Every NFL Team's 2016 Offseason To-Do List
For each of the NFL’s 32 franchises, it’s time to put 2015 in the past and look ahead to the league’s 97th season.
From the Super Bowl 50 champion Denver Broncos all the way to a pair of 3-13 teams in the Tennessee Titans and Cleveland Browns, there are players to release or re-sign, new coaches and staffs to adjust to and that never-ending list of unexpected problems that come with players being human beings.
The goal for all of these clubs is to be better in 2016. Yes, even the defending champion Broncos, who have some issues to resolve if they are to repeat roughly one year from now.
How does this happen? This may be a copycat league, but the game plan is different for every franchise.
Here, we take an early glance at some of the initial offseason blueprints for each organization. In some instances, the same key issues have been problematic for more than one season.
Keep an eye on every move in the NFL over the next month or so as franchises prepare for the start of the next fiscal year on March 9.
Arizona Cardinals: 13-3 in 2015 (Lost NFC Championship Game)
- Augment secondary
- Bolster offensive line
- Improve pass rush
Unfortunately, the Arizona Cardinals’ highly successful 2015 campaign ended with a whimper.
After setting a franchise record with 13 wins in 2015 and securing the No. 2 seed in the NFC, Bruce Arians’ team fell one win and 35 points away from Super Bowl 50.
The erratic finish by the Cards featured a 38-8 win over the Packers in Week 16, followed by a 36-6 setback to Seattle seven days later—both games at home. Then came a sensational overtime win over Green Bay in the divisional round (26-20), followed by a 49-15 loss in the NFC title game at Carolina.
Win by 30, lose by 30, win by six and lose by 34.
Whatever the reason, Arians’ talented team ran out of gas at year’s end. Rookie running back David Johnson was a big positive, and veteran wideout Larry Fitzgerald looked renewed, but it was hard to tell if quarterback Carson Palmer slumped at the end of the year or was hampered by a finger injury.
In any case, this team has its share of players to re-sign both on the offensive line and in the secondary. Safety Tyrann Mathieu's late-season ACL tear is of concern, while strong safety Rashad Johnson is set to hit the open market. And take away the nine sacks the Cardinals racked up against the Packers in late December and Arizona’s defense produced only 27 sacks in its other 15 regular-season outings.
Atlanta Falcons: 8-8 in 2015 (2nd Place, NFC South)
- Fix the pass rush (NFL-low 19 sacks)
- Find eventual successor for WR Roddy White
- Get more help on offensive line
After winning a combined 10 games from 2013 to 2014, the Atlanta Falcons looked like they were on their way to a startling comeback season under new head coach Dan Quinn.
A surprising 5-0 start morphed into a 3-8 record in the team’s last 11 games. Yes, one of those three victories came at the expense of the Super Bowl-bound Carolina Panthers, but it couldn’t hide what amounted to a disappointing collapse.
While second-year running back Devonta Freeman tied for the NFL lead in total touchdowns (14), quarterback Matt Ryan had just as many turnovers as touchdown passes (21). With 34-year-old Roddy White on the decline, could the Falcons be looking for help at wide receiver in the draft?
Finally, it seems as if the lack of pass rush is a constant subject with this club. So how’s this for a little perspective? The Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos totaled an NFL-high 52 sacks this season. The Falcons have dropped opposing quarterbacks a combined 41 times in their last 32 contests dating back to 2014.
Baltimore Ravens: 5-11 in 2015 (3rd Place, AFC North)
- Find a wide receiver
- Re-emphasize the running game
- Restructure contract of QB Joe Flacco
For the first time under head coach John Harbaugh, the Baltimore Ravens enter the offseason coming off a losing campaign.
Of course, losing the likes of outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, wide receiver Steve Smith Sr., quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Justin Forsett to injuries would not help any team’s cause.
But even before some of those huge names went down, the team struggled to move the football, as new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman wasn’t as persistent with the running game as Gary Kubiak, the man he replaced in Baltimore. The team ranked 26th in the NFL in rushing this past season after finishing eighth the previous year.
After talking about retirement, Smith opted to return for his 16th NFL season and his third with the Ravens. Meanwhile, 2015 first-round wideout Breshad Perriman looks to bounce back following a lost season.
Buffalo Bills: 8-8 in 2015 (3rd Place, AFC East)
- Re-sign T Cordy Glenn and G Richie Incognito
- Re-evaluate defense
- Resolve salary-cap issues
Although there was some promise with the 2015 offseason hiring of new head coach Rex Ryan, the Buffalo Bills took a step backward in terms of their win-loss record and still haven’t been to the playoffs since 1999.
