The Biggest Looming Decision for Every NFL Team Before 2020 Season Begins

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistJuly 13, 2020

The Biggest Looming Decision for Every NFL Team Before 2020 Season Begins

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Though the 2020 NFL draft and the bulk of free agency are both deep in the rearview, teams have several key decisions left to make between now and the start of the regular season. Some of them will impact the roster, while others will be of the dollars-and-cents variety.

    Every team, however, has at least one major issue to address. Many of them will need to be settled before training camps kick off at the end of the month, and many teams' clocks are already ticking, as Wednesday's deadline to extend franchise-tagged players is on the immediate horizon.

    Here, you'll find a look at each team's biggest decision looming ahead of the 2020 season and which directions are the best to take for both 2020 and beyond.

Arizona Cardinals: Who Will Be the No. 2 Pass-Rusher?

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    Cardinals EDGE Chandler Jones
    Cardinals EDGE Chandler JonesAssociated Press

    Despite having a premier pass-rusher in Chandler Jones, the Arizona Cardinals only produced 40 sacks as a team last season. Jones was responsible for 19 of those sacks, while Terrell Suggs was the next-most productive player with just 5.5 sacks.

    Suggs was released in December, claimed by the Kansas City Chiefs and is now a free agent.

    The Cardinals have to decide if they have a reliable No. 2 edge-defender on their roster and who it might be. Yes, Jones can wreak havoc on his own, but he—and the entire Arizona defense—will be more effective with a constant pressure presence opposite him.

    Considering no player other than Jones and Suggs had more than three sacks last season, the Cardinals might need to look outside their roster for a complementary pass-rusher. In fact, this is probably the right route to take.

    There are options, both in free agency and the trade market. Defenders like Jadeveon Clowney, Ezekiel Ansah and Everson Griffen remain unsigned, while disgruntled Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue could possibly be had via trade (more on him later).

    While a player could emerge during camp, it would be a good idea for the Cardinals to add a pass-rusher before it begins.

Atlanta Falcons: What Role Will Todd Gurley Have in the Offense?

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    Falcons RB Todd Gurley
    Falcons RB Todd GurleyMark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    After the Los Angeles Rams released running back Todd Gurley, the Atlanta Falcons were quick to pounce. They signed him to a one-year, $5.5 million deal and will presumably make him the starting back heading into 2020.

    Though Gurley is coming off a disappointing season with the Rams, he was fantastic two years ago—he finished 2018 with 1,251 rushing yards, 580 receiving yards and 21 touchdowns. Gurley gets a lot of credit for being a bruising between-the-tackles runner, but he's also a capable dual-threat back.

    At just 25 years old, Gurley can be a long-term building block for the Falcons.

    However, Atlanta needs to decide what sort of role Gurley will have in the offense this season. Will he be a true centerpiece back like he was in Los Angeles? Will he split time with the likes of Ito Smith and Brian Hill as the Falcons determine just how much is left in the tank?

    Will Atlanta become more of a running team?

    Ideally, the Falcons will get a good idea of where Gurley is physically in camp. If he's capable of being a workhorse back, he should be. According to his trainer, Travelle Gaines, there is an "arthritic component" to Gurley's knee, per Dave Richard of CBS Sports. That could be responsible for his drop-off in 2019. If he can return to form, though, he can be a Pro Bowler.

    However, the Falcons shouldn't be quick to lean away from an elite passing attack that features Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. Instead of molding an offense around Gurley, it would make more sense to place him in the same role Devonta Freeman had last season.

Baltimore Ravens: Extend, Play or Trade Matt Judon?

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    Ravens LB Matt Judon
    Ravens LB Matt JudonJulio Cortez/Associated Press

    The deadline to extend franchise-tagged players is Wednesday. If guys like Baltimore Ravens linebacker Matt Judon aren't extended before then, they can only play under the franchise tag in 2020 or not play at all. The Ravens, though, seemingly don't have to worry about a holdout from Judon.

    "I'm pleased to be tagged," Judon said, per Michael Baca of NFL.com. "I feel like only a few players get to go through this in their lifetime. As much as I want stability in the future, I'm proud of where I'm at and where I came."

    What Baltimore does need to concern itself with is Judon's future. At 27 years old and coming off a 9.5-sack season, he could be a fine long-term building block for the Ravens—albeit an expensive one. Signing him to a long-term deal could financially bind the franchise's future. This could be an issue with Lamar Jackson eligible for an extension after the 2020 season.

    Other options include playing Judon on the tag and potentially losing him for nothing next offseason or trading him—a route NFL media's Tom Pelissero called a possibility in March.

    Ideally, the Ravens will get a long-term deal done that includes some future flexibility—perhaps a front-loaded deal with lower cap hits when Jackson is due to earn the big bucks. Judon is one of Baltimore's top defenders and still in his prime.

Buffalo Bills: Is It Time to Turn Josh Allen Loose in the Passing Game?

