Offseason GM: AFC South
The initial rush of free agency is always exciting. We already have some surprise moves, such as the Bucs cutting Revis who instantly signed with the Patriots. It’s essentially a 1 year deal, and he will be back on the market next year, assuming the Pats don’t want to pay him $20M in 2015. Theres been a flurry of other moves, and many low key ones made by the Jaguars. Needle is a lifelong Jags fan, and seems to follow a path of optimism until being utterly flabbergasted by the moves his team makes. As a Jets fan myself, I feel his pain, and I’ll start with the Jags to show him that it’s not so bad.
Free agent starters: RB Maurice Jones-Drew, C Brad Meester
Free agent signings: RB Toby Gerhart, G Zane Beadles, DE Chris Clemons, DT Red Bryant, DT Ziggy Hood, LB Dekoda Watson
Current needs: QB, CB, WR
Cap Situation: A lot of dead money (9M) puts the Jags at a modest payroll of $109M. This includes the contracts of Gerhart and Beadles, but not Clemons/Hood/Watson, for whom contract details have not been fully disclosed yet. Throw in $19M of rollover cap space and the Jags have about $44M in cap space, minus whatever the above trio of defenders cost. Since Clemons is 32 and coming off a serious injury, Hood was not a very effective player, and Watson was not even starter, it stands to reason that these players should not total more than 12-14M for this year. I’ll be sure to edit in the official details when they are released.This leaves the Jags with a good $30M to work with. (Edit: The Jaguars just resigned Jason Babin as well, I’ll put his details in when they become available)
Free Agency: The Jags are doing exactly what I’ve expected them to do; attempting to find a lot of bargains who they won’t be committed to for the long run. Gerhart was a 2nd round pick, but was stuck behind the best RB in the league and never got a chance to play. He had some good games at the end of last season, and is not a bad choice to roll the dice on at RB. Clemons was a good pass rusher when healthy, but his age and injury risk lowers his price tag quite a bit. It’s possible he may not produce too much, but he has the potential to definitively outperform his contract. Ziggy Hood is a former 1st round pick whom the Steelers gave plenty of snaps at 3-4 DE, but he never seemed to be the right fit for them. For the Jags, he’s a low cost gamble that they are hoping performs better in a 4-3. Dekoda Watson was a 3rd string linebacker for the Bucs (only 263 snaps last year) stuck behind starters Lavonte David and Mason Foster. At worst, he will fill the same role with the Jags. Zane Beadles is the only signing here who truly commanded a solid contract, as the Jags clearly felt that G was a priority this offseason. The rest of these signings seem like good, low risk gambles that all have a decent chance to outperform their contracts. If the Jags make any other moves, you can expect them to be along a similar thought process.
Outlook: There is no need to try and make a contender through free agency when so many positions could use upgrades. For that reason, I think the Jags are doing a good job so far. None of these signings will hamstring them in future years, and most of these players will be trying their best to prove they can do better in a new situation, so that they can get paid later on. Some rosters can be turned around from bad to playoff contender in one year, this isn’t one of them. Turning their high draft picks into quality long term starters is what the Jags need to focus on, and they seem to understand that well by not throwing money at prize free agents, despite their abundance of cap space.
Free agent starters: TE Garret Graham, G Wade Smith, RB Ben Tate, DT Antonio Smith, LB Joe Mays
Free agent signings: none as of yet
Current needs: TE, G, LB
Cap Situation: A hefty $120M payroll doesn’t leave the Texans with much room to work with. They could trim some fat as there is a good amount of non-guaranteed money on the books, but these are mostly solid starters they would be hard pressed to replace at similar effectiveness. They only have $1.1M in carry over cap space, so this leaves them with about $14M to spend.
Free Agency: This is a very interesting team to pay attention to. With the #1 pick, they could go any number of directions in which part of the roster to address. They seem most likely to take one of the top QB’s, but with Matt Schaub still on the roster, its conceivable that they could keep him and choose to take Jadeveon Clowney instead. Their free agent options are very limited since they don’t have the cap space to be aggressive, and its not really even clear what positions they would want to chase after. Considering this, it seems most likely that they sit and wait, perhaps looking to trade Schaub while making a couple low key signings later on.
