The 1 Move Every NFL Team Needs to Avoid This Offseason

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystFebruary 29, 2020

The 1 Move Every NFL Team Needs to Avoid This Offseason

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    The moves an NFL team doesn't make are just as important as those it does. An entire season can hinge on one decision.

    A year ago, the Buffalo Bills were on the precipice of trading for Antonio Brown. Brown went to the Raiders but was a distraction and ultimately released without playing a single game. The Bills still had a hole at wide receiver throughout the 2019 campaign. But the offense made it work, and the team established itself as a legitimate playoff squad.

    Who knows what might have happened to the Bills locker room with Brown's addition, especially after he was accused of sexual assault and misconduct by two women?

    The cost of free agency, the draft and trades extend well beyond the initial return. Well-run organizations look beyond additions or subtractions in a vacuum and project the effect on team-building.

    A delicate balance exists between those two points. But one thing always rings true: An organization will do what's in its best interests, even if it means parting ways with a longtime, beloved player.

    A wrong move is dependent on each team's situation. It can include re-signing a particular individual, not moving on from another, making certain draft moves, being aggressive in free agency and everything in between.

    The following is one thing each organization must avoid doing this offseason.


Arizona Cardinals: Losing Kenyan Drake in Free Agency

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    An individual's situation plays a significant role in his success or failure. Kenyan Drake never established himself as the lead back for the Miami Dolphins. Yet the 2016 third-round pick changed the Arizona Cardinals offense when the team acquired him prior to the October trade deadline.

    The running back is a free agent when the league year begins March 18, but the Cardinals can't let their leading rusher in 2019 walk.

    "We'd love to have him back. He's a perfect fit for our offense," Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury told reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. "I think he understands that. But I understand the business side of things as well."

    Everyone expected Kingsbury's offense to be a wide-open Air Raid passing attack with the running game as an afterthought. Yet the Cardinals became a dangerous rushing attack with Drake as the focal point and finished second in the NFL with 5.0 yards per carry.

    Retaining him will allow Arizona to worry less about who lines up next to Kyler Murray and to turn its attention to protecting the quarterback and getting him more weapons.

Atlanta Falcons: Signing a Significant Free-Agent Edge-Rusher

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    It's the time of year when pending free agents start to be associated with potential landing spots.

    For example, Pro Football Network's Tony Pauline reported Dante Fowler Jr. wants to play for the Atlanta Falcons. The two parties appear to be a wonderful match. The Falcons do need to generate more pressure after their defense tied for the league's second-worst sack output.

    The problem is that a significant free-agent signing would require the front office to sacrifice in other areas. With just $4.5 million in projected salary-cap space, the Falcons lack the financial flexibility to bring in someone like Fowler. Thus, they'd have to cut other veterans or make a move to create room.

    The Falcons could move on from players like running back Devonta Freeman and cornerback Desmond Trufant and still have trouble signing someone like Fowler and the incoming rookie class. Instead, they should invest in another talented draft prospect like LSU's K'Lavon Chaisson or Iowa's A.J. Epenesa.

Baltimore Ravens: Trading Matthew Judon

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    A year ago, the Baltimore Ravens weren't able to re-sign Za'Darius Smith. This year has to be different. The team's top pass-rusher, Matthew Judon, is the top offseason priority, though there might be some difficulty in signing him to a long-term deal.

    Judon is a potential franchise-tag-and-trade candidate, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

    "If that's what we have to do, then we'll probably have to do it," general manager Eric DeCosta said of using the tag, per The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec.

    The franchise tag makes sense; a trade doesn't.

    Baltimore has a lot to address with its own free agents before considering bringing anyone else on—Jimmy Smith, Michael Pierce, Patrick Onwuasor, Seth Roberts and Matt Skura (restricted) are currently unsigned—but DeCosta made a great point as to why Judon's retention is so important.

    "If our offense continues to play at the level they played at this past year, we will probably be ahead in some games, and we’re going to want to have a strong pass rush," he said.

Buffalo Bills: Overspending on a Veteran Wide Receiver

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    The Buffalo Bills need help at wide receiver, specifically a bigger-bodied target. The previous statement won't come as a surprise to anyone who follows the team because it's seemingly always discussed as Buffalo's top offseason priority.

