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NFL teams and their fans should feel good. Spring is the season of hope for professional football. The draft just occurred, and every incoming prospect presents promise. Organizations also added key players through free agency and/or trades. Some significant contributors re-signed as well. Even so, only 15 weeks remain until games start, and there’s plenty left to do.
Before the regular season, each franchise will go through organized team activities, minicamps, training camp and preseason. At this juncture, the concerns aren’t quite as magnified after the roster moves during the earlier portions of the offseason. But no lineup is perfect, moves can still happen, and plenty of competition will ensue.
Specifically, the fates of quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Jimmy Garoppolo remain undecided. Plenty of high-profile players, specifically three-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald, are due contract extensions. And teams still have position battles to determine what their lineups will look like for Week 1.
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Jae C. Hong/Associated Press
- Extend quarterback Kyler Murray
- Extend wide receiver Marquise Brown
- Sign a veteran cornerback
Pretty much everything revolving around the Arizona Cardinals at this point in time centers on quarterback Kyler Murray and his discontent with the franchise. The 24-year-old quarterback already sat out the start of the team’s offseason program, though those sessions are currently voluntary. This situation could drag well into the summer if the organization isn’t proactive with contract discussions. According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, Murray isn’t expected to be keen to play this season without a new deal.
Beyond Murray, the Cardinals also don’t hold much leverage when it comes to giving Marquise Brown a new deal after trading a first-round pick to acquire the wide receiver, who entered the first negotiating window of his rookie deal this offseason.
Arizona still has holes at cornerback, too. General manager Steve Keim didn’t add much to the position, and a free-agent veteran like Joe Haden, Chris Harris Jr. or Xavier Rhodes could help solidify things.
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- Trade or release linebacker Deion Jones
- Give rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder every opportunity to win starting job
- Create competition along offensive line, particularly left guard
The Atlanta Falcons continue to transition under general manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith. Matt Ryan’s trade all but signified a rebuild.
The organization already began to determine who should stay and who should go when defensive tackle Grady Jarrett signed a new contract. Linebacker Deion Jones falls on the other side of the spectrum. A post-June 1 trade clears $14.7 million off the books, while a release would save the team a meager $1.1 million, per Over the Cap.
As part of the rebuild, the Falcons must also figure out what they have behind center in third-round rookie Desmond Ridder. No reason exists why the team should wait to see what the first-year signal-caller can do after putting in competition with veteran free-agent addition Marcus Mariota.
To get the most out of either quarterback, better play must be found at left guard than Jalen Mayfield provided last season. The team didn’t make any significant additions in this area during the offseason, so they’re seemingly hoping the 22-year-old Mayfield can make develop significantly.
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- Extend quarterback Lamar Jackson
- Sign a veteran wide receiver
- Trade safety Chuck Clark
When so many other athletes are trying to force new deals, Lamar Jackson’s patience could pay handsomely. Jackson represents himself in businesses negotiations. By waiting, he’s seen the Cleveland Browns sign Deshaun Watson to the largest fully guaranteed deal in NFL history. Jackson can uses that deal as leverage, point to his MVP trophy, make note of his clean background and demand even better numbers.
Maybe the Baltimore Ravens also play the waiting game with the franchise tag (or two) in the organization’s back pocket. But the quarterback’s happiness is crucial to the team’s long-term projections, since the entire offense is built around Jackson’s unique skill set.
Speaking of which, added weapons in the passing game would go a long way in assuaging the situation. After trading Marquise Brown to the Arizona Cardinals, the Ravens should look to add a Julio Jones, Will Fuller V or Odell Beckham Jr. in free agency.
Conversely, Baltimore’s group of safeties is loaded after the acquisition of this year’s 14th overall pick, Kyle Hamilton. Chuck Clark has been a key contributor to the defense, but a potential trade could bring back valuable assets, either through next year’s draft or another veteran.
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- Work rookies James Cook, Khalil Shakir into offense
- Address depth along the offensive interior
- Settle on a punter
Since the Buffalo Bills field arguably the NFL’s best and deepest roster, potential issues are relatively minor compared to other franchises. But no lineup is perfect.
For Buffalo, the continued additions around quarterback Josh Allen make the offense even more dangerous. The second- and fifth-round additions of running back James Cook and Khalil Shakir are excellent examples of how the team’s investments can make the passing game even more difficult to defend. Cook is a valuable receiver out of the backfield, while Shakir was one of the class’ best all-around wideouts.
“Sometimes you want that quick score or that chunk play,” general manager Brandon Beane told reporters. “If you’re gonna pick on our offense a little bit, that’s probably one of the things you could pick on is some chunk plays, get it in somebody’s hand, a receiver, running back, tight end, whatever it is.”
