We’re past the halfway point of the NFL’s regular season, which means some teams are closer to the end than the beginning, and for some of those teams and fan bases, that has to feel like a good thing.
If your team is hopelessly out of it, your attention is likely turning to the 2020 offseason. Even if your team is in it, you’re likely holding open at least some small corner of your imagination to consider what comes after your inevitable Super Bowl parade.
We’re here for the forward-thinkers. The look-aheaders. Those of you whose minds just can’t stay in the now. At the midpoint of the 2019 season, we proudly offer 20 predictions for the 2020 offseason:
Which two? Don’t know. Heck, could be all three. But there’s enough uncertainty around these three great veteran quarterbacks, none of whom has a contract for next season, to make me think there’s one seismic shocker coming.
Maybe Brees wins the Super Bowl and goes out Elway-style. Maybe Rivers decides to try his luck somewhere else. Maybe Brady hangs ’em up or signs with some other team. (Maybe one that hires Josh McDaniels as its coach?)
Each of these quarterbacks feels like he can still perform at a high level, and all three are in pretty good situations. So I’m not envisioning a mass retirement or overhaul at the geezer end of the QB spectrum. Which is why I say two stay put. I just think at this point it’s a lot to expect all three to do so.
2. The Browns hire Mike McCarthy as their coach
This assumes the second half in Cleveland is as ugly as the first was, or close to it, and the Browns decide Freddie Kitchens was the wrong man for the job.
Former Packers coach McCarthy, who couldn’t get an offer on the 2019 job market, has a lot of former Packers front-office colleagues in that Browns front office. And if Cleveland decides to make a change because the guy it hired before this season was too inexperienced, common sense says the Browns look for someone with a whole bunch of experience.
3. Six other teams change coaches
On the face of it, this sounds crazy, but it more or less happens every year, even though teams end up regretting the perpetual overhauls. The Washington job is already open. The Atlanta job could come open any week.
People around the league who track these things have their eyes on the situations in Chicago, Cleveland, Carolina, Jacksonville and both New York teams. Add in Dallas if things bottom out there and Denver if the second half goes south and the Broncos decide to blow up the whole thing.
The question isn’t whether a bunch of jobs will come open — it concerns the quality and number of candidates available to fill them. We wrote about some possible names last month, in case you’re curious.
4. Dak Prescott will become the league’s highest-paid player
Prescott’s discipline in turning down the Cowboys’ contract offers has been remarkable, and it sets up the strong possibility that he’ll be franchised in March if they can’t reach a deal before then. He’s not leaving Dallas, I promise you that.
But I don’t think Jerry Jones wants this to be acrimonious, and if Prescott finishes the season the way he began it and the Cowboys win another division title, it’s going to be hard (and kind of silly) not to give Prescott what he wants. Russell Wilson currently holds the top spot with an average salary of $35 million. I say Prescott ends up topping him, which would be proof of the value of waiting and betting on yourself.
One of the marquee signings of 2019 free agency, Bell ends up changing teams again in 2020. This is especially sure to happen if coach Adam Gase keeps his job with the Jets. But even if he doesn’t, general manager Joe Douglas wasn’t there for this signing and likely will be able to get something nice in return for a suddenly tradable Bell contract.
The Jets already paid the $8 million signing bonus and his $2 million in 2019 salary and bonuses. The only guarantee left on the deal is a $4.5 million 2020 roster bonus and an $8.5 million 2020 salary, meaning a team can get Bell in a trade and owe him only $13 million for one season. A contending team with a need at running back will jump at this chance. Is it crazy to imagine him on the Chiefs?
6. The top pick in the 2020 draft won’t be a quarterback
My eyes automatically roll when I hear the phrase “Tanking for Tua,” and part of the reason is I don’t know for sure whether Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa is a sure thing to be the top quarterback taken in the draft. NFL teams really haven’t done enough digging on these guys yet for anyone to know that.
But the main reason for this prediction is that Ohio State pass-rusher Chase Young is the guy over whom everyone seems to be drooling right now. And while the Dolphins or Bengals could easily snag the top pick and use it on a quarterback, that’s not likely to be the call if the top pick ends up with the Jets, Falcons, Giants or Washington.
