With the bulk of roster reshuffling in the rearview, we've truly entered the NFL's offseason. Still, all 32 rosters carry their share of unresolved issues. Today, Marc Sessler examines one burning question for each NFC team.
Arizona Cardinals: Are we staring at the NFC's next big thing?
Last year's Cardinals club finished its hot-and-cold campaign by routing the Browns and unfurling an A-bomb on Seattle before dropping a tight road game to the Rams. Kyler Murray wasn't perfect, but the rookie passer used his arm and legs to give Arizona what it sorely missed: an identity. One can only guess the ceiling of an improving roster now at home in Kliff Kingsbury's attack. Scheme-fit runner Kenyan Drake was retained, bodies were added to an iffy defense and general manager Steve Keim pulled off a Carl Gugasian-inspired heist by acquiring unstoppable wideout DeAndre Hopkins -- and dumping David Johnson's unwieldy salary -- for a backpack filled with soiled plastic sporks. First-round linebacker Isaiah Simmons adds immediate juice to the defense, while third-round offensive tackle Josh Jones was projected by some as a first-round talent. With the seventh playoff spot added in the NFC, I can't help but wonder if the NFC West -- the juiciest division in football -- is a lock to send three teams to the dance with Arizona attached to the invite list.
Jettisoned by the Rams, running back Todd Gurley quickly landed in Atlanta. His name suggests star power, but his game is up for debate. Coming off a campaign that saw Gurley run for a career-low 857 rushing yards at just 3.8 yards per clip, questions linger around the veteran's health -- specifically, the status of his widely discussed left knee. Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said in April that he remains "very comfortable" with Gurley's likelihood to pass a post-coronavirus physical, but an equal concern is workload. Gurley's 223 carries last season were a career low. If Gurley stumbles, are Brian Hill and Ito Smith enough to form a compelling backfield? The duo teamed with a fading Devonta Freeman last season and the result was problematic, with Atlanta finishing 30th on the ground league-wide.
Carolina Panthers: Can the new-look defense flip the switch?
Only the Dolphins allowed more points per tilt than Carolina in 2019. The once-proud Panthers defense crumbled into nothingness before Ron Rivera was catapulted out of town. Newly anointed coach Matt Rhule landed in January only to see All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly retire days later. With fellow veterans Mario Addison, James Bradberry, Eric Reid, Dontari Poe, Vernon Butler and Bruce Irvin out the door, the Panthers were destined to hit defense hard in the draft. They did so to a historical degree, becoming the first team in the common draft era (which began in 1967) to spend every pick on a defensive player. Rhule found value up top, grabbing first-round behemoth Derrick Brown before adding edge man Yetur Gross-Matos and safety Jeremy Chinn in the second. The Panthers also sourced a second backstop, Kenny Robinson, and two corners, Troy Pride Jr. and Stantley Thomas-Oliver III, to patch up a thin secondary. Lots of talented pieces, but the coaching staff is pulled almost entirely from the college ranks. I get a transformative Jimmy Johnson vibe from Rhule -- I think he's a hit in the making -- but the question is whether all these ingredients can immediately form a tantalizing meal coming off a chaotic offseason.
Chicago Bears: Will Matt Nagy's offense please stand up?
No point burning ink on Mitchell Trubisky. Nitpicking the troubled passer lacks meaning when he's already been replaced by Nick Foles, regardless of what team reps say about a QB competition. I'm suspicious of Foles staying healthy -- he's never started more than 11 games in a single season -- or resembling a top-20 passer if he does. His severe flameout in Jacksonville was hardly a resume-builder, but there's hope in teaming with coaches he knows well in Nagy, Bill Lazor and John DeFilippo. The sometimes-magical Foles can certainly improve an offense that finished 29th in scoring, 27th in rushing and 25th in passing, while drifting through 2019 with zero identity beyond "painfully dull to witness." What does Nagy envision? It must be more than a plodding attack reduced to praying for the defense to pull off a pick-six in the closing moments, right? Bears fans would like to see it -- we all would -- in a campaign that has Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace operating under an electron microscope.
Dallas Cowboys: Are the 'Boys finished adding quarterback chasers?
Listening to his heart, Jerry Jones ignored bigger needs in the first round to thrill fans by snagging wideout CeeDee Lamb. A threat to score from anywhere on the field, the Oklahoma star -- alongside Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup -- gives Dallas the finest gaggle of pass catchers in the NFC. New coach Mike McCarthy appeared content with the choice:
The lingering concern for McCarthy, though, channels from a defense light on game-altering pass rushers. DeMarcus Lawrence looms as a bona fide beast, but the club is currently leaning on Randy Gregory and from-the-wilderness Aldon Smith -- both yet to be reinstated -- to make an impact. End Bradlee Anae was scooped up in the fifth round, but Dallas could use more bodies with a knack for stamping quarterbacks into the ground.
