I’ve inhibited a cold and gray world for the last three weeks. Perfect weather to read The Road and cry and revisit the 2017 Houston Texans season, but terrible to uplift the heart. Soon it will be nice again, and things will actually feel good. It’s all right around the corner.
With that, when it comes, it will be time for NFL free agency and draft season will be on full blast. As a little primer, here are the cap space, draft picks, notable free agents, potential cuts, and needs for each AFC South team before life is worth living again.
Cap Space: $18,035,444.
Draft Picks: (1) 29, (2) 61, (3) 93, (4), (6), (7), (7).
Notable Pending Free Agents: ILB Paul Posluszny, QB Chad Henne, WR Marqise Lee, WR Allen Robinson, LG Patrick Omameh, CB Aaron Colvin.
Potential Cuts: RB Chris Ivory $3,687,500, QB Blake Bortles $19,053,000.
Needs: Guard, Wide Receiver, Quarterback.
The reigning AFC South champions are going to be that meme with the two Spidermans pointing at each other next year. The previous two seasons, they had beaucoup dollars to spend. This is what happens when you draft poorly and don’t get to extend your drafted players to larger contracts and make poor free agent decisions you can quickly get out of. The Jaguars finally have good players now. No longer do they have all the money in the world to spend.
This offseason is going to be more about navigating potential losses and choosing how to deal with the $18,035,444 they have in cap space. Posluszny, Lee, Colvin, Henne, and Omameh are all likely gone. The key player need to re-sign is Robinson. They missed him in their deep passing game. Without him, they were even more hesitant to throw the ball down the sideline. Without making any additional cuts, Jacksonville could extend him. However, I’m guessing they franchise tag him this year and see how he performs coming off his shredded knee. Dede Westbrook and Keelan Cole are easy replacements for Lee.
The one gasp of air they have is cutting cut Chris Ivory. The deal was grotesque when they made it. I still can’t believe they paid a marginal back that much at his age. They’ll eat some dead money by cutting him, but this is the first year they’ll come out ahead. Because of how often they give the ball to Leonard Fournette and the ability Jacksonville has to cut skill players from the outer depths, Ivory should be gone.
Blake Bortles is a swell guy. He won two playoff games this year. The Jaguars also didn’t lose in the NFL playoffs because of him. They lost because of how apprehensive they were of him. Jacksonville can leave the NFL spinning if they don’t pick up Bortles’ fifth year option and plunge into the best free agent quarterback class of all time. They’ve said all the right things about Blake, but the option is there for them to get rid of him. They could also scoff at his $19 million, one-year deal and extend him for a cheaper long term one. 3 years and $30 million? Who knows? Making a quarterback decision is the only BIG move the Jaguars can make this year.
Cap Space: $18,035,444.
Draft Picks: (1) 25, (2) 57, (3) 89, (4), (5), (6), (7).
Notable Pending Free Agents: WR Erick Decker, RG Brian Schwenke, OLB Erik Walden, CB Brice McCain, LG Quinton Spain, DE DaQuan Jones.
Potential Cuts: Johnathan Cyprien ($4,500,000), OLB Brian Orakpo ($7,750,000), OLB Derrick Morgan ($7,000,000), RB DeMarco Murray ($6,500,000), ILB Wesley Woodyard ($4,2500,000), QB Matt Cassel ($2,500,000).
Needs: Defensive Back, Defensive End, Inside Linebacker,
Tennessee is in a similar situation as Jacksonville from the jump, but they have the ability to create more space than the Jags do. Cyprien could see his way out after a year. Either Orakpo or Morgan could be cut even if it isn’t probable. Murray will probably be out of here for cap relief. Woodyard isn’t worth his contract. Cassel is awful. The Titans could clear up twelve million dollars or so easily.
Unlike Jacksonville, Tennessee won’t be longing for anyone who leaves. Decker can’t catch. Walden is all sacks and no pressure. McCain’s departure will be a positive. Jones never really got it together in Tennessee. Spain is the player they’ll miss the most. He was a pretty good guard and exceptional at his price. He’s the only pending free agent they may look into bringing back.
The Titans will be drafting in the middle rounds, have all their draft picks, and will have maybe $30 million in space to fix the holes they have. They don’t have a ton of needs, but the ones they do are the size of an acid bath tub. Their secondary was terrible again last year even after adding Logan Ryan, Adoree Jackson, and Cyprien. Tennessee is dying for an impact corner; if they add a top one, they could move Ryan to the slot, where he would be better. Aside from Casey, all of their defensive linemen are run-stuffers. A defensive end who can rush the passer and limit how often they have to blitz is vital. And despite being a good run-stopping team, they were worst in the NFL at stopping short passes. They’ll need to add talent to the inside linebacker position.
