Bold offseason moves for every AFC team
Pro Football Focus podcast hosts Jeff Dooley and Sam Monson frequently argue on the show about player rankings, trade suggestions, and positional value—with Sam usually shooting down the more extreme ideas Jeff proposes.
So, with free agency just around the corner, we had Jeff put together a bold offseason move for every NFL team—with Sam following behind to share his take on which made sense, and which ones he thought were ridiculous.
Here are Jeff’s bold moves for every AFC team, with Sam’s opinion on whether they are smart—or questionable—ideas:
Buffalo Bills: Try to trade up to take one of draft’s top edge rushers
Bold moves might be hard to come by for Buffalo, given the franchise’s limited cap space. But following the team’s release of defensive end Mario Williams (who was coming off a season during which he earned the worst pass-rush grade among all NFL edge defenders) and the franchise tagging of left tackle Cordy Glenn, the team’s most glaring need is at the edge rusher position. That makes them a prime candidate to potentially move up in the draft to get an early-impact performer.
Monson’s take: The issue with this draft is that there really aren’t a whole load of top edge rushers. If you assume Joey Bosa is going to be gone within the first few picks, then the Bills don’t have any realistic shot at him, and from there on out, it’s a list of guys who underwhelm, and they are likely no better off with a guy they could get 10 spots higher than they would be sitting where they are and drafting the best available.
Miami Dolphins: Don’t overpay to keep Olivier Vernon, and let Lamar Miller walk
Vernon was dynamite coming off the edge this season, finishing 2015 with 81 quarterback pressures, the second-highest total in the NFL. The problem with paying him the money he’s going to demand long-term, however, is that the 2015 season marked the first time he played like one of the NFL’s elite edge rushers. There’s big risk involved in paying for a guy’s outlier season, particularly in this case when Miami is short on cap space and already has big investments on its defensive line in Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake, which is why Miami’s use of the transition tag made sense. But the Dolphins should be careful about matching any huge long-term offers he receivers from other teams. As for Miller, he ranked just 17th in our elusive rating stat last season, a sign that he was merely average at generating yards on his own. Let both players walk, and draft an edge rusher with the No. 8 overall pick—perhaps Eastern Kentucky’s Noah Spence or Clemson’s Shaq Lawson.
Monson’s take: I can entirely understand the reticence to hand Vernon a big-time contract, given that his elite play spanned essentially just eight games, and I think Miami used that as a reason to transition tag him and try to see if he can repeat it this year. That may necessitate Wake being cut loose, however. I’m on board with letting Miller walk, as I don’t think the team ever maximized his use anyway.
New England Patriots: Trade back into the first round
A big free-agent splash is difficult here, given New England’s limited cap room. But if the Patriots can find an instant-impact player along the offensive line or at wide receiver near the back of the first round, sacrificing some later picks to move up could be worthwhile (the opposite of their usual strategy). Receivers like Baylor’s Corey Coleman, Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard, and perhaps even Ohio State’s Braxton Miller could be good fits in New England’s quick passing game; Tom Brady had the shortest time to throw in the NFL last season.
Monson’s take: The strength in this draft is between 20 and 50, I think. This is one of those years where a mid-second round pick will be similar to a mid-first rounder, in terms of quality. As it is, New England doesn’t pick until No. 60, so I can see the case to move up a little, but it doesn’t need to be as far as the first round.
New York Jets: Sign Robert Griffin III
The Jets would be wise to bring back Ryan Fitzpatrick at a reasonable price and contract length, but he was far from perfect last season. In passing grade, he ranked fifth-worst in the NFL, and he earned by far his worst grade of the season in Week 17 versus Buffalo, with the team’s playoff chances on the line. So why not take a flier on another high-risk quarterback in Griffin, one that has tremendous upside if he’s able to straighten out his career? The media scrutiny that comes with playing for a New York team is far from an ideal fit, but playing for a team with solid veteran receivers and a very good defense is. RG III was PFF’s eighth-best QB in his 2012 rookie season—he’s worth taking a chance on at a low price.
Monson’s take: RG III is a total reclamation project at this point. He was so completely broken as a quarterback by the end of his Washington days that whoever signs him may well be starting over from the ground up. If the cost is low, however, we saw in his rookie year that the reward is potentially huge for any team capable of putting the pieces back together.
Baltimore Ravens: Let Keleche Osemele walk
With just under $3 million available in cap room at the moment, the Ravens are going to have a hard time keeping Osemele, who figures to draw a lot of interest in free agency. He ranked 13th among guards in PFF grades this season, but it’s worth noting that even though he played some tackle this season, he earned a negative grade for those games, and his pass-protection grade overall was just average. So, if you view him only as a guard, he might not be worth the price tag to Baltimore.
