The Perfect Offseason Blueprint for Every NFL Team

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystFebruary 13, 2018

The Perfect Offseason Blueprint for Every NFL Team

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    It's that time of year when all NFL teams are equal. It doesn't matter if you're the 0-16 Cleveland Browns or the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. All teams are equal now. 0-0. 

    Of course, those teams aren't exactly equal. Some, like the Browns, have cap space and draft picks galore but holes all over the roster. Others, like the Eagles, are coming off a great season but face some hard decisions thanks to a tenuous salary-cap situation.

    However, regardless of each team's particular resources and issues, all 32 franchises have a plan. Or at least, they should have a plan—a strategy to fill holes in free agency and the 2018 NFL draft, keep their own stars from walking away and put themselves in the best position for success in 2018.

    However, just in case they don't, we're here to help—with a handy-dandy blueprint for all 32 teams for the upcoming year.

    Think of it as a "how to make the postseason" (either in 2018 or soon afterward) manual—in three easy steps.

Arizona Cardinals

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    Add a Quarterback

    The Cardinals' most glaring need in 2018 is also going to be the most difficult to address. By the time Arizona picks at No. 15, the top four quarterbacks in the draft will more than likely be off the board. And with less than $23 million in cap space, the Redbirds aren't set up well to win the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes.

    That makes the best course of action adding a second-tier free agent, such as Teddy Bridgewater or Case Keenum of the Vikings. If the chips fall the right way on draft day, the Cardinals might then be able to pair that stopgap option with Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph or Louisville's Lamar Jackson on Day 2.


    Find Patrick Peterson a New Friend

    The Cardinals have seemingly been looking for a dependable starter opposite Patrick Peterson at cornerback for years—a search that continues in 2018.

    Arizona might not be able to afford the high-end free agents at the position like Trumaine Johnson and Malcolm Butler, but adding Prince Amukamara, Morris Claiborne or Davon House could upgrade the secondary without breaking the bank. Iowa's Josh Jackson or Colorado's Isaiah Oliver are also possibilities in Round 1.


    Upgrade the Offensive Line

    Just about every NFL team could stand to get better in the trenches, and the Cardinals are no exception—the team ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in both run and pass blocking in 2017, per Football Outsiders.

    Many in the draftnik community expect the Redbirds to hit the O-line early in 2018. Both Bleacher Report's Matt Miller and ESPN's Todd McShay slotted Oklahoma tackle Orlando Brown to the Cardinals in Round 1 of their most recent mock drafts.

Atlanta Falcons

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    Re-Up DT Dontari Poe

    There's good news and bad news for the Atlanta Falcons in 2018. The good news is that the team doesn't have any huge holes or big-name players set to hit free agency. The bad news is that with just $12 million in cap space, the Falcons aren't in a position to be major players in free agency.

    A good portion of that cap space should be reserved to bring back defensive tackle Dontari Poe. Poe is not a superstar, but he's a solid space-eater in the prime of his career who fared well for the team in his first season in Atlanta in 2017.


    Get Better Up Front

    There's going to be a running theme with many of the teams in this article—improving the offensive line.

    If a tackle like Notre Dame's Mike McGlinchey is on the board at 26, that would be hard for the Falcons to pass up, but the right guard spot was the weak link in Atlanta's offensive line in 2017.

    Georgia's Isaiah Wynn was a tackle in college, but the 6'2 ½", 308-pounder projects as an interior lineman at the NFL level. Wynn has the agility and quickness to fit well in Atlanta's zone-blocking scheme and make an immediate impact.


    The Safety Dance

    The Falcons should look for a long-term upgrade at free safety, where Ricardo Allen was OK in 2017 but not much more than that.

    With limited salary-cap resources, the Falcons will be hard-pressed to add a safety in free agency, and the elite draft options at the position will be long gone by the 26th overall pick.

    But all isn't lost. There are a handful of players like DeShon Elliott of Texas who should be available on the second day of the draft who have the potential to provide Atlanta with a center field upgrade.

Baltimore Ravens

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    Re-Up Alex Collins

    On one hand, this is going to happen. Tailback Alex Collins is an exclusive-rights free agent. In theory, all the Ravens have to do is offer Collins a one-year deal at the veteran minimum, and he can either take that or get nothing and sit out a year.

    And with just $10.5 million in cap space, the notion of retaining Collins for the least money possible could appeal to Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome.

    But opening his last season at the helm of the Ravens by burning bridges with an ascending 23-year-old tailback who averaged 4.6 yards a carry for the Ravens last year would also be short-sighted.

    It will behoove Newsome to consider both the financial ramifications of the contract and the repercussions of nickel-and-diming Collins down the road.

    Newsome should attempt to save pennies in 2018 while also offering up a carrot that will leave Collins inclined to call Baltimore home in the long haul.


    Free Up Cap Space

    It wouldn't be all that hard for the Ravens to free up cash that could then be used both on Collins and to improve the other areas of need on the roster.

    The ease with which it could be done, though, speaks to the lack of success Newsome's had at adding veteran talent of late. Tailback Danny Woodhead, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and cornerback Brandon Carr were all "name" free agents brought in on relatively lucrative deals.

    They haven't played up to their paychecks.

    Cutting bait on just that trio would effectively double Baltimore's available wiggle room.


    Improve the Passing-Game Targets

    Now that the run game's squared away and some coin is freed up, it's on to helping out the Ravens' passing attack.

    The Ravens have been looking for improvements for years, but to date Newsome has had little luck, whether it's been with veterans like Maclin or early-round picks like Breshad Perriman.

    If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

    Even if the Ravens bring back Mike Wallace (who led the team in receiving yards last year), Baltimore has to take another run at giving Joe Flacco better targets.

    One veteran to keep in mind is Terrelle Pryor. Pryor showed flashes of No. 1 receiver talent in Cleveland two years ago, but he fell off a cliff in Washington last year.

    That down year makes Pryor risky—but it should also depress his asking price.

Buffalo Bills

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    Retain Tyrod Taylor

    Per Matthew Fairburn of, head coach Sean McDermott refused to comment on Tyrod Taylor's future with the Bills. More and more, the tea leaves seem to point toward Taylor playing somewhere besides Buffalo in 2018.

    If he is let go, the Bills will more than likely be making a mistake.

    Yes, the Bills would save over $10 million under the cap by cutting Taylor. But Buffalo will wind up spending that (at least) for a negligible upgrade at the position given the available free agents at the position. And the top rookies are going to be long gone by pick No. 21.

    Sometimes the devil you know is better than the devil you don't.


    Consider a Move Up in Round 1

    Hanging on to Taylor doesn't mean that Buffalo should sit on their hands under center in 2018.

    Far from it.

    This part of the plan is contingent on Buffalo's QB scouting. The Bills shouldn't trade into the top five to draft a quarterback just to do it. This trade only makes sense if the Bills decide leading up to the draft that one of this year's top quarterbacks is "the guy."

    If that's the case, though, the draft capital the Bills have stockpiled (including picks 21 and 22) should afford them the ammo necessary to swing a deal.


    Be Realistic About Where You Are

    So far, we've mentioned one path that's rather conservative and another that's aggressive—although those two paths might also merge if Taylor were to be kept around as a one-year bridge starter.

    Whichever avenue the Bills take, continued success for the franchise relies on a healthy dose of realism.

    Yes, the Bills made the playoffs last year for the first time since 1999. But it was a quiet, one-and-done return—the Bills are more than one player away from being a legitimate Super Bowl contender in the AFC.

    There's no "magic bullet" signing or draft pick this year.

    So don't hamper future progress by reaching for one.

Carolina Panthers

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    Bid Adieu to an Old Standby

    The Panthers are in pretty good shape all things considered, although the defense is aging. Unfortunately, the team's biggest problem on offense is also one of the harder ones to fix in the NFL.

