The Perfect Offseason Blueprint for Every NFL Team in 2020
No offseason goes completely according to plan, but it always helps to plan ahead.
With the franchise-tag window (beginning Feb. 25) and the start of free agency (March 18) just around the corner and April's draft only a couple of months out, we've drawn up offseason blueprints for all 32 NFL organizations.
Focusing mainly on free agency and the draft, here's what each team should prioritize in the weeks and months to come.
Shore up the offensive line
Veteran Cardinals offensive linemen D.J. Humphries, Marcus Gilbert and A.Q. Shipley are all slated to hit free agency, leaving Arizona plenty of work to do with a line that ranked in the bottom 12 at Football Outsiders in terms of both adjusted line yards and adjusted sack rate. They oughta give Humphries another shot at left tackle after a decent walk year, but they should be open to upgrading everywhere else. That's probably more of a draft focus, but accomplished impending free agents Bryan Bulaga, Jack Conklin and Brandon Scherff should be on their radar.
Give Kyler Murray a safety valve
Specifically, a tight end who can be consistently relied on in the passing game. Maxx Williams and Charles Clay combined for just 33 receptions and two touchdowns despite the fact that each was on the field for more than 33 percent of the Cardinals' offensive snaps in 2019. Impending free-agent tight ends Austin Hooper and Hunter Henry should be targets. Otherwise, they've gotta land a tight end in the first three rounds of the draft.
Find a sidekick for Chandler Jones
Jones was the Defensive Player of the Year runner-up in 2019, but the Cards lack quality pass-rushers beyond that. In fact, no other current Cardinals edge defender hit the three-sack plateau last season. The league's sixth-worst pass defense in terms of DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) at Football Outsiders could take a big step forward with a long-term replacement for the departed Terrell Suggs. Plenty of high-quality pass-rushers are on track to hit the market, and the Cards have to be in on as many as possible.
Find a way to retain Austin Hooper
The Falcons are projected to enter the offseason with less than $10 million in salary-cap space. They've already announced they won't bring back pass-rusher Vic Beasley Jr., and owner Arthur Blank has implied it might be tough to re-sign Hooper at tight end. But they need to make it happen. The 25-year-old established new career highs with 75 catches, 787 yards and six touchdowns in a Pro Bowl 2019 season, and there are no viable in-house candidates to replace him.
Bolster the pass rush
With the Beasley era officially over, a team that had the lowest defensive pressure rate in the NFC is in desperate need of pass-rushing help. Top 2017 draft pick Takkarist McKinley has yet to emerge as a star and is recovering from shoulder surgery, while the 31-year-old Adrian Clayborn will be a free agent in March. Atlanta can't afford to get in on any of this market's hottest edge defenders, but it does own four of the top 78 picks in the draft. Iowa's A.J. Epenesa is one potential target in Round 1.
Pick a kicker
The Matt Bryant era is officially over, and the Giorgio Tavecchio era was short-lived. Younghoe Koo impressed down the stretch in 2019, going 23-for-26. He missed just on extra point and established a knack for good onside kicks. But The Athletic's Jason Butt reported last month that, while Koo will be tendered as an exclusive-rights free agent, the team wants to "ensure there’s a healthy battle throughout the offseason." Making the right choice is critical.
Re-sign Matthew Judon
The Ravens were the NFL's only 14-win team in 2019, but 20 defenses posted more sacks than Baltimore's. They missed the departed Za'Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs, and they can't afford to lose another top edge defender this offseason. Only three players tallied more quarterback hits than Judon (33), who led the team with 9.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. The 27-year-old will be pricey, but they're projected to possess more than $25 million in cap space.
Find a friend for Matthew Judon
That might even leave some room to add an experienced second option on the edge. Recent Day 2 picks Tyus Bowser and Jaylon Ferguson have growth potential, but neither has truly emerged as a complementary rusher. Somebody like Carl Nassib or Emmanuel Ogbah would make a lot of sense in free agency.
Shore up the interior offensive line
This depends to an extent on what veteran guard Marshall Yanda decides to do, but last we heard, he was mulling retirement. Regardless, Yanda is 36 and will soon need to be replaced anyway, the jury's still very much out on youngsters Bradley Bozeman and Ben Powers, and center Matt Skura is an impending restricted free agent coming off a massive knee injury. They need another experienced body or two in the middle.
Re-sign Shaq Lawson and Jordan Phillips
Buffalo's most active pass-rushers, Jerry Hughes and Trent Murphy, will both be on the wrong side of 30 by the end of the year. And Lawson's ceiling is a lot higher than both. The 2016 first-round pick has yet to fully break out, but he's only 25 and coming off his best season yet. The only Bills player with more sacks than Lawson (6.5) was Phillips, who took down the quarterback nine times despite primarily rushing from the interior. The former Dolphins second-round pick is playing superb football at age 27. The Bills need to re-sign both, team them up with top 2019 pick Ed Oliver and prepare to say goodbye to expensive, aging linemen like Hughes, Murphy and Star Lotulelei.
Find a third receiver
John Brown and Cole Beasley were strong starters in their debut campaigns with Buffalo in 2019, but only two other Bills wideouts—Isaiah McKenzie and Duke Williams—scored touchdowns (two of them in total). That leaves the Bills in need of a third option out wide for young quarterback Josh Allen. They have the cap space to target a high-profile X or Z receiver like A.J. Green, Robby Anderson or even Amari Cooper in free agency.
