Ahh, the regular season is finally over and it is time for the NFL playoffs! That of course means that for the vast majority of NFL teams the time has come to study the salary cap and check out big name free agents, pour over mock drafts, and most importantly fire coaches and front office folks. But don’t worry, in a few weeks time, all but two other teams in the league will be doing the same exact thing. We are getting it started early here as we look at each team in the NFL and make our bold predictions as to what could be their biggest off-season moves.
32. Arizona Cardinals: Trade Away Stars
The main job in Arizona will be to figure out how a team that everyone thought of as a favorite for this year’s Super Bowl somehow put out such an average season. At the same time they might want to figure out a way to adjust their scheme to give David Johnson the ball every single play because he might be the best player in the NFL. Assuming Carson Palmer sticks around they should have a good QB. Assuming the free agents on defense stick around they have a solid base there as well. If that does not happen, which is possible then they will lose some quality players to free agency that will need to be replaced. One interesting way to get some replacements might be to trade one of their most valuable pieces. Larry Fitzgerald is looking to be on a contender and depending on how many players are lost to free agency and if it looks like Carson Palmer is near the end, the Cardinals best choice may be to send him to a team that might be a little closer to the promised land who can offer them something decent in return.
31. Atlanta Falcons: Sign Some Defense
With one of the best offenses in the NFL, the Falcons have no problems on that side of the ball. Like every other year however, they still need some help on defense so that is probably where they will look to add someone. They have gotten pretty good production from Vic Beasley so why not go back to the well and grab another Clemson player like defensive lineman in Carlos Watkins. Or maybe grab defensive back Cordea Tankersley. Even if they do not make it to the Super Bowl this year, they at least know that they are close. That probably means they might be in a win now mode and could look to the free agent market to get a defensive star to put them over the top. If Jamie Collins leaves the Browns, or if Chandler Jones can be tempted away from the Cardinals, they would be two great choices. Or maybe coach Dan Quinn wants to put together a new version of the Legion of Boom and grab a defensive back.
30. Baltimore Ravens: Find Future Stars
Although they always seem to need help at receiver, the Ravens usually end up getting by with lower priced wide-outs and speedy deep threat types without ever getting a stud number one receiver. Baltimore could also use an upgrade at running back, or really, maybe a better offensive coordinator to get more out of the parts they have. But who are we kidding, the Ravens M.O. has always been defense and they always seem to replenish that side of the ball. Their biggest need is probably pass rushers since Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil are nearing the end of their time as difference makers. Suggs will still probably be around for a while but it is definitely high time to try to find someone to replace him. The Ravens are not really in win-now mode, they do like to build through the draft, and missing the playoffs means they are smack dab in the middle this year with the 16th pick so that seems to be their best bet at finding the next Terrell Suggs.
29. Buffalo Bills: New Coach
This one is easy, find a new coach and a defensive coordinator. It also looks like they are planning on getting rid of Tyrod Taylor, so a quarterback is also on the list of necessities. In truth the Bills seemed like a worse team than they actually were, finishing one game under .500 at 7-9. But a Bills team without a QB and with a new coach might be on the downswing rather than the upswing. On the other hand if their players who missed a lot of time with injuries come back next year in good shape, that would bode well for improvement. The Bills being the Bills, and not exactly being a marquee job, expect a possible retread. Oh look, there’s Jeff Fisher! Bonus fact, the past two teams that Fisher coached, relocated cities during his tenure (Oilers/Titans and STL/LA Rams). So if they do hire Fisher maybe we will get the London or Toronto Bills in a couple years.
28. Carolina Panthers: Protection for Newton
The Panthers would love to un-rescind the franchise tag they removed from Josh Norman last off-season if that was possible. But it is not, which means the secondary they damaged when they let Norman bolt is still a problem. They also need to protect Cam Newton since the refs sometimes fail to do so. Keeping your franchise quarterback upright and uninjured is probably more important. And besides, no matter who they found at corner-back, they would still have trouble containing Julio Jones, Mike Evans, and whichever 1000 yard receiver Drew Brees is throwing to over six games every season. One good thing about not returning to the Super Bowl this year is they are over 20 spots further up in the draft this time so they could have access to a potential long term starter whichever way they choose to go. But they should keep in mind; the best protection for one Cam is another Cam.