    The team's gamble that Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil would rub off a bit on younger brother Matt appears to have backfired. The opposite seemed to happen in 2017. Matt struggled in his first year with the Panthers, and Ryan missed over half of the season for the second year in a row.

    Given that lack of durability, it's time for the Panthers to consider parting ways with the 32-year-old—a move that would save almost $7 million against the salary cap.

    At the very least, a pay cut would appear to be in order, despite Kalil's status as one of the Panthers' elder statesmen. Any extra money would come in handy in an attempt to keep Andrew Norwell in town.


    Speed Kills

    The Panthers were a playoff team in 2017, but if you watched the offense much, one thing became clear—Carolina needs to add a vertical threat. The team lacks a receiver with the ability to stretch the field and keep defenses honest.

    Carolina presently sits in the bottom half of the NFL in available cap space, at $20.3 million. Even if they clear some cash, that may put them out of the market where the high-end free-agent receivers are concerned.

    Still, the Panthers don't need to spend a fortune to improve. Adding a second-tier free agent like Paul Richardson or a Day 2 draft talent like Texas A&M's Christian Kirk could serve to open things up for Cam Newton.


    Living on the Edge

    The Panthers had one of the NFL's best pass rushes in 2017. Only two teams in the NFL had more sacks than the Panthers' 50.

    But that pass rush is also getting long in the tooth, with Julius Peppers, Charles Johnson and Mario Addison all the wrong side of 30. Peppers is also a free agent-to-be—and 38 years of age.

    In other words, the Carolina front four could use an infusion of youth.

    There should be a potential difference-maker available to the Panthers at 24, whether it's LSU's Arden Key, Ohio State's Sam Hubbard or possibly even small-school stud Marcus Davenport.

Chicago Bears

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    Widen the Receiver Talent

    The Chicago Bears have a lot invested in Mitchell Trubisky, both in terms of money and draft capital. Now the team needs to give Trubisky a fighting chance to succeed. Yes, it will get Cameron Meredith back (probably—he's a restricted free agent), but Chicago's leading pass-catcher in 2017 was Kendall Wright.


    Whether it's early in the draft with a player like Alabama's Calvin Ridley or in free agency with some of their $41.2 million in salary-cap space (or both), the Bears need to add a No. 1-caliber wideout.

    They could stand to add depth behind that No. 1 as well.


    Address the Secondary

    In addition to adding players who can catch passes, the Bears are also in the market to land a few who stop opponents from doing the same—especially with both Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller set to hit the open market.

    With both of those players ranked inside the top 10 at the position in free agency this year, according to Walter Football, the Bears may not be able to afford to keep both and add talent at other positions.

    If Ohio State's Denzel Ward (the player considered by most the top cornerback in the class of 2018) makes it to Chicago at pick No. 8, he'd be hard to pass on.

    If that's not the case, the Bears could look to pair a veteran free agent with a Day 2 talent like Central Florida's Mike Hughes.


    Trim the Roster

    The Bears can free up some cash to attack both of those areas of need (and add depth along the offensive line) more aggressively if they can free up some more room under the salary cap.

    They can do that with relative ease—quite a bit of room, actually.

    And all they have to do is cut loose some dead weight.

    Were the Bears to walk away from veteran linebacker Jerrell Freeman (serving a 10-game PED suspension—still), quarterback Mike "Boondoggle" Glennon and pass-rusher Pernell McPhee (who hasn't come close to living up to his contract), the team would clear about $22 million off the cap for 2018.

    That's enough to sign a pair of difference-making free agents—with money to spare.

Cincinnati Bengals

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    Trade AJ McCarron

    This first one assumes that AJ McCarron doesn't win his grievance against the Bengals later this week. If he does and is declared an unrestricted free agent, all bets are off.

    Even if McCarron loses that grievance, however, the Bengals are still better off without him on the roster when Week 1 gets underway.

    It's no knock on the quarterback. Quite the opposite. McCarron has shown enough in spot duty to merit interest from any number of NFL teams—especially with him under relatively cheap control for one more season.

    The Bengals might not get the package of picks the Cleveland Browns offered in their aborted 2017 deal for McCarron, but the second-rounder New England got for Jimmy Garoppolo is doable.

    It beats what they'll get a year from now—a wave goodbye.


    Tackle the Offensive Front

    Oh yeah. It's this one again.

    If there's one painfully obvious fact with the Cincinnati Bengals, it's this—the team badly needs to improve the offensive line, both inside and outside.

    Young tackle Cedric Ogbuehi has been a massive disappointment. Center Russell Bodine is average on a good day and is slated to hit free agency.

    With about $35.5 million in cap space and a frugal owner in Mike Brown, this year's top free-agent guard (Andrew Norwell of the Carolina Panthers) is probably out of Cincinnati's price range.

    But between free agency and the 2018 draft (the Bengals pick 12th overall), Cincinnati has to bolster the offensive line considerably to avoid a third straight season of missing the playoffs.


    Slap the Franchise Tag on Tyler Eifert

    This one is, as they say, a no-brainer

    When he's healthy and on his game, tight end Tyler Eifert is one of the athletic, field-stretching tight ends that few NFL teams have but all wish they did. His 13-touchdown 2015 season is evidence of that.

    But the whole “when he's healthy” caveat is a big one with Eifert. His 41 missed games in five years is proof of that. Eifert has missed almost all of two seasons—including 14 games last year.

    The talent's worth rolling the dice on, but the durability issues make a long-term deal problematic at best.

    Enter the franchise tag, which was just under $10 million for tight ends in 2017. That's a lot of money, but it would be worth it to see if Eifert can rebound in 2018.

Cleveland Browns

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    Draft a Quarterback…EARLY

    This would seem to go without saying, but since the Browns keep refusing to do it, it needs to be said.

    The Browns have a pair of picks in the top five in this year's draft. One of those picks needs to be a quarterback—preferably the first one.

    The Browns have tried trading back and drafting a signal-caller in the back half of Round 1. They've tried trading back and selecting a quarterback in Round 2. Neither worked.

    What they haven't tried since their expansion season is using the No. 1 overall pick on a quarterback. Tim Couch didn't pan out, but he also never had a chance behind a non-existent line.

    Scout this year's quarterbacks. Pick one. Draft him at 1. It's not that hard.

    And no getting cute and waiting until 4 in the hopes their guy will fall that far. It's Cleveland.

    He won't.


    Trade for Tyrod Taylor

    Drafting a quarterback of the future is just one part of the plan. The Browns need a quarterback of the present, too—even if it's just for 2018.

    No, not Kirk Cousins. Let some other team make Cousins the NFL's highest-paid player. The Browns aren't magically going to become any more competitive than Washington has been with Cousins at the helm.

    With Tyrod Taylor making it clear that he will not take another pay cut to stay in Buffalo, it's looking all the more likely the Bills will move on from him this offseason.

    Cleveland's flush with draft picks and cap space—more than enough to bring in Taylor as a bridge to that shiny new QB they're taking first overall.


    Don't Make Wild Moves in Free Agency

    The Browns have the biggest free-agency war chest in the AFC—over $110 million. And plenty of fans are chomping at the bit to see Cleveland pursue high-dollar free agents like Cousins, Demarcus Lawrence and Trumaine Johnson.

    But more often than not, free-agency spending sprees in the NFL offer up a lousy return on investment. And it could be that much worse for the Browns, who may have to overpay after going 0-16 in 2017.

    This isn't to say the Browns should sit on their hands. Or that they should stick to the scratch-and-dent rack.

    But be smart. Don't spend money just because you can and sign deals the team will be trying to wriggle out of two years from now.

