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In addition to the past installments looking at positional free agency, this post will center around each NFL team and the critical contracts and depth charts to monitor heading into the offseason, finishing up with the AFC. Find the NFC version here. Vacancies and deficiencies can shape a team's free agency and NFL Draft plans:
*Contract information used from Spotrac.com*
KEY QUARTERBACK SITUATIONS
Peyton Manning is a shell of his former self plus owed more than $21 million next season - the last of his current contract. Brock Osweiler is also set to enter free agency. With Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders locked up for 2016, Denver's quarterback situation is one to monitor for mid-QB2 production or better.
Chase Daniel is one of the better current backup quarterbacks in the NFL and hits the free agent market in 2016.
KEY RUNNING BACK SITUATIONS
Both Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson are not under contract for 2016 with Denver, leaving Juwan Thompson as the dynasty name to know for an early-offseason value uptick. Thompson is a long shot to make it to Week 1 as the projected starter, but worth a stash to close the season to flip for a rookie pick upgrade in January or February.
Arian Foster has battled through injuries of late and 2016 marks the final year of an expensive contract, owed $9.3 million. Cutting Foster would save $7 million. Chris Polk and Jonathan Grimes are also free agents from the lackluster Houston committee this season.
Charcandrick West is an exclusive free agent and has shown well with an expanded role after Jamaal Charles' injury this season. West can land in a similar role, waiting for an injury to strike, in free agency. Spencer Ware and Knile Davis are still on low-salary deals in Kansas City.
Lamar Miller is an upcoming free agent and Jay Ajayi has played well with sparse touches in 2015. Miller has been underutilized considering his efficiency and big-time acumen. Ajayi was a second round rookie pick likely to have much more buzz if Miller leaves in the coming months.
LeGarrette Blount found new life in New England, but is set to enter free agency. The power role in New England has had value in recent years with the team playing from ahead with plenty of red zone trips. Tyler Gaffney is the upside option remaining on the roster to potentially fit the role after being on injured reserve in 2015.
The Jets running back corps is filled with free agents from Chris Ivory to Bilal Powell to Stevan Ridley. Zac Stacy is the lone back under contract for 2016. Can he rekindle his St.Louis magic from a few years ago? Who knows, but Stacy is dirt cheap in dynasty (maybe on the waiver wire) and another strong uptick candidate on offseason buzz alone. Ivory has added receiving acumen to his profile this season and Bilal Powell has been a PPR dynamo as attractive free agents.
Antonio Andrew is an exclusive free agent and has been the most-used Tennessee running back in 2015. David Cobb has shown little in his rookie season and Bishop Sankey has devolved into a Cordarrelle Patterson-type afterthought with the Titans barely seeing the field after a high draft status.
KEY WIDE RECEIVER SITUATIONS
Steve Smith has a year left on his current contract ($4.2 million), but is in doubt to return after an advanced-age injury in 2015. Kamar Aiken is also a restricted free agent in Baltimore. With an already thin depth chart (Jeremy Butler, Marlon Brown, and Chris Givens are also not under contract for 2016), Breshad Perriman, if healthy, could be a Kelvin Benjamin-like volume hog in 2016 with few other options in his second NFL season.
The Bengals consistent top-3 receivers from recent seasons (A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu) is likely to break up this offseason. Jones and Sanu are upcoming free agents, along with Brandon Tate. If either stay while the other leaves, it will be a big boost to the returning receiver. They have siphoned off production from each other outside of injury and both have NFL No.2 receiver upside with a more defined role.
Travis Benjamin has seen an expanded role in Cleveland this season with Dwayne Bowe a shadow of his former self and Josh Gordon suspended. Gordon is likely to return in 2016 and Benjamin is a free agent. While a change of team would likely be a quarterback upgrade for Benjamin, his team role would dwindle with more target competition.
Nate Washington is a functional, yet low-upside veteran, finishing his contract in Houston. Jaelen Strong has been brought along slowly in his rookie season and the logical receiver to move up the pecking order as at least the No.3 receiver and challenge Cecil Shorts for starter snaps opposite DeAndre Hopkins.
Andre Johnson has been a signficant disappointment in 2015 for the Colts and owed $7.5 million next season. The team would save $5 million by cutting the upcoming 36-year-old.
Greg Jennings has been a placeholder on Miami's depth chart, clearly past his prime. DeVante Parker's emergence is a natural fit to Jennings' being cut and saving the team $4 million off the cap in 2016. Rishard Matthews is another receiver likely to be gone next season, hitting free agency.
The Raiders locked up Michael Crabtree, but he and Amari Cooper are the only solid bets in the Raiders receiver depth chart for next season. Seth Roberts is an exclusive free agent and has been a pleasant surprise. Rod Streater and Andre Holmes have fizzled after sporadic flashings during their rookie deals, which are finishing up. The No.3 role is intriguing in Oakland, but impressive rookie tight end Clive Walford is the likely uptick player in 2016 behind Cooper and Crabtree.
KEY TIGHT END SITUATIONS
Vernon Davis enters free agency after his 2015 rental trade by the win-now Broncos. Virgil Green was signed to a second contract by the tema previously and is under contract for two more seasons as the younger upside play. Owen Daniels as physically-eroded of late and is owed $9.5 million over the next two seasons with relatively low dead money. The Broncos could be in the market for a free agent tight end or let Green expand his role in 2016.
Erik Swoope. Know the name. The former basketball player as remained under the radar on the Colts practice squad and now Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen finish their rookie contracts. In a recent twitter poll on the topic, 15% thought Swoope would be the Week 1 starter next season. Swoope is minimally-owned and could develop 2015 Josh Hill-like buzz this offseason without high-level competition brought in through free agency.
Jordan Cameron has been a shadow in 2015 and now is set to make $9.5 million next season in the last year of his contract. The team would save $7.5 million by cutting the upcoming 29-year-old. Dion Sims is under contract for cheap next season behind Cameron.
Like Indianapolis, San Diego is set to have their two top tight ends enter free agency this offseason. Gates could be a Super Bowl contender rental on a short-term deal and Ladarius Green is an acquired taste proposition as a wide receiver-tight end tweener. With the right role, Green can been a matchup nightmare as a lengthy stand-up receiver. With John Phillips also a free agent, the Chargers have no tight ends currently under contract for 2016.