The vast majority of the dollars NFL teams will commit to free agents this offseason already have been spent. Of the 34 free agents to whom ESPN's Bill Polian assigned a grade of B-plus or better heading into the offseason, just two -- Bengals safety Reggie Nelson and Giants kicker Josh Brown -- are available. Franchised players such as Von Miller and Josh Norman might still get mammoth contract extensions, but after committing nearly $880 million in guaranteed money, per ESPN's Roster Management System, most NFL teams can put the extra-large checkbook away. There aren't many multiyear, eight-figure, begging-the-owner-for-change deals left to be had.
Of course, that doesn't simultaneously mean that every team is set for 2016. There are players who are still sitting on their couches and waiting for their respective agents to call, just as there are plenty of teams that didn't acquire everything they had written down on their shopping lists. Some of those teams' needs will be met in the upcoming draft, of course, but there are contenders who don't want to go into 2016 with huge holes at key positions. And, likewise, there are veterans who aren't yet ready to start taking classes in selling real estate.
There are still plenty of questions left unanswered after free agency's peak, including ones that existed before the spending spree began and ones that have been created after the dust settled and the money changed hands. As the market resets, let's look at some of those questions and see how they might be resolved in the weeks (and months) to come. And let's start those questions by wondering about the most obvious trade candidate left on the market.
Are the 49ers going to trade Colin Kaepernick?
Kaepernick's camp hasn't reneged upon its desire to see the would-be 49ers starter dealt away, preferably to somewhere with a time machine that goes back to 2013. The arrival of Chip Kelly, a coach whose offense would seemingly fit Kaepernick's skill set, hasn't done much to dissuade Kaepernick from leaving. The trade market, for what it's worth, doesn't appear to be fruitful: The 49ers reportedly wanted a second-round pick for Kaepernick, but possible suitors such as the Broncos and Jets blanched, while the Browns weren't able to convince Kaepernick to restructure his deal as part of a trade.
The day of reckoning for Kaepernick is April 1. That's when his $11.9 million base salary becomes guaranteed, making it close to impossible for the 49ers to cut their former star contributor while greatly limiting his trade market. Other teams know this, and so the closer the calendar gets to April 1, the lower Kaepernick's value will fall. The 49ers have suggested that they want to keep Kaepernick around, a smart move given how far his trade value has fallen and how Kelly should be the best possible fit for Kaepernick as a passer. (Remember that the Bears couldn't give away Jay Cutler last year, and Cutler ended up having a perfectly acceptable season with a better offensive coordinator, Adam Gase, in tow.)
My suspicion is that Kaepernick sticks around in San Francisco. Until then, though, the rest of the quarterback market appears to be waiting to see what happens to Kaepernick before the dominoes fall elsewhere.
Where is Robert Griffin III going to sign?
While early reports around the time of RG III's release suggested that at least 10 teams would be interested in signing the 2012 second overall pick, those teams don't appear to be interested enough to pay for a plane ticket. Griffin's meetings so far amount to two teams: the Jets, who said they were doing "due diligence" and were likely trying to create further leverage in their negotiations with fellow unrestricted free agent Ryan Fitzpatrick, and the Browns, who had Griffin in for two days without choosing to sign the former Baylor star. The 49ers could be interested in Griffin if they move on from Kaepernick (or even if they keep Kaepernick, given his current injury woes), but they haven't yet made a move.
Otherwise, the market seems thin. The Broncos traded for Mark Sanchez. The Rams have publicly suggested that they're committed to going with Case Keenum and Nick Foles at quarterback. The Bills don't have the cap room to offer more than backup money to sit behind Tyrod Taylor. The most plausible outcome for Fitzpatrick by a long shot is that he ends up back with the Jets and familiar offensive coordinator Chan Gailey. For Griffin, that leaves the Browns or bust.
Will the veterans left at the top of the market be willing to sign one-year deals?
Even after Eric Weddle signed a multiyear deal with the Ravens last week, there are plenty of Pro Bowl-caliber players with significant name recognition and even recent production left sitting in the market. The aforementioned Nelson, who was tied for the league lead in 2015 with eight interceptions, hasn't made a single visit to an NFL team in free agency. The 32-year-old Nelson isn't the only guy on the wrong side of 30 who is waiting to sign a deal. Marques Colston (32), Owen Daniels (33), Jason Hatcher (33), Dwight Freeney (36), Karlos Dansby (34) and Leon Hall (31) were all positive contributors to NFL teams last year, and yet none of them have been able to agree to terms with a team as of yet.
Some of these players may choose to retire, especially given the recent propensity for players to move on from football before the league loses interest, as Calvin Johnson, Marshawn Lynch and B.J. Raji did this offseason. If players such as Freeney and Colston want to keep playing, though, they probably will have to make the difficult choice between retiring before they were ready to do so or accepting a one-year deal and (likely) relocating without the security of a longer-term contract. As much as Nelson might have hoped to see a serious guarantee as part of a multiyear deal after a wildly productive 2015, it appears that the chance has come and gone.
