The One Free Agent Every NFL Team Must Let Walk Away This Offseason

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Before free agency begins in March, NFL teams have some housekeeping duties to attend to.

    In any given year, front offices must decide who stays and goes among impending in-house free agents. For the most part, star players ink extensions. There’s uncertainty for those who came up short in a contract year or have competition at their position. Others can see the writing on the wall once their team selects a rookie in the early rounds of a preceding draft or they lose their starting roles.

    Some agents have already engaged in extension talks with their client’s current organization, but many more haven’t. Most impending free agents will at least test the market.

    Here, we’ll go through notable impending free agents for each team, based on their draft status or track record as a starter. Who should teams not attempt to retain this offseason?

           

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    The Arizona Cardinals’ decision to hire Steve Wilks as their head coach didn’t pan out as expected, but defensive tackle Rodney Gunter benefitted from the 4-3 base scheme.

    In 2018, Gunter had his best season in four years with the Cardinals, logging 4.5 sacks, 32 solo tackles and 11 tackles for a loss. As Arizona transitions back to a 3-4 scheme under new defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, the 27-year-old impending free agent may find a better fit elsewhere in a four-man front where he can penetrate in a one-gap assignment. 

    The Cardinals will have interior defensive linemen Corey Peters and Robert Nkemdiche, who’s going into a crucial fourth year, on the books in 2019. With the No. 1 overall pick, the front office will have a shot to select standout defensive lineman Quinnen Williams in the upcoming draft, too.

    Gunter could receive a sizable raise from another team because of his 2018 production. But Arizona will have enough options to comfortably avoid competition for his services.

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    Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff prepared for running back Tevin Coleman’s upcoming free agency when he selected Ito Smith in the fourth round of the 2018 draft. With Devonta Freeman limited to two games this season because of a groin injury, Smith played extensively alongside Coleman.

    Smith logged 90 rushing attempts for 315 yards and four touchdowns and caught 27 passes for 152 yards. Even though his production wasn’t mind-blowing, he flashed the ability to catch and run out of the backfield, which mimics Coleman’s skill set. As a result, Freeman and Smith will likely move forward as the backfield tandem in Atlanta.

    On the open market, Coleman can cash in on his dual-threat capabilities. He’s 25 years old and is coming off his best season, having recorded 1,076 yards from scrimmage. For the Falcons, it’s hard to justify keeping a third running back who’s due for a significant bump in salary.

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    The Baltimore Ravens made the right choice in signing wide receiver John Brown. Almost immediately, he connected with quarterback Joe Flacco during training camp.

    The chemistry translated to production on the field, as the 28-year-old led the team in receiving yards (601) and touchdowns (four) through Week 9. He also logged two 100-yard outings in the first half of the season. 

    Once quarterback Lamar Jackson took over as a starter in Week 11, Brown’s production tailed off significantly. The fifth-year wideout hauled in only eight passes for 114 yards and a touchdown in that span

    The Ravens front office should look for big-body targets at wide receiver to aid Jackson’s growth as a passer. At 5’11” and 178 pounds, Brown doesn’t fit that mold. Perhaps he’ll follow Flacco to wherever he ends up since the two clicked so well together.

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    The Buffalo Bills need to overhaul their offensive line.

    Bills quarterbacks took a combined 41 sacks in 2018, and the ball-carriers were stuffed on 20.9 percent of their carries, per Football Outsiders. During the College Football Playoff title game, running back LeSean McCoy tweeted about wanting Alabama linemen blocking for him, although he eventually deleted it. 

    In his 2018 season grades, Bills Wire writer Justin DiLoro pointed out offensive guard John Miller’s individual struggles on the interior: “Wyatt Teller went through some massive growing pains, while John Miller and Vlad Ducasse could not handle interior rushers on a play-by-play basis.”

    As Buffalo builds around quarterback Josh Allen, it’s important to strengthen the offensive line. Better pass protection and a more productive ground attack would help the rookie signal-caller progress in 2019. General manager Brandon Beane can look toward free agency for a veteran guard on a short-term deal or take an interior lineman on Day 2 of the draft.