27. Chicago Bears: Cut Cutler, Look Elsewhere
The Bears were among the worst teams in the NFL this year but their defense may be workable. Their offense on the other hand needs a lot of help. They do have something in running back Jordan Howard but he needs some help from somewhere. The Bears need to figure out their quarterback situation if they move on from Jay Cutler. If free agent Alshon Jeffery decides to relocate to a new team somewhere else, they will also need to come up with some more bodies for a quarterback to throw the ball to. If they somehow manage to get their hands on both of those things, they are probably also in the market for an offensive coordinator. Needless to say, they have a lot of needs.
26. Cincinnati Bengals: New Offensive Coordinator
After having missed the playoffs for the first time in a few years, the Bengals need to figure out what went wrong this time because it was more than just losing A.J. Green. The offense was not as explosive as in years past and it only had one main difference from last year. That would be losing offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. Now it would be nice to get another receiver to complement A.J. Green, they could use help at running back, and they definitely want to retain their free agents on both sides of the ball, but since Andy Dalton is probably just an above average quarterback, it would help a lot to have a good offensive mind calling his plays.
25. Cleveland Browns: Draft Another QB
For the 25th consecutive year (approximately) the Browns will choose a mediocre quarterback with their first pick in the NFL Draft… okay maybe not. The new team in the front office in Cleveland seems to be a bit more thoughtful and smart with their perspective on team building, looking to collect draft picks rather than reach for questionable players.. That said, they still need a quarterback. And they do have the number one pick in the NFL Draft. Based on the moves they have made in previous years they would grab Deshaun Watson and throw him to the wolves in his first game. But maybe this more analytically minded front office might have a new strategy. The most fun scenario is also the least likely but… what if the Browns pulled a Sixers style tank-job? They have two first round picks this year. Trade one to the Bears for their 2018 first rounder and one to the 49ers for their 2018 first rounder and give themselves three very good chances at the number one selection in 2018. Boom! Sam Darnold of USC, the best looking QB since Andrew Luck to the Browns. Okay, so that is not going to happen. But it would be sweet if it did. The Browns will probably do something safe and smart and take Myles Garrett.
24. Dallas Cowboys: Trade Romo
Cowboys fans everywhere are hoping the biggest move they will make in the off-season is planning a parade for winning the Super Bowl. Outside of that, dealing with Tony Romo is probably the top duty on the list. The options are varied as they could keep him, trade him, or if nothing else, just release him. The best choice would be a trade, and with the number of teams out there with really good defenses and really bad quarterbacks that are preventing them from doing anything, they should have a lot of strong suitors. With his huge contract, keeping him is the least financially sound option as $20 million dollars is a lot to pay for a backup. If a team thinks they can get his normal production out of him for another few years they will jump at the chance. It is a risk however because of his injury history.
23. Denver Broncos: New Coach
The number one move the Denver Broncos suddenly need to make is to hire a coach now that Gary Kubiak has decided to retire for health reasons. But unlike most coaching changes which are based on the coach failing, this coach is not someone who they wanted to get rid of. Considering Kubiak and his system were solid, they might want to get a coach that will provide some continuity. They also definitely want to keep their defensive coordinator Wade Phillips who got their defense to its current elite level. The Broncos have two young QBs who have had good moments and could both be solid pros. Ideally they want to find a coach to bring along their quarterbacks, probably rejuvenate their running game, and keep their defense as is. It might help if they have a connection to Denver and GM John Elway as well. There is a pretty obvious choice, the son of Broncos Super Bowl winning coach Mike Shanahan, current Falcons OC Kyle.
22. Detroit Lions: Build On Defense
The Detroit Lions had a number of exciting fourth quarter comebacks this season and they did make the playoffs but the team still seems to be lacking in some areas. The offense is solid with Matthew Stafford and he has some good weapons such as Golden Tate. That leaves the defense as the area to work on. The Lions are not that great at getting pressure and would probably be happy with someone who could provide it on the edge or inside. Other options would be to juice the secondary with some DB depth or find a good coverage linebacker. They may not want to wait until the 21st pick in the draft for these needs so look for them to fill some with a free agent or two.
21. Green Bay Packers: Draft Another Target For Rodgers
After 10 games it was within the realm of possibility that the Packers could have fired coach Mike McCarthy. Even now, if they end up getting bounced quickly from the playoffs, folks might continue to grumble about him. But the thing that will probably keep him safe is Aaron Rodgers. With Aaron Rodgers in the fold the playoffs are pretty much a given, even when you start the season 4-6. You also don’t really need to search hard for receivers because Rodgers automatically makes good ones better. It is probably smart to always try to add O-Line depth so you can keep him safe though. But really, when you have such a solid offense you can concentrate on improving your defense and that is what the Packers have done in the past few years. It would be a safe bet for them to do that again by grabbing a corner-back or a good coverage linebacker. Or if they really want to shake things up they might want to replace Dom Capers at defensive coordinator. Basically, they are in a position of strength. Keep tweaking and upgrading and they should be fine. Or if something perfect drops in their lap, they could give Rodgers another weapon.
