With Super Bowl LV behind us, every NFL team is now in offseason mode. Quarterback maneuvers are stealing headlines thus far, but several teams are set there and need to make key adjustments at other spots. Here is each team’s biggest offseason task.
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Patrick Peterson was not the same player over the past two seasons, following a six-game PED suspension. The All-Decade cornerback is a free agent; so is Dre Kirkpatrick. The Cardinals have needs at a few places — Chandler Jones edge-rushing sidekick, WR2, and on the offensive line — but they must field a new crew alongside Byron Murphy. The Cardinals hold pick No. 16, putting them in range to land Virginia Tech corner Caleb Farley. The ex-Hokies stopper opted out of last season to preserve his draft stock. However Arizona plays it, the team will need new blood even if it does not bring Peterson back for an 11th season.
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On one hand, Matt Ryan should have a few above-average seasons left. The Falcons could try one more reload around their 35-year-old veteran. On the other, Ryan has not made the Pro Bowl since his 2016 MVP season. The Falcons have not held a top-five pick since they drafted Ryan third overall in 2008. This is a prime opportunity to draft Ryan’s successor, and owner Arthur Blank put that prospect on the table recently. Depending on the Falcons’ fondness for BYU’s Zach Wilson, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance, or Georgia native Justin Fields, a seminal decision awaits a franchise that just hired a new coach and GM.
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The Ravens have a few key issues. Interior offensive line and wide receiver will be addressed this offseason, but with Baltimore presenting a less-than-ideal situation for free agent wideouts, the franchise’s top priority should be determining a path at outside linebacker. The Ravens franchise-tagged Matt Judon last year and acquired franchise-tagged Yannick Ngakoue. Both are free agents, and Baltimore’s top D-line rushers — Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe — are over 30. The Ravens are not big on paying up for edge rushers, but Judon has proven himself worthy. And he will need a running mate, perhaps in the draft.
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A credit to the Brandon Beane-Sean McDermott regime, this roster does not feature many Defcon 1-level need areas. But the Bills took a step back in pass defense last season and have multiple aging defensive ends. This marks an interesting year to have a need for this expensive skill, with the salary cap set to plummet for just the second time ever. Bud Dupree is coming off an ACL injury but is only 27 and has delivered back-to-back strong seasons. Yannick Ngakoue and Carl Lawson are intriguing as well; so is the contract-year breakout, Trey Hendrickson. There will be options for the Super Bowl contender.
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If the Texans make Deshaun Watson available, this is an attractive destination. Matt Rhule is entering Year 2 of a seven-year contract and, at least in 2021, the Panthers employ fast-rising, OC Joe Brady. Carolina also has a host of young skill-position talent, in Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, and Robby Anderson. The Texans would not give the Panthers a major discount because they play in the NFC, but this is an advantage against AFC competition (primarily the Jets and Dolphins). Teddy Bridgewater’s 2021 dead money will not be an issue for a Carolina team thinking long-term. Watson would solve the franchise’s biggest problem.
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In need at many offensive positions but still possessing an upper-crust defense that is on the verge of the “aging” label, the Bears are desperate. What maybe needs to happen is a full-on rebuild, but ownership retained Matt Nagy and GM Ryan Pace — the latter the architect of the failed Mitchell Trubisky trade — so that will have to wait. The Bears are in the Carson Wentz mix, but they still need help up front and at wide receiver. Adding a franchise-QB salary to the mix will also make it more difficult for Chicago to franchise-tag Allen Robinson. But the Bears almost have to take a veteran QB swing, given their situation.
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In not directing part of their rare free agency splurge toward protecting Joe Burrow, the Bengals made a considerable error last year. They paid for it, with Burrow not guaranteed to be ready by Week 1 after tearing multiple knee ligaments and suffering structural damage. Whenever Burrow returns, he will need multiple new starting O-linemen. Fortunately, the Bengals’ No. 5 overall pick will be within range of landing Oregon standout tackle Penei Sewell. The 2020 opt-out would fit as a right tackle immediately in Cincinnati opposite Jonah Williams. They would ideally join a free agent guard or center on an improved line.
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It is conceivable the Browns become the rare team to return its entire offensive starting lineup (feat. Kareem Hunt), with Odell Beckham Jr. due back (as of now) as well. Cleveland needs help on all three defensive levels, having squandered a golden opportunity in Kansas City. The Browns’ No. 25 defensive DVOA figure was the worst among this year’s playoff teams. Myles Garrett needs a new wingman, and the Ravens keeping both Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue is unrealistic. Ngakoue played in a 4-3 scheme in Jacksonville and thrived. He can both help Garrett and Cleveland’s secondary.
