No one is safe from an off-season move. If the NBA Trade Deadline taught us anything, it’s that no matter how much you’re worth, trades and free agency can still change the dynamic of any team in the league.
Here are seven NFL teams facing off-season decisions that will impact the playoff picture in 2018. There are a lot of quarterback decisions to be made, which keeps free agency exciting.
Philadelphia Eagles, NFC East
Yes, the Eagles just won Super Bowl 52. They also just lost their offensive coordinator, Frank Reich, to the Colts and their QB coach, John DeFilippo, to the Vikings. Aside from potentially learning a new offense, the Eagles are also at a crossroads in their quarterback battles (Foles vs Wentz) along with upgrading and maintaining their defense.
Although he was named Super Bowl 52 MVP, the Eagles aren’t expecting to start Nick Foles in 2018. With Carson Wentz, a potential regular season MVP, the Eagles can’t chose Foles to start.
Foles is with the Eagles through this season, and I expect him to play a bit, but unless Wentz gets injured again, he won’t start any games for the Eagles.
Currently, the Eagles aren’t seeking a new offensive coordinator to replace Reich, who just signed as the new head coach for the Colts. With questions about continuing their success in 2018 without an OC, the team may try to find someone later in the off-season as other teams make moves.
Another big question mark for the Super Bowl Champions is the state of their defense. Super Bowl hero Brandon Graham reportedly wants to stay with the team, and has already let the Eagles know he wants to retire as only an Eagle. If this doesn’t happen, the Eagles will need to find their next star on the defense.
New England Patriots, AFC East
After advancing to their third Super Bowl in four years, the Brady-led Patriots are poised for another playoff run in 2018. With no news on retirement from Brady or Belichick, the Patriots dynasty will continue as planned.
Now that Josh McDaniels remains with the Patriots, there isn’t going to be a new offense for the team, but there are still a couple of major decision on the offensive and defensive side of the ball that will impact how successful the 2018 season plays out.
Star tight end Rob Gronkowski, who suffered a concussion in the AFC Championship game against the Jaguars but played in Super Bowl 52, is considering retirement. He had an excellent season, coming back from a leg injury and posted a 100+ yard, two touchdown performance in the Super Bowl.
Only 29-years-old, and already a 5-time Pro Bowler, Gronkowski is weighing his options, following the Patriots loss to the Eagles.
On the defensive side, the Patriots are expected to release cornerback Malcolm Butler in free agency and need to find a high-talent pass rusher to keep up with the league.
Minnesota Vikings, NFC North
The biggest decision for the Vikings comes at quarterback. With the injury to Sam Bradford, five-year veteran Case Keenum took over the role of starter. Finishing the season 12-3, Keenum and Bradford are both about to be free agents. The Vikings will be deciding who to choose moving forward, and if Teddy Bridgewater is in the mix.
I expect the Vikings to move on from Bradford, potentially franchise tag Keenum and then the conversation will be between Bridgewater and the NFC surprise, Keenum. There are also rumors that Kirk Cousins could end up in Minnesota this off-season.
In addition to their quarterback dilemma, the Vikings are also in the midst of an identity crisis. After boasting the top defense in the NFL last season, the Vikings gave up nearly 500 yards to the Eagles in the NFC Championship.
Luckily, a majority of their defensive line remain under contract through 2018 and will continue to help the Vikings defense.
Indianapolis Colts, AFC South
With a new coaching staff, the Colts will need big changes to get back in the playoff picture in 2018. The biggest question for the Colts is whether quarterback Andrew Luck will be healthy enough to play in 2018.
After missing the entire 2017 season with a shoulder injury, the Colts had an abysmal 4-12 record. With Jacoby Brissett at the helm, the Colts don’t necessarily need to rush Luck into playing.
Aside from the quarterback question, the Colts are in need of defensive improvements. Last season, the Colts were near the bottom of the league in every defensive statistic. Injuries to key players played a role in their disappointing season, but this off-season could be what they need to turn things around.
Under new defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, the Colts have switched to a 4-3 defensive scheme that will help them pressure the quarterback more than their previous 3-4 scheme.
With questions about the status of running back Frank Gore with the Colts next season, I expect them to draft a running back. Although they just drafted Marlon Mack last season, and his season was productive behind Gore, I don’t think he’ll make his career with the Colts.
Arizona Cardinals, NFC West
The Cardinals suffered some major injuries that caused them to miss the playoffs last season. With injuries to star running back David Johnson in week 1 and starting quarterback Carson Palmer in week 7, the Cardinals looked to their reserves to get them through the 2017 season.
Finishing 8-8, the Cardinals are looking to Johnson’s return to help them in 2018.
After 15 seasons, Palmer has called it a career, announcing his retirement in January. Along with Palmer, head coach Bruce Arians also retired follow the season, leaving a new coaching staff to revitalize the struggling Cardinals.
Drew Stanton, Blaine Gabbert and Matt Barkley all stepped up after Palmer’s injury, leading to his retirement. Stanton became the starter for the remained of the season, but all three are bound to be free agents in March. The Cardinals will have to decide if they want to go with one of their current backups or draft a new franchise quarterback.
On the defense, the Cardinals sit in the middle of the league in most statistics. With a handful of 2017 starters entering free agency in 2018, the Cardinals will need to be smart about their acquisitions to get back to the playoffs.
Los Angeles Rams, NFC West
In 2017, Sean McVay saved the Rams from everyone’s expectations. With Jared Goff and Todd Gurley having the best seasons of their young careers, the Rams put together an 11-5 season and made it to the NFC Wild Card game before losing to the Saints.
With most of their offense returning, the biggest moves for the Rams should come for their defense.
Cornerback Trumaine Johnson and safety Lamarcus Joyner are both set to become free agents. Alongside stars Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn, Johnson and Joyner had exceptional 2017 campaigns. Donald was named defensive player of the year.
The Rams would like to keep Quinn, but he may have to accept less money to stay with one of the best teams in the NFC next season.
McVay took the league by storm, transforming one of the worst offenses in 2016 to one of the best in 2017. His contract is through 2021, but he’ll have to continue to prove himself on the field to keep the Rams moving in the right direction.
Pittsburgh Steelers, AFC North
Le’Veon Bell wants to be paid better for the impact he has for the Steelers. After losing to the Jaguars in the AFC Divisional Game, the Steelers were shocked.
After the tough loss, and end of their season, three major decisions need to be made for the Steelers.
- What kind of contract do they want to offer Bell? How much is he worth to them?
- Who will be Ben Roethlisbergers replacement?
- How can they improve their defense?
First, Bell is set to become a free agent in March. If the Steelers don’t want to lose one of the best running backs in the NFL, they’ll need to pay him. A lot. The Steelers are considering offering Bell a franchise tag, again. Worth upwards of $15 million, Bell accepted last year, but only so he was on a roster and could play.
Next, Ben Roethlisberger is going to be playing in his 15th season, all with the Steelers. In the next few years, he is expected to announce his retirement. This means the Steelers should start developing his replacement this season.
Draft a quarterback in a later round of the draft and give him some playtime in the preseason. Let me learn and grow under a veteran quarterback and hope he is ready whenever Big Ben calls it a career.
Last, the Steelers need to upgrade their defense. With the loss of Ryan Shazier (praying for a speedy recovery), they need to fill his linebacker spot. With Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Bell on the offense, the Steelers weakness is their defense. Upgrading their safety position and linebacker spots would improve the who team, without spending too much money in the off-season.