NFL

Most interesting teams in free agency

If Tuesday was an indication, this month in the NFL might truly deliver some drama.

Usually the offseason starts with grand proclamation that more than half the league could be switching quarterbacks. Then reality sets in, teams hold onto what they have and we spend too much time discussing Teddy Bridgewater and his new team. But when you get to the team-by-team rundown below, you’ll see a lot of franchises that need a quarterback and plenty of clubs that have been part of the rumor mill with their own quarterback. The Seahawks shook up the NFL by trading Russell Wilson to the Broncos, not long after Aaron Rodgers said he was sticking with the Packers. That’s two teams that have their 2022 answer at quarterback. There are many others still searching, and there aren’t a lot of top options out there.

For all the dreams of landing a superstar quarterback, the likely outcome for most desperate teams is something like trying to turn around Mitchell Trubisky‘s career. Jimmy Garoppolo is probably the offseason prize, if it’s not Jameis Winston. Maybe it’s Deshaun Watson, but we know how complicated that situation is.

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Seattle and Denver got the party started. As the new league year approaches, maybe this is the year we see unprecedented quarterback movement. A few teams have to be getting antsy, wondering what the next few weeks will bring.

Jimmy Garoppolo is one quarterback likely on the move this offseason. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Here are the rankings of the most interesting teams as we head into free agency, which gets going as the so-called legal tampering period begins Monday. Think of it in terms of which teams might make the biggest splash over the next few weeks. Listed below is each team’s 2021 regular-season record, its projected salary-cap space based on Spotrac’s figures as of Wednesday morning, and its biggest need:

32. New Orleans Saints (9-8)

Projected cap space: Over by $42.5 million

Biggest need: Getting the cap in order

At some point the Saints were going to have a season when all their future cap hits had to be settled. The Saints started the offseason about $75 million over the cap. New Orleans has always been an impulsive team, signing now and worrying about the cap later (not the worst approach, really), but this might be the season to sit it out and reset everything now that Sean Payton has left.

31. Buffalo Bills (11-6)

Projected cap space: $557,000

Biggest need: Defensive front seven

The Bills should feel they have a Super Bowl-worthy team. There aren’t many holes. If there is one area to look at it could be the run defense, which was not great. Without much cap space and a roster that is very good, this shouldn’t be a crazy offseason in Buffalo.

30. Green Bay Packers (13-4)

Projected cap space: Over by $49.2 million

Biggest need: Another receiver

After the Packers got Aaron Rodgers back and franchised Davante Adams in the span of a few hours, their big moves of the offseason were mostly done (unless you count a potential Jordan Love trade as big). It seems Marquez Valdes-Scantling will walk in free agency, which makes the receiver position outside of Adams even thinner. But the Packers don’t have a lot of resources to add an immediate impact player there.

29. Tennessee Titans (12-5)

Projected cap space: Over by $6.9 million

Biggest need: Receiver or tight end

The Julio Jones trade doesn’t look good after one year and it seems unlikely Jones will be healthier now that he has turned 33. The Titans could look for receiver depth or maybe a tight end after getting very little out of the position last season. There won’t be much cap space to fix it though, which is a reason the team didn’t franchise tag Harold Landry (they reportedly extended him on a five-year deal valued at $87.5 million).

28. Philadelphia Eagles (9-8)

Projected cap space: $20.9 million

Biggest need: Safety

The Eagles have starting safeties Rodney McLeod and Anthony Harris set to hit free agency, so figuring out safety is a key whether it’s through re-signing one, both of them or finding replacements. Edge rushers Derek Barnett and Ryan Kerrigan are also set to hit free agency, so that is an area to watch too.

27. Minnesota Vikings (8-9)

Projected cap space: Over by $14.7 million

Biggest need: Cornerback

The Vikings have multiple defensive starters set to hit free agency. Their top priority should be cornerback, considering the struggles there last season. Patrick Peterson and Mackensie Alexander are set to be free agents. Of course there’s the Kirk Cousins situation to figure out as well.

26. Chicago Bears (6-11)

Projected cap space: $24.3 million

Biggest need: Receiver

The Bears, with new general manager Ryan Poles, seem like a team that will sit out the big-money spending on the first few days of free agency, opting to look at the next tier of free agents. If Allen Robinson II leaves as expected, the Bears have a big hole at receiver. Offensive line and the secondary are two other areas of need. It’s a big offseason for Chicago under a new regime.

25. Denver Broncos (7-10)

Projected cap space: $26 million

Biggest need: Not a QB, finally

The Broncos ended their marathon search for a QB by trading for Russell Wilson. If Von Miller re-signs as he has been hinting, that would pretty much do it for big moves by Denver this offseason. And it would be a great offseason.

