Every NFL Team's Toughest Contract Decision This Offseason
It's nearly decision time for NFL front offices.
Free agency doesn't fully open until March 18, but before that, teams will be working hard to re-sign impending free agents, extend or rework prohibitive contracts, trim roster fat and iron out potential franchise or transition tags.
Looking mainly at developments involving cuts, extensions, tags and signings, here's a rundown of every team's most difficult looming contract decision for the 2020 offseason.
Kenyan Drake? David Johnson? Both? Or neither?
The Arizona Cardinals have a dilemma at the running back position, where mid-2019 newcomer Kenyan Drake shone down the stretch but is hitting free agency, while the seemingly washed David Johnson is expensive and practically unreleasable.
Drake is undoubtedly the hotter, younger option. The 26-year-old averaged 5.2 yards per carry and scored eight touchdowns in eight games after coming over from the Miami Dolphins in October. But he'll be tough to re-sign considering that Johnson is due $14.2 million in 2020 and can't be cut without a $16.2 million dead-cap hit.
General manager Steve Keim has already told 98.7 FM Arizona Sports that releasing Johnson is "not an option" (h/t Darren Urban of the team's official website), which means the team will at the least be stuck with an expensive player who hasn't been consistently effective since 2016. But Keim also said "you can't just have one back," and NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reported the franchise tag is an option for Drake.
That'd leave the team paying more than $26 million to two running backs, which is far from ideal.
What to do with Desmond Trufant?
The Atlanta Falcons have made no secret of the fact that they're tight for cash. With limited salary-cap space ($4.5 million), they have already waved goodbye to impending free-agent edge defender Vic Beasley Jr., and they're talking as though it'll be tough to retain standout tight end Austin Hooper.
One way they can save money? Parting ways with veteran cornerback Desmond Trufant, who is due approximately $15.2 million in 2020 but could be cut at a cost of $10.2 million.
Trufant will be 30 in September, he's missed 15 games the last four seasons and he hasn't been a Pro Bowler since 2015. The problem is there are no other established outside cover men on the roster except for 2018 second-round pick Isaiah Oliver, who is coming off his first full season as a starter.
Replacing Trufant immediately wouldn't be easy, but saving nearly $5 million must be tempting.
Spend money on a guard?
Now that it looks like the Baltimore Ravens will either re-sign or tag standout impending free-agent pass-rusher Matthew Judon, the team's biggest debate should be in regard to the interior offensive line.
The problem is the Ravens are still awaiting word on Marshal Yanda's future. The veteran guard has been mulling retirement. Meanwhile, left guard Bradley Bozeman was probably the line's weakest link in 2019.
The Ravens are obviously in win-now mode, and the offensive line is critical for a run-first offense featuring 23-year-old star quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Should they swing for the fences with a top impending free agent like Brandon Scherff or Andrus Peat? That's something general manager Eric DeCosta has to be pondering as he waits on Yanda.
What to do with Shaq Lawson?
The Buffalo Bills already have an expensive defensive line featuring the talented Jerry Hughes, Trent Murphy and Shaq Lawson on the edge and Ed Oliver, Star Lotulelei, Jordan Phillips and Harrison Phillips inside. But Lawson is scheduled to hit free agency after a mini breakout in his fourth season, and Buffalo will have to decide whether to pay up for him or move on.
It'd be too financially prohibitive to part ways with Hughes ($10.9 million in dead cap), and the Bills have to know they need at least two quality edge defenders. Reigning team sack leader Jordan Phillips also has an expiring contract, but Buffalo is deeper and more talented inside, so that's less pressing.
But general manager Brandon Beane has already said the team won't use the franchise or transition tag, according to Jay Skurski of the Buffalo News, and Lawson will be costly. The 25-year-old 2016 first-round pick looks to be ascending after a 6.5-sack season, and somebody will pay him for his high ceiling.
The solution might be to cut Murphy, which would free up more than $8 million to use on Lawson. But it would be easy to understand if Beane had trepidation considering all of the money he's already giving to Hughes, Lotulelei and—eventually—Oliver.
Cam Newton: Extend, move on or do nothing?