Outlook: It’s pretty shocking that this team won only two games last year and has the #1 pick, as this is a very talented roster with some blue chip talents. For example, JJ Watt might be the best player in the league and he is only making $3.5M this year! Some bad luck with injuries (Brian Cushing, Arian Foster) really hurt this team, but it also seems likely that former coach Gary Kubiak lost the team. In a division that has no true front runner, its very possible that the Texans could reclaim 1st place simply by standing pat and drafting well.
Free agent starters: WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, G Mike McGlynn, S Antoine Bethea, LB Pat Angerer
Free agent signings: DE/DT Arthur Jones, LB D’Qwell Jackson
Current needs: G, S
Cap Situation: The Colts have virtually no rollover cap space, but started the offseason with a pretty low payroll. Vontae Davis’ full contract details aren’t known yet, but assuming its on par with his annual average (4 years 39M) he should cost around $10M this year. That would out the Colts in the neighborhood of a $115M payroll, and 18M left to spend.
Free Agency: D’Qwell Jackson and Arthur Jones were decent signings that resolved areas of significant need. Thanks to some the Trent Richardson trade and another move in the 2013 draft, the Colts are without their 1st and 4th round picks. As a result, it seems safe to expect them to spend most of their remaining 18-20M of cap space. Antoine Bethea’s 1000+ snaps needs to be replaced, and interior offensive line is also a need. Most of the high priced safeties are already off the market (Jairus Byrd, TJ Ward, Donte Whitner, Bethea) so a big splash isn’t that likely. However there are still some solid capable starters available (Major Wright, Thomas Decoud, Ryan Clark, Quinten Mikell) so you can expect the Colts to show some interest on that front. Interior OL is the shallowest area of the free agent market, but owner Jim Irsay seems hellbent on spending all his money lately, so don’t rule out a signing there as well.
Outlook: The Colts front office has been substantially overpaying players the last two years, which could create some future money problems. Giving up their 1st rounder for Trent Richardson is looking like the worst trade in recent league memory. That said, this is still a pretty solid team with a great chance to return to the playoffs in 2014.
Free agent starters: CB Alterraun Verner, C Robert Turner, OT David Stewart
Free agent signings: RB/WR Dexter McCluster, DT Al Woods
Current needs: CB, OT, LB, QB, RB
Cap Situation: The Titans started free agency with a hefty $126M payroll, and made a few low-key re-signings. Ropati Pitoitua and Bernard Pollard were each resigned for about $3M apiece, and Dexter McCluster and Al Woods were signed for a similar cost. 2014 cap hits for these players are not yet available, but it seems safe to assume they will add an extra $10-12M to the Titans payroll. With just under $7M in rollover cap space, I estimate they are only slightly under their cap limit. That said, you can expect them to create some cap relief; They are trying to trade Chris Johnson, but with no one willing to pay him his $10M salary, you can expect him to eventually be cut for a gain of $6M. Nate Washington is a decent receiver, but his entire 4.8M salary is non-guaranteed, so he could very well be a cap casualty. Additionally there are 8 players on the roster who have at least $2.5M of non-guaranteed salary; they could very well be coaxed into helping create some added breathing room.
Free Agency: Given the Titans’ cap troubles, it’s somewhat surprising that they have been as active as they have been (2 signings, 2 re-signings). Don’t expect them to make any more moves until they find a way to add more cap room, and even then, they will not be able to make any big splashes. The roster you see now is very likely to be the same as the week 1 roster, minus Chris Johnson, plus their draft picks.
Outlook: This isn’t a bad team, as they have some solid pieces in good places. Unfortunately their past expenditures and investment in Jake Locker doesn’t really allow them to tinker with the roster much at all. The Titans have no choice but to give Locker one more chance to prove he can be the guy in Tennessee, with largely the same surrounding pieces as last year.