We're smack dab in the middle of the NFL's Wild Card Weekend, so you'll be forgiven if you haven't been thinking ahead to free agency and the draft. For the 20 teams—well, make that 22 now—who are out of the playoffs, looking ahead is the only thing to do.
These teams will be looking to close the talent gap in free agency and the draft. While not all of them will have the cap space to be major players in the marketplace, pretty much every team will be looking to plug a hole or two.
Some holes are bigger than others, of course, and no hole glares more brightly on a roster than the lack of a quarterback. This is why quarterback-needy teams will be following the Tampa Bay Buccaneers heading into free agency. The Buccaneers have quarterback Jameis Winston under contract next year, but his $20.9 million salary won't become guaranteed until the start of the new league year.
Tampa fired head coach Dirk Koetter at the end of the regular season, and the new head coach may not be sold on Winston. If this is the case, he may end up on the free-agent market.
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Buccaneers "intend" to bring Winston back for 2019.
It makes plenty of sense to give Winston one final chance to earn a second contract, but again, this doesn't guarantee that Tampa's preferred coaching candidate wants him. If the Buccaneers do retain Winston, then Ryan Fitzpatrick—the ultimate temporary starter—will likely hit free agency.
Josh McCown is another high-end stopgap quarterback. He's spent the last two seasons with the New York Jets—one of Fitzpatrick's many stops—and he's set to hit free agency. The question with McCown is whether or not he wants to play with another team, return to New York as Sam Darnold's backup or retire.
"I think everything is on the table for me right now," McCown said, via the Jets' official website.
While the safety position might not be as important as quarterback, when a team can grab an All-Pro-caliber talent at the position, it tends to try.
The San Francisco 49ers may not be making a public push for Earl Thomas—he is still under contract with the rival Seattle Seahawks, after all—but this doesn't mean some of the players aren't making their own independent pitches.
Cornerback Richard Sherman, who played with Thomas in Seattle, has made it known he'd be happy with a reunion.
"Would I love to play with Earl Thomas III? I would love to," Sherman said, per Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area. "I would love to have him back in the locker room."
Sherman's teammate, wideout Marquise Goodwin, may have made a more private pitch to Thomas. The two were spotted together at the Sugar Bowl, though both are Texas alums, so it could mean little.
While we're on the topic of the 49ers and player recruitment, it's worth mentioning George Kittle's not-so-subtle head nod to Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown.
Brown is under contract, but his recent conflict with Pittsburgh could push him onto the trade market. According to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, the Steelers "are expected to consider trade requests" for Brown before free agency kicks off.
As Rapoport points out, Brown is due a roster bonus on the third day of the 2019 league year, so that would likely be Pittsburgh's deadline to deal him.
While Brown may be available, Rapoport reports that Houston Texans defensive standouts Tyrann Mathieu and Jadeveon Clowney probably won't be. Both are scheduled to hit the open market, but Houston is expected to keep both, possibly by franchising Clowney.
Houston lost on the opening day of the postseason, so getting Clowney and Mathieu under contract may now be a top priority.