    Names such as A.J. Green, Robby Anderson and Alshon Jeffery (in a potential trade) will almost certainly come to the forefront. Maybe some will dream of Amari Cooper leaving the Dallas Cowboys. But none of those guys are necessary to address the issue.

    The incoming wide receiver draft class is arguably the best and deepest in recent memory. If the Bills can't find someone to complement their current targets, general manager Brandon Beane is doing something wrong.

    Clemson's Tee Higgins, Baylor's Denzel Mims, Texas' Collin Johnson, Notre Dame's Chase Claypool and USC's Michael Pittman Jr. are all 6'3" or taller and could be in play through the first three rounds.

Carolina Panthers: Retaining Cam Newton, Thus Short-Circuiting Rebuild

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    The Carolina Panthers should embrace a rebuild, and it starts at quarterback.

    NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported Tuesday that the Carolina Panthers plan on moving forward with Cam Newton as their starting quarterback "as of now."

    A lot can change in the coming months.

    Rapoport noted Newton's recovery complicates any potential trade scenario. New head coach Matt Rhule wouldn't outright name the 30-year-old signal-caller his starter either.

    Everything goes back to a comment owner David Tepper made in January.

    "We have a shared vision," Tepper told reporters after introducing Rhule as head coach. "We know it's not going to be a fast process. We're willing to build something for the long term."

    It's hard to envision Newton as the franchise's long-term starter considering his injury history and the fact that Carolina can save at least $19.1 million by moving on from the 2011 No. 1 overall pick. He's a free agent after the 2020 campaign anyhow.

Chicago Bears: Believing 100 Percent in Mitchell Trubisky

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    The Chicago Bears aren't giving up on quarterback Mitchell Trubisky anytime soon.

    "We believe in Mitch," general manager Ryan Pace told reporters at the combine. "Mitch knows he needs to be better. We need to be better around him. And that's our goal."

    That's OK. The organization made a significant investment in the 2017 second overall pick. His development should continue.

    But it would be a mistake for the franchise not to hedge its bets. 

    "Throughout our team, that's what we want," Pace said. "Everybody's fighting for starting jobs. That's what we want to create. The best teams we've been a part of, there's competition everywhere."

    The Bears don't have to bring in direct competition for Trubisky in 2020, but they need to invest more into the position—with a draft pick or a solid backup—to provide a safety net if Trubisky doesn't develop accordingly.  

    The 25-year-old finished the 2019 campaign with a 39.5 QBR and an 83.0 passer rating. Both are bottom-five marks among qualified signal-callers.

Cincinnati Bengals: Trading Out of the No. 1 Overall Draft Pick

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    The Cincinnati Bengals are perfectly positioned to draft the right talent and start building a legitimate long-term foundation.

    LSU's Joe Burrow is coming off the greatest single season by a quarterback in college football history. He's a Southern Ohio native. He can be the franchise signal-caller the organization has lacked for a long time. Cincinnati just has to hand in the card with Burrow's name on it at No. 1 on April 23 in Las Vegas.

    The only way the franchise can screw things up is by trading down.

    "The phone's always on," Cincinnati director of player personnel Duke Tobin said on NFL Network.

    Yes, the Bengals could receive a windfall of draft assets if they traded out of the top spot. The reason they shouldn't do it is simple: Elite quarterback prospects are invaluable.

Cleveland Browns: Splurging on a Weak Free-Agent Offensive Tackle Class

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    The Cleveland Browns are desperate for two starting-caliber offensive tackles. Even so, their front office can't let desperation dictate its offseason plan, especially when it reaches the negotiating table.

    The upcoming free-agent offensive tackle class is rather crummy.

    Jack Conklin is the best available option under the age of 30. As a result, his market will skyrocket, and the 25-year-old right tackle could become the game's highest-paid offensive lineman.

    Nate Solder and Trent Brown reset the market over the last two offseasons despite not making Pro Bowls. Conklin might push into the $17-19 million annual range since he'll have plenty of suitors.

    Cleveland can enter that bidding war or spread its investment into multiple positions.

    A more prudent move would be to sign a couple of second-tier free agents at a far more reasonable price while drafting an offensive tackle (or two) early in the process.   

Dallas Cowboys: Letting Amari Cooper Test Free Agency

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    A Dak Prescott contract extension should be the Dallas Cowboys' top offseason priority, but the organization can't allow Amari Cooper to test free agency. The 25-year-old wide receiver is too important to the offense's functionality. Plus, he wants to play in Dallas.

