The offseason is a wild time when dreams are born. They often die shortly thereafter, but it’s the hope and the yearning for better and brighter days that matters most now. Just don’t ask a Miami Dolphins fan how it all ends.
The “offseason” is such a broad term, which by its literal definition I suppose draws a circle around the period between early February and late July when players report to training camp. But we all know there’s only about a month of true down time in there (June?), and between free agency and the draft the rest is spent adding, cutting, and reshaping rosters. Each team has an ideal goal in mind, and specific areas to upgrade, sometimes drastically while quarterbacks are shot into orbit.
And that process started Monday.
Well, sort of. The beast that is the offseason is an ongoing phenomenon, but if we’re going to pick an arbitrary day when the sausage making truly begins, earlier this week when the franchise tag deadline passed feels about right. We now have a better outlook of the market at each position, and more importantly, we can better gauge which needs will be addressed through free agency, and others that may have to wait until May and the draft.
Yes, other re-signings can take place between now and next Tuesday (Jairus Byrd could stay in Buffalo) when the barn doors on the market officially swing open. But we’re speaking and thinking in generalities here, because with the ever-moving offseason pieces that’s the best we can do.
And let’s keep doing that. With free agency now less than a week away and the offseason gears churning, this is a fine time to look at the wants and desires of each team. Which is exactly what we’ll do here over the next few days with each division. Below is the NFC East, with each team’s current estimated cap room (from Spotrac), and a look at their likely blueprint for the draft and free agency.
Let the dreaming begin.
Estimated cap room: $329,312
Draft slot: 16th overall
End game: Unless a name of significance is jettisoned, free agency isn’t a thing that will exist in Dallas with that cap room, or lack thereof. The contract restructuring is endless, and it was done again this year with Tony Romo, Sean Lee, and Orlando Scandrick, an annual Cowboys move which has the same effect as a stubborn child cleaning his room by stuffing all the clothes in the closet (someone smarter than me made that analogy, and it may have been Bill Barnwell). The problem still exists, and it’s just moved elsewhere.
That conundrum lives on because the Cowboys missed on so many recent first round picks, from Felix Jones to Mike Jenkins, and now possibly Morris Claiborne. Given the inability to add through free agency, addressing an eroding defensive line after the impending departure of Jason Hatcher is imperative, and a tackle should be targeted at 16th overall. Among the top human bulls available will likely be Aaron Donald, Timmy Jernigen, and Louis Nix.
The most significant question surrounds a potential source of cap relief, but at a steep performance price. DeMarcus Ware is due to make $12.25 million in 2014, a massive number for a team like the Cowboys that’s in cap hell. They’ve finally approached Ware to gently prod him about taking a pay cut, but his motivation to do so likely won’t be that high.
At 31 years old Ware knows his remaining football years are limited, and he also surely knows that even if he’s past his prime, there will be no shortage of demand for his services on the open market. When a pass rusher is versatile and can shift between both defensive end and outside linebacker seamlessly, he’ll have plenty of suitors, especially for teams willing to disregard an injury-plagued season and note that Ware is only one year removed from 11.5 sacks. At worst, Ware as a free agent would find a home as a situational pass rusher, and in that role a similarly aging John Abraham did just fine thanks for the Cardinals this past season (11.5 sacks).
Losing both Ware and likely Hatcher too in the same offseason will be a death blow to this Cowboys defense, especially while it attempts to defend Chip Kelly’s Eagles circus twice a year, and possibly (hopefully) a rejuvenated Robert Griffin III under new head coach Jay Gruden.
Estimated cap room: $17.1 million
Draft slot: No first round pick (ruh roh)
End game: Until a long-term deal is worked out, franchising Brian Orakpo eats up $11.455 million of that cap space. The remaining monetary means need to be used for upgrades and/or replacements along a horrendous offensive line, and at safety and middle linebacker. With Reed Doughty set to walk, London Fletcher done, and even reserve Nick Barnett both injured and on an expiring contract, there are holes in the middle of this defense both up front, and in the backfield.
However, if Josh Morgan and Santana Moss remain unsigned, there will also be a lack of depth at wide receiver that needs to be addressed before Gruden begins to dirty his hands. That could fall to the draft, when the likes of Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry should be available early in the second round.
Estimated cap room: $29.1 million
Draft slot: 22nd
End game: The focus is on D here, because the Eagles have re-signed pretty much their entire offense between Jeremy Maclin, Jason Kelce, and Andrew Peters. If the Eagles secondary could ascend from being a constant source of comedy to being sort of average, Chip Kelly’s speedy offense can do the rest. For that to happen cap space can be used to pursue one of the top cornerbacks. Aqib Talib and Sam Shields will be in play, with Alterraun Verner possibly pricing himself out.
New York Giants
Estimated cap room: $19.2 million
Draft slot: 12th
End game: Retaining Jon Beason, an anchor (albeit an oft-injured one) at middle linebacker, remains a priority. Failing that, getting an injury discount on Brandon Spikes is a fine backup plan.
Elsewhere, with Justin Tuck dipping his toe in the free agency waters, a major source of pressure from this past season is potentially gone, further draining an already weak passing rushing corps. The young and ascending LaMarr Houston would be a nice get after his career high six sacks in 2013, though his value could quickly balloon. Jared Allen might be a slightly cheaper option as a situational pass rusher since he’s a declining though still productive veteran.
At the right price there will also be interest in the cornerback market, especially with Terrell Thomas offering his servies to the highest bidder. Of course one or both of those needs could wait until May, especially with the Giants in a prime position to draft Anthony Barr, who’s been widely slotted to them in early mock drafts and would pair nicely with Damontre Moore, and a healthy Jason Pierre-Paul.