Posted February 12, 2014

Ranking teams by offseason outlook

NFL draft 2014, NFL Free Agency, NFL offseason 2014
Jimmy Graham (left) is due for a raise, but the Saints are in a deep cap hole.

Jimmy Graham (left) is due for a raise, but the Saints are in a deep cap hole. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

17. (tie) Carolina Panthers

Breakdown: FAs: 2 | Cap: 3 | Draft: 2.5 | GM: 3 | TOTAL: 10.5

Now that the Panthers have returned to the NFL’s near-elite, it’s time for second-year GM Dave Gettleman to get to work. The Panthers have 21 unsigned free agents, including key players like Jordan Gross, Greg Hardy and most of the team’s starting secondary. With more than $8 million in cap space and a couple of obviously overpriced players, Gettleman can retain a lot of pieces, but Hardy is the centerpiece, and he’ll get major money from somewhere. The good news is that team owner Jerry Richardson stopped monkeying around and gave head coach Ron Rivera a well-deserved contract extension. — DF

17. (tie) New Orleans Saints

Breakdown: FAs: 3 | Cap: 1.5 | Draft: 2 | GM: 4 | TOTAL: 10.5

The Saints survived the BountyGate fallout and rebounded to 11-5 in 2013. Now, they face different challenges. They need to shave more than $13 million off their 2014 estimated cap — only the Cowboys are deeper in the hole in this regard — meaning some veterans will have to restructure or hit the road. The free agent status of tight end Jimmy Graham will be an interesting test case, as Graham wants to be paid as a receiver because he’s used so often as such. Losing Drew Brees’ best target may be an inevitability.  – DF

17. (tie) Atlanta Falcons

Breakdown: FAs: 2.5 | Cap: 3 | Draft: 2.5 | GM: 2.5 | TOTAL: 10.5

Sadly for the Falcons, 2013′s 4-12 record was not a complete fluke. Yes, injuries hamstrung the franchise, especially on offense, but GM Thomas Dimitroff has been whiffing on offensive and defensive line picks in a worrisome fashion over the last few years, and that finally came home to roost. Dimitroff knows the team needs to land a major pass-rusher with the sixth overall pick, but the question remains — can he and head coach Mike Smith engineer the transactions to take the team forward? – DF

17. (tie) Denver Broncos

Breakdown: FAs: 1 | Cap: 3 | Draft: 3 | GM: 3.5 | TOTAL: 10.5

Restricted free agents aside, Denver could lose starters at running back, wide receiver, guard, linebacker, cornerback and defensive end. Being in the middle of the pack for cap space won’t allow enough cushion to re-sign them all. Can John Elway pull any more rabbits out of his hat? He lured Peyton Manning to Denver two years ago, then bolstered the team with savvy pickups such as Terrance Knighton and Shaun Phillips last offseason.  – CB

21. (tie) Chicago Bears

Breakdown: FAs: 2 | Cap: 3 | Draft: 2 | GM: 3 | TOTAL: 10

Chicago GM Phil Emery will have to use every bit of his Moneyball acumen to repair what ailed the Bears in 2013. Just as the passing offense came together under new head coach Marc Trestman, a defense that had always been rock solid under Lovie Smith started to fall apart. Age and injuries took the defensive line to task, and the secondary will need restocking. The problem? Chicago has over $40 million in 2014 cap invested in two players — Jay Cutler and Julius Peppers — and Cutler isn’t going anywhere. Peppers and his $18.2 million hit will be the key to Chicago’s near future. – DF

21. (tie) Cincinnati Bengals

Breakdown: FAs: 2 | Cap: 3 | Draft: 2 | GM: 3 | TOTAL: 10

The Bengals have the base talent to compete at the highest level, though there are two major questions coming into 2014: How will the loss of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer to the Vikings affect that side of the ball, and can quarterback Andy Dalton transcend his limitations? Three straight first-round playoff eliminations have fans wanting more, but the team is in decent shape from a personnel perspective. Free agent defensive end Michael Johnson is the big name here, but offensive tackle Anthony Collins might be just as important to future operations. With $23.7 million in cap room, the Bengals are at least in the right space to make the tough calls.  – DF