20. Houston Texans: Sign Another QB
The big move for the Texans last season was to sign a quarterback. They did that. But… it did not work. Now they are committed to Brock Osweiler through next year so they might as well keep him. Their defense on the other hand is still excellent despite a year with no J.J. Watt. Imagine if a team with the number one defense acquired a Hall of Fame defender in the off-season. That is basically the situation in Houston next year. They have a definite window to contend so they need to figure out how to score some points. As we saw with the Broncos last year, and a lot of other teams over the years for that matter, you can get pretty far with a superb defense. A QB who is not going to hurt you and an offense who can keep the other team off the field is what could work; which means a strong running game. If they can bolster their O-Line and maybe get a QB who is also a threat to run they might be able to turn into an off-brand Cowboys attack and really become a contender.
19. Indianapolis Colts: Fire Some Management
In a world of smart owners (which is NOT a world we live in) the main move that the Colts would make is dumping their coach and GM. Even with a not very smart owner, the Colts might still do this anyway now that they are not going to the playoffs. With one of the best quarterbacks in the world they are automatically in better shape than at least 85% of the league including a few playoff teams. They have been working on helping out their offensive line to protect Luck but it is still a work in progress. Incidentally, that should be another indictment of their front office. If they can somehow put some good people in charge of team building, they already have the most important piece they need. Then all they need to do is acquire some solid accessories and the playoffs should be reachable for the foreseeable future.
18. Jacksonville Jaguars: Bulk Up The O-Line
Apparently the scouting department for the Jacksonville Jaguars does not have a very big travel budget because almost one-third of all of the Jaguars draft picks in the last five years, including their first round pick in three straight years have gone to school somewhere in Florida. If they keep up the tradition we are looking at Dalvin Cook or DeMarcus Walker from Florida State or Teez Tabor from Florida. Incidentally they would all be reasonable selections. However, the more pressing need is to figure out what to do with Blake Bortles. He probably needs at least one more year to establish himself but things are not looking too positive. One way to give him a chance is to work on giving him some better protection. With the number four pick in the draft they can take any linemen they want but the question is, are there any who are worth reaching for. A better move might be to trade down then they can collect more items from their shopping list.
17. Kansas City Chiefs: Add To Lines
The Chiefs could be one and done in the playoffs or they could make it to the Super Bowl. The team is definitely good but you just never know with them. Assuming they make it to, and then lose in the AFC championship game, they will probably aim to shore up their offensive and defensive lines as that is pretty much Andy Reid’s favorite thing to do with his teams. Their run defense might be the biggest weakness for the team so it would make sense to work on the D-Line anyway. KC might also consider looking at acquiring another running back as well unless they are confident that Jamaal Charles will be back.
16. Los Angeles Rams: Protect Goff
The Rams obviously need a new coach. They also need to figure out if Jared Goff is any good. They also need to replenish their draft stock. So they are thinking about trading for Sean Payton to be coach? Hmmm… As a team with a new, young quarterback, the more likely path is to start adding pieces that will help Goff. Considering they also have one of the most dynamic running backs in the game with Todd Gurley, they should probably find some good offensive linemen which could help both players. Assuming the Payton thing does not pan out they can probably find good receivers for Goff in the later rounds of the draft so they should spend freely on some lineman in free agency.
15. Miami Dolphins: Strengthen Defense
Having made the playoffs, the Dolphins will probably double down on their current path, believing that what they have been doing is what got them to the playoffs this year, so it should continue to work (this formula does not alway prove effective but logic dictates that a team should continue with what brought them success). Adam Gase did a good job with Ryan Tannehill but he is still an average QB. The defense still needs help against the run as well as improvement in the secondary. With a few select cuts the Dolphins could free up some cap space to try to fill their needs with free agents. Look for Miami to go that route, dumping an expensive older player and opening the checkbook again for a big name defender.
