Originally posted on Sportsnaut | By Vincent Frank | Last updated 6/8/16
With training camps quickly approaching around the NFL, the off-season calendar gives way to hope and opportunity for the league’s 32 teams.
Some of this hope is based on the false narrative that spending a ton of money in free agency will somehow lead to success. Other teams are hoping that relatively quiet moves during the spring will pay dividends with a playoff appearance this season.
Among the teams with the most hope, the Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland Raiders both did a bang-up job adding veteran and young talent to already up-and-coming rosters.
Meanwhile, the defending champion Denver Broncos are hoping that their myriad off-season losses won’t come back to bite them in their attempt to repeat.
These are among the top-10 takeaways from the 2016 NFL offseason.
1. Two perennial bottom feeders ready to contend
The Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland Raiders have the looks of division championship contenders heading into the 2016 season.
Both made the necessary moves in free agency and during the draft to potentially take that next step from up-and-comer to legit playoff contender.
For the Jaguars, it was all about adding reinforcements to one of the league’s worst defenses. The team added defensive end Malik Jackson, cornerback Prince Amukamara and safety Tashaun Gipson in free agency.
Jackson and Gipson have both performed at Pro Bowl levels in the past. Meanwhile, if Prince can stay healthy after a couple injury-plagued seasons in New York, the Jaguars could be on to something here.
It is, however, in the draft where the Jaguars doubled down (more on that here). They added potentially the two most-talented defenders in the entire class, first picking up defensive back Jalen Ramsey at No. 5 overall before adding linebacker Myles Jack in the second round.
Ramsey was considered by some to be the best overall player in the entire draft and should start out of the gate. Meanwhile, Jack, also considered a top-five prospect, fell to Day 2 due to lingering concerns over his knee.
Jacksonville is also getting 2015 first-round pick Dante Fowler Jr. back in the mix after he missed his entire rookie season. Add this talent on defense to go with one of the best young offenses in the NFL, and the Jaguars could very well contend for an AFC South title in 2016.
The Raiders actually might be in a better situation. With the wholesale losses Denver suffered on both sides of the ball, the AFC West appears to be open for the taking.
Add in Oakland’s surprising seven-win 2015 campaign as well as its additions over the spring, and this team could very well contend for a division title.
Derek Carr returns under center after a Pro Bowl season a year ago. He’s joined by one of the better receiver tandems in the NFL in the form of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree (1,992 combined yards in 2015).
The addition of guard Kelechi Osemele also fortifies what was already a strong offensive line in front of him.
Like Jacksonville, the Raiders’ top off-season priority was adding to a weak defense. General manager Reggie McKenzie and Co. did just that by signing top-end corner Sean Smith as well as former Pro Bowl safety Reggie Nelson to go with first-round pick Karl Joseph in the secondary.
That’s the area Oakland desperately needed to address. And in reality, that’s exactly what the team did during the spring. Look for big things from the Raiders in 2016.
Sam Bradford received a two-year, $35 million contract with $22 million guaranteed from the Philadelphia Eagles. He threw 19 touchdowns compared to 14 interceptions in what was statistically a career season for him in 2015.
The Eagles also added career backup Chase Daniel on a three-year, $21 million deal. Daniel, an un-drafted free agent out of Missouri back in 2010, has attempted a grand total of 77 regular season passes with one combined touchdown in six NFL seasons.
Absurdly enough, these weren’t the most ridiculous deals on what had to be considered a disastrous free-agent market at the quarterback position.
Firmly believing that a seven-game sample size that saw him throw 10 touchdowns was enough to pay the man franchise quarterback money, the Houston Texans added former Denver Broncos starter Brock Osweiler on a four-year deal.
It’s not the length of Osweiler’s deal. It’s the vast amount cash Houston gave to a signal-caller that was benched in favor of a run-down Peyton Manning last season.