Dallas Cowboys

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    Tag Demarcus Lawrence

    There's no question that defensive end Demarcus Lawrence had a phenomenal 2017 season. Only one player in the NFL had more sacks a year ago than Lawrence's 14.5.

    However, there's also no denying that in the previous three seasons of his career, Lawrence had nine sacks total—and eight of those came in 2015. The 25-year-old has missed at least seven games in two of four seasons thanks to back and foot injuries.

    The franchise tag for defensive ends will likely be $17 million and change in 2018—a number that would eat up most of Dallas' current cap room.

    But the same long-term deal for Lawrence that would get the Cowboys more cap relief could also be a catastrophe if 2017 turns out to be an outlier.


    Add a Secondary Receiver

    This one seemingly gets dusted off every year in Dallas.

    There's been a lot written about the struggles of Dez Bryant in 2017. But at least part of the problem is that Bryant just doesn't have much around him. There isn't a receiver on the roster consistent enough to inspire trepidation in opponents, which means that much more attention is placed on No. 88.

    If Alabama's Calvin Ridley is still on the board at 19, Stephen Jones may pull a hammy running to the podium to make the pick.

    But even if Ridley is gone, Dallas needs to attack the wide receiver spot on the first two days of the 2018 draft.


    Do the Same at Cornerback

    This Cowboys team isn't that much different than the 2016 iteration that won 13 games and the NFC East. Shore up a couple of weaknesses, and Dallas can get right back in it in 2018.

    The cornerback spot is one of those weaknesses. The team has some young talent at the position, but with that youth comes some growing pains and inconsistency.

    The Cowboys likely won't be big spenders in free agency this year, but the team could stand to add a veteran on a short-term deal and some additional depth in the secondary in this year's draft.

Denver Broncos

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    Sign Kirk Cousins

    There isn't going to be a more sought-after free agent in 2018 than quarterback Kirk Cousins. QB-needy teams across the NFL will be lining up to make the 29-year-old the highest-paid player in NFL history.

    The Denver Broncos should be at the front of that line.

    This Broncos team isn't that much different from the squad that won Super Bowl 50, with one significant exception—Denver's play under center was awful last year.

    However, this Broncos team is two years older. The defense is starting to show its age a little. There's still a window, but it isn't getting any bigger.

    It's not going to be cheap, but signing Cousins makes Denver an instant contender in the AFC West.


    Restructure the Contract of WR Demaryius Thomas

    As things stand today, the Broncos have about $27 million in cap space. That may well be the jumping-off point for a deal with Cousins, so the team has to find more.

    There's been ample speculation since the season ended that the Broncos will free up space by either redoing the contract of wide receiver Demaryius Thomas or releasing the veteran wide receiver altogether. The 30-year-old is set to count over $12 million against the cap in 2018.

    It's going to be easier to sell Cousins on Denver if the Broncos keep their talented wideout duo of Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders intact.

    And it might be easier to sell Thomas on that new deal if he knows it's a step toward the Broncos contending.


    Draft an Offensive Lineman in Round 1

    Of course, all the weapons in the world are no good to Cousins if he's running for his life. So, upgrading an offensive line that was 29th in the NFL in pass protection, per Football Outsiders, in 2017 is a priority as well.

    How it's done isn't as important as doing it, but Denver's best chance at finding an impact player probably lies in Round 1 of the 2018 NFL draft.

    In fact, there's an opportunity for the Broncos to have their cake and it eat it too here. Denver picks fifth—substantially higher than most draftniks have this year's top tackle prospects slotted.

    If a team picking behind them sees an opportunity to jump up and take a quarterback at five, the Broncos could pick up an extra first-round pick in 2019 and still land a player like Connor Williams of Texas—the top-ranked tackle in 2018, according to B/R NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller.

Detroit Lions

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    Franchise-Tag Ezekiel Ansah

    When he's healthy and on top of his game, Ezekiel Ansah is a dominant edge-rusher. The 28-year-old had double-digit sacks last year for the second time in five NFL seasons. In three different games last season, Ansah piled up three sacks.

    The problem is that Ansah had just three sacks in the other 13 games combined. Ansah also had just two sacks in 2016, and he's battled injuries with regularity over his career.

    Ansah's combination of talent and inconsistency (as well as the fact he plays a premium position) makes it difficult for the Lions to swallow the idea of a long-term mega-deal.

    The franchise tag, on the other hand, allows the Lions another year to see if Ansah can stay healthy and back up last year's production—even if it won't be cheap ($17 million or so in 2018).


    Get Ansah Some Help

    Step 2 for the Lions and their new defensive-minded head coach Matt Patricia is adding some help for Ansah up front. The Lions were 20th in the NFL in sacks in 2017, with 35.

    With over $44 million in wiggle room against the salary cap, the Lions appear positioned to be big players in free agency. But as I just mentioned, tagging or re-signing Ziggy Ansah is going to swallow up a lot of that cash.

    That may leave the 20th overall pick as Patricia's best chance at adding a difference-maker defensively. It's not yet certain what Patricia has in mind for Detroit's defense, but Washington beefeater Vita Vea, Ohio State defensive end Sam Hubbard and Boston College edge-rusher Harold Landry could all be on the radar in that spot.



    No, I haven't forgotten about Detroit's league-worst ground game—a rushing “attack” that managed just 76.3 yards per game in 2017.

    To say that tailback is a priority for the Lions is an understatement.

    Envisioning Le'Veon Bell's return to Michigan is a fun fantasy, but that's all it is. If the Lions are going to hit tailback in free agency, the best options who would realistically be available are Carlos Hyde and Isaiah Crowell.

    In the draft, Saquon Barkley will be long gone by pick No. 20, and it's a touch early to select LSU tailback Derrius Guice. But Guice, a talented 5'11", 218-pound bellcow in the making, probably won't make it to the back half of Round 2 either.

    Who's up for a little wheeling-and-dealing?

Green Bay Packers

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    Bid Goodbye to Morgan Burnett

    Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson had a reputation for being one of the best in the business. He was also known for being frugal in free agency, although Thompson would spend when necessary to keep home-grown talents in Titletown.

    New GM Brian Gutekunst would be wise to take a page from the Thompson playbook. Because with veteran strong safety Morgan Burnett, big spending isn't necessary.

    It's no knock on Burnett as a player. The 29-year-old has topped 100 total tackles three times in eight seasons, and Burnett played a number of roles for the Packers in 2017, from slot corner to "nitro" inside linebacker.

    But Burnett also scuffled a bit in coverage at times last year, the Packers have a replacement waiting in the wings in second-year player Josh Jones, and Spotrac estimates Burnett will command a contract in the range of $10 million a season—a deal that would eat up well over half of Green Bay's available cap space.


    Living on the Edge

    There are a lot of new faces in both the front office and coaching staff in Green Bay in 2018. But one thing hasn't changed—pass-rusher remains arguably the team's biggest offseason priority.

    Green Bay ranked 17th with 37 sacks last year. Clay Matthews, who paced the team with 7.5 sacks, hasn't hit double digits in that category since 2014.

    If Marcus Davenport makes it to pick No. 14, the Pack would be well-advised to take a long look at the wildly athletic small-school star. But at any rate, Green Bay needs to add help for Matthews over the first two days of the 2018 NFL draft.


    Don't Jump the Gun at Wide Receiver

    Part of the reason the Packers don't have a ton of cap room (only about $17 million) is that both Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson carry cap hits of over $12 million for the upcoming year—the last year of their contracts.

    As such, both wide receivers have been mentioned as candidates for restructuring or even possible cap casualties.

    The first idea isn't a bad one. The second one not so much. Yes, Nelson's numbers were way down in 2017, but that had a lot more to do with the fact Aaron Rodgers was hurt than anything the 32-year-old receiver did or didn't do.

