Each NFL team’s offseason is filled with small moves and marginal personnel decisions. Sometimes, that series of small moves will build a winner. But a big, bold move always helps, dramatically improving talent at an important position or changing the overall direction of the franchise.

Football Outsiders‘ writers — Cale Clinton (AFC East, NFC East), Robert Weintraub (AFC North), Rivers McCown (AFC South), Bryan Knowles (AFC West, NFC South), Mike Tanier (NFC North) and Vincent Verhei (NFC West) — suggest a bold move for each team this offseason. Some of these are realistic, others are more far-fetched, but each would provide a significant change and improve a team’s chances of winning future Super Bowls.

We may refer to Football Outsiders’ DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) metric, which takes every play during the season and compares it to a baseline adjusted for situation and opponent. It is explained further here.

Moves are suggested for each team independently of the moves recommended for other teams, which is why you may see some veteran quarterbacks mentioned as trade targets for multiple franchises.

Jump to:
NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF


Land a second receiver alongside Stefon Diggs

The Bills entered the 2022 offseason extremely confident in the talent already in-house. Outside of their long, big swing on Von Miller, most of Buffalo’s offseason was dedicated to securing the talent already in the building. That meant deals for both Gabe Davis and Isaiah McKenzie, two wide receivers Buffalo believed could be the pieces necessary for a Super Bowl-winning offense. Despite posting the second-best offensive passing DVOA in the league, the Bills fell short of that goal. Davis was a serviceable second wide receiver, finishing 27th among receivers in DYAR (defense-adjusted yards above replacement) and 28th in DVOA. McKenzie finished slightly behind Davis, 40th in DYAR and 30th in DVOA. Neither could match the firepower of the receivers for fellow AFC contenders Cincinnati, Kansas City or Miami.

Buffalo is pretty cap hamstrung at the moment. It sits $16.5 million over the cap with no easy ways to create more space. There are some key pending free agents that Buffalo would like to keep at cost, but it seems tough to take a swing at any outside talent, let alone a big-contract receiver such as DeAndre Hopkins. That being said, Buffalo should be willing to sacrifice future assets if it means winning now. Trading up from No. 28 for someone such as Jordan Addison or Jaxon Smith-Njigba should absolutely be on the table. Speaking of draft day, this time last year no one knew players such as A.J. Brown and Marquise Brown would be moved in the last year of their deals. Tee Higgins fits that bill, and who knows how many more names could join him come April. If cost-effective wide receivers are within reach, Buffalo should be the first team on the phone.

Land a top veteran safety

Last year, the Dolphins spent their offseason completely reinventing one side of the ball. It worked. Mike McDaniel’s scheme helped propel Tua Tagovailoa from an RPO-heavy, short-yardage passer to the league’s most efficient deep passer. Tyreek Hill paired excellently alongside Jaylen Waddle, the WR duo both finishing in the top four of receiving DYAR.

This year’s project will involve turning around the defensive side of the ball. It has already begun, predated by a midseason trade for Bradley Chubb and kick-started by adding Vic Fangio as the defensive coordinator. Fangio is the forefather of this era of NFL defenses defined by two-high defenses, light boxes and four-man rushes. The most important position in that scheme — especially with Fangio — is the safety. The safeties are responsible for massive swaths of field coverage, are involved in the run game and dictate the quarterback’s pre- and post-snap processing.

Jevon Holland took a massive leap for the Dolphins. He led the team in defensive snaps and interceptions while finishing third in passes defensed and fourth in tackles. With this free agency class’ high-end talent at safety, why not follow last year’s model and give Fangio his veteran to pair alongside a young talent? OverTheCap.com lists Miami at about $16 million over the cap; the Dolphins would probably need to clear double that to get close to a Jessie Bates III or Jordan Poyer deal. Miami could still definitely get in on a player such as Vonn Bell, Donovan Wilson or Taylor Rapp to round out an elite safety duo for Fangio’s inaugural campaign.



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Re-sign Jakobi Meyers and trade for a WR

New England’s offense took a major step back in the transition from Josh McDaniels to Matt Patricia. The Patriots passing offense fell from a top-10 unit to a bottom-10 unit by DVOA in just one season. Bringing in Bill O’Brien gives New England a proper offensive coordinator and reunites Mac Jones with his Alabama coaching staff, but the 2022 campaign was enough to make some question whether Jones was the long-term answer at quarterback. The Patriots could help get Jones back to his rookie efficiency numbers and prepare for a potential 2024 “bold move” at quarterback be revamping the wide receiver room.

That process begins by re-signing free agent wide receiver Meyers. Meyers has been one of the most reliable Patriots offensive weapons since he was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2019, leading the Patriots in targets for the last three seasons. He has been Jones’ go-to guy, especially in crucial situations. Meyers finished eighth among all pass-catchers in both DVOA and DYAR on third/fourth down passes (min. 25 targets).

Meyers would be a very strong WR2 for most teams. Why not stay with this current team while making him a WR2? New England has $32 million in cap space per OverTheCap.com, can clear a lot more with a handful of moves and don’t have many glaring roster holes to use them on. New England has been floated as a destination in a hypothetical Hopkins trade. The Patriots could also kick the tires on Higgins if the Cincinnati Bengals are unable to work out a contract extension. A big-bodied field-stretching receiver could be the perfect complement to a do-it-all guy like Meyers. If the tandem doesn’t elevate Jones in 2023, it would set the stage for the next swing at quarterback.

Do whatever it takes to land Lamar Jackson

It is not a “bold move” to tie the Jets to a veteran quarterback. In fact, given the closeout to their 2022 regular season and the personnel they have signed to their coaching staff this offseason, it seems like the most obvious move they will make this offseason. Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett has close ties to Aaron Rodgers, while passing game coordinator Todd Downing has worked with Derek Carr and potential cap casualty Ryan Tannehill. You could even connect Jimmy Garoppolo to Jets head coach Robert Saleh from their days in San Francisco. At this point, it’s not a matter of whether the Jets land a quarterback, it’s a matter of which one they land.

