Free agency can be both an NFL team’s best friend and worst enemy at the same time. One hand, it provides an opportunity for front offices to supplant their roster and fill holes with intriguing talent; the Packers. for example, reached the NFC Championship game with the help of major free-agent signings, such as edge rusher Za’Darius Smith and safety Adrian Amos. However, at the same time, it can also cripple organizations, as free-agents are far too often overpaid- it’s not a sustainable way to build your roster. Regardless, however, as long as each team is careful with how they spend their resources, they can accomplish one specific goal that can set them up better for next season, and in the future. So, what are those objectives? Let’s analyze each team’s outlook entering free agency, going in order by cap space.
Miami Dolphins: Set Up a Base For The Future
Cap Space: $88,075,174
Top Needs: OL, CB, EDGE
Top Targets: OG Graham Glasgow, CB Byron Jones, EDGE/LB Kyle Van Noy
With the most cap space of any team entering free agency, the Dolphins may tempted to plunge on several players, given the extensive amount of needs they have. Rather, however, they need to acknowledge that this is not a roster that is ready to contend in 2020, so the focus should be on bringing in players that can help in 2021 or beyond. Undoubtedly, the primary focus should be with the offensive line, which had the worst pass-blocking and run-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus. They shouldn’t go crazy on a tackle such as Jack Conklin, but a player such as Graham Glasgow could really help them on the interior offensive line, which was a major liability. Meanwhile, head coach Brian Flores is running a Patriots-style defensive scheme, which places an emphasis on man-coverage cornerbacks and hybrid linebackers who can be off-ball players and rush the passer. To that end, the top cornerback on the market, Byron Jones, would be an excellent long-term play, while Kyle Van Noy could be a leader and a productive player for a young defense. The Dolphins appear committed to the rebuilding process, so I expect them to remain opportunistic, but disciplined; I wouldn’t be shocked if they don’t sign any big-name free agents, though I hope they add at least one offensive lineman.
Indianapolis Colts: Find a Short-Term Solution To The Quarterback Position
Cap Space: $86,162,964
Top Needs: QB, WR, IDL
Top Targets: QB Phillip Rivers, OT Anthony Castonzo, IDL Chris Jones
After ranking as the fourth-worst quarterback last season, per Pro Football Focus, it’s clear that Jacoby Brissett is not the Colts’ franchise quarterback moving forward. However, with a favorable offensive system led by head coach Frank Reich and the game’s best offensive line, assuming they can re-sign Anthony Castonzo, they’ll be an attractive spot for free-agent quarterbacks. Phillip Rivers has never had the luxury to be protected properly, and were Indianapolis able to sign him, I’m confident that the 38-year-old could string a couple more productive seasons. If that’s the case, Indianapolis could be a true Super Bowl contender with the amount of depth they have, though it’d be useful if they also gave their new quarterback an extra wide receiver to complement TY Hilton. Meanwhile, with loads of cap space and an abundance of draft picks, I’d expect the Colts to keep all options on the table when it comes to adding a superstar, and although he was franchise-tagged from the Chiefs, Chris Jones makes a lot of sense as a trade candidate for a team that was lacking any sort of interior pass rush last season.
Buffalo Bills: Add More Impact Veterans In Free Agency
Cap Space: $82,280,713
Top Needs: WR, EDGE, IDL
Top Targets: WR Robby Anderson, EDGE Robert Quinn, IDL Chris Jones
The Bills have done a great job adding veteran talent in the past in free agency, and after reaching the playoffs as a wildcard, I expect them to continue to do so. It’s unclear how strong the offense can be with Josh Allen under center, but regardless, he needs better receivers than John Brown and Cole Beasley. Brown is a solid vertical threat, but it clearly wasn’t enough, as Allen really struggled throwing the ball down the field. AJ Green would make a lot of sense as a true #1 receiver if he reaches free agency, but in my opinion, former Jets receiver Robby Anderson is the type of dynamic deep threat that Allen has been lacking, and I’d love to see Buffalo make a strong push for them. Meanwhile, the defense was strong last season, thanks in large part to their scheme, but if they can improve their pass rush to complement their secondary, then the Bills could have an elite defense. They shouldn’t splurge on a high-priced edge rusher, but someone like Robert Quinn makes a lot of sense, and one could only imagine the type of damage that Chris Jones and Ed Oliver could do on the interior on the offensive line. Outside of maybe linebacker and safety, there isn’t a position where the Bills can’t get better, so if they were to target an offensive lineman, cornerback, or dynamic tight end, I also wouldn’t object- they just need to responsible.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Figure Out The Quarterback Position, While Also Polishing The Defense
Cap Space: $79,894,844
Top Needs: QB, S, EDGE
Top Targets: QB Jameis Winston, S Anthony Harris, EDGE Shaquil Barrett (Tag)
Quietly, the Bucs finished out the season strong by winning four of their last six games, and look primed to be contenders in the NFC South next season. However, to do so, they’ll have to evaluate the quarterback position, which had been a struggle during Jameis Winston’s time as the team’s quarterback. Personally, I believe that Winston’s aggressive mindset fits well with head coach Bruce Arians, and could see him having a career-year in their second year together- you have to take the low-lights with the high-end plays he can produce. However, after five seasons of turnovers, I wouldn’t object if the team decided to move on, whether it be for Rivers, Teddy Bridgewater, or possibly Ryan Tannehill. Either way, the Bucs should be looking to put the finishing touches on a defense that took major strides last season under defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, which features an exciting group of young cornerbacks, and the linebacker duo of Devin White and Lavonte David. They’re in desperate need for a safety, which makes Anthony Harris a tremendous fit, and although they should refrain from overpaying for edge rusher Shaquil Barrett, bringing him back on the franchise tag seems like the logical move. There’s a lot of moving pieces with regards to the Bucs offseason, but regardless, they’re in a great position to use this free agency as the final step to getting back into playoff contention.
