Every NFL Team's To-Do List for Rest of Offseason

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistJune 3, 2018

Every NFL Team's To-Do List for Rest of Offseason

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    The excitement of early NFL free agency has passed, and the drama of draft weekend is long over. We're also six weeks from the start of training camps. Yet this doesn't mean there aren't reasons to continue paying attention to the offseason.

    Front offices are working diligently to evaluate rosters, assess needs and formulate game plans for camps and the preseason. There are questions that need to be answered before teams can undergo preparations for the season.

    What does each squad need to do before the preseason arrives? That's exactly what we're here to examine.


Arizona Cardinals

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    Matt York/Associated Press
    • Settle on a starting quarterback and build around him
    • Install new offensive and defensive schemes
    • Identify offensive playmakers not named Larry Fitzgerald or David Johnson
    • Keep Johnson healthy

    The Arizona Cardinals are looking at a year of transition. Quarterback Carson Palmer and head coach Bruce Arians both retired during the offseason. That leaves Arizona with the task of replacing both.

    The first challenge standing in the Cardinals' way is the implementation of a new coaching staff. Head coach Steve Wilks, offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and defensive coordinator Al Holcomb are in to steer the franchise in a new direction. Installing new systems and schemes will be part of the process—and a particularly difficult one for the offense. The Cardinals have been running Arians' system since 2013.

    Arizona also needs to identify which quarterback it's going to roll with in 2018. The team signed Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon in free agency then drafted former UCLA signal-caller Josh Rosen with the 10th overall pick. The Cardinals need to find their best option, prepare him to start in Week 1 and begin tailoring the offense around him.

    If Rosen is ready to start as a rookie, there's little reason to waste time with a veteran like Bradford—and no, his $20 million contract isn't a viable reason.

Atlanta Falcons

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    Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press
    • Build Steve Sarkisian's offense
    • Get Calvin Ridley up to speed
    • Solidify the defensive line
    • Make sure Julio Jones is happy

    The Atlanta Falcons offense took a tumble last year when it lost offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to the San Francisco 49ers and replaced him with Steve Sarkisian

    With Shanahan at the helm in 2016, Atlanta ranked second in total offense with an average of 415.8 yards per game. It averaged an obscene 33.8 points per game (first). Last season, the Falcons averaged 364.8 yards (eighth) and 22.1 points (15th) per game.

    Atlanta was still potent offensively, and that's a testament to the team's talent. Though former Alabama receiver Calvin Ridley will be replacing Taylor Gabriel, most of that talent will be back again in 2018. This is why the Falcons can return to having a lethal offense if they can take a step forward with Sarkisian's offense.

    With another full offseason to work together—not to mention a receiver he is familiar with in Ridley, whom he coached in 2016—Sarkisian should maximize the talent at his disposal.

    While receiver Julio Jones has stated he isn't unhappy with his current contract situation, he's also been absent from OTAs. Atlanta needs to be sure Jones is happy and get him back with the team as soon as possible.

Baltimore Ravens

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    • Sort out receiver depth chart
    • Establish offensive chemistry
    • Strengthen Joe Flacco's confidence
    • Establish Don Martindale's defense

    This Baltimore Ravens selected former Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson with the 32nd overall pick in the draft. While he's the team's future at quarterback, Baltimore needs to try to win now with Joe Flacco under center.

    There are a few key steps the Ravens need to take to do so. They added new receivers like Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead IV and John Brown. Now they need to figure out which role best suits each of them.

    Baltimore also needs to create some chemistry between Flacco and his new targets. That includes first-round pick and tight end Hayden Hurst.

    Perhaps the most important thing Baltimore can do for its offense is find a way to strengthen Flacco's confidence. He knows Jackson is likely his replacement and could already be feeling the rookie breathing down his neck.

    "When you pick a quarterback or anybody in the first round, it means something," Flacco said, per Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com.

Buffalo Bills

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    Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press
    • Identify a starting quarterback
    • Identify receiving threats
    • Establish Brian Daboll's offense
    • Keep LeSean McCoy healthy

    The Buffalo Bills traded up to draft former Wyoming signal-caller Josh Allen. The burning question now is whether the Bills will allow the rookie to start right out of the gate. The alternative would be second-year man Nathan Peterman or veteran AJ McCarron, who was acquired in free agency.

    McCarron has made only three starts in his NFL career, but he does have four years of pro experience.

    Allen is considered a raw prospect, but he has been impressing folks.

    "Be on the lookout for Josh Allen," Bills cornerback Tre'Davious White said on NFL Network. "He's going to be one of the best young quarterbacks in this league for a long time."

    Whether it's Allen or not, the Bills need to identify their Week 1 starter and begin tailoring the offense around him. They also need to identify playmakers on offense who can help that starting quarterback succeed.

