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There’s no such thing as a dull offseason for an NFL team.
In any given year, there’s roster turnover because of contracts, the draft and trades. Organizations fire general managers, head coaches and coordinators. Quarterback-needy teams enact thorough draft searches for franchise players. Free agency becomes a free-for-all for established veteran talents.
With all the moving parts in a football organization, it’s best to assemble an offseason checklist, highlighting pressing needs to address in the coming months. Front offices should circle certain items with a red marker as a mandatory action.
Looking at all 32 teams in the league, we’ll delve into macro and micro issues to address in the offseason. Each call to action focuses on a suggestion that helps a specific team improve most for the 2019 campaign and beyond.
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The Arizona Cardinals selected quarterback Josh Rosen with the No. 10 overall pick in April, but he didn’t mesh well with play-caller Mike McCoy, who’s known for using a complex playbook dating back to his days with the Denver Broncos, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. The Cardinals fired McCoy in October.
Even though Rosen came into the league labeled an NFL-ready quarterback, he may respond better to an offensive mind on the collegiate level because of the innovative play-calling witnessed on Saturdays during the season. The Cardinals should avoid longtime coordinators who remain rigid and unable to tailor schemes to a quarterback’s strengths.
Even though Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley chose not to bite on speculation that linked him to the Cleveland Browns in October, perhaps a strong offer could lure him to the desert. As well, Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller named Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell as an underrated candidate who is circulating NFL discussion circles.
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During the last offseason, the Atlanta Falcons signed Brandon Fusco, a steady veteran guard who’s on his third team; he appeared in seven games before going on injured reserve with an ankle injury. The offensive line lost Andy Levitre for the year after two games because of a torn triceps in consecutive terms. He’s set to hit free agency in March.
Without their starting guards, the Falcons haven’t shown commitment to the ground attack, ranking 31st in rush attempts and 27th in yards. In a contract year, running back Tevin Coleman fell short of a breakthrough year as the lead ball-carrier with Devonta Freeman (groin) on injured reserve. Rookie fourth-rounder Ito Smith flashed in moments but averaged just 3.5 yards per carry.
Assuming the Falcons move on from Levitre, who’s turning 33 in May, general manager Thomas Dimitroff should beef up the interior of the front line. Whether it’s another veteran or a rookie guard, Atlanta needs more offensive balance. With offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian potentially on the way out, per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, the new play-caller must have solid components in place to feed the running backs.
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This move was obvious once quarterback Lamar Jackson started over Joe Flacco. According to Ian Rapoport, the Baltimore Ravens plan to move on from the veteran signal-caller. Flacco will likely draw trade interest from the Jacksonville Jaguars and Denver Broncos because of their quarterback situations. Furthermore, the 33-year-old could start Week 1 for either of those clubs.
The transaction would look similar to the deal between the Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Redskins last year. Chiefs general manager Brett Veach moved Alex Smith to the NFC East club in exchange for cornerback Kendall Fuller and a third-round pick.
Flacco hasn’t had Pro Bowl seasons like Smith, but he’s won a Super Bowl, which holds significance for a team that is looking to return to the postseason. The Ravens could use the draft pick to add a wide receiver or inside linebacker if they don’t re-sign C.J. Mosley.
Baltimore has trade market leverage with a capable player at the most important position with a solid resume. It’s an ideal time to take advantage of quarterback-needy teams.
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The Buffalo Bills have to start with the trenches. It’s part one of building around a potential franchise quarterback in a literal sense. The coaching staff would probably like to see Josh Allen scramble less and have more time to deliver strikes from the pocket.
Similar to his collegiate days, Allen’s accuracy seems like a concern. He’s completing 51.7 percent of his pass attempts. In fairness to the rookie signal-caller, the Bills don’t have much around him. His top offensive asset, LeSean McCoy, has struggled this season. The 30-year-old running back is averaging a career-low 3.2 yards per carry, and he’s probably going to finish with his fewest yards from scrimmage (708) in a single term.
The Bills can’t turn Allen into an accurate quarterback over the offseason, but they can strengthen the pocket and give him time to scan the field for his targets. According to Football Outsiders, Buffalo’s pass protection ranks 21st. As wideouts Robert Foster and Zay Jones develop, the passing attack could routinely break off chunk plays with the signal-caller’s big arm behind a sturdy pocket.
