receives his treatments at the Jimmy Fund Clinic in Boston.

    Hudson's treatment plan comes first, and his battle is far more important than any discussion we can have about Solder's fit from a football perspective or how many zeros appear on his next contract. 


New Orleans Saints

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    QB Drew Brees

    Drew Brees will forever be linked to the New Orleans Saints organization as its greatest player. His time in the Big Easy shouldn't be complete, either. 

    The rejuvenated Saints captured a division title after three straight 7-9 campaigns. Brees' performance became overlooked due to a budding defense and Alvin Kamara's run toward NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. Still, the veteran quarterback set a single-season NFL record with a 72.0 completion percentage. 

    Yes, the rest of his stats were down across the board. This is actually a good thing. The 38-year-old Brees shouldn't be asked to carry the offense at this point in his career. Instead, the scheme transitioned to a running back-heavy influence with Kamara and Mark Ingram becoming the first running back tandem in NFL history to both eclipse 1,500 total scrimmage yards, per NFL Media's Gil Brandt

    "...I don't plan on leaving New Orleans ever," the upcoming free agent said during an interview with Hardwick & Richards on XTRA 1360-AM.


New York Giants

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    QB Eli Manning

    Eli Manning's consecutive-starts streak may have come to an abrupt end due to an ill-advised organizational decision, but the New York Giants don't appear ready to move on from the franchise's all-time leading passer and two-time Super Bowl winner. Neither does the quarterback. 

    "I want to play quarterback for the New York Giants," Manning said, per's Jordan Raanan. "That's what I hope happens, and obviously we'll talk and figure out what's the plan for the franchise going forward."

    Even with carrying Manning's $22.2 million cap hit into the 2018 league year, the organization still has $22.3 million in available salary-cap space. 

    The 37-year-old signal-caller experienced a down 2017 campaign, but he'll perform for a new play-caller next fall with a healthy wide receiver corps. Plus, Manning can serve as the perfect bridge to a quarterback if new general manager Dave Gettleman decides to select one with the second overall pick in April's draft. 


New York Jets

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    DE Muhammad Wilkerson

    The New York Jets already traded one malcontent when the organization shipped Sheldon Richardson to the Seattle Seahawks. Fellow defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson should be the next one out the door. 

    Head coach Todd Bowles, who will return for a fourth season, benched and suspended Wilkerson at different points last season. The defensive end has been habitually late to meetings, and Bowles grew furious with his behavior, according to's Rich Cimini

    "It's all about respect, and I let the team down," Wilkerson said. "I respect what coach did. We're moving forward, getting ready for the next opponent."

    The front office could make a move last year due to the defender's $86 million contract. Everything changes in 2018 when the organization can save $11 million in salary-cap space by releasing Wilkerson. 

    The move can't happen fast enough. 

    No Deal

Oakland Raiders

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    DE Khalil Mack

    The Raiders need to build some goodwill after a disappointing 6-10 campaign. The potential hire of Jon Gruden is a good start. Signing defensive standout Khalil Mack to a long-term deal that will keep him with the organization well beyond their move to Las Vegas is even better. 

    Mack is a dominant presence, and he's still the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year until awards are announced for the 2017 campaign. 

    Overall, the Raiders defense has been quite poor the last few seasons. Mack's play hasn't been. 

    "Over the last three seasons, Mack has accumulated 256 pressures and 151 stopsboth are the most among defensive players in that span," Pro Football Focus' Mark Chichester wrote.

    A long-term agreement shouldn't wait. Mack is one of the NFL's best, and he's about to enter the last year of his rookie deal. The Raiders need to lock him up to a long-term contract. 


Philadelphia Eagles

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    OT Jason Peters

    Sometimes an organization must accept an unfortunate situation and just move on, even from an all-world talent. Jason Peters suffered ACL and MCL tears in his right knee that brought his 2017 campaign to an end. 

    Peters proved to be reliable during the previous four seasons by starting all but two games. However, his age, recovery and contract status will all play a factor if he chooses to continue his career. 

    The nine-time Pro Bowl performer turns 36 later this month and holds an $11.7 million cap hit next season. When healthy, Peters was still counted among the league's best blind-side protectors. Such a significant knee injury is devastating at this point in his career, though. 

    No, the Philadelphia Eagles don't have a better option at left tackle, but the offseason can provide possibilities to find a long-term solution. The organization saves $5.3 million by moving on from Peters after this season. 

    No Deal

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    RB Le'Veon Bell

    Le'Veon Bell is on the verge of signing the NFL's most lucrative deal among running backs once free agency begins. The Pittsburgh Steelers shouldn't open up the coffers, though. 

    Bell operated under the franchise tag this season and finished third overall with 1,291 rushing yards. Although, a couple of decisions may provide a slight glimpse into Pittsburgh's plans. 