21. (tie) San Diego Chargers

Breakdown: FAs: 3 | Cap: 1.5 | Draft: 3 | GM: 2.5 | TOTAL: 10

The Chargers and GM Tom Telesco are right up against the projected cap as the offseason begins, so there definitely will be cuts and contract restructuring. Telesco figures to re-sign a couple guys, too, including LB Donald Butler. This situation is pretty straightforward, and as the numbers imply: decent but to be dictated by how much money Telesco can finagle out from under the cap. — CB

24. (tie) New York Giants

Breakdown: FAs: 1 | Cap: 2.5 | Draft: 3 | GM: 3 | TOTAL: 9.5

Eli Manning’s clear regression in 2013 had a lot to do with an offensive line that started seven combinations and gave up far too many pressures. That will be the first priority for general manager Jerry Reese. But that’s not the only problem — the Giants have 22 unrestricted free agents on the docket, including Hakeem Nicks and Jon Beason. There’s about $10 million in cap space to solve these problems. But a bigger question may loom: After throwing the most picks and posting the lowest quarterback rating in his career as a full-time starter, can Manning’s $20.4 million cap hit be rationalized in any reasonable way?  – DF

24. (tie) Tennessee Titans

Breakdown: FAs: 2 | Cap: 2 | Draft: 3 | GM: 2.5 | TOTAL: 9.5

Right now, Tennessee’s big question is whether quarterback Jake Locker is the future of the franchise. The main issue of the last few seasons — whether running back Chris Johnson would stick around — is just about moot. Tennessee will move on without the former rushing champ and his $10 million cap hit. New head coach Ken Whisenhunt will endeavor to do with Locker what he was able to accomplish with several other star quarterbacks through his coaching career, while the Titans front office will try to build around Locker with the $6.3 million in cap they currently have, and the added bounty Johnson’s release will give them. – DF

24. (tie) Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Breakdown: FAs: 3 | Cap: 3 | Draft: 2.5 | GM: 1 | TOTAL: 9.5

There are a lot of potential free agents here — 19 in all — but most of the Buccaneers’ core is on track to return next season. They are shy a sixth-round pick because of the Gabe Carimi trade. But the real question here is: How will Jason Licht fare as GM? He just inherited the job in January, so he really gets his score by default. His background, however, offers reasons to be encouraged as Tampa Bay heads into an important offseason. — CB

24. (tie) Indianapolis Colts

Breakdown: FAs: 2 | Cap: 4 | Draft: 1 | GM: 2.5 | TOTAL: 9.5

The Colts have more than 20 in-house free agents, chief among them safety Antoine Bethea and cornerback Vontae Davis. Will Donald Brown or Ahmad Bradshaw return? How about role players like Cassius Vaughn or Pat Angerer? GM Ryan Grigson is carrying more cap space than all but three teams (Oakland, Jacksonville and Cleveland), so he should be able to mold this roster as he sees fit. Of course, he also does not have a first-round pick because he traded it for Trent Richardson. – CB

28. (tie) Detroit Lions

Breakdown: FAs: 3 | Cap: 1.5 | Draft: 2.5 | GM: 2 | TOTAL: 9

The Lions are down a fifth-round pick because they traded for WR Mike Thomas, which is worth a half-point deduction on its own. It’s the salary cap that will be more problematic for GM Martin Mayhew, who has a budget operating about $5 million in the red before he re-signs any of his team’s 21 potential free agents. Of those, DE Willie Young, CB Rashean Mathis and RFA RB Joique Bell would be toughest to replace.  – CB

28. (tie) Miami Dolphins

Breakdown: FAs: 1 | Cap: 4 | Draft: 3 | GM: 1 | TOTAL: 9

Dennis Hickey’s first go-round as an NFL general manager will put him to the test. He has some cash — approximately $33 million — and a truckload of important pending free agents, such as Brent Grimes, Paul Soliai, Randy Starks, Chris Clemons and Nolan Carroll. Those are all members of the defense, by the way, in case you’re wondering where Hickey might focus. Miami believes it can contend in the AFC East, but it has to succeed between now and training camp. – CB

30. Pittsburgh Steelers

Breakdown: FAs: 2 | Cap: 1.5 | Draft: 2 | GM: 2.5 | TOTAL: 8

It’s a known fact that the Steelers would have liked a better yield in their recent drafts. And general manager Kevin Colbert is a man very much in the firing line now as the Steelers try to re-fuel for a new generation of success with the need to pare down nearly $13 million in cap space just to get to zero. The formerly great defense slipped to the middle in 2013, and though protection improved for Ben Roethlisberger in the second half of the season, this was a team out of balance. And with more than a third of the roster lined up for free agency, it may be a while before this most stable of franchises is on top again. — DF