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    Devin Funchess didn’t have a contract year to remember. He missed two games—one because of a back injury—and quarterback Cam Newton battled a shoulder issue. 

    Meanwhile, rookie first-rounder D.J. Moore flourished in Norv Turner‘s offense, logging 55 receptions, 788 yards and two touchdowns. Curtis Samuel flashed in the second half of the season, finishing with 39 catches for 494 yards and five touchdowns—a significant jump from his rookie campaign. Both receivers can rack up yards after the catch on short throws.

    On the other hand, at 6’4″ and 225 pounds, Funchess is a bigger target less capable of breaking away from defenders after the catch. He logged a career-low 12.5 yards per reception in Turner’s offense.

    The Panthers have their top pass-catching options in running back Christian McCaffrey and Moore. Because of Samuel’s improvements, there’s no reason to pay up for Funchess, who took a step backward in Carolina’s new offensive system.  

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace flipped the team’s wide receiver unit in one offseason. He signed Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel then selected Anthony Miller in the second round of the 2018 draft.

    All of the sudden, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has a solid receiving corps. As a result, wide receiver Kevin White moved to the back of the line at his position.

    Since coming out of West Virginia as the No. 7 overall pick in 2015, White has been unable to stay healthy. This season, he appeared in a career-high nine games, but his availability came a bit too late. The former Mountaineer didn’t start a game in 2018.

    The Bears appear to be moving on from White, whose lengthy injury history overshadowed his upside. The Bears no longer have a need at wide receiver, which opens up the 26-year-old to opportunities elsewhere.

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    The Cincinnati Bengals released defensive end Michael Johnson during their final cuts in September, but he re-signed a few days later on a one-year deal.

    In 15 starts, the 31-year-old logged only a half-sack and 18 solo tackles. He logged fewer snaps (467) than rookie third-rounder Sam Hubbard (508), who displayed his pass-rushing skills with six sacks. 

    The Bengals will likely make changes to a defense that gave up the most yards in 2018. After an ineffective year on the edge, Johnson may not return.

    The 10-year veteran started 106 contests for Cincinnati since coming into the league as a third-rounder in 2009. Now, he looks like a backup on the way out.

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    Before he signed with the Cleveland Browns, the injury bug had plagued cornerback E.J. Gaines. He missed 11 games over his first three seasons, and he only added to that ledger in 2018.

    The 26-year-old appeared in six contests, two of which he started, but he wound up on injured reserve after he suffered two concussions.

    When Gaines takes the field, he’s a solid cover man. In 43 games, he’s recorded 169 solo tackles, 33 pass breakups and four interceptions. However, because of his lengthy injury history, general manager John Dorsey figured to look in another direction this offseason for cornerback help.

    The Browns will need someone to join rookie first-rounder Denzel Ward and T.J. Carrie at cornerback on the back end. Though Gaines can produce, he’s frequently unavailable. As a result, Cleveland must look for a more reliable contributor in the draft to bolster its pass defense.

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    In 2017, David Irving emerged as a disruptor on the Dallas Cowboys defensive line, logging seven sacks and six pass breakups in eight starts. He served a four-game suspension at the start of that season for violating the league’s performance enhancing drug policy, and a concussion sidelined him at the end of the year.

    Irving began the 2018 season with another four-game suspension for a substance-abuse policy infraction, but he didn’t return right away because of off-field family matters, per Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News. After playing two games in mid-October, he suffered a high-ankle sprain that sidelined him for the rest of the year. In addition, he missed “multiple” drug tests during the season, per 247Sports’ Mike Fisher

    That culmination of eventsparticularly the suspensions and reported missed drug testsraises a bright red flag for Irving. While he’s a talented defensive lineman who can reach the quarterback, it’s probably best for the Cowboys to look for a more reliable asset for their front line.

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    The Denver Broncos found a new tag team sack partner for Von Miller this past April when they selected Bradley Chubb with the No. 5 overall pick. Chubb didn’t waste any time chasing down quarterbacks, notching 12 sacks as a rookie.

