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No offseason goes completely according to plan, but it’s always smart to plan ahead. And we’re here to help.
With the franchise-tag window (beginning Feb. 19) and the start of free agency (March 13) just around the corner and April’s draft only a couple of months out, we’ve drawn up offseason blueprints for all 32 NFL teams.
Focusing mainly on free agency and the draft, here’s what each organization should prioritize in the weeks and months to come.
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Add protection for Josh Rosen
During an abysmal rookie season, the blue-chip quarterback out of UCLA was one of just five qualified signal-callers who were sacked on more than 10 percent of their dropbacks. Left tackle D.J. Humphries is a problem, and the Cardinals have a hole on the right side. With the free-agent market shallow there, they have to strongly consider using their No. 33 overall selection on an offensive tackle.
Add weapons for Josh Rosen
The Cardinals are widely expected to go defense with the No. 1 overall pick. But they’re projected to have more than $49 million in salary-cap space, and they could desperately use an outside receiver to team up with veteran Larry Fitzgerald. Impending free agent Tyrell Williams makes sense. Or they could shoot for the stars and try to trade for someone like Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr. or A.J. Green.
Prepare Josh Rosen
As you can tell, this offseason is all about one young man who turned 22 on Sunday. The Cardinals sacrificed a mid-first-round pick, a third-round pick and a fifth-round pick in order to make Rosen their quarterback of the future. Not only do they need to give him more tangible support during his first full offseason, but they also have to work tirelessly to ensure he’s comfortable and familiar with new head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s offense. Let the Air Raid begin!
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John Bazemore/Associated Press
Bring back Grady Jarrett
The league’s 28th-ranked defense can’t afford to lose its best player as he enters his prime. The 25-year-old defensive tackle is coming off a superb season, and he should only get better. The Falcons have a solid $28.7 million in cap space and few major holes, so letting Jarrett get away as an unrestricted free agent would be a tremendous mistake.
Give Jarrett better company
Atlanta also has to take a step forward up front on defense, ideally upgrading the likes of Brooks Reed, Terrell McClain and Derrick Shelby. Vic Beasley Jr. has struggled in three of his four seasons, and 2017 first-rounder Takkarist McKinley has yet to break out. The Falcons had a bottom-10 pass rush, and now they need to spend some money and/or draft capital on front-end defensive talent. Think Ezekiel Ansah.
Beef up the offensive line
The guard positions were problematic throughout the 2018 season, and Andy Levitre is turning 33 in May, recovering from a major triceps injury and slated to hit free agency. The Falcons should shoot for impending free agent Rodger Saffold and strongly consider potential convert tackle Cody Ford with that No. 14 overall pick.
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Provide Lamar Jackson with at least two more weapons
Baltimore should add one in the offensive backfield and one in the receiving corps. Joe Flacco was underserved for much of his tenure, but the Ravens can’t afford to skimp on support for Flacco’s raw second-year successor. Baltimore could use an established running back like impending free agent Mark Ingram and another field-stretcher like Tyrell Williams or Donte Moncrief.
Add a tight end
Any chance the Ravens can convince the Colts to send them contract-year pass-catching machine Jack Doyle now that Eric Ebron has emerged as the top dude in Indianapolis? Jackson needs a reliable safety valve at the tight end position, ideally an upgrade over Nick Boyle and/or Maxx Williams. It would be interesting to see impending Oakland Raiders free agent Jared Cook in a Baltimore uniform.
Lock up C.J. Mosley
If the Ravens are going to get back to the playoffs with Jackson under center, they need to once again dominate as often as possible on defense. Baltimore would have a tough time doing so without Mosley, who is already a four-time Pro Bowler at the age of 26. The Ravens have to do everything in their power to keep Mosley around, even if it means that a team with relatively limited cap space (more than $10 million below the league average) has to part ways with old-timer Terrell Suggs.
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Add protection for Josh Allen
The 2018 No. 7 overall selection was one of eight quarterbacks sacked on at least 8 percent of his dropbacks last season. The Bills need to replace the entire right side of the offensive line—there’s no reason to bring back weak impending free agents Jordan Mills and John Miller—and there are indications Dion Dawkins isn’t a career left tackle. They’d be smart to address the line with the ninth pick. Florida’s Jawaan Taylor is an obvious potential target.
Add weapons for Josh Allen
It’s not lost on us that a pattern has emerged regarding second-year first-round picks at quarterback. And it makes sense because teams try to put the horse before the cart. Arizona, Baltimore and Buffalo are still building their carts for their respective horses. The Bills don’t even have a frame in place. And if they don’t use their top-10 pick on a blue-chip offensive tackle, it’d better be spent on a potential superstar wideout like A.J. Brown out of Mississippi.
Spend some of that cash on an impact defensive player
Only three teams have more projected cap space than the Bills, who have talent on defense but lack a standout. They need a playmaker who can help give their D more of an identity, and they may have to overpay for that. So be it. Have your pick among impending free agents Demarcus Lawrence, Jadeveon Clowney, Grady Jarrett, Dee Ford, Landon Collins, Earl Thomas and Adrian Amos.
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Purchase Cam Newton insurance
Maybe this means acquiring Blake Bortles from the Jacksonville Jaguars. Maybe it means rolling the dice on Colin Kaepernick, since they’ve already tested controversial protest waters with Eric Reid. Regardless, the Panthers need an experienced backup quarterback in case Newton’s balky, surgically repaired throwing shoulder continues to be a problem in the fall.
