10 biggest NFL offseason decisions

Time to pay Kirk Cousins? Senior Analyst Sam Monson examines this—and nine other—offseason decisions facing NFL teams.

| 9 months ago
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

10 biggest NFL offseason decisions

The Super Bowl is in the books, and that means teams are now turning their attention to the busy NFL offseason, spending the next several months getting their houses in order to do it all again come September.

So let’s take a look at 10 of the biggest decisions that need to be made over the next few months.

1. Is Kirk Cousins worth big money in Washington?

Washington has what could be one of the biggest decisions of the offseason with the emergence of Kirk Cousins in 2015. Cousins ended the season as PFF’s 16th-ranked quarterback with a 75.6 overall grade, and showed a huge improvement over the flashes we had seen previously. When kept clean, his passer rating this season was 114.7, throwing 23 touchdowns and just four interceptions.

Cousins is still very much a work in progress, but the team has waited so long to see what he has that they need to decide if he is worth big money with only partial information on his development. When pressured, Cousins’ passer rating plummeted to 72.3, and he threw as many interceptions (7) as touchdowns.

2. Will (or should) Peyton Manning retire?

It seems like a foregone conclusion that Peyton Manning will ride off into the sunset after winning Super Bowl 50, but the Broncos’ QB wouldn’t confirm it after the game, and teammates keep talking about what he has left in the tank. Manning’s play has fallen off a cliff, and it would take another herculean effort from the defense to get them contending again with him at quarterback. His decision, whenever it comes, will send ripples across the NFL, affecting not just Denver and Brock Osweiler, but any other team looking for a potential stopgap quarterback.

3. Does Miami keep or cut Cameron Wake?

As soon as the Miami Dolphins signed Ndamukong Suh to that monster contract, the team was going to be under cap pressure from that moment forward. Cameron Wake is still one of the league’s most devastating pass-rushers when healthy, but is now 34 years old and missed more than half of 2015 injured. With Olivier Vernon a free agent that could be kept around with the franchise tag, the Dolphins could free up over $8 million in cap space by releasing Wake and looking to the future.

4. Where does WR Alshon Jeffery land?

This decision is two-fold: Do the Bears try and keep Jeffrey, and if not, where does he land in free agency? The first part would seem an obvious, yes, but Chicago has been very quiet on the subject and does not seem to be pulling out all the stops to keep him around. Maybe they will franchise tag a player who has an injury history to caution a big money contract, but if he does hit the open market, his deal will be huge because of the drop-off after him among free agent wideouts.

5. Browns’ plan for the No. 2 draft pick?

Cleveland’s decision with the second pick in the draft could shape the franchise for years to come. It seems certain that they are done with Johnny Manziel, meaning they are in desperate need (again) of a quarterback. Do they like Cal’s Jared Goff enough to take him that highly, or is there another quarterback that could fight his way that high in the first round? If not, can they get an impact player to lay the groundwork for a quarterback somewhere down the line? Goff earned the second-highest grade from PFF College this season, but is far from the complete package, completing only 49.6 percent of his passes when pressured in 2015.

6. Tennessee’s No. 1 pick?

The Titans are in an interesting position at the top of the draft because they were there a year ago as well, drafting their franchise quarterback in Marcus Mariota. That means they now have the top spot in this draft, and the QBs are out of the equation. This opens up the possibility that they could trade out to a team that does need one, or that they must decide who the best player in this draft is. All too often, teams at the top shoot for safety, not impact, but the best players in this draft may be productive defenders, rather than offensive tackles like Ole Miss’ Laremy Tunsil.

7. Does Houston cut Arian Foster?

When healthy, Arian Foster is a high-quality running back, but we have passed the point that the Texans can rely on that, and they would save $6.6 million in cap space by releasing him. Alfred Blue and Jonathan Grimes, in particular, ran well for the Texans down the stretch, gaining 500 of their combined 980 yards after contact. Running backs have become something of a cheap position in today’s NFL, and the Texans would probably be better served using the money to improve the weak spots on the roster, rather than chasing the potential of a healthy Foster.