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According to Ian Rapoport, head coach Ron Rivera’s job remains safe with the Carolina Panthers. The brain trust of the organization should continue to focus on building around its star signal-caller.
For starters, the Panthers have to encourage quarterback Cam Newton to tailor his play style a bit—run the ball fewer times to stay fresh throughout the season. Typically, he’s a strong contributor to the ground attack, logging 929 carries, 4,808 yards and 58 touchdowns on the ground in eight seasons.
Center Ryan Kalil will retire at the end of the year, and the Panthers still need a strong replacement for Andrew Norwell at left guard.
With an upgrade and replacement on the interior, Carolina can use a physical backup running back to bang bodies up the middle for short-yardage situations in place of Newton. A starting-caliber guard and new center would go a long way toward accomplishing an objective to preserve the quarterback and add another layer to the ground attack.
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As the surprise team in the NFC, the Chicago Bears will continue to grow with all the parts acquired last offseason. Head coach Matt Nagy, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and his offensive weapons should improve with more experience working together in the coming seasons.
While it’s not time to take his foot off the pedal in a competitive division, general manager Ryan Pace can watch his roster develop and replace assets when necessary.
Right tackle Bobby Massie will become an unrestricted free agent in March. Instead of paying a premium for him on the open market, the Bears should look for his successor in the draft. As a result of the Khalil Mack deal, Chicago won’t have a first-round pick, but Pace can potentially land an NFL-ready tackle on Day 2.
The Bears should target a high-end run-blocker on the edge to help seal the corners on outside carries. Running back Tarik Cohen would certainly benefit with his speed.
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It’s time to move on. Yes, the Cincinnati Bengals roster lost several players to injury, including quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green. Before the key absences down the stretch, this club started the season 4-1, but then the wheels came off after a disappointing loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at home.
Frankly, the Bengals should’ve parted ways with head coach Marvin Lewis during the last offseason, but two wins at the end of the 2017 campaign saved his job. While we can point to injuries this year, he hired defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, who fielded a unit that allowed 500-plus yards in three consecutive contests before his dismissal.
We should view continuity as a positive—if there’s progression and a steady push to compete for a division title—but the Bengals have fallen short of a postseason berth each of the last three years. Now, they’re the worst team in the AFC North with the Browns on the upswing.
Lewis holds an overall winning record as a head coach (131-121-3), but a change may benefit both parties. The Bengals could bring in a fresh voice, and the 60-year-old lead skipper can explore new opportunities best-suited for his success. He’s a good head coach, but Cincinnati has regressed over the last few seasons on his watch. This club hasn’t put together a winning season since 2015.
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Offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens and quarterback Baker Mayfield are cooking.
The Browns have won five of their last six games; Mayfield threw a career-high four touchdown passes in Week 12 and has completed at least 81 percent of his throws on two occasions after the team fired head coach Hue Jackson and play-caller Todd Haley. Finally, he’s only been sacked three times over the last six weeks after taking 22 in his first seven contests.
There’s no denying Kitchens has put Mayfield and the offense in the best position to succeed. The Browns offensive coordinator isn’t shy about his aspirations to become a head coach. “Definitely,” he told reporters about wanting that role. “No doubt.”
Kitchens doesn’t see an exact right time to take on the role. “I heard the other day somebody say something about I wasn’t ready to be a head coach,” he said. “I mean, who the hell’s ready to be a head coach?”
Despite the small sample, there’s a night-and-day difference in the Browns offense when comparing the first and second halves of the season. General manager John Dorsey shouldn’t mess with the chemistry between the play-caller and Mayfield. He doesn’t have to promote Kitchens to lead skipper, but the team should hire a head coach who’s on board with retaining the offensive coordinator.
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The Dallas Cowboys have major contract decisions coming up for quarterback Dak Prescott and wide receiver Amari Cooper; both go into walk years in 2019. However, the first order of business should focus on taking care of their leading pass-rusher. Demarcus Lawrence signed the franchise tag this year, playing for $17.1 million guaranteed. Don’t expect him to agree to a one-year pact again, per Ian Rapoport.
Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack set a new standard that extends beyond specific positions and focuses on player roles. Defenders who can rush the quarterback will sign lucrative contracts when it’s time for their agents to negotiate new deals. Lawrence has certainly earned a massive pay raise, logging 24 sacks over the last two seasons.