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    Bills QB Josh Allen
    Bills QB Josh AllenMichael Wyke/Associated Press

    For the first two years of his NFL career, Josh Allen has largely been a game manager in a run-based offense. This is both because he is himself dangerous as a runner and because he is still inconsistent as a passer.

    For his career, Allen has completed 56.3 percent of his passes for 5,163 yards with 30 touchdowns and 21 interceptions.

    However, it's worth noting that Allen has lacked a legitimate No. 1 receiver until this point. With trade acquisition Stefon Diggs on the roster, this is no longer the case. The Bills must now decide whether the time is right to transition from Josh Allen the game manager to Josh Allen the gunslinger.

    The reality is that Buffalo needs to find a version of Allen that falls somewhere in the middle. Yes, the Bills should expand the passing offense, give Allen more responsibility at the line and allow him to take more chances with Diggs on the perimeter. In short, they need to find out if Allen can be a bona fide franchise signal-caller.

    However, the Bills have to be prepared to dial things back if Allen continues to make questionable decisions or begins hamstringing the offense with turnovers. Buffalo has a promising young runner in Devin Singletary and can lean on the run—as it did during last year's path to the playoffs—if it becomes necessary.

Carolina Panthers: What's the Right Workload for Christian McCaffrey?

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    Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey
    Panthers RB Christian McCaffreyBrian Blanco/Associated Press

    When the Carolina Panthers gave running back Christian McCaffrey a new four-year, $64 million extension this offseason, it ensured that one of the sport's most dangerous offensive weapons would remain in town for the foreseeable future. However, it also left the Panthers with a tough decision to suss out.

    Just how much should the Panthers lean on McCaffrey in 2020?

    This shouldn't seem like a tough question to answer. McCaffrey is arguably the best running back in the game right now, and even with Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback, McCaffrey should remain the centerpiece of the offense.

    However, McCaffrey's deal changes things. He has nearly $33 million in dead money on his contract—a sizeable investment that the Panthers will want to protect. That number drops to $8.6 million after three years, so Carolina should want to make sure that McCaffrey is healthy and starting for at least that long.

    The problem is that an effort to prolong McCaffrey's career could diminish the return the Panthers are getting on their investment. While the 403 touches he received in 2019 may be a bit much, Carolina has to continue utilizing McCaffrey like the every-down back that he is.

Chicago Bears: How "Open" Will the Quarterback Competition Be?

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    Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky
    Bears QB Mitchell TrubiskyAndy Clayton-King/Associated Press

    The Chicago Bears traded for quarterback Nick Foles earlier this offseason, a move that could either push Mitchell Trubisky or replace him under center for 2020. 

    "We want to create competition. We've talked to both players and it's an open competition," general manager Ryan Pace said, via the team's official Twitter account.

    But the Bears have to decide just how open their competition is going to be. Presumably, the team—or at least Pace—would prefer to see Trubisky elevate his game and emerge from the competition as a competent starter. 

    Pace traded up in the 2017 draft to acquire Trubisky, and it would be a bad look for the Jaguars castoff to beat him out for the starting job. There's a very real chance that Chicago will weight its "open" competition in Trubisky's favor. 

    However, doing so would hurt both the franchise's long-term prospects and head coach Matt Nagy. Nagy has to be in win-now mode for his job's sake. At the same time, Chicago needs to determine if perhaps Nagy has been holding back Trubisky.

    A truly 100 percent open competition between Trubisky and Foles is the only thing that makes sense for the Bears.

Cincinnati Bengals: How Much Does Cincinnati Still Believe in A.J. Green?

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    Bengals WR A.J. Green
    Bengals WR A.J. GreenFrank Victores/Associated Press

    The Cincinnati Bengals believe in wideout A.J. Green enough to have given him the franchise tag this offseason. However, that doesn't mean that the Bengals still view Green as an elite receiver or as a long-term piece of the offense.

    The Bengals likely tagged Green to ensure they would have a seasoned veteran wideout who can work with rookie quarterback Joe Burrow. What Cincinnati now needs to determine is whether it believes Green can still be a No. 1 receiver—and more importantly, if he can be the Bengals' No. 1 receiver.

    According to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler (h/t Bleacher Report's Mike Chiari), Green is expected to sign and play under his franchise tender in 2020. That's good news for Burrow and for the Bengals, but it guarantees nothing beyond this season.

    And therein lies the issue here. Green missed all of 2019 with an ankle injury and has produced just one 1,000-yard campaign in the last three years. Assuming that he will return to Pro Bowl form or will stick around beyond 2020 would be foolish.

    While it's fine for the Bengals to enter training camp believing that Green can be their top option this season, they should also have a plan in place to transition for a different option. 

    Whether it's Tyler Boyd, rookie Tee Higgins or even inconsistent speedster John Ross, Burrow is going to grow and mature along some young wideout over the next several seasons, Green is no longer the future at wideout for Cincinnati.

Cleveland Browns: How Will the Browns Handle David Njoku's Trade Demand?