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Given the ignition of the quarterback trade market, it would seem the Cowboys could fetch somewhere between the Deshaun Watson and Matthew Stafford price tags for Dak Prescott. The 2020 NFC East was a reminder of the five-year veteran’s value, and the Cowboys have numerous veteran starters that match up with Prescott’s timeline. But this is now offseason No. 3 of Dak negotiations, and a monster $37 million franchise tag will hurt more once the pandemic-induced cap decrease occurs. With Watson’s 2020 extension raising QB prices further, the Cowboys face a decision: extend their QB now or trade him to avoid a Kirk Cousins-esque ending.
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With Stafford gone, Wentz likely headed elsewhere and new GM George Paton unlikely to part with the draft capital necessary to acquire Watson, the Broncos can use this offseason to better build their roster around Drew Lock and/or equip their to-be-determined 2022 starting QB with a strong base. The Broncos have seen each member of their Super Bowl-winning No Fly Zone secondary depart. If/once Denver makes A.J. Bouye a cap casualty, injury-prone Bryce Callahan is the team’s only proven corner. At pick No. 9, investing in Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley or Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II should be strongly considered.
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The Rams and Eagles gave up ransoms to trade into the Jared Goff and Carson Wentz draft slots in 2016. Moves for Patrick Mahomes or Watson in 2017 would not have cost as much. The Lions are not planning to contend in 2021, and they now have Goff as a placeholder. The extra first-round pick the Rams gave them to take Goff’s contract could be valuable if the Lions identify a high-ceiling non-Trevor Lawrence QB prospect this year. Picking at No. 7, Detroit could trade up. That would take the team out of a possible 2022 top-three overall passer pick. GM Brad Holmes will need to have a QB timeline ready by April.
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The Packers have not done enough to bolster their rosters during the Aaron Rodgers era, leading a three-time MVP to have one Super Bowl berth in 13 QB1 seasons. The least Green Bay brass could do now is keep some of its essential cogs. Aaron Jones and All-Pro center Corey Linsley are free agents; one can be tagged. With all O-linemen grouped together under the tag formula, Jones is Green Bay’s tag candidate. The Packers could use a veteran receiver, and there will be a few second-tier options in a buyer’s market. But the franchise must do all it can to maximize Rodgers now; keeping its two big-ticket free agents is a start.
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Unlike the trades involving Hall of Fame-bound QBs Steve Young or Brett Favre, the Texans have a proven NFL superstar in trade rumors. Watson’s situation is closer to Fran Tarkenton’s in 1967. While the Vikings did reacquire their standout QB years after trading him in his prime, the Texans must avoid dealing Watson. The franchise spent several years cycling through QBs a few tiers below Watson. If it means embattled owner Cal McNair firing bizarrely placed executive VP Jack Easterby and taking a background role himself, it needs to happen. If the Nick Caserio-led team cannot make this right, a rebuild will take a bit thanks to Bill O’Brien’s missteps.
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The Colts have one of the NFL’s best all-around rosters, but Philip Rivers’ retirement leaves a QB need for the third time in three years. With Andrew Luck out of the picture, this is the team best positioned to revive Wentz. Frank Reich had Wentz on an MVP pace before his 2017 injury, and the Colts have a top-tier offensive line and immense cap space. This move would not be without risk, but the Colts hold pick No. 21 and are unlikely to be picking high in 2022 due to their roster strength. While they must be careful not to overpay, the Colts make sense for Wentz. And his contract would become bearable once the Eagles trade it.
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This is discounting the Jaguars’ slam-dunk decision with the No. 1 overall pick (Trevor Lawrence), but the team has a ways to go in order to put the quarterback in a winning situation. Jacksonville is projected to hold the NFL’s most cap space, and after allowing a franchise-record 492 points, the team needs help at nearly every defensive position. Urban Meyer’s team should prioritize younger free agents. If the Buccaneers tag Chris Godwin, the Jags should go big for Shaq Barrett. This class should house other intriguing edges and possesses safety talent — Marcus Williams, John Johnson — as well.
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While the two-time reigning AFC champions could use help at cornerback and linebacker, Super Bowl LV showed their top investment needs protecting. The Chiefs were without their top three O-linemen Sunday night in Tampa; Mahomes felt the effects. Eric Fisher is 30 and rehabbing a torn Achilles, stalwart right tackle Mitchell Schwartz will be 32 and missed most of 2020 with a back injury. The Chiefs, whose 30-year-old right guard (Dr. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif) may be needed elsewhere, need a rookie-contract O-line cornerstone. Michigan tackle Jalen Mayfield has played both left and right tackle and could be there at No. 31.
