Unfortunately for fans around the world the 100th season of the NFL has come to an end and what a season it was. It’s now time for a pivotal offseason.
The AFC representative in the league’s final showdown was the Kansas City Chiefs who went on to defeat the San Francisco 49ers in a climactic showdown in Miami. Now is the time for all teams to have a look at their rosters and the cap space available to them and work out what steps they need to take in order to be the team competing for that Lombardi Trophy.
The quality of the NFL is that with the draft it gives every team a chance to go from zero to hero in a season and here is one key ingredient for each team to allow them to take that step.
After being the best team in the league for 17 weeks the Ravens eventually stumbled to the Tennessee Titans in a game where their weakness was unveiled to the world.
Derrick Henry ran all over the Ravens, and their inability to get into the backfield to either pressure the quarterback or stop the run is exactly what stopped them from progressing to the AFC Championship game.
The Ravens could take notes from their divisional rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers and look to get their hands on premier pass rushers. They have plenty of cap space to work with and with players like Calais Campbell, Jadeveon Clowney and even divisional rival Bud Dupree potentially up for grabs this off-season there is plenty of potential game changing players that the Ravens could secure.
Dupree had a career year in the black and gold last year but with the Steelers struggling to free up cap space the Ravens could swoop in and get themselves an edge rusher who showed off his ability to get into the back field and disrupt plays all season long. With Marlon Humphries roaming the secondary ready to pick off pressured quarterbacks this should be the first move the Ravens front office makes this off-season.
Finishing with the worst record in the league has its benefits for the Bengals in that they get Joe Burrow from LSU.
Burrow tore it up in his final year in college and not only secured the Heisman Trophy but led his LSU Tigers to an undefeated season culminating in a championship victory over the Clemson Tigers.
I’m not going to waste time here by simply stating that Burrow is the Bengals’ biggest need this year because it’s pretty obvious they will take him but instead I will look at perhaps a more important area the Bengal’s need to sort.
If the Bengals management team wants to get the best out of Burrow then they need to transform the league’s worst offensive line into one of the best. Luckily this has been done before by the Denver Broncos and Tennessee Titans to name a few.
The Bengals need to use their cap space to get protection for Joe Burrow to go to work and utilise some of the weapons that the Bengals have. Whether it’s AJ Green, Tyler Boyd or Joe Mixon (if he gets a contract sorted) no matter who it is they need time to operate. The Bengals should spend big on their offensive line to give their new franchise quarterback the best possible chance to succeed in what is a difficult division.
Whenever I try to write about the Browns I never know where to start.
They have stacked their team full of stars on both sides of the ball yet somehow they still manage to blow it in typical Browns fashion and finish the season with yet another losing record.
At the start of 2019 the Browns were fairly confident with their safeties. Damarious Randall had a great season in 2018 and would have been expected to have a great year in 2019 with it being a contract year. To go along with Randall the Browns added Morgan Burnett who was partnered with Dorsey and Randall in Green Bay.
Burnett had a poor season in Pittsburgh the season before but that would be due to the deep safety role they had him in. A role the Browns wouldn’t use him in.
Along with Burnett and Randall the Browns had Jermaine Whitehead who was playing like a hybrid nickel role. Randall turned out to be a guy who missed more tackles than made plays, Burnett could do a job but is getting on a bit. As for Whitehead, well threatening someone on twitter tends to get you released and it was no different for him. Browns should use free agency on a safety but they might also want to add two safeties and use an early draft pick on one.
I’m not really sure where to start with the Steelers main need for the 2020 Season.
Personally there are a few there for me that need to be addressed: The quarterback position, a running back less prone to injury, Bud Dupree’s contract and the issues with the offensive coordinator.
Weapons on offence is the key for me here.
If Roethlisberger does come back from his elbow injury (and everyone expects him to) then he is going to need weapons around him. Since Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown departed the offence has been struggling.
James Conner had a great first year as the starter but he waned dramatically last year.
Yes, some of that can be blamed on injury but the Steelers are in a golden period right now with that defense and are primed to make a run at the title if they can get enough points on the board.
Ju-Ju Smith Schuster, again battling injury had a terrible year and is yet to show whether or not he can handle being the main guy. Behind Schuster and Conner it’s all rookies. Dionte Johnson looked good last year and Snell stepped in when needed but neither are game changers yet. The Steelers have at best two years with Big Ben and if they want another Super Bowl anytime soon the offence needs looking at.
They nearly did it this year in Buffalo, they nearly dethroned the New England Patriots.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite to be and the Bills had to settle on second place and missing out on the postseason again.
Cole Beasley and John Brown both performed well for the Bills last year but neither are who you think off when you picture a number one receiver. With over 80 million dollars projected to be available in cap space the Bills should go out and get a big-name receiver like AJ Green or Amari Cooper and give Josh Allen a true number one receiver to throw to.
