The 1 Move Each NFL Team Would Be Most Wise to Make This Offseason
Now that Super Bowl 50 has put a golden bow on the 2015 NFL season, the focus of all 32 teams will now shift to months of off-field action in an attempt to accomplish what the Denver Broncos did on Sunday night: hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
It can hardly be called the "offseason" anymore, as predraft workouts and free agency will garner nearly as much attention over the coming months as the NFL's on-field action does.
From coaching staff changes to roster overhauls, many teams will look plenty different once training camp rolls around.
Whether it's a new addition or keeping top talent in house, here's the one move each NFL team needs to make if it wants to improve in 2016.
Arizona Cardinals: Find Another Pass-Rusher
The Cardinals defense has plenty of strengths, but the ability to get after the passer wasn't one of them in 2015. Arizona tied for 20th in the NFL with just 36 sacks, which contributed to the Cards giving up 14 pass plays of 40 yards or more, tied for third-most in the league.
Markus Golden is a promising player who is already proving to be well worth the second-round pick they invested in last year, but the Cards need another young rusher who can make plays off the edge. Don't be surprised if general manager Steve Keim spends a premium draft pick on a pass-rusher again this year.
Atlanta Falcons: Replace Roddy White
This doesn't mean the Dirty Birds need to get rid of Roddy White, but it's certainly time for them to find a replacement for his role in the offense as a legitimate second option to Julio Jones. Rookie Justin Hardy is promising, but his ceiling is likely to be a quality slot target, which makes finding a No. 2 receiver Atlanta's top priority this offseason.
White's contract runs through the 2017 season, and he won't be terribly expensive to keep around, so it might make sense for the Falcons to keep his veteran presence in the locker room. But between the lines, Matt Ryan desperately needs someone who can take attention away from Jones or exploit defenses that keep rolling coverages his way.
Baltimore Ravens: Add a Playmaker in the Secondary
Baltimore will have a big need at receiver, even with Steve Smith Sr. returning for another season. But the bigger issue is in the defensive backfield, where the Ravens are in desperate need of a big-time playmaker at safety or corner.
Florida State's Jalen Ramsey should be the Ravens' primary target with the No. 6 pick in this year's draft. With experience at both levels of the secondary, he would be the perfect fit for what's ailing the Baltimore defense. He may not be the second coming of Ed Reed just yet, but he has a similar skill set and attitude and would be well worth the pick.
Buffalo Bills: Re-Sign Cordy Glenn
Buffalo could use an upgrade at the right tackle spot, which means they can't afford to let Cordy Glenn walk away and leave a gaping hole on the left side. Center Eric Wood is also slated to hit the open market, but keeping Glenn at the more premium position should be the top priority.
Regardless of what happens in the backfield—from the quarterback situation to any potential fallout from LeSean McCoy's alleged altercation with off-duty police officers in Philadelphia, per ABC Action News 6—Buffalo's chances of contending in the AFC East in 2016 and beyond will be much better if it keeps Glenn as the cornerstone up front.
Carolina Panthers: Improve the Right Tackle Spot
It doesn't take any advanced analytics to prove Carolina's biggest issue is protecting Cam Newton, especially on the right side. While free-agent acquisition Michael Oher quietly put together a solid 2015 campaign at left tackle, Mike Remmers struggled on the other end of the line. That was painfully evident on football's biggest stage Sunday night.
The Panthers have plenty of pieces in place on defense and enough playmakers on offense to make another Super Bowl run. But just like this year, it could all be for naught if they can't keep Newton off his back against the league's best speed rushers off the edge.
Chicago Bears: Bring Back Alshon Jeffery
The Bears have already lost offensive coordinator Adam Gase to the Miami Dolphins' head coaching position, but they can't afford to lose their top offensive weapon to free agency, regardless of who is calling the plays in 2016.