Beane can also scour the waiver wire or free agency to see if any experienced help can be found along the offensive interior to create better overall depth.
When the offense does sputter, the competition between Matt Haack and sixth-round rookie Matt Araiza should prove to be important after Buffalo finished 31st in gross average punt yards last season.
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- Trade for quarterback Baker Mayfield
- Extend outside linebacker Brian Burns
- Establish left side of offensive line
The Carolina Panthers appear to be waiting out the Cleveland Browns. According to the Associated Press’ Steve Reed, the Panthers are still interested in quarterback Baker Mayfield, and the issue at this point likely stems from how much of Mayfield’s $18.9 million contract the Browns are willing to eat.
Mayfield is a better starting option than Sam Darnold and third-round rookie Matt Corral. By mitigating how much money Carolina takes on as part of a deal, it offsets what the team is already paying as part of Darnold’s fifth-year rookie option. Mayfield is the best bet to upgrade the team’s starting quarterback at this point in the process.
No matter who starts behind center, though, he needs better protection. Four-fifths of the Panthers’ once-porous offensive line is now set, though left guard remains a mystery. Brady Christensen, Pat Elflein, Cade Mays and Deonte Brown will be in the mix.
Defensively, the Panthers are also looking to lock up their young defensive leader since Brian Burns sits in the window for his first contract extension.
“Brian would be one of those priorities moving forward,” general manager Scott Fitterer told reporters in March. “He’s a guy that’s come out and produced for us. I really like the leader he’s becoming, and the man that he is.”
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- Add another wide receiver
- Extend linebacker Roquan Smith
- Settle on a starting give along offensive line
The Chicago Bears’ approach to the offseason makes sense in a vacuum. But the real world doesn’t operate in a vacuum.
For example, general manager Ryan Poles did well with his first two draft picks. Cornerback Kyler Gordon and safety Jaquan Brisker are good football players the team acquired at very good value. Yet the third-round selection of Velus Jones Jr. didn’t move the needle at wide receiver, where second-year quarterback Justin Fields needs all the help he can get.
Right now, the Chicago Bears wide receivers consist of Darnell Mooney and…
Proven veterans remain available on the free-agent market. Maybe they’re injured right now or not what they once were. Even so, they’d still upgrade the Bears’ awful group of wide receivers.
Poles did make multiple middle-to-late-round draft investments in the offensive line. The most important part at this juncture is to settle on a front five and make sure they get as many reps together as possible to build better protection around Fields.
While the team figures out its offense, the front office can secure the squad’s defensive future by extending two-time second-team All-Pro Roquan Smith, who should continue to flourish in Matt Eberflus’ defensive scheme.
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- Avoid Super Bowl hangover
- Create competition at left guard
- Prepare for life without safety Jessie Bates III
The New England Patriots are the only team in the last 25 years to return to the Super Bowl after losing in the game during the previous season. The Cincinnati Bengals know they’re talented, and they have to avoid the same Super Bowl hangover that befell so many before them.
“Now we just gotta have the expectation that we’re one of the best in the league,” wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase told reporters. “We gotta keep that expectation and roll with it.”
To maintain the standard Cincinnati established last season, the front office had to upgrade the offensive line and did so with the free-agent signings of La’el Collins, Alex Cappa and Ted Karras.
The work up front isn’t done, though. Left guard remains an area of concern with second-year blocker Jackson Carman expected to grow into the position. Maybe Carman takes control and doesn’t look back, but he shouldn’t be handed anything after an uneven rookie campaign.
Interestingly, the Bengals are already looking to the future on defense after seeing Odell Beckham Jr. and Cooper Kupp slice and dice their secondary. Cincinnati drafted three defensive backs, included with their first- and second-round selections. Obviously, the Bengals must be better in coverage. At the same time, safety Jessie Bates III’s time with the team may be limited.
Cincinnati placed the franchise tag on Bates this offseason. According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, the situation could get “interesting” if a new deal isn’t reached this summer.
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- Trade quarterback Baker Mayfield
- Add a veteran to defensive interior
- Figure out which defensive back will primarily serve as team’s nickel corner
The Cleveland Browns currently have a Baker Mayfield-sized ball and chain attached to the organization.
The Browns hold little to no leverage. The market isn’t flush with cash to take on Mayfield’s contract, and potential suitors are limited after the offseason quarterback merry-go-round slowed.
The best path forward in hopes of gaining back a sliver of negotiating power is that teams like the Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers grow uneasy with their quarterback setup or an injury occurs. Otherwise, the Browns are going to eat the majority, if not all, of Mayfield’s $18.9 million salary. Keeping him all season certainly isn’t a viable solution for a festering situation.