Last month, Panthers owner David Tepper wouldn’t rule out the possibility that Newton could pull an Andrew Luck and take a season off to heal, and the quarterback himself recently revealed he couldn’t throw the ball farther than 30 yards down the stretch in 2018. That’s concerning.
Fix the offensive line
Of course, it would be easier for Newton to stay healthy if his pass protection improved. It was a mistake to give left tackle Matt Kalil an extra-large contract (five years, $55.5 million) two offseasons ago, and now his brother, center Ryan Kalil, is retiring. The Panthers should pursue Matt Paradis or Mitch Morse in free agency and strongly consider using the No. 16 overall pick on monster-sized Oklahoma product Cody Ford (6’4″, 338 lbs).
Add a cornerback
Only four defenses surrendered more passing touchdowns than Carolina’s, and that’s partly due to the fact that the Panthers lack an elite corner as well as depth at that position. It’s time to upgrade. Attractive impending free agents include Ronald Darby, Bryce Callahan and Pierre Desir. They might have enough cap space to pay one of those guys to come in and start.
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Rick Scuteri/Associated Press
Lock up Adrian Amos
The Bears are in really good shape following a breakout season. And they’re low on cap space ($5.9 million), so there’s little reason to expect major moves. Those came last offseason. Instead, the goal should be to focus on re-signing Amos, who at the age of 25 has emerged as one of the best safeties in the game. The franchise tag is a possibility if they want to avoid the risk of being outbid by a more cap-rich competitor.
Find a suitor for Jordan Howard
Chicago is short on draft picks following the Khalil Mack trade with the Raiders and another deal with the New England Patriots, but one way to get a pick or two back is to deal Howard. The solid running back is entering the final year of his rookie deal, and he just isn’t enough of a factor now that Tarik Cohen has emerged. The Bears should get something for Howard before his likely departure in 2020.
Replace Cody Parkey
You hope Parkey can redeem himself and get his career back on track following that debacle at the end of Chicago’s NFC Wild Card Game loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. But kicking is a head game, and both Parkey and the Bears would be better off if he took his talents elsewhere. The team has reportedly already auditioned some potential replacements, and now the pressure’s on to find the right guy.
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Confirm that Andy Dalton is Zac Taylor’s guy
If the Bengals realize at any point this offseason that Dalton isn’t the best man for the job in new head coach Zac Taylor’s offense, they should move on. They can release or trade Dalton at no cost, and there’s no sense in forcing Taylor to kick off his first head-coaching gig with a leftover quarterback. The draft is a possibility for a team that, under current circumstances, might want to consider rebuilding. Dalton has regressed the last couple of seasons and likely peaked several years ago.
Shop A.J. Green
This is especially the case if they decide to move on from Dalton. Green will turn 31 in July, he’s missed at least six games in two of the last three campaigns, and he’s entering a contract year. The Bengals won’t likely do this, but they ought to consider unloading their seven-time Pro Bowler and his $15.2 million salary. There’s a decent chance Green hits the road next year anyway, and Cincinnati doesn’t appear to be on the brink of a Super Bowl run.
Lock up Tyler Boyd
Boyd is the future in Cincinnati, at least at the receiver position. The 24-year-old is coming off a quiet 1,000-yard season in which he scored seven touchdowns and caught more than 70 percent of the passes thrown his way. But he’s entering a contract year. The Bengals have plenty of projected cap space ($51.3 million) but don’t like to spend big on outside free agents, so they should splurge to ensure Boyd doesn’t have a chance to hit the open market in 2020.
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Find someone to protect Baker Mayfield’s blind side
This is one of the last puzzle pieces in Cleveland. The Browns’ long, much-publicized rebuild is essentially complete. But Greg Robinson and Desmond Harrison are not long-term left tackles, and 2018 second-round pick Austin Corbett should probably remain at guard. The free-agent market is shallow at that position, but the Browns should consider making a run at contract-year Raiders offensive tackle Donald Penn. It’s easy to see the 35-year-old Penn doing for Cleveland what Andrew Whitworth has done for the Los Angeles Rams.
Sign or draft a speedy outside receiver
Only two teams have more projected cap space than the Browns, who could still use a deep threat to complement Jarvis Landry as an X or Z receiver. John Brown, Donte Moncrief and Tyrell Williams are candidates. Alternatively, they might want to spy someone like Ohio State’s Parris Campbell or Oklahoma’s Marquise Brown early on in the draft.
Add a starting-caliber defensive tackle
Say the Browns trade for the affordable Penn and go the draft route at receiver. If so, they will have plenty of money to spend on an interior defensive lineman who could better complement rising pass-rusher Myles Garrett. Could they steal Grady Jarrett from the Falcons? David Irving of the Dallas Cowboys would be an intriguing consolation prize.
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Make Dak Prescott sweat
Team owner Jerry Jones has expressed extreme optimism regarding Prescott and his future in Dallas, even stating explicitly in the middle of an up-and-down season that the quarterback’s contract would be extended. But that hasn’t happened yet, and it shouldn’t. The 2016 Offensive Rookie of the Year did bounce back a little in 2018 after a sophomore slump, but he continues to lack consistency.
With the franchise tag in the Cowboys’ back pocket, there’s little reason for them to rush this. Let Prescott earn his money in the final year of his rookie deal.