If the Jets are going to take a swing, they should swing for the fences. Do whatever it takes to land Jackson. It’s rare enough for a former MVP to come available. When one does, it’s usually late in the career as an attempt for a second chapter. But Jackson is 26 years old. He is three seasons removed from a unanimous MVP campaign. Jackson is one of the league’s best mobile quarterbacks, and he has an elite arm that is rarely talked about because of Baltimore’s inability to supply him with receiving talent (despite the team’s best attempts). There are few combinations of picks and players that outweigh the potential value of Jackson in his prime.

Cap space becomes a concern, as the Jets are $250,000 over, but the talent New York has on rookie contracts makes a move like this slightly more feasible. The move lands the Jets a best-of-both-worlds quarterback: one with the proven track record of a veteran and the youth required for a comfortable long-term investment.



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Trade Lamar Jackson

“Bold” is one word for dealing the Ravens’ quarterback. “Absurd” is another. “Inevitable,” however, might be the most important descriptor. The NFL’s most unique signal-caller has the league’s thorniest contract negotiation as well. Even after the situation predictably hung over the team all season, both sides seem dug in and aren’t close to an agreement on the enormous extension players of Jackson’s talent expect to sign pro forma. We’ve seemingly been headed here since the end of the 2021 season, with everyone in Charm City insisting that when push came to shove, Jackson would get his huge extension. Instead, the Ravens seem closer to shoving Jackson out the door and starting over at quarterback.

You know the issues — Jackson is an electrifying talent who single-handedly carries the Ravens to seemingly impossible victories over and over again, yet he turned in his third-straight subpar passing season by advanced metrics since he won the MVP in 2019, ranking from 19th to 22nd in passing DYAR in 2020, 2021 and 2022. This is partly due to the stale Greg Roman offense (perhaps being rectified by Todd Monken as Baltimore’s new offensive coordinator) and the annual lack of perimeter playmakers in Baltimore. Jackson missed the crucial homestretch of last season with injury, leaving Baltimore to lose a wild-card game in Cincinnati with backup Tyler Huntley under center, a contest Jackson did not travel to witness with his team. Jackson has won just a single playoff game in his career, yet is reportedly asking for guaranteed money that, if not in the ludicrous Deshaun Watson range, remains far more than Baltimore is apparently comfortable lavishing upon him.

The franchise tag appears imminent — but then what? The bold move would be to tag and trade Lamar to a team that would sign him to a rich new deal. Would Chicago take Jackson for a package of picks and/or Justin Fields? Would Atlanta throw a bevy of assets at the Ravens in exchange? The Texans are lousy with draft capital as well as plain lousy — would they shift some of those extra picks Baltimore’s way to revive a moribund franchise? Regardless of the destination, the Ravens’ return likely won’t ever be higher than now. The Ravens have a strong roster that still needs some pieces, and resetting the contract clock at quarterback might unlock a championship push if they draft the right (cheap) signal-caller.

This is high-level risk, like going all-in at the World Series of Poker with the other guy showing trip aces. But folding (letting Lamar play in 2023 under the franchise tag and having the contract hang over the team for yet another season) may wind up costing the Ravens a giant pot in the end.

Trade Tee Higgins

Cincinnati’s wideout trio of Ja’Marr Chase, Higgins and Tyler Boyd is the envy of the league and the turbo-thrust behind the team’s surge to the cusp of a title over the past two seasons. The Bengals will soon be giving rich contract extensions to quarterback Joe Burrow and (presumably) to Chase as well. Boyd is already on his second contract and entering his age-29 season.

The X factor is Higgins, who has quietly put together a pair of outstanding seasons that — at least by Football Outsiders metrics — have been even better than those of his more heralded teammate, Chase. Higgins was a second-round pick in 2020, so the Bengals don’t have the luxury of the fifth-year option to use. He will be a free agent after next season.

Certainly, Cincinnati can simply keep Higgins for now and either figure out a way to sign him or franchise-tag him after next year, and this is the likely scenario. On the other hand, teams about to go from rookie QB contract paradise to massive QB contract hell need to make some hard decisions about personnel. Re-signing Burrow for whatever he asks for is a no-brainer. The tricky part is deciding where else to slice and dice.

Obviously, the model is Kansas City, the team with whom the Bengals have slugged it out for AFC supremacy over the past two years. The Chiefs stayed on top after making the bold move of dealing Hill rather than pay him top dollar, with most of the savings allocated to paying Mahomes. Cincy could easily do the same with Higgins, and he would return a fat haul in draft capital — maybe not quite what Miami gave up for Hill (a first, a second, two fourths and a sixth) but enough to keep the young talent assembly line running in Cincy, allowing the Bengals to further enjoy this golden era of competitiveness while maintaining cap flexibility.

Kansas City made a bold move and was rewarded with a Lombardi Trophy. Will Cincinnati be as intrepid? It may be the needed step to at last bring the franchise that elusive first championship.

Trade Nick Chubb

The Browns are hoisted on their own petard, to paraphrase the Bard. Spooked by Baker Mayfield‘s failure to become Joe Burrow, the franchise went all-in with a fully guaranteed contract for quarterback Deshaun Watson. Cleveland was rewarded with a far worse player in 2022 than Jacoby Brissett (Brissett: 60.0 QBR DVOA in 11 games; Watson: 38.3 QBR in six games), who played while Watson was suspended 11 games for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy by committing sexual assault, as defined by the league, on massage therapists. Now, reality strikes as Watson’s cap hit balloons to a record $55 million.

The truly bold move would be for the Browns to rid themselves of Watson, eating the enormous cost of the contract as a lesson learned the hard way. But of course, the Browns won’t ever do that. Instead, they are tied to Watson for the foreseeable future, and must now do everything in their power to try and lift him back to becoming the player he was in Houston. Theoretically, a strong run game, which the Browns have had ever since they drafted the dynamic Nick Chubb, does just that, but since opponents don’t particularly fear that Watson can beat them through the air, it hasn’t worked that way.

