Every NFL Team's Biggest Red Flag Heading into 2019 Season
With the 2019 NFL draft and the bulk of free agency now in the past, the time for plugging major holes has passed. There are still some quality free agents floating around—and the trade market is still open—but most of the big moves that will be made this offseason have been made.
While depth charts still have to be settled, the rosters and front offices we see now around the league are largely the same ones we're going to see in September. Obviously, not every franchise is going to be a Super Bowl contender in 2019, but some have glaring weaknesses that are bigger than others.
While the New England Patriots will have to see if another patchwork offense is good enough to win a title, the Miami Dolphins don't even know who their starting quarterback is going to be this season.
The one thing the contenders and the unknowns have in common is that weaknesses do exist. Each team has a significant red flag that carries the potential to derail the upcoming season. We'll examine those here.
Arizona Cardinals: The Offensive Line
The Arizona Cardinals are hoping the change from Josh Rosen to Kyler Murray at quarterback will help open up the offense in 2019. However, a questionable offensive line could prevent Murray from having the desired impact.
The line—which allowed Rosen to be sacked 45 times in 14 games—may have been the biggest reason Arizona's last first-round quarterback struggled. Arizona added Marcus Gilbert and J.R. Sweezy in the offseason, but the line is still a work in progress.
Murray's escapability and Kliff Kingsbury's uptempo offense may mask some of the deficiencies along the line, but the fact remains that this is the biggest question mark on Arizona's roster. If the line doesn't improve as a unit, Murray may find it difficult to perform like an upgrade over Rosen in Year 1.
Atlanta Falcons: Two Rookies on the Offensive Line
The Atlanta Falcons used a pair of first-round picks on offensive linemen Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary. Both could end up starting as rookies in 2019.
While there's no guarantee that Lindstrom or McGary will be liabilities in their first professional seasons, starting two rookies along the line is a risky proposition. Making the jump from collegiate competition to the NFL is a difficult challenge for any player, but it can be especially tough for linemen.
College offenses and pass-protection schemes are fundamentally different, which is why pro-ready offensive linemen are a rare commodity. Atlanta may have two first-year players protecting quarterback Matt Ryan this season, and a lone mental error from either could have disastrous results.
Baltimore Ravens: A New-Look Offense
The run-based offense employed by the Baltimore Ravens in 2018 worked. Having Lamar Jackson as a dual-threat quarterback kept opposing defenses off balance and allowed Baltimore to surge late in the season toward an AFC North title.
However, the Ravens offense could look a lot different this year than it did during that run. Baltimore has a new offensive coordinator in Greg Roman, new skill-position players like Mark Ingram and Marquise Brown and, potentially, a new offensive identity.
"I think you'll be pleasantly surprised that Lamar is not going to be running 20 times a game," owner Steve Bisciotti said, per Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com. "That's not what this offense is about."
Does Jackson have the mental and physical tools to run a more traditional NFL offense? Absolutely. But there's a saying about not fixing things that are not broken, and the 2018 Ravens were dangerous because what they did offensively wasn't traditional.
Buffalo Bills: A Patchwork Receiving Corps
Like the Ravens, the Buffalo Bills are hoping their quarterback, Josh Allen, can make the second-year jump in 2019. Also like the Ravens, the Bills are hoping that Allen can become less of a running quarterback and utilize his arm talent more.
The question is whether the Bills have put enough receiving talent around Allen to accomplish this goal.
Buffalo revamped its receiving corps this offseason, bringing in the likes of John Brown, Cole Beasley and tight end Tyler Kroft. However, there isn't a true No. 1 receiver on the roster, and there's no telling if this patchwork collection of complementary receivers will be enough to push Allen to the next level as a passer.
Adding to the uncertainty is that Kroft is already out for the next several months with a broken foot.
Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton's Health
Quarterback Cam Newton wasn't the same MVP-caliber player late in the 2018 season as he struggled with a lingering shoulder issue, and the Carolina Panthers offense suffered.
