Deal or No Deal: Negotiating Every Team’s Priciest Contract Decision

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Deal or No Deal: Negotiating Every Team’s Priciest Contract Decision

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    Is this player worth the price tag? That’s a question front offices must address when making roster decisions in the offseason.

    A free-agent pickup from last offseason or an undrafted rookie may have shown enough potential for teams to consider saving cash at certain positions. There’s little reason to keep an average contributor at a top-dollar rate when there’s a rising asset earning a fifth of his salary.

    In other scenarios, veteran players haven’t produced at a level that justifies their paychecks. Perhaps they’re on a sharp decline, or maybe recent injuries have rendered them unreliable.

    General managers also have to contemplate whether to extend or allow players on expiring contracts to walk in free agency. Even with steady production, the cost to retain a talent may not be feasible for clubs with limited cap space.

    We’ll take a look at the potential cost to keep top impending free agents, and then we’ll decide deal or no deal. Should the team cut or re-sign a player with a costly cap hit coming up in 2019?

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Wideout Larry Fitzgerald earned $16.9 million in his walk year and finished with a career-low 734 receiving yards. Let’s be honest about his contract situation: If he chooses to play another season, the organization will likely re-sign him. The 35-year-old could still be a solid option for QB Josh Rosen and an exemplary model for fellow wide receiver Christian Kirk.

    After catching nine passes for 94 yards this season, tight end Jermaine Gresham will make $8.3 million if he remains on the roster next year. The 30-year-old appeared in 13 contests, which included 11 starts. At his position, he’s a secondary receiving option to Ricky Seals-Jones, who caught 34 passes for 343 yards and a touchdown.

    Seals-Jones will become an exclusive-rights free agent in the offseason and cannot negotiate with other clubs. There’s a strong chance the Texas A&M product stays with the team on a low tender. 

    As a result, there’s no reason to keep Gresham at his pay rate. He’s going to be 31 and isn’t a key cog in the passing game like Fitzgerald in the latter stages of his career.

    Verdict: No deal

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    It’s time for running back Tevin Coleman to seek a pay raise on a second deal. Through four years, he’s served as a sidekick to Devonta Freeman in the Atlanta Falcons backfield. 

    This season, Coleman took on a starting role once Freeman suffered foot and groin injuries, which kept him out for 14 games. Despite logging a career-high 800 rushing yards, Coleman’s workload didn’t skyrocket. He recorded 11 more carries (167) and five more receptions (32) than last year.

    The Falcons lost sight of their ground attack, ranking 30th in rush attempts. Coleman shared touches with rookie fourth-rounder Ito Smith, who accumulated 467 yards and four touchdowns from scrimmage. 

    It’s a simple decision for general manager Thomas Dimitroff. In 2017, he inked Freeman to a five-year, $41.3 million extension and drafted a running back this year. The Falcons can focus on Smith’s development as the new No. 2 option.

    Verdict: No deal

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    Typically, middle linebackers aren’t the stars on the defensive side of the ball because they’re not usually leading the team in sacks or interceptions. Although the Baltimore Ravens had an iconic player at the position in Ray Lewis, C.J. Mosley doesn’t bring the same emotional energy the minute he steps on the field—but he is productive.

    He’s the quarterback of the defense, with the ability to contribute in multiple areas. Through five seasons, the four-time Pro Bowler has recorded 398 solo tackles, 35 pass breakups, nine interceptions and 8.5 sacks.

    Rookie linebacker Kenny Young fared well in place of Mosley when he suffered a bone bruise in his knee during Week 2, but it’s not easy to replace a leader. Defensive tackle Michael Pierce spoke about the middle linebacker as such, per the Baltimore Sun‘s Mike Preston: “That’s our defensive leader. It’s big [his loss] that can’t be overstated. We had to fill the gap he left. … It was different.”

    Clubs shouldn’t overpay for leadership, but Mosley provides the full package as a player in his prime. He’s worth a lucrative extension.

    Verdict: Deal

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    During the 2015 offseason, the Buffalo Bills pried Charles Clay from the Miami Dolphins with a five-year, $38 million offer sheet. Now, the front office may look to part ways with the 29-year-old tight end.

    Clay had a disappointing 2018 campaign; he finished with 21 receptions for 184 yards. In the last two weeks of the season, the Bills sidelined him as a healthy scratch, which says everything about his future with the team. Barring a change of heart, the eighth-year veteran will hit the free-agent market. 

