Home NFL 1 Starter Every NFL Team Must Replace in 2020 – Bleacher Report
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1 Starter Every NFL Team Must Replace in 2020 – Bleacher Report

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    Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    Every year, NFL teams add and subtract roster pieces in an attempt to keep the best 53 players. At the start of the season, we can easily pinpoint the hits and misses, especially within the starting lineups.

    An underperforming first-stringer stands out for all the wrong reasons and calls for an immediate upgrade.

    Because of the big money handed out in new deals during free agency, teams will also lose quality starters to the open market. Several veterans could command lucrative salaries after strong contract seasons, but their current clubs may have other plans for their cap space in 2020.

    We’ll take a look at starters who should be on the way out because of low production, expiring deals or albatross contracts.

        

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    Steven Ryan/Getty Images

    The Arizona Cardinals acquired right tackle Marcus Gilbert in a trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers in March, but he tore his ACL before the season opener. Justin Murray assumed the starting position but doesn’t provide enough pass protection. 

    According to the Washington Post‘s STATs, the second-year pro has allowed six sacks, which puts Kyler Murray on high alert. The rookie quarterback can use his legs to escape pressure, but the Cardinals must strengthen his protection on the edges to aid his growth.

    The Cardinals tossed Justin into action after claiming him off waivers following final roster cuts last offseason. He’s a Band-Aid at an important position, and he will become an exclusive-rights free agent in 2020, which means the team can retain him with a one-year tender.

    Nonetheless, with his subpar performances through 11 contests and Gilbert set to hit the open market, the Cardinals need a healthy upgrade at right tackle.

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    Before James Carpenter missed the last game with a concussion, he struggled at left guard, giving up three sacks and committing six penalties, per the Washington Post‘s STATs. The Atlanta Falcons have averaged the second-fewest adjusted line yards (3.5) while rushing behind the guards or up the middle, per Football Outsiders.

    They need to bolster their pass protection on the interior and bring a powerful push up front to clear lanes for the running backs.

    Whether it’s Dan Quinn’s coaching staff or a new regime, Atlanta should move Jamon Brown to left guard, where he’s started in the past, and insert rookie offensive lineman Chris Lindstrom at right guard. It can also give Lindstrom reps on the left side. 

    For most of his collegiate career at Boston College, Lindstrom lined up at right guard. He started at the position this season, but he broke his foot in the opener and suited up for his second game last week. With Brown’s experience on the left, a two-man shift may be the ideal approach to upgrade Carpenter’s position.

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Chuck Clark started 10 out of 14 games at safety, but he took on a bigger role after Tony Jefferson tore his ACL in Week 5. When healthy, Jefferson is the presumed starter.

    He isn’t a subpar performer, but he’s not a good holdover with an $11.2 million cap hit in 2020. That ranks seventh among safeties next year. Barring a pay cut, the 27-year-old doesn’t provide enough impact to justify his salary. Keep in mind, Earl Thomas III will have a $15 million cap hit next season.

    The Ravens can attempt to groom Clark for a bigger role. He’s been a decent replacement but costs a lot less ($778,704). The front office can also bring in a rookie to compete for the starting spot.

    At his best, Jefferson can supplement the run defense and stop plays with his reliable tackling, but he’s not a strong asset in coverage, logging 11 pass deflections and two interceptions in 35 games with the Ravens. Baltimore can find a cheaper option who can perform at a comparable level.

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    Lorenzo Alexander had a career resurgence with the Buffalo Bills, logging 64 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks, six pass breakups and an interception in his 2016 Pro Bowl campaign. He played 73 percent of defensive snaps that year.

    Since then, his numbers and his workload have taken a hit. In 2019, he’s started seven out of 13 contests, lining up for 52 percent of defensive plays. The 36-year-old is no longer a strong presence near the pocket with just two sacks. 

    At the end of the season, Alexander’s contract expires. The Bills could re-sign him on a modest deal, but they should move on to develop a younger talent. They could use someone who’s equipped to play a full-time starting role and provide help for the pass rush at outside linebacker.

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    Mario Addison leads the Carolina Panthers in sacks (9.5). His contract automatically voids at the end of the season, but the front office should retain its best pass-rusher.