Dallas Cowboys: Sign Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper To Long-Term Deals
Cap Space: $77,297,133
Top Needs: QB, WR, CB
Top Targets: QB Dak Prescott, WR Amari Cooper, CB Trae Waynes
On the surface, the Cowboys appear to have plenty of cap space to work with, but that’ll quickly disappear. Arguably their three most important players – Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, and Byron Jones – are all heading towards free agency, and the team will likely be able to only maintain two of them. Prescott is the obvious lock to remain with the team, and Dallas must do everything they can to sign him to a long-term deal now; the quarterback market is only increasing. As for the Cooper versus Jones debate, it’s closer, but in a day and age where offense is more important than defense, keeping the 25-year-old Cooper, who has built a strong connection with Prescott, should also be a priority. As for adding any outside talent, the Cowboys should have enough money to search for a replacement for Jones at cornerback, and although he’s never been a star, Trae Waynes has emerged as a solid #2 option- he’d provide some sort of stability in the secondary. Regardless, though, the Cowboys’ offseason will be defined based on how they deal with their own free agents, and by valuing their offensive stars, there seems to be a clear path that they should take.
New York Giants: Try To Fix The Defense
Cap Space: $73,991,301
Top Needs: CB, EDGE, LB
Top Targets: CB Byron Jones, LB Joe Schobert, EDGE Kyle Van Noy
The Giants offense is by no means flawless, as they could use an extra receiver and a right tackle, but still, they stand no chance if they go into 2020 with a defense similar in talent to what they possessed last season- they allowed the fourth most points. Honestly, every defensive position outside of the least important one (nose tackle) is a major need, so we’ll go in order of importance. Byron Jones will be the top target for a lot of teams, but for a team that desperately needs a #1 corner, he’d be a tremendous fit in New York, though the team could pivot to Chris Harris Jr., or even safeties Anthony Harris and Justin Simmons. Assuming they run a Patriots-style defense with new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, they can fix their hole at linebacker and edge rusher by targeting hybrid players; Kyle Van Noy has thrived in New England, while Joe Schobert has been an excellent coverage linebacker, but also was a pure edge rusher at Wisconsin. Rather than go big on one player though, I’d prefer for the Giants to focus on quantity with the defense, considering how weak of a unit it is; they should stay away from the big-name edge rushers, such as Jadeveon Clowney and Yannick Ngakoue.
Cleveland Browns: Fill Multiple Holes, Rather Than Going All-In On One Player
Cap Space: $61,964,940
Top Needs: OL, S, LB
Top Targets: OT Bryan Bulaga, S Anthony Harris, LB Cory Littleton
Oftentimes, new general managers tend to try to do the opposite of what the previous general manager did, but in the case of Andrew Berry, he may need to do that in Cleveland. Former general manager John Dorsey added high-impact players such as Odell Beckham Jr., Greedy Williams, Olivier Vernon, and Sheldon Richardson in the previous offseason, but his failure to address certain positions, specifically the offensive line, ultimately led to the team’s downfall. As a result, I expect Berry to add multiple offensive lineman this offseason, and with them in desperate need for a tackle, Bryan Bulaga is a great fit- the 31-year-old shouldn’t cost as much as the high-end tackles, but performed well in a very similar offensive scheme in Green Bay. Outside of that, the Browns have a solid pass rush duo of Myles Garrett and Vernon, as well as the cornerback duo of Williams and Denzel Ward, but their linebackers and safeties struggled in coverage this past season. In desperate need of more athleticism in their defense, Anthony Harris and Cory Littleton both could help Cleveland’s defense tremendously, and should be worth their projected contracts. Though adding another superstar is tempting, Berry would be best served spreading out his available resources to fill multiple needs. This isn’t a roster far away from competing, but they cannot go into the next year with the same fundamental problems they had last season.
Houston Texans: Give Deshaun Watson a Competent Defense
Cap Space: $61,286,117
Top Needs: CB, LB, Pass Rush (EDGE/IDL)
Top Targets: CB Chris Harris Jr., LB Cory Littleton, CB Trae Waynes
Since they don’t have a first-round pick for the next two seasons, the Texans have to be aggressive in adding talent in free agency, especially since they’re running out of time before they have to sign franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson to a massive extension. Though it was inconsistent last season, Watson and the offense more than held up their end of the bargain. However, the Texans’ pass defense really struggled last season, as they ranked fifth-worst in pass coverage. They’ll need to add multiple cornerbacks in free agency, which makes a signing of Byron Jones unlikely, but a combo deal of Chris Harris Jr. and Trae Waynes would be extremely logical; Harris Jr., in particular, fits Houston’s expected desire to avoid long-term contracts, and fills a major need as their slot cornerback. Meanwhile, Houston’s linebackers, Benardrick McKinney and Zach Cunningham, each struggled in coverage, so a coverage standout such as Cory Littleton or Joe Schobert also would boost their pass defense tremendously. Tight end and interior defensive line are other needs, but this offseason should be all about addressing the pass defense for the Texans, whose window may be closing faster than expected.
Washington Redskins: Add Players Who Impact The Passing Game
Cap Space: $61,078,737
Top Needs: OL, WR, CB
Top Targets: OG Brandon Scherff (Tag), WR Emmanuel Sanders, CB Byron Jones
By investing heavily in their defensive line, as well as in a box safety Landon Collins, the Redskins have the talent to be one of the top run defenses in the NFL. Unfortunately for them, that won’t move the needle in today’s NFL, so Washington should be aggressive in trying to improve a bottom-five passing offense and bottom ten-pass defense, per Pro Football Focus’ grades. First off, they must make certain that whoever is at quarterback (Dwayne Haskins or Tua Tagovailoa) is protected properly. Therefore, making piece with left tackle Trent Williams is a priority, and although his injury history makes him a risky long-term investment, franchise tagging guard Brandon Scherff would help bring some stability to the offensive line. Then, the Redskins can work on upgrading the wide receiver and cornerback position. Terry McLaurin emerged as the team’s #1 receiver, but complementing him with a veteran receiver in Emmanuel Sanders would be a great move, and I wouldn’t put it past them to target a deep threat such as Robby Anderson. Defensively, Washington’s cornerback depth isn’t terrible, but I’d love for them to pursue a true #1 cornerback, which is what Byron Jones has proven himself to be. There have been reports that the team is willing to pay former Panthers cornerback James Bradburry $15 million a year. Over the past three seasons, his best season involved him being the 60th best cornerback, which tells you all you need to know- rather than paying Bradburry that money, they might as well go the extra mile to secure the services of Jones. If not, their slot coverage ranked just 29th in the NFL last season, per Pro Football Focus, so Chris Harris Jr. or Darqueze Dennard could also be targets. No matter what though, the Redskins have the resources to improve their passing attack. Now, it’s in their hands to do so responsibly and effectively.
