The Biggest Risk Every NFL Team Is Taking for 2020

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistJune 1, 2020

The Biggest Risk Every NFL Team Is Taking for 2020

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    Bill Sikes/Associated Press

    Every NFL franchise wants to lift the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the season. However, that isn't a realistic dream for all 32 teams. Some can indeed stamp the Super Bowl as a major goal, but others are looking to rebuild rosters, develop quarterbacks or even jockey for future draft position.

    Each individual goal comes with its own risks, and the biggest risks are often unique to the teams taking them.

    Last year, for example, the New England Patriots risked entering the year with a substandard receiving corps, hoping Tom Brady still had enough magic in him to lift it to a championship level. The gamble failed, New England spent a second-round pick to acquire Mohamed Sanu, the Patriots were ousted in the first round of the postseason, and Brady is no longer with the team.

    Had the Patriots invested more in their offensive weapons, all of this may have unfolded differently.

    Here, we'll examine the biggest risk each team is taking heading into the 2020 campaign. Whether it's an on- or off-the-field risk, each of them could sink the coming season or cause negative long-term fallout for the franchise involved.

Arizona Cardinals: Not Addressing the Offensive Line

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    Cardinals QB Kyler Murray
    Cardinals QB Kyler MurrayLindsey Wasson/Associated Press

    Developing quarterback Kyler Murray has to be the No. 1 goal for the Arizona Cardinals. It's why they traded for wideout DeAndre Hopkins during the offseason and why they transition-tagged versatile running back Kenyan Drake.

    However, protecting Murray has to be part of the equation, which is why passing on top linemen in free agency and with the eighth overall pick in the draft was risky.

    The Arizona line—which allowed Murray to be sacked a league-high 48 times last season—remains largely unchanged. The one key difference is that 2019 trade acquisition and right tackle Marcus Gilbert is expected to be healthy after missing all of last season with a knee injury.

    While growing as a passer and learning to get the ball out quicker should help Murray, the Cardinals would have been smart to invest in the guys protecting him up front.

Atlanta Falcons: Moving on from Austin Hooper

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    Former Falcons TE Austin Hooper
    Former Falcons TE Austin HooperJohn Bazemore/Associated Press

    The Atlanta Falcons chose not to re-sign tight end Austin Hooper this offseason—a somewhat understandable decision, seeing as how he landed a four-year, $42 million deal in free agency. While understandable, the decision does leave quarterback Matt Ryan without one of his most dependable young targets.

    Over the last two seasons, Hooper racked up 146 receptions for 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns. While the Falcons still have Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley in the lineup, losing that safety valve at tight end could be costly.

    To replace Hooper, Atlanta traded for 2018 first-round pick Hayden Hurst, a move that, in and of itself, is a gamble. Hurst quickly fell behind Mark Andrews on the Baltimore Ravens depth chart and has only caught 43 passes for 512 yards and three scores in his two pro seasons.

    Can Hurst adequately replace Hooper in Atlanta's lineup? It's possible, but it's no sure thing.

Baltimore Ravens: Changing the Offensive Philosophy

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    Ravens QB Lamar Jackson
    Ravens QB Lamar JacksonNick Wass/Associated Press

    Last season, Lamar Jackson led the Ravens to a 14-2 record while throwing for 3,127 yards and running for 1,206 more. His dual-threat ability routinely kept opposing defenses off balance, and the offense built around his multifaceted skill set became arguably the most indefensible in the league.

    Now, the Ravens could be looking to switch up their offensive philosophy. The drafting of another running back in J.K. Dobbins and another speedy wideout in Devin Duvernay suggests that Baltimore will ask Jackson to throw more while leaving more of the ground work to the running backs.

    This is a concept Jackson himself has suggested.

    "I doubt if I'm going to be carrying the ball a lot going on in the future," Jackson told reporters. "We've got dynamic running backs. We're going to have even more receivers."

    A change in offensive philosophy for Baltimore could pay off in a big way, but it's also risky because what the Ravens did last year worked marvelously.

Buffalo Bills: Taking on Josh Norman

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    New Bills CB Josh Norman
    New Bills CB Josh NormanBrett Carlsen/Getty Images

    Searching for a reliable No. 2 corner to start opposite Tre'Davious White, the Buffalo Bills decided to take a chance on Josh Norman. Adding the former Carolina Panthers and Washington Redskins standout is a risky move on two fronts.

    For starters, there's no guarantee Norman can still be the high-level corner Buffalo is looking for. He fell out of favor in Washington and was benched altogether near the end of the 2019 season.