While the team led the NFL in rushing this past season, the defensive side of the football was simply toasted too many times.
In a recent conversation with ESPN NFL Insider Josina Anderson (via Mike Rodak of ESPN.com), defensive end Mario Williams had this to say (and more) about last year’s defensive issue.
We were building a defense that we can go and shut people down, shut people out, and then all of a sudden everything just changes as far as how the players are used. That’s just kind of odd to me. ... I’m not saying that the scheme is wrong, I’m just saying that our strengths could be utilized better. ... In our meetings defensively, especially in our defensive line room, we said, ‘Can we go straight? Can we just go? Can we turn it loose?’
After totaling 57 sacks in 2013 and an NFL-high 54 sacks the season before Ryan’s arrival, the Bills finished with a mere 21 sacks in 2015.
It will be interesting to see what changes are indeed made. Meanwhile, if that top-ranked ground attack hopes to enjoy another stellar showing this fall, retaining the left-side combo of tackle Cordy Glenn and guard Richie Incognito would be advisable.
Of course, there's also the ever-evolving and disturbing story regarding running back LeSean McCoy, something that warrants close scrutiny.
Carolina Panthers: 15-1 in 2015 (Lost Super Bowl 50)
- Forget Super Bowl 50 loss
- Evaluate offensive tackle position
- Re-sign or franchise CB Josh Norman
A lot has been made about Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and his postgame attitude following the 24-10 loss to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50.
No doubt many of his critics would prefer he remains speechless, like most of us were watching Wade Phillips defense hold the highest scoring team in the league in 2015 to 10 points.
But it’s already a new year and now the Panthers must fix what ailed them on Super Sunday. And the least of their issues is Newton. The Denver Broncos’ potent pass rush exploited the line and sacked Cam Newton six times on the afternoon. It was a rough afternoon for tackles Michael Oher and Mike Remmers so there’s some work to be done there.
As for the Carolina secondary, both All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman and veteran strong safety Roman Harper are potential unrestricted free agents and it is quite hard to believe Norman is going anywhere.
Chicago Bears: 6-10 in 2015 (4th Place, NFC North)
- Decide on the future of RB Matt Forte and WR Alshon Jeffery
- Adapt to new offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains
- Get more help on defense
Remember when the Chicago Bears were one of the laughingstocks of the league during a 0-3 start in which they were outscored a combined 105-46?
John Fox’s first season in the Windy City was a work in progress all season, but the Bears worked their way back to respectability for the remainder of the season, going 6-7 the rest of the way with six of those losses by seven points or less.
But will the 2016 team include running back Matt Forte and wideout Alshon Jeffery? Jeremy Langford is waiting in the wings in place of Forte and performed well as a rookie this past season. The Bears are also anxious to see what receiver Kevin White (who missed all of 2015 due to injury) brings to this team.
And while quarterbacks coach/now offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains had a hand in Jay Cutler’s development in 2015, can he push the right buttons with the veteran quarterback as well as Adam Gase did this past year?
Cincinnati Bengals: 12-4 in 2015 (Lost AFC Wild Card Playoffs)
- Address potential free-agent losses on defense
- Ensure health of QB Andy Dalton
- Address potential free-agent losses at wide receiver
It’s an interesting time for a franchise that has reached the playoffs five straight years.
Then again, the Cincinnati Bengals have done nothing with that prosperity, as they still haven’t won a postseason game since 1990 and are 0-7 in the playoffs under head coach Marvin Lewis.
Offensively, there’s the matter of quarterback Andy Dalton, who was having a banner year before he broke his right thumb in December. According to Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com, the fifth-year signal-caller hasn’t tested his hand to date.
“Not throwing yet because we are being very conservative with it,” Dalton said. “I feel like I can throw but no reason to push anything right now. I have plenty of time now to get 100 percent.”
While A.J. Green returns, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Brandon Tate can all hit the free-agent market on March 9.
On the other side of the ball, NFL Media’s Albert Breer reported (via Chris Wesseling of NFL.com) that linebacker Vontaze Burfict’s appeal of his three-game suspension to start the 2016 season has been denied. He knocked out Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown in the fourth quarter of the AFC Wild Card Game.
As for the rest of the defense, the Bengals have nine potential unrestricted free agents, including safeties Reggie Nelson and George Iloka, linebacker Vincent Rey, defensive end Wallace Gilberry and cornerback Adam Jones.
