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Elise Amendola/Associated Press
With Super Bowl LIII now committed to the pages of history, the 2018 NFL season is in the books.
Get it? Pages? Books?
The thing is, before the confetti even fell at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, scouts for the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots—and every other NFL team—were already looking ahead to 2019.
Whether it’s the franchise that hoists the Lombardi Trophy or the one that picks first, each team in the league has one thing in common: holes on the roster.
Some holes are little. Others are massive. Some teams have a few. Others look like Swiss cheese.
Big or small, many or few, every team has a need that must be addressed. A hole that must be patched.
Its biggest hole to fill in the 2019 offseason.
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Rick Scuteri/Associated Press
Unless the Arizona Cardinals trade back in Round 1 of this year’s draft, the team likely won’t address its biggest need with the first overall pick.
That’s OK. Defensive end is a legitimate area of need for the Redbirds as well, and if the idea of a Nick Bosa/Chandler Jones duo at the position doesn’t get your blood pumping, then you should probably see a cardiologist.
But at some point this offseason, the Cardinals have to address the offensive line—especially the tackle spots.
The Cardinals ranked 25th in run blocking and 26th in pass protection in 2018 per Football Outsiders. The 52 sacks allowed by the team ranked third in the NFC.
Josh Rosen will have a hard time improving as a passer if he’s continually fleeing in terror.
Unfortunately, this isn’t going to be an easy fix. Solid tackles rarely make it to free agency, where even mediocre ones get overpaid with regularity. And this is something of an underwhelming rookie class at that position.
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Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press
This could go from a big-time need to an absolutely massive one.
Atlanta’s most dependable defensive lineman in 2018 (tackle Grady Jarrett) is set to hit free agency this spring. Per Tim Weaver of Falcons Wire, general manager Thomas Dimitroff has said that re-upping Jarrett is the team’s No. 1 priority, but if he departs, a defensive line that already needs work will become a glaring weakness.
Even if Jarrett stays, the Falcons need an upgrade next to him at tackle. Vic Beasley hasn’t sniffed the sort of success he had in 2016 when he led in the NFL in sacks. Takkarist McKinley has shown some flashes, but after two seasons, he remains a work in progress.
Playing in an NFC South that is loaded with big-name quarterbacks, Atlanta badly needs to upgrade a pass rush that was tied for 22nd in the NFL in sacks in 2018.
Fortunately for the Falcons, this year’s draft class is dripping with potential difference-makers on the defensive front.
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Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press
There’s little question what the offseason focus of the Baltimore Ravens will be. Just about everything the Ravens do on the offensive side of the ball will be with one goal in mind: helping young quarterback Lamar Jackson get better.
To do so, the Ravens need to offer Jackson better targets in the passing game—especially at wide receiver.
The Ravens have already made a number of changes to the coaching staff, including promoting Greg Roman to offensive coordinator and bringing in David Culley as wide receivers coach.
But there need to be changes in personnel as well. With all due respect to Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead and John Brown, none of those pass-catchers are “go-to” receivers who can win one-on-one battles consistently or command extra defensive attention.
There isn’t a receiver like that available in free agency, though, which means the Ravens will have to draft and develop one.
The franchise hasn’t had much luck in that regard in recent years.
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Adrian Kraus/Associated Press
Compared to the Buffalo Bills, the Baltimore Ravens have a trio of Hall of Famers.
Frankly, it was quite the achievement that the Bills managed to win as many games as they did in 2018 given the dumpster fire that was the offense. Some of the blame belongs to rookie quarterback Josh Allen, but a much larger portion rests with a lousy offensive line that allowed 41 sacks and a woeful cadre of pass-catchers.
The Bills’ leading receiver in 2018 (Zay Jones) averaged less than 12 yards a catch. The No. 2 receiver in terms of receptions was tailback LeSean McCoy. Jones was the only player on the roster with over 600 receiving yards or more than three scores.
The Bills are in good shape against the salary cap with just under $80 million in room, according to Over the Cap.
That’s a good thing, because the Bills need both quality and quantity in the receiving corps.