31. Dallas Cowboys

Breakdown: FAs: 3 | Cap: 0 | Draft: 3 | GM: 0 | TOTAL: 6

The Cowboys are currently looking at a deficit of nearly $24 million. Jason Hatcher bolting in free agency would leave a huge gap up front on defense, but the other losses look to be minimal (counting Anthony Spencer, who spent 2013 on IR). The biggest problem here remains Jerry Jones’ authority. — CB

32. Cleveland Browns

Breakdown: FAs: 2 | Cap: 4 | Draft: 4 | GM: -5 | TOTAL: 5

The Browns have $45.5 million in cap to spend in the new league year, and two first-round picks after fleecing the Colts in the Trent Richardson trade. There’s a lot of talent on defense, and a few real playmakers on the offensive side of things. In other words, everything needed to build a real NFL powerhouse. Unfortunately, a front office that deserves a far lower rating than the one we were able to give it (heck with it; we’re throwing the lowest grade possible at this mess) will almost unquestionably squander these great gifts. Because when your team owner is under federal investigation, and your organization has changed team presidents, general managers and head coaches at a dizzying rate, it’s hard to take anything you do seriously.


1 2

37 comments
TOperspective
TOperspective

Once I read this about the Chiefs I knew the authors were clueless - "Now, they’ll turn their attention to retaining key free agents like Kendrick Lewis and Branden Albert.".  No one who watches the Chiefs thinks Lewis is a key free agent.  No one.  He's gone and Chiefs fans are rejoicing.  It's also pretty much understood by everyone that with the cap issues Albert is gone.

big55ed
big55ed

If the Ravens had brains enought to bench Flacco last year when he couldn't perform, they would have made the playoffs for a sixth consecutive year.

AJ_in_SH
AJ_in_SH

It's the offseason, we need fodder for discussion, so I don't hold these kinds of pieces to a very high standard....

BUT:

Is this about optimism for a team's 2014 prospects? Then SF, SEA, DEN, KC, PHI, NO, should all be crowded at the top. Is it about who stands to make the most improvement? Then sure, JAX, HOU, OAK at the top. Most interesting/active/crucial offseason ahead? CLE, StL, WAS, BAL, maybe a couple others. This list has no focus, no parameters. So, the discussion isn't much fun.

RamsNewsNow
RamsNewsNow

The Rams are set up to break out...unfortunately maybe the 2 best teams in the NFL are in the NFC West.  Adding Gregg Williams will help because having a Top 10 Defense is a must.

www.rams-news.com

ballhawk2925
ballhawk2925

"... Keim currently has about $9.5 million in his pocket, most of which was a gift from Fitzgerald."

"Is the quarterback ready to take the same bullet his best receiver just did?"


Whoa, Fitz is a nice guy, but I think you're overestimating the selflessness of his restructured contract. He didn't give up any money, he just had $11.75 million of his 2014 base salary converted into guaranteed money to ease the 2014 cap hit. If anything, it seems like the Cardinals salary cap situation gave his agent leverage to improve upon his already favorable contract. While his $8.6 million cap hit in 2014 looks modest, the $23.6 million hit the following year is gonna sting. The aging, but still formidable when healthy, wide receiver is now essentially guaranteed to get all of that $23.6 mill thanks to the $14.4 million in dead money that would accompany a 2015 cut. Not that they would cut Fitzgerald, it's just that the front office has no leverage to make a salary reduction happen.


While these guys may be doing other things well, I wouldn't give Arizona's front office a lot of credit for this deal. I'm more impressed by Fitzgerald's agent, Eugene Parker, who continues to push his clients earning potential further into the future. 

FranklinMint
FranklinMint

Every NFC West team is in the top 8, and three are in the top 5. It's insane how good that division has become in such a short time.

Listening
Listening

The Cowboys are almost DEAD LAST!!!!!!!!!!!  At least they have a GREAT General Manager!!!!  Oh and season tickets holders....  keep pumping that money into the owners wallet to watch an 8-8 team!!!!!!!!


Eat it jerry!!!!!!!!!



GaloofvonDorkmeister
GaloofvonDorkmeister

"A safe bet: The Patriots will not stand pat with the seven draft picks they currently hold (none in Round 5; two in Round 6). Bill Belichick loves to wheel and deal, often doing so in ways that prove to benefit New England. He has less than $5 million in projected cap space at the moment and some very important free agents — i.e. Brandon Spikes, Julian Edelman, Aqib Talib and LeGarrette Blount."