    Buffalo probably moves forward with tight end Jason Croom as a frontrunner for the starting position. The 24-year-old caught 22 passes for 259 yards and a touchdown. He’s due $570,000 next year and becomes an exclusive-rights free agent during the 2020 offseason. By voiding Clay’s contract, the club would save $4.5 million.

    Verdict: No deal

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    The Carolina Panthers will likely have some changes across the offensive line. Left tackle Matt Kalil missed the entire 2018 campaign after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. Daryl Williams suffered a dislocated kneecap and MCL tear during training camp then sustained additional damage to the same knee Week 1 and landed on injured reserve. 

    Kalil still has three more years on his deal, and Williams will become an unrestricted free agent. Versatile offensive lineman Taylor Moton is the variable in the Panthers’ approach to patching up the offensive line.

    If Moton keeps his starting job at right tackle, the front office will likely wave goodbye to Williams, who plays the same position. Carolina can also move the second-year offensive lineman to left tackle, where he opened the year, or left guard, a spot he could’ve locked down in the offseason.

    According to Charlotte Observer reporter Jourdan Rodrigue, the Panthers and Williams’ financial team were far apart in talks for an extension, but there’s still a possibility for his return. “Talks had started between Williams’ camp and the Panthers before the injury, but a league source said the initial offer from Carolina was way off the expected amount,” she wrote. “That injury might change things, though, and Williams has made it clear he loves being in Charlotte.” 

    If Williams’ injury drops his asking price, the Panthers may come to a middle ground with his camp. A deal allows Moton to potentially shift to left guard or left tackle if Kalil struggles on the blind side upon his return to action.

    Bottom line is retaining Williams gives this team options for an offensive line set for changes.

    Verdict: Deal

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    Last offseason, the safety market didn’t produce many winners in terms of total dollars; Kurt Coleman signed the biggest deal with the New Orleans Saints worth $16.4 million over three years. With Earl Thomas, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Landon Collins joining the free-agent pool in the offseason, we’ll likely see bigger investments in players at the position.

    The notable talents available push decent but unheralded players such as Adrian Amos further down safety wish lists. Despite his status as a solid starter, the Chicago Bears may be able to sign him for approximately $7 million per year.

    Amos has started every game this season and showed improvement in each of his four years with the team. The 25-year-old’s asking price won’t come cheap, but general manager Ryan Pace should do his best to keep the Bears’ third-ranked scoring defense intact. 

    Though Eddie Jackson looks like the star at the position in Chicago, Amos continues to show more of his playmaking skills. He logged nine pass breakups and two interceptions this season. 

    Verdict: Deal

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    Preston Brown suited up for all 64 games between the 2014-17 terms with the Bills. In a season of despair, the Cincinnati Bengals lost the fifth-year linebacker this year because of a knee injury. He went down while playing the Saints in Week 10. Before going on injured reserve, the hometown native missed two contests with an ankle issue. 

    In terms of availability, Brown had an atypical season; but he produced while in action, logging 27 solo tackles, four pass breakups and two interceptions in seven contests. If not for the knee ailment, he probably would’ve finished the season as the brightest spot for an awful defense that ranked last in yards and 30th in points allowed. 

    In March, Brown signed a one-year, $5 million deal. In the coming months, the Bengals may have to commit to him on a multi-year deal to retain his services. Long-term financial security probably means more to the 26-year-old coming off a major injury. 

    Normally an iron man and tackle machine in the middle of defensive units, Brown could become a building block for the Bengals’ linebacker corps. 

    Verdict: Deal

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    Gary Landers/Associated Press

    In the first half of the season, defenders burst through the Cleveland Browns offensive line. Quarterback Baker Mayfield was under siege; he took 22 sacks in his first seven games. Once Freddie Kitchens took over play-calling duties for ex-offensive coordinator Todd Haley, Greg Robinson started at left tackle, and the front line improved its pass protection in the following weeks. 

    Andrew Gribble, of the team’s official website, highlighted the transition between undrafted rookie Desmond Harrison and Robinson on Mayfield’s blind side. “After a tough game for the entire offensive line Week 8 in Pittsburgh, Harrison fell ill,” he wrote. “It was Robinson’s time to shine, and he capitalized on the big opportunity. Since Robinson has taken over at left tackle, the Browns have surrendered just five sacks over seven games.”