There's at least a chance Newton will never again be the same player, which is a big red flag for the Panthers. He's currently recovering from shoulder surgery, and that can be problematic for quarterbacks—just ask Andrew Luck.
Add in the fact that offensive coordinator Norv Turner is still trying to tweak Newton's throwing mechanics, and there's a substantial amount of uncertainty surrounding Carolina's franchise quarterback heading into 2019.
Chicago Bears: Uncertainty at Kicker
The Chicago Bears saw their 2018 playoff run come crashing to an end when Cody Parkey's potential game-winning kick against the Philadelphia Eagles clanked off the goal post.
Kicker is one roster spot the Bears desperately want to improve in 2019.
However, Chicago still doesn't have a front-runner in the kicking competition with training camp rapidly approaching.
The Bears did recently narrow the field to Eddy Pineiro and Elliott Fry, waiving third kicker Chris Blewitt, but the starting job is still up for grabs—a red flag for a team that is fairly solidified at most other positions.
Cincinnati Bengals: Linebacker
The Cincinnati Bengals parted with longtime defensive leader—and regular fine-payer—Vontaze Burfict in free agency. Cincinnati then missed out on linebacker Devin Bush in the draft when the Pittsburgh Steelers traded ahead of it to grab the Michigan product. They didn't add a linebacker until taking Germaine Pratt in Round 3.
This leaves Cincinnati's defense with a notable hole at the linebacker position.
The Bengals have some solid linebackers, like Nick Vigil and Preston Brown, but they don't have a true playmaker at the second level. This is a big red flag for a defense that ranked 29th against the run and dead last against the pass in 2018.
Cleveland Browns: A First-Time Head Coach
The Cleveland Browns have talent. For the first time in a long time, they also have genuine expectations heading into 2019. This means that new head coach Freddie Kitchens—who has never been a head coach before—is going to face a lot of pressure.
Kitchens is already getting a taste of this. He's had to answer questions about Odell Beckham Jr. skipping OTAs. He's been forced to play a large role in the installation of the offense despite the hiring of Todd Monken as offensive coordinator.
Once the regular season gets underway, there will be even more on Kitchens' plate. Can he handle the demands of running an entire team over the course of a full season while still building on the promise his offense showed in 2018? That's the biggest question hanging over Cleveland with the 2019 season fast approaching.
Dallas Cowboys: Potential Contract Distractions
While not every player allows his contract status to negatively impact the regular season, financial uncertainty can be a distraction. That's the reality of any job, especially one where injuries can alter a career in an instant.
This is why the Dallas Cowboys have to be wary about the ongoing contract discussions involving the team's three biggest offensive stars—Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper and Ezekiel Elliott.
Yes, players are usually going to do and say the right things, as Cooper has done this offseason.
"I'm more focused on actually playing and really earning the respect, and then the contract," he said, per Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News.
However, if Cooper suddenly becomes timid when going over the middle or Prescott gets gun-shy staring down the pass rush in an effort to preserve their bodies, the Cowboys will be in danger of taking a step back offensively in 2019.
Denver Broncos: Joe Flacco's Recent Production
The Denver Broncos are hoping that veteran quarterback Joe Flacco can get the franchise back into playoff contention. This isn't an entirely unrealistic expectation, as Flacco is an experienced quarterback with a Super Bowl MVP on his resume. However, Flacco's recent production with the Ravens may have been a warning sign.
Flacco lost his starting job to rookie Lamar Jackson in 2018. He first missed time with a hip injury, and he missed another six games back in 2015 with a torn ACL. Even when healthy, though, Flacco has not been an elite quarterback in recent years. He hasn't even posted a passer rating above 90 since 2014.
That Baltimore left Flacco on the bench even after he was healthy last season is telling—and it could impact Flacco's performance in Denver. The presence of second-round pick Drew Lock could have Flacco looking over his shoulder all season long.
