Posted January 13, 2014

Key questions facing Chargers, Colts, Panthers and Saints this offseason

AFC South, AFC West, Carolina Panthers, Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints, NFC South, NFC West, San Diego Chargers
Will the Jimmy Graham negotiations forever change the market for tight ends?

Will the Jimmy Graham negotiations forever change the market for tight ends? (Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

The year-round cycle of the NFL does not leave teams much time to feel sorry for themselves after their Super Bowl dreams are crushed, officially. The four teams eliminated this weekend then — Carolina, New Orleans, Indianapolis and San Diego — will now turn their attention to the draft and free agency, both of which are rapidly approaching.

What are the biggest questions facing those franchises as their offseasons begin?

New Orleans Saints: What will happen with Jimmy Graham?

The rest of the NFL will be watching here. One way or another, the Saints will retain their elite pass-catcher, but how they go about doing so will impact their tight salary-cap situation and could set a precedent for other tight ends moving forward.

More specifically, with relation to the latter talking point: If the Saints have to franchise tag Graham, could he argue for the WR price? That’s been a possibility mentioned for other TEs of Graham’s ilk in recent seasons, and his usage in the Saints offense could move the needle in that direction — landing there would earn Graham about $4.5 million more than if he were tagged as a tight end. Should the Saints ink him to a long-term deal, it likely would be a record-setter at his position.

That the Saints already are projected to be about $17 million over next year’s cap only adds to the potential headaches here. Factor in a franchise tag, even near the 2013 TE price of approximately $6 million, and the Saints’ wallet will be even more overstuffed.

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Indianapolis Colts: Can the defense be fixed?

The Colts finished the regular season ranked ninth in points allowed, so the defense held its own over 16 games, despite underwhelming marks against the run (26th in the NFL) and in total yards (20th). But then came the playoffs. Indianapolis had to overcome allowing 44 points in the wild-card round to Kansas City — and a week later coughed up 43 in a loss to the Patriots. Quite simply, for the Colts to really think about taking the next step, their defense must be stingier in 2014.

“Everyone on the defensive side of the football, obviously it’s not the level of play that any of those guys and our coaches expects,” Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said after his team’s playoff exit.  “We have to play better.”

Finding some help for Robert Mathis would be a solid starting spot. Mathis led the league with 19.5 sacks this season; the next most sacks recorded by a Colt was 5.5, from Jerrell Freeman. Especially given Mathis’ advancing age (he’ll be 33 in February), finding another disruptive force off the edge might be a priority. Bjoern Werner, the team’s 2013 first-round pick, could help the cause by displaying positive development.

Both safety Antoine Bethea and cornerback Vontae Davis, whom the Colts acquired in a trade prior to the 2012 season, are set to hit free agency. So, too, is backup corner Cassius Vaughn. Will the Colts attempt to retain all their in-house pieces or do those situations deliver them an out? Another variable to consider: Their biggest cap savings this offseason, according to OvertheCap.com, could come from cutting CB Greg Toler. He just signed a three-year deal last March but struggled through an injury-plagued season.

This will be a critical few months for GM Ryan Grigson, who both needs to guard the Colts against peaking shy of their ultimate goals and to ensure that they keep a leg up on what should be a more competitive AFC South in 2014.

SI PHOTOS: Broncos-Chargers | Panthers-49ers | Patriots-Colts | Seahawks-Saints

Carolina Panthers: Who will catch passes in 2014?

Steve Smith will be 35 before next season begins. Domenik Hixon, Ted Ginn Jr. and Brandon LaFell all have expiring contracts (LaFell would be a restricted free agent; Hixon and Ginn unrestricted). The offensive weapons here already paled in comparison to other contenders, so Carolina clearly has to come up with some answers at the receiver position. Failing to do so would be a disservice to QB Cam Newton.

Fortunately for the Panthers, the 2014 draft class appears chock full of receiver talent — nearly 30 underclassmen at that position have declared for the draft, joining some talented seniors. Even in the low 20s, where Carolina will be slotted after winning its division, there should be ample talent to pick through.

Thanks to some fancy financial footwork by GM Dave Gettleman, the once-cash starved Panthers are at least afloat headed into 2014. Will they be able to find money to bid on one or two of the expected free-agent WRs? Names like Anquan Boldin, Riley Cooper, James Jones and Golden Tate could appeal to the Chargers, particularly if any of them (or the other top 10 or 15 available wide receivers) come at a reasonable price.

San Diego Chargers: Which side of the ball will take preference this offseason?

