NFL Teams in the Best Position to Win the 2020 Offseason
As the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers gear up for Super Bowl LIV on Sunday, the NFL's other 30 teams are already working on a different competition of sorts: winning the offseason.
Doing so won't necessarily guarantee success in the regular season to come. Plenty of teams seemingly make all of the right moves in March and April only to fall flat in September and October. Look no further than the 2019 Cleveland Browns and 2011 "Dream Team" Philadelphia Eagles for recent examples.
With that said, filling holes on the roster with talented rookies and veterans while preventing new holes from opening is a big step in the right direction. It can energize teams and fanbases alike.
The offseason doesn't take place on a level playing field. Some teams have much far salary-cap space to spend in free agency than others. Some have more draft capital at their disposal.
With those factors in mind, the following teams are in prime position to "win" the 2020 offseason.
New York Giants
New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman caught a ton of flak during the 2019 offseason. He traded defensive end Olivier Vernon and star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to the Cleveland Browns and seemingly made a reach when he selected Duke quarterback Daniel Jones with the sixth overall pick.
But the Giants appear to have gotten the better end of the Vernon deal in guard Kevin Zeitler. Safety Jabrill Peppers and defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence, both of whom were part of the Beckham trade, made an impact for the Giants in 2019, while Beckham's first year with the Browns was disappointing. And while Jones had a rocky rookie season, he showed real potential.
That wasn't enough to save head coach Pat Shurmur's job. With new head coach Joe Judge in place, Gettleman told Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated that he knows the pressure is on in 2020.
"We've got to reorganize here in terms of making use of technology and analytics, and we're in the process of that. We've got a plan in place. I've got to do a better job of that. Like I said, we're support staff for the coaches. I've gotta be better there for them. Obviously, you can always tighten up your evaluation stuff and your scouting, and we're always doing that. I completely tore that apart when I got here. You can always be better at your job. I ask myself every day, 'Have I given the coaches enough players to win with?'
"And as you move forward, you continue to evaluate that stuff, and evaluate yourself."
The Giants are sitting on the seventh-most cap space in the league ($61.9 million), own the fourth overall pick in this year's draft and only have a few major decisions looming regarding in-house free agents in defensive lineman Leonard Williams and edge-rusher Markus Golden.
If Gettleman plays his cards right, the Giants could be on the verge of a massive leap forward in 2020.
If he doesn't, he'll be looking for work in 2021.
There appears to be little doubt regarding what the Cincinnati Bengals will do with the No. 1 overall pick. Most pundits believe they'll select LSU quarterback Joe Burrow to replace veteran Andy Dalton.
Burrow may be all the Bengals need to win the offseason. He's a Heisman Trophy and national championship-winning quarterback coming off a record-setting season, and he hails from nearby Athens, Ohio.
The local boy comes home to lead the Bengals back to respectability. The movie practically writes itself.
But the quarterback position isn't Cincinnati's only area of need. The Bengals have had one of the NFL's worst defenses over the past few seasons. With star wideout A.J. Green perhaps done in the Queen City, the receiving corps is thin behind Tyler Boyd.
The Bengals also have a few free agents of note in cornerback Darqueze Dennard and linebacker Nick Vigil. And Cincinnati has a history of being, um, frugal in free agency.
The Bengals are sitting on roughly $49.3 million in cap space. They aren't among the league leaders in that regard, but they should have enough to keep Dennard and Vigil and add an impact free agent or two—perhaps someone like wideout Robby Anderson or linebacker Danny Trevathan.
That first overall pick will drive the headlines leading up to April. But what the Bengals do in March is every bit as important.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have no easy answer for their biggest offseason decision in 2020.
Quarterback Jameis Winston is about to become a free agent, and he's fresh off becoming the first player in NFL history to throw 30 touchdown passes and 30 interceptions in the same season. At the end of the season, head coach Bruce Arians didn't do much to clarify whether the Buccaneers plan to bring him back.
