The NFL offseason is not created equal for the league’s 32 teams. Some squads have a whole bunch of money to spend and even more roster spots to fill with talented players.
Others will largely avoid free agency due to both cap restraints and their own front office philosophy. They can do this simply because of the success these teams have seen.
On the other hand, there’s a ton of teams out there who must ace their offseason. From an Oakland Raiders team that’s gone all in for the 2019 NFL Draft to a Philadelphia Eagles squad coming off a disappointing season, we check in on 10 of those teams below.
Head coach and de facto general manager Jon Gruden pretty much put all of his cards in the deck that is the 2019 NFL offseason. It will define the Raiders long after they relocate to Vegas in 2020. It started with the team acquiring multiple first-round picks for Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper. And as this past regular season played out, it became apparent that the Raiders were looking towards the future.
Not only does Oakland need to ace the 2019 NFL Draft with both immediate production players and long-term answers, it needs to hit free agency hard. The Raiders are nearly $70 million under the cap and can save another $20-plus million by releasing under-performing veterans such as A.J. McCarron. The time is now for Gruden to make his imprint on the Raiders’ roster.
Green Bay Packers
Newish Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst made it clear last offseason that he was going to go away from Ted Thompson’s MO of largely avoiding free agency. It’s in this that he added Mo Wilkerson, Jimmy Graham and Tramon Williams. While Williams is the only one that paid off, it’s a sign of new things at Lambeau. Coming off a disastrous 2018 campaign that saw Mike McCarthy fired, this must continue in March and moving forward.
Green Bay has already fallen behind the likes of Minnesota and Chicago in the NFC North. The team needs to find upgrades along the offensive line, from a pass-rush perspective and at linebacker. It should also move on from longtime edge rusher Clay Matthews. The good news here is that Green Bay is $34-plus million under the cap. The bad news? It doesn’t have much wriggle room to get further under the cap and be big time players in free agency.
These Jaguars were a few points from earning a Super Bowl trip back in 2017. Unfortunately, things just went awry this past season. Making the unfortunate decision of relying on Blake Bortles, the Jaguars’ offense was a disaster during a five-win 2018 campaign. The defense also took a step back — Jalen Ramsey making more news off the field than on it. Now that the Jaguars have decided to move on from Bortles, this offseason is going to be a make-or-break one for Tom Coughlin and Co.
It’s going to start with finding a quarterback to replace Bortles. Picking seventh overall, either Kyler Murray or Dwayne Haskins could be there. Though, the Jags might have to trade up to secure one of the top two quarterback prospects. With that said, it’s all about finding a stopgap option under center. How much would either Nick Foles or Eli Manning move the needle? That’s the question Tom Coughlin needs to be asking himself.
Matt Patricia’s first season with the Lions certainly didn’t go according to plan. After excelling under then-offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter in 2017, Matthew Stafford struggled big time in 2018. Meanwhile, the Lions’ defense took a major step back during what was ultimately a disappointing six-win season. Things must change, and change quick in the Motor City.
Defensive end Ezekiel Ansah is the Lions’ only big-time free agent. He’s unlikely to be back after being handed the franchise tag last season. It’s good news in that Detroit has $35-plus million in cap room after releasing veteran safety Glover Quin. The onus is certainly on general manager Bob Quinn this offseason.
Fresh off their best season in a decade, the Browns are certainly going to be under a microscope this spring. That was made evident by the questionable signing of Kareem Hunt. How general manager John Dorsey and Co. attack this offseason will tell us a lot about both the MO of the front office and the future of the Browns as a whole.
There’s certainly a lot to like here. Unlike previous years, the Browns might be a hot free-agent destination. The team has nearly $80 million in cap room and could create another $18-plus million by releasing Jamie Collins and Damarious Randall. This gives Dorsey a whole lot of capital to work with in an attempt to address key positions. How that plays out will dictate whether these Browns are legit AFC North contenders next season.
It’s rather obvious that the Eagles took a step back this past season. Injuries certainly played a role here — namely to franchise quarterback Carson Wentz. Even then, Nick Foles did well in his stead after earning the Super Bowl MVP the previous season. The issue here is depth and talent across the board. Can the Eagles find a true three-down running back? What about their issue in the secondary? Equally as important, multiple key defenders are set to hit free agency.
Philadelphia will likely look for a sign-and-trade in regards to the Foles’ situation. That should give them at least on extra mid-round pick to work with. Though, the free agent status of Brandon Graham, Golden Tate, Ronald Darby and Jordan Hicks is troublesome. As it is, general manager Howie Roseman and Co. are currently over the cap. They’ll have to cut fat in order to even be able to retain their core players, let alone hit free agency hard.
The first shoe dropped in the NFL offseason when John Elway and Co. shockingly traded for former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco. It’s the latest example of Mr. Elway attempting to correct a quarterback position that has failed the Broncos since Peyton Manning’s retirement. With Flacco aboard, it’s going to be interesting to see how the remainder of the offseason plays out for a Broncos team that won just six games in 2018.
There’s some good news on this front. Denver is almost $20 million under the cap. It will save a nice chunk once Case Keenum is traded or released. After that, the status of Derek Wolfe, Emmanuel Sanders and Ronald Leary comes into play. For his part, Sanders sent out a cryptic tweet about his future in Mile High. As it is, Elway will have a nice chunk of money to work with. He’ll need to ace free agency and the draft for these Broncos to become relevant once again. It’s that simple.
San Francisco 49ers
We can hand mulligans to the general manager/head coach combo of John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan over their first two seasons in San Francisco. They pretty much took over an expansion roster in 2017 — leading the team to a surprising six wins. This past season saw Jimmy Garoppolo and Jerick McKinnon go down to season-ending injury before Week 3 concluded. Even then, 10 wins in two seasons is absolutely not going to cut it.
There’s definitely good news on this front. San Francisco could very well add Antonio Brown in a trade here soon. That would be a boon for Garoppolo and Co. moving forward. The 49ers are also $76-plus million under the cap — a number that could reach $90 million before free agency. It’s in this that Lynch must add multiple long-term options in free agency. Let’s not even talk about San Francisco boasting the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. That selection needs to net a perennial Pro Bowler. Period.
New England Patriots
It seems pretty ridiculous on the surface. A team that’s earned six Super Bowl titles in the past two decades needing to ace the offseason. But that’s certainly the case in the NFL of parity. There’s a lot of moving parts for these Patriots heading into free agency. How things develop will tell us whether they are legit contenders to repeat as champions next season.
After losing the likes of Malcolm Butler, Nate Solder and Dion Lewis in free agency last March, multiple Patriots starters are set to hit the open market next month. That list includes stud left tackle Trent Brown, defensive lineman Malcom Brown, wide receiver Chris Hogan and defensive end Trey Flowers. Not one to overspend to retain their own free agents, the Patriots are stuck between a rock and a hard place. That’s magnified by the fact that New England is currently less than $15 million under the cap.
New York Giants
It’s about the quarterback position, stupid. Even if Eli Manning were to come back for another season in New York, the Giants must find their long-term signal caller in the 2019 NFL Draft. We disagree with the notion that selecting Saquon Barkley over Sam Darnold in the 2018 NFL Draft was a mistake. But now, it’s time for the Giants to move forward with that franchise guy.
While it might start at quarterback, general manager Dave Gettleman needs to hit a home run in free agency. Currently $27 million under the cap, said activity in free agency could be dependent on New York cutting some of the fat off its under-performing roster. Even then, it will be interesting to see if any top-end free agents want to join this sinking ship.