Every NFL Team's Biggest Problem It Must Fix This Offseason

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 16, 2019

Every NFL Team's Biggest Problem It Must Fix This Offseason

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    Joe Sargent/Getty Images

    Four teams are chasing Super Bowl dreams. Eight clubs started the offseason with interviews to fill head-coaching vacancies. Eventually, every front office must look back at the 2018 campaign and figure out how to improve its roster. 

    Generally, it's best to look at trends. What sticks out as the biggest reason for coming up short? For the team that hoists the Lombardi Trophy, it's about sustaining success. Sometimes, front offices have specific issues to address—for example, an expiring contract or a player who's underperformed on a loaded deal. 

    General managers don't have an extended period to think about potential changes with March free agency and the April draft months away. Once they've had discussions with their coaching staffs, the process of molding the depth chart for the 2019 season begins.

    Looking at all 32 rosters, we'll identify the biggest offseason problem for each. 


Arizona Cardinals: Shaky Offensive Line

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    Arizona Cardinals offensive tackle D.J. Humphries
    Arizona Cardinals offensive tackle D.J. HumphriesRick Scuteri/Associated Press

    An up-and-coming quarterback can only do so much behind a banged-up offensive line, and the Arizona Cardinals front line was just that. Starters D.J. Humphries, Mike Iupati and Justin Pugh suffered season-ending knee injuries. The trio missed a combined 22 games.

    Humphries and Pugh will probably retain their starting roles next year. Iupati will hit the free-agent market. Offensive tackle Joe Barksdale's contract expires in March as well. 

    According to Football Outsiders, the Cardinals' pass protection ranked 26th; the ground attack accumulated the least amount of yards this year. There's excitement surrounding new head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who brings an offensive mindset capable of unlocking quarterback Josh Rosen's talents, but the improvement has to start in the trenches. 

    Other than having more time to throw downfield, Rosen would benefit from a productive rushing offense, which centers around running back David Johnson. The Cardinals have to nail down a solid front five to get those things.

Atlanta Falcons: Vic Beasley's Pass-Rushing Issues

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    Atlanta Falcons defensive end Vic Beasley
    Atlanta Falcons defensive end Vic BeasleyKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Once upon a time, Vic Beasley looked well on his way to becoming a premier pass-rusher. He led all defenders with 15.5 sacks in 2016. Two seasons later, it's not clear how the fourth-year defender fits within the Atlanta Falcons' scheme.

    After Beasley lined up primarily at linebacker in the 2016 and '17 seasons, the coaching staff moved him back to defensive end, hoping to see progress as a pass-rusher. He matched last year's sack total (five), and the team's top decision-makers don't seem like they're all-in on his future in Atlanta yet, per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's D. Orlando Ledbetter: "As far as Vic, we're in the same mode," general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. "We are looking at all of the personnel and making sure that everyone fits into what we are expecting in the future." 

    Head coach Dan Quinn expressed hope for Beasley's development going into a contract year. "For sure, he has an upside," he said. "That part of it, on that side of the ball you are consistently challenging and [you want to] see where we can get to. I'm certainly excited about seeing where we can take it to." 

    It's alarming that the commitment to Beasley doesn't ring a lot stronger from the head coach and general manager. He's going into his fifth year as a top-10 draft pick from 2015. Assuming the 26-year-old remains on the roster, Quinn, as the defensive play-caller, will have to find the 2016 version of Beasley.

Baltimore Ravens: Wide Receiver Compatibility with Lamar Jackson

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    Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Michael Crabtree
    Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Michael CrabtreeGrant Halverson/Getty Images

    For the second consecutive offseason, the Baltimore Ravens have to overhaul their wide receiver corps. Last year, the team acquired targets to elevate quarterback Joe Flacco. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the Ravens will move on from him and roll with rookie first-rounder Lamar Jackson.

    Jackson helped lead the Ravens to an AFC North title—in large part with his legs. He finished the year as the team's second-leading rusher and the league's all-time leader in quarterback rush attempts (147) in a season. Next year, the Louisville product must show progress as a pocket passer. General manager Eric DeCosta should help him out.

    Wide receiver John Brown will become an unrestricted free agent, and Michael Crabtree's 2019 cap hit lists at $9.3 million following a mediocre season. He averaged a career-low 37.9 yards per contest and scored three touchdowns.