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Bob Leverone/Associated Press
The Panthers offensive line doesn’t appear terrible at first glance. The unit ranked 11th in run blocking and 10th in pass protection per Football Outsiders.
However, beneath that ranking lies plenty of cause for concern.
Left tackle Matt Kalil’s second year in Charlotte was an injury-filled mess. Right tackle Daryl Williams missed almost all of the 2018 campaign and is set to hit free agency. Even after that lost season, Williams will command a hefty salary—likely well in excess of $10 million a season.
Mediocre tackles make that in free agency. Just ask Kalil.
As well, Kalil’s brother, Ryan, is retiring, leaving the Panthers with the potential task of replacing 40 percent of their line—at least.
Carolina’s offense is built around winning at the point of attack.
We saw over the second half of the 2018 season, when the Panthers went 1-7, what happens when they don’t.
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Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press
There’s a reason why two positions are listed here for the Bears. The team faces something of a binary decision in the secondary, where two starters are about to hit free agency.
That choice is whether to keep safety Adrian Amos or slot corner Bryce Callahan. With only about $11 million in wiggle room per Over the Cap, the financial resources aren’t there to retain both.
On one hand, Amos was the No. 8 safety in the NFL per Pro Football Focus. On the other hand, Callahan emerged this year as one of the league’s better slot corners, safety is usually an easier/cheaper position to replace than cornerback, and the Bears might already have a replacement in-house in fourth-year pro Deon Bush.
Outside of this fork in the road in the defensive backfield, the Bears don’t have a lot of glaring holes.
Which route the Bears take will determine their top offseason priority.
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Frank Victores/Associated Press
The Cincinnati Bengals fielded a horrendous defense in 2018, surrendering a league-high 413.6 yards per game.
The thing is, that wasn’t the defensive line’s fault. With Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins and rookie Sam Hubbard, the Bengals have talent up front.
It wasn’t necessarily the secondary’s fault either—at least on paper. Whether it’s at cornerback or safety, the Bengals have talent and a fair amount of depth on the back end.
The linebacker position, on the other hand, is a hot mess.
The disintegration of the Cincinnati defense last year and the timing of Nick Vigil’s injury demonstrate how thin the Bengals were at that spot. Vontaze Burfict looked like a shell of his former self and couldn’t stay healthy.
Cincinnati’s young replacements at the position looked like just that—young replacements. Hardy Nickerson Jr. has his father’s name, and that’s about it.
Talent. Depth. The Bengals are in desperate need of both.
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David Richard/Associated Press
That this entry won’t discuss the Browns’ desperate need for a quarterback for the first time in a long time demonstrates how much changed in Cleveland in 2018.
The arrival of Baker Mayfield appears to have finally solved Cleveland’s problems under center. Now it’s all about building around the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft.
A case can be made that Cleveland’s biggest need is at offensive tackle. But while that position is a need, Greg Robinson showed enough in eight starts for the Browns that general manager John Dorsey reportedly intends to extend the 2014 No. 2 overall pick with some of Cleveland’s almost $80 million in cap space.
If that’s the case, then the biggest need shifts to improving Mayfield’s passing-game weapons. Jarvis Landry is a dependable target underneath, and Antonio Callaway showed flashes as a rookie, but the Browns could use a big-bodied receiver capable of winning one-on-ones.
One also capable of taking the top off a defense would be all the better.
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Brandon Wade/Associated Press
The Dallas Cowboys are in good shape personnel-wise with no massive deficiencies that stand out at first glance.
That’s a good thing. The Cowboys don’t have a first-round pick in the 2019 draft, and while the team has over $49 million in cap space, it also has a number of players set to either hit free agency or receive big paydays in the near future.
The most pressing of those pending deals is for defensive end Demarcus Lawrence, who paced the team in sacks in 2018. Lawrence played last season under the franchise tag, and it’s been widely reported he doesn’t want to do again in 2019.
Odds are good the Cowboys will get something worked out with Lawrence, and in players like Randy Gregory and Taco Charlton, the team has options at the other end spot.
Defensive tackle is another story. David Irving is set to hit free agency after a miserable 2018 in which he played just two games, and the rest of the interior linemen in Big D are a who’s who of “who?”