    Bruce Irvin, 32, also held the starting edge-rusher position, but Brian Burns—rookie first-rounder with high potential—will likely take over going forward. If the Florida State product had not suffered a self-inflicted wrist injury, he would’ve probably put together a more impressive rookie campaign.

    Regardless of who replaces former head coach Ron Rivera, the incoming staff will need to develop Burns. As a result, Irvin will likely sign elsewhere in free agency or re-sign to handle a lesser role. 

    Assuming Burns moves into a full-time starting position, Irvin loses his first-unit spot in Carolina.

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    Kyle Long started his career with three consecutive Pro Bowl campaigns, but he’s landed on injured reserve in each of the last four seasons. The seventh-year veteran has missed 31 games since 2016.

    The Chicago Bears have a 2020 club option on Long’s contract. If they exercise the clause, he’ll suit up for $9.6 million, which is a steep price for someone who’s sat out nearly half of the games over the last four terms.

    This season, the Bears have inserted Rashaad Coward at right guard.

    Coward started his career as a defensive lineman, and he’s not the best long-term option because of inexperience. But general manager Ryan Pace cannot rely on Long with his injury history. Furthermore, the 31-year-old struggled mightily when healthy, per Bryan Perez of NBC Sports Chicago. 

    “Right guard Kyle Long is playing the worst football of his seven-year career,” Perez wrote. “There’s no way around it. He’s Chicago’s lowest-graded player on offense (37.5), and out of 200 offensive linemen evaluated by Pro Football Focus in 2019, Long ranks 192nd.”

    The Bears should pursue a proven commodity to improve their offensive line, which ranks 29th in run-blocking adjusted line yards (3.71), per Football Outsiders.

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    Among the most important changes needed, the Cincinnati Bengals can take a pick between left guard John Jerry and right tackle Bobby Hart. We’ll focus on the latter since he’s started every game this season.

    Oddly enough, the Bengals re-signed Hart after he gave up 11.5 sacks during the 2018 campaign, per the Washington Post‘s STATs. Although he’s shown marginal improvement through 13 contests, he hasn’t performed at the level of a starting-caliber player.

    In 2019, the fifth-year veteran has surrendered 3.5 sacks, which seems like a significant improvement, but he allowed the ninth-most pressures (21) among offensive tackles through Week 7, per Pro Football Focus (h/t Joe Goodberry of The Athletic).

    If the Bengals plan to insert rookie first-rounder Jonah Williams at left tackle, the coaching staff should rethink its plan on the right side. Whoever the quarterback is may face constant pressure because of an inexperienced starter and a struggling veteran on the edges.

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    The Cleveland Browns re-signed Greg Robinson after a solid 2018 campaign, but he’s struggled through a prove-it season on a one-year deal. According to the Washington Post‘s STATs, the 27-year-old allowed 3.5 sacks in 12 contests. The coaching staff didn’t start him in Week 8.     

    Robinson returned to the starting lineup in the following week, but general manager John Dorsey had revealed he tried to acquire Washington Redskins left tackle Trent Williams in a trade, per Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com.

    According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the Redskins will reopen trade talks for Williams in the offseason. That would give Cleveland a chance to solidify the left tackle spot. If not, it may explore offers for wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who reportedly isn’t happy in Cleveland, per Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer

    The Browns offensive line ranks 15th in pass blocking, according to Football Outsiders. The team can aggressively pursue an upgrade to strengthen quarterback Baker Mayfield’s pass protection. He’s spent a good portion of the year under duress, taking 33 sacks.

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    The Dallas Cowboys defense ranks 12th in scoring and eighth in yards allowed per game. However, the front office must address two areas of weakness on that side of the ball: the front line—specifically the interior to bolster resistance against ground attacks—and the secondary.

    The Cowboys could retain defensive tackle Antwaun Woods. He will be an exclusive-rights free agent, which means the 26-year-old can’t negotiate with other teams if Dallas offers him a one-year tender. Maliek Collins has been solid, registering four sacks and six tackles for loss. The fourth-year pro is worth keeping on a new deal.

    After this campaign, Jeff Heath will become an unrestricted free agent, and he turns 29 in May. The Cowboys desperately need players who can force turnovers on the back end. Their unit is tied for the fewest interceptions (five) this season.

