Every NFL Team's Biggest Red Flag Heading into April
Team-building is a constant enterprise.
NFL franchises are presented with multiple opportunities throughout the offseason to upgrade their rosters, coaching staffs or other identified problem areas.
No team is perfect, though, not even the reigning Super Bowl champions.
The New England Patriots continue to experience success under Bill Belichick's direction, as the head coach is never content. His chant of "no days off" at the Patriots' most recent Super Bowl parade serves as an organizational directive.
Teams continually attempt to create advantages over their competition while minimizing potential red flags. There are always issues to endure due to league turnover, roster limitations or previous mistakes.
Some are more obvious than others, but every team has an area or two in need of improvement. With free agency in the rear-view mirror and the NFL draft 27 days away, each team's deficiencies are evident.
Quarterback Succession Plan
The future is now for the Arizona Cardinals. Carson Palmer is 37 years old and ready for the opportunity to mentor his replacement.
"Not to float my own boat, but I think I'm pretty good at it," Palmer said, per ArizonaSports.com's Craig Morgan. "I know I've had many great mentors and role models and guys to look up to; guys I've learned a lot from so I know how to approach being that guy and I've been doing it for a long time."
The veteran quarterback contemplated retirement after last year's campaign before deciding to return for another season. General manager Steve Keim already made the quarterback position an offseason priority.
"There's no doubt every GM, there is no question your name has to be put on a young quarterback at some point," Keim said in February, per Darren Urban of the Cardinals official site. "I challenge myself every day, because if you look around the league, you're not a GM for long if you don't find (a quarterback). I have to do a better job, with my staff and the coaching staff, we have to identify the right guy and put this organization in position to have success for years to come."
Success like the Atlanta Falcons experienced this past season is hard to replicate. The Falcons roster is extremely talented, yet the framework of the coaching staff shifted once former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan became the San Francisco 49ers head coach.
Head coach Dan Quinn hired former USC head coach and Alabama offensive analyst Steve Sarkisian as Shanahan's replacement. After fielding the league's highest scoring offense during the 2016 campaign, a new coordinator must build a rapport with his players, especially the quarterback.
"Those conversations between Sark and Matt [Ryan] have to be authentic," Quinn said at the NFL Owners Meetings, per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's D. Orlando Ledbetter. "They have to be real. That's why the offseason is an important time for the quarterback and the play-caller to make sure that their connection is so strong."
Ryan is coming off an MVP campaign. Part of his success was due to the play of the Falcons offensive line. Quinn and Sarkisian must also address right guard since veteran Chris Chester, who started 32 straight games in Atlanta, is a free agent.
Upgrade Skill Positions
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco posted career highs in completion percentage and passing yardage last season even though he's working with a subpar skill group. The quarterback doesn't have a dynamic option in the backfield to hand off the ball, and his most reliable target, Steve Smith, retired.
The running game is especially problematic. Baltimore finished 28th overall in rushing offense during the 2016 campaign, and the organization has yet to add a legitimate feature back. Terrance West led the team with 774 rushing yards, and the team remains high on Kenneth Dixon, but the position needs to be upgraded.
The Ravens signed veteran running back Danny Woodhead in free agency. He's a role player at this point in his a career and a far more dangerous receiver out of the backfield.
Meanwhile, wide receiver remains a problem area. Mike Wallace is coming off a 1,017-yard campaign. He's not a true No. 1 target, though. It's now or never for former first-round pick Breshad Perriman. After having his career slowed by injuries, the UCF product has the talent to turn into an exceptional target. Otherwise, the team's depth at wide receiver is nonexistent.
Building an Identity
New Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott is a very different person compared to his predecessor, Rex Ryan. But their approaches will be similar. Both came from defensive backgrounds and prefer physical run-based offenses.
Last season, the Bills finished first in rushing offense. With a mobile quarterback in Tyrod Taylor, running back LeSean McCoy and the acquisition of two fullbacks—Patrick DiMarco and Mike Tolbert—in free agency, the emphasis will stay the same.
"We believe in running the football," McDermott said, per the Charlotte Observer's Joseph Person. "We believe in physical play at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball."
While the approach will be the same, the attitude found within the team will greatly differ. This became evident the moment McDermott removed the pool table and video games from the Bills locker room.