    The franchise selected James Conner in the third round of April's draft. Conner averaged 4.5 yards per carry during his rookie campaign. Meanwhile, offensive coordinator Todd Haley decided to up Bell's involvement. The 25-year-old workhorse became the only running back to eclipse 300 carries. In fact, his 321 totes were 34 more than the next closest ball-carrier, the Buffalo Bills' LeSean McCoy. 

    Bell caught 85 passes this season too. A running back's production tends to curtail after such a heavy workload, and the Steelers' sly manipulation to get the most out of Bell before letting him walk shouldn't go unnoticed. 

    No Deal

San Francisco 49ers

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    QB Jimmy Garoppolo

    The San Francisco 49ers took a calculated risk acquiring quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo at the trade deadline without the guarantee of a long-term agreement. The move paid off handsomely with San Francisco winning its last five games. 

    The fourth-year signal caller completed 67.4 percent of his passes for 1,560 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions during his limited time with the team.  

    Garoppolo is an ideal fit in Kyle Shanahan's offensive scheme, and the 49ers organization isn't going to let him leave in free agency. 

    "We want Jimmy to be a Niner for a long, long time," general manager John Lynch told reporters Tuesday. "That process is going to take place here, and we're eager to get that done, to have the opportunity."


Seattle Seahawks

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    DT Sheldon Richardson

    The Seattle Seahawks traded a 2018 second-round pick and wide receiver Jermaine Kearse to acquire defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. The hefty price tag indicated the organization planned to keep the impending free agent beyond this past season.

    More importantly, Richardson wants to be back in Seattle, which should help contract negotiations. 

    "Yeah I do, actually. I definitely expect to be back here," Richardson said, per Pro Football Talk's Curtis Crabtree

    The defensive tackle's retention is important on a few levels.

    First, his production doesn't impress just by looking at the stat line, yet Richardson is a disruptive defender ideally suited as a 3-technique in Seattle's defensive scheme.

    Second, the once-vaunted Legion of Boom secondary is in flux.

    Third, Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril's careers may be over due to neck injuries.

    Finally, Michael Bennett turns 33 years old next season, and Richardson can develop into the defensive front's catalyst. 


Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    RB Doug Martin

    The writing appears to be on the wall for Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin. Change is coming for the organization, and it usually starts by releasing underperforming and overpaid veterans. 

    Martin is the most obvious candidate. Second-year back Peyton Barber outplayed the former starter down the stretch, and the 23-year-old back should expect a bigger role in 2018. 

    "If recent history in the NFL has shown anything, it has shown that good running backs can come out of nowhere," head coach Dirk Koetter said, per the Sports Xchange

    Plus, the Buccaneers can release Martin without incurring any dead money when he's currently scheduled to hold a $6.8 million cap hit. The decision shouldn't be too difficult since the Buccaneers can start a young and more effective running back while saving a large portion of salary-cap space. 

    No Deal

Tennessee Titans

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    RB DeMarco Murray

    The transition to Derrick Henry as the Tennessee Titans' lead back has already begun. Henry will start Saturday's playoff contest against the Kansas City Chiefs, because the Titans' coaching staff already ruled Murray out with a sprained knee, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport

    If Tennessee doesn't advance, DeMarco Murray's time with the organization should be at an end. Murray provided a strong 2016 campaign with 1,287 rushing yards, but his play dipped this season with 659 yards. Injuries played a part, but Henry developed into a better option. 

    Furthermore, Murray's $6.5 million 2018 cap hit doesn't include any dead money. So, the Titans can release him and use the full allotment to address other areas on the roster. 

    The league is filled with talented, young running backs, and the soon-to-be 30-year-old Murray now faces his football mortality. 

    No Deal

Washington Redskins

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    QB Kirk Cousins

    Kirk Cousins will be the most sought-after free agent on the market, but his decision whether to stay with the Washington Redskins will likely change every day. It's hard to predict which direction he'll go, because there are positive and negatives to each scenario. 

    For example, Cousins is expected to demand a contract near $30 million per season. Right now, the Cleveland Browns, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills and Washington are the only teams without starting quarterback plans and enough projected salary-cap space to sign the 29-year-old.

    Those situations aren't ideal, and Cousins may be best served returning to the system where he's thrived. The decision may be a little easier for his current franchise. 

    Washington is 15-16-1 during the last two seasons with Cousins. What the front office has to ask itself is this: Is the quarterback's level of play commensurate with the money he's expected to demand? The answer appears simple enough. Cousins can be another franchise's great hope. 

    No Deal


    All stats via Pro Football Reference or unless otherwise noted. Contract numbers courtesy of Spotrac.