Denver Broncos: One More Receiver and Cornerback, Please
Cap Space: $54,605,814
Top Needs: WR, CB, S
Top Targets: WR Robby Anderson, CB Prince Amukamara, S Justin Simmons
The Broncos’ 7-9 record isn’t super impressive on paper, but considering they went through three quarterbacks, and lost four games in which they had the lead late in the fourth quarterback, they’re a true playoff contender heading into next season. Drew Lock appears to be a quality-enough quarterback for Denver to build around for now, but to put him a position to succeed, the Broncos must add a true vertical threat than can maximize on his natural arm talent. Honestly, a case can be made that this Robby Anderson’s best fit in free agency, considering how badly Denver needs a field-stretching receiver to complement Courtland Sutton, and honestly, I’d be very disappointed if they weren’t able to sign him. As for the cornerback position, buying low on AJ Bouye means that they probably won’t spend big on Byron Jones anymore, but Prince Amukamara had a career year with a 81 overall grade from Pro Football Focus in head coach Vic Fangio’s defensive scheme, so he’s a natural fit to fill out a cornerback group that suddenly is filled with talent. Before all of that though, the Broncos have two free agents that they need to sign: safety Justin Simmons and center Connor McGovern. Both are coming off of fantastic years and shouldn’t be overly expensive, so bringing either back shouldn’t preclude Denver from signing Anderson and Amukamara. If we were ranking these teams based on how much is at stake in free agency, the Broncos may be near the top. Sure, they could add Alabama’s Henry Ruggs to be a field stretcher or a cornerback int he draft, but they can’t be certain about it, which is why free agency must be treated as an opportunity to add the finishing pieces to a playoff-caliber roster.
Tennessee Titans: Don’t Worry About Derrick Henry
Cap Space: $50,408,536
Top Needs: QB, CB, EDGE
Top Targets: QB Ryan Tannehill, CB Brian Poole, OT Dennis Kelley
Both quarterback Ryan Tannehill and running back Derrick Henry are set to be free-agents for the Titans, and according to Matthew Berry of ESPN, Henry appears to be a priority. To be frank, signing him to a long-term deal would be an unacceptable decision, given where the franchise is at. We’ve seen time and time again how replaceable running backs are, and the Titans had the sixth-best run-blocking grade, per Pro Football Focus. Rather, they should find a replacement in the middle rounds of the draft, and bring back the player who was the reason behind their success last season- Tannehill. Now, Tannehill’s lack of past success should prevent them from giving him a long-term deal, but franchise-tagging him or signing him to a contract with non-guaranteed years at the back-end would be an excellent move. After that, the Titans’ pass defense regressed last season, and with slot corner Logan Ryan set to hit free agency, they should look to replace with a young player, such as Brian Poole or Mackensie Alexander. I’d also behoove them to try to add to their pass rush, which ranked fifth-worst last season, but honestly, there weren’t any fits that I could find for them, so addressing that position in the draft makes more sense. Instead, they should look to re-sign another of their pending free agents, but not right tackle Jack Conklin- Dennis Kelley isn’t much of a downgrade and will come at a far cheaper price. The Titans are in a peculiar situation with so many pending free agents, but they can’t panic; there is a clear path that they should take, and it involves realizing how much more valuable the passing game is over the running game.
Las Vegas Raiders: Realize What Your Actual Needs Are
Cap Space: $50,340,596
Top Needs: CB, WR, LB
Top Targets: CB Byron Jones, WR Emmanuel Sanders, LB Cory Littleton
At this point, it’s been well-reported that the Raiders are all-in on signing Tom Brady in free agency. However, what difference would that make. Neither were in a great situation, so the fact that Brady and Derek Carr had very similar seasons in terms of Pro Football Focus’ grades, is alarming, and honestly, adding Brady won’t make a difference. This is a team that won all of their games (seven) by one score, and finished with a negative-106 point differential. Simply put, they’re still at the beginning stages of putting together a roster ready to compete, and honestly, quarterback may the only position they shouldn’t look to upgrade. Their pass coverage posted an abysmal 48 grade last season, so Oakland should be in the market for a #1 corner and coverage linebacker. Luckily for them, both of those prototypes are available on the free-agent market: Byron Jones and Cory Littleton, so there aren’t any excuses for them to come empty handed in free agency. Fixing the defense should be a priority, but the Raiders would also be wise to give Carr more supporting talent, so a true #1 receiver such as Emmanuel Sanders would be a great signing. Right now, the Raiders appear to be much higher on the outlook of their roster than they should. This is a very flawed team that is by no means in current need of a quarterback upgrade, so rather than replacing Carr, they should give more help by overhauling their defense and adding at least one wide receiver.
New York Jets: Help Sam Darnold Before It’s Too Late
Cap Space: $49,403,190
Top Needs: OL, WR, CB
Top Targets: C Connor McGovern, WR Emmanuel Sanders, CB Chris Harris Jr.