Cap Space: $74,194,402.
Draft Picks: (1) 3, (2) 36, (3) 67, (4), (5), (6), (7).
Notable Pending Free Agents: RB Frank Gore, DB Darius Butler, OLB Barkevious Mingo, RG Jack Mewhort, WR Donte Moncrief, LG Jeremy Vujnovich.
Potential Cuts: LT Anthony Castonzo ($5,200,000).
Needs: Left Guard, Right Guard, Right Tackle, Wide Receiver, Strong Safety, Cornerback, Running Back, Defensive End.
The Colts are the most intriguing team in football this offseason. If they can get it together, they can turn the AFC South into a bloodbath of pretty good football teams. Their last offseason was flawless. They bid low and didn’t tie up future cap space with enormous contracts that’d waste away on a bad football team. They took a couple of low risk shots and nearly all of them panned out. Jabaal Sheard, John Simon, and Johnathan Hankins were all wins. This year they will need to do more of the same and hope and pray Andrew Luck is okay.
They’ll have the third overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft and $74 million in cap space. They could also cut some other players without having to pay any dead money, but each one is on the hook to play a substantial amount of snaps next season. Castonzo is a potential cut. He’s as mediocre as an offensive tackle can be and isn’t worth his cap hit, but Indy may not have any other options. Overall, the Colts are in the perfect spot to attempt their second build around Andrew Luck.
I’d expect for everyone to be gone that is a pending free agent except for Mewhort. He was good, but his rookie contract was run down with injuries. He’d be worth bringing back if they could get him to a Chris Ballard favorite short-term, low cost, no guaranteed money deal.
It’s a good thing the Colts have the draft capital and space they do because they need it. Because of the number of holes they have, Ballard’s approach to the general manager position so far, other teams’ needs for a quarterback, and their lack of such a need, I assume they’ll trade down from the fourth spot and collect an extra first. Once free agency starts, the Colts can put money into just about every position aside from quarterback and end up fine. The key will be to upgrade the offensive line at both guard positions and at right tackle. Finally, hopefully, they can ensure Luck won’t be the most hit quarterback in the NFL for the first time in his career.
Cap Space: $63,802,267.
Draft Picks: (3) 67, (3) 80, (4), (6), (7).
Notable Pending Free Agents: CB Johnathan Joseph, SS Marcus Gilchrist, T Chris Clark, T Breno Giacomini, P Shane Lechler, LG Xavier Su’a-Filo, S Eddie Pleasant, QB Tom Savage, QB T.J. Yates, WR Bruce Ellington, C/G Greg Mancz, RB Alfred Blue.
Potential Cuts: CB Kareem Jackson ($6,750,000), G Jeff Allen ($4,875,000), RB Lamar Miller ($,750,000), TE Ryan Griffin ($2,468,750).
Needs: Quarterback, Guard, Tackle, Wide Receiver, Cornerback, Strong Safety.
Part of the reason why Houston made the trades they made last year was because of the cap space they had this year. They knew they would have free agency to add players and upgrade the roster.
They’ve also already starting adding to their pile of gold. They correctly chose to cut Brian Cushing to save around $7 million this year. They could also make some surprising cuts to save space by releasing Kareem Jackson or Lamar Miller. They could create even more space by making simpler decisions in releasing Jeff Allen and Ryan Griffin to save $7 million more. With $70 million available to spend, they could compete with any team for top free agents.
Of their pending free agents, I could see Su’a-Filo or Mancz being re-signed because of the need for offensive linemen; both are competent enough. Su’a-Filo is a good run blocker at the first level, and Mancz is an outside zone blocking center who can fill in at guard. J-Jo will be missed for the memories, but he’s a deep ball liability. I do like Ellington to come back as the slot receiver again. The rest can shove off. But you know they’ll bring back Lechler to spite me.
The keys to this offseason will be upgrading the offensive line and secondary. Both position groups were among the worst in football last year. Houston could potentially have four offensive line positions to fill. Martin is the only locked-in starter that they have. In the secondary, they’ll need someone to replace Joseph, and they have to hope Kevin Johnson becomes competent again. This would be another good offseason to think about moving Jackson to strong safety. A backup quarterback that could lead an offense to score 20 points would be cool too.