Last year during free agency we saw the Browns, Dolphins, Eagles, Colts, and Titans make big splashes with their money. Thanks to Micheal Ginnitti at http://www.spotrac.com we get the most accurate numbers on who has the most cap space this year. With this information, we see there are five teams that have over $30 million dollars in cap space. While these teams have the money to sign anybody they want, you have to take a closer look, to see where all these teams stand and what positions need attention from these franchise’s this off-season, to get a better outlook on how free agency will play out this year.
1) Oakland Raiders – $63 Million in Cap Space
Key Free Agents – Darren McFadden RB, Charles Woodson S, Jared Veldheer T, Lamarr Houston DE, Vance Walker DT, Mike Jenkins CB, Tracy Porter CB, Jason Hunter DE.
Phase one of General Manger Reggie McKenzie’s rebuilding plan is complete as he has cleared the Raiders from all of their off-the-wall contracts and now has the best cap situation in the league. The second phase will be a little tougher as the objective is to bring in enough talent and start becoming a winner again, like in the glory days of the past.
It is still a mystery on how McKenzie will tackle the next process in rebuilding the Raiders, most think he will wait for the draft because of his Green Bay roots. Still, with all the needs Oakland has, there’s no way they don’t make some noise in free agency; it really is a question on how much they will make, with all the money they have on hand. First things first, McKenzie needs to analyze his own free agents and decide who he thinks needs to stay.
It will be interesting to see what happens with running back Darren McFadden and left tackle Jared Veldheer, as they both have shown they can be productive but injuries and inconsistency have derailed them at times. On the other hand, free agent defensive end Lamarr Houston should be a top priority, being as he is only 26 years old and is one of the best in the league at hurrying the quarterback.
There are many questions that will be answered this off-season in Oakland. Are they rolling with Terell Pyror as quarterback? Could they take a chance on Michael Vick or a quarterback in the draft? Will they try to steal Knowshon Moreno from rival Denver or did Rashad Jennings do enough to earn the starting job and a new contract? Only time will what will happen in the Bay area, but it will certainly be a very interesting off-season for the Raiders as their pockets are bursting with cash.
2) Jacksonville Jaguars – $47.7 Million in Cap Space
Key Free Agents – Maurice Jones-Drew RB, Chad Henne QB, Brad Meester C.
Jacksonville has had cap space at their disposal for a of couple years now; however, the problem is that nobody seems interested in playing for them. This might change as head coach Gus Bradley had the team looking better than they have been in a long time, finishing the last half of the season 4-4, which is not saying much, but is a start.
Now, the Jaguars need players everywhere on their roster as the talent on this team is sub-par, so they will definitely try to persuade players at many different positions to come play for them. Jacksonville also might be saying good-bye to their best player running back Maurice Jones-Drew, as his age of 28, does not seem to fit in the plan of rebuilding this franchise into a young up incoming team.
Another thing that might be a good idea, is to keep free agent Chad Henne around to help groom the almost certain quarterback they will be picking up in the draft. The biggest question to answer this off-season is did Bradley do enough to persuade players to come to Jacksonville and help him get this team out of the gutter, or will they get the shaft again this season.
3) Cleveland Browns – $46.1 Million in Cap Space
Key Free Agents – Alex Mack C, Shawn Lauvao G, T.J. Ward S, Willis McaGahee RB, Craig Robertson ILB
The biggest problem with Cleveland’s roster is the quarterback position, where the Browns have not been able to establish a trustworthy starter since coming back to the league in 1999. Now the draft is where the Browns will most likely find a quarterback, with one of their two first round picks.
Still, Cleveland needs players at guard, wide receiver, and running back, so look for them to make a lot of noise improving their offense in free agency. With Josh Gordon leading the league in receiving yards with 1,646, the Browns do not need the best wide receiver on the market, but they do need a player capable of producing at the two spot, where a James Jones or Emanuel Sanders would fit nicely with Gordon at wide receiver.
The running back position is a different story, as they do need the best available running back, which is Ben Tate. There are already rumors that Tate is a top target for the Browns, but that was before the front office overhaul, so we have to wait and see if Cleveland still covets him, nevertheless a new running back is of importance this off-season.
Cleveland’s offensive line is fine at both tackles and center, if they keep Alex Mack, but both the guard positions could use a serious upgrade. The only problem is, that it’s a little murky on whom they should target in free agency at guard, as new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan prefers faster guards for his zone offense and most of the guards available don’t seem to fit his style, so this might be another position they target in the draft.
Cleveland made a ton of moves on the defensive side of the ball in free agency last season, still they could benefit from having more pass rushers, especially with new head coach Mike Pettine and his pupil defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil implanting their fast-paced hybrid system that generated 57 sacks last season with the Bills. Last year Cleveland went after Paul Kruger after playing big during the Ravens Super Bowl run, so don’t be shocked if they repeat this trend and go after defensive ends Cliff Avril or Marcus Bennett from the Seahawks, after both played well for the Super Bowl winning Seahawks.
Moreover, the inside linebacker position might be better off by letting Craig Robertson walk in free agency after under performing, and go after a better caliber player, like Brandon Spikes; who looks to be on his way out of New England after being put in Bill Belichick’s doghouse after being late for practice and then being put on the IR . If the Browns keep safety T.J Ward Cleveland’s secondary is in good shape, although it would not hurt to find some trustworthy backups at both cornerback and safety.