    A few years ago, Denver expected linebacker Shane Ray to hold that starting spot opposite Miller. He logged eight sacks in 2016, but he’s had only two sacks in the two years since.

    The Missouri product tore a ligament in his wrist in July 2017, and he missed the first six games that season to recover. The Broncos declined to pick up his fifth-year option last offseason, which was the first sign they didn’t see him in their future.

    Ray served as a backup to Chubb in 2018 and was a healthy inactive for the last three games of the season. Denver doesn’t seem to have a spot for the 2015 first-rounder on its depth chart any longer.

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    Earlier this month, the Detroit Lions hired Darrell Bevell to take over as their offensive coordinator. During his tenure as a play-caller for the Seattle Seahawks, he fielded top-five rushing attacks in four consecutive seasons (2012-15), thanks in large part to Marshawn Lynch and Thomas Rawls.

    Last year, the Lions spent a first-round pick on center Frank Ragnow and a second-rounder on running back Kerryon Johnson. The arrival of Bevell suggests they will continue to rely upon a physical ground attack on offense. 

    Detroit’s backfield could use a power back to complement Johnson, but LeGarrette Blount isn’t a suitable fit at this stage in his career.

    In 2018, Blount averaged 2.7 yards per carry as the team leader in rushing attempts (154). The 32-year-old has the body type (6’0″ and 247 pounds) for the role, but he no longer has the burst for a significant workload.

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    Wide receiver Randall Cobb‘s time in Green Bay is likely coming to an end after eight seasons.

    In 2018, he finished with 38 catches for 383 yards and two touchdowns in nine appearances, as a hamstring injury and a concussion cost him seven games. With Cobb hobbled, rookie fifth-rounder Marquez Valdes-Scantling flashed in a few games.

    Valdes-Scantling recorded two 100-yard performances in Weeks 6 and 9. He also emerged as a big-play threat, averaging 15.3 yards per reception. Developing more chemistry with quarterback Aaron Rodgers should help the South Florida product blossom into a consistent contributor behind Davante Adams.

    In addition to Valdes-Scantling, rookie fourth-rounder J’Mon Moore and sixth-rounder Equanimeous St. Brown will need more targets moving forward. The Packers’ young talent at the position makes Cobb expendable, especially because he’s coming off a disappointing injury-plagued year.

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    Houston Texnas nose tackle Brandon Dunn took on an expanded role over the last two seasons. He started 18 of his 30 games, racking up 30 solo tackles, seven tackles for loss and two quarterback hits.

    But as a gap-stuffer, the Louisville product isn’t primed to post big numbers in tackles or sacks, which renders him replaceable when his contract expires.

    Instead of paying Dunn more for roughly 25 tackles per season, the Texans can look for an upgrade during a draft loaded with defensive talent. The front office could acquire a prospect with more upside, one who’s capable of lining up in different spots across the line of scrimmage. 

    Dunn logged 10 starts this year—the most in a single season during his five-year career. He may land a decent deal elsewhere, while Houston can look for a starting-caliber defensive lineman to fill the void.

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    Brad Penner/Associated Press

    The Indianapolis Colts signed wide receiver Ryan Grant to a one-year, $5 million deal last March in hopes of surrounding quarterback Andrew Luck with another viable perimeter option, but he came up short.

    On the season, the 28-year-old notched 35 catches for 334 yards and a touchdown. After Week 5, he vanished, recording no more than two receptions in a game for the remainder of the year.

    General manager Chris Ballard will have a league-high $115.4 million in salary-cap space this offseason, per Spotrac. Luck can make the most out of wideout T.Y. Hilton along with tight ends Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle, but a solid No. 2 option would add more juice to the aerial attack.

    The Colts have several pass-catchers who could produce in any given week such as wide receiver Chester Rogers and running back Nyheim Hines. Nevertheless, Indianapolis needs a wideout who can draw attention away from Hilton downfield, although Grant doesn’t appear to be the answer.

