One Starter Every NFL Team Must Replace in 2019
The No. 1 objective for NFL teams during the offseason is to improve their rosters by adding depth at shallow positions and acquiring starting-caliber talent to replace underperformers or fill vacant spots.
Starting with free agency in March, teams have the opportunity to acquire veterans, some of them at a premium price, to bolster weak areas. For general managers unwilling to spend cash on the open market, picking from a pool of 250-plus rookies on draft day could solve their roster issues. Don't forget undrafted talents.
Regardless of a team's short-term outlook, whether it's a methodical rebuild or an aggressive push for a Super Bowl run, there's at least one starting player who won't return in the same capacity or at all next year.
In the following scenarios, each club should release, trade, bench or allow one starter to walk in free agency. We'll highlight 32 players who shouldn't retain starting roles with their current teams. The list focuses on those who've made the most starts among teammates at their respective positions.
Arizona Cardinals: OG Mike Iupati
In an effort to protect quarterback Josh Rosen and bolster the run game, the Arizona Cardinals must address their offensive line. The front office released offensive tackle Andre Smith with one year remaining on his deal. The next order of business should be to acquire a young offensive guard and allow Mike Iupati to hit the open market.
Iupati is three years removed from his most recent Pro Bowl season. He's going into his age-32 campaign and will have missed 21 games in the last two seasons—both ending on injured reserve. After two injury-riddled terms, the ninth-year veteran's career seems like it's headed in the wrong direction as far as reliability.
The Cardinals can look to add youth or a durable veteran during free agency, someone who would serve as a stable cog in the ground attack. It's imperative the coaching staff helps running back David Johnson return to his All-Pro status from two years ago.
Atlanta Falcons: OG Andy Levitre
In consecutive years, offensive guard Andy Levitre's season ended with a triceps injury. He's going to miss 17 games over the last two terms because of the ailment, which signals a need for change on the interior of the Atlanta Falcons offensive line.
Levitre will head into his age-33 campaign. Last offseason, the Falcons signed veteran guard Brandon Fusco, who turns 31 in July, to a three-year deal. Instead of signing another stopgap asset at the position, Atlanta could add a rookie in the draft to help improve the ground attack.
Running back Devonta Freeman has only suited up for two games because of a groin issue, but the unit ranks last in yards with Tevin Coleman and rookie fourth-rounder Ito Smith.
Atlanta also lists last in rushing attempts, showing the coaching staff's lack of confidence in the ground attack. In an attempt to replace Levitre, using a high draft pick on a guard could help balance the offense.
Baltimore Ravens: QB Joe Flacco
A cloud of uncertainty hovers over the Baltimore Ravens because of the looming transition from general manager Ozzie Newsome to assistant GM Eric DeCosta next year. We could also see a coaching staff shift if this team fails to clinch a playoff berth, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
However, it's naive to think DeCosta stood in a broom closet while the team constructed its draft board and made selections in April. He knows what Newsome invested in quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Baltimore has gone 3-1 with Jackson under center in place of injured starter Joe Flacco. Though Jackson's passing numbers aren't overly impressive (687 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions), it's difficult to envision that Flacco starts under center for the Ravens again.
Now that the Ravens have decided to start Jackson, their potential future franchise quarterback, over a healthy Flacco, the writing is on the wall for the 33-year-old. It's time to move on and trade the veteran for draft capital and possibly a wide receiver to replace impending free agent John Brown.
Buffalo Bills: TE Charles Clay
Tight end Charles Clay put together a strong three-year stretch from 2015 to 2017 with the Buffalo Bills, racking up 1,638 yards and nine touchdowns. He's only logged 21 catches for 184 yards this season, partially because of the inconsistencies and inexperience at quarterback.
Quarterbacks Josh Allen, Nathan Peterman, Derek Anderson and Matt Barkley have all started at least one game in Buffalo. Clay hasn't been the big-target safety blanket for any of the signal-callers. He could bounce back next year, but the 29-year-old will cost $9 million against the cap in 2019.
For a tight end who's coming off a down season and turning 30 in February, it's a steep price. The coaching staff may have interest in developing 24-year-old Jason Croom, whose numbers look similar to Clay's this season. The 2017 undrafted product out of Tennessee has recorded 15 receptions for 147 yards and a touchdown.
Carolina Panthers: TE Greg Olsen
From 2011 to 2016, Greg Olsen suited up for every game. Over the last two years, he's been limited to 16 starts because of recurring foot injuries.