Carolina Panthers

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press
    • Get DJ Moore ready to start
    • Establish chemistry in the passing game
    • Determine the ideal backfield split
    • Install Norv Turner's offense

    The Carolina Panthers averaged a paltry 192.3 passing yards per game last season (28th in the league) despite having 2015 NFL MVP Cam Newton at quarterback. That was largely because of a receiving corps that couldn't consistently stretch the field.

    To improve things, the Panthers made a few big changes this offseason. They brought in speedy receiver Torrey Smith, drafted former Maryland wideout DJ Moore in the first round and made Norv Turner the new offensive coordinator.

    Turner is known for running an offense that uses play-action passes to attack. With Newton, Christian McCaffrey and C.J. Anderson in the backfield, Carolina is well-equipped to run that offense.

    To forge the most dangerous offense possible by Week 1, Carolina needs to get Moore adjusted to the pro game quickly while also creating chemistry between Newton and his new receiving corps and determining how to best implement Turner's schemes.

Chicago Bears

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press
    • Install Matt Nagy's offense
    • Solidify the receiver depth chart
    • Prepare Mitchell Trubisky for Year 2
    • Determine the future of Kevin White

    The early part of this offseason was all about setting up quarterback Mitchell Trubisky for success. The Chicago Bears surrounded him with new talent—like Allen Robinson II, Trey Burton and Taylor Gabriel—and hired an offense-minded head coach in Matt Nagy.

    The remainder of Chicago's offseason needs to be focused on continuing to improve Trubisky.

    The first step will be to make Trubisky and the rest of the personnel fluent in Nagy's system. The second step will be to develop chemistry between Trubisky and his pass-catchers within said system.

    If everything goes right, Trubisky may make a second-year jump similar to the ones made by Jared Goff and Carson Wentz last season.

    Burton, who played with Wentz last season, compared the two.

    "Really similar," he said, per Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times. "A lot more similarities than opposites."

Cincinnati Bengals

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    Adam Bettcher/Getty Images
    • Solidify the offensive line
    • Ensure Tyler Eifert stays healthy
    • Build on Bill Lazor's offense
    • Instill confidence in Joe Mixon

    The Cincinnati Bengals at least sniffed the playoffs in 2017—they went 7-9—despite fielding an offense that was at times laughable. Cincinnati averaged a league-low 280.5 yards per game. It also scored a mere 18.1 points per contest, 26th in the NFL.

    There were a couple of reasons for the stumble. Bill Lazor was promoted to offensive coordinator early in the year, but his system lacked creativity. Rookie running back Joe Mixon, who averaged just 3.5 yards per carry, struggled to pick up the nuances of the pro game, and tight end Tyler Eifert missed 14 games.

    The biggest issue, however, was Cincinnati's offensive line. Because of that line, the Bengals averaged just 85.4 yards per game on the ground—second-fewest in the league. Cincinnati quarterbacks were sacked 40 times—tied for 13th-most.

    The Bengals took steps this offseason to improve that line, like trading for Cordy Glenn and drafting Billy Price in the first round. Those were great first steps, but Cincinnati has a lot of work to do in order to have a playoff-caliber offense in 2018.

    Part of that offense should be Oklahoma product Joe Mixon. He has the physical tools to be a workhorse back, but he didn't seem comfortable last season and averaged just 3.5 yards per carry. Cincinnati needs to make him a more confident and decisive runner this offseason.

Cleveland Browns

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press
    • Install Todd Haley's offense
    • Prepare Tyrod Taylor to start
    • Prepare Baker Mayfield for the NFL
    • Sort out the secondary

    Believe it or not, the Cleveland Browns were competitive in several games last season. They didn't win a game, but four of their first seven losses came by a field goal.

    The biggest issue for the 2017 Browns was a horrid passing offense. Cleveland ranked sixth in the NFL with 4.5 yards per carry. However, the offense landed just 22nd in passing yards (201.8 per game) and was dead-last in scoring (14.6 points per game).

    Cleveland has remodeled its passing attack. It brought in Tyrod Taylor to be the veteran bridge, added Drew Stanton as the seasoned backup and drafted Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield No. 1 overall to be the future.

    Cleveland also snagged offensive coordinator Todd Haley from the rival Pittsburgh Steelers. Haley has coached top-five passing offenses in each of the past four seasons.

    The Browns need to spend the next couple of months implementing Haley's system and preparing the quarterbacks for their respective roles.

    Cleveland needs to do significant work on the defense too—most notably in the secondary. There is a bevy of new players—including Damarious Randall, E.J. Gaines, T.J. Carrie and No. 4 overall pick Denzel Ward—so finding the right roles for all of them will be key to a defensive turnaround.