Beyond Mayfield, the Browns roster is loaded but has a couple of cracks forming. The team’s defensive tackles can be counted among the league’s worst. Signing an Akiem Hicks or Sheldon Richardson could go a long way.
Behind the defensive front, Cleveland traded primary nickel corner Troy Hill to the Los Angeles Rams after drafting Martin Emerson in this year’s third round. Emerson isn’t a nickel corner by trade, but he must learn and become comfortable working over the slot. Otherwise, another corner must fill the role.
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- Decide on who will start at left guard
- Find a consistent option opposite defensive end Demarcus Lawrence
- Prepare in case wide receiver Michael Gallup isn’t ready for the start of the regular season
A few offseason departures will define how the Dallas Cowboys move forward this summer.
Connor Williams’ exit led to the organization drafting Tyler Smith in this year’s first round, even though Smith’s technique is a work in progress. He’ll be pushed by Connor McGovern to become the starter.
At wide receiver, Amari Cooper was traded to the Cleveland Browns. The organization re-signed Michael Gallup, but he continues to recover from a torn ACL suffered in Week 17 of last season. Free-agent acquisition James Washington and third-round rookie Jalen Tolbert will be asked to hold down the fort opposite CeeDee Lamb until Gallup is healthy.
Randy Gregory also left in free agency and joined the Denver Broncos after initially agreeing to re-sign with Dallas. Without Gregory, a quartet of options exist. Micah Parsons will start as an off-ball linebacker, but he can play off the edge in multiple scenarios. The team signed Dante Fowler Jr. and drafted Sam Williams to contribute as well. Maybe 2018 fourth-rounder Dorance Armstrong fills the position adequately.
Whatever the case in each situation, the Cowboys are likely worse at each position in the short term and must make sure they’re solidified by the start of the regular season.
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- Continue to work with Russell Wilson and build the offense around the quarterback
- Add veteran help at linebacker
- Decide how to implement team’s young tight ends
The Denver Broncos are taking the right approach after acquiring one of the league’s true franchise quarterbacks.
“We want to build this thing completely around [Russell Wilson] and make sure that he’s comfortable and watch him come alive,” head coach Nathaniel Hackett told reporters Monday. “I think he did some awesome things today utilizing his athleticism, and at the same time, being just a pure dropback passer. I think there were a lot of good things. We just have to keep developing that: the integration of the system, his feel with the rest of the team and how he is with the other guys—the wide receivers, tight ends—and getting those guys all on the same page.”
As Hackett noted, the usage of players around Wilson is important. Tight end is a specific example after the Broncos traded Noah Fant to the Seattle Seahawks as part of the Wilson deal. Albert Okwuegbunam and Greg Dulcich must establish a comfort level with their new quarterback.
While Denver’s new-look offense will draw the most attention, the Broncos didn’t draft a linebacker as expected. Another option should be welcomed behind Josey Jewell and Alex Singleton.
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- Build up new offense without wide receiver Jameson Williams on board
- Decide how to bring cornerback Jeffrey Okudah into the fold
- Add a veteran utility offensive lineman
Injuries will play a large part in the Detroit Lions’ offseason development and which direction they plan to go during the regular season.
The team traded up to the 12th overall pick to acquire Jameson Williams even though the speedy wide receiver suffered a torn ACL in this year’s National Championship Game, and he’s not going to be ready for the start of the regular season. As such, a rapport must be built between quarterback Jared Goff and his targets, specifically D.J. Chark Jr., who signed with the team this offseason.
On the other side of the ball, the Lions still have no clue what they have in cornerback Jeffrey Okudah, who is still working his way back from a torn Achilles tendon. When and how the coaching staff integrates Okudah will be quite telling.
Finally, Detroit’s front five is strong and serves as the best unit on the team. The team’s offensive line depth could be better, though. General manager Brad Holmes should look to add more pieces depending on who becomes available.
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- Figure out which wide receiver will become Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target
- Find another receiving threat at tight end
- Trade quarterback Jordan Love
The Green Bay Packers may be the NFL’s only publicly traded franchise, but quarterback Aaron Rodgers owns the organization. By fully committing to Rodgers and making him the league’s highest-paid quarterback (on an average annual basis), choices must be made, and all of them involve the man behind center.
Green Bay chose not to draft a wide receiver in the first round. Instead, general manager Brian Gutekunst traded up in the second and chose Christian Watson. Watson is a physical target, but he’s never been the focal point of an offense as Davante Adams was. The Packers also signed Sammy Watkins as a free agent to join Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb and Amari Rodgers. None of these receivers will replace Adams, but they must become comfortable enough as a group to pick up the slack.