Lock up Tre'Davious White
This is less urgent since White is under contract in 2020 and the team has a fifth-year option in 2021. But the All-Pro cornerback's value only shot up in 2019, so the Bills would be smart to hit him with a long-term contract sooner than later. The reliable playmaker just turned 25 but has already put up two monster seasons in this league. He has nothing more to prove and should become the highest-paid corner in football.
Get something for Cam Newton
The veteran quarterback might leave when his contract expires next offseason anyway, and after a mini exodus, the Panthers are extremely unlikely to suddenly become competitive in 2020. Newton's last two seasons have been derailed by injury, and there's a lot of wear and tear there for a player who is now on the wrong side of 30 and hasn't been special since winning MVP in 2015. The Panthers might as well get something for him now and save $19.1 million cap in the process.
Find Newton's replacement
It's possible he's already on the roster. Kyle Allen flashed at times in his first relatively full season as a starter in place of Newton, and they used a third-round pick last year on intriguing West Virginia product Will Grier. But Allen threw 11 interceptions to seven touchdowns in his final six games, and Grier remains a mystery. New head coach Matt Rhule will have to spend plenty of time evaluating both quarterbacks this offseason, and it would make sense for the organization to at least add a wild-card option like Marcus Mariota in free agency or Jalen Hurts in the draft.
Add a difference-maker on defense
Essentially, replace the retired Luke Kuechly. But that doesn't necessarily mean they have to add an off-ball linebacker, because they still have talent with Shaq Thompson at that position. Ideally, they can find a quality pass-rusher who can work with 2019 first-round pick Brian Burns, especially with the aging Mario Addison and Bruce Irvin hitting free agency. But a high-potential run defender or defensive back would also work. They just need talent on defense, because even with Kuechly, they surrendered an NFC-high 29.3 points per game last year. That's probably where they should go with the No. 7 overall pick.
Keep Nick Kwiatkoski rather than Danny Trevathan
Both off-ball linebackers are headed toward free agency. Trevathan is the bigger name and thus might command the bigger salary, but Chicago should instead retain the younger, more reliable player. The 26-year-old Kwiatkoski hasn't missed a game since 2017 and is coming off his best season yet, while the 29-year-old Trevathan has missed 18 games in four seasons as a Bear.
Find a backup quarterback who can step in and produce
That's not an easy task, but on the current market it might be possible. The Bears are built to win right now, and if Mitchell Trubisky struggles again early in 2020, they can't afford to stick with him or hand the reins to a 34-year-old Chase Daniel. The Bears have to be in on Marcus Mariota, Andy Dalton, and—in the event that the free-agency musical chairs make them available—Jameis Winston and Teddy Bridgewater. Hell, maybe even Philip Rivers could be left without a starting job and would consider a year in Illinois.
Use at least one second-round pick on an interior offensive lineman
They have two of them as a result of the Khalil Mack trade, and with Kyle Long retiring and the 32-year-old Ted Larsen hitting free agency, they'll need a starting-caliber player to team up with young second-round picks Cody Whitehair and James Daniels inside. Might as well make it an all-second-round pick interior.
Wave goodbye to A.J. Green
It was a good run, but the Bengals aren't on the verge of competing and Green is a 31-year-old who has missed 29 games in the last four years. Other teams likely will and should value him more than Cincinnati, especially considering that the Bengals have already invested heavily in Tyler Boyd and John Ross III. It was a good run for Green in Southwest Ohio, but it's time for both sides to move on.
Bolster the offensive line for the quarterback of the future
The Bengals will likely move on from Andy Dalton and hand the reins to a young quarterback. That quarterback's odds of succeeding will rise if Cincinnati surrounds him with as much support as possible. Trotting out backup-caliber offensive tackle Bobby Hart on the right side is unacceptable, and the John Miller experiment failed at right guard. With nearly $50 million in salary-cap space, Cincinnati should try to lure Brandon Scherff, Jack Conklin, Ron Leary, Daryl Williams or Andrus Peat on the open market.
Draft Joe Burrow first overall
In other words, don't overthink this. Burrow is coming off arguably the greatest single season in college football history, and he checks every box as a future franchise quarterback. He's an Ohio kid who should fit right into Zac Taylor’s offense. Keep it simple, Bengals.
Foster a new atmosphere
This isn't exactly tangible, but the environment that existed in Cleveland with John Dorsey and Freddie Kitchens running the show obviously wasn't conducive to success on or off the field. The Browns again couldn't escape controversy in 2019, and a lack of discipline was a problem for the league's fourth-most-penalized team. It's critical that new general manager Andrew Berry and new head coach Kevin Stefanski create a better all-around atmosphere in Berea. That starts right now.
Re-sign Joe Schobert
The linebacker is arguably the heart and soul of the Cleveland defense, and he's coming off a monster season in which he picked off four passes and made 133 tackles. He's already got a Pro Bowl on his resume and is still likely rising at age 26, so the Browns have to prioritize re-signing him over every other impending free agent on the roster.
Fix the offensive line
They're off to a good start with the hiring of Bill Callahan, but now they'll have to address the personnel. Left tackle Greg Robinson gives up too much pressure, struggles as a run-blocker and takes far too many penalties. He's slated to hit the open market, and the Browns should move on. They could also use a new right guard, and fans would likely be thrilled with an alternative to the expensive, underwhelming Chris Hubbard at right tackle. In a perfect world, they'll land Georgia's Andrew Thomas in the first round of the draft, but before that, Bryan Bulaga, Brandon Scherff, Jack Conklin, Andrew Whitworth, Kelvin Beachum, Daryl Williams and Andrus Peat should all be on their free-agent radar.