Cleveland Browns: 3-13 in 2015 (4th Place, AFC North)
- Find stability at quarterback
- Address defensive front seven
- Re-sign WR Travis Benjamin
Remember when the Cleveland Browns found themselves in the midst of a division title battle with the rest of the clubs in the AFC North in 2014?
With five games to go, Mike Pettine’s club owned a 7-4 record and was definitely in the playoff discussion.
But that was then, and dating back to Week 13 of 2014, the Browns own a 3-18 win-loss record and no longer have Pettine, who was dismissed after the team’s 3-13 showing this past year.
Enter Hue Jackson, the franchise’s ninth head coach dating back to 1999. Over that span, the Browns are 98 games below .500 (87-185) and have gone through 24 different starting quarterbacks. Speaking of the position, starters Josh McCown (10), Johnny Manziel (eight) and Austin Davis (five) combined for 23 of the team’s 30 turnovers this past season.
Last week, Pat McManamon of ESPN.com cited a league source that stated Manziel’s time with the team will end next month. With new director of football operations Sashi Brown in place, this struggling franchise is hoping that this latest beginning will be worthwhile.
Dallas Cowboys: 4-12 in 2015 (4th Place, NFC East)
- Bolster running back position
- Acquire more playmakers on defense
- Find quarterback of the not-too-distant future
Just when it looked like the Dallas Cowboys had turned the corner in 2014, the combination of injuries to quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant and the lack of a capable backup signal-caller doomed Jason Garrett’s club.
Add in multiple changes at running back (although Darren McFadden did finish with 1,089 yards rushing) and the aforementioned issues and it’s little wonder that a team that scored 467 points in 2014 plummeted to a mere 275 points this past season. A year ago, Dallas totaled at least 38 points in each of its last four regular-season games. In 2015, this club never reached the 30-point mark in any of its 16 contests.
So can Romo rebound and stay healthy this fall? Can the Cowboys settle on a workhorse running back? And can the club add some oomph on the defensive side of the ball in an attempt to take some pressure off the offense?
That’s a lot of questions for a club that looked like a Super Bowl contender not so long ago.
Denver Broncos: 12-4 in 2015 (Won Super Bowl 50)
- Determine QB Peyton Manning’s future
- Re-sign or franchise-tag OLB Von Miller
- Address wide receiver and tight end depth
While the curiosity surrounding the newly crowned Super Bowl champions remains on the status of quarterback Peyton Manning, the future of the game’s MVP may be more significant.
The Denver Broncos have their share of potential unrestricted free agents, notably defensive end Malik Jackson, linebacker Danny Trevathan, quarterback Brock Osweiler and running back Ronnie Hillman. But the one man they really can’t afford to lose is 2011 first-round pick Von Miller.
The five-year pro totaled six tackles, 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and one pass deflection in the 24-10 win over the Carolina Panthers on Super Sunday.
“He’s matured,” said vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway to Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com this week. “I think he’s grown up quite a bit. I think it’s a compliment to him and the people around him with some of the things that he had to go through when he was younger. He’s grown up tremendously…"
So has the Denver defense, which will retain defensive end Derek Wolfe, who the club recently re-signed. The league’s top unit in 2015 also led the NFL with 52 sacks this past season and added 14 more sacks in three postseason games. Miller had nearly half of those in the playoffs (five).
Meanwhile, the Denver offense totaled four touchdowns in the clean sweep of the Steelers, Patriots and Broncos.
Detroit Lions: 7-9 in 2015 (3rd Place, NFC North)
- Fix the running attack (ranked 32nd in NFL in 2015)
- Continue offensive improvement under coordinator Jim Bob Cooter
- Re-sign key personnel on defensive front
Yes, the Detroit Lions finished with four fewer wins in 2015 than they did when they reached the playoffs the previous season. But head coach Jim Caldwell kept his team together following a 1-7 start, and the club won six of its final eight games.
Last offseason, the Lions saw massive changes on the defensive line with the free-agent departures of Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and C.J. Mosley and the trade that sent George Johnson to Tampa Bay. As of now, starters Jason Jones, Haloti Ngata and Tyrunn Walker and reserves Darryl Tapp and Corey Wootton are eligible for to hit the open market in March. Of course, youngsters such as Ziggy Ansah, Devin Taylor and Caraun Reid aren’t going anywhere.
The dismissal of offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi at midseason and the promotion of Jim Bob Cooter turned out to be a boon. However, one year after finishing 28th in the NFL in rushing in 2014, no team in the league gained fewer yards on the ground this past season.
