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The NFL offseason is in full swing. The scouting combine has come and gone, and in about a week, many clubs will crack open their checkbooks to try to add veteran talent (or retain their own) in free agency.
It’s an exciting time for fans—the number of fanbases daydreaming about adding Tom Brady in 2020 isn’t a small one. But it can also be a dangerous time for teams. If they get carried away and overspend, they can be weighed down by underperforming veterans who don’t come close to living up to their salaries.
That trap has claimed quite a few victims.
This isn’t to say that free agency doesn’t have value. But the best general managers know that the No. 1 way to fill a need is in the draft. Get the right player in Round 1, and you could have five years of production at a relatively modest cost relative to the open market. Find a gem on Day 2 or even Day 3, and you can fix a roster on the cheap.
That’s more important for some franchises than others in 2020—where cap space is concerned, all teams are most assuredly not equal. But whether they are broke as a joke or have free-agent cash falling out of their pockets, all teams have positions better addressed in April than March.
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The Arizona Cardinals have already made a substantial investment in the offensive line this offseason, handing tackle D.J. Humphries a three-year, $45 million extension that includes $29 million in guarantees.
But after watching Kyler Murray get dropped a league-high 48 times in 2019, the Redbirds need to continue addressing the O-line, and doing so via the draft is much more cost effective than trying to ink another big name to an even bigger contract.
With the eighth pick in Round 1, the Cardinals are in a good position to do that. And they could have their pick of this year’s tackles. Two of the top 2020 prospects at the position—Alabama’s Jedrick Wills Jr. and Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs—have extensive experience at right tackle and would provide an immediate and significant upgrade over Justin Murray, who is better served as the team’s swing tackle.
It’s a great draft class at the position. Arizona should take advantage of that.
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Given the Atlanta Falcons’ less than ideal salary-cap situation (less than $5 million in room, per Over the Cap), there isn’t a position they would be better off addressing in free agency, which begins March 18.
The team just isn’t in a spot to be a player on the open market.
With that said, there’s one position that looms over the rest. Only one team (the Miami Dolphins) had fewer sacks than the Falcons in 2019. And Atlanta—which managed 28 sacks last season—has already indicated that 2015 first-round pick (and former NFL sack king) Vic Beasley Jr.’s time with the team is over.
The Falcons have the 16th overall selection in 2020, which leaves them well outside of the Chase Young sweepstakes. But there are some promising young edge-rushers who should be available, including LSU’s K’Lavon Chaisson, Alabama’s Terrell Lewis and Penn State’s Yetur Gross-Matos.
Hit the secondary on Day 2. Hit the running back spot after that (assuming Devonta Freeman is let go). Juicing up the pass rush needs to come first.
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By the end of this slide, you may like you have deja vu.
The Baltimore Ravens are coming off a much better 2019 season than Atlanta—and that’s putting it mildly. They are also in a better position with $30.7 million in cap wiggle room.
But for the second straight year, they are in danger of seeing their best pass-rusher leave in free agency. It’s something of a tradition for a Ravens edge-rusher to have a career year and net a huge raise from a new team, from Paul Kruger to Pernell McPhee to Za’Darius Smith to maybe Matt Judon.
According to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network, Judon could be a candidate to be franchise-tagged and then traded in order to shave salary and add draft capital. If that’s the case—or if Judon simply moves on in free agency—a player like LSU’s K’Lavon Chaisson would look awfully good at the back end of the first round.
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Gerry Broome/Associated Press
With Shaq Lawson about to hit free agency, Jerry Hughes, 31, much closer to the end of the line than the beginning and Trent Murphy a potential cap casualty, the defensive end position could be a massive area of need for the Buffalo Bills in 2020.
But with the third-most cap space in the NFL ($82.3 million) in the NFL, the Bills are in the enviable position of being able to dole out a huge contract to a player like Jadeveon Clowney or swing a trade for Yannick Ngakoue.
That would allow the team to focus its attention on the offensive side of the ball at No. 22 and add another passing-game weapon for Josh Allen.