    According to NFL Network's Jane Slater, Cooper wants to be a member of the Cowboys "for a long time."

    For the team, it's a question of resource allocation. Prescott's next deal will eat a significant portion of the Cowboys' projected salary-cap space ($74 million). Byron Jones, Anthony Brown, Randall Cobb, Jeff Heath, Robert Quinn and Jason Witten are hitting free agency as well.

    Prescott and Cooper are the priorities. Those two are long-term foundational building blocks. The rest of the team's free agents—while their re-signings could be beneficial—don't fall into the same category.

    If Cooper does dabble in the open market, numerous suitors could reset the market in an attempt to sign the four-time Pro Bowler.

Denver Broncos: Not Securing Another Left Tackle Option

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    The Denver Broncos' position regarding left tackle Garett Bolles can be summed up in one proclamation. General manager John Elway stated earlier this week that the team hasn't decided whether to pick up Bolles' fifth-year rookie option, per The Athletic's Nicki Jhabvala.

    NFL Network's James Palmer reported the team will wait until after April's draft to make a decision.

    The message is crystal-clear: The Broncos will look for an upgrade in free agency or the draft before they commit to Bolles beyond the 2020 campaign.

    If the front office and coaching staff aren't sold on the 2017 first-round pick—which they shouldn't be thanks to numerous penalties (at least 10 accepted/not offset each season)—there's no reason to drag this out. The Broncos must find another blindside protector.

    Fortunately, the top of this year's draft class is loaded with offensive tackle talent, and the Broncos could secure a replacement with the 15th overall pick.

Detroit Lions: Not Trading Out of the 3rd Overall Draft Pick

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    The 2020 draft starts with the third overall pick, which the Detroit Lions own.

    The first and second overall selections will likely be quarterback Joe Burrow to the Cincinnati Bengals and defensive end Chase Young to the Washington Redskins.

    "The higher you are up in the draft, really the sooner the conversations begin," general manager Bob Quinn told Tori Petry of the team's official site last week. "I have not had any trade conversations with anybody as of yet. Those usually tend to start in the combine in the hallway that we kind of roll through, and we'll see how that goes."

    Well, the combine is ongoing, and it's safe to assume Quinn had one or two of those conversations.

    Detroit doesn't need a quarterback, but other teams do. While there have been rumblings that Matthew Stafford could be dealt, Quinn told Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press that was "100 percent false." 

    If the Lions slide back two or three spots, they could still land Ohio State cornerback Jeffrey Okudah or Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown.

Green Bay Packers: Leaving Free Agency Without a Quality No. 2 Wide Receiver

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    Davante Adams is one of the NFL's best wide receivers. He has the led the Green Bay Packers in receptions and receiving yards for three straight seasons and made three consecutive Pro Bowls.

    He's also asked to do too much in the passing game. The 27-year-old averaged 133.5 targets over the last four campaigns.

    The Packers don't have a true second receiver. No other wide receiver managed more than 35 receptions last season. General manager Brian Gutekunst is already looking at the draft for potential additions.

    "But I think this is a little bit deeper [WR] class, maybe, than it has been in the past," Gutekunst said, per Packers News' Tom Silverstein. "So, I think if you're looking for something specific, all types are out there."

    It would be a problem to wait until he draft to address the position.

    A rookie should be a supplement to a free-agent signing. Robby Anderson or Sammy Watkins (if released) along with high draft pick would greatly improve Green Bay's wide receiver corps.

Houston Texans: Not Addressing O-Line After Last Year's Additions

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    The Houston Texans invested significant assets into the offensive line last year, but the job isn't complete.

    Laremy Tunsil became a Pro Bowler after being traded by the Miami Dolphins. Last year's first-round draft pick, Tytus Howard, found a home at right tackle. Max Scharping, a second-round selection, started 16 games (including the playoffs) at left guard. Center Nick Martin signed a three-year, $33 million contract extension in September.

    Yet the unit still didn't play especially well. Defenses sacked Deshaun Watson 44 times. Granted, Watson tends to hold the ball too long, but Houston can continue to improve the group up front.

    Right guard in particular could be upgraded. The Texans can release Zach Fulton at no cost since his $7 million salary in 2020 isn't guaranteed.

    Houston can strengthen its interior with another free agent and/or draft pick—it does lack first- and third-round selections because of previous trades—and have one of the league's better offensive fronts after years of futility.