    Additionally, Norman isn't the most reserved personality in the NFL. He's an outspoken player who isn't going to keep quiet if he's unhappy with his situation. Remember when he wanted to "smash" former Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman for rescinding the franchise tag?

    For the workmanlike Bills, Norman's personality could cause a distraction, especially if he isn't used the way he feels he should be. Just ask the Cleveland Browns how managing personalities can become a problem.

    Norman's addition is a boom-or-bust move that could go in either direction.

Carolina Panthers: Turning Things over to Teddy Bridgewater

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    New Panthers QB Teddy Bridgewater
    New Panthers QB Teddy BridgewaterMark Black/Associated Press

    After two years of injury issues, the Carolina Panthers finally decided to pull the plug on longtime starter Cam Newton. They replaced him with one-time Minnesota Vikings starter Teddy Bridgewater, inking the 2014 first-round pick to a three-year, $63 million deal.

    While Bridgewater played well in his five starts with the New Orleans Saints last season—New Orleans went 5-0 during that stretch—he is not a sure thing.

    Let's not forget that Bridgewater hasn't been a full-time starter since the 2015 season. A gruesome knee injury nearly ended his career during the 2016 offseason, and Bridgewater has only appeared in 15 games since.

    Can Bridgewater be a Pro Bowl-caliber starter like he was early in his career? It's possible. However, we've seen backup quarterbacks like Josh McCown and Ryan Fitzpatrick play extremely well for stretches only to prove they are indeed backups and stopgap options only.

    At this point in his career, there's no telling what Bridgewater can be.

Chicago Bears: Inviting Quarterback Controversy with Nick Foles

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    New Bears QB Nick Foles
    New Bears QB Nick FolesStephen B. Morton/Associated Press

    Will Mitchell Trubisky ever develop into a franchise quarterback for the Chicago Bears? This is the question Bears fans everywhere want answered. Trubisky is entering the final year of his rookie contract, and Chicago has still only seen pieces of potential instead of a finished product.

    2020 is the final audition for Trubisky and possibly for head coach Matt Nagy, too. However, Trubisky isn't likely to get a fair shake because Chicago traded for Nick Foles in the offseason.

    Foles is likely to provide immediate competition for Trubisky, though there's no guarantee he can actually be an upgrade—he was outplayed by rookie sixth-rounder Gardner Minshew II with the Jacksonville Jaguars last season. If Foles wins the starting job, Chicago could still be a pedestrian squad, only with no additional clarity on Trubisky's future.

    If Trubisky wins the starting job but struggles at all, fans will cry out for the Super Bowl LII MVP to save the offense. The only real way the Foles trade could prove successful is if he recaptures the magic he's only previously found with the Philadelphia Eagles and makes the Bears a contender.

Cincinnati Bengals: Starting the Joe Burrow Era Immediately

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    For the Cincinnati Bengals, the Joe Burrow era starts now. Cincinnati made sure of it by cutting longtime starter Andy Dalton shortly after making Burrow the No. 1 pick in April's draft. If Burrow isn't ready to go in Week 1, the Bengals will have to rely on second-year man Ryan Finley.

    Cutting Dalton was a big risk for Cincinnati because the Bengals gave up the option to bring Burrow along slowly. While Finley could theoretically start the season under center, he won't offer the same veteran guidance Dalton might have.

    Will Burrow be ready to lead the Bengals early in his rookie campaign? That is the great unknown.

    While he was spectacular for LSU this past season, Burrow has only one year of elite production on his resume—and it came with a tremendous supporting cast. Cincinnati has some talented pieces to put around Burrow—like wideouts Tyler Boyd and A.J. Green, if he's healthy—but it is far from the most talented team in the league like the Tigers were in 2019.

    Cincinnati is a 2-14 squad on the rebound. This will provide a tough challenge for the reigning Heisman winner, who may experience a tremendous amount of growing pains and frustration as a rookie starter. Starting early is generally the expectation for a No. 1 overall pick, but by not giving themselves any real alternatives, the Bengals are still taking a risk.

Cleveland Browns: Going Back to an Analytical Approach

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    Browns CSO Paul DePodesta
    Browns CSO Paul DePodestaPhil Long/Associated Press

    Remember when the Paul DePodesta- and Sashi Brown-led Browns went all-in on analytics a few years ago? The result was a roster that went 1-31 over two seasons before re-emerging under general manager John Dorsey two years ago.

    Well, guess what? Dorsey was fired this offseason, and DePodesta is back in complete control. Former Browns vice president of player personnel Andrew Berry replaced Dorsey as general manager, but DePodesta, as chief strategy officer, is likely running the show.