Monson’s take: This is going to be a case of the decision being made for them, I think. Enough teams see Osemele as a tackle that the Ravens could find themselves simply priced out of negotiations.
Cleveland Browns: Draft a QB at No. 2
This might not qualify as such a “bold” move, but it’s an essential one for the Browns. They are guaranteed to at least have the chance to draft either Cal’s Jared Goff or North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz, two of the top five players on PFF’s latest draft board. The Browns don’t need to get cute this offseason; they can simply draft the best available quarterback, and use their cap space to retain their free agents (in particular, right tackle Mitchell Schwartz).
Monson’s take: No argument here. Their only decision is which guy do they prefer: upside or relative polish? Either way, they aren’t going anywhere until they have an answer at the position.
Cincinnati Bengals: Sign Janoris Jenkins and re-sign Marvin Jones
Cincinnati might have to overpay a little bit to retain Jones, but he was a key component of the offense this season as the team’s No. 2 wide receiver after A.J. Green, ranking No. 32 in receiving grade at the position. Jenkins is a potential bargain at corner, having fared well in coverage and against the run for St. Louis this season, ranking No. 24 in PFF’s cornerback grades. He’d be a good replacement for Adam Jones and/or Leon Hall if the team lets either walk, and a big upgrade over incumbent Dre Kirkpatrick.
Monson’s take: This is a desperately thin free-agent market at wide receiver, and Marvin Jones could end up making a lot of money because of it. I think the Bengals may end up priced out of that one, and should look to the draft instead. Jenkins appears to be demanding big money from the Rams, so he may be an expensive option, but somebody like Seattle’s Jeremy Lane may come cheaper and still have the potential to perform well in that system.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Trade for Aqib Talib
The Steelers ranked just 24th in overall coverage grade this season, with Antwon Blake in particular emerging as a liability at corner. Talib earned his best season coverage grade since 2011, and might be deemed expendable by the Broncos, given the emergence of Bradley Roby. If Pittsburgh could put together either a package of picks or possibly some O-line help for Denver, it could seriously improve its corner situation by adding Talib.
Monson’s take: Talib is over 30 years old now and, even at his best, is frustratingly inconsistent. He makes sense for Denver because of the 3-deep set of CBs they can deploy to matchup with opposing wideouts, but he would be fools gold to try and capture via trade. The Steelers desperately need to upgrade at the position, but that isn’t the way to do it.
Houston Texans: Trade Jadeveon Clowney, No. 22 overall pick, and next year’s first-rounder for the No. 1 overall pick
Brian Hoyer produced the worst grade we’ve ever recorded from a quarterback in the playoffs during Houston’s Wild Card loss to Kansas City. The Texans aren’t going to be able to draft one at No. 22 overall, most likely, meaning an aggressive move up the board to No. 1 (Tennessee) or No. 3 overall (San Diego) is required. That’s hard to do, but two first-round picks plus the 2014 No. 1 overall selection in Clowney (who quietly finished his sophomore season ranked No. 3 in run-defense grades among edge players) might get it done. It’s a lot to give up, but Houston isn’t going to get past the first round of the playoffs without an improvement at QB.
Monson’s take: That is a long way to move up in the first round, and likely relies on teams valuing Clowney far higher than they currently do given, how little he has been able to play. No. 1 overall is too high I think, but they likely only need to get to #3 to ensure they can get one of the top two quarterbacks, and potentially not even that high if they start to slip.
Indianapolis Colts: Make a run at Keleche Osemele
Osemele won’t come cheap, as he is the best available offensive lineman on the open market, but the Colts really need to improve their offensive line play heading into 2016. Anthony Castonzo is entrenched at left tackle, and Osemele would form a strong guard tandem with Jack Mewhort—significantly improving their play up front.
Monson’s take: If the Colts learned anything from this past season, it’s that they need to actually protect Andrew Luck and not just expect him to play well in the face of overwhelming pressure. Osemele would be a great add, but players like Brandon Brooks from Houston or Jeff Allen from Kansas City would also be good options.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Overpay for at least two impact defenders
The Jags currently have nearly $80 million in cap space, meaning they shouldn’t hold back in spending big to try and upgrade their roster. Target No. 1 would have been Muhammad Wilkerson if the Jets hadn’t used the franchise tag on him, as he was PFF’s No. 11 interior defender this season, and also displayed the ability to be even more effective at generating pressure as a pass-rusher when kicked outside to defensive end. Olivier Vernon is a risk for the reasons described in Miami’s section, but he’s a risk worth taking if you’re the Jags—the combination of Vernon with Jared Odrick and 2015 No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler Jr. would give Jacksonville a talented defensive front. Other options: Try to work a trade with Seattle for safety Kam Chancellor, or sign Chiefs cornerback Sean Smith in free agency.
