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 NFC team outside of Philadelphia should make.
- Find offensive linemen and a great O-line coach.
I'm not worried about which quarterback the Cardinals get to hold the fort until Kyler Murray is healthy again. There are more free-agent options this offseason than necessary, including Jacoby Brissett, Andy Dalton, Sam Darnold, Mike White, Teddy Bridgewater, Gardner Minshew and Baker Mayfield, depending on what flavor the team is looking for.
I am worried about who is going to protect said quarterback. Arizona's offensive line has nine free agents! The futures of center Rodney Hudson and left tackle D.J. Humphries could also be uncertain. In Josh Jones, the Cardinals have a promising young tackle. After that, they might not have anything.
- Re-sign Kaleb McGary only if the price is right.
The Falcons didn't exercise the fifth-year option on the 2019 first-rounder last offseason, then watched the right tackle have a career year. It's a brutally thin position in free agency, and the franchise tag for OTs is $18.2 million. That feels like too much for a great run blocker in a league that values pass protection.
If the Falcons can't get a long-term deal done at a reasonable price ($13 million per?), I'd let McGary walk and play the compensatory-pick game. Roster building is difficult, and third-year GM Terry Fontenot is already paying big money to other linemen he didn't draft: LT Jake Matthews and RG Chris Lindstrom, the latter of whom is due a big extension.
- Quarterback seems important.
After his experience in Indianapolis, Frank Reich wants to avoid jumping right back on the quarterback merry-go-round in Carolina. The team could draft one at No. 9 overall or possibly move up the board, but in the meantime, the Panthers need a veteran. Do they go bridge quarterback with someone like Reich's old friend Jacoby Brissett or get more aggressive trying to trade for Derek Carr? Carolina's a sleeper to get in the mix for Aaron Rodgers or Lamar Jackson, if available.
After a number of poor short-term solutions, something tells me ownership will be pushing for a big swing. This could all feel uncomfortably familiar for Reich.
- Go big-name hunting at receiver.
The Bears' trade of the No. 32 overall pick in the 2023 for Chase Claypool will likely go down as a mistake at best, a disaster at worst. That shouldn't stop Chicago from aggressively looking for a substantial upgrade at receiver.
It appears likely that better players will be available via trade (DeAndre Hopkins? Tee Higgins?) than in free agency, and the Bears shouldn't get too precious about future picks. They have way more cap space than they can use and not nearly enough great players on their roster or in free agency to spend it on.
- Cut Ezekiel Elliott.
It's obvious the Cowboys held on to Elliott a year too long, partly because they felt boxed in financially. Keeping him under any circumstances for another season is a sign that Jerry Jones' biggest problem of the last 30 years -- self-scouting -- may only be getting worse.
The Cowboys can save nearly $11 million by parting ways with Zeke as a post June-1 release. Using that money on a Tony Pollard contract/franchise tag makes sense because this offense is short on playmakers. Using the savings to find Dak Prescott another wideout would also work.
- Make tough decisions on high-priced veterans.
Michael Brockers, Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Romeo Okwara have all had good moments in Detroit, but weren't able to play much in 2022. Releasing all three could save up to $30.5 million against the cap with post-June 1 cuts. Okwara and Vaitai could still have good football left and would be candidates to restructure.
- Trade a quarterback.
It feels like time for the Packers to move on from Aaron Rodgers. They can still get a high pick or three for him and presumably want to see what they have in Jordan Love. The annual "Will he or won't he?" from Rodgers hits different when the quarterback's approaching his 40th birthday and not playing at an MVP level. Now is the time for both sides.
If the team keeps Rodgers despite my expert counsel, it's time to let Love go. There are more teams that need quarterbacks than intriguing options available, and Love could still attract a Day 2 pick. The Packers have plenty of needs that an extra high-value draft dart could help address, and Rodgers is running out of time to make it back to the Super Bowl.
- Get active on the trade market, possibly with Jalen Ramsey.
I first saw this idea from Chris Long, and it makes sense. The Rams can't just run it back with the same group. But like an NBA team with little cap flexibility, there are few options to refresh this roster beyond moving one of the stars. Because of his age, the 28-year-old Ramsey would make the most sense as a player who could attract a huge haul in return.