Indianapolis Colts: Keeping Jacoby Brissett as the Starting QB

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    Jacoby Brissett didn't exactly receive a ringing endorsement from Jim Irsay when the Indianapolis Colts owner was asked about the team's quarterback position.

    "All options are open and on the table," Irsay said, per's Adam Maya. "I've never quite been in a year where this was so unusual. ... Chris [Ballard] and Frank [Reich] and I have really talked about this and, man, we're really open-minded. There's a lot of ways this thing could turn. But right now, Jacoby is the starter."

    It usually signals change anytime someone qualifies a statement with "right now." 

    Brissett was pressed into an unexpected situation after the retirement of Andrew Luck. Nonetheless, Brissett faded down the stretch and didn't perform well with the playoffs on the line. In fact, he completed only 51.6 percent of his passes during the Colts' final four games. Obviously, injuries to multiple targets didn't help, but a $21.38 million cap hit in 2020 is far too much for a quarterback who can't carry the offense.

    A veteran signal-caller like Tom Brady or Philip Rivers gives the team a better chance to win now.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Losing Yannick Ngakoue in Free Agency

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    The Jacksonville Jaguars don't plan on letting defensive end Yannick Ngakoue leave in free agency, and they shouldn't.

    "We want him here," general manager Dave Caldwell said, per John Oehser of the Jaguars' official site. "We're going to try to get him here and keep him here one way or another."

    Ngakoue will be one of the top free agents if he hits the open market. That may not happen since the Jaguars could place the franchise tag on talented pass-rusher.

    "I think all options are on the table," Caldwell said. "We've got to work through the process with him and see where we are."

    A defensive end on the franchise tag would cost the Jaguars over $17 million. Top pass-rushers demand even more. DeMarcus Lawrence, Frank Clark and Trey Flowers signed deals last offseason worth $18 or more million annually.

    Ngakoue is worth a massive deal since the 24-year-old is the only player over the past decade with 37.5 sacks and at least 13 forced fumbles through 65 or fewer career games.

Kansas City Chiefs: Retaining Sammy Watkins

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    The Kansas City Chiefs have to make the same type of decisions every Super Bowl champion is forced to after winning a title: Who stays, and who goes?

    Other franchises are always eager to pluck talented players from a championship roster.

    In the Chiefs' case, the front office will need to make some space for potential contract extensions with quarterback Patrick Mahomes and defensive lineman Chris Jones.

    Sammy Watkins' departure is the most logical move. Kansas City would save $14 million by trading or releasing the wide receiver this offseason. Even so, general manager Brett Veach is looking to retain the 26-year-old.

    "We'll sit down and talk about the landscape of where we are and what would make sense to us and how we can make this work, and we'll get feedback from [Watkins and his agent] in regards to what they're looking for, and hopefully we can bridge a gap and make something happen," Veach said, per ESPN's Adam Teicher.

    An agreement with free agent Demarcus Robinson would likely cost the Chiefs less.

Las Vegas Raiders: Going After Tom Brady

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    Derek Carr is in a professional relationship with an organization that has a wandering eye, and the two parties might be well on their way toward a divorce.

    According to the Pro Football Network's Ben Allbright, Carr is "being heavily shopped" to other teams. Head coach Jon Gruden isn't hiding the fact that the organization wants to improve its quarterback play.

    "We have to continue to improve at that position, and we're set out to do that," Gruden said, per the Las Vegas Review-Journal's Vincent Bonsignore. "No matter how we do it."

    What are the Raiders' realistic options, though? The newly christened Las Vegas franchise appears to have its eyes set on Tom Brady, per Minnesota media member Larry Fitzgerald Sr. The six-time champion is certainly a bigger name for a team moving into a new market. Yet Brady didn't outplay Carr last season.

    The thought of signing a soon-to-be 43-year-old signal-caller for more money (possibly $30 million per year) than the franchise is paying its 28-year-old starter is ludicrous.

Los Angeles Chargers: Being Cautious During the Draft

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    The Los Angeles Chargers select...

    If those words aren't followed by "quarterback," then something went wrong this offseason for the rebuilding Chargers.

    That's why they must be aggressive with their offseason approach. The team isn't guaranteed to have one of the top three quarterback prospects available by standing pat with the sixth selection.