The former second-round pick received $72 million over four seasons with an absurd $37 million guaranteed. That’s over $3 million guaranteed for every touchdown he’s thrown in his four-year NFL career.
The top-10 highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL in terms of annual salary all earn $20-plus million. Overall, 18 of the 19 highest-paid players in the league are signal-callers.
Making matters more ridiculous, a total of 22 quarterbacks are earning $12-plus million annually.
We know the NFL is a quarterback-driven league, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that players at this position are getting paid.
It’s just the dramatic difference between salaries for quarterbacks compared to running backs that makes this seem so out of bounds.
We mentioned above that 22 quarterbacks are making $12-plus million annually. Only one running back (Adrian Peterson) is averaging more than $9.1 million. Try that on for size.
3. Two front offices putting their futures on the line
By giving up the farm to move up to the top of the 2016 NFL Draft, both the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles put all their eggs in one basket. In the process, the general managers for each team put their futures on the line here.
For the Rams, it was a trade up from the 15th spot to No. 1 overall in order to select former CAL standout Jared Goff. General manager Les Snead and Co. yielded two second-round picks this past spring, as well as a first and third-round pick in 2017 to move up just 14 spots.
It’s something Los Angeles needed to do in order to excite its new Southern California fan base. More than that, it was needed as a way to improve off last year’s league worst passing offense.
But if Goff fails to live up to expectations, both Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher will find themselves without jobs. If that were to come to fruition, and depending on when, this marriage could be short-lived.
More surprisingly, the Eagles dealt a couple mid-round picks in 2016, a first rounder in 2017 and a second-round pick in 2018 to move up from the eighth pick to No. 2 overall.
That’s a whole heck of a lot to give up to move up in the top 10 (more on that here).
They used that pick on former North Dakota State signal caller Carson Wentz.
This came just a couple months after Philadelphia re-signed Sam Bradford to a two-year, $35 million deal. It also came shortly after the team fired head coach and general manager Chip Kelly for making some disastrous decisions the previous spring.
The plan here was clear. Sit Wentz for two seasons while using Bradford as a stopgap. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not necessarily a bad idea.
We just wonder whether newly re-installed general manager Howie Roseman is overplaying his job security here. What if the Eagles have a disastrous 2016 campaign with Bradford under center? Is there a reason to believe the team will keep Roseman around beyond this upcoming season?
4. The Oakland problem
The NFL may have solved its Los Angeles problem by selecting the Rams to bring football back to the nation’s second-largest media market for the first time in two decades. Though, this left another issue unattended — an issue that could have wide-ranging ramifications for the league.
As most of you already know, the Raiders’ situation in Oakland is not sustainable. The city is unwilling to use taxpayer dollars to erect a new stadium, and for good reason. Meanwhile, Raiders owner Mark Davis wants financial help on the back end.
Without corporate sponsors willing to dole out a ton of cash in what would amount to as a privately financed stadium, the Raiders will continue to kick the can down the road as it relates to a new venue.
If that’s the case, the Raiders and the NFL need to come to some sort of a relocation agreement at some point soon, preferably before the 2017 season.
As we saw with the Rams move to Los Angeles, things will happen during the season that dictates how the situation will play out.
If the Chargers find a way to get a new stadium built in San Diego, the Raiders will then have the right to join the Rams in Inglewood. If not, something else needs to happen.
In this, Las Vegas has come up as a real possibility for the Raiders. And no matter how ridiculous that may seem, there’s definitely a growing sense that it could happen.
On the field, the Raiders are among the most-exciting young teams in the league. It would be a shame for that to be impacted, at least in terms of perception, if something clear comes up regarding relocation while the team is playing in Oakland during the 2016 season.
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5. Football back in Los Angeles
This is the good news. For the first time in 20 years, the National Football League is back in Los Angeles. It’s been a long time coming for a league that has cost itself billions by not having a team in the nation’s second-largest media market.
Even better news? The Rams have a built-in fan base in the region, something that we are pretty sure the league itself took into account when approving the relocation.