"We can win with this (quarterback), we can definitely win with another one, too…we're going to have this defense. I would think within a few weeks we'll have a decision which way we want to head. Will we let it out? Probably not because you lose your leverage on that one, too, so stay tuned."
Winston isn't the only big name under center attached to the Buccaneers. From the moment he announced that he and his family were moving to Florida, there has been speculation connecting veteran quarterback Philip Rivers with Tampa Bay.
Tampa Bay has no shortage of skill-position talent such as Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Adding a new veteran quarterback to helm Arians' offense would be one of the biggest splashes of the 2020 offseason.
Quarterback isn't the Bucs' only area of need, especially if defensive stalwarts like edge-rusher Jason Pierre-Paul and 2019 sack king Shaquil Barrett depart in free agency.
But in addition to the 14th overall pick, the Buccaneers have the fourth-most salary cap space in the league at $81.5 million. That's enough to address the quarterback position, retain at least one of the pass-rushers, upgrade the NFL's 30th-ranked pass defense and have money left over.
It's understandable if the Indianapolis Colts are feeling some trepidation heading into the 2020 offseason. The last one wasn't especially kind to them.
Andrew Luck's stunning retirement a year ago led to a two-year extension for new starting quarterback Jacoby Brissett. And while Brissett started the season well enough, both he and the Colts struggled in the second half on the way to missing the postseason.
Brissett's struggles have led to speculation that the Colts will look to add a quarterback early in the 2020 draft. Per John Alfieri of Colts Wire, general manager Chris Ballard wouldn't rule out the addition of a signal-caller at some point in the offseason.
"We look at everybody," Ballard said. "Always. Every year. I think you have to go through the process every year, at every position, but especially quarterback. Not only in the draft, but also in free agency."
In his three seasons at the helm in Indianapolis, Ballard hasn't been a big spender in free agency. Last year, he made only a few significant additions in wideout Devin Funchess and edge-rusher Justin Houston.
But with the Colts sitting on the most salary-cap space in the NFL at almost $92 million, Ballard indicated they may embark upon a different course of action in 2020.
"It just depends on how it falls," he said, per Alfieri. "You never know what's going to happen in free agency. You never know what's going to happen in the draft. It's an unknown every year. If we have a chance to get better, we'll get better."
The Colts have some big free-agent decisions to make on aging veterans like offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo and edge-rusher Jabaal Sheard, but they have more than enough money to re-up both of them on short-term deals and bring in a high-end newcomer or two.
The Seattle Seahawks are in a unique position relative to the other teams featured here.
The Seahawks have been to the postseason in seven of the last eight years, including a win over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. Quarterback Russell Wilson was in the MVP conversation for most of the season, and he just signed a four-year, $140 million extension last April.
Still, despite Wilson's robust salary, the Seahawks are sitting on the eighth-most cap space in the NFL at $59.4 million. They'll likely spend a significant portion of that on edge-rusher Jadeveon Clowney, who they acquired just before the 2019 season began.
But Seattle will still have a good-sized war chest with which to attack free agency. Mike Salk of ESPN 710 Radio believe they should use that money to add more pieces around Clowney on defense.
"You've got a bunch of picks in this year's draft, you've got a bunch of money to spend in the offseason, so you better go spend it appropriately, and I think that means bringing in some guys who can play defense and means not looking for bargain-basement Ziggy Ansah busts. It means not waiting until the season starts to trade for Jadeveon Clowney. It means you can't miss on an L.J. Collier or a Rasheem Green or a Malik McDowell (early in the draft). You can't miss on those guys. You've got to hit on some."
As Salk noted the Seahawks also have ample draft capital, including three picks in the first two rounds. Seattle general manager John Schneider has been known to trade down on draft day and stockpile picks, but he has the resources to trade up as well.
Seattle isn't trying to wedge open a championship window. That window is already open. The only question is for how long.
That should mean a willingness to be aggressive about winning the offseason in the hopes of winning in February 2021 in Tampa.
Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders belong to Sin City now.