The Browns should be looking to place their few remaining assets into transforming their passing game. Right now, Browns receivers include good if unspectacular WR Amari Cooper, above-average if overpaid TE David Njoku, middling WR Donovan Peoples-Jones and that’s about it. Meanwhile, the offensive line is expensive thanks to recent extensions for tackle Jack Conklin and guards Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller.

Chubb’s cap hit triples in 2023 to nearly $15 million, but at age 27 he remains a highly desirable asset, rare among running backs playing under a second contract. Cleveland has precious few tradable pieces, and thus should deal Chubb while he retains value and get a strong return, necessary with this year’s first- and third-round picks and 2024’s first and fourth going to the Texans for Watson. With such a supposedly potent O-line (though the unit was just 12th in run block win rate and 14th in adjusted line yards in 2022), lesser backs than Chubb should still be able to make hay while the Browns transition into a more robust passing team.

Losing an All-Pro-caliber player such as Chubb wasn’t supposed to be part of the Watson deal but barring a major turnaround in the disgraced passer’s play, it may be the only way forward.

Use a second-round pick to move up in the draft

With Kenny Pickett established as at least a competent quarterback (51.5 QBR in 2022), the Steelers have a good young, cheap core on offense: Pickett, George Pickens, Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth. Where they are lacking, and have been for a while now, is on the offensive line. A boost of elite talent upfront could reposition the team near the top of the AFC once again. The Steelers aren’t in great position to sign free agents, however, given their usual spot right up against the cap.

Pittsburgh somehow found the Bears to not only take Chase Claypool but give up a second-round pick for him. Incredibly, that pick is the first in Round 2, No. 32 overall, an enormously valuable spot in the draft. (The three AFC North players we advocate trading above — Lamar Jackson, Nick Chubb and Tee Higgins — were drafted 31st, 35th and 33rd overall, respectively.) That allows Pittsburgh a wealth of options with which to attack not only its offensive line needs but also to find another pass-rusher (for all the brilliance of T.J. Watt, the Steelers were only 14th in adjusted sack rate in 2022) or add to a shallow secondary.

Standing pat with three picks in the top 49 is the safe route. But that’s the rub. Because Mike Tomlin yet again steered a flawed team to a winning record (9-8), Pittsburgh picks 17th in the first round and 49th in the second — not exactly slam-dunk draft slots.

This season there are several good, but not necessarily automatic, prospects upfront. That could be a blessing, however, as the Steelers won’t have to move up far to get the likes of Paris Johnson Jr. of Ohio State or Broderick Jones of Georgia (Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski is the lone player likely out of range, though he isn’t close to Penei Sewell or former teammate Rashawn Slater as a prospect). The 49th pick would suffice to leap in front of the Jets at 13 for their preferred choice. (By the way, Pittsburgh hasn’t drafted a tackle in the first round since 1996.)

Or Pitt could wield that 32nd pick and go get Christian Gonzalez of Oregon or Devon Witherspoon of Illinois, the consensus top corners. Or even a dominant edge rusher like Tyree Wilson of Texas Tech if he falls into the latter part of the top ten. So long as Tomlin is around, the chance at truly elite, can’t-miss talent will be rare. The Steelers should use this opportunity to move up and grab a top prospect.


Trade up for the No. 1 pick

The Texans can’t afford to categorize their win over Indianapolis in the final week of the season as a sunk cost that keeps them from acquiring the quarterback they need. ESPN’s Courtney Cronin, with some help from scouts and Matt Miller, recently came up with the price of a third-rounder, 2024 third-rounder and a fourth-rounder to move up to No. 1. Perhaps it would actually cost a second-rounder or a 2024 first-round pick, of which the Texans have two and could move Cleveland’s.

Simply put, if the Texans do have a valuation of a franchise quarterback on anyone in this class, they can’t afford to get leapfrogged for that quarterback. Particularly when the potential leap-frogger is in your division, and that quarterback could be playing against you twice a year for 10 seasons if he’s a hit. Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud seem to be revered as the top of the class, with Will Levis in contention as long as you can build a wall of cognitive dissonance around his 2022 college performance based on injuries and lack of talent around him.

If the Texans have identified one of those three players as clearly above the others, they can’t afford to leave the fate of their future in Chicago’s hands.



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Trade up for the No. 1 pick

Jim Irsay told reporters at Shane Steichen’s opening press conference that the Colts favored an offensive coach because they knew “we’re going to have to find a young quarterback to develop,” then dropped major hints that Bryce Young “doesn’t look bad.” Smokescreen or not, it’s very obvious that this team has needed to hit the right pick for a bit.

The Cronin/Miller article referenced above had the Colts giving up their second-round pick, fourth-round pick and a 2024 third-rounder. The Bears could probably still guarantee one of Will Anderson or Jalen Carter based on such a move assuming the current draft meta holds, as both the Texans and Colts will more likely than not be selecting a quarterback.

The Colts and Texans, by the way, don’t necessarily have to feel that way about the same quarterback, which is what makes this game of poker for the No. 1 pick even more fascinating. As with the Texans, it’s our belief that the Colts have to move up if they feel more strongly about one of the top three quarterbacks in this class than the others.

Trade Cam Robinson

Robinson went down with a torn meniscus suffered against the Cowboys in Week 15 and did not return for the remainder of the season. The team sounds serious about re-signing Jawaan Taylor, who will become a free agent this offseason and could command a big salary as a solid right tackle. Taylor was Matt Bowen’s 15th-ranked free agent. They also got solid work from Walker Little in Robinson’s absence, as he allowed just eight blown blocks per Sports Info Solutions in his 221 regular season snaps. The 2021 second-rounder is as ready as he’s going to get for a real role.

That leaves Robinson as the odd man out, and an odd man out on a team that will start the offseason before restructures and releases at $22 million over the cap. A pre-June 1 trade of Robinson would save $12 million in cap space, and a post-June 1 trade of Robinson would save closer to $17 million. He could be a fit for a team that needs proven protection on the line and has cap space. Perhaps the Bears, Raiders or Patriots would be willing to dangle a mid-round pick for Robinson rather than deal with the free-agent market.

