The NFL’s best cores: Projecting 2020 roster locks for all 32

Projecting what an NFL team is going to look like in two years is hard. Go back to Week 1 of the 2016 season and you’ll see what I mean. Drew Brees was throwing to Brandin Cooks and Coby Fleener. The 49ers shut out the Rams and starting quarterback Case Keenum 28-0 in a game in which Blaine Gabbert started ahead of Colin Kaepernick. The starting running backs in the Dolphins-Seahawks game were Arian Foster and Christine Michael. Things change quickly.

Recently, I was talking to Lindsay Jones of The Athletic on my podcast, and we started wondering what the 2020 Raiders’ roster might look like as Jon Gruden & Co. make their move to Las Vegas. We didn’t get very far, and that was before the Amari Cooper trade happened.

I think it’s an interesting exercise, though, so I’ve gone ahead and tried to project which players from each team’s 2018 roster are likely to make it onto their roster come Week 1 of 2020. Those rosters will obviously include 2019 and 2020 draft picks, and there are young players who will emerge as meaningful contributors between now and then, so consider this an imperfect look into what each team’s long-term core currently looks like, nearly halfway through the 2018 campaign.

I’ve split each team into three groups. The virtual locks section is for players I think have at least a 90 percent shot of making the 2020 roster, given their contract situation and draft status. In most cases, I would expect 2017 and 2018 draft picks taken in the top three rounds to make it to 2020, which is reflected here.

The on the bubble group is for the players I think have something closer to a 55 percent shot of appearing on the roster in 2020. They might be starring veterans who have onerous contracts in the future, young players who haven’t found their role, or placeholders who are likely to be usurped by a draft pick or let go as part of a regime change.

Finally, the unlikely notables section is for players who have no more than a 15 percent shot of making it to 2020 on the same team. This section is for mid-30s veterans who are likely to retire, young players who are riding pine, and regulars whose contracts will be even more difficult to swallow by the 2020 offseason. I’ve tried to limit this to more notable players, if only to avoid listing every practice-squad member or backup long snapper and make this column five times as long.

As always, I’m sure a player or two snuck through the list, but this should be some comparative insight into what each NFL organization has built for the future. Some of the cores surprised me. Let’s start with a team in the middle of a massive rebuild and go in alphabetical order:

Arizona Cardinals

Virtual locks: DE Chandler Jones, RB David Johnson, CB Patrick Peterson, ILB Haason Reddick, QB Josh Rosen, S Budda Baker, WR Christian Kirk, C Mason Cole, RB Chase Edmonds

Peterson will be entering the final year of his current deal in 2020, so the former LSU star is likely to see an extension during the 2019 season. Reddick seemed to be on the outs in September, but the 2017 first-rounder has made his way back into an every-down role.

On the bubble: WR Chad Williams, LT D.J. Humphries, G Justin Pugh, TE Ricky Seals-Jones, DE Markus Golden, DL Robert Nkemdiche, CB Bene Benwikere

Golden had a 12.5-sack season in 2016, but he has played just nine games over the past two seasons while recovering from a torn ACL. He might not get the multi-year extension he seeks. The Cardinals picked up Humphries’ fifth-year option for 2019, but the 2015 first-round pick hasn’t distinguished himself on the left side of the line, allowing five sacks in eight games this season, per STATS.

Unlikely notables: WR Larry Fitzgerald, G Mike Iupati, QB Sam Bradford, LB Deone Bucannon, S Antoine Bethea, LB Josh Bynes, S Tre Boston

Bucannon played 38 snaps against the 49ers after racking up just 13 over the three previous weeks, but the Cardinals might just have been showcasing their former first-round pick before the trade deadline. The 26-year-old is likely to leave after the season.

Atlanta Falcons

Virtual locks: QB Matt Ryan, WR Julio Jones, T Jake Matthews, DE Takkarist McKinley, S Keanu Neal, LB Deion Jones, CB Isaiah Oliver, DT Deadrin Senat, WR Calvin Ridley

All the agents for Jones and Neal have to do to point out their clients’ value is show tape of the 2018 Falcons’ defense after they went on injured reserve. Ridley nearly has as many touchdowns in a half season (six) as the three top-10 wideouts of the 2017 class have over their first year and a half combined (seven).

On the bubble: DE Vic Beasley, C Alex Mack, CB Robert Alford, T Ryan Schraeder, CB Desmond Trufant, S Ricardo Allen, RB Tevin Coleman, DT Grady Jarrett, LB De’Vondre Campbell, RB Ito Smith, CB Brian Poole, TE Austin Hooper, LB Duke Riley

Atlanta’s defensive collapse might call their cornerbacks into question, with Alford standing out as a frequently burnt problem. The Falcons will have to work out new deals for Jarrett after 2018 and Beasley after 2019; given Beasley’s lack of production since leading the league in sacks in 2016, the Falcons should lean toward renewing Jarrett and letting Beasley test the market.

Unlikely notables: WR Mohamed Sanu, RB Devonta Freeman, G Andy Levitre, G Brandon Fusco, K Matt Bryant

Freeman has missed time in both 2017 and 2018 since signing a five-year, $41.3 million extension before the 2017 campaign; the Falcons can get out of his deal with $6 million in dead money before 2020 and might be better off using the savings elsewhere.

Baltimore Ravens

Virtual locks: T Ronnie Stanley, T Orlando Brown, TE Hayden Hurst, TE Mark Andrews, QB Lamar Jackson, LB Matt Judon, LB C.J. Mosley, CB Marlon Humphrey, K Justin Tucker, DL Brandon Williams

Mosley is due for an extension after the season, and while the Ravens have let young talent leave in years past, it’s difficult to imagine Baltimore letting the heir apparent to Ray Lewis leave after three Pro Bowl seasons in his first four years. Tucker will likely become the highest-paid kicker in football history this offseason.