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    Browns TE David  Njoku
    Browns TE David NjokuDavid Richard/Associated Press

    When the Cleveland Browns signed tight end Austin Hooper early in free agency, the initial thought was that it shouldn't impact David Njoku significantly. New head coach Kevin Stefanski embraces two-tight-end sets, and there should be plenty of opportunities for both players in 2020.

    However, Hooper would likely be the No. 1 tight end, and Njoku apparently soured on the idea of being a complementary piece. He and agent Drew Rosenhaus recently requested a trade, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

    The Browns, though, are hoping to keep Njoku as a prominent piece of the offense.

    "[General manager] Andrew Berry is not going to give him away," Cleveland.com's Mary Kay Cabot told The Ken Carman Show on 92.3 The Fan. "There is just no way. They've wanted him to be an integral part of this offense now and for years to come, and someone is gonna have to pay a pretty penny."

    As a complementary piece alongside Hooper, Njoku could be very valuable. He caught 56 passes for 639 yards and four touchdowns just two seasons ago.

    Cleveland, though. has to decide if holding on to Njoku is worth the potential headache of an unhappy player. In this case, it probably is.

    If the Browns truly envision Njoku as a key piece of the offense, then it makes no sense to deal him for pennies on the dollar. They should instead try getting him into camp and showing him his value to the team—and why earning a lucrative second contract is possible.

Dallas Cowboys: How Badly Does Dallas Want to Extend Dak Prescott?

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    Cowboys QB Dak Prescott
    Cowboys QB Dak PrescottRon Jenkins/Associated Press

    The Dallas Cowboys don't have to worry about losing quarterback Dak Prescott this season because he has already signed his franchise tender. However, they are running out of time to get a long-term deal done before next offseason.

    The Cowboys have to determine how eager they are to get a deal done—and from the sound of things, they're comfortable slow-playing the situation.

    "I'm told the Cowboys are not worried right now. They're going to play this all the way up to the deadline and they're hopeful that Dak Prescott will take their latest, best offer," ESPN's Jeremy Fowler said on SportsCenter (h/t Chiari).

    Dallas should be more than "hopeful" it gets a deal done; it should be actively working to make it happen. If Prescott plays on the franchise tag this season, he might decide he's fine doing so again in 2021—with a 20 percent raise. This is the approach Kirk Cousins took with Washington before getting his free-agency payday in Year 3 of the saga.

    The recent $450 million extension Patrick Mahomes signed may complicate matters a bit—Dallas surely isn't interested in giving Prescott that sort of money—but it serves as an example of why the Cowboys need to get a deal done now. The longer they wait to sign Prescott, the higher the market value will be.

    The Cowboys should lock up their franchise quarterback now. While Prescott may not yet be elite, he is one of the top young signal-callers in the game and won't be easy to replace.

Denver Broncos: How Will Denver Utilize Its Running Backs?

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    Broncos RB Melvin Gordon III
    Broncos RB Melvin Gordon IIIKelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    The Denver Broncos decided to scoop up running back Melvin Gordon III this offseason on a two-year, $16 million deal. While it's usually not a bad thing to add a two-time Pro Bowler to your backfield, it leaves Denver with a tricky situation.

    How will the Broncos find touches for all its running backs? Along with Gordon, they have Phillip Lindsay, a two-time 1,000-yard rusher, and 2018 third-round pick Royce Freeman.

    "There can only be, there's a No. 1 guy and a No. 2 guy—it is what it is. I'm gonna go work and get mine," Gordon said, per Grant Gordon of NFL.com.

    Complicating matters is the fact that Denver has a budding young quarterback in Drew Lock and a promising receiving corps—featuring the likes of Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, KJ Hamler and Noah Fant. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur may not be interested in a run-heavy offense.

    Sorting out roles in the backfield will be a challenge during camp, but Denver should have a plan in place before then. Given the shortened offseason and two-game preseason, simply letting the chips fall isn't the best course of action.

    Realistically, the Broncos will keep Lindsay in his starter's role while utilizing Gordon's receiving skills in change-of-pace situations and keeping Freeman as a depth option. Of course, placating egos could be a challenge, which is why having clear and defined roles at the start of camp would be ideal.

Detroit Lions: How Quickly Should the Offense Commit to D'Andre Swift?

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    Lions RB D'Andre Swift
    Lions RB D'Andre SwiftMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    The Detroit Lions have seen some glimpses of special talent from running back Kerryon Johnson in his two NFL seasons. The Auburn product has averaged 4.5 yards per carry and has caught 45 passes as a pro. However, he has also missed 14 games because of injury.

    The Lions need to figure out if Johnson can still be a prominent piece of the ground attack or if it's already time to turn the keys over to rookie second-rounder D'Andre Swift. Swift, for his part, is eager to earn the starting job.

    "I'm ready to take it on full force," he said of a possible running back competition, per Evan Petzold of the Detroit Free Press.

    The advantage Johnson brings is his knowledge of the Lions offense and his experience against pro defenders. However, running backs have traditionally had an easier time than players at other positions making the jump to the NFL, and Swift is a proven workhorse.

    Last season, he amassed 1,049 rushing yards, 297 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns for Georgia.