"This is a business," he said, per Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio. "... We're going to be a focused, disciplined and accountable football team and I believe you do it one day at a time."
The Carolina Panthers stunned the NFL when the organization signed left tackle Matt Kalil to a five-year, $55.5 million contract at the onset of free agency. While Carolina is a natural fit for Kalil due the team's previous need at left tackle and pairing him with his brother, Ryan, the former fourth overall pick hasn't lived up to expectations to this point in his career.
But the Panthers had to address the position despite the thin free-agent and draft classes. Michael Oher's return is still in question after dealing with a concussion last season.
"Talking to Michael and listening to Michael, I believe he's going to play," head coach Ron Rivera said, per the Charlotte Observer's Joseph Person. "... He looks good. He really does. It's just one of those things that when it's time to start doing everything, we'll see how he is."
Even if Oher returns to the lineup, his effectiveness at right tackle may be limited. Daryl Williams could be forced into a starting role for a second straight season. This level of uncertainty doesn't bode well for quarterback Cam Newton, who required shoulder surgery Thursday, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Wide Receiver Reticence
The Chicago Bears made a bold statement when the organization signed quarterback Mike Glennon to a three-year, $45 million contract. It's merely a first step, though. The team must build the proper cockpit around the 27-year-old signal-caller.
Wide receiver remains a sore spot for two reasons. First, the team's previous franchise player, Alshon Jeffery, signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency. Second, former top-10 pick Kevin White dealt with injuries and only played in four games over the last two seasons.
"When you do this for a living, I don't think anybody has higher expectations (for you) than yourself and I would include Kevin in that," head coach John Fox said, per the Chicago Tribune's Dan Wiederer. "So I can't tell you everybody on the planet's expectations. But I know they won't be greater than his."
Cameron Meredith returns after leading the team with 66 receptions for 888 yards last season. The pair of third-year receivers can develop into a formidable duo, but White needs to be healthy and Meredith must continue to build on his previous performance. If they don't, Glennon won't receive much help.
The Cincinnati Bengals offensive line was an often-overlooked aspect of the team's success when the organization made five straight playoff appearances. The Bengals stumbled in 2016, and the same reliable offensive line no longer exists.
The team's best two blockers, Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler, signed with other teams in free agency. In February, head coach Marvin Lewis said the offensive line was "not a concern," per Geoff Hobson of the Bengals official site.
"We know all areas of our team, particularly the offensive group, have to do a better job of protecting our quarterback and that comes from every person and every position group on the offense," Lewis added. "[Protecting the passer] is always a priority. It's never changed."
Both Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher disappointed last season after being asked to take on larger roles. The team brought Andre Smith back, but he's coming off a season-ending triceps injury. The franchise re-signed veteran Eric Winston, too.
It falls on offensive line coach Paul Alexander to piece together the best combination of blockers to protect quarterback Andy Dalton—even if the group isn't as talented as it once was.
A year ago, Cleveland Browns chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta infamously stated the organization didn't necessarily view anyone in last year's class, including Carson Wentz, whom the franchise passed on, as a "top 20 quarterback in the NFL."
Here the Browns sit a year later, and the quarterback position still hasn't been adequately addressed. Robert Griffin III didn't even last a full year with the team. Cody Kessler flashed as a rookie, yet he's not viewed as the answer. Veteran Josh McCown is now with the New York Jets.
At some point, the Browns must find a young quarterback to build around.
"We're going to stay aggressive at quarterback, as we will all positions," executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown said, per the Akron Beacon Journal's Nate Ulrich. "... Finding a starting quarterback, whether he's on our roster and develops or we go out and acquire one, will help things dramatically. But we're going to take it step by step here and see what opportunities present themselves."
The Dallas Cowboys' lack of decisiveness regarding Tony Romo's situation constipated the rest of the team's offseason. The Cowboys have less than $7 million in available cap while they continue to carry Romo's $24.7 million cap hit, per Spotrac.com.
In doing so, the organization was unable to adequately address its secondary. Four key contributors—Barry Church, Brandon Carr, J.J. Wilcox and Morris Claiborne—left via free agency. Byron Jones, Orlando Scandrick and Antony Brown remain in place. The team signed veteran cornerback Nolan Carroll, too. Plus, the organization wants to see more of safety Jeff Heath.
"We talked before free agency ever started that this guy deserves to compete to start," director of player personnel Stephen Jones told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Clarence E. Hill Jr.