    Perhaps Crabtree and Jackson need an offseason to develop chemistry, but it's an expensive gamble if the Ravens don't plan to acquire at least one wideout with the rookie signal-caller's strengths in mind. Ideally, Baltimore should go after a big-bodied receiver with reliable hands similar to former Raven Anquan Boldin.

Buffalo Bills: Underperforming Offensive Line

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    Buffalo Bills left tackle Dion Dawkins
    Buffalo Bills left tackle Dion DawkinsSeth Wenig/Associated Press

    In the heat of the moment, running back LeSean McCoy subtly threw his offensive linemen under the bus during the college football national-title game. He tweeted, "God I would love to JUST get one of those bama linemen."

    McCoy deleted the tweet, but the words should stick with the front office. The Bills fired offensive line coach Juan Castillo after a disappointing year for his group. The team's quarterbacks took a combined 41 sacks.

    Rookie signal-caller Josh Allen creates more sack opportunities when he attempts to run rather than throw it downfield. Nonetheless, head coach Sean McDermott pointed out left tackle Dion Dawkins' faults, per Buffalo News reporter Vic Carucci: "There were some moments that I thought Dion improved this year from what he was a year ago. I thought as a whole, (he was) too inconsistent, starting with penalties. We talked about that, and this will be an important offseason for Dion." 

    Dawkins took over the blindside tackle spot for Cordy Glenn, who was traded to the Cincinnati Bengals last offseason. Dawkins fared well as a rookie but regressed this year. In addition to helping him get back on the right track, the coaching staff will likely work with new starters at right tackle and guard. Jordan Mills and John Miller manned those spots this season on expiring contracts.

    General manager Brandon Beane should heed McCoy's words and consider tackle Jonah Williams, guard Ross Pierschbacher or both in April. The upgrades could keep Allen out of harm's way and bolster the ground attack.  

Carolina Panthers: Fading Pass Rush

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    Carolina Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers
    Carolina Panthers defensive end Julius PeppersGrant Halverson/Getty Images

    Once again, Carolina Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers has a career decision to make. Last offseason, it took him some time before he committed to return for another year. In 2018, he logged 14 solo tackles and five sacks in 16 contests, which included eight starts.

    Peppers will turn 39 years old this month. There's no doubt the team will look for a full-time starter with defensive end Wes Horton on an expiring contract. The Panthers will likely have Mario Addison on the opposite side for at least another year, but he's going into his age-32 season. He can't stand alone as a one-man wrecking crew in the trenches. 

    On paper, the Panthers defensive line went into the 2018 campaign as one of the most talents units. Now, it needs a high-upside rookie or an established veteran on the end to reinforce the pass rush.

Chicago Bears: Kicker Cody Parkey's Costly Contract

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    Chicago Bears kicker Cody Parkey
    Chicago Bears kicker Cody ParkeyAssociated Press

    This isn't the pile-on effect, even though Chicago Bears kicker Cody Parkey experienced one of his lowest professional moments when Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Treyvon Hester tipped a potential game-winning field-goal attempt during the NFC Wild Card Round.

    Before the crushing 16-15 loss to the Eagles, Parkey doinked multiple kicks off the goal post during the regular season. He converted 23 of 30 attempts for the year. We can look past this season as an off year for the 26-year-old, but it's an expensive vote of confidence. 

    According to Spotrac, the Bears owe the most money to a starting kicker in dead cash at $5.2 million. It wouldn't benefit the Bears a ton to release him with so much money tied to his deal. Still, according to ESPN.com's Jeff Dickerson, general manager Ryan Pace indicated there would be competition at the position.

    The Bears can hope Parkey shakes off a subpar season and performs at a level similar to his 2017 efforts when he converted on 91.3 percent of his attempts. In a game of inches, with an offense that ranked 21st in yards, Chicago must stand behind its kicker or swallow the financial burden and move on.

Cincinnati Bengals: Uncertainty for Linebacker Unit

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    Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict
    Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze BurfictFrank Victores/Associated Press

    The Bengals allowed the most yards in 2018. Amid the defensive breakdowns, former head coach Marvin Lewis fired play-caller Teryl Austin in November. The unit didn't show much improvement, though.

    The team has two established commodities on the defensive line in Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins; both signed new multiyear deals last year. The secondary will have two starting-caliber cornerbacks, Dre Kirkpatrick and William Jackson. Safeties Shawn Williams and Jessie Bates combined for eight interceptions this season. The linebacker unit is the eyesore of the defense.