    Instead, general manager Tom Telesco must target the team's preferred QB prospect—beyond Joe Burrow, of course, since he's expected to go No. 1 overall. Don't let the Miami Dolphins at No. 5 or another team trading up dictate which signal-caller will lead the franchise into its new home at SoFi Stadium.

    It doesn't matter whether the pick turns out to be Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa or Oregon's Justin Herbert. What matters is the Chargers getting their guy to replace Philip Rivers and providing the franchise with a reset.

Los Angeles Rams: Letting Andrew Whitworth Go Anywhere Else

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    Normally, a 38-year-old offensive tackle wouldn't be a top offseason priority. Andrew Whitworth isn't a typical 38-year-old lineman. Most blockers his age have been retired for years. Not Whitworth. He's ready to play another season, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, and the left tackle's retention is vital for the Los Angeles Rams.

    His return to the lineup isn't a foregone conclusion, though. He's a free agent and willing to test the market if L.A. doesn't play it right. 

    "For me, I think that's obviously my wish, is to stay in Los Angeles and continue with the Rams," Whitworth said during a SiriusXM NFL Radio interview (h/t Cameron DaSilva of Rams Wire). "... If it works out, great. And if there's another opportunity somewhere else, I'll be ready."

    The Rams don't have an in-house replacement, and not having Whitworth's leadership would be a significant loss to the locker room.

Miami Dolphins: Standing Pat When a Franchise QB Could Be on the Line

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    The Detroit Lions are in the catbird's seat with the third overall pick. The reason why is simple: The top two selections are as close to locks as anything gets in the draft, with the Bengals likely selecting quarterback Joe Burrow and defensive end Chase Young going to Washington.

    The Lions will then entertain calls from quarterback-needy teams interested in Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa or Oregon's Justin Herbert.

    A lot of posturing will take place between now and April's event. For example, according to Safid Deen of the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Tagovailoa felt "uncertain" about the Dolphins' desire to select him after meeting with them at the combine despite Miami's yearlong fascination with him.

    A source told Bleacher Report's Matt Miller, "The Dolphins are going to get Tua."

    "You may have seen reports that the Miami Dolphins have concerns about Tua Tagovailoa," Miller wrote. "Don't believe those."

    The Dolphins have more than enough draft capital to make a deal with Detroit and get their guy. They should not stick with the fifth overall pick and risk the possibility of not getting Tagovailoa.

Minnesota Vikings: Trading Stefon Diggs

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    The Minnesota Vikings will be forced to make difficult decisions this offseason to create some salary-cap flexibility since they have next to none at the moment and probably won't get much help once the actual number for the 2020 campaign is officially announced.

    Trading Stefon Diggs shouldn't be one of those decisions. Diggs became frustrated with his role last season, and the trade rumors began.

    "There's no reason—the rumors or whatever you're talking about—to anticipate that Stefon Diggs is not going to be a Minnesota Viking," general manager Rick Spielman told reporters at the combine.

    A trade could still happen, of course. The situation could continue to fester, and/or the Vikings could receive an outstanding offer from another team for Diggs' services.

    However, the 26-year-old remains an explosive target within a talented offense and is coming off his second consecutive 1,000-yard season. Minnesota can create the financial flexibility it needs by releasing Xavier Rhodes, Linval Joseph and/or Riley Reiff.

New England Patriots: Re-Signing Tom Brady

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    All good things must come to an end. It's cliche yet true.

    Tom Brady helped orchestrate the greatest dynasty in professional football history. The last 20 years are unparalleled in scope considering the NFL's evolution.

    However, the two parties reached a crossroads this offseason. At 42 years old, the six-time Super Bowl champion will finally test free agency, while the Patriots seem content to let him go.

    According to the Boston Herald's Karen Guregian, New England hasn't reached out to Brady with any contracts offers, and a source said a possible reunion is "not looking good."

    The Patriots are wise not to lock themselves into paying an aging and declining quarterback a premium contract. Yes, Brady is still a capable starter, but he can no longer carry the offense if needed.

    Instead, New England can invest the $30 or so million that it might cost to re-sign the greatest player in franchise history and reinvest in multiple other areas to help whoever becomes the next starting quarterback.

New Orleans Saints: Thinking Taysom Hill Is the Future at QB

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    The New Orleans Saints appear to be setting themselves up for failure at the game's most important position.

    Drew Brees' decision to return for another season at 41 years old will help the organization in the short term—once he inevitably re-signs.