He could break the bank, but the Cowboys will have a projected $51 million in cap space next season, per Spotrac. With Prescott on a rookie deal for another year, Dallas can pay its star pass-rusher now and still reward its quarterback before or during the season.
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After Peyton Manning‘s four-year stint with the Broncos, which culminated in a Super Bowl 50 victory, president of football operations and general manager John Elway hasn’t been able to settle on a steady quarterback. Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch have tried to lead the offense but failed to deliver with their opportunities.
During the last offseason, the Broncos inked quarterback Case Keenum to a two-year, $36 million deal, coming off his best season with the Minnesota Vikings. Through 15 contests, his interception rate has risen and his touchdown frequency has dropped compared to the 2017 term.
At best, Keenum profiles as a decent game manager who won’t hurt his team with too many mistakes but doesn’t make enough plays to pull out critical victories. The Broncos have a much-improved ground attack, featuring Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman. On the other hand, Denver invested second- and fourth-round picks in wide receivers Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton, respectively. Someone must feed them the football.
Keenum isn’t the guy to stretch the field with dynamic assets at wide receiver. Though it sounds like a tough task for Elway, he must find another quarterback to optimize the talent of his perimeter skill players.
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In a somewhat shocking move in September, the Detroit Lions waived Anthony Zettel, their second-best pass-rusher from last season. Defensive end Ezekiel Ansah couldn’t stay healthy this year and landed on injured reserve with a dislocated shoulder. After playing on the franchise tag, he’s unlikely to return going into his age-30 campaign.
Head coach Matt Patricia has been able to generate a pass rush from the second level of the defense. Linebackers Devon Kennard and Jarrad Davis have recorded a combined 12 sacks. In September, Detroit claimed defensive end Romeo Okwara off waivers, and he’s logged 7.5 sacks as a surprise contributor off the end. All three defenders have career highs in the category. Will they repeat their performances? It’s debatable.
The Lions dropped to 5-10 in a Week 16 loss to the Vikings, which puts them in a good spot to take a high-potential prospect in a draft full of playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. General manager Bob Quinn could land an impact pass-rusher with a top-10 pick.
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It’s hard to manage a mega talent such as Aaron Rodgers. He’s a Super Bowl-winning quarterback and two-time league MVP with a couple of All-Pro seasons. Furthermore, the 35-year-old is a one-of-a-kind talent with a unique skill set that allows him to thrive outside the pocket. Finally, he’s the highest-paid player in the league.
Even with all the credentials, accomplishments and cash invested in him, Rodgers isn’t above reproach, but it’s going to take a respected voice to build trust. Few active head coaches fit the description, and they probably have stable job security for a playoff-contending team.
While it’s trendy to hire a young coordinator for a head-coaching spot, the Packers should consider choosing a defensive mind. He could develop the corresponding unit into a powerhouse, which takes pressure off Rodgers to carry his team on a weekly basis.
Team brass may go that route. According to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Tom Silverstein, Green Bay interviewed Chuck Pagano, who served as a secondary coach for nine years and defensive coordinator in Baltimore during the 2011 term.
The new hire would add an established play-caller to the staff—someone who can give Rodgers direction but not attempt to override his natural talent. The point being, a head coach with a background on the defensive side of the ball wouldn’t have to flex his muscle in a power struggle with an elite quarterback.
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It’s simple for the Houston Texans—retain the second-best pass-rusher on the roster. J.J. Watt looks like his Defensive Player of the Year self again, but how long will that last? The front office can’t depend on consistent double-digit sack seasons from the 29-year-old after he missed 24 games in 2016 and 2017.
The Texans have to keep the pocket pressure coming to maintain their aggressive defense. The front office may have to use the franchise tag to keep Clowney, but he’s worth the investment. Lately, the 25-year-old has avoided the injury bug, missing three contests in the last three years.
Clowney has seen a slight increase in sacks every season. He could log his 10th sack, a career high, against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 17. Based on his production trajectory, the fifth-year veteran will likely lead the team in the category sooner or later. But first, the Texans have to keep him off the open market.
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Few thought the Indianapolis Colts would compete for a playoff spot this year. Yet they’re 9-6, in the thick of the AFC wild-card race and still alive for a division title. Obviously, quarterback Andrew Luck‘s comeback played a major role in the team’s bounce-back from a 4-12 campaign. Now, with him healthy, the front office needs to build around him.