It's the dawn of a new era for the Carolina Panthers, who will likely need time to adjust to a brand-new coaching staff following the departures of head coach Ron Rivera, linebacker Luke Kuechly and tight end Greg Olsen. The team hasn't won a playoff game since 2015 and is likely entering at least a miniature rebuild.
That's why many figured that Carolina would move on from quarterback Cam Newton at the start of the offseason to save $19.1 million. After all, the 2015 MVP hasn't been the same since that campaign and was plagued by injuries in 2018 and 2019. He's taken a beating over the years and is now on the wrong side of 30.
But Rapoport reported last month that Carolina's plan for now is to stick with Newton, who is still recovering from foot surgery. And at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis last week, new Panthers head coach Matt Rhule spoke about being "unbelievably excited" to work with the three-time Pro Bowler.
Does that mean the organization will consider extending Newton's deal? Even with recent speed bumps, he's underpaid by today's quarterback standards, and it sure sounds as though he was sending a message in a recent workout video when he shouted, "All I want is a little commitment."
The ball is in the Panthers' court.
Do they exercise Mitchell Trubisky's fifth-year option?
The Chicago Bears have made it clear they're giving 2017 No. 2 overall pick Mitchell Trubisky at least one more shot at becoming their starting quarterback. But that doesn't mean the team has to commit to him for the 2021 season at a rate of about $30 million.
That would essentially be the case if general manager Ryan Pace were to exercise Trubisky's fifth-year option this offseason. And while those options were guaranteed only for injury in the past, the new collective bargaining agreement being hashed out by the owners and players would make the option year fully guaranteed, according to Albert Breer of The MMQB.
Trubisky averaged a league-low 6.1 yards per attempt while running the NFL's fourth-lowest-scoring offense in 2019, but the Bears sacrificed a lot to draft him in 2017. Will they stubbornly double down right now? And if not, what kind of message will they send by declining that option while simultaneously declaring that they believe in Trubisky?
It's tricky, especially considering that they'd be silly not to at least bring in another quality option at that position this offseason.
Do they finally move on from A.J. Green?
The Cincinnati Bengals are clearly rebuilding, and impending free-agent wide receiver A.J. Green would be an expensive 32-year-old in 2020. On the surface, it would make little sense for Cincinnati to get into a bidding war with contenders for an aging, injury-prone player.
But Green is a seven-time Pro Bowler and a legend in the Queen City, where the Bengals will likely be grooming a young new quarterback in 2020, and they'll want as much talent and experience as possible to surround said quarterback.
Cincinnati is projected to enter the 2020 offseason with nearly $50 million in salary-cap space, so it can afford to prioritize Green. But owner Mike Brown doesn't like wasting his money, and the cons might outweigh the pros when it comes to re-signing Green.
Regardless, it's a decision that will draw praise and ire either way.
To pay or not to pay Joe Schobert
The Cleveland Browns might have plenty of cap space now, but that won't likely last long when bills come due for key young players Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb and Myles Garrett. So new general manager Andrew Berry will want to take a prudent approach this offseason.
It'll be tough to do that while retaining impending free-agent linebacker Joe Schobert, who should command huge money on the open market after a four-interception, 133-tackle 2019 season. The 26-year-old has a Pro Bowl on his resume, and he's arguably become the heart and soul of Cleveland's defense.
Considering that off-ball linebackers C.J. Mosley, Anthony Barr and Kwon Alexander all landed contracts worth more than $13 million annually in free agency last year, Schobert could be worth similar money this month.
Berry might not feel he has much of a choice considering Cleveland's lack of depth at that position. Still, he's probably sweating over it.
What to do with Amari Cooper?
This is the second part of a two-part problem because both Cooper and quarterback Dak Prescott have expiring contracts for the Dallas Cowboys. How Prescott's future is settled could determine what the team does about Cooper, but it's pretty obvious Prescott will be back regardless of what happens with his contract talks.
The franchise tag is on the table for Prescott, but if that's the route the Cowboys go if a long-term deal hasn't been consummated by the start of free agency, it'll be a lot more difficult for them to keep their Pro Bowl receiver.
And even if they get a deal done with Prescott without having to apply the tag, they might be out more than $35 million a year under the terms of that new contract. Under those circumstances, they could shy away from tagging Cooper at a cost of more than $18 million for 2020.
