NFL: Playing “GM” For Every NFC Team Ahead of Free Agency

After playing general manager for each AFC team earlier in the week, it is now time to do the same for the NFC.

My thoughts on the offseason and free agency may differ from some, so I’ll repeat what I stated in the AFC version:

Whereas the draft is much more complex and predicated on drafting as many valuable players as you can to keep a team functioning for several seasons, most rookies don’t reach their peak production until their second or third seasons, based on recent studies that have been done. Thus, drafting for need is generally a very poor and short-sighted approach; if you need to fill a roster spot, free agency is the way to do so.

Honestly, that is the beauty to it all; there is not one optimal way to attack free agency. Rather, teams’ strategies should all vary based on the state of their rosters heading into the next season.

However, there is another level to free agency. Studies have shown that free agents don’t make as much of an impact as they had the year before, and generally, teams tend to pay for peak performance, rather than a mean expectation of what to expect moving forward. Plus, with football being a game predicated on depth, going for volume rather than selling out on one non-quarterback, simply is optimal. At the end of the day, the goal is to find value, and with that in mind, that comes at a) valuable positions or b) productive players who have fallen through the cracks for whatever reason.”

With that being addressed, let us step into the shoes of every NFC front office! To do so, we will highlighting the state of each NFC organization moving forward, looking at potential areas of roster improvement, key objectives for the offseason, and player fits. We will go in order by city.

Arizona Cardinals

Photo Cred: Arizona Sports

STATE OF ORGANIZATION

The Cardinals couldn’t capitalize on an easy schedule and luck (hail mary, leverage penalty-induced comeback against Seahawks) to make the postseason, and, now, they are facing a crossroads as an organization. This would appear to be a make-or-break season for head coach Kliff Kingsbury and general manager Steve Keim; the latter’s inadequate allocation of resources in terms of positional value has this roster in a tough spot and with less cap space than you may assume for a rookie quarterbacked team. Kyler Murray’s outlook heading into this third season is very promising, but there is a lot of work to be done- might I entertain clearing cap space by shopping edge rusher Chandler Jones?

WHAT TO FOCUS ON

  • Cornerback
  • Wide Receiver
  • Depth

The Cardinals right now don’t have an outside cornerback on the roster, which is certainly problematic. Luckily for them, this is a deep cornerback class; there are no excuses when it comes to adding multiple quality cornerbacks.

The same thinking applies to wide receiver, where they don’t have much in the way of quality weapons outside of DeAndre Hopkins. More than anything, they need speed badly, but diversifying the offense somewhat has to be a priority. Only after the perimeter is attacked can they thinking about depth on the trenches, which certainly shouldn’t be the main focus.

WHAT NOT TO DO

I could easily see the Cardinals deciding to address their defensive line, as that has been somewhere they have focused in the past. Yet, they’ve had productive pass rushes in the past, but their poor coverage production has doomed that. Failing to learn that lesson would qualify as a worse-case scenario.

POTENTIAL FITS

  • Cornerback: William Jackson, Shaquill Griffin, Ronald Darby
  • Wide Receiver: Will Fuller, Breshad Perriman, Nelson Agholor
  • Trenches: Kelvin Beachum, Steve McLendon, Oliver Vernon

Essentially, any capable cornerback fits with the Cardinals, though they generally run more man coverage than the average team, so I’d target more athletic players capable of fitting that scheme if possible. Speaking of athleticism, that’s precisely what they need at the receiver position for their offense to not be so rigid, making them a perfect match for Will Fuller. Should that not work out, Perriman and Agholor would be solid consolation prizes. Meanwhile, in terms of trench depth, Beachum being the highest-regarded free agent worth targeting tells you all you need to know about how much I feel they should be focused on non-perimeter positions- not a lot!

SUMMARY

The Cardinals have a unique offense led by Murray and Hopkins, but not much else. The overall state of this roster is poor on both sides of the ball, and they currently would be the clear candidate to finish last in the NFC West next season. On the bright side, since they have Murray, adding perimeter talent on both sides of the ball could increase their projection significantly, though I’m somewhat skeptical about this organization’s outlook moving forward.

Atlanta Falcons

Photo Cred: ajc.com

STATE OF ORGANIZATION

The Falcons may have only won four games last year, but they also had just a negative-18 point differential, pointing to positive regression. Meanwhile, they still have the makings of an elite offense with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Calvin Ridley forming a strong trio, and with former Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith taking over, I think that talent will finally be maximized next season; offenses win games.

At the same time, they are also over the cap and have an aging roster, so there’s that. Using the fourth overall pick on a quarterback is a very logical decision, which makes their future outlook much stronger, and I’m exciting about the pairing of new general manager Terry Fontenot and Smith, but this isn’t the easiest situation for them to come into.

WHAT TO FOCUS ON

  • Cornerback
  • Safety
  • Wide Receiver

I don’t see the Falcons being able to improve their roster much at all this offseason, though they’ll still be able to shop at the lower levels and find value. Their secondary definitely needs an overhaul, and although they don’t have many resources, finding a way to add some talent could be exactly what they need to complete next season. I’d also like for them to add some depth at receiver, as it is quite thin outside of the top three and Julio Jones has struggled with injuries, but the secondary has to be where their limited resources are spent.

WHAT TO NOT DO

“Arthur Smith needs his Derrick Henry”. “A premier pass rusher puts us over the edge”.

Last offseason, the Falcons were in a similar situation and the previous regime spent all of their resources on Dante Fowler Jr. and Todd Gurley. I would advise the new regime to not make that same mistake.

POTENTIAL FITS

  • Cornerback: Sidney Jones, TJ Carrie, Mackenzie Alexander
  • Safety: Malik Hooker, Tavon Wilson, Karl Joseph
  • Wide Receiver: David Moore, Isaiah McKenzie, Willie Snead

I don’t think the Falcons will or should shop much higher than this. Their issues defending the slot were incredibly evident last year when Darqueze Dennard was injured, but, luckily for them, slot corners are very affordable at the open market; the same can be said about mid-tier safeties.

With Smith’s style of offense, someone who can create plays after the catch would be a nice addition to the offense. David Moore stands out as the perfect option to step in for Jones is injuries persist, but McKenzie and Snead also have been very useful after the catch.

SUMMARY

The Falcons likely will go into next season with a similar roster to what they have now, which is enough for them to be a great bet as a potential playoff team- the value Smith will bring cannot be overstated. I’m really excited to see what Fontonet does with the fourth overall pick, but I’d expect them to have a quiet free agency overall.

Carolina Panthers

Photo Cred: panthers.com

STATE OF ORGANIZATION

The Panthers are a fascinating organization to keep an eye on. They’ve done all the right things in terms of resetting as an organization, investing in their analytics department, and taking a nuanced approach their rebuild; their coaching staff is quite strong, and new general manager Scott Fitterer comes from an organization (Seahawks) that has done a great job trading down and accumulating extra draft capital. They clearly aren’t settling at the quarterback position, which is very smart, and they have enough financial flexibility to make some noise this offseason. They’re still a developing team, but they probably have the best future outlook in the NFC South.

WHAT TO FOCUS ON

  • Deshaun Watson
  • Pass Coverage
  • Playmaking Depth
  • Offensive Line Depth

The Panthers appear to be focused on acquiring Deshaun Watson, which is obviously a no-brainer given his talent and how rare is it is to acquire a franchise-changing quarterback; he’s worth much more than the three first-round picks they’re willing to give up. If not Watson, Teddy Bridgewater and a rookie quarterback is the way to go.