Will the Ravens go after any more fallen veterans?
It's a question that won't be answered for a few months, but the Ravens always seem to be the team that saves a few dollars for a rainy day before using them on a useful veteran, often one who has been prematurely let go by his previous employer. Weddle fits that bill, and in years past, they've gone after Daryl Smith, Elvis Dumervil and Steve Smith. Preferably, the Ravens would much rather make this sort of move in June, given that post-June 1 signings don't impact the league's compensatory pick formula, but they don't appear to be due any compensatory picks in 2018, so they might not feel the need to wait until June this time around.
Baltimore has only $8 million in cap space after adding Weddle, Mike Wallace and Benjamin Watson this offseason, but they could use depth along the interior of their offensive line and in the secondary. They would seem like a logical fit for one of the veteran guards left in free agency, such as Louis Vasquez or Geoff Schwartz, given that they lost Kelechi Osemele to Oakland without finding a replacement. And while Baltimore will unquestionably look hard at cornerbacks in this year's draft -- to the extent that they could take Florida State cornerback Jalen Ramsey if he falls to them at No. 6 -- they could be in the market for somebody like Hall or Antonio Cromartie if the price is right.
Will the Steelers sign a(nother) replacement for Martavis Bryant?
With Pittsburgh seemingly losing Bryant for all of the 2016 season after the budding star failed multiple drug tests, their signing of Chargers tight end Ladarius Green makes even more sense. The Steelers needed a tight end after Heath Miller retired, and while Green hasn't been especially productive as a pro, his athletic upside and ability to vertically stretch the field seems particularly useful given Bryant's impending absence.
Green is a freak athlete, but he can't exactly play Bryant's role in the offense, either. The Steelers re-signed Darrius Heyward-Bey, who is still fast, but he doesn't have anything resembling Bryant's receiving ability. Do they go back into the market for another wide receiver, even if it's a one-year deal, to try to add another weapon? When you look at who is actually left in the market at wide receiver, though, you see just how precious speed is and how few players left in free agency actually qualify as burners. Most of the players left are veterans such as Colston, Anquan Boldin and James Jones, possession receivers who don't vaguely resemble Bryant. The Steelers could pursue a short-term reunion with Nate Washington or take a flier on former Patriots preseason star Brian Tyms, but when it comes to downfield receiving, there just isn't much left to work with in free agency.
Can the Bengals get by without anybody of note behind A.J. Green at wide receiver?
While Cincinnati appeared to have one of the deepest receiving corps in football last season, its depth is quickly eroding. Any team would feel blessed to have Green and Tyler Eifert on the roster, of course, but Eifert's style of play and history suggest he is a constant injury risk. And after losing Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu in free agency, the Bengals are now perilously thin at wide receiver behind Green. As in their No. 2 wide receiver at the moment is probably return man Brandon Tate. That level of thin.
The Bengals will address wide receiver in the draft, in part because it's scary to imagine what their depth chart might look like if they don't, but also because they simply don't mess around in free agency. Their only signing this offseason was safety Taylor Mays, himself a former Bengals player. It just isn't a thing they do. If they were ever going to make an exception, though, it sure seems like adding a wide receiver would be a helpful way to go. They could target somebody like Washington or Rueben Randle in free agency or consider trading for a talented young player who has fallen out of favor with his present team, like Kendall Wright in Tennessee.
Is Mark Sanchez really going to be Denver's quarterback for Week 1?
Think about how weird that question would have seemed to Broncos fans a few months ago. As of right now, Sanchez is really the only viable option on the roster to start for the Broncos when they open the 2016 season on Sept. 8, given that his lone backup is 2015 seventh-rounder Trevor Siemian. It seems impossible that the Broncos could be down to Sanchez, Siemian and the possibility of adding a rookie who might develop as a long-term option in this year's draft.
And yet, at the same time, what else can the Broncos really do? Their best-case scenario might be Kaepernick, but he was a mess in 2015 and would cost the Broncos a valuable draft pick that they might prefer to use on a quarterback of their choosing. (It would be an easier pill to swallow if the 49ers cut Kaepernick.) And if it's not Kaepernick, then who else? Griffin? Fitzpatrick? It's hard to argue that either is significantly more likely to be better than Sanchez in 2016, even if they've been better at times in the past. As frustrating as it might be for Denver fans, the cards have left the Broncos with limited resources at quarterback. It might be more important to get Sanchez as many reps as possible with his new receivers than to bring in another quarterback to compete with him for the starting job.
Who will sign Greg Hardy?
The most talented free agent left on the market is Hardy, who remains unsigned for obvious reasons. A significant number of the league's teams weren't interested in Hardy as a result of his abhorrent off-field behavior, and after Hardy developed a reputation as a locker-room cancer in Dallas during a disappointing half season, the list of organizations willing to take a shot on the 27-year-old edge rusher didn't exactly grow.