After all, they're also giving top dollar to Ezekiel Elliott, Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin on offense, and the rising Michael Gallup is at least on board as a potential No. 1 receiver going forward.
Jerry Jones is likely already losing sleep over this one.
What to do with Chris Harris Jr.?
It appears the Denver Broncos have already made a decision on star impending free-agent safety Justin Simmons, who should be tagged in the worst-case scenario. But the status of the team's most accomplished defensive back remains up in the air with cornerback Chris Harris Jr. on track to hit free agency.
In December, Harris told Nicki Jhabvala of The Athletic that the Broncos offered him a three-year, $36 million contract prior to the 2019 trade deadline. He obviously rejected that offer, which indicates he isn't willing to take another hometown discount in Denver.
And that's fair, because even at 30, the four-time Pro Bowler is likely to land a monster deal on the open market. But considering they're coming off three consecutive losing seasons and have a young quarterback (2019 second-rounder Drew Lock), the Broncos have to take a far-sighted approach. General manager John Elway knows that Harris will be difficult to replace in 2020, but his long-term price tag might not be practical.
It won't be easy to navigate.
Move on from Rick Wagner?
Quarterback Matthew Stafford isn't going anywhere with his dead-cap number ($32 million), and the Detroit Lions have already admitted they're looking to trade cornerback Darius Slay ahead of a contract year. That leaves right tackle Rick Wagner's contract as the most interesting deal on the payroll.
Wagner is due to make $11.9 million in each of the next two years, but the team can save $6.1 million by parting ways right now. The right tackle is on the wrong side of 30, he's missed time in each of his three seasons in Detroit and he's been far from reliable of late.
Are the Lions trying to contend? Or rebuild? It's a little confusing considering rumors regarding Stafford, Slay trade chatter and last year's decision to jettison starting safety Quandre Diggs. Regardless, they'll have to decide if it's worth keeping Wagner around for the experience and continuity that he brings to the line, or if they're better off pocketing more than $6 million and getting younger at that position.
Green Bay Packers
Do they re-sign Bryan Bulaga?
For each of the last 10 seasons, Bryan Bulaga has manned the right side of Aaron Rodgers' offensive line. They've won a Super Bowl together, and Rodgers would undoubtedly give some credit to Bulaga for his two MVP awards.
But now the 30-year-old offensive tackle is on the verge of free agency, and the Green Bay Packers will likely have to decide whether to pay him a premium or save money and get younger at that position.
How would Rodgers feel about that? That's probably a factor as well. The window might be open for Green Bay, but it ain't open wide. Rodgers is on his final few holes, and Green Bay has to be smart with its money. To boot, general manager Brian Gutekunst has already said the team will be more restricted on the open market this offseason after going on a shopping spree in 2019.
The offensive line franchise tag is expensive for a non-left tackle, and if recent offseasons are any indication, it'll be hard for the Packers to compete for Bulaga in free agency. Trent Brown and Ja'Wuan James both signed contracts worth more than $12 million a year in 2019. That might not be logical for Green Bay to keep Bulaga.
Do they re-sign Bradley Roby?
The Houston Texans have a lot of salary-cap space, but they've committed a jaw-dropping amount of money to defensive players J.J. Watt, Benardrick McKinney and Whitney Mercilus. With that in mind, it'll likely be hard for them to retain both D.J. Reader and cornerback Bradley Roby, both of whom are scheduled to hit the open market this month.
That decision alone could be raising Bill O'Brien's blood pressure. Yours truly wrote in February that Reader might actually be the team's most important defender coming off a breakout season, but that statement came just days after I wrote that "they'll certainly have to re-sign" Roby because Johnathan Joseph is about to turn 36.
Roby is a really tough call. He'll be pricy because he's 27, experienced and versatile with room to grow. But the Texans also have Gareon Conley and Lonnie Johnson Jr. on the roster, and both of those young players have tremendous growth potential as well.
Unfortunately, they'll likely be second-guessing either way.
Extend Marlon Mack?
Mack is a key piece of the Indianapolis Colts offense. He's scored 18 touchdowns in 26 games the last two years and is coming off a 1,000-yard season despite missing a pair of outings. Now he's entering a contract year at the age of 24, and the Colts have to decide whether to lock him up this spring or risk losing or having to tag him in 2021.