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The Raiders will give former No. 4 overall pick Cle Ferrell more time, but after two years and 6.5 sacks, the likelihood experts were right and the Raiders were wrong moves closer to reality. Maxx Crosby is more of an auxiliary pass rusher; the Raiders at least need to acquire his tag-team partner. Las Vegas is projected to be over the cap, but a few cut avenues exist. Though ex-Bengals assistant Paul Guenther is gone, signing Carl Lawson — whose 32 QB hits ranked second last year — would complement the Raiders’ rookie-deal D-ends. New DC Gus Bradley bringing over former Chargers pupil Melvin Ingram would not be a bad idea either.
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Multiple needs exist for the Chargers up front, with Herbert’s O-line featuring injury-prone vets or unproven younger blockers. The Bolts having needs at left tackle, left guard and perhaps center should prompt them to address their line in free agency and in the draft. With their No. 13 overall pick, Northwestern tackle Rashawn Slater may be there. Slater is viewed as a player who could line up at tackle or inside. Penei Sewell will be off the board by this point. If not Slater, the Bolts need to come away with a starting O-lineman early in this draft after striking gold at quarterback.
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For the second straight season, a Rams rental outside linebacker came through with a double-digit sack showing. Leonard Floyd followed Dante Fowler in breaking through alongside Aaron Donald, and the Rams now have Floyd and four-year contributor Samson Ebukam as free agents. Taking on a record dead-money sum for shipping out Jared Goff, the Rams are over the cap and will need restructures, cuts, and extensions to create room. But they have no first-round pick, per usual, and nothing of note on the edge. A Floyd return or another rental will need to take place for a star-obsessed regime that made its biggest all-in move yet.
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If the Texans smartly opt to keep Watson, the Dolphins have an opportunity to augment Tagovailoa’s receiving corps in the draft and in free agency. Several options will be available in March, in what will be a deep receiver free agent class, and Miami holds the Nos. 3 and 18 overall picks. At No. 3, Alabama phenom and ex-Tagovailoa teammate, DeVonta Smith could well be there. So could LSU superstar Ja’Marr Chase, who dominated with Joe Burrow in 2019 before opting out as a junior. The Dolphins need to land Nos. 1 and 3 wideouts to join DeVante Parker and give their QB a better chance at NFL production.
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None of Mike Zimmer’s first six Vikings defenses ranked outside the top 11 in points allowed; his 2020 unit finished 29th. Granted, injuries battered Minnesota’s defense. The Vikings return no player who recorded more than four sacks for them last season, and with Danielle Hunter missing all of 2020 due to injury and longtime edge mate Everson Griffen gone, the team needs to bolster its defensive front. Miami cogs Gregory Rousseau and Jaelan Phillips profile as building blocks who could be available when the Vikings pick at No. 14. The Vikes built their recent playoff defenses through the draft; they need more cost-controlled help.
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Multiple parts of New England’s offense need repair. Cam Newton was bad, so were his receivers. If the 49ers upgrade at QB, the Patriots bringing Jimmy Garoppolo home would help them work on other areas. Garoppolo’s pay-as-you-go deal runs through 2022, giving the Pats flexibility to search for a long-term solution. A Patriot for nearly four years, Garoppolo threw 27 TD passes in 2019 and is quite familiar with Josh McDaniels’ system. At least one upper-class wide receiver — ideally a veteran, given this team’s issues drafting wideouts — needs to join whatever QB the Pats acquire. Fortunately, many receivers will be available.
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Residing on their own tier of salary cap trouble, the Saints may be forced into a retooling year after their all-in push of the past few offseasons. Sean Payton has stood by Taysom Hill for years and used him as a full-time quarterback during Brees’ 2020 injury hiatus. The Saints have Hill under contract at a reasonable (for a QB1) rate through 2021. Financial issues have not limited the Saints much in recent years, but it looks like they finally will now. The Saints must add another group of rookie-contract contributors in April and use 2021 to find out if Hill truly is a viable long-term option.
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Since acquiring Leonard Williams at the 2019 trade deadline, the Giants featured one of the more underrated position groups — a D-line quartet of Williams, Dalvin Tomlinson, Dexter Lawrence, and B.J. Hill. This helped the team make up for edge-rushing limitations. Both Williams and Tomlinson are free agents, with the former coming off a career-best season (11.5 sacks, 30 QB hits). The Giants still need help outside, and keeping Tomlinson over the more expensive Williams would help here. But given GM Dave Gettleman’s investment in Williams, a big extension is likely on tap. This will decrease funding for outside linebackers.