Carolina’s defense overachieved last season, but they still need to add a lot when it comes to pass coverage. Their cornerback room is incredibly thin, while their middle-of-the-field coverage was very weak last year. Adding a ton of volume there makes sense.

Outside of quarterback, the Panthers should continue to invest in their offense. With Curtis Samuel leaving, they need more weapons outside of DJ Moore and Robby Anderson, and their offensive line could use some revamping as well.

WHAT NOT TO DO

If I’m the Panthers, I’m not trading for any quarterback not named Deshaun Watson. They’re not a team projected to be impact contenders next season unless they had a quarterback like Watson, so there is little use in acquiring someone like Sam Darnold or Marcus Mariota. The dodged a bullet with the Lions not accepting the 8th overall pick for Matthew Stafford, and with them looking to the future, what’s the point of a non-Watson quarterback trade? Bridgewater is a competent bridge quarterback anyways.

POTENTIAL FITS

  • Cornerback: Jason Verrett, Quinton Dunbar, Desmond King
  • Playmaker: Curtis Samuel, Isaiah McKenzie, Gerald Everett
  • Offensive Line: Taylor Moton, Kelvin Beachum, Demar Dotson

I’d expect the Panthers to franchise tag Taylor Moton, who is certainly someone they should look to keep to not open up further holes on their offensive line. Depending on if Moton is willing to move to the left side, there are plenty of veteran tackles that will be affordable.

As far as the perimeter is concerned, we could go over all of the defensive back fits for them, but there are too many. Adding another playmaker is much more intriguing. Curtis Samuel’s contract projections aren’t extreme, so it’d make sense to bring him back, but Isaiah McKenzie will be cheaper and is also fantastic after the catch. Furthermore, after getting no production from their tight ends, Gerald Everett is the type of young player who they should be targeting as they look for value while building for the future.

SUMMARY

You could make a case the Panthers are the frontrunners for Watson, which would put them on an upward trajectory in a hurry. Even without him, they still have a shot at securing a franchise quarterback potentially in the draft, while their roster is filled with intriguing young players. In my opinion, they lucked out not getting Stafford, though their understanding of the value of the quarterback position and other moves made by this regime have been promising. As the rest of the NFC South starts to fade, keep an eye on them, assuming they don’t make any overly-poor decisions this offseason.

Chicago Bears

Photo Cred: Bears Wire- USA Today

STATE OF ORGANIZATION

Yikes.

The Bears are projected for negative cap space, had a negative point differential next season, don’t have a starting quarterback, and are set to lose elite receiver Allen Robinson, opening up major holes on the perimeter. Oh, and general manager Ryan Pace is heading into a lame-duck season, which generally does equate to responsible decision making.

Besides that, everything is okay! That is the price of trading up, moving multiple first-round picks for an edge rusher, whiffing at the quarterback position, and investing a substantial amount of resources on defensive play while overlooking the offense.

WHAT TO FOCUS ON

  • Quarterback
  • Wide Receiver
  • Offensive Line
  • Slot Coverage

The Bears lucked out not trading for Carson Wentz, though I’m not sure what quarterback they’re going to be able to acquire via trade, since they likely won’t be able to afford Watson. Plus, with the 20th overall pick, that likely won’t come through the draft.

Then, you have the receiver position. Darnell Mooney was encouraging as a rookie, but I’m not sure you want him to be the only quality receiver on the roster; at that point, who cares what you do at quarterback. Maybe there’s a way to retain Robinson, but the odds of him being on the roster don’t appear to be high. Overall, the Bears will go into the offseason needing to improve at quarterback, wide receiver, and offensive line- not ideal! As a bonus, their slot coverage could use improvement, though that is obviously not a priority.

WHAT NOT TO DO

It would have been trading for Carson Wentz, and it probably remains trading for a quarterback not named Watson. I wouldn’t be shocked to see them sacrifice resources on a singular trench player, and, really, “what not to do” is going into an offseason with a general manager and head coach on the hot seat. As we saw in Detroit last offseason, that generally does not go well.

POTENTIAL FITS

  • Quarterback: Jameis Winston, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Cam Newton
  • Wide Receiver: Allen Robinson, Breshad Perriman, Rashard Higgins
  • Offensive Line: Kelvin Beachum, Demar Dotson, Matt Feiler

Some sort of low-risk stopgap at the quarterback position makes sense. Winston has the most variance, which is intriguing, but I think Fitzpatrick is a great fit for them overall- he’ll be available on a one-year deal and has a recent track record of strong production in a poor situation in Miami. Meanwhile, if they don’t have the resources to retain Robinson, receivers with a high range of outcomes, such as Perriman, Higgins, Kendrick Bourne, David Moore, or other young receivers makes sense, while there are plenty of competent veteran options on the offensive line.

SUMMARY

The Bears might be in the worst position of any team in the NFL- at least the Texans have Watson currently. They have no resources to acquire a quarterback, the supporting cast for said quarterback will be poor, and the roster lacks overall depth. Hey, at least the pass rush is strong! If I needed to ever point anyone as to the limits of building through a defensive line, it’s here, where they haven’t even been a top-ten defense over the past couple seasons. I’m very worried about irrational decisions being made by a front office and head coach on their last legs, by all accounts, though I have to say that their search for a quarterback will be very fun to watch this offseason- who does the front office want to attach their fate to? Only time will tell!

Dallas Cowboys

Photo Cred: The Score

STATE OF ORGANIZATION

A 6-10 record and an inability to win an NFC East that didn’t feature a team with a winning record isn’t exactly what the Cowboys had in mind when they hired head coach Mike McCarthy, then had a very strong draft, and also retained star receiver Amari Cooper for $20 million per year. However, there is a lot to be optimistic about. It’s almost a certainty that quarterback Dak Prescott, whose ankle injury last season explains a lot of their struggles, is back next season, though whether that’s on the franchise tag or on an extension remains to be seen. Furthermore, they still have a lot of roster talent, and with a dynamic receiving corps, have the potential to be a top-notch offense. In the weakest division in football, that will move the needle. They don’t have much cap space, assuming Prescott is retained, but they do have the 10th overall pick in the draft, which is excellent for them as they look to add cost-controlled talent for the future to supplant an expensive roster.

WHAT TO FOCUS ON

  • Dak Prescott’s Situation
  • Cornerback
  • Safety
  • Overall Roster Depth

What to do with Prescott? It’s a tough situation to be in. Prescott’s production likely places him as a fringe top-ten quarterback, but is that worthy of the $39-$40 million he is projected to sign for? In my opinion, probably not. Quarterbacks around his level don’t move the needle anywhere close to those who rate slightly higher, and if he needs a strong infrastructure to succeed, can that happen when he’s making $40 million? Signing a quarterback to this type of contract requires them to elevate the talent around him, and, unfortunately, we don’t have much evidence of Prescott doing so. At the same time, his track record is better than what Jared Goff and Carson Wentz showed before they signed their burden contracts, and he was PFF’s third-most valuable quarterback in the NFL in 2019. In other words, although it would be a slight overpay, it wouldn’t fall into some of the other poor quarterback contracts from the past.

