This time of year is among my favorite parts of the football season. Not only do we still have some very meaningful games to enjoy each week, but the diehard dynasty owners are still chugging along in an effort to build a championship roster. There truly is no off-season!
At DLF, we have begun our Dynasty Capsules, an in-depth look at the offensive skill players for each team, including an analysis of players’ past performance along with some projections going forward. To accompany that series, I wanted to share some off-season storylines I’ll be watching play out for each NFL team. Many of these are similar as they have to do with new coaches, free agency and the NFL Draft, all major events of every off-season. Let’s get to it!
After enduring quarterback drama surrounding Robert Griffin III, the Redskins had to be pleased with the play of breakout star Kirk Cousins. Now, they have to ink Cousins to a long-term deal, and most assume they will get this done soon. Another free agent is longtime starting back Alfred Morris and most assume Washington will let him walk, leaving Matt Jones as the starter, at least until they add another running back through free agency or the draft.
The Eagles were a huge disappointment under Chip Kelly this season, and now he’s gone. With new head coach Doug Pederson in town, I wonder how the team will handle the quarterback position. Starter Sam Bradford is a free agent and he didn’t really do much to demand a long-term extension, but on the other hand, there are very few options available to replace him.
New York Giants
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Although the Giants also had a disappointing season, which led to a parting of the way with longtime head coach Tom Coughlin, the transition should be fairly smooth. Former offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo is the team’s new head coach and the offense should look very similar to this past season, meaning plenty of Eli Manning and Odell Beckham. The Giants could stand to improve their wide receiver depth chart behind Beckham, but the spot I’ll be watching is tight end. I expect former starter Larry Donnell will no longer play that role, and may not have a spot on the team at all. Surprising rookie Will Tye played well in the season’s second half and could keep the starting job entering 2016.
Yet another disappointment in the NFC East was the Dallas Cowboys and much of that was due to the multiple injuries suffered by starting quarterback Tony Romo. With Romo nearing 36 years old, the Cowboys have to at least begin thinking about their next quarterback, which became clear as they unsuccessfully shuffled through backup signal callers for much of the season. Dallas also has to figure out their running back position. They reluctantly turned to Darren McFadden this season after Joseph Randle and Christine Michael were massive failures, and all he did was finish fourth in the league in rushing behind Adrian Peterson, Doug Martin and Todd Gurley. Will the Cowboys stick with McFadden for another season? It seems they would add another quality back at a minimum.
The Minnesota Vikings, led by Adrian Peterson and Teddy Bridgewater, were one of the league’s biggest surprises this season, winning the NFC North in an upset over the Green Bay Packers. The Vikings’ offense was lacking at times, at least in part due to the subpar play of receiver Mike Wallace. After getting bounced from Miami and not standing out for Minnesota, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Vikes dumped Wallace this off-season, which could leave rookie Stefon Diggs as the top option on offense. While I was impressed with him this season, I’m not sure if he’s ready to face off against the league’s top cornerbacks on a weekly basis.
Green Bay Packers
As I mentioned, the Packers did not live up to expectations this season. The entire offense played below expectations, with Aaron Rodgers, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams among the players to not live up to the hype. Much of the negative attention though centered around running back Eddie Lacy, who not long ago was considered the RB2 in all of dynasty. The way the season played out, he was actually the RB2 for the Packers thanks to the tough running of veteran James Starks. I’m not sure what to expect next season, considering Starks is a free agent and Lacy can’t really be trusted. If the team can somehow retain Starks on a cheap deal, we may see an exact repeat of this season in 2016.
Not only the storyline to watch for the Lions, but THE storyline to watch across the NFL is the future of Calvin Johnson, the Lions’ All-Pro receiver who has hinted at a possible retirement. With a huge salary and declining skills, there is a good chance Johnson will not be back with the team, whether he chooses to hang it up or the Lions release him and he signs with a new team. This is sure to send ripples through every dynasty league.