    Keep the band together at least one more year.

Houston Texans

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    Show Brian Cushing the Door

    The good news for the Houston Texans is that the team is in a pretty advantageous position relative to the salary cap, with $56.6 million in wiggle room.

    The bad news is that free agency is just about the only way Houston is going to get better in 2018—the team won't pick until Round 3 after sending its first two picks to Cleveland in the Deshaun Watson and Brock Osweiler trades.

    Given that, the Texans would be advised to create as much cash as possible with which to add players. And there's one cut in particular that's a no-brainer.

    Veteran linebacker Brian Cushing has been reduced to a part-time role with the team with the emergence of youngster Zach Cunningham, and Houston could clear an additional $7.6 million  by releasing the 31-year-old.


    Attack the Offensive Line

    If the Texans have any hopes of making a quick return to contention in the AFC South, they have to do something about an offensive line that allowed 54 sacks in 2017—the second-most in the NFL.

    That could be easier said than done. The top free-agents-to-be along the O-line, such as Carolina Panthers guard Andrew Norwell, may well never see the open market. The ones who do will be paid handsomely, even if they are only average talents.

    Russell Okung got over $13 million a year from the Los Angeles Chargers a year ago.

    The Texans have little choice but to get after it on the O-line in free agency—even if it means overpaying.


    Get Nuk Some Help

    In DeAndre Hopkins, the Texans have one of the NFL's best wide receivers. And while Deshaun Watson was healthy, Will Fuller showed flashes of being a dangerous deep threat.

    But the Texans need to add some talent at receiver—an underneath, move-the-chains type who can help draw some attention away from Hopkins and afford Watson a secondary target.

    This is an area the Texans might be able to address with one of their two third-round picks with a rookie like Anthony Miller of Memphis or Penn State's DaeSean Hamilton.

    Jarvis Landry would be a great add in this regard, but he won't come cheaply. Tight end Jimmy Graham of the Seattle Seahawks could also be a potential target, as could less expensive options like Tyrell Williams and Jordan Matthews.

Indianapolis Colts

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    Move Past the McDaniels Fiasco

    Per Zak Keefer of the Indy Star, Colts general manager Chris Ballard insisted that the Josh McDaniels fiasco didn't put the team in a rush to find a new head coach.

    "It's football. There's a lot of good coaches out there. There's a lot of good assistant coaches out there," Ballard said. "Everybody gets in panic mode and just starts hiring, and I just don't believe in that. I think you've got to be patient. Take your time."

    But for a team that wasn't in a hurry, the Colts wasted no time in finding a new man to run the team, tabbing Frank Reich as the head coach over the weekend.

    There's still the awkward matter of assistants signed by the Colts to work under McDaniels now finding themselves working for Reich, but the team needs to get past both that and the whole McDaniels mess as quickly as possible.

    There's work to be done.


    Get a Better Insurance Policy at Quarterback

    While we're on the subject of bull, the Colts also continue to insist that Andrew Luck's surgically repaired shoulder is fine and there's nothing to worry about with their star quarterback.

    Of course, that's the same song-and-dance the team peddled while Luck sat out the entire 2017 season, and Luck still hasn't even picked up a football in months.

    Last year, the Colts refused to acknowledge the reality of the Luck situation until it was too late. While Jacoby Brissett was OK for a last-minute addition, if he's the starter for a long period in 2018, the results aren't going to be a bit different than last year.

    The Colts need a better insurance policy, whether it's another veteran or a mid-round rookie with potential for the future.

    The Colts may shudder at the thought, but it's fair to question whether Luck will ever be the same quarterback again.


    Trade for Muhammad Wilkerson

    The Colts spent big money last year on upgrading the pass rush, bringing in John Simon and Jabaal Sheard as free agents. But the return on investment wasn't great—the Colts finished 2017 30th in the NFL in sacks.

    Luckily for Indy, there's a player twisting in the wind who could be an ideal fit in Indianapolis.

    Yes, the 2017 season was a nightmare for Muhammad Wilkerson, who managed just 3.5 sacks and plummeted from favor with the Jets.

    But Wilkerson is just 28. He piled up 12 sacks as recently as 2015, and the seven-year veteran plays the run well. The Colts have plenty of cap space to absorb Wilkerson's contract.

    Also, after last year's mess, the Jets would probably only ask for a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos if it meant getting out from under that deal.

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Get Better Behind Blake Bortles

    There's been plenty of speculation regarding the future of Blake Bortles in Jacksonville. But Bortles' wrist injury (and subsequent surgery) may have ended that drama. Unless Bortles can pass a physical by March 16 (unlikely at this point), his entire $19 million salary for 2018 becomes guaranteed.

    However, just because Bortles is on the roster doesn't mean the Jaguars are done under center. They need a better insurance policy against a Bortles injury (or poor performance).

    Both Cincinnati's AJ McCarron and Tampa's Ryan Fitzpatrick have starting experience and would be upgrades over Chad Henne. McCarron also offers some potential as a starter of the future, but as a likely restricted free agent, acquiring him would likely require a trade with the Bengals.


    Keep Allen Robinson in the Fold

    The Jags face some tough decisions this year as well at the wide receiver position. Both Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee are free agents, and given how much cash the Jaguars can clear off the books by releasing him, Allen Hurns is a near-lock to be released.

    That leaves the Jaguars with a rather binary choice. Hang onto Lee, who led the team with 56 catches in 2017. Or retain Robinson, who exploded for 1,400 yards and 14 scores back in 2015 but missed almost all of 2017 with a torn ACL.

    Robinson is the player to keep—perhaps courtesy of the franchise tag.

    The reason is simple—upside. Robinson has shown the ability to serve as an elite No. 1 wide receiver. Lee doesn't have the same ceiling.


    Draft Mike McGlinchey with the 29th pick

    The Jaguars aren't going to get the quarterback fans want at 29th overall—unless the team reaches for Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State) or Lamar Jackson (Louisville).

    However, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller singled out Notre Dame tackle Mike McGlinchey as a target, calling the 6'7", 291-pounder a "a [Tom] Coughlin / [David] Caldwell-type pick given his production at a major college and his high character off the field."

    In related news, Miller knows stuff.

    It's a great pick at the back of Round 1—a high-motor player who would upgrade an area where every team in the NFL is always looking to upgrade. It's also the sort of "best player available" pick that's wise at the end of the round.

Kansas City Chiefs

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Wave Goodbye to a Couple of Old Standbys

    The Kansas City Chiefs aren't in a great position relative to the salary cap in 2018. They have $12,594 in space.

    Of course, that doesn't account for the trade of Alex Smith to Washington—a move that (once it's official) will add $17 million to the team's war chest.

    Now to add some more.

    Veteran linebackers Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson were mainstays on the Chiefs defense for most of the past decade-plus. But both are also shells of the players they once were and carry a combined cap hit of over $11 million in 2018.

    It's time to move on.


    But Wait, There's More!

    Those cuts would afford Kansas City cap room in the neighborhood of $25 million. But there are a few more moves that could free up more space to add players in free agency or re-up guys like defensive tackle Bennie Logan.

    Defensive end Allen Bailey has had his moments but not enough of them to justify a cap hit of almost $8 million. His release would push the Chiefs over $30 million in cap space.

    Safety Ron Parker is in a similar situation. Parker is not a bad player, but he also isn't a great one—his release would free up another $5 million, although a restructure wouldn't be a bad idea in his case.


    Win Big on Day 2 of the Draft

    After trading up to select Patrick Mahomes in 2017, the Chiefs don't have a pick in Round 1 in 2018. However, the trade that sent Smith to D.C. netted the Chiefs a third-rounder this year, giving Kansas City three picks on Day 2.