It’ll be difficult for the Cowboys to add to their roster after brining back Prescott. However, they need to address their secondary. They were a prime example of coverage>pass rush, as they finished a top-ten graded pass rush but the sixth-lowest coverage unit, which led to them being one of the worst defenses in the NFL, and they now are set to lose multiple defensive backs due to free agency. With new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn liking to utilize a lot of press-man concepts, it would behoove Dallas to bring in players that could thrive in his system; simply relying on rookies in the draft, particularly on defense, has proven to be a rather poor method of roster construction. Meanwhile, Dallas’ lack of depth on the offensive line, defensive front seven, and even with their playmakers was on display last season, so becoming more of a complete roster wouldn’t be the worst idea either.

WHAT NOT TO DO

Allowing the third-most rushing yards per attempt last season, I could easily see the Cowboys making it a focus to add to their defensive front seven. However, their heavy investment on non-valuable positions (edge rusher, linebacker, running back) is precisely why they find themselves in the tough financial situation they are in, and if they overlook their coverage unit and becoming even better offensively, improving the run defense won’t matter; teams will gladly run for less yardage if they can take advantage of you over the top. This is a passing league, and if Dallas wants to improve its run defense, that can be addressed with a nose tackle for cheap- there are plenty of veteran options on the free-agent market.

POTENTIAL FITS

  • Cornerback: Ronald Darby, Gareon Conley, Brian Poole
  • Safety: Xavier Woods, Keanu Neal, Malik Hooker
  • Depth: James Hurst, Mike Pennel, BJ Goodson

Darby and Conley both are very athletic and would fit in Quinn’s system, while Poole has experience playing for Quinn and would drastically improve their slot coverage. Speaking of experience, Neal also played for Quinn as a true strong safety, while bringing back Xavier Woods, or someone like Malik Hooker, is something they need to do as they look for a rangy free safety in their secondary.

Dallas doesn’t have any holes on the offensive line, but someone like James Hurst who can play every position would help them not be in the rough predicament they were last year. Meanwhile, Mike Pennel is the type of affordable nose tackle that would help them improve their run defense in a responsible matter, while BJ Goodson fits that bill at the linebacker position should they move on from Jaylon Smith; Leighton Vander-Esch has also struggled to stay healthy.

SUMMARY

At the moment, the Cowboys are the overwhelming favorite to win the NFC East. However, they could set their sights even higher by finding a way to deepen their roster, particularly in the secondary. I wouldn’t advise any major financial commitments to outside talent, as they need to be responsible when it comes to building in a sustainable fashion, but attacking the lower levels of free agency to accumulate depth could put them in position to win double-digit games potentially next year.

Detroit Lions

Photo Cred: Lions Wire- USA Today

STATE OF ORGANIZATION

The Lions drastically need to undergo a rebuild, and it is clear that new general manager Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell realize that as well. Not only did they trade quarterback Matthew Stafford, but they took on Jared Goff’s contract to receive maximize draft compensation, acquired future picks, and have constantly stated that this will be a growing progress. They are actually over the cap right now, though I’d expect them to rid the roster of veterans via trade or cuts.

WHAT TO FOCUS ON

  • Draft Capital
  • Wide Receiver
  • Cornerback
  • Young Players

This is going to be a rebuild, and assuming the Lions aren’t drafting a quarterback with the 7th overall pick, they need to do whatever they can to secure their franchise quarterback in an upcoming draft. I’m not saying they should implicitly tank, but there is nothing wrong with shipping veteran players to a) create opportunities for young players, b) add extra capital, and c) increase the odds of getting the #1 pick.

The Lions should still take a look at younger players who are looking for an opportunity, however. If so, they are rather weak on the perimeter, and if they hope to get decent production from Jared Goff to potentially turn him into an asset, they’ll want to upgrade at the receiver position. Meanwhile, extra cornerback depth will be very helpful for new defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, and, most importantly, would help alleviate the pressure on third overall pick Jeffrey Okudah to be the premier cornerback after a rough rookie season.

WHAT NOT TO DO

Head coach Dan Campbell clearly wants to establish a tough-minded culture, while new offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn has run-heavy principles. I would not be shocked, for that reason, if they try to get “tougher” in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Yet, it isn’t as though they have an abundance of resources to spend, and what good does it do to your future to add a trench player on either side of the ball right now? The availability for young pass protectors or pass rushers isn’t exactly immense, and Detroit would be much better served taking advantage of the depth on the perimeter to find buy-low options.

POTENTIAL FITS

  • Wide Receiver: Kenny Golladay, John Ross, Taywan Taylor
  • Cornerback: Rasul Douglas, Akhello Witherspoon, Artie Burns
  • Other Young Players: Anthony Walker, Samson Ebukam, Zach Banner

It is unclear if the Lions will retain Kenny Golladay, but I think a tag-and-trade scenario would work well for all parties. At 27-years-old, he is unlikely to be a part of the next contending Lions team, and I’m sure there would be plenty of teams interested in adding a premier vertical threat to their offense. Meanwhile, Taywan Taylor is 25-years-old and his issue has been not receiving playing time moreso than a lack of production, while John Ross is the ideal change-of-scenery player that fits the mold they should be targeting; the same can be said about all of the cornerbacks that are strong fits for them, which there is an abundance of. To top it off, Anthony Walker has been a productive coverage linebacker in the past, while Samson Ebukam and Zach Banner have each been productive trench players in the past, and simply haven’t received much playing time. The Lions need to use their ability to give these players opportunity to play to acquire them on the cheap; it’s the best advantage they can leverage.

SUMMARY

It’s going to be a few years before the Lions are competitive, but the new regime appears to understand this. Expect them to continue to accumulate extra capital by trading veterans and trading down in the draft, and before you know it, the future could look much brighter with a young quarterback like Spencer Rattler or Sam Howell leading the rebuild.

Green Bay Packers

Photo Cred: Madison.com

STATE OF ORGANIZATION

After being the #1 seed in the NFC and coming one game short of the Super Bowl, expect the Packers to be aggressive in upgrading their roster, especially with Aaron Rodgers now 37-years-old. It’s hard to know what the superstar quarterback’s future holds, depending on how committed the team is to 2020 first-round pick Jordan Love, but he’s coming off of an MVP season and thus makes Green Bay a clear Super Bowl contender. It sounds like they will restructure contracts to open up immediate cap space, and although I cannot speak to whether that would be my approach, I can appreciate trying to win while having Rodgers still playing at an elite level.

WHAT TO FOCUS ON

  • Wide Receiver
  • Cornerback
  • Roster Depth

For the Packers, it is rather clear they need to get better on the perimeter. Between wide receiver Davante Adams and cornerback Jaire Alexander, they have two superstars, but with football being a weak-link sport, the lack of depth behind either of them is worrisome- just watch the NFC Championship game. For Green Bay to sustain offensive success, another receiver to complement Adams could take them to another level, while it doesn’t matter how great Alexander is if opposing defenses can attack their other cornerbacks. Furthermore, although receiver and cornerback will be where all the resources should be spent, though it is also worth noting that the Packers don’t have a very deep roster overall, and if injuries hurt them more than it did in 2020, they could be in trouble.