The Lions under Matt Patricia have talked about morphing into a white-knuckle, beat-you-up offense centered around a punishing ground game. Is that how you think about Detroit's football squad? Me neither. Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn hope to change that with the addition of the second-round back out of Georgia. Comparing Swift to Frank Gore, draft analyst Lance Zierlein labeled Swift as "a cerebral runner who understands block timing and uses quick-cut agility and rare spatial awareness to read and react to defenses." Detroit also houses Kerryon Johnson, a talented back who struggles to stay healthy. Throw Bo Scarbrough into the mix and the Lions have a capable stable. If Detroit is determined to become a ground-and-pound force, though, its fortunes boil down to Swift hitting the scene as a major headache for enemy defenders. If he thrives, the Lions might be on to something.
Green Bay Packers: Are they truly content at wide receiver?
Prepare yourself for a long, hot summer of speculation around the future of Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. With little else to discuss, the drafting of Utah State quarterback Jordan Love gave sports media types exactly what they seek: On-demand fodder for an unsolvable, unknowable debate. While publicly backing Rodgers as the starter for years to come, Packers brass simultaneously turned heads by talking up their desire for an offense that channels through the ground game, with general manager Brian Gutekunst saying after the draft: "I think (coach) Matt (LaFleur) certainly wants to run the ball."
To be fair, LaFleur said as much multiple times before and during last season. Perhaps further inspired by a Niners team that blew up Green Bay's defense for 285 yards and four scores on the ground in January's NFC title game, Gutekunst used a second-round selection on power back A.J. Dillon and refused to pick a wideout the entire way. Beyond Davante Adams, Green Bay's receiver roster is flush with players boasting longer names -- Equanimeous St. Brown and Marquez Valdes-Scantling -- than resumes. Perhaps Devin Funchess revs your motor, but a genuine need was ignored in the deepest wideout draft we've experienced in eons. Rodgers isn't going anywhere this season, but it's fair to wonder if the attack will look anything like the A-Rod-or-bust operation we've enjoyed for the past decade.
Los Angeles Rams: Have they done enough to reload on offense?
Todd Gurley and Brandin Cooks are history. What's left of the cap-hugging roster presents a meaty challenge for coach Sean McVay. Lacking a first-round pick, the Rams eagerly sought fresh blood in the backfield with second-round selection Cam Akers. The elusive runner managed 1,144 yards and 14 touchdowns at 5.0 yards per carry inside an ugly Florida State offense tugged down by shoddy line play. The Rams have issues up front, too, but Akers has promised to wear his "big-boy pants" to lift a room that includes Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson. Receiving help came soon after in the form of No. 57 overall pick Van Jefferson, the son of former NFL wideout Shawn Jefferson and a Florida standout whom McVay praised as a "really polished route runner" who can "play all three spots." Time will who these players truly are, but Los Angeles has talent at the skill positions with receivers Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods and Josh Reynolds flanking productive tight ends Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett. McVay can be trusted to spin magic, but success in 2020 likely boils down to this: Can the line operate as something finer than a lingering Achilles' heel?
The Vikings added a whopping 15 players through the draft, filling needs at cornerback, wideout and along the offensive line. Minnesota didn't address the pass rush until landing D.J. Wonnum in the fourth round, leaving a space wide open for the return of Griffen, who remains an unsigned free agent. The veteran edge rusher recently offered a "never say never" response to rejoining Minnesota, per NFL Network's Tom Pelissero. Packed in as a factor, the Vikings -- who were candidates to trade for expensive left tackle Trent Williams -- found their bookend in rookie Ezra Cleveland. That leaves the books clean for Griffen, who has plenty left in the tank to help a defense that waved goodbye to a laundry list of veterans.
It's easy to accept the thinking behind signing Jameis Winston: Coach Sean Payton wants to use Hill in an expanded role, but doesn't want to lose his backup quarterback in the process. After previously crooning over Hill as Steve Young in the making, though, would Hill hopscotch Winston if Drew Brees were lost for a rash of contests? I'd like to hope so. The Saints extended Hill on a lucrative deal through 2021 and see him as a possible heir to Brees. Winston is on a cheap, one-year deal. Using Teddy Bridgewater over Hill a year ago, the Saints have yet to see what Taysom looks like under center from wire to wire. Undoubtedly, his role will blossom and balloon with added must-watch trickery and special-teams flair, but the world is waiting to see what Hill can do as a starter if/when the time comes.
New York Giants: Can Joe Judge save the G-Men?