Lock up Demarcus Lawrence
While working under the franchise tag in 2018, Lawrence had to prove his 2017 breakout season wasn’t an aberration. And the 26-year-old pass-rusher delivered. Pro Football Focus graded Lawrence as the seventh-best edge-rusher in the NFL after he put together a second consecutive season with double-digit sacks. Dallas is expected to have nearly $46 million in cap space, so there’s no reason this shouldn’t happen.
Sign a standout safety
That’s been an obvious need in Dallas for quite some time, and the team has been linked heavily to impending free agent Earl Thomas. Re-signing Lawrence should take priority, though, so if the Cowboys commit so much cash to him that they’re outbid for Thomas, Adrian Amos, Landon Collins and Lamarcus Joyner would be excellent consolation prizes. The safety market appears to be deep.
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Find the quarterback of the future
It ain’t Case Keenum, who revealed to the football world in 2018 that his surprisingly strong 2017 campaign with the Minnesota Vikings was indeed a magic trick. General manager John Elway conceded to Peter King’s Football Morning in America that Keenum is “probably a short-term fix,” and you get the sense Elway has grown frustrated with his team’s inability to find a franchise player under center.
The Broncos either have to acquire Nick Foles, trade for Matthew Stafford if he’s available or use their No. 10 overall pick on a blue-chip passing prospect like Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, Missouri’s Drew Lock, Daniel Duke’s Jones or Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray.
Address the offensive line
They’ll also have to commit a good chunk of their $36.2 million in salary-cap space to the center position. Matt Paradis is an impending free agent worth re-signing. But they could also manage to upgrade at both right guard and right tackle, where Connor McGovern, Elijah Wilkinson and Jared Veldheer all struggled in 2018. Ja’Wuan James and Daryl Williams could be out there on the tackle market, while Rodger Saffold and Andy Levitre might headline the guard market.
Add a cornerback
Maybe this is where they go with their early second-round pick, or maybe they pursue Pierre Desir, Ronald Darby, Steven Nelson or Jason McCourty. Regardless, the Broncos badly need somebody other than Chris Harris Jr. to shine in coverage, and starter Bradley Roby is an impending free agent.
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Let go of Ezekiel Ansah, find a replacement
Ansah would become one of the most attractive free-agent pass-rushers on the market, but it’s time for the Lions to go in a new direction.
They’ve yet to succeed with Ansah, despite paying him $48.5 million over the course of his inconsistent six-year tenure in Detroit. The Lions have some cap space (projected $30.6 million), but they’d be better off spending their money on former Matt Patricia disciple Trey Flowers or even Jadeveon Clowney. They could also go the draft route and spend that top-10 pick on a blue-chip edge like Michigan’s Rashan Gary.
Add a starting-caliber cornerback
Opposing quarterbacks posted a 102.7 passer rating against the Lions in 2018, so another option could be to use that No. 8 overall pick on former Georgia corner Deandre Baker, who looks to be the top cover man in this draft class. Otherwise, they’ll have to chase Ronald Darby, Steven Nelson, Pierre Desir or Jason McCourty. Nevin Lawson is allergic to interceptions (zero since he entered the league in 2014), and Detroit needs somebody better to team up with Darius Slay.
Start looking for Matthew Stafford’s successor
The Lions are probably stuck with Stafford for several more years because cutting or trading him would be too costly because of the way his massive five-year, $135 million contract is structured. Still, it couldn’t hurt to plan for the future while also potentially lighting a fire under Stafford’s rear end by drafting a possible long-term quarterback option in April. It might be worth using a Day 2 pick on someone like NC State’s Ryan Finley, Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson or West Virginia’s Will Grier.
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Make Aaron Rodgers happy
Rodgers is the most important employee in the Green Bay Packers’ building. Without him, they aren’t winning anything of substance in the next few years. So the new-look Packers have to get serious about satisfying their franchise quarterback.
New head coach Matt LaFleur had better not be stubborn about his system, and general manager Brian Gutekunst has to be willing to spend some money. He can start by giving Rodgers another toy—an experienced one who catches passes. There’s just not enough there beyond Davante Adams, and it’s time to upgrade on impending free agent Randall Cobb. Golden Tate and Adam Humphries are scheduled to hit the market in March.
Cut bait on Jimmy Graham and Nick Perry
It’s cool if the Packers have to designate both Graham and Perry as June 1 releases to spread out the cap damage, but this is the offseason to move on from these overpaid veterans. Graham essentially made $3 million per touchdown catch in 2018, while Perry brought in about $7.2 million per sack. Releasing both would cost about $18 million in cap space, but that might be better than paying both a combined $27.1 million in 2018.
Start rebuilding the defense
The Packers have two first-round picks, and it would make a lot of sense if both selections were dedicated to a defense that ranked 29th in the NFL in DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) at Football Outsiders. They need a shiny new pass-rusher to replace Perry and/or Clay Matthews, a linebacker with a higher ceiling than Jake Ryan and a safety who can be paired with the promising Josh Jones.
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Michael Conroy/Associated Press
Fix the offensive line
The Texans should be ashamed of themselves for allowing young franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson—who was sacked a league-high 62 times—to operate behind train wrecks Julie’n Davenport and Kendall Lamm in 2018. The interior of the line also struggled. But Houston has accomplished talent there, and you wonder if those problems were related to the issues Davenport and Lamm had on the outside.
The Texans must add two new starting offensive tackles immediately. They should be in on impending free agents Trent Brown, Ja’Wuan James and Daryl Williams, while Florida’s Jawaan Taylor, Alabama’s Jonah Williams and Mississippi’s Greg Little should be first-round draft targets.