On the bubble: WR John Brown, WR Willie Snead, G Marshal Yanda, RB Alex Collins, DT Michael Pierce, LB Za’Darius Smith, S Tony Jefferson, LB Tyus Bowser, T James Hurst, OL Matt Skura, OL Alex Lewis, DE Chris Wormley

The Ravens haven’t placed an emphasis on retaining interior linemen in years past, and after handing Williams a five-year, $52.5 million deal in 2017, they might not be able to afford Pierce. Smith is having a breakout season, with 5.5 sacks and 12 knockdowns, but the Ravens let Pernell McPhee leave under similar circumstances.

Unlikely notables: WR Michael Crabtree, RB Javorius Allen, LB Terrell Suggs, QB Joe Flacco, S Eric Weddle, CB Brandon Carr, CB Jimmy Smith, RB Ty Montgomery

The Ravens can finally get out of the Flacco deal this offseason. Designating Flacco as a post-June 1 release would free up $18.5 million in space this spring while adding $8 million in dead money to Baltimore’s books in each of the next two seasons. The subsequent parade the Ravens throw will not count on the cap.

Buffalo Bills

Virtual locks: QB Josh Allen, LB Tremaine Edmunds, DT Harrison Phillips, CB Tre’Davious White, T Dion Dawkins, DT Star Lotulelei, S Jordan Poyer, S Micah Hyde, LB Matt Milano

General manager Brandon Beane has already wiped away most of the players he inherited from Doug Whaley; this list doesn’t include a single player who was on the roster before the 2017 offseason. (Whaley still had the job on paper that offseason, but he was fired immediately after the draft.)

On the bubble: WR Zay Jones, DE Trent Murphy, DE Jerry Hughes, K Stephen Hauschka, OL John Miller

Jones has been better this season, but given that he was the worst wideout in the league as a rookie, his roster spot in 2020 isn’t secure. Hauschka has been one of the best kickers in football since joining the Bills and is likely in line for an extension.

Unlikely notables: WR Kelvin Benjamin, TE Charles Clay, RB LeSean McCoy, RB Chris Ivory, QB Nathan Peterman, DT Kyle Williams, DE Shaq Lawson

Both Benjamin and the Bills seem happy with the idea of a split after the season. Lawson, the team’s 2016 first-round pick, hasn’t been able to stay healthy and should have his 2020 fifth-year option declined after the season.

Carolina Panthers

Virtual locks: QB Cam Newton, DT Kawann Short, LB Luke Kuechly, G Trai Turner, RB Christian McCaffrey, WR DJ Moore, OL Taylor Moton, CB Donte Jackson, CB James Bradberry, DB Rashaan Gaulden

The Panthers will likely give Newton a new deal before the 2020 season, when he’s due to make a base salary of $18.6 million in the final year of his deal. Bradberry, who has quietly turned into one of the league’s best young cornerbacks, will also need a new deal before then.

On the bubble: WR Devin Funchess, TE Greg Olsen, DT Dontari Poe, DE Mario Addison, LB Shaq Thompson, K Graham Gano, T Daryl Williams, CB Kevon Seymour, WR Curtis Samuel

Funchess and Williams will be difficult decisions this offseason. Do the Panthers want to pay Funchess, their No. 1 wideout, something close to the $15 million per season he’s likely to get as the best wide receiver available in a weak free-agent class? And will they pony up to retain Williams, who was a second-team All-Pro in 2017 but has played just one healthy season after missing virtually all of 2018 with a knee injury?

Unlikely notables: WR Torrey Smith, T Matt Kalil, C Ryan Kalil, DE Julius Peppers, LB Thomas Davis, S Mike Adams, CB Captain Munnerlyn, DT Vernon Butler

Veterans like Adams, Davis, Peppers, and Ryan Kalil are likely to be retired by 2020. Butler, the team’s 2016 first-round pick, is buried on the depth chart and might be in danger of missing out on his fifth-year option.

Chicago Bears

Virtual locks: LB Khalil Mack, CB Kyle Fuller, DE Akiem Hicks, NT Eddie Goldman, TE Trey Burton, LB Roquan Smith, OL James Daniels, WR Anthony Miller, RB Tarik Cohen, S Eddie Jackson, OL Cody Whitehair

With the Bears spending heavily in free agency and trading away two first-round picks in the Mack package, their core is mostly already in place.

On the bubble: WR Allen Robinson, WR Taylor Gabriel, G Kyle Long, T Charles Leno, TE Adam Shaheen, RB Jordan Howard, QB Mitchell Trubisky, LB Leonard Floyd, S Adrian Amos, CB Bryce Callahan

Trubisky hasn’t shown enough to guarantee that he’ll be on the roster come 2020, although the Blake Bortles of the North still has plenty of time to grow. Howard’s free-agent market in 2019 will be interesting; given the presence of Cohen, the Bears might prefer to let the 2016 Pro Bowler leave and replace him in their running back rotation with a mid-round pick.

Unlikely notables: CB Prince Amukamara, WR Kevin White, T Bobby Massie, ILB Danny Trevathan

Trevathan will turn 30 before the 2020 campaign, and the Bears might not be inclined to invest meaningful money at inside linebacker alongside Smith once Trevathan’s contract expires after 2019.

Cincinnati Bengals

Virtual locks: DT Geno Atkins, DE Carlos Dunlap, C Billy Price, RB Joe Mixon, DE Carl Lawson, WR A.J. Green, CB William Jackson, DE Sam Hubbard, LB Malik Jefferson, S Jessie Bates, DE Jordan Willis

The Bengals perpetually draft and develop their own talent, so the guys you see here aren’t going to be joined by much outside the organization.

On the bubble: WR Tyler Boyd, WR John Ross, T Cordy Glenn, G Clint Boling, QB Andy Dalton, LB Nick Vigil, CB Dre Kirkpatrick, S Shawn Williams

Boyd wasn’t even a lock to make the 53-man roster this offseason after failing to make the game-day roster at times last season, but the former second-round pick has reinvigorated his career and is on pace for 1,240 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns this season. Dalton will be entering the final year of his deal in 2020, and if he doesn’t lead Cincinnati back to the postseason before then, you have to imagine the Bengals will look for a replacement under center. Right?