    But the franchise may fooling itself with what appears to be its long-term succession plan. The Saints seem to view Taysom Hill, who is a restricted free agent, as Brees' heir apparent.

    "I do know this—we love Taysom, love what he's done for us," general manager Mickey Loomis said during a SiriusXM NFL Radio interview. "He's got a bright future. We have a vision for him."

    Hill is a good football player. But the soon-to-be 30-year-old multipurpose athlete hasn't showed any real signs of becoming a future franchise quarterback. Maybe he will be. But the Saints can't operate under that assumption. They must sign, acquire or draft another QB as an insurance policy for when Brees finally does retire.

New York Giants: Keeping Leonard Williams Because of Ego

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    The New York Giants traded 2020 third-round and 2021 fifth-round draft picks last year to acquire Leonard Williams from the New York Jets. General manager Dave Gettleman needs to swallow his pride and realize re-signing Williams isn't ideal.

    "I'll get killed," Gettleman told reporters when discussing the possibility of not re-signing Williams.
    "But I've got thick rhino hide."

    Yet letting go of Williams is OK depending on how the front office progresses.

    The Giants must prioritize their pass rush. Williams, 25, is a talented young player. But he's not a consistent disruptive force in the passing game.

    First, New York can take the money it would use to re-sign Williams and put it toward one of the top available free-agent pass-rushers. Then, the team can target a true pocket-collapser in the draft. According to NJ Advance Media's Matt Lombardo, the Giants prefer to trade down and target Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown. If Brown isn't available, South Carolina's Javon Kinlaw is the perfect substitute.

New York Jets: Let Robby Anderson Leave in Free Agency

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    The New York Jets organization should be laser-focused on one goal: Doing everything in its power to help with Sam Darnold's development.

    As such, the franchise should focus on creating the best possible cockpit for 22-year-old Darnold to pilot from.

    New York's offensive line demands multiple additions after being one of the league's worst units, allowing the forth-most sacks in 2019. But those improvements will likely come from outside the organization. The Jets can help Darnold now by re-signing the team's second-leading target, Robby Anderson.

    The 26-year-old wide receiver will be highly sought-after in free agency, but the Jets won't be a better team in 2020 without him and have a projected $56.3 million in cap space.

    "I know they've communicated that they do want me back," Anderson told Newsday's Bob Glauber last month. "So, we've just got to see how it plays out."

    Anderson knows his value, and he doesn't plan on giving the Jets a hometown discount. The team isn't likely to find a better option in the passing game than the receiver it already had on the roster.

Philadelphia Eagles: Letting Veteran Receivers Determine Position's Future

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    Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson will likely be members of the 2020 Philadelphia Eagles squad. Yet neither should dictate how the organization approaches the wide receiver position this offseason. 

    The Eagles need more weapons around quarterback Carson Wentz. The pair combined for just 659 receiving yards and five touchdowns in 2019.

    A healthy Jeffery and Jackson will certainly help, but they're not in the long-term plans. Both are far more likely to be off the roster at this point next year, when their contracts become manageable. Nelson Agholor is a free agent.

    General manager Howie Roseman needs to look toward the future, and wide receiver should be an option in the first round. An addition like LSU's Justin Jefferson would give the Eagles a fantastic slot option to replace the disappointing Agholor.

    If a trade offer comes for either veteran, Philly should take it and continue the team-building process.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Letting Both Javon Hargrave, Bud Dupree Leave

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    The Pittsburgh Steelers have the least amount of projected salary-cap space among the NFL's 32 teams, yet they must find a way to keep at least one of their key defensive performers.

    Bud Dupree and Javon Hargrave finished second and fourth on the Steelers last season with 11.5 and 4.0 sacks, respectively. Dupree crashes off the edge opposite T.J. Watt, while Hargrave helps collapse the pocket. Both are set to hit free agency.

    "We'd like to have Bud back, no question about it," team president Art Rooney II told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Gerry Dulac. "We will do our best to make it happen."

    The Steelers are the only franchise in the red in salary-cap space. Signing both Dupree and Hargrave may be next to impossible. But they can possibly rework a few contracts and release a player or two to keep one.

    Pittsburgh finished the 2019 campaign with a top-five defense. It can't lose both if it plans on building upon last year's success.

San Francisco 49ers: Cutting Kyle Juszczyk

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    The San Francisco 49ers are in a financial bind.