With back to back sub-65 grade seasons from Pro Football Focus, it’s obvious that Sam Darnold hasn’t had the start to his career he probably imagined as the starting quarterback of the Jets. However, given that they had the fifth-worst pass-blocking grade, it’s clear he wasn’t in a great position to succeed. The Jets are wisely not going to overspend for a tackle such as Jack Conklin, according to multiple reports, but four of their five offensive lineman are pending free agents, and none of them have played particularly well enough to be re-signed. If one free-agent offensive lineman stands out, however, it’s center Connor McGovern, who was excellent in pass protection this season and would fill a hole that’s been with the team since Nick Mangold retired. Also, the Jets may look to re-sign Robby Anderson, but considering how ineffectively he was used in head coach Adam Gase’s system, it may make sense for the team to target a more established, high-volume type of receiver, such as Emmanuel Sanders. As for the defense, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams did an excellent job this past season manufacturing a pass rush, but his scheme puts a lot of pressure on the secondary, so adding a veteran cornerback such as Chris Harris Jr. also should be a priority. No matter what, though, as Darnold enters a make-or-break third season as the Jets’ quarterback, it’s time for him to be properly supported. He’s shown flashes when the situation around him holds up, but for him to be more consistent, he needs to finally be put in a position to thrive.
Los Angeles Chargers: Quarterback and Offensive Line Before Anything Else
Cap Space: $49,062,802
Top Needs: QB, OL, IDL
Top Targets: QB Jameis Winston, OT Bryan Bulaga, IDL David Oneymata
As they move into a new stadium and are in search of a new quarterback after parting with franchise icon Phillip Rivers, the Chargers are at a bit of a cross-roads in terms of how to proceed moving forward. Their 5-11 record was by no means an indication of their roster talent, as they had just a negative-8 point differential, and posted an abysmal 2-9 record in one-score games. They have the offensive and defensive playmakers to make a serious playoff run in 2020, but before that, they must complete two objectives: find Rivers replacement and finally add reinforcements on the offensive line in order to protect him. Los Angeles is one of the few teams that makes a lot of sense for Brady, but assuming they can’t sign him, there is one intriguing option that fits them well-Jameis Winston. Obviously, Winston is a tough sell for any team given his high volume of turnovers, but his style of play is similar to Rivers, and he has the talent to properly utilize the receiver duo of Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. Rather than adding a safe player such as Teddy Bridgewater, Los Angeles should take a shot on Winston, who won’t be very expensive, and could come in and compete with Tyrod Taylor, the polar opposite type of player. Meanwhile, the Chargers’ offensive line ranked second-worst in pass protection, and even though they’re in a position to select a tackle prospect in the draft, they need to add at least 2-3 offensive lineman, even after trading for guard Trai Turner. Veteran tackle Bryan Bulaga is an affordable option, but I’d also like to see them monitor the markets of center Connor McGovern, guard Graham Glasgow, and guard/tackle Darryl Williams, since they’re in need of depth more than quality. After that, Los Angeles probably won’t be in a position to spend, but buying low on an interior pass rusher such as David Oneymata or Mike Daniels could allow the edge rush duo of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram III to dominate; signing one of those affordable players may also help the development of 2019 first-round pick Jerry Tillery on the interior. The Chargers are in a strange position entering free agency, but they aren’t far from contending for the playoffs at all. I think this may be Winston’s best fit, outside of Tampa Bay, but no matter what, they need at least two new starters on the offensive line- those are easily their two biggest needs this offseason, and they must be addressed with significant reinforcements
Detroit Lions: Help Matt Patricia In His Last Stand As Head Coach
Cap Space: $47,713,544
Top Needs: IOL, Pass Rush (EDGE/IDL), CB
Top Targets: OG Graham Glasgow, EDGE Kyle Van Noy, LB Joe Schobert
The Lions could take a lot of different directions in free agency, but it also sort of depends on their expected approach in the draft. Depending on how it plays out, they are likely to walk away with one of these four prospects, listed in order of likelihood: cornerback Jeff Okudah, linebacker/safety Isaiah Simmons, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, or edge rusher Chase Young. Obviously, Detroit has no way of knowing right now what the Redskins will do with the #2 pick, or if a team like the Dolphins will look to trade up in the draft, but still, having an idea of who they’re likely to covet in the draft will allow them to understand where to invest their financial resources. No matter what, however, that should start by re-signing Graham Glasgow, who has been a pillar on a strong offensive line, and is projected by Over The Cap to earn an affordable $10 million per season. After that, however, it’s time to fix the defense, and in my opinion, the best way to do that is by finally getting players that fit head coach Matt Patricia’s defensive scheme. They aren’t any standout man-coverage cornerbacks in this free agency class, but there are a lot of hybrid linebackers available, which happen to be Detroit’s biggest needs. Both Kyle Van Noy and Joe Schobert can assist the Lions’ in terms of coverage and pass rush, and shouldn’t be overly expensive; they’ll likely only be able to sign one of them, but signing both of them shouldn’t be out of the question. This approach would put them in the best position to be flexible in the draft. They’d still have plenty of room for Okudah, Simmons, or Young on the defense, but should they opt for Tagovailoa, they also will have upgrade their defense enough to justify it. This is a team that showed at the beginning of the season that they’re capable of contending for a playoff spot, and by fixing the defense, the Lions could solidify themselves as the best bet to go from last place to first place in their division, given how open the NFC North is.
Cincinnati Bengals: Be Aggressive In Building Around Joe Burrow
Cap Space: $44,867,026
Top Needs: OL, WR, CB
Top Targets: WR AJ Green, OT Bryan Bulaga, CB Ronald Darby
At this point, it’s clear that the Bengals will be selecting LSU quarterback Joe Burrow with the #1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Plus, after going 0-5 in one-score games, they’re bound to improve, on top of getting at upgrade at the game’s most important position- they are closer to contending than they may think. Therefore, Cincinnati should for once be somewhat in aggressive in adding talent, especially since they’ll gain further cap space by trading or cutting current quarterback Andy Dalton. If he agrees to play on the franchise tag, keeping AJ Green would be a terrific move, as he’d be the #1 option that Burrow needs in order to quickly develop into a star. Most importantly, though, the Bengals need to completely rebuild the offensive line in a hurry, as only left tackle Jonah Williams figures to be a starting option in the future. Bobby Hart is a massive liability at right tackle, so bringing in a veteran such as Bryan Bulaga would be an excellent move, though I’d also like to see them address the interior offensive line as well. Defensively, the Bengals are fine on the defensive line, but they could use some help at both linebacker and cornerback. Ronald Darby is coming off of a very poor season, and if he can be the #2 option behind William Jackson III, perhaps he could get back to his old ways- the Bengals are a perfect team to buy-low on him. I’m not saying the Bengals are going to compete for a playoff spot next season. However, when you add a quarterback of Burrow’s stature, your goal should be to be as competitive as possible, and since they should have around $60 million in cap space, they have to be more aggressive than they’ve been in the past. In other words, it’s now or never for the organization to change their conservative philosophies.