    It makes sense for the Lions to enter camp with an open mindset at running back but to give Swift every opportunity to win the starting job and the bulk of the in-season workload. While Johnson can be a terrific fallback option if Swift isn't ready, he's also already shown Detroit that it cannot rely on him to stay healthy for a full 16-game stretch.

Green Bay Packers: Is Aaron Rodgers Still the Centerpiece of the Offense?

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    Packers QB Aaron Rodgers
    Packers QB Aaron RodgersMatt York/Associated Press

    The Green Bay Packers have a first-ballot Hall of Famer in quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and he's still playing at an elite level. Building around any other player offensively wouldn't make a ton of sense, though that doesn't mean the Packers still want to build around Rodgers.

    Based on Green Bay's draft class, the Packers are more interested in preparing for life after Rodgers while building more of a run-oriented offense for head coach Matt LaFleur. The Packers took quarterback Jordan Love in Round 1 and used their next two picks on running back AJ Dillon and H-back Josiah Deguara.

    The Packers largely ignored the receiver position aside from adding possession man Devin Funchess in free agency.

    It would seem the Packers are preparing to have the sort of run-first and run-heavy offense that LaFleur ran with the Titans in 2018. Green Bay needs to determine if it is willing to commit to that approach or if this is still Rodgers' offense.

    Preferably, the Packers will strike a balance between running the ball—with Dillon, Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams—and allowing Rodgers to make magic through the air.

    For too long Rodgers has been asked to carry the offense in Green Bay. While putting an end to this trend should be a goal, asking Rodgers to be a game-manager would be leaning too far in the opposite direction.

Houston Texans: Who Replaces DeAndre Hopkins in the Offense?

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    Texans WR Will Fuller
    Texans WR Will FullerEric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    Let's be real: No one is outright replacing DeAndre Hopkins in the Houston Texans offense. Hopkins is a unique wideout and one of the more reliable pass-catchers in the game. However, somebody is going to have to emerge as Deshaun Watson's new No. 1 target.

    The problem is Houston's collection of receivers—including Brandin Cooks, Randall Cobb and the returning Will Fuller and Kenny Stills—is loaded with complementary guys and not a true No. 1 type.

    Fuller has the benefit of entering year four with Watson, but he has also struggled to stay on the field and has played in just 41 games.

    Cooks also missed six games in 2019, and he's now on his fourth team in five years. However, he's probably the closest thing Houston has to a No. 1 receiver. He doesn't fit the mold physically, but he produced 1,000-yard campaigns in four of the past five seasons.

    Given his production, it makes sense to give Cooks the first crack at being the new No. 1 in Houston. However, the Texans will need to be flexible and allow Watson to determine his new favorite target for himself.

Indianapolis Colts: How Does Jonathan Taylor Fit into the Offense?

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    Colts RB Jonathan Taylor
    Colts RB Jonathan TaylorMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    The Indianapolis Colts used a second-round pick on Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor, giving themselves a talented young runner for the future. However, adding Taylor also brings up a challenging question for the Colts in 2020.

    Where does he fit?

    The Colts already had a talented backfield that included Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins. Mack is coming off a 1,091-yard rushing season, and Hines is a shifty, versatile receiving back and change-of-pace complement. Wilkins, who averaged 6.0 yards per carry in 2019, is a fantastic bit of depth.

    Taylor, meanwhile, is a bruising early-down runner who will fill a role similar to Mack's. Indianapolis will either have to find a running balance between the two, confine Taylor to the bench as a rookie or possibly trade Mack.

    The third option might be the most profitable for the Colts. Indianapolis should be able to get something of value from a running back-needy team in trade for Mack while also opening the door for Taylor to contribute early.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Trade or Keep Yannick Ngakoue?

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    Jaguars DE Yannick Ngakoue
    Jaguars DE Yannick NgakoueMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    As previously mentioned, Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue could be a potential trade target for other teams, though Jacksonville would first have to agree to deal the talented 25-year-old. In a vacuum, doing so wouldn't make sense, as Ngakoue is one of the best young players on the team.

    He has produced at least eight sacks in each of his four pro seasons and has 37.5 to go with 122 tackles and two interceptions.

    The problem is he isn't happy about being given the franchise tag and has publicly asked to be traded.

    "It's obvious my time is up in my current situation," he tweeted. "Let's both move on."

    With just days to go before the July 15 deadline, Jacksonville needs to decide if it can somehow satisfy Ngakoue with a long-term deal or whether to trade him. Keeping him on the franchise tag is also a possibility, though it invites the distinct possibility of a holdout.

    Realistically, dealing Ngakoue is probably the way to go. He doesn't appear interested in being with the Jaguars long term, and Jacksonville would not benefit at all if he holds out. Even if Ngakoue eventually shows up and plays part of the season, the Jaguars could lose him next offseason while getting nothing in return except possibly a compensatory pick.

    By trading Ngakoue now, the Jaguars could recoup some value while also eliminating a big potential headache for 2020.