Unlikely notables: T Cedric Ogbuehi, TE Tyler Eifert, RB Gio Bernard, DE Michael Johnson, LB Vontaze Burfict, CB Darqueze Dennard

Ogbuehi has been a healthy scratch all season. Burfict’s inability to play by the league’s rules is going to shorten his career. Dennard is the rare Bengals first-round cornerback pick who hasn’t panned out.

Cleveland Browns

Virtual locks: QB Baker Mayfield, DE Myles Garrett, DT Larry Ogunjobi, LB Christian Kirksey, CB Denzel Ward, RB Nick Chubb

Like Beane in Buffalo, GM John Dorsey has mostly shed the players from Sashi Brown’s short reign in Cleveland. The only players I feel confident he’ll keep around are Kirksey and the defensive line duo of Garrett and Ogunjobi, who Brown selected in the 2017 draft.

On the bubble: WR Jarvis Landry, G Joel Bitonio, C JC Tretter, G Kevin Zeitler, TE David Njoku, T Chris Hubbard, RB Duke Johnson, LB Joe Schobert, S Jabrill Peppers, CB Travis Carrie, S Damarious Randall, CB Terrance Mitchell, T Desmond Harrison

Most of the free agents the Browns added over the past two seasons should be easy cuts by the end of 2019 if Dorsey is so inclined. Peppers has been inconsistent and struggled to stay healthy as a pro, and the Browns might prefer to move ahead with Randall and Derrick Kindred.

Unlikely notables: LB Jamie Collins, QB Tyrod Taylor

Collins has the league’s largest three-year salary of any off-the-line linebacker, and with Kirksey and Schobert playing as three-down linebackers when healthy, the Browns won’t want to keep Collins around at a $12 million base salary in 2020.

Dallas Cowboys

Virtual locks: QB Dak Prescott, G Zack Martin, T Tyron Smith, LB Leighton Vander Esch, LB Jaylon Smith, DE Taco Charlton, S Xavier Woods, RB Ezekiel Elliott, CB Chidobe Awuzie, WR Michael Gallup

Though the Cowboys still might theoretically move on from Prescott, there really hasn’t been a quarterback in recent memory who played as well as Prescott has during his rookie contract and subsequently failed to get an extension (barring injury).

On the bubble: C Travis Frederick, WR Amari Cooper, G Connor Williams, T La’el Collins, DE DeMarcus Lawrence, CB Byron Jones, CB Anthony Brown, DE Randy Gregory

Frederick’s future, sadly, has been clouded by Guillain-Barré syndrome. The Cowboys will have the cap space to re-sign Lawrence and Jones this offseason, given that Tony Romo’s contract will finally come off their books. Cooper is under contract through the end of 2019, although the Cowboys might choose to extend their new wideout this offseason.

Unlikely notables: WR Allen Hurns, WR Tavon Austin, DT Tyrone Crawford, LB Sean Lee, S Jeff Heath

When the Cowboys drafted Vander Esch, Lee’s days in Dallas were numbered. The oft-injured star linebacker is under contract through 2019.

Denver Broncos

Virtual locks: LB Von Miller, LB Bradley Chubb, WR Courtland Sutton, RB Royce Freeman, RB Phillip Lindsay, S Justin Simmons, CB Isaac Yiadom

There really isn’t much here after years of subpar drafts under John Elway. Lindsay was a good find as an undrafted free agent this offseason, but there’s also some possibility of a new executive coming in and cleaning house built into this projection.

On the bubble: T Garett Bolles, C Matt Paradis, DE Derek Wolfe, DE Adam Gotsis, LB Brandon Marshall, LB Todd Davis, CB Bradley Roby, CB Chris Harris Jr., TE Jake Butt

Harris is on one of the best veteran contracts in football, but he might be more valuable to a rebuilding Broncos team as a trade chit. Roby has had a disappointing contract year and might not be around after the season. Paradis has emerged as one of the best centers in the league, and given how many missteps the Broncos have made with their offensive line, it would be a shame if they didn’t keep the former sixth-round pick around.

Unlikely notables: WR Emmanuel Sanders, T Jared Veldheer, G Ronald Leary, QB Case Keenum, S Darian Stewart, LB Shaquil Barrett, LB Shane Ray

Veterans on the wrong side of 30 don’t have much utility on this roster. Ray is buried on the depth chart, and it’s a surprise he wasn’t dealt for a pick at the deadline.

Detroit Lions

Virtual locks: QB Matthew Stafford, LB Jarrad Davis, C Frank Ragnow, RB Kerryon Johnson, CB Teez Tabor, CB Darius Slay, WR Kenny Golladay, T Taylor Decker, LB Devon Kennard

Tabor had a disastrous game against the Seahawks, but the 2017 second-round pick is still young enough — and the Lions are thin enough in the secondary behind Slay — for the Florida product to eventually carve out a regular role. Kennard, a free-agent addition from the Giants, surprisingly has five sacks in seven games.

On the bubble: WR Marvin Jones Jr., T Rick Wagner, DE Romeo Okwara, S Quandre Diggs, K Matt Prater, OL Graham Glasgow

Wagner has played better in his second season with the Lions, but they might not be as interested in keeping the former Ravens tackle around once his cap hit jumps from $5.9 million to $11.9 million after this season. Jones will be entering the final year of his deal in 2020, just as Golladay is likely to receive a hefty extension.

Unlikely notables: G T.J. Lang, RB LeGarrette Blount, RB Ameer Abdullah, RB Theo Riddick, DE Ezekiel Ansah, S Glover Quin, DT Damon Harrison

Lang has struggled to stay healthy since joining Detroit. Ansah seems on the path to free agency, given that Detroit’s franchise player has barely played in 2018 because of a shoulder injury.

Green Bay Packers

Virtual locks: QB Aaron Rodgers, WR Davante Adams, T David Bakhtiari, CB Jaire Alexander, CB Kevin King, CB Josh Jackson, RB Aaron Jones, DL Kenny Clark, ILB Oren Burks, G Lane Taylor, C Corey Linsley

Let’s hope Jones learns how to pass block before 2020.