    The Chiefs need to make those picks count.

    In his post-Super Bowl mock draft, B/R NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller slotted West Virginia safety Kyzir White to the Chiefs in Round 2 and Auburn edge-rusher Jeff Holland and Indiana wide receiver Simmie Cobbs in the third.

    Those acquisitions wouldn't solve all Kansas City's personnel issues (cornerback and both lines are needs as well), but that haul plus a shrewd second-tier free-agent signing or two would be a solid start for Brett Veach's first full offseason as Kansas City's general manager.

Los Angeles Chargers

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Bring Back Unheralded Contributors

    The likes of wide receiver Tyrell Williams and safeties Tre Boston and Adrian Phillips are hardly household names. But each has enough value to the Chargers for the team to give thought to bringing them back in 2018.

    Williams' numbers were down in 2017, but he had a 1,000-yard season in 2016. Boston was second on the team with 79 total tackles in his first season in L.A. in 2017. And Phillips showed to be a versatile player capable of performing as a "hybrid" nickel linebacker.

    The best part? The Chargers will be able to bring back at least two of these players without breaking the bank if they choose, as both Williams and Phillips are restricted free agents in 2018.


    Fortify the Inside

    The Chargers were awful against the run in 2017, largely because the team's linebackers were equal parts injured and inconsistent. Denzel Perryman is solid when healthy, but that's a significant caveat for a player who missed over half of last season and has never played in all 16 games of a campaign.

    It's not especially likely the Bolts will be able to do much about their linebacker issues in free agency. Zach Brown will more than likely be re-upped by Washington. NaVorro Bowman carries injury risks of his own. And the rest of the crop is rather uninspiring.

    Were Georgia's Roquan Smith to fall to 17, the Chargers would pounce in a second. But it's more likely the team will be left looking at a player like Alabama's Rashaan Evans in Round 1 or Boise State's Leighton Vander Esch on Day 2.


    Nothing Lasts Forever

    Philip Rivers might not be ready for the scrap heap just yet, but the 36-year-old is also not getting any younger. And the Chargers don't have a quarterback on the roster ready to take over for Rivers.

    The 17th overall pick is a reach for Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph or Louisville's Lamar Jackson—especially for a Chargers team in "win now" mode with more immediate needs. But if those young signal-callers make it back around to L.A. in Round 2, they would merit a long look.

    Washington State's Luke Falk, who impressed at the Senior Bowl in January, is another second-day quarterback with the potential to start who would benefit from learning from Rivers for a year or two.

Los Angeles Rams

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    Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    Re-Up Sammy Watkins

    The Rams were a phenomenal offensive team in 2017—the highest-scoring team in the NFL. But Sammy Watkins wasn't a major contributor in his first year with the team, managing just 39 catches for 593 yards.

    However, eight of those catches went for touchdowns, and it's worth pointing out that while Watkins led all Rams receivers in snaps, he was third in targets, trailing both Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods.

    This isn't to say the Rams should break the bank for the 24-year-old if the bidding gets too out of hand. But with $40.8 million in cap space, the Rams have the coin to keep the receiver corps together.

    If it ain't broke, don't fix it.



    In theory, the Rams don't have to pay Donald yet. He's under team control for 2018 at a relatively modest $6.9 million thanks to his fifth-year option. The Rams could tag Donald in 2019 and kick his megadeal another year down the road.

    That would be disastrously shortsighted.

    There are a handful of players in the NFL who are so good—so dominant—that teams need to put consideration into keeping those players as happy as possible. The cost of doing so beats having an unhappy superstar who stews and later plans his escape from town.

    Donald is one of those players, and the 2017 NFL Defensive Player of the Year made it clear with his holdout last summer that he believes (rightly) that he deserves a big-time raise.

    And that was before he won DPOY.

    Give it to him.


    Draft a Successor to Andrew Whitworth

    The acquisition of Andrew Whitworth was a godsend for the Rams in 2017—a key component of the team's offensive explosion and NFC West title.

    But at 36 years of age, he doesn't many years left in the tank.

    It's a good class of tackle talent in the 2018 NFL draft, and there's a possibility that Notre Dame's Mike McGlinchey or Oklahoma's Orlando Brown will be on the board when the Rams pick at 23.

    Pulling the trigger would both add depth on the offensive line and afford the Rams' new youngster a year to acclimate to the NFL and learn from one of the game's best.

Miami Dolphins

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Let Jarvis Landry Walk

    Given that Jarvis Landry just led the NFL in receptions and that he is easily the Dolphins' most reliable wide receiver, it might sound odd to advocate Miami walking away in 2018. And this isn't to say that there's no scenario in which it makes sense for the Dolphins to re-sign the 25-year-old slot man extraordinaire.

    But that's the thing. Landry is a slot receiver. A really good one—but a slot receiver.

    Landry is looking to be paid like an elite receiver. Spotrac estimates his new contract will be worth upward of $14 million a year.

    That's a ton of money for a player who averaged only 8.8 yards a catch and didn't crack 1,000 yards in 2017 despite catching 112 passes.

    It's also way too much cabbage for a Miami team sitting on $8.3 million in cap space.


    Redo Some Deals

    The Dolphins salary-cap situation is a mess. Ndamukong Suh's monstrosity of a contract is tied like an anchor around the franchise's neck. Overpriced veterans like Andre Branch and Kiko Alonso couldn't be cut if the Dolphins wanted to. The dead money involved would make the cap situation worse.

    And while the team could save $8.1 million against the cap by releasing Cameron Wake, it would mean walking away from their most productive pass-rusher in 2017 (10.5 sacks).

    It might not be an easy sell in some cases, but at the very least, the Dolphins have to try to restructure some contracts to eke out a little breathing room.

    If they don't, Miami will be relegated to the status of spectator for much of free agency.


    Get an Immediate Difference-Maker in Round 1

    It's not all bad news for the Dolphins in 2018. Miami picks 11th in the 2018 NFL draft, but given all the teams ahead of them who need a quarterback or teams that may move up to take one, the Dolphins have an excellent chance to land a top-five non-QB talent.

    On defense, that could mean Florida State safety Derwin James, Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith or Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.

    On offense, Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson and Alabama wideout Calvin Ridley would be in the mix.

    All have the makings of being immediate starters.

    There's also an outside chance one of the top four quarterbacks could fall this far, opening the possibility of a trade back that would land the Dolphins additional picks.

Minnesota Vikings

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    Bring Back Case Keenum AND Teddy B

    The dominant storyline in Minnesota this offseason is no doubt the team's situation at quarterback, where 2017 starter Case Keenum, Sam Bradford (who started Week 1) and Teddy Bridgewater are all slated to hit free agency in March.

    There's been a ton of speculation regarding which quarterback the Vikings will pick, but as's Courtney Cronin pointed out, it isn't necessarily an "either or" proposition.

    If the Vikings can get Keenum to agree to a short-term deal in the neighborhood of $20 million and Bridgewater to ink a similarly short deal for about half that, the Vikings have the cap space to do both. It will be all the more easy to do if Bridgewater's contract is tolled and he remains under club control.

    It would create one of the most fascinating camp battles of 2018, but it would also offer a measure of insurance against a Keenum regression or Bridgewater injury.


    Re-Sign Jerick McKinnon

    The quarterbacks, as they always do, are hogging all the offseason storylines in the Twin Cities. But there's at least one other offensive player the Vikings would be wise to retain.

    Granted, it doesn't sound like Jerick McKinnon will be back with the Vikings in 2018. He made that clear when he told reporters, via Cronin: "I want to be the guy. I don't put in all the work in the offseason to come back and be in this role. I appreciate the role. It worked out well, but I want bigger and better things for myself."