Dallas Cowboys

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press
    • Identify top receiving targets
    • Find starting tight end
    • Get Dak Prescott back on track
    • Keep Ezekiel Elliott healthy

    The Dallas Cowboys took a step backward last season from being a 13-win team and postseason contender to a 9-7 team and a playoffs afterthought. There were a couple of reasons for the struggles. Ezekiel Elliott's six-game suspension certainly played a part, but don't overlook the passing game, which was a mess. It has the potential to be even worse this season.

    Dallas averaged just 196.3 yards per game through the air, which ranked 26th in the NFL. That's before the Cowboys dumped wideout Dez Bryant and watched tight end Jason Witten retire for the broadcasting booth.

    The Cowboys didn't ignore their receiving corps in the offseason, though. They added pass-catchers like Tavon Austin, Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson. They also drafted wideout Michael Gallup and tight end Dalton Schultz in the third and fourth rounds, respectively.

    Dallas needs to asses its receiving talent and identify who can be Dak Prescott's go-to targets in 2018. If it doesn't, it could again struggle to move the ball through the air and again fail to make the postseason.

Denver Broncos

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    • Get Case Keenum up to speed
    • Solidify the offensive line
    • Establish the backfield pecking order

    The Denver Broncos still have a defense that can take them to the postseason. The problem over the last couple of years has been an offense that turns the ball over too often and stalls too frequently. Just consider the fact Denver allowed the third-fewest yards per game last season (290.0) but still surrendered an average of 23.9 points per contest (24th).

    Denver is hoping the acquisition of quarterback Case Keenum can reverse that trend—and it might.

    Keenum was a careful and consistent quarterback last season, leading the Minnesota Vikings to the playoffs. He completed 67.6 percent of his passes, tossed 22 touchdowns and threw just seven interceptions. He was sacked a mere 22 times.

    Denver quarterbacks completed just 58.7 percent of their passes while throwing 19 touchdowns and 22 interceptions.

    If Keenum can be the same quarterback he was last year, the Broncos should waste far fewer possessions. Putting Keenum in position to be that quarterback needs to be Denver's top priority.

Detroit Lions

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press
    • Establish Matt Patricia and Paul Pasqualoni's defense
    • Sort out the backfield
    • Identify capable pass-rushers

    There were two big things standing in the way of the Detroit Lions' reaching the playoffs last season. One was a defense that allowed 355.8 yards per game, sixth-most in the NFL. The second was an NFL-worst rushing attack that averaged a mere 76.3 yards per game.

    The hiring of defensive guru Matt Patricia as head coach should help resolve the first issue. An offseason influx of running back talent—including LeGarrette Blount—should help the second. There is, of course, a lot of work to be done.

    Patricia and new defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni need to install their system while also changing the culture and attitude of the defense. The unit can no longer be one that does just enough to keep Matthew Stafford in position to win.

    The Lions also have to figure out the ideal backfield split for the offense.

    "We've brought in some guys who have different skill sets than some guys we've had in the room previously," running backs coach David Walker said, via the team's official website.

    Receiving back extraordinaire Theo Riddick's role is pretty much set, but Detroit brought in Blount and rookie Kerryon Johnson this offseason. They'll compete with 2015 second-round pick Ameer Abdullah, who has largely disappointed. Given Abdulla's struggles, they may even push him off the roster.

Green Bay Packers

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    Mike Roemer/Associated Press
    • Install Mike Pettine's defense
    • Solidify the secondary
    • Sort out the backfield
    • Ensure Aaron Rodgers is back to 100 percent

    The Green Bay Packers stumbled to a 7-9 record and missed the playoffs in 2017. A lot of that had to do with Aaron Rodgers, who missed nine games with a broken collarbone. However, that wasn't the only reason the Packers struggled.

    The defense allowed 24.0 points per game, 26th in the NFL, which is why Green Bay focused on improving that unit this offseason. The Packers added defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, drafted cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson in the first two rounds and brought in Mike Pettine as defensive coordinator.

    The secondary, which allowed an average of 236.8 yards per game (23rd), was a particular problem area. Green Bay needs to improve it, which means figuring out where guys like Alexander and Jackson fit and what configuration is best.

    The Packers also need to make the transition from Dom Capers' defensive system to Pettine's. Pettine runs a more aggressive scheme that relies heavily on the ability of cornerbacks to hold up in man coverage, so there's going to have to be a confluence between secondary development and the implementation of Pettine's defense for Green Bay to get back on track.

Houston Texans

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press
    • Keep Deshaun Watson healthy
    • Solidify the offensive line
    • Establish a role for Tyrann Mathieu

    Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson certainly looked the part of a franchise quarterback as a rookie last season. In fact, Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins believes Hopkins can be one of the league's best.