In the 2019 season it seemed like Miami gave up as early as week two when they traded Minkah Fitzpatrick to the Steelers for their first round draft pick.
Now though. as we approach the draft and free agency, the Miami Dolphins are in prime position to have a huge rebuild.
The biggest need for the Dolphins this off-season is to make wise decisions with all their draft capital and huge amount of money they have available. With 12 picks and probably a further two coming from compensatory picks the Dolphins are loaded in the draft and can rebuild one entire side of the ball. Three picks alone in the first round could turn this team into a challenger. With the fifth overall pick the Dolphins are likely to take Tua Tagovailoa and as long as his injury doesn’t cause any issues he may well be the most talented quarterback to come out of college for a long time. With further picks at 18 and 26 the Dolphins are likely to go the way off K’Lavon Chaisson (Edge from LSU) and Shaun Wade (cornerback from Ohio State) if available.
With Tua transforming the offence and Chaisson coming off the edge pressuring quarterbacks to throw towards a secondary with Wade and Xavien Howard roaming about the Dolphins might actually win a few.
On top of all the draft picks the Dolphins have also worked at cutting players to free up cap space and are now projected to have over $115 million to play with. With that amount of money and draft picks the Dolphins are in position to build a dream team as long as they use their options wisely. Who knows, why not spend big and get Tom Brady to come in for a year or two and mentor Tua.
Joking aside the Dolphins have wads of cash and can be aggressive in free agency.
New England Patriots
All the talk around Foxborough just now is whether or not the G.O.A.T Tom Brady returns and suits up for the Patriots in 2020.
Whether or not he does this the Patriots still have a dire need to find a new quarterback for the future.
They will need to look through free agency and the draft either this year or next depending on the decision of Brady as the current back-up Jarrett Stidham is unlikely to be who Belichick hands the reins to.
That’s not to say that they don’t bring in a veteran to mentor Stidham whilst still keeping them competitive in the short term. There are a few who may be available including Phillip Rivers, Cam Newton and maybe even Derek Carr and Dak Prescott. Granted some of these might not be available but with the recent news of Drew Brees signing on again with the Saints that leaves Teddy Bridgewater free to look elsewhere.
Bridgewater took over during the 2019 season when Brees went out injured and performed admirably. Bridgewater could be the quarterback for the next few years in New England and it wouldn’t break the bank to get him. Or why not go for the man who broke Patriots hearts in the 2018 Super Bowl and sign Nick Foles, who is likely to be out of a job in Jacksonville. No matter what happens in the coming months with Brady the Patriots have to be looking for a new quarterback.
The Jets have over 53 million to spend in cap space and currently have seven draft picks.
They have a young quarterback who is capable of leading a team as long he isn’t seeing ghosts and they have the highest paid running back in the league with Le’Veon Bell.
What they don’t have however is a strong offensive line to protect the young quarterback and give the patient Bell time to find the gap. It has been 14 years since the Jets used a first or second round pick on an offensive lineman but that will change this year. The Jets offensive line ranked 28th out of 32 teams according to PFF due to the fact that they averaged 0.7 yards before contact on the run and they gave the quarterback 2.5 seconds or less to pass.
Some players the Jets may be looking at are Tristin Wirfs, Jedrick Wills and Andrew Thomas.
All three are offensive tackles that would help secure the edge and give both Sam Darnold and Bell time to operate. Bell was wasted last year and as much as the drama around him and Gase seems to be continuing the Jets will want to make it worth Bell as when he has a strong offensive line he can change a game.
Despite making it all the way to the postseason, the Texans’ most obvious struggle last year was their inability to stop anyone’s passing game.
This was highlighted even more in the loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Championship game. The Texans finished the season with the fourth worst record in terms of passing defence. Not only that they ranked sixth worst in sacks and near the bottom in terms of quarterback pressure.
With JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus the Texans have two elite edge defenders who have dominated quarterbacks over the years. However, these two are getting old and the Texans can’t rely on Mr Houston JJ Watt anymore.
With their $65 million in cap capital and the upcoming draft look for the Texans to bolster the defensive and specifically their pass rushers.
One notable free agent is former Texan Jadeveon Clowney. I doubt he would come back as he has made it clear he wants to go to a team that is in a position to win now but with others added to the defence along with Clowney then the Texans may be in a position to go on a Super Bowl run.
Like a few teams this year the quarterback position for the Colts is one that could be up for grabs.
When Andrew Luck retired the Colts leaned on Jacoby Brissett to be their man and he started off well. He did tail off towards the end of season and with no real competition for him as the starter there was no one to keep him playing like he was worried about losing his starters place.