The Colts have the cap space to give him a nice raise and secure his services for another half-decade or so, but there's always risk associated with extending running backs. Can Mack keep this up well into a second contract? Or will he give the Colts buyer's remorse like Johnson with the Cardinals or Todd Gurley with the Los Angeles Rams?
That's what Indy general manager Chris Ballard is likely weighing as he considers how to tackle Mack's future with the team. The good news is time is on the Colts' side, and they have that tag in their back pocket.
Release Calais Campbell and/or A.J. Bouye?
There were almost too many contract conundrums to pick from for the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are up against the salary cap and owe big bucks to quarterback Nick Foles, defensive lineman Calais Campbell, cornerback A.J. Bouye and wide receiver Marqise Lee.
They're probably stuck with Foles because of his huge dead-cap number and Lee isn't worth too much sweat with an $8.8 million cap hit. But if the Jags want to get out of cap hell and keep impending free-agent pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue, they'll likely have to do something about Campbell or Bouye, both of whom are slated to count more than $15 million against the cap in 2020.
When it comes to Campbell and Bouye, which contract presents a bigger problem? It's a toss-up.
Campbell is older (33 compared to 28) and more expensive ($17.5 million compared to $15.4), but he's aged well, he's coming off another Pro Bowl season, and this is his walk year anyway. Bouye appears to be declining faster after a terrible age-28 season in coverage, he hasn't been a Pro Bowler or a major difference-maker since his debut with the Jags in 2017, and if they keep him they'll owe him another $2 million just to walk away in 2021.
Cutting Bouye probably makes more sense, but either pill would be tough to swallow.
Kansas City Chiefs
Do they wait to pay Patrick Mahomes?
We all know the 2018 MVP and 2019 Super Bowl MVP is getting paid. It's practically inevitable that he'll become the highest-paid player in NFL history. The questions now are just how much he'll make and when he'll make it.
Technically, the Kansas City Chiefs are in no rush. Mahomes has one year remaining on his rookie contract, his 2021 fifth-year option will be exercised if applicable this spring and the franchise tag remains a potential option in 2022, maybe even 2023 and 2024. But both sides would probably prefer to avoid playing the tag game, which easily results in bad blood. Besides, Le'Veon Bell's season-long holdout under the tag might have set a new precedent when it comes to nuclear options.
That essentially means the Chiefs would be smart to get a deal done in the next 18 months. But how much more expensive will Mahomes become between now and next summer? The salary cap increases by significant margins every season, and a new collective bargaining agreement with new television deals could greatly intensify those gains.
NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported last month that the two sides will take their time working on an extension that won't be done until after the draft. How far beyond? That'll probably depend on how motivated the team feels.
Las Vegas Raiders
Do they bring back Daryl Worley?
It would be easy to understand why the Las Vegas Raiders might want a fresh start in the defensive backfield as they complete their move from Oakland. The Raiders allowed a tied-for-league-worst 8.3 yards per pass attempt and an AFC-worst 103.8 passer rating as they bid adieu to the Bay Area in 2019, and their pass defense ranked 30th in DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) at Football Outsiders.
So the Raiders might be unsure about paying to keep impending free-agent cornerback Daryl Worley, because he's got the ability and upside to earn big bucks on the open market.
The Carolina Panthers' 2016 third-round pick is coming off his steadiest season in coverage, but he's yet to emerge as a star and Las Vegas also has 2019 second-round pick Trayvon Mullen and the highly paid Lamarcus Joyner in coverage.
Still, Worley is only 25, and with great size, speed and athleticism, he's capable of becoming a strong No. 1 corner in the coming years. The Raiders might have trouble letting that go, even if they're forced to overpay based on his potential.
Los Angeles Chargers
What to do with Russell Okung?
The Los Angeles Chargers are starting fresh at quarterback, so it might also make sense to make a big change at the left tackle position. Okung is a well-accomplished veteran, but he hasn't been a Pro Bowler since 2017 and he played in just six games last year.