    The Browns beat writer also credited Kitchens for his play design, which sped up Mayfield’s decision-making process and focused on getting rid of the football.

    The Browns should re-sign Robinson at a premium position. Harrison struggled before his illness. Despite Robinson’s disappointing past with the Los Angeles Rams and Detroit Lions, he’s at his best in Cleveland. The No. 2 overall pick from the 2014 draft may be on the way to rejuvenating his career. 

    Verdict: Deal

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    After Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald reset the market for pass-rushers, regardless of position, defensive ends who can reach the quarterback will reel in the big bucks on the open market. Impending free agent Demarcus Lawrence should land a contract worth $20 million annually. He’s logged 25 sacks over the last two seasons as Dallas’ top threat on the defensive line.

    This isn’t a tough decision for the Cowboys. Quarterback Dak Prescott still has a year left on his rookie deal; the team will have a projected $50.9 million to spend in the offseason.

    Randy Gregory has shown flashes as a pass-rusher off the edge, but it’s his first season playing up to his draft status as a top-60 overall pick from the 2015 class. Lawrence has established a track record of consistent production. After franchise tagging him this year, it’s time for the Cowboys to pay up.

    Verdict: Deal

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    In Denver, we could see another shift between veterans and players selected in the 2018 draft. According to the Denver Post‘s Kyle Fredrickson, linebacker Brandon Marshall understands he may have played his last game with the Broncos in Week 17. “It definitely was a little emotional,” he told reporters in the postgame locker room. “That’s all I’ve got to say.” 

    Marshall’s $9 million cap hit for the 2019 term and Josey Jewell’s solid play over the second half of the season could spark a desire for long-term change at inside linebacker. The 29-year-old’s average salary lists ninth among players at his position, while the rookie fourth-rounder will make $748,495 in his second year. 

    Marshall fully recovered from a knee injury, started in Week 15 then served in a backup role in the last two games of a lost season. The decision to take a longer look at Jewell probably spells the end of the seventh-year veteran’s tenure in Denver. 

    Verdict: No deal

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    Ezekiel Ansah’s career started on the fast track; he recorded 30 sacks in his first three seasons. Since 2015, the 29-year-old has sacked the quarterback 18 times.

    In 2016, Ansah disappeared as a force near the pocket before bouncing back with a double-digit (12) sack season the following year. He suffered a shoulder injury in the regular-season opener and eventually landed on injury reserve because of a dislocation. The sixth-year defensive end suited up for seven games and only started two in a contract term.

    The Detroit Lions can attempt to sign him to a deal averaging less than $12 million per year, which puts him outside the top 10 at his position. Then again, the front office will have a shot at an impact player in the upcoming draft. The club finished 5-11 and holds the No. 8 overall pick.

    When faced with the option to re-sign a defensive end going into his age-30 campaign and coming off an injury-riddled year or draft a young talent with tremendous upside, it’s best to choose the latter.

    Verdict: No deal

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    There’s some disappointment in Jimmy Graham as a red-zone threat; he caught two touchdown passes this season. As he develops a rapport with Aaron Rodgers, his scoring numbers should improve in the upcoming year.

    Despite his experience with Rodgers, Randall Cobb doesn’t have the same upside. He’s spent eight seasons catching passes from Rodgers, but his production has trended in the wrong direction over the last two seasons. He finished the 2018 campaign with 38 catches for 383 receiving yards and two touchdowns with a $12.7 million cap hit—not a good combination. 

    Beyond the numbers, there are three reasons to justify moving on from Cobb, even if he’s one of Rodgers’ favorites: Marquez Valdes-Scantling, J’Mon Moore and Equanimeous St. Brown. 

    Among the three rookie wideouts, Valdes-Scantling flashed most, accumulating 38 catches for 581 yards and two touchdowns. He’s a potential No. 2 option behind Davante Adams. With the influx of talent at the position, Cobb doesn’t have a place on the Packers depth chart—certainly not at his most recent pay rate.

    Verdict: No deal

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    The Houston Texans have two star defensive players. J.J. Watt has three more years left on his deal and once again looks dominant at the line of scrimmage as the team’s lead pass-rusher with 16 sacks. He’s going into his age-30 campaign, though. The front office has to contemplate the future of the second-best playmaker within the front seven, Jadeveon Clowney

    Clowney finished with at least nine sacks in each of the last two seasons and earned a Pro Bowl invite for the third consecutive term. After an injury-riddled rookie campaign, he’s missed just six games over the last four years. If the South Carolina product hits the open market, clubs will line up to sign him on a lucrative multi-year deal. 