14. Minnesota Vikings: Trade Bradford
The number one priority for the Vikings in the off-season will be the return of their injured quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Assuming he makes it back okay and continues to develop, they will also want to figure out why the team disintegrated over the second half of the season after looking like the best team in the league early on. Having traded away their first round pick for Sam Bradford, the draft probably won’t provide much opportunity for quick improvement. That said, based on Bradford’s good year, and the number of good teams who are just a QB away from contending, maybe the Vikings could flip him if they are confident in Bridgewater’s return. Bradford was worth a first round pick earlier this year, and he had a better season than his previous one so maybe he is worth even more now.
13. New England Patriots: Trade Garoppolo
There is a pretty good chance that the Patriots will NOT fire Bill Belichick. There is almost as good a chance that they will NOT waive Tom Brady. That said, knowing Belicheck, they could easily cut any other player on the roster. They will probably also sign a bunch of nobodies you’ve never even heard of. And then they will win 13 games next year and go to the AFC Championship game again. The Patriots do have a valuable item that many teams would love to get their hands on however, especially considering the QBs available in the draft leave a lot to be desired. Belichick loves acquiring draft picks so don’t be surprised if he collects some more by trading Jimmy Garoppolo.
12. New Orleans Saints: Sign Pass Rusher
Is it time to trade Drew Brees for a boatload of draft picks and start on the rebuild? What about Sean Payton? The latest chatter involves the idea of Sean Payton heading off to coach the LA Rams. A trade is probably the only way to make that happen. If it did happen one would assume that the Saints could get a giant haul for him. On the other hand, the Rams got fleeced last year when they moved up to the number one spot in the draft to grab Jared Goff so they do not have much in the cupboard to offer. Not to mention, would Payton want to go to a team that would then not have much in the way of talent and/or draft picks for him to work with? The more likely, and much less fun scenario is the Saints chasing a pass rusher again to help out their defense.
11. New York Giants: Draft a RB
The Giants seem pretty solid all around and even have the slight feel of the previous two Giants teams that ruined two different Patriots seasons in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI. At the same time, this is also a team that nobody predicted would be that good this year. The difference between expectations and how it turned out was a lot of very good luck with free agent signings that turned their defense into a force. Assuming they can keep their team together and their successful free agent signings continue to play well next year, the Giants mainly need to juice their offense and maybe add some depth to their defense. One spot that has traditionally been important with the Giants has been running back, but they don’t really have much at that position at the moment. With a lot of good running backs in the draft look for the Giants to take advantage.
10. New York Jets: Sign Cutler
The Jets need a quarterback and they don’t really have much to offer in a trade for Tony Romo. One thing they could certainly do, which would probably not be a good move, or a smart move, but it would definitely be a very Jets-y move, is to go out and sign Jay Cutler. The fact is, before the season it was thought that the Jets were close to being a legit playoff team with a strong defense despite their weakness at quarterback. After the season it is apparent that they have weaknesses everywhere. They have talent on defense but it has not really performed this season which could be the players or could be the coaches. The big red flag though is always the QB and the Jets will probably try to sign one. Although there is one thing that would be more Jets-y than NY signing Cutler, which is if they went out and re-signed Ryan Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith.
9. Oakland Raiders: Sign a Backup QB
Apparently the Raiders need to find a good backup quarterback. After going 13-3 they seem to be solid on both sides of the ball as long as Derek Carr comes back next season at or near this year’s form. But in order to avoid depending on Matt McGloin in the future, the Raiders might want to grab a solid veteran backup QB. Ideally they would be able to grab someone with starting experience like Mark Sanchez or Matt Schaub. One idea might be Ryan Fitzpatrick. Obviously he is not starter material and this past year with the Jets was memorable for many wrong reasons, but as a backup he is better than serviceable and could probably do fine in some spot starts if necessary. Also, he did just get paid by the Jets so you don’t need to be a Harvard man to know a few million more for holding a clipboard might be a good way to continue your career.
8. Philadelphia Eagles: Sign A WR
Based on their early season success, the Philadelphia Eagles defense looks like it can be dependable with a few upgrades and some added depth. Assuming everyone is still all in on the Wentz Wagon, the Eagles do not need a quarterback either. Now whenever a team decides they have their new quarterback, the very next thing they want to do is surround him with weapons. The Eagles have decent tight ends and okay running backs but they have not had a great wide receiver in a while. If they want Carson Wentz to avoid becoming a bust, that might be their best choice. You can also always consider linemen to protect him or an upgrade in the backfield but without someone to throw to, the Wentz Wagon might as well only have three wheels.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers: Build On Defense
The Steelers offense is a potential juggernaut. It has shown flashes this year of being unstoppable with LeVeon Bell and Antonio Brown as BenRoethlisberger’s top two weapons, but at other times it has run a little bit clunkier than it should. Nevertheless, Pittsburgh probably does not need to mess with it, as it will most likely get revving properly when it needs to. On the other side of the ball the Steelers need more help. They did not have much in the way of a pass rush this year so they probably want to address that. The Steelers are known for building through the draft, so do not look for them to spend money in free agency.