    This means Cleveland is back to an analytics approach, likely on and off the field.

    "You know, I'm looking for any edge we can get, and certainly, I know analytics is another buzzword out there," new head coach Kevin Stefanski said, per Cleveland.com's Scott Patsko.

    Things may work out this time around—DePodesta got to hire "his" guy in Stefanski—and they certainly cannot be worse than they were the last time. However, an approach heavily influenced by analytics is risky because it is still novel in the football world.

    If DePodesta and Co. cannot get it right the second time, the Browns are likely looking at yet another teardown in what has been an endless line of rebuilds.

Dallas Cowboys: Playing Contract Roulette with Dak Prescott

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    Cowboys QB Dak Prescott
    Cowboys QB Dak PrescottAssociated Press

    The Dallas Cowboys don't have to worry about immediately losing quarterback Dak Prescott because they gave him the franchise tag this offseason. However, they haven't worked out a long-term deal, which is risky for two reasons.

    For one, it leaves open the possibility that Prescott will hold out for a new deal. If Prescott refuses to play, the Cowboys are looking at the prospect of starting recent free-agent addition Andy Dalton in Week 1. While Dalton is a capable veteran starter, he isn't the young, dynamic passer that Prescott is.

    Waiting to get a deal done will potentially cost Dallas a hefty chunk of cash, too. Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Houston Texans signal-caller Deshaun Watson are also in line for new deals that could set the bar for Prescott and his agent.

    That bar could top $40 million per year, according to the Houston Chronicle's Aaron Wilson. Per Wilson, Watson could be looking at a deal in the $40-42 million range annually.

    With the Cowboys recently giving lucrative extensions to running back Ezekiel Elliott and wideout Amari Cooper, a $40 million salary for Prescott may be tough to swallow. Waiting to extend their quarterback could put the Cowboys in a position where they cannot keep their core pieces in place.

Denver Broncos: Keeping Garett Bolles at Left Tackle

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    Broncos LT Garett Bolles
    Broncos LT Garett BollesRick Scuteri/Associated Press

    The Denver Broncos are going full speed ahead with quarterback Drew Lock. The former Missouri standout will get a proper audition to be the team's franchise quarterback this season, and the Broncos went out and got new weapons for him in rookie receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler.

    However, the Broncos did not get Lock a new left tackle, which is risky given the past play of Garett Bolles. Last season, Bolles was responsible for 17 penalties and four sacks, according to Pro Football Focus.

    Now, Bolles isn't a complete liability at left tackle, but he does make mistakes frequently enough that it could be a detriment to Lock's development. The Broncos would have been wise to bring in a veteran like Trent Williams or Jason Peters to strengthen Lock's supporting cast.

    Ideally, Bolles will limit the mistakes and settle in as a reliable starter. Betting on that represents a significant risk, though, because Bolles will be tasked with protecting the future of the franchise.

Detroit Lions: A Possibly Fractured Relationship with Matthew Stafford

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    Lions QB Matthew Stafford
    Lions QB Matthew StaffordRick Osentoski/Associated Press

    The Detroit Lions may move on from quarterback Matthew Stafford in the near future, but it isn't likely to happen this season. Still, the Lions have allowed questions about Stafford's future to linger, which could cause major chemistry issues in 2020.

    There were rumors that the Lions put Stafford on the trade block before the draft, but according to NFL Network's Michael Silver, it's rumored that Stafford was the one who wanted to be dealt. The quarterback has since put his Detroit-area home up for sale and could be eyeing an exit from his current franchise.

    Part of the issue is that Detroit is not financially committed to Stafford for the long term.

    "The Lions are paying Stafford $15 million this year and nothing is guaranteed after that. In fact, as of the restructure Stafford did in December, $7.2 million of that $15 million is now an option bonus tied to a 2023 option on his contract," ESPN's Dan Graziano explained.

    Giving Stafford an extension and a raise—he's due to earn just $21.3 million this season—could help settle the situation. As things stand, the Lions risk having an unhappy and possibly a lame-duck Stafford under center for what is a pivotal year for GM Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia.

Green Bay Packers: Potentially Alienating Aaron Rodgers

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    Packers QB Aaron Rodgers
    Packers QB Aaron RodgersBen Margot/Associated Press

    The Green Bay Packers have a future Hall of Famer in quarterback Aaron Rodgers. However, Rodgers is 36 years old and could be nearing the end of his prime. It would have made sense for the Packers to go all-in on a playoff run after advancing to the NFC title game last year. Instead, Green Bay drafted for the future and for what could be a transitioning offense.