WHAT NOT TO DO

The Packers cannot afford to re-sign running back Aaron Jones, who is quite replaceable given the position he plays, the offensive system he was in, the strength of the offensive line, and the presence of Rodgers. However, I think they already know this, so I’ll also focus elsewhere- linebacker. The Packers received arguably the worst linebacker play in the NFL last season, and still won 13 games while fielding an above-average defense. In other words, they haven’t valued the position for a while and have shown how little the position makes an impact, so why change course now?

POTENTIAL FITS

  • Wide Receiver: TY Hilton, Curtis Samuel, Sammy Watkins
  • Cornerback: Jason Verrett, Ronald Darby, Troy Hill
  • Depth: Kevin Pierre-Louis, Alex Mack, Josh Bynes

I’m assuming the Packers won’t be able to afford a top-tier receiver, though, if so, they should definitely take a serious look at Will Fuller, who is the perfect deep threat in their offense. Assuming he is out of their price range, Hilton and Watkins each are more affordable vertical receivers, and although Samuel is seen as a “gadget receiver”, he actually is quite strong in creating separation and arguably was limited by his role in Carolina. At the very least, though, his abilities after the catch are something this offense lacked.

The same thinking applies to cornerback. William Jackson, Richard Sherman, and Shaquill Griffin are all obvious fits, but since they could upgrade defending the slot and on the outside, you could make a case for them going with quantity rather than quality anyways. Meanwhile, Kevin Pierre-Louis and Josh Bynes are two linebackers who could be undervalued, while there are a lot of affordable interior offensive linemen to replace Corey Linsley.

SUMMARY

The Packers could stay status quo and go to next season as a Super Bowl favorite in the NFC, but, if they can make it work, it would be nice to see them add depth at wide receiver and cornerback. It’s hard to maintain success on a yearly basis, nor do you often have a quarterback coming off of an MVP season. Going from a “stars and scrubs” roster style to a “stars and depth” construction could really take this team to the next level.

Los Angeles Rams

Photo Cred: ocregister.com

STATE OF ORGANIZATION

Few teams have ever gone “all-in” on a tight window than the Rams. After trading for quarterback Matthew Stafford, they will now go seven years without a first-round pick, which is worrisome. Yes, they have found success in the middle rounds, but with how random the draft is, that is not a viable strategy/excuse for trading picks, especially since they’ve also invested a lot on singular players. With their defense facing regression both naturally and also because they’ll be without defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, they really need head coach Sean McVay’s offense to get back to an elite level, and they’re betting on Jared Goff being the reason for the unit’s problems last year. I’m skeptical that gamble will pay off, but only time will tell. They’ll have some work to do now that they are $33 million over the cap and have very little draft capital to work with.

WHAT TO FOCUS ON

  • Cornerback
  • Wide Receiver
  • Middle-of-the-Field Coverage

With slot cornerback Troy Hill, who was ultra-productive last season, set to hit free agency, the Rams have a hole at a key position, so obviously they’ll want to fill that. Meanwhile, with Stafford on board, I expect their usage of 11-personnel to be quite high next season, and finding a true deep threat to pair with him would be useful. Shifting back to defensive replacements, Los Angeles also is likely to lose safety John Johnson, while their middle-of-the-field coverage isn’t in great shape as of now.

WHAT NOT TO DO

I highly expect the Rams to continue to push their chips into the table, which isn’t great from a long-term standpoint as is. However, if their priority is to try to find a premier edge rusher or linebacker, then that would be even worse. The whole point of having Aaron Donald is that he opens up unblocked pressures for other pass rushers, while they just had the best defense in the NFL with supremely below-average linebacker production- focus on positions where holes matter more.

POTENTIAL FITS

  • Cornerback: Troy Hill, Cameron Sutton, Darqueze Dennard
  • Wide Receiver: Marvin Jones, David Moore, Rashard Higgins
  • Middle-of-Field Coverage: Keanu Neal, Jaquiski Tartt, BJ Goodson

My college projection models were a fan of David Long Jr., but relying on an unknown commodity to defend the slot is risky. Hill, Sutton, Dennard all are quality nickel defenders, but also can play on the outside as well, which is particularly useful given Jalen Ramsey’s overall versatility. Speaking of, Keanu Neal and Jaquiski Tartt would be solid “strong safety” options to replace Johnson, and there are a multitude of cheap veteran linebackers that could help them.

In terms of wide receiver, as mentioned, someone who can stretch the field vertically would fit well with Stafford. Marvin Jones has expressed a desire to reunite with Stafford, and the two of them formed an excellent combination for many years in Detroit. If he is too expensive, David Moore and Rashard Higgins each figure to cost $5 million or less, which would allow them them to address both the secondary and the receiver position.

SUMMARY

I’m not a major fan of the Rams’ team-building philosophy. Football is a game without depth, and the more you invest in star players and trade away draft picks, the harder it is to build said draft. Stafford could be tremendous next season, but they’ll also face a tougher schedule and suffer defensive regression, so it is far from a guarantee they do more than match last year’s win total. I’m always going to appreciate rosters that are strong on the perimeter, though general manager Les Snead has his work cut out for them keeping this organization winning sustainably. Most likely, they’re looking at a two-year window.

Minnesota Vikings

Photo Cred: Vikings Wire- USA Today

STATE OF ORGANIZATION

A recent study I ran highlighted the Vikings as a very unlucky team last year, based on their expected point differential, so you wouldn’t be crazy to consider them a playoff contender heading into 2021. They’re another team that is over the cap limit and are set to lose safety Anthony Harris in free agency, but, overall, they’re strong in a lot of the right areas. Right now, they have one of the top receiver tandems in the NFL, a top-ten performing quarterback in Kirk Cousins, and a young secondary that should improve, especially with Cameron Dantzler performing above expectations as a rookie. On the other end of the spectrum, they’re also limited by the conservative philosophies of their coaching staff, which is partially why they underachieved last season. With a lot of draft capital and young talent at perimeter positions, they’ve made nice moves for the future, but if a team were to call for one of their veteran players, they’d be foolish not to seriously consider strengthening the youth movement.

WHAT TO FOCUS ON

  • Cornerback
  • Safety
  • Wide Receiver
  • Trench Depth

You could bank on young defensive backs improving, but that is a strategy that could honestly cost the Vikings their season. Rather, complementing those young players with a quality veteran cornerback would be advisable, and they’ll certainly need to replace Harris with a cheaper safety.

Minnesota runs a lot of two-receiver sets, but they need insurance in case Adam Theilen or Justin Jefferson go down with an injury, and with the way the NFL is heading, it wouldn’t be the worst idea to simply just add a third receiver and actually open up the offense- what a novel concept! Furthermore, they’re also very thin on both the offensive line and defensive line, and although a bigger deal is made about it than it should be, avoiding liabilities in terms of trench play is wise- as always, the goal is getting to average in those areas so it isn’t negatively impacting your team.

WHAT NOT TO DO

A common sentiment that I’ve seen from Vikings fans in general is that all they need is another defensive lineman or a guard, and I couldn’t disagree more. Even if they were unlucky and deserved to win an extra couple games, no trench player is suddenly turning you into a Super Bowl contender. Rather, continuing to build on the perimeter will upgrade their roster, while a philosophy change will be needed if they truly are going to get over the hump.