    Heath has registered just one interception over the last two years. Dallas can allow him to walk and acquire a ball-hawking safety.

    With quarterback Dak Prescott, wideout Amari Cooper, cornerback Byron Jones and Collins all set to become free agents, the Cowboys should draft a safety to replace Heath instead of spending big money on a veteran.

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    Ever since the Denver Broncos traded Emmanuel Sanders, the offense has had a wide-open situation at wide receiver opposite Courtland Sutton. DaeSean Hamilton is listed as the starter because he’s opened more games with the first unit than any other player at the No. 2 position. Nevertheless, the 2018 fourth-rounder hasn’t started since Week 9.

    The Broncos may have found their quarterback of future in Drew Lock, who’s thrown for 443 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions while completing 72.7 percent of his attempts in two starts.

    Now the front office must surround Lock with offensive assets. Sutton (6’4″, 216 lbs) will move forward as the lead wideout with rookie tight end Noah Fant (6’4″, 249 lbs) as the No. 2 pass-catching option. The Broncos can add a speedy receiver on the perimeter to complement their big-bodied pass-catchers.

    Hamilton came into the league as a solid route-runner out of Penn State, but he hasn’t shown enough to hold a starting spot. The Broncos should look for an upgrade in the offseason.

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    In his sophomore campaign, A’Shawn Robinson started all 16 games, playing 68 percent of the defensive snaps. He established himself on the interior of the front line until Matt Patricia took over as head coach in 2018 and rotated defenders in and out of the lineup.

    Last year, Robinson’s defensive snap count dropped to 42 percent through 13 outings, though it’s bounced back to 58 percent in the same amount of games this season.

    Robinson can plug holes in run defense, recording 172 tackles (120 solo tackles) over the last four seasons, but he’s not a solid interior pass-rusher with just five sacks.

    His contract will expire at the end of the season, and a team will pay him to add resistance against ground attacks. But the Detroit Lions can replace him with a less costly option—perhaps someone who’s more than just a run-stopper.

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    In 2020, Jimmy Graham‘s $11.7 million cap hit will list third among tight ends, but he’s not the same player from his heyday. The five-time Pro Bowler is on pace to finish with his fewest catches and receiving yards in a season since logging 31 receptions for 356 yards as a rookie.

    During his Pro Bowl years, Graham provided red-zone support as a viable pass-catcher, but he’s recorded five touchdowns since signing with the Green Bay Packers during the 2018 offseason.

    He hasn’t clicked with quarterback Aaron Rodgers under former head coach Mike McCarthy or new lead skipper Matt LaFleur. Perhaps a pay cut would keep him on the roster at a good value, but he’s not worth more than $11 million at his production rate.

    The Packers selected Jace Sternberger in the third round of this year’s draft. In his only term at Texas A&M, he recorded 48 receptions for 832 yards and 10 touchdowns as one of the better pass-catching tight ends in the 2019 class. 

    If Green Bay wants more out of the position in the passing game, the coaching staff can turn to Sternberger as a long-term option. Graham’s salary combined with his subpar production makes him expendable in the offseason.

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    Darren Fells has become a viable red-zone target for the Houston Texans, hauling in a career-high seven touchdowns.

    After this campaign, he will be an unrestricted free agent going into his age-34 term. The Texans have two young tight ends on the roster in Jordan Akins and Jordan Thomas. The former has put together a solid sophomore campaign, logging 29 receptions for 357 yards and two touchdowns.

    Although quarterback Deshaun Watson looks for Fells inside the 20-yard line, the sixth-year veteran’s expiring contract and the youth at the position will likely push him out of Houston. 

    The Texans could retain Fells and restrict him to a pass-catching role, but the coaching staff will likely continue to ramp up Akins’ snap count. The 2018 third-rounder has shown the potential to lock down the starting role for the coming years.

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    Eventually, Adam Vinatieri will go into the Hall of Fame. He’s set the all-time points record and led the league in field-goal percentage in three seasons, but the Indianapolis Colts must replace the 46-year-old.

    He ranks 30th in field-goal accuracy among kickers with at least 11 attempts, and he’s last in extra-point percentage when counting players with 18 or more tries.