The Bills added a vertical threat in John Brown and a capable slot target in Cole Beasley in 2019 free agency, and the rewards were substantial. But they lack a bigger-bodied receiver who can high-point the ball—a player Allen can lock onto in red-zone situations.
The 2020 draft class is deep at wide receiver, and youngsters like LSU’s Justin Jefferson (6’1″, 202 lbs) and Clemson’s Tee Higgins (6’4″, 216 lbs) would fit the bill nicely.
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To be clear, the cornerback position isn’t necessarily the Carolina Panthers’ biggest need. Nor should a corner be the seventh overall pick. The Panthers have holes at every level of a defense that was mostly awful in 2019, finishing 23rd in the NFL, and if a game-changer like Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown or Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons is there at No. 7, it’s a relatively easy call.
But with free agent James Bradberry reportedly seeking at least $15 million per season on his next contract, the Panthers are looking at a big hole on the back end—a hole they aren’t likely to fill by paying another player the same kind of fat salary they could have handed Bradberry.
There should be a few options early on the draft’s second day who can ostensibly replace Bradberry from the get-go. As a matter of fact, there are a couple of bigger corners—Clemson’s A.J. Terrell (6’1″, 195 lbs) and Mississippi State’s Cameron Dantzler (6’2″, 188 lbs)—who possess similar skill sets to the four-year veteran.
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John Amis/Associated Press
The Chicago Bears are coming off a massively disappointing season and have holes on both sides of the ball (including potentially at quarterback). They don’t have a first-round pick.
There’s plenty of talk circulating that the Bears intend to add a veteran quarterback to challenge 2017 second overall pick Mitchell Trubisky. But no matter who the starting quarterback is in 2020, that signal-caller will have a much better chance of success if the team improves an offensive line that ranked 20th or worse in both run blocking and pass protection last year, according to Football Outsiders.
Adding that veteran under center will eat up most of the team’s $16.6 million in cap space, so the best chance at bettering the line will be on Day 2 in April. This year’s class at guard isn’t as deep as at tackle, but the flow of the draft could be a blessing in disguise for Chicago. Top-three guards like Georgia’s Solomon Kindley and Kentucky’s Logan Stenberg could be there at No. 43.
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We know a few things about the Cincinnati Bengals.
We know that approximately 102 percent of draftniks expect them to draft LSU quarterback Joe Burrow with the first overall pick on April 23.
We know that if the Bengals spend big money on a free agent, it would run contrary to just about everything the franchise has done in that regard over the last 20 years.
And we know that with the exception of Nick Vigil (who is an unrestricted free agent), the Bengals linebacker corps is a massive liability.
Fortunately, there are a number of potential Day 2 picks who could step in and make an immediate impact. Kenneth Murray of Oklahoma might be available when Cincinnati kicks off Round 2 on April 24. Jordyn Brooks of Texas Tech and Malik Harrison of Ohio State both showed off impressive athleticism at the combine.
Adding a young talent with upside at the position while retaining Vigil makes more sense than sifting through a bargain bin filled with less than impressive options.
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Cleveland’s disappointing 2019 season notwithstanding, the Browns remain a team with quite a bit of talent—especially at the offensive skill positions.
But if quarterback Baker Mayfield is going to rebound in his third season and take full advantage of that talent, the Browns have to get better in front of him—especially at tackle. Last year’s starting left tackle, Greg Robinson, is a free agent and was charged “with conspiracy to possess marijuana with intent to distribute it” last month, according to the Associated Press (h/t USA Today).
The starter at right tackle, Chris Hubbard, has been mostly a mess the last two years.
Per Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com, the Browns are exploring a trade for Trent Williams and the possibility of signing free agent-to-be Jason Peters. Even if one of those moves comes to pass, it would only be a short-term fix—and an expensive one at that.
With the 10th overall pick, Cleveland is in a great position to add a top tackle prospect like Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs or Louisville’s Mekhi Becton.
If that young tackle can begin on the right side while a veteran holds down left tackle for a year or two, all the better.
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At first glance, the Dallas Cowboys look like a team with enough cap space ($77.3 million) to do damage in free agency. That is, until you look at the team’s list of pending free agents—a list that includes quarterback Dak Prescott, wide receiver Amari Cooper, edge-rusher Robert Quinn and cornerback Byron Jones.