He's also one of the league's highest-paid offensive linemen, and the Bolts can save just over $13 million by parting ways with him this offseason. Considering his age, his injuries and his penalty habit, that might be a good idea. Plus, it's possible Okung himself wants out.
Still, decent left tackles are so hard to come by that it's easy to imagine general manager Tom Telesco opting to keep Okung for his walk year. He could help bring a young quarterback along, and the Chargers do have more than $50 million in projected cap space.
Los Angeles Rams
Could they actually part ways with Todd Gurley?
The running back signed a four-year, $57.5 million contract just two years ago, and a year ago he was coming off his second consecutive All-Pro campaign. But a late-2018 knee injury forced the Los Angeles Rams to limit Gurley's workload in 2019, and it sure sounds as though that'd be the case again if Gurley were to return to the team in 2020.
The Rams have to ask themselves if that makes sense considering Gurley's $17.3 million cap hit, or if they'd be better off paying him $12.6 million to walk via release or trade. Doing so would save a cap-strapped squad $4.7 million this year and at least another $8.4 million in 2021. And it could get them out of a potential headache considering Gurley's obvious frustration last season.
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported last month that "all options are on the table" between Gurley and the Rams and that the two sides were expected to meet at some point this offseason to discuss the 25-year-old's future.
McVay implied at the combine that meeting had yet to take place. Until it does, the Los Angeles front office will likely be tossing and turning over Gurley's status with the team.
Do they part ways with Reshad Jones?
Only two members of the cap-rich Miami Dolphins make more than $8 million per year, and one—cornerback Xavien Howard—is locked in with a relatively fresh deal. That leaves veteran safety Reshad Jones' status as the only one worthy of significant debate in Miami, although the answer should be pretty obvious.
Jones is 32, he hasn't been a Pro Bowler since 2017 and he's missed 24 games the last four years. He's extremely unlikely to be an effective member of this team once its rebuild is complete, which is why it would be silly to pay him $15.6 million in 2020.
That's the second-highest cap hit in the NFL at the safety position.
But you can also understand why the Dolphins might hold on. They lead the NFL in salary-cap space and they'll owe Jones $10.2 million even if he's playing elsewhere next season. They might figure that a young team could benefit from his veteran presence, and they might wonder if that's worth an extra $5.3 million.
Do they extend Kirk Cousins' contract?
With free agency looming, the Minnesota Vikings are in a cap crunch that could make it hard to keep key impending free agents and practically impossible to shop the open market. But there are always ways to free up space, and the most effective approach for Minnesota would be to extend its quarterback's deal.
Cousins famously signed a fully guaranteed three-year, $84 million contract with the Vikings two years ago, and now his $31 million 2020 cap hit is tied for the third-highest in the NFL. A new deal would likely cost the Vikings more than $30 million a year going forward, but it would also give a win-now team more immediate flexibility.
Cousins and the Vikes struggled so much in 2018 that the idea of a 2020 extension would have been laughable last offseason, but he did make the Pro Bowl as the league's fourth-highest-rated passer in a somewhat inconsistent yet promising 2019 campaign. And he's still only 31, so it might be smart for the Vikings to stick with the devil they know on a long-term basis.
Besides, Cousins could become a lot more expensive next offseason. The problem is he knows that, and we all learned during his time in Washington that he's willing to gamble on himself.
New England Patriots
Do they actually remove themselves from the Tom Brady sweepstakes?
For the first time ever, Brady is about to become an unrestricted free agent. And it's clear he isn't going to give the New England Patriots a hometown discount, just as Jay Glazer of Fox Sports reported early in the offseason.
When negotiating with Brady's camp, the Patriots have to decide whether to take a calculated approach or an emotional approach.
The first approach says he'll be 43 in August, his numbers declined sharply in 2019 and he'd be more valuable to other teams than to New England because of the Brady brand. The second approach says he's won you half a dozen Super Bowls and has been giving you hometown discounts for two decades so you oughta match any offer he gets elsewhere.
The Patriots are notoriously calculated, which is probably why Brady's departure is looking more likely every day.
New Orleans Saints
What do they do with Taysom Hill?
Hill is slated to become a restricted free agent this month, and New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton believes somebody will make the wildly versatile and dangerous quarterback an offer.