    Head coach Frank Reich spread the blame for some of Vinatieri’s misses, but the 24th-year veteran doesn’t have the accuracy to split the uprights with ease anymore. Through his struggles, the Colts worked out kickers, per ESPN’s Field Yates, but stuck with their starter.

    In Week 14, Vinatieri missed his first game since 2017 and eventually landed on injured reserve for season-ending knee surgery. At his age, the injury may linger and affect his performance.

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    Gardner Minshew II started more games than Nick Foles this season, but the Jacksonville Jaguars signed Foles to a four-year, $88 million deal to start under center.

    According to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, Jacksonville may hire a new coaching staff and front-office executives. The incoming regime may re-evaluate the quarterback position, which gives Foles a chance to take back the lead role. However, the Jaguars should move forward with Minshew or a new acquisition.

    Foles is a Super Bowl MVP and had great moments in the playoffs, but he’s not a proven starter. Either because of injury or demotion, the 30-year-old has yet to play through a full term.

    With Foles under center, the Jaguars offense hasn’t performed much better (and sometimes worse) than with Minshew. 

    Because of Foles’ uninspiring performances, Jacksonville may not be able to trade him for premium draft picks. He’s thrown for three touchdowns and two interceptions, and he has an 0-4 record as the starter. The coaching staff benched him for Minshew in Week 14.

    Foles isn’t the long-term answer; he’s a high-end backup. The Jaguars have to find their starter during the 2020 offseason.

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    Colin E. Braley/Associated Press

    Without a doubt, the Kansas City Chiefs should release Sammy Watkins, relieving their books of his bloated contract that carries the biggest cap hit ($21 million) among wide receivers next season. That would clear $14 million in cap space, per Over the Cap.

    This season, Watkins has started 10 out of his 11 contests, logging 46 receptions for 588 yards and three touchdowns. Despite recurring foot injuries early in his career, he could line up as a decent No. 2 wide receiver, but the 26-year-old’s contract doesn’t match his production. 

    If the Chiefs part ways with Watkins, rookie second-rounder Mecole Hardman would likely take on a larger role. He’s a big-play receiver, logging 24 receptions for 498 yards and a team-leading six touchdowns. 

    Kansas City can save a lot of cap space, comfortably move on from Watkins, and the passing offense wouldn’t skip a beat.

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    Whether the Los Angeles Chargers keep quarterback Philip Rivers for another year or not, the front office must upgrade the right tackle spot.

    In 2018, Sam Tevi took over for Joe Barksdale, who battled injuries and was released. Rivers has felt frequent pressure from the right side over the last two terms.

    According to the Washington Post‘s STATs, Tevi has allowed 4.5 sacks this season—not much of an improvement from six last year. He underwent knee surgery in November, and Trent Scott has also struggled on the right side, giving up four sacks.

    If the Chargers prefer to groom rookie third-rounder Trey Pipkins for Russell Okung’s spot at left tackle, the front office should pursue a veteran to man the opposite side. If Pipkins has potential at right tackle, the coaching staff can give him a significant number of reps to battle Tevi for the position in the offseason.

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    David Dermer/Associated Press

    Dante Fowler Jr. may have played his way out of a starting spot with the Los Angeles Rams. He’s logged a career-high nine sacks, which drives up his price as an unrestricted free agent in 2020.

    According to Spotrac, the Rams will have a projected $25.3 million in cap space, which ranks 24th leaguewide. Assuming Fowler has multiple suitors, general manager Les Snead’s offer may not compare to those of bidding clubs with more cap space. 

    The Rams will likely sign cornerback Jalen Ramsey to a lucrative multiyear deal after acquiring him from Jacksonville for two first-round picks and a fourth-rounder. That looming investment restricts L.A.’s ability to pursue high-end free agents.

    Fowler could demand a salary that averages between $17-20 million per year because of his premium position as an edge-rusher. The Rams will need to go bargain-bin shopping during free agency or add a rookie to replace him.

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    For the most part, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has served his purpose in the transition from former head coach Adam Gase to Brian Flores. In recent outings, the Miami Dolphins have been competitive partially because of a functional offense.