In the recent past, Luck’s offensive lines failed him, but that’s not the case this season. He’s been sacked just 17 times. Head coach Frank Reich has brought over the concept of a running back by committee from Philadelphia. Expect Marlon Mack, Jordan Wilkins and Nyheim Hines to continue splitting carries. Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle can become the best tight end duo in the league.
What’s left to address? Luck doesn’t have a complementary option at wide receiver opposite T.Y. Hilton. He’s logged five 1,000-yard seasons in seven years, but the 29-year-old could see more one-on-one coverage if the Colts had a viable No. 2 option at the position. The deep safety would have to think twice before shading the top receiver in the Colts passing attack.
Ryan Grant, who’s recorded 34 catches for 330 yards and a touchdown, has underwhelmed as a starter this year. Assuming he walks during free agency, the Colts must find an upgrade.
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One year removed from the AFC Championship Game, the Jaguars should look to acquire a competent veteran signal-caller and contend for a postseason spot next season. The Ravens reportedly intend to move on from Joe Flacco, and Teddy Bridgewater will become a free agent if the New Orleans Saints allow him to walk.
Since it’s possible the Saints re-sign Bridgewater, it’s best that Jacksonville put together a plan B—a trade package for Flacco. Although there are only a few optimal years left in his career, the 33-year-old can put the Jaguars in position for another playoff run.
Even in a down year, Jacksonville has fielded a top-10 defense in yards and points allowed. With a stingy unit, the offense doesn’t need to score 30-plus points per game. Flacco can still deliver the ball downfield with a strong arm. He’d also have two solid running backs, Leonard Fournette and Carlos Hyde, to carry the load on offense.
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The Chiefs parted ways with running back Kareem Hunt after TMZ released footage of him shoving and kicking a woman at a Cleveland hotel. He logged 1,202 yards from scrimmage in 11 appearances, which indicates the 23-year-old played a major role in a high-powered offense.
In recent weeks, running backs Spencer Ware and Damien Williams have carried the rushing load. The former will become an unrestricted free agent. According to Terez Paylor of Yahoo Sports, the Chiefs inked Williams to a two-year extension.
With a full year of tape on quarterback Patrick Mahomes, defenses may find ways to frustrate him in the pocket. The Chiefs should avoid laying heavy pressure on his arm to deliver from the pocket. While Williams has played well in an expanded role, he hasn’t logged more than 13 carries in a game.
A tailback capable of running and catching out of the backfield with a higher volume of touches can take some heat off the 23-year-old signal-caller in his third season. Though it’s not a popular name in some circles, Le’Veon Bell could provide a major spark to this offense.
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If you’ve watched quarterback Philip Rivers play, it’s clear he still possesses a burning passion for the game. The 37-year-old continues to perform at a high level, throwing 31 touchdown passes and just 10 interceptions while completing 68.8 percent of his attempts. The 15th-year veteran has led this squad to another postseason berth.
In 2019, Rivers will go into a contract term. He may opt to re-sign, but the Chargers have to think two to three years down the road. General manager Tom Telesco must avoid a situation similar to the New York Giants, who are stuck in quarterback limbo with Eli Manning clearly on the decline without a clear-cut successor in sight.
The Chargers may see another two optimal years out of Rivers, but the front office can dip into the draft pool for his long-term replacement during the spring. It’s an underwhelming class; potential starters may drop into the second or third rounds. Nevertheless, if the organization grows fond of a particular prospect with upside, he could develop as a backup for a few years.
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Defensive tackle Aaron Donald leads the league with 19.5 sacks. At 27 years old, there’s no sign that he’ll slow down following his best season. On the other hand, it’s not a solid plan to lay the lion’s share of pass-rushing responsibility on an interior defender who’s battling double- and triple-teams on most downs.
The Los Angeles Rams may not re-sign Ndamukong Suh to play the nose tackle position. He occupies offensive linemen to create space for Donald. If the 31-year-old doesn’t return, it’s more important to spread the pocket pressure. General manager Les Snead acquired Dante Fowler Jr. before the October trade deadline, but he’ll become a free agent in March.
The Rams sent a third-round pick and a 2020 fifth-rounder to the Jaguars to acquire Fowler. It won’t be a shocker if Snead pushes to re-sign him to a long-term deal. He can also take a cost-effective route and look toward the draft.
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Aging, finances and untapped potential rolled into one big question mark should turn the Miami Dolphins’ attention to their pass rush.