Trading Aaron Donald feels beyond wrong, and his year-to-year status would hurt his value. Other trade or cut options would be Leonard Floyd or Tyler Higbee, but those would be more cosmetic moves when the Rams should be thinking bigger.
- Decide which longtime favorites to say goodbye to.
Harrison Smith and Adam Thielen are candidates to be released if they aren't willing to take a pay cut. Linebacker Eric Kendricks is off his peak form and struggled in Minnesota's playoff loss. Even Dalvin Cook and Kirk Cousins could be up for discussion, with Cousins most likely getting yet another extension because of his piecemeal contract.
The Vikings are in a strange spot, coming off a 13-win season, yet candidates for a rebuild under a second-year general manager who will want to find "his guys." Look for a lot of change.
- Trade for Derek Carr.
Andy Dalton is a free agent, and it's hard to imagine New Orleans bringing back Jameis Winston. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Tuesday that the Raiders have granted the Saints permission to host Carr on a visit, and the pairing would make sense because New Orleans is an old team that needs to win in order to keep the front office and coaching staff employed. The Saints are also way over the salary cap, but that's just another day in the life of general manager Mickey Loomis.
In theory, this feels like the moment for New Orleans to finally reset by making hard decisions and/or considering trades of veterans like Cameron Jordan and Alvin Kamara. But that's just not the Saints' style, and Carr feels like the best option among a set of imperfect half-measures.
- Don't overpay Saquon Barkley.
The new Giants regime of coach Brian Daboll and general manager Joe Schoen orchestrated the most surprisingly good season in football. Now comes the hard part. A large chunk of their 2022 starters are free agents, including Daniel Jones and Barkley. Using the franchise tag on Barkley makes sense if the Giants get Jones under contract long term, but I'd rather see Jones continue to develop in Daboll's system before committing that money.
That would mean using the tag on Jones and letting Barkley walk. I'm all for the man making his money, but he fits better elsewhere (Buffalo?) as a final piece, rather than building around a running back on a long-term extension. The Giants should prize greater flexibility when they have so many other roster issues.
- Sit tight at quarterback.
The 49ers' roster has a few more issues than in most offseasons. They need to plan for the future at tackle, where Mike McGlinchey is a free agent and Trent Williams is year-to-year. They could upgrade their interior offensive line. The defensive line is quietly lacking consistency outside of Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead. That's why I wouldn't do anything at quarterback. This answer could change if Brock Purdy is not going to be ready for the 2023 season, but I view San Francisco's quarterback room as a good problem.
Trey Lance still has all of the talent the 49ers valued when they gave up three first-round draft picks to ultimately take him. Purdy proved he can play. With Tom Brady out of the picture, the best move here would be to continue building up the roster around both young quarterbacks so that they can't help but succeed.
- Invest in the front seven.
Uchenna Nwosu proved to be a nice pickup in free agency last year, but the Seahawks need more, whether via the open market, trades or the draft. Pete Carroll had numbers in the front seven last year, but few difference-makers. The team missed Bobby Wagner.
It's been a long time since Carroll's prized defense has been above average.
- Decide if Jamel Dean is worth it.
The Buccaneers are at a crossroads, and I expect their roster to look very different next season. They could consider trading big names like Mike Evans or Shaq Barrett. Lavonte David is a free agent. Longtime left tackle Donovan Smith figures to be cut. And the Bucs don't have a quarterback.
One of their first decisions will come at cornerback. After retaining Carlton Davis on a surprisingly reasonable deal last offseason (three years for $45 million), will the Bucs spend similarly to keep Dean, one of the better cornerbacks hitting the market? If not, Tampa is rather thin in the secondary with Mike Edwards and Sean Murphy-Bunting also free agents.
- Decide if Sam Howell is really it.
With Carson Wentz a prime cut candidate and Taylor Heinicke a free agent, the Commanders have reportedly told offensive coordinator hopefuls that Howell is in line to be their starting quarterback in Week 1 of 2023. That is bold, and I don't hate it if they truly believe Howell is The Guy.
The Commanders could seek out a low-cost veteran backup (see the Cardinals section for options) rather than give up valuable picks for a player like Derek Carr or Ryan Tannehill. If they end up doing the latter -- or trying to do the latter before striking out -- we'll know the Howell smoke was just that.