    "I think he can be the best quarterback," Hopkins said, via the team's official website. "I know I can be the best wide receiver, and that's our mindset coming into the season."

    While it'd be a bit of a stretch to consider Watson the NFL's best quarterback already, his impact on the Houston offense was apparent. In the six games Watson started, Houston score 34.7 points per game. In games he didn't start, the Texans scored just 13.0 points per game.

    The biggest thing Houston needs to do this offseason is ensure Watson is fully recovered from his torn ACL. It needs to get him healthy, keep him healthy and, at all costs, avoid putting him back on the field too early.

    Failing to protect Watson could result in more games without much offense from the Texans and a second consecutive season without a playoff appearance.

Indianapolis Colts

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press
    • Ensure Andrew Luck is back to 100 percent
    • Prepare in the event Luck isn't healthy
    • Sort out the backfield
    • Determine the No. 2 receiver

    The Indianapolis Colts' season is going to be defined by the health of quarterback Andrew Luck and whether he can be the same player he was before another shoulder surgery caused him to miss the 2017 season. The Indianapolis offense is simply a different force when he's on the field.

    Two years ago, the Colts tied for fifth with 262.6 passing yards per game. With Luck out last season, Indianapolis dropped to 30th (180.8 yards per game).

    Not only must the Colts ensure Luck is 100 percent healthy before they put him back into action, they need to do everything they can to get him back into playing form.

    A Former Colts quarterback believes getting Luck reps will be key.

    "It took me a few games before I felt like I was coming back [after my neck injury]," Manning said, per Mike Wells of ESPN.com. "Getting as many reps as possible is key."

    Getting Luck back to Pro Bowl form will be key for the Colts to reach the postseason in 2018.

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    • Sort out the receiver depth chart
    • Instill confidence in Blake Bortles
    • Find the right replacement for Aaron Colvin

    The Jacksonville Jaguars had perhaps the most complete roster in the NFL last season. They had a defense that ranked second in both yards (286.1 per game) and points (16.8) allowed. They also had the league's most productive running game, which averaged 141.4 yards per game.

    The one thing Jacksonville didn't have was an elite passing attack—it finished ranked 17th, with an average of 224.6 yards per game.

    Jacksonville certainly doesn't have a lot of holes, but it should focus on improving the passing attack this offseason. Sorting out the receiving corps, which features a few new faces, is going to be part of that process.

    Jacksonville parted with both Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson II this offseason. To replace them, it brought in Donte Moncrief and second-round pick D.J. Chark Jr. They joined a group that includes Dede Westbrook, Marqise Lee and Keelan Cole.

    The Jaguars gave quarterback Blake Bortles a vote of confidence this offseason by handing him a three-year, $54 million deal. They need to continue supporting him by putting the best configuration of pass-catching talent around him.

Kansas City Chiefs

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    Ed Zurga/Associated Press
    • Prepare Patrick Mahomes to start
    • Sort out depth behind Kareem Hunt
    • Ensure Eric Berry is back to 100 percent
    • Sort out the secondary

    The Kansas City Chiefs decided this offseason was the right time to move on from quarterback Alex Smith and to turn things over to Texas Tech product Patrick Mahomes. While Mahomes made only one start as a rookie, there is already buzz building about his pending 2018 campaign.

    "Oh, [the hype's] real," a member of the Chiefs coaching staff told Bleacher Report's Matt Miller. "We've been watching him for a year, and he just keeps getting better and better. Sure, there are mistakes, but there are also plays I've never seen a quarterback make before."

    While building confidence in Mahomes is great, the Chiefs also have to prepare him to succeed as a full-time starter. This means surrounding him with the best possible supporting cast and building the kind of chemistry Smith had with his weapons last season.

    Defensively, the Chiefs have to figure out how to improve their pass defense, which was 29th in the NFL last season (247.0 yards per game allowed). The return of safety Eric Berry will help, but Kansas City has some new pieces to sort out.

    The Chiefs traded Marcus Peters and parted with Ron Parker this offseason while adding Kendall Fuller and David Amerson. Changing the names in the group won't be enough to make the secondary better, of course, and the Chiefs have to get the new-look unit up to speed.

Los Angeles Chargers

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    • Figure out how to replace Hunter Henry
    • Find the right role for Derwin James
    • Sort out the backfield behind Melvin Gordon

    The Los Angeles Chargers had the league's top passing attack last season, averaging 276.9 yards per game. A big part of that passing attack was the presence of tight ends Hunter Henry (579 yards) and Antonio Gates (316). However, neither is set to suit up for Los Angeles in 2018.

    The Chargers parted with Gates, and Henry suffered a torn ACL in May.