A second-round pick in 2012, Jeffery posted over 80 catches and at least 1,000 yards in 2013 and 2014, and he would have shattered his career highs in 2015 had he been able to stay healthy. The South Carolina product is still just 25 years old and coming into his prime, and if the Bears want to give quarterback Jay Cutler the best chance to succeed, they need to keep Jeffery with either the franchise tag or a long-term extension.
Cincinnati Bengals: Spend Considerable Capital at Safety
The Bengals will have tough decisions to make at multiple positions, but their most dire situation looks to be at safety, where both Reggie Nelson and George Iloka are set to hit the free-agent market. At 32 years old, Nelson will likely be allowed to walk, but Cincy will have to spend a decent chunk of change to re-sign the 25-year-old Iloka or use a premium draft pick to select a replacement.
Even the team brings back Iloka, don't be surprised if the Bengals also address the position early in this year's draft. Boise State's Darian Thompson is worthy of consideration at No. 24 overall, while Duke's Jeremy Cash, Ohio State's Vonn Bell and Boston College's Justin Simmons could be potential targets on Day 2.
Cleveland Browns: Draft a Quarterback at No. 2 Overall
The Browns have made a laundry list of mistakes over the past few seasons, but none has set the franchise back quite as badly as missing on Johnny Manziel and keeping the revolving door at quarterback spinning out of control.
Whether it's Cal's Jared Goff, North Dakota State's Carson Wentz or Memphis' Paxton Lynch, the Browns must take a swing on a potential franchise signal-caller with the No. 2 overall pick in this year's draft. Goff is the most pro-ready of the three candidates, but any of them would be huge upgrade over what Cleveland fans have had to endure from the most important position in the game.
Dallas Cowboys: Avoid Reaching for Tony Romo's Replacement
After watching Tony Romo go down not once but twice during the 2015 season, it's understandable for Cowboys fans to be concerned about what the future could be like once their quarterback is gone for good. Dallas limped to a 4-12 finish, earning a top-five draft pick for just the second time in the last 25 years; many have projected the 'Boys could use the pick to grab Romo's eventual replacement.
Having a plan to eventually replace Romo is a good idea in theory, but it would be nothing short of a panic move to spend the No. 4 pick in this year's draft to that end. Dallas needs help at every level of the defense, and it is sure to get a shot at one of this year's top prospects on that side of the ball. The team would be wise not to pass that up for a quarterback who will sit on the bench for the foreseeable future.
Denver Broncos: Keep Von Miller at All Costs
Long before he became the 10th defensive player in NFL history to be named Super Bowl MVP, Von Miller was the top item on Denver's postseason task list this year. His dominant performance on the league's biggest stage was just the latest example of his rare talent, and there's just no way the Broncos can allow him to even sniff free agency.
Since being selected with the second overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft—one pick after the Carolina Panthers took Cam Newton—Miller has racked up an incredible 60 sacks over his first five NFL seasons. That's especially impressive considering he missed seven games in 2013 due to injury. Whether it's the franchise tag or a long-term extension, the Broncos must keep Miller at all costs.
Detroit Lions: Replace Calvin Johnson
It looks like a nightmare scenario all over again for Lions fans, as yet another transcendent NFL star is set to retire at just 30 years old. Calvin Johnson has been one of the rarest talents in NFL history, but injuries have nagged at the veteran playmaker to the point where he's ready to hang up his cleats.
Golden Tate is one of the best No. 2 receivers in the league, but he won't be able to replace what Megatron has brought to the Lions offense. It's unlikely any player can, but bringing in a receiver with a solid combination of size and athleticism has now become Detroit's top priority this offseason.
Green Bay Packers: Find a Young Leader in the Middle on Defense
General manager Ted Thompson hasn't placed a premium on the inside linebacker position, but it's time he finally makes a significant move to upgrade the middle of Green Bay's defense. Clay Matthews is much better off in a pass-rushing role, and the entire defensive unit would benefit from having a dynamic presence at the center of it all.