Seattle Seahawks: Help Russell Wilson By Adding Depth, Not One High-End Player
Cap Space: $44,665,847
Top Needs: OL, EDGE, IDL
Top Targets: OG Graham Glasgow, EDGE Robert Quinn, IDL Javon Hargrave
The Seahawks may have gone 11-5 and won a playoff game, but with just a plus-10 point differential and an outrageous 10-2 record in one-score games, they did so in severely unsustainable fashion. The truth of the matter is, outside of quarterback Russell Wilson, linebacker Bobby Wagner, and the receiver duo of Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, there isn’t a lot to get excited about regarding Seattle’s roster. Therefore, rather than re-signing edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney to a $20 million per year contract, they’d be much better spreading the wealth around. Left tackle Dwayne Brown is the only capable starter on the offensive line, which is simply unacceptable, and at some point, Wilson deserves to be properly protected. After that, the Seahawks’ defense was pretty mediocre last year, and had the third-worst pass rush. Clowney clearly didn’t push the needle, but if they can add multiple pass rushers, such as Robert Quinn and Javon Hargrave, I’m confident that they’d have more success, and in turn, better complement a secondary that at least was average last season. As long as Wilson is there, the Seahawks will be one of the favorites in the NFC to make it to the Superbowl. However, their current roster is a complete mess, and in order to properly improve it, they need to make several mid-tier signings, rather than one major signing. Basically, if Seattle handles their situation properly, Clowney won’t be a member of the team next season.
Philadelphia Eagles: Improve The Passing Offense and Defense
Cap Space: $41,875,800
Top Needs: CB, WR, LB
Top Targets: CB Byron Jones, WR Robby Anderson, LB Cory Littleton
Heading into the 2019 season, the Eagles were seen as perhaps the favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Injuries played a major role in that not happening, but most importantly, with an aging roster, it’s clear Philadelphia needs to get more athletic. Specifically, there are three positions where that is the case: cornerback, wide receiver, and linebacker. They’re rumored to be the favorites for Byron Jones, which is fantastic news; they have some decent cornerback depth, but have lacked a true #1 corner for quite some time. Additionally, after releasing linebacker Nigel Bradham, Philadelphia’s current group of linebackers, to say the least, and Cory Littleton would be a great fit; his run defense-woes would be covered up behind an elite defensive line. Offensively, it’s no secret that Carson Wentz had practically no capable receivers to throw to by the end of the season, and given Desean Jackson’s health woes, the Eagles could use a deep threat- I expect them to engage in the Robby Anderson sweepstakes. Judging by the Eagles’ reported chances of signing Jones, they’re already in great position to have a successful start to their offseason. Now, it’s about executing that plan, as this remains one of the top teams in the NFC, assuming health.
New England Patriots: Keep The Window Open
Cap Space: $41,659,589
Top Needs: QB, WR/TE, LB
Top Targets: QB Tom Brady, WR Emmanuel Sanders, TE Eric Ebron
Will Tom Brady finish his career with the Patriots? Honestly, I’m shocked that based on multiple reports, the 42-year-old may be on a different team last season. Given his decline this past season, I wouldn’t completely fault New England if they decided to move on, though based on how the roster is built, they should probably re-sign him in an attempt to keep their championship window open. Regardless of who is under center, however, will need better weapons to throw to. They almost traded for Emmanuel Sanders at the trade deadline, and now, they’ll have a chance to correct it and add a #1 receiver, while a tight end like Eric Ebron or Hunter Henry would give them the middle of the field threat they lacked last season. Mostly, though, I’d prefer for the Patriots to refrain from long-term contracts; this is a team that is starting to get older, so they should have the opportunity to take a reset in a few seasons with a lot of financial flexibility. It all really depends on what happens with Brady, and right now, it’s impossible to tell how those negotiations, and the rest of New England’s offseason will turn out.
Arizona Cardinals: Take The Next Step Towards Competing For The Playoffs
Cap Space: $39,708,710
Top Needs: S, OL, IDL
Top Targets: S Anthony Harris, OG Graham Glasgow, IDL Javon Hargrave
Armed with an ascending offense led by quarterback Kyler Murray and head coach Kliff Kingsburry, the Cardinals have the type of young and exciting roster that could make them a very serious threat in the NFC West next season. However, they still have some holes to fill, starting with the defense. They had the second-worst coverage grade last season, per Pro Football Focus, but between Patrick Peterson, Byron Murphy, their cornerback room is probably strong enough that they don’t have together in the bidding war for a top-notch cornerback such as Byron Jones, though Chris Harris Jr. could fill a role for them as their slot cornerback. However, a true deep safety to complement the versatile Buddha Baker would be the best way for the Cardinals to improve their pass defense, which makes Anthony Harris an easy fit for them. Also, although Kingsbury’s offensive scheme does a good job to minute the importance of the offensive line, Arizona could stand to improve the interior offensive line, though it’ll have to be at the right price. Finally, the Cardinals have been weak on the interior defensive line for the past few years, and although a trade for Chris Jones may happen, they could stand to get a true pass-rushing nose tackle in Javon Hargrave, whose youth may appeal to the front office. Overall, though, as long as they come away with some secondary help and make some sort of attempt to help Murray, I’ll be satisfied with the Cardinals offseason. Rather, it’s what to do in the draft with the 8th overall pick that’ll ultimately dictate their offseason.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Don’t Sign Anyone To a Multi-Year Contract
Cap Space: $36,863,036
Top Needs: S, CB, TE
Top Targets: TE Tyler Eifert, S Karl Joseph, CB Ronald Darby
After trading cornerback AJ Bouye for a fourth-round pick, the Jaguars have around $36 million in cap space, and could create more if they work out a trade for edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue. However, that doesn’t mean they should splurge on any big name free agents. After all, they had to cut ties with some important players to get to this point, and when looking at their roster, it’s clear that every position needs to be upgraded. In other words, this is a team heading towards a very painful rebuild, so the front office needs to accept that, and not make anymore win-now seasons. Therefore, Jacksonville should be focused on targeting players willing to take one-year contracts with some upside, such as tight end Tyler Eifert, safety Karl Joseph, and cornerback Ronald Darby. By doing this, perhaps they’ll be able to identify a player that can be a part of their next contending team. Most importantly, however, they’ll create much-needed long-term financial flexibility, which may be the most underrated asset for a rebuilding team. Will they actually do this? I’m not sure, but hopefully, the front office has learned from their previous mistakes.