On the bubble: DE Mike Daniels, LB Nick Perry, K Mason Crosby, S Josh Jones, WR Geronimo Allison, LB Blake Martinez

Daniels is a great player, but his contract expires after 2019, and the Packers might not be inclined to hand a defensive end on the wrong side of 30 another multi-year contract. Martinez had a huge game against the Rams, and while the Packers didn’t devote serious resources to inside linebacker under GM Ted Thompson — after A.J. Hawk — the Brian Gutekunst administration might think about the position differently.

Unlikely notables: T Bryan Bulaga, TE Jimmy Graham, TE Lance Kendricks, OLB Clay Matthews, CB Tramon Williams

Bulaga has struggled to stay healthy. Matthews is entering the final year of his five-year, $66 million extension, but he has just one season with more than 7.5 sacks over the last six years. He might be subject to the hometown premium in Green Bay.

Houston Texans

Virtual locks: WR DeAndre Hopkins, QB Deshaun Watson, ILB Zach Cunningham, T Martinas Rankin, TE Jordan Akins, S Justin Reid, C Nick Martin, WR Will Fuller, OLB Jadeveon Clowney, DT D.J. Reader

Injuries could jeopardize Fuller’s ceiling, but it seems likely that the Texans will pick up his fifth-year option for $10.2 million in 2020. Clowney is a free agent this offseason, but the Texans could keep him around on the franchise tag twice if they’re unable to come to terms on a long-term deal.

On the bubble: RB D’Onta Foreman, DE J.J. Watt, LB Benardrick McKinney, DB Aaron Colvin, DB Kareem Jackson, WR Keke Coutee, G Zach Fulton, G Senio Kelemete, S Andre Hal

Watt has had an incredible comeback season and is under contract until 2021, but if he suffers another serious injury, the Texans probably can’t justify keeping him around with a cap hit of $15 million or more and little-to-no dead money. The big contracts signed by players like Colvin and McKinney this offseason are essentially two-year pacts with team options.

Unlikely notables: S Tyrann Mathieu, CB Johnathan Joseph, LB Whitney Mercilus, RB Lamar Miller, CB Kevin Johnson, T Seantrel Henderson, WR Demaryius Thomas

It’s difficult for the Texans to pay Mercilus if they have Clowney and Watt on big contracts and major needs elsewhere. Thomas, the team’s newest acquisition, will probably need to sign a new deal and take a pay cut if he wants to stick around, given his $14 million unguaranteed base salary in 2019.

Indianapolis Colts

Virtual locks: QB Andrew Luck, S Malik Hooker, CB Quincy Wilson, G Quenton Nelson, OL Braden Smith, LB Darius Leonard, DE Kemoko Turay, P Rigoberto Sanchez

Just about everything the Colts haven’t drafted over the past two seasons can be considered a temporary solution. Fortunately for GM Chris Ballard and coach Frank Reich, the Colts have a promising young core. Leonard has been the Defensive Rookie of the Year so far.

On the bubble: WR T.Y. Hilton, T Anthony Castonzo, C Ryan Kelly, TE Jack Doyle, RB Marlon Mack, RB Nyheim Hines, DE Margus Hunt, DL Denico Autry, CB Nate Hairston, S Clayton Geathers, DE Jabaal Sheard, CB Pierre Desir

Hunt has had a stunning season, but he’s 31 and a free agent after the season. Hilton is probably right on the cusp of serving as a virtual lock, but he’ll turn 30 in 2020 and entering the final year of his contract extension, and undersized receivers don’t always age as well as Steve Smith did.

Unlikely notables: K Adam Vinatieri, WR Ryan Grant, QB Jacoby Brissett

Vinatieri will turn 48 during the 2020 season. At some point, you have to imagine a fall vacation might sound nice.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Virtual locks: G Andrew Norwell, CB A.J. Bouye, CB Jalen Ramsey, OLB Telvin Smith, RB Leonard Fournette, WR Marqise Lee, T Cam Robinson, DL Taven Bryan, WR DJ Chark, WR Keelan Cole, DE Yannick Ngakoue, LB Myles Jack

This is going to be an expensive core, given that the Jags will likely need to pony up new contracts for Jack, Ramsey and Ngakoue by 2020 without having the benefit of tons of cap rollover.

On the bubble: QB Blake Bortles, T Jermey Parnell, C Brandon Linder, WR Dede Westbrook, RB Corey Grant, S Tashaun Gipson, DE Calais Campbell, DE Malik Jackson, CB D.J. Hayden, DT Abry Jones

The Jags can get out of Bortles’ deal after 2019 with just $5 million in dead money. Their next step at quarterback might determine whether they can keep expensive veterans like Campbell or Jackson in the fold.

Unlikely notables: S Barry Church, DT Marcell Dareus, RB T.J. Yeldon, RB Carlos Hyde, WR Donte Moncrief

If Jacksonville has to sacrifice one of its defensive linemen to create cap room next offseason, Dareus makes the most sense, given that he hasn’t shown much at all as a pass-rusher since 2014.

Kansas City Chiefs

Virtual locks: QB Patrick Mahomes, RB Kareem Hunt, WR Tyreek Hill, TE Travis Kelce, G Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, T Mitchell Schwartz, OLB Tanoh Kpassagnon, OLB Breeland Speaks, NT Derrick Nnadi, K Harrison Butker, LB Dorian O’Danie

Barring injury, the Chiefs are set with their offensive core for years to come. Their defense? Well, let’s hope some of these young draft picks pan out.

On the bubble: S Eric Berry, WR Sammy Watkins, T Eric Fisher, OL Cameron Erving, C Mitch Morse, LB Dee Ford, LB Reggie Ragland, CB Kendall Fuller, CB Steven Nelson, DE Allen Bailey, DE Chris Jones, ILB Anthony Hitchens

The Chiefs have a brief window of cap space with Mahomes, Hunt and Hill all on rookie contracts, but much of that space is likely going to go to a Ford extension. Can they afford to give players like Jones and Fuller in excess of $10 million per season while keeping around the likes of Berry and Watkins? Injuries might make the decision for GM Brett Veach.

