The season is winding down and the NFL playoffs are coming into focus. This is that time of year that coaches start to avoid owners and most players are wondering what 2018 has in store for them. Opportunities arise from new situations for players who will go to new teams next year and for the batch of rookies that will wash over the league. Here are the teams that will have the most fantasy-relevant changes next year.
Arizona Cardinals – HC Bruce Arian turned the Cards around when he took over in 2013 and they peeled off three straight seasons with ten or more wins. Lost in the wildcard round in 2014 and then in the Conference Championship in 2015. These last two seasons are both losers. There is no word that Arians or OC Harold Goodwin are on a hot seat but this is likely going to be a very different team next year.
Carson Palmer will retire and it looks like Blaine Gabbert will lead the team while some yet-unnamed rookie quarterback prepares for 2019. David Johnson will be back and that makes a huge difference. But will Larry Fitzgerald? He is signed through 2018 but will be 35 next year. He could stay on just to further bury records but at what effectiveness? John Brown and Jaron Brown are free agents. The only remaining offensive player to return may just be Johnson. They may try to extend it one more year, but it seems ripe for major changes.
Cleveland Browns – One year, one year in some future decade, maybe the Browns will enter the next year with all the same players and coaches. Yeah, I’m just kidding. HC Hue Jackson is a potential loss after producing a 1-31 record over his first two years. Hard to talk the fans into one more year. And of course, a new slate of players are likely to start next year (and get injured, wash, rinse, repeat).
DeShone Kizer is no lock to keep the starting job with a quarterback-rich draft looming (and because the Browns need yet another year of resetting into Year One of a rebuild). Isaiah Crowell becomes a free agent. Corey Coleman and Josh Gordon return and… wait… Josh Gordon is a free agent. He may owe the team a re-signing but he’s done wonders for his popularity as a free agent. I guess when the Browns don’t change, it will be news.
San Francisco 49ers – Next year already holds promise with Jimmy Garoppolo so how he distributes passes now is relevant. Marquise Goodwin resigned in March for a two-year contract but has already outplayed it. He is owed $1.45M next year which is pretty cheap. Pierre Garcon is back but will be 32 years old. He signed through 2021 which seems impossible to fulfill. The 49ers still need one more target and maybe a top receiving tight end.
Carlos Hyde is a free agent and he hasn’t brought much to Kyle Shanahan’s offense. Matt Breida is just depth so the 49ers could be looking to add a hot new rookie running back. Be a nice fit here in an offense that should jump up to the next level in 2018.
Indianapolis Colts – There is speculation that HC Chuck Pagano is on the hot seat and this was a season where everything went wrong starting with Andrew Luck who is in Europe trying to fix his shoulder. Will Luck be back? Will he be the same? He really hasn’t been since 2014. T.Y. Hilton had monster games against the terrible teams on the schedule but little else. Donte Moncrief and Kamar Aiken will be free agents. The receivers need a better quarterback but the Colts are certain to add at least one or two more receivers into the fold.
Frank Gore is already the oldest running back and he’s a free agent in 2018 so the backfield will be in transition. Marlon Mack is a standard fourth-round running back who offers a complement but hasn’t suggested he is likely to be more than just depth. The Colts have to be in the market for running back help.
NY Giants – Already missing a head coach, the offensive scheme will be different next year. Eli Manning should return. Odell Beckham is assumedly back to form. Brandon Marshall is signed through 2018 but it is hard to imagine he’ll be back for $5M. Evan Engram has been the most productive rookie tight end if only because the Giants ran out of receivers. But a better offensive plan added to Manning, Beckham, Sterling Shepard, and Engram could succeed if they bother to upgrade the offensive line first and foremost. Grabbing another wideout early would also help.
What happens to the backfield is also key. Since the days of Tom Coughlin, the directive was to gather marginal backs and then mix and match them as if the sum of mediocrity is more than mediocrity. Orleans Darkwa and Shane Vereen will be free agents. Wayne Gallman is getting more work now which is prudent to see if he still figures into 2018. He has three more games to show something. If this offense just upgraded the offensive line and added a true primary running back, it would have a major impact on their success.
Denver Broncos – HC Vance Joseph may be one and done. Bringing back OC Mike McCoy hasn’t done anything to help the offense. If any team is sure to bring in a quarterback, it will be the Broncos. They’ve spent the last two seasons proving that Mr. Franchise does not currently own a Broncos helmet and uniform. A new coach, new offensive scheme, and quarterback alone make everything different.
The backfield will likely remain the same mess unless a new offensive coordinator comes in and the Broncos spend a higher pick in the draft. C,J. Anderson is having a career year but he’s been inconsistent and injury-prone. Aside from Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, there’s no one that should be considered a lock for next year. John Elway is not happy and that alone should ensure changes are coming.
Washington Redskins – Four years of Jay Gruden resulted in one playoff loss in the wildcard round of 2015 when 9-7 was good enough to play in January. There hasn’t been much talk about him getting fired but the Skins offense took a big step down with the loss of OC Sean McVay. Kirk Cousins won’t get his third franchise tag so the quarterback spot could finally be new.
Jordan Reed will return, assumedly, and he is signed through 2021 but his contract will be reworked if he remains since he jumps from $3.75M this year to $8.25M in 2018 and that seems highly unlikely. Vernon Davis is signed through next year but he’ll be 34 years old.
Jamison Crowder will be in his final year but is only making $705K which is underpaid. Ryan Grant is starting to show up but will be a free agent. Terrelle Pryor has been a bust and he too will be a free agent. At the least, the Skins need to add a starting wideout to join Josh Doctson and Crowder.
Is Samaje Perine the answer at running back? Probably not. Chris Thompson returns and resumes a big role unless there is a chance in the offense. The Skins will likely add at least depth for the position.
Chicago Bears – John Fox is likely gone after three losing seasons. At current, he went 13-32 as the head coach. There is hope that Mitchell Trubisky can replicate with Jared Goff did by turning a bad rookie year into a far more promising sophomore season. Jordan Howard is signed through 2019 though his fifth-round contract in 2016 has been outplayed significantly. Howard is only owed $630K next year and just played for $540k this year. But the backfield seems set.
Recall that the wide receiver corps was decimated by injury to start the year. They lost Cameron Meredith and Kevin White. But Meredith is healing from an ACL and is a free agent in 2018. White is signed for next year but is he worth $2.7M? He has 21 catches over three NFL seasons, so no. Kendall Wright just had a big game (finally) but he’ll be a free agent. Dontrelle Inman? Free agent. Josh Bellamy? Free agent. About the only signed wideout is Markus Wheaton who is owed $5M next year after catching one pass this season. Luckily he had $6M guaranteed so that was an expensive catch.
There are others – no team every stands pat in all facets. But these final weeks are when teams start to think about 2018.