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Thursday, July 18, 2019

10 NFL teams facing pivotal offseasons

Jon Gruden

The offseason is important for every NFL team. Even those with the biggest issues can rapidly and significantly improve if they hit the right draft picks and nail a few trades or free agent signings. However, it is a simple truth that, for some teams, the stakes of the offseason are higher than they are for others. Expectations are high, jobs are on the line, and the future is bright for some teams, but only if they maneuver through the offseason properly.

As we enter the beginning of NFL free agency, here are ten teams who really need to get the offseason right in order to avoid trouble up ahead.

10. Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars aren’t armed with much cap space and they’re also very much in need of a quarterback, which is a rough spot to be in at this point. Jacksonville had high hopes for a 2018 season that ultimately crashed and burned, and now they have to pick up the pieces. It looks increasingly likely that they’ll be heavily involved in the pursuit of the top quarterback on the market, which is a somewhat risky play. If he doesn’t prove to be the solution, they could be facing a few years in the wilderness that they’d really like to avoid.

9. Green Bay Packers

At age 35, Aaron Rodgers is running out of time in his career. New coach Matt LaFleur’s biggest job is making the team as competitive as possible as quickly as possible. That means Green Bay has to work fast. The Packers have some cap room, but not a ton, so they’ll have to be creative as they face an effort to rebuild the offense around Rodgers while also adding some fresh talent on a stagnant defense. If they don’t, Rodgers might have to finish his Green Bay career in mediocrity, and they do not want that.

8. Minnesota Vikings

Adding Kirk Cousins was supposed to be the fix that took Minnesota from a second-tier team to a top-level contender. Instead, the quarterback was a huge disappointment, and the Vikings are facing a somewhat surprising crossroads. The pieces are still there to get back into contention quickly, but the offensive line must be improved and some tough decisions will have to be made on defense. They can ill-afford an offseason that leads to another underwhelming campaign. At that point, jobs may be lost.

7. Cleveland Browns

Nobody disputes that the Browns are on the rise. The question now becomes just how quickly they will rise, and how high they can get. With Baker Mayfield and a new coaching staff is in place, the job is to surround him with enough talent on both sides of the ball to potentially challenge for a playoff spot next season. They’ve already made a controversial addition of Kareem Hunt, which could prove risky but beneficial to the offense. The time appears right to continue making moves. Not only are the Pittsburgh Steelers dealing with big changes, but Cleveland has ample cap space to make a big move or two. If they’re not challenging for a playoff bid next season, it might be considered disappointing.

6. Dallas Cowboys

Dallas is walking a bit of a minefield this offseason. Jason Garrett is a vulnerable-looking lame duck, and star defensive lineman Demarcus Lawrence could be preparing to hold out after being franchise tagged for a second consecutive season. Additionally, David Irving appears to be over football, while Randy Gregory is suspended again. The defense will need to be adjusted, while the offense may be boosted by the return of Jason Witten.

5. Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals are in a somewhat interesting position, and look like they’re poised to take a huge risk. There is talent here in the likes of David Johnson and Patrick Peterson, and they already have a potential franchise quarterback in place in Josh Rosen. However, they also appear increasingly infatuated with Kyler Murray, which would lead to them parting ways with Rosen after only a year. They could be on track to improve quickly if they play their cards right, but the decision on their first overall pick — and their quarterback situation — could prove franchise-defining.

4. New York Jets

If there was ever a time for the Jets to make a splash, this would be the offseason. They’re looking at upwards of $100 million in cap space, have a young franchise quarterback in Sam Darnold already in place, and can focus on adding a big name. They’ve been linked to Le’Veon Bell, but they may be preparing to pursue a different lead back instead and spread the money around on numerous needs. That’s a reasonable approach to take. It will, however, be disappointing if the Jets go through the offseason without making a big move. It’s time to shape the team into a contender again, or at the very least, it’s time to try.

3. New York Giants

Is this the offseason the Giants finally go after Eli Manning’s heir apparent? It probably should be, and they’ve hinted at the approach they plan to take going forward. They have Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham, two great weapons for any quarterback, assuming they keep the latter. They need a better pass rush, they need to find Manning’s successor, and they must cope with the impending departure of safety Landon Collins. If they can do all that this offseason, they’d be well-poised for more current and future success.

2. Oakland Raiders

Jon Gruden burned through his goodwill pretty quickly after arriving in Oakland, starting his tenure with the Khalil Mack trade and compounding it by shipping Amari Cooper to Dallas. Gruden may not have been the one making these trades, but many certainly chalked them up to his influence. Now, the plan is being put into motion. They still have three first-round picks as a result of their previous trades, and they simply must use them wisely if the Gruden era isn’t going to be an enormous bust. The Antonio Brown trade, while exciting, is not enough to turn around the organization — more moves must follow. There’s still plenty of time to salvage Gruden’s tenure, but the clock is ticking.

1. Pittsburgh Steelers

It’s never a great sign when your offseason starts with a high-profile saga that ends with one of your star players being dealt for a modest return. Antonio Brown is gone, and Le’Veon Bell is going with him, though he didn’t play last season. That’s two key players in two offensive skill positions that won’t be with Pittsburgh anymore. There’s talent left in the organization, but the Steelers will have to act to keep Ben Roethlisberger and company happy and capable — and they have to do something to cut out the drama that seems to plague the organization as well. Perhaps the Brown trade will help in the latter department, but they didn’t get prime assets for him. As it stands, this is a roster in need of improvement. How the Steelers will react to Brown’s departure will be a huge story this offseason.



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