Unlikely notables: OLB Justin Houston, S Ron Parker, RB Spencer Ware

Houston can’t stay healthy enough for the Chiefs to carry him at a cap hit of $21.1 million in 2019. After racking up 22 sacks in 2014, the Georgia product has nearly racked up more missed games (20) as sacks (24) over the ensuing three-plus seasons.

Los Angeles Chargers

Virtual locks: WR Keenan Allen, WR Mike Williams, G Dan Feeney, G Forrest Lamp, DE Joey Bosa, DL Darius Philon, LB Melvin Ingram, LB Denzel Perryman, CB Casey Hayward, S Derwin James, CB Trevor Williams, CB Desmond King, LB Uchenna Nwosu, DE Justin Jones

In a league that continues to rely more heavily on the pass, the Chargers’ core is built to catch the football and stop opposing teams from throwing it themselves. In the case of players like Bosa and Lamp, the real concern is staying healthy.

On the bubble: T Russell Okung, T Sam Tevi, QB Philip Rivers, RB Melvin Gordon, RB Austin Ekeler, TE Hunter Henry, S Jahleel Addae, LB Kyle Emanuel

Rivers’ contract runs until 2019, but if he wants to play into 2020, I suspect the Chargers will acquiesce. Gordon will be an interesting option, given that his fifth-year option comes up in 2019. The former first-round pick has amassed a bunch of touchdowns, making him a great fantasy football back, but he has struggled to stay healthy and hasn’t been an efficient runner, averaging 3.9 yards per carry. Would the Chargers be better off with Ekeler and a draft pick in lieu of paying Gordon eight figures in 2020?

Unlikely notables: WR Tyrell Williams, WR Travis Benjamin, C Mike Pouncey, T Joe Barksdale, TE Antonio Gates, CB Jason Verrett, DL Corey Liuget, DT Brandon Mebane

Tyrell Williams is likely to hit free agency this offseason, given that the Chargers have Mike Williams to take his place and probably don’t want to pay the inconsistent deep threat more than $10 million per season.

Los Angeles Rams

Virtual locks: WR Cooper Kupp, WR Brandin Cooks, T Rob Havenstein, TE Gerald Everett, TE Tyler Higbee, QB Jared Goff, RB Todd Gurley, DT Aaron Donald, LB Samson Ebukam, S John Johnson, P Johnny Hekker, K Greg Zuerlein

The Rams have the three best players at their respective positions in football locked up for years to come in Donald, Gurley and Hekker. Not a bad start.

On the bubble: WR Robert Woods, G Rodger Saffold, G Austin Blythe, WR Josh Reynolds, DL Michael Brockers, OLB Matt Longacre, CB Marcus Peters, S Lamarcus Joyner, CB Nickell Robey-Coleman

Woods will be an interesting case come 2020. Will the Rams be able to pay him, Cooks, and Kupp at the same time? Of those three, is Woods the most fungible? I can see a case for both sides there. Peters is likely to sign an extension this offseason in advance of his fifth-year option in 2019, while Joyner might be allowed to hit free agency after playing on an $11.3 million franchise tag this season.

Unlikely notables: T Andrew Whitworth, C John Sullivan, DT Ndamukong Suh, LB Mark Barron, CB Aqib Talib, DL Dominique Easley, DE Dante Fowler Jr.

The Rams will have to rebuild their line over the next few seasons as Whitworth and Sullivan hit retirement age. Whitworth will be a free agent in 2020, and while he’ll probably still be able to play as a 38-year-old if so inclined, the longtime Bengals standout could move inside to guard.

Miami Dolphins

Virtual locks: T Laremy Tunsil, TE Mike Gesicki, DT Davon Godchaux, DE Charles Harris, LB Jerome Baker, LB Raekwon McMillan, S Reshad Jones, CB Xavien Howard, DB Minkah Fitzpatrick

There’s not a lot here, in part because the Dolphins seem to change plans every couple of seasons. They are deep in the secondary, but outside of Tunsil, they have virtually no offensive building blocks.

On the bubble: DE Robert Quinn, WR Kenny Stills, WR DeVante Parker, WR Albert Wilson, OL Jesse Davis, QB Ryan Tannehill, RB Kenyan Drake, LB Kiko Alonso, CB Bobby McCain, CB Cordrea Tankersley, DL Akeem Spence

Parker sneaks onto the bubble after injuries and a big game against the Texans made him a part of the Miami offense again. Drake remains curiously underutilized, which is no surprise given how the Dolphins have managed their running backs under coach Adam Gase. Tannehill’s contract restructure basically guarantees that the Dolphins stalwart will be under center in 2019, but he’ll be up with a cap hit of $26.6 million in 2020, which means he’ll either be getting a new deal or hitting the street with $13.4 million in dead money on Miami’s cap.

Unlikely notables: WR Danny Amendola, T Ja’Wuan James, RB Frank Gore, DE Cameron Wake, DE Andre Branch, S T.J. McDonald, G Josh Sitton, DE William Hayes, OL Ted Larsen

Wake has slowed down this season, and the 36-year-old is a free agent in 2019. The Dolphins will need to rebuild both their offensive and defensive line in the years to come.

Minnesota Vikings

Virtual locks: WR Adam Thielen, WR Stefon Diggs, T Brian O’Neill, C Pat Elflein, QB Kirk Cousins, RB Dalvin Cook, DE Danielle Hunter, DE Stephen Weatherly, LB Eric Kendricks, CB Xavier Rhodes, S Harrison Smith, CB Mike Hughes

That’s about as good a core as you’ll find, although it’s a little light on offensive linemen and going to be extremely expensive by the time 2020 rolls around. Thielen’s bargain-basement four-year, $19.2 million deal will have to be addressed, given that the league’s leading wideout will be entering the final year of that contract in 2020.