It seems a long shot at this juncture, but if the Pack somehow gets a shot at Alabama's Reggie Ragland in the first round, they should waste no time pouncing on him. One of the key cogs in the Crimson Tide's national champion defense, Ragland would be an instant spark plug for Green Bay after years of ignoring the position.
Houston Texas: Find a Quarterback
When your depth chart at the most important position in football includes Brian Hoyer, T.J. Yates and Tom Savage, it's probably time to invest some premium resources in finding some new blood. After passing over top quarterbacks in recent drafts, the Texans must find a potential franchise quarterback this offseason.
It's possible this year's top three prospects will be gone by the time Houston picks in the first round, but don't be surprised if the team makes a move up for one of them. If it doesn't, keep an eye on Penn State's Christian Hackenberg, who played his best football when Texans head coach Bill O'Brien was running the show in Happy Valley.
Indianapolis Colts: Address Porous Offensive Line
NFL quarterbacks get beaten up on a regular basis, but Andrew Luck was knocked around so badly in 2015 that one doctor compared his injuries to those of an auto-accident victim. An NFL team's most valuable investment is a young franchise quarterback, and the Colts have to do a better job of protecting him in 2016 and beyond.
The interior needs the most improvement up front or the Colts, but don't rule out an upgrade at the tackle spots either. With the likes of Ohio State's Taylor Decker, Indiana's Jason Spriggs and Michigan State's Jack Conklin likely to be available at the No. 18 overall pick in this year's draft, Indy would be wise to pull the trigger and give Luck a new blindside protector.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Find Another Difference-Maker on Defense
The Jags have a plethora of talented young players on offense, and while they also have some promising building blocks on defense, that side of the ball could use another dynamic playmaker, particularly in the back seven. The return of last year's top draft pick—defensive end Dante Fowler Jr.—from injury will be huge, but they have a chance to add another top talent with this year's top-five pick.
The secondary needs a talent infusion, which should make Florida State's Jalen Ramsey a primary target. But if he's off the board, a versatile athlete such as UCLA's Myles Jack or another explosive edge-rusher such as Eastern Kentucky's Noah Spence would make plenty of sense.
Kansas City Chiefs: Lock Up Eric Berry Long-Term
After being diagnosed with cancer in late 2014, Eric Berry made an incredible return to the NFL in the 2015 season. He returned to his customary high level of play, earning the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year Award in the process.
The fifth overall pick in the 2010 draft, Berry is still just 27 years old and in the prime of his NFL career. He's an impact defender against both the run and pass, and opposing offenses have to account for him at all times. His performance this past season was inspiring, both on and off the field, and the Chiefs have to do whatever it takes to keep him in 2016 and beyond.
Los Angeles Rams: Find a Quarterback
The Rams need a true No. 1 receiver, but not nearly as bad as they need someone to throw it to him. Case Keenum and Nick Foles aren't the answer, and with the move back to the City of Angels, the Rams need to find a new field general to usher in the new era in their old hometown.
If he's still on the board at No. 15 overall, don't be surprised if Memphis' Paxton Lynch gets strong consideration by the Rams. If they don't get a quarterback in the first round, Michigan State's Connor Cook could be their target in the second round. Either would be an instant upgrade over what they currently have, even if they face a rough learning curve at the NFL level.
Miami Dolphins: Re-Sign Olivier Vernon
Quality, productive pass-rushers don't hit the open market often in the NFL, and the Dolphins need to do their part to keep that trend going by retaining their resident sack master—Olivier Vernon.
A third-round pick in 2012, Vernon has tallied an impressive 29 sacks over his first four NFL seasons. He'll still be just 25 years old when the 2016 NFL season kicks off, which means he' has plenty in the tank and is likely still improving and refining his skill set. There will be plenty of changes with new head coach Adam Gase in charge, but Vernon should remain in Miami.
