It’s only the midpoint of the NFL season, but let’s be honest: There are plenty of fan bases already looking ahead to the 2019 offseason.
No offense intended there to any particular team nor certainly to the fact that surprise turnarounds are possible. But if you’re a fan of the Raiders, the 49ers, the Cardinals, the Bills or either New York team, you’re kidding yourself if you haven’t already started thinking about the draft, free agency, a potential coaching change … some offseason storyline that will affect the team you love.
So as we roll out our midseason look backs and look aheads, we thought it would be fun to take a look WAY ahead and make some predictions for what’s to come once the season is over.
Without further ado, here are 19 way-too-early predictions for the 2019 offseason:
1. DeMarcus Lawrence — not Dak Prescott — scores the biggest Cowboys contract extension
The Cowboys franchised Lawrence last year because they wanted to see if he could do it again. Well, he’s doing it again, which means they should pay up now and give Lawrence one of those fancy new $20-million-a-year pass-rusher contracts. I think they will, even though they also have to sign Amari Cooper, Byron Jones and of course Prescott. They have plenty of cap space, and the bet here is that Prescott does his extension in the Dalton/Bortles/Keenum range rather than insisting on a Cousins/Ryan/Rodgers deal.
2. Lawrence will pace the market but won’t be the only pass-rusher cashing in
Jadeveon Clowney is in his walk year. Ziggy Ansah, like Lawrence, was franchised this year and will be on the market. Dee Ford has eight sacks already and his deal is up at the end of the season. Frank Clark and Brandon Graham will be on the market. The pass-rushers are going to dominate in free agency, and those who make it to the market are going to benefit big time from waiting out this year until Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack reset the market.
3. The defensive line bounty will keep flowing into late April
Yeah, it’s a defensive line draft! That might not sound as sexy as a big quarterback draft, but with offenses all over the league dropping 30-40 points a week, teams are going to be salivating at the prospect of drafting big, fast, athletic dudes who can help them scheme ways to stop them. Houston’s Ed Oliver and Ohio State’s Nick Bosa lead a crop of college linemen who have defensive coordinators hoping things fall their way in the draft.
Oregon’s stud quarterback will disappoint QB-needy teams at the top of the draft by deciding to return to school for another season, à la Andrew Luck in 2011, and see if he can make some playoff noise with the Ducks. The result is an even thinner draft QB class than expected.
5. The Broncos are the first team to pick a quarterback in the draft
The carousel spins. Case Keenum, coming off a disappointing season, will be thrown into a competition with a rookie (Will Grier?) who becomes the latest hope for John Elway to finally find a franchise quarterback. Most of the teams projecting to pick high in next year’s draft (almost everyone but the Giants) won’t be QB-hunting, which could work out well for Elway … if he finally picks the right guy.
By now, it should be clear to Giants management that it’s time to move on from Eli Manning. Unfortunately, it wasn’t clear last spring, when they were picking No. 2 and had their choice of four quarterbacks who eventually went in the first round. No such luck for 2019, so it’s free agency, where they will be fortunate to find the 26-year-old Bridgewater, who knows Pat Shurmur from their time together in Minnesota. It’ll cost ’em, because Bridgewater will be the top quarterback in a thin free-agent market. But they have to have someone, and Kyle “Leadfoot” Lauletta probably can’t be the answer as early as 2019.
7. Le’Veon Bell will sign with the Texans
Houston might have fluked its way into half of the victories in its current six-game winning streak, but the result is a first-place team poised to make a run to the playoffs. It’s also a team with a boatload of projected 2019 cap space and a quarterback on his inexpensive rookie deal. The Texans will be next season’s Rams — the “all-in” offseason team trying to maximize Deshaun Watson‘s window. Watson, DeAndre Hopkins and Bell? Look out.
8. The Jets, Buccaneers, Cowboys, Broncos, Packers, Dolphins, Ravens and (obviously) the Browns hire new head coaches
The Green Bay and Baltimore situations are the most interesting, since Mike McCarthy and John Harbaugh, respectively, become instantly desirable candidates elsewhere and get new jobs à la Andy Reid when the Eagles let him go and the Chiefs scooped him up. Let’s put McCarthy in Cleveland and Harbaugh in Denver. Dallas goes hard after Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley to replace Jason Garrett after missing the playoffs. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross goes hard after the OTHER Harbaugh, trying to lure Jim from Michigan with Jon Gruden-style megabucks. The coaching carousel is going to get weird.
9. Josh McDaniels will get at least one head-coaching interview but won’t take a new job
It’s just too soon, right? How can an owner trust that McDaniels won’t flake post-Super Bowl again like he did on Indianapolis in February? How can prospective assistants trust that he won’t leave them hanging if he changes his mind at (or past!) the last minute? McDaniels is still young, talented and well-regarded enough that teams will have him at or near the tops of their wish lists. And I believe he’ll be a head coach in the NFL again at some point. But still … too soon.
