Last month I wrote about the in-house free agency decisions facing the Dallas Cowboys this offseason. I anticipated that nine of Dallas’ unrestricted free agents would leave for another team. But if you add the likely departure of Tony Romo to the list then we’ll be at an even 10.
As a follow up to that piece, here are my projections for where I believe those 10 players will be playing in 2017.
Mark Sanchez – Quarterback – Atlanta Falcons
Sanchez struggled in the only significant action he saw last season. But this is a quarterback hungry league, where anyone with experience and some W’s on their resume will always be given the opportunity to compete.
Sanchez’s landing spot is a difficult one to project because players like Sanchez are often brought into the fold when a team is in panic mode over the loss of a starter.
For now, let’s connect the relationship dots and project Sanchez to end up in Atlanta. Kyle Shanahan is reported to have interest in bringing Falcons backup Matt Schaub with him to San Francisco, and new Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian was Sanchez’s mentor at USC a decade ago.
Darren McFadden – Running Back – Baltimore Ravens
McFadden’s days as a featured back are probably over, but he may fit in nicely as part of a running back by committee.
The Baltimore Ravens went with a duo of Terrance West and rookie Kenneth Dixon following the release of Justin Forsett last year. Dixon battled injuries for part of last season, but was fairly productive in the latter part of the year and many think he has great upside. West will be hitting free agency at the age of 26 following a solid year for Baltimore. With Dixon emerging as the likely lead of a running back duo, it would seem West’s age and production might be valued more by another organization.
Enter Darren McFadden. The Ravens run counter to most of the league in that they often welcome aging veterans into the fold. Baltimore signed Eric Weddle last off-season, re-signed Justin Forsett the year before that, and took a chance on Steve Smith when many thought his productive days were behind him.
McFadden is the exact type of move the Ravens have made for years now, and he would likely see a respectable workload with Kenneth Dixon.
Terrance Williams – Wide Receiver – Washington Redskins
Kirk Cousins’ two favorite targets at receiver, DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, are both free agents and on the wrong side of 30 years old. They’re still playing productive football, but with Cousins due a payday, it’s easy to see how they may need to let one or both walk.
In Terrance Williams, the Redskins would likely come away with cap savings over either Garcon or Jackson, and they’d also be getting a few years younger. Williams would be a welcomed blocker and would be able to stretch the field in Jay Gruden’s offense.
Gavin Escobar – Tight End – New England Patriots
With Martellus Bennett ready to cash in on a nice pay day, Bill Belichick will be searching for another athletic tight end to pair with Rob Gronkowski.
Escobar is the type of reclamation project that the Patriots adore and his athletic ability is definitely there. The Pats have made great use of Tim Wright, Scott Chandler, and the aforementioned Bennett in recent years. If anyone would be able to channel Escobar’s talent and help him see it through to production, it’s New England.
Ron Leary – Offensive Guard – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Leary came back to the starting lineup with a vengeance following a toe injury to La’el Collins. He earned what will undoubtedly be a nice pay day.
Leary is a loyal Louisiana native and Saints left guard Tim Lelito is a free agent, so New Orleans would make a lot of sense. But I’m going to project the Buccaneers for Leary at this point.
Tampa has plenty of cap space and young talent on both sides of the ball. A little more seasoning of their youth and the Buccaneers are legitimate NFC contenders.
The one area that is of some real concern is the left side of the offensive line. Leary would shore up one part of that weakness and provide Tampa a strong interior alongside center Joe Hawley and right guard Ali Marpet.
Terrell McClain – Defensive Tackle – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Terrell McClain had a good season for the Cowboys, but I feel his strong season will price him out of what Dallas wants to pay when weighed against their 3-technique depth.
The Buccaneers, who don’t really need to shed salaries (as we noted above) could save two million dollars by releasing DT Clinton McDonald. The cap savings would merely be icing for the Buccaneers, as replacing McDonald’s poor 2016 play with McClain would immediately upgrade their already strong defensive front.
The desire for a union between Tampa and McClain would likely be strongest on McClain’s side. McClain attended high school in Florida and has immediate family that lives in Tampa.
Brandon Carr – Cornerback – Detroit Lions
Carr mentioned after the season that he was pondering retirement. While I don’t believe he’s ready to hang it up yet, his career is beginning to wind down and athletes have a history of getting sentimental in their waning years.
Carr is a native of Flint, Michigan, which is 90 minutes outside of Detroit. He still does a lot of charitable work in his hometown.
The Lions had a much-improved defense in 2016, but it is a young secondary for the most part, and Nevin Lawson is not always the most consistent corner across from Darius Slay.
Morris Claiborne – Cornerback – New Orleans Saints
I honestly have no clue where Morris Claiborne will end up. There are so many questions that will have to be answered.
Is starting going to be a requirement of his? Will any team feel comfortable assigning a starting spot to him with his injury history? Does he want to play close to home? Does he still have a good relationship with Tyrann Mathieu, and if so would he like to play with him in Arizona?
The only thing I can say with certainty is that I know he loves Shreveport. That’s still home. The only NFL cities within five hours of Shreveport are Dallas, Houston, and New Orleans. Dallas is no longer an option, Houston has money tied up in its secondary already, so that only leaves New Orleans in the realm of Shreveport.
The Saints secondary did struggle in 2016 and so perhaps this is a good fit for both sides.
Barry Church – Safety – Tennessee Titans
Dallas will have to choose between either Barry Church or JJ Wilcox this offseason. I think the choice will partially be made for them since teams will have interest in Church, but also because of Wilcox’s vast improvement in 2016.
When looking over the landscape of potential landing spots, Tennessee looks like it could be a good one.
The Titans are on the cusp of being a great team in the AFC and Barry Church would be a significant upgrade at safety over Da’Norris Searcy. Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau is also a big fan of rotating the Titans’ safeties, so the more talented bodies back there, the better.
The intrigue from Church’s perspective wouldn’t be hard to imagine; a chance to jump on with a team on the rise and work with one of the game’s top secondary gurus in LeBeau.
Tony Romo – Quarterback – Houston Texans
We’ve saved the best for last.
I don’t believe the Cowboys are going to be able to trade Romo, as much as they’d love to make that happen. A release in March or potentially before appears to be a much more likely course of action.
Once he’s out from under the Cowboys, I anticipate Romo looking most closely at Houston and Denver. Kansas City, Chicago, Cleveland, etc. will all probably place phone calls as well, and perhaps Romo will have interest in one of them, but the Broncos and Texans make much more sense in my mind. Both are reasonably close to his home in Dallas and both are a quarterback away from realistically contending for a Super Bowl.
I change my mind from day to day, but for right now I lean Houston. It’s closer to Dallas, it’s a more winnable division, and a Super Bowl title would be a greater legacy builder in Houston than Denver.
Plenty of people still point to money as an issue for Denver and Houston, but that misses the context of where Romo is in his career right now. If Romo wants to play for the Broncos or the Texans, he will make sure the money works for them. Tony Romo wants to win a Super Bowl title, not cash in a third lottery ticket.