Retain both Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper
One might wind up with a tag, which is fine. But the point is the Cowboys can't lose either. Prescott might not be a megastar yet, but the two-time Pro Bowler has thrown 97 career touchdown passes to 36 interceptions. There's little doubt that the 26-year-old has to take priority. They also can't let Cooper walk just a season and a half after surrendering a first-round pick for him. The offense would take a tremendous hit without the 25-year-old four-time Pro Bowler. Good thing they're projected to have more than $70 million in cap space.
Say goodbye to Jason Witten
Witten's future appears to be up in the air, but the Cowboys might be best-served moving on. Backup Blake Jarwin was a bigger playmaker despite seeing far less action in 2019, so Dallas should probably pocket whatever he'd make and focus on Jarwin. He had eight 20-yard catches last year, which was more than Witten, but also more than JuJu Smith-Schuster, Alshon Jeffery and T.Y. Hilton.
Draft a safety early
The Cowboys were reportedly interested in Earl Thomas but unwilling to pay for him. They won't likely be positioned to land a big-name safety in free agency this time either, but there's no way they're satisfied with Jeff Heath, Darian Thompson and Xavier Woods at that position. It's time for Jerry Jones to draft a safety before Round 6 for the first time since 2013.
Lock up Justin Simmons
The safety broke out with four interceptions, 15 passes defensed and the second-best Pro Football Focus coverage grade at his position in 2019, so he'll break the bank in Denver or elsewhere next month. That is unless the Broncos hit him with the franchise tag first. Regardless, they can't let the rising 26-year-old get away.
Give Drew Lock more weapons
Now that Emmanuel Sanders is gone, Courtland Sutton is the only wide receiver on the Denver roster who accumulated more than 300 yards or a single touchdown last year. The Broncos are hoping and praying that Lock could take a step toward becoming a franchise quarterback in 2020, but that'll be tough if he's throwing to DaeSean Hamilton and Tim Patrick as often as he was forced to as a rookie. With five Day 1 and Day 2 draft picks, they should select at least one high-potential rookie at that position. And with nearly $60 million in cap space, they should also be in on potential free agents like Amari Cooper and Robby Anderson.
Add a cornerback or two
Chris Harris Jr. is on the wrong side of 30 and might escape as a free agent. Bryce Callahan is a high-quality player making good money, but no other corner on the roster stands out. A defense that had the ninth-highest opposing completion rate in the NFL last season could use at least one more high-caliber player in coverage. This should be a focus in both free agency (Daryl Worley?) and the draft (Jeff Okudah?).
Get Trey Flowers some help on the edge
The highly paid Flowers and linebacker Devon Kennard had seven sacks each last season, but no other Lions defenders hit the three-sack mark or recorded more than 10 quarterback hits as they posted the worst team sack rate in the conference. It's a shame that Flowers didn't significantly boost a bad pass rush, but that probably means the Lions have to either spend a few more bucks on a complementary rusher like Robert Quinn or Carl Nassib. It would also be hard to turn down a chance to draft Chase Young third overall, if that opportunity arose.
Get Darius Slay some help in the secondary
Slay has made three consecutive Pro Bowls, but the 29-year-old cornerback will soon start to decline. Big 2019 free-agent addition Justin Coleman helps, but they need more talent there with 30-year-old Rashaan Melvin hitting free agency. The Lions allowed the sixth-worst opponent passer rating in football. They should be in on potential free agents Trae Waynes and Daryl Worley, and they oughta use a Day 2 pick on a cover man.
Bolster the offensive line
The handsomely paid Rick Wagner has disappointed at right tackle, and they look to be extremely weak at left guard as well. There's no way they can afford to land hotshot free agents on the edge and at corner and add another starting offensive lineman on the open market, but there's no reason not to call agents for Brandon Scherff and Jack Conklin. This is a bit of an open-ended blueprint, but they're a team trying to win now with several glaring needs. They might have to play some of this by ear.
Green Bay Packers
Find Aaron Rodgers a No. 2 receiver
Marquez Valdes-Scantling caught just 46 percent of the passes thrown his way, Geronimo Allison averaged just 8.4 yards per catch and I don't think anyone is under the impression Equanimeous St. Brown, Jake Kumerow or Allen Lazard are starting-caliber receivers. The drop-off from Davante Adams to those guys is far too steep, and thus the time has come for Green Bay to make a splash at that position. Even if they don't land A.J. Green, Amari Cooper or Robby Anderson on the open market, they should use their first-round pick on someone like Henry Ruggs III or Tee Higgins.
Find Aaron Rodgers a tight end
General manager Brian Gutekunst has already said the Pack will be more restricted in free agency this offseason, so don't expect them to land both a wideout and a tight end on the open market. But if they decide to wait for the draft to land a receiver, they might be able to upgrade over the aging, expensive Jimmy Graham with Austin Hooper or Hunter Henry. In the opposite scenario, they could use an early pick on a hot tight end prospect like Cole Kmet or Jared Pinkney. Imagine a pass-catching corps featuring Adams, Green and Kmet, or one featuring Adams, Higgins and Hooper. Rodgers would be thrilled either way.
Find Aaron Rodgers' potential long-term replacement
Then there's Rodgers himself, who quite simply hasn't been the same since injuring his collarbone in 2017. Since suffering that injury, he has a passer rating of just 95.6. It's fair to wonder if he's running out of gas entering his age-37 season. Keep in mind that the Packers drafted Rodgers ahead of Brett Favre's age-35 season. Green Bay should target Jordan Love or Jake Fromm early in the draft.