"Yeah, I think someone is going to make him an offer," Payton told Peter King of NBC Sports last month. "But the first thing the fan has to understand is...if we tender Taysom as a one [meaning placing a first-round tag on him], the team that makes the offer on him and signs him to an offer understands they're going to give up a first-round pick if we don't match. That's easier to do if you're pick 22, 23, 24, 25. We might very well see it if it's a team in the second half of the [first round]."
So the first decision the Saints have to make is whether to hit Hill with a first-round tender, a second-round tender or another-round tender. First-round looks likely, but that'll cost them close to $5 million, which is far from ideal considering that the returning Drew Brees will inevitably hog a ton of cap space.
If Hill indeed gets an offer, the Saints will then have to decide whether to match or to take their free draft pick. That'll be an even more difficult financial decision, especially if they've already lost impending unrestricted free-agent quarterback Teddy Bridgewater at that point. Brees is 41, and the team probably doesn't want to be left without both Hill and Bridgewater for 2021.
Essentially, the Saints have layered decisions to make regarding Hill's status, and they're still very much in the dark on what exactly those decisions will entail.
New York Giants
Can they actually pay Nate Solder $19.5 million?
That's the left tackle's projected 2020 cap hit, which is the highest in the NFL at that position. That's far from ideal considering that the New York Giants are still rebuilding and that Solder will turn 32 in April.
The nine-year veteran hasn't missed on start in two seasons with the Giants, but he was often nothing more than a turnstile for Daniel Jones in 2019, and his poor Pro Football Focus grade (64.7) reflected that.
The problem is the Giants owe Solder $13 million in dead-cap money and there are no obvious replacements on the roster. They might figure that with oodles of cap space, they're better off maintaining continuity in front of Jones as he enters his first full season as a starter.
And an extension should probably be off the table, which means the Giants might feel obligated to pay Solder $26 million between now and his seemingly inevitable release in a year's time.
New York Jets
Do they release Trumaine Johnson?
ESPN.com's Rich Cimini reported in February that the New York Jets are expected to cut Johnson despite a massive dead-cap charge, but nothing has been confirmed yet. And with Le'Veon Bell seemingly staying put, the team's looming decision on Johnson still has to qualify as its toughest (even if its decision has been made privately).
The big-money 2018 free-agent acquisition has started just 15 games in two tremendously disappointing seasons with the Jets, who are led by a new regime that likely has no desire to pay the 30-year-old $15 million for the 2020 season. But by releasing Johnson, a Jets team with more than $55 million in projected salary-cap space would save only $3 million.
Considering the gross lack of talent at cornerback for the Jets, it might actually make sense to spend $3 million to keep an eight-year veteran with 23 career interceptions on the roster in 2020.
Do they bring back Jason Peters?
Peters is a Philadelphia Eagles legend, but the longtime left tackle is also a 38-year-old impending free agent, and the team used a first-round pick on offensive tackle Andre Dillard last April.
Eagles brass is talking as though they'd like to see Peters return, which is understandable considering his legacy with the organization. Plus, everybody wants to have three strong tackles if they can. But with a lot of work to do this offseason, it might be hard for general manager Howie Roseman to justify a new contract for Peters.
If they could bring him back for $1 million on a one-year contract, sure. But because any accomplished offensive linemen who hit the market get paid big bucks, the Eagles will likely be forced to fork over a lot more than that for a player who hasn't been a Pro Bowler since 2016 and has missed 12 games the last three years.
This'll be a battle between emotion and logic in Philly.
Bud Dupree or Javon Hargrave?
It might be an either/or proposition between those two impending free-agent defenders for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who still have work to do in order to get below the salary cap by the start of the new league year.
Pittsburgh is already giving nearly $22 million to defensive linemen Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward, and top edge defender T.J. Watt will become expensive when his rookie contract expires next offseason (even his fifth-year option would beget a huge raise).
With that in mind, the Steelers will likely have to choose whether to re-sign Dupree (who broke out with 11.5 sacks as Watt's sidekick in 2019) or Hargrave (who has steadily improved and has become an asset alongside Tuitt and Heyward).
That might come down to which player commands more on the open market (likely Dupree), although general manager Kevin Colbert will have to consider his lack of pass-rushing depth compared to his strong depth along the defensive line.