The Cowboys don’t have the cash to re-sign all of those players—much less add big names from the outside.
Both Quinn and Jones are widely believed to be on their way out of Dallas, and what the Cowboys do with the No. 17 pick could depend largely on how the draft plays out.
Dane Brugler of The Athletic is one of numerous draftniks who has recently predicted that the Cowboys will replace Jones with Florida’s C.J. Henderson.
“With Byron Jones destined to reach free agency, cornerback shoots near the top of Dallas’ draft needs,” Brugler wrote. “Henderson needs to be a better playmaker at the catch point, but he is a plus athlete with the size [6’1″, 204 lbs] to blanket receivers.”
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The Denver Broncos got an early start this offseason. They improved the secondary—and addressed the potential departure of Chris Harris Jr.—with a trade for Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback A.J. Bouye. But that trade didn’t come cheaply. Bouye’s hefty salary ($26.9 million over the next two years) will wipe out a sizable chunk of cap space.
There are other needs in Denver, including the offensive line and at wide receiver opposite Courtland Sutton. There’s a real possibility teams will make a run at tackles before the Broncos pick at 15th overall. But the upside is that for every tackle taken, there’s a wide receiver who isn’t.
The Broncos appear to have a No. 1 receiver in the making in Sutton and a promising young signal-caller in Drew Lock, 23. But there’s not much behind Sutton after the trade of Emmanuel Sanders last October.
A speedster like Alabama’s Henry Ruggs III could be a perfect complement to Sutton after he peeled off a 4.27-second 40-yard dash at the combine. He’s a vertical threat who would command attention from opposing defenses.
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The 2019 season did not go as planned for the Detroit Lions, who finished 3-12. As they try to rebound from that mess of a campaign, they face more than a few problems. Among the biggest is a pass rush that tied for the second-fewest sacks in the league with 28.
The Lions tried jacking up the pass rush last year by handing Trey Flowers $18 million a season, and Flowers went on to have a very Trey Flowers season. The problem with that is it means good run defense and seven or eight sacks.
This year, the draft could be a game-changer. If, as some pundits are suggesting, the Washington Redskins actually pass on Ohio State’s Chase Young in favor of a quarterback, then Lions general manager Bob Quinn may be falling over himself to turn in a card with the name of the draft’s best defensive player.
If the Redskins do indeed select Young, the Lions should have pass-rushing options early on Day 2, including prospects like Penn State’s Yetur Gross-Matos and Notre Dame’s Julian Okwara.
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Stop me if you’ve heard this recently.
The Green Bay Packers need help at wide receiver.
I know. You’re floored.
Kidding aside, this isn’t news in Titletown. The semi-emergence of Allen Lazard down the stretch last year helped, but Green Bay still needs to find a dependable No. 2 wideout who can help move coverage off Davante Adams.
That’s not the team’s only need, but it’s easily the biggest one. And most of this year’s free-agent class (at least the players who might actually get to free agency) features as many questions as answers.
It’s a different story when it comes to drafting a wideout. The class of 2020 is absolutely stacked. Even if a handful of pass-catchers come off the board before Green Bay picks at No. 30, there will still be players like Baylor’s Denzel Mims or Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk who could help Aaron Rodgers right away.
It’s not every year that a team’s need lines up so well with the talent available in the draft.
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Rick Scuteri/Associated Press
The Houston Texans were arguably the most aggressive team in the NFL in the 2019 offseason. The good news is that it landed them an AFC South title.
The bad news is that all the wheeling and dealing cost them their first-round pick, although the Texans should have three Day 2 picks after receiving a compensatory selection for the loss of safety Tyrann Mathieu.
Among Houston’s major needs this season, there’s one position at which the team is mostly likely to find an impact player on the second day: running back.
The Texans were a respectable ninth in the NFL in rushing last year, but with both Carlos Hyde and Lamar Miller hitting free agency, there’s uncertainty surrounding an important part of the offense.