Kansas City Chiefs: How Do the Chiefs Get Chris Jones Under Contract?

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    Chiefs DT Chris Jones
    Chiefs DT Chris JonesSteve Luciano/Associated Press

    Defensive tackle Chris Jones is arguably the most essential member of the Chiefs defense. However, he has also threatened to hold out if not given a sizeable contract extension.

    He recently responded on Twitter to speculation that a deal short of $20 million per season might not be enough.

    "Or I won't play," he tweeted.

    The Chiefs need to get Jones under contract for the foreseeable future, as he is capable of playing tackle or end and can completely wreck opposing game plans. The good news is that Kansas City and Jones are engaged in negotiations, according to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler.

    This isn't a question of if the Chefs should extend him, but a question of how. The recent $450 million extension signed by quarterback Patrick Mahomes could provide a blueprint.

    The most Mahomes will make over the next three seasons is $31.45 million in 2022. This means Kansas City should have a three-year window during which it can realistically afford Jones in that $20 million-per-year range.

    A three-year extension or a deal front-loaded for those first three years could create a desirable situation for both the Chiefs and for Jones.

Las Vegas Raiders: Does the Defense Have an Adequate Pass Rush?

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    Raiders Edge Clelin Ferrell
    Raiders Edge Clelin FerrellKelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    Last season, the Las Vegas Raiders amassed just 32 sacks as a team, with 10 of those coming from rookie Maxx Crosby. Fellow rookie and fourth overall draft pick Clelin Ferrell was responsible for a disappointing 4.5 sacks alongside him.

    Las Vegas did little to address the pass rush this offseason, though, aside from signing Carl Nassib, who had 6.0 sacks for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season. That move is not likely to dramatically improve the pass rush.

    The Raiders much figure out whether Ferrell can make a significant year two jump. If he cannot, they need to seriously consider bringing in an external option like Jadeveon Clowney or Everson Griffen.

    According to Cecil Lammey of 104.3 The Fan, the Raiders have made Clowney an offer—albeit one that is lower than those made by "two or three other teams."

    Seeing as how the Raiders have roughly $8.7 million in cap space, a low offer isn't surprising. However, hoping that Nassib can have a dramatic impact or that Ferrell suddenly figures it out isn't an acceptable alternative. The Raiders should do what they need to do to create enough room to get a proven edge-rusher like Clowney under contract.

Los Angeles Chargers: What Is the Goal at Quarterback This Season?

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    Chargers QB Justin Herbert
    Chargers QB Justin HerbertAssociated Press

    The Los Angeles Chargers drafted Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert to be their quarterback of the future this past April. However, they have journeyman Tyrod Taylor on the roster, so Herbert isn't necessarily the quarterback of the present. 

    What the Chargers have to decide is whether this season is about trying to reach the playoffs or if it's about developing Herbert for the future—or potentially both.

    "We're preparing Justin to be ready to come in and compete from day one," quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton said, per Kevin Wade of 247Sports.

    Giving Herbert a fair shot at the starting gig might be the right move. He'll be around for the foreseeable future, whereas Taylor probably will not. However, it doesn't mean the rookie will give Los Angele the best chance to win early or to reach the playoffs.

    Taylor, who previously helped Buffalo end its long playoff drought, might be the better option if the postseason is the goal—especially if he's given a long leash and isn't simply viewed as a short-term stopgap until Herbert is ready.

    Ideally, the Chargers will find that Herbert gives them their best chance to be competitive—but they need to decide before camp jut how important being competitive is in 2020. The long-term picture should play a more important role for L.A., and developing Herbert is the right goal.

Los Angeles Rams: Who Gets the First Crack at the Starting RB Job?

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    Rams RB Cam Akers
    Rams RB Cam AkersMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    When the Rams released Todd Gurley earlier this offseason, it created a massive hole.

    While quarterback Jared Goff is the face of the franchise, much of the offense under Sean McVay has run through Gurley and his impact on play-action. If the Rams cannot find a viable successor, Goff will be asked to carry the offense for what will really be the first season of his career.

    Therefore, it's imperative the Rams identify a new workhorse back, and figuring out who gets the first shot at the job is a decision that needs to be made before camp.

    Longtime backup Malcolm Brown probably deserves the opportunity, and second-year man Darrell Henderson is in the mix. However, it makes the most sense for the Rams to see what they have in rookie second-rounder Cam Akers.

    The 5'10", 217-pound back racked up 1,144 rushing yards, 226 receiving yards and 18 total touchdowns for Florida State last season, and he appears best suited to be L.A.'s new starting ball-carrier. With Brown—and to a lesser extent, Hendersonthe Rams already know what they have.

Miami Dolphins: Should Tua Tagovailoa Get a Crack at the Starting Job?

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    Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa
    Dolphins QB Tua TagovailoaVasha Hunt/Associated Press

    Like the Chargers, the Miami Dolphins have to decide if they're willing to let their rookie quarterback compete for the starting job. Their reason for this difficult decision, however, is quite different. Miami, which went 5-11 last year, probably doesn't have the playoffs as a primary goal.

