Impact Moves NFL Teams Should Still Pursue This Offseason
You are probably over NFL free agency. At this point in the offseason, outside of a handful of veterans still holding out hope for a big fish, most free agents on the market are borderline starters or depth players looking for short-term contracts.
Still, there are plenty of moves to be made in an increasingly progressive NFL. The trade market has never been more active, and some teams are finally tying the value of cash to draft-pick value, which gives us another market to monitor.
We will break down some of the biggest potential moves that could be made between now and the start of next month's draft, ranging from free-agent signings to trades and even a key salary dump. These trades and signings should be seen as the biggest potential pivot points remaining in the NFL offseason.
Indianapolis Colts: Trade for Josh Norman
The Indianapolis Colts still have a ton of money. According to Spotrac, the Colts have nearly $75 million in cap space, about $30 million more than any other team in the NFL.
Indianapolis could use immediate cap space to sign mercenary players on short-term contracts, as it has done with wide receiver Devin Funchess and pass-rusher Justin Houston, but the free-agent market is fairly bare as we enter the last week of March. One option for making the most out of its cap space is a trade.
Last year, the Colts allowed the second-highest completion percentage of any NFL team at 70.8 percent. In the secondary, the team's biggest move this offseason was re-signing cornerback Pierre Desir, which treads water more than pushing this team further into title contention.
The Washington Redskins, who will be in quarterback limbo until they can get the Alex Smith contract off the books, will not be trying to become a title contender anytime soon. The good news for Indianapolis? Washington has a former Pro Bowl cornerback by the name of Josh Norman who might be able to lower the Colts' completion percentage allowed in 2019.
Acquiring Norman would give Indianapolis a starting cornerback at the cost of $11.5 million in cash in 2019 and the option to bring him back for $12.5 million in 2020. Norman's value is likely a Day 3 pick based on his salary and recent production. This would be a low-risk, high-reward play by the Colts, who would still have north of $63 million in cap space.
Miami Dolphins: Eat Alex Smith's Contract
Last offseason Alex Smith signed a four-year, $94 million contract with $55 million of his deal fully guaranteed. That was an astonishing number for a quarterback in a new home. Then in November, a potentially career-changing compound fracture of his leg caused him to miss the last six games of 2018 and will likely cost him the 2019 season. Smith's broken leg triggered the injury clause in his contract, meaning the Washington Redskins are locked into his salary through 2020.
In short, Washington will have to take on at least $52.6 million in cap space if it chooses to release Smith, and it will have to pay him at least $31 million in cash from this point on. This is a massive headache and threatens to derail any rebuilding plan in Washington.
One way Washington can attempt to get out of this scenario is by trading away his guaranteed salary for draft value, as the Houston Texans did with Brock Osweiler in 2017 and the Miami Dolphins did with Ryan Tannehill this offseason. Based on how Miami operated during the Tannehill trade, the value of pushing $31 million in cash and cap space over the next two years onto the Dolphins' books would probably cost Washington's first-round pick, the 15th overall selection of the draft.
After pass-rusher Robert Quinn is off the books, Miami will have enough cap space to eat all of Smith's dead cap in 2019 while still signing its rookie class. The benefits to this move from Washington's perspective have to be compared with the alternative of releasing Smith after June 1 in 2020, the most logical way to shed the contract without a trade. By trading his salary now versus a post-June 1 release in 2020, Washington will avoid $21.4 million in dead cap in 2020, avoid $10.4 million in dead cap in 2021, save $31 million in cash to use in free agency sooner and create a clean slate to kickstart a rebuild next season.
New England Patriots: Trade for Josh Rosen
The stars are aligning for another "I cannot believe Bill Belichick just got away with this" move.
If you believe the rumors, the Arizona Cardinals are seriously considering drafting Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray first overall just one year after selecting quarterback Josh Rosen in the first round.
Around the league, there isn't a landing spot where Rosen would be the uncontested starting quarterback in 2019. From that perspective, you would assume the teams most interested in making a trade for Rosen would be teams with aging quarterbacks. However, the Los Angeles Chargers just signed Tyrod Taylor to a multiyear deal, and the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Mason Rudolph last season.
That leaves a handful of teams in play for Rosen's services, like the New England Patriots and New York Giants. According to NBC Sports' Peter King, the going rate for Rosen could be just a third-round pick, something worth noting for Patriots fans. As it stands today, New England has one first-round pick, two second-round picks, three third-round picks, one fourth-round pick and five picks between the 205th and 252nd picks in this upcoming draft.
If the remaining three years and roughly $6 million in salaries of Rosen's rookie deal only cost a late Day 2 selection, no one has more at-bats in that range than the Patriots. They also have six picks in later rounds to help sweeten the deal. Starting quarterback Tom Brady's contract runs out in 2020, and Belichick could find himself in a scenario where trading a mid-round pick lands him a future starting quarterback at the cost of just $2.1 million in 2020 and $2.9 million in 2021.
Cleveland Browns: Sign Eric Berry
Over the last two years, safety Eric Berry has only been healthy enough to play three regular-season games. After signing him to a lucrative multiyear contract in 2017, the Kansas City Chiefs had to bite the dead-cap bullet and admit Berry is worth closer to a "prove it deal" than a high cap hit in 2019.
Still, prior to his injured seasons, he made five Pro Bowls and three first-team All-Pro rosters. Whoever does "buy low" on Berry could get a great season on the cheap before he re-enters the multiyear market.
One candidate for his services should be the Cleveland Browns, who have former Chiefs general manager John Dorsey in the same role. The Browns are one of five teams with less than $20 million in cap space in 2020, not including two years' worth of rookie contracts. Berry and Dorsey would probably have to reunite on a one-year deal, but that fits both of their motives. Berry should want to sign a multiyear free-agent deal in 2020 after improving his stock, and Dorsey is clearly in win-now mode with how he has built Cleveland's roster.
To get receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in Cleveland, Dorsey had to trade starting safety Jabrill Peppers to New York. With open playing time for Berry and motivations in line with his former general manager, this seems like a match made in heaven for a short-term deal.
Houston Texans: Sign Ndamukong Suh
Please do something, Houston. Anything.
Since the offseason where the Texans made the mistake of signing quarterback Brock Osweiler, they have essentially sat out free agency. Currently, Houston has the second-most cap space in the NFL, but it has yet again avoided making a splash in free agency.
There are not many high-upside free agents left on the market, but one of them is Ndamukong Suh. The five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle still does not have a team, potentially because of his cost as a 32-year-old mercenary.
Still, if anyone has the cash to spend, it is Houston. Landing Suh could lead to a defensive explosion for the Texans with front-line defenders like J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney already under contract for 2019. There are not many teams in the league where Suh would be the third-best line-of-scrimmage defender, but the Texans could make that happen while retaining $30 million in cap space.
While some franchises, like the Rams, Eagles and Browns, have built their rosters aggressively with a rookie-contract quarterback under center, the Texans have been much more conservative going into Year 3 of Deshaun Watson's deal. For their sake, we should hope they make some big moves before this version of their title window closes.