    The Texans will have a projected $67.3 million in cap space. There’s no excuse for allowing Clowney to hit the market. If the front office wants to see one more year of production before committing to him long term, executives can use the franchise tag to keep the star edge-rusher in Houston.

    Verdict: Deal

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    The Indianapolis Colts don’t have a payroll filled with high expenses. Quarterback Andrew Luck, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and left tackle Anthony Castonzo are the only players with eight-figure cap hits going into next season. General manager Chris Ballard will have a tough decision on an overachiever set to become a free agent, though.

    Early in the season, defensive lineman Margus Hunt provided a spark to the Colts pass rush, logging four sacks between Weeks 1 and 4. Midway through the year, his responsibilities changed when he shifted inside.

    Hunt logged 2.5 sacks in his first five seasons, four with the Bengals and one in Indianapolis, and finished this year with five. Even though his production near the pocket tapered off, the 31-year-old provides versatility along the front. 

    On the open market, the price for pass-rushers inflates a bit, but Hunt’s age and quiet finish as a disruptor at the line of scrimmage won’t do him any favors at the negotiating table. Furthermore, the Colts will have a projected $121.6 million in cap space to pursue younger talents in the prime of their careers.

    Verdict: No deal

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    There’s no surprise here. According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the Jacksonville Jaguars plan to move on from quarterback Blake Bortles after a disappointing 5-11 campaign. The coaching staff benched him in favor of Cody Kessler following a Week 12 loss to the Bills. He finished Week 16 under center and started in the season finale against the Texans.

    It’s unlikely Bortles’ final performance saved his job. Clearly, the Jaguars have seen enough of the 26-year-old quarterback and may already have their sights set on his replacement.

    In February, the front office inked Bortles to a three-year, $54 million extension, which makes this a costly divorce. While it’s unclear how the team will handle his deal, the Jaguars are on the hook to pay him $16.5 million in guarantees next year. They would save $4.5 million if he’s released. 

    Verdict: No deal

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    Oftentimes, safety Eric Berry and wide receiver Sammy Watkins come up in discussions about bloated contracts because of their frequent absences.

    The Kansas City Chiefs owe $15 million to Berry and $22.2 million to Watkins in dead money for the remainder of their contracts. It’s difficult to move players with those amounts of guaranteed investments.

    The front office will have a less complicated but pricey decision to make pertaining to edge-rusher Dee Ford’s free-agency bid. He wrapped up his best regular-season campaign with 13 sacks and a league-leading seven forced fumbles. As the market for pass-rushers explodes, the Chiefs have to walk a fine line with a budding talent. 

    Edge-rusher Justin Houston put together a solid year, but he isn’t close to the player who recorded 22 sacks during the 2014 campaign. The Chiefs may have to lean on Ford as their top threat coming off the edge. In that case, general manager Brett Veach has to pull out the checkbook and pay him the premium.

    Kansas City’s 24th-ranked scoring defense doesn’t allow the front office the luxury of allowing a proven playmaker to walk away during free agency.

    Verdict: Deal

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    Defensive lineman Corey Liuget went through a rough year. He served a four-game suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy. Initially, he returned to the field in a backup role before starting three games between Weeks 9 and 11. In November, the eighth-year veteran underwent surgery on a torn quad.

    The Los Angeles Chargers could excuse Liuget’s 2018 campaign as a down year, but he’s owed $9.5 million in 2019. As he goes into his age-29 season, with rookie third-rounder Justin Jones likely to handle more snaps in his sophomore term, the front office can reduce its expenses. General manager Tom Telesco can save $8 million if he designates Liuget as a pre-June 1 cut. 

    Liuget restructured his deal during the last offseason, but the suspension, injury and lack of production (1.5 sacks and nine solo tackles) diminished his value. He isn’t worth $9.5 million in the next term. 

    Verdict: No deal

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Edge-rusher Dante Fowler Jr. cost the Rams draft capital during the season. The front office acquired him from the Jaguars in exchange for a third-round pick and a 2020 fifth-rounder. After two contests in a reserve role, he started the last six games of the season and logged two sacks with 15 solo tackles.