Lock up Jadeveon Clowney
J.J. Watt had a nice bounce-back campaign after missing all but eight games over a two-season span, but there’s no telling how long the soon-to-be 30-year-old can sustain that. The Texans can’t afford to let Clowney get away. He’s the future of that defense—can you believe he’s only turning 26 years old this week?—and the Texans have to hit him with the franchise tag if a deal isn’t done before the March 5 deadline.
Add a cornerback
You’ve probably detected that a lot of teams could use another cover man, and the Texans are on that list. Kareem Jackson is hitting free agency on the wrong side of 30, Johnathan Joseph is on the brink of 35 and the league’s 28th-ranked pass defense needs new blood in the secondary. Houston probably has enough cap space to bring back Clowney, add a free-agent tackle and still sign a corner like Ronald Darby, Steven Nelson or Pierre Desir.
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Make a splash for a pass-rusher
Indianapolis ranked below the league median in terms of sack rate and total sacks and 29th in adjusted sack rate at Football Outsiders in 2018, but now the Colts practically have a blank check to spend on an elite edge-rusher to bolster the defensive front. There’s no reason they wouldn’t be in on Jadeveon Clowney, Demarcus Lawrence, Trey Flowers, Frank Clark and Dee Ford if any of those impending free agents hit the open market.
Otherwise, watch for a potential trade. Justin Houston’s contract ($40.1 million remaining) might be beginning to look like an albatross to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Find a friend or two for T.Y. Hilton
The Colts have finally nailed down their offensive line, giving Andrew Luck better protection than ever. Now they have to shift their focus to adding more weapons for Luck. Dontrelle Inman is slated to hit free agency, but they can upgrade with an outside threat like John Brown or Tyrell Williams. They should also look for a new slot option. Golden Tate would be ideal there, but Adam Humphries would work too. They might also be able to add a first-round-caliber rookie receiver with either their 26th or 34th overall pick in the draft.
Re-sign Pierre Desir
You’d think this would be a no-brainer based on how well the cornerback played down the stretch in 2018, but the Colts let Rashaan Melvin walk after a strong season at that position one year ago. Indy can’t get cute when dealing with cornerbacks, especially because the jury’s still out on 2017 second-round pick Quincy Wilson.
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Replace Blake Bortles under center
Duh. And because the Jaguars are a contender right now, they’d be smart to pursue an accomplished quarterback who is more likely than a rookie to make a positive impact in 2019. Nick Foles makes the most sense based on his recent success in Philadelphia, and the Jags at least have more cap space than any other potential Foles suitor. It’d be somewhat surprising if this doesn’t happen.
Give that replacement a No. 1 receiver
The Jags might not have a lot of money left with Foles or another new quarterback on board, but something they do have is trade ammunition. Jacksonville should make Malik Jackson, Bortles, Leonard Fournette and—for the right price—Jalen Ramsey available. The latter three players have either caused distractions off the field, problems on the field, or both, while Jackson is simply too expensive. Jackson and Bortles can free up money by being released.
Regardless, there are plenty of routes the Jags can take that could position them to trade for Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr. or A.J. Green. Even if that doesn’t pan out, they should be in on Golden Tate. And with a top-10 pick, they also have the draft capital to wind up with someone like D.K. Metcalf or A.J. Brown in Round 1.
Add a starting-caliber offensive tackle
Third-year left tackle Cam Robinson needs to be pushed after a bad rookie season and an injury-derailed sophomore campaign, while the right tackle position could use a boost anyway. They should inquire about Donald Penn in Oakland, make a run at Trent Brown, Ja’Wuan James and/or Daryl Williams in free agency, and strongly consider Jawaan Taylor, Greg Little and/or Jonah Williams in Round 1.
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Ed Zurga/Associated Press
Trade Justin Houston, re-sign Dee Ford
This would of course require a trade partner, but it shouldn’t be hard to generate interest in Houston among contenders in need of pass-rushing help. The key for the Chiefs is they can dump Houston’s massive salary and pay out a reasonable $7.1 million in dead money. That would enable a team that ranks below the league median in cap space to lock up Ford, an impending free agent who has more tread on his tires than Houston.
Fix the secondary
Those aforementioned pass-rusher-related developments would also free up room for the Chiefs to address a major weakness. The defensive line is already in superb shape with Chris Jones dominating inside and either Ford or Houston (or both) on the edge, but Kansas City needs help at both cornerback and safety, especially with Steven Nelson slated to hit the open market.
Could the Chiefs try to trade for Jalen Ramsey? That could be a game-changer, especially because Ramsey is affordable right now. Alternatively, they could pursue Ronald Darby or Pierre Desir to work with Nelson (if he re-signs) and Kendall Fuller. Earl Thomas also makes sense if Eric Berry isn’t able to get his heel right. They should also be eyeing corners and safeties with that No. 29 pick.
Re-sign Mitch Morse
Patrick Mahomes benefited greatly from superb protection in his MVP sophomore season, and Morse is one of the best pass-blocking centers in the game. Continuity is so critical with an offensive line, especially when you’re bringing along a young franchise quarterback. The Chiefs have to pay up to keep Morse, which is why that Houston trade could come in handy.