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New York Jets: fix late-season mix-up, land franchise QB
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Jets fans could mock up Lawrence in those green, white, and poorly conceived alternate black uniforms for weeks last season. Their win over the Rams may have been the beginning of the end for Jared Goff; it also killed visions of the likely Jacksonville-bound Lawrence. The Jets have a rare reprieve opportunity. Armed with four first-round picks over the next two drafts, a franchise that has lacked a young franchise QB since Joe Namath is in a position to bring Watson to the Big Apple. If the Texans make Watson available, this is the team that most needs to pounce.
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This looks like the waning stretch for the Eagles’ Super Bowl champion nucleus. The team is projected to be well over the 2021 cap and on track to, with the apparently imminent Wentz trade, absorb an NFL-record $33 million dead-money hit. New Eagles coach Nick Sirianni, a Frank Reich disciple seemingly brought in to fix Wentz, must now oversee a rebuild. To start, the Eagles will need to determine if Jalen Hurts’ trajectory points toward “future starter” or “backup/gadget player.” The Eagles hold the No. 6 overall pick and likely will have another first-rounder. Despite extending Wentz in 2019, Philly must consider another QB pick.
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While the Steelers will perform their usual contract-restructuring gymnastics to move under what is expected to be a reduced cap, their salary situation will force key departures. Longtime starters JuJu Smith-Schuster, Bud Dupree, Mike Hilton, and James Conner may all be gone. The Steelers’ top need is a Ben Roethlisberger heir apparent, but with Mason Rudolph and now Dwayne Haskins on the team, Pittsburgh might still wait another year to make that move. The Steelers must come out of this draft with multiple 2021 starters, even though they appear poised to decline before their post-Big Ben reboot.
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Kyle Shanahan’s coaching rival now has Matthew Stafford set to lead a Super Bowl-or-bust team, while the Seahawks and Cardinals have franchise QBs. The 49ers have made the NFC West’s most recent Super Bowl appearance and did so with Garoppolo having a good, not great year. But the 49ers were in the Stafford mix. Shanahan must determine if Garoppolo is still enough in a loaded division because the 49ers hold the No. 12 overall pick and may also be connected to other veteran passers (Sam Darnold, Derek Carr among them). With Garoppolo on a flexible deal, the 49ers can scan the market ahead of their April decision.
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Prior to Aaron Donald’s rib injury, he led a five-sack charge that keyed a Rams upset over the Seahawks in Round 1. That highlighted an evergreen issue for Seattle. The Seahawks’ best O-lineman, left tackle Duane Brown, will soon be 36. Although they landed a keeper in third-round guard Damien Lewis, he has next to nothing around him long-term. If Pete Carroll insists on making his top-five quarterback pilot a run-based offense, he and GM John Schneider need to use real capital — rather than their usual bargain-buy blueprint — to upgrade their offensive front ahead of Russell Wilson’s age-33 season.
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Dated and appropriate Teddy KGB reference aside, the Bucs signed Shaq Barrett for $4 million in 2019 and used their franchise tag on him in 2020. The former Broncos backup has delivered for two years and led one of the top defensive performances in Super Bowl history. He deserves a premier edge rusher contract. The Bucs have Tom Brady, but they are a defense-powered team. A long-term Barrett deal before March 9’s franchise tag deadline would allow for a Chris Godwin or Lavonte David tag. The Super Bowl champions, who also have Ndamukong Suh as a free-agent-to-be, rank top 10 in cap space. They will need to use it soon.
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Despite investing in edge rushers and cornerbacks in recent years, the Titans allowed a 52% third-down conversion rate — a 21st century-worst in the NFL. GM Jon Robinson needs a much better offseason. But the team is short on cap space, thanks to some big deals given to offensive standouts last year. Cap cuts will create more needs, but Tennessee must better support Harold Landry on the edge and needs more help at corner. Veterans like Melvin Ingram or Justin Houston would make sense, especially if their markets suffer because of the reduced cap. But the Titans recorded 19 sacks last year (30th); that cannot happen again.
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Washington: come away with QB upgrade
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As Washington’s offer of a first-round pick and change for Matthew Stafford showed, the team is serious about improving. It needs to be, with Alex Smith set to turn 37 and Kyle Allen coming off a severe injury. Allen and Taylor Heinicke are restricted free agents; each could pass for a stopgap starter. But this offseason is already showing the QB measuring stick has moved. Washington, which also will not land Carson Wentz, is well off the pace. Free agency brings the likes of Andy Dalton, Jacoby Brissett, and longtime Ron Rivera charge Cam Newton. Expect more noise from Washington in the trade market.