Detroit Lions: Offensive Health
By the end of the 2018 season, the Detroit Lions had running back Kerryon Johnson on injured reserve and were without wide receivers Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay. While Johnson has been working with the team in minicamp. it's fair to wonder if he's back to 100 percent.
Golladay and Jones are still rehabbing their injuries, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
These injuries on the offensive side of the ball could make it difficult for the Lions to fully install their offense ahead of the preseason. Worse yet, if these players aren't back to 100 percent by Week 1, Detroit's offense will suffer in games that actually matter.
Green Bay Packers: Wide Receiver Depth
The Green Bay Packers have a legitimate No. 1 receiver in Davante Adams. They don't have much at the receiver position beyond that, though. Marquez Valdes-Scantling showed flashes as a No. 2 receiver in 2018, but the collection of Equanimeous St. Brown, Geronimo Allison and Jake Kumerow was underwhelming at best.
If the Packers are going to make a significant offensive jump under the direction of new coach Matt LaFleur, they're going to need more than just two good receivers. Unfortunately, Green Bay can't possibly know if it has that.
The Packers did little to address the wideout position in the offseason and actually parted with longtime standout Randall Cobb. While there is a possibility that one or more of these guys could emerge, receiver depth remains a concern for the time being.
Houston Texans: The Offensive Line
The Houston Texans watched quarterback Deshaun Watson get sacked 62 times in 2018. Sixty-two! That's alarming for a veteran quarterback with a track record of durability, let alone a second-year man coming off a torn ACL.
The Texans did draft Max Scharping and Tytus Howard to help address the line, but as unproven rookies, they'll merely compete for a starting job in 2019. There's no guarantee either will improve the line play out of the gate.
And until at least one of the rookies emerges as a viable upgrade, the offensive line is going to remain Houston's biggest problem area.
Indianapolis Colts: Secondary Depth
The Indianapolis Colts recently signed slot cornerback Kenny Moore to a contract extension. This helps ensure some stability in the secondary, but it doesn't improve the questionable depth Indianapolis has on the back end of its defense.
Moore is a solid cornerback. So is Pierre Desir, who was re-signed in the offseason. However, the Colts don't have another proven starter at cornerback, and safety Malik Hooker has struggled to stay healthy—he's played in just 21 games in two seasons. Indianapolis did draft cornerback Rock Ya-Sin in the second round out of Temple, but he'll have to earn his keep as a backup.
Depth is a real concern for the Colts, who could be an injury or two away from having their defense fall apart in 2019.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Running Back
The Jacksonville Jaguars have a new quarterback in Nick Foles. While Foles does carry his own questions—he struggled mightily as a starter with the St. Louis Rams a few seasons ago—a bigger question is whether the Jaguars can support him with a strong ground game.
Leonard Fournette was supposed to be a franchise-defining running back. That's why the Jaguars used their fourth overall draft pick on him in 2017. However, he's more often been a liability to the offense than he's been a difference-maker.
Fournette showed some tough running as a rookie but still only averaged 3.9 yards per carry. His production dipped to 3.3 yards per carry, and a combination of injuries and suspension caused him to miss eight games in 2018. If Fournette doesn't show improvement this season, Foles will be left shouldering an awful lot of the Jacksonville offense.
Kansas City Chiefs: The New-Look Defense
Defense was the biggest red flag for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2018. The Chiefs allowed an average of 405.5 yards per game (second-most in the NFL), and their defense is largely why Kansas City didn't make it to the Super Bowl—not because they didn't get the ball in overtime.
While we don't know if Kansas City's defense will be better this season, we do know it will be facing a transition. Steve Spagnuolo has been hired as defensive coordinator, and he's expected to implement a new 4-3-based scheme.
The defensive roster is also facing a fair amount of turnover. Out are the likes of Eric Berry, Justin Houston and Dee Ford. In are Tyrann Mathieu and Frank Clark.
If the defense doesn't improve—or worse yet, if it takes a step backward—Kansas City could again fall short of a championship.