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    This past offseason, Jacksonville Jaguars gave Marqise Lee a four-year, $34 million extension, signed wide receiver Donte Moncrief to a one-year, $9.6 million contract and selected DJ Chark Jr. in the second round of the 2018 draft. Dede Westbrook and Keelan Cole rounded out Jacksonville’s receiver depth chart.

    Assuming Lee recovers from ligament damage he suffered in his knee, the Jaguars don’t need to invest in another veteran wideout looking for a new deal. Instead, they should lean on their physical offensive identity—running the ball effectively—until the front office figures out a long-term answer at quarterback. 

    Lee, Westbrook, Cole and Chark should be enough aerial weaponry for whoever starts under center next year. Meanwhile, running back Leonard Fournette met with team brass earlier this month to “clear the air” on some issues after an underwhelming 2018 season, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. He’s expected to remain with the club through 2019. 

    Between the Jaguars’ depth chart and the roster makeup, they don’t need Moncrief to return in 2019.

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    The Kansas City Chiefs have to upgrade their cornerback unit with younger talent. Opposing No. 1 wide receivers racked up 80.6 yards per contest against this defense—fourth-most in the league, per Football Outsiders

    The front office should re-sign Steven Nelson, who put together his best season in 2018, logging 15 pass breakups and four interceptions. Assuming Kendall Fuller remains the primary slot defender, Orlando Scandrick is the odd man out. 

    The Chiefs signed Scandrick as a late addition to the roster after the Washington Redskins released him in August. The 31-year-old cover man recorded 13 pass breakups and an interception in 15 appearances, which included seven starts. But Nelson had a far better year as a full-time starter, and Fuller offers more upside going into his age-24 campaign.

    The Chiefs should look to replace Scandrick with a top-notch cornerback in the draft to upgrade their 31st-ranked pass defense.

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    When he’s healthy, Los Angeles Chargers linebacker Denzel Perryman is a decent starting inside linebacker. He can play downhill, take on lead blockers and supplement the run defense.

    However, the Miami product has missed significant time because of injuries over the last four seasons.

    Since coming into the league as the No. 48 overall pick in 2015, Perryman has missed 22 contests and has never started more than 11 games in a season. Typically, a player who struggles that much with injuries doesn’t receive a hefty payday on the open market, especially one who’s an average talent. 

    The Chargers will likely move on with Jatavis Brown, rookie second-rounder Uchenna Nwosu and first-year hybrid linebacker-safety Kyzir White, who started the first three games of the season, as their second-level defenders. Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley has a young group to develop, leaving no room for an oft-injured veteran.

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    Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    Los Angeles Rams safety Lamarcus Joyner played the 2018 season on an $11.3 million franchise tag, but he experienced a drop off in production compared to 2017. The five-year veteran logged one sack, an interception and three pass breakups in 15 regular-season starts, compared to zero sacks, three picks and nine pass breakups last year.

    Sosa Kremenjas of Turf Show Times summarized the 28-year-old’s shortcomings this season as such: “The two main areas I think [Joyner has] struggled most with is reading the field/QB as he routinely can get moved in the wrong direction, and taking bad angles on tacklers in the open field.

    Based on Joyner’s play in 2018, the Rams aren’t likely to franchise-tag him again or offer him a lucrative deal. The versatile defensive back, who can also line up in the slot, will probably land with another team eager to use his skill set to fill a void.

    Meanwhile, Los Angeles ought to look toward the draft for a cheaper alternative.

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    The New York Jets waived Travis Swanson during their final round of roster cuts in September. In need of depth at the center position, the Miami Dolphins signed the 27-year-old, and he moved into the starting role after Daniel Kilgore went down with torn triceps in Week 4.

    In all likelihood, Swanson would’ve spent the 2018 season as a backup on the interior of Miami’s offensive line, but injury put him in position to potentially make more money on the open market.

    Though Swanson had a decent year, Kilgore will likely return as a starter considering he has two years left on his deal. 

    Don’t forget Swanson started 42 games for the Lions between the 2014-17 seasons. Because he held his own in Miami, another club may offer him more cash for a shot at another steady starting role. The Dolphins have voids to fill on both sides of their starting front lines; they should use their cap space to address those needs.