Cameron Wake has been a stalwart contributor on the defensive line over the last 10 seasons with 97.5 sacks, but he’s turning 37 years old in January and coming off his least productive year as a pass-rusher. The front office acquired Robert Quinn in a March trade with the Rams; he’s set to have a cap hit of $12.9 million next year. Is he worth that amount of cash? What’s Charles Harris’ outlook?
The Dolphins can keep Wake around as a situational pass-rusher similar to Julius Peppers’ role in Carolina, but the defense needs a younger talent to take over as the lead asset off the edge.
Quinn leads the team with 6.5 sacks, but that level of production doesn’t justify his pay rate. If he doesn’t take a pay cut, it’s hard to envision him back in Miami. Harris hasn’t played enough for a full assessment, but he’s been in the league two years and yet to make a significant impact in 26 games.
Fortunately for the Dolphins, they won’t have to chase after Demarcus Lawrence, Frank Clark or Jadeveon Clowney on the open market. The draft will supply high-end defensive talent—potentially into the second and third rounds.
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The Vikings rediscovered their ground attack after firing play-caller John DeFilippo, running for 320 yards over the last two outings. While it’s a good sign to see running back Dalvin Cook flash out of the backfield, the front office must do a better job at opening bigger lanes for the ball-carriers.
Left guard Tom Compton will hit the open market. According to ESPN.com’s Courtney Cronin, Mike Remmers hasn’t fared well in his transition from right tackle to right guard. “Minnesota could elect to move on from Mike Remmers, who was paid well to be the Vikings’ right tackle before moving inside to right guard, where he has struggled,” she wrote.
Remmers isn’t likely to move back to right tackle because the Vikings selected Brian O’Neill to take over the perimeter spot for the long term. Now stuck on the interior, which isn’t his natural position, he’s expendable.
Without him, the Vikings probably have to address both guard spots. If the seventh-year veteran remains on the roster, the front office would still need someone to push him for the starting role or fill the void at left guard.
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Whether you agree that quarterback Tom Brady has shown signs of decline or not, he’ll need more talent on the perimeter to move the ball through the air. The Patriots passing attack looks average, as tight end Rob Gronkowski is slowing down after nine years of wear and tear. As well, the league suspended Josh Gordon for multiple substance-abuse violations, per Ian Rapoport.
As he continues to age, Brady must have a dynamic perimeter playmaker to threaten the opposition downfield. We saw New England’s aerial attack pierce through pass defenses with Brandin Cooks last year. He logged a 1,000-yard season; the unit ranked second in yardage and third in touchdowns. The Patriots rank ninth and 17th in those categories this season.
The Patriots can’t go into the next term with Julian Edelman as their best pass-catching option. Gronkowski is averaging 54.8 receiving yards per game—his lowest mark since his rookie year. The decision to use a second-round pick on a wide receiver could boost Brady’s numbers and elevate the aerial attack.
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Right now, the Saints have their sights set on Super Bowl LIII. Once the postseason ends, it’s time to focus on the distant future—not just the next season. General manager Mickey Loomis sent a third-round pick to the New York Jets for Teddy Bridgewater in August. He’s arguably the second-best backup signal-caller behind Nick Foles, who has a Super Bowl MVP under his belt.
The Saints have a rare commodity at quarterback. Bridgewater possesses the experience of a veteran, but there’s room for immense growth in his game. The 26-year-old led the Vikings to the postseason in 2015. On the flip side, he’s started just 28 games—less than two full seasons.
Bridgewater has watched quarterback Drew Brees operate the offense and produce at a high level. With one year left on the 39-year-old signal-caller’s deal, the Saints have his understudy, who’s experienced some success in this league, ready to take over the controls.
Taysom Hill generates some excitement, but keeping Bridgewater could be the key for the Saints to remain a contender in the coming seasons.
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According to Ian Rapoport, Eli Manning’s recent performances have kept him in consideration as a potential starter next season. The New York Giants offense has also produced more points in the second half of the term. Before the Week 9 bye, Big Blue scored 27 or more points in two contests, but they’ve reached that mark in five games since.
It’s possible the offense needed time to adjust to new head coach Pat Shurmur’s schemes. Even if Manning opens the 2019 campaign as the starter, the Giants have to identify his successor. The 37-year-old signal-caller will enter the final year of his contract in the next term.