    However, it's possible the market for McKinnon's services won't be as robust as he hopes. If that's the case, the Vikings should be ready to make a push to retain the 25-year-old as depth in the backfield after his career-high 991 total yards in 2017.


    Draft Ohio State's Billy Price

    The Vikings did a good job of upgrading an offensive line in 2017 that was among the worst in the NFL two years ago.

    But just because that line is better than it was doesn't mean there isn't work to be done.

    This recommendation will all be moot if Ohio State offensive lineman Billy Price is already off the board before the Vikes pick at 30. But if Price is there, the Vikings should add the 6'4", 312-pounder without a second thought.

    Price is a clone of 2017 pick (and former teammate) Pat Elflein—a technically proficient, hard-nosed, NFL-ready interior lineman capable of stepping in right away at guard or center.

New England Patriots

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    Don't Panic

    In any other year, it would seem strange to suggest the New England Patriots might panic—even after a heartbreaking Super Bowl loss.

    But this isn't any other year. Tom Brady will be 41 years old when the 2018 season starts. Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia left to become the Lions' head coach. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels nearly did the same with the Colts.

    And as the Eagles showed during the Super Bowl, the Patriots are not flawless.

    Yet now more than ever, it's time for calm. This is an important offseason for a team whose championship window is shrinking with each passing day.

    Don't hasten the end of an era by making hasty calls.


    Be Aggressive

    This may seem paradoxical, but the Patriots aren't in a position to be overly patient, either.

    If last year was any indication, they'll be bigger offseason players than their cap space indicates. In 2017, the Pats swung a trade for wide receiver Brandin Cooks and paid big money to cornerback Stephon Gilmore, both of whom went on to play significant parts in their Super Bowl run.

    A similar approach in 2018 is New England's best bet at jamming that title window open for now.


    Make Cornerback a Priority

    The Eagles embarrassed the New England secondary in Super Bowl LII. And after Malcolm Butler's surprise benching before the game, the odds of him returning to Boston are approximately zero.

    In other words, the Patriots need help on the back end. But with less than $15 million in cap space, adding a big-name free agent like Trumaine Johnson is unlikely.

    The Patriots' record of success might be enough to get them a discount from a second-tier free agent option like Ross Cockrell or Aaron Colvin, though. They should also look hard at the secondary with their 31st overall pick, assuming they still have it in April.

New Orleans Saints

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Don't Think Too Much

    The New Orleans Saints have about $32 million in cap space in 2018, but they have at least one big-name free agent they have to re-sign: Drew Brees.

    Yes, Brees is 39 years old. Yes, his numbers were down in 2017. But those numbers were down thanks to a more balanced offense—Brees' passer rating of 103.9 was his highest since 2013.

    And he's, you know, the best player the Saints have ever had.

    This isn't a complicated situation. They should sign Brees to a two-year deal that makes him the highest-paid player in NFL history in terms of average annual salary, unless he's willing to take less.


    Bring Back Alex Okafor

    Once the Saints re-up Brees, that will wipe out the overwhelming majority of their cap space. And a number of ugly deals leave them in a position where freeing up additional space could be problematic.

    Looking at you, Coby Fleener. Looking

    However, the Saints have at least one other impending free agent they need to try to keep.

    Durability is a concern with defensive end Alex Okafor, who missed six games in 2017 after tearing his Achilles. But the 27-year-old played some of the best football of his career before he went down, and that injury might depress his value enough that New Orleans can afford to bring him back.


    Get Better at Linebacker

    The Saints improved by leaps and bounds defensively in 2017 en route to winning the NFC South, but the linebacker corps remains something of a weak spot. And given their lack of available cash, they'll likely have to improve that group in the early rounds of the 2018 NFL draft.

    Bleacher Report's Matt Miller expects New Orleans to do just that, singling out Malik Jefferson of Texas as a target with the 27th overall pick.

    "With coaching and reps at just one position instead of jumping all over the defense," Miller said, "Jefferson could be a high-level starter." 

New York Giants

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    Steven Ryan/Getty Images

    Go Get Josh Rosen

    There isn't much doubt the New York Giants will draft a quarterback with the second overall pick in 2018. Eli Manning is near the end of the line, and Big Blue doesn't often land a pick this high in the draft.

    The last time the Giants picked in the top five was 2004, which is the year they swung the trade that brought Manning to town.

    It's time for deja vu all over again.

    UCLA's Josh Rosen looks like the top quarterback in the class of 2018. Rosen has made it clear he would rather not begin his career in Cleveland, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter—much like Manning did with the then-San Diego Chargers.

    So long as the Browns don't demand a king's ransom for the No. 1 pick, sliding up to snag Rosen will look better with each passing year for the Giants.


    Hit the Linebacker Position Hard

    If there was one constant under former general manager Jerry Reese, it's that the Giants all but ignored the inside linebacker position. In recent years, that came back to bite them.

    With new defensive coordinator James Bettcher in town, it isn't yet known how dramatic a schematic shift the Giants will undertake. But regardless of how big that shift is, the Giants need help at inside linebacker. Their best player at the position, B.J. Goodson, has shown flashes but can't stay healthy. The rest are replacement-level talents.

    Whether it's in free agency, the draft or both, New York has to look at improving that situation.


    Trim the Fat

    It isn't going to be easy for the Giants to do much damage in free agency, as they're sitting on about $23 million in wiggle room. They could increase that number in a hurry, though.

    Severing ties with aging cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie would save New York a clean $6.5 million against the cap—almost enough to sign their whole rookie class. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall's first year with the Giants was a disaster, so waiving him would clear over $5 million.  

    If the Giants envision a quick turnaround, they can't have that kind of wasted coin on the payroll.

New York Jets

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    Don't Go Overboard Trying to Land Kirk Cousins

    Given their need under center and $70-plus million in cap space, the New York Jets could emerge as a suitor for free-agent quarterback Kirk Cousins. But they have that much cap space in part because they purged their roster of overpriced veteran players last offseason.

    While Jets fans understandably want a franchise quarterback, handing Cousins $90-plus million in guarantees would be the boondoggle to end all boondoggles unless he leads the Jets to the playoffs repeatedly.

    This Jets team is more than an average quarterback away from postseason contention.


    Do Consider Trading Up in the Draft

    This isn't to say the Jets should sit on their hands at quarterback. With the sixth overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft, they should be squarely in the running to add one of this year's top signal-callers.

    If one such prospect blows them away, the Jets should consider a move up on draft day. The Browns, who hold the first and fourth overall picks, have a history of trading back. At 3, the Colts won't be selecting a quarterback. 

    Drafting a young quarterback and perhaps bringing back Josh McCown for one more year as a bridge starter makes more sense than breaking the bank for Cousins.


    Find a Taker for MoMo

    After Muhammad Wilkerson racked up 12 sacks in 2015, the Jets rewarded him with a five-year, $86 million whopper of a contract. Since then, he has eight sacks over the past two seasons combined, and head coach Todd Bowles deactivated him for a game last year for violating team rules.

    That the Jets are reportedly prepared to cut Wilkerson despite $9 million in dead money shows just how much he's worn out his welcome in the Big Apple. But if they cut or trade him after June 1, that number shrinks to $3 million, while a whopping $17 million comes off the books.

    For the right deal, the Jets likely would eat the dead money.

    And by "right deal," I mean half a ham sandwich.

Oakland Raiders

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    Addition by Subtraction

    The Oakland Raiders have just a hair under $20 million in cap space—not a ton of room, but a fair amount. However, they can double that with only a few cuts.

    Cornerback Sean Smith, tailback Marshawn Lynch and wide receiver Michael Crabtree all have plenty of name value. But all three appear to have reached a tipping point in their careers where on-field antics and off-field dust-ups now overshadow their actual play.