That could be a good way for the Jaguars to build a more sustainable roster. There’s nothing wrong with having Little as depth, but it’s pretty rare to invest a second-round pick in a guy and not find a real spot for him to get a shot by his third season.

Spend big on the offensive line

The Titans dealt with a combination of injuries to starters on their line that just devastated them towards the end of last season. Taylor Lewan was lost for the year early on, Ben Jones had multiple concussions and Nate Davis was placed on season-ending IR with an ankle injury. It’s one thing to lose a starter, but these were irreplaceable starters. The Titans were already breaking in a new young tackle in Nicholas Petit-Frere and carrying a hole at guard. Those were the three players that were supposed to support them, and the loss of all three of them was simply too much to overcome.

Lewan has already been released. Jones is 34 and can be cut for cap savings. Davis is a free agent. The reinforcements this team used covered themselves in the opposite of glory. SIS charting had Dennis Daley leading the entire league in blown blocks with 51, and Aaron Brewer was in the top 10 in blown blocks among guards with 34.

This team starts the offseason over the cap but can make a ton of releases and should be able to generate a modest amount of cap space. Re-signing Davis is important, but even beyond that, the Titans need to invest heavily in competition and, ideally, a real replacement for Lewan at tackle. Orlando Brown is probably out of their price range, but the Titans could make a play for Jawaan Taylor or Mike McGlinchey. With former 49ers’ personnel man Ran Carthon now running the show at GM, McGlinchey could be someone to connect the dots on. The entire identity of Mike Vrabel’s teams have been about winning with physicality, so the Titans have to play better up front, no matter what the cost is.


Trade for Brandin Cooks

Anything to give Russell Wilson a better chance to succeed, right?

On paper, the trio of Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy and Tim Patrick are all talented. We also haven’t seen them all at the same time enough to really judge them — we didn’t see Patrick at all last season after he tore his ACL — and both Jeudy and Sutton have struggled with injuries of their own on a semi-regular basis. Even when they’re all healthy, however, they’re missing one aspect — speed. Sutton notably struggled to separate from defenders this past season, and neither Jeudy nor Patrick exactly take the top off the defense, either; that was a role given to the KJ Hamlers of the world. There is no DK Metcalf-type here for Wilson to bomb the ball out to, no patented pre-Brees-noodle arm deep threat for Sean Payton like Devery Henderson or Robert Meachem…

…Or, for that matter, Cooks. Cooks had three good years with Payton in New Orleans, repeatedly hitting 1,000 yards receiving and topping out at a 11.6% DVOA, which neither Jeudy nor Sutton has ever hit since. While that relationship ended on a bit of a flat note, Cooks and Payton have both expressed respect for one another in recent years. Cooks wants out of Houston; might a reunion be in the cards? It would cost a mid-round draft pick, but give Denver an immediate short-term dynamic option while Payton figures out what to do with the Broncos’ offense.

Let JuJu Smith-Schuster walk

While the Chiefs replaced Hill with a cast of thousands, the primary replacement ended up being JuJu Smith-Schuster, who was the first Chief not named Hill or Travis Kelce to rack up 100 targets since Jeremy Maclin in 2015. On paper, that makes Smith-Schuster Kansas City’s top guy, and with both Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman entering free agency, the Chiefs need to do something at the position — letting more than 55% of their wide receiver snaps leave without doing anything to replace them is a problem.

But bringing Smith-Schuster back probably isn’t the best answer to this problem. While JuJu did lead the Chiefs wideouts in receiving DVOA, that’s a double-edged sword: Smith-Schuster was signed to a one-year prove it deal and will be looking to cash in on it this year. He’ll be looking for something closer to $15 million a year, and that’s going to be a hard ask for Kansas City. They are currently over the salary cap, as 2023 is one of the big years of Patrick Mahomes‘ deal, which spikes up every four years or so. The Chiefs could restructure Mahomes to create plenty of room to sign Smith-Schuster if they wanted to, but they have other needs to take care of as well.

Instead, the Chiefs should take a two-fold approach to bolstering their receiving corps. They should attempt to bolster the position with a mid-round rookie like Dontayvion Wicks. And they should leverage the fact that they’re the preeminent dynasty with the best quarterback in the league. Just like the 2010s Patriots always seemed to find a quality receiver willing to take a lesser cap hit to chase a ring, the Chiefs could get good deals on someone like Michael Thomas. Come, play with Mahomes, look amazing, chase a ring and get ready for free agency next year. That’s a great sales pitch.

Cut Khalil Mack

The Chargers went all-in on 2022, making big offseason splashes in an attempt to wrest the division away from the Chiefs. While they did get a postseason berth out of the deal, it’s safe to say the results weren’t quite what they were hoping for.

Mack made the Pro Bowl, but there’s an element of name recognition that boosted him above his actual performance. Mack wasn’t terrible or anything, but he’s not the same player he was in Oakland or Chicago. His pressure rate fell to 10.7%, the second-lowest of his career and just 62nd among players with at least 200 pass-rushes last season. He hasn’t had a season with 60 or more pressures since 2019. That’s alright for a secondary rusher behind Joey Bosa, but Mack is getting paid like he’s still a superstar. His $27.4-million cap hit is the fifth highest for 2023 as we enter free agency.

The Chargers are in cap trouble and need to make a few moves to be compliant. Cutting Mack would save Los Angeles $18.4 million, nearly getting them back to even with a single move. While letting him go a year after trading multiple picks for him would hurt, it might be best to consider Mack’s deal a sunk cost and look to add more budget-efficient pass-rushers elsewhere.

Trade for Aaron Rodgers

Look, we said the moves would be bold; we never said they’d be original.