At this time, quarterback Kyle Lauletta hasn’t shown anything that suggests he’s the guy to take over for Manning. It’s partially because he’s been on the sideline watching the action. The rookie signal-caller has thrown five passes this season. Keep in mind he’s a fourth-round pick out of Richmond—not a highly-touted prospect.
If the Giants like a quarterback in the upcoming class, general manager Dave Gettleman should find a way to acquire him in the draft. The ideal passer would challenge Lauletta for the starting role in the post-Manning era or potentially unseat the veteran as the lead signal-caller during the offseason.
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Last offseason, the Jets moved up to No. 3 and selected quarterback Sam Darnold as their franchise centerpiece. He opened the season as a starter, and we’ve seen the good and bad in his game.
On one hand, the USC product extended plays and connected with his pass-catchers in tight windows. In other scenarios, the 21-year-old tossed several passes to the opponent. Along with Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Darnold leads the league in interceptions with 15.
Don’t worry about the interceptions as the rookie adjusts to the professional level. He’ll likely have a new head coach after a third consecutive season with at least 11 losses under Todd Bowles. Regardless of who replaces the lead skipper, Gang Green must protect their franchise signal-caller.
It’s the offensive line that’s concerning going into the offseason. Primary starting left guard James Carpenter will become a free agent in March. Right tackle Brandon Shell suffered an atypical knee injury that could keep him out for a longer period. The Jets could benefit from an upgrade at right guard too; here’s a Bleacher Report scouting report on Brian Winters coming into the season:
“This season (2017), his play dipped even more. The problem with Winters is simple: He offers nothing from a play strength perspective and can’t drive defenders off the ball. And given that problem is pretty hard to fix, it’s hard to imagine Winters being a guy that justifies his contract over the next two seasons.”
The commitment to provide pass protection and complement Darnold’s arm with a strong ground attack would expedite the rookie signal-caller’s development. Without quality guards or a solid right tackle, it’s hard to envision his improvement with so much pressure to create something out of nothing in a shaky pocket.
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According to Football Outsiders, the Oakland Raiders fielded the best offensive line during the 2016 campaign in terms of pass protection. That rank dropped to seventh last season, but quarterback Derek Carr only took 20 sacks. Now, the Silver and Black list 26th in the category.
Yes, the Raiders have two rookie offensive tackles, Kolton Miller and Brandon Parker, who’ve started on the perimeter, and the former battled through knee injuries midway through the year. However, using Football Outsiders’ metrics, Tom Cable‘s offensive lines have never ranked higher than 20th in pass protection while he served as a position coach, dating back to his first NFL job with the Falcons.
Clearly, Cable doesn’t have an impressive resume when it comes to protecting the quarterback. Carr has taken 48 sacks through 15 contests. He’s one of three signal-callers who’ve been sacked three or more times in at least 11 games.
Carr hasn’t thrown an interception since Week 5. He’s shown signs of improvement in head coach Jon Gruden’s offense in recent weeks. However, the Raiders won’t see the best of him in a weak pocket. The team should strongly consider quitting Cable for an upgrade.
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For the second consecutive year, quarterback Carson Wentz is finishing the season on the sideline. While it’s premature to call him injury-prone, the Eagles may want to help him avoid taking unnecessary hits. The coaching staff can pair with him a do-it-all running back capable of running, catching and blocking in the backfield.
Running back Jay Ajayi will test the open market. Darren Sproles turns 36 years old next year as an unrestricted free agent. Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood have yet to prove they’re able to handle expanded workloads. Neither played more than 30 percent of the offensive snaps this year. Josh Adams has shown potential, but he’s not much of a pass-catching threat.
Clement and Smallwood can fill in the gaps on third down as solid receivers, but the Eagles could land a prospect capable of playing all three downs with the ability to handle multiple responsibilities at a high level. A game-changer at running back takes away the need for Wentz to recklessly extend himself in an attempt to make a play.
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The Pittsburgh Steelers have to maintain their physical play style up front. Left guard Ramon Foster will become a free agent.
Barring an extension, the Steelers should search the free-agent pool or take an offensive lineman within the first two days of the upcoming draft. At 36 years old, Ben Roethlisberger shouldn’t lead the league in pass attempts as he does this season (630). As mentioned, he’s also tied with Sam Darnold for a league-leading 15 interceptions.