Some of these NFC queries focus on a specific player, position battle or quarterback conundrum. The Giants have plenty of those questions, too, but my curiosity hinges around New York's first-time head coach. Who is Joe Judge? He turned heads during a no-nonsense introductory press conference by refusing to cite any Giants player by name. Judge also blew away John Mara before landing the job, with the team CEO saying: "That's the best interview I've ever been a part of ... for a lot of different reasons." Despite learning under Bill Belichick and Nick Saban, Judge largely remains a mystery to the public. If anything, his timing is apt. Unlike the two Giants coaches before him -- Ben McAdoo and Pat Shurmur -- Judge won't be saddled with hourly questions about Eli Manning's fade into night. With Daniel Jones firmly in place as the starter, Judge oversees a new era of Giants football. Is he the right man to conjure memories of glory days past? Or just a guy?
Eagles fanatics were nonplussed with the team's decision to burn a second-round pick on a backup quarterback. Philly's ill mood was hatched in Round 1, when tantalizing pass catcher CeeDee Lamb fell to rival Dallas as Jerry Jones chuckled the night away from his party yacht. The Eagles grabbed a first-round wideout of their own in Jalen Reagor, but threw draft-heads for a loop with Hurts at pick No. 53.
The question is fair: Why take a quarterback when the mission at hand was to find weapons for Carson Wentz? I can't help but wonder, though, if Eagles fans might start to fall for the dual-threat passer if and when coach Doug Pederson decides to sprinkle Hurts into the offense. Doses of gadget wizardry don't justify a second-round pick, but finding a QB2 with upside should mean more to Eagles fans than just about any people group on terra firma. Beyond the immediate outrage, Hurts has the skills to change minds -- and moods.
I think so. This offseason has taken on a Corona-fueled life of its own, turning March and April into surreal slogs through time. If anything, Super Bowl LIV feels like something out of the Mesozoic Era. Besides, general manager John Lynch's brilliant handiwork through free agency and the draft leaves the Niners as one of the top-run teams in the NFC. A third- and fifth-rounder landed premier left tackle Trent Williams just minutes before Joe Staley announced his retirement. Lynch also padded the defense with first-round tackle Javon Kinlaw following the departure of DeForest Buckner. Longtime Niners beat writer Matt Barrows of The Athletic projectsD.J. Jones to sponge up plenty of Buckner's snaps alongside Kinlaw, Arik Armstead and Nick Bosa. Drawing Pierre Garcon comparisons, first-rounder Brandon Aiyuk should be thrilled about landing with Kyle Shanahan, a coach who consistently milks the most out of his wideouts. With Robert Saleh back to call the defense, the Niners still peer through a wide-open Super Bowl window assuming Jimmy Garoppolo continues to advance.
I had the Seahawks pegged as a potential draft-weekend landing spot for disgruntled Jaguars defensive lineman Yannick Ngakoue. The move never happened, leaving Seattle out there as a logical return destination for Clowney. The 'Hawks aren't willing to overpay for the run-stuffing, athletic freak, but also failed to draft a clear replacement. Talking after the draft, coach Pete Carroll said Clowney "knows that the Seahawks are a place that he had some success, and that he had a really good time and he contributed to our club and all of that. ... If there's an opportunity that makes sense, we'll dive back in and pursue it." While the Browns have been linked to Clowney, too, Seattle felt like home a year ago. Carroll and Co. could use him, too, if the greenbacks make sense.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Have the Bucs unearthed a plug-and-play passing-down back?
Third-round addition Ke'Shawn Vaughn is a strong candidate to steal work away from veteran Ronald Jones as a "downhill, north-south runner [who] doesn't mess around very much with moving side to side," per ESPN's Louis Riddick. Showing growth in the passing game at Vanderbilt, Vaughn was labeled as an "every down" player by Arians, who went on to praise seventh-rounder Raymond Calais as "very smaller version but much faster version of David Johnson."
Here's where we remind you that White caught 159 passes from Brady over the past two regular seasons -- with another 25 in the postseason. Arians isn't afraid to lean on rookies. In a clipped offseason, though, it's fair to wonder if the win-now Bucs could be tempted by a juicy veteran cut come summer.
Washington Redskins: Can the offense compete in today's NFL?
Who can argue the logic of drafting ferocious edge rusher Chase Young with the second overall pick? He's nothing short of a Ron Rivera fever dream. But anxiety stems from an offensive lineup that missed out on wideout Amari Cooper in free agency and traded away their best player in seven-time Pro Bowl bookend Trent Williams. Third-round back Antonio Gibson offers the skill set to replace what was lost in the departing Chris Thompson, but it's fair to ask if second-year quarterback Dwayne Haskins has enough around him to fend off major competition next offseason.