The wide receivers can be helped by the team’s tight ends. Robert Tonyan Jr. is coming off a major knee injury. Maybe Tyler Davis or Josiah Deguara can become bigger parts of the offense by gaining Aaron Rodgers’ trust.
While all of this is occurring, the Packers have no reason to keep Jordan Love on the roster. They made their commitment to Rodgers. They’re not likely going to see the 2020 first-round pick play before they have to decide upon his fifth-year option next offseason. His value in a possible trade isn’t going to go up from this point forward.
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- Place significant responsibility on Davis Mills to see how the quarterback responds
- Find offensive weapons beyond wide receiver Brandin Cooks
- Establish secondary after additions of rookies Derek Stingley Jr., Jalen Pitre
At this juncture, the Houston Texans are just trying to figure who they are as an organization and team. Nick Caserio enters Year 2 of a rebuild with Lovie Smith now leading the way as head coach.
Ultimately, the entire franchise’s direction falls on Davis Mills’ shoulders and how he performs this season. As such, a heavy onus should be placed on the second-year signal-caller to see if he can handle being treated as “the guy.”
“I think he’s going to be an excellent quarterback in the NFL for a lot of years, but it’s about this year,” Smith told reporters. “Having a year, he and (offensive coordinator) Pep Hamilton getting on the same page with our offense, and him being in a role from the start, that’s different also.”
The coach is 100 percent correct. It’s all about this year. If Davis doesn’t flourish, the Texans will go in another direction. For the quarterback to succeed, he needs help. Brandin Cooks is a proven 1,000-yard receiver. Beyond Cooks, the Texans have very little at wide receiver. The team’s second-round pick, John Metchie III, probably won’t be ready for the start of the regular season after tearing an ACL in the SEC Championship Game. Someone else must fill the void.
Fellow rookies Derek Stingley Jr. and Jalen Pitre must quickly become the tone-setters on the defensive side of the ball for a Texans team that surrendered the joint-highest yards per passing attempt last season.
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- Extend guard Quenton Nelson
- Re-sign wide receiver T.Y. Hilton
- Give Kenny Moore II a new contract
The Indianapolis Colts do an excellent job investing in talent without overspending. The franchise prefers to draft, develop and re-sign players, and they must splurge for a player of Quenton Nelson’s caliber.
“I have heard the same sentiment from several veteran agents: Nelson will break the bank,” ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported. “While Nelson doesn’t play left tackle, this might be a left tackle conversation based on money.”
Nelson will almost certainly cash in as the standard-bearer for his position. Kenny Moore II, meanwhile, quietly started a holdout at the onset of the Colts’ organized team activities. Moore is one of the game’s premier nickel corners. Traditionally, outside corners are paid more, yet Moore is a key component to a very good Colts defense and he’s set to make less annually than rookies Derek Stingley Jr. and Ahmad Gardner.
While the Colts are spending money, the return of T.Y. Hilton should remain a strong option. Hilton’s veteran presence would greatly help a young wide receiver corps still learning what it can be.
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- Decide how to best utilize this year’s No. 1 overall pick, Travon Walker
- Trade wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr.
- Settle at center so quarterback Trevor Lawrence can get used to his new snapper
The direction of the Jacksonville Jaguars will be determined by two No. 1 overall picks.
Quarterback Trevor Lawrence already looks the part, though he had to battle through an untenable situation last season and didn’t get the help he needed. The Jaguars signed wide receivers Christian Kirk and Zay Jones, tight end Evan Engram and right guard Brandon Scherff to help. The organization also drafted center Luke Fortner in the third round. The Kentucky product should take over snapping duties rather quickly.
The additions at wide receiver likely signal the end of Laviska Shenault’s time with the team. ESPN’s Mike DiRocco reported he was on the trade block in March, and he seems a poor fit for Doug Pederson’s offense.
The future of the Jags defense will now be dictated by Travon Walker and whether his play catches up to his awesome physical potential.
“He looks the part for sure,” Lawrence told reporters Monday. “Just really his demeanor, I enjoy being around him. [He’s] a really calm guy, humble, hard worker. Then obviously you see him, and you see why he’s the number one pick and all that.”
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- Rework offense without wide receiver Tyreek Hill
- Extend left tackle Orlando Brown Jr.
- Add another veteran edge-rusher
The Kansas City Chiefs offense can be potent without Tyreek Hill. After all, Patrick Mahomes is still behind center and Travis Kelce continues to play tight end. But the approach to the passing attack will be different. Hill’s speed and explosiveness tilted the field in the Chiefs’ favor and created a dilemma for opposing defenses.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Mecole Hardman and rookie Skyy Moore are capable targets, but they don’t win in the same way. Andy Reid is one of the very best at devising offensive game plans, though. He’ll adjust, and Mahomes will find a way.