At this point, no incentive exists to move Romo. Instant secondary upgrades are no longer available in free agency. The organization can slow-play the quarterback's situation instead of rushing to release or trade him. The secondary will have to wait until the NFL draft for its ranks to be bolstered.
Developing Quarterback Situation
Where do the Denver Broncos go from here? The team's young quarterbacks faltered when asked to take over the offense last year. Yet the organization plans to move forward with Paxton Lynch and Trevor Siemian.
"Like we've said, we really feel good about the two young ones that we have," general manager John Elway said, per CBS Sports' Jamey Eisenberg. "Trevor did a good job for us last year, and Paxton was young. The plan is to stay the course there and see what's available in the draft. We'll go from there."
With Tony Romo's uncertain status, he's been continually linked to the Broncos. Elway's response intimates the organization is content with its current setup.
Each of the team's signal-callers should continue to develop. To what degree, though? Can either Siemian or Lynch develop into the type of quarterback the Broncos can rely on long term? Elway seems willing to wait.
"But we like both," Elway continued. "Paxton was a first-rounder last year for a reason, and then Trevor came in and played very well. It'll be a great competition between them in the spring."
Three glaring issues plagued the Detroit Lions at the start of the offseason. The team's offensive line needed to be rebuilt, the running game lacked any punch, and the defense didn't feature a presence opposite former Pro Bowl defensive end Ezekiel Ansah.
Two of those were addressed with the free-agent signings of right tackle Ricky Wagner, guard T.J. Lang and blocking tight end Darren Fells. The third problem requires more attention.
The Lions were one of the few teams that struck gold during the talent-deficient 2013 NFL draft when the organization selected Ansah with the fifth-overall pick. His production dropped in 2016, however, with only two sacks after registering 14.5 sacks during the previous campaign.
Detroit replaced last year's second-leading sack artist, Devin Taylor, when the organization agreed to a two-year contract with Cornelius Washington. But one addition isn't enough. After amassing only 26 sacks last season, Ansah and Co. need reinforcements.
Green Bay Packers
Running Backup Plans
Any time a team finishes dead last in a category, it becomes a priority during the next offseason. The Green Packers ranked 32nd overall last year when it surrendered 8.1 yards per pass attempt. The secondary needs to be addressed, and it will be.
But the Packers are built around quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the team's offense. Wide receiver convert Ty Montgomery is projected as the team's starting running back.
"Obviously it's a very heavy lifting position, so availability will be Ty's No. 1 statistic," head coach Mike McCarthy said, per ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky. "He’s a very talented young man, very bright, obviously understands the whole perimeter part of the offense now, so his utilization and the variation that he gives us as far as alignments and assignments and the different things that he can do will definitely benefit us as far as our offensive scheme."
Another option exists.
"Adrian Peterson is obviously someone we have great respect for, obviously playing him the number of times that we have, but we're trying to improve our offense all the time," McCarthy told Demovsky. "So as far as what's going on, we don't really discuss those things publicly, but you know, I think it's obvious if you look at our depth chart."
The Houston Texans received a fresh start when the Cleveland Browns were willing to take on Brock Osweiler's $16 million cap hit this season in exchange for a future second-round draft pick.
Head coach Bill O'Brien is searching for a more permanent option after playing seven different quarterbacks during his three-year tenure.
"Everybody is striving for stability at that position," O'Brien said, per the Houston Chronicle's John McClain. "Obviously, we haven't had stability there, and that hasn't been any one person's fault. We're always trying to do what's best for the team."
The Texans own the NFL's best defense, and J.J. Watt will return after dealing with a back injury last season. If Houston can develop any type of consistency at the game's most important position, the team will no longer be just a playoff contender. A potential Super Bowl contender could emerge.
The Indianapolis Colts haven't gotten over the playoff hump since Andrew Luck became the organization's franchise quarterback. Early success and even an AFC Championship Game appearance devolved into two straight missed postseason campaigns.
This offseason, the organization concentrated on getting younger on defense while creating a new atmosphere in the locker room.
"I guess after a couple of weeks on the job I knew we were older on defense and we weren't going to be able to fix everything in the draft and we wanted to get some young, veteran talent to up the competition level," general manager Chris Ballard said, per ESPN.com's Mike Wells. "I think [the free agent additions] for the most part these were all young players that still have upside on their career, which is what we are looking for, the ascending arrow."