24. Atlanta Falcons (7-10)

Projected cap space: $3.8 million

Biggest need: Pass rush

The Falcons have a few issues, like clearing up some cap space. It didn’t get easier with Calvin Ridley’s suspension for betting on games. That makes receiver a big issue but the Falcons need to invest in an awful pass rush after recording 18 sacks, a shocking 11 fewer than any other team last season.

23. Detroit Lions (3-13-1)

Projected cap space: $20.1 million

Biggest need: Receiver

A playmaking safety and a pass rusher would also help, but the lack of depth at receiver was evident all season. Amon-Ra St. Brown’s awesome finish gives the Lions one option at wideout, and another top player outside could give a big boost to the offense. The Lions don’t seem willing to spend a ton, preferring to build through the draft, but maybe one high-priced star receiver would fit in their plans.

22. New York Jets (4-13)

Projected cap space: $44.7 million

Biggest need: Cornerback

It will be tempting to keep adding pieces around quarterback Zach Wilson, but a better defense would help take pressure off the quarterback too. The Jets’ pass defense needs a lot of work, and signing a cornerback or two seems obvious.

21. Carolina Panthers (5-12)

Projected cap space: $31.3 million

Biggest need: Offensive line (and quarterback, again)

The chance of the Panthers landing a big-time quarterback in free agency is basically zero. Most of the focus will go into re-signing their own free agents like cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Donte Jackson, center Matt Paradis and edge rusher Haason Reddick, and if any money is left over perhaps they can bolster the offensive line a bit.

20. New York Giants (4-13)

Projected cap space: Over by $5.8 million

Biggest need: Offensive line

The Giants have one of the worst offensive line situations in the league. Injuries to center Nick Gates and tackle Matt Peart make the line an even bigger issue. The Giants have other needs, but there is no doubt the line is the chief concern. As new GM Joe Schoen tries to get the cap under control, he’ll perhaps be looking for some mid-tier line help.

19. Baltimore Ravens (8-9)

Projected cap space: $9.8 million

Biggest need: Safety

Getting Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters back from injury will set up cornerback pretty well, and a playmaking safety will give the Ravens the secondary strength they’re used to having. The defensive line could also use some work.

18. Dallas Cowboys (12-5)

Projected cap space: Over by $9 million

Biggest need: Safety

Now that the Cowboys apparently chose Michael Gallup and Cedrick Wilson over Amari Cooper, and franchised Dalton Schultz, the offense is pretty much set. Off-ball linebacker is a need with Micah Parsons playing more of a versatile role. Also, the defensive line could use help. The Cowboys don’t have many flaws. Perhaps one area to address is safety, where they could use a playmaker.

17. Miami Dolphins (9-8)

Projected cap space: $49.2 million

Biggest need: Offensive line

The Dolphins had the worst offensive line in the NFL last season, according to Pro Football Focus, so this need is obvious. Tua Tagovailoa’s career isn’t going to take a step forward playing behind a line that allowed the most quarterback pressures in the league last season.

16. Arizona Cardinals (11-6)

Projected cap space: $2.7 million

Biggest need: Cornerback

Outside cornerback was one of the Cardinals’ issues last season as they collapsed and were embarrassed in the wild-card round of the playoffs. They couldn’t find an answer at that spot. There are other needs like offensive line and perhaps receiver, which was exposed when DeAndre Hopkins was injured.

15. Cleveland Browns (8-9)

Projected cap space: $19 million

Biggest need: Receiver

Browns fans might have watched Odell Beckham Jr. playing well with the Rams late last season and thought, “We could use a receiver like that!” Beckham didn’t work out in Cleveland and the Browns’ receiver options are thin going into the offseason. That might be a reason Baker Mayfield keeps regressing.

14. Las Vegas Raiders (10-7)

Projected cap space: $21.5 million

Biggest need: Cornerback

It seemed like the Raiders might spend big on a No. 1 receiver, but many of the candidates got franchise tags. Perhaps the focus turns to cornerback. Casey Hayward is going to be a free agent, which makes cornerback even more of a need. Maybe the Raiders will try to add one of the big-name corners like Stephon Gilmore, a former Patriot (Josh McDaniels, like all ex-Bill Belichick assistants, can’t get enough former Patriots players).

13. Cincinnati Bengals (10-7)

Projected cap space: $35.9 million

Biggest need: Offensive line

You may have heard a few dozen times leading up to the Super Bowl that the Bengals need to improve their offensive line in the offseason. The Titans sacked Joe Burrow nine times in the divisional round and the Rams gave the Bengals’ line a lot of problems in the Super Bowl. The easy part is identifying the problem, the problem is actually landing one of the few quality free-agent linemen on the market with so many other teams having the same need.