    Fowler’s playoff production will likely impact the Rams’ decision. As an edge-rusher, two years removed from an eight-sack season, the 24-year-old won’t have a shortage of teams willing to sign him to a long-term deal. If Los Angeles plans to fill its void at outside linebacker during free agency, the front office must pay a premium for a veteran commodity.

    The Rams will have a projected $38.3 million in cap space next year. With quarterback Jared Goff on a rookie deal, there’s still time for the front office to splurge on an asset at a key position. Fowler would provide consistent pocket pressure off the edge and take some attention away from Donald in the middle.

    Verdict: Deal

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    In March, the Miami Dolphins acquired defensive end Robert Quinn from the Rams for a fourth-round pick; the two clubs also exchanged sixth-rounders. After a slow start, he picked up steam as a pass-rusher and recorded a sack in four of the last five games of season. The 28-year-old isn’t the same disruptive player from four years ago, but he’s still a serviceable defensive end.

    However, the decision to keep Quinn at $12.9 million isn’t a shrewd financial move. According to the Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson, the team is expected to move on from him. The Dolphins can recoup his entire cap hit and allocate the cash toward rebuilding the interior of the defensive line or the offensive line, specifically on the right side. 

    Charles Harris, a 2017 first-rounder, should see more looks on the edge. The Missouri product has appeared in 27 contests, which included just three starts. With the No. 13 overall pick, the Dolphins could land an impact player to bolster the pass rush.

    Verdict: No deal

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    According to the Pioneer Press’ Chris Tomasson, linebacker Anthony Barr wanted to sign a long-term extension with the Minnesota Vikings but didn’t receive a new offer. The UCLA product put together a solid season, logging 39 solo tackles, three sacks and two pass breakups, but the front office will have limited cash to pass around in the offseason.

    With a projected $6.7 million in cap space, the Vikings may need to look toward the bargain bin to address the outside linebacker position. Offseason cuts create some flexibility, but when there’s an $84 million commitment to a quarterback over three years, the team has to cut costs elsewhere.

    As a four-time Pro Bowler, Barr could sign a lucrative deal with another club. The Vikings should look to draft his replacement, develop an in-house talent or sign a stopgap veteran on a short-term deal. The decision to move on from Barr is a probable financial maneuver to preserve cap space. 

    Verdict: No deal

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    The New England Patriots finished the 2018 term with 30 sacks, which tied the New York Giants for the second-fewest in the league. Defensive end Trey Flowers finished with 7.5 tallies in the category. The front office should strongly consider re-signing the fourth-year pass-rusher.

    As a fourth-rounder from the 2015 draft, the Arkansas product has carved out a decent role on the front line. Over the last three terms, Flowers has shown consistency in his ability to pressure the pocket. He’s recorded at least 6.5 sacks in each of those seasons. 

    Instead of paying a high price for the likes of (Demarcus) Lawrence, (Jadeveon) Clowney or Frank Clark, if they hit the open market, the Patriots would probably pay far less for Flowers, who’s also a proven commodity. Furthermore, New England currently holds the No. 29 overall pick in the draft. It’s not a guarantee that a high-upside pass-rusher will be available late in the first round. 

    Verdict: Deal

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    In March, the Saints signed Coleman to a three-year, $16.4 million deal. He’s been a spot starter in nine contests but lacks impact plays to justify a secure role with the first unit.

    Coleman logged 22 solo tackles and one tackle for a loss without an interception or a pass breakup. Von Bell has provided more impact as a reliable tackler in the open field and closer to the line of scrimmage.

    New Orleans will owe Coleman $7 million if he remains on the roster next year. They can only save $4 million by releasing him as a pre-June 1 cut.

    For a team with a projected $14.6 million in cap space for the upcoming offseason, the Saints should consider recovering cash from players who don’t have a major effect on the outcome of games. The 30-year-old safety falls into that category. 

    Verdict: No deal

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    The New York Giants have to make a decision on a locker-room leader this offseason. Unless the front office uses the franchise tag or offers a long-term deal, Collins will become an unrestricted free agent in March. His first year under defensive coordinator James Bettcher didn’t go as planned. He sustained a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 13 and finished with 67 solo tackles and four pass breakups.