More importantly, those young players came, for the most part, from winning programs.
"You love to have guys that have been with programs that have won and played winning football and played at a high level," head coach Chuck Pagano said. "That's a mindset and that's something you learn over time."
Running with Bortles
For good or bad, the Jacksonville Jaguars' fate is intertwined with quarterback Blake Bortles. The organization is committed to the former third-overall pick.
Bortles took it upon himself to rework his mechanics this offseason after his passing yardage and touchdowns decreased last season.
"The first week, it wasn't pretty," Bortles said earlier this month before his charity golf tournament, per the Florida Times-Union's Ryan O'Halloran. "It didn't look good. Part of trying to change things is it won't be great [right away]. But we were able to hash it out."
In order to maximize Bortles' talent, the Jaguars must improve their ground game. The rushing offense hasn't finished better than 21st overall since the UCF product has been behind center. A more consistent presence from the running backs will create more opportunities for the quarterback and Jacksonville's talented wide receivers if defenses are concerned with slowing the rushing attack.
Kansas City Chiefs
Go Big at Wide Receiver
If the Kansas City Chiefs don't find another playmaker to help quarterback Alex Smith, they'll continue to go home early in the playoffs.
The Chiefs are one of the NFL's deepest teams. They have fewer concern areas than most. The fact Kansas City managed only 16 points in its playoff contest against the Pittsburgh Steelers is a concern, though.
"We'll get an influx of new players here, so I think it's important that we get them on board and contribute [in] whatever areas that they become contributors," head coach Andy Reid said, per ESPN.com's Adam Teicher.
The offense lacks a true presence among its wide receivers. Tight end Travis Kelce led the Chiefs last year with 85 receptions for 1,125 yards, while the team's top outside targets, Jeremy Maclin and Chris Conley, combined for 1,066 yards.
A legitimate presence is needed to complement Kelce and last year's breakout star, Tyreek Hill.
Los Angeles Chargers
Old Man Rivers
Anytime an NFL head coach mentions his team needs to address quarterback, the position becomes a priority. The Los Angeles Chargers' Anthony Lynn did so at this week's AFC coaches breakfast.
"I think we do have to get a young quarterback on campus and start to develop someone, because we have two veteran quarterbacks and both of them are long in the tooth," Lynn told ESPN.com's Eric D. Williams. "I think they have some good years left in them, don't get me wrong, but you have to start thinking about down the line, too."
Philip Rivers turns 36 years old in December, while backup Kellen Clemens will be 34 during the season. The team already placed an emphasis on upgrading the offensive line this offseason to protect their quarterbacks, which started with the acquisition of veteran left tackle Russell Okung.
Rivers is still playing well, and Lynn's comment wasn't an indictment of his signal-caller. But the 13-year veteran already considered the possibility of retirement, per the San Diego Union-Tribune's Michael Gehlken. Getting a young quarterback to develop and serve as Rivers' heir apparent is smart long-term strategy.
Los Angeles Rams
Goff's Surrounding Cast
When a team invests heavily in a first-round quarterback, patience isn't the only factor in his development. System and surrounding cast are vitally important.
Jared Goff was mostly terrible during his rookie campaign after the Rams made him the No. 1 overall pick. In seven games, the Cal product completed 54.6 percent of his passes for 1,089 yards, five touchdowns and seven interceptions.
But he played in one of the NFL's worst offensive schemes behind a porous offensive line with very little talent at the skill positions outside of running back Todd Gurley. Kenny Britt and Brian Quick led the team in receiving last season, and both left via free agency. The Rams signed Robert Woods in return, but the offense lacks a true No. 1 target.
The pieces need to be in place for Goff to succeed. Head coach Sean McVay plans to start from scratch with his young signal-caller and the offense.
"With him, the first thing is being able to learn our verbiage, how to call a play, get in and out of the huddle and understand the intent of the play, the mechanics, what are the problems with it," McVay said, per LA Rams Report's Bob Garcia IV. "It's a daily process and it’s very important for us to incrementally give him our offense and help him learn that."
Offensive Line Continuity
Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase found something special last season once he decided to lean on his talented offensive line and allow running back Jay Ajayi to carry the offensive load.