Fresh off Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara hosting Super Bowl 50, it’s also going to be a boon to have yet another state-of-the-art NFL venue in California. That’s a far cry from just a few short years ago. It’s also going to have wide-ranging ramifications when it comes to future Super Bowls, starting in 2021.
At a time when the league continues to do very little right, it’s nice to see everyone come together to create this new/old market in a region that has wanted football for two decades now. It also doesn’t hurt that the NFL’s bottom line will be positively impacted by the move.
6. The NFL’s obsession with Tom Brady
The entire Deflategate scandal is playing out like an American horror story. And it’s right in front of our eyes. Each day. Every day. Something new arises, and we’re brought right back into this soap opera.
First it was the courts’ decision to overturn Brady’s suspension back in September. Then it was another court overruling said decision and reinstating the quarterback’s four-game ban.
Brady and a wide array of well-known lawyers have now joined in with the NFL Players Association for an appeal of said decision. Depending on how that goes, Brady could very well be reinstated. Then again, this sucker could end up in the United States Supreme Court.
For the NFL, it’s all about failing to admit it was wrong when levying the suspension against Brady following an obviously tilted “outside investigation” into the matter (more on that here).
Commissioner Roger Goodell has said there will be no settlement talks. And Brady himself won’t admit wrongdoing.
Is this a fight the NFL wants to keep going? What happens should Brady win his appeal? Will the league decide to take this to the land’s biggest court? Only Goodell and his cronies in New York City know this.
What we on the outside know is that the NFL is full of itself. It can’t admit fault. It won’t admit fault. And it has absolutely no problem dragging us all through the 500 days of pure hell we have been living in. Good for you, Mr. Goodell.
7. Familiar faces in new places
The biggest name to change cities during the spring actually came rather late in the free-agent process. After the Carolina Panthers removed the franchise tag on All-Pro corner Josh Norman, he signed a massive five-year, $75 million contract with the defending NFC East champion Washington Redskins.
It really was a dramatic turnabout for a Panthers team that relied heavily on its defense during a surprising run to the Super Bowl. Now that Norman is in Washington, there’s a decent chance that squad might be able to repeat as division champs.
Then again, there has to be a question mark about whether he’s going to perform at the same elite level without one of the game’s best pass rush’s in front of him.
Outside of that, there weren’t a ton of household names change teams. We will touch on Robert Griffin III below, but the quarterback market itself (as mentioned above) left a lot to be desired.
Brock Osweiler going from Denver to Houston could shake up a ton in the AFC, but he’s not necessarily someone that can be identified with the Broncos’ success in the past.
Mark Sanchez landing in Denver, potentially as the team’s starter (more on that here) could have wide-ranging reverberations throughout the AFC West.
Are the Broncos still favorites with the pedestrian quarterback under center?
The fledgling New York Giants made a bunch of moves to shore up a lackluster defense, adding defensive linemen Olivier Vernon and Damon Harrison as well as corner Janoris Jenkins to the mix.
None of these three players were focal points on their previous teams, but they do add a ton of talent to what had been a talent-stricken defense. Whether they were worth a combined $105 million guaranteed remains to be seen.
If the Giants somehow don’t come out and perform well in a mediocre division this season, we could have our answer in relatively short order there.
Circling back to the offensive side of the ball, a ton of well-known running backs cashed in on solid 2015 campaigns. After putting up a career-best 1,287 total yards for the New York Jets last season, Chris Ivory signed a five-year, $32 million contract with the Jaguars. He will compete with 2015 second-round pick T.J. Yeldon for touches in that powerful offense.
Replacing Ivory in New York is two-time Pro Bowl performer Matt Forte. While the potential future Hall of Fame running back is coming off a down season in Chicago, he should have enough left in the tank to help out the Jets.