If Rodgers can still be the future Hall of Famer, back-to-back MVP, leader in passing DVOA in both 2020 and 2021 — then he’s an upgrade for all but the tiniest handful of teams. And even in 2022, a down year where he played through a broken thumb and dealt with breaking in a new receiving corps, he still managed an above-average passing DVOA. Reuniting him with Davante Adams is an obviously tempting idea, and imagining what he could do with Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow is exciting. When you can add an MVP quarterback to your roster, you do it.

So why is it a bold move? Because Rodgers is going to turn 40 years old next season, will cost the Raiders a ton in draft capital and/or key players to acquire and has a contract that has a dollar sign and the word “whatever he wants” after it. Of course, there’s no guarantee that going all-in on a superstar passer is bound to work; just ask Denver how the Russell Wilson era is going. But no other move would boost the Raiders’ Super Bowl odds quite as much as adding Rodgers — at least, according to the sportsbooks.


Let Pollard walk, cut Elliott and draft an RB

The Cowboys are in a bind this offseason. Currently $7.2 million over the cap, Dallas has 19 players entering free agency. Starters at tight end, running back, cornerback, safety, linebacker and offensive line are all set to hit the open market.

The most dramatic changes could be seen in the Cowboys running back room. Ezekiel Elliott is one of Dallas’ easiest ways to free up cap space, creating $10.9 million if given a post-June 1 release. Hopefully that long-term contract and its effects on Dallas’ cap the past few years have taught the team a valuable lesson before engaging in negotiations with Tony Pollard. However, Pollard could be a franchise tag candidate if Dallas gets scared by the idea of its lead back walking. That $10.1 million tag would essentially cancel out the cap room created by the Elliott cut. With so many of the Cowboys’ starters hitting the open market and so little cap space to retain them, it seems like a poor allocation of resources.

While Dallas does love keeping its home-grown products around, it might be best to let both running backs walk. Pollard was a top-five running back by receiving DVOA and receiving DYAR and finished better than Elliott as a rusher, but the price of the tandem has just gotten too expensive. There is little justification for keeping both with a massive running back free agency class on the horizon.

On top of that, this upcoming draft boasts one of the deepest and most talented running back classes in recent years. Currently sitting at 26th overall, Dallas would not have to move far to land Bijan Robinson, according to Todd McShay’s latest mock. Drafting running backs in the first round may draw some ire, and trading up for a first-round running back may be even more unorthodox, but it is a lesser evil than egregiously spending cap space on veteran running backs. Plus, Robinson is one of the best players in this draft class regardless of position. His contributions, coupled with the added value of the veterans you are now able to retain because of the newly available cap space, could outweigh the pick value given up in the trade to get him.

If Robinson is too rich for their blood, the Cowboys are within swinging distance of landing Alabama’s Jahmyr Gibbs in the late first round or early second round. They could even double dip, taking a swing on someone such as Sean Tucker or Tyjae Spears in later rounds. Regardless of the pick, there are too many cost-effective running back replacements to roster two running backs in 2023 who could run the team $10 million apiece.



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Stay put at wide receiver

The Giants have their hands full this offseason. Priorities 1A and 1B are to re-sign QB Daniel Jones and RB Saquon Barkley. Once they are locked in, New York has major needs along the offensive line, at linebacker and in the secondary. On top of that, a look at Brian Daboll and Joe Schoen’s proverbial blueprint for quarterback development might lead you to believe the Giants need to make a splash for a top-end wide receiver. Landing WR Stefon Diggs is what helped Josh Allen make his third-year leap into the conversation for league’s best quarterback. No two quarterback development tracks are the same, though. In Jones’ case, that need for a top wide receiver isn’t as imminent.

New York quietly boasted a top-10 passing offense in 2022. The Giants were one of four teams to have two wide receivers finish in the top 20 in receiving DVOA, with Darius Slayton and Richie James joining Miami (Waddle, Hill), Cincinnati (Boyd, Higgins) and Washington (McLaurin, Dotson). Isaiah Hodgins also deserves recognition for generating a 12.1% receiving DVOA this past season, 20th among receivers with 10 to 49 targets. And 2022 second-round pick Wan’Dale Robinson will return from a torn ACL next season.

There should be some sort of effort to add pass-catching talent, but New York has $46.9 million in cap space. Most of that will go to Jones and Barkley. Beyond them, there are too many holes on the defensive side of the ball to prioritize another offensive weapon. If the Giants make a move to add a receiver, it should come either in the later stages of free agency or in the draft.

Say goodbye to an elite defense and rebuild from scratch

The 2023 Eagles defense is going to look very, very different from its 2022 counterpart. So much of the Eagles’ defensive talent was sourced from expiring and one-year contracts. The Eagles had nine players play at least 700 defensive snaps in 2022; seven of them are pending free agents. With $6 million in cap space, it might just be best to start from scratch. Midseason additions Robert Quinn, Ndamukong Suh and Linval Joseph are natural players to let walk away. Philadelphia mainstays such as Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and Javon Hargrave might be tough goodbyes to make, but it could be sensible given their age.

Some of the players who helped shape the league’s best passing defense by DVOA are going to be the toughest to bring back. After career seasons by cornerback James Bradberry and safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson, both players may have priced themselves out of the Eagles’ offseason plans. However, they also may help lay out a plan to help Philadelphia retool in 2023.

Eagles general manager Howie Roseman snagged Bradberry after he was made a cap casualty by the Giants. That one-year, $7.25 million contract was enough to bring on the cornerback with a league-low 35.6% completion percentage allowed and 4.2 yards per target, third among qualifying corners. Philadelphia landed Gardner-Johnson for future Day 3 draft picks and walked away paying the league co-leader in interceptions $2.54 million.

These shrewd deals are not going to hit every time, but Philadelphia could supplement its 2023 defense by scouring the buyout market and making low-risk trades for players. This keeps the Eagles’ defense competitive without eating into too much cap space, and it still allows Philadelphia to stockpile and develop rookie-contract talent.

Stay out of the quarterback free agent frenzy

The Commanders’ boldest plan might be the one they have already laid out for themselves. Coach Ron Rivera said 2022 rookie Sam Howell will enter the offseason as the team’s No. 1 quarterback. That might be a vote of confidence, or it might just be explaining the Commanders’ current circumstances. Taylor Heinicke is a pending free agent and Carson Wentz was released. Howell and Jake Fromm would be the only two quarterbacks rostered in the event Washington lets Heinicke walk too.