Per Eddie Paskal of the team's website, general manager Mike Mayock said he believes the move to Las Vegas can only help as the Raiders attempt to build on a surprisingly successful 2019 campaign.
"I think first and foremost, we go from a 13 percent state tax in California to a zero percent state tax in Nevada. The players and their agents are very aware of that. I've heard more comments about what our new stadium looks like. You know, that black exterior, the sleekness of it. People are fired up about the Raiders in Vegas. We've got a brand new facility under construction that the players will be living in seven days a week, state of the art in every single facet. I think there's a real excitement about Jon Gruden leading the Raiders into Las Vegas and it extends financially, extends to our facilities, we're gonna be a first-rate operation in every single facet, and I think that energy will trickle through into free agency."
The Antonio Brown trade was disaster, but Mayock's first year as general manager otherwise was not. Whether it was a first-rounder like tailback Josh Jacobs or a Day 3 pick like defensive end Maxx Crosby, Mayock's first draft class was a hit.
Mayock's second class could be every bit as impactful—perhaps even more.
The Raiders possess five picks inside the top 100 in the 2020 draft, including a pair of first-rounders inside the top 20. That's plenty of draft capital which the Raiders can use either to add impact players or move up if a particular prospect captures their fancy.
The Raiders also rank among the top 10 leaguewide in available cap space (just under $55 million) and don't have any prominent free agents who will eat up a large chunk of that coin.
This first offseason in Vegas could be quite the start for the Raiders' tenure there.
The 2019 season didn't end the way the Buffalo Bills had hoped, but they're headed in the right direction.
After enduring a 17-year playoff drought, the Bills have made the postseason in two of Sean McDermott's three years as head coach. Buffalo has a bevy of young talent on both sides of the ball, including the most important position in the game with quarterback Josh Allen.
To win the 2020 offseason, the Bills must improve the talent around that young core in the draft and free agency.
In the latter regard, Buffalo heads into the open market in excellent shape. Only two teams possess more salary-cap space than the $81.8 million the Bills are sitting on.
They may spend a healthy chunk of that cap space before free agency even opens. Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips is slated to become a free agent, and Pro Bowl cornerback Tre'Davious White is a candidate for an extension that would reset the market at his position.
However, the Bills have more than enough wiggle room to be a big player in free agency. And with the team trending upward, what was once free-agent Siberia might now be an attractive destination.
The Bills could bring in a big name to bolster the pass rush such as Jacksonville's Yannick Ngakoue or Tampa's Jason Pierre-Paul. They could fortify an already solid secondary with a cornerback like Chris Harris Jr. Or they could take a run at improving Allen's weaponry with wideouts A.J. Green or Amari Cooper.
Add in the success that general manager Brandon Beane has had in the draft in recent years, and the Bills are well-positioned to cement themselves as legitimate threats to win the AFC East in 2020.
No team in the NFL is in better position to make a big splash in the 2020 offseason than the Miami Dolphins. The only question is how big a splash they'll decide to make.
When the Dolphins began tearing their roster down last year, it became clear that they were in it for the long haul. Head coach Brian Flores recently said that they plan to be prudent in free agency, per ESPN's Cameron Wolfe.
"Everyone thinks we've got all of this money to spend and blow," Flores said. "We're going to be judicious and responsible with our salary cap."
Still, no team can come close to matching Miami's war chest this offseason.
Only the Indianapolis Colts are sitting on more cap space than the $91.4 million the Dolphins possess. With no prominent in-house free agents to re-sign, the Dolphins are free to spend as much as they please on upgrading the defense and offensive line.
Then there's Miami's boatload of draft capital. Compliments of last year's selling spree that included the departures of safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, the Dolphins have three first-round picks (No. 5, No. 18 and No. 26) and two second-rounders.
Virtually everyone expects the Dolphins to spend one of those early picks on a quarterback. Many mock drafts have connected Miami to Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa.
But regardless of which quarterback they ultimately select, the Dolphins are about to embark on the franchise's most important offseason in many years.
All salary-cap figures via Over the Cap.