Green Bay Packers: 10-6 in 2015 (Lost NFC Divisional Playoffs)
- Re-sign CB Casey Hayward
- Address RB Eddie Lacy’s inconsistency in 2015
- Bolster depth at tackle
Since the dawn of free agency in 1993, the Green Bay Packers have rarely dipped a cleat into that player pool.
With the exceptions of Reggie White, Charles Woodson and Julius Peppers, the franchise has not spent a lot of money to bring in outside talent and have relied primarily on the draft, with excellent results.
Which means you can look for general manager Ted Thompson to make sure he puts a priority on bringing back one of his own in cornerback Casey Hayward. Then again, according to Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com, the four-year pro hasn’t heard from the Packers to date.
“They normally wait (until) closer to the deadline,” said Hayward this week via text message. “But we shall see. I’ll probably hit the market.”
Green Bay used its first two picks in the 2015 draft on cornerback help (Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins). So, could Thompson turn his attention to re-signing outside linebackers Mike Neal and 2012 first-round pick Nick Perry?
Elsewhere, the running game finished with similar numbers to 2014, but Eddie Lacy suffered through an erratic season. And the team’s late-season injury issues at left tackle were problematic as Aaron Rodgers and the offense slumped following a strong start.
But don’t feel too bad for this club. Green Bay did reach the playoffs for the seventh consecutive year.
Houston Texans: 9-7 in 2015 (Lost AFC Wild Card Playoffs)
- Find stability at quarterback
- Settle running back situation
- Extend contract of WR DeAndre Hopkins
From a 2-5 start to a third AFC South title in five seasons, the Houston Texans were an interesting case study in 2015. Bill O’Brien’s club went through its share of starting quarterbacks, had some ups and downs on defense and still managed to win seven of its final nine games on its way to the playoffs.
However, it all came crashing down at home in a 30-0 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Wild Card Round. It marked the first time since 2005 that a team had been shut out in the NFL playoffs.
Obviously, the team has to decide whether Brian Hoyer can take his game to the next level. He certainly showed well this past year but was also benched early in the season, was knocked out of a few other games and committed all five turnovers in the playoff loss to Kansas City. Is it time to take a much closer look at two-year veteran Tom Savage?
“We need to have reliable play at quarterback,” said Texans owner Bob McNair, per Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle. “We don’t need a superstar there, but it needs to be reliable play that won’t take anything away from us.”
And what is the future for running back Arian Foster, who is on the mend after suffering an Achilles injury in late October? Is Alfred Blue or another running back on the roster ready to take the reins?
While the Texans will be able to pick up the option on DeAndre Hopkins' contact for the 2017 season, it wouldn’t be out of the question to see them get the Pro Bowl wideout under wraps long term sooner than later. The team has the majority of its front-line players under contract this season and some salary-cap room to play with.
Indianapolis Colts: 8-8 in 2015 (2nd Place, AFC South)
- Address defense via draft (26th in NFL in 2015)
- Practice ball security
- Sign QB Andrew Luck to long-term deal
For the first time since 1996, the Indianapolis Colts didn’t win or lose at least 10 games. They just didn’t win much, period.
And even though celebrated quarterback Andrew Luck helped lead the team to the AFC title game in 2014 and was hampered by injuries this past season, he’s had his problems holding onto the football. In fact, it’s been an issue for the entire team. Over the past two seasons, the Colts have coughed up the ball 61 times in 32 regular-season games.
More importantly, general manager Ryan Grigson and the organization hope to get the four-year quarterback under wraps long term soon as he enters the final year of his rookie contract.
“Andrew is going to be here,” said Colts owner Jim Irsay to WISH-TV last week (via Keith Bowen of Colts.com). “I don’t know when that might be, but it’s just a matter of time before we talk about this new contract and agreed to.
“It’s going to be a big number,” added Irsay. “It’s going to be a shocking number, nine figures and probably a 20 (million) starting point per year, but again we will find the right number to get to.”
Now, if the Colts could only find the right numbers to fix their disappointing defense.
Jacksonville Jaguars: 5-11 in 2015 (3rd Place, AFC South)
- Bolster running game
- Address secondary via free agency
- Get more help on offensive line
There were glimmers of hope in Jacksonville this season, most notably on the offensive side of the ball.
Still, the Jaguars won only five games in 2015, the fifth consecutive year they dropped at least 11 contests.
The team needs more production from its ground attack, which finished 27th in the NFL this past season. Although rookie T.J. Yeldon led the club with 740 yards rushing, he ran for only two scores and played in only 12 games.