The left side is going to be revamped in 2017, though. The Dolphins traded left tackle Branden Albert to the Jacksonville Jaguars at the start of the new league year for a 2018 seventh-round draft pick. Last year's first-round pick, Laremy Tunsil, will bump from guard to his more natural position of left tackle.
"We drafted him in the first round because we felt like he's an elite left tackle," Gase said at the NFL owners meetings, per the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson. "We felt like we have a special player there. When we watch him practice at left tackle, it looks different."
As such, left guard is wide open. The organization signed veteran Ted Larsen to compete for a starting spot. The combination of Larsen and Jermon Bushrod at guard can be upgraded. Both finished the 2016 campaign with negative grades from Pro Football Focus.
These aren't insignificant changes. Good offensive line play is built around continuity and consistency. The Dolphins will need to reestablish both.
Less Offensive Line
A year ago, the Minnesota Vikings owned the NFL's highest-paid offensive line. It didn't work out in the team's favor. But the organization decided not to give up on rebuilding its offensive front through free agency.
Between the signings of left tackle Riley Reiff and right tackle Mike Remmers, the organization spent $88.75 million in total contract value to improve the trenches. Despite this massive investment, the offensive line overhaul should continue.
Even head coach Mike Zimmer doesn't know exactly who his starting five will be.
"I don't know. I think I've got four [starters], but we'll see," Zimmer said, per Eric Smith of the team's official site. "I think I still have to work out the right guard. I think I know what the center is going to be."
The offensive tackle class might be considered poor, but an opportunity to address those interior positions may be available during the draft. If one of the top centers or guards become available, the Vikings would be wise to add another talented blocker.
New England Patriots
The New England Patriots have been extremely active in the trade market. The organization decided not to rest on its laurels and acquired Brandin Cooks, Dwayne Allen and Kony Ealy.
The Patriots may not be done, either. Cornerback Malcolm Butler and backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo continue to draw interest around the league. The New Orleans Saints met with Butler, who is a restricted free agent, and the organization remains open to a potential sign-and-trade deal.
"It's ongoing, if you will," Saints head coach Sean Payton said, per ESPN.com's Mike Reiss. "Obviously, you can't have any discussions with New England because New England hasn't signed the player. So for us, it was a chance to meet him, put him on the board, find out how much football he knows."
Butler and Garoppolo are valuable pieces for the Patriots based on what the team can demand in return. Their potential departures will create holes in the roster, though. Garoppolo is easier to place since Tom Brady isn't retiring and New England spent a third-round pick on Jacoby Brissett last year. Cornerback is more difficult.
With Logan Ryan already leaving during free agency, the signing of Stephon Gilmore only offsets one loss. Butler's potential departure pushes Eric Rowe, Justin Coleman or Cyrus Jones into bigger roles. The Patriots are extremely deep, but these losses add up over time.
New Orleans Saints
Defense, Defense, Defense
The New Orleans Saints need to add defensive playmakers at every level. The team's woeful defense even prompted the trade of wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who led the team with 1,173 receiving yards in 2016.
"I think ultimately one of the challenges sometimes especially here in this offense is the ball gets spread around some, and yet you’re looking at a player who had over 1,200 yards receiving," head coach Sean Payton said, per the Advocate's Nick Underhill. "And it really got down to an opportunity to help improve our team possibly defensively.
New Orleans now owns a pair of first-round picks with a chance to add two key components to a unit that finished 27th overall in total defense. The franchise signed A.J. Klein, Alex Okafor and Manti Te'o in free agency, but they're marginal talents.
Aside from Cameron Jordan, the Saints lack defensive difference-makers. Another pass-rusher is a priority after New Orleans finished 27th overall in that particular category. Obviously, the team is looking to make a major splash in the secondary, too, with its interest in New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler.
New York Giants
So much of what the New York Giants want to accomplish this offseason is based on the improvement or replacement of left tackle Ereck Flowers. The former ninth overall pick was called for 13 penalties last season and surrendered 47 quarterback hurries, per Pro Football Focus.
Despite his subpar play, the Giants still have hope for the 22-year-old blocker.
"I'm not giving up on Ereck Flowers yet," owner John Mara said Sunday, per the New York Post's Paul Schwartz. "... There's a spot for him on our team. Hopefully it will continue to be at left tackle, but I'm not giving up on him yet, and I don't think anyone on our staff is."