    The Bengals signed linebacker Preston Brown to a one-year deal last March, and it's unclear if he'll re-sign, coming off a seven-game season marred by a knee injury. Unfortunately, repeated concussions have put linebacker Vontaze Burfict's career in jeopardy, per ESPN's Katherine Terrell (h/t colleague Adam Schefter).

    Fortunately for the Bengals, the front office won't have to scramble for new faces. Jordan Evans, who started nine games in two seasons, and rookie third-rounder Malik Jefferson will likely have the first shots at filling potential voids. If they don't pan out, veteran talents may have to solidify those spots.

Cleveland Browns: No Clear Long-Term Answer at Left Tackle

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    Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Desmond Harrison
    Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Desmond HarrisonJustin K. Aller/Getty Images

    No one said replacing left tackle Joe Thomas, a six-time All-Pro, would be a smooth process. The Cleveland Browns signed Desmond Harrison as an undrafted talent out of West Georgia last offseason. He struggled in pass protection during the first half of the year. In November, he became ill, and Greg Robinson took over on the blind side in Week 9.

    After four disappointing seasons in the league, Robinson saw a resurgence under offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens, who's now the head coach. After Week 9, quarterback Baker Mayfield took just three sacks.

    Robinson will become an unrestricted free agent in March. Similar to last year, the Browns have options in how they can address the left tackle spot. They could focus on Harrison's development, renew Robinson's contract or sign a free agent. 

    If it's not broken, why try to fix it? Robinson seems like the best short-term decision until he falters. Cleveland may face competition for his services if he tests the market, though.

Dallas Cowboys: Absence of Consistent Red-Zone Targets

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    Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott
    Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak PrescottJohn McCoy/Getty Images

    The Dallas Cowboys acquired a No. 1 wide receiver in Amari Cooper during the season, but he's not a consistent red-zone target, as he only scored twice when the Cowboys lined up 15 yards from paydirt.

    His averaging a score almost every other game isn't enough to keep this passing attack rolling inside the 20-yard line. It's clear the Cowboys miss tight end Jason Witten, who retired and accepted a position in the Monday Night Football booth last year.

    Dallas selected tight end Dalton Schultz in the fourth round of the 2018 draft. But Blake Jarwin led all Dallas players at the position with 27 receptions for 307 yards and three touchdowns. 

    As time progresses, Jarwin or Schultz may develop into a reliable asset for Dak Prescott. If that's the case, the offense wouldn't have to rely on running back Ezekiel Elliott and quarterback sneaks in scoring position.

Denver Broncos: Low-Ceiling Quarterback Play

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    Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

    The Denver Broncos' 6-10 record isn't all quarterback Case Keenum's fault, but he's heavily reliant on the talent around him. The front office may have hit on a pair of running backs in Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman, but there's plenty of room for growth in the wide receiver unit.

    Still, wideouts Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton won't reach their potential with a quarterback who can't stretch the field. Keenum averaged fewer than seven yards per pass attempt for the third time in the last four seasons in 2018. We may have seen the best of him in Minnesota in 2017.

    Since the defense, specifically the secondary, took a step back, the Broncos will need to put up more points to win games. The front office shouldn't be opposed to a stopgap such as Flacco, who can still move the ball downfield. The decision to stick with Keenum will limit an aerial attack that has some high-upside assets on the perimeter, though.

Detroit Lions: Inconsistent Ground Attack

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    Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

    The Detroit Lions came into the 2018 term with the right idea: balance the offense with a revamped ground attack. General manager Bob Quinn selected offensive lineman Frank Ragnow and running back Kerryon Johnson to take steps in fulfilling that objective.

    Before suffering a sprained knee in November, Johnson logged two 100-yard performances. Although the Lions eclipsed the century mark as a team in five of their last six outings, LeGarrette Blount wasn't an efficient ball-carrier. The 32-year-old tailback averaged just 2.7 yards per attempt. Zach Zenner flashed in the final quarter of the season, but he's set to become an unrestricted free agent in March.

    In case of injury, the Lions need a complementary running back to join Johnson and Theo Riddick, who's more effective as a third-down pass-catcher. Head coach Matt Patricia should take a page from his former employer's backfield script (the New England Patriots) and keep multiple ball-carriers on the roster behind the lead rusher.