For a tight end who uses lower-body strength to block and footwork to free himself down the seam in the passing attack, Olsen's foot ailments diminish his value in the offense. This year, when on the field, the 33-year-old didn't produce at a high level as a pass-catcher. In nine outings, he caught 27 passes for 291 yards and four touchdowns, marking his second-lowest single-season yardage total.
Last offseason, Olsen auditioned for an analyst position with ESPN's Monday Night Football broadcast, per the New York Post's Andrew Marchand. The Panthers selected tight end Ian Thomas in the fourth round of this year's draft. Both Olsen and the team may want to consider moving in different directions going into 2019.
Over the last two contests, Thomas has caught 14 passes for 123 yards as a solid asset in the aerial attack.
Chicago Bears: RT Bobby Massie
Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky possesses the mobility to escape pressure in the pocket, but the Chicago Bears front office can't ignore a potential vacancy at right tackle. Bobby Massie will test free agency in March. At 29 years old, he may cost more than the Bears are willing to pay on the open market. The talent pool at the position won't offer many high-end options.
General manager Ryan Pace should look to the draft and develop a right tackle rather than pay Massie, who's experienced ups and downs in Chicago. The Bears will have a shot at taking a high-upside talent among the incoming offensive linemen in April.
In 2019, the Bears are projected to have just $20 million in cap space. The front office also has impending decisions to make on cornerback Bryce Callahan and safety Adrian Amos.
Based on last year's safety market, the Bears should have the financial resources to pay Amos. Before going down with a broken foot, Callahan performed at his best in four years, justifying re-signing him. That leaves Massie as the expendable impending free agent.
Cincinnati Bengals: DE Michael Johnson
During the summer, the Cincinnati Bengals surprisingly released safety George Iloka, elevating rookie Jessie Bates into the starting spot. The decision to move on from defensive end Michael Johnson would allow Sam Hubbard, another 2018 draftee, to see more time on the field.
Cincinnati released Johnson during final cuts in September, recouping approximately $5 million in cap space, but re-signed him days later. Although Johnson is the starter at defensive end, Hubbard has logged more snaps (399 to 386) and provides pocket pressure with four sacks.
Johnson is 31 years old, and his role as a decent pass-rusher has run its course. With half a sack in 12 starts, he's on pace for his lowest total in the category. If the Bengals decide not to re-sign Johnson, Hubbard's development would kick into a higher gear as the front-runner for a starting position on the end.
Cleveland Browns: DT Trevon Coley
Last year, the Cleveland Browns ranked seventh against the run with Larry Ogunjobi and Danny Shelton in the middle of the defensive line. Through 14 weeks, the defense lists 28th in the category. The unit has been gashed for 100-plus yards in all but three contests.
It's unfair to point the finger at Trevon Coley as the sole reason for the deterioration of the run defense, but the Browns must beef up the front line with a stout run-stopper. As an exclusive-rights free agent, the 24-year-old will likely remain with the team unless the front office decides not to attach a tender to him.
While keeping Coley as depth at defensive tackle, the Browns can dive into a strong pool of interior defensive linemen that includes Shelton, Grady Jarrett, Sheldon Richardson and David Irving. Armed with a projected $81.4 million in cap space, the Browns can upgrade at the position.
Dallas Cowboys: DT Antwaun Woods
Defensive tackle David Irving served a four-game suspension for a substance-abuse violation, spent some time away from the team to tend to a personal matter and then suffered a high-ankle sprain. In the meantime, Antwaun Woods has started 12 contests on the interior. He's logged 11 solo tackles and 1.5 sacks.
Although Woods isn't a liability, the Dallas Cowboys can strengthen their front line with another playmaker next to Maliek Collins. There are few complaints about the second-ranked scoring defense, which also lists fourth in yards allowed, but the front four could use another consistent interior penetrator to balance pocket pressure.
At 6'1", 318 pounds, Woods profiles as a squatty interior tackle who plugs gaps in run situations. He doesn't provide enough of a pass rush to help sway attention from defensive end Demarcus Lawrence.
Assuming Dallas does everything in its power to retain Lawrence, he'll need a tag-team partner in hunting down quarterbacks. If he inks a deal elsewhere, it becomes more important to add a pass-rusher to the defensive line or replace Woods with a dynamic talent on the interior.