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    The Minnesota Vikings have a talented running back in Dalvin Cook—if he can stay healthy—but the offensive line must hold up its end of the bargain in the ground attack.

    According to Football Outsiders, the Vikings averaged 4.1 adjusted line yards when running behind the mid-guard areas, ranking 26th in the league. The front office can restructure the interior of the offensive line this offseason with an upgrade at left guard via free agency or the draft. 

    While it’s possible the team parts ways with Mike Remmers because of his struggles moving to right guard, Minnesota can allow Tom Compton to walk in an attempt to bolster the position. Initially, the team signed him as an asset for depth, not as a starter on the interior, per the Star Tribune‘s Ben Goessling: “The Vikings signed the Rosemount native to be a swing lineman, not their starting left guard. Compton struggled in that role.”

    Through seven seasons, Compton has primarily served as a backup, but guard Nick Easton underwent surgery to repair a herniated disc in his neck before the regular-season opener. That meant some reshuffling needed to be done along the line, which cleared the way for the 29-year-old to start at left guard for 14 games. With both players headed for free agency, Minnesota must find an upgrade at the position. 

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    While wide receiver Julian Edelman served a four-game suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy, fellow wideout Chris Hogan had an opportunity to start the 2018 campaign on a strong note.

    Instead, Hogan had a lukewarm showing, recording eight receptions for 109 yards and two touchdowns in four games. For the most part, he was a non-factor in the passing attack through the first quarter of the year. He hauled in crucial receptions in the fourth quarter and overtime of the AFC Championship Game but didn’t hit his stride as a consistent contributor. The seventh-year receiver finished fifth on the team in targets (55), receptions (35) and yards (532). 

    As we watch tight end Rob Gronkowski‘s decline as a pass-catcher coupled with wideout Josh Gordon’s indefinite suspension, it’s clear the New England Patriots need to acquire a big-play receiver. Hogan isn’t that type of player. At best, he profiles as a solid No. 3 option. 

    During free agency, the Patriots should look to sign a high-end veteran option such as Golden Tate, who’s logged at least 74 receptions in each of the last five seasons. The front office can also focus on the draft to restock the wide receiver group.

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    The New Orleans Saints saw significant improvement in run defense, ranking 16th in 2017 and second this year. Usually interior defensive tackles garner little credit for stuffing ball-carriers, but Tyeler Davison deserves some recognition, especially when considering the fact he played through a broken hand that required surgery in Week 10. 

    In New Orleans, Davison has started 48 games over the last four seasons, and he’s a key component of the Saints’ stout run defense. However, the front office will have to use a projected $11.9 million in cap space wisely this offseason. With limited financial flexibility, the team may have to cut rotational players or allow them to walk in free agency.

    Davison lined up for 40.9 percent of the Saints’ defensive snaps in 2018. Despite his solid play, it’s hard to see team brass paying up on a new deal for a player on the field for fewer than half of his unit’s snaps.

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    The New York Giants went through scheme and personnel changes under new defensive coordinator James Bettcher in 2018. As the case with most changes, there’s an adjustment period. This past season, Big Blue’s pass defense ranked 23rd in yards allowed but showed some resistance in surrendering just 24 touchdowns, good for 13th in the league.

    After a season of installing a new defense, the front office must upgrade the perimeter talent opposite Janoris Jenkins. Cornerback B.W. Webb, who is playing for his fifth team in as many years, started 13 contests and logged six pass breakups and one interception this season. Before 2018, the 28-year-old journeyman had opened the game with the starting unit just 10 times in his first four seasons.

    At best, Webb profiles as solid depth, but he’s not a starting-caliber player for a team looking for better results in pass defense. The Giants will likely find a starting replacement and land younger talent to develop in the reserve spots.

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    The New York Jets already inked wideout Quincy Enunwa to a four-year extension back in December, and fellow wide receiver Robby Anderson is set to become a restricted free agent. Based on production, he’s more likely to sign a new deal with Gang Green than Jermaine Kearse is.