7. Cam Newton will end up in Denver
Elway’s next attempt to fix a quarterback is his boldest since Peyton Manning. Carolina releases Newton from the final year of his contract, saving $19.1 million in cap space it can apply to Christian McCaffrey‘s new deal, and Elway signs the former MVP for the team that beat Newton in his lone Super Bowl appearance.
8. The ‘franchise-and-trade’ trend will continue with pass-rushers
Last offseason, Frank Clark, Dee Ford and Jadeveon Clowney were all franchised by teams that didn’t want to commit long-term contracts with them and traded to teams that did (or, in Clowney’s case, might).
Whether it’s for salary-cap reasons, scheme reasons or good old-fashioned cold feet, a lot of teams just can’t stomach the idea of giving out quarterback-type contracts to non-quarterbacks. But they also don’t want to lose pass-rushers for nothing, so the template set this past offseason could guide the situations of guys like Yannick Ngakoue in Jacksonville, Shaq Barrett in Tampa Bay, Bud Dupree in Pittsburgh and Matthew Judon in Baltimore.
9. Kirk Cousins will get a contract extension in Minnesota
After the season, Cousins will have one year and $29.5 million left on the three-year, fully guaranteed contract he signed with the Vikings 20 months ago. Yeah, life comes at you fast.
Thing is, it looks as if the Vikings are going to have a good season and be in position for a playoff run. And when the season is over, they’re going to have major salary-cap issues. Whatever you think of him, Cousins surely will have played well enough for the Vikings to consider him a better 2020 option than wandering the quarterback wilderness. They won’t be able to restructure his contract for cap relief, because it’s got only the one year left, so an extension is likely to be their best option. Seriously. Don’t @ me. Do the math.
10. Christian McCaffrey will reset the running back market
The Panthers have McCaffrey under contract for two more years after 2019. The fourth year of his rookie contract is 2020, and they hold a fifth-year option for 2021. This is the exact situation in which the Cowboys found themselves with Ezekiel Elliott this past summer, and Elliott held out of camp until he got a record-setting deal. Not saying McCaffrey will or won’t hold out, but (A) he should if they don’t pay him and (B) the Panthers probably will want to get this settled anyway.
If McCaffrey keeps up what he has done this season, there will be no argument against making him the highest-paid player in the league at his position, which means more than $15 million per year and about $30 million fully guaranteed.
This is what’s happening to the running back market. Leonard Fournette is in the same boat (though he’s not putting up McCaffrey’s numbers), and we’ll be writing the same thing about Saquon Barkley this time next year.
11. The CBA negotiations will drag on and remain unresolved
A month ago, I still thought the NFL and NFLPA could reach a deal this season. I am no longer that optimistic. This is based on the current state of the negotiations, which are dormant, and the conversations I’ve had with people on both sides of it. I could be wrong. I would love to be wrong. I’d be totally fine with them doing a new collective bargaining agreement the week before Thanksgiving and somebody tweeting me the link to this story with a snarky, “This didn’t age well …” as if they were the first person who ever thought of that.
But there hasn’t been enough movement toward a deal in the past few weeks to convince me there’s momentum here. And if nothing gets done this month, the owners likely turn their attention to the new TV deals on the horizon and slide this thing to the back burner. That means a bunch of weird rules for the 2020 offseason and the possibility of the 2020 season being played under the threat of a work stoppage. The current CBA expires after the 2020 season.
12. The Browns will trade for Trent Williams
This is another thing that should have happened this year, but the situation with Williams in Washington got too ugly for anyone to resolve it sensibly. He’s not going to play for that team again, and in the offseason, it’ll be easier for Washington to trade him since it knows exactly what picks it is getting.
Browns general manager John Dorsey makes it happen this time as he tries to reposition his still-talented roster as a post-hype 2020 sleeper.
13. The Bears will bring in Andy Dalton
The prediction here is that Chicago declines the 2021 option on Mitchell Trubisky‘s contract, setting 2020 up as a walk year, and brings in a veteran to compete with him and/or motivate him. Something like what the Titans did this season with Marcus Mariota and Ryan Tannehill.