Denver Broncos: TE Jeff Heuerman
Tight end Jake Butt tore his ACL in September for the third time between his collegiate years and the pros. Without him, Jeff Heuerman saw an uptick in receiving opportunities in 11 games before landing on injured reserve with three broken ribs and a bruised lung.
Heuerman put together a decent showing, notching 31 receptions for 281 yards and two touchdowns. He could run routes and catch when targeted but lacks the agility of a top-flight pass-catching tight end.
In 2017, quarterback Case Keenum connected with Kyle Rudolph 57 times for 532 yards and eight touchdowns. The Vikings tight end finished that year as a Pro Bowler. Clearly, the Broncos signal-caller knows how to optimize a pass-catcher down the seam.
If the front office plans to go all-in on Keenum, the Broncos need a reliable tight end who's demonstrated a knack for hauling in passes. Coming into this season, Heuerman had 18 career catches. Denver selected tight end Troy Fumagalli in the fifth round of April's draft, but he's yet to play a down because of a groin injury. He's a potential option to take over the starting spot next year.
Detroit Lions: CB Nevin Lawson
Five seasons into his career, cornerback Nevin Lawson hasn't snagged an interception. That's not a big deal if he's constantly batting down passes, but the 27-year-old has just 24 breakups in coverage.
Opposite cornerback Darius Slay, the Lions need a playmaker who can force turnovers. Despite his struggles over the last two seasons, there's still time to develop Teez Tabor into a starting-caliber boundary defender. He's yet to record a pass breakup or an interception, but another offseason under head coach Matt Patricia could help him grow within the scheme.
If there's waning confidence in Tabor, the front office may want to consider targeting top prospects at the position in the upcoming draft. The Lions won't win many games against their division rivals with quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins and Trubisky stretching the field while completing at least 62 percent of their passes.
Lawson's uninspiring play should encourage general manager Bob Quinn to stay on the lookout for a ball-hawking cornerback.
Green Bay Packers: S Tramon Williams
The Green Bay Packers coaching staff opted to run an experiment in the secondary, moving Tramon Williams from cornerback to safety. He's lined up at the position since Week 9. As a playmaker, he's been quiet this year with 36 solo tackles and a pass breakup.
Once upon a time, retired defensive back Charles Woodson made a transition from cornerback to safety in Green Bay. He's a potential Hall of Famer who flashed elite ball-tracking skills at his natural position.
Williams' 32 interceptions aren't something to overlook. However, his production has significantly dropped; he's logged 18 pass breakups and three picks since 2016. The 35-year-old's diminishing impact suggests he's fit for a backup role as opposed to a position switch in a starting spot.
Because of Kentrell Brice's ineffective play in coverage (two pass breakups and zero interceptions), it's important for the Packers to find a solution at safety.
Houston Texans: TE Ryan Griffin
In terms of pass-catching production, there's a change in the guard at tight end for the Houston Texans. Rookie sixth-rounder Jordan Thomas has 18 catches for 207 yards and four touchdowns while converting 75.0 percent of his targets into receptions.
Fellow rookie tight end Jordan Akins, a third-round selection, hasn't reached the end zone, but he's secured 15 catches for 192 yards—also converting 75.0 percent of his targets into completions.
Ryan Griffin, the incumbent starter, isn't as efficient, logging a 54.1 percent catch rate with just 13 more targets than Thomas. The 28-year-old has started nine games in a season for the first time in his career. Still, the front office put the writing on the wall, signaling a pivot toward younger talent with two drafted rookies at the position.
The sixth-year veteran still has a year left on his deal, but it's likely one of the rookie tight ends opens the 2019 season as the starter because of Akins' draft status or Thomas' red-zone production.
Indianapolis Colts: WR Ryan Grant
Ryan Grant has logged an underwhelming 31 catches for 309 yards and a touchdown in 11 appearances, which includes eight starts. Despite opening the term as the No. 2 wideout, he hasn't flourished in Indianapolis.
With Washington in 2017, Grant recorded career highs in receptions (45), yards (573) and touchdowns (four), which provided hope that he would continue to see an increase in production with a healthy Andrew Luck under center. On the contrary, the 27-year-old averages just 28.1 yards per contest.
Grant signed a one-year, prove-it deal in the offseason; he's yet to show a reason for an extended stay. Furthermore, the veteran wideout doesn't seem to have a strong rapport with Luck, ranking fifth on the team in targets (44).
