While the Chiefs and Eagles get ready for Super Bowl LVII, 30 other teams are already preparing for the offseason.
With free agency just five weeks away, here's at least one big roster move each AFC team outside of Kansas City should make.
- Give Lamar Jackson a fully guaranteed contract (or close to it).
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport recently expressed a belief that Jackson will receive the exclusive franchise tag, which projects to be worth just north of $45 million. Theoretically, that would kick the Lamar dilemma down the road, while hurting the Ravens' ability to spend on the 2023 salary cap. They would save considerable cap space by agreeing to his long-term contract now.
Ravens execs clearly don't like the precedent that was set by the Browns when they fully guaranteed Deshaun Watson's $230 million contract. Kyler Murray received $160 million in guarantees from the Cardinals. Jackson is obviously a superior player to both and should expect nothing less. If certain NFL franchises don't want to guarantee contracts for their best players, maybe it's time they let those superstars go to teams that will. Every other major American sport provides guaranteed deals, even for role players. The Ravens are poised to use the exclusive tag on Jackson because they know other teams would give up first-round picks and a guaranteed contract to get the 2019 MVP. So he's absolutely right to stand his ground.
- Let Tremaine Edmunds walk.
The Bills must add more playmakers around Josh Allen and only have so much cap space and draft currency to do so. Edmunds was one of the earliest first-round picks made by Sean McDermott's Bills and he is coming off his best season, but the cost will be prohibitive. Buffalo can't pay him more than Matt Milano, who is a better player.
Jordan Poyer is also a pending free agent and will be a tough negotiation, seeing how Buffalo didn't provide the extension the Pro Bowl safety desired last offseason. The Bills need to re-shape their roster and can't keep spending endlessly on a defense that has come up short too often in the playoffs. The offense needs the work.
- Pay your own stars, starting with Joe Burrow.
According to Over The Cap, the Bengals currently hold the fifth-most cap space for 2023, so they should get ahead of future issues by paying Burrow now that he's finished his third season and is eligible for an extension. It's not too early to think about Tee Higgins' contract, too, although the team may want to save room for Ja'Marr Chase's deal next year. Either way, Cincinnati will only be able to keep this group together for so long, and this is a season to spend.
Any cap surplus should be used to aggressively address holes in the secondary, with Jessie Bates, Vonn Bell and Eli Apple all heading into free agency. Cutting Joe Mixon and La'el Collins could open up more room. Unused cap space is a sign of a team not doing everything possible to win, and the Bengals need to spend to stay on top.
- Cut or trade John Johnson.
Johnson was a great safety for the Rams, but hasn't been a fit for the Browns. The team is changing defenses with Jim Schwartz arriving and will be looking to clear up some cap space.
Johnson doesn't have any guaranteed money left on his contract, but it still wouldn't save much cap space to trade the veteran before June 1. A release with a post-June 1 designation could be best for both sides. The money could be used to explore improving the team's wide receiver depth.
- Develop a backup plan for Russell Wilson.
The Broncos are in a weird spot, with a roster ready to win now if they can improve their quarterback play. Enter Sean Payton. The first priority will be to attempt to improve Wilson's performance because his contract makes it nearly impossible to move on from him. I'm skeptical even Payton can get Wilson to be better than average at this point, so it's not too early to start working on Plan B.
Whether it's a veteran whom Payton trusts (Teddy Bridgewater?) or more likely a rookie for Payton to develop, Denver should start planning for life with a different starting quarterback, which could happen as early as the middle of the 2023 season. Payton figures to be around longer.
- Sign a veteran quarterback to pair with a rookie to be named later.
It's hard to imagine a scenario where the Texans don't draft a quarterback early this April. But do they want Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud to be backed up by Davis Mills?
The Texans will have to find a veteran quarterback before the draft, and it's a deep group of free-agent signal-callers to choose from. There are clear backups like Case Keenum and Andy Dalton. Texans GM Nick Caserio was in New England when the Patriots drafted Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett.