Carolina Panthers: Embrace The Rebuild
Cap Space: $34,437,733
Top Needs: CB, LB, QB
Top Targets: CB Ronald Darby, LB Cory Littleton, QB Teddy Bridgewater
The Panthers haven’t been shy in proclaiming themselves as a rebuilding team, which makes sense given the declining state of their roster. Right away, new head coach Matt Rhule will have a decision to make at the quarterback position, specifically Cam Newton’s future with the team. In my opinion, it’s time to move on, as this isn’t a team that’s going to be competitive, and even if they were, the team’s long-time quarterback wouldn’t mesh well in offensive coordinator Joe Brady’s offense- it requires precision and accuracy. Therefore, were he be willing to take a one-year deal, Teddy Bridgewater, whom played in a very similar system in New Orleans would be a terrific fit, though the team shouldn’t overspend on any free-agent quarterback. More specifically, they’ll be looking for players whom are young enough to be a part of their next contending team, which could be cornerback Ronald Darby on a buy-low contract, or even linebacker Cory Littleton to fill the shoes of the retired Luke Kuechly. As they proved by trading guard Trai Turner to the Chargers for left tackle Russell Okung’s expiring contract, the Panthers are committing towards creating salary cap space in the future, rather than trying to win this season. Consequently, I’m expecting a pretty quiet offseason for them- let the “tank for Trevor Lawrence” campaign begin!
Baltimore Ravens: Trust Your Offensive and Defensive Schemes
Cap Space: $30,740,854
Top Needs: EDGE, LB, WR
Top Targets: EDGE Shaq Lawson, LB Joe Schobert, WR Emmanuel Sanders
Coming off a 14-win season, the Ravens don’t have many needs entering free agency, so for the most part, I don’t expect them to make any huge signings. First off, it’s likely they’ll franchise tag edge rusher Matthew Judon, only to trade him, which would be a great decision. After all, Judon’s pass-rush win rate ranked 51st in the league, per Pro Football Focus, so he was merely a product of one of the top defensive schemes in football. Therefore, if a team will give them a day-two pick for him, Baltimore should jump on the opportunity, and should look to replace him with a low-budget option who could thrive in said blitz-heavy scheme, such as Shaq Lawson and Carl Nassib. If the Ravens do make one big signing on defense, though, it should be at the linebacker position, specifically Joe Schobert. They blitz their linebackers at a very high rate, and with both of their starting linebackers heading to free agency, they’re yet another team who could look to utilize Schobert’s pass-rushing ability, in addition to his coverage ability. After that, Baltimore can then turn their attention to their dynamic offense, which could use another receiver to make the passing attack not so tight-end oriented; they have their deep threat in Marquise Brown, but I’d love to see what an elite route runner such as Emmanuel Sanders could do for them. Ultimately though, there isn’t really a way the Ravens can compromise their team this free agency. They’re a pretty flawless roster, and most likely, they’ll continue to use the draft as their platform to add impact talent.
Green Bay Packers: Finally Add a #2 Wide Receiver and Coverage Linebacker
Cap Space: $20,460,042
Top Needs: WR, LB, TE
Top Targets: WR Robby Anderson, LB Cory Littleton, TE Eric Ebron
After reaching the NFC Championship game, the Packers could rest their laurels and be content with the state of the roster. However, doing so would be a massive mistake. Last season, the team had two major holes: a receiver to complement Davante Adams and an athletic linebacker. Without a true #2 wide receiver, Green Bay’s offense wasn’t very dynamic, and Aaron Rodgers was forced to play with young, replacement-level receivers. It’s clear by now that Marquez Valdes-Scantling will never be the impact deep threat they want him to be, so with that new information, there’s no excuse for the Packers to not make a run at Robby Anderson, or at least a lower-level player such as Breshad Perriman. The pairing of Rodgers and head coach Matt LeFleur has potential, but unless more weapons are added, including an actual field-stretching tight end, that potential will never be maximized, which would be a shame. On the other side of the ball, I actually like what the front office has built with a young defense, but they desperately need a linebacker who is capable in pass coverage. Luckily for them, it appears that they do have legitimate interest in Cory Littleton, who would fit in tremendously in Mike Pettine’s defensive scheme, which utilizes only one linebacker in coverage- Pettine is not worried about run defense, so Littleton would be a three-down player for them. The Packers could very well repeat on their success last season. However, it’ll take some more impact signings for that to happen, and with just $20 million in cap space, that’ll be tough. I’m interested to see how general manager Brian Gutekunst manages his resources to build on last season’s success.
Chicago Bears: Don’t Let Mitchell Trubisky Be The Starting Quarterback
Cap Space: $16,640,111
Top Needs: QB, CB, OL
Top Targets: QB Andy Dalton, OG Daryl Williams, CB Trae Waynes
The problem with winning through your defense is that it’s very unsustainable year-to-year, which is what the Bears found at last season; they regressed from an impressive 12-4 record in 2018 to being a .500 team in 2019. Nevertheless, this is still a very talented team that could be position to make the playoffs next season. That is, if they obtain an upgrade at the quarterback position. Mitchell Trubisky has shown no signs of improvement over his three-year career, and at this point, is holding the team back. With just $16 million in cap space and no first-round pick, Chicago won’t be able to sign Tom Brady or trade for a star quarterback, but they can go after a competent game manager. He’s heavily scrutinized, but Andy Dalton has consistently been a stable option behind a competent supporting cast, and for a mid-round pick, the Bears should be all;e to acquire him- he’d thrive with a solid group of receivers and a smart play-caller in head coach Matt Nagy. That’ll take up most of the Bears’ salary room, but if they can, they’re also in need of offensive line depth and cornerback depth, so buying on players with one-year contracts is something else the team should explore. Mostly, though, the Bears need to have a new starting quarterback at the beginning of next season; they’re a team aiming to win a Super Bowl as soon as possible, and that won’t happen with Trubisky under center.