Two things were hammered home on the Chargers’ offense in Sunday’s loss: The offensive line remains a work in progress, especially if you take Jeromey Clary out of the picture as an injury did against Denver; and Keenan Allen needs a complement in the passing game — Vincent Brown, Eddie Royal and others did not cut it in 2013, and Malcom Floyd (33 next season) missed all but two games due to injury.

Of course, there will be only so much the Chargers can do before next season begins. Already facing a shaky salary-cap situation, San Diego may find adding a clear-cut No. 2 receiver or reworking the line at all may be difficult. That’s doubly true because the front office may declare the defense the real nuisance here.

San Diego finished the regular season ranked 29th against the pass, which means the obvious move in the draft would be to select a cornerback. This probably is not a one-player fix, however, so a little additional creativity may be required.

Now that Philip Rivers has proven himself in Mike McCoy’s offense, would the franchise consider extending and restructuring his contract? He’s set to make $13.8 million next season and to count more than $16 million against the cap. Somehow spreading those numbers out to clear room for the Chargers’ free-agent needs might be a legitimate option. Rivers himself might be up for it if it means the team is then able to sign a WR to play opposite Allen.

34 comments
Dsmitty926
Dsmitty926

Do a little homework man. The Chargers already have a proven #1 or (possibly, considering Keenan Allens's breakout) #2 wide receiver in Malcolm Floyd (signed through 2015), and Danario Alexander who was waived but never claimed. If the Chargers decide to give him another look, his price tag won't be a hefty one as his 2013 salary was set to be about $1.3 million. Clearly the issue needing to be addressed is the defensive backfield followed very closely by OL depth.

ParisLay
ParisLay

Bolts are in better shape, Saints have a few holes, Panthers and Colts just need experience and now they got it...If you guys got a sec check out my crazy brother, HUGE 49ers fan, and me talk NFL playoffs, storylines for AFC, NFC titles and the secret to success for both the Hawks and 49ers.....http://bit.ly/1d0pfZ4

TacoLibre
TacoLibre

Panthers could use an extra o-line player, with Jordan Gross being uncertain to return. Another DB would be welcome as well, but considering what the defensive coaches did this year with a secondary that before the season some commentators called the worst in football, I think they could convert a talented rookie. But yes wide-out is the critical area (re-sign Ginn though). These receivers simply struggle to create space and get open, and Cam already struggles a little bit with waiting too long on them. If they could pick up the WR from TAMU; then maybe move Steve to a slot role. Could be dangerous.

dennis
dennis

Saints won the Superbowl without Jimmy and they could do it again, but he would certainly help them get there.

MikeSchultz
MikeSchultz

RILEY COOPER will only be a Good #2.5 or #3 WR for PHILLY or a Team with a Good Accurate QB like S.D. with RIVERS but I think he stay's in PHILLY but JEREMY MACLIN & D-JAX Come 1st.

MikeSchultz
MikeSchultz

I'll never like CAM NEWTON but if he's EVER going to become a Better Passer he Needs more than GREG OLSEN at TE an could use at least 2 WR's & a better Run Game. 

Darren1
Darren1

To me the Chargers' primary needs are CB and OL. The Bolts had two good receivers go down with injuries and if just one can return to health, they will be OK at that position. Ingram's return showed they can put pressure on passers. Draft these two needs high and fill other holes with affordable, proven FAs. I think Rivers would be amenable to restructuring his contract if he felt confident it would result in a much improved team that could challenge the Broncos and Chiefs for the AFC West crown.

donald5
donald5

Well DE/LB Will Smith is due 10 million next year and there is no way he gets that.  Jabari Greer might not be worth the 4 mill a year for the next 2.  Depends on how the knee recovers.  Roman Harper isn't getting 2.7 million next year either.  Vilma is due 1 million as well.  My guess is all 4 are gone.

geewhiz
geewhiz

Graham is overrated.  That became completely evident to me Saturday.  I don't care how good the hawks defense is, there's no excuse for not showing up like that. 

tootallgoof
tootallgoof

Could the Saints be better without Jimmy Graham?   Before you call me crazy, think about it.   Who will the Saints have to cut and not resign to afford him?   Also, what FA can the Saints not sign due to a franchise tag?  Also, you could get a ton in the trade market for Graham.   Image a team that needs an offensive threat like the Browns or many other teams.     If you could get the Browns two first round picks this year on top of your own, you can revamp your roster with young cheap talent pretty quickly that will help the team long term.   I bet you can easily get two first round picks for Graham from a team.


I am not sure the Saints should do this but it should be at least discussed.

Joebuckster
Joebuckster

@dennis Not according to his contribution in the playoffs this season...

matt37
matt37

@MikeSchultzGee, at least 2 WR and a better run game.  Doesn't EVERY QB want that?

clos1881
clos1881

And you don't like cam because?