    Instead, keeping Tua Tagovailoa healthy for the long haul should be the team's No. 1 concern. He suffered a dislocated and fractured hip less than a year ago, and putting him under center with an underwhelming roster before he's ready could open him up to reinjury.

    There shouldn't be a rush to get Tagovailoa on the field, either, as Miami has journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick on its roster. Fitzpatrick is not an elite veteran, but he's a capable starter who can keep Tagovailoa on the sidelines and out of harm's way.

    But what if Tagovailoa appears ready to handle the speed and nuance of the pro game out of the gate?

    "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 Patriots on Sept. 13," Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman wrote in May.

    The Dolphins have to decide whether they'll give Tagovailoa a fair shot at the starting job if he does appear ready or whether they'll keep him in bubble wrap to start the season.

    While it would energize the fanbase to get Tagovailoa on the field early, his health has to take precedence.

Minnesota Vikings: To Extend or Not to Extend Dalvin Cook

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    Viking RB Dalvin Cook
    Viking RB Dalvin CookBrett Duke/Associated Press

    Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook is coming off a Pro Bowl season with more than 1,600 combined rushing and receiving yards. However, he has also reportedly threatened to hold out absent a new contract.

    "He's out," a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter. "Without a reasonable extension, he will not be showing up for camp or beyond."

    The Vikings need to decide if they're willing to risk a holdout from their most talented offensive player or if they'll give him the lucrative contract he's looking for.

    Keeping Cook happy and on the field should be the top priority here, but Minnesota needs to carefully weigh the definition of a "reasonable" extension. Overpaying for Cook or crafting a deal loaded with guarantees could be a huge mistake.

    While Cook is a special back when healthy, he's had trouble staying on the field. He missed all but four games as a rookie to a torn ACL and has missed 19 games in three seasons because of injury. The Vikings should work to grant Cook an extension he finds acceptable, but that deal needs to be an incentive-based one that won't financially haunt Minnesota if he again misses significant time.

New England Patriots: How Adaptable Will the Offense Be?

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    Patriots QB Cam Newton
    Patriots QB Cam NewtonBrian Blanco/Associated Press

    The New England Patriots plucked quarterback Cam Newton off the free-agent market in late June, and they may give him a chance to compete with Jarrett Stidham for the starting job.

    Some analysts believe that Newton already has the inside track.

    "Watching Cam Newton throw and move, there is no doubt he will win the starting job," Michael Lombardi of The Athletic and the GM Shuffle podcast tweeted.

    While it's obvious New England should allow the best man to win the job, the Patriots have to decide how willing they'll be to adapt their offense to each player's strengths. Will coordinator Josh McDaniels insist on running the same playbook with which Stidham became familiar last year, or could he break out some of the read-option stuff he ran with Tim Tebow in Denver? It's an important question because these are two very different players.

    McDaniels and Co. should be willing to adjust their playbook to fit Newton's dual-threat abilities when he's on the field. Even if New England only added Newton as a play to determine his health in camp, the Patriots owe it to themselves to see if he can be a high-end starter with their personnel.

    Newton is a three-time Pro Bowler and a 2015 league MVP, and the Patriots can have him at a maximum of $7.5 million this season and on the franchise tag next year if they so choose.

New Orleans Saints: What's the Backup Plan at Quarterback?

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    Saints QB Taysom Hill
    Saints QB Taysom HillBrett Duke/Associated Press

    The New Orleans Saints won the NFC South last season despite losing starting quarterback Drew Brees for a five-game stretch to injury. They survived it because of the stellar play of backup Teddy Bridgewater, who is now in Carolina.

    With luck, the Saints won't have to rely on a backup quarterback in 2020. However, Brees is 41 years old and far from a lock to make it through the season fully healthy.

    Therefore, the Saints need to determine who will start at quarterback if Brees goes down. Change-of-pace quarterback and potential successor Taysom Hill is one option. Offseason acquisition Jameis Winston is the other.

    Hill would be the logical choice if he's being groomed to be the quarterback of the future—and according to The Athletic's Jay Glazer, he is.

    "He's the guy," Glazer wrote in May. "Sean Payton loves him, but it's not just him. The whole team loves him."

    However, Hill hasn't started a game since his 2016 season with Brigham Young. Winston has started 70 games in his NFL career. It makes the most sense to keep Hill in the gadget role while allowing Winston to be the more traditional backup as Bridgewater was a season ago.

New York Giants: How Quickly Can Andrew Thomas Replace Nate Solder?

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    Giants OT Andrew Thomas
    Giants OT Andrew ThomasCharlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    The New York Giants used the fourth overall pick in April's draft on Georgia offensive tackle Andrew Thomas. Presumably, he will be the team's future anchor at left tackle. However, the Giants need to determine just how quickly they can get him there.

    Entering camp, Thomas will likely be penciled in at right tackle while 2018 acquisition Nate Solder continues to man the left tackle spot. Ideally, though, Thomas will be given every opportunity to take Solder's spot, forcing the veteran to the right side or behind Cameron Fleming on the depth chart.