    Despite an abysmal 0-7 start, they have gone 3-3 in the last six games, averaging 27.3 points over the previous three outings. Josh Rosen’s inexperience and his inability to extend plays with his legs would’ve been a disaster this season. He took 12 sacks in three starts. 

    Going into 2020, the Dolphins could move into Phase 2 of their rebuild. This stage should feature a glimpse of the future at quarterback, whether it’s Rosen, a free agent in his prime or an incoming rookie.

    Fitzpatrick will turn 38 years old during the next season. Clearly, he isn’t the franchise quarterback. After a campaign of transition, the Dolphins should begin the process of finding their offensive centerpiece.

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    Xavier Rhodes would be one of the biggest cuts in the offseason, but the move shouldn’t surprise anyone. The 29-year-old’s performance has gone downhill ever since he signed a five-year, $70.1 million deal following the 2017 campaign.

    That season, Rhodes earned All-Pro honors, logging 10 pass breakups and two interceptions. Over the last two terms, he’s registered just 12 pass deflections and one pick.

    The Vikings could save $8.1 million in cap space if they release him, per Over the Cap. Minnesota has enough quality depth at cornerback to develop its younger talent.

    Mike Hughes, a 2018 first-rounder, possesses the ball skills to start on the outside. The 22-year-old has recorded an interception and 10 pass deflections in 17 career games. Holton Hill, also 22, has produced similar numbers with one pick and eight pass deflections through 21 contests. Both have played in backup roles for much of their young careers.

    Barring a notable turnaround, Rhodes may find himself on the market after consecutive lackluster seasons. Hughes and Hill would probably factor into the Vikings’ long-term plans.

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    The New England Patriots won’t find another Rob Gronkowski, but they need more than what Ben Watson provides in the passing game.

    In seven starts, Watson has logged 13 receptions for 154 yards. He’ll turn 39 years old next week. Other than quarterback Tom Brady, the Patriots offense doesn’t need another player 40 years or older. The front office must add youth. 

    This year, the Ravens and Chiefs earned victories over the Patriots with dynamic offensive attacks. If Brady returns for his 21st year under center in New England, he needs better weapons to compete with the top teams in the AFC. 

    Behind Watson, whose contract expires at the end of the season, New England has Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo. The backup tight ends account for a combined 42 catches, 487 yards and two touchdowns in their respective careers. The Patriots need a boost at the position, preferably from a proven talent.

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    John Amis/Associated Press

    Ted Ginn Jr. signed a three-year deal with the New Orleans Saints during the 2017 offseason. In the ensuing term, he elevated the passing attack with his speed (4.37 40-yard dash) and one of his most reliable campaigns as a receiver (75.7 percent catch rate).

    In each of the past two seasons, Ginn’s catch rates have dropped below 57 percent. Last year, he missed 11 contests with a knee injury. In 2019, the 13th-year veteran has caught more than three passes in only two out of 13 games.

    The Saints desperately need a consistent No. 2 wide receiver opposite Michael Thomas as Tre’Quan Smith goes through the ups and downs. Heading into his age-35 campaign after an injury-riddled year and an underwhelming follow-up term, Ginn isn’t likely to fulfill that role.

    Once his contract expires, it’s hard to justify him returning as a primary starter in New Orleans.

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    The New York Giants offensive line crumbles on the edges. Nate Solder (11.5) and Mike Remmers (five) have allowed a combined 16.5 sacks in 2019.

    General manager Dave Gettleman may give Solder one more season since the Giants would owe the 31-year-old $13 million in dead money if they release him before June 1 and $6.5 million if they cut him after. Remmers will become a free agent in 2020.

    Assuming Remmers doesn’t return because of his subpar play, the Giants will monitor the free-agent market and evaluate draft prospects for a viable replacement.

    Gettleman must strengthen the pocket for Daniel Jones. The rookie signal-caller has the mobility to extend plays, but he has already gone down with a high ankle sprain that will keep him on the sideline for multiple weeks. 

    Through 11 contests, Jones took 33 sacks. With Solder’s struggles on the left side, Big Blue has to acquire a solid pass protector at right tackle.

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    The New York Jets have to find an out on Trumaine Johnson’s deal before 2021. He’s coming off his worst year as a pro, logging two pass breakups and an interception before landing on injured reserve (ankles).