Re-sign D.J. Reader
The 25-year-old defensive tackle is one of the most underrated players in the league and coming off a breakout season in which he recorded 2.5 sacks and 13 quarterback hits and was named to the PFF All-Pro second team. The Texans already rented Brink's trucks for front-seven defenders J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus and Benardrick McKinney, but Watt has missed 32 games the last four years. The league's seventh-worst defense in terms of DVOA can't afford to take another step backward by losing Reader.
Replace incumbent right guard Zach Fulton with a big-money acquisition
A Texans team projected to own more than $56 million in cap space should at least be able to retain Reader and then bolster an offensive line that has improved recently but still needs work. The focus should be on the guard position, where relatively high-profile 2018 signings Senio Kelemete and Zach Fulton haven't panned out. Houston can save nearly $10 million by releasing both players, which would enable it to make a run at an impending free agent like Brandon Scherff or Andrus Peat. Imagine one of those guys with Laremy Tunsil, Max Scharping, Nick Martin and Tytus Howard. Not bad at all.
Start saving for Deshaun Watson and Laremy Tunsil
Tunsil is entering a contract year at left tackle, while Watson is entering the final year of his rookie deal. They've got the franchise tag, of course, and Watson's fifth-year option is there as insurance as well. But it's clear the Texans are building around those two. They surrendered two first-round picks and a second-rounder in the Tunsil trade, and Watson cost them two first-round picks as well. Deals for those two will be worth at least a combined $50 million per year. They should probably put aside some cash right now.
Find a new left tackle?
This isn't a "Dammit! Who typed a question mark on the teleprompter?" situation. The Colts will either be in desperate need of a new blind-side protector, or they'll have a little more time. But the mere fact that veteran Anthony Castonzo is apparently mulling retirement indicates this is a priority for Indianapolis. They're going to need a replacement soon. And even if Castonzo does decide to keep playing, they'll need to get him a new contract. His is about to expire.
Find a new quarterback
Jacoby Brissett did an admirable job in a tough spot in 2019, but Andrew Luck's replacement is clearly a top-end backup at best. Only two qualified quarterbacks had lower yards-per-attempt averages this season. Indy owes Brissett $21.4 million, but in this market, it'd be better off cutting its losses and releasing him for an $8.9 million return. Beyond that, let's talk Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Cam Newton, Teddy Bridgewater, Jameis Winston and Ryan Tannehill.
Add depth at receiver
Devin Funchess, Chester Rogers and Dontrelle Inman are all impending free agents, and none are particularly good professional football players anyway. Zach Pascal is OK, but he caught just 57 percent of his targets in 2019. No other Colt at that position except T.Y. Hilton hit the 300-yard mark or scored three touchdowns. As they wait for Parris Campbell to emerge, they need one more high-quality pass-catcher. With three picks in the top 44, they could add a tackle, a quarterback and a receiver. That'd be ideal.
Trim a lot of fat
The Jaguars are still in the red, so they're going to have to start chopping to get to a better spot from a salary-cap perspective. They might be tempted to put that off another year, but the reality is this roster is no longer good enough to compete anyway. Start the healing process now by trading or releasing Calais Campbell (hell, $15 million), Marcell Dareus ($20 million), A.J. Bouye ($11.4 million) and Marqise Lee ($5.3 million). And just like that, you've got more than $50 million in cap space.
Trade Nick Foles
Gardner Minshew II outplayed the Super Bowl LII MVP during a promising rookie season. Give Minshew a shot to start from the get-go, and admit you erred in signing Foles, who has never been good outside of a few short runs in Philadelphia. Releasing Foles now would make no financial sense, but they could save just over $3 million by trading him to somebody desperate. This isn't necessarily in the cards, but they should be willing to make any potential deal that gets Foles off the books.
Bring back Yannick Ngakoue
Campbell, Dareus and Bouye have seen their better days, but Ngakoue can be part of this rebuild. They can hit the 24-year-old with the franchise tag and then wait to allocate funds before striking a long-term deal later in the offseason. Second-year first-round pick Josh Allen is the future for the Jags on defense, but he and the 2017 Pro Bowler would be ideal building blocks on the edge. Since he came into the league in 2016, Ngakoue and Khalil Mack are the only two players in the NFL with three seasons containing eight-plus sacks and four-plus forced fumbles.
Kansas City Chiefs
Lock up Chris Jones
If there were such a thing as Super Bowl MVP runner-up, that'd now be on Jones' resume. The defensive tackle was a wrecking ball in Super Bowl LIV, and if the Chiefs want to maximize their chances of repeating, they have to make sure he's on the roster in September. The franchise tag is fine if need be, but in a perfect world, Kansas City locks up its 25-year-old defensive superstar long-term.
Lock up Patrick Mahomes
As for their 24-year-old offensive superstar, there's also little doubt that Mahomes will be in Kansas City long-term. Chiefs fans would never forgive the front office if it went any other way. There's less urgency in this case because Mahomes isn't set to hit free agency until 2022, but the reigning Super Bowl MVP and 2018 regular-season MVP will likely only get more expensive as he continues to ascend alongside the annual salary cap (just wait for the next collective bargaining agreement). It's time for the Chiefs to make Mahomes the first $40 million-a-year player in NFL history.