    Los Angeles needs to determine who can replace Henry as its starting tight end if it hopes to maintain an elite passing attack. Internal candidates include former Broncos tight end Virgil Green and undrafted rookie Cole Hunt. However, the Chargers shouldn't rule out bringing back Gates—and it appears at least one of them hasn't.

    "I'd always be excited if [Gates] walked back in the door," Rivers said, per Marc Sessler of NFL.com. "It would get my vote."

    If the Chargers don't bring back Gates, they need to figure out an alternative quickly.

    Defensively, Los Angeles needs to figure out how it can best utilize rookie safety Derwin James. He is a gifted defender but is also a bit on the raw side. Using him primarily as a run defender—the Chargers allowed the second-most rushing yards last season at 131.1 per game—until he adjusts to NFL coverage schemes would make sense.

    So too would figuring out how much rookie Justin Jackson can supplement the run game behind Melvin Gordon.

Los Angeles Rams

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    Michael Owen Baker/Associated Press
    • Get Brandin Cooks up to speed
    • Establish defensive chemistry
    • Ensure Todd Gurley II stays healthy

    The Los Angeles Rams finished 11-5 record and made the postseason for the first time in 13 years last season. However, they didn't spend their offseason making minor tweaks; Los Angeles made some major moves.

    The Rams traded a first-round pick to acquire wide receiver Brandin Cooks. He's in to replace Samy Watkins, who was a solid piece of the Rams offense last year (593 receiving yards). Cooks (1,082) has the potential to be even more impactful. The trick will be to get him up to speed in Sean McVay's offense.

    Los Angeles also acquired talented veteran defenders Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib and Ndamukong Suh. The trick on that side of the ball will be to forge chemistry. We've seen dream teams that look great on paper but simply don't mesh. If the Rams want to improve on last year's campaign, they have to avoid a similar fate.

Miami Dolphins

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press
    • Ensure Ryan Tannehill is back to 100 percent
    • Solidify new-look defensive line
    • Get the most out of DeVante Parker
    • Determine Frank Gore's role

    Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been good and bad over the years. However, time could be running out for him to prove he should be Miami's franchise quarterback, as Ryan Yousefi of the Miami New Times stated.

    "No more excuses. If Tannehill isn't an elite quarterback in 2018, he should be looking for another job in January," Yousefi wrote. "Period. Full stop. ... The reality is, Tannehill will likely always be just fine. But not great. And after seven seasons, the Dolphins should aspire to be better than just fine."

    The Dolphins need to also ensure they're putting Tannehill in the best position to succeed—or at least to give an accurate showing of what he can be. That means making sure Tannehill is 100 percent recovered from the ACL injury that cost him the 2017 season.

    That also means surrounding Tannehill with a quality supporting cast—and it certainly wouldn't hurt to finally get something out of 2015 first-round pick DeVante Parker. The Louisville product has shown some flashes but hasn't been the game-changer the Dolphins thought they were getting with the 14th overall pick.

    It would also behoove Miami to determine how it can best use offseason acquisition Frank Gore. The 35-year-old continued to show he has something left in the tank, and the Dolphins need to figure out how to best utilize that something alongside 2017 breakout star Kenyan Drake.

Minnesota Vikings

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press
    • Get Kirk Cousins up to speed
    • Ensure Dalvin Cook is back to 100 percent
    • Adjust to John DeFilippo as offensive coordinator
    • Figure out how to make Laquon Treadwell an NFL receiver

    Many of the same pieces that helped the Minnesota Vikings reach the NFC title game last season have returned. However, two big pieces are new. John DeFilippo was promoted to offensive coordinator after Pat Shurmur left to take over the New York Giants, and the Vikings brought in quarterback Kirk Cousins on a three-year, $84 million deal that is fully guaranteed.

    That's a hefty sum for a good-but-not-elite quarterback. Minnesota undoubtedly believes Cousins can become elite in his new home. So, putting him in position to succeed has to be a major priority.

    "I've come a long ways in about six weeks," Cousins said, per Courtney Cronin of ESPN.com. "I still have a ways to go, and that's to be expected. No surprise."

    DeFilippo is going to add his own nuances to the Minnesota offense, so Cousins isn't the only one who will need to get up to speed this offseason. However, if the Vikings are going to justify their investment in Cousins, they have to make his adjustment an easy and quick one.

    To help Cousins, the Vikings should wait until running back Dalvin Cook, who suffered a torn ACL last season, is back to 100 percent before putting him back on the field. They also need to find a way for 2016 first-round pick Laquon Treadwell, who has just 215 career receiving yards, to consistently contribute.

New England Patriots

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press
    • Install a new offensive identity
    • Improve the pass rush
    • Prevent breakdowns in the secondary

    Mainstays like Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will be back this season for the New England Patriots. However, New England lost a number of players—most notable Nate Solder, Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis—in the offseason.