While the team concentrates on how to work with its new weapons, the Chiefs can set the foundation by handing left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. a contract extension. The franchise already lost some leverage in these negotiations when it traded a first-round pick last year to acquire his services. Brown is only 26 years old at a premium position.
The team must think of another premium position even after drafting George Karlaftis in this year’s first round. Kansas City hoped to bring back Melvin Ingram III, but he chose to sign with the Miami Dolphins. Another veteran pass-rusher, such as a Jason Pierre-Paul or Carl Nassib, will create a quality rotation.
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- Commit to Alex Leatherwood at right tackle
- Settle on a singular position for rookie offensive lineman Dylan Parham
- Find a third option at wide receiver
New Las Vegas Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels and general manager Dave Zeigler must pick up the pieces after a disastrous run by Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock. The process starts by trying to make the most out of what’s already on the roster.
Alex Leatherwood’s rookie campaign did not go well, as he failed to secure the right tackle job and struggled at right guard. He’ll get a second chance to work on the outside under new leadership.
“We know what he was drafted for, and we’re going to give him an opportunity to do such,” McDaniels told reporters last week.
The offensive line adjustments don’t stop there. The Raiders chose Dylan Parham in the third round with this year’s top draft pick. McDaniels and Co. must decide if their highest-drafted rookie will begin his career at center and push Andre James to start, or compete at guard.
While the front five gets sorted, a third wide receiver option must emerge between Demarcus Robinson, Keelan Cole and others since the Raiders chose to trade Bryan Edwards and a 2023 seventh-round pick to the Atlanta Falcons for a fifth-round selection.
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- Extend safety Derwin James Jr.
- Reset defensive line
- Find a spot for first-round guard Zion Johnson
The Los Angeles Chargers defense should look drastically different this fall. The organization made significant investments across the board, starting with the defensive front.
Khalil Mack joins the unit after being traded by the Chicago Bears. Sebastian Joseph-Day, Austin Johnson, Morgan Fox and Kyle Van Noy joined as free agents. The Chargers also drafted Otito Ogbonnia to add a talented rookie.
Former first-round pick Jerry Tillery may be the odd man out after these changes.
“He’s going to fit into that competition of guys that’s going to have to earn a role,” head coach Brandon Staley said of Tillery and the defensive linemen. “I think that during this springtime and during training camp, all those guys are going to have to really duke it out to establish themselves.”
While some sorting is required across along the defensive front seven, Derwin James Jr. serves as the unit’s chess piece and should be paid accordingly. The two-time first-team All-Pro will play this season under his rookie fifth-year option.
Zion Johnson’s insertion into the offensive line could create ripple effects, too. If Johnson starts at left guard, Matt Feiler can bump back out at right tackle, solving two positions.
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- Make Aaron Donald the NFL’s highest-paid non-quarterback
- Rework wide receiver Cooper Kupp’s current deal
- Bring wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. back
The Los Angeles Rams brought home the trophy. Now it’s time to reward their top players.
The organization always finds ways to bring in more talent. In this case, general manager Les Snead should worry more about keeping the reigning Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald and Super Bowl LVI MVP Cooper Kupp happy.
“Keep in mind that the retirement buzz around Donald … was always real,” ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported on Donald’s likelihood to return. “And it’s my understanding that Donald has a number he will play for. If it’s not met, retirement can still go down.”
Kupp’s average annual salary, meanwhile, ranks 19th after the wide receiver market exploded this offseason.
Both should be treated fairly, and the Rams can actually gain some financial flexibility by doing deals now to spread out their numbers and potentially create some extra rollover cap space for next season.
Or Snead can take some of the extra money from the reworked deals and bring Odell Beckham Jr. back into the fold. Yes, the Rams already signed Allen Robinson II. But Beckham isn’t expected back until the middle of the season. Head coach Sean McVay certainly wants him back. And the Rams could get a nice midseason boost by adding yet another offensive weapon.
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- Continue to embolden quarterback Tua Tagovailoa
- Find as many ways as possible to utilize wide receiver Tyreek Hill
- Add more to a suspect offensive line
The Miami Dolphins brass did the work. Now, it’s time to see everything come to fruition. The team’s status starts with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
Miami hired one of the league’s top offensive minds in Mike McDaniel. General manager Chris Grier added wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Cedrick Wilson, running backs Chase Edmonds, Raheem Mostert and Sony Michel, left tackle Terron Armstead and left guard Connor Williams. The team placed the franchise tag on tight end Mike Gesicki, too.