The Bears also face the loss of a couple of key players. Actually, their two best players. Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery is a free agent and while the team will do everything they can to retain Jeffery, it remains to be seen if that will be enough. If they can’t come to an agreement, the Bears could always place the franchise tag on Jeffery, keeping him in town another season, at least. Running back Matt Forte is also a free agent and unlike Jeffery, the team seemingly has no interest in keeping Forte in the Windy City. With rookie Jeremy Langford playing surprisingly well this season, the Bears are expected to turn to him as their starter and let Forte walk.
With a 15-1 season in the books and hopes of a Super Bowl win in their future, the Panthers seemingly have little work to do this off-season. There are still questions surrounding the team’s wide receiver depth chart. Kelvin Benjamin is expected to return to full health in 2016 and should retain his role as the team’s top wideout. Current rookie Devin Funchess had a quiet season and will need to show improvement if the Panthers want to continue their high level of success.
This was an odd season for the Falcons, who started off 5-0 before falling apart and missing the playoffs. Despite the record breaking numbers from Julio Jones and a shocking breakout season for Devonta Freeman, the offense as a whole struggled, especially quarterback Matt Ryan. While Freeman had a spectacular mid-season stretch, he did fade a bit down the stretch and I wonder if rookie Tevin Coleman can begin to eat into that starting role a bit this off-season and early next year. Freeman is one of my top “sells” this off-season, while Coleman seems to be dirt cheap.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints were expected to be a complete different team this season with the loss of Jimmy Graham and others following the 2014 season, but they continued to air it out early and often. Drew Brees put up another top season and Brandin Cooks broke out, as many expected. With Brees due a massive $30 million salary, there is some question as to whether the Saints might be better off releasing him. I would expect a restructured contract to happen before it gets that far, but if Brees somehow hits the open market, it quickly changes the future of more than just the Saints.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers are yet another team with a new, yet familiar head coach as former offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter takes over the top job. The offense should look much like it did this season, though a couple of key veterans are in limbo. Running back Doug Martin is a free agent and looking for a big payday. Charles Sims has played well, but is not viewed as an every down back, meaning the Bucs will push to keep Martin in town. Meanwhile, receiver Vincent Jackson really showed his age this season and although not a free agent, he could be a cap casualty.
The Cardinals’ offense was really clicking all season and despite injuries to Michael Floyd, Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington and the complete lack of a tight end in the offense, the team was one of the best in the league. While I expect little to change in 2016, it has been proven the offense lives and dies with the health of Carson Palmer and it may be asking a lot for another fully healthy season next year. I’m going to be careful buying Cardinals players this off-season.
It seems to be a foregone conclusion that veteran running back Marshawn Lynch has played his final down for the Seattle Seahawks. If true, that leaves us with a couple of questions. First, does Thomas Rawls step in as the every down back or can former phenom Christine Michael some how carve out a role? I’m leaning towards no as Michael has proven over and over again he doesn’t belong on a dynasty roster. Secondly, if Lynch is gone, where does he land next? I’ve seen the Raiders routinely mentioned, but I’m honestly not sure why, other than they’re the Raiders. He would pair with Latavius Murray to form a strong running back combo.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams obviously have a ton of changes happening this off-season with the already approved move to Los Angeles and the current search for an offensive coordinator. With the poor decision to retain head coach Jeff Fisher and the team’s announcement they would enter the off-season with Case Keenum as their starter, there is seemingly little hope for the Rams. The small glimmer of hope, of course, comes in the form of the current top dynasty running back, rookie Todd Gurley. While Gurley is clearly a unbelievable talent, it is frustrating to see him stuck with this team. Hopefully, the Rams either surprise everyone and have some success, or choose to move on from Fisher and his staff sooner rather than later.
San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers survived a dumpster fire of a season in which their top two running backs missed the majority of the season, their top free agent signing was a complete bust and they benched their starting quarterback in favor of Blaine Gabbert. It couldn’t be much worse. Now, they’ve hired former Eagles’ coach Chip Kelly and some would argue it has gotten worse. It remains to be seen what the presence of Kelly does for the dynasty value of Carlos Hyde or the future of Colin Kaepernick, a player most assumed was on his way out of town.
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Marshawn Lynch was born and raised in Oakland and played at Cal in college. That’s why you’re seeing all the Raiders mentions.