10. Jameis Winston returns to the Buccaneers on a short-term extension
Winston reclaims the Bucs’ starting QB job from Ryan Fitzpatrick at some point in the second half of this season. And while interception problems remain, the Bucs see no better option than to bring Winston back and give him yet another shot. But not for $20.9 million. They do what the Jaguars did last year with Blake Bortles, spreading out the money over a couple of years and keeping the salary low enough that they can get to work on that defense. Speaking of which …
11. The safety market bounces back, with Earl Thomas at the top
Thomas will be only 29 when the market opens next spring, and he’ll be in demand. The Cowboys would do it if they didn’t have so many of their own guys to sign. The Chiefs, Chargers and a bunch of other good teams will be in on him. But the Bucs throw him a bunch of money and sell him on the idea of a team that needs only a couple of stud pieces on defense to match its high-flying offense. Elsewhere, Lamarcus Joyner, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Tyrann Mathieu lead a loaded safety class while the Giants keep Landon Collins off the market with a franchise tag.
12. Jeers turn to cheers for Jon Gruden after the draft
Gruden is taking a lot of heat for the tear-down job he’s doing in Oakland, and you can see why. He’s tearing apart a team that was 12-4 two years ago so he can make it as strong as possible for when it moves to Las Vegas in two years. Pretty raw deal for the people who live where the team plays now, and the on-field product is dreadful. BUT … one of the results of Gruden’s fire sale is that he has three first-round picks next year and two in 2020. This will enable him to maneuver in the draft to get basically whomever he wants. The entire draft will run through Gruden and center on the moves he wants to make. When it’s over, he’ll be praised for how he did, if only because the sheer volume of picks will enable him to draft guys everybody loves — and because almost every position will be a position of need!
13. The Seattle Seahawks sell for more money than any sports team ever
In the wake of Paul Allen’s death, the team he owned goes up for sale, and fetches $2.6 billion, more than David Tepper just paid for the Carolina Panthers. The rule change the owners passed in October allowing cross-ownership of teams in different sports will increase the number of billionaires willing and able to bid, so the price goes up. Don’t ask me who’s going to buy them. I don’t know that many billionaires.
15. The league announces multiple international games featuring the Raiders
London? Absolutely. Mexico? Yup. Germany? Brazil? Hey, the Raiders need to play SOMEWHERE next season. Their Vegas stadium won’t be ready yet and their lease in Oakland is up after 2018. They’re negotiating with Oakland, but it’s not going great, because why in the world would Oakland cut them any breaks at this point? Minimizing the number of real “home” games might be a creative way of getting a bridge deal. Hey, don’t rule out the possibility of the Raiders just being a travel team for 2019. Remember, it’s ALL about 2020 and beyond for the Raiders now. They’ll obviously take any lumps they have to take in the meantime.
16. Eli Manning ends up in Jacksonville …
Sometimes, the obvious is the obvious for a reason. The Jaguars obviously need someone to come in and (VOTE FOR ONE: 1. push; 2. compete with; 3. mentor; 4. replace) Bortles, and Manning’s connection with Tom Coughlin makes this an easy pairing that makes everyone happy. Except maybe Bortles.
17. … and Joe Flacco in Miami
Flacco has a tough time finding a job after the Ravens decide to move on to Lamar Jackson, but the situation in Miami is a muddle and Ryan Tannehill isn’t locked in beyond this season. If Adam Gase is still coaching there, Flacco comes in as a backup to maybe compete for the job. If not, maybe he signs as the starter.
18. Drew Brees and Tom Brady announce they’ll return for 2019
It’s about time to speculate about which of these guys will play longer than the other, and whether they see it as a contest. But it feels almost certain that both will play beyond 2018, barring injury or a decision to retire after winning the Super Bowl. These decisions keep Sean Payton and Bill Belichick in their current jobs for at least one more year, of course.
This assumes a big 2018 finish for Mariota and the Titans, but he’s heading into his fifth-year option season just like Winston is, and the worst-case is a Bortles-style extension for Mariota like the one we predicted for Winston. Best case is a whopper of a deal, which is certainly what Wilson will be in line for. Expect Wilson to surpass Aaron Rodgers and become the league’s highest-paid quarterback. As for Goff, his fifth-year option season isn’t until 2020, but the Rams’ history (Robert Quinn, Todd Gurley) says they tend to do these things a year early. Goff should be the latest to benefit.
Reports: Bears to cut K Parkey in March
After a difficult season culminated by a crucial missed field goal on a potential game-winning field goal in the NFC playoffs, kicker Cody Parkey will be released by the Chicago Bears when the new league year begins in March.