With third-year wide receiver Chester Rogers (42 catches, 389 yards and one touchdown) coming along in the offense and more productive than Grant this year, it's likely the latter will need to find work elsewhere.
Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Blake Bortles
After a Week 12 loss to the Bills, the Jacksonville Jaguars benched quarterback Blake Bortles for Cody Kessler. Considering the front office inked the 26-year-old Bortles to a three-year, $54 million extension in the offseason, it's a bold move.
At 4-9, it's a lost season for Jacksonville, but head coach Doug Marrone isn't even interested in watching Bortles battle through a rough year, which is telling for the signal-caller's status with the franchise.
The Jaguars' investment in Bortles would likely restrict the team to a rookie acquisition and potentially a low-cost veteran for a quarterback competition through training camp. The succession plan will be costly, but it's absolutely necessary.
Kansas City Chiefs: LB Reggie Ragland
In today's NFL game, a growing number of running backs can run and catch out of the backfield. Tight ends are running routes inside the numbers as mismatches against linebackers and safeties. Defensive coordinators must find a way to combat effective short and immediate passing attacks.
This season, the Kansas City Chiefs have struggled to defend the middle and seam areas of the field. According to Football Outsiders, the defense allows the second-most yards to tight ends (74.3) and the most to running backs (64.3).
Opposing quarterbacks have focused on attacking linebackers Reggie Ragland and Anthony Hitchens. The front office may exercise more patience with the latter because he signed a five-year, $45 million deal in March. The Chiefs traded a fourth-round pick to the Bills for Ragland during the 2017 offseason.
It's much easier to cut losses with a player who cost a middle-round draft pick than one owed $17.7 million in dead money if he's released. Still, the Chiefs need a coverage linebacker on the field to address their weakness in pass defense.
The coaching staff may have foreshadowed a future change to the starting defense when rookie third-rounder Dorian O'Daniel started over Ragland in Week 11 against the Los Angeles Rams.
Los Angeles Chargers: LB Kyle Emanuel
Expect the Los Angeles Chargers to shuffle the starting linebacker corps. Denzel Perryman will become an unrestricted free agent in March. His lengthy injury history will likely encourage the front office to develop in-house assets at the position.
Linebackers Jatavis Brown, Kyle Emanuel and Uchenna Nwosu have all started in the last four outings. Among the three, Emanuel is likely to transition to a reserve role if he re-signs this offseason in free agency. The 27-year-old is capable of lining up inside and outside but doesn't offer much impact in pass coverage or pocket pressure.
In 60 games, including 33 starts, Emanuel has recorded 80 solo tackles, two interceptions, five pass breakups and four sacks. Even in a starting role for about half of his career, the fourth-year linebacker doesn't move the needle.
Assuming the youth movement at linebacker continues into next season, Kyzir White will likely return to a starting role as a hybrid safety-linebacker in Gus Bradley's scheme. He started the first three weeks of the season. Lining him up alongside Brown and Nwosu makes Emanuel a long shot to re-sign as a starter.
Los Angeles Rams: LB Matt Longacre
The Rams have pivoted from linebacker Matt Longacre to midseason acquisition Dante Fowler Jr., who joined the team via trade with the Jaguars.
In five games with the Rams, Fowler has two sacks; he's also started the last two outings as a pass-rusher off the edge. In a short time span, the 24-year-old has racked up more sacks than Longacre, who doesn't have a tally in the category. Both linebackers can test the free-agent market in March.
The Rams are more likely to re-sign and start Fowler because of his perceived upside as a 2015 first-round pick, immediate impact and the draft capital used to acquire him. General manager Les Snead sent a 2019 third-round pick and 2020 fifth-rounder to Jacksonville for the talented pass-rusher with 16 career sacks—half of them coming in the 2017 term.
Longacre's 5.5 sacks in 2017 seem like the distant past, and he doesn't offer much as a run defender. He's also three years older than Fowler—another reason why Snead will probably allow the fourth-year linebacker to walk in free agency.
Miami Dolphins: DE Robert Quinn
The Miami Dolphins sent a fourth-round pick to the Rams and swapped sixth-rounders to acquire defensive end Robert Quinn in March. In seven years with his former team, he accumulated 62.5 sacks. Clearly, Miami's front office brought him in to bolster the pass rush.
Despite suiting up for all 13 games this year, Quinn has logged just 4.5 sacks. From 2012 to 2014, he recorded double-digit totals each season, but those years are behind him.