Now Cleveland has the money to go after anybody they desire, however having three coaches in a 407-day period and ousting former GM Michael Lombardi and CEO Joe Banner after only one-season shows Cleveland has a weak structure at the top, and will have some players uninterested in playing for them. Nevertheless, Cleveland can show anyone the money with all the cap space available to them and will have players ready to sign on the dotted line just because of this. In addition, new GM Ray Farmer and owner Jimmy Haslam might be setting a stronger foundation for the future by getting rid of Lombardi and Banner, but only time will tell if this is true.
4) Indianapolis Colts – $33.5 Million in Cap Space
Key Free Agents – Anthony Bethea S, Adam Vinatieri K, Pat McAfee P, Donald Brown RB, Darrius Heyward Bey WR, Mike McGylnn G, Ahmad Bradshaw RB, Vontae Davis CB, Jeff Linkenbach G, Cassius Vaughn CB, Patrick Angerer LB, Aubrayo Frankin DT.
The Colts have many important players hitting the open market; however, with over 30 million dollars in cap space they can pick and choose who they want to keep and then go after free agents that peak their interest.
Out of the Colts own free agents, it might be best to keep Anthony Bethea around, as he has been a productive mainstay in the secondary since 2006. Besides Bethea, the Colts shouldn’t break the bank for anybody else, still if they can sign Darrius Heyward Bey, Vontae Davis, Patrick Angerer, and Aubrayo Franklin to reasonable contracts they should keep all of them on the roster.
Also, with Adam Vinateri at the grey haired age of 42, it might be time to replace both the punter and kicker. One thing that is for sure is the Colts will be doing most of their moves in free agency as they only have four draft picks available this year.
One area Indianapolis might want to improve in free agency is wide receiver, after getting a wake up call when Reggie Wayne went down, they learned only T.Y. Hilton was reliable and even he disappeared at times. If the Colts do target a wide receiver it will be interesting to see if the Colts go after one of Peyton Manning’s favorite targets Eric Decker or even Tom Brady’s only reliable target in 2013 Julian Edelman. While we are on the subject of the Colts offense, another area that needs improvement is the guard position, as Mike McGlynn has been an abomination and almost any free agent on the market would be better.
Now on the matter of the Colts defense, even with all the players they added last year, they still could use a defensive end or another pass-rushing linebacker, with Robert Mathis accounting for almost 50 percent of the 42 sacks the Colts had in 2013. In addition, the secondary would benefit from having another cornerback, especially if they do not resign Vontae Davis, and some better backups at safety would help as well with the team finishing the season ranked 20th in total defense.
Concisely, Indianapolis will have players wanting to play for them with Andrew Luck as their quarterback, along with being a playoff team for the past two seasons that seems on the brink of becoming a Super Bowl contender if they do just a little more tinkering to the roster. So expect the Colts to make a lot of noise again this season with all the money on hand and the interest in playing for them high.
5) Miami Dolphins – $31.5 Million in Cap Space
Key Free Agents – Randy Thomas G, Randy Starks DT, Paul Soliali DT, Brent Grimes CB, Richie Ingcognito T, Dustin Keller TE, Tyson Clabo T,Chris Clemons, Jon Jerry.
Last season the Dolphins were the winners in free agency as former GM Jeff Ireland threw in all his chips to try to save his job, which did not happen. Now after a season filled with controversy over the Jonathan Martin bully scandal and a two game losing streak that ruined a chance at securing a playoff berth, the Dolphins are back to square one, with new GM Dennis Hickey. Now Hickey won’t have as much power as Ireland did, with head coach Joe Philbin having more say so now, and owner Stephen Ross keeping a closer eye after all the bad press last season.
Now Miami put a lot of money towards the receiver position last year, however with Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito both not coming back and the offensive line ranking dead last it’s fair to say the Dolphins will be after offensive linemen. Last off-season the Dolphins were very interested in Chiefs left tackle Brandon Albert so it wouldn’t be a surprise if they targeted him again, even if they decide to resign tackle Bryant Mckennie they would benefit from having both as Mckennie can play either side.
Another area they could use improvement on offense is at running back with Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas failing to establish production leading to a ranking of 26th running the ball. The free agents at running back aren’t exactly the best crop of players, but going after Ben Tate or even Andre Brown could improve this position and relive quarterback Ryan Tannehill of some pressure, as he averaged 36 throws a game, mainly because the running game got stop almost every week.
As for the defense, the top priority is keeping their secondary together, which means resigning cornerbacks Brent Grimes, Nolan Carroll, and safety Chris Clemons who all played great last season. After that, the Dolphins need to make a critical decision at defensive tackle, as both their starters Randy Starks and Paul Soliali are free agents, and at that age where they are looking for that last big contract. In all likelihood, the Dolphins will probably only be able to keep only one of these players, which mean they should find a young prospect in the draft at this position as a lot of their cap room should center on fixing the offensive line and keeping the secondary intact. I know some people would say the linebacker position needs works however the dolphins invested too much money last year at this position with the signing of Daniel Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler and need to find better ways to use their talents before forking more money for another linebacker.
Once again, this looks like a big year for the Dolphins in free agency, but just like Cleveland, the instability at the top will hurt the Dolphins, although they do have money and weather on their side to help them lure players to sign contracts. On a final note, what happens this off-season will be crucial to not only Joe Philbin’s future with the team, but also Ryan Tannehill’s, with his time to prove he is Miami’s franchise quarterback slowly dwindling away.