2020 NFL Free Agent Team/Fantasy Preview Division-by-Division (AFC North)
The free agent period is percolating and will be in full swing in mid-March. Prior to free agency, we’re going to take a quick overview look at each team and some of the player/fantasy ramifications looming.
We’ll look division-by-division at the various team CAP and contract and free agent situations…
Overview: In another universe, the Ravens are the 2019 season champions and would be planning title defense moves in this offseason – instead, they don’t have that champion’s ‘grace’ this offseason. The desperation to get the title while Lamar is still cheap is palpable.
The Ravens head into the offseason with approx. $33M in space, middle of the pack/bottom half of the league. At least, they are in better shape, for the moment, what we all know today, with CAP space ahead of the Super Bowl teams in KC or SF.
The advantage the Ravens have going into this offseason – players will want to play for this potential title team. They could get some stop gap veterans on a discount looking for that ring.
Big UFA names: Jimmy Smith is the big name to deal with, but he’s getting up there in years and is a tricky one to negotiate with – he’ll want the money and the Ravens may rather look for a rental CB for the year while drafting younger options to groom. The Ravens’ defense is much better with Smith…that’s the fork in the road. I’m guessing they will bring him back, but it’s a 50-50 guess…he may take overpayment to go elsewhere, on what should be his final contract.
DT Michael Pierce and LB Patrick Onwuasor are free agents, but the Ravens can survive without them if need be.
Shock CAP-reasoned Cuts: Brandon Carr probably goes…a club option to play for $7M or cut for a $1M hit. He’ll be 34 this season and is fading. He may come back on a cheaper one-year deal, we’ll see.
Other than that, the Ravens have no real great opportunity to cut and save money. DT Brandon Williams might get released to save $5M…I’m guessing they will cut him and possibly free that money up to help sign Michael Pierce.
In general, the Ravens don’t have a ton of money, comparative, going into this free agency period – but their one of 2-3 teams people see as winning the next Super Bowl, so that gravitas can net them a couple sweet veteran one-year deals or bargains otherwise.
Overview: Not a good CAP situation in Pittsburgh, on the surface…a projected -$8M in the hole right now, the 2nd-worst situation of any team (besides Minnesota) and does anyone think the Steelers are ‘set’ for a title run or the future? The Steelers could be in huge trouble the next few years if they don’t get this draft right (and they traded a chunk of it away for Minkah Fitzpatrick).
Big UFA names: The Steelers have four pretty key free agents to deal with…further adding to their current painful CAP situation/2020 offseason.
1) SAF Sean Davis…he’ll likely be too rich for their blood.
2) TE Vance McDonald…maybe they can get him on a deal, but probably not. Club option to keep for $7M or cut for $1.5M…he’s probably cut/brought back cheaper if it’s even possible.
3) OLB Bud Dupree…they want him back, but he’ll command a big payday and will likely sign elsewhere.
4) DT Javon Hargrave…they would love to keep him, and they’ll try…but he’s likely for a huge contract and the Steelers just can’t afford a big deal on him right now.
The Steelers could lose all four of these free agents…and then there should be a lot of heat on the GM, but there won’t be until they miss the playoffs AGAIN in 2020.
Shock CAP-reasoned Cuts: The Steelers have to make some big decisions to free up dollars…
Cutting Vance McDonald, Mark Barron, and Anthony Chickillo would create $16M CAP space. That gets the Steelers to positive CAP space but still a very weak hand for free agency.
The Steelers might have to axe Joe Haden and/or Steven Nelson to create $7M and $6M respectively. They might do one and not the other.
The Steelers have a lot of CAP issues this year and next, contracts to deal with next year as well. No future QB in sight. An aging O-Line. Trouble spots on defense. The Steelers are in some big trouble ahead unless they hit it out of the park in the draft this year and next, and smartly restructure some contracts.
Overview: The Browns are middle of the pack in current salary CAP available, approx. $45M in space.
There’s good news and bad news with that…
The good news…the Browns have several players that can dump and could wind up the #1-2-3 team in CAP space going into free agency, a power player with a ton of money.
The bad news…they’re the Browns. They will mess this up one way or the other. Either (a) they will not make the cuts/trades they should and go into free agency not as strong as they could, or (b) they will make all the moves and have all the money/CAP space but no one wants to play for them for any number of reasons and then they have to desperately grab/overpay free agents, if they can even attract any coveted ones, and the whole team is a discombobulated half-assed rebuild mess with a ton of great computer programs analyzing football things, but no one wants to come play for them/their organization. They are NFL Siberia. Baker is all they got, and he’s going to want out after this season…and then things will get even worse.