    Under former general manager Mike Maccagnan, the Jets signed Johnson to a five-year, $72.5 million contract. He had some good moments in 2018 but committed head-scratching penalties early and late in the term.

    This season, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams removed Johnson from the starting lineup for two weeks. He was mostly ineffective in his return to the first unit. Former Jets linebacker Bart Scott told SNY (h/t Mollie Walker of the New York Post) that the 29-year-old was “stealing” money from the organization.

    After a down season, Johnson isn’t likely to draw many takers on the trade market, but the Jets must try to move on. The eighth-year veteran is earning top cornerback money but performs at the level of a backup within Williams’ scheme.

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    Peter Joneleit/Associated Press

    The Oakland Raiders don’t have to outright cut Lamarcus Joyner, but he cannot continue to play slot cornerback if the coaching staff wants solid production out of the position.

    For most of the season, Joyner has been a non-factor in coverage out of the slot, logging just two breakups in 11 appearances while playing 70 percent of defensive snaps. 

    In Joyner’s best season, with the Rams, he lined up at free safety, registering nine pass deflections and three interceptions. Although Joyner can play in the slot, the versatile defensive back is best-suited to man center field as a deep safety.

    Last offseason, the Raiders signed Joyner to a four-year, $42 million deal. That investment would be a complete waste if the sixth-year veteran continues to start at his current position. 

    If the Raiders view Joyner as strictly a slot cornerback, they’re better off releasing him and saving nearly $13 million in cap space. They wouldn’t owe him any dead money for three remaining years of his deal.

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Looking forward, the Philadelphia Eagles need three traits from their wide receivers: speed, big-play ability and reliable hands. It’s fair to question Nelson Agholor in two of those areas. 

    Agholor has four drops for the season, which includes one crucial missed opportunity in a close contest with the Patriots. Although he’s quick, the slot wide receiver hasn’t stretched the field, averaging 11.2 yards per reception for his career and 9.3 in 2019.

    With Alshon Jeffery, speedy deep threat DeSean Jackson and rookie second-rounder J.J. Arcega-Whiteside on the books beyond 2020, Nelson should be on his way out with an expiring contract.

    As a first-round pick from the 2015 draft, Agholor has underwhelmed in a starting role, failing to record at least 40 catches or 400 yards in two of his first four terms.

    The Eagles exercised the fifth-year option on Agholor’s rookie deal, but he’s been unable to take advantage of increased opportunities with Jackson out (core-muscle surgery) and Arcega-Whiteside learning the position.

    In Week 14, Jeffery suffered a Lisfranc injury. According to an NFL source, he’ll need about nine months to recover, per Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer. That timetable puts his availability for the start of the 2020 term in doubt. Philadelphia could move him as well.

    “The Eagles would have to eat around $26 million if they were to release or trade Jeffery this offseason, although there is an offset in his contract should he end up with another team,” McLane wrote.

    Nonetheless, the uncertainty surrounding Jeffery should encourage the Eagles to upgrade from Nelson, who’s come up short of expectations. The Eagles need a high-end playmaker in his prime—someone capable of opening the season as quarterback Carson Wentz’s No. 1 receiving option.

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    The Pittsburgh Steelers saw Bud Dupree perform at an average level as a pass-rusher for four campaigns, recording no more than six sacks in a single term. He’s upped his production on an expiring deal, logging 9.5 sacks this season.

    The Steelers could entertain the thought of re-signing Dupree, but his 2019 output would likely push the cost into the $17-20 million range on the open market, which is costly for a player with one standout season.

    General manager Kevin Colbert can retain Dupree on the franchise tag that should cost more than $15 million for linebackers. This year, the designated price was set at $15.4 million.

    Either way, keeping Dupree on the roster would be a costly investment for an overall solid player. Secondly, Pittsburgh will only have a projected $5.4 million in cap space for the 2020 offseason.

    The Steelers don’t have a 2020 first-round pick after they traded the selection to the Dolphins for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. If Colbert has his eyes on a decent pass-rusher who will likely be available on Day 2 of the draft, he can cut the cost of re-signing Dupree and fill a position need.

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    Despite Jimmie Ward’s lengthy injury history, the San Francisco 49ers signed him to a one-year deal last offseason. He’s rewarded the team with a solid year, logging 52 tackles, eight pass breakups and a sack.