This roster needs a lot of help -- especially on defense -- but the plan at quarterback should take precedence. Brissett feels like a perfect mentor and capable option if Houston needs him to play.
- Find a left tackle, possibly at the expense of another lineman.
The Colts are set to use $44 million in cap space on offensive linemen Braden Smith, Ryan Kelly and Quenton Nelson. They still don't have a left tackle and didn't have a good O-line last season. This was general manager Chris Ballard's vision, and it isn't working.
Kelly is the one who would be easiest to cut or trade, based on his contract and level of play this past season.
- Franchise tag Evan Engram.
Engram was a perfect fit in Doug Pederson's offense, setting career highs with 73 catches for 766 yards. The franchise-tag number for tight ends is $11.3 million, which is only a modest raise on the $9 million Engram made last season on a one-year deal. A long-term contract also makes sense, but keeping Engram should be a priority.
- Give Jimmy G a shot.
I've always believed that Jimmy Garoppolo would have had a better career in New England than he did in San Francisco. Garoppolo's best, most instinctive play came when he was in Josh McDaniels' system. He was always a somewhat-awkward fit for Kyle Shanahan's scheme and shouldn't cost that much for Las Vegas to test drive.
The best part: The Raiders could still draft a quarterback with one of the picks they get when they deal away Derek Carr, who should have more trade value than expected in a seller's market.
- Find a way to keep Keenan Allen.
There will be a temptation to cut Allen because of his age, injury history and contract. The Chargers could save $17.5 million if they make him a post-June 1 cut, and the team is well over the cap entering the offseason. A restructured deal or short extension to reduce his cap number makes more sense because the Bolts will be desperately looking to replace what Allen, 30, provides if they let him go.
- Trade or release Byron Jones.
Jones didn't play in 2022 coming off Achilles surgery and has an $18.4 million cap figure next season. He won't make that -- Miami will have to come up with a restructured contract for him or move on. With no guaranteed money left on the deal, it's not crazy to imagine the Dolphins getting a pick swap or late pick from a team that could work out a new deal with Jones.
- Rebuild the pass-catching group (again).
Jakobi Meyers and Nelson Agholor are both free agents. Jonnu Smith has not lived up to his contract. Kendrick Bourne spent much of 2022 in the doghouse. I don't know what the Patriots' skill positions will look like in 2023, but they will look a lot different.
Meyers is New England's best receiver -- and one of the best free-agent wideouts available -- so attempting to re-sign him first should be a priority.
- Create cap space for a quarterback.
At the moment, trading for Aaron Rodgers or Derek Carr would be complicated, primarily because the team will need to create cap space to do so. Corey Davis, C.J. Mosley, Jordan Whitehead and Carl Lawson would be options as cut candidates. (Mosley is a particularly thorny case coming off a good season, with a $21.5 million cap hit ahead. A restructured deal could make the most sense for both sides there.) Meanwhile, Duane Brown could retire.
The Jets have the picks and the motivation to swing hardest at quarterback this season, and it's clear that re-signing Mike White is not going to be enough. This is the most logical landing spot if Rodgers is moved.
- Re-sign Cameron Sutton.
A third-round pick back in 2017, Sutton is a homegrown player who's coming off his best season at a position of need. He's set to be one of the top cornerbacks available in free agency, but the Steelers have a knack for keeping the guys they like at team-friendly prices.
- Release Taylor Lewan as part of offensive line overhaul.
Mike Vrabel and new general manager Ran Carthon have to fix their offensive line. Lewan's big contract extension in 2018 made sense at the time, but the tackle just hasn't been able to stay on the field. Also, the team's most consistent offensive lineman, OG Nate Davis, is a free agent. Saying goodbye to Lewan -- a move that would free up $14.8 million in cap space -- could be part of a painful offseason where everything is on the table for the Titans.