Los Angeles Chargers: Philip Rivers' Contract Status
While contract issues could be an immediate concern for the Cowboys, Philip Rivers' lack of a new deal shouldn't be an immediate concern for the Los Angeles Chargers.
"I've got this year left and under no immediate stress or urgency to get anything done," Rivers said, per Grant Gordon of NFL.com.
Where Rivers' lack of a new deal is a red flag is in relation to the future. Rivers is in the final year of his contract and could become a free agent in the offseason. While this seems unlikely, Rivers could push for free agency or a trade—should L.A. use the franchise tag—if another promising season ends short of a Super Bowl berth.
Rivers is a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback, and his lack of a title is the one thing that could keep him out of Canton. Should the Chargers squander another season, Rivers may start to believe his best opportunity for a ring will come elsewhere. Again, this feels like a slim possibility, but it's one that wouldn't exist if Los Angeles were to get a deal done soon.
Los Angeles Rams: Todd Gurley's Health
Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley continues to insist his knee isn't a problem.
"I had bigger problems to worry about coming out of college," Gurley said, per Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com.
While it's true Gurley suffered a torn ACL at Georgia, it's also true he wasn't the same running back while dealing with the knee issue late last season. If this hadn't been the case, the Rams probably wouldn't have used a third-round pick on Memphis running back Darrell Henderson.
This means Gurley's knee is indeed a red flag. The Rams have prepared for complications by drafting Henderson and re-signing Malcolm Brown, but if Gurley cannot be L.A.'s workhorse back, the Rams offense simply isn't going to be as dangerous as it was in 2018.
Miami Dolphins: Quarterback
The Dolphins are set to stage a quarterback competition between journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick and 2018 first-round pick Josh Rosen. That Miami doesn't know who its quarterback will be is problematic for two big reasons.
For one, the Dolphins don't know if they have a starting-caliber quarterback on the roster for this season. While Fitzpatrick has proved to be a quality short-term starter, he's tended to struggle beyond short stretches. Rosen hasn't proved himself at all.
This is a red flag for the 2019 season, but it's an even bigger red flag for the future. If Rosen can't establish himself this season, Miami will likely try its luck in next year's draft, which should feature the likes of Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert. That option could be off the table, though, if Rosen or Fitzpatrick plays well enough to deliver six to eight wins.
The Dolphins would then be in a position where they still don't know if Rosen is franchise material and don't have a shot at a signal-caller at the top of the draft.
Minnesota Vikings: Kirk Cousins' Mediocrity
Based on raw statistics, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins was good in 2018. He passed for 4,298 yards and 30 touchdowns with just 10 interceptions. However, his overall play—and particularly his play quality opponents—was merely average.
"I'm pretty much a .500 quarterback in my career so far, and I don't think that's where you want to be, and that's not why you are brought in or people or excited about you," Cousins said, per Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com.
Cousins was supposed to be the missing piece to a championship-caliber offense. However, the Vikings actually dropped from 13-3 with Case Keenum at the helm to 8-7-1 with Cousins under center. They were 1-6 against eventual playoff teams. This has to be viewed as a problem as the Vikings head into 2019.
Can Cousins prove to be a legitimate franchise signal-caller, or is he destined to be merely an above-average quarterback at his best? Minnesota doesn't have a clear answer, but it cannot feel like it has an elite quarterback at this point.
New England Patriots: Tight End
The Patriots recently traded for Lions tight end Michael Roberts. That should tell you a lot about how New England feels about its tight end depth. There just isn't a lot there.
The Patriots have gone from having a Hall of Famer at tight end in Rob Gronkowski to a collection of complementary players and no clear starter. Opposing defenses aren't going to fear the likes of Roberts, Matt LaCosse or Stephen Anderson. While Benjamin Watson is an established tight end, he's also going to open the season on a four-game suspension.
For a New England offense that is used to having a premier mismatch at tight end, so much uncertainty at the position must make the defending champions a little nervous.