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Gregory Payan/Associated Press
Strengthen the offensive line
Right tackle Sam Tevi is a liability, which isn’t ideal considering Philip Rivers’ age (37). The Chargers’ top priority with their $21 million in cap space should be to upgrade in that spot, so they should be in on impending free agents Trent Brown, Ja’Wuan James and Daryl Williams. They could always go the draft route too, but this is a win-now team that needs the help immediately and lacks a top-25 pick.
Strengthen the interior defensive line
The Chargers have to become stronger in the trenches on both sides of the ball. On defense, they’re obviously in tremendous shape with Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa on the edges, but inside they could manage to upgrade over Corey Liuget and Darius Philon, the latter of whom is slated to become a free agent alongside Damion Square, Isaac Rochell and the 34-year-old Brandon Mebane.
Could they be in on Grady Jarrett or Ndamukong Suh? There are also several highly rated defensive tackle prospects who would make sense with the No. 28 overall pick.
Search for Philip Rivers’ successor
Rivers is 37, but the Chargers have a lot of young talent on the roster. In a perfect world, they can find and groom a quarterback now so they don’t have to experience a lull when Rivers hits a wall or retires. It would make sense to use a second-round pick on someone like Ryan Finley, Clayton Thorson or Will Grier, while Kyler Murray might even be an intriguing gamble considering they have time to wait for him. Problem is Murray is likely to go off the board earlier in Round 1.
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Shop Todd Gurley
As yours truly noted last week, use him or lose him. The Rams received proof down the stretch that they don’t need Gurley to dominate on offense, and they neglected him in big moments as a result. Might as well cut ties now if you can considering the All-Pro’s four-year, $57.5 million contract. Getting rid of Gurley now would be costly in terms of dead money, but it’s better to rip off the Band-Aid and admit signing him to a record-breaking deal last offseason was a mistake.
Lock up Dante Fowler Jr., let go of Ndamukong Suh
The Rams probably can’t afford to pay both defensive linemen, so they should opt to keep the rising pass-rusher rather than the declining defensive tackle. Suh didn’t quite live up to big expectations and a big salary in Los Angeles, even with several strong performances late in the year. Meanwhile, Fowler was probably the team’s best edge-rusher down the stretch.
He’ll be pricey too, but he’s worth it as a 24-year-old at a premium position. The Rams gave up two middle-round draft picks for Fowler in October, so it’d be silly to let him walk now.
Keep Rodger Saffold
The Rams won’t likely be major players on the open market, and they have just one top-100 draft pick, so this offseason will and should be about keeping guys in-house. Fowler should be the focus in that respect on defense, while Saffold has to be the top priority on offense. The 30-year-old guard isn’t a superstar, but he’s consistent and reliable, and it’s important for quarterback Jared Goff’s sake that the offensive line has continuity going forward.
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Replace Ryan Tannehill
Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald reported last month the Dolphins are “moving on from Tannehill,” who hasn’t gotten it done in six seasons there. Now a rebuilding team has to decide whether to pay up for a veteran like Nick Foles or Joe Flacco or go the draft route.
The Dolphins hold the No. 13 overall pick, which could give them a shot at any of the top quarterbacks in this class. Taking Dwayne Haskins, Daniel Jones or Drew Lock probably makes more sense than spending big on a free agent, because this team isn’t likely to compete in 2019 regardless.
Clean the rest of the house
The Dolphins are low on cap space, but they can free up over $13 million by cutting Tannehill, another $4 million by releasing Kenny Stills, and nearly $5 million by parting ways with Kiko Alonso. Are those guys really going to be part of the next core? Seems silly to pay eight-year veteran Robert Quinn $12.9 million for a walk year when you can cut or trade him for free.
Invest in Ja’Wuan James
If the Dolphins are going to spend anywhere, it should be on the offensive line. That new quarterback will have a higher likelihood of success if he’s well-protected, which is why Miami should be willing to pay up to keep James. The impending free-agent right tackle has first-round pedigree and has become a solid starter at the age of 26. The Dolphins should be sellers, not buyers, but they should make an exception for James.
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Revamp the offensive line
Count the Vikings among those who will look to poach Ja’Wuan James from Miami. But really, Minnesota should be in on every starting-caliber free-agent offensive lineman (James, Trent Brown, Daryl Williams, Rodger Saffold), because Kirk Cousins’ pass protection was atrocious in 2018.
Riley Reiff has been an overpaid disappointment at left tackle, and they’d be best served moving him elsewhere. They also have at least one hole at guard, while center Pat Elflein has struggled. This is a win-now team with limited cap space, which means this offseason should be all about the offensive line and probably not a lot else.
Let Anthony Barr walk
It’s not as though Barr doesn’t help the Vikings defense, but if they’re going to prioritize the line, there probably won’t be enough in the coffers for the 26-year-old impending free agent. He doesn’t play a premium position, and he doesn’t make a lot of game-changing plays (he has six sacks, two forced fumbles and zero interceptions the last three years), so the Vikings might have to accept the fact that a competitor will likely outbid them for Barr’s services.
Add a defensive tackle
Maybe this is a draft direction if they decide to go the free-agent route for offensive line help and don’t have the cash to replace impending free agents Sheldon Richardson and/or Tom Johnson with veterans. Regardless, it’s a need. It would be interesting to see Mississippi State’s Jeffery Simmons or Houston’s Ed Oliver in purple.
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Get Tom Brady another weapon
Julian Edelman will turn 33 this offseason. Rob Gronkowski might not be back, but he’s also on the back nine of his career regardless. They probably can’t count on Josh Gordon either, and Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson are all slated to hit free agency. Potential free agents Adam Humphries and John Brown would both appear to be nice fits, and this might be a good year for New England to use a first-round pick on a pass-catcher for the first time since 2004.