    Solder has started for New York over the past two seasons, but to call him reliable would be disingenuous.

    Last season, for example, Solder was responsible for five penalties and for allowing 11 sacks, according to Pro Football Focus.

    If the Giants believe that Thomas can improve Daniel Jones' protection on the left side, they need to make the switch early. Jones had a major fumbling issue as a rookie—18 times in 13 games, losing 11 of them—and could be a huge liability if consistently under pressure.

    The lack of a true offseason to this point makes it difficult for the Giants to know how NFL-ready Thomas will be in camp, but they should already be settling on a time frame to get him into the lineup at left tackle.

New York Jets: How Reliant on Rookie Will the Jets Be?

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

    Like the Giants, the New York Jets could rely on a rookie offensive tackle early in 2020. They could also rely heavily on a rookie wide receiver after drafting Louisville tackle Mekhi Becton and Baylor wideout Denzel Mims in the first and second rounds, respectively.

    However, the Jets have to figure out just how comfortable they are with turning over two key roles to first-year players. This is a huge season for third-year quarterback Sam Darnold, and if his left tackle and potential No. 1 receiver flounder, so could he.

    The problem is the Jets don't have many alternatives. 2019 starting tackle Kelvin Beachum remains unsigned, and the receiver room is filled with complementary guys like Breshad Perriman, Jamison Crowder and Josh Doctson.

    While the in-house alternatives aren't ideal, New York should not be too quick to give its prolific rookies a starting nod. Doing so could be particularly problematic for the underdeveloped Becton, who is not a prime pass-protector.

    "The Louisville offense featured a lot of play-action passes and screens in 2019, which in turn restricted Becton to only 73 true pass sets (i.e. standard quarterback dropbacks)," Anthony Treash of Pro Football Focus wrote. "On those 73 true pass sets, Becton allowed eight pressures, which is a concerning rate."

    Giving Becton and Mims chances at prominent roles is fair, but the Jets should also keep external options—like bringing back Beachum—wide-open. Forcing guys into the lineup because of their draft statuses would be a mistake.

Philadelphia Eagles: What Is the Right Role for Jalen Hurts?

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

    The Philadelphia Eagles used a second-round pick on Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts this past April despite having Carson Wentz under contract through 2024. While Hurts isn't a threat to take Wentz's starting gig, he wasn't brought in to strictly be a backup, either. The Eagles plan to use the Heisman finalist as a change-of-pace option and gadget player.

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

    The Eagles have to determine how to best utilize Hurts without negatively impacting offensive chemistry. While switching between Hurts and Wentz could keep opposing defense off-balance, it could also keep Philadelphia's offense out of rhythm.

    Philadelphia should look to create packages that allow Hurts to stay on the field for multiple plays at a time or even for entire series. This would allow the offense to maintain momentum while keeping Wentz on the sideline. Otherwise, a dual-quarterback formation should be implemented.

    The oft-injured Wentz should not be splitting out wide to accommodate Hurts under center.

    The last thing the Eagles can afford to do is open Wentz up to further injury, even if Hurts is there to provide insurance.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Can Rudolph And/or Hodges Take Pittsburgh to the Playoffs?

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    Steelers QB Mason Rudolph
    Steelers QB Mason RudolphSeth Wenig/Associated Press

    Though they featured the league's fifth-ranked defense in 2019—both in points and yards allowed—the Pittsburgh Steelers couldn't get into the postseason. That was largely because the tandem of Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges at quarterback wasn't enough.

    The Steelers have to decide if they believe Rudolph and Hodges can be better in 2020. If not, they need to seek additional depth at the position behind Ben Roethlisberger.

    Ideally, Roethlisberger will return from his 2019 elbow injury and play at a Pro Bowl level. Ideally, another quarterback won't have to take a snap before the fourth quarter during the regular season. However, the reality is that Roethlisberger is a 38-year-old guy coming off elbow surgery who wasn't playing well before he was injured last season.

    He completed 35 of 62 passes for 351 yards and an interception in two games last season.

    Pittsburgh must be prepared for the possibility that Roethlisberger never again plays at a Pro Bowl level, and that means putting an insurance plan in place. That plan shouldn't be solely dependent on Rudolph and/or Hodges, as they've already proved they cannot lead Pittsburgh to the playoffs.

    The Steelers should consider external options like Colin Kaepernick, Drew Stanton, Blake Bortles and possible trade target and Dolphins third-stringer Josh Rosen.

San Francisco 49ers: Should the 49ers Wait on a George Kittle Extension?

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    49ers TE George Kittle
    49ers TE George KittleMatt York/Associated Press

    The San Francisco 49ers have arguably the game's top tight end in George Kittle. While he is under contract through this season, he's also eligible for a new deal, and this gives the 49ers a tough decision to make.

    Should San Francisco grant Kittle an extension now or wait until he approaches free agency next offseason?

    This isn't an issue largely relevant to the coming season, as Kittle has indicated he plans to play in 2020 regardless of his contract status.