Thanks to the devaluation of running backs on draft day, there are a few players who could fall into the second or even third round and have the potential to start right away, whether it’s a best-case scenario like Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins or third-round prospects such as Florida State’s Cam Akers or Florida’s Lamical Perine.
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The Indianapolis Colts are in an enviable position in 2020 with $86.2 million in projected cap space—only the Miami Dolphins have more cabbage to play with in free agency.
There’s been quite a bit of speculation that the Colts could take a run at veteran quarterback Philip Rivers after Jacoby Brissett’s disappointing second half of 2019. The Colts could even double down at the position and add a rookie like Utah State’s Jordan Love with the 13th overall pick.
That would mean addressing the team’s other needs either on the open market or later in the draft. Indy has the cap space to (in theory) go after both Rivers and an edge-rusher on the open market, but it also needs help in the defensive backfield—especially at safety.
A player like small-school stud Kyle Dugger of Lenoir-Rhyne could be in play there. The 6’1″, 217-pounder was impressive at this year’s scouting combine, and GM Chris Ballard has shown a propensity for targeting players from lesser-known programs in the draft.
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Not that long ago, Jacksonville’s Teal Curtain defense featured arguably the NFL’s most feared one-two punch at cornerback in Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye.
Both are gone now. The Jaguars sent Ramsey to the Los Angeles Rams in October for three draft picks, including a first-rounder in 2020. As Jeff Legwold reported for ESPN, as soon as the new league year opens, Bouye will be on his way to Denver in what amounts to a salary dump by the Jags.
Even before the Bouye trade, the cornerback position was an area of need. Afterward, it may be the need. And after shipping Bouye’s remaining $26.9 million salary out of town, it wouldn’t make a ton of sense to turn around and drop that money on a free-agent replacement.
That leaves the draft—and a couple of potential options.
The Jags could package picks to move up from No. 9 to get Ohio State’s Jeffrey Okudah, who is the consensus No. 1 player at his position. A more likely scenario is spending the ninth pick on another player and grabbing someone like Florida’s C.J. Henderson or LSU’s Kristian Fulton with the No. 20 pick from the Rams.
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The Kansas City Chiefs enter the 2020 season in the position that every team wants to be in—as defending Super Bowl champions.
They also have the luxury of a roster that doesn’t feature any glaring weaknesses. Sure, there are areas they need to shore up, but there isn’t anything that leaps out as something that must be upgraded.
However, there is a path toward getting better that makes a lot of sense. With the last pick of the first round, the Chiefs could made an already frightening offense absolutely terrifying.
For some time, they have been trying to shore up the tailback position without any major commitments. The Chiefs brought in veteran LeSean McCoy last year, but the fact that he was an active scratch in Super Bowl LIV tells you how well that worked out. Damien Williams—a middling talent who could hit free agency if KC declines his 2020 option—was the lead back in that game.
Rather than patching over the backfield (again), the Chiefs should use the No. 32 selection on a more dynamic talent such as Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor.
That cry you heard was every defensive coordinator in the AFC West weeping.
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Most of the offseason buzz around the Las Vegas Raiders has centered around the potential pursuit of a certain quarterback with a half-dozen Super Bowl rings.
But whether the Raiders open their Vegas tenure with Tom Brady or Derek Carr under center, one thing is certain—the team badly needs to improve its wide receivers.
Simply put, free agency isn’t the place to do that. It’s looking more and more like Amari Cooper and A.J. Green—the crown jewels of this year’s free-agent crop—won’t be going anywhere. That leaves Robby Anderson as the most likely wideout to hit the open market…and be wildly overpaid as a result.
Thanks to the Khalil Mack trade, the Raiders have a pair of first-round picks—No. 12 and No. 19. This year’s draft class at wide receiver is a deep one headlined by Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb and Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy. There’s going to be a Day 1 starter available at 12—probably one of that duo.
You could even make an argument for using both picks on wideouts—a move that could remake Las Vegas’ passing game in a single evening.
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Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
It should go without saying that the Los Angeles Chargers need help at quarterback. The team has already decided to move on from Philip Rivers. The only question now is what direction it goes from here.
Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network stated recently that he thinks the Chargers are the most likely team to make an aggressive push up draft boards to procure the services of Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa. There have been mock drafts connecting the Bolts to both Justin Herbert of Oregon and Jordan Love of Utah State.
This isn’t to say that L.A. shouldn’t add a veteran quarterback as well. Tagovailoa is rehabbing a major injury, even though he seems to be recovering well. Love is a talented but raw prospect. And the notion of watching veteran Tyrod Taylor start for a season should appeal to exactly no one.
It makes sense for the Chargers to seek a long-term solution at football’s most important position rather than overpay for a short-term Band-Aid or a veteran retread like Jameis Winston, who is (likely) hitting free agency for a reason.
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Paul Sancya/Associated Press
The Los Angeles Rams are apparently morally opposed to making a first-round pick in the NFL draft. Since drafting Jared Goff at No. 1 overall back in 2016, they have traded away four straight first-round picks.
The Rams also apparently don’t like cap space. Massive contracts for Goff, running back Todd Gurley II and defensive lineman Aaron Donald have left L.A. with just $14.8 million in the kitty. Bringing back the likes of tackle Andrew Whitworth and inside linebacker Cory Littleton will take up all of that—and then some.
That’s going to make it difficult to retain Dante Fowler Jr. after his career year—and leave the Rams with a hole on the edge.
There aren’t sure bets at edge-rusher in the second half of Round 2. There are, however, some prospects who could still be on the board who have the potential to be difference-makers, including Florida’s Jonathan Greenard and Michigan’s Josh Uche.
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All the way back in January of 2019, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the Miami Dolphins might essentially punt on what was the upcoming season to put themselves in the best position to draft Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in 2020.
Thus, “Tanking for Tua” was born.
That’s not exactly what happened. The Dolphins did purge a number of veterans and hoard draft capital, but they were also competitive over the second half of the campaign, finishing 5-11. Tagovailoa, on the other hand, dislocated his hip—throwing his draft stock into a morass of uncertainty.
But Tua could still end up in Miami.
The Dolphins have not only the most salary-cap space in the NFL but also three first-round picks. If they want to get in on a veteran free agent or swing a trade for someone like Andy Dalton, they can easily do so.
But that makes little sense compared to the idea of drafting their signal-caller of the future. If the Dolphins fear another team will leapfrog them to grab Tagovailoa, they have plenty of capital to make a move up the board. They could also stand pat at No. 5 and select either Tagovailoa or Oregon’s Justin Herbert.
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For the Minnesota Vikings, the question isn’t whether to fill holes via the draft or free agency.
The draft is the only way they are going to do that.
According to Over the Cap, there isn’t a team in worse salary-cap shape right now. As things stand, the Vikings don’t have enough cash to sign their own draft class—much less any outside players.
That could put Minnesota in a sticky wicket on the back end. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes has been mentioned as a potential cap casualty, and both corner Trae Waynes and safety Anthony Harris are about to become unrestricted free agents.
The Vikings may have to focus on defensive backs early in the 2020 draft, whether it’s a cornerback like Alabama’s Trevon Diggs or TCU’s Jeff Gladney or a safety like LSU’s Grant Delpit or Alabama’s Xavier McKinney. The secondary is a primary need if Minnesota is going to get back to the postseason this year.
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John Bazemore/Associated Press
In news that will surprise zero people who have read anything involving the NFL since the 2019 season ended, everything the New England Patriots do over the next month-plus will depend on one massive question hanging over the franchise.
Will Tom Brady be the team’s quarterback in 2020?
There’s been no shortage of theorizing that he won’t be. If that’s the case, all bets are off. Up is down. Green is blue. Cats like dogs. And the Bills will be the favorites in the AFC East.
However, the smart money (in Vegas) still thinks the Golden Boy isn’t going anywhere. If that’s indeed the case, then two things are true. The first is that most of New England’s $41.7 million in cap space will go “POOF!” posthaste.
The second is that the Patriots have to improve Brady’s passing-game weapons—it may even be a condition of his return.
As has been stated more than once of late (including in this piece), it’s a great year to need wide receiver help. The Pats have no shortage of draft capital (especially once compensatory picks are handed out). A player like LSU’s Justin Jefferson could be in play at 23rd overall after his productive 2019 season (111 catches for 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns) and great showing at the combine.