Deal with the cornerback position
On a less glamorous note, Kansas City does have work to do at cornerback, where starters Bashaud Breeland and Kendall Fuller and veteran Morris Claiborne are all slated to hit free agency. Considering everything above, they might not have the money to bring both Breeland and Fuller back, especially if they get Super Bowl premiums on the open market. Charvarius Ward is a solid player and Tyrann Mathieu can handle the slot, but the Chiefs should probably look for someone like CJ Henderson or Trevon Diggs at the bottom of Round 1.
Las Vegas Raiders
Re-sign Daryl Worley
The cornerback isn't a star, but he has the size, speed and strength to become an elite cover man. And he flashed that at times during the final year of his rookie contract. The Raiders hope 2019 second-round pick Trayvon Mullen can become their top performer in the secondary, but a team with plenty of cap space would be foolish not to bring back Worley on the opposite side.
Find a No. 1 receiver
That whole Antonio Brown thing obviously backfired on the Raiders, who essentially operated without a No. 1-caliber wide receiver in 2019. Tyrell Williams and Hunter Renfrow are strong players, but they need an elite, game-changing outside option to make life easier on quarterback Derek Carr as they transition to their new home. It would be the ultimate coup if they could bring back Amari Cooper after collecting a first-round pick for him, but more realistic options include Robby Anderson and A.J. Green.
Add a veteran pass-rusher
They've invested heavily in edge-defenders via the draft, and nobody's condemning 2019 first-round pick Clelin Ferrell, 2019 fourth-round selection Maxx Crosby or 2018 third-rounder Arden Key. But neither Ferrell nor Key has stood out yet, and the Raiders had the sixth-worst defensive pressure rate in the league last season. They don't need a Pro Bowler on the edge, but it would help to sign somebody accomplished like Robert Quinn, Vic Beasley Jr. or Carl Nassib.
Los Angeles Chargers
Retain Hunter Henry
As they move into a new stadium, it's important that the Chargers remain as competitive and entertaining as possible. One way to do that is to avoid losing high-quality offensive players like Henry, who is scheduled to hit free agency after his best season yet in terms of catches (55) and yards (652) despite missing four games. The 2016 second-round pick is only 25, and there are no obvious replacements on the roster. They've got the cap space to bring him back, so they shouldn't chance it.
Replace Philip Rivers
Rivers has moved his massive family across the country, which is an indication he and the team are parting ways after 16 seasons together in California. And that's the right call if you're the Chargers, because the 38-year-old looked toast as his numbers regressed considerably during another disappointing season in 2019. Now, the Bolts need to get younger under center. They should give a young passer a shot in a prove-it situation (Marcus Mariota, Teddy Bridgewater, maybe even Jameis Winston, although those interceptions might be haunting), but they should also use their draft capital (they have the sixth overall pick and all of their regular picks beyond that) to land Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert.
Revamp the offensive line
Left tackle Russell Okung missed 10 games last year and will be 33 in the fall, right tackle Sam Tevi is a turnstile who should be a swing tackle at best, youngsters Dan Feeney and Forrest Lamp haven't panned out at guard, and 30-year-old center Mike Pouncey is coming off a major neck injury. Even if they bring a healthy Okung and Pouncey back, they need young talent in those spots and experience beyond that of impending free agent Michael Schofield III at guard. Take a quarterback and then dedicate the rest of your draft to the offensive line.
Los Angeles Rams
Convince Andrew Whitworth to return, draft a million offensive linemen
Pretty please can we have a hometown discount? Can't you just hear general manager Les Snead asking the 38-year-old left tackle? It looks as though the four-time Pro Bowler will indeed put off retirement, but his contract is expiring. And even if the cap-strapped Rams get him back at a discounted rate, he's old and losing it quickly. They need to find an heir apparent on the blind side, and they also need players who can compete at guard and right tackle. It's not pretty.
Find a way to re-sign Cory Littleton
Ideally, they'll also bring back impending free-agent edge-defender Dante Fowler Jr., but Littleton should take precedence for a team that is low on cash. He's one of the most underrated players in the league and quite possibly the best coverage linebacker there is. The 26-year-old has five interceptions, 7.5 sacks, 259 tackles and 22 passes defensed since becoming a full-time starter (and a Pro Bowler) in 2018. His loss would be crushing. The Rams can probably pull this off, but they'll have to make some sacrifices. For example...
Cut Todd Gurley
Or trade him. Just get him off the books, because he's no longer an elite running back and unlikely to suddenly rebound in his sixth season. That 2018 knee injury was a killer, and that's a shame. It's also a shame the Rams will owe Gurley $12.6 million regardless of what roster he's on in 2020, but they can at least pocket $4.7 million by releasing or trading him. If that money can enable them to re-sign Whitworth, Littleton or Fowler, it's a no-brainer.
Use free agency to bolster the offensive line
The Dolphins are projected to enter the offseason with a league-high $94 million in salary-cap space, and there's little reason not to use a large portion of that to ensure an abysmal offensive line is in significantly better shape for the quarterback of the future (whoever that might be). The Dolphins need two new offensive tackles and at least one new interior offensive lineman, but they're rebuilding so they can't waste their time on old dudes. They shouldn't let anybody outbid them on impending free agents Jack Conklin and Andrus Peat, both of whom will be 26 at the start of next season.
Refrain from trading picks to move up for Joe Burrow
Six of the first 70 picks in the draft belong to the Dolphins, who as a result can do whatever they want on the draft board. That early, considering the crapshoot nature of the draft, the focus should be on quantity more so than perceived quality. Add a handful of "best available players" whom you see as eventual starters in the first three rounds, and then move on to the next phase of the rebuild.