This move wouldn’t be as obviously threatening as it would if the Bears brought in someone such as Newton or Jameis Winston. Signing Brady or Rivers (pipe dream, but who knows?) would necessitate moving on from Trubisky entirely. And the Bears are probably not getting Teddy Bridgewater unless they promise him the starting job.
Dalton isn’t the most thrilling pickup, but he might make the most sense for what Chicago needs.
14. Nick Caserio will leave New England to become the Texans’ general manager
This move was supposed to happen earlier this year, but the Patriots got annoyed and blocked it. With Caserio’s contract up after this season, there won’t be anything Bill Belichick can do this time to keep his director of player personnel.
Caserio and Bill O’Brien unite in Houston, where they can try to build a new AFC South dynasty around Deshaun Watson, though the Texans don’t have first-round picks in 2020 or 2021.
15. Eli Manning will retire as a Giant
Manning believes he can still play, but who’s going to bring him in to be their unquestioned, unchallenged starter in camp? Would he take a prove-it deal somewhere? What does this two-time Super Bowl MVP, who has never missed a game due to injury and never made any waves about losing his job to a rookie in 2019, have left to prove to himself or to anyone else?
Manning always said he never wanted to play anywhere else, and when it comes time to make that choice, I’m betting he decides that’s the right call.
16. The league will put the pass-interference replay review rule out of its misery
I’m not big on saying, “I told you so,” but sometimes I can understand why people like it so much. It was straight-up idiotic for the NFL to approve a rule that allows pass interference — which is by definition a judgment call even in slow motion — to be subject to replay review.
The first half of the season has made it clear that the NFL will not overturn pass-interference calls in either direction except in some obscenely extreme case. Basically, they put the rule in because the NFC Championship Game got messed up by a blown interference call, and that’s about what would have to happen again in order to activate it.
Like a lot of rule changes, this one was put in place on a one-year trial period. It’s hard to imagine owners voting in March to make it permanent.
This would be either for another season as Drew Brees‘ backup — not a bad life he has carved out for himself — or as the new starter if Brees decides to retire.
Bridgewater seemed to make it clear this past offseason that he wasn’t going to abandon the Saints’ backup job for just any old starting job. Another year in New Orleans, especially if it makes a Super Bowl run, should only make him feel more warmly about the place and the situation.
18. The Giants will draft Jerry Jeudy
Telling you, guys. This is Dave Gettleman’s 2020 draft crush. And the Giants’ general manager gets his man, the Alabama wide receiver who is projected to be a top-five pick.
The Giants should be picking high enough to pull this off, and Gettleman will be able to sit there convinced he built the core of an offensive monster with his top picks in the 2017, 2018 and 2019 drafts. He’d just better find a left tackle and a pass-rusher elsewhere.
19. Andrew Luck‘s name will come up … but he won’t come back
At least one team, and likely many, will call Luck’s agent to gauge his interest in returning to football after he retired from the Colts before the start of this season. In the end, though, I’m taking Luck at his word that he’s done with the game.
And logistically, even if he wanted back in, the whole thing would be tough to pull off. The Colts still have his rights, and his contract would have to be navigated and rearranged. You’ll hear Luck’s name connected seriously with at least one team, I guarantee. But don’t get your hopes up.
20. Patrick Mahomes will wait to do his contract
After this season, the Chiefs are legally permitted to talk about a contract extension with the 2019 MVP. He’s under contract through 2020, they’ll surely pick up his 2021 option and — assuming the new CBA rules don’t change significantly — they will likely have the ability to franchise him for 2022 and 2023. So they don’t have to do anything with the contract this offseason. They might want to, though, and if they do, I predict Mahomes waits it out. Especially if things have worked out well for Dak Prescott in the meantime.
Mahomes surely wants to see what Prescott gets first, and he might want to see what Deshaun Watson gets before topping it. Given the possibility that he can blow past the $40 million-per-year benchmark when he finally does sign, it would be wise for Mahomes not to rush into anything.