Key players, big decisions: The contract status of (clockwise from tope left) Cardinals DL Darnell Dockett, 49ers RB Frank Gore, Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch and Rams QB Sam Bradford all figure to be addressed this offseason.
Decisions, decisions. Each offseason, NFL teams face tough ones as they aim to improve the roster and remain compliant with the salary cap.
One of the biggest chores is deciding when it's appropriate to move on from a big name. Each of the NFC West clubs has a high-profile player whose situation will likely need to be addressed this offseason. Here is a look at what's expected to unfold:
RB Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
Age next season: 29
2014 statistics: 280 carries for 1,115 yards and 7 TD (4.0 YPC)
2015 salary cap hit: $8.5 million ($1.5 million dead money)
Analysis: With one year remaining on his contract and a small dead money hit, there was plenty of speculation 2014 would be Lynch's
final season in Seattle. The team could cut him to save costs, and the cap number seemed too high for a physical runner on the backside of his career. Then, Lynch had another dominant season and helped lead the Seahawks to a second straight Super Bowl. Even with a pedestrian group of receivers, the offense moved because Lynch was so good. There have been reports about a contract extension upcoming, which would lower the cap hit in 2015, give 'Beast Mode' more money up front, and extend the marriage between the two sides. While there is retirement talk surrounding Lynch, the odds seem high he returns as the Seahawks' top option on offense again next season.
RB Frank Gore, 49ers
Age next season: 32
2014 statistics: 255 carries for 1,106 yards and 4 TD (4.3 YPC)
2015 salary cap hit: Unrestricted free agent
Analysis: It was another nice season for Gore, who was just a tick off his career yards-per-carry average of 4.5. The players on the team badly want him back, but management has the final say. A return seemed less likely before the season with several promising running backs behind him, but Kendall Hunter tore his ACL in July, LaMichael James asked for and was granted his release and Marcus Lattimore
retired with knee problems. Carlos Hyde was the team's 2015 second-round pick, but his touches were sporadic and it's unknown if he can be an effective featured back. The 49ers are up tightly against the cap, but the market for Gore might be lukewarm. It makes sense for both sides to work out a deal much smaller than the $6.4 million he averaged over the past three years, unless a team with more money swoops in and gives him a better offer. Gore is among the most proven running backs in the NFL, but it remains to be seen what his market might be.
QB Sam Bradford, Rams
Age next season: 27
2013 statistics: 159-of-262 for 1,687 yards with 14 TD, 4 INT (missed final nine games with torn ACL; missed 2014 with second torn ACL)
2015 salary cap hit: $16.6 million ($3.6 million dead money)
Analysis: The former No. 1 overall pick is the one player on this list in which advancing age is not an issue, but there are other concerns surrounding Bradford. He has torn his ACL in two consecutive seasons, and before that never lived up to the billing of a franchise signal-caller. The Rams have a nice nucleus of players but can't reach the NFL's upper echelon without a good quarterback. St. Louis seems willing to give Bradford one more chance to at least compete for the starting job – although they are also reportedly watching the quarterback market closely – but will certainly aim to restructure the contract, as it is currently befitting of a more proven signal-caller. Bradford likely understands he will need to take a paycut this year. If he refuses, the Rams could release him and save nearly $13 million.
DT Darnell Dockett, Cardinals
Age next season: 34
2013 statistics: 46 tackles, 4.5 sacks (missed 2014 season with torn ACL)
2015 salary cap hit: $9.8 million ($3 million dead money)
Analysis: The biggest name with a contract conundrum on the Cardinals is wideout Larry Fitzgerald, but his situation has been broken down elsewhere many times. Dockett is another veteran mainstay whose cap hit – fifth-highest on the team – is untenable for the production he is expected to bring. Dockett is in his mid-30s and coming off a major knee injury, a pair of factors working against him. The rotation of Frostee Rucker and Tommy Kelly filled in capably for Dockett last year, and rookie Ed Stinson showed impressive flashes before getting hurt. Kelly is a free agent – the Cardinals would like to bring him back – but the other two are under contract, and it's unknown how much of an upgrade Dockett would be in 2015. His preference is to return, but in order for it to happen, Dockett will likely need to take a significant paycut. If Dockett deems a renegotiated offer too small, it could lead to his release.