Draft Tua Tagovailoa
That being said, the blue-chip Alabama product isn't likely to cost Miami much considering it owns the fifth overall selection. It wouldn't cripple the Dolphins to move up a spot or two to guarantee they land Tua, who appears to be a great fit for a Miami team that would be fine with waiting for his injured hip to fully heal, if need be.
Free up money by parting ways with Xavier Rhodes and letting Everson Griffen walk
This would hurt, but Rhodes is coming off a terrifyingly bad season and the Vikings are projected to have the least amount of cap space of anyone in football. According to PFF, Rhodes surrendered an opposing completion percentage of 84.3 and passer rating of 127.8 in 2019. The cap-poor Vikings can save more than $8 million by jettisoning the soon-to-be 30-year-old. Griffen remained very effective last season but will be in high demand (as most free-agent pass-rushers are) as a result. With superstar Danielle Hunter already in the stable, they aren't well-positioned to pay a premium for a 32-year-old pass-rusher.
Revamp the secondary
Not only would they be replacing Rhodes but also potentially Mackensie Alexander and Trae Waynes, both of whom are scheduled to hit the open market after a season in which they were arguably Minnesota's best two cornerbacks. They can probably find the scratch to retain Alexander to cover the slot while Mike Hughes lines up outside, but then they'll have to turn to the draft for a ready-to-start rookie cover man like Kristian Fulton.
Extend Kirk Cousins' contract
It was a bit painful to write that, because Cousins is a good-not-great, inconsistent, oft-maddening quarterback. But he made strides in 2019, and the always-competitive Vikings won't likely be positioned to find a replacement in the near future. Remember, the franchise tag is pretty much off the table since Cousins was tagged twice in Washington. If Minnesota extends Cousins now, it can remove any risk of losing him in 2021 while also likely creating cap space by pushing a chunk of his $31 million 2020 cap number into future years.
New England Patriots
Let Tom Brady go
The 42-year-old doesn't appear to have much left in the tank, and Jay Glazer of Fox Sports reported last month that he won't be offering the Patriots a "hometown discount." That could be a problem considering that New England is in dire need of more offensive weapons and has several key defensive impending free agents to take care of. Brady's numbers fell off a cliff last year, and the Pats know better than anybody when it's time to move on in this business.
Sign two starting-caliber pass-catchers
Without having to shell out $30 million or more for Brady's services, the Patriots would have the freedom and flexibility to re-sign important defensive players like Kyle Van Noy, Danny Shelton and Jamie Collins Sr. and still hit the market for much-needed upgrades in the receiving game. Their next quarterback would benefit greatly if they were to add a receiver like A.J. Green, Robby Anderson or Amari Cooper and a tight end like Austin Hooper, Hunter Henry or Eric Ebron.
Double down on quarterback options
You've got 2019 fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham in-house, you can take a flier on a young wild card like Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston or Teddy Bridgewater in free agency, and then you could draft someone like Jacob Eason or Jordan Love. Let the best man win. Nobody should be handed Brady's former job without earning it.
New Orleans Saints
If Drew Brees retires, replace him with a veteran
It doesn't have to be Teddy Bridgewater or Taysom Hill just because they were on the roster in 2019. Bridgewater's contract is also expiring, and Hill isn't an established NFL quarterback. It would be fair for the Saints to also consider veterans like Philip Rivers, Ryan Tannehill or Jameis Winston. The window is open right now for a talented Saints team, and they should replace Brees with the best vet they can sign.
If Drew Brees returns, draft a quarterback
The Saints can't afford to keep Bridgewater on the roster again if Brees is under contract in 2020. At that point, you use that first-round pick to take a swing at someone like Jordan Love, Jacob Eason or Jake Fromm (24th overall or after a trade down).
Either way, find a second receiver
The New Orleans offense continues to lack a consistently reliable, high-upside receiver not named Michael Thomas. Veteran impending free agent Ted Ginn Jr. is low on fuel at 34, and 2018 third-round pick Tre'Quan Smith has yet to emerge as anything more than a depth player. Cap space is an issue (barely $12 million to spend) and they lack Day 2 draft picks, so they'll ideally trade down, collect some picks and grab someone line Jalen Reagor or Justin Jefferson in Round 2.
And let Andrus Peat walk
Bonus blueprint idea since the first two diverged! The 2015 first-round pick hasn't been consistent enough, he'll come at a high price because of his age and pedigree, and the Saints already have Larry Warford, Erik McCoy and Nick Easton inside.
New York Giants
Bring back Leonard Williams and Markus Golden
The Giants surrendered a 2020 third-round pick and a 2021 fifth-round pick to the Jets in exchange for Williams, who performed well down the stretch and has the talent and upside to merit a hefty long-term contract. Golden probably isn't going to turn into a superstar pass-rusher but is coming off the second double-digit-sack season of his career. The cap-rich G-Men can afford to give the soon-to-be 29-year-old a shot.
Splurge on a pass-rusher
Giants fans would probably love for that to be Ohio State product Chase Young, but there's a good chance Young will be out of Big Blue's reach in the No. 4 spot. Keep an eye on Jadeveon Clowney, Shaquil Barrett, Bud Dupree, Yannick Ngakoue, Shaq Lawson and Dante Fowler Jr. The Giants had the league's 10th-lowest sack rate in 2019.