    In are Cordarrelle Patterson, Jeremy Hill and first-round picks Isaiah Wynn and Sony Michel.

    McDaniels and head coach Bill Belichick are going to have to figure out a new game plan for the new-look offense. Could we see a more run-oriented offense in 2018? Will New England lean on the pass like it did in 2017, when it ranked second with 276.1 yards per game?

    That is what Belichick and McDaniels have to figure out before the preseason.

    The Patriots also need to figure out how to improve a pass defense that ranked just 30th with 251.3 yards allowed per game.

    Finally, New England needs to focus on rebuilding a secondary that lost Malcolm Butler and gained Jason McCourty and second-round pick Duke Dawson. It would help the secondary to get more out of a pass rush that added Adrian Clayborn in free agency and should finally feature a healthy Derek Rivers this year.

New Orleans Saints

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press
    • Get Marcus Davenport up to speed
    • Develop chemistry between Drew Brees and his new targets
    • Figure out how to best navigate Mark Ingram's suspension

    There were two big reasons the New Orleans Saints were title contenders last season. One was a steadily improving defense that finished the season ranked 10th in points allowed (20.4 per game). The second was a dynamic rushing attack that made the offense difficult to prepare for.

    If the Saints want to go on another postseason run, they need to build on both.

    Keeping the backfield rolling will require a plan for the first month of the season, during which Mark Ingram will be suspended. Will Sean Payton trust Alvin Kamara to be an every-down back, or will he turn to Daniel Lasco or rookie Boston Scott to help handle to load?

    Improving the defense will entail getting rookie pass-rusher Marcus Davenport prepared for a significant role. The Saints traded up for the former Texas-San Antonio star in order to provide a complement to Cameron Jordan. This was a piece that was missing last year. Jordan led the team with 13.0 sacks, but no one else logged more than 4.5.

    While the Saints passing attack was formidable—it ranked fifth with 261.8 yards per game—it could be even better if Drew Brees develops chemistry with new receivers Cameron Meredith and rookie Tre'Quan Smith.

New York Giants

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press
    • Ensure Odell Beckham Jr. is back to 100 percent
    • Get Saquon Barkley prepared to be a featured back
    • Figure out the pass rush sans Jason Pierre-Paul

    Over the past couple of seasons, wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. has been the most important piece of the New York Giants offense. He was out for all but four games with an ankle injury last season, and the unit frequently stalled and finished the season 31st in scoring (15.4 points per game).

    The Giants have to ensure Beckham is healthy and ready to start the season. They also have to ensure he doesn't go too hard too soon and risk re-injury.

    "He hasn't quite finished his rehab yet," Giants head coach Pat Shurmur said, per Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com. "So he can't do everything totally."

    The Giants also have to know if rookie Saquon Barkley can be an every-down back, as he's likely to be New York's biggest offensive weapon next to Beckham. Defensively, they have to figure out how to revitalize the pass rush following the trade of Jason Pierre-Paul.

New York Jets

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press
    • Sort out the quarterback depth chart
    • Determine the right backfield split
    • Find a starting tight end
    • Install Jeremy Bates' offense

    Like a few other teams on this list, the New York Jets need to figure out their quarterback situation. The Jets have a few options after they re-signed Josh McCown, added Teddy Bridgewater and drafted USC product Sam Darnold with the third overall pick.

    New York's determination will largely depend on how quickly Darnold adjusts to NFL speed and schemes. If he adapts, the Jets may choose to start him in Week 1. If he doesn't, they can turn back to 2017 starter McCown or take a chance on 2014 first-round pick Bridgewater. As of now, Darnold remains a work in progress.

    "He's seeing things for the first time on both sides of the ball," Jets head coach Todd Bowles said, per Andy Vasquez of NorthJersey.com. "But as the days go by, he's getting more comfortable, so he's just got to keep working at it and getting better."

    Whichever quarterback takes the reins will need to get acquainted with the offense of Jeremy Bates, who replaced coordinator John Morton. So will the rest of the roster.

    The Jets also need to find a balance between running back Bilal Powell and newcomer Isaiah Crowell.

Oakland Raiders

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press
    • Install Greg Olson's offense
    • Sort out the backfield
    • Determine the right role for Jordy Nelson
    • Sort out the secondary

    Two years ago, the Oakland Raiders made it to the postseason on the back of their explosive offense. Last season, however, the offense was a major disappointment—it tied for 17th with 324.1 yards per game and ranked 23rd in scoring with 18.8 points per game—and the Raiders sputtered to 6-10.

    To get the offense back on track, Oakland hired head coach Jon Gruden. He brought with him seasoned offensive coordinator Greg Olson.

