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2017 offseason lookahead: Who will be on the move?


Omar Khan, Kyle Shanahan and Alshon Jeffery figure to be major players in the 2017 offseason. (Associated Press)

For some fans, there is comfort in the offseason. It is when your team dominates the headlines. It is when your team is making the splashy move. It is when hope springs eternal at 0-0, and when you have the best draft class of all.

Unfortunately for most teams, that hope does not translate to the regular season, which is why our NEXT list looks ahead to some of the biggest movers and shakers that will dominate the headlines once the regular season is over.

This serves as an expansion on our regularly updated coaching-oriented NEXT list, which debuted at the beginning of the season and was reorganized at the quarter mark. In addition to looking at future head coaches, we're eying future general managers and big-ticket free agents on offense and defense.

Here's your 2017 offseason in a bottle as we see it today:

The next general managers

George Paton, assistant general manager, Minnesota Vikings: Paton turned down interviews across the board over the past few years despite requests from the Bears, Jets, Titans and others. Generally considered one of the two most sought-after longtime assistants -- the other being Ozzie Newsome's right-hand man in Baltimore, Eric DeCosta -- Paton will likely wait for his dream job to open up. No matter what happens in Minnesota this season, his stock is already on the rise, thanks to a stout, championship-caliber defense that he helped build. With all eyes on the Vikings right now, some team could come along with an offer too good to refuse.

Trent Kirchner, co-director of player personnel, Seattle Seahawks: A candidate for the Lions' GM job last year, Kirchner will almost certainly be in the conversation again when the Seahawks make their inevitable deep run into the playoffs. The combination of confidence, personality and talent in Seattle has already produced a pair of head coaches from the Pete Carroll tree (Gus Bradley and Dan Quinn) and a GM (John Idzik, who had a short-lived tenure with the Jets). And while plucking from that branch doesn't necessarily guarantee success, Kirchner's ability to evaluate talent and organize a shop has impressed people around the league consistently.

Omar Khan, vice president of football and business administration, Pittsburgh Steelers: Not yet 40, Khan has nearly had his hands on some of the biggest jobs in football. A finalist for the Jets' general manager job before the team hired Idzik in 2013, Khan was also considered for the Seattle Seahawks' opening before current general manager John Schneider stepped in in 2010. The one thing about a top-heavy NFL is that losing teams will be desperate for valued talent from winning organizations. The Steelers have been remarkably consistent over the years, and the recently promoted Khan is a major reason for that success, which is why the team bumped him up a rung on the ladder this offseason.

Answering your questions in advance: Of course, DeCosta and Eliot Wolf from the Green Bay Packers would be atop many lists, though it seems like they are in line for something down the road at their current jobs.

The next head coaches

Josh McDaniels, offensive coordinator, New England Patriots: As we've reported in the past, McDaniels is waiting for the right job. Given his idyllic situation in New England and the team's wide-open window for continued dominance in the AFC East, his opportunity will likely have to include an enticing quarterback-general manager-ownership troika that will facilitate sustained success. We know what you're thinking: That job does not pop up very often, because teams that have those things don't often lose enough to warrant a head-coaching change. That's why we haven't seen McDaniels jumping ship despite myriad opportunities since his last head-coaching stint in Denver. This one will be carefully planned out, but given what has happened over the first eight games of the season, some intriguing opportunities could be on the way.

Kyle Shanahan, offensive coordinator, Atlanta Falcons: Shanahan has made a massive leap from our initial tiered rankings, thanks to the white-hot start to Atlanta's season. He saw a similar rise early last year before the team crumbled down the stretch, which inevitably soured owners and GMs looking for talent. Shanahan has been a hot name for a few years now and will likely get his best chance to thoroughly impress those in hiring positions this year, assuming everything holds. Shanahan's ability to highlight and utilize star talent is coveted by teams unhappy with their sagging statistics offensively.

Harold Goodwin, offensive coordinator, Arizona Cardinals: Owners and general managers can be fickle, and they may be momentarily down on acquiring a Bruce Arians protégé, given the slump Arizona (3-4-1) is currently mired in. But the Cardinals are good enough to dig themselves out of this hole, and when they do, Arians will point to his even-keeled right-hand man as part of the reason why. Goodwin is responsible for the running game, which has been the brightest part of Arizona's year. Running back David Johnson is a budding star.

The rest of the short list: We haven't forgotten about Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz or Bills offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn yet, either. All of them are absolutely in the running.

The next big-ticket free agents


Alshon Jeffery, wide receiver, Chicago Bears: There's a good chance the Bears try to shed their past a little bit this offseason. Alongside quarterback Jay Cutler, Jeffery -- who was given the franchise tag this year -- will probably be allowed to hit the open market and sign a major deal elsewhere. Monday night's game against the Vikings (four catches for 63 yards and a touchdown) shows promise for the remainder of the season. Physically imposing and athletic, Jeffery is just 26, and his eventual destination will dominate the conversation once the new league year starts.

Le'Veon Bell, running back, Pittsburgh Steelers: Something still tells me Bell won't make it very far out of the season before he's signed to a long-term deal in Pittsburgh. Should he opt to test the market, though, look out. Not only is Patriots head coach Bill Belichick fawning over him publicly, but just about every offensive coordinator in football is privately hoping to get a crack at him this offseason in free agent meetings.

Kirk Cousins, quarterback, Washington Redskins: I think the smart thing for Cousins to do would be to flirt with someone -- anyone else -- before returning to his date. The Redskins will end up paying a little bit more for their franchise quarterback than initially expected, as using the franchise tag on him in 2016 ups the starting price, but given Cousins' success and a potentially underwhelming quarterback class rising up through the collegiate ranks this year, there could be a few QB-needy teams upping the bid.

Also under consideration: Jay Cutler's eventual destination will also be a hot topic in the coming months, but this offseason could be dominated by a few offensive-line contracts. With guard play becoming an absolute essential, names like Kevin Zeitler could have a Kelechi Osemele-type impact on the market.


Trumaine Johnson, cornerback, Los Angeles Rams: Opting to let Janoris Jenkins hit free agency, the Rams signed fellow 2012 draftee Johnson to the franchise tag. Now his floor for a long-term deal is higher, and the Rams will have convinced themselves that they cannot run a dominant defensive line without some catch-all talent in their backfield. Should they let Johnson hit the open market, there's no telling what a cornerback-needy team would pay for the best.

Kawann Short, defensive lineman, Carolina Panthers: What will happen? After the Josh Norman saga in Carolina this past offseason, no one knows. GM Dave Gettleman has a supreme eye for talent and helped build a pair of Super Bowl-winning Giants teams with a dominant defensive line. After last year's defensive-line spending spree, highlighted by a generous Fletcher Cox deal, Short should be in line for something just as lucrative.

Jason Pierre-Paul, defensive end, New York Giants: GM Jerry Reese hasn't made a habit of re-signing his own after their contracts come to an end, though Pierre-Paul's one-year bridge deal was an exception. Pierre-Paul had other suitors this offseason and will likely keep in touch once he hits the open market. At just 27, he would be an instant upgrade to most teams as a run-stuffing defensive lineman.

We didn't forget about Patriots linebackers current and former: Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins. Jabaal Sheard should also make for an interesting commodity. Teams stacking their free-agent boards would do well to spend a lot of time in New England toward the end of the season.


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