Monson’s take: I would have loved the Wilkerson move. He has shown to be an elite player, and most importantly, incredibly versatile for the Jets. A player that could be quietly worth overpaying is Jason Pierre-Paul. He notched just one sack after returning from the fireworks accident that left his hand disfigured, so many are writing his playing obituary, but he did also tally 40 additional pressures over seven games, which isn’t far off of the best rates in the NFL. JPP’s days of quality football are far from over.
Tennessee Titans: Trade away the No. 1 pick
The Titans will have their pick of three elite defensive players in Ohio State DE Joey Bosa, Oregon DL DeForest Buckner, and Florida State safety Jalen Ramsey with the No. 1 overall pick. However, they should take advantage of the demand for quarterbacks—since they don’t need one themselves (having drafted Marcus Mariota last year)—and stockpile picks in this year’s and future drafts. Between those and over $50 million in cap space (make a run at Browns RT Mitchell Schwartz, perhaps?), the Titans could really upgrade their roster.
Monson’s take: These moves always come down to needing two to tango. If there’s somebody that desperately wants to trade up, then I’m all for trading out, but otherwise, they just need to avoid overthinking it and taking the most impactful player on their board. If I was them, I’d decide between Bosa and Buckner, either of whom would make more of a positive impact than Ole Miss left tackle Laremy Tunsil.
Denver Broncos: Let Brock Osweiler test the market
Peyton Manning is contemplating retirement, and while bringing back free agent Brock Osweiler seems like a straightforward solution, the truth is he didn’t grade out particularly well in his limited action in 2015. He finished No. 20 in PFF’s quarterback grades, but 34th of 35 QBs in deep accuracy, with a percentage of 26.7, and had a below-average passer rating under pressure. Denver should use caution before offering him any kind of significant contract, as it might be more worthwhile to let him see what he could get elsewhere first before bringing him back on a shorter-term deal.
Monson’s take: Denver is about to enter the realm of QB-purgatory once more. I don’t think Osweiler is any kind of long-term answer, but at least he has youth on his side, and potentially some untapped upside. I think the best route for them is to try and keep him in Denver and draft a QB, because I suspect that their next viable long-term quarterback isn’t in the NFL yet.
Kansas City Chiefs: Make a run at Keleche Osemele
The Chiefs have some key free-agent decisions to make on defense, following their use of the franchise tag on safety Eric Berry. Outside linebacker Tamba Hali, lineman Jaye Howard, and cornerback Sean Smith are all free agents, but regardless of how things shake out, Kansas City should have one of the NFL’s better defenses in 2016. The bigger concern is on the offensive line. Eric Fisher ranked 36th in PFF’s offensive tackle grades this season—which represented a huge improvement over his first two seasons. Kansas City should look to get better at tackle or guard by going after the top option on the open market in Osemele, PFF’s fifth-best run-blocking guard this season.
Monson’s take: The only spot on the Chiefs’ line that couldn’t stand an immediate upgrade is center, where rookie Mitch Morse showed plenty of promise year one. Other than that, they should be pursuing any proven player they can find at guard or tackle.
Oakland Raiders: Trade for Kam Chancellor and make a run at Olivier Vernon
The Raiders have close to $75 in cap space, meaning they can be very aggressive in upgrading their roster. Chancellor would instantly become the best player in Oakland’s secondary, and he might be available in a trade given his contract holdout last season with Seattle. The Raiders could then look to add a cornerback in the draft. Pairing Vernon with Khalil Mack (PFF’s top-graded edge defender), meanwhile, would give them the best pair of edge rushers in the NFL.
Monson’s take: Oakland have been moving in the right direction for a while now, but going big in a trade isn’t the way to keep that rolling. They are swimming in cap space and now have a quarterback, so they should be able to sell to free agents in a way they weren’t in the past. Vernon makes some sense, but their need in the back seven is greater.
San Diego Chargers: Sign Malik Jackson and Damon Harrison
The Chargers really need O-line help, but their defensive line was likewise a significant problem area last season. Harrison was the top-graded run-stuffer among nose tackles, and Jackson ranked seventh in pass-rush grade among interior linemen en route to his Super Bowl heroics. In short, San Diego could add a dominant run defender and disruptive pass-rusher and completely transform its defensive front.
Monson’s take: At this point, anything that gets Kendall Reyes off the field is a good thing. Jackson would be a huge upgrade for the team and weaken a divisional rival, so I’m all for that. This is a team that hasn’t really used their nose tackle much, so I’m not sure if they really want to go hard after Damon Harrison, but a player like Jaye Howard—if he hits the market—could be a solid upgrade, too.