This comment suggest that the author of this article doesn't have a clue about the Patriots and simply is regurgitating "common knowledge".


Belichick is a notoriously HORRIBLE drafter. He's like Adam Dunn - sometimes he hits a homer but mostly he just strikes out.


Plus Brandon Spikes is most likely gone because The Hoodie doesn't like him and RBs are plentiful. So if Blount is resigned, it won't be with a large contract.


Edelman and Talib will get the $$$.

fairhooker
fairhooker

How come neither of you put your initials under the Browns' ranking?

JPG
JPG

Seattle Seahawks....as I understand it will probably not re-sign Syndey Rice ($8.5 million) and Zack Miller ($6.8 million) which totals $15.3 million.

The Seahawks will probably re-sign Micheal Bennett, Golden Tate and Cris Clemons.


Is 15.3 million enough to re-sign Bennett, Tate, and Clemons.


I would think so.





                

WilliamCross
WilliamCross

Hmm, I don't totally agree, but it's ok.

Whatever
Whatever

How do the Browns get a 4 in Cap with $45 million to spend, but the Cowboys get a 0 for being $24 million OVER the cap? What, no negative numbers allowed for media favorite Dallas?

The Steelers get a 1.5 for Cap with $13 million to spend, but the Seahawks get a 2 for Cap with $544,000?!?

Next time try some consistency in how you determine numbers. This whole thing is useless.

Whatever
Whatever

You guys lost it when you said the Chiefs need to retain "key" free agents like Kendrick Lewis and Brandon Albert. Lewis was virtually NEVER in the right place, and failed to react to deep coverages, usually picking the wrong receiver to help on. Albert is an average to above-average LT who's been significantly hurt the past two seasons and wants a huge payday. Both need to go. Fischer could then move to his natural LT spot, and a RT could be drafted or signed much less expensively, or play Stephenson at LT and keep Fisher at RT.

The Chiefs need to draft a completely different safety to replace Lewis. He simply didn't get the job done. Get a big, hard-hitting, Cam Chancellor-type safety to pair with Eric Berry and another cornerback and the Chiefs backfield could resemble Seattle's.

t2daox
t2daox

I'd be willing to bet the Patriots do not resign Talib after getting hurt in consecutive AFC championships.  

Killgophers
Killgophers

I can see Burke and Farrar now, "Let's do a 0 to 5 scale but give the Browns a -5, haha, that would be awesome" *high five*.  Fact of the matter is Farmer was wanted by Miami to be their GM and he said no, so Cleveland should have same grade as Miami GM at worst.  The Browns also have $45.5m in cap space which is only $4.5m less than Jax who got a 5 for cap space and $20m more than Minny who got a 4, so that should be at least a 4.5.  And they have 10 picks in the draft that are better than Jax 10 picks so that 4 should be at least a 4.5 just like Jax.  So, if you were being legit about this and not just ranking the Browns last to pile on like all the other reporter morons they would have at least 11-12 pts which would rank them between T8 and 16th.  But, instead you followed all the rest of the lemmings and gave them a -5 and placed them last, congrats on a great article.

RayIsBipolar
RayIsBipolar

How are the Seahawks rated a 2 for cap space with only $500,000 in space? Its okay to say the Seahawks have a flaw somewhere every now and again. 

geoAZ
geoAZ

The best GM's build consistent winners...the other scoring categories are merely obstacles that the good ones overcome and Jerry Jones continues to "screw" up !! 

ColtsPacersEverton
ColtsPacersEverton

Sports media is funny. With 3/4 of a season in the books, everyone is already claiming the Browns "fleeced" the colts. I agree, as of right now, the browns seem to have gotten the better end of the deal, but lets what a min to declare an outright winner until we see what kind of actual value is at the tale end of this years first round, and what Richardson does next year.

TimothyLCox
TimothyLCox

You give the Browns a -5 for GM? IMO they should get a 5 just for canning the Stooges before they get a chance to screw this up. Farmer stands a much better chance of luring a couple big name free agents, and re-signing our own guys. And, how do you not give them a 5 for draft picks, or cap space? You are right though, they will probably screw this draft up too.

pirate
pirate

When was the last time the Jags were on top of ANY list? Good for them and coach Bradley. Let's hope they can build on it. But man, the whole NFC West is in the top 10 as far as teams in good shape. The Seahawks could improve significantly and still not win the division, it's THAT good. And I always love seeing Dallas down at the bottom, looking up. Just love it.


