We have arrived at the league’s new fiscal year. And while nothing becomes official until 4:00 p.m. ET on Thursday, March 9, we are already hearing whispers of deals being done. Not to mention,trades in the works.
Welcome to free agency, NFL style. When you hear the word “busiest,” you may assume it means the team(s) that will sign the most unrestricted free agents. However, as players leave for other organizations or are outright released, this also includes overhauling a roster. It also means clubs getting things done by re-signing their own.
So which five NFL franchises will be hard to keep up with the next few weeks? We have our own thoughts.
5. Denver Broncos
One year after winning Super Bowl 50 on the strength of an overwhelming defensive unit, the Men from the Mile High City plummeted back to Earth a bit. A 4-0 start resulted in a 9-7 campaign and suddenly, the Broncos were out of the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
So what does general manager John Elway need to do to get the team back on track? The Broncos have a pair of young quarterbacks in Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch. But Mike Klis of 9News has the latest on the possibility of Dallas Cowboys’ veteran Tony Romo winding up with the club.
More importantly, the Broncos need to fix their ground game and run defense. The team will allow nose tackle Sylvester Williams and outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware to test the market, but who will Elway bring in to bolster the front seven? Also, with former Chargers’ Head Coach Mike McCoy back as Denver’s OC, action on the offensive line may be worth watching.
One name worth mentioning: guard/tackle D. J. Fluker, who the Bolts just parted ways with.
4. Tennessee Titans
What a job by General Manager Jon Robinson and HC Mike Mularkey in 2016. A team that had gone a combined 5-27 the previous two seasons rebounded to finish 9-7 and just miss out on the postseason. Yes, the Tennessee Titans haven’t been since 2008, but this is a team with a lot of young talent. And, just enough experience on both sides of the ball to make them a big-time threat to the Houston Texans for the top spot in the AFC South.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota will look to bounce back after breaking his leg in late December, but the team has already made sure veteran backup Matt Cassel is back in the fold. You will recall what Robinson did last offseason—trading for running back DeMarco Murray and signing wideout Rishard Matthews. Both pros had big years in ’16 and now, the Titans’ offense looks very balanced.
If and when Tennessee addresses their needs, look for the onus to be on defense. Particularly, the cornerback position. Despite the presence of a very respectable pass rush, Tennessee ranked 30th in the NFL against the pass. The Titans are a franchise on the rise; look for them to once again be aggressive over the next few weeks.
3. Chicago Bears
Under GM Ryan Pace, this franchise has not been shy come free agency. And a lot of that work has come on the defensive side of the football. In 2015, the big-name pickup was former Baltimore Ravens’ outside linebacker Pernell McPhee. One year ago, defensive end Akiem Hicks was joined by inside linebackers Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman. Of course, the Bears’ 2016 season was a total disaster with the club finishing 3-13.
These days, there are whispers of Pace trying to fix his quarterback situation via Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ backup Mike Glennon. Well, there were, anyway. Glennon is going to Chicago; what else? There were also rumors that the club was interested in Buffalo Bills’ cornerback Stephon Gilmore, but reports indicate he is going to New England.
Of course, beside the uncertainty under center (Brian Hoyer appears to be off to San Francisco and who knows what the future holds for Jay Cutler), the team has some issues at wide receiver with both Alshon Jeffery and Marquess Wilson slated for free agency. Will one or the other be back?
2. Jacksonville Jaguars
Why break form of past offseasons? You will recall that roughly a year ago, GM David Caldwell signed the likes of defensive tackle Malik Jackson, free safety Tashaun Gipson and cornerback Prince Amukamara to help the defense. He also added running back Chris Ivory to add a little oomph to the ground attack.
Like the aforementioned Bears, Jacksonville finished 3-13. But with the arrival of free agency, it appears they have agreed to terms with Dallas Cowboys’ safety Barry Church. There was also a deal in place with Miami left tackle Branden Albert, with Jacksonville acquiring him straight up for tight end Julius Thomas. And, there’s been speculation that the team is interested in Arizona Cardinals’ defensive lineman Calais Campbell—originally reported by Mike Klis of 9News on Monday.
Don’t sleep on this franchise. Though, the Jaguars have teased us in the past. And the fact remains that this is a franchise that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2007. Still, that’s not going to stop Caldwell and company from trying.
1. San Francisco 49ers
New GM John Lynch and first-time NFL HC Kyle Shanahan have inherited what some are considering the worst roster in the league. But if you believe what you’re reading, that’s about to change.
Via the Spotrac transaction file, the Niners have already agreed to terms with quarterback Brian Hoyer (Chicago Bears), wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (Buffalo Bills) and fullback Kyle Juszczyk (Baltimore Ravens). ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reports that a deal is all but done with former Washington Redskins’ wide receiver Pierre Garcon, who Shanahan is more than familiar with during his days in D.C.
The 49ers have their share of salary cap room and a ton of needs on both sides of the football. You will recall that last week they added nose tackle Earl Mitchell, who the Dolphins released this offseason. And Lynch knows he has his work cut out for him. After all, the club managed just two wins in 2016. Both, it turns out, came against the Los Angeles Rams.
This is a franchise that is a combined 15-33 the past three seasons, a far cry from reaching three straight NFC title games from 2011-13—including a Super Bowl appearance in ’12. It will be fascinating to see how San Francisco’s new front-office regime fares over the next few months.