Honestly, why not see what you have in Howell, at least for a year? He looked very competent in his lone start of the year, an upset victory over the Cowboys in Week 18. Howell finished 11-for-19 for 169 yards, a touchdown and an interception along with five rushing attempts for 35 yards, four first downs and a TD on the ground. That outing could definitely be built upon. The Commanders quietly have a great situation for any quarterback, let alone a young project such as Howell. Washington has two quality young receivers in Terry McLaurin and Jahan Dotson leading a strong group of pass-catchers. Both finished in the top 20 in receiving DVOA among qualifying wideouts.

The Commanders just added two-time Super Bowl champion Eric Bieniemy to run their offense. He spent the past half-decade learning from Andy Reid, the best offensive mind in modern football, and with the help of Patrick Mahomes, has never finished worse than third in offensive DVOA as a coordinator.

Use that excess cap to re-sign Daron Payne and shore up the interior of the offensive line. Maybe bring in a replacement-level veteran such as Andy Dalton to push Howell, and take a late flier on a project quarterback in the draft if you feel so inclined. The point is, Washington should build something before taking a swing at another veteran quarterback. This is a sound roster with a decently high floor, especially on the offensive end. Now that Bieniemy is in the building for the foreseeable future, see what is in-house before going for a big-name veteran.


The ol’ triple-trade-down trick shot

It’s time for Bears general manager Ryan Poles to channel his inner pool-hall hustler and use the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 draft like a cue ball to knock as many future assets as possible into his corner pockets.

First, the Bears should trade with the Texans to signal that they are open for business. Poles may not get much for moving down one spot in the draft, but the plan is to start a chain reaction. The Colts, in desperate need of a rookie quarterback after three years of increasingly disastrous reclamation projects, and worried that the Raiders or Panthers might leapfrog over them, will then pony up for the right to move from the fourth to the No. 2 overall pick.

Once Poles has liberated some future draft picks — and perhaps a veteran or two — from the Texans and Colts, it’s time for the ultimate bank shot: play the Raiders and Panthers off each other for the right to draft Levis or Anthony Richardson once Young and Stroud are off the board. This would likely be a draft-day deal, after all the bluffing and bluster have faded and Josh McDaniels and Frank Reich face the possibility of starting the 2023 season with Jarrett Stidham and Matt Corral at quarterback.

The table is lined up just right for Poles to walk away with multiple early-round picks over the next few years with which he can rebuild the Bears roster. But if Poles just stays put and drafts a defender — or trades Justin Fields for peanuts and drafts Young or Stroud — the Bears will once again find themselves behind the eight-ball.



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Sign Jessie Bates III

The Lions had only $13 million in cap space as of late February but could easily create more with a few restructured contracts and veteran trimmings. They can do what they please in free agency, and Bates is the jewel of this year’s class: a 26-year-old, playoff-tested, high-impact safety who has never received All-Pro recognition but should have once or twice.

The Bengals are unlikely to franchise-tag Bates for a second consecutive year. A long-term deal is possible but tricky: the Bengals are saving their nickels and dimes for Joe Burrow’s extension.

Once Bates hits the market, he’ll be looking for big bucks and a team that’s ready to contend. The Lions can provide both! And Bates will immediately upgrade a defense that ranked 29th in DVOA against deep passes in 2022.

All-in for Aaron Rodgers

If the Packers want to get Rodgers out of dark mode, off the trade market and back in the business of bringing another Super Bowl to Green Bay, they just have to whisper some magic words in his ear. “We traded for Jalen Ramsey. Or Mike Evans. Or, would you believe, both? We are all-in behind you for 2023.”

Such moves may sound impossible given the Packers’ cap situation, but anything is possible for a team willing to burn all its resources and shutter its windows after its Hall of Fame quarterback departs. This is the year to either toss the deed to the ranch into the pot or step away from the table. And this is a “bold moves” feature, not a “likely moves” feature.

The Rams will be motivated to move Ramsey, who won’t be a happy camper on a cash-strapped non-contender. The Buccaneers have no use for Evans now that they are enacting post-Brady austerity measures. The Packers, if they’re willing to be aggressive, just might be able to grab some Pro Bowlers from estate auctions and assemble a posse that will make Rodgers want to ride again.

The worst thing the Packers can do this offseason is wait around for Rodgers to emerge from his cocoon while they make the same little cost-effective signings and future-focused draft selections they traditionally make. That’s the road to grumpy scowls and diminishing returns, if not a breakup text sent from a sensory-deprivation tank. The Packers might as well throw some draft picks at rebuilding contenders such as the Rams and Bucs to see what they can accomplish before they are forced to join them.



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Purge the roster

Let’s face it: The 2022 Vikings weren’t actually any good — they were 27th overall in DVOA.

The Vikings also face a salary-cap quagmire: They’re $24 million in the red, with much of the dough tied up in 30ish-year-old veterans. Adding another veteran — and his salary — in a “bold move” wouldn’t propel the Vikings toward the Super Bowl. It’s more likely to capsize the longboat.

The boldest move general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah could make is to reverse course, repair the cap situation and usher in a youth movement. Release Eric Kendricks (probably gone anyway), Jordan Hicks (same), Harrison Smith (still good, but fading) and aging role players such as C.J. Ham. Trade Adam Thielen while he still has some market value. Let Patrick Peterson and Garrett Bradbury walk as free agents. Tell Kirk Cousins to update his LinkedIn for 2024. Make Justin Jefferson the highest-paid wide receiver and let the pre-rebuild commence.

Sounds unappealing, doesn’t it?

NFC South

Trade for Lamar Jackson

The Falcons spent the 2022 season dead for cap reasons, eating the remainder of the Matt Ryan extension as dead money. Considering their financial handicap, getting to 7-10 was an impressive achievement, and finishing 20th in overall DVOA even more surprising.