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Vasha Hunt/Associated Press
The New Orleans Saints already got one piece of exceptionally good news this offseason—veteran quarterback Drew Brees will be returning in 2020. However, that comes at a price. With less than $10 million in cap space, the Saints are going to have to make room just to sign Brees.
There are a couple of areas that stand out as potential problem areas in New Orleans, and while the team could be tempted to add a wide receiver with the 24th overall pick to complement Michael Thomas, there’s another position that makes even more sense.
Saints cornerback Eli Apple is about to hit the open market. So is reserve P.J. Williams. Veteran Janoris Jenkins has been mentioned as a potential cap casualty. That could leave a sizable hole in the secondary, and drafting a youngster like Auburn’s Noah Igbinoghene late on Day 1 would be the best use of the Saints’ admittedly limited wiggle room.
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Sean Rayford/Associated Press
It’s disclaimer time.
This all but surely will not happen. The New York Giants are notorious for ignoring the linebacker position. And when I say ignore, I mean ignore. The last time New York spent a first-round pick on a linebacker was in 1984 on Carl Banks.
The Giants’ trade for Alec Ogletree in 2018 was a departure from the norm—and that worked out not even a little.
However, if ever there was a time to think outside of the Big Blue box, it’s in the 2020 draft at No. 4 overall with Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons.
He’s that good.
It’s not just that Simmons was one of the biggest stars of the 2020 combine, turning in one of the fastest 40-yard-dash times ever recorded by a linebacker at the event—4.39 seconds at 6’4″, 238 pounds.
Simmons is also a walking prototype for what teams want at the position in 2020. His range is off the charts. So is his versatility—he played everything from edge-rusher to safety to slot cornerback with the Tigers.
The Giants more than likely won’t take Simmons. But my, oh my, they should.
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John Amis/Associated Press
After the New York Jets fielded an offensive line that ranked in the bottom three last year in both run blocking and pass protection, per Football Outsiders, it’s no secret that they need help up front. There have been reports that Gang Green plan to drive a truck full of money up to the house of tackle Jack Conklin, who is arguably the best player at his position who will see free agency in 2020.
It’s not the worst idea ever. But even if the Jets do add Conklin, a strong argument can be made for a double dip of bookend tackles. After all, as good as Conklin is, he doesn’t solve the problem of who will cover Sam Darnold’s blind side.
The 2020 draft is a good one to need tackles in. The Jets won’t have their pick of the crop at No. 11. But even if two or three tackles are off the board by then, players like Louisville’s Mekhi Becton and Georgia’s Andrew Thomas could be available.
Both have the potential to be Day 1 starters and perennial Pro Bowlers.
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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
The Philadelphia Eagles won the NFC East in 2019, but they weren’t your typical division-winner. They were just a 9-7 team, and they enter 2020 with some glaring holes on the roster.
The biggest is easily the wide receiver spot.
Philly’s nominal top wideout (Alshon Jeffery) missed six games last year and failed to clear 500 receiving yards. Behind Jeffery there is…not much. That the Eagles made the playoffs at all was an impressive achievement.
With that said, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. And the Eagles have the good fortune of entering this year’s draft with a big hole at a position that happens to be…let’s go with stacked.
Have I mentioned that? I feel like I mentioned that.
By the time the Eagles pick at No. 21, the first wide receiver will all but certainly have come off the board. It’s possible that a third wideout will have already been selected. But whether it’s Clemson’s Tee Higgins or Colorado’s Laviska Shenault Jr., there are at least a half-dozen wideouts with strong cases to be selected in Round 1.
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Carlos Osorio/Associated Press
It was tempting to pull a Pennsylvania two-step here and have the Pittsburgh Steelers also target a wide receiver. For one, they could use a more reliable No. 2 option opposite JuJu Smith-Schuster.
For two, the draft may be the only real avenue for the Steelers to add impact players this year—no team in the AFC has less salary-cap space.
However, courtesy of the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade, the Steelers don’t have a first