    They don't have a significant amount of salary-cap space (projected total of $17.88 million). Meanwhile, they are expected to make George Kittle the game's highest-paid tight end once they renegotiate his rookie contract.

    His deal could reset the market at $13-15 million annually. The team will have to look for financial flexibility elsewhere.

    Kyle Juszczyk's release would save San Francisco $5.45 million. Yet departure would be shortsighted because his value supersedes his actual contractual status. The fullback is a critical part in head coach Kyle Shanahan's offensive scheme, and his unique skill set helps make the system operate at peak efficiency.

    The possibility of the four-time Pro Bowler's release exists, but the Niners shouldn't seriously consider it.

Seattle Seahawks: Rebuilding Defensive Front Without Jadeveon Clowney

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    The Seattle Seahawks committed to Jadeveon Clowney the second they traded for the defensive end, even though he was only under contract for one year. The key is getting the 2014 No. 1 overall pick to re-sign.

    "We are going to try," head coach Pete Carroll told reporters at the combine. "We are trying to get it done. He had a fantastic season. We'd love to have him back."

    Clowney, who's expected to command around $20 million annually, told ESPN's Josina Anderson he'd "would definitely like to return" but is open to all possibilities.

    Letting him leave in free agency would be problematic on two fronts.

    First, the Seahawks would lose an excellent player who can be a vital part of their long-term plans. Second, they need to keep certain defensive line pieces in place since Jarran Reed, Al Woods, Ezekiel Ansah, Quinton Jefferson and Branden Jackson are pending free agents as well.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Signing Jameis Winston Long Term

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    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have no clue what they have at the quarterback position. Yet, Jameis Winston is arguably their best option for the 2020 campaign.

    Yet the organization can't seriously entertain the idea of re-signing the 26-year-old signal-caller for a significant amount of time. Winston is far too turnover-prone to be trusted as a long-term starting option, tossing a league-high 30 interceptions just last season.

    So, the Buccaneers are considering their options. The franchise tag is a strong possibility prior to the March 12 deadline, but the organization is willing to wait before applying it.

    "When we know who else is available," head coach Bruce Arians said when asked if the team made a decision regarding the franchise tag, per the Tampa Bay Times' Rick Stroud. "We should know by next week."

    The transition tag may come into play as well, per ESPN's Jeremy Fowler. ESPN's Jenna Laine reported the Buccaneers are also considering a two-year deal, with the second year being a non-guaranteed team option.

    Winston could remain Tampa Bay's starter under center in 2020, but he should not be guaranteed anything beyond that point.

Tennessee Titans: Making Derrick Henry League's Highest-Paid Running Back

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    The Tennessee Titans are eager to re-sign Derrick Henry and keep him a part of the franchise for some time. But at what price?

    "We're going to work through that one and do everything we can to try to keep him around," general manager Jon Robinson told reporters at the combine.

    Henry wants to be the NFL's highest-paid running back, and he has every right to feel that way after leading the league with 1,540 rushing yards and putting together one of the best playoff performances in the position's history.

    Even so, the Titans can't make a decision based on last season's production. Henry is an outstanding talent, but it's difficult for any team to get maximum contractual value from his position. Four of the top five highest-paid running backs—Todd Gurley II, Le'Veon Bell, David Johnson and Devonta Freeman—serve as warning signs.

    The Titans should try to re-sign Henry but not at the price he wants. Maybe the franchise tag will come into play.

Washington Redskins: Moving on from Trent Williams

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    After a year of separation, the Washington Redskins and left tackle Trent Williams are closer to a resolution today than they were at any point last season. Yet the two have yet to put everything behind them.

    The hire of head coach Ron Rivera, as well as team president Bruce Allen's departure and a reshuffling of the medical staff, certainly went a long way to heal the fractured relationship. Williams reportedly lost trust in the medical staff after their handling of what turned out to be a cancerous growth on his head.

    The Washington Post's Les Carpenter and Mark Maske reported the organization believes there is a "strong chance" Williams will return to the team this season.

    One more obstacle stands in the way, though. Williams wants a new contract or a trade, according to NFL Network's Mike Garafolo and Ian Rapoport.

    Washington only has one real option: Pay Williams. The team won't be able to acquire a better starting left tackle. Plus, it should do everything in its power to protect second-year quarterback Dwayne Haskins.