While quarterback Blake Bortles put up solid numbers and 24 of his 35 scores went to wide receivers Allen Robinson (14) and Allen Hurns (10), he finished second on the team with 310 yards rushing and was sacked 51 times.
Meanwhile, only three teams in the league gave up more passing yards than Gus Bradley’s team, which surrendered 29 scores through the air. Don’t be surprised if general manager Dave Caldwell spends a little money in both the trenches and defensive backfield.
Kansas City Chiefs: 11-5 in 2015 (Lost AFC Divisional Playoffs)
- Determine health of RB Jamaal Charles
- Re-sign key defenders (Eric Berry, Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson, etc.)
- Get more wide receiver help
It proved to be quite the season for the Kansas City Chiefs, who rallied from a 1-5 start, won their final 10 regular-season games and walked away with a postseason victory for the first time since 1993.
But where does the team go from there? Probably right to the negotiating table as there are 11 potential unrestricted free agents on the defensive side of the football, most notably safety Eric Berry, linebackers Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson, cornerback Sean Smith and nose tackle Jaye Howard.
While Jeremy Maclin was a solid addition in 2015, leading the team in catches (87), receiving yards (1,008) and touchdown receptions (eight), and there’s some young talent in Albert Wilson and Chris Conley, don’t be surprised if Kansas City addresses the wide receiver position early in the draft.
Even with running back Jamaal Charles going down during the season, Andy Reid’s team managed to finish sixth in the league in rushing thanks to a solid offensive line, reserves Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware and spry quarterback Alex Smith, who ran for 498 yards and two scores. In any case, this team now has some proven depth in the backfield.
Los Angeles Rams: 7-9 in 2015 (3rd Place, NFC West)
- Solidify quarterback position
- Decide on future of DE Chris Long
- Continue developing wide receiving corps
Perhaps a change of scenery will help a franchise that hasn’t enjoyed a winning season since 2003 and hasn’t been to the postseason since 2004.
Of course, the last time we saw the Los Angeles Rams in the playoffs was when they reached the NFC Championship Game…in 1989.
The offseason addition of quarterback Nick Foles last March was supposed to be a major plus. Instead, head coach Jeff Fisher benched him late in the season in favor of Case Keenum.
Perhaps just as significantly, Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com reports that the team’s talent-laden defensive line featuring a slew of first-round picks such as Aaron Donald, Robert Quinn, Michael Brockers and Chris Long may be without the latter if the team can’t somehow restructure his contract.
Miami Dolphins: 6-10 in 2015 (4th Place, AFC East)
- Possibly restructure of DT Ndamukong Suh’s contract
- Re-evaluate running back corps
- Solidify defensive end position
Here we go again.
New head coach Adam Gase is the Miami Dolphins’ third head coach in less than a calendar year, succeeding Joe Philbin and interim sideline leader Dan Campbell. All he has to do is get this program headed in the right direction, which is not easy considering this team hasn’t enjoyed a winning season or reached the playoffs since 2008.
With defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh taking up a large part of the salary cap, don’t expect to see the Dolphins as active in free agency as in recent seasons. It will also be interesting to see if they allow running back Lamar Miller to test the open market.
With Olivier Vernon being a possible free-agent defection and former Pro Bowler Cameron Wake coming off a shortened season in which he missed the final nine games due to a torn Achilles, there are some question marks in Miami. And considering the combo totaled 14.5 of the team’s 31 sacks (7.5 by Vernon), this may be the Dolphins' biggest priority.
Minnesota Vikings: 11-5 in 2015 (Lost NFC Wild Card Playoffs)
- Continue development of QB Teddy Bridgewater
- Evaluate wide receiver corps
- Extend contracts of key performers
Although the Minnesota Vikings' 2015 season ended on an unexpected missed kick in the Wild Card Round, let’s not forget that Mike Zimmer’s squad became the first team not named the Green Bay Packers to win the NFC North since 2010.
Matt Vensel of the Star Tribune has some thoughts on some of the moves the franchise could make. One of those could be the release of wide receiver Mike Wallace, who went from a Pro Bowler in Pittsburgh to less-than-scintillating with both the Miami Dolphins and Vikings.
Minnesota has some young talent at wideout in Stefon Diggs, Charles Johnson, Jarius Wright and three-year pro Cordarrelle Patterson. The combination of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and Diggs could bear watching over the next few years.
While the Vikings picked up the fifth-year options on left tackle Matt Kalil and free safety Harrison Smith, general manager Rick Spielman would like to get some long-terms deals done with the 2012 first-round picks.