San Francisco 49ers
Do they re-sign Jimmie Ward?
It's always a little tougher than usual for reigning Super Bowl teams to keep their key free agents, who often command premiums on the open market as a result of the attention that came their way in January and February.
That's a pickle the San Francisco 49ers could find themselves in with Ward, who experienced a strong age-28 season both in coverage and run defense for the defending NFC champions. But the 49ers are low on cap space, and they'll also likely push hard to re-sign impending free-agent/2019 sack leader Arik Armstead (a strong franchise-tag candidate).
The concern with regard to Ward is that he's missed 24 games the last four years and he'll turn 29 in July. But the 49ers might feel extra pressure to keep him at an inflated rate just because there's nobody obvious waiting in the wings at the free safety position.
Do they pay through the roof to retain Jadeveon Clowney?
Did the Seattle Seahawks rent Clowney for one mildly successful season at a cost of two players and a third-round pick? That'll be the case if the three-time Pro Bowl edge defender gets away in free agency, and that possibility appears to be very real.
"After spending the last year in Seattle and seeing how they do things, I would definitely like to return," Clowney recently told ESPN's Josina Anderson. "However, I'm also open to new opportunities if it comes down to that."
But Anderson also tweeted that the Giants and Colts have expressed interest in the talented 27-year-old. He's expected to be in extremely high demand, and they've invested a lot of draft capital in young defensive linemen like L.J. Collier, Jarran Reed, Rasheem Green and Nazair Jones in recent years.
What if Clowney requires a $20 million average annual salary? Can the Seahawks really justify that with so much young talent up front? It'll be a tough call.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Do they give Jameis Winston another shot?
Five years and 88 Winston interceptions ago, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers used the No. 1 overall pick on the highly touted Florida State product. Now, Winston's status is up in the air as free agency looms.
The Bucs have to decide whether to sign Winston to a fresh contract, slap him with the franchise tag or move on and make a run at a hot free-agent passer like Tom Brady or Philip Rivers.
Even with the 26-year-old coming off a 30-pick season, it's not an easy choice. Head coach Bruce Arians might be curious to see how Winston would fare in a second season in that offense, and the element of the unknown might be scary when considering how old guys like Brady and Rivers are.
It's been suggested that the Bucs could hit Winston with the cheaper transition tag instead of the franchise tag, that they could give him a two-year contract with only the first season guaranteed, and that they could move on entirely.
Arians says there's a plan in place pending due diligence on door No. 2. According to Rapoport, Arians told NFL Network last week that he knows the Bucs "can win with Jameis."
Do they pay Derrick Henry?
The Tennessee Titans have several massive contract decisions to make this month, but Henry's contract situation might be the most agonizing.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is also slated to hit free agency, but he's likely to be re-signed or tagged unless the Titans feel they have an upgrade on their hands via the open market. However, there's no such thing as an upgrade when it comes to Henry, who led the NFL in rushing yards during an astonishing 2019 campaign.
The 26-year-old has made it clear he's looking for a market-setting deal above Ezekiel Elliott's contract, which pays $15 million per season. And somebody will likely be willing to give him that kind of money after he took the Titans to the AFC Championship Game in January.
With Tennessee likely to spend big bucks at quarterback, and with key cogs Jack Conklin and Logan Ryan also in possession of expiring contracts, Titans general manager Jon Robinson will likely have an expensive, emotional decision to make regarding Henry early in the new league year.
Do they give Trent Williams more money?
The star offensive tackle held out for the entire 2019 season over concerns regarding the Washington Redskins' medical staff. Now, a new regime is in place and changes have been made to the medical staff, but it appears Williams wants more money.
"He's looking for a long-term deal at top of the OT market, something the Redskins are not willing to do," Julie Donaldson of NBC Sports Washington wrote.
The top of said market would require the team to give Williams about $18 million per year, which would be about a $4 million raise for a soon-to-be 32-year-old who missed 13 games in a three-season span before sitting out in 2019.
It would be easy to understand if the Redskins decided instead to move on, especially since they aren't on the verge of contending and could land some draft capital in a trade.
Still, it's never easy to part ways with a blue-chip left tackle.