FILE PHOTO: Sep 17, 2018; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears kicker Cody Parkey (1) watches his field goal during the first half against the Seattle Seahawks at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports
According to multiple reports on Friday, the team intends to cut ties with Parkey once the NFL free agency period begins on March 13.
Parkey, who turned 27 on Tuesday, endured an inconsistent season in Chicago after inking a four-year, $15 million contract last winter following the team’s release of Robbie Gould, the Bears’ all-time leading scorer who moved on to the San Francisco 49ers.
Parkey, a five-year veteran, not only missed a career-high seven field-goal attempts and three extra points during the regular season, but his 43-yard attempt in the final seconds of the NFC wild-card round against the Philadelphia Eagles first hit the upright then the crossbar before bouncing back on the field.
Despite the NFL later ruling that the kick was partially blocked, Parkey took much of the public blame for the Bears’ season ending.
Parkey began his career with the Eagles in 2014 when he made the Pro Bowl as a rookie, scoring a franchise-record 150 points while making 32 of 36 field-goal tries. In two seasons with the Eagles, Parkey never missed an extra point.
Parkey later kicked for the Cleveland Browns in 2016 and Miami Dolphins in 2017.
In January, the Bears signed Tulsa product Redford Jones after conducting a workout that reportedly included multiple hopefuls. Jones made 50 of his 67 field-goal attempts at Tulsa from 2015-17, and he does have a kick on his resume where he hit both uprights. Unlike Parkey’s double-doink, though, that 2016 attempt against Cincinnati ended up going over the crossbar for three points.
“We need more production out of that position,” Bears general manager Ryan Pace said last month after signing Jones. “We know we need to get better there, and it will be an area of focus.”
—Field Level Media
WTA roundup: Bencic upsets Svitolina to reach Dubai final
Belinda Bencic secured a spot in the final by stunning two-time champion Elina Svitolina 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (3) on Friday at the Dubai Duty Free Championships in the United Arab Emirates.
Tennis – WTA Premier 5 – Dubai Tennis Championships – Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium, Dubai, United Arab Emirates – February 22, 2019 Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic in action during the Semi Final against Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina REUTERS/Satish Kumar
Bencic trailed 5-3 in the final set before recovering to defeat the sixth-seeded Svitolina. She will face second-seeded Petra Kvitova in the championship match after the Czech Republic star defeated Taiwan’s Su-Wei Hsieh 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.
“I think I’m always the most proud of how I fight,” Bencic said after posting the victory. “Even when I lose, I learned myself to just look in the mirror and be proud of myself when I’m fighting, when I’m giving my all, when I’m trying to do what I have to do.”
Bencic won eight consecutive points after Svitolina was in position to close out the match. Then the Switzerland native carried the momentum into the tiebreaker to notch one of the biggest victories of her career by outdueling the Ukrainian.
“Basically, I stayed in the zone, even in (the) tiebreak,” Bencic said. “I was barely breathing, just playing automatic. You are not thinking any more. It’s where the instincts just guide you through it.”
Bencic will be seeking her third career title when she squares off with Kvitova, who will be shooting for her 27th.
Kvitova dropped the first set on Friday before recovering to win the last two.
“It was a tough one today, for sure,” Kvitova said. “She really didn’t give me anything for free. It was a tough first set. I’m glad that I was able to came back in the second. I didn’t play great at the end of the first.
“I think I’m pleased with my kind of mental focus after losing the first set, that I was calmer when I came back and played from the beginning of the second set. I still kind of felt that I can do that somehow. I don’t know. It was something weird.”
Kvitova overcame eight double faults to claim the victory.
Hungarian Ladies Open
Top-seeded Alison Van Uytvanck defeated Ukraine’s Kateryna Kozlova 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 to advance to the semifinals in Budapest.
Van Uytvanck, of Belgium, will face fifth-seeded Ekaterina Alexandrova in the semis. The Russian dispatched third-seeded Frenchwoman Pauline Parmentier 6-3, 6-2.
Eighth-seeded Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic will face Russian Anastasia Potapova in the other semi. Vondrousova outlasted Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu 5-7, 6-1, 6-3 while the 17-year-old Potapova fought past Romania’s Sorana Cirstea 6-4, 6-7 (5), 7-5 in 2 hours, 50 minutes.
—Field Level Media
Patriots owner Robert Kraft facing charges of solicitation of prostitution
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is facing charges of misdemeanor solicitation of prostitution after he was twice videotaped paying for a sex act at an illicit massage parlor, police in Florida said Friday.
The 77-year-old Kraft was one of 25 people involved in the alleged solicitation at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter.
Michael Edmondson, spokesman for the state attorney’s office in Palm Beach County, told ESPN that the nature of any charges that the 25 people face will not be released until next week.
Kraft has denied wrongdoing.
The potential charges come amid a widespread crackdown on sex trafficking in Florida from Palm Beach to Orlando. Hundreds of arrest warrants have been issued in recent days as result of a six-month investigation, and more are expected. Ten spas have been closed, and several people charged with sex trafficking have been taken into custody.