New England Patriots: 12-4 in 2015 (Lost AFC Championship Game)
- Address offensive line
- Solidify running back corps
- Open up some cap room
The New England Patriots aren’t usually big players when it comes to free agency, although the franchise has had its moments. But it’s safe to say there won’t be a lot of big spending this offseason.
What the league’s reigning dynasty needs to do is give ageless quarterback Tom Brady some more help in a number of ways. Only two teams in the league ran for fewer yards this past season, and the 16-year signal-caller was sacked 38 times during the regular season and beat into the ground in Denver in the AFC Championship Game.
There’s not much a team can do in terms of health, and we know what we saw when the Patriots had their pieces in place. It will be interesting to see what this reliable franchise does in its attempt to reach the playoffs for the eighth straight year and capture an unprecedented eighth consecutive division title.
New Orleans Saints: 7-9 in 2015 (3rd Place, NFC South)
- Address salary-cap concerns
- Focus 2016 draft on defense
- Bolster wide receiver and tight end corps
In three of the last four seasons, the New Orleans Saints have finished 7-9, and it always seems to be the same old issue. For the second straight season, they finished next-to-last in the league in total defense. And 10 games into 2015, they parted ways with defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
Katherine Terrell of the Times-Picayune has the latest on the ramifications of some of the Saints’ loftier contracts, in particular quarterback Drew Brees and safety Jairus Byrd. If the team has any hope of bringing in some free-agent talent on defense, it will need to make some changes. And as we have seen, the franchise has already parted ways with star guard Jahri Evans.
However, the franchise may be better served spending the majority of its draft choices on the side of the ball that has ailed this club for a number of years. Linebackers Stephone Anthony and Hau’oli Kikaha were good starts in 2015, but a lot more help is needed.
New York Giants: 6-10 in 2015 (3rd Place, NFC East)
- Fix the defense (32nd in NFL in 2015)
- Determine futures of DE Jason Pierre-Paul and WR Victor Cruz
- Rebuild offensive line via draft
Let the overhaul begin.
Conor Orr of NFL.com has the skinny on the New York Giants trimming the fat. Out are left tackle Will Beatty (who missed all of the 2015 season with a torn pectoral muscle) and versatile blocker Geoff Schwartz. Meanwhile, veteran linebacker Jon Beason has retired, with both him and Schwartz limited by injuries during their tenures with the franchise.
Speaking of injuries, the Giants haven’t seen much of former Pro Bowler Victor Cruz the last year or so, and it will be interesting to see what they opt to do, especially with wide receiver Rueben Randle slated for free agency.
Finally, Jason Pierre-Paul is one of six Giants’ defensive linemen who could hit the open market next month.
All told, that’s quite the list for first-time head coach Ben McAdoo, who inherits a club that has missed the playoffs four straight years and six of the last seven seasons dating back to 2009.
New York Jets: 10-6 in 2015 (2nd Place, AFC East)
- Re-sign or franchise-tag DE Muhammad Wilkerson
- Determine the future at quarterback
- Address tight end position
With a potent running game and one of the best defenses in the league, who knows what kind of damage the New York Jets would have done if they had reached the playoffs this past season?
Unfortunately, the Buffalo Bills and former head coach Rex Ryan proved to be the Jets’ main undoing. In two games against this AFC East rival, Todd Bowles’ squad committed a total of seven turnovers and lost by identical 22-17 scores.
Veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick enjoyed a career year, throwing more than twice as many touchdown passes (31) as interceptions (15). But he can become an unrestricted free agent in March, and Geno Smith’s NFL future is certainly unsettled.
The Jets are loaded on the defensive front but have a number of potential free agents, most notably nose tackle Damon Harrison and defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson. The latter suffered a broken leg in the season finale at Orchard Park.
Last month, Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan made it clear that he wants the team’s sack leader in 2015 to remain with the team. “The simple answer is yes, we’d very much like to have Muhammad back in the organization,” he said, per ESPN.com’s Rich Cimini.
With Harrison, Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams, New York’s defensive front is as formidable as any in the league. And the Jets appear intent on keeping this group intact.
Oakland Raiders: 7-9 in 2015 (3rd Place, AFC West)
- Add new faces to safety position
- Continue development of quarterback Derek Carr
- Re-sign LT Donald Penn
The Oakland Raiders are still looking for their first winning season since reaching Super Bowl XXXVII in 2002. But it looks like the club is finally headed in the right direction.
