In addition to the past installments looking at positional free agency, this post will center around each NFL team and the critical contracts and depth charts to monitor heading into the offseason, starting with the NFC. Vacancies and deficiencies can shape a team's free agency and NFL Draft plans:
*Contract information used from Spotrac.com*
Key quarterback situations
Drew Stanton is a functional NFL backup to monitor with an expiring Arizona contract. Matt Barkley could move into the backup role for the Cardinals and Stanton can be a streaming option in 2016 as a likely primary option in Arizona or a new locale.
Sam Bradford enters free agency with Mark Sanchez still under contract for a shade over $5 million in 2016. Sanchez is not all that exciting for fantasy terms and Bradford has been largely a disappointment in what was pinned as a very friendly system for 2015.
Colin Kaepernick sat this season after struggling and Blaine Gabbert has performed well, plus is under contract for another season at just over $2 million. Kaepernick has premium numbers left on his deal, including $15 million next year and escalating from there. The dead money is high, but less than half his cap hit for 2016. Every season if makes more and more sense to move on from Kaepernick's contract if not in the team's long-term plans.
In addition to Sam Bradford, Kirk Cousins is the big name in quarterback free agency. The local buzz in Washington is they will find a way to keep him either with a long-term deal or the franchise tag. Robert Griffin III III is also owed $16 million with no dead money in 2016; He is highly likely to move on entering his age 26 season. Colt McCoy is also a free agent.
Key running back situations
Chris Johnson had a one-year deal in Arizona after sitting on the free agent sidelines for much of the 2015 offseason. After a strong start, Johnson faded and the new Johnson, David, has made a splash with starter-level touches late in the season. David Johnson is on track to be one of the hottest dynasty startup names come January and Chris Johnson will likely be back to waiting for a summer phone call at best.
Like David Johnson, Jeremy Langford showed well with his starting role fill-in as a rookie this season. Matt Forte is set to enter free agency and Langford will have plenty of 2016 starter buzz at least early in the offseason. As a mid-round draft pick, we will see what Chicago thinks about Langford by their free agent and draft moves. Ka'Deem Carey has also looked good on situational touches this season and is the other Chicago running back of note under contract for 2016.
Robert Turbin has flashed in spot duty behind Darren McFadden and is set to enter free agency. He was a strong metric mid-round prospect years ago with a well-rounded game. Like this year with Dallas, Turbin is a quality stash as he has enough talent to rise up a depth chart with an injury or two like in Dallas this season.
James Starks ends his current contract and the backup spot in Green Bay is an intriguing one with Eddie Lacy a physical runner who has been dinged over his career and pockets of unproductive play this season. Starks' best chance for relevancy is sticking in Green Bay.
Khiry Robinson is a restricted free agent. With C.J. Spiller struggling in 2015, the primary backup spot to returning Mark Ingram II is wide open for the Saints next season. Robinson is one of the higher upside free agent backs to seek more opportunity elsewhere.
DeMarco Murray's role has been marginalized with the Eagles after signing a huge free agent contract last offseason. His dead money is off the charts this next season, making 2017 the earliest th team would benefit in any regard by moving on, if things stay salty and Murray continues to underwhelm.
In Seattle, Fred Jackson and Bryce Brown are free agents this offseason and Marshawn Lynch is slated for $11.5 million in 2016. Hitting 30 years old, Lynch's contract looks like a one-year deal as Seattle would save $10 million if off the books before the start of the 2017 season.
Doug Martin is one of, if not the top free agent running back for 2016. Charles Sims has performed well as the 1b option and has two more years under contract. Has he done enough to project him as the natural starter if Martin moves on? It is a tricky question. Sims has the burst and receiving skills, however, has shown to be a straight-line type runner. He could project as a DeMarco Murray-light type of back. I side with Sims as a cheap lead back for Tampa Bay heading into next season.