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Dustin Bradford/Getty Images
The Denver Broncos might have more pressing needs in the short term than the quarterback position, but it’s hard to argue that it isn’t Denver’s biggest need.
That Case Keenum struggled in his first season in Denver shouldn’t be a surprise. In fact, Keenum may not have “struggled” at all—he just played more like the Keenum we saw over his first five seasons and less like the Keenum who had a magical season with the Vikings in 2017.
Keenum has one more year left on his contract with the Broncos, and he’ll most likely open the season as Denver’s starter. Whether he finishes it that way depends on how things play out over the next few months.
With $37.4 million in cap space per Over the Cap, it’s possible the Broncos could take a run at a veteran free agent. But given the resources the team already has allocated to Keenum (and how poorly his addition worked out), the more probable scenario is that John Elway takes a signal-caller at No. 10 in the draft.
Or sooner—the Broncos are on the short list of teams who could be planning some draft-day shenanigans.
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Leon Halip/Getty Images
The Detroit Lions’ biggest need is one of the easiest in the NFL to pinpoint.
The Lions had a pretty good pass rush in 2018, tying for 11th in the NFL with 43 sacks. But the team’s biggest name among its edge-rushers (Ezekiel Ansah) was a major disappointment, amassing just four of those sacks while struggling with injuries—again.
With Ansah about to hit free agency, his future in Motown is as murky as murky gets. What will Ansah’s market look like? Are the Lions interested in investing a substantial portion of their cap space in retaining him?
There are quite a few intriguing names who could hit the open market in 2019, whether it’s ends like Trey Flowers or outside linebackers like Dee Ford. Edge-rusher is also arguably the most stacked position group in this year’s draft.
If nothing else, it’s serendipitous that Detroit’s biggest need happens to be relatively easy to address.
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Dylan Buell/Getty Images
Upgrading the pass rush has been an area of need for the Green Bay Packers for some time now. While the team did post 44 sacks last year (thanks largely to a breakout year from defensive lineman Kenny Clark), the outside linebacker spots remain an issue.
Nick Perry had a terrible 2018, missing seven games and posting just 1.5 sacks. In the final year of his contract, Clay Matthews posted a career-low 3.5 sacks. At 32, the longtime Packer is about to hit the open market and may not be brought back.
The Packers have enough cap space to (in theory) take a run at a free agent on the outside, but unless Dee Ford or Jadeveon Clowney hits the open market, there isn’t really an available player who screams “impact.”
A more likely approach is either bringing back Matthews or signing a second-tier free agent and pairing him with a rookie from a deep and talented class of edge-rushers.
The 12th overall pick ain’t gonna get the Packers Nick Bosa, but it could nab Green Bay a youngster like Florida’s Jachai Polite or Montez Sweat of Mississippi State.
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Bob Levey/Getty Images
There isn’t a team in the NFL with a more glaring top need in 2019 than the Houston Texans—and certainly not among the 12 teams that made the postseason.
That need is personified by one eye-popping number: 65.
That’s the number of times Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson was sacked last season—62 times in the regular season (tops in the NFL) and three times in Houston’s playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
To say that number is unsustainable is an understatement—if, that is, you prefer Watson to have both his arms connected to his body.
That makes the offensive line Houston’s top offensive priority by a country mile.
With nearly $65 million in cap space according to Over the Cap, Houston is in position to be a player in free agency on the offensive line if it chooses. But that could be a perilous endeavor—tackles like Daryl Williams and guards like Rodger Saffold could command hefty paydays on the open market.
It really is a seller’s market on the offensive front. Even so-so linemen strike it rich consistently.
While the Texans could find line help in free agency, a rookie like Washington State’s Andre Dillard would be very hard to pass on if he makes it to the 23rd overall pick.
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Joe Robbins/Getty Images
No team in the NFL is better positioned to be a major player in free agency than the Indianapolis Colts. According to Over the Cap, the Colts have nearly $110 million in cap room in 2019—almost $20 million more than the closest team.
The Colts also aren’t in a position where they have to chase a position. Indy’s defense and offensive line both improved markedly last year—largely because general manager Chris Ballard crushed last year’s draft.