    "Being a captain, I want to be there for my team, and I need to show the right leadership skills," he said during a conference call.

    While the 49ers don't have to give Kittle a new deal now, it would behoove them to do so. Extending him now would allow San Francisco to avoid having to use the franchise tag and potentially engaging in a contract standoff next offseason.

Seattle Seahawks: Can Jadeveon Clowney Be Brought Back?

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    Free agent Edge Jadeveon Clowney
    Free agent Edge Jadeveon ClowneyChris Szagola/Associated Press

    Last season, the Seattle Seahawks produced a paltry 28 sacks as a team. Yet they haven't done a lot to address the pass rush this offseason, aside from drafting Tennessee edge-rusher Darrell Taylor in the second round and bringing back 32-year-old former Seahawks Bruce Irvin.

    Irvin and Taylor are largely just replacements for Ezekiel Ansah and Jadeveon Clowney, though.

    Bringing back Clowney and adding him to the new-look pass rush would be a smart move at the right price. Clowney had a down season in 2019, but a sports hernia that required surgery may have been responsible. He's a Pro Bowl edge-defender when healthy, and he would help upgrade the pass rush over what is currently on the roster.

    However, price could be an issue, as the Seahawks have less than $14 million remaining in cap space.

    Between now and camp, Seattle needs to figure out if it wants to bring back Clowney and how to best fit a deal under the cap. Fortunately, the fact that Clowney remains unsigned could push his value down.

    According to Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times, "The odds [are] likely increasing he plays another year in Seattle with every other option that falls through."

    The Seahawks should work to bring back Clowney because an underwhelming pass rush could be a massive hindrance to the team's title hopes.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Is Shaquil Barrett a Defensive End or a Linebacker?

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    Buccaneers Edge Shaquil Barrett
    Buccaneers Edge Shaquil BarrettAssociated Press

    On the surface, it doesn't matter if Shaquil Barrett is a linebacker or a defensive end. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' standout is an edge-defender—and he was the most productive one in the league last season with 19.5 sacks.

    In terms of franchise-tag value, however, the distinction is significant. According to NFL Media's Albert Breer, the tag value for a defensive end in 2020 is roughly $17.8 million, while the value for a linebacker is nearly $2 million less.

    The Buccaneers have tagged Barrett as a linebacker, and while he has signed his franchise tender, he has also filed a grievance with the NFLPA to be tagged as a defensive end, according to Adam Schefter.

    Tampa needs to decide if opposing the grievance is really worth potentially saving $2 million. Yes, that's a sizeable chunk of change, even for an NFL franchise, but if the Buccaneers alienate Barrett, they'll risk pushing him away next offseason.

    The Buccaneers need to make the most of their short window with Tom Brady under center, so keeping a player like Barrett happy and on the field should be a priority. Therefore, changing Barrett's tag designation to defensive end before the deadline would be the smart move.

Tennessee Titans: To Extend or Not to Extend Derrick Henry?

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    Titans RB Derrick Henry
    Titans RB Derrick HenryEric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    Will the Titans extend running back Derrick Henry or allow him to play on the franchise tag in 2020?

    He has given no indication that he won't play on the tag; however, it could have lasting implications beyond this season. The Titans' best chance of keeping him long term will be extending him before the July 15 deadline.

    Henry has already logged 804 regular-season carries in his NFL career and will almost certainly top 1,000 runs by the end of this season. There might not be enough tread on the proverbial tires after this season to justify a hefty long-term contract.

    Henry told the Rich Eisen Show back in January that Ezekiel Elliott's six-year, $90 million deal was "the floor" for his desired new contract.

    While it represents the colder side of NFL business to say it, the Titans would be foolish to overpay at the game's more expendable position. Letting Henry play on the tag is the right move for Tennessee.

Washington: Will There Be an Open Quarterback Competition?

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    Washington QB Dwayne Haskins
    Washington QB Dwayne HaskinsAlex Brandon/Associated Press

    Last year, Washington used a first-round pick on quarterback Dwayne Haskins. This offseason, former Panthers head coach Ron Rivers took the same role in Washington and brought with him his former quarterbacks coach, Scott Turner, as offensive coordinator.

    Shortly after hiring Rivera, Washington traded for Carolina quarterback Kyle Allen. 

    Before camp, Washington needs to decide whether it will be full speed ahead with Haskins or if Allen will be given a crack at the starting job. Continuing to develop the 2019 first-round pick seems obvious, but Allen will have more knowledge of Turner's offense and potentially could give the team a better chance to win early.

    "If we were told, 'Hey, you've got two weeks to go,' I would feel very comfortable with Kyle," Rivera said, per Jenny Vrentas of SI.com.

    This is a tough situation because if Allen wins the starting job, it could hurt Haskins' development and his confidence—and Washington needs to find out if Haskins can be a potential franchise quarterback.

    While blindly giving Haskins the job could be a mistake, Washington should only go with Allen as a last resort.

        

    All contract and cap information via Spotrac.