    Anderson led the Jets in all major receiving categories: targets, receptions, yards and touchdowns. Assuming he’s back with the team, quarterback Sam Darnold would have him and Enunwa as solid options in the aerial attack, which leaves Kearse out of the loop.

    Kearse had a down year in his second season with the Jets. As an inefficient receiver, he notched 37 catches for 371 yards and a touchdown on 76 targets. Darnold needs a dynamic No. 1 wide receiver who can challenge defenders all over the field.

    It’s best general manager Mike Maccagnan acquire a prospect in the early rounds of the draft as opposed to re-signing Kearse, who’s coming off a disappointing year with Darnold at the helm.

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Compared to his 2017 campaign with the Colts, cornerback Rashaan Melvin disappointed in Oakland. The 29-year-old didn’t see eye-to-eye with the coaching staff during the season and expressed his frustrations via Twitter in October: “I’m done trying to change my style. It’s not me. Back to what I know and what got me here!!”

    The following day, head coach Jon Gruden offered a straightforward clapback when talking with reporters (h/t The Athletic’s Vic Tafur): “Melvin is on his seventh team. Maybe he is confused about what technique he is using. He is frustrated. I can’t blame him … He is a good kid.” 

    The Raiders took Melvin out of the starting lineup in Week 6, and he didn’t regain his role until Week 16. Through the ups and downs, the veteran cornerback finished with nine pass breakups and an interception. 

    Because of the midseason clash with the coaching staff, a reduced role and modest production, it’s likely Melvin signs with a new team in March.

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    The Philadelphia Eagles have more than enough talent at cornerback to avoid chasing cornerback Ronald Darby on the free-agent market.

    The Eagles selected two cornerbacks—Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas—in the second and third rounds of the 2017 draft, then acquired Avonte Maddox in the fourth round last year.

    Maddox can play either cornerback or safety, but he finished 2018 lining up at the former. Despite Jones’ injury issues, playing just 10 games in two seasons, he’s still part of the team’s future. Douglas showed improvement as a tackler and also snagged three interceptions this year. And after missing half the season with a sprained foot, Jalen Mills could reclaim a significant role in the secondary in 2019.

    The Eagles don’t have a talent deficiency at cornerback, which allows them the option to develop their assets still on the books. Since coming over from Buffalo, Ronald Darby has missed 15 regular-season games because of a dislocated ankle last year and a torn ACL this season. As a starter with an injury history, he’s an expensive investment—too costly for a team with the least amount of projected cap space for 2019.

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    Joe Sargent/Getty Images

    Although cornerback Coty Sensabaugh suited up for 15 contests and started in 10 this past season, he provided little impact in pass defense, notching six pass breakups. He frequently alternated with Artie Burns, who’s been a disappointment over the last two seasons.

    Even if the Steelers head into the 2019 season with Burns as a reserve, it’s a crowded depth chart with Joe Haden at the top. Mike Hilton, a productive slot defender, will become an exclusive-rights free agent. He can’t negotiate with other teams during free agency, which means a probable return for the 24-year-old. Cameron Sutton and Brian Allen also will have opportunities to expand their roles during the offseason. 

    The youth at cornerback doesn’t provide much room for Sensabaugh going into his age-31 campaign. He’s a decent fill-in starter, but the Steelers have plenty of talent to evaluate at the position. It’s a crucial year for Burns, and Sutton is in position to see more snaps as a 2017 third-rounder with upside.

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    Defensive back Jimmie Ward offers versatility as a cornerback-safety hybrid, but he’s struggled with injuries throughout his career. This year, he played nine games, starting in seven, but he didn’t log a single pass breakup or interception. In November, the 2014 first-rounder landed on injured reserve with a broken forearm.

    The team has placed Ward on injured reserve in four of his five years in the league. In total, he’s sat out 29 games. The 49ers selected D.J. Reed Jr. in the fifth round of the 2018 draft, and he offers a similar skill set as a defensive back who can play safety but possesses the tackling ability to line up inside.

    As a former top-30 overall pick who experienced tough breaks with injuries, Ward could garner interest from clubs hoping he stays healthy, but San Francisco should have seen enough. The 27-year-old’s frequent absences and nondescript 2018 will likely lead to a change of scenery.