    The Packers' first three picks were quarterback Jordan Love, running back AJ Dillon and H-back Josiah Deguara. Love is likely Rodgers' successor, while Dillon and Deguara appear to be pieces for a new-look Matt LaFleur offense.

    LaFleur, the Packers head coach and former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator, utilized more of a run-oriented offense in Tennessee. If he is going this route, it could alienate Rodgers, who is used to being the centerpiece of his offense.

    "It does make me wonder now what their relationship will be like," former Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk told NBC Sports' Peter King in regard to Rodgers and LaFleur.

    Rodgers is smart enough to recognize the NFL is a business and isn't likely to revolt over the selection of Love. However, if he and LaFleur aren't on the same page, it could cause him to start looking ahead to a career outside of Green Bay.

Houston Texans: The DeAndre Hopkins-Less Passing Attack

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    Former Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins
    Former Texans WR DeAndre HopkinsJames Kenney/Associated Press

    While Deshaun Watson's impending extension is a concern for the Texans in the long term, a more immediate risk is the prospect of moving forward without DeAndre Hopkins at receiver. The four-time Pro Bowler was Watson's most reliable target and one of the most difficult offensive weapons in the league to contain.

    While the Texans did add pieces like Randall Cobb, Brandin Cooks and running back David Johnson to help replace Hopkins' production, there's no guarantee their offense will remain as potent as it's been. This is an issue because Houston has done little to improve its woeful pass defense.

    The Texans ranked 29th in yards allowed through the air last season. In free agency, their big moves were bringing back Phillip Gaines, Vernon Hargreaves III and Bradley Roby.

    Houston is likely to find itself in several shootout situations in 2020, and with Hopkins no longer part of the offense, that could result in enough losses to keep the Texans out of the postseason.

Indianapolis Colts: Betting on Philip Rivers

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    New Colts QB Philip Rivers
    New Colts QB Philip RiversCharlie Riedel/Associated Press

    The Indianapolis Colts managed to survive the 2019 season without the suddenly retired Andrew Luck thanks in no small part to some steady, if unspectacular, play from Jacoby Brissett. However, the Colts have decided to move on from Brissett with 38-year-old veteran Philip Rivers.

    The transition is a risk because there's no telling if Rivers can bounce back from a disappointing campaign with the Los Angeles Chargers. It's also a risk because the Colts have a narrow window with Rivers. The NC State product is playing on a one-year deal and may not stick around much longer than that.

    "I can say for certain that if I'm playing, it's a two-year maximum," Rivers said in February, per Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times.

    If Rivers recaptures his Pro Bowl form, his addition will go down as one of the top moves of the offseason, If he doesn't, however, the Colts could be right back to starting Brissett or rookie fourth-rounder Jacob Eason and/or looking for a new signal-caller entirely in the offseason.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Handing Gardner Minshew II the Offense

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    Jaguars QB Gardner Minshew II
    Jaguars QB Gardner Minshew IIStephen B. Morton/Associated Press

    Quarterback Gardner Minshew II played well enough as a rookie that Jacksonville was comfortable trading Nick Foles in the offseason. He passed for 3,271 yards and 21 touchdowns with just six interceptions and had arguably the best campaign of any rookie quarterback.

    With Foles out, Minshew should have a full season to audition for the long-term starting job. However, Foles' absence also leaves Jacksonville with no real safety net. If Minshew suffers a sophomore slump, the Jaguars will be forced to turn to the likes of Mike Glennon and Joshua Dobbs.

    On one hand, a struggling Minshew could set the Jaguars up for a crack at Trevor Lawrence or Trey Lance in next year's draft. On the other, as the Miami Dolphins proved last season, even intentionally tanking won't guarantee a spot at the very top of Round 1.

    Turning things over to Minshew is the right call because Foles at no point looked like the long-term answer in Jacksonville. However, the decision not to bring in a veteran backup does make this quarterback experiment a gamble.

Kansas City Chiefs: Waiting on Patrick Mahomes' Contract

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    Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes
    Chiefs QB Patrick MahomesSeth Wenig/Associated Press

    As previously mentioned, teams like the Cowboys and the Texans should want to get their quarterbacks under contract before the Chiefs sign Patrick Mahomes to his first NFL extension. The Texas Tech product—who already has regular-season and Super Bowl MVPs on his resume—is going to reset the market, regardless of when he signs a new deal.

    However, the Chiefs are likely costing themselves money every day they wait to get a deal done, and Mahomes' price tag could rise significantly if Watson or Prescott signs first.

