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 Super Bowl champions won’t celebrate for long, as evidenced by head coach Bill Belichick’s “no days off” chant. Some key members of the offense are entering free agency, including veterans Martellus Bennett and LeGarrette Blount. I expect the team to let Blount walk, while pushing to re-sign Bennett, at least partially due to injury concerns surrounding Rob Gronkowski. Another free agent is wide receiver Michael Floyd, whom the Pats scooped up mid-season after he was cut by the Cardinals. If Floyd signs elsewhere, New England could pick up a draft pick, essentially for free. Finally, the team will be faced with trade rumors as well with many NFL teams vying for quarterback help and targeting Jimmy Garoppolo, who started the early season while Tom Brady was serving a league-imposed suspension. Expect the Patriots to do what they always do, get better at the expense of other teams.
The Jets struggled through a disastrous season and there is little hope for a turnaround anytime soon. While the team earned headlines for keeping four quarterbacks on their active roster, it seems clear now that none of them are the answer. Again this off-season, the Jets will be on the hunt for a quarterback. Whoever starts under center might be without a pair of veteran pass-catchers as both Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker could be cap casualties this off-season. This team needs to completely tear down the roster and start fresh.
The Bills have an entirely new coaching staff with defensive-minded Sean McDermott taking over for Rex Ryan and former Broncos assistant Rick Dennison heading up the offense. Two of the team’s biggest stars are already dealing with embattled off-seasons as wide receiver Sammy Watkins has already had another foot surgery. Of course, the foot injury cost Watkins much of his 2016 season and has to have dynasty owners concerned about his long-term outlook. The quarterback position is even more up in the air as the Bills are considering parting ways with Tyrod Taylor, who is reportedly unwilling to renegotiate the contract that is set to pay him over $27 million in 2017. It seems a certainty at this point that the Bills will move on and we’ll see Taylor playing with a new team.
The Dolphins had an up and down first season under first-time head coach Adam Gase. While Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker were the focus of dynasty owners, Kenny Stills stole the show and now enters free agency with reported interest in moving to the west coast. While the Dolphins should be pushing to re-sign Stills, his potential departure could open playing time for Leonte Carroo, a 2016 rookie that saw little playing time. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill suffered a late-season torn ACL and faces an off-season full of rehab in hopes of being ready to play by week one.
The Bengals suffered through a debilitating list of injuries with Giovani Bernard, Tyler Eifert and AJ Green all missing multiple games. Rookie Tyler Boyd failed to make an impact and the team is likely to add another wideout through the draft. While Green should be back to full strength in plenty of time, Eifert’s mounting injury history is worrisome. Although Bernard and big back Jeremy Hill carry a lot of name value, they’ve failed to establish themselves as a dominant backfield and Cincinnati is a sleeper team who could select a rookie running back earlier than expected.
Pittsburgh had another successful season, though they failed to make a deep playoff run. The Steelers have been in the news already this off-season. First, wide receiver Martavis Bryant applied for reinstatement after missing the entire 2016 season due to a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. The return of Bryant would be huge for the Steelers and dynasty owners, but it is far from a guarantee after what we’ve seen in the past. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger dropped a hint that he is considering retirement, and while no one seems to be concerned he might follow through with this, it is a warning sign we should all note going forward. Wide receiver Antonio Brown has faced scrutiny for running the wrong routes and whining when not getting the ball, but these reports didn’t surface until the team was eliminated from the playoffs. Finally, running back Le’Veon Bell is considering undergoing a groin surgery after a dominant suspension-shortened season.
Veteran and future Hall of Fame wide receiver Steve Smith retired following the season. Along with Smith, the Ravens relied on many older players in prime spots this past season, including Mike Wallace and Dennis Pitta. The team will need Breshad Perriman and Kenneth Dixon to show improvement if they are going to contend for a playoff spot. The Ravens are almost certain to add another wideout to the mix as well.
After nearly going winless in 2016, the Browns earned the top overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, with most projecting they will go with defender Myles Garrett. Fortunately, the team is stocked with draft picks including an additional first rounder after wheeling a dealing a year ago. The Browns tried many different quarterbacks in 2016 and none were successful. They’ll be on the lookout for help at the position once again and could use that mid-first round pick to add a player like Deshaun Watson or DeShone Kizer. The Browns also need to retain breakout former quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who became the team’s top wide receiver in 2016. He seems interested in staying with Cleveland, so hopefully a franchise tag will not be necessary.
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