The 28-year-old has one solid 2017 term with 8.5 sacks sandwiched between an injury-riddled campaign with the Rams and an underwhelming year in Miami. Quinn's cap hit will rise to $12.9 million next season, but the Dolphins can make a clean cut and recoup the cash.
Barring an extraordinary three-game stretch, there's no reason to keep Quinn past his prime on a costly deal. The Dolphins should look to develop 2017 first-rounder Charles Harris in an expanded role at defensive end.
Minnesota Vikings: OG Tom Compton
The Minnesota Vikings rank 31st in rush attempts and 30th in yards on the ground. It's going to take more than firing play-caller John DeFilippo to balance the offensive attack. The issue starts up front: 21.8 percent of their carries are stuffed, indicating a defender tackled the ball-carrier at or behind the line of scrimmage, per Football Outsiders.
Taking a deeper look, Vikings ball-carriers average 3.82 adjusted yards per carry when running between the guards—well below the 4.42 league average.
Minnesota selected center Pat Elflein in the third round of the 2017 draft. He's an expected hold in the starting lineup for the foreseeable future. The coaching staff moved Mike Remmers from right tackle to guard and groomed rookie second-rounder Brian O'Neill to take over his old position.
With three years left on his deal, Remmers will likely have at least another season to acclimate himself to his new spot on the interior.
Left guard seems like an easy position to target for an upgrade. Tom Compton's contract will expire at the end of the season. He's been a backup for most of his seven-year career. Even if Minnesota re-signs him, 2017 fifth-rounder Danny Isidora or a new acquisition would have a decent chance at a starting role.
New England Patriots: LT Trent Brown
Contrary to conventional belief, quarterback Tom Brady hasn't crumbled in the pocket since losing left tackle Nate Solder. He's been sacked 18 times in 13 games, which is a rate improvement in comparison to last year's 35-sack total.
The Patriots acquired offensive tackle Trent Brown from the San Francisco 49ers in April. For the most part, he lined up on the right side with his former team, but the 25-year-old has served as a tolerable replacement for Solder.
At 6'8", 380 pounds, Brown stands as a wall on Brady's blind side. It's likely he will sign elsewhere in free agency in March as the Patriots look to develop rookie first-rounder Isaiah Wynn, who tore his Achilles during the preseason. The Georgia product lined up at guard and left tackle during the summer.
Brown could return on a new deal as a backup, but Wynn's potential gives him a prime opportunity to take over on the blind side.
New Orleans Saints: DE Alex Okafor
The New Orleans Saints re-signed defensive end Alex Okafor during the offseason. As a result, the coaching staff didn't have a reason to rush rookie first-rounder Marcus Davenport's development as a pass-rusher on the edge.
Okafor has played 551 defensive snaps compared to 308 for Davenport, who missed three contests because of a toe injury. Next year, those numbers may flip as Davenport finds his way in play-caller Dennis Allen's scheme.
The Saints' decision to trade two first-round selections and a fifth-rounder in order to draft the defensive end has been talked about ad nauseam, but that investment suggests the team will increase his snap count sooner than later. Davenport flashed at certain points this season, recording four sacks. Okafor has three tallies.
The Saints can save $4.1 million if they release Okafor in the spring, per Over the Cap.
New York Giants: QB Eli Manning
Quarterback Eli Manning isn't the only problem with this team's disappointing season, as he's been sacked a career-high 43 times. However, the New York Giants have to start thinking about an upgrade at the position to elevate the offensive attack.
The Giants have won four of their last five games. In each of those victories, Manning threw for fewer than 250 yards. The aerial attack lacks volume and a strong arm to optimize a group of dynamic skill players, featuring Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram and Saquon Barkley.
Big Blue must find its quarterback of the future. Manning has one year left on his deal, and he'll turn 38 in January. Thank him for playing through the highs and lows over the last 15 years and contributing to two Super Bowl runs, but it's also time to look toward a new era.
The Giants selected Kyle Lauletta in the fourth round of April's draft, but the front office may want to acquire another rookie signal-caller next year. General manager Dave Gettleman may find a high-upside quarterback like Will Grier in the second round.
In that scenario, the Big Blue would have solid competition for Lauletta instead of just handing him the torch. With a young mobile quarterback who can evade pocket pressure and push the ball downfield, the Giants would have a rejuvenated offense to challenge their opponents. Manning has control of his whereabouts with a no-trade clause, but the coaching staff has the final say on who starts under center.