    Releasing that trio would free up $22.2 million in cap space—all without adding one cent of "dead" money.


    Spend That Savings

    Not only can the Raiders add a ton of space by making those moves, but they can then turn around and fill those holes with players who are younger and/or cheaper.

    Even if Oakland pursued a higher-end tailback like Carlos Hyde or Isaiah Crowell in free agency, that running back isn't going to cost more than what an over-the-hill Lynch would in 2018. A young corner like Kyle Fuller or Darqueze Dennard would check in considerably cheaper than Smith. And a young wideout like Quincy Enunwa could serve as a fine second option in Oakland for a fraction of Crabtree's salary.

    Jon Gruden would no doubt love to add those players, because if you've watched Monday Night Football at all over the past few years, you know Gruden loves everyone.


    Bring Back Bowman

    With the money the Raiders could save with those swaps, they should be more than able to afford their best linebacker from a year ago.

    It's true that NaVorro Bowman isn't the player he was in his heyday across the Bay with the San Francisco 49ers. A succession of serious injuries robbed the 29-year-old of some quickness.

    But Bowman remains a veteran with excellent instincts and a violent tackler in run support. Oakland's run defense was significantly better once he joined the team last year.

    There also aren't any better options available on the open market, so the Raiders might as well bring back a familiar face while possibly adding some youth at the position in the draft.

Philadelphia Eagles

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Hang on to Nick Foles

    If it isn't broke, don't fix it.

    That should be the mantra of the Super Bowl champion Eagles this offseason.

    Step 1 in that regard is to resist the urge to take a team up on one of the offers for Nick Foles that will certainly come.

    Foles had a magical run through the playoffs and won the Super Bowl MVP award. His value will never be higher. And there's no doubt that once he's 100 percent again, Carson Wentz will be the starting quarterback for the Eagles.

    But Philly won Super Bowl LII because it had a Plan B when Wentz tore his ACL: Foles was waiting in the wings to take the reins and hold things together.

    Unless an offer is impossible to refuse (multiple first-round picks would be a start), the Eagles should say, "Thanks but no thanks."


    Create Some Cap Space

    Philadelphia has a few key contributors set to hit free agency, including tailback LeGarrette Blount, linebacker Nigel Bradham and cornerback Patrick Robinson.

    That's a problem, because the Eagles are in the worst situation relative to the salary cap of any team in the NFL—they're $9.3 million  over the projected cap of $178 million.

    Releasing veteran defensive end Vinny Curry (and designating him a post-June 1 cut) would shave $9 million off that number.

    Offensive tackles Lane Johnson and Jason Peters and defensive tackle Fletcher Cox all rank in the top five on the team in cap hits as well. All three are candidates to have their contracts redone in a way that will at least free up some cash in the short-term.


    Hit on Pick No. 32

    Even if the Eagles create some cap room without making many cuts, they still aren't going to be much of a player in free agency. They just don't have the coin.

    That makes it all the more important for Philly to make good use of the last pick in the first round—especially since it won't have another pick until the draft's third day.

    What direction the Eagles will go is uncertain. Bradham's departure would open a hole at linebacker. Depending on Peters' recovery from a torn ACL, offensive tackle could be a priority. And with Robinson all but a goner, cornerback should be on the radar as well.

    Whatever the pick, Howie Roseman and Co. need to make that 32nd pick count.

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Joe Sargent/Getty Images

    Tag Le'Veon Bell...Again

    This first one is not going to make Le'Veon Bell happy even a little bit.

    As Jeremy Fowler of reported, Bell said he would consider sitting out the 2018 season or retiring if he's franchise-tagged for a second consecutive year.

    Pittsburgh has little recourse but to call Bell's bluff.

    As well as Bell has played over the last two years, he's also carried a heavy workload—including over 400 touches in 2017. The historical data on backs who handle the rock that much portends a drop-off in production in 2018.

    Bell's too valuable for the Steelers to let him depart in free agency, but they would be equally foolish to hand him a huge multiyear deal.

    The 25-year-old may sit out most of training camp (again), but Bell isn't going to leave $14.5 million on the table by sitting out the season.

    I think.


    Keep Playing the Shell Game

    There's work to be done if Bell's coming back on the tag again in 2018.

    The Steelers have about $7.6 million in salary-cap space after they restructured the contracts of guard David DeCastro and defensive end Stephon Tuitt over the weekend.

    As you may know, $7.6 million is not the $14.5 million it would take to tag Bell.

    It's going to take more creative accounting by general manager Kevin Colbert to make room to bring Bell back. More deals are going to have to be redone. A hard cut or two may be in order.

    And that doesn't even account for the cap space Pittsburgh will need to sign its rookie class.


    Draft an Inside Linebacker Early

    That also means the Steelers will be a non-factor in free agency. Pittsburgh just doesn't have the money to make a splash.

    And that, combined with the Steelers' most glaring need, pigeon-holes the team for the first round of the draft.

    As much as we'd all like to see Ryan Shazier make a complete recovery from his spinal injury and return to the field, the reality is he may never play football again. Even if he does, there's no telling if Shazier can recapture his past form.

    Long story short, Pittsburgh needs more than just an inside linebacker—it needs one who can contribute right away.

San Francisco 49ers

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    Add a Difference-Maker in Free Agency

    The 49ers entered the offseason with the most cap space in the NFL. And even after they made quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo the highest-paid player in NFL history, the Niners are still third in the league with $74.5 million in room.

    That puts San Francisco in position to add at least one impact player (and maybe more) without putting itself in an overly tenuous position relative to the cap.

    It's hard to say which difference-maker the 49ers should add, if only because we don't yet know which players will hit the open market.

    But whether it's guard Andrew Norwell, wide receiver Allen Robinson or tight end Jimmy Graham, San Francisco needs to put a good-size chunk of that money to use.

    You can't take it with you.


    Re-Make the Running Game

    Carlos Hyde's been a decent tailback over his four years in San Francisco. But Hyde's not a great fit for the zone-blocking scheme that San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan employs.

    The smart money says Hyde's allowed to leave in free agency, which puts the 49ers back at square one on the ground (no offense to Joe Williams).

    San Fran is one of a number of teams that would gladly snatch up Penn State's Saquon Barkley, but it's unlikely Barkley will last until the ninth overall pick.

    However, a young tailback like Rashaad Penny of San Diego State would make sense on Day 2 of the draft. It might even be wise for general manager John Lynch to consider spending two of the Niners' nine picks on running backs.


    Get Insurance at Middle Linebacker

    It would have been easier for the 49ers to spend two picks on tailbacks before they learned they might need a new inside linebacker.

    Per, Reuben Foster was arrested over the weekend on domestic violence and weapon charges. It's the second time in a month that Foster's been in trouble with the law.

    And given the NFL's new domestic violence policy, it could portend a lengthy suspension in 2018.

    It's not especially likely the 49ers will spend that No. 9 pick on Georgia's Roquan Smith unless the Foster situation deteriorates further. But a Day 2 pick like Malik Jefferson of Texas or a Day 3 add like Auburn's Tre' Williams is now very much on the radar.

    It's either that or choose from a so-so group of free agents in the hopes someone like Todd Davis or Jon Bostic can hold down the fort until Foster returns.

Seattle Seahawks

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Address the Richard Sherman Situation

    The NFL can be a harsh business.

    It wasn't that long ago that Richard Sherman was considered the best cornerback in the league. Now he's a soon-to-be 30-year-old coming off a torn Achilles with the third-highest cap charge on the team. Releasing Sherman would save the Seahawks $11 million.

    Sherman told Brady Henderson of that he fully expects to be a member of the Seahawks and back to his old ways in 2018. And that may well be so.

    But if he and Kam Chancellor are still patrolling the back of the Seattle defense in 2018, it will probably be on restructured contracts.