The problem with going 7-10 is that it knocked the Falcons down to the eighth pick in the draft, likely taking them out of the running for Young, Stroud and Levis. And with Marcus Mariota being cut, that would leave the Falcons with Desmond Ridder as their presumptive quarterback. Ridder showed promise last season; he would have been in the top 20 in passing DVOA had he had enough attempts to qualify, and the Falcons could continue bringing him along and developing him to be their quarterback of the future.

Or they could throw all that away and go get a former MVP. With the Saints, Buccaneers and Panthers all facing various degrees of salary-cap trouble, the division is there for the taking.

And with Jackson still at loggerheads with the Ravens over his next contract, there is a chance they could pry him loose. Jackson has never had a receiving corps as skilled as Drake London and Kyle Pitts on the top end. Jackson’s mobility would be an enhanced version of what Mariota brought to Arthur Smith’s offense last season, forcing defenses to account for all 11 players. It would take two or three first-round picks, a passel of midround selections and perhaps sending Ridder back the other way, but it’s the largest splash the Falcons could possibly make this offseason.

Trade for the No. 1 pick

Frank Reich and Andrew Luck were supposed to lead the Colts into the future. Instead, after Luck retired in 2018, Reich had a new starting quarterback in every season in Indianapolis. It was a rate of turnover that would prove problematic for even the most talented offensive line. Some continuity at the position in Carolina will go a long way into making his tenure more successful.

But the Panthers have a problem if they want to bring anyone in in free agency — they’re already nearly $8 million over the cap, with big dead-money hits from Christian McCaffrey and Robbie Anderson. They don’t have a lot of wriggle room with restructures, either. Scott Fitterer has his work cut out for him to keep the Panthers under the cap and competitive. They also have only Matt Corral and PJ Walker under contract at quarterback; it’s nearly unimaginable for them to enter 2023 without upgrading at the position.

So why not kill two birds with one stone? The Bears have the top pick in the draft, but they don’t need a quarterback. They need, among many other things, a star edge rusher. They might stay put and take Anderson, but they could be enticed to trade down, especially if that trade package also includes Brian Burns.

Losing Burns would hurt, but it would also free up more than $16 million in cap space for a player on the last year of his deal, and probably keep the price for trading up from ninth to first more palatable. It would be an all-in move on whichever quarterback Reich likes in the draft process, tying a lot of capital and the hopes of the franchise into one prospect. But if a Young or Stroud ends up becoming the next superstar quarterback, any price is worth paying.

Cut Andrus Peat

Really, this should read “tie Mickey Loomis to a chair and don’t let him touch anything,” but that might be a little too bold a suggestion.

Stop us if you’ve heard this one: The Saints have salary-cap issues. New Orleans has performed every trick of cap wizardry in the book to keep the core of its team together, and it’s at the point where nothing is simple anymore. The Saints are overleveraged; they have the fifth-most future sunk costs in the league. The Saints, at this point, are mortgaging years of salary-cap troubles to keep together a 7-10 team. Adding Carr will not fundamentally change anything — maybe it wins a weak NFC South — and the Saints will not become serious Super Bowl contenders again until they can refresh their roster.

They look to at least be taking some steps toward it, with WR Michael Thomas universally considered to be a post-June 1 cut after his December restructure and Jameis Winston headed out the door shortly thereafter.

Andrus Peat has been struggling for a few seasons now; declaring him as the other post-June 1 cut would save $11.8 million in the 2023 cap. It will take a couple of years to get back to the middle from a financial health perspective, but the Saints have to start at some point.

Trade Mike Evans

The Buccaneers mortgaged their future, and they won a Super Bowl. Now, they have to pay for it.

The Buccaneers currently are last in cap space, have a laundry list of free agents to deal with and don’t have a quarterback. There’s no beating around the bush here — the Buccaneers are in a rebuilding state, and the question is just how they’re going to go about it, rather than if. They’re eating all of Tom Brady’s dead money in 2023, meaning they will have to restructure contracts and add void years just to be able to field a roster. The most likely path they’ll take is, as Todd Bowles has said, “never rebuild, always reload.”

The NFC South is weak enough that they may be able to dump money into the future, sign some journeymen to fill holes and compete for a division title. Or they could draw a line under the Brady era entirely, blowing up the team and setting themselves up for a fresh start in 2024.

The biggest player they have to move is Mike Evans, a franchise legend and still very useful player who is hitting the wrong side of 30. Trading Evans before June 1 wouldn’t do much for the salary-cap situation, but it would likely net Tampa Bay useful picks in this year’s draft; he won’t draw as much value as Hill did last year but would still likely earn a pick somewhere in the top 50, at least. Or they could trade him after June 1 and add $14.5 million in cap room. Either way, the Buccaneers could get significant value by moving on from Evans. Moving on from a team leader and franchise legend is hard, but you don’t get much bolder than blowing a team up entirely to position yourself for the future.


Make the offensive line the priority

No NFL team is starting out the 2023 season from behind the eight-ball like the Cardinals. Incoming head coach Jonathan Gannon and offensive coordinator Drew Petzing already know that Kyler Murray‘s torn ACL won’t be fully healed when the season starts, and Colt McCoy will also miss part of the offseason with his own undisclosed injury. Whoever ends up taking snaps this season will need protection, and that’s something the Cardinals can’t offer right now.

The Cardinals are about to lose three starting linemen (left guard Justin Pugh, right guard Will Hernandez and right tackle Kelvin Beachum) to free agency. Center Rodney Hudson turns 34 in July and could be a post-June 1 cap casualty. Left tackle D.J. Humphries is the only starter certain to return. This would obviously be a problem for any team, but it’s particularly worrisome for Arizona given the injury situation with its quarterbacks and a stated desire to work from under center more often.