9yanks7
9yanks7

@Darren1 There's such a thing as an affordable, proven free agent?  You can't name one free agent that made any difference that the Chargers have signed in the last 10 years.  I've been a Charger fan my whole life, and quite frankly I can't remember them EVER signing a proven free agent that mattered.  They got gun shy after signing David Boston, and stayed that way ever since.

MikeSchultz
MikeSchultz

@geewhiz Jimmy Graham Overrated...I'm a EAGLES Fan an that's the DUMBEST thing I've ever Heard some1 say about a Football Player.

DeeEmm1
DeeEmm1

@tootallgoof They're going to cut players that have needed to be cut for awhile, like Will Smith, Roman Harper, and Brodrick Bunkley. They have high cap numbers and not enough production.

RevGross
RevGross

@tootallgoof The Browns got one hell of a season out of Jordan Cameron out of the TE position this year. Why would they waste draft picks on Jimmy Graham?

Thundrra
Thundrra

@tootallgoof Would love to see something like that happen if they couldn't keep him, but I'm pretty sure if they don't resign him then he can walk away to the highest bidder.  No trades when he's a free agent. 

T5
T5

@Joebuckster @dennis  He just isn't a great blocker. I don't know if it is a lack of effort or if he just doesn't follow thru on his assignments on running plays, but he just does not get down to it do when a play does not directly involve him.

mugger79
mugger79

@matt37 @MikeSchultz Cam has come a long way as a quarterback - he showed that with some big comeback games this year and by showing some pocket discipline. I think he needs to continue that improvement, and put in some time in the offseason working with any receivers that Carolina has signed (or signs in the offseason, or picks up in the draft). 

TacoLibre
TacoLibre

@matt37@MikeSchultzCam has tons of haters...mostly since he beat Alabama on the road in a game where he trailed at half by like three touchdowns. Plus people like Peter King only reference the Panthers when they have a chance to bash Cam--not sure why there's so much hate. He is passionate about his team and occasionally celebrates (not much different from Rodgers there; though Cam has less ads). It's not like he's that whiny punk from SF who acts like God's gift to football. (Go Seahawks.)

natethegreat
natethegreat

@9yanks7 @Darren1 so danny woodhead wasnt a smart pickup? how about ronnie brown who hasnt been great but is a great locker room influence and can run the ball wnen needed

calikings
calikings

@9yanks7 @Darren1 Woodhead was good pickup. If they can find players like Donnie Edwards and Randall Godfrey that would help but the draft is where they need to find the help.  

donald5
donald5

@MikeSchultz @geewhiz Yeah... you are a MIAMI FAN too.  Same as Graham.  Please don't play the "i have no dog in the fight" card

Merv
Merv

@MikeSchultz


He's not overrated, he's Jimmy.  At least that is what he told Bruce Irvin before the game yestereday.  


He is a Basketball Player playing Football, not a Football player who played Basketball.  Too soft, afraid of getting hit hard and a lazy route runner.  It is amazing he caught any TD last year.

donald5
donald5

@T5 @Joebuckster @dennis Probably not very good because he is so freaking tall with hardly any of his weight in his backside.  He definitely doesn't put as much effort as he should but he doesn't have the center of gravity to block well on the line

9yanks7
9yanks7

@natethegreat @9yanks7 @Darren1 Danny Woodhead had a nice season, but I don't regard him as an impact player.  I don't know much about Ronnie Brown's locker room influence, but running the ball when needed just doesn't cut it .  He also is far from my idea of an impact player.  As I see it you have Rivers, Allen, and possibly in the near future Laderius Green as impact players on offense.  Woodhead and Brown are not game changers.  They're just not capable of making  a difference between winning and losing against playoff teams.

Merv
Merv

@clos1881 Well than you didn't see him get pushed around, round off his routes and avoid hitting anyone.  


He couldn't block Steve Gleason (go Cougs) on a pass rush.

TacoLibre
TacoLibre

@JahliSuwaghaman@Merv@MikeSchultzI'm a Panthers fan and the comment that Jimmy Graham is over-rated is ridiculous. Bellichek found a way to shut him down; so did the best pass defense (potentially in the last thirty years according to some stats sites) on Saturday--and still the Saints lost by 8. I know the Seattle people will get ticked but if that game is in the dome, they lose. Saints had the 4th best D in football.

clos1881
clos1881

I'm starting to think you're an idiot

jamescbrunson
jamescbrunson

@Joebuckster @DeeEmm1 @tootallgoof Bunkley played a HELLUVA game against my Birds.  Looked like the Bunk they drafted for the first time in a long time.  Too bad it was against Da Birds.  Be dumb not to bring him back