    Learning a new system isn't the only challenge the Raiders face, however. They also have to figure out how to improve a running game that ranked just 25th with 97.1 yards per game. Marshawn Lynch and Jalen Richard returned, but the Raiders also brought in Doug Martin in free agency.

    Early indications suggest a revitalized Martin may be just what Oakland needs to spark its ground game.

    "Doug has really jumped out in this camp with his quickness, his ability to pick up the offense and what we've given him," Olson said, per Matt Kawahara of the San Francisco Chronicle. "He's really got a fresh set of legs."

    The Raiders added receiver Jordy Nelson on a two-year, $14.2 million deal. They need to figure out how he best fits in the offense. They also need to figure out how to improve a secondary that allowed 241.1 yards per game last season, which ranked 26th in the league.

Philadelphia Eagles

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press
    • Protect Carson Wentz
    • Adapt to changes in offensive coaching staff
    • Get new tight ends up to speed

    Nick Foles deserves a ton of credit for delivering a Super Bowl victory to the Philadelphia Eagles. It's why Philadelphia did right by him and reworked his deal. However, it will be back to Carson Wentz in 2018, and for good reason.

    Wentz was an MVP candidate before his season ended prematurely with a torn ACL. In just 13 games, Wentz passed for 3,296 yards, rushed for 299 more, threw for 33 touchdowns and had just 10 turnovers.

    The Eagles better be certain Wentz is back to 100 percent before they put him back into the starting lineup. They also need to protect him during the remainder of the offseason to ensure he doesn't suffer another injury or a setback—just ask Dolphins fans about how that works out.

    If Philadelphia needs to lean on Foles during the preseason and even into the regular season, so be it. Protecting Wentz has to be priority No. 1.

    The Eagles' second priority has to be adjusting to the offseason losses of offensive coordinator Frank Reich and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo. Mike Groh has taken over as coordinator, and one of his first challenges will be to get new tight ends Richard Rodgers and Dallas Goedert up to speed.

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Tom Pennington/Getty Images
    • Identify Ryan Shazier's replacement
    • Determine Terrell Edmund's role
    • Try to get Le'Veon Bell involved in the offseason
    • Prepare James Washington for the third receiver role

    Linebacker Ryan Shazier was the glue that held together the Pittsburgh Steelers defense last season. He was a sideline-to-sideline player, and when he went down with a spinal injury, the Pittsburgh defense collapsed.

    In the 12 weeks before Shazier's injury, Pittsburgh allowed an average of 17.8 points per game. In the final five games, it allowed 28.0 points per contest.

    Finding a replacement for Shazier—or as close to one as realistically possible—needs to be a priority for the Steelers. Pittsburgh signed linebacker Jon Bostic in free agency and drafted former Virginia Tech safety Terrell Edmunds in Round 1. While neither has the skill set to replace Shazier on his own, the two may be able to combine to form a reasonable facsimile.

    Replacing Shazier's excellent run defense and coverage at the second level could be key for Pittsburgh to avoid defensive letdowns like those against the Patriots and Jaguars last season.

    Matching points with teams like New England and Jacksonville will be the responsibility of the offense. That offense will be better early if rookie James Washington can fill the role of the departed Martavis Bryant and if the Steelers can somehow convince Le'Veon Bell to rejoin the team before the preseason.

San Francisco 49ers

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    Mark Tenally/Associated Press
    • Identify top receiving targets
    • Solidify the offensive line
    • Strengthen the pass rush

    The San Francisco 49ers got their franchise quarterback last season by trading for Jimmy Garoppolo. They won the final five games of the season with Garoppolo at the helm then inked him to a five-year, $137.5 million deal in the offseason. Now they need to make him better by maximizing the receiving talent around him.

    Pass-catchers such as Pierre Garcon, Marquise Goodwin and George Kittle returned, and San Francisco signed receiving back Jerick McKinnon and drafted receivers Dante Pettis and Richie James.

    Kyle Shanahan is an offensive mind who knows how to make the most of his talent. He should craft a passing offense that's even more efficient than the one that averaged 245.3 yards per game in 2017 (ninth in the NFL).

    The trick will be identifying Garoppolo's go-to targets before the start of the season. Shanahan doesn't have a Julio Jones or Mohamed Sanu to work with on this roster, but if he can find guys who can fill similar roles, the 49ers could have an offense that resembles the one Shanahan had in Atlanta back in 2016.

    To further help Garoppolo, the 49ers need to get offensive line additions Weston Richburg and Mike McGlinchey ready to contribute. They also have to improve a pass rush that produced just 30 sacks last season (tied for 26th).