6. San Diego Chargers: Moving To Los Angeles?
Just by virtue of all of their players who should return from injury, the Chargers should look like a new and improved team next year without doing anything. One thing they might want to do is find a new medical and training staff however. After firing Mike McCoy we know one move will be getting a new coach. Within a week or so we will also find out if they are moving to Los Angeles. That means another possible move would be to find new homes for everyone in Los Angeles. They are set for the moment at QB and they found a great pass rusher in Nick Bosa. Casey Heyward is also a solid piece at DB. That leaves their biggest needs on the offensive line, possibly at safety, and maybe some extra receivers in case the injuries return. The biggest move though trumps any on field stuff and that is the decision to move… or not to move… to Los Angeles.
5. San Francisco 49ers: Hire A GM and Coach
Firing Chip Kelly and Trent Balke is an attempt at restarting everything for the San Francisco 49ers, but then again firing the coach at the end of the year in both of the past two seasons were ALSO attempts at restarting everything. When it gets down to it, the best hope for 49ers fans is if someone could fire Jed York, but unfortunately he is the son of the owner so he is probably with them for the duration. The fact that York has fired a coach in three straight seasons might be a red flag for any high quality coach they might be looking at which could be a problem. And even when they do find one they still need a QB, linemen, a front seven, a secondary, receivers, and everything else.
4. Seattle Seahawks: Protect Wilson
The Seahawks have one responsibility and one responsibility only; find some freakin’ linemen to protect Russell Wilson. You’ve got one job GM! The defense is obviously still one of the best, especially since it looks like Earl Thomas is returning from his injury. The offense is pretty decent too, with Jimmy Graham at tight end, and they are obviously set at QB with Russell Wilson… unless he gets murdered by an opposing defensive end, which is possible with their current offensive line. The question is, will they chase one in free agency, in the draft, or via trade. If they are smart they will probably try all of the above. But most likely they will aim for someone in free agency and then complement that with a draft pick.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Draft A WR
The Buccaneers are set at quarterback for the time being with Jameis Winston. He has a grasp of what he is doing, and he has the skills. The main thing he needs to work on is making better decisions. Winston has always been a great quarterback at the various levels he has played at. That means he has always had confidence that he could make the throws and get the ball into the windows to make completions. What that means in the NFL is that sometimes the window you are certain you can get the ball into, closes even faster than you could imagine… and then you have an interception. With one super dependable receiver in Mike Evans, Winston knows he can get the ball to him even if the coverage is tight. But it also means sometimes if the coverage is too good. or if he misses by even a little, it could spell disaster. Another solid receiving option would mean Winston does not have to laser it into Evans every time with little room for error. If he had someone else he was comfortable with, it would take the pressure off and make life easier for both him and Evans.
2. Tennessee Titans: Draft On Both Sides Of The Ball
The exotic smash-mouth offense of the Titans was actually not bad this year. Without Marcus Mariota getting injured at the end of the season they may have even made the playoffs (in fact, they were looking good). This team is ready to take the next step, especially considering they play in the AFC South. Obviously the offense is okay, although adding a lineman would always help, and a top notch receiver would provide more weapons for Mariota as well. The defense though is probably the top priority especially the secondary. Considering they have two first round picks however, they have a great opportunity to add quality to both sides of the ball.
1. Washington Redskins: Sign Cousins
After playing with the franchise tag for this past season Kirk Cousins is hoping that his performance this year has earned him a long term contract. He did throw for almost 5000 yards. But he also tossed an ugly game/season-ending interception against the Giants which also extinguished their playoff hopes. Depending on how the Washington front office feels about this season, and the last game, and what they believe it may foretell for his long term prospects, the team may look to franchise him again. In order to sign Cousins the Redskins know they will have to shell out a lot of money over a bunch of years, probably with a big guarantee. If they are worried about Cousins slipping towards mediocrity as his career progresses, and want to avoid getting stuck with an onerous deal, they would be willing to franchise him again.
Projection: Sign Cousins to a long term deal.