Police said they secretly planted undercover cameras in targeted massage parlors and recorded the interactions between men and the female employees.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Kraft said they “categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity. Because it is a judicial matter, we will not be commenting further.”
The NFL said it is “aware of the ongoing law enforcement matter and will continue to monitor developments.”
The individuals named as having solicited prostitutes could be facing either a first- or second-degree misdemeanor for each count. A second-degree charge carries up to a 60-day jail sentence and a $500 fine; a first-degree charge carries up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Most people charged for the first time with soliciting a prostitute in Florida are allowed to enter a diversion program, said attorney David Weinstein, a former prosecutor. Kraft would have to perform 100 hours of community service and pay to attend an educational program about the negative effects of prostitution and human trafficking.
Jupiter Police Chief Daniel Kerr said he was shocked to learn Kraft, who is worth $6 billion, was allegedly paying for sex inside a strip-mall massage parlor.
“We are as equally stunned as everyone else,” Kerr said.
Kraft lives in Massachusetts and has a home in the Palm Beach area. He is a frequent guest of President Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago Club. Though a Democrat, Kraft is friendly with Trump.
“Well it’s very sad. I was very surprised to see it,” Trump said at the White House on Friday. “He’s proclaimed his innocence, totally. But I’m very surprised to see it.”
Kraft’s wife, Myra Hiatt Kraft, died in 2011. He has been dating 39-year-old actress Ricki Noel Lander since 2012.
Team owners are subject to the NFL’s personal conduct policy, and owners and league employees are held to an even higher standard than players.
Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay was suspended for six games in 2014 after he was arrested on drug charges. He was also fined $500,000.
Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey, whose agency has been involved in the investigation, told reporters earlier this week that the prostitutes are victims who have been trapped into the trade.
“These girls are there all day long, into the evening. They can’t leave, and they are performing sex acts,” Currey said, according to TCPalm. “Some of them may tell us they’re OK, but they’re not.”
Kraft, who made his initial fortune through a packaging company, was a Patriots season-ticket holder when he purchased the team’s previous stadium in 1988, then used his leverage to buy the team for $172 million in 1994 to keep it from moving to St. Louis.
He hired Bill Belichick to be his coach in 2000, and the team subsequently drafted quarterback Tom Brady, launching nearly two decades of success.
Under Kraft, who also owns Major League Soccer’s New England Revolution, the Patriots have been the most successful team in pro sports, having made it to 10 Super Bowls, winning six, including this year against the Los Angeles Rams.
But there also have been issues involving team actions under Belichick.
In 2007, the Patriots were caught filming signals from New York Jets coaches; New England was suspected of doing so against other teams as well, and that was confirmed later on. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell fined the Patriots $250,000 and stripped them of their 2008 first-round draft pick. Belichick was fined $500,000, the most an NFL coach ever was fined.
In the 2014 AFC Championship Game, the team — specifically Brady — was accused by the Colts of doctoring footballs.
The NFL concluded that Patriots employees were involved in deflating the footballs and Brady was “at least generally aware” it was being done. After lengthy legal battles, Brady served a four-game suspension at the beginning of the 2016 season and the Patriots were fined $1 million — the heftiest for a team in league history. New England was stripped of a first-round and a fourth-round draft choice.
Neither Kraft nor Belichick was implicated after the investigation.
Longtime Patriots captain Devin McCourty told NBC Boston, which is with him on a goodwill trip to Puerto Rico, of the Kraft news: “When you see things come out like that you really have to just let it play out. See what it is, what it isn’t, and go from there.”
Information from ESPN’s Paula Lavigne, Mike Reiss and The Associated Press was used in this report.
Critics gush over the spectacle and story of ‘Avengers: Endgame’
‘Jeopardy!’ champ breaks record, surpasses $1 million in shortest time ever
Kamala Harris calls for third gender option on federal IDs
Treasury’s Mnuchin misses congressional deadline to hand over Trump tax returns
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Watters on felons voting: Dems want to ‘change the rules’ rather than ‘change their message’
NHL roundup: Lightning overwhelm Devils
Tiger Woods surges up leaderboard at WGC-Mexico Championship
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ChargePoint gives Europe equal billing in electric car grid plan
‘Avengers,’ ‘Captain America’ star Hayley Atwell nude photos hacked: report
‘Fantastic Beasts’ flies to top of weekend box office
- Critics gush over the spectacle and story of ‘Avengers: Endgame’
- ‘Jeopardy!’ champ breaks record, surpasses $1 million in shortest time ever
- Kamala Harris calls for third gender option on federal IDs
- Treasury’s Mnuchin misses congressional deadline to hand over Trump tax returns
- White House to fight Dems’ subpoena of ex-White House counsel Don McGahn
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