8. How will Chip Kelly’s offense take shape?

The prevailing wisdom was that Chip Kelly, the GM, got Chip Kelly, the coach, fired in Philadelphia, but that skates over a lot of schematic problems with the Eagles’ offense that took the league by storm, but never evolved. Kelly steps into San Francisco as a coach only, and will need to prove his system can adjust and evolve within an ever-changing NFL landscape.

Decision No. 1 for him will be who plays quarterback. Does his arrival signal a lifeline for Colin Kaepernick’s NFL career? Can Blaine Gabbert’s underrated athleticism provide a platform for Kelly to further develop his passing? Or, will the 49ers look elsewhere for their starter?

9. How do the Jets juggle D-line free agents?

With Sheldon Richardson’s situation a gamble, Leonard Williams on board, and Damon Harrison a run-stuffing specialist at nose tackle, the odd man out in New York seemed to be Muhammad Wilkerson. This season, he was asked to play far more as an edge defender, and responded with 78 total pressures, seventh-most in the NFL across all positions. His versatility will get him paid handsomely if he hits the open market, but the Jets may be inclined to try and keep their entire group together for 2016 by franchise tagging Wilkerson and re-signing Harrison.

10. Who bites on Carson Wentz?

North Dakota State has now won five-straight FCS titles, and the quarterback for the last two has been Carson Wentz, one of the top QB prospects in the upcoming draft. Wentz has the size (6-foot-6-inches, 235 pounds) and arm strength to tick all of the measurable boxes, but the question mark with him is level of competition, having played exclusively in the FCS. The last first-round quarterback to come out of the FCS was Joe Flacco, who lasted until the 18th pick of the 2008 draft. A QB-needy team this time around will likely jump on him much sooner, and how much teams fall in love with his tools will be a big decision in the draft.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • The Mysteries of Bob

    1. Sample size is too small, he finished the season hot but played an easy schedule overall, tag him, better carry a huge cap hit now than foolishly give him a contract like the Rams and Foles.
    2. Yes, he is just waiting a little and will have his release granted to sign a one day deal with the Colts.
    3. One year too early is better than one year too late.
    4. Should be in Chicago, that team has like 5 assets at best and White missed the entire season.
    5. QB
    6. Not Tunsil, Lawrence Taylor retired 2 decades ago and teams still overrate franchise LTs when most elite pass rushers bully the right tackle. Tackles are considered safe picks but in the OL loaded 2013 draft the only one who have been keepers are Lane Johnson, Kyle Long and Frederick.
    7. Atrocious contract, no team should tie that amount of cap to a running back.
    8. San Francisco lacks talent on offense, Kaep regressed, Boldin is a FA and 35, Torrey Smith is a deep ball catcher who is either going to have Kaep overshooting him or Gabbert not throwing to him at all, Hyde showed some promise but he can’t do that alone.
    9. They should have defnitely signed Mo WIlkerson, now they will probably franchise him, Harrison likely walks.
    10. Browns, picking QB based on hype souds exaclty something they would do (or the Jaguars, hence why both teams are the worst franchises of the decade).

    • Jags28

      What you said about the Jaguars for number 10 proves you’re a fucking idiot.

    • Tim Edell

      IMO Tunsil is one of the best OT’s to come out of the draft in a long long time. To compare him to Jake Mathews, Luke Joekel, Eric Fisher, Greg Robinson or any other top 10 OT in last few years is insane. Tunsil has everything you look for in a LT and the Titans can solidify their bookends for the next 10 years. They have a lot of holes on that team but you have a possible franchise QB in Mariota and 2 high caliber OT’s in Lewan and Tunsil and they are definitely on the right path.

    • Jack Casey

      Agree with most. It was long thought that taking top OT prospects early in the draft was “safe” but that has seemed to change it recent years. Is it just me or have a lot of early OLineman either been busts or severely underwhelming lately? Kalil, Joeckel, E Fisher, Warmack, J Cooper.. Even a little farther back like J Smith.

  • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

    great article

  • crosseyedlemon

    I think Foster has become irrelevant. The Ravens have some potentially huge decisions to make if Flacco and Suggs don’t rebound well from their injuries.