Bolstered by young players such as defensive standout Khalil Mack, quarterback Derek Carr and wide receiver Amari Cooper, the Raiders finished 7-9 in 2015 and scored 106 points more than they did the previous season.
Still, there’s more work to do. The defense ranked 22nd in the league this past year, veteran safety Charles Woodson has announced his retirement, and disappointing strong safety Nate Allen has been cut loose. (Note: The Raiders have since re-signed Allen.)
The Silver and Black would also be wise to bring back veteran tackle Donald Penn, who was rated the 10th-best player at his position this past season by Pro Football Focus.
Philadelphia Eagles: 7-9 in 2015 (2nd Place, NFC East)
- Settle on a starting quarterback
- Adjust to new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz
- Get help for the secondary
There’s a new sheriff in town in Philadelphia in the form of head coach Doug Pederson. However, there’s also quite a deputy in the form of new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
Will quarterback Sam Bradford be back for a second season with the club? He’s scheduled to hit the free-agent market in March but comes off a mediocre season.
Dave Zangaro of CSNPhilly.com speculates that linebacker DeMeco Ryans could be on his way out of the City of Brotherly Love. Philadelphia’s defense has been a big liability each of these past three seasons, hence the addition of Schwartz.
Pittsburgh Steelers: 10-6 in 2015 (Lost AFC Divisional Playoffs)
- Address cornerback position
- Determine future of C Maurkice Pouncey and offensive line
- Bring focus to running back picture
While the Pittsburgh Steelers returned to the playoffs in 2015 and beat the Cincinnati Bengals in the Wild Card Round, there would be no record-setting ninth Super Bowl appearance for the Black and Gold.
It is somewhat amazing that the team’s offense finished third in the league in total yards per game. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger missed a big chunk of time due to injury, running back Le’Veon Bell was barely heard from due to a suspension and MCL injury, and wide receiver Martavis Bryant missed the first five games due to suspension. Another huge year from wide receiver Antonio Brown and a terrific showing from veteran running back DeAngelo Williams helped matters.
So did a defensive unit that made some strides, finishing third in the league with 48 sacks and forcing 30 turnovers. But the play at cornerback remains a major issue, as only two teams in the NFL gave up more passing yards per game.
There are also questions surrounding the offensive line. On the left side, tackle Kelvin Beachum and guard Ramon Foster can both become free agents, while oft-injured center Maurkice Pouncey was replaced admirably by Cody Wallace.
San Diego Chargers: 4-12 in 2015 (4th Place, AFC West)
- Fix running game
- Help QB Philip Rivers return to Pro Bowl form
- Bolster front seven on defense
Apparently, the San Diego Chargers are still the San Diego Chargers, at least for one more year.
More importantly, they were anything but themselves this past season, finishing with their worst record since going 4-12 in 2003. The following year, the Bolts used the No. 1 overall pick in the draft to grab Eli Manning and dealt him for the rights to Philip Rivers.
Speaking of the team’s veteran quarterback, he’s had his ups and down the last two years since capturing NFL Comeback Player of the Year honors in 2013. Head coach Mike McCoy now welcomes back Ken Whisenhunt as the offensive coordinator. He played a big part in Rivers’ tremendous season three years ago before going off to coach the Tennessee Titans.
The defense is the unit that really needs some help, especially when it comes to stopping opposing ground attacks and pressuring quarterbacks. And what about a running attack that despite the addition of first-round running back Melvin Gordon in April finished next-to-last in the NFL in yards per game?
San Francisco 49ers: 5-11 in 2015 (4th Place, NFC West)
- Decide on future of QB Colin Kaepernick
- Re-sign veteran WR Anquan Boldin
- Find some run-stoppers in the draft
From three straight NFC title game appearances (and a loss in Super Bowl XLVII in 2012) to a combined 13-19 the past two seasons. After four years of Jim Harbaugh at the helm, the San Francisco 49ers are on their second head coach in two years.
Now, Chip Kelly gets a second chance at making a better impression. While he led the Philadelphia Eagles to a pair of 10-6 campaigns in 2013 and 2014 (the first resulting in an NFC East title), the Birds were reduced to 7-9 this past season and let go of Kelly before the season finale.
With the Niners, he won’t have the personnel power he wound up acquiring in Philadelphia, as general manager Trent Baalke will call the shots. Both may want to insist that the team retain veteran wideout Anquan Boldin, who is any quarterback’s best friend—be it disgruntled Colin Kaepernick (who is not likely to be around much longer) or Blaine Gabbert.