    Mahomes is going to be the league's highest-paid player no matter what, but if Watson is worth $42 million per year, what's Mahomes worth? $50 million? More?

    While Mahomes' contract situation has little bearing on the 2020 season itself, it is relevant to the future of the franchise. The more Kansas City ends up paying its quarterback, the less money there will be to lock up players like franchise-tagged defensive tackle Chris Jones.

    Going into the season without a contract in place is risky, and if Mahomes has another MVP-caliber campaign, it's only going to add more dollars onto his eventual deal.

Las Vegas Raiders: Inviting Quarterback Controversy with Marcus Mariota

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    New Raiders QB Marcus Mariota
    New Raiders QB Marcus MariotaDavid Zalubowski/Associated Press

    As the Raiders prepare for their inaugural season in Las Vegas, Derek Carr remains the starting quarterback. However, questions about whether he really is Jon Gruden's "guy" remain.

    "Their personalities definitely don't meld perfectly. Gruden's tough on his quarterbacks, and wants them to play with an edge, and that's not really who Carr is," Albert Breer of SI.com wrote.

    The signing of quarterback Marcus Mariota in free agency has done nothing to quiet speculation that Carr isn't long for Las Vegas. Mariota is a second overall draft pick with 61 starts under his belt. He's also a quarterback that Raiders general manager Mike Mayock—when he was still an analyst—had as the top QB prospect of the 2015 draft.

    The mere presence of Mariota could disrupt the Raiders locker room and their season if Carr struggles for any stretch in 2020. Fans, media personalities and perhaps teammates will want to see what Mariota can do if Carr isn't doing enough.

Los Angeles Chargers: Banking on Tyrod Taylor to Keep Fans Quiet

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    Chargers QB Tyrod Taylor
    Chargers QB Tyrod TaylorJustin Edmonds/Getty Images

    The Chargers used the sixth overall pick in the draft on Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert. While he's  viewed as more of a project than a pro-ready prospect, fans will be eager to see him on the field early.

    This puts the Chargers in a precarious position. From a talent standpoint, they should be poised to make a push for the postseason. Putting Herbert in the lineup doesn't mesh with that goal. Starting journeyman Tyrod Taylor does.

    However, Taylor will have to play extremely well to curtail fans' anticipation for their new signal-caller of the future. That's a tall order given Taylor's history. He's been a serviceable starter in the past, to be sure, but he didn't stop the Bills from moving on and drafting Josh Allen or keep Baker Mayfield on the sideline in Cleveland.

    Though injury did play a role, Taylor was only the Browns' bridge quarterback for three starts before Mayfield took the job permanently.

    Can Taylor be the steady game-manager who helps get L.A. to the postseason? Perhaps. However, bringing in a more seasoned starter like Andy Dalton or Cam Newton would likely have done more to quell the inevitable Herbert buzz.

Los Angeles Rams: Making Jared Goff the Centerpiece of the Offense

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    Rams QB Jared Goff
    Rams QB Jared GoffMarcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Rams released star running back Todd Gurley this offseason, leaving a massive hole in the middle of their offense. While the Rams do have backs like Malcolm Brown, Darrell Henderson and rookie Cam Akers, Gurley's departure means that quarterback Jared Goff is now unquestionably the centerpiece of the offense.

    This is a dicey proposition because Goff has been great when leaning on a productive Gurley and relatively average when he can't. Last season, for example, Gurley struggled as a runner (3.8 yards per carry) and Goff tossed 16 interceptions to go with just 22 touchdowns.

    Goff and head coach Sean McVay are at their best when utilizing play-action, a fact that opposing defenses have recognized.

    "It's not like McVay can't coach anymore. But defenses have caught up to his play-action-heavy attack," Yahoo Sports' Frank Schwab wrote in November.

    The Rams won't have as many favorable play-action opportunities without Gurley's presence. Perhaps Goff will rise to the challenge and put the offense on his shoulders. However, with Gurley and Brandin Cooks gone and an inconsistent line in front of him, it's just as likely he'll have another mistake-filled and playoff-less season.

Miami Dolphins: Creating Too Much Tagovailoa Hype

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    New Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa
    New Dolphins QB Tua TagovailoaRogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

    The Dolphins scooped up former Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa with the fifth pick in the draft. This—along with the fact that his recovery from a dislocated and fractured hip appears to be going well—is making for some lofty expectations for the rookie gunslinger.

    "According to every coach I've spoken to, it's a foregone conclusion that he will beat out veteran journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick and start Week 1 against the New England Patriots on Sept. 13," Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman wrote.