Find two new offensive tackles
With Young probably unattainable, they'd be better off trading back in the draft for more picks to address the offensive line. Veteran Nate Solder's silly contract probably means he's entering his last year as a Giant, and in a perfect world, they'd land an immediate replacement for impending free agent Mike Remmers this offseason. Expect them to target both Jack Conklin and Daryl Williams if either hits the market.
New York Jets
Re-sign Robby Anderson and Kelvin Beachum
Anderson has yet to emerge as a star, but he's a solid No. 1 outside receiver who has put together three consecutive 700-yard seasons (often with little support), and there's lots of growth potential for the 26-year-old. It's important for young quarterback Sam Darnold's sake that they keep him around as those two continue to establish chemistry. The same logic applies to Beachum, who might be slowing down but has protected Darnold's blind side for the 22-year-old's first two seasons in the league. Continuity is critical, and the Jets have the cap space.
Fix the rest of the offensive line
Even if Beachum returns, he'll soon be 31. Veteran guard Brian Winters is recovering from a shoulder injury and entering a contract year during which he'll be 29. Right tackle Brandon Shell hasn't gotten the job done and is also on the verge of free agency. You'd have to imagine soon-to-be 35-year-old center Ryan Kalil is ready to re-retire. There's practically nothing there for the short- or long-term. They should be all over impending free agents Brandon Scherff, Jack Conklin, Daryl Williams, Matt Skura and Andrus Peat, and an offensive tackle like Georgia's Andrew Thomas would be a huge get in the draft.
Lock up Jamal Adams
This isn't a priority considering that Adams is still under contract for two more years, but we're applying the same logic that was used for Mahomes and Watson. The longer you wait, the more expensive a player like that is likely to become. The Jets might have their reservations about paying Adams right now after some rocky experiences in 2019, but money is powerful. Lock him up and take the rest of the above steps to become a winner, and it'll be hunky-dory. Maybe. I mean we're still talking about the Jets.
Fix the receiving corps
The Eagles' most productive wide receiver in 2019 was only the fourth-most productive pass-catcher on the team. That's a good sign regarding non-receivers Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert and Miles Sanders, but quarterback Carson Wentz needs to be able to rely more on his wideouts. Free agent Nelson Agholor has become the butt of many jokes about his unreliable nature, Alshon Jeffery has had trouble staying healthy, and DeSean Jackson is also coming off an injury-derailed season at the age of 33. Philly needs a strong veteran receiver like Emmanuel Sanders or possibly even Amari Cooper.
Fix the secondary
Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills and Rodney McLeod are all on track to hit the open market, while Malcolm Jenkins wants a new contract. They have plenty of other talent in the defensive backfield, but Cre'Von LeBlanc, Sidney Jones, Avonte Maddox and Rasul Douglas have all lacked consistency. They have a lot of bodies but no game-changers. They should try to keep all of those guys to pit them against each other, but they should also try to use their first-round pick on a defensive back.
Add young offensive line talent
They're set at tackle, where 2019 first-round pick Andre Dillard should be ready to replace Jason Peters opposite star Lane Johnson whenever that comes to fruition. But inside, Jason Kelce and Brandon Brooks are both on the other side of 30. They need another talented body who has growth potential at guard or center. That should be a focus on Day 2 of the draft.
Re-sign Bud Dupree
Only four players in football registered more than 10 sacks and more than three forced fumbles in 2019. Three of the four are superstars who received Defensive Player of the Year votes (Shaquil Barrett, T.J. Watt and Chandler Jones), and the fourth was Pittsburgh's Bud Dupree. The Steelers have to find a way to keep their 2015 first-round pick, because he and Watt clearly benefit from each other on the edge. It won't be easy considering that they're projected to have the least salary-cap space in the AFC, but if that means letting Javon Hargrave walk and moving on from Joe Haden, so be it.
Find another quarterback
Even before suffering a season-ending elbow injury in September, Ben Roethlisberger looked old and tired. It's fair to wonder what he has left as he recovers from surgery ahead of his age-38 season. The Steelers don't know that they can rely on Big Ben in 2020, let alone 2021 and beyond, and young backups Devlin Hodges and Mason Rudolph didn't look like short- or long-term answers in 2019. They probably can't afford to sign a veteran on the open market, but they should target a quarterback prospect like Jake Fromm, Jacob Eason or Jalen Hurts on Day 2 of the draft.
Upgrade at tight end
Veteran Vance McDonald totaled just 273 receiving yards and averaged 7.2 yards per catch in 14 games last season. That was the single lowest average in the NFL among 118 qualified tight ends and receivers. The Steelers should cut him in order to pocket $5.7 million and then target a potential free agent like Hunter Henry or a Day 2 prospect like Cole Kmet.
San Francisco 49ers
Re-sign Jimmie Ward and Arik Armstead
Ward experienced his strongest season yet in 2019 (he recorded a career-high 60 tackles and earned a career-best approximate value score from Pro Football Reference) and the 49ers are thin at safety. Moving from the 28-year-old 2014 first-round pick to the unproven Tarvarius Moore would hurt at a position that is already somewhat of a weak spot. Armstead's departure would be less painful just because San Francisco has so many high-quality defensive linemen, but he's a big reason the 49ers made the Super Bowl in 2019. The 2015 first-round pick had the third-best PFF grade among qualified edge defenders. When they pick up Kyle Juszczyk's option, those two will be the only impending in-house free agents worth keeping.