On the bubble: T Riley Reiff, OL Mike Remmers, T Rashod Hill, TE Kyle Rudolph, DT Linval Joseph, DE Everson Griffen, LB Anthony Barr, CB Trae Waynes, S Andrew Sendejo, CB Mackensie Alexander, S George Iloka, OL Nick Easton

With that core, the Vikings probably can’t afford this second tier of expensive veterans and players who are about to become them. Hughes will take over for Waynes. The Dolphins will draft a replacement for Barr. Reiff could be around come 2020, but Remmers might not represent good value at a $6 million base salary after moving inside to guard.

Unlikely notables: WR Laquon Treadwell, RB Latavius Murray, DT Sheldon Richardson, K Dan Bailey

The Treadwell thing probably isn’t going to happen.

New England Patriots

Virtual locks: G Shaq Mason, T Marcus Cannon, RB Sony Michel, CB Stephon Gilmore, T Isaiah Wynn, LB Ja’Whaun Bentley, CB Duke Dawson

Not much, huh? The Patriots have a lot of flexibility, which is good, and they can shift their roster in a number of different ways depending on what happens with Tom Brady over the next couple of years, but they don’t have a ton tied down.

On the bubble: QB Tom Brady, WR Julian Edelman, WR Josh Gordon, T Trent Brown, C David Andrews, G Joe Thuney, RB James White, RB Rex Burkhead, DE Trey Flowers, DL Lawrence Guy, DT Malcolm Brown, LB Dont’a Hightower, S Devin McCourty, LB Kyle Van Noy, S Patrick Chung, CB Jonathan Jones, LB Elandon Roberts

Plenty of these players — specifically Andrews, White, McCourty, Hightower, Guy and Van Noy — are under contract for 2020 at reasonable prices. The Patriots will keep some of them, but it would hardly be a surprise if half of those veterans are no longer on the roster. The looming Flowers negotiation could be difficult, given that he doesn’t have huge numbers but is regarded in many front offices around the league as a valuable player. If the Patriots let him test the market, somebody’s going to go over the top to bring Flowers in.

Unlikely notables: TE Rob Gronkowski, WR Chris Hogan, DE Adrian Clayborn, WR Matthew Slater

Given that Gronkowski was nearly traded this offseason and is going through another run of back problems, there’s a good chance he’ll retire by the time his contract expires at the end of 2019.

New Orleans Saints

Virtual locks: WR Michael Thomas, T Terron Armstead, G Andrus Peat, T Ryan Ramczyk, RB Alvin Kamara, QB Taysom Hill, DE Cameron Jordan, DE Marcus Davenport, DT Sheldon Rankins, DE Trey Hendrickson, LB Alex Anzalone, S Vonn Bell, S Marcus Williams, CB Marshon Lattimore, WR Tre’Quan Smith

The Saints can thank the 2017 draft for the bulk of their core, given that it delivered difference-makers on both sides of the ball in Kamara and Lattimore. By 2020, Thomas will be on a new contact and Kamara will be about to get one.

On the bubble: LB Demario Davis, CB Eli Apple, CB Ken Crawley, DE Alex Okafor, QB Drew Brees, C Max Unger, G Larry Warford, CB Patrick Robinson

Will there be any cornerbacks playing alongside Lattimore? The Saints hope Apple turns into a viable option, but he was inconsistent at best with the Giants. Coach Sean Payton must also hope he’ll still have Brees under center, but his contract voids after 2019.

Unlikely notables: RB Mark Ingram, QB Teddy Bridgewater, S Kurt Coleman, LB Manti Te’o, LB A.J. Klein, CB P.J. Williams, TE Benjamin Watson, WR Cameron Meredith

The Saints could try to retain Bridgewater as an expensive backup with the hopes of promoting him into the starting role after Brees retires, but that move probably only works if Brees retires after this season.

New York Giants

Virtual locks: WR Odell Beckham Jr., T Nate Solder, RB Saquon Barkley, TE Evan Engram, G Will Hernandez, DL B.J. Hill, DL Dalvin Tomlinson, LB Lorenzo Carter

Lost amid the Giants’ problem is that free-agent signing Solder has been a mess, allowing six sacks in eight games, per STATS. To contrast, Solder had allowed six sacks in a 16-game season just once during his time with the Patriots.

On the bubble: WR Sterling Shepard, S Landon Collins, CB Janoris Jenkins, LB Alec Ogletree, LB Kareem Martin, S Curtis Riley

Shepard is a talented wideout, but as the Giants move away from the three-wideout sets of the McAdoo era and toward the run-first approach GM Dave Gettleman wants, you have to wonder whether the Giants might want to let someone else pay a receiver who does his best work in the slot.

Unlikely notables: LB Olivier Vernon, QB Eli Manning, OL Patrick Omameh, RB Jonathan Stewart, WR Cody Latimer, CB B.W. Webb

Cutting Manning and Vernon next year would free up $32.5 million in cap space. If you want a reason to be anxious about that, consider that Omameh has already been benched after signing a three-year, $15 million deal this offseason.

New York Jets

Virtual locks: QB Sam Darnold, S Jamal Adams, CB Trumaine Johnson, S Marcus Maye, DL Nathan Shepherd, DL Leonard Williams, TE Chris Herndon, T Brandon Shell

The Jets will be shopping for Darnold’s weapons this offseason. Johnson has been off to a brutal start in a Jets uniform, as he has been alternately injured and ineffective, but the former Rams standout would cost $12 million in dead money if he were released before the 2020 campaign.

On the bubble: LB Avery Williamson, WR Robby Anderson, WR Quincy Enunwa, T Kelvin Beachum, G James Carpenter, G Brian Winters, LB Darron Lee, LB Jordan Jenkins, CB Morris Claiborne, LB Brandon Copeland

The makeup of this roster depends on who’s actually running things come 2020. If coach Todd Bowles and GM Mike Maccagnan stay in charge, the Jets are likely to keep around players like Williamson and might have more of an affinity for inconsistent draft picks like Lee. If not, the new management could clean house.

Unlikely notables: QB Josh McCown, RB Isaiah Crowell, RB Bilal Powell, WR Jermaine Kearse, DT Steve McLendon, CB Buster Skrine

McCown might end up sticking around as a coach, but he’s probably coming to the end of his actual playing days.