Going into the final year of his contract, Roethlisberger should lean more on the ground attack. Pittsburgh’s strong offensive line helped James Conner emerge as a rising star. In Week 15, rookie tailback Jaylen Samuels feasted on the Patriots run defense, logging 142 yards on 19 carries. In order to keep the ball-carriers rolling on the ground, the Steelers must place offensive guard atop their roster needs list.
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It’s not a guarantee that Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa will be available for the San Francisco 49ers, who currently hold the No. 2 overall pick in the draft. General manager John Lynch could swing for the fences during free agency.
According to Spotrac, the 49ers will have a projected $59 million to spend in 2019. Demarcus Lawrence, Frank Clark and Jadeveon Clowney could hit the open market, though it’s likely their respective teams will use the franchise tag or sign them to massive deals.
If any of the three tests the market, Lynch has to pick up the phone and aggressively court a pass-rusher capable of changing his defense. DeForest Buckner, San Francisco’s sack leader, lines up on the inside. A threat off the edge could force quarterbacks to step up in the pocket right into the defensive tackle’s arms.
With Cassius Marsh as the top playmaker at defensive end (5.5 sacks), the 49ers desperately need someone to apply pressure off the edge.
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After going through a contract dispute with the front office during the offseason, safety Earl Thomas will likely move on to a new destination. Before sustaining a lower leg fracture, the three-time All-Pro played four games. He’s still tied with Bradley McDougald for a team-leading three interceptions.
While McDougald has put together his best year, the Seahawks can pair him with a high-end coverage safety. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Tyrann Mathieu and Tre Boston will look for new deals in the offseason. They have logged a combined eight interceptions this year.
The Seahawks have 24 takeaways this season, but it’s difficult to remain near the top in this category because of the randomness of pass deflections and unpredictable bounces on any given play. Nevertheless, Seattle can increase its chances with a deep safety talent who’s shown a knack for forcing turnovers. The acquisition would compensate for losing Thomas in the secondary.
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston has had more than enough to time to solidify his starting spot with the organization. He battled with Ryan Fitzpatrick to keep his job this season. It’s not a good sign for a signal-caller going into the final year of his deal.
The Buccaneers may have new decision-makers in place during the offseason, which adds more uncertainty to Winston’s tenure with the team. His uneven play doesn’t give him the benefit of the doubt. Tampa Bay won’t have to bench or trade the 24-year-old right away, but the front office should take a quarterback to develop for the long term.
If a rookie signal-caller shows enough in practice or in fill-in duty, the Buccaneers would be able to entertain trade offers for Winston. Without a quarterback-in-waiting, Tampa Bay runs the risk of going through another season fielding a passer with a tentative long-term outlook.
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Perhaps it’s due to an offense still in the early development stages, but Taywan Taylor and Tajae Sharpe profile as tertiary wide receiver options in the passing attack. The latter is coming off a lost season because of foot surgery. Both pass-catchers have flashed this year with a 100-yard performance.
Still, the Tennessee Titans should take another shot at a high-potential prospect at the position. Going into a contract year and a second term under offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, quarterback Marcus Mariota has much to prove as the long-term solution under center. He’s not a high-volume passer, averaging fewer than 240 yards per contest in each of his four seasons.
The Titans can test Mariota’s ability to elevate his game as a passer with more capable weapons around him. Another high-end acquisition would serve as a test at a crucial time in his career.
This year’s draft presents intriguing options with a combination of size and speed at wide receiver: N’Keal Harry, JJ Arcega-Whiteside and Riley Ridley, to name a few. The best option would complement Corey Davis on the perimeter with Taylor and Sharpe rounding out the top four within the group.
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The Redskins have no idea when quarterback Alex Smith will return to action. He’s battled infections stemming from surgeries on a broken leg. Regardless of his status, the front office will have to him pay $71 million guaranteed.
Washington would need to take a cost-effective route to work around the uncertainty that surrounds Smith’s career. Here’s a quick thought: Sign Ryan Fitzpatrick and draft a quarterback within the first two rounds.
The Redskins can ride a one-year run from Fitzpatrick, who’s flashed in spurts with several teams—most recently Tampa Bay. The decision to pick up a prospect prepares the franchise for the future.
Smith has four more years on his deal. If he doesn’t play another down, Washington would have a young passer who’s spent some time in the system and an experienced quarterback capable of bridging the transition between himself and the future centerpiece of the offense.
Player contract details courtesy of Spotrac.com.