But there are areas where the Colts could stand to improve—including the secondary.
Youngsters Kenny Moore and Pierre Desir were decent last year, but the Colts could use an infusion of talent and depth at the cornerback position, especially with Desir on the brink of free agency.
The Colts have plenty of cabbage to not only bring back Desir but also add another free agent like Ronald Darby, Kareem Jackson and Morris Claiborne.
Indy also has three picks in the first two rounds that could be used to beef up the back end.
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Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press
This entry may start to seem like a Hotels.com commercial PDQ—because I expect Captain Obvious to show up any second now.
The Jacksonville Jaguars entered the 2018 season as a Super Bowl contender. They left it a 5-11 train wreck that may have been the NFL’s biggest disappointment.
The reasons for that faceplant are many, but the biggest was poor play at the quarterback position. Blake Bortles regressed significantly in most statistical categories, going just 3-9 as the starter before giving way to Cody Kessler. Kessler managed to play .500 football as Jacksonville’s starter, but he’s, you know, Cody Kessler.
None of this is a state secret. The Jaguars have been linked to just about every big(ish) name among free-agent signal-callers, and it’s not difficult to find a mock draft where the Jags take a quarterback with the seventh overall pick.
Odds are good that the Jaguars will have a new starter under center come Week 1 of the 2019 season.
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David Eulitt/Getty Images
Specific, isn’t it?
The Kansas City Chiefs had quite a 2018 season on the offensive side of the ball, but as good as the Chiefs were offensively, they were just as bad on defense. It was that defense (or lack thereof) that was Kansas City’s undoing in overtime of the AFC Championship Game.
And every level of that defense needs work.
Defensive end Chris Jones had a breakout season, but he needs help on the defensive line. Kansas City’s inside linebackers weren’t especially good against the run or in coverage. With Dee Ford potentially about to hit the open market, the pass rush could be a glaring need. And the secondary was among the worst in the league.
The Chiefs aren’t in terrible position against the salary cap with about $28 million in space. However, retaining Ford would eat up upward of half of that total.
That leaves the 29th overall pick in April’s draft as Kansas City’s best bet at adding an impact defender.
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Harry How/Getty Images
The Los Angeles Chargers won 12 games in the regular season and won a playoff game, and the Bolts will likely be viewed as a legitimate Super Bowl contender in the AFC.
However, if the Chargers are going to take the next step next season and make a run at Miami, the team needs to do something about the offensive line. Right tackle Sam Tevi was especially bad, allowing a staggering 41 pressures and eight sacks.
There are a couple of potential fixes on the right side set to hit free agency in Carolina’s Daryl Williams and Miami’s Ja’Wuan James, who are in the prime of their careers. But Williams missed almost all of the 2018 season, and neither of those options will be cheap—if their respective teams allow them to reach the open market at all.
With around $20 million in cap space, as things stand today, the Chargers don’t have the cabbage to go nuts on a big contract.
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David J. Phillip/Associated Press
Again…specific, ain’t it?
As you may have noticed, the Rams aren’t a team with a ton of holes. The offense is loaded with skill position talent and features the NFL’s best offensive line. The defense is equally stacked and anchored by the two-time defending Defensive Player of the Year.
But as great as the Rams were in 2018, changes could be coming.
Given how late the Rams pick in Round 1 and all of the pending free agents the team has, it’s difficult to enter the offseason targeting a specific position above all others.
It all depends on what happens from here. For instance, if Andrew Whitworth retires, tackle rockets to the top of the wish list.
It’s more likely that a hole on the defense is about to open up. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, edge-rusher Dante Fowler Jr. and safety Lamarcus Joyner are all set to hit the open market. Leading tackler Cory Littleton is a restricted free agent.
Which direction the Rams should go will be revealed soon enough.
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Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press
The defensive line isn’t necessarily the biggest hole for the Miami Dolphins in 2019. At least, it won’t be if Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald is right and the Dolphins are prepared to cut bait on quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
However, Salguero also reported that the Dolphins have no intention to replace Tannehill with a high-priced veteran or a high draft pick. Apparently, team owner Stephen Ross has his heart set on making South Florida sportswriters miserable for years to come by forcing them to spell Tagovailoa over and over again.