    Though he didn’t fully embrace playing on a franchise tag, Collins came to terms with the possibility in recent comments about his future outlook, per the New York Post‘s Paul Schwartz.

    “Would I play on it?'” he said. “I’ve got no choice. But it’s not a big concern of mine. I know what I’m capable of. Hopefully we work something out before that. If not, the franchise it is. I’ve just got to continue proving myself.” 

    Collins has earned Pro Bowl invites over the last three seasons. He’s a thumper closer to the line of scrimmage with the ability to help out in short-area coverage.

    Big Blue will continue to install Bettcher’s system, which may cause the front office to hesitate in giving out a long-term term deal to the All-Pro safety. Nevertheless, Collins is a keeper for a defensive unit in need of a strong voice and high-end contributor in the secondary. 

    Verdict: Deal

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    Once quarterback Sam Darnold recovered from a foot sprain, he immediately reconnected with Robby Anderson. The third-year wide receiver caught 20 passes for 312 yards and three touchdowns between Weeks 14 and 16. Earlier in the season, the Temple product logged 123 receiving yards and two touchdowns on three catches with the rookie signal-caller at the helm.

    The Jets inked wide receiver Quincy Enunwa to a four-year, $36 million extension. If general manager Mike Maccagnan wants to build around his franchise quarterback, Anderson should be next in line for a new deal. He’ll become a restricted free agent in the offseason.

    Anderson doesn’t have a 1,000-yard season or a Pro Bowl campaign on his resume. The Jets won’t have to break the bank on him at a position of need, but it’s important to keep his rapport with Darnold intact. If the rookie signal-caller has enough time to dissect opposing defenses, his connection with Anderson could generate big plays. The 25-year-old averaged 15 yards per reception this year.

    Verdict: Deal

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    Throughout his 10-year career, tight end Jared Cook has built a strong reputation as a big-body (6’5″, 254 lbs) pass-catcher. The Oakland Raiders signed him during the 2017 offseason, and he’s become a reliable safety blanket for quarterback Derek Carr. The 31-year-old led the team in receiving yards in back-to-back terms and logged a career-high 896 yards this season.

    Cook will go into his age-32 campaign, but the Raiders should retain him on a lucrative short-term deal. Carr is still developing in head coach Jon Gruden’s system. The signal-caller’s familiarity with the tight end could help his growth as he settles into the offensive system next year.

    Gruden doesn’t have an issue with veterans on his roster. The Raiders became the oldest team in the league after he accepted the head coaching role. In Cook’s case, there’s more left in the tank. With him on the field for a third consecutive season with the Silver and Black, Carr would have some semblance of consistency amid the rapid turnover in Oakland.

    Verdict: Deal

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    Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

    During the 2017 offseason, the Philadelphia Eagles acquired Ronald Darby from the Bills and sent wideout Jordan Matthews and a third-round pick in return. Since the trade, he’s played 17 games. Last year, the lead cornerback suffered a dislocated ankle then tore his ACL this season.

    While it’s impossible to completely avoid injuries, Darby’s durability comes into question. On the other hand, when healthy, he performs at the level of a starting boundary defender. As a result, teams probably wouldn’t mind inking him to a long-term deal. The Eagles have options at the position. They don’t have a desperate need at cornerback.

    Philadelphia drafted Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas in the second and third rounds of the 2017 draft. Avonte Maddox can line up at cornerback or safety. Next season, he’ll probably play the former position, assuming Rodney McLeod and Malcolm Jenkins hold their starting roles. Darby is a solid talent, but the Eagles have the depth to move on. 

    Verdict: No deal

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers inked safety Morgan Burnett to a three-year, $14.4 million deal, then selected Terrell Edmunds in the first round of the 2018 draft. The veteran missed five games because of a groin issue, and the rookie handled a significant workload from the opening week. The Virginia Tech product has played the second-most defensive snaps (966) for the team.

    With Edmunds’ fast track to a starting role alongside Sean Davis, there’s less room for Burnett to take on a steady role in the secondary. He’ll turn 30 years old with a $6.5 million cap hit as a likely backup for the 2019 term.

    Barring an agreement to restructure his deal, Burnett likely stands on the outside looking in at a spot on the roster. A three-safety look in the nickel package isn’t enough to validate the ninth-year veteran’s price tag.