Oakland Raiders

Virtual locks: T Kolton Miller, DT P.J. Hall, DE Arden Key, T Brandon Parker

That’s it. Four players, all of whom were picks in this year’s draft. We’re not even sure if these guys are even any good. The Raiders have $112.5 million in 2020 cap space without making any other moves, and nobody on their roster besides Derek Carr would cost more than $1.4 million in dead money to release. This is going to look like an entirely different team in 2020.

On the bubble: QB Derek Carr, C Rodney Hudson, WR Seth Roberts, G Kelechi Osemele, G Gabe Jackson, DT Johnathan Hankins, CB Daryl Worley

Carr would cost $7.5 million in dead money to release in 2019 and $5 million in 2020, so if Gruden wants to find his quarterback, cap concerns aren’t going to get in the way. Having players like Osemele and Jackson around would make any offense’s life easier, but there seems to be little reason to think Gruden will keep them around.

Unlikely notables: WR Jordy Nelson, RB Marshawn Lynch, RB Doug Martin, LB Bruce Irvin, LB Tahir Whitehead, CB Gareon Conley, S Karl Joseph, CB Leon Hall, CB Rashaan Melvin, S Marcus Gilchrist, S Reggie Nelson, T Donald Penn

Ten of these 12 players are over 30. The only exceptions are Conley and Joseph, who are first-round picks Gruden doesn’t seem interested in playing. Everything’s great.

Philadelphia Eagles

Virtual locks: WR Alshon Jeffery, DT Fletcher Cox, T Lane Johnson, TE Zach Ertz, G Brandon Brooks, S Malcolm Jenkins, DE Derek Barnett, CB Sidney Jones, TE Dallas Goedert, WR Mack Hollins, DB Avonte Maddox, QB Carson Wentz, CB Rasul Douglas, C Jason Kelce

The work the Eagles have done in locking up their core over the next two years means they can keep a good amount of their talent around, even after Wentz gets a new extension. The question becomes timing: Do the Eagles sign Wentz after this season and sacrifice a year of at a bargain price to save money on his extension, or do they wait until the 2020 offseason and pay a steeper price? This is a good problem to have.

On the bubble: WR Nelson Agholor, T Halapoulivaati Vaitai, RB Corey Clement, DE Chris Long, DE Brandon Graham, LB Jordan Hicks, CB Jalen Mills, CB Ronald Darby, S Rodney McLeod, G Isaac Seumalo

Agholor’s role in the slot seemed to be compromised by the short-term addition of Golden Tate, and it’s difficult to see the Eagles giving him an extension after paying Jeffery. Graham and Long are two of the most underrated defensive ends in football, but with both hitting free agency again on the wrong side of 30 before 2020, the Eagles might not be inclined to keep them both.

Unlikely notables: WR Golden Tate, WR Jordan Matthews, LT Jason Peters, QB Nick Foles, RB Darren Sproles, RB Jay Ajayi, DE Michael Bennett, DT Haloti Ngata, LB Nigel Bradham, S Corey Graham, G Stefen Wisniewski

Foles is likely to leave this offseason for a starting job, while veterans like Peters, Graham and Sproles are close to retirement. I don’t suspect the Eagles will be able to keep Tate unless he takes a massive discount.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Virtual locks: WR Antonio Brown, G David DeCastro, DE Stephon Tuitt, DE Cameron Heyward, T Alejandro Villanueva, ILB Vince Williams, K Chris Boswell, LB T.J. Watt, S Terrell Edmunds, WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR James Washington, QB Mason Rudolph, CB Cameron Sutton, RB James Conner, T Chukwuma Okorafor

The vast majority of the players here were drafted by the Steelers, with Villanueva — who started his pro career trying out as a tight end with the Bengals — as an exception.

On the bubble: TE Vance McDonald, S Morgan Burnett, CB Artie Burns, S Sean Davis, G Ramon Foster, C Maurkice Pouncey, OL B.J. Finney, T Marcus Gilbert, TE Jesse James, LB Bud Dupree, LB Tyler Matakevich, CB Joe Haden

The secondary remains a point of weakness for the Steelers, with Burns notably losing his way this season. They might also need to rebuild part of their offensive line, as Foster, Gilbert and Pouncey will all be free agents by the end of 2019.

Unlikely notables: RB Le’Veon Bell, LB Jon Bostic, CB Coty Sensabaugh

We can only hope Bell’s holdout is over by 2020.

San Francisco 49ers

Virtual locks: QB Jimmy Garoppolo, DE Solomon Thomas, C Weston Richburg, S Jaquiski Tartt, G Laken Tomlinson, WR Marquise Goodwin, T Mike McGlinchey, QB C.J. Beathard, WR Dante Pettis, LB Fred Warner, TE George Kittle, DL DeForest Buckner, CB Tarvarius Moore

The 49ers could theoretically get out of Garoppolo’s deal if they wanted after 2019, given that their injured quarterback would be responsible for only $4.2 million in dead money. San Francisco structured the deal to give the organization that sort of flexibility, but it’s obviously more of a worst-case scenario.

On the bubble: CB Richard Sherman, RB Jerick McKinnon, FB Kyle Juszczyk, LB Malcolm Smith, CB K’Waun Williams, DT Earl Mitchell, LB Brock Coyle, LB Reuben Foster, CB Ahkello Witherspoon, WR Trent Taylor, G Joshua Garnett, DE Arik Armstead, RB Matt Breida, DE Cassius Marsh, K Robbie Gould

Many of these players are veteran placeholders who should hopefully move to the wayside as the 49ers draft and develop talent. Foster’s status depends more on off-field concerns than his ability on the field, given that he already has been suspended by the league.

Unlikely notables: WR Pierre Garcon, T Joe Staley, RB Alfred Morris

Staley’s seemingly endless contract — an extension that originally runs back to the Mike Singletary era in San Francisco — finally expires after the 2019 season. The deal has been a huge bargain for the 49ers, and Staley continues to play well, but it’s tough to project any tackle to play past the age of 35.