Green Bay Packers: Inconsistent Pocket Pressure off the Edge

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    Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Nick Perry
    Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Nick PerryLeon Halip/Getty Images

    Heading into the 2018 campaign, did anyone think outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell would lead the Green Bay Packers in sacks with 10.5? At the beginning of the year, Clay Matthews struggled to play within the reinforced rules that penalizes defenders for landing on or putting their full weight on a quarterback. He finished with a career-low 3.5 sacks and will turn 33 years old in May.

    Nick Perry battled hand, ankle, shoulder and knee injuries, which cost him seven games, but he didn't move the needle as a pass-rusher when healthy. The 28-year-old logged just 1.5 sacks. There are too many question marks on the edge to ignore. Can Fackrell repeat his 2018 performance? Will Matthews, an impending free agent, return on a short-term deal? Is it time to part ways with Perry? 

    General manager Brian Gutekunst may allow Perry another season to rediscover his pass-rushing ability because of the $11.1 million owed to him in dead cap money through the 2021 campaign. However, the Packers have two first-round picks thanks to a trade with the New Orleans Saints, who moved up to take defensive end Marcus Davenport last year. 

    It would be a wise move to use one of those selections on a high-potential edge-rusher to push Perry for his starting role or outright replace him.

Houston Texans: Poor Pass Protection

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    Houston Texans offensive tackle Julie'n Davenport
    Houston Texans offensive tackle Julie'n DavenportWinslow Townson/Associated Press

    The Houston Texans went into last offseason with glaring concerns across the offensive line. Yet, quarterback Deshaun Watson led the league in sacks taken (62) in 2018.

    Following a 21-7 loss to the Indianapolis Colts during the AFC Wild Card Round, he talked about the inability to fully function without strong pass protection, per the Houston Chronicle's Aaron Wilson: "The pressure was there, couldn't step into my throws. It wasn't where I was sitting there by myself with a full pocket. Guys were in my face, trying to make throws like that. I can't fully throw, any quarterback, not just me, can't step into that throw, get their full strength with their lower body." 

    As such, the Texans should consider a tackle with one of their three picks in the first and second rounds. Rookie third-rounder Martinas Rankin will likely push for a starting spot on the perimeter in the summer. 

    There's one certainty: The Texans won't see the best of Watson behind backup-level talent. Between holding and false starts, left tackle Julie'n Davenport racked up nine infractions. Houston had to start Kendall Lamm once Seantrel Henderson went down with a broken ankle in Week 1. Both will hit the free-agent market in March.

Indianapolis Colts: Shallow Wide Receiver Corps

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    Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Ryan Grant
    Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Ryan GrantDarron Cummings/Associated Press

    Quarterback Andrew Luck has a solid pass-catching duo at tight end in Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle. He can also target lead wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, who's logged a 1,000-yard season in five of the last six years. 

    There's no high-end complementary wideout, though. General manager Chris Ballard should change that. Indianapolis has the cap room ($122.4 million) to sign a reliable veteran wide receiver. The front office can also turn to the draft for a dynamic playmaker. N'Keal Harry, JJ Arcega-Whiteside and Hakeem Butler should list high on the Colts' big board.

    Luck doesn't need a top-notch No. 2 wide receiver to put up big numbers, but the Colts have no reason to hoard cash with their starting signal-caller on the books through 2021. Coming off an impressive 10-6 campaign that included a playoff victory, Indianapolis needs to keep stacking building blocks. Wideouts Ryan Grant and Dontrelle Inman are career backups, and Chester Rogers averaged just 9.2 yards per catch this year.

Jacksonville Jaguars: No Franchise Quarterback

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    Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles
    Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake BortlesTim Warner/Getty Images

    Assuming the Jacksonville Jaguars move on from quarterback Blake Bortles, as NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reports they will, the front office must do whatever it takes to acquire a starting signal-caller.

    Flacco and Teddy Bridgewater come to mind. The former lost his starting job to Lamar Jackson, and the latter will be a free agent this offseason. If the Jaguars miss both players, general manager Dave Caldwell can develop an incoming rookie from a watered-down quarterback group.

    Jacksonville may have competition in the race to select Ohio State product Dwayne Haskins, though. The New York Giants sit one spot (No. 6 overall) ahead of the Jaguars in the draft order. The front office may also consider Kyler Murray, who declared for the 2019 draft Monday. 