“A lot of it does fit what Tua does well, and I think we’re all very excited. I know Mike has been raving about Tua here over—him and Coach (Darrell) Bevell—their time working with him and spending time with him in the meeting rooms and watching him on the field here yesterday,” Grier told reporters. “So yeah, we’re very excited for him and looking forward to the season and how he keeps progressing.”
Hill will be a big part of whatever success Tagovailoa experiences. A bigger emphasis will be placed on getting the ball into the receiver’s hands early and letting him go to work, rather than primarily serving as a deep threat.
Both the quarterback and wide receiver need help from a reworked offensive line. Armstead and Williams are strong additions, but center is still suspect and right tackle doesn’t have a definitive answer, though Austin Jackson could win the job there.
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- Add depth among edge-rushers
- Continue to expand Dalvin Cook’s role
- Open competition at center
Kevin O’Connell brings another Shanahan offensive variant to the Vikings after Gary Kubiak brought the original version to Minnesota two years ago.
How the new head coach adds wrinkles will define this year’s Vikings offense, starting with running back Dalvin Cook. Cook is already one of the game’s best ball-carriers. According to The Athletic’s Chad Graff, the running back lined up in bunch receiver sets during organized team activities.
Cook is arguably the Vikings’ biggest threat on offense and should be used as such.
Minnesota can also do better by challenging Garret Bradbury and opening up a competition for the starting center spot. The 2019 first-round pick has disappointed to this point in his career, and a new regime has no ties to him whatsoever. O’Connell should look to put the best five on the field, and Bradbury may not be counted among them.
On the other side of the trenches, Minnesota has plenty of talent with Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith as its starting edge defenders. But both missed significant time due to injury last season, though, and the position needs more depth even if they are healthy.
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- Quickly define offense and coaching setup
- Add a veteran linebacker
- Let rookie Cole Strange quickly settle into lineup
The New England Patriots may not be in disarray, but they look like it from an outside perspective. No one questions Bill Belichick’s brilliance or his standing as the greatest head coach of the modern era, but he’s certainly not traditional when it comes how he runs his team.
This season, the Patriots don’t have designated offensive or defensive coordinators. To make matters more confusing, Matt Patricia and Joe Judge, who once served as defensive and special teams coordinators, respectively, are now on the offensive side of the ball as the co-play-callers.
Maybe this setup works out and the Patriots continue their winning ways. Or perhaps the slow descent into mediocrity begins in earnest.
Two things can immediately help, though.
First, the Patriots could use another proven linebacker beyond Ja’Whaun Bentley. Secondly, Cole Strange could develop into a standout rookie after his selection with this year’s 29th overall pick was largely panned as a significant reach. These types of outcomes would settle things quite a bit for the Patriots during the 2022 campaign.
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- Establish new-look offense without Sean Payton leading the way
- Re-sign linebacker Kwon Alexander
- Give rookie Trevor Penning as many reps as possible at left tackle
Sean Payton served as the New Orleans Saints’ head coach and offensive play-caller for 16 years. His legacy is cemented as the greatest coach in the area’s history. A change—even one where the previous defensive coordinator gets promoted to head coach—is still a big deal.
Now, Pete Carmichael, who served as Payton’s offensive coordinator for 13 years, gets to show what he can do with the offense. Quarterback Jameis Winston is the key, of course. But Carmichael and the offensive staff must break in new left tackle in this year’s 19th overall pick, Trevor Penning. The additions of wide receivers Jarvis Landry and rookie Chris Olave certainly change the dynamic as well.
Allen’s promotion does allow for continuity on the defensive side of the ball. The Saints finished seventh in total defense least season and ranked fourth in scoring defense.
The free-agent additions of Tyrann Mathieu and Marcus Maye bring two potential difference-makers at safety. However, the team could use another veteran signing in linebacker Kwon Alexander, who remains a free agent. Alexander played in only five games last season, but the 27-year-old can contribute at any of the three linebacker spots.
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- Add a veteran corner
- Quickly establish offensive front five to jell
- Let quarterback Daniel Jones sink or swim
Normally, an argument should be made to build around a young quarterback in an attempt to maximize his skill set. In the case of the New York Giants and Daniel Jones, the organization already has one foot out of the door.
Jones is joint-third in the league with 49 turnovers since being selected with the sixth pick of the 2019 draft. The front office chose not to pick up his fifth-year rookie option this offseason. The franchise must know whether he can thrive in head coach Brian Daboll’s system.
“We want to make sure we protect the ball,” Daboll told reporters last week. “But again, you can’t go out there and play afraid. Be smart, not reckless, if you will. If he’s got a shot on the right read, let it go.”