12. New England Patriots (10-7)

Projected cap space: $11.5 million

Biggest need: Cornerback

If J.C Jackson leaves as expected, that means the Patriots have lost star corners Stephon Gilmore and Jackson since the start of last season. That would force New England to figure things out at that position.

11. Los Angeles Rams (12-5)

Projected cap space: Over by $13.2 million

Biggest need: Left tackle

If Andrew Whitworth comes back for another season, great. But Whitworth won’t play forever, and that’s a key spot for the defending champs. The Rams could use help on the interior of the line as well. Presumably the team will also make a run at re-signing midseason additions Odell Beckham Jr. and Von Miller, though Miller is seemingly intent on going back to Denver.

10. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7-1)

Projected cap space: $29.6 million

Biggest need: Quarterback

Ben Roethlisberger is retired now and Mason Rudolph has not shown he can be a good starter. Maybe Pittsburgh drafts a quarterback, uses Rudolph as a bridge and improves other areas of the roster like the offensive line.

9. San Francisco 49ers (10-7)

Projected cap space: $3 million

Biggest need: Cornerback

Like plenty of teams in a pass-first league, the 49ers would probably love to add depth at cornerback. That would help a defense that was really good in the second half of last season. The big move for the 49ers this offseason will be trading Jimmy Garoppolo, and plenty of teams need a new quarterback.

8. Kansas City Chiefs (12-5)

Projected cap space: Over by $4.5 million

Biggest need: Defense

Kansas City’s defense improved after a slow start, but elite quarterbacks like Joe Burrow and Josh Allen put up huge numbers against the Chiefs late in the season. The defense gets thinner if safety Tyrann Mathieu leaves in free agency. Any level of the Chiefs’ defense could use an upgrade. And while Patrick Mahomes always figures it out, adding a receiver to go with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce wouldn’t be bad.

7. Indianapolis Colts (9-8)

Projected cap space: $41.7 million

Biggest need: Quarterback

The team reportedly dealt Carson Wentz to Washington after an inconsistent season following a trade with the Eagles. Once quarterback is figured out — a big task — the Colts might look to improve a thin receivers room.

6. Los Angeles Chargers (9-8)

Projected cap space: $57.5 million

Biggest need: Interior defensive line

Giving receiver Mike Williams a three-year, $60 million deal helps, and the Chargers still have a ton of cap space left. There’s a lot to like on this roster, but bolstering the middle of the defense to improve against the run — the Chargers’ run defense was a major problem last season — would be smart. They could also be in the running for one of the top cornerbacks on the market.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-4)

Projected cap space: $2.1 million

Biggest need: Quarterback

The Buccaneers have a good roster, especially with Chris Godwin back on another franchise tag. But there’s the issue of Tom Brady, the only seven-time Super Bowl champion in NFL history, retiring. Will Tampa Bay really turn to Kyle Trask? When you look at all the teams that will be battling for the few available quarterbacks on the market, the answer might be yes by default.

4. Washington Commanders (7-10)

Projected cap space: $30.3 million

Biggest need: Quarterback

Washington tried hard for Russell Wilson but couldn’t get that deal done. So Carson Wentz, step on up, according to an ESPN report. The Commanders still need to work on the rest of the roster, and offensive guard is an area of need if Brandon Scherff leaves in free agency.

3. Houston Texans (4-13)

Projected cap space: $16 million

Biggest need: Everything

There’s not an area on the roster that couldn’t use an upgrade. Yet, the Texans aren’t even in the NFL’s top 10 in terms of cap space available. Let’s see how the Texans start what is going to be a long-term rebuild, and that also includes managing the incredibly messy Deshaun Watson situation.

2. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-14)

Projected cap space: $40.1 million

Biggest need: Offense around Trevor Lawrence

The Jaguars’ offensive line wasn’t wretched, but it could use some work. By the end of the season, Lawrence had very little at receiver. James Robinson’s Achilles injury means that running back isn’t settled either. The Jaguars could go with a top-end pass rusher at No. 1 overall in the draft, but a lot of resources should be poured into the offensive spots around Lawrence. It would be a shock if they’re not a big player for offensive tackle Terron Armstead; it’s just a matter of whether Armstead signs with them.

1. Seattle Seahawks (7-10)

Projected cap space: $51.4 million

Biggest need: Quarterback

It’s not often a team trades a 33-year-old future Hall of Fame quarterback without a clear plan on what comes next. Drew Lock was acquired in the Russell Wilson trade, but any Broncos fan will tell you he won’t be the answer. The Seahawks voluntarily moved on from the best 10-year stretch in franchise history, including getting rid of linebacker Bobby Wagner. Other areas on the roster need work too. Offensive tackle Duane Brown is a free agent, and the easiest way to fill that hole at left tackle is re-signing him. Brown is 36 so there’s some risk, but he would also get a lot of free-agency attention in an offensive-line-starved league.


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