Los Angeles Rams: Do What You Can, But No More Expensive Contracts
Cap Space: $14,791,619
Top Needs: OL, EDGE, LB
Top Targets: OT Andrew Whitworth, C Connor McGovern, LB Josh Bynes
With so much young talent, the Rams were positioned to be amongst the NFC’s top teams for the next 10+ seasons. Alas, several poor win-now decisions, including extending Todd Gurley, Jared Goff, Brandin Cooks, as well as trading for cornerback Jalen Ramsey, have put them in a major bind, as they don’t have a first-round pick for the next two seasons, nor do they have any financial flexibility whatsoever. However, since they’re committing so much many to a few select players, they still have major holes that they need to fill, starting with the offensive line. Per Pro Football Focus, they were the fourth-worst pass-blocking unit in the NFL, and perhaps most worrisome, don’t have any young starters to build around. Just to maintain some sort of continuity, bringing back veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth would be smart, and if they can somehow come up with the money, center Connor McGovern is the type of young interior offensive lineman that could be a building block for them. Outside of that, I don’t see any way they can add in other areas, considering how expensive edge rushers are in free agency, but they’ll also need to find a cheap replacement for Cory Littleton. Honestly, there isn’t much the Rams can do, and that’s their own fault. On paper, they may be the worst team in their division right now, and without any sort of optimism for the future, this could get ugly for them in a hurry as they move into their new stadium.
Kansas City Chiefs: Understand The State of Your Spending Power Moving Forward
Cap Space: $13,674,494
Top Needs: CB, LB, WR
Top Targets: CB Trae Waynes, LB Cory Littleton, WR Breshad Perriman
Since they can clear $14 million in cap space by cutting receiver Sammy Watkins, the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs may do everything in their power to keep star interior defensive lineman SaChris Jones. Heck, if he’s willing to play under the franchise tag, that may be possible, considering that they’re aiming to win a Super Bowl next year anyways. Assuming he isn’t willing, however, Kansas City traded a first-round pick to give edge rusher Frank Clark a five-year deal worth $21 million annually, and if Jones earns the $18 million per year he’s expected to earn, there’s no way he can be a Chief moving forward. Pass rush is important, but it’s proven to be less valuable than coverage, and defense as a whole is much less important than offense, which Kansas City has seen first hand. Most significantly, however, this is the offseason where Patrick Mahomes will sign an extension expected to be worth $40 million annually, and paying three players $80 million just isn’t the proper way to build a contender. Due to Mahomes’ massive contract, the Chiefs are in need of young, cheap players, so if they can land a late first-round pick or early second-round pick for Jones, they should jump on that offer. Outside of that, Kansas City could still patch up their defense with a few signings, such as adding a coverage linebacker, or another cornerback. Plus, if they can’t get Watkins to take a pay cut, they’ll probably be in the market for a wide receiver, and Breshad Perriman is the type of cheap vertical threat that would thrive in that offense. If reports are true, the Chiefs intend to tag Jones, only to trade him. It’s unfortunate, considering interior rushers like him are rare to come by, but when you give $105 million to an edge rusher, it’s the price you have to pay. Nevertheless, I’m guessing general manager Brett Veach will be self-aware and able to learn from his mistakes, and continue to position this team to win Super Bowls in the future behind the league’s most valuable player.
San Francisco 49ers: Understand Positional Value
Cap Space: $13,108,031
Top Needs: WR, S, CB
Top Targets: WR Emmanuel Sanders, S Jimmy Ward, CB Trae Waynes
The 49ers fell just short of winning the Super Bowl a year after finishing with a 4-12 record, which speaks to the direction of the franchise moving forward. However, they relied heavily on their defense, which means that they’re a target for natural regression- they’ll need to combat that by improving the roster. With no second-round, third-round, or fourth-round pick, as well as just $13 million in cap space, that’ll be difficult, especially since the 49ers have three key pending free agents: edge rusher Arik Armstead, safety Jimmy Ward, and receiver Emmanuel Sanders. Armstead is a talented and versatile player, but he’s projected by Over The Cap to earn a five-year deal worth $85 million, and considering he’s the team’s third best pass rusher, that’s not a price they can pay. What they can do, however, is keep Ward and Sanders, as they both shouldn’t be too expensive, fit well within their respective unit’s schemes, and are probably more valuable players than Armstead anyways. When you’re playing with star edge rushers Dee Ford and Nick Bosa, as well as interior rusher DeForest Buckner, it’s much easier to put up career numbers, and that’s exactly what Armstead did. However, why shouldn’t San Francisco simply exploit that by bringing in a far cheaper replacement? Oh, and let’s not get started on those Tom Brady rumors.