#TankForTua may actually be a thing.
If that’s the case and Miami is taking a long-view approach to rebuilding the roster, then it makes sense for the team to avail itself of the depth available at some positions in this year’s draft.
And there isn’t a deeper spot than the defensive line.
Cameron Wake is old. Andre Branch is getting there. And Robert Quinn was a disappointment in his first season in Miami and could be a cap casualty, per Salguero.
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Jeff Haynes/Associated Press
There wasn’t a more disappointing team in the NFL in 2018 than the Minnesota Vikings, who started the year as a Super Bowl favorite and finished it watching the postseason on television.
There wasn’t a more disappointing unit on that disappointing team than the offensive line. Former offensive coordinator John DeFilippo may have taken the fall for Minnesota’s lack of a run game, but if the holes aren’t there, it doesn’t matter how many run plays you call.
For the season, the Vikings ranked 23rd in run blocking per Football Outsiders. While the Vikings ranked inside the top 10 in pass protection, Minnesota surrendered 40 sacks.
Tackle Riley Reiff and center Pat Elflein are decent players, but there are at least three spots on the O-line that could use an upgrade.
Those upgrades aren’t coming in free agency. As things stand right now, the Vikings have the third-least cap space in the league, according to Over the Cap. That’s not going to cut it in the seller’s market that is the offensive front.
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Don Wright/Associated Press
For the third straight season, the New England Patriots represented the AFC in the Super Bowl. But the Pats do have holes on the roster. Chief among them, the Patriots need a wide receiver who can take the top off a defense.
The Patriots have attempted to fill that need multiple times in recent years with varying degrees of success. Brandin Cooks had a strong year with the team in 2017, but he was shipped off to the Rams. New England’s attempt to replace Cooks with Josh Gordon ended in predictably disappointing fashion.
That need could be amplified in 2019 with Chris Hogan, Cordarrelle Patterson and Phillip Dorsett all set to hit free agency.
The Patriots only have about $18 million in cap space, and a large portion of that could be used up in a new deal for edge-rusher Trey Flowers.
For the Patriots to upgrade at receiver, they’ll probably need to get great value in free agency or hit on a youngster in the 2019 draft.
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Gerald Herbert/Associated Press
What? Still too soon?
Skill Position Talent
The New Orleans Saints went all-in on a Super Bowl run in 2018. It almost panned out—almost.
However, at this point the bill is coming due. In addition to the sixth-least cap space in the NFL per Over the Cap, the Saints also have just one draft pick in the first four rounds of the 2019 draft—a second-rounder.
That’s going to make it awfully hard for the Saints to get better offensively.
At running back, Mark Ingram is set to hit free agency and will be one of the most sought-after backs on the open market. New Orleans either has to find another back to pair with Alvin Kamara or hope that Kamara can handle a much larger workload next year.
At wide receiver, the Saints need a dependable option who isn’t named Michael Thomas. Veteran Ted Ginn suffered through an injury-marred season, and the team’s young menagerie of unknown wideouts were inconsistent at best and nonexistent at worst.
Tight end might be in even worse shape. With Ben Watson’s retirement, the team’s projected starter in 2019 would be Dan Arnold, who had 12 receptions in his second season.
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Frank Franklin II/Associated Press
This is one of the least surprising needs on this list.
The New York Giants appear to have hit the jackpot on tailback Saquon Barkley. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 draft piled up over 2,000 total yards en route to Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
But all that got the Giants was a couple more wins in 2018. The team went from 3-13 to 5-11, finishing last in the NFC East for the second season in a row.
It’s not solely Eli Manning’s fault that the Giants struggled in 2018 (the offensive front is a mess), but while upgrading that line is a priority, nabbing the team’s quarterback of the future is an even bigger one.
New York has about $24 million in cap space, but a substantial portion of that could wind up tied up in re-upping safety Landon Collins. That may be for the best—New York’s biggest signing a year ago (tackle Nate Solder) was a disaster.