Let some veterans go
But the Pats are relatively low on cap space, so they’ll have to make some sacrifices in order to bolster the pass-catching corps. Not sure it’d be worth paying free-agent market value to keep left tackle Trent Brown, who will likely be in high demand. Brown made an impact in New England, but there’s no telling if that was a one-hit-wonder season, and Tom Brady gets the ball out so damn quickly that overpaying an offensive tackle seems silly. New England also should consider trying to deal safety Devin McCourty, who is entering an age-32 walk year and can save the Pats nearly $10 million by taking his talents elsewhere.
Search for Brady’s heir apparent
Brady will be 42 years old when he throws his next in-game pass, and New England doesn’t appear to have a succession plan in place now that Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett are long gone. The only other quarterback on the roster is 33-year-old Brian Hoyer, so look for New England to use a middle-round pick on someone like Will Grier, Clayton Thorson, Ryan Finley or Jarrett Stidham. Then the grooming process can get underway.
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Re-sign Teddy Bridgewater
Drew Brees is now 40, and he showed his age a little bit while struggling down the stretch in 2018. When the Saints sent the New York Jets a third-round pick for Bridgewater and a sixth-rounder in August, it was a clear indication they believed the 26-year-old former Pro Bowler could eventually move into Brees’ role.
There’s no reason to think that’s changed based on Bridgewater’s minuscule 23-pass sample from 2018. The Saints have a lot of young talent, and the best way to avoid wasting that talent in the post-Brees era is to continue to own Brees insurance. That’s essentially what Bridgewater is.
Say goodbye to Mark Ingram
Problem is, paying up for Bridgewater won’t leave a cap-poor team much wiggle room. One luxury they probably can’t afford to keep is Ingram, who works so well in a platoon with Alvin Kamara but simply has more value elsewhere. The 29-year-old has probably peaked and is clearly the second fiddle to Kamara. The Saints would be better off drafting a back or two in the middle rounds and opening up a cost-effective competition for Ingram’s role.
Work the trade market
In addition to being short on cash, the Saints also lack a first-round pick as a result of last year’s trade-up for Marcus Davenport. They’re going to have to get creative this offseason, but with such a complete roster they can afford to pursue some trades. Could they pry Devin McCourty away from New England? What about tight end Jack Doyle in Indy now that Eric Ebron has become the guy there? Those guys would address needs without breaking the bank.
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Use that top-10 draft pick to reel in Eli Manning’s successor
You can’t be a semi-competent NFL team with an aging quarterback in this pass-happy era and neglect to draft a quarterback in the top 10 in back-to-back seasons. This has to be the year the Giants finally add a quarterback heir apparent in a high place, and the decision they make in that situation could impact the franchise for years to come.
They can probably have their pick of the signal-caller litter, and Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins makes a heck of a lot of sense. Haskins could probably use a year of NFL grooming, which works out well because it’ll give Manning a nice chance for a goodbye tour before enabling him to walk away at the end of his current contract next offseason.
Stick with Odell Beckham Jr. unless you’re swept off your feet by an offer
We’re talking two first-round picks, or at least a high-end first-rounder along with a Day 2 selection. Beckham may be distracting at times, but the guy’s contract carries a $35 million dead cap hit right now, and you’re probably still a lot better off with him than without him. The four-time 1,000-yard receiver is still only 26 years old. Give him time to mature. When you’re that good, you get a lot of rope.
Add another receiver
This naturally becomes an even larger priority if they deal Beckham, but the Giants need another weapon in the passing game regardless. You know who’d make a great partner with Beckham and Sterling Shepard? Carolina’s Devin Funchess, who was drafted by current Giants general manager Dave Gettleman back in 2015 and continues to possess a high ceiling at the age of 24. The Giants can easily afford a player like that, and that type of addition could put a strong offense over the top in 2019.
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Stay away from Le’Veon Bell
The Jets are the odds-on favorites to land Bell, but giving a potentially worn-down player at a non-premium position big bucks would be a tremendous mistake for a team that is probably still at least a year away from competing in a significant way. The Pittsburgh Steelers provided proof in 2018 that even superstar backs aren’t particularly hard to replace. It’s basically a dime-a-dozen position, and the Jets would be much better off getting young quarterback Sam Darnold another starting-caliber receiver.
Make a run at Odell Beckham Jr.
You know, a starting-caliber receiver like Beckham, who just might be available for the right price. The Jets should seriously consider trading down five to 10 spots in the draft (if possible), collecting an extra pick or two on Day 2 and then offering that first-rounder to their New York neighbors for OBJ, who they can certainly afford based on all their cap room. Beckham could transform that offense and start something special with Darnold, and that might be worth the first-round sacrifice.
Add a stud pass-rusher
This is an obvious route if they stand pat with that No. 3 overall pick. Nick Bosa or Josh Allen could start immediately and make a tremendous impact as part of a defense that had the league’s ninth-lowest sack rate while lacking talent on the edge in 2018. They also have the money to outbid most of the league for a proven rusher like Jadeveon Clowney, Demarcus Lawrence, Frank Clark, Trey Flowers, Dee Ford or Za’Darius Smith.