The good news is that new general manager Monti Ossenfort has bountiful resources at his disposal to attack this problem, including more cap space than most teams. If the Chiefs don’t franchise-tag him, Orlando Brown would be the best lineman available, and Arizona should be among his top suitors. Lewan and George Fant are starting-caliber players, though both missed time with injuries last season. Mike McGlinchey has had his own injury concerns (like most 49ers players) but stealing talent from a division rival is usually a good thing. Safer options include Rodger Saffold (108 starts in his past seven seasons with the Rams, Titans and Bills) and Connor McGovern (79 starts in five seasons with the Jets and Broncos).

The Cardinals also have the third pick in the draft, and while there’s probably not an offensive lineman worth taking there, Arizona should actively seek a trade down to the middle of the first round, collecting extra picks while targeting someone such as Peter Skoronski (Northwestern), Paris Johnson Jr. (Ohio State) or Broderick Jones (Georgia).

Finally, there’s Hopkins. The Cardinals could trade their star wideout before the season starts. The return will likely include some much-needed draft capital, but if Arizona can add a veteran starting lineman to boot, so much the better.

Trade Jalen Ramsey… and everybody else too

There are three untouchable players on the Rams’ roster: Cooper Kupp, an A+ wide receiver when healthy; Matthew Stafford, who has a track record as an effective starting quarterback; and Aaron Donald, who is Aaron Donald. Everyone else should be on the trading block.

The Rams were a lousy team last season, even before their rash of injuries hit, and they’ll be hard-pressed to be much better any time soon. They traded away their first-, fourth and fifth-round picks in April’s draft years ago. And they’re in the bottom 10 in effective cap space. The upcoming release of Bobby Wagner will offer some relief, but doesn’t change the underlying issue: This is an incredibly thin roster (10 undrafted rookies played for the Rams in 2022) that needs all the good cheap, young players it can get.

Ramsey is the most obvious candidate for a trade. Though 2022 wasn’t his best season, he’s still an above-average starting corner, he turns only 29 in October and he has no guaranteed money on his deal in 2024 and beyond. Players like that are always in demand. The return might be modest (Mike Tanier of Football Outsiders suggested a second- and sixth-round pick late last season), but the Rams don’t have many other options if they truly want to rebuild.

Other potential trade candidates include wide receiver Allen Robinson II, tight end Tyler Higbee, offensive lineman Rob Havenstein and edge rusher Leonard Floyd, each of whom will be 30 years or older this season and, like Wagner, might prefer to play for a contending team anyway. Joe Noteboom is a little younger at 28, but that may make him a more valuable commodity on the trade market. Regardless, there is little advantage to keeping these players around; they’re just going to be older and less effective in a year or two, when L.A. might be ready to contend for a Super Bowl again.

Blow the budget on the secondary

The backfield was San Francisco’s sole defensive weakness in 2022, usually giving up one very long completion every week. Now it’s likely to get even weaker as free safety Tashaun Gipson Sr., cornerback Emmanuel Moseley and Swiss Army DB Jimmie Ward are hitting free agency. A team with as few holes as the 49ers can afford to go on a shopping spree for veterans searching for a Super Bowl ring, and there are plenty of big names on the market this year.

Notable cornerbacks up for grabs include James Bradberry, last seen helping the Philadelphia Eagles beat San Francisco and advance to the Super Bowl — where, yes, his holding penalty ultimately decided the game, but that shouldn’t overshadow his otherwise excellent season. Other top corners in free agency include Baltimore’s Marcus Peters, Minnesota’s Patrick Peterson, New England’s Jonathan Jones and New Orleans’ Bradley Roby.

The safety market isn’t quite as deep, but the names at the top of the list are eye-opening. Jordan Poyer has earned All-Pro recognition in Buffalo. Bates has done the same in Cincinnati, and he’s six years younger. Adrian Amos has started every game for Green Bay in each of the past two seasons. Devin McCourty has done the same in New England, though at age 36 he’s a candidate for a deal of only one year.

We should add that San Francisco doesn’t have to lose any key players — re-signing Gipson, Moseley and Ward remains an option. But as the 49ers learned with their quarterbacks, depth is always a concern in the NFL, and they should be prepared to use their middle-of-the-pack cap space to ensure a secondary worthy of their front seven.

There will be little help coming in the draft, where the 49ers have traded away each of their first four picks (though they will likely add a trio of compensatory picks in the third round). That’s just further incentive for San Francisco to spend big in free agency.

Say Ge-NO to a long-term deal

Geno Smith was perhaps the NFL’s best feel-good story of 2022. He also turns 33 in October, making him one of the oldest starting quarterbacks in the league, with precious little on-field evidence to suggest that he’ll be able to fight off Father Time the way some superior passers have done.

Only eight starting quarterbacks were older than Smith last season. Among that group, Tom Brady has retired, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan might join him and Andy Dalton and Ryan Tannehill may be done as starters. That leaves Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford and Russell Wilson certain to start again in 2023, and the struggles that Stafford and Wilson suffered through last season show how quickly things can turn south for quarterbacks of this age.

It’s worth noting that all eight of those men have been better over the course of their careers than Smith has in his. Even after his stellar 2022 campaign, Smith has thrown only 64 touchdown passes with 48 interceptions in his career, worse in both categories than Mitchell Trubisky (68 and 43). And what about the best-case scenario, that Smith is able to maintain this performance level for another year or two? That probably leaves Seattle right where it ended last season: second place in the division behind the 49ers, losing on the road in the wild-card round. That’s better than a lot of teams, but not what you’re hoping for with a quarterback under a long-term deal.

The franchise tag value for quarterbacks in 2023 is $32.4 million for one year. If Smith will play for that, or perhaps $50 million over two years, that’s a reasonable gamble for the Seahawks to take. If he insists on a longer deal, however, one that will take him through age 36 or older, then Seattle should thank Smith for a job well done, wish him luck on the open market and reset at quarterback for the second year in a row. The Seahawks’ two first-round draft picks give them plenty of options, such as trading up for Stroud or Young. They could even shoot for the moon and try to acquire a former MVP in Lamar Jackson. Those may not be safe moves, but if the Seahawks wanted to play things safe, they would probably still have Wilson.

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