POTENTIAL FITS

  • Cornerback: Terrance Mitchell, Quinton Dunbar, Jason McCourty
  • Safety: Duron Harmon, Jalen Mills, Malik Hooker
  • Trench Depth: Lane Taylor, John Jenkins, Everson Griffen

The Vikings won’t be setting their sights high at the cornerback position, but simply adding any of these quality veterans would go such a long way to a) helping their young cornerbacks and b) avoiding weak-links in the secondary. To top it off, head coach Mike Zimmer primarily runs two deep-safety concepts, and, luckily for Minnesota, there are a lot of prototypical free safeties that should be available.

In terms of trench depth, cheap veteran guards like Lane Taylor can help solve their issues on the interior offensive line, veteran nose tackles like John Jenkins can make sure they don’t need to invest resources against the run, and a competent pass rusher like former Viking Everson Griffen is all they need to get back to being good enough on the defensive line. These are lesser needs, though deeper rosters certainly tend to have more success.

SUMMARY

The main upgrade the Vikings can make is from a philosophical standpoint- less running, more aggressive tendencies. If not, though, they’re kind of constrained as to how they can upgrade their roster, though continuing to revamp in the secondary and adding a third receiver would be my focus. I’m fully expecting them to go for trench players and thus remaining a seven-to-eight win team next season, but this is a quality front office that has generally been strong when it comes to being committed to a sustainable winning approach, so I’m excited to see if they decide to continue to youth movement.

New Orleans Saints

Photo Cred: Sports Illustrated

STATE OF ORGANIZATION

The Saints are about to enter unprecedented territory.

As of now, they are $69.5 million over the cap, are set to lose multiple free agents, will need to look for a new quarterback for the first time since 2006, lost several members of their front office and coaching staff, and also will have a depleted roster due to their situation. They pushed the can down the road for several years to win a Super Bowl with Drew Brees, and, now, they’ll have to pay that bill without any postseason success to show for it.

WHAT TO FOCUS ON

  • Quarterback
  • Cap Space/Extra Draft Capital
  • Wide Receiver
  • Cornerback
  • Safety

If I’m the Saints, I’m tearing this down. They have several high-priced players (or are about to earn major extensions) that are very valuable commodities, such as tackles Ryan Ramczyk and Terron Armstead, as well as cornerback Marshon Lattimore. Trading these three players, particuarly Ramczyk and Lattimore, would yield significant draft capital and free up cap space, two things they desperately need as they enter a transition phase.

Who will replace Drew Brees at quarterback? The answer would appear to be Jameis Winston, who has been an above-average quarterback in terms of expected points added (EPA) per play in the past, has been in unfavorable offensive systems, and generates a high percentage of an offense through air yards. Pairing him with head coach Sean Payton would be tremendous for both parties, and he is likely to come at a bargain price when players like Carson Wentz are costing $25 million and multiple draft picks. For a team in such “cap hell”, an affordable quarterback is exactly what they need, and retaining Winston wouldn’t preclude them from exploring draft possibilities.

As for the rest of the roster, the depth at receiver is absurdly thin outside of Michael Thomas, and a lack of speed and dynamism has been an issue with this offense for quite some time. Meanwhile, they have an aging secondary and could use reinforcements all around; cornerback Janoris Jenkins will likely be cut, safety Marcus Williams will likely leave as a free agent, and there is a chance Lattimore is traded.

WHAT NOT TO DO

Going into next season with a quarterback that isn’t Winston or a rookie would obviously qualify, as would re-signing edge rusher Trey Hendrickson. They may be inclined to keep the young edge rusher after he had a productive season and burst onto the scene as a former third-round pick, but pass rush is a) a strength for them and b) something they don’t need to focus on, while Hendrickson’s track record is quite small; he benefitted a lot from cleanup pressures, which you’d expect when playing on a superb defensive line. In other words, not only is it the wrong position to focus on, but it’s the wrong player as well.

POTENTIAL FITS

  • Wide Receiver: David Moore, John Ross, Taywan Taylor
  • Cornerback: Akhello Witherspoon, Cameron Sutton, Rasul Douglas
  • Safety: Marcus Williams, Malik Hooker, Damarious Randall

The Saints obviously will be shopping at the bottom of the market to try to maintain competitiveness. A deep threat with some after-the-catch ability like David Moore would be a great fit, but I’m actually intrigued by the idea of giving Sean Payton the chance to try to revive John Ross’ career.

At cornerback, there are plenty of young players that could be had for a one-year, $2-$3 million deal, which they definitely should be able to afford, and the same is true at safety as they look to replace Marcus Williams. That is, unless they find a way to fit Williams in, and although it may be difficult, it is something they may want to try to do given how safeties are generally undervalued and how premier of a talent he has been in coverage. Still just 24-years-old, he’d certainly also be part of the next great Saints team.

SUMMARY

After years of going all-in to win a Super Bowl, the Saints have to pay their bill, meaning that they should look to take a hard reset. Any player that could be feasibly traded for draft compensation should be on the table, and the goal this offseason needs to be to a) obviously get under the cap and b) get younger. This is a team that is clearly in transition, so opening up opportunities for young players should be a focus. As a bonus, they, and the rest of the NFL, deserve a chance to see what Jameis Winston could do with Sean Payton; cheap, productive quarterbacks aren’t available every day.

Overall, it may be discouraging to see New Orleans in this situation without a Super Bowl to show for it. However, if they acknowledge their position and look towards the future by adding draft compensation, they can drastically increase the chances of a quicker rebuild. Honestly, it’s their choice- try to stay mediocre or try to be elite in the near future? For me, the choice is obvious, and what choice they make is going to be one of the main stories of the offseason.

New York Giants

Photo Cred: Giants.com

STATE OF ORGANIZATION

To be frank, there is a lot of reason to be pessimistic with the current direction of the Giants’ organization. They’re coming off of a season where they had a negative-77 point differential, won just six games despite having one-score luck, defensive luck, and playing in a weak division, and currently have a grand total of $900K in cap space. The issue with this roster starts with general manager Dave Gettleman, who has prioritized upgrading in the trenches and at running back while avoiding other key areas of the roster, and, thus, there aren’t a lot of valuable building blocks to build upon. They have tried to rebuild and remain competitive at the same time, and outside of Daniel Jones earning a 78 PFF grade last season, all signs indicate that this strategy was suboptimal. Even then, Jones’ lack of supporting cast and a competent offensive system led to his numbers being much worse than his underlying metrics, and that wouldn’t figure to improve next season. This is a team lacking a clear direction, and, most likely, they’re looking at a potential last-place finish in the NFC East next season.

WHAT TO FOCUS ON

  • Wide Receiver
  • Cornerback
  • Offensive Line Depth

The Giants neglected to add a wide receiver last offseason, and that decision certainly backfired. They earned PFF’s eighth-lowest receiving grade, and although Sterling Shepard is a productive player, he isn’t likely to be the top receiver of a productive offense. Golden Tate is likely to be cut, and finding a true impact #1 receiver to complement Shepard, more of an intermediate threat, and Darius Slayton, who can stretch the field vertically. That has to be New York’s main priority, and to do so, they may have to cut ties with multiple veteran offensive linemen. Thus, they’ll need to restock the unit with affordable veteran depth.

New York’s defense performed well last season, but for that to be sustained, they desperately need to add talent at the cornerback position. They struck gold with the signing of James Bradberry last offseason, but no other cornerback on the roster earned a PFF coverage grade above 52. That is quite problematic, and it won’t matter how productive Bradberry is if defenses can simply attack their other defensive backs.