Go 'Hawks!

Wisconsin Death Trip
Wisconsin Death Trip

During a recent Packer TV show that talked about this very subject(s), the consensus was that out of about 16 players on the bubble, only ONE will probably get resigned. In other words...Uncle Teddy ain't gonna budge when it comes to shaving off the fat. He knows by now the defense is in a shambles, and needs an overhaul via the draft, and MAYBE one big free agent signing. We'll see......

eddie767
eddie767

For the first time in a while I'm glad the Skins have cap space. They now have a GM,who won't waste the money or roster spit just to say they spent the money. As long as Orakpo, misspelled,is brought back and they draft well,it should be a good season(s) going forward.

Doh
Doh

What's with constantly referencing Spikes and the Patriots?  The guy is not being re-signed and its been known for months now.  The guy would have been outright released instead of IR designated if not for Belichick's concern that another team could pick him up.

ianlozadaphoto
ianlozadaphoto

@JPG  Clemons is much more likely to be cut than Miller.  The Seahawks really value his blocking, and until they're sure they have the OL fixed, they're going to keep him around as long as he can, especially since Anthony McCoy is out of contract and Kellen Davis is not trusted.


Tate may still be left unsigned, with Doug Baldwin also needing re-signing.  Baldwin is the better route runner, but Tate is Wilson's favorite target and returns punts.  It will probably cost 3 times as much to sign Tate, so don't be surprised if he's gone.

Anicra
Anicra

@JPG Miller would need to be cut , he signed thru 2015 Clemons is signed thru 2014

Mulva
Mulva

And why do the Browns get a 4 for draft while JAX and SF get 5? Cleveland also has extra picks in rounds 4 and 5 in addition to their extra 1st.


This column was not "time-worthy"!

Whatever
Whatever

@Killgophers  And how do they give Seattle a 2 on cap space when they only have $544,000 to spend? Ridiculous.

BlackSession1
BlackSession1

@Killgophers  The organization is a black hole. Given their history, I wouldn't put them on the top 5 of this list even if they had 4 1st rounders.

Qwest336
Qwest336

@RayIsBipolar  500K and a QB to pay after this coming season!  It's going to be interesting to see how they look when San Fran and Seattle have to pay their franchise QBs like franchise QBs.  Expect the young Superbowl winning QB to get a contract worth at least 80 million next year.

Whatever
Whatever

@ColtsPacersEverton  Richardson was drafted with a 1st round pick, and the Colts paid a 1st round pick to lock him up for a year less. Particularly a RB who wasn't exactly setting the world on fire. Sounds like a fleecing to me . . . .

Sportsfan18
Sportsfan18

@ColtsPacersEverton  But another way to think of it is that many teams not don't take RB's with a pick in the first round.  Way too many teams and way too many backs have done well while not being picked in the first round.


Simply subscribing to this train of thought, that RB's shouldn't be taken in the first round, then the Browns are the clear winners.  They got a first round pick from the Colts for him.


Also, a 3 yard per carry average is far from a first round talent.  Trent could still be a decent RB, but that's about all.


No need to wait to see how next year goes.  Even if the Browns blow the pick (it's to be expected) that has nothing to do with the Browns obtaining a first round pick for a sub par RB.

AF Whigs
AF Whigs

@TimothyLCox :  yeah, but hopefully they are headed in the right direction.  I feel like this article's premise started with "Let's put the Browns last!  They just fired everyone, right?  Ha ha ha!  That's hilarious!"


Considering that firing the front office has been deemed a positive move by the organization by most accounts, who cares?  Oh, the "timing" was bad?  Again, who cares?  NFL teams have to time their moves in such a way to please the media?  That's ridiculous.  I don't care when they fired them - they at least are giving the new GM a few months before the draft.

Qwest336
Qwest336

@BlackSession1 @Killgophers  This is true...however, there was no rating for front office, for owner, or for organization.  Therefore, you cannot rate the GM a -5 when he is in the exact same situation as the new GMs in Miami and Tampa that you graded a 1...oh, except that the only reason Hickey is the GM in Miami is that Cleveland locked up Farmer...I'd say that deserves at least a 1.5 for that reason alone.