A number of mock drafts forecast that the Giants will make Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins the sixth overall pick. Provided Haskins shows out decently in workouts, it’s hard to imagine he falls past Big Blue.
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Mark Zaleski/Associated Press
The New York Jets hope they have acquired their franchise quarterback of the future in Sam Darnold. But if the team wants Darnold to have a future, it needs to improve the protection in front of him.
To be fair, the Jets weren’t terrible in pass protection—they just weren’t good either. For the season, the Jets surrendered 37 sacks and ranked 18th in pass pro per Football Outsiders. But the Jets were dead last in run blocking and 26th in rushing yards.
When you can’t run the ball, opposing pass-rushers can pin back their ears and go. This is not conducive to Darnold’s long-term well-being.
The Jets have plenty of potential courses of action to improve the offensive line. If there’s a tackle the Jets covet in free agency, the team can afford it—New York has more cap space than every team in the league save one.
Gang Green also has the third overall pick in April’s draft. That could put them in good position to flip last year’s script, trade back instead of forward and still select one of 2019’s top tackle prospects.
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Ben Margot/Associated Press
As cold as this may sound, the biggest need for the Oakland Raiders might just be “good players.”
Seriously. Look at each of the position groups on the Raiders—on offense and defense. Now, start rattling off the ones that are above average in talent level.
Didn’t take long, huh?
But even on a team riddled with holes, one looms above all others for the Raiders. Oakland has to do something about the pass rush—in that the team doesn’t have one.
The Raiders were positively pathetic when it came to sacking opposing quarterbacks in 2018. The Raiders weren’t just dead last in the league—they were last by an embarrassing margin of 17 sacks. Six players in the National Football League more sacks individually than the Raiders had as a team (13).
The Raiders have a lot of resources available to them in 2019, including over $70 million in cap space and three picks in the first round of the draft.
A substantial amount of those assets need to be dedicated to getting after opposing quarterbacks.
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Matt Rourke/Associated Press
Over the past few years, the Philadelphia Eagles have developed a well-deserved reputation for possessing one of the deepest, most talented defensive lines in the NFL.
If the Eagles are going to maintain that reputation moving forward, it’s going to take some doing.
At defensive end, the team looks to have a keeper in youngster Derek Barnett. But Brandon Graham is set to hit free agency after a disappointing 2018 season statistically. Michael Bennett just turned 33, and Chris Long will be 34 in March.
At tackle, the Eagles sport one of the best in the business in Fletcher Cox. But Cox’s impact was mitigated in 2018 by a revolving door of blah next to him.
Free agency is all but out as an option. No team in the NFL is worse off relative to the cap than the Eagles, who are almost $18.5 million over the cap according to, well, Over the Cap.
However, in a draft class dripping with defensive linemen, there’s a good chance the Eagles will be able to add a difference-maker at No. 25.
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Gary Landers/Associated Press
The offseason storylines are going to be dominated by offense in the Steel City—the future of wide receiver Antonio Brown and the contract situation of tailback Le’Veon Bell.
But the wideout and running back positions aren’t the biggest need for the Steelers. Neither is inside linebacker, although the Steelers badly need to find a replacement for Ryan Shazier.
No, the biggest hole is an old one: the cornerback position.
Bringing in Joe Haden was a wise move, but outside of him, the Steelers have had zero luck upgrading the position in recent years. 2016 first-rounder Artie Burns spent much of last season watching games from the bench.
Several promising prospects at the position could be available to the Steelers at No. 20, including Washington’s Byron Murphy, LSU’s Greedy Williams and Georgia’s Deandre Baker.
The draft is Pittsburgh’s best hope at getting better on the back end. The cap hit from a Brown trade will all but cripple the team in free agency.
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Jeff Chiu/Associated Press
Given the amount of draft resources the San Francisco 49ers have sunk into the defensive line in recent years, the fact that end remains a big need for the team doesn’t speak too well to the front office’s scouting prowess.
In three straight drafts from 2015 to 2017, the 49ers spent a first-round pick on a defensive lineman. But of the three, only one (DeForest Buckner) has come close to panning out.