Seattle Seahawks

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press
    • Get Rashaad Penny up to speed
    • Solidify the offensive line
    • Determine chemistry with the new-look defense
    • Keep Russell Wilson healthy

    Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has been battered and beaten throughout his NFL career. In six pro seasons, he has been sacked a whopping 248 times. And that figure doesn't account for the hits he has taken in the backfield or while trying to carry the running game.

    Wilson led the team with 586 rushing yards last season.

    If the Seahawks want to rely on Wilson again this season, they're going to have to do a better job of protecting him. That means improving the play of the shaky offensive line and improving the ground attack.

    The second part of the equation was the driving force behind the drafting of former San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny in the first round. Getting him ready to handle a heavy workload out of the gate has to be a priority.

    Not only can Penny help save wear and tear on Wilson, he can bring balance to an offense that lacked it a year ago.

    Seattle also has to figure out how it can revitalize a defense that lost several notable pieces. Michael Bennett and Richard Sherman are already gone, and Kam Chancellor may never step on the field again.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
    • Sort out the secondary
    • Determine backfield rotation
    • Get new pass-rushers up to speed
    • Establish chemistry between Jameis Winston and DeSean Jackson

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the league's worst pass defense last season (260.6 yards allowed per game). There were two reasons for this. One was a pathetic pass rush that produced a paltry 22 sacks, the league low. The other was a secondary that lacked elite talent.

    Tampa Bay took care of the first issue by acquiring both Jason-Pierre Paul and Vinny Curry.

    The challenge now will be to figure out the best configuration of players in the secondary. While Brent Grimes is still a serviceable starter, the Buccaneers don't have a lot of proven talent. Vernon Hargreaves hasn't lived up to his first-round draft status, and there isn't anything special in the safety room.

    The Buccaneers did draft cornerbacks M.J. Stewart and Carlton Davis in the second round. Tampa Bay will hope that one of the two emerges as a starter by Week 1 and that the pair can improve the overall talent level in the secondary.

    Offensively, the Buccaneers need to figure out what their backfield is going to look like. Doug Martin is gone, and rookie second-round pick Ronald Jones II joins the likes of Jacquizz Rodgers and Charles Sims. They also need to figure out how to make wideout DeSean Jackson the game-changing deep threat he was before arriving in Tampa.

Tennessee Titans

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press
    • Identify receiving threats
    • Establish more offensive chemistry
    • Integrate Dion Lewis into the offense
    • Work on improving the pass rush

    Thought supremely talented, Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota hasn't emerged as a top-tier passing threat during his young NFL career. Part of the reason is that the Titans haven't surrounded him with a high-level receiving corps.

    Tight end Delanie Walker was the only player who topped 800 yards last season. Rishard Matthews was second on the team with 795 yards. Eric Decker, who ranked third with 563 yards, is gone.

    Tennessee needs to figure out who can emerge as receiving threats. Whether it's second-year wideout Corey Davis or offseason acquisition Dion Lewis, someone has to become a pass-catching weapon that opposing defenses actually worry about.

    If new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur can forge a quality passing attack this offseason, it will serve two purposes. It will help Mariota further develop as a passer, and it will help open thins up for Lewis, Derrick Henry and the running game.

    On the other side of the ball, Tennessee needs to get second-round pick Harold Landry incorporated into the defense. He could be the dominant edge-rusher the Titans lack. While Tennessee did rack up 43 sacks last season, no one logged more than 7.5.

Washington Redkins

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press
    • Get Alex Smith up to speed
    • Prepare Derrius Guice for a heavy workload
    • Ensure Chris Thompson is back to 100 percent
    • Focus on fixing the 32nd-ranked run defense

    Instead of dealing with another round of negotiations with Kirk Cousins, the Washington Redskins brought in steady veteran Alex Smith this offseason. Smith brings a wealth of experience and ball security—12 fewer turnovers than Cousins last season.

    Getting Smith up to speed on Jay Gruden's offense will be crucial for a fast start to the regular season. Washington will need to have Smith comfortable with the system and with the receiving corps, which includes offseason acquisition Paul Richardson Jr.

    The Redskins can make Smith's life easier by giving him a high-level backfield. Washington lacked this in 2017, tying for 27th in rushing with 90.5 yards per game.

    The tandem of rookie Derrius Guice and Chris Thompson can be special—if Guice is ready to be a workhorse and Thompson is healthy. Guice was just that at LSU—he ran for 1,251 yards last season—but the pro game is different.

    If Smith is the same quarterback he was last season, and the Washington backfield is a top-15 unit, the Redskins should have one of the most dangerous offenses in the NFL.

    Washington might be able to field a pretty good defense too if it can figure out how to improve the league's worst run defense (134.1 yards allowed per game). Adding defensive tackle Da'Ron Payne in the first round was a good initial step, but fixing the team's biggest weakness has to remain a priority.


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