New Orleans Saints: Figure Out A Way To Wiggle Through The Salary Cap
Cap Space: $9,323,192
Top Needs: WR, CB, LB
Top Targets: WR Breshad Perriman, CB Darqueze Dennard, LB Nick Kwiatkowski
For years, the Saints have pushed Drew Brees’ cap hit back, to the point that he’ll make $21 million on top of whatever he makes next season when the team works out a new contract with him. Therefore, as per usual, New Orleans will be severely compromised financially, and should they look for reinforcements at key positions, such as wide receiver and cornerback, they’ll have to shop at the bottom of the barrel. Heck, I’m not even sure they can afford receiver Breshad Perriman, and may have to turn to a less-coveted option such as Nelson Agholor, but regardless, the team needs some sort of vertical receiver to even threaten defenses over the top. Plus, the Saints have had a cornerback issue for years, and though I’m guessing that’ll be the position they address in the draft, they need to find at least one more player in free agency; Darqueze Dennard has emerged as a reliable slot cornerback, and should come at a very reasonable price. Then, there’s Taysom Hill, whom the team will likely place a first-round tender on. Hill is a nice weapon to have based on his ability to contribute in so many different ways, but honestly, I’m not sure how valuable he truly is, and at 29-years-old with just 15 career passes, he’s clearly not the franchise quarterback. Obviously, if no team makes a push to sign him, they should gladly welcome him back, but if they could somehow get a first-round pick for him, there’s no way they shouldn’t jump on that opportunity. That’s very unlikely though, and most likely, the Saints will have the same team in place heading into next season, with Brees’ cap hit probably pushed back further down the line. At some point, it’d be nice to see them think about the future a little bit- their Super Bowl window is clearly coming to a close soon, and they’ll need to acknowledge that at some point.
Atlanta Falcons: Find Cheap Upgrades For The Defense
Cap Space: $4,332,104
Top Needs: CB, EDGE, TE
Top Targets: CB Eli Apple, EDGE Michael Bennett, TE Tyler Eifert
With just $4 million in cap space and no obvious cuts to make, the Falcons front office is in a very tough position trying to improve the roster coming off a disappointing 7-9 season. Still, in what appears to be a make or break season for general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Dan Quinn, I’d expect them to try to upgrade a defense that has holes at cornerback, linebacker, and edge rusher. Unfortunately for them, they’ll have to shop for bargains at the lowest level, with players such as Eli Apple and Michael Bennett both scheme fits and probably the best they can do in terms of free agency signings. On a more positive note, this is still an explosive offense, but tight end Austin Hooper has a sturdy target for Matt Ryan, so taking a shot on Tyler Eifert as a replacement for the pending free agent makes sense. Even mores than the Saints, I don’t expect much noise at all from a Falcons team that has zero cuts or trades to make, nor any cap space to sign impact players. In the end, it’ll be up to them to maximize on their draft picks in order for them to get better and be a premier contender to win the NFC South.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Add Depth, and Definitely Don’t Keep Bud Dupree
Cap Space: $1,580,975
Top Needs: S, Pass Rush, QB
Top Targets: EDGE Shaq Lawson, QB Marcus Mariota, S Karl Joseph
Even with a negative-14 point differential, the fact that the Steelers finished the season with an 8-8 record despite playing 14 games with a quarterback combination of Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges is very impressive, and speaks to the overall quality of their roster. When closely examining their roster, there aren’t any major holes that have to be filled via free agency, which is very good news for them, considering they have just $1 million in cap space and no first-round or third-round pick this year. Now, they can cut linebacker Mark Barron and edge rusher Anthony Chickillo in order to save $10 million, but that probably won’t be enough for them to add more than depth players. That definitely shouldn’t include Bud Dupree, who has just one season with a pass-rushing grade over 61, per Pro Football Focus, and is projected to sign a contract worth $16 million annually by Over The Cap. Plus, even if they could find a suitor on a tag-and-trade scenario, they probably shouldn’t take the risk, especially with cheaper replacements available. Shaq Lawson, for example, is a one-year flyer who could thrive playing with a talented defensive line and alongside edge rusher TJ Watt- they’re essentially looking for a new fourth-best pass rusher. Meanwhile, safety Terrell Edmunds isn’t the versatile defensive player the Steelers thought he’d be, but in box safety Karl Joseph, they could get a player who complements single-high safety Minkah Fitzpatrick tremendous. On the offensive side of the ball, I don’t see any clear affordable upgrades for Pittsburgh on the interior offensive line or at tight end, but there is one interesting player they could pursue: Marcus Mariota. After all, Ben Roethlisberger is 38-years-old and coming off of elbow surgery, and is no lock to be fully healthy next season. I don’t see Mariota finding a starting job this offseason, so to him, he may be willing to take a cheap one-year deal, since it could his best chance to play, and would allow him to build his stock with a stable organization. For all the talent they possess, the Steelers are a little thin on depth. Luckily for them, there are more than enough role players available at positions of need that even they can afford. Mostly, though, as long as Dupree isn’t in Pittsburgh next season, the team will likely have avoided making any colossal mistakes.
Minnesota Vikings: Improve The Depth and Financial Flexibility The Proper Way
Cap Space: $1,379,736
Top Needs: CB, OL, WR
Top Targets: CB Mackensie Alexander, OL Stephen Wisniewski, WR Tajae Sharpe
With just $1 million in available cap space at the moment, the Vikings will have to clear up cap space. Therefore, they have been some rumors that they may trade receiver Stefon Diggs. However, Diggs is making just $14.5 million next season, which is a well-below-market price for a #1 receiver, and most importantly, he’s a player they can’t afford to not have. Instead, Minnesota has two cuts that they can make on the defense: cornerback Xavier Rhodes ($8.1 million) and interior defensive lineman Linval Joseph ($10.5 million). Cutting those two replaceable players would put them close to $20 million in cap space, and all of a sudden, they could look for help in the secondary and on the offensive line; perhaps, they could even re-sign safety Anthony Harris, who is a player they need to find a way to keep. Assuming they don’t however, they should at least retain slot corner Makensie Alexander, who dealt with injuries last season but was fantastic in 2018. Meanwhile, for the offensive line, the Vikings can’t afford any high-end tackles or guards, but a veteran such as Stephen Wisniewski, whose agility would work in their scheme, is the type of low-risk move they should make. To top it off, they’ve lacked any sort of threat as the #3 receiver for a number of years, which plagued them last year when Adam Thielen went down with an injury; Tajae Sharpe, Nelson Agholor, and Cody Latimer are all cheap options for them. The Vikings are in a very tough spot, as they’re likely to lose edge rusher Everson Griffen and safety Anthony Harris, and have other holes that they don’t have the resources to address. However, they’ll need to figure out a way to do so, and no matter what, Diggs should not be on the trade market- what do you gain by doing so?