    This is a good problem to have because it suggests Miami has found its long-coveted franchise quarterback. However, the prospect of starting and leaning on Tagovailoa early is perilous.

    For one, Tagovailoa is a rookie who could be fooled by exotic blitz packages and coverage schemes. This could lead to a lot of early hits—problematic for a player less than a year removed from a significant injury.

    Secondly, Tagovailoa is used to playing for a perennial contender at Alabama. Miami, while likely to improve in 2020, is still a rebuilding team looking to find its way. There are multiple new pieces in place, and early struggles could hurt the confidence and development of Tagovailoa.

    Tempering expectations for Tagovailoa would be wise, if it's not already too late to do so.

Minnesota Vikings: Betting on Largely Unproven Replacements

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    New Vikings WR Justin Jefferson
    New Vikings WR Justin JeffersonMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    Last season, the Minnesota Vikings posted a 10-6 record and advanced to the divisional round of the playoffs. While they're looking to build on that campaign, the Vikings are also rebuilding their roster—a risky double goal for any franchise.

    Gone are wide receiver Stefon Diggs, defensive lineman Everson Griffen and cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes, Mackensie Alexander and Trae Waynes. In are rookie receiver Justin Jefferson, rookie corner Jeff Gladney and third-year corner Mike Hughes, who has appeared in just 20 games because of injuries.

    Moving on from a large chunk of key players in one offseason could come back to bite Minnesota. While the reasoning is apparent—the Vikings desperately needed cap space—it doesn't lower the risk factor involved.

    If guys like Jefferson and Gladney cannot adequately replace their predecessors, the Vikings could completely slip out of the playoff picture.

New England Patriots: A Brian Hoyer-Jarrett Stidham Quarterback Room

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    Patriots QB Brian Hoyer
    Patriots QB Brian HoyerElise Amendola/Associated Press

    In case you haven't heard, Tom Brady is no longer the quarterback of the New England Patriots. He departed for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency, leaving New England with second-year man Jarrett Stidham and on-again, off-again backup Brian Hoyer at quarterback.

    The Patriots did not draft a quarterback, add Andy Dalton and have not, as of yet, reached out to free agent Cam Newton. This means that, barring a change, the Patriots will start Stidham or Hoyer in Week 1.

    While head coach Bill Belichick has regularly succeeded in replacing key Patriots players, this change is a major gambit. If Stidham isn't ready to start or doesn't play well, New England will be forced to rely on Hoyer. While the Michigan State product has been a serviceable starter before, he hasn't exactly shined in pressure situations.

    In a 2015 playoff game with the Texans, Hoyer turned the ball over five times while passing for just 136 yards.

    There is, of course, the possibility that New England is looking to play poorly for draft positioning and a top 2021 quarterback prospect—though that sort of anti-competitiveness goes against everything we know about Belichick and the Patriots.

New Orleans Saints: Betting It All on Drew Brees

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    Saints QB Drew Brees
    Saints QB Drew BreesAssociated Press

    This offseason, the New Orleans Saints gave quarterback Drew Brees a new two-year, $50 million deal. This was the right move because A) Brees is still one of the top quarterbacks in the game and B) because the Saints have a championship-caliber roster.

    However, betting big one last time on Brees does create an all-or-nothing situation for the Saints. Their succession plan includes Taysom Hill—who hasn't started a game since 2016 with Brigham Young—and possibly Jameis Winston, who is only on a one-year deal.

    The Saints could have tried re-signing Teddy Bridgewater, who went 5-0 for the club last year, or targeting a quarterback early in the 2020 draft. They took Michigan offensive lineman Cesar Ruiz 24th instead.

    This is the sort of gamble a championship-caliber team is expected to make, but it could still lead to a long-term hangover once Brees finally decides to hang it up.

New York Giants: Franchise-Tagging Leonard Williams

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    Giants DT Leonard Williams
    Giants DT Leonard WilliamsMatt Rourke/Associated Press

    The New York Giants gambled when they traded for defensive lineman Leonard Williams last season, giving up third- and fifth-round picks to get him. Williams was in the final year of his contract, but general manager Dave Gettleman believed he was worth betting on.

    "Basically, it was a three and a five—if we sign him, it moves up to a four," Gettleman explained, per SNY's Garrett Stepien. "... The juice was worth the squeeze."

    The Giants have yet to sign Williams and instead gave him the franchise tag in the offseason. While letting him walk after investing two valuable picks would have been met with harsh criticism, using the tag is still a major risk.

    Williams didn't exactly shine during his eight-game audition with the Giants. He produced just 13 solo tackles and half a sack.