New York Jets: WR Jermaine Kearse
According to New York Daily News reporter Manish Mehta, the New York Jets have discussed an extension with impending free-agent wideout Quincy Enunwa. Fellow wide receiver Robby Anderson will become a restricted free agent in March. Jermaine Kearse, who's started eight games this season, seems like the odd man out.
In 2017, Kearse led the team in receptions (65) and listed second in receiving yards (810). This year, the 28-year-old hasn't been efficient as a pass-catcher, logging a 46.3 percent catch rate.
Kearse will become an unrestricted free agent in the offseason. In order to expedite quarterback Sam Darnold's development, the Jets need a clear-cut No. 1 wide receiver—an astute route-runner who can line up across the formation as a game-changer.
Barring the possibility that another team pries Anderson away with an offer sheet, Gang Green would have a pair of solid No. 2 options in him and Enunwa. A solid top option capable of drawing double-teams could give this offense a significant boost.
Oakland Raiders: WR Jordy Nelson
The Oakland Raiders essentially swapped Michael Crabtree for Jordy Nelson at wide receiver. The 33-year-old Nelson hasn't bounced back from a subpar 2017 campaign, logging just 41 receptions for 498 yards and three touchdowns this season.
Nelson showed signs of life with a 173-yard game in Week 3 against the Dolphins and scored in three consecutive contests. In a big-picture perspective, he would probably benefit from playing for a team that is contending for a title more than a club that's at the beginning point of a rebuild.
Coming off a losing season with so much roster turnover, the Raiders need to acquire and develop younger players. They can save $7 million if they release Nelson, opening the pathway for rookie seventh-rounder Marcell Ateman and potential offseason acquisitions.
Since the AC-DC connection between wideout Amari Cooper and quarterback Derek Carr came to an end when the Raiders traded Cooper to the Cowboys, it's important to provide Carr with a new No. 1 option in the passing attack.
Philadelphia Eagles: LB Jordan Hicks
Linebacker Jordan Hicks' injury history followed him into the NFL. At Texas, he missed time because of a torn Achilles, hip flexor injury and a fractured foot. With the Philadelphia Eagles, he suffered a torn pectoral during his 2015 rookie season and another Achilles injury in 2017. Currently, the 26-year-old is battling a calf issue that's forced him to sit out the last three games.
There's a pattern of injuries that justifies labeling Hicks an injury-prone talent. Looking for a second career contract this offseason, Hicks isn't in the business to do the Eagles any favors, particularly re-signing on a modest deal.
Looking toward the draft, the Eagles can fill Hicks' spot with a high-profile prospect such as Devin White, Devin Bush or Mack Wilson. All three linebackers have resumes that may help them become first- or second-round picks.
If Hicks decides to take a discounted deal, he's a starting-caliber player when healthy, but it's hard to rely on his spotty availability. The fourth-year linebacker has missed 20 career games.
Pittsburgh Steelers: CB Coty Sensabaugh
Coty Sensabaugh has been a journeyman cornerback, suiting up for four teams in his career. While he's a serviceable fill-in starter, the 30-year-old doesn't provide much impact, recording just one interception and five pass breakups in his last 26 games.
Sensabaugh will become a free agent in March and likely sign with another club. The Steelers have depth at the position; they just need to identify a solid starter opposite Joe Haden, who's on the books for one more year.
The coaching staff inserted Sensabaugh into the lineup because of Artie Burns' struggles on the boundary. Despite Burns' 2016 first-round draft tag, he's not a solid bet to take over as a consistent starter. The Miami product hasn't fared well in pass coverage since putting together a solid rookie term.
Keep an eye on 2017 third-rounder Cameron Sutton, who's currently pushing for Mike Hilton's slot position, per Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Ray Fittipaldo. The Steelers' willingness to experiment with new combinations at cornerback could lead to more changes next season.
San Francisco 49ers: WR Pierre Garcon
According to ESPN.com's Adam Schefter, teams inquired about wide receiver Pierre Garcon at the trade deadline, but the San Francisco 49ers decided to hold on to him through the season. With club options for each of the three remaining years of his deal, the front office can part ways after yearly evaluations.
The 49ers may be reluctant to take on $7.2 million in dead cap when considering Garcon's release, but general manager John Lynch should target an upgrade at the position. During the last offseason, San Francisco inked Marquise Goodwin to a three-year, $19.3 million extension and then selected Dante Pettis in the second round of the draft.