Feeling neglected by the lack of touches he saw in South Beach last season, Lamar Miller sets his aim at replacing Arian Foster with the Houston Texans. Meanwhile, Alfred Morris joins a three-headed running back group in Dallas after leaving the Washington Redskins.
There might not have been a bunch of huge-name individuals switch teams during the offseason, but the impact of free agency will surely be felt around the
National Football League in 2016. These names are just a few examples.
8. The defending champion’s quarterback quandary
Mark Sanchez could potentially be starting for a defending champion months after said team hoisted the Lombardi Trophy (more on that here).
No, Sanchez did not lead that squad to the title. He’s replacing an all-time great that rode off into the sunset on a white bronco (almost literally).
The interesting dynamic here is that Sanchez doesn’t have to be too great in order to lead the Broncos back to the postseason. After all, Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler combined to throw 19 touchdowns compared to 23 interceptions last season.
From a pure statistical perspective, if Sanchez has his average season with everything else on the Broncos remaining unchanged from a season ago, the team will be just fine.
Unfortunately for the defending champs, it’s highly unlikely that’s going to be the case. The team lost both Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan from last year’s historical defense. With the situation Aqib Talib now finds himself in, there are definitely questions from that perspective.
If it’s not Sanchez under center, the Broncos will have to go with rookie first-round pick Paxton Lynch or former un-drafted free agent Trevor Siemian. While Lynch boasts a ton of upside, he’s nowhere near ready to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. That much is clear.
So if the Broncos best chance at repeating in the AFC West is Sanchez, the team will have to perform at a much higher level in other areas. If that doesn’t happen, the door is left wide open for both Oakland and Kansas City in the division (more on that here).
9. The false premise of free agency
Spending money in March doesn’t necessarily equate to success during the fall. We have seen it every single year. Teams go out of their way to add veteran “talent” to a pedestrian roster, only to fall flat on their face the following season.
Of the 25 players who signed free-agent contracts worth $10-plus million guaranteed last spring, only one ended up on a team that made the playoffs. That one player? Chris Culliver, who signed with the Washington Redskins, was released after one season.
Meanwhile, neither the Broncos or Panthers hit the free-agent market at all. They ended up playing for the title in Santa Clara back in February.
So whether it’s the New York Giants, Houston Texans or even the Oakland Raiders, this doesn’t bode too well for their chances. It’s the idea that you’re paying elite-level money for players other teams were willing to let go. In reality, it’s overpaying for slightly above-average talent.
There could definitely be some outliers. All three of these teams added talent that’s still on the upswing, primarily Oakland. By this, we mean that they didn’t overpay for pedestrian talent that’s already hit its ceiling.
There is, however, a major takeaway here. Simply because a team makes news in March, it doesn’t mean said team will be playing football in January. Quite the contrary.
Griffin III has that one final opportunity to prove his worth as a quarterback in the NFL (more on that here). If he falls flat on his face with the Cleveland Browns, it will likely spell a devastating end to what was a promising career.
The former Heisman winner will enter the summer in a three-man competition with veteran Josh McCown and rookie mid-round pick Cody Kessler for the team’s starting job. He has an innovative offensive mind in Hue Jackson leading the charge. He also boasts a fresh start.
Unfortunately for Griffin III, and it might sound like hyperbole, he’s playing quarterback for a team that hasn’t necessarily seen players at that position have a ton of success recently.
More than that, he’s doing so after Cleveland lost multiple starters on an offense that was already lacking talent a season ago. Starting right guard Mitchell Schwartz moved on to the Kansas City Chiefs. Pro Bowl center Alex Mack signed with the Atlanta Falcons.
And in potentially the biggest lost of them all, leading receiver Travis Benjamin will be playing in sunny San Diego this fall.
Without the necessary talent to help him succeed on offense, there is a really good chance that Griffin III will struggle should he earn the starting gig.
If he somehow improves off what were three disastrous seasons to end his career in Washington, it will be the feel-good story of the 2016 season.
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