WHAT NOT TO DO

This scenario already appears to be in play, and that would be bringing back interior defenders Leonard Williams and/or Dalvin Tomlinson. Neither Williams or Tomlinson bring the value that a perimeter player would, and their abilities defending the run are a) redundant with a strong defensive line and b) won’t matter if New York can’t stop the pass at all. Consider these players nice touches to a top-end team at the right price, but not exactly players that a team with such glaring weaknesses should be breaking the bank for.

POTENTIAL FITS

  • Wide Receiver: Allen Robinson, Kenny Golladay, Will Fuller
  • Cornerback: Jason McCourty, Quinton Dunbar, Gareon Conley
  • Offensive Line: Ted Karras, Ben Garland, Austin Reiter

Daniel Jones, by some metrics (passer rating on throws 20+ yards down field and his PFF grading chart), was one of the premier deep-ball throwers in the NFL, but he had one of the lowest deep-passing rates in the NFL. Slayton is a fine deep threat, but they could definitely upgrade with Golladay and Fuller, while Robinson’s contested-catch ability is also a tremendous fit with the current group of receivers (the same applies to Golladay). Since they’re going big at the receiver position, that means targeting second-tier free agent cornerbacks, and Jason McCourty, Quinton Dunbar, and Gareon Conley all have the physicality and man coverage ability to succeed in defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s scheme; they’d allow New York to get back to competent pass coverage. Speaking of getting back to average, that is the goal on the offensive line, particularly on the interior, and I’d expect them to target someone with the flexibility to play center after Nick Gates played worse there than he did at tackle and guard the season before.

SUMMARY

The current regime in New York has had a very flawed philosophy since they took over, and, thus, they have failed to make little progress as an organization. Actually giving Jones a chance to have strong production with a true impact receiver, in addition to acquiring depth in the secondary and offensive line, is a must. Unfortunately, the resources appear to be likely to spent on run defense, and if that is the case, I’ll gladly take the “under” on their win total projections next season.

Philadelphia Eagles

Photo Cred: Bleeding Green Nation

STATE OF ORGANIZATION

It’s a new era in Philadelphia after the organization parted ways with head coach Doug Pederson and traded quarterback Carson Wentz to the Colts. I am glad that they opted to keep general manager Howie Roseman, as he’s done a great job for the most part in terms of attacking the right positions in the draft and adopting a forward-thinking mindset, but I’m guessing there will be a lot of pressure on him to execute this rebuild correctly. He is off to a great start by acquiring a third-round pick and a second-round pick that likely will turn into a first-round pick in 2022, but a lot of work is left to be done. Philadelphia is currently $43 million over the cap, and has already started cutting ties with veteran players. This is not likely a team that will compete for a playoff spot next year, but as long as they continue to look for the future and go all-in on getting younger and cheaper, perhaps they can get back on track. For their faults, they have generally been progressive.

WHAT TO FOCUS ON

  • Cap Space
  • Draft Capital
  • Secondary
  • Playmakers Who Fit The New Offensive Scheme

As mentioned, this is clearly a team looking towards the future, which means that parting ways with veterans to clear cap space and add draft capital when possible will be the focus. Tight end Zach Ertz is oft-mentioned as a lock to be traded, and I’d assume that edge rusher Derek Barnett is moved as well. As a June 1st cut/trade, keep an eye on interior defender Fletcher Cox, edge rusher Brandon Graham, and center Jason Kelce, as all may be past their primes and would be more useful for a team ready to compete.

In terms of player acquisition, the lack of depth in Philadelphia’s secondary opens up opportunities for them to strike gold on bounce-back players, especially since the new coaching staff will implementing a zone-heavy system that the Colts have run, which is quite friendly for defensive backs. Speaking of the coaching staff, whether it’s Jalen Hurts or a rookie quarterback (Justin Fields), head coach NicK Siriani is going to have to shape his offense around his quarterback, so finding playmakers who can pair with Hurts in terms of electricity after the catch (Hurts is very accurate and can hit them in stride) could be something they take a look at; a bigger body threat also may be useful given that Alshon Jeffery was someone that Hurts looked to a decent bit after taking over down the stretch- they don’t have much size at the receiver position.

WHAT NOT TO DO

It would have been sticking with Wentz, and, really, it’s failing to read to tea leaves. The time is now for this organization to take a hard reset and tear it down, and if they try to remain competitive, it could lead to them being stuck in mediocrity. Luckily for them, I don’t see this being a trap they’ll fall into.

POTENTIAL FITS

  • Cornerback: Akhello Witherspoon, Michael Davis, Sidney Jones
  • Safety: Malik Hooker, Damontae Kazee, Karl Joseph
  • Playmaker: David Moore, Josh Reynolds, Isaiah McKenzie

As mentioned, the Eagles should be looking at young players in the secondary that have shown flashes of promise in the past, as there is an extensive of volatility at the defensive position. All of these players qualify, and since Hooker has familiarity with this defensive scheme, he certainly would appear to be fantastic fit on paper.

David Moore and Josh Reynolds have the size and elusiveness to give the Eagles what I believe they should be looking for at the receiver position, while Isaiah McKenzie would be an excellent versatile playmaker for them to build chaos for opposing defenses. All should be rather affordable, and if all is created equal, Moore would be my pick given his skills as a vertical threat.

SUMMARY

The Eagles aren’t going to be a very good team next season, but they appear to understand this. Whether it’s giving Hurts a chance or drafting a signal-caller, the quarterback position will obviously be the focus of this team next season, so Siriani will look to craft an offense that will likely feature a lot of quarterback rushing and feature a lot of speed. Really, though, it’s going to be about getting younger, cheaper, and more athletic. It may take a few years, but as long as they go all-in on this approach and keep their options open at the quarterback position, they’ll be on the right path.

San Francisco 49ers

Photo Cred: The Mercury News

STATE OF ORGANIZATION

Don’t let the 49ers’ last place finish in the NFC West fool you- this is one of the top teams in the NFC. In a season in which they lost their quarterback, dealt with more injuries than any other team, got kicked out of their own home state, and had awful turnover luck, they still were extremely competitive. Not only do they return a mostly healthy roster, but the braintrust with head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch is very smart, and they’ll benefit now from a last-place schedule. They are losing multiple members in the secondary, while left tackle Trent Williams is also a free agent, but I still truly believe this is a team that is well-suited for the present and the future.

WHAT TO FOCUS ON

  • Deshaun Watson
  • Cornerback
  • Safety
  • Offensive Line

Jimmy Garoppolo is a quality quarterback, but he has his limits. Thus, if Deshaun Watson truly is available, the 49ers HAVE to do whatever it takes to acquire him. Giving Shanahan a non-limited quarterback could easily turn this offense into the best unit in the NFC (see Packers and Titans 2020), and with that being the case, they’d easily become the favorites to represent the conference in the Super Bowl and would be on the Chiefs’ level. In edge rusher Nick Bosa, San Francisco has a trench player that is likely to be overvalued based on his pedigree (he’s a fantastic player but plays a non-valuable position), so that may even give them an edge in the Watson sweepstakes; linebacker Fred Warner should also be available in a trade, and the same should be said about interior defender Javon Kinlaw and practically anyone on the roster. If not, they’ll be able to entertain a quarterback in the draft; no other quarterback represents an upgrade over Garoppolo.