    Fix the Offensive Line

    The Seahawks need to add wiggle room so they can use it to bolster their offensive line.

    It's hardly a state secret that the Seattle O-line is, well, a dumpster fire. With luck, a healthy Duane Brown will provide improvement in that regard, but the team still needs help at right tackle and guard.

    The Seahawks have $14.1 million in cap space. That's not going to be enough to afford the higher-end free agents up front like Andrew Norwell, but they could use additional cap space to add a second-tier free agent or two—even if that hasn't exactly worked out in the past with players like Luke Joeckel.

    Gotta keep trying.

    If Sherman does return in 2018, that would also free up the 18th pick to use on a lineman, and there should be a few players available in that spot who can reasonably be projected as immediate starters.


    A Running Back, Please

    The Seahawks ranked 23rd in the NFL in rushing last year. That was in part because of their leaky offensive line, but it was also because Seattle's stable of running backs was decidedly mediocre. Among those running backs, Mike Davis led the team—with a whopping 240 yards.

    That is, as they say, not good.

    Given the team's more pressing needs and relative lack of salary cap resources, a "splash" signing isn't probable. Neither is taking a tailback with the 18th overall pick.

    The likeliest (and wisest) course of action is to look to the middle rounds of the draft and youngsters like Arizona State's Kalen Ballage and Michigan State's LJ Scott—to perhaps be paired with an affordable veteran on a "prove it" deal.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Address the Pass Rush

    Actually, it would be more accurate to say the Buccaneers need to address their lack of a pass rush. No team had fewer sacks in 2017 than Tampa Bay's 22.

    That's fewer than 1.5 sacks per game. The team's "leader" was defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who had six.

    The Buccaneers are at least in a position to be aggressive when it comes to going after opposing quarterbacks. Only four teams have more cap space than Tampa Bay's $60.5 million, which should be enough to get in on the Demarcus Lawrence and/or Ezekiel Ansah sweepstakes should either of those ends hit the open market.

    With the seventh overall pick, the Buccaneers also have at least a puncher's chance of landing North Carolina State's Bradley Chubb, who is widely considered the top edge-rusher in this year's class.


    Get the Ground Game Off the Ground

    The Buccaneers didn't just struggle in rushing the passer. Tampa Bay's rushing "attack" was also among the most anemic in the NFL, averaging just 90.5 yards per game.

    The Bucs will be looking for a new back to lead that attack, as Doug Martin and his $6.8 million salary are all but surely going to be cut loose. The team could look to free agency to fill the position given the size of its war chest, but odds are top rookie running back Saquon Barkley will be gone by the time Tampa Bay steps to the podium in Round 1.

    That could leave its best chance at landing a new lead back to the draft's second day, with players like LSU's Derrius Guice and USC's Ronald Jones II standing out as possible targets.


    Get Younger in the Secondary

    The Buccaneers, in addition to failing to rush the passer, also stank when it came to defending the pass in 2017. They allowed 260.6 passing yards per game.

    No team in the NFL allowed more.

    With the 34-year-old Brent Grimes set to hit free agency, Tampa Bay badly needs to get both younger and better in the secondary.

    There's a decent chance Ohio State's Denzel Ward (the top cornerback in 2018, according to most draftniks) will be there at No. 7. But whether it's Ward, a rookie later on, a free agent or a combination of options, cornerback should be a high priority for the Buccaneers this offseason.

Tennessee Titans

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Say Goodbye to DeMarco Murray

    I would put the odds of DeMarco Murray's departure at approximately 147 percent.

    Two years ago, he rushed for almost 1,300 yards in his first year with the Titans. But in 2017, Murray had problems with nagging injuries. He still played 15 games, but he managed just 659 yards on the ground and 3.6 yards per carry.

    With Derrick Henry usurping Murray as Tennessee's lead back last season and Murray being owed a non-guaranteed $6.5 million this season, it would be a stunner if the Titans didn't show Murray the door.

    There are cheaper (and younger) alternatives who could back up Henry, and/or Tennessee could add a complementary back in free agency and/or the draft.


    Bring Back Avery Williamson

    To be frank, inside linebacker Avery Williamson isn't a world-beater. The 25-year-old has started 59 of 64 games over his four seasons with the team, and he has topped 100 tackles twice in that span.

    But Williamson has also been known to be something of a liability in coverage—so much so that he was on the field for 75 percent or more of the Titans snaps just three times during the regular season, per FootballGuys.

    However, it's not an especially inspiring year for inside linebackers in free agency, and while the Titans have $49.5 million in cap space, they have other more pressing needs to address than upgrading over Williamson.

    Assuming his contract desires aren't outlandish, Williamson's worth bringing back.


    Go the BPA Route at Pick No. 25

    This is one of those things that sounds like it goes without saying, but in addition to a new coaching staff in Nashville, the Titans will also be selecting in rather unfamiliar territory in the draft.

    Toward the back of Round 1.

    Tennessee doesn't have any massive holes to fill, but there are a few areas of need for the Titans to pick from at No. 25, whether it's in the secondary, at edge-rusher or on the offensive line.

    The teams like Pittsburgh that consistently have success picking from the back have that success because they are notorious for prioritizing talent over need and taking the best player available.

    It would serve the Titans well to follow suit—let the pick come to you instead of entering Round 1 with a lot of preconceptions. There will be surprises that day—players taken much earlier or later than expected.

    There always are.

Washington Redskins

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    Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    Help for Alex Smith

    The Redskins are ready to turn the offensive reins over to Alex Smith, having reportedly agreed, per the Kansas City Star's Terez A. Paylor, to send cornerback Kendall Fuller and a third-round pick to the Chiefs for Smith, whom they will hand about $70 million in guaranteed money, per ESPN's Chris Mortensen (via ESPN's Adam Schefter).

    Like the decision or not, the priority now is to put Smith in the best position to succeed.

    And that means upgrading a ground game that ranked 28th in the NFL last year. Chris Thompson's return will help, but he's a third-down back. Samaje Perine is what he is: depth. Perine averaged all of 3.4 yards per pop as a rookie.

    This year's top tailback in the draft (Saquon Barkley of Penn State) will be long gone by the time Washington picks in Round 1. But there are some interesting potential options like Auburn's Kerryon Johnson and Georgia's Sony Michel who could make sense later on—perhaps paired with a veteran free agent like Carlos Hyde.


    Help for Alex Smith, Part 2

    We're only just getting started.

    Kirk Cousins' stats in 2017 are all the more impressive given the poo-poo platter he had to deal with at wide receiver. Terrelle Pryor Sr. won't be back after a disastrous year. Josh Doctson has shown flashes, but that's it. And while Jamison Crowder has some talent, he's a slot guy—not an offense-carrying No. 1 wideout.

    Smith needs a receiver he can rely on.

    In a perfect world, veteran options like Michael Crabtree or Demaryius Thomas (both of whom have been mentioned as possible cap casualties) will deepen the pool of free-agent talent available at the position.

    In any event, the Redskins (who have almost $49 million in cap space) figure to be buyers at wide receiver in March.


    Get Defensive in Round 1

    It isn't all about helping Smith this offseason, however.

    Whether it's on the defensive line, at edge-rusher or at cornerback, Washington needs to upgrade all three levels of the defense.

    And since it has the 13th overall pick in 2018, there should be plenty of options to choose from.

    In his latest mock draft, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller slotted Alabama lineman Da'Ron Payne to the Redskins in Round 1. Players like UTSA edge-rusher Marcus Davenport and Florida State safety Derwin James could be in play as well.

    The acquisition of Smith was a win-now move. So more than ever, Washington needs to add as many players capable of making an immediate impact as possible.

    Team and player cap-space totals via unless otherwise noted. 


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