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Jeff Chiu/Associated Press
Add a starting-caliber wide receiver
Jon Gruden basically tore down an already flawed team and is now rebuilding it almost from scratch. We say almost because the Raiders at least appear to have a franchise quarterback in Derek Carr. And while a Super Bowl-caliber roster can’t be built in one offseason, it’s nice to have that bedrock.
The key now is to continue to build the core, starting with somebody who that quarterback can depend on consistently. The Raiders should go all-in for Odell Beckham Jr., they should inquire about Antonio Brown, they should look into A.J. Green, they should sign Golden Tate, John Brown or Adam Humphries, and they should use at least one of their three first-round picks on a receiver like A.J. Brown or D.K. Metcalf. They’ve got the cap space and the draft capital to do so much better than Jordy Nelson and Seth Roberts.
Add an impact pass-rusher
Jokes will be made if the Raiders spend the No. 4 overall pick on a blue-chip pass-rusher like Nick Bosa or Josh Allen, but there’s nothing anyone can do about the Khalil Mack trade now. The fact is Oakland desperately needs a playmaker on defense, particularly on the edge, and the silver lining is that a first-rounder will be cheaper than Mack would have been.
Considering the Mack trade, the draft route is much more sensible than making a splash on a veteran. It would be shocking if the Raiders didn’t come away from Round 1 with a highly touted, pro-ready edge-rusher.
Add an impact defensive player who does things other than rush the passer
Like, for example, covers receivers. The Raiders have been thin in the secondary for about a decade now, and they have the money to take advantage of a promising free-agent market at both cornerback (Desir, Darby, Nelson, Callahan) and safety (Thomas, Joyner, Collins, Amos). If they came out of Round 1 with one pass-rusher, one receiver and one defensive back, Raiders fans would probably be thrilled with the prospects of that new core.
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Jacqueline Larma/Associated Press
Forget about Jordan Hicks, Brandon Graham and Ronald Darby
All three key defenders will be too expensive for a team that is still fighting to get under the salary cap before the start of the new league year. We’ve reached a point at which the Eagles simply have to put their faith into the players general manager Howie Roseman has drafted and will draft. Let’s see what guys like Sidney Jones, Avonte Maddox, Jalen Mills and Josh Sweat can do with larger roles.
But find a way to keep Golden Tate
Carson Wentz will need all the help he can get as he faces the pressure associated with Nick Foles’ inevitable departure. The Eagles already lack a clear-cut No. 1 running back and depth at receiver, so losing Tate’s talent and experience would be a blow. It would be a shame to lose the guy just five months after giving up a third-round pick in exchange for his services.
Address the offensive line
The line isn’t in awful shape, but Jason Peters is, like, 84 years old, and they could manage to upgrade at left guard. That No. 25 overall pick should either be used on the best defensive back available or a pro-ready, versatile offensive lineman like Cody Ford or Jonah Williams.
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Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press
Trade Antonio Brown sooner than later
Sooner essentially means before June 1. There’s an impression that the Steelers would prefer to deal Brown after that date in order to spread out his $21 million dead cap hit over the course of two years rather than one, but the market for Brown will obviously be much stronger in March than in June.
That potential return on investment edge helps, and don’t forget that if Brown remains on the roster for all of March, April and May, his $22 million cap hit will take up even more space than that dead cap charge. The Steelers just have to tear off the Band-Aid, ideally walk away with a first-round pick and put faith in emerging star JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Address the secondary
This has been a problem area for some time, and that didn’t change much in 2018. Corners Mike Hilton and Joe Haden are solid in the slot and outside, but they can upgrade on impending free agent Coty Sensabaugh and bust first-rounder Artie Burns.
At safety, Morgan Burnett is old and disgruntled, while youngsters Terrell Edmunds and Sean Davis failed to stand out last season. They need competition in the defensive backfield, and there are plenty of established defensive backs scheduled to hit the open market. Maybe they’ll sign Ronald Darby away from the Eagles.
Add another pass-rusher
Let’s presume that if they trade Brown they’d use one of their first-round picks on a new receiver. The other pick should probably be used on a defensive player. And if it’s not a defensive back, look for the Steelers to bring in a blue-chip pass-rusher to battle Bud Dupree for the right to start opposite T.J. Watt. Could Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell slide to them in the No. 20 spot? If so, it’d be hard to pass.
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Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
Trade for a star receiver
We’re of course thinking about Antonio Brown, but Odell Beckham Jr. or a contract-year-bound A.J. Green would work too. Regardless, the 49ers erred by not bringing in a standout pass-catcher despite having so much money to spend last offseason. They again have plenty of cap space this time, and any of those aforementioned guys would be game-changers for Jimmy Garoppolo.
That said, you can’t part with the No. 2 overall pick, so either you trade down first, you hope someone will take your No. 36 overall selection, or you package that or a later pick with your 2020 first-rounder.
The 49ers don’t need a quarterback and are in pretty good shape up front defensively, which means somebody else will be more desperate for Nick Bosa or Josh Allen or whichever quarterback becomes the most desired.
Under those circumstances, it makes a lot of sense for the 49ers to trade out of the No. 2 spot and collect some extra picks to bolster roster depth on both sides of the ball. And as mentioned, if they do that sooner rather than later, it’d be a lot easier to justify surrendering a first-rounder in exchange for Brown or Beckham.
Add a cornerback
A lot of teams have to add a corner or two, but at least the 49ers can outspend all but a handful of competitors. Darby and Steven Nelson should be their top targets, mainly because they need somebody to help Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon outside while K’Waun Williams holds things down in the slot.