    During the offseason, Ward fractured his collarbone, broke his finger and underwent surgery on his hand before taking the field in Week 5. He hasn’t missed a game since returning to action.

    Ward’s production should help his free-agent market value. He’ll draw multiple suitors in March, but the 49ers don’t have to gamble on him again, hoping the 28-year-old can finally avoid injury for a full year.

    Instead, the 49ers can develop second-year safety Tarvarius Moore into a full-time starter. As a rookie, he lined up with the first unit at cornerback in place of Ahkello Witherspoon, but the Southern Mississippi product primarily played safety on the collegiate level. 

    Moore could become a healthy, long-term solution at safety as a replacement for Ward.

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    Over the last four seasons, Germain Ifedi has consistently allowed a handful of sacks and drawn penalties. He’s current at 5.5 and eight in those respective categories, per Washington Post‘s STATs.

    The Seahawks declined the fifth-year option on Ifedi’s rookie deal, which allows him to test the market in 2020. He hasn’t shown enough improvement to put himself in the Seahawks’ long-term plans.

    As a result, general manager John Schneider must go back to the big board and draft another offensive tackle or spend money on a proven player during free agency.

    This season, quarterback Russell Wilson has been under constant duress, which seems like a yearly issue for him. According to Football Outsiders, the Seahawks offensive line ranks 24th in pass protection. In an attempt to improve in that area, Seattle can start with an upgrade over Ifedi.

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    While quarterback Jameis Winston’s future remains up in the air, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should consider a replacement for aging right tackle Demar Dotson. 

    Dotson has been a solid presence at his position for a decade in Tampa Bay, but his technique slipped this season. According to Washington Post‘s STATs, he’s allowed 3.5 sacks, which is the most since 2016, and committed nine penalties.

    Dotson’s contract expires at the end of the 2019 campaign, and he’ll hit the open market at 34 years old.

    The Buccaneers can use a high draft pick on a tackle or spend some of their projected $93.2 million in cap space to sign a high-end proven commodity on the market. 

    Tampa Bay’s offensive line ranks 21st in pass protection and 23rd in run blocking, per Football Outsiders, indicating a need for upgrades. The front office can start with a probable vacancy at right tackle.

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    When the Tennessee Titans don’t open games in a nickel alignment with three linebackers, Reggie Gilbert (five) and Kamalei Correa (four) have logged starts on the edge.

    That’s important to note because the front office signed pass-rusher Cameron Wake to a three-year, $23 million deal, but he’s a rotation defender who played fewer than 44 percent of defensive snaps in nine outings this season. 

    Gilbert provides little impact off the edge, logging 16 tackles, a sack and a pass breakup. Kamalei will become a free agent in the offseason.

    With Wake as a situational pass-rusher, the Titans should pursue an every-down defender for the lead role. Despite the increased use of the nickel package, a complete playmaker would give the coaching staff a well-rounded outside linebacker to match up with the opposition. 

    Tennessee can plug an athletic coverage defender—who’s also a good blitzer—in this spot to complement Harold Landry on the opposite edge.

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    The Washington Redskins have already signaled new direction at cornerback. Under interim head coach Bill Callahan, the team has benched Josh Norman over the last three weeks. He’s played four defensive snaps since Week 11.

    In 2020, Norman’s contract carries a $15.5 million cap hit, but the Redskins have depth at the position with Quinton Dunbar, Fabian Moreau and Jimmy Moreland on the books beyond this term. All three have played a significant number of defensive snaps this year.

    If the Redskins hire a new head coach rather than remove the interim tag from Callahan’s title, the new regime may opt to keep Norman. At his price tag, he’d probably start. However, the 31-year-old struggled this season—oftentimes beat in coverage.

    Norman isn’t the same player who signed a five-year, $75 million deal coming off one of his best campaigns. He earned Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors in the same season (2015), but his number of pass deflections significantly dropped between the 2016 and 2017 terms. 

    The Redskins should part ways with Norman and continue to develop Dunbar, Moreau and Moreland.


    Statistics for offensive linemen provided by Washington Post‘s STATs.

    Player salary details provided by Spotrac.com and Overthecap.com.

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