    Head coach Doug Marrone's job security could depend on the progress of the new starter under center. He's 16-18 as the Jaguars' skipper.

Kansas City Chiefs: Subpar Intermediate Pass Defense

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    Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Reggie Ragland
    Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Reggie RaglandDavid Eulitt/Getty Images

    Tight ends in the seam and pass-catching running backs have been a threat to the Kansas City Chiefs' pass defense throughout the year. The unit ranked in the bottom third in receiving yards allowed to both positions during the regular season, per Football Outsiders.

    To cover the middle of the field, the Chiefs must tweak their personnel at inside linebacker between Reggie Ragland and Anthony Hitchens or add a reliable safety.

    The coaching staff may want to explore expanding rookie linebacker Dorian O'Daniel's role. He flashed pass-coverage skills during his senior year at Clemson with five breakups and two interceptions—both returned for touchdowns.

    On the back end, safety Armani Watts could see more snaps if he can stay healthy. As a rookie, he appeared in five contests before he landed on injured reserve with a groin injury. A veteran acquisition at the position would also serve as an insurance policy for Eric Berry, who's played in three regular-season games over the last two years.

Los Angeles Chargers: No Clear No. 2 Cornerback

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    David Eulitt/Getty Images

    Barring a surprising return for oft-injured cornerback Jason Verrett, the Los Angeles Chargers must decide if they're confident in Michael Davis as a long-term fixture on the boundary opposite Casey Hayward.

    In Week 9, Davis took over as a starter for Trevor Williams, who suffered a season-ending knee injury. Coming off a shortened campaign, he'll become a restricted free agent.

    Williams may head elsewhere, and there's a major risk in handing the job to Davis—a first-time starter who went undrafted after an average collegiate career at Brigham Young. The Chargers can focus on in-house development, but free agency will offer a couple of intriguing names in Ronald Darby and Bashaud Breeland. 

    Los Angeles allowed 23 passing touchdowns in 2018 as a middling group.

Los Angeles Rams: Lackluster Edge-Rushing

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    Los Angeles Rams linebacker Dante Fowler Jr.
    Los Angeles Rams linebacker Dante Fowler Jr.Harry How/Getty Images

    In October, the Los Angeles Rams acquired Dante Fowler Jr. via trade with the Jaguars. The 24-year-old logged two sacks in eight contests, which included six starts, with his second team.

    Another year under play-caller Wade Phillips could help Fowler's production. He has the potential to burst off the edge as a disruptive force near the pocket, as he showed by recording eight sacks in 2017. 

    If Fowler hits the open market, suitors will add millions to his coffers because of the need for pass-rushers. Los Angeles may have to go with a cheaper option and sign a designated edge defender while a younger talent attempts to carve a larger role.

    Although he's looked unstoppable as an interior pass-rusher, Aaron Donald frequently faces triple-teams in the trenches. He'll eventually need help collapsing the pocket.

Miami Dolphins: Poor Run Defense

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    Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

    It's a tough pill to swallow when an opposing ground attack can run the ball straight through the heart of the defense. The Miami Dolphins ranked 31st against the run this season.

    Injuries played a part in the lack of depth up front, as William Hayes (torn ACL) and Vincent Taylor (foot) went down with season-enders. Still, neither player held a starting role coming into the year. The Dolphins won't win many games if they're allowing opponents to outmuscle them in the trenches. 

    Perhaps the front office should look at interior tackles such as Danny Shelton or Sheldon Richardson to add toughness up front. The impending free agents would clog running lanes and provide an immediate boost at the line of scrimmage. Miami can also address the core of its line with the No. 13 overall pick.

Minnesota Vikings: Underperforming Ground Attack

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    Minnesota Vikings offensive guard Mike Remmers
    Minnesota Vikings offensive guard Mike RemmersJustin K. Aller/Getty Images

    At first glance, running back Dalvin Cook's hamstring injury seemed like the main culprit of the Minnesota Vikings' lackluster ground attack. He saw the field consistently in the second half of the season but was inconsistent. The problems extended beyond that, though.

    The team fired offensive coordinator John DeFilippo after a Week 14 loss. Kevin Stefanski took over play-calling duties, and the Vikings immediately ran for 220 yards against the Dolphins' weak run defense. The production on the ground dipped in the next two outings, though.

