With the Super Bowl and all its connected tentacles finally behind us, it’s time to set our eyes on the offseason and the 2019 season.
There has been no shortage of minor maneuvers so far, all setting the table for the typical fireworks display that kicks off the start of each league year. We’re here to preview the biggest storylines for each team. Today we’re on the NFC (and check out AFC storylines here):
What’s next for DeMarcus Lawrence: A theory: Jerry Jones still wants head coach Jason Garrett to succeed at all costs. That meant trading for Amari Cooper. That meant watching him lose in the playoffs and giving him another shot to completely revamp the coaching staff. That will also mean figuring out a way to keep a pass rusher who may end up being the second-most expensive free agent on the market. Dallas is actually well-fixed on cap space and could fit a new deal under the ceiling without wreaking too much havoc.
The Eli Manning process: I think the sensible thing for the Giants to do is draft Manning’s replacement—should they fall in love with someone in the draft—and make that person beat Manning out for the starting job. When it becomes clear that the line of ascension is meeting Manning’s line of descent, announce his retirement and give him the walk-away tour over which Giants fans would inevitably salivate. As much as Giants fans would love to punt the next 10 years of the franchise waiting for one more Manning Super Bowl, I think it would be difficult for them to stomach another uncontested training camp for their long-time captain with no future on the horizon. Yes, everyone is claiming that we should now wait until 2020 to draft a quarterback, but what if waiting that long means burning another year of Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham’s prime?
The impending Nick Foles decision: The Eagles want to maximize their return for Foles. They’ve already volleyed back and forth in some contractual ping-pong, and now it’s GM Howie Roseman’s serve. His options? Franchise Foles then trade him, or let him go. Option one isn’t happening unless Philly knows they have a partner who is willing to pay Foles per year what the tag number comes in at. So… who is desperate for a Super Bowl MVP?
The hunt for Alex Smith’s (temporary) replacement: As NFL Network reported recently, Washington is not holding their breath for a Smith return anytime soon. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Josh Johnson back, as he performed well in mop-up duty at the end of the season, but they will almost certainly bring in some competition for Colt McCoy, who’s currently due back for the final year of his deal at $3.5 million.
Start listening with the No. 1 pick: Arizona is on the clock, technically, and Nick Bosa seems to be the consensus top pick. The Cardinals don’t need a quarterback, and thanks to the absence of a must-have quarterback, probably won’t field the type of demand the selection normally would. They need more than one player, and new head coach Kliff Kingsbury would do well to pick up an extra pick or two to layer his offensive depth chart.
Re-tooling after the Super Bowl loss: Rams CEO Kevin Demoff was right about one thing in the locker room underneath the Super Dome in New Orleans—it wasn’t just the splashy moves that got Los Angeles to the Super Bowl; they build a foundation for this team to stand on. However, Andrew Whitworth is a major issue. John Sullivan will be 34 before training camp. Rodger Saffold is a free agent. Ndamukong Suh is a free agent. Aqib Talib is turning 33. This is most pressing, assuming that all is fine with Todd Gurley…
Trade for a high-end wide receiver: Don’t be surprised to hear the 49ers come up plenty post-combine. This is a team looking to pair Jimmy Garoppolo (and new receivers coach Wes Welker) with some serious ammunition. They have the No. 2 pick in the draft, and enough talent to challenge for the division already in 2019. They also have plenty left over from their free agency war chest of 2018.
Inking Frank Clark to a new deal: Thirty-two sacks in three years, and a career best 13 last year. While the draft is loaded with defensive talent, Clark seems to be engrained in Pete Carroll’s latest culture change, rowing in the same direction with the rest of the surprising Seahawks of 2018. He will not come cheap, though, as Over The Cap warns in his offseason salary cap projections.
Smooth out the offense: Ryan Pace’s job from here on out will be propping up Mitchell Trubisky in any way possible. This is not meant to be a negative. He’s done a fine job, as has head coach Matt Nagy, but Trubisky is not, as of right now, the kind of player who can win games on his own. Golden Tate, John Brown, Randall Cobb and Cordarrelle Patterson are all available and possibly interesting in that system.
Continue to trim the excess: Matt Patricia can’t be half-in on a teardown if that’s his opinion of the roster. Last year’s defense was pieced together surprisingly well despite the lack of signature chess pieces. With a few aging veteran holdovers taking up cap space, don’t be surprised if the Lions sample heavily in the middle-tier defensive free agent market.
Survive what is likely to be a tumultuous offseason: Clay Matthews is a free agent, as is Cobb. It’s the first tightrope a new Packers regime will have to walk with Aaron Rodgers as they strike a balance between the perennial contender they were and the refined machine they want to be. It would be an extraordinarily hard sell to cocoon the team through free agency and emerge with only a new offense.
Nail their first-rounder on the offensive line: I liked this pick in Kalyn Kahler’s latest mock draft, associating the Vikings with one of the best tackle prospects in the draft. Yes, Riley Reiff played well last year and Brian O’Neill is a young player who deserves the chance to compete again. But Zimmer needs to have the constant, high-level competitive churn up front like he did at corner all those years.
Tread water during free agency: The Falcons have two of the five highest graded players from last year’s PFF inventory hitting free agency (Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Grady Jarrett, with the latter obviously being a priority). As the team’s own website mentioned, Julio Jones’s deal is another that deserves attention. Sitting in the bottom third of cap space, Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff will have to balance their desire to look like the team that nearly won a Super Bowl two years ago, but their need to streamline.
With the increase in pressure on Ron Rivera and new ownership, there will be a heightened push to find their way back to the top of the NFC South. That’s not easy to do when your quarterback’s shoulder nearly fell off at the end of last season and then was surgically repaired in the offseason. ESPN reported recently that we could see Newton at camp. A backup plan not containing just Taylor Heinicke would be a start.
Move on: Seriously, beyond Mark Ingram. Beyond backup shopping behind Drew Brees for the 2019 season, the Saints need to stiff-arm another massive perceived slight that impacted a Super Bowl-bound season. I recently wrote about the last time Sean Payton had to galvanize a team still catching their breath from a stunning turn of events. He’ll have his work cut out for him in 2019.
Jameis Winston, 3.0: We’ve been sold Jameis Winston before (and opted for a return). Bruce Arians’s arrival signals the best hope yet that he is more than a mercurial passer prone to spiraling moments in bad games. Can the man who wrote a book about his time with Peyton, Luck, Palmer and Roethlisberger add a chapter on his final success story?
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