Bolster the secondary
Even if Ward returns at safety, they could use another option in the defensive backfield. Richard Sherman is coming off a bounce-back year but will soon turn 32, Ahkello Witherspoon was inconsistent in 2019, and the jury is still out on Emmanuel Moseley. The 49ers should draft another corner capable of covering top weapons outside. Watch CJ Henderson out of Florida.
Lock up George Kittle
One of the game's premier offensive weapons is on track to make a comical $735,000 in the final year of his rookie contract. Do the 49ers really want to play the franchise-tag game with him next offseason? They have a lot of expiring contracts next year, and they don't want to risk alienating or losing Kittle. Time to make him the highest-paid tight end in NFL history.
Splurge on a mega free agent on defense
Maybe that means bringing back three-time Pro Bowler Jadeveon Clowney or outbidding the Buccaneers for reigning sack leader Shaquil Barrett. Maybe it means re-signing Clowney and then adding Bud Dupree or Shaq Lawson, both of whom have star potential. Regardless, a team with nearly $60 million in projected salary-cap space has to do something dramatic to improve a defense that allowed an abysmal 6.0 yards per play and recorded just 28 sacks in 2019.
Bolster the offensive line
This is an annual request of the Seahawks, who always seem to be lacking along the line. Right tackle Germain Ifedi is officially a bust, and they could manage to upgrade over either D.J. Fluker or Mike Iupati at guard. They should inquire about Jack Conklin, Brandon Scherff and Andrus Peat, and they should use at least one of their two second-round picks on an NFL-ready offensive lineman.
Lock up Shaquill Griffin
The underrated cornerback bounced back from a sophomore slump with a Pro Bowl 2019 campaign in which Pro Football Focus graded him as the 13th-best corner in the NFL. He might not be a superstar yet, but he's only 24 entering a contract year. Instead of waiting for the 2017 third-round pick's contract to expire in 2021, Seattle should invest in him now.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Ditch Jameis Winston
"We can win with this one," Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians bluntly said of Winston at the end of the season, per Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times, "we can definitely win with another one, too." There's no way the quarterback-centric Arians wants a quarterback who compiled a ridiculous 42 interceptions and fumbles in his fifth season in the league. The bad outweighs the good for Winston, and the Bucs shouldn't spend another dollar on that liability under center.
Sign a veteran to replace him
Tom Brady makes a lot of sense as a bridge quarterback considering the support he'd get from Arians and a top-notch receiving corps in Tampa, but it'd be interesting to see what Arians could do with Teddy Bridgewater, too. Regardless, this team has the talent to compete now, and the draft's top quarterbacks will likely be out of Tampa Bay's reach.
Lock up Shaquil Barrett
The Bucs wanted him to prove it, and prove it he did. Playing on a one-year contract, the former Denver Bronco put up a league-high 19.5 sacks along with six forced fumbles and a pick in a Pro Bowl age-27 campaign in which he earned Defensive Player of the Year votes. With front-seven defenders Ndamukong Suh, Jason Pierre-Paul and Carl Nassib also slated to hit free agency, the Buccaneers can't let Barrett walk. Good thing they're projected to lead the NFC with nearly $85 million in cap space.
Lock up Jack Conklin
Conklin isn't the highest-profile impending free agent in Tennessee, but he's the most important player for the Titans to re-sign. The 2016 top-10 pick was PFF's sixth-highest-graded right tackle despite coming off a torn ACL in 2019, and the same source also ranks him as the best 20-something-year-old offensive lineman scheduled to hit the open market this offseason. It's simple: If you lose Conklin, the offensive line automatically gets worse.
Keep an open mind on Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry
Tannehill was the league's highest-rated passer, and Henry was the league's leading rusher in 2019, but both impending free agents could be grossly overpaid as a result. Tennessee can't be left without a good option at quarterback, but Teddy Bridgewater, Tom Brady and Philip Rivers might also be out there. And while Henry is probably in line to become the NFL's highest-paid running back, the Titans have to consider that each of the league's nine highest-paid backs from 2019 failed to appear in this year's playoffs. It might not be worth committing an arm and a leg to a back with an aggressive running style who very well could have peaked in 2019. The Titans should play both situations by ear.
Invest in the pass rush
Harold Landry III is ascending coming off a nine-sack sophomore season, but the Titans lack quality pass-rushing options beyond that. A defense that had the league's eighth-lowest pressure rate last season needs more talent on the edge. They likely won't be able to focus on that in free agency, but they're already being linked to a multitude of pass-rushing prospects at the bottom of the first round.
Make up with Trent Williams
The star left tackle held out last year after voicing his frustrations regarding the team's medical staff. But there's a new regime in place now, and it appears to be overhauling the medical staff. Can Ron Rivera convince Williams to return to protect young quarterback Dwayne Haskins' blind side in 2020? That has to be the ultimate goal, because the left tackle situation was a mess in 2019.
Re-sign Brandon Scherff
This is also all about Haskins, who needs as much talent and continuity as possible within his supporting cast. A line containing Williams, Scherff, Morgan Moses and Chase Roullier would give Haskins his best chance to succeed in his sophomore season. It's that simple.
Draft Chase Young
It'd be tempting to trade back and fill more needs (the secondary is in rough shape, and they need more pass-catchers), but Young is far too tantalizing a prospect to pass up with the No. 2 overall pick. Veteran Ryan Kerrigan is entering an age-32 contract year, but that would no longer be a concern if the Redskins could trot out Young and Montez Sweat as their edge-defenders of the future.