1 Move Each NFL Super Bowl Contender Can Make to Push Them over the Top in 2020May 14, 2020
1 Move Each NFL Super Bowl Contender Can Make to Push Them over the Top in 2020
The NFL draft is a thing of the past, as is the bulk of free agency. For the most part, teams have finished the building process for 2020 and will next focus on whittling rosters down to the final 53 players. Until the offseason is officially over, however, there are moves that can still be made.
For title-contending teams, these moves are generally minor. These rosters are considered championship-caliber for a reason. However, adding a role player or a quality depth option can help an elite team tremendously.
The San Francisco 49ers, for example, might not have reached Super Bowl LIV if they hadn't first acquired wideout Emmanuel Sanders before last year's trade deadline.
Here, we'll examine one move each of the top eight Super Bowl contenders—based on the latest odds from Caesars Sportsbook—can and should make before the start of the regular season. Choices are based on factors like team needs, scheme fit and salary-cap room.
Baltimore Ravens: Trade for Yannick Ngakoue
The Baltimore Ravens have one of the most talented rosters in the entire league. They were a 14-2 squad last year, and they likely got even better through the trade market and the 2020 draft. Adding pieces like defensive end Calais Campbell and rookie linebacker Patrick Queen will help the defense catch up to last year's No. 1 scoring offense.
However, the Ravens do not have an elite pass rush. Despite regularly playing with a lead in 2019, Baltimore produced just 37 sacks as a team, ranking them 21st in the league. Campbell will help some, but there's room for another pass-rusher on the team.
Another trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars—this time for defensive end Yannick Ngakoue—is in order.
Ngakoue has produced at least eight sacks every year he's been in the league. He also received the franchise tag from Jacksonville and has been vocal about wanting to play elsewhere. With just $8.7 million in cap space, the Ravens would have to extend Ngakoue after acquiring him, but this is a move they should execute before training camp.
Dallas Cowboys: Sign Everson Griffen
The Dallas Cowboys lost a couple of key defenders in cornerback Byron Jones and defensive end Robert Quinn in free agency. Second-round pick Trevon Diggs can be penciled in as Jones' replacement, but finding someone to match Quinn's production will be more difficult.
Quinn was responsible for 11.5 sacks and 34 tackles in 2019.
Former longtime Minnesota Vikings starter Everson Griffen should be option No. 1. He's a four-time Pro Bowler, and he should fit tremendously in Dallas' 4-3 base defense after playing in a similar four-man front in Minnesota.
The Cowboys may have to get a little creative to sign Griffen—they have just under $6 million in cap space—but this is a move that would instantly improve their defense.
Green Bay Packers: Sign Taylor Gabriel
The Green Bay Packers should add wideout Taylor Gabriel, and not just because of his time spent in the NFC North. While that experience wouldn't hurt, it's Gabriel's 4.27 speed that would really benefit the Packers offense.
Green Bay lacks receiver depth after No. 1 option Davante Adams. The team did sign Devin Funchess this offseason, but Funchess is a possession guy, not someone who can burn defenses deep for overcovering Adams. Gabriel is that speedster.
One of quarterback Aaron Rodgers' biggest assets is his ability to buy time in the pocket while keeping his eyes downfield, but that isn't as valuable if that extra time is only going to lead to an intermediate completion to a possession receiver.
Gabriel has the speed needed to race past deep safeties, and he would give Rodgers the premier deep threat that he currently lacks.
Kansas City Chiefs: Bring Back Morris Claiborne
Armed with just $1.4 million in cap space, the Kansas City Chiefs have limited options, even if they make additional roster moves to increase their cap room. Bringing in a veteran on a minimum salary, or close to it, could be the team's top option.
Cornerback Morris Claiborne, who appeared in eight games for the Chiefs last season, could be that veteran. While the LSU product was not a fixture of the Chiefs defense, he did at least get exposure to coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's system.
This will be Spagnuolo's second year as Kansas City's defensive coordinator, and it could see additional schematic changes as players become more comfortable with the scheme. Claiborne's experience would give him a leg up over other veterans or undrafted rookies.
Kansas City did not draft a cornerback in 2020 until it took Tulane's Thakarius Keyes in the seventh round.
New Orleans Saints: Re-Sign Eli Apple
The New Orleans Saints ranked just 20th in pass defense last season, yet they didn't add a pass defender during the draft. (Though, to be fair, they only made four selections.)
To help bolster the secondary, New Orleans should bring back corner Eli Apple. Acquired during the 2018 season, the former New York Giants first-round pick started 25 regular-season games for the Saints and has plenty of experience in coordinator Dennis Allen's system.
Apple briefly had a deal in place to join the Las Vegas Raiders this offseason, but it fell apart, and the Ohio State product remains unsigned. With nearly $10 million in cap space, the Saints should have little trouble fitting him into their financial plans.
In 15 games last season, Apple had 58 tackles, four passes defended and a forced fumble.
San Francisco 49ers: Sign Theo Riddick
Running back Theo Riddick didn't play for the Denver Broncos in 2019 due to a fractured shoulder that landed him on injured reserve in August. However, he had proved himself to be one of the league's top receiving backs before that, catching at least 50 passes in each of the previous four seasons.
The 49ers, who traded away running back Matt Breida during draft weekend, could use Riddick in their backfield rotation.
San Francisco is still awaiting the debut of receiving back Jerick McKinnon. The former Vikings standout hasn't played since suffering a torn ACL in September 2018. However, the 49ers are keeping the door open for his return in 2020.
"There are some positive signs that we're on a better track," general manager John Lynch said of McKinnon, per Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area.
Adding Riddick would give San Francisco a premier fallback option in the event McKinnon can't get back to the playing field this season. Signing shouldn't be an issue, as San Francisco has more than $10 million in cap space currently.
Seattle Seahawks: Sign Markus Golden
The Seattle Seahawks could use additional pass-rushing help after producing just 28 sacks in 2019 and not re-signing Jadeveon Clowney or Ezekiel Ansah. Though a reunion with Clowney is still technically possible, it appears unlikely.
"We took a good run at it," general manager John Schneider told KJR-AM earlier in May (h/t ESPN's Brady Henderson. "It didn't happen."
Instead of continuing to pursue Clowney, the Seahawks should consider a run at free-agent linebacker Markus Golden. While the New York Giants did place an unrestricted free-agent tender on the Missouri product, that tender wouldn't require Seattle to provide compensation to sign him.
Golden, who produced 10 sacks in 2019, could give Seattle another weapon off the edge. Making him a strong offer shouldn't be an issue, as Seattle has nearly $16 million in cap space.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Re-Sign Demar Dotson
Ideally, rookie offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs will lock down the right side of the offensive line for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tampa traded up in Round 1 to take him at 13th overall, and the Iowa product projects as a bookend tackle opposite Donovan Smith.
However, the Buccaneers shouldn't bet their season on a rookie's ability to make a quick transition to the NFL. They acquired soon-to-be 43-year-old Tom Brady this offseason, and if Brady cannot remain healthy and upright, that decision will be a bust.
It would be wise for the Buccaneers to bring back longtime starting right tackle Demar Dotson, who remains unsigned. While it's true that Dotson didn't play particularly well last season—he was responsible for 10 penalties and five sacks allowed, according to Pro Football Focus—he would give Tampa a reliable veteran fallback option.
Getting Dotson to take a discounted deal may be necessary—the Buccaneers have just under $4 million in cap space—but Brady's blocking unit has to be one of the team's top priorities.
All cap information via Spotrac