As mentioned, the 49ers will face major turnover in the secondary- cornerbacks Richard Sherman, Jason Verrett, K’Waun Williams, and safety Jaquiski Tartt are all free agents. Thus, they’ll need to attack this position in volume out of necessity. The coverage unit, believe it or not, has been the backbone of their strong defensive play:

2019: 1st in PFF Coverage Grade, 3rd in Pass-Rush Grade

2020: 3rd in Coverage Grade, 28th in Pass-Rush Grade

Despite the variance with their pass-rush performance, the 49ers had a top-five defense in both seasons. With defensive coordinator Robert Saleh now the head coach of the Jets, they’ll need to add several defensive backs to keep their point prevention in good shape; a versatile safety capable of playing in the box is also something they should be looking for.

Williams is likely to demand $20 million per year on his next contract, which is probably a price San Francisco should not pay. Looking for a second-tier tackle, as well as adding some more depth along the rest of the offensive line, should be a priority. Remember, this is an offense that has been productive in the past with Daniel Brunskil and Justin Skule starting at offensive tackle.

WHAT NOT TO DO

For the 49ers, there are multiple scenarios that could hurt them. One is focusing on the trenches with Williams and another pass rusher while neglecting the secondary, which would immediately create massive holes with their roster. It is certainly plausible that this happens, given how much this front office has prioritized the trenches in the past. Meanwhile, if they were to acquire a different quarterback, such as Sam Darnold, they would be downgrading at the quarterback position while wasting needed resources to do so.

POTENTIAL FITS

  • Cornerback: Jason Verrett, K’Waun Williams, Xavier Rhodes
  • Safety: Keanu Neal, Karl Joseph, Jaquiski Tartt
  • Offensive Line: Kelvin Beachum, Ty Nsekhe, Mike Remmers

As mentioned, Williams is likely to be too expensive, and if that is the case, I’d much rather have Kelvin Beachum for a projected $5 million, or a stopgap like Ty Nsekhe and Mike Remmers, who each have been productive in the past. Meanwhile, simply retaining their own makes sense given how successful they have been in pass coverage, while Xavier Rhodes, Troy Hill, Desmond King, and Quinton Dunbar are also strong scheme fits; the safeties listed all fit as prototypical “strong safeties” in this cover-three system, and although you’d love to upgrade from Tartt, he also is productive enough and isn’t projected to earn much on the free agency market.

SUMMARY

With the right offseason, the 49ers could represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Watson, Garoppolo, or a drafted quarterback are their three options at the quarterback position, and besides that, they’ll need to revamp their secondary, rather than investing heavy resources in the trenches. Understanding what has been them a quality team in the past (strong offense and coverage play), rather than the typical narratives about their past success, could make all the difference.

Seattle Seahawks

Photo Cred: The Seattle Times

STATE OF ORGANIZATION

For the first half of last season, the Seahawks looked like the premier team in the NFL. Then, they interfered. With a pass-heavy mindset, they had an elite offense; Russell Wilson, Tyler Lockett, and DK Metcalf formed a dominant trio down the field. However, with head coach Pete Carroll stepping in and wanting to “establish the run”, they went back to being a second-tier team, and eventually was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by a Rams team quarterbacked by Jared Goff on a broken thumb. So, did they learn their lesson? Nope. Carroll fired offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer for being too pass-heavy, and between that and poor pass protection, the organization has managed to frustrate quarterback Russell Wilson. Due to the Jamal Adams trade, they’ll also have no first-round pick for two years, are tight on cap space, and face major turnover in the secondary. In other words, this could go south in a hurry.

WHAT TO FOCUS ON

  • Cornerback
  • Third Option In Passing Game
  • Offensive Line Depth
  • Overall Roster Depth

With cornerbacks Shaquill Griffin and Quinton Dunbar set to be free agents, the Seahawks don’t have a starting outside cornerback on the roster. It isn’t as though their cornerback play has been great in the past, and, to be honest, it has been a major reason why their defenses have struggled.

Offensively, this might not seem obvious, but Seattle desperately needs another reliable option in the passing game. There is zero depth outside of Lockett and Metcalf, and the lack of diversity in the offense makes it easier to defend them than it should be; Lockett also hasn’t been a model of perfect health in the past. This could come via a tight end, but, really, they should be looking for a tight end AND a third receiver. Never settle when it comes to building a receiving corps.

Wilson is obviously frustrated about the team’s inability to protect him, and although some of that is his doing (quarterbacks control their pressure rate), Seattle has had a bottom-ten offensive line for some time. They lack any depth on the interior and also could use another offensive tackle, so attacking the position by adding multiple competent veterans should be a goal as well. From there, they could use some depth in terms of rushing the passer and middle-of-the-field coverage, though becoming even deeper offensively and revamping the secondary should take up almost all of their resources.

WHAT NOT TO DO

I am fully expecting the Seahawks to neglect the secondary for an impact pass rusher, as it would be easy to look at their inability to rush the passer as the reason for their downfall. That’s great, but they were also a 12-win team for a reason, and what changed during the season was their offense regressing (their defense actually got better). Instead of trying to be a conservative team built around the running game and defense, their chances of winning a Super Bowl hinge on them evolving for an entire season.

POTENTIAL FITS

  • Cornerback: Shaquill Griffin, Chidobe Awuzie, Ronald Darby
  • Playmaker: Danny Amendola, Gerald Everett, Breshad Perriman
  • Offensive Line: Matt Feiler, Austin Reiter, James Hurst

A reunion with Griffin makes sense for all parties involved, as he’s been worth about .465 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) for them over the past two seasons, per Pro Football Focus. Furthermore, Chidobe Awuzie has a lot of experience playing in this style of defense from his time in Dallas, while Ronald Darby has the athletic traits that they covet at the position (length, physicality, speed, very similar to Griffin), and, outside of a poor 2019 campaign, has been extremely productive. Jason Verrett, Xavier Rhodes, Sidney Jones, and several nickel defenders also are strong fits.

On the offense, Danny Amendola would really complement the vertical abilities of Lockett and Metcalf, as Seattle really could use an intermediate threat to work out of the slot. If they want to simply air it out, Breshad Perriman would add more speed and also has the benefit of being able to fill in for Lockett if he was injured. The same thinking applies to the tight end position. Gerald Everett is more of a dynamic playmaker after the catch, but if they want someone to stretch vertically, a tight end like Jordan Reed would fit the ball; his price could be nerfed by his injury history.

I absolutely love the fit of Matt Feiler with the Seahawks. He has been very successful as both a tackle and guard, and that type of versatility is incredible useful for a team with glaring holes at so many different spots on the offensive line. I’d also expect them to target someone with the ability to play center given their issues at the position last season.

SUMMARY

The main thing the Seahawks can do is make a philosophical change, but it appears that the coaching staff is doubling down on their conservative approach. Deepening their roster with an overhaul at the cornerback position and adding more playmakers will keep them as arguably the best team in the NFC West, but I’m very skeptical that they will actually utilize that approach.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Photo Cred: Bucs Wire-USA Today

STATE OF ORGANIZATION

The Bucs just won the Super Bowl, and there isn’t much reason to think they won’t repeat. Yes, they have some pending free agents, but they should also be able to retain receiver Chris Godwin and linebacker Lavonte David; they certainly can remain a premier team without edge rusher Shaquil Barrett. They will go into next season with Tom Brady still playing at a high level, an elite group of playmakers, a young and productive secondary, and no clear holes, and with that in mind, likely should be considered the favorites to come out of the NFC. They will obviously eventually face long-term questions at the quarterback position, but they still have young talent on the perimeter, which helps alleviate concerns about their ability to win sustainably.