Given the mass defections and retirements—and despite a return to Pro Bowl form of healthy inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman—the Niners’ depleted defense could use some help in the front seven.
Seattle Seahawks: 10-6 in 2015 (Lost AFC Divisional Playoffs)
- Address offensive line often in draft
- Solidify running back position
- Determine role for TE Jimmy Graham (when healthy)
The Seattle Seahawks’ quest to become the first NFC team to reach three consecutive Super Bowls died in the first half of the team’s divisional playoff loss at Carolina.
But this is still a talented team that morphed into a different kind of club by season’s end. If you include the club’s two-game postseason run, quarterback Russell Wilson threw 28 touchdown passes compared to only four interceptions in his final nine outings of the season. During the team’s 4-5 start this past season, the four-year pro connected for 10 scores and was picked off seven times.
At this point, according to Victor Mather of the New York Times, it seems that running back Marshawn Lynch has hung it up, and that means Thomas Rawls looks like the heir apparent in the backfield. But regardless of who’s running the ball, the offensive line needs to be addressed for both the sake of the ground attack and the health of Wilson.
And will former Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham be a bigger factor on the offense this season from the get-go?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 6-10 in 2015 (4th Place, NFC South)
- Re-sign RB Doug Martin
- Make strides on defense under new coordinator Mike Smith
- Escape NFC South basement
If you think the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were going to let Dirk Koetter get away, think again. With feelers out from other teams around the league, the club (right or wrong) opted to promote the offensive coordinator to head coach and give Lovie Smith his pink slip.
The development of rookie quarterback Jameis Winston over the season was evident. The first overall pick in 2015 threw twice as many touchdown passes (16) as interceptions (eight) in his last 12 games, plus he ran for five touchdowns in those dozen outings. Winston threw for six scores, was picked off seven times and ran for one touchdown in the first four contests.
Along with promoting Koetter, the Bucs would be wise to get running back Doug Martin under contract sooner than later. He finished second in the NFL in rushing with 1,402 yards this past season and ran for six touchdowns.
On the other side of the ball, new defensive coordinator Mike Smith was Koetter’s boss with the Atlanta Falcons for a spell. Perhaps more improvement on this side of the ball will enable this team to avoid a sixth straight last-place finish in the NFC South.
Tennessee Titans: 3-13 in 2015 (4th Place, AFC South)
- Surround QB Marcus Mariota with more pass-catchers
- Establish a reliable running game
- Improve on defense
Back in 2008, the Tennessee Titans owned the best record in the NFL at 13-3.
It’s been pretty much all downhill ever since, and the team has won a combined five games the past two seasons.
This offseason, the team hired Jon Robinson as its new general manager and retained interim head coach Mike Mularkey, who replaced Ken Whisenhunt after seven games in 2015.
The Titans also have a new offensive line coach in Russ Grimm, who hopes to get that unit back on track. He said, per John Glennon of the Tennessean:
We’re starting fresh—we’re going to be a clean slate and I’m going to see what they can do when they get in here. I’m not going to make any early judgments on last year or the year before—or if a guy’s been hurt, or this or that.
I’ve watched a little bit of film, but not enough to make a judgment on a player. I want to meet him for myself and get my own feel on what this guy can do when I see how he practices and how he is in the classroom. Then we go from there.
In any case, young quarterback Marcus Mariota could use some help at wide receiver, although Dorial Green-Beckham is an intriguing talent. And with Ray Horton off to Cleveland, Dick LeBeau takes over the defense in his second year with the franchise.
Washington Redskins: 9-7 in 2015 (Lost NFC Wild Card Playoffs)
- Re-sign QB Kirk Cousins
- Determine future of RB Alfred Morris
- Address shortcomings on defense
Similar to their NFC East title run in 2012 with then-rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III at the helm, the Washington Redskins dug themselves an early hole and then put together a season-ending winning streak to wrap up a division title.
Including the playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers, Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins threw 13 touchdown passes and was picked off just once in the team’s final five outings, totaling 300-plus passing yards in four of those contests. Now, the team needs to get him under contract before March 9, and the only question is for how long and for how much.
As for Griffin, he doesn’t appear to have a future in Washington, but who knows how the team will handle his situation? Likewise, there's running back Alfred Morris, who has led the ‘Skins in rushing for four straight years but can become an unrestricted free agent next month.
Under new coordinator Joe Barry, the defense showed occasional flashes and played better later in the year at times but was exposed in the loss to Green Bay in the Wild Card Game.