    Aside from a decision on running back Latavius Murray's expiring contract, Minnesota must address the interior of the offensive line. Left guard Tom Compton will hit free agency, and Mike Remmers hasn't played well since he moved from right tackle to guard, per ESPN.com's Courtney Cronin. "Minnesota could elect to move on from Mike Remmers, who was paid well to be the Vikings' right tackle before moving inside to right guard where he has struggled," she wrote. 

    The offense needs balance. Quarterback Kirk Cousins finished with a career high in completion percentage (70.1) and passing touchdowns (30), but the team ranked 19th in scoring and 20th in yards.

New England Patriots: Dwindling Receiving Corps

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    New England Patriots wide receiver Chris Hogan
    New England Patriots wide receiver Chris HoganMark Brown/Getty Images

    In 2018, tight end Rob Gronkowski averaged 52.5 receiving yards per contest and looks like he's lost a step. The league suspended wide receiver Josh Gordon indefinitely for substance-abuse violations. Wideouts Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett will become unrestricted free agents in the offseason. Aside from Julian Edelman, where are quarterback Tom Brady's quality downfield options?

    The Patriots must revamp the wide receiver corps and possibly add a pass-catching tight end to help Brady move the ball. New England will have running back James White as a target out of the backfield, but can't provide chunk plays. 

    At 41 years old, Brady is still better than most players at his position, but he'll need to be more reliant on the weapons around him. It's important for the front office to add a top-level catch-and-run threat along with a big-bodied red-zone weapon to emulate some of Gronkowski's qualities—especially if Gronk retires.

New Orleans Saints: Mark Ingram's Expiring Contract

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    New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram
    New Orleans Saints running back Mark IngramChris Graythen/Getty Images

    Alvin Kamara, the 2017 Offensive Rookie of the Year, has earned the spotlight as one of the league's best dual-threat running backs, but he's half of a strong backfield duo. Mark Ingram, an impending free agent, also does some heavy lifting for the New Orleans Saints offense.

    New Orleans finished fifth and sixth in rushing yards over the last two seasons and led the league in rushing touchdowns since the 2017 campaign. Together, Kamara and Ingram have taken a significant load off quarterback Drew Brees. From 2010 to 2016, he threw at least 627 passes. He logged 536 attempts last year and 489 this season. 

    Furthermore, the Saints don't have a consistent No. 2 wide receiver behind Michael Thomas. Yet, the Saints had the third-highest scoring offense. Brees has been efficient, leading the league in completion percentage over the last two years. He can choose his spots because of the opponent's focus on the ground attack.

    New Orleans can simply re-sign Ingram, but there's a case to go young and draft a cheaper replacement. Ingram missed the first four games of the season because of a performance-enhancing drug violation, but Kamara averaged just 14 carries per contest in that span. The decision not to pair Kamara with a productive tailback would place a heavier burden on Brees going into his age-40 campaign.

New York Giants: The Post-Eli Manning Era

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    New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning
    New York Giants quarterback Eli ManningSteven Ryan/Getty Images

    Former head coach Ben McAdoo's decision to bench quarterback Eli Manning drew criticism in 2017. The Giants signal-caller missed one start that year and reclaimed his spot for the remainder of the season. Now, Big Blue has to consider a permanent move away from the two-time Super Bowl winner.

    The Giants don't have to dump Manning yet, but general manager Dave Gettleman must devise a long-term plan for the position. Big Blue can take the veteran route or choose its quarterback-to-be in April.

    Manning showed flashes in the season's second half, but it wasn't enough to optimize the Giants' bevy of pass-catchers. They inked Odell Beckham Jr. to a five-year, $90 million extension in August. Fellow wideout Sterling Shepard and tight end Evan Engram are high-end secondary targets. Saquon Barkley ranked fourth among running backs in receiving yards (721). 

    A dynamic signal-caller capable of making short and deep throws with the mobility to extend plays could take this offense further. At 38 years old and going into the final year of his contract, Manning is close to retirement. If Gettleman isn't enamored with the available signal-callers, he must bank on the 2020 draftee or free-agent classes to find a franchise quarterback.

New York Jets: Subpar Offensive Line

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    New York Jets left guard James Carpenter
    New York Jets left guard James CarpenterMark Brown/Getty Images

    As the new head coach for the New York Jets, Adam Gase is expected to develop quarterback Sam Darnold. To progress, the rookie signal-caller needs a strong support system. The conversation should begin with strengthening the offensive line.