WHAT TO FOCUS ON

  • Retaining Chris Godwin and Lavonte David
  • Cheap Replacements For Departed Players
  • Slot Coverage Depth

The Bucs have an absolutely loaded roster, so simply retaining Godwin and David should be the focus. Godwin is one of the premier young receivers in the NFL, and based on his coverage ability, David has been one of the most valuable linebackers in the NFL based on PFF WAR; he also covers up the coverage warts of fellow linebacker Devin White. From there, they can replace their lost defensive linemen with cheaper replacements by taking advantage of Todd Bowles’ ability to scheme pressure with blitz packages, which puts them in tremendous shape heading into next season. However, if they want to avoid any weak links, they were vulnerable against slot receivers, as Sean Murphy-Bunting struggled in his second season, and you can never have enough depth in the secondary.

WHAT NOT TO DO

Based on his productiveness in the postseason, it’s easy to see the Bucs handing Barrett a monster deal, but they need to avoid the temptation to do so. Barrett is a quality edge rusher, but it’s hard for non top-tier edge rushers to valuable enough to warrant a massive contract. Not only do Godwin and David need new contracts, but they have plenty of other talented young players they’ll also want to pay, and when Brady leaves, they have the roster to remain competitive with a veteran quarterback- they’ll want to retain resources to find said quarterback. Really, though, paying Barrett would be a misstep based on their general strengths in terms of understanding positional value and using Bowles’ ability to maximize pass rushers. The player, the position, and the organizational fit all don’t live up with a reunion here.

POTENTIAL FITS

  • Edge Rusher: Jordan Jenkins, Aldon Smith, Tarrell Basham
  • Slot Cornerback: Darqueze Dennard, Cameron Sutton, Nickell Robey-Coleman
  • Interior Defender: Steve McLendon, John Jenkins, Mario Edwards Jr.

There is a lot of depth in terms of decent edge rushers in this free agency class, so the Bucs wouldn’t be hard-pressed to find a cheap pass rusher to replace Barrett and still be very productive. If they want to go for “upside”, Smith is the most likely to have a 10-sack season, but Jenkins and Basham were solid contributors on a poor Jets defense this past season despite the team having historically poor pass coverage. Meanwhile, there are plenty of slot cornerbacks to challenge Murphy-Bunting, all of whom are likely to be significantly undervalued and would be fantastic signings by Tampa Bay. To replace what they’re losing on the interior, they could go for more of a power player like McLendon or Jenkins, but if they want to take advantage of Vita Vea’s ability to clog up the interior, signing a pass-rush specialist such as Edwards Jr.

SUMMARY

General manager Jason Licht has done a fantastic job building this roster by accumulating perimeter talent, which is why the Bucs simply need to retain Godwin and David to be Super Bowl favorites in the NFC. Not paying up for Barrett, given his limited value and how likely it is that they could scheme similar pressure with a far cheaper player, would be a fantastic strategy, and is something that may actually happen based on recent rumors. As long as Brady continues to perform at a high level, this is an organization in tremendous shape, and they’ll likely continue to be good even after he leaves based on the young perimeter talent they have. It’s been quite the year for Tampa Bay sports fans.

Washington Football Team

Photo Cred: USA Today

STATE OF ORGANIZATION

The Washington Football Team has been one of the most dysfunctional organizations in the NFL, but it’s crazy how quickly things can turn around. They weren’t a “true” playoff team with a 7-9 record and negative point differential in which they relied on a lot of defensive success, but remember, they were one of the favorites to get the top pick in the draft. They enter this offseason with a lot of cap space, far more stability with head coach Ron Rivera leading the way, and some young talent to build around. Quarterback, as we will get to, is a question mark, and them winning the division forced them into the 19th overall pick in the draft, but with the right offseason, this could be the team with the brightest future in the NFC East.

WHAT TO FOCUS ON

  • Quarterback
  • Wide Receiver
  • Cornerback

If they had a top-ten draft pick, Washington would be in much better position to find their franchise quarterback. Now, however, they’re probably looking at a stopgap, though it won’t be hard to upgrade from what they were working with last year.

To boost the production of whomever they acquire to play quarterback, Washington needs to be aggressive adding multiple playmakers. Few offenses are as dependent one player as they currently are on star receiver Terry McLaurin, and the idea of pairing him with another impact #1 receiver should have every Washington fan salivating. All of a sudden, you’d go from a very deficient offense to a competent quarterback away from a feared passing attack.

Washington had a lot of success defensively, and while many will give the bulk of the credit to the defensive line, they had the sixth-best coverage unit by PFF grades. Unfortunately for them, top cornerback Ronald Darby is set to be a free agent, and the depth at outside cornerback was not strong last season. Bringing him back and/or extra quantity at the position should be their main non-offense focus.

WHAT NOT TO DO

One name that has consistently been linked to Washington’s quarterback search is Sam Darnold, but he is the exact type of quarterback they should be avoiding. He’s likely to cost a second-round pick and additional draft capital, which is quite the haul for PFF’s lowest-graded quarterback. If they add more receiving depth and continue to have a quality roster, all the Football Team needs is a competent veteran quarterback as they search for their franchise quarterback in the draft. Getting trapped into the idea they can “fix Darnold” when he have three years of data where he has made no progress whatsoever would set this team back a year while also costing them draft capital.

POTENTIAL FITS

  • Quarterback: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston
  • Wide Receiver: Allen Robinson, Kenny Golladay, Corey Davis
  • Cornerback: Ronald Darby, William Jackson, Chidobe Awuzie

Veteran stopgap? Does anyone qualify better than Ryan Fitzpatrick? Despite playing in a very suboptimal situation in Miami, the 38-year-old has earned a PFF grade above 75 in three straight seasons and would be cheap enough to allow them to go big at the receiver position. Both he and Winston have the type of high-end volatility that they should be looking for; their best chance of succeeding next season is trying to hit on the right side of variance. In a trade, meanwhile, Marcus Mariota on a one-year, $11 million contract and for a mid-round pick is much better value than Darnold. Not only is he still just 27-years-old, but he has multiple productive 75+ grade seasons on his resume, and Washington could tailor an offense to take advantage of his mobility- something he never has benefitted from.

At wide receiver, ideally Washington would acquire someone with size to complement McLaurin, but, really, they need to just add the best receiver possible. In terms of the secondary, they play a lot of zone coverage and Darby played well there, and they have the money to target Jackson, Awuzie, or any of ht other coveted cornerbacks available.

SUMMARY

Washington has a lot of cap space, and it would be very surprising if they weren’t able to acquire a premier receiver. Doing so could give them one of the better supporting casts in the NFL, to the point where someone like Fitzpatrick, Mariota, Winston, Cam Newton, or a rookie like Mac Jones could have a lot of success. They’ll need to revamp their secondary, but if they’re going to take a step forward, they need to do whatever it takes to upgrade their offense as much as possible. If so, don’t count them out in terms of potentially winning this division, and, at the very least, being the top team in the NFC East in the future.

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