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Seahawks safety Earl Thomas pushed for a new deal during the summer to no avail. The 29-year-old ended his holdout, but he missed practices during the season, which resulted in a fine, per Rapoport. And then when the three-time All-Pro broke his leg against the Cardinals at the end of September, he flashed an obscene gesture to his sideline.

    In summary, Thomas and the Seahawks had a bumpy road through his contract year. Clearly, the front office didn’t plan on paying the safety’s desired amount, and there’s likely lingering tension. Barring a complete change in tune from the organization, it’s time to let the veteran walk. 

    Thomas has broken his leg twice in the last three years; after the first injury, he contemplated retirement. Though it seems his career will continue into the 2019 campaign, the Seahawks should look forward to grooming a rookie safety or spending big on a player in his prime during free agency.

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    Chris O’Meara/Associated Press

    Cornerback Brent Grimes didn’t feel his salary reflected what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers coaching staff asked of him on the field. He discussed the issue with his wife, Miko, on her podcast, iHeartMiko, at the end of the season (h/t Jenna Laine of ESPN.com):

    “I just couldn’t agree with it,” Grimes said about his defensive assignment. “It’s just disrespectful. People who follow receivers all the time, unless they’re on a rookie contract or trying to get paid, are usually making $13-15 million a year.”

    According to Spotrac, the Buccaneers guaranteed Grimes $7 million, about half of what he expects to make shadowing wide receivers. In a competitive league, it’s rare to hear this type of gripe. That may work against the veteran cornerback, especially at 35 years old. 

    Between the 2013-17 seasons, Grimes logged at least 11 pass breakups and three interceptions each year. In 2018, he broke up six passes without a pick.

    The Buccaneers drafted a pair of cornerbacks in 2018, Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart. Plus, Vernon Hargreaves, though underwhelming to this point, still has a year left on his rookie deal. Expect the front office to move on from Grimes and embrace the youth at the position.

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    The Tennessee Titans could open the 2019 campaign with two new faces at outside linebacker. Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan have been a solid veteran pass-rushing duo off the edge since the 2015 campaign, logging a combined 47.5 sacks in that span.

    After playing in the NFL for a decade, Orakpo announced his retirement earlier this month, and Morgan’s contract expires following a season in which he logged a half-sack. At 30 years old and with nine years of experience, the veteran linebacker may fit on a roster as a rotational defender, but it shouldn’t shock anyone if his time in Tennessee comes to an end. Morgan’s sack count has dropped every year since 2016.

    The Titans selected Harold Landry in the second round of last year’s draft. He started three contests and will likely slide into a starting role in 2019. Based on Morgan’s lack of impact, expect the front office to dip back into the draft pool for another edge-rusher.

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    Typically, outsiders focus on sacks when evaluating a 3-4 outside linebacker’s season. Through that lens, Preston Smith had a down year, finishing with four. On the other hand, he logged a career high in total tackles (53), broke up three passes and hauled in an interception. He also scored the game-sealing touchdown on a recovered fumble against the Dallas Cowboys in October.

    Looking at Smith’s resume, there’s no doubt he can rush the passer. The Mississippi State product has 24.5 sacks in four seasons. As a result, teams willing to throw cash at him on the open market will likely narrow his focus to pressuring the quarterback with fewer short-area coverage assignments.

    As clubs look to find a productive pass-rusher without breaking the bank, Smith will probably emerge as an underrated asset on the open market. The Redskins may not be in a position to offer a comparable deal if they have to address a need at quarterback because of the uncertainty surrounding Alex Smith. The front office may pursue Teddy Bridgewater or trade for Joe Flacco to fill that void.

    Secondly, Washington can turn to 2017 second-rounder Ryan Anderson, who carries a $1.5 million cap hit in 2019, as a much cheaper alternative. Assuming Smith’s agent fields lucrative offers, the Redskins must make a financial decision and develop the next man up to save cash for bigger needs.

            

    Player contract and team cap space details provided by Spotrac.

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