The Giants don't need to give up on Flowers. Eventually, the organization might concede he's not an NFL-caliber blindside protector. Quarterback Eli Manning is 36 years old and immobile. The Giants offense can't operate, even with all of its talented wide receivers, if its left tackle doesn't hold up his end of the bargain.
Top left tackle prospects are few and far between in this year's draft class, but the Giants still need to consider all of their options.
New York Jets
Bowles' Increased Involvement
After dropping to 5-11 overall in 2016, New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles plans to take a more active approach, particularly with the team's offense.
Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey retired in January, and John Morton will take over play-calling duties. Morton has never called plays at the NFL level. As such, Bowles' increased involvement makes sense.
"I've been in meeting rooms up until this point, and I will continue to be involved," the head coach said, per ESPN.com's Rich Cimini. "I'll be probably heavily more involved than I've been since I've been here.
The Jets offense needs plenty of help, too. Quarterback remains a mess. The offensive line has been rebuilt. Plus, the team released its most consistent receiver, Brandon Marshall.
"It's just the way I feel as a coach, and have evolved to, and where I need to be," Bowles said. "To understand everything from that [offensive] standpoint, I need to be heavily involved."
Black Hole at Running Back
Marshawn Lynch wants to play for the Oakland Raiders, and the Raiders are interested in Lynch. The Seattle Seahawks have something to say about the situation, though.
The flirtation points to a much bigger issue within the Raiders roster. The offense is barren of running back talent. Leading rusher Latavius Murray signed with the Minnesota Vikings in free agency. Neither of his backups, Jalen Richard nor DeAndre Washington, carried the ball more than 87 times.
Last season, the Raiders finished sixth overall in rushing offense. Without Murray or a legitimate replacement, the ground game is expected to take a step back.
As the organization deals with the upheaval of recent relocation news, football will still be played in Oakland. For the team to replicate its 2016 success, a running game must be established behind the Raiders' talented offensive line to create a balanced offense.
Lynch can be the answer. If he stays retired, the Raiders have other options in free agency or the draft to explore.
Dearth of Defensive Backs
The Philadelphia Eagles lacked talent outside of the numbers at the onset of the offseason.
Clearly, the organization wanted to address wide receiver in free agency in order to help with Carson Wentz's maturation. As such, the offense now features a new pair of starting receivers in Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith.
But cornerback has yet to be adequately addressed. Nolan Carroll signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Patrick Robinson agreed to a one-year, prove-it deal, per ESPN's Adam Schefter. Otherwise, the team plans to rely heavily on a relatively unproven group in Jalen Mills, Ron Brooks, Terrence Brooks and C.J. Smith.
Safeties Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod and Jaylen Watkins return, but even that depth was in question at one point. Jenkins' name came up in a potential trade for wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who eventually landed with the New England Patriots.
"I don't know how many players that don't have a price," Jenkins said, per ESPN.com's Tim McManus. "Whatever that price would be, I don't know, but I'm not naive enough to think that if somebody put in an offer at the right price that I wouldn't be a movable piece."
Bryant or Bust
An aura exists around the Pittsburgh Steelers franchise due to decades of success. Certain preconceptions have been built after years of stingy defense and a power running attack, even though the current Steelers are completely different.
The Steelers are now built around a dynamic offense with a trio of weapons that are counted among the league's best. But the offense can be even better as long as Martavis Bryant stays on the field. The former fourth-round pick is still serving a year-long suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy. According to the Beaver County Times' Chris Bradford, the receiver's reinstatement is imminent.
"From a professional standpoint, we understand the nature of this business, that the train moves on," head coach Mike Tomlin said, per ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler. "And we have been on it now for 12 months. Hopefully he will get the opportunity to maybe get onto the moving train."
Bryant's size and ability to take the top off any defense improves a Steelers offense that finished seventh overall without him. A second option never materialized during Bryant's absence. Eli Rogers finished the 2016 campaign with 89 fewer targets and 690 fewer yards than Antonio Brown.
San Francisco 49ers
Along with the Cleveland Browns, Houston Texans and New York Jets, the San Francisco 49ers are counted among the league's most desperate franchises. The need at the quarterback position is so drastic, each of those organizations have to weigh the pluses and minuses of selecting a young signal-caller early in the draft as opposed to adding an elite talent at another position.