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Ted S. Warren/Associated Press
Start building the Legion of Boom 2.0
The Seahawks aren’t the Seahawks without talented thumpers in the secondary, and now they’ve got money to spend to address a sudden weak spot. With Earl Thomas almost certainly gone, Seattle should be all over safeties Landon Collins, Adrian Amos and Lamarcus Joyner, all of whom look as though they’ll be poachable if they hit the open market.
Lock up Frank Clark
He’s one of the few defensive players who survived last year’s purge, but now Clark is slated to hit free agency. The 2015 second-round pick continues to be an underrated pass-rushing force. He’s yet to make a Pro Bowl but has 32 sacks and seven forced fumbles the last three years, and he still hasn’t turned 26. Seattle can’t justify letting him walk, especially with a projected $53 million in cap space.
Keep working on that offensive line
It’s not as atrocious as it used to be, but quarterback Russell Wilson still faces far too much pressure. It’s time to accept that right tackle Germain Ifedi is a bust, and that the decision to bring back veteran guard J.R. Sweezy was a mistake. The Seahawks should be thinking about someone like Cody Ford or Jonah Williams with that No. 21 overall pick, while it’d be pretty sweet to steal steady veteran guard Rodger Saffold from the division-rival Rams.
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Michael Conroy/Associated Press
Say goodbye to Donovan Smith
Smith hasn’t missed a start in four years at left tackle, but that doesn’t mean the 2015 second-round pick hasn’t been a liability. He gives up too many sacks and takes too many penalties. If the Bucs are going to try to make this Jameis Winston thing work, they have to let Smith walk in free agency and find somebody better ASAP.
Maybe that’s Jawaan Taylor with the No. 5 overall pick, maybe that’s a trade for former Buc Donald Penn (who might be expendable in Oakland), or maybe they find some cash for Trent Brown. Regardless, something has to happen there.
Re-sign Adam Humphries
Winston needs a security blanket, too, and Humphries has emerged as a strong and reliable presence in the slot. If the Bucs have to decide between upgrading at right guard (a clear weak spot) and keeping Humphries, the money is probably better spent on the rising stud and the more premium position.
Trade Gerald McCoy
That’s one way to raise money to pay for Winston’s support system. That’s gotta be the focus right now in Tampa, because this is a make-or-break year for the 2015 No. 1 overall pick. McCoy is the face of the Bucs defense, but he’s on the wrong side of 30, he’s owed $13 million in 2019, and he can be traded or cut free of charge. The Bucs aren’t likely to compete for a Super Bowl this year anyway, and they can get by with Beau Allen and second-year first-round pick Vita Vea inside.
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Add a pass-rusher
The Titans were a middle-of-the-pack team when it came to sacking the quarterback in 2018, and not a single Tennessee edge-rusher registered five sacks. Veteran defensive end Derrick Morgan is slated to hit free agency, and now might be the ideal time for a team with over $40 million in cap space to make a splash for a game-changing presence on the edge.
We’ll see who hits the market among a solid group of potential free-agent rushers that includes Dee Ford, Jadeveon Clowney, Demarcus Lawrence, Trey Flowers, Za’Darius Smith and Frank Clark. They could also go the draft route and jump on someone like Jachai Polite with the No. 19 overall pick.
Add a receiver
Corey Davis has yet to truly emerge as a 2017 top-five pick, and there isn’t a lot of sex appeal beyond that in the Titans receiving corps. They should be in on Golden Tate, John Brown and Adam Humphries. And considering how important it is to strongly support quarterback Marcus Mariota as his career arguably reaches a crossroads, we wouldn’t blame the Titans for using another first-rounder on a pass-catcher. A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf are candidates there.
Upgrade the interior offensive line
Again, this is all about giving Mariota a shot. The Titans have superb tackles, but both guards struggled in 2018. Quinton Spain makes a lot of mistakes, and Josh Kline is too much of a liability in pass protection. Unless they go the big-name free-agent route in both cases above, they could have money for someone like Saffold. But Ford or Williams would also work in that No. 19 hole, and it wouldn’t be a crime if they waited to address this on Day 2 of the draft.
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Mark Tenally/Associated Press
Find a quarterback
Alex Smith could miss the 2019 season because of a major leg injury, leaving the Redskins in a tough spot at quarterback. Smith’s bloated contract is almost impossible to get out of, so it might make sense to trade for a signal-caller with an expiring deal.
Blake Bortles and Ryan Tannehill are obvious candidates under those circumstances, and watch for Andy Dalton in Cincinnati. Redskins head coach Jay Gruden was Dalton’s offensive coordinator for the first three seasons of his career, and the Bengals wouldn’t be on the hook for any money if they were to part ways with him.
Address the offensive line
Guard Shawn Lauvao is a free agent, and they could really use an upgrade at the center position. At the very least, a second-round pick should be devoted to one of those spots, but they should also pursue strong potential free-agent centers Matt Paradis and Mitch Morse if they hit the market.
Add a wide receiver
The Redskins are relatively deep at wideout, especially if Jamison Crowder returns, but it’s been a long time since they had a top-end receiver. Maybe Gruden can get a Dalton-A.J. Green package from his former team if the Bengals decide to tear it down. More realistically, this could be a good time and place to use a first-round pick on a receiver like D.K. Metcalf, A.J. Brown, Marquise Brown or N’Keal Harry.
All salary-cap and contract information courtesy of Spotrac.