Alfred Morris, along with Doug Martin, is one of the headline free agents at running back. Morris has been largely a disappointment in 2015 and Matt Jones has flashed in numerous games to be earmarked as the favorite to start next season. Chris Thompson is also a free agent, a potential Theo Riddick or Lance Dunbar-type back depending on his landing spot this offseason.
key wide receiver situations
Roddy White is not on the most-gluttonous contract out there (~$6 million each of the next two seasons), but he has been a glorified shadow in 2015 at 34 years old. He struggles to separate and Leonard Hankerson zoomed past him when healthy early in the season. The Falcons would save roughly $8 million over the next two years by cutting the life-long Falcons receiver. Justin Hardy would benefit from the cut in the offseason, even though he projects as a better slot receiver in the NFL than perimter threat. Atlanta would turn into a prime candidate to grab an outside threat in the draft or free agency marketplace.
All signs point to Alshon Jeffery resigning in Chicago, but until the ink is dry there is the possibility he explores free agency. Kevin White is another prototypically-sized receiver, with more draft pedigree, ready for 2016 after a redshirt rookie season. White will have buzz either way, but a Jeffery departure would fuel White's stock even more.
Here's a frightening number: Calvin Johnson's cap hit is a quarterback-like $24 million next season...and $21 million in 2017. Next year is the last of the big dead cap figures as Johnson has shown cracks in the foundation as his previously dominant self in 2015.
Cordarrelle Patterson enters the final year of his rookie deal. $2.3 million is plenty to play for a returner as his role on the offense has been nearly nothing in 2015. They would save $1.3 million by cutting Patterson loose.
Rueben Randle is set to explore free agency and with Odell Beckham Jr Jr. occupying a majority of an opposing secondary's attention, the Giants are a nice landing spot for a receiver this offseason. Also, Dwayne Harris has shown development with a long-term deal in New York this season.
Riley Cooper is not high on the fantasy radar, but has underwhelmed amidst a youth-driven Eagles corps of receivers. The team would save $3 million in cap space cutting him this offseason.
Anquan Boldin enters the 'club option' years of his contract with the 49ers this offseason. He has been a shell of himself in 2015. Torrey Smith has done little since his new contract last offseason. 2017 marks the first year moving on from Smith would make much sense on the books. As a dynasty owner, DeAndre Smelter is the most appealing receiver in San Francisco entering the offseason.
Brian Quick flashed in 2014, but did little as St.Louis' passing game struggled this season and Quick was returning from an injury. As a free agent, he holds some upside if landing with a better offense with depth chart optimism. Kenny Britt has no guaranteed money left on his contract (one year left). I would put the odds in favorite of Britt not making that nearly $5 million from the Rams next year. With even marginal improvement at quarterback, their wide receiver depth chart is wide open for a production boost, maybe even from within as Tavon Austin has shown progression with greater usage this season.
Vincent Jackson produced little this year in his 32-year-old season. Mike Evans is the lead receiver in Tampa and cutting Jackson would save the team $10 million in the offseason. Kenny Bell, who missed his rookie season by injury, is an intriguing stash player to track on the depth chart.
Pierre Garcon has tapered off since his peak season and now enters his final year owed more than $10 million for 2016. The Redskins would save $8 million by cutting Garcon. Andre Roberts has been another underperformer in Washington, owed $5 million each of the next two seasons. The team would save $3 million if cut this offseason.
key tight end situations
Zach Miller has been a substantial surprise this season as Martellus Bennett has underwhelmed and been injured in Chicago's tight end depth chart. Miller is now an older free agent for 2016 and one of the few tight ends with TE1 potential with a clear run of targets on a new team.
Ben Watson is finishing off a huge season in his mid-30s. Many were projecting Josh Hill as the breakout Saints tight end only to remain in his secondary role. The projection could be a year early with Watson a free agent and Hill a restricted one more likely to stick around for low-cost in 2016. Watson has flashed enough to warrant substantial attention in the market.
Will Tye and Larry Donnell are both restricted free agents in the Giants tight end group. Add Daniel Fells and Jerome Cunningham to the same boat. At least one is likely to return and this has been an undervalued position over the last two seasons with Donnell then Tye delivering streaming-level production from the depths of the waiver wire.
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