    Verdict: No deal

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    At his current pay rate, Pierre Garcon‘s 2019 cap hit more than doubles fellow wideout Marquise Goodwin. The 32-year-old is set to make $8.4 million if the team exercises the option on his deal. The San Francisco 49ers have to make a decision before the new league year.

    Garcon has played in just 16 games over the last two seasons because of neck and knee injuries. He’s familiar with head coach Kyle Shanahan’s schemes dating back to their time in Washington between the 2012-13 terms, but his production has dropped significantly in San Francisco. The 11th-year veteran has scored one touchdown since the 2016 term and averaged 35.8 receiving yards per game this year. 

    Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is expected to fully recover from a torn ACL. In an attempt to add a bigger spark to the passing attack, general manager John Lynch should look for a game-changing wide receiver in his prime to replace Garcon. 

    Verdict: No deal

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    Top-tier pass-rushers don’t come into the league every year. There’s a reason why edge-rushers rarely hit the open market. If they’re traded, the deal comes with steep compensation in return. The Raiders received two first-round picks for Mack.

    There’s little chance the Seahawks allow Clark to test free agency. Last year, he emerged as the lead pass-rusher with nine sacks and finished with a career-high 14 sacks this season.

    Seattle can use the franchise tag to delay a long-term commitment, but the front office will have a projected $60.4 million in cap space. That’s more than enough cash to lock a premier pass-rusher into a multi-year deal.

    As the team leader in sacks, Clark has a vital role in the Seahawks’ revamped defense. Rookie third-rounder Rasheem Green isn’t quite ready to lead this team in the category. Once general manager John Schneider sent defensive end Michael Bennett to the Eagles, Clark needed to show consistency off the edge, and he delivered this year.

    Verdict: Deal

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    For the fourth time in his career, wide receiver DeSean Jackson led the league in yards per reception (18.9). At 32 years old, he’s still a viable deep threat, but we saw more of those qualities at the beginning of the season with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.

    Jackson’s production tapered off after the first quarter of the season as quarterback Jameis Winston slowly reclaimed the starting role under center. According to ESPN’s Josina Anderson, the veteran wideout wants out of Tampa Bay. He’s owed $10 million on his current deal. The Buccaneers can recoup the entire cap hit if they release him in the offseason.

    Beyond granting his requests, the Buccaneers are set up to move forward without Jackson. Chris Godwin took another step in his production, logging 59 receptions, 842 yards and seven touchdowns this season. As a third-round pick from the 2017 draft, he’s probably the next man up to start opposite Mike Evans. Tampa Bay doesn’t have to handcuff itself to a disgruntled wide receiver. 

    Verdict: No deal

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    Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    Offensive guard Quinton Spain went undrafted in 2015 but secured a steady starting role at the end of his rookie campaign. In total, he’s started 48 games over the last four years as a key component to the Tennessee Titans’ physical offensive line.

    During the last offseason, Spain became a restricted free agent. In April, the Titans signed him to a one-year, $1.9 million deal. The front office also signed Xavier Su’a-Filo (now with the Cowboys) and Kevin Pamphile as competitors for the starting left guard spot. Nonetheless, Spain held on to the position. Late in the term, Tennessee’s ground attack clicked with running back Derrick Henry leading the charge.

    The Titans should attempt to keep their rushing offense intact in hopes the unit will pick up where it left off this season. It’s unlikely the front office would have to spend an excessive amount to retain Spain, who’s a starting-caliber asset. He’s worth a new multi-year deal.

    Verdict: Deal

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    Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

    The Washington Redskins coaching staff opted to start rookie sixth-rounder Shaun Dion Hamilton over Zach Brown in the last four games. It’s a strong hint that change will occur at the position next year. The veteran linebacker can sense the transition, per NBC Sports Washington’s JP Finlay:

    “I’m just sitting here just doing what I’m supposed to be doing ’till it’s time for me to leave,” Brown said. “You see the writing on the wall. It is what it is.” 

    The move comes as a surprise; Washington signed Brown to a three-year, $24 million deal after his productive 2017 campaign with the team. Hamilton is a cheaper starting option, but the motion to go in another direction with a late-round draft pick either says something positive about the rookie or indicates a poor investment in the veteran. 

    Regardless, it’s difficult to come back from a benching at the end of the year. The Redskins would save $5.8 million if they release Brown, which seems likely because of Hamilton’s expanded workload.

    Verdict: No deal

          

    Player contract details provided by Spotrac and Over the Cap.

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