Arik Armstead set a career high in sacks last year—but that career high was all of three. Solomon Thomas has been practically invisible over his two seasons, managing four sacks total.
While it’s a bit frustrating to be forced into banging away at the same position year after year after year, the reality is the Niners have to do something about a pass rush that tied for 22nd in the NFL in 2018.
The dream scenario for John Lynch in 2019? A team trades up to No. 1 to take a quarterback, which would open the door for San Francisco to have its pick of a deep crop of QB-chasers at No. 2.
Nick Bosa, come on down!
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Norm Hall/Getty Images
The Seattle Seahawks have one of the better young defensive ends in the NFL in Frank Clark. Or at least had him—after amassing a career-best 13 sacks in 2018, Clark is set to receive a massive payday in free agency.
That payday will more than likely come in Seattle—either in the form of a long-term deal or the use of the franchise tag. With over $50 million in cap space, Seattle can afford to keep Clark in town, and NFL clubs rarely let pass-rushers that talented walk out the door.
However, even with Clark on the roster, Seattle could use another end to pair with him. Yes, the Seahawks piled up 43 sacks last year, but well over half came courtesy of Clark and Jarran Reed (10.5 sacks). That sort of tilted production isn’t sustainable in the long term.
Given the amount of cheddar the Seahawks are about to hand Clark, making another huge financial investment along the defensive line is cost-prohibitive—especially as Reed heads toward free agency in 2020.
The smarter play for Seattle is availing itself of a draft class loaded on the defensive front.
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Will Vragovic/Getty Images
You may have expected to see quarterback listed as the biggest need for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. There’s no denying that after being benched twice last year, Jameis Winston is on thin ice heading into the option year of his rookie contract.
But whether it’s Winston or another quarterback who slings passes for Tampa in 2019, he’s not going to have success unless the protection in front of him improves.
The Buccaneers had the No. 1 passing attack in the NFL a year ago, but the line allowed 41 sacks and ranked 31st in the NFL in run blocking according to Football Outsiders.
The big problem for the Buccaneers here is financial—Tampa only has about $8.5 million in cap space per Over the Cap, which may not be enough cash to even re-up Donovan Smith. Smith is no world-beater, but 25-year-old tackles with 64 career starts have a tendency to get paid in free agency.
If Smith isn’t brought back, there’s going to be an awful lot of pressure on the Buccaneers to look hard at a tackle with the fifth overall pick in the 2019 draft.
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Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press
Whether the team is ready or not, it’s time for a turning of the page at pass-rusher in Nashville.
Veteran Derrick Morgan had just half a sack last year, missed three games and is set to hit free agency. Fellow veteran Brian Orakpo has called it a career. The team’s second- and third-leading players in sacks last year were inside linebackers. The leader was a defensive end.
The team has one young player (hopefully) ready to step into a full-time role in Harold Landry, who piled up 4.5 sacks as a rookie. But Landry is going to need help in 2019.
With upward of $40 million in cap space, the Titans could (in theory) take a run at a big-name free agent. But it’s a risky play—in 2020 much of that cap space will be needed for extensions for quarterback Marcus Mariota and tailback Derrick Henry.
That leaves the 2019 draft and pick No. 19 as the team’s best bet at improving a defense that tied for 16th in the league in sacks.
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Mark Tenally/Associated Press
We’ll wrap this look at the biggest hole on every NFL team with possibly the most glaring.
When Alex Smith broke his leg last year against the Houston Texans, it effectively broke the team as well. The Redskins entered that fateful game 6-3 and in first place in the NFC East.
Washington would win just one more game the rest of the way.
Wait…it gets much worse.
Smith was in the hospital over a month and required multiple surgeries to battle infections in his leg. Team president Bruce Allen may have denied it, but there have been reports that claim Smith will miss the entire 2019 season.
That puts Washington squarely between a rock and a hard place.
The only other signal-caller under contract in 2019 is Colt McCoy, who broke his own leg not long after Smith. Given Smith’s hefty contract and Washington’s cap situation, a high-end free agent isn’t feasible.
And with the 15th overall pick, it could well take a trade up to secure one of the top rookies.