New Orleans Saints: Running Back Depth
Can Alvin Kamara be an every-down back for a full 16-game season? The New Orleans Saints just don't know. Kamara served in that role for the first month of 2018, as Mark Ingram was on suspension.
Kamara averaged 152.75 combined rushing and receiving yards during that span, but that was only a quarter of the campaign. There's no telling if he can keep up that production for a full season; he averaged 106.1 yards per game overall in 2018.
There's a chance the Saints will have to find an answer to this question in 2019 because Ingram is no longer with the team. New Orleans signed Latavius Murray in the offseason, but he isn't the bruising inside runner Ingram was. He isn't likely to complement Kamara the way Ingram did, either.
If Murray isn't the right fit for New Orleans' offense, the Saints are going to have to find one. They have some young backs on the roster, like Matt Dayes and undrafted rookie Devine Ozigbo, but until a No. 2 back is solidified, backfield depth is going to remain a priority.
New York Giants: Offensive Line
The New York Giants have taken steps to improve their offensive line over the past couple of offseasons. They signed tackle Nate Solder last year and traded for guard Kevin Zeitler this offseason. However, the line as a whole remains a work in progress.
Even with Solder in the fold, the Giants line was a major liability in 2018. Eli Manning was sacked 47 times and was frequently forced to get rid of the ball before absorbing a hit. While adding Zeitler theoretically means the line won't be as much of a weakness, New York still needs to get its starting five together and playing as a unit.
Simply put, New York's line is going to remain a red flag until it proves otherwise.
New York Jets: Wide Receiver
Ideally, the New York Jets will see quarterback Sam Darnold make a second-year jump in 2019. They added running back Le'Veon Bell to support him and brought in receivers Jamison Crowder and Josh Bellamy to bolster the receiving corps.
Even with Crowder and Bellamy on the roster, however, it's fair to wonder if the Jets have enough firepower at receiver for Darnold to thrive. There doesn't appear to be a No. 1 wideout in the bunch, and guys like Robby Anderson and Quincy Enunwa are complementary receivers at best on most teams, though someone could surprise and become Darnold's preferred target.
That he doesn't yet have one, however, is worrisome for a young quarterback who began to show promise at the end of last season.
Oakland Raiders: The Pass Rush
This is not the first nor the last time the Oakland Raiders' woeful pass rush is going to be pointed out this offseason. The Raiders produced a mere 13 sacks as a team in 2018, which is unacceptable in today's pass-driven NFL.
Yes, the Raiders drafted Clelin Ferrell in the first round to help bolster that pass rush, but even if he adds 10 sacks to Oakland's total, that's still an embarrassing number for an entire defense. The Raiders need a guy like fellow rookie Maxx Crosby or second-year man Arden Key to become a threat off the edge.
Even if this happens, the Raiders pass rush may still underwhelm throughout 2019.
Philadelphia Eagles: Quarterback Depth
The fact that Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz has finished each of the last two seasons sidelined by injury is in and of itself a red flag. The fact that Nick Foles is now a member of the Jaguars is an even bigger one.
Letting Foles go is understandable; the Eagles couldn't afford to pay him and Wentz. Regardless, it still leaves Philadelphia facing the prospect of starting Nate Sudfeld or Clayton Thorson if Wentz suffers yet another injury. Neither of these is a proven option.
If Wentz manages to stay healthy, this won't be a concern, of course. However, that feels like a big "if" given how the last two seasons have unfolded.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Wide Receiver Depth
Given how Jaylen Samuels performed in limited action last season (4.6 yards per carry, 26 receptions), the Pittsburgh Steelers should feel confident about their depth behind running back James Conner. Their depth at receiver, however, is a different story.
With Antonio Brown out of the picture, JuJu Smith-Schuster takes over as Pittsburgh's No. 1 receiver. However, the Steelers don't have a clear No. 2 lined up yet despite some big shoes to fill.