Minnesota Vikings: Find a True No. 1 Receiver
With the league's best running back and a young, dynamic defense, it's easy for Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to be all smiles. But while he has a promising pass-catcher in Stefon Diggs at his disposal, Bridgewater still needs a big, physical target who can be a true No. 1 receiver.
Late in the first round of this year's draft, the Vikings should have plenty of attractive options to target for this role. Both Ohio State's Michael Thomas and TCU's Josh Doctson have the combination of size, explosiveness and ball skills to be effective chain-movers and dangerous red-zone threats.
New England Patriots: Find a No. 1 Receiver to Take Pressure off Gronk
New England fell short in the AFC title game in large part because of Denver's fantastic defensive game plan. But a big reason why Tom Brady couldn't beat the Broncos defense was because he lacked enough big, physical targets who could do work at any point on the field.
Rob Gronkowski is the most uncoverable tight end in football, but little else about the Pats' receiving corps is intimidating. They need to add size and big-play ability to their pass-catching unit, but they'll have to wait until the second round of the draft if they want to go that route. Free agency will also be a possibility, depending on who hits the market.
New Orleans Saints: Add a Young, Dynamic Defender
The Saints will have to get creative with the salary cap this offseason, which means they'll have to rely on big contributions from their younger players, including any rookies who come out of this year's draft class. Whether it's an explosive pass-rusher off the edge or a playmaker at linebacker or some secondary help, the Saints need a difference-maker on defense who will be young and cheap.
At the No. 12 overall pick, New Orleans could see plenty of attractive options fall into its lap. Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith is a rare talent, and so are Oregon defensive lineman DeForest Buckner and quick Eastern Kentucky edge-rusher Noah Spence. Any of the three would make an immediate impact for a Saints team that is desperate for youth and talent.
New York Giants: Restock the Cupboard of Pass-Rushers
The great Giants teams of recent memory were marked by their never-ending stable of pass-rushing specialists, but the well has run dry over the past few seasons. With Jason Pierre-Paul's future also in doubt, it makes it even more imperative that the Giants find some serious help along the front four this offseason.
With the 10th overall pick, the G-Men should have some attractive options, from Eastern Kentucky's Noah Spence to the Clemson duo of Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd. They need quality starters and depth, so don't be surprised if this move goes beyond just spending a single early draft pick.
New York Jets: Find the Quarterback of the Future
Some might expect to see the need to re-sign Muhammad Wilkerson here, but the Jets are stacked up front and don't necessarily have to break the bank for him. Instead, they need to focus their attention on a more important position on the other side of the ball.
Ryan Fitzpatrick had a magical run in 2015, but he's 33 years old. Geno Smith doesn't look like the long-term solution either. They might be able to squeeze another season or two out of "FitzMagic," but it's time for the Jets to start looking for the quarterback of the future. Expect Michigan State's Connor Cook and Memphis' Paxton Lynch to be on their first-round draft board.
Oakland Raiders: Re-Sign Donald Penn
Oakland has something special brewing on offense with young playmakers such as Derek Carr and Amari Cooper, but it needs to keep things intact up front if it wants that development to continue trending upward. One integral component is bringing back left tackle Donald Penn, who has been a fantastic addition to the team since the Bucs released him two years ago.
Penn is 32, but still playing at a high level. The Raiders have their franchise quarterback in place and an explosive receiver for him to throw to. They need to keep Carr protected by bringing back Penn, even if it's more expensive than they'd like.
Philadelphia Eagles: Upgrade Interior Offensive Line
No matter who is taking snaps or handoffs in Philly this coming season, he won't have much room to orchestrate if the Eagles don't make some serious improvements up front, particularly along the interior. The loss of guard Evan Mathis was painfully evident all season long, and the team should spend plenty of resources to address the gaping hole he left behind.
Both guard spots could use an upgrade, so look for the Eagles to address this need through both the draft and free agency. Finding a quarterback of the future should be high on their offseason to-do list as well, but it won't matter who that is if they can't protect him.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Get Younger, Better in the Secondary
William Gay is solid at corner, but he's 32 years old. Antwon Blake is only 25, but he was one of the most exploited starting cover men in the NFL this year. In short, the Steelers need a ton of help in the secondary, and they need it fast.