Despite investments tied to Goodwin and Pettis, the 49ers can still use a veteran game-changer in his prime. Garcon has missed 13 games since 2017 because of neck, knee and shoulder injuries. Furthermore, his production has dipped since he recorded 1,041 receiving yards and three touchdowns in 2016.
In Garcon's last 16 outings, he's logged 786 yards and just one touchdown. At this stage in his career, he's not a starter, which puts the 49ers in the hunt for a replacement.
Seattle Seahawks: DL Quinton Jefferson
Defensive lineman Quinton Jefferson isn't talked about as a key piece to a surprisingly solid unit, but he has offered versatility as a starter in 10 games this season. The 25-year-old can line up on the end or move inside as a tackle.
With that said, Jefferson's modest production—12 solo tackles, two pass breakups and two sacks—won't help him keep a steady starting job going into next year.
The Seattle Seahawks selected defensive end Rasheem Green in the third round of April's draft. It's also time to see 2017 third-rounder Nazair Jones take another step in his progression at defensive tackle. As a rookie, he flashed with a few impact plays, recording one interception, three pass breakups and two sacks.
Assuming the coaching staff attempts to tap into Green's and Jones' potential, Jefferson would likely take a backseat as a reserve who can fill in at both positions. It's not a major setback, considering he appeared in just nine games in his first two seasons.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: WR DeSean Jackson
Wide receiver DeSean Jackson put together his best performances with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. He recorded three 100-yard games in three of the first four weeks.
Quarterback Jameis Winston started the year serving a three-game suspension and then watched Fitzpatrick from the sideline as a backup. Once Winston took over in Week 6, Jackson's production noticeably tapered off. The veteran wideout hasn't been able to regain that momentum even though Fitzpatrick reclaimed the starting spot from Weeks 8 to 11.
Although there's uncertainty about Winston's future with the team, the 36-year-old Fitzpatrick will become a free agent in March. Jackson's spark with him may never resurface in Tampa Bay. Furthermore, Jackson's contract carries a $10 million cap hit next year.
The Buccaneers have depth at wide receiver with Chris Godwin and Adam Humphries producing while Jackson nurses a thumb injury that's kept him out of the last two games.
The 32-year-old Jackson's price tag, declining production and the young talent on the Buccaneers depth chart render him expendable.
Tennessee Titans: LB Wesley Woodyard
Linebacker Jayon Brown and Rashaan Evans are both 23 years old. They could learn a lot from 11th-year veteran Wesley Woodyard, who has another year left on his deal. On the flip side, the Tennessee Titans have the pieces in place to move forward with the youth at the position.
In his sophomore year, Brown ranks second on the team in sacks (six) as a key contributor to a defense that lacks pressure off the edge. In April, the front office selected Evans in the first round, but he missed a significant portion of the offseason program with a hamstring injury.
Through 11 starts, Woodyard has logged 50 solo tackles, 3.5 sacks and one pass breakup, but he's going into his age-33 season with no dead money owed if the team releases him. Barring an injury to Evans or Brown, expect the savvy veteran to play a reserve role or land on the free-agent market.
Washington Redskins: RB Adrian Peterson
Adrian Peterson proved that a 33-year-old running back with his desire to play the game could still carry an offense.
With a healthy quarterback and the offensive line creating running lanes for Peterson, the Washington Redskins emerged as a division leader. However, quarterback Alex Smith suffered a fractured fibula and tibia, and starting guards Brandon Scherff (pectoral) and Shawn Lauvao (ACL) are also out for the season.
At the team's peak this season, Peterson carried the load, ranking fifth in rushing yards (587) and averaging 4.6 yards per rush attempt through eight weeks, but his production hit a rut before notable injuries plagued the offense. He logged 28 carries for 85 yards in Weeks 9 and 10.
Aside from an impressive 90-yard touchdown against the Eagles in Week 13, Peterson has seemingly run out of gas as the workhorse in the backfield. He hasn't been able to overcome the losses at guard.
Though impressive at his age, Peterson isn't a probable starter for the Redskins or any other team at 34 years old.
According to Washington Post reporter Kareem Copeland, rookie second-rounder Derrius Guice battled an infection following surgery on a torn ACL. If his return is delayed, expect the front office to draft another running back or turn back to Samaje Perine and Chris Thompson to lead the backfield in 2019.
Player contract details courtesy of Spotrac.com unless otherwise noted.