    That would help shield Darnold from pass-rushers, but don't ignore the need to clear lanes for the running backs. According to Football Outsiders, Gang Green's ball-carriers were "stuffed" the most at 26.1 percent—meaning stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage. 

    Perhaps the Jets could get more production out of running backs Isaiah Crowell, Elijah McGuire and Bilal Powell with improved run blocking. That would balance the attack and allow Darnold to play within the flow of the game as opposed to pressing to carry the entire load with his arm. 

    The offensive line could have at least two new starters by Week 1 next season. The Jets will likely lose left guard James Carpenter to free agency, and Brandon Shell must recover from late-season knee surgery.

Oakland Raiders: Nonexistent Pass Rush

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    Oakland Raiders defensive end Arden Key
    Oakland Raiders defensive end Arden KeyThearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    The Oakland Raiders ranked last in sacks this year (13). The team jettisoned its top two pass-rushers from the last two seasons, Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin.

    Rookie third-rounder Arden Key put forth a valiant effort and led the team in quarterback hits (11), but he needs to add to his 238-pound frame to close the deal on sacks. The LSU product logged one tally in the category in 2018. 

    The Raiders must turn up the heat on quarterbacks wherever possible. Rookie defensive tackle Maurice Hurst led the team in sacks with four and logged his last one in Week 11. 

    Oakland should be one of the first teams in line to sign star pass-rushers Demarcus Lawrence, Frank Clark or Jadeveon Clowney if they hit the open market. Even with one of them on the roster, Jon Gruden and company should select a defensive end with one of the team's three first-round picks.

Philadelphia Eagles: Below-Average Ground Attack

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    Philadelphia Eagles running back Josh Adams
    Philadelphia Eagles running back Josh AdamsButch Dill/Associated Press

    In today's league, clubs don't need a workhorse tailback to handle 20-plus carries per contest. Running back committees have been successful. The Seattle Seahawks fielded the No. 1 rushing offense this season, and three of their ball-carriers logged at least 85 attempts.

    The Eagles ranked 28th on the ground, and the backfield lacked reliability.

    Running back Josh Adams averaged two yards per carry or fewer in three of his last four outings. He didn't log a rush attempt in the divisional matchup with the Saints. Darren Sproles, Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood all contributed to the backfield committee, but the Eagles seem to lack rhythm on the ground. 

    Without a reliable runner to move the chains, Philadelphia's heavy dependence on quarterback Carson Wentz could create a predictable flow. As a result, opposing defenders may opt to sit back on routes to clutter the passing lanes and force turnovers.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Antonio Brown's Status

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    Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown
    Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio BrownJoe Sargent/Getty Images

    There's wide receiver drama in Pittsburgh. The Steelers benched Antonio Brown for their regular-season finale because of discord in the locker room and his absence during team functions leading up to the game, per Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's, Gerry Dulac and Ed Bouchette:

    "The disagreement occurred Wednesday morning during a routine walk-through practice that precedes their regular afternoon practice on the South Side. Brown was disgusted and threw a football in [Ben] Roethlisberger's direction, several sources said. After that, Brown did not practice the rest of the week. According to a source, it was Brown's decision not to practice with his teammates." 

    According to Dulac, Steelers president Art Rooney II said it's "hard to envision" Brown on the team at training camp. He's also open to exploring options other than cutting the four-time All-Pro. 

    Barring a come-together moment between Brown and the Steelers, we'll see a blockbuster trade for the 30-year-old wideout during the offseason. 

San Francisco 49ers: Lack of Perimeter Pocket Pressure

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    San Francisco 49ers defensive end Solomon Thomas
    San Francisco 49ers defensive end Solomon ThomasMarcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner led the team in sacks (12) with little help from his teammates on the defensive line. Cassius Marsh and Ronald Blair tied for second with 5.5 apiece—neither player is a primary starter, though. 

    Arik Armstead lined up at defensive end and posted decent overall numbers, recording 33 solo tackles and three sacks, but he's still not a consistent pass-rusher. Solomon Thomas isn't what the team hoped for out of the No. 3 overall pick in terms of rushing the quarterback. He's logged four sacks in two seasons. The San Francisco 49ers could cover their miss on the Stanford product with the No. 2 overall pick in the upcoming draft.

    The 49ers don't have a clear shot at defensive end Nick Bosa, but general manager John Lynch can consider Josh Allen or Clelin Ferrell if the Ohio State product goes No. 1 to the Cardinals. San Francisco should also keep a close eye on Demarcus Lawrence, Frank Clark and Jadeveon Clowney during free agency.

