This time of year is among my favorite parts of the football season. With the Super Bowl now in our rear-view mirror, we can look forward to the NFL Combine, free agency and the other events of the upcoming months. There truly is no off-season!
At DLF, we have wrapped up our Dynasty Capsules, an in-depth look at the offensive skill players for each team, including an analysis of players’ past performances 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!
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The Panthers went from nearly going undefeated in 2015 to being one of the league’s biggest letdowns this year. Outside of Greg Olsen, quarterback Cam Newton had little help on offense. Wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin returned after missing the previous season, but was a non-factor in most weeks. Second-year man Devin Funchess failed to breakout as some had hoped and Ted Ginn wasn’t able to get deep as he had during the Panthers Super Bowl run. Ginn is entering free agency and the Panthers are also expected to give up on running back Jonathan Stewart. If we are to believe the early mock drafts, the Panthers could land LSU’s Leonard Fournette with their first-round pick.
This will be a difficult off-season for the Falcons after allowing the largest comeback in Super Bowl history, falling to the Patriots in overtime. Atlanta should be able to retain their offensive core, but they’ve already lost offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who left for the 49ers head coaching job. In a surprise move, the team then hired Alabama assistant Steve Sarkisian as the new playcaller. The offense will reportedly not change under their new coach, but with his previous issues, it is difficult to trust Coach Sark.
On the surface, it seems the Saints are set and should have an easy off-season. After all, they’ve worked out the contract situation for quarterback Drew Brees, have running back Mark Ingram manning the backfield and are stacked at the receiver spot with Brandin Cooks, Michael Thomas and Willie Snead. Through part of the season, and even since the season concluded, there have been whispers that the Saints could trade Cooks. This began when he voiced complaints about a lack of targets. While New Orleans beat writers don’t seem to expect this to actually happen, we know this team is not afraid to make a major off-season move like this.
The Bucs dynamic duo of quarterback Jameis Winston and receiver Mike Evans are well-established, but for the team to become a contender, the pair needs help. Tampa Bay needs at least one and maybe even two wide receivers alongside Evans with veteran Vincent Jackson expected to be looking for a new team. Running back Doug Martin imploded towards the end of the regular season and was ultimately suspended by the league for a violation of the substance abuse policy. Not only did this cost him four games, it also voided a portion of his contract which could cost him his job with the Buccaneers. While Charles Sims has proven his value with the team, he’s also shown he is not suited to be a lead back in the league. Tamps must find a new early-down back.
It wasn’t long ago that the Cardinals had the top wide receiver corps in the league, and now just a few months later, the position can be considered a need for Arizona. Michael Floyd drank his way out of town while John Brown dealt with an illness that cost him some playing time and leaves his future unclear. The good news is the Cardinals have already received a pledge from veteran Larry Fitzgerald, as well as quarterback Carson Palmer, that they will be back in 2017. The star of this team is clearly David Johnson and the only question surrounding him is if he can somehow maintain the staggering pace he’s put up since taking over as the starting back late in his rookie year of 2015.
The Seahawks are one of the fortunate teams who enter the off-season with a great deal of stability, not only due to their success in recent years, but also their offensive core, which should remain in place in 2017. My main question surrounding this team centers around a pair of young players whom dynasty owners have high hopes for, Tyler Lockett and CJ Prosise. Both players saw their 2016 seasons ended early due to injury just as they were becoming impact players for their team. While Lockett’s broken leg is a bit of a fluke injury, Prosise suffered multiple injuries during his rookie year, which could eventually make a major impact on his dynasty value.
It was another rough season for the Rams, their first back in Los Angeles, and it cost head coach Jeff Fisher his job. This move alone offers hope to dynasty owners who witnessed the weekly struggles of star back Todd Gurley. While the personnel will be largely unchanged, the hope that comes with change could be enough to help Gurley maintain his lofty dynasty value throughout the off-season. The Rams also must deal with the impending free agency of receiver Kenny Britt, who quietly enjoyed a career year in 2016. While it is easy to argue that Gurley is being overvalued after his disappointing year, Britt could be one of the most undervalued and overlooked players in all of dynasty football.
Things weren’t much better up the road in San Francisco as Chip Kelly also lost his job following the 2016 season. Following the Super Bowl, the Niners hired Kyle Shanahan to run the show, along with the surprise move to bring in John Lynch as the general manager. This pair has a huge job before them and that starts with finding a quarterback. The will almost certainly be releasing Colin Kaepernick and there is little behind him on the roster. There is also a huge need at receiver, where Torrey Smith flopped. The player who looks like a sure thing on this roster is running back Carlos Hyde, but he’s dealt with injuries throughout his career. If he can stay on the field, Shanahan could do wonders with him, as he did with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman in Atlanta.