    Giving Williams the tag will cost New York roughly $16 million, money that would have been well-spent on further bolstering the offensive line or a secondary that ranked 28th in pass defense last season. There's no guarantee that the $16 million will lead to a long-term deal or a bigger impact from Williams, either.

New York Jets: Banking on Rookie Contributions

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    New Jets OT Mekhi Becton
    New Jets OT Mekhi BectonMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    Like the Giants should be doing with Daniel Jones, the New York Jets need to put quality pieces around third-year quarterback Sam Darnold. However, instead of targeting proven players in free agency or via trade, the Jets opted to turn to the draft.

    That's a fine approach in the long run, but this is a pivotal year for Darnold. Counting on rookie tackle Mekhi Becton to protect his blind side is risky. So is asking rookie wideout Denzel Mims to be the No. 1 receiver that New York lacks.

    The Jets did add complementary pass-catcher Breshad Perriman, but they passed on trading for a guy like DeAndre Hopkins, Stefon Diggs or Brandin Cooks. They also passed on adding a proven starter like Trent Williams or Jason Peters at tackle.

    These decisions could pay off, of course, but there's a lot at stake for Darnold, who has shown flashes but has yet to settle in as a legit franchise quarterback. Expecting rookies to be two of his most important pieces is risky, to say the least.

Philadelphia Eagles: The Carson Wentz-Jalen Hurts Dynamic

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    New Eagles QB Jalen Hurts
    New Eagles QB Jalen HurtsMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    When the Philadelphia Eagles drafted former Oklahoma and Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts in the second round of this year's draft, it understandably raised a few eyebrows. The Eagles have Carson Wentz locked up through 2024, and while Wentz does have a concerning injury history, he also appears to be a true franchise quarterback.

    The Eagles didn't draft Hurts to replace Wentz, though. They drafted him to be a high-end backup and a potential gadget player.

    "Taysom Hill [package] on steroids," a source told Yahoo Sports' Charles Robinson.

    While utilizing Hurts in specific packages could be effective and a lot of fun for fans, it could also lead to awkward situations. For one, switching between the two quarterbacks could make it difficult to maintain rhythm on offense. It could also create issues in the locker room.

    What if Hurts outplays Wentz in his limited opportunities? What if he favors certain receivers while Wentz favors others? What if Wentz suffers another injury and Hurts plays well in his stead? These are all situations that could arise if the Eagles decide to platoon quarterbacks in 2020.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger's Health

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    Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger
    Steelers QB Ben RoethlisbergerRick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Despite having a championship-caliber defense that forced 38 takeaways in 2019, the Pittsburgh Steelers finished with an underwhelming 8-8 record largely because of even more underwhelming play from quarterbacks Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges.

    Ideally, the return of a healthy Ben Roethlisberger will restore some balance in Pittsburgh and return the Steelers to playoff contention. The problem is if Big Ben cannot rediscover his pre-injury form, the Steelers could be looking at another lost season.

    This should be a very real concern, as Roethlisberger is 38 years old and coming off major elbow surgery. Yet, Pittsburgh did virtually nothing to improve the depth behind him. Instead of going after a proven veteran like Cam Newton or Andy Dalton, the Steelers brought back Rudolph, Hodges, Paxton Lynch and practice squad QB JT Barrett.

    If Roethlisberger is healthy and in Pro Bowl form, then the Steelers will be in good shape. If he's not, Pittsburgh could be eyeing a new quarterback in the top half of the 2021 draft.

San Francisco 49ers: Toying with Jimmy Garoppolo's Confidence

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    49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo
    49ers QB Jimmy GaroppoloJeff Chiu/Associated Press

    San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo may be 28 years old, but in terms of experience, he's still a very young quarterback. He's only started 26 regular-season games and 24 with his current team.

    Garoppolo is still growing and—like any pro athlete, really—could be prone to confidence swings. This is why it was curious when general manager John Lynch revealed the 49ers considered replacing Garoppolo with Brady this offseason.

    "Of course Kyle [Shanahan] and I have discussions," he said on The Rich Eisen Show (h/t Justin Leger of NBC Sports Boston). "We’re always into getting better."

    Public scrutiny in the wake of San Francisco's late loss in Super Bowl LIV cannot possibly have a positive effect on Garoppolo's confidence. He has likely heard the criticism from fans and the media for failing to deliver on the biggest stage.

    "You need a little bit better from Jimmy Garoppolo," NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah said following the Super Bowl.

    Instead of supporting Garoppolo wholeheartedly, the 49ers have openly questioned whether he really is their franchise quarterback.

