With NFL free agency in full-swing, the annual March tradition of player mobility is once again changing the landscape of the league. The NFL futures markets are changing just as quickly and significantly. Oddsmakers throughout the country have been busy moving numbers in reaction to news as players come and go, while teams find their potential fortunes changing on a dime. Whether it’s a blockbuster signing or missing out on a targeted player, championships can be won and lost months before the season even kicks off.
Clearly, there are still many moving pieces before the dust settles. More free agents are still left to sign, players will be traded and we’ll have three full days of the NFL Draft in April.
In the meantime, we’ve identified two stand-out futures bets that should be considered now. These plays are based on what these teams have already done, while also being a bit speculative in an effort to lock in attractive odds before rumored moves could shorten said odds dramatically.
Los Angeles Chargers to Win AFC Championship (12-1)
All the pieces are in place for the Chargers to have a very successful season with just one glaring question mark. Now that Phillip Rivers is a Colt, who will be the Chargers starting quarterback come September? A number of different names have been floating around the rumor-mill in Los Angeles. Originally, Tom Brady dominated the conversation but has since come to an agreement to play for Tampa Bay.
More recently, Cam Newton has been the QB du jour with many thinking he could be coming to L.A. in a trade from Carolina. Also, let us not forget, Tyrod Taylor is still on the Chargers roster and they also have the 6th pick in the upcoming draft which appears to be rife with quarterback talent.
Should the Chargers decide to stand-pat, Taylor would presumably be QB1 on the depth chart. However, with the rest of the team full of firepower and moving into a new stadium this season, don’t be surprised if the Chargers make a significant move at QB.
Besides quarterback, the Chargers have almost everything a team could want. They recently re-signed breakout star running back Austin Ekeler to a new deal worth over $24 million. The dynamic duo of Keenan Allen and Mike Williams remain at receiver. The Bolts put the franchise tag on stud tight end Hunter Henry and have also improved their offensive line, which was by far their biggest weakness last season. Russell Okung was traded to the Panthers for Trai Turner who’s a considerable upgrade and veteran Bryan Bulaga was signed to a 3-year deal worth approximately $30 million. And that’s just the highlights on the offensive side of the ball.
The Chargers added standout defensive back Chris Harris Jr. to join Desmond King, Derwin James and Casey Hayward in what can now only be described as a terrifying secondary. The Chargers were also able to upgrade their defensive line with the addition of Linval Joseph who comes over from Minnesota as a very effective run stopper. Joseph will now be paired up with star defensive ends Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram making the Chargers defense a top unit in the league.
If the Chargers do make a significant move at the quarterback position, the 12-1 odds that they are currently getting to win the AFC will look like a gift. It’s a bit of a risk to bet them without knowing exactly what they’re planning to do, but it could turn out to be a genius move.
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Tampa Bay Bucs to Win Super Bowl 55 (16-1)
It would appear that the Bucs are in Super Bowl or bust mode. Even though they already had an agreement, Tom Brady has now cleared his medical evaluation and officially signed his new 2-year contract with the Bucs. The new contract is worth $50 million and is fully guaranteed. The deal also contains an additional $9 million in potential performance incentives.
Officially locking up the biggest name on the free agent market has clearly signified that the Bucs are going all-in to try to bring a Lombardi Trophy to Tampa Bay.
Brady will have a very capable set of weapons at his disposal. The Bucs already have two of the best wide receivers in the league with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Cameron Brate has proven himself to be an above average tight end and Ronald Jones II was effective out of the backfield last season.
That’s a lot of play-makers, but the story doesn’t end there. There are three players that have been linked to possibly making the move to Tampa Bay to join up with Brady and company. Should two of the three end up in Tampa, things will get extremely interesting.
Melvin Gordon, Todd Gurley and Brandin Cooks are the three names that cannot be ignored. Gordon is a free agent and is able to sign with any team. Should he choose to team up with Jones in the Tampa backfield, the combination could be lethal. The same goes for Todd Gurley, however his situation is a bit different. Gurley would have to be traded from the Rams as would Cooks, because unlike Gordon, they are still under contract.
However, things move very quickly this time of year in the NFL. In the 36 hours since this article was first published, Todd Gurley was not only released by the Rams, but also signed a new 1-year contract with Falcons. It will be something of a homecoming for Gurley as he played his college ball just down the road at the The University of Georgia in Athens.
As it turned out, large contracts were the exact motivation that the Rams needed to move either or both of the players previously mentioned. L.A. has a roster loaded with a significant number of high-value contracts, Gurley and Cooks included. From a payroll standpoint, it would make sense for them to move one or two of these sizable deals.
The Rams accomplished half of that scenario with the Gurley move and immediately saved a sizable chunk of change, although they will still have to take a $20 million hit in dead-cap money spread over the next two seasons.
The Rams may not be done unloading expensive contracts quite yet. Cooks isn’t a WR1 in Los Angeles and now that Gurley is gone, Cooks is the most logical piece to move next. If Tampa can make the salary numbers work, Cooks would be quite an asset as the slot receiver in Bruce Arians offense. He would see a lot of balls thrown his way as Evans and Godwin draw much warranted attention from opposing defenses. Plus, Brady is well known for getting the ball out of his hand quickly, which bodes well for a slot receiver with speed and great hands like Cooks.
Clearly, the Bucs wouldn’t have acquired both Gordon and Gurley, and especially not now since Gurley has become a Falcon. However, if the Bucs are still able to get Gordon plus Brandin Cooks to add to an offense that’s full of weapons already, then once again these current odds of 16-1 will look like a gift.
Lastly, it seems maybe a bit negligent to gloss over the Bucs defense as they had the best rushing defense in the league last season, but they also had the worst passing defense. There’s not much need for a break down here. The Bucs pass defense will hopefully improve at least a little and their new look offense could very well score enough points to make their shortcomings in the secondary a moot point.
If the Bucs make just a couple more moves, Brady could be in line for his 7th ring. 16-1 will seem like a steal when this is all said and done.
*Odds provided by VegasInsider as of 3/18/2020