Pittsburgh could use a pair of impact players in this unit, one at corner and one at safety. Don't be shocked if it spends its first two draft picks to do just that, as head coach Mike Tomlin—a former defensive backs coach—has to be sick of that particular unit's struggles. Boise State safety Darian Thompson and Ohio State corner Eli Apple are among the names to keep an eye on in the first round.
San Diego Chargers: Replace Eric Weddle
To describe the Bolts' relationship with All-Pro safety Eric Weddle as "rocky" would be quite an understatement, as both parties clearly can't stand each other. Weddle will walk in free agency this offseason, and the Chargers will lose their most dynamic defender.
Luckily for San Diego—for now—it's in prime position to add a big-time playmaker at the position. Florida State's Jalen Ramsey is a rare talent who should merit consideration at the No. 3 overall pick, while Boise State's Darian Thompson would be a fantastic value if he slips to them at the top of the second round.
San Francisco 49ers: Trade Down in 1st Round, Build Depth
Multiple surprising retirements put the 49ers in a difficult situation this season, leaving them without key starters and impacting their depth in a negative way. Their best bet to restock on both sides of the ball would be to trade down from their top-10 pick in the first round to accumulate more picks.
Instead of taking a quarterback at that pick, new head coach Chip Kelly should ride with Colin Kaepernick and see what he can make of him in an offense much more suited to Kaep's skill set. Building around him with multiple picks would be the wisest use of San Francisco's draft resources this year.
Seattle Seahawks: Okung or Not, Bolster Offensive Line
Whether by air or on the ground, the Seahawks had a tougher time moving the ball than they should have in 2015, considering the playmakers they have at the offensive skill positions. But their struggles up front kept the team from reaching its full potential this season, and it must address them in a big way this offseason.
Left tackle Russell Okung is set to hit the free-agent market, but his play hasn't exactly merited a chase- down from the Seahawks to make sure they keep the former top-10 draft pick. Even if he returns, the rest of the unit outside of Justin Britt could use an upgrade.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sign Doug Martin to a Long-Term Extension
Doug Martin made the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2012, but after two injury-riddled seasons, the Bucs chose not to pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie deal for the 2016 season. Martin responded by finishing second in the NFL in rushing yards this season, making the Pro Bowl for the second time.
Tampa Bay isn't in any cap trouble, and the two sides have already begun discussing a new deal, per Roy Cummings of the Tampa Tribune. Martin wants to stay in Tampa Bay, new head coach Dirk Koetter wants him back, and this deal should get worked out sooner rather than later.
Tennessee Titans: Trade the No. 1 Overall Pick
The Titans already have their franchise quarterback in Marcus Mariota, and there's no clear-cut top overall prospect in this draft by most accounts. With as many needs as it has across the board, Tennessee and new general manager Jon Robinson should be doing everything they can to move down from that pick and stockpile additional selections.
The Titans could stay put and select an offensive tackle such as Mississippi's Laremy Tunsil or Notre Dame's Ronnie Stanley, but they could easily trade down a few spots, grab a few extra picks and still end up with the same player they would have taken at No. 1 overall. If they get a decent offer, the Titans should pull the trigger and move down.
Washington Redskins: Move on from Robert Griffin III
This is a no-brainer and a bit of a foregone conclusion at this point, but the RGIII era in the nation's capital must come to a close this offseason. The former No. 2 overall pick would have a cap number of over $16 million this season if he returns, per Spotrac, and Kirk Cousins' performance this season has rendered RGIII a non-factor.
It remains to be seen whether Cousins can be the long-term answer for Washington at quarterback, but one thing is for certain: Despite the ridiculous trade package the team gave up for him, the legend of what Robert Griffin III could have been will far outweigh what he actually accomplished for Washington on the field.