Despite all that, it seems exceedingly likely that some team will sign Hardy, even if it's not for the $9.4 million or so he collected from the Cowboys last year. The Buccaneers and Seahawks were reportedly interested in Hardy before he signed with Dallas last March, but it remains to be seen whether they would be interested, given that the Bucs signed Robert Ayers, and the Seahawks took flak after drafting Frank Clark, who was dismissed from Michigan after being arrested on domestic violence charges. The NFL is a better place without Hardy, but a team is going to justify signing Hardy and pay him to play in 2016.
What is Seattle going to do about its line?
Speaking of the Seahawks, their offensive line has gone from bad to worse this offseason. After being mauled by the Panthers in the playoffs, Seattle has shed two starters up front, including the unquestionable star of the line, left tackle Russell Okung. Okung went to the Broncos on a deal with no guaranteed money, while guard J.R. Sweezy signed a five-year deal with the Bucs that guaranteed him a shocking $14.5 million.
Seattle general manager John Schneider has responded by investing at the bottom of the market. He has brought in Bradley Sowell from Arizona and J'Marcus Webb from Oakland, players who don't exactly have excellent pedigrees from their previous stops. The Seahawks are counting on 2015 fourth-rounders Mark Glowinski and Terry Poole to contribute more during their sophomore seasons, and Tom Cable's taste in offensive linemen is weird at best, but can they really go into 2016 with ... this as their offensive line?
This also coincides with the fact the Seahawks are more aggressive in trading for top-tier talent than just about any other team in the league. They haven't used a first-round pick since Bruce Irvin in 2012, having used their 2013 (Percy Harvin) and 2015 (Jimmy Graham) first-rounders in trades. (Seattle traded down in 2014 with Minnesota, who drafted Teddy Bridgewater.) The obvious fit, if the Seahawks were willing to use their first-rounder on a stud offensive lineman, would be to try to work out a deal for star Browns left tackle Joe Thomas. Cleveland has suggested that their plan isn't to trade Thomas, but with Thomas 31 and the Browns light years from contending, it also seems odd to hold on to Thomas in the years to come.
Thomas' contract is reasonable for that of a star left tackle, but it might be too much for the Seahawks, given that he has cap hits of $9.5 million or $10 million over each of the next three seasons. The solution might be for the Browns, who have $41 million in cap space, to get creative. They could rip up Thomas' old deal and give him a four-year contract with a massive signing bonus and relatively small base salaries, only to then immediately trade him to the Seahawks (or another team) after making the trade. The signing bonus would accelerate onto Cleveland's cap before disappearing, with the Browns making up for the deal by extracting better draft-pick compensation.
Are the Packers going to find an inside linebacker?
The pleas of Mike McCarthy and (at least some number of) Packers fans fell on deaf ears. Despite interest in moving Clay Matthews back to outside linebacker on a permanent basis, general manager Ted Thompson hasn't made any moves to target an inside linebacker in free agency. The Packers haven't signed away a single free agent from another team, which isn't a surprise, or necessarily even a bad idea given Thompson's history, but it does make it more difficult to shift Matthews to the outside.
Green Bay has other options. They could go with some combination of Jake Ryan, Nate Palmer and returning-from-injury Sam Barrington as their inside linebackers, although that doesn't seem to be an especially tantalizing option. Thompson could draft an inside linebacker, although the Packers were facing this same issue last year and passed on the likes of Eric Kendricks and Stephone Anthony. They could go after a two-down edge defender such as Courtney Upshaw and use that as a way to justify keeping Matthews inside on running downs, but that wouldn't really help. The logical fit, for all parties involved, would be for the Packers to go after Dansby, who was a useful part for the Browns last year and has to be chasing a ring at age 34.
Are the 49ers ever going to spend money on anything?
Let's finish with the Niners, who haven't made more than a peep in free agency despite possessing nearly $60 million in cap space. That's also before even considering the possibility of the team moving on from Kaepernick, which would push the 49ers even further into cap freedom, or the fact that the Niners renegotiated Ian Williams' deal into a one-year contract after their nose tackle couldn't pass his physical. The organization can carry over that cap space, and there's the possibility that top-tier free agents might not have wanted to play for Chip Kelly on one of the worst surfaces in the league, but we should be past the point that players are picky about their destinations, right?
No, the 49ers probably aren't in need of veterans such as Boldin or Freeney, guys who are going to try to win a title if they stick around in the league. But shouldn't they be trying to invest in a few high-reward possibilities? Given Kelly's known predilection for taller receivers, it's a surprise they haven't targeted Randle or Riley Cooper, Kelly's former receiver in Philadelphia. (Not necessarily a bad surprise.) A flier on former first-round pick Patrick Robinson, given San Francisco's barren depth chart at cornerback, would seem to fit. More so than the specific players, to be honest, it just seems like the 49ers should be doing more to try to upgrade a team that went 5-11 last year than hoarding money and waiting for the Kaepernick situation to resolve itself.