Adding a quarterback is simple, in theory; identifying the right quarterback for a team's situation is far more difficult. New 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan is looking for a specific type of signal-caller.
"All these questions about what I like in a quarterback, Brian [Hoyer] is like that," Shanahan said, per CSN Bay Area's Matt Maiocco. "He's obsessed with the game. He will learn your offense. He'll be able to execute and run it."
The organization finds itself in a Catch-22. Shanahan runs a complex scheme with long play calls. The organization doesn't expect a first-year quarterback to step in and immediately master those complexities. Yet Hoyer isn't a long-term answer. The right fit must be identified among this year's quarterback class to develop and eventually take the reins.
Legion of Blown Blocks
The Seattle Seahawks approach to developing offensive linemen is befuddling. A year ago, the team expected a young and mismatched group to come together on the fly and eventually mold into a passable unit. It never occurred.
Yet head coach Pete Carroll continued to preach the same approach this offseason while expecting a different result.
"What's important to us is that we develop," Carroll said prior to free agency, per the Seattle Times' Bob Condotta. "... We will go into the draft process in the same fashion, and we'll go right through the whole season developing our young guys."
Seattle must add more offensive line help courtesy of the NFL draft, even though Carroll told Condotta there are "very few players" ready to start. Thus, the Seahawks, after proving incapable of putting a solid offensive line on the field last year, are now hoping they can continue to develop those blockers, while only adding Luke Joeckel in free agency and not likely to get any immediate help from the incoming class.
Godspeed, Russell Wilson.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Running Back Runaround
This much the Tampa Bay Buccaneers know: Running back Doug Martin is suspended for the first three games of the 2017 campaign due to a violation of the NFL substance abuse policy. The rest of their running back rotation is up in the air.
The team remains non-committal yet doesn't seem prepared to move on from the former 1,000-yard back.
"It's a unique situation," head coach Dirk Koetter said, per the Tampa Bay Times' Rick Stroud. "I'm a Doug Martin fan. We would love to have Doug on our team. But when the guy who has been a Pro Bowl running back, you know you're not going to have him the first three games of the year, how do you do the reps?"
Martin is coming off his worst season after averaging only 2.9 yards per carry. The team's leading rusher, Jacquizz Rodgers, returns to fill the void. Charles Sims is a young and talented back filled with potential. A wild card may enter the mix, too. Quarterback Jameis Winston has been working out with Adrian Peterson.
"I've seen Adrian Peterson many times playing and that guy is one of the best running backs to ever play," Koetter said. "I'm anxious to talk to Jameis and ask him how his workouts went. That caught me off guard."
Wide Receiver Roundup
The Tennessee Titans came up empty in free agency in an attempt to supplement the wide receiver corps. The team didn't acquire Alshon Jeffery, Terrelle Pryor or Brandin Cooks. Instead, the organization concentrated on fixing its secondary.
Rishard Matthews and Tajae Sharpe are solid and reliable targets, but quarterback Marcus Mariota needs more help. More importantly, a presence is needed on the outside that defenses most account for on a down-by-down basis. The Titans lack a consistent mismatch at the position.
Another concern is the fact Mariota won't be fully healthy during upcoming camps. The Heisman Trophy winner broke his leg on Christmas Eve against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"As long as I continue on this path, I'll be ready to go once fall comes around," the quarterback told KHON 2 News.
The pieces need to be put in place even if the puzzle can't come fully together until the season arrives.
Defensive Distress in D.C.
The Washington Redskins experienced a tumultuous offseason with the dismissal of general manager Scot McCloughan and an inability to sign quarterback Kirk Cousins to a long-term deal. There's still hope within the locker room, though.
"I'm very optimistic," head coach Jay Gruden said, per ESPN.com's John Keim. "I know it's not great, but we've had back-to-back winning seasons. There's no reason for us not to be optimistic."
The league's 28th ranked defense is a good reason to squash the team's optimism. All three levels of the Redskins defense needed to be overhauled this offseason.
The acquisitions of Terrell McClain, Stacy McGee and D.J. Swearinger are a start, but it's not nearly enough. The defensive line is a hodgepodge of talent with only veteran Ziggy Hood returning among last year's starters. A physical presence is required alongside Su'a Cravens at inside linebacker. The secondary, meanwhile, still needs help at both cornerback and safety.