It’s hard to imagine a realist overseeing his NFL personnel department and not looking at his assembled group in terms of a championship window. Quarterback performance arc, depth at injury-riddled positions and the number of talented players on rookie contracts all factor in. One of the most stressful places has to be when the team is approaching a major landscape shift without a Lombardi trophy to show for it.
In the recent past, we’ve seen teams make wild decisions to prolong those windows. The pre-Dave Gettleman Giants come to mind as particularly delusional (or desperate) to energize something that may have already passed.
For Friday’s Morning Huddle read, here’s a look at which teams might be in a closing window of opportunity.
While cap space is a poor indicator of roster health, Dallas doesn’t have a ton of it, and they need to pacify an awful lot of star players at expensive positions. Dak Prescott becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2020. Ezekiel Elliott becomes a UFA in 2021, but should (and probably will) take a stand at some point and earn some guaranteed money before he’s out of his prime. Byron Jones hits unrestricted free agency in 2020 and Jaylon Smith hits restricted free agency that same season. Dallas missed the chance to bet on Prescott financially when he was cheaper, something that the Eagles may make more popular in the coming years. Should they miss the playoffs this year, or limp along the way, we could be looking at a massively different roster a year or two from now.
The Chargers deserve credit for not spending ridiculous amounts of money to accentuate their roster, especially given the price tag at their biggest positions of need. That being said, Philip Rivers turns 38 in the last month of the season. Joey Bosa slides into his fifth-year option season in 2020, surely en route to a market-resetting deal. The cornerstones on their offensive line are turning 30 and 31 respectively this football season, Melvin Gordon’s contract expires after this season and Melvin Ingram, now 30, has one more year of significant dead cap space before his future will potentially be evaluated. On paper, one of the best defenses in football is quickly nearing a breakup.
Alvin Kamara has a long way to go before he hits free agency following the 2020 offseason, but like Ezekiel Elliott, we may wisely see him make a contractual stand before he’s overused (or, before the NFL market for hybrid running backs gets grinded down even further). Michael Thomas is nearing an epic payday, with the basement for wide receivers sitting around the $19 million per year mark. Drew Brees, obviously the biggest part of this, is playing his age-40 season.
While Cam Newton just turned 30, he has played two lifetimes of football. Whether it was the incalculable number of devastating hits or the latest shoulder surgery, this is not a 30-year-old body, no matter how phenomenally athletic it may be. So many of Carolina’s cornerstones are exceptional but fighting similar outlooks. Greg Olsen, 34, is not long for the NFL. Luke Kuechly is playing season eight this year, also with a lifetime’s worth of football injuries behind him. It feels like Carolina drafted and signed players with the knowledge that a Super Bowl return is fleeting. This may be the last time this team of familiar faces together.
If the all-in gamble on Kirk Cousins a year ago wasn’t clear enough (as well as the in-season coordinator firing later that season), this is a team that feels the pressure of an exceptional but aging defense and a tandem of skill position players who they’re desperate to maximize while they’re still in their primes.
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1. Catching up on Jimmy Garoppolo, once the league’s most hyped player, now a comeback story.
2. Tyreek Hill’s NFL meeting lasted eight hours.
3. Years after 2013’s tackle-tackle first round, Eric Fisher is finally coming into his own.
4. Ryan Shazier: On the comeback trail.
5. NASA is returning to the moons of Saturn.
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