Seattle Seahawks: Proceeding with a Lackluster Pass Rush

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    Free-agent EDGE Jadeveon Clowney
    Free-agent EDGE Jadeveon ClowneyAssociated Press

    As a team, the Seattle Seahawks produced a mere 28 sacks in 2019. With quarterbacks like Jimmy Garoppolo, Jared Goff and Kyler Murray in the NFC West, a lackluster pass rush could be a real detriment to Seattle's playoff hopes. Yet, the Seahawks did not heavily invest in improving it.

    Seattle allowed edge-rushers Jadeveon Clowney and Ezekiel Ansah to hit free agency, where both remain. They brought back one-time Seahawk Bruce Irvin, who is now 32 and perhaps entering the twilight of his career. They also used a second-round pick on Tennessee's Darrell Taylor—a developmental rusher at this point.

    " The toolbox has plenty in it, but additional development as a pass rusher might be the difference between functional backup or dangerous starter," NFL Media's Lance Zierlein wrote.

    And that's it. The Seahawks didn't pursue Dante Fowler Jr., haven't gone after Markus Golden or Everson Griffen and have made no tangible effort to bring back Clowney or Ansah. While a late-offseason move is always possible, Seattle appears content to go into 2020 with what it has.

    This could prove problematic because Seattle is banking on guys like Irvin, Taylor and second-year man L.J. Collier—who was a complete non-factor as a rookie—to lead its pass rush. Maybe they'll deliver. Maybe they won't. Having a little more talent and depth in the pass rush is advisable.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: A 43-Year-Old Tom Brady

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    New Buccaneers QB Tom Brady
    New Buccaneers QB Tom BradyElise Amendola/Associated Press

    Tom Brady is going to turn 43 years old in August. He's coming off one of the more disappointing years of his career—his 6.6 yards per attempt were Brady's lowest since 2002—and he is learning a new offense and supporting cast during the most unusual offseason in recent memory.

    There's a chance that Tampa's gamble on Brady will backfire in a big way, and if it does, it's going to cost the Buccaneers two years.

    Two years is the window with Brady. It's the duration of his contract and possibly the best-case scenario for the remainder of his playing career. If the Buccaneers cannot earn a title in those two years, it'll be back to the drawing board and likely another rebuild.

    In no way is Brady part of the long-term plan in Tampa.

    Betting on Brady does make sense. He's a six-time champion and arguably the greatest quarterback the game has ever seen. But this is a massive gamble nonetheless.

Tennessee Titans: A $118 Million Ryan Tannehill

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    Titans QB Ryan Tannehill
    Titans QB Ryan TannehillJohn Raoux/Associated Press

    While the Buccaneers are gambling on an aging quarterback in Tom Brady, the Tennessee Titans are betting on a potential one-year wonder in Ryan Tannehill.

    Yes, Tannehill played well in 2019, even great at times. He finished with an impressive passer rating of 117.5 to go with 2,742 passing yards, 22 touchdowns and just six interceptions. However, it's important to recognize that running back Derrick Henry, not Tannehill, was the centerpiece of the Titans offense.

    If Henry suffers an injury or a drop-off in performance and the Titans need Tannehill to carry the offense, they could be in trouble. The Texas A&M product showed glimpses of being a franchise quarterback in Miami but never rose to the level of upper-echelon signal-caller.

    Raising the stakes on this gamble is the fact that Tennessee just inked Tannehill to a four-year, $118 million deal. $91 million of that is guaranteed, so if the bet doesn't pay off, it will be costly.

Washington Redskins: Inviting Quarterback Controversy with Kyle Allen

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    Washington QB Dwayne Haskins
    Washington QB Dwayne HaskinsPatrick Semansky/Associated Press

    Last April, the Washington Redskins used a first-round pick on former Ohio State signal-caller Dwayne Haskins Jr. He had an up-and-down rookie campaign, though he did begin to flash some promise toward the end of the season—he threw four touchdowns and no interceptions in his final two games.

    Washington should rally around the second-year quarterback, but that may prove difficult with Kyle Allen on the roster.

    Allen started 12 games for the Panthers and new Redskins head coach Ron Rivera last season, and he could pose a real threat to Haskins early if Washington holds an open quarterback competition.

    "If the season started in a week or two, Kyle Allen would be the starter," NFL Network's Steve Mariucci said on NFL Total Access (h/t Sam Marsdale of 247Sports).

    If Haskins wins the starting job but struggles, fans and media members could quickly call for Allen. This could take a toll on Haskins' confidence and development and even ruin his prospects as a long-term starter.

       

    All contract information via Spotrac.