Seattle Seahawks

Virtual locks: WR Tyler Lockett, QB Russell Wilson, RB Rashaad Penny, CB Shaquill Griffin, DE Rasheem Green, S Tedric Thompson, S Delano Hill, LB Shaquem Griffin, S Tre Flowers, P Michael Dickson, RB Chris Carson, DT Jarran Reed

The Seahawks have gotten off to a surprisingly impressive start this season, given that they’re currently sixth in DVOA while running out one of the league’s youngest starting defensive lineups. Coach Pete Carroll is going to count on those players as building blocks.

On the bubble: WR Doug Baldwin, T Duane Brown, C Justin Britt, S Bradley McDougald, OL Ethan Pocic, T Germain Ifedi, TE Nick Vannett, DT Nazair Jones, DE Frank Clark, LB Bobby Wagner, LB K.J. Wright, WR David Moore, G J.R. Sweezy, CB Justin Coleman, DL Quinton Jefferson

I would imagine the Seahawks will keep around Wagner, but he’s a free agent after the 2019 season and hasn’t signed an extension. The Seahawks have enough money to sign both Wagner and Clark over the next year, but they also had the money to sign Earl Thomas and chose not to do so.

Unlikely notables: S Kam Chancellor, K Sebastian Janikowski, S Earl Thomas, TE Ed Dickson, DT Malik McDowell, LB Mychal Kendricks

McDowell is still technically on Seattle’s roster, although the 2017 second-rounder was waived with injuries suffered in an ATV accident before ever playing a game with the Seahawks. That’s not even the weirdest reason a player is in this notables section.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Virtual locks: WR Mike Evans, DE Jason Pierre-Paul, DT Gerald McCoy, LB Lavonte David, DT Vita Vea, TE O.J. Howard, RB Ronald Jones, S Justin Evans, WR Chris Godwin, CB Carlton Davis, CB M.J. Stewart, G Ali Marpet, G Alex Cappa

The Bucs are unique in not handing out signing bonuses, so the only players on their roster who would incur dead money in 2020 after being released would be their players on rookie contracts. It leaves Tampa with a ton of flexibility, so if it wanted to (for some reason) get rid of Evans, David and Pierre-Paul come 2020, it could without eating any dead money.

On the bubble: QB Jameis Winston, WR Adam Humphries, T Donovan Smith, C Ryan Jensen, T Demar Dotson, TE Cameron Brate, RB Peyton Barber, DT Beau Allen, DE Vinny Curry, LB Kwon Alexander, CB Ryan Smith, P Bryan Anger, DE Carl Nassib, G Caleb Benenoch

Winston’s future is obviously in question after being benched last week. The Bucs picked up his fifth-year option for 2019, but Tampa can cut or trade him without penalty after the year as long as he can pass a physical.

Unlikely notables: WR DeSean Jackson, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, CB Brent Grimes

Fitzpatrick will turn 38 during the 2020 season. While he might still be on an NFL roster, chances are the journeyman will have moved to another NFL destination.

Tennessee Titans

Virtual locks: T Taylor Lewan, T Jack Conklin, DL Jurrell Casey, WR Corey Davis, K Ryan Succop, CB Adoree’ Jackson, LB Rashaan Evans, LB Harold Landry, WR Taywan Taylor, TE Jonnu Smith, LB Jayon Brown, S Kevin Byard

GM Jon Robinson has now made it through three drafts with the Titans, and the majority of players here are his selections. Conklin, who is playing well in his return from a torn ACL, will be playing out his fifth-year option come 2020.

On the bubble: QB Marcus Mariota, CB Malcolm Butler, TE Delanie Walker, DE DaQuan Jones, G Josh Kline, S Johnathan Cyprien, RB Dion Lewis, DT Austin Johnson, DT Bennie Logan, RB Derrick Henry, C Ben Jones, G Quinton Spain, WR Tajae Sharpe

Mariota’s inability to stay healthy and inconsistent play on the field makes him a question mark; the Titans will either have to franchise Mariota, sign him to a new deal, or let him hit free agency after 2019. The most notable veteran here is Butler, who struggled before that infamous benching in 2017 and has played like a replacement-level cornerback during the start to his career with the Titans. Tennessee would owe $6 million in dead money if it cuts Butler after 2019, but if he doesn’t improve, it won’t have much of a choice.

Unlikely notables: S Kenny Vaccaro, LB Brian Orakpo, LB Derrick Morgan, LB Wesley Woodyard

The Titans are rebuilding around younger linebackers, including their top two selections in the 2018 draft, Evans and Landry.

Washington Redskins

Virtual locks: QB Alex Smith, T Trent Williams, LB Ryan Kerrigan, T Morgan Moses, WR Paul Richardson, CB Quinton Dunbar, DT Daron Payne, DL Jonathan Allen, LB Ryan Anderson, RB Derrius Guice, C Chase Roullier, G Brandon Scherff, S D.J. Swearinger, CB Fabian Moreau, T Geron Christian

Smith’s deal basically guarantees he’ll be on the roster in 2020, given that Washington would owe $20.3 million in dead money if it cut or traded the former Chiefs starter after 2019. The Redskins are arguably the deepest team in the league in terms of offensive line and front-seven talent, thanks to the efforts of departed general manager Scot McCloughan and legendary offensive line coach Bill Callahan.

On the bubble: WR Josh Doctson, WR Jamison Crowder, TE Jordan Reed, RB Chris Thompson, DE Matt Ioannidis, LB Preston Smith, LB Zach Brown, CB Josh Norman, S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

The future of Smith’s weapons and the secondary aren’t quite as clear. Doctson hasn’t developed into a reliable target, and Washington will have to seriously consider declining his fifth-year option for 2020 after this season. Norman has the largest cornerback contract in the league and a staggering $16.7 million cap hit this season; it’s unlikely he’ll make it to the final year of his current deal in 2020 as a Redskins player.

Unlikely notables: G Shawn Lauvao, TE Vernon Davis, RB Adrian Peterson, DL Stacy McGee

It’s unlikely Peterson will still be toting the rock 20 times a game in 2020, but then again, it looked like he was out of football in mid-July. Counting him out is not wise.

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