I know I know he should be playing to a high level all the time since he is a starter in the NFL but knowing that there is no one viable who can step in if you are not performing well takes the pressure off a bit.
In an off-season where there are numerous starting quarterbacks up for grabs there are also numerous back-ups that the Colts front office could get their hands on to challenge Brissett.
Currently the Colts have Brian Hoyer and Chad Kelly, neither of whom are going to dethrone the current starter but when you look at Phillip Rivers, Marcus Mariota and Teddy Bridgewater all available then the mind begins to wander a bit.
Not to mention the Colts also hold the 13th pick in the draft where you could easily find a player like Justin Herbert, Jordan Love or if something magic happens even Tua Tagovailoa. Players need competition and this is where the Colts should use some of that cap space or an early draft pick.
After having a top five ranked defense in both the 2017 and 2018 seasons the 2019 Jags plummeted to 24th in total defense. The defense last year was a mess and after trading away Jalen Ramsey to the Rams there are numerous holes to fill here. The Jags defense finished 16th against the pass which isn’t great but certainly is not a calamity.
Where they really struggled was against the run. They gave up 139.3 yards per game leaving them with the 28th record in the NFL. Sorting the run defense is the first step the Jags front office needs to make this off-season. With doubts over the ability of Myles Jack to be the main linebacker look for the Jags to use the draft to get themselves some more quality at this position. I predict Isaiah Simmons out of Clemson.
After that position is sorted they need to find a replacement for Ramsey and give Bouye someone to play alongside and make their secondary one of the most feared in the league again.
Has there been a team that relied so heavily on the run more than the Titans recently?
There is absolutely no doubt that without Derrick Henry and a strong run game the Titans would not have pipped the Steelers to the last AFC playoff spot. Unfortunately for the Titans, Henry is set to hit free agency this year and after his performances towards the end of the season last year there will be a handful of teams all looking to secure his services.
I am sure the Titans will do what they can to address this and re-sign Henry but with a less than top drawer quarterback at the helm the Titans should look to add another running back and create a strong one two punch from the backfield. The Titans have about $47 million projected cap space and that will get Henry secured so look for them to use the 29th pick in the draft on someone like Jonathan Taylor from Wisconsin or J.K Dobbins from Ohio State.
The Broncos are another team with over $50 million available in cap space, they also have nine draft picks before the compensatory picks are dealt with.
With a few more cuts including Joe Flacco the Broncos could get their cap figure closer to the $80 million mark. Unfortunately, they have a few areas that need to be addressed.
None more so than their offensive line. Yet another team with a young quarterback, who as well as he has started needs time in the pocket to settle.
With the Broncos set to lose Ron Leary and Connor McGovern to free agency the offensive line is taking a huge hit. Luckily though the 2020 draft is stacked with offensive linemen and especially at the offensive tackle position.
I think the Broncos sort the line through the draft and then use some of that cap space to get themselves a speed wide receiver that Drew Lock can start a profitable relationship with.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl on the back of an incredible offence and a defence that after starting poorly stepped up their game down the stretch.
The Kansas City Chiefs don’t have a lot of cap space and with Mahomes due to get a big contract this could be an issue for them strengthening their team for another run at the Super Bowl.
Cornerback stands out as the main area that the Chiefs need to address. With their offence bound to be firing on all cylinders again they need a defense to force turnovers and get them the ball back. I like the look off Cameron Dantzler from Mississippi State in this defense.
In a common theme this off-season the Chargers are yet another team whose main priority is a quarterback.
With Phillip Rivers having a less than impressive year the Chargers have decided it is time to move on.
The Chargers may be set to lose Melvin Gordon as well during this free agency period which would be two big blows for this offence. They do however have Austin Ekeler who has proven to be more than capable of being the number one running back. With a healthy set of receivers and a strong defence the Chargers are in a good position to make a run in the playoffs if they can get a franchise quarterback and maybe some home fans as well.
Unfortunately, they can’t use draft picks or cap space on fans so a quarterback is at the top of the list. Luckily for the Chargers they have the sixth pick in the draft and that should be high enough for them to get their next franchise quarterback in Justin Herbert.
Las Vegas Raiders
When the Oakland Raiders signed Antonio Brown during the last free agency, Raiders fans had their number one receiver to go with their franchise quarterback.
That all went pear-shaped and Brown in his current state is nobody’s number one receiver. The Raiders closed out last season with five losses in six games and this really showed the weaknesses in their team.
For the majority of the season a strong 2019 draft class spared the blushes of Gruden and his team but that ran out towards the end of the season. The Raiders should use some of their $65 million in cap space to find a veteran receiver and then use one of their two first round picks on a rookie and then probably use another pick in the third round on another receiver as this is how bad the current roster is.