Seattle Seahawks: Poor Pass Protection

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    Seattle Seahawks offensive tackle Germain Ifedi
    Seattle Seahawks offensive tackle Germain IfediPaul Sancya/Associated Press

    Although the Seahawks offensive line became one of the league's best run-blocking groups, quarterback Russell Wilson still took a pounding in the pocket. He suffered 51 sacks in 2018. Apparently, the decision to boot position coach Tom Cable and hire Mike Solari didn't solve all the issues up front.

    Occasionally, Wilson has to refrain from holding the ball too long, but it's also up to the offensive line to give him more time to scan the field without the need to go into scramble mode . According to Football Outsiders, the Seahawks ranked 30th in pass protection.

    Although he showed some improvement, lineman Germain Ifedi drew 10 penalties. In Ifedi's third season, his technique and the propensity to false start continued to plague him. Seattle could consider a veteran or rookie fifth-rounder Jamarco Jones to push the Texas A&M product for his starting role.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: No Complementary Ground Attack

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    Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Peyton Barber
    Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Peyton BarberMike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hired head coach Bruce Arians, who seems focused on molding Jameis Winston into a more consistent starting quarterback. An upgraded ground attack could help the signal-caller avoid turnovers and improve offensive efficiency.

    Tampa Bay ranked 22nd in rush attempts and 29th in yards as a one-dimensional offense heavily reliant on the passing game. Peyton Barber, the team's leading ball-carrier, averaged 3.7 yards per carry, and rookie second-rounder Ronald Jones logged 23 carries for 44 yards and a touchdown in nine appearances.

    The Buccaneers' aerial attack features multiple quality pass-catchers including Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate. Nonetheless, it's not necessarily a good idea to allow Winston to go pass-happy. He's thrown the second-most interceptions (58), along with Bortles, since 2015. More handoffs to a dynamic running back could keep the offense rolling in a balanced approach.

Tennessee Titans: Limited Options at Wide Receiver

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    Tennessee Titans wide receiver Tajae Sharpe
    Tennessee Titans wide receiver Tajae SharpeAl Pereira/Getty Images

    Legitimate questions surround Marcus Mariota's ability to be a franchise quarterback because of his modest production and durability issues. He's thrown 69 touchdown passes and 42 interceptions since he entered the league as the No. 2 overall pick in 2015. The Oregon product hasn't missed a high number of games (eight), but he didn't suit up for the team's crucial postseason play-in Week 17 matchup against the Colts because of a stinger.

    Before pinning the Tennessee Titans' 2018 offensive struggles on Mariota, it's fair to wonder if his numbers would improve with upgrades at wide receiver.

    Mariota didn't have the most talented receiving group this season. The Titans placed tight end Delanie Walker on injured reserve after Week 1 because of a broken ankle and ligament damage. Wide receiver Corey Davis showed improvement from his rookie year to his sophomore season but fell short of 1,000 yards and scored only four touchdowns. 

    The Titans need a No. 2 option ahead of Tajae Sharpe and Taywan Taylor—specifically a playmaker who's effective in racking up yards after the catch.

    Mariota doesn't have the strongest arm. Short throws to a speedy option can help him avoid unnecessary hits. Perhaps the front office would consider impending free agent John Brown or can pick up a game-changer on the perimeter during the draft. 

Washington Redskins: Uncertainty at Quarterback

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    Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith
    Washington Redskins quarterback Alex SmithPatrick McDermott/Getty Images

    There's no word on quarterback Alex Smith's career outlook. He suffered compound and spiral fractures in his leg during a Week 11 outing against the Texans. According to Rapoport, he's not expected to recover in time to suit up for Week 1 of the 2019 campaign. Furthermore, his playing career remains in doubt

    The Washington Redskins must address the position swiftly with a player ready to take snaps under center as a starter. The front office could look into a trade for Flacco, a deal with Bridgewater on the open market or a prospect in the first round of the draft. 

    However, the $42 million in dead cash owed to Smith over the remaining four years of his deal limits financial flexibility.

    Of course, front offices have plenty of ways to clear space and move money around to acquire talent. Expect Washington to explore all avenues to land a signal-caller with the intent to start him Week 1.


    Contract details provided by Spotrac.com.


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