To properly evaluate Jones, the reworked Giants offensive line must come together quickly with rookie Evan Neal at right tackle, Mark Glowinski at right guard, Jon Feliciano at center and possibly Shane Lemieux back at left guard.
From there, New York could use another outside cornerback after releasing James Bradberry.
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- Continue to address offensive tackle
- Look for run-stuffing upgrades
- Quickly establish Breece Hall as RB1
The New York Jets entered the draft with offensive tackle realistically considered one of the positions to address. Yet the organization passed on Alabama’s Evan Neal, North Carolina State’s Ikem Ekwonu and Mississippi State’s Charles Cross.
The reason behind the potential interest stemmed from Mekhi Becton’s injury history and perceived lack of commitment. Those concerns haven’t gone away entirely, though the massive offensive tackle appears to have put in the work this offseason. George Fant is on the other side of the formation, with very little depth behind either. Neither Chuma Edoga nor Conor McDermott should be considered quality backups. General manager Joe Douglas did sink a fourth-round pick into Louisiana’s Max Mitchell, but another veteran could certainly help.
Along the defensive front, the Jets lost one of the game’s best run-stuffers, Foley Fatukasi, in free agency. Backups Nathan Shepherd and Solomon Thomas certainly aren’t nearly as good at the point of attack.
Conversely, the Jets can be an exceptionally good rushing team with second-round rookie Breece Hall leading the way. Hall should step into the lineup as RB1 from Day 1 since the Jets thought enough of him to try to trade back into the first round for the running back.
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- Add at safety position
- Trade wide receiver Jalen Reagor
- Settle right guard
The Philadelphia Eagles secondary looked to be deficient coming out of the NFL draft. Fortunately, the organization capitalized on the New York Giants releasing James Bradberry IV by signing the 28-year-old cornerback to a one-year deal.
Now, the Eagles are settled at outside cornerback opposite Darius Slay. Safety is another matter altogether.
Philadelphia brought back the 30-year-old Anthony Harris on another one-year deal. The other spot will likely belong to Marcus Epps or K’Von Wallace. The position is not good enough considering what other moves the Eagles made this offseason. Landon Collins, Tashaun Gipson and Jaquiski Tartt remain available.
As for players the Eagles brought in, wide receiver AJ Brown headlines the group. Brown will now serve as the Eagles’ WR1. With DeVonta Smith, Zach Pascal, Quez Watkins and Greg Ward also on the roster, the Jalen Reagor experiment should end after two years with the team. As a former first-round pick, surely, another organization will trade for his services with the belief they can utilize his skill set.
Otherwise, the offense is relatively set except for right guard, where Isaac Seumalo and Jack Driscoll can compete for the starting job.
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- Hand the offensive reins to rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett
- Extend safety Minkah Fitzpatrick
- Add depth to defensive line
Kenny Pickett is now the face of the Pittsburgh Steelers franchise and should be treated as such. There’s no reason to put training wheels on the rookie, and Mitchell Trubisky should be treated as a non-factor or a quality backup.
Pickett will be 24 before he ever takes a meaningful NFL snap, and he’s as prepared as he’s going to be coming into the league.
“It’s almost like he spent his rookie NFL season at the college level and really mastered it,” former general manager Kevin Colbert said during an interview on 105.9 The X (h/t ESPN’s Brooke Pryor). “Coach [Pat] Narduzzi and coach [Mark] Whipple provided him an opportunity to take that step in a pro schematic. And it is easier to project those types of players and those schematics to our level. It’s not that the others that play in a more college-type offense can’t do it—it’s just more guesswork.”
Pickett may be the starting point, but the defense still needs its quarterback, and Minkah Fitzpatrick will enter the last year of his rookie deal. Pittsburgh’s defensive front is getting old as well. An extra body or two could help keep Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt healthy and fresh.
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- Trade or release quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo
- Extend defensive end Nick Bosa
- Extend wide receiver Deebo Samuel
While the potential trade/release of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo won’t affect the contractual statuses of defensive end Nick Bosa and wide receiver Deebo Samuel, the situations remain intertwined.
By outright releasing or trading Garoppolo, the San Francisco 49ers will save $25.6 million toward this year’s salary cap, which can be rolled over to next season. Furthermore, his budgeted $25.6 million in actual cash spending this year can be put toward guarantees included on potential extensions.
The 49ers will want to get something for Garoppolo. Head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters Tuesday, “I expect at some time he’ll be traded, but it’s not a guarantee.”
The 49ers should hold off as long as they can to see if a potential suitor emerges before finally cutting ties because the money is too important for the organization’s well-being.