They need a guy like Ryan Switzer, James Washington, rookie Diontae Johnson or offseason acquisition Donte Moncrief to assume the role. (Switzer was Pittsburgh's third-most productive wideout in 2018 with a mere 253 receiving yards.) Until someone—or a combination of these players—does, it'll be a while before they get over Brown's departure.
San Francisco 49ers: Jimmy Garoppolo's Health
How healthy is Jimmy Garoppolo? This is the biggest question facing the San Francisco 49ers heading into 2019, as the quarterback is coming off a torn ACL.
But it's also of grave concern for the long term. Garoppolo is being paid like an elite franchise quarterback but has done little to prove he actually is one. He's started all of 10 NFL games and has twice been forced out of the starting role because of injury.
The 49ers need Garoppolo to stay healthy for a full 16-game slate this season—not just to have a chance at a playoff push but also to determine if they made the right decision in signing him to a massive five-year, $137.5 million contract extension last offseason.
Seattle Seahawks: Edge-Rusher
The Seattle Seahawks traded Frank Clark in the offseason, which leaves a pretty significant hole at edge-rusher: Clark had 22.0 sacks over the last two seasons. Seattle took some gambles to replace him, which should make it a bit antsy.
Will free-agent addition Ezekiel Ansah return to healthy form and again register double-digit sacks? Will rookie defensive end L.J. Collier make an immediate impact as an edge-rusher? These are important questions the Seahawks won't be able to answer until the season gets underway.
If the answer to one or both of these questions turns out to be no, the Seahawks could quickly find themselves missing Clark more than they anticipated.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jameis Winston's Consistency
Can new head coach Bruce Arians finally get Jameis Winston to play like a franchise quarterback? That's the hope for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have Winston in a contract year this season.
The potential for Winston to be a franchise signal-caller is there. He has arm talent galore. However, he has also struggled with consistency and turnovers throughout his pro career.
In four seasons, Winston has tossed 58 interceptions and fumbled the ball 38 times (18 lost).
If his ball security and efficiency improve, the Buccaneers should be on the right track with their new regime. If not, they may be in the market for a new quarterback as early as next offseason.
Tennessee Titans: Marcus Mariota's Health
Like Jameis Winston, Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota is entering a contract year. While he too has some consistency issues that need to be ironed out, a bigger red flag with Mariota is his history of injuries.
Mariota has never played a full 16-game season. He suffered a broken leg at the end of the 2016 season and was hampered by an elbow issue for nearly all of 2018. This is problematic because the Titans cannot possibly have an accurate idea of where Mariota is at in his development without seeing him at 100 percent for a full year.
While Mariota's elbow injury should be behind him, he hasn't looked like an effective potential franchise quarterback this offseason. Football analyst Paul Kuharsky recently described Mariota's throws in minicamp as "just awful," which isn't a good indication.
Is Mariota truly healthy? Will he stay that way for the entire 2019 campaign? Or will the Titans be forced to turn to former Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill at some point in the year?
Washington Redskins: The Receiving Corps
We don't yet know whether the Washington Redskins will go with rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins or journeyman Case Keenum to start the regular season. What we do know is Washington's quarterback will be throwing to a very much unproven wide receiver group.
Josh Doctson has yet to live up to his status as a first-round pick, Paul Richardson is coming off a fractured right clavicle, and Terry McLaurin is a rookie third-rounder. Of course, the Redskins do remain optimistic that these guys can form a functional receiving corps.
"Terry [has] been outstanding and having Paul Richardson back and healthy will be huge," offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell said, per Ben Standig of NBC Sports Washington.
The reality, though, is that Washington is far stronger at tight end (Jordan Reed, Vernon Davis) and running back (Adrian Peterson, Derrius Guice, Chris Thompson) than at wide receiver. Doctson led all wideouts with a mere 532 yards in 2018. If the receiving corps fails to improve between now and the start of the season, Washington will find it difficult to compete in the NFC East.
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