Cover-Two: Offseason storylines to watch
With the 2013 season over, the 2014 league year right around the corner, and the draft following soon after, every team is getting ready to deal with the offseason process.
Many teams have tough questions to answer, while others will look to restock at several important positions. Still, other teams feature new coaches and front offices looking to enhance what they have been handed, or start spackling the damage they inherited.
In preparation, Audibles' Chris Burke and Doug Farrar take a look at a few of the more interesting offseason subjects.
Most intriguing free agent
Chris Burke: Jairus Byrd, Safety
The Seahawks showed off the benefit of having a dynamic safety who is capable of ranging sideline to sideline or flying up into the box. Byrd is that type of player when he's healthy and (at least in my opinion, though there's an argument for T.J. Ward) is the top safety set to hit the market.
We've seen teams increasingly put a premium on that spot of the field -- three of the first 33 draft picks last year were safeties, with five more taken in the top 100. There are a couple of notable prospects there this draft, like HaHa Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor, but might some team load up a deal for the proven Byrd rather than roll the dice there?
He was banged up and not particularly happy during the 2013 season. When Byrd is on his game though, there may not be a safety shy of Earl Thomas capable of delivering as grand an impact.
Doug Farrar: Eric Decker, Wide receiver
Demaryius Thomas may have been the AFC champs' number-one receiver overall, but Decker was right behind him in catches (87 to Thomas' 92), yards (1,288 to Thomas' 1,430), yards per catch (14.8 to 15.5), and touchdowns (11 to 14). Peyton Manning had two amazing receivers in Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne when he was in Indianapolis, and it's not out of line to see Decker as Wayne to Thomas' Harrison. Decker would be the most prolific receiver on most teams.
Decker has said he wants to return to the Broncos, but reports indicate the team will let him test the open market. Denver has two Thomases -- Demaryius and tight end Julius -- coming up on contract years, and there's always the question of what this offense will look like when Peyton Manning retires. The team may believe it needs to allocate its resources elsewhere, which would make Decker a lead-pipe number-one receiver -- in role and in contract value.
Most surprising cap casualty
Burke: Osi Umenyiora, Defensive End
Umenyiora is not alone at fault for the Falcons' inability to get to the quarterback last season -- he actually led the team with 7.5 sacks. However, Atlanta started laying the groundwork for life after Umenyiora late in the season by dropping 25-year-old Jonathan Massaquoi into the starting lineup.
Veterans Asante Samuel and Stephen Nicholas already hit the bricks as part of Atlanta's offseason reworking of its defense. Cutting Umenyiora would save another $3.5 million for next season, which is money that could be used elsewhere.
Farrar: DeMarcus Ware, Defensive end/Outside linebacker
Ware is getting up in years, but letting him go would be an admission that Jerry Jones and son Stephen have mangled their cap situation badly over the last few seasons -- which, of course, they have. Ware's contract presents a $16 million cap hit in 2014, and Dallas would still be stung for $8.5 million if it releases him... but the Joneses may go for the "any port in a storm" philosophy and jettison their most productive pass-rusher over the last decade -- a player who could still be very effective elsewhere if he can avoid injuries.
Draft prospect who will see stock fluctuate most
Burke: Mike Evans, Wide receiver
Evans has been a favorite of mine in this class since the 2014 draft process started, so I cannot envision anything swaying my opinion. And yet, the upcoming scouting combine, Texas A&M Pro Day and Evans' individual workouts for teams could move him down the board a bit because it is a pretty safe bet he'll run a mediocre 40 time. Add that to his still-developing repertoire of routes, and a few receiver-needy teams may turn their attention toward more polished products.
That is, at least until the draft draws nearer. When all is said and done, Evans' upside as a physical receiver with great hands and imposing size will overwhelm the negatives.
Farrar: Teddy Bridgewater, Quarterback
South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is also a candidate for this award, but Bridgewater is seen as the number-one overall prospect at this time. And with three months left until the draft, you can expect everything about Bridgewater -- his height, size, throwing motion, ability to make every throw, offensive acumen and anything else people can come up with -- to come under question. Bridgewater is the best player in this draft class at the game's most important position, so he'll probably rise back up to the top, but get ready for all kinds of churning when it comes to his name.
What will Texans do with No. 1 pick?
Burke: Take a quarterback.
Are we really going to have this debate for the next three months? The Texans have two dynamic receivers in place in Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins, a top-tier running back (when he's healthy) in Arian Foster, solid tight ends, decent line play ...
They need a quarterback. Period.
Look, Case Keenum's arrival was fun for a bit and Matt Schaub was at least adequate in the past, but if this team can find its Andrew Luck -- and, granted, there might not be a QB of Luck's talent level here -- it is a playoff contender again.
Bringing in Jadeveon Clowney is a fun thought, especially when one considers him paired with J.J. Watt. Teams that finish 2-14, though, cannot afford luxury picks. The only other real option on the table, aside from a QB pick, would be to trade down if there's an overwhelming offer on the table. If Houston could drop a couple spots, add a couple additional high picks and still think QB, it should entertain that possibility. Otherwise, just play it smart and get a starting quarterback.
Farrar: Take a quarterback -- as long as you believe he's your best bet. Yes, the Texans need a quarterback. And yes, new head coach Bill O'Brien will provide a hospitable environment for that quarterback. But as much as some Texans fans would love for Teddy Bridgewater to be that first-overall pick, it's also entirely possible the team's brain trust sees Clowney, or Jake Matthews, or someone else as the best player available. And if that's the case -- especially if O'Brien believes he can either make do with Case Keenum or find a lesser-known prospect at some point in the draft process -- the Texans will be well-served to stick with their board... no matter who's on top.