Right now, San Francisco claims the least available salary-cap space, according to Spotrac. They can take that room created by Garoppolo’s departure and nearly double next year’s available space based on current projections once it’s rolled over from this season.
Bosa and Samuel are long-term franchise building blocks. Garoppolo isn’t.
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- Move forward with Drew Lock and Geno Smith behind center
- Start building offense around Rashaad Penny and Kenneth Walker III
- Extend wide receiver DK Metcalf
The idea of building around two talented backs while simultaneously handing out a huge payday to the team’s top wide receiver may seem counterintuitive. It’s all part of a bigger plan the Seattle Seahawks should undertake, though.
Seattle knows it’s not settled at quarterback. At this point, they’ll be best served going into the 2022 campaign with Drew Lock and Geno Smith behind center and building the best cockpit possible for whichever quarterback they pursue and acquire after this season.
DK Metcalf is a bona fide star entering the last year of his rookie deal. By getting ahead of the market now, the Seahawks probably won’t be forced to pay the 2019 second-round pick in the same range as Tyreek Hill nor Davante Adams. A strong run game featuring Rashaad Penny and Kenneth Walker III teamed with Metcalf, as well as two talented young tackles in Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas, should make the Seahawks an enticing landing spot during the ’23 offseason.
This approach is how the Seahawks can be competitive in the short term and even more so when they need to make a big move.
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- Re-sign tight end Rob Gronkowski
- Re-sign Ndamukong Suh
- Settle left guard
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ window doesn’t extend beyond this season. They’re going year-by-year with Tom Brady behind center. As such, the opportunity to bring back other veterans and keep the team’s nucleus intact should receive high priority.
Brady and Rob Gronkowski are inextricably tied at the hip. In fact, the two were seen shagging baseballs earlier this week. Gronkowski isn’t in a hurry to re-sign, and general manager Jason Licht told reporters earlier this month that he’s willing to give the tight end some time. The 33-year-old doesn’t need to be in the facility at this time of year and may not even need a full camp to be ready for the season. He will be needed once the regular season begins, though, because Cameron Brate and two middle-to-late-round rookies won’t fill the void.
The Bucs remain thin along the defensive line, too. The addition of Logan Hall helps, but Suh wants to return. Tampa Bay will only benefit from bringing the 35-year-old veteran back into the fold to help on the field and with Hall’s development.
From there, new head coach Todd Bowles must decide who will serve as Ali Marpet’s replacement—Aaron Stinnie or second-round rookie Luke Goedeke.
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- Settle left guard, right tackle
- Implement a Malik Willis offensive package
- Extend running back Derrick Henry
The identity of the Tennessee Titans feels like it’s changing slowly, but the team has yet to adjust.
To be fair, Derrick Henry is still the heart and soul of the team, and a contract extension should be on the table. But it has less to do with being a reward for the player and more to do with helping the team financially.
Over the next two seasons, Henry’s salary cap escalates to $15 million or more. He’ll then reach the ripe age of 30 the following year. The Titans can lessen his salary-cap hits in the short term while creating more opportunities to get out of the deal down the road if the league’s premier workhorse starts to break down.
In order to maximize Henry’s capabilities, the offensive line must be settled. Both right tackle and left guard are significant concerns. As of now, Dillon Radunz and Aaron Brewer are considered the favorites at those respective positions, but the duo combined to start seven career games.
From there, the Titans can make the offense more explosive by including a package of offensive plays with the ultra-athletic Malik Willis on the field. Besides, 33-year-old quarterback Ryan Tannehill isn’t getting any younger or much cheaper.
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- Extend wide receiver Terry McLaurin
- Add a veteran linebacker
- Find balance between running backs Antonio Gibson and Brian Robinson Jr.
Washington Commanders wide receiver Terry McLaurin posted two straight 1,000-yard campaigns before he entered this offseason’s window to negotiate a contract extension on top of his rookie deal. As of now, McLaurin isn’t working with the team and plans to stay away with a potential holdout looming.
Head coach Ron Rivera told reporters Tuesday that a new deal is “just a matter of time.”
With McLaurin’s situation expected to be settled in the coming weeks, the Commanders shouldn’t overlook the fact that they’re not settled at linebacker. Far more should be asked of last year’s first-round pick, Jamin Davis. A veteran who brings a physical style of play, like Dont’a Hightower or even Joe Schobert, could help the group.
From there, Washington’s staff must decide what type of team it wants to be with quarterback Carson Wentz now leading the way. A strong run game will help, and the franchise chose Alabama’s Brian Robinson Jr. in this year’s third round. His downhill running style should complement Antonio Gibson’s skill set if both are used properly.