Big UFA names: The Browns have a couple players to deal with but it’s likely they would rather go elsewhere with their newfound freedom…unless the Browns make a ridiculous offer to them, but with a new staff – no one will want to overpay for ‘not their guys’.
Joe Schobert and Damarious Randall are good players, but I bet both take a deal anywhere but returning to Cleveland.
Kareem Hunt is a restricted free agent, so the Browns can match his offer…but, again, he’s not the new staff’s ‘guy’. He’s also a headache and is not analytics or Ivy League management friendly…he might be allowed to let go just to get the compensation pick (of which the Browns will butcher, per usual).
My guess is they lose Schobert, Randall, and purposefully walk away from Hunt.
Shock CAP-reasoned Cuts: The future of the Browns, the strength of new management will be foretold with what they do with Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry…they have to get rid of them ASAP (and deal with them as a pair, you cannot keep one without the other…the remaining one will squawk 10x as loud without the other. They are locker room and on-field cancers). The problem is fans and the media still adore OBJ, so if he were ditched many people would criticize the Browns and create some distress.
If management keeps both of them – then the failures and headaches to come are on them, and this whole thing falls apart more as management has no spine or long-term plan.
If management ditches both WRs – then there is some hope that they realize they have to take out the trash and do the dirty work, take the media whining, and then rebuild a new culture (that never happens in Cleveland ever) over the next 2-3 years.
Basically, Cleveland will be a mess with diva wide receivers dragging them down for another season or the Browns will be undergoing another 2-3 year rebuild plan they’ll almost certainly butcher/cancel too quickly.
I really don’t know which direction the Browns will go. They can pay OBJ + Landry $29M this season or cut/trade both and eat just $7.5M in CAP hits.
The Browns should, for sure, cut Olivier Vernon, Sheldon Richardson, Christian Kirksey, Travis Carrie, Morgan Burnett, and Demetrius Harris. If they execute each one of them – the Browns would create $36M more in CAP space.
Dump that obvious group, move on from OBJ/Landry…those moves would open up an additional $58M in CAP space to go with their current $45M = $100M+ in CAP space to work with, which would be #1 in the league today, if it were to happen.
They’d have $100M+ to spend and no one wants to play for them unless they pay 25-50% more than their market price. It’s a double-edge sword the Browns, Jets, and Chargers (among others) will have to live with for years to come).
Overview: The Bengals are middle of the NFL pack with $46M approx. CAP space. Not great considering this is a team that isn’t very good and has a lot of free agency issues coming in 2021. They don’t have a lot of key free agents to deal with in 2020, but next year they may be staring at gutting a lot of aging/expensive guys and re-re-building.
Joe Burrow needs to throw down the gauntlet and tell ownership he’s not signing with them, so trade the #1 pick.
Big UFA names: A.J. Green is the biggest name, and they should’ve traded him when they could have but they’ll likely just let him walk and take the compensation pick. The Bengals have no need for aging A.J. Green in their current state…and if they draft Burrow, why would they waste time developing Burrow-to-Green when AJG has another year left of viability, if that?
Nick Vigil should be a focus to re-sign, but the Bengals are probably too smart for that…and Vigil is probably too smart to stay there with any close offers to leave. He’ll make a nice under-the-radar signing for the Patriots.
Shock CAP-reasoned Cuts: The Bengals should really go on a cutting/trading frenzy of their expensive but solid veterans and really get the rebuild under way, but (a) the Bengals are poorly run, and (b) Zac Taylor knows he’s going to get fired if they don’t start winning ASAP. So, a bad organization with mixed agendas will do things that make no sense and just spin their wheels.
They will move on from Andy Dalton and save $18M CAP space.
They could trade Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, and William Jackson and save an additional $22M.
The Bengals could gut this whole (terrible) infrastructure, hire Ed Orgeron, draft as many LSU players as possible and really rebuild (I’m half-kidding). They won’t. Instead, they’ll keep these players past their prime and have another terrible season and then be rebuilding in 2021…and get little in return for the aging guys they’ll lose.
The Bengals have the same issue the Jets, Chargers, and Browns have – no one wants to play for their organization. So, even stockpiling CAP space is a waste, because they’ll overpay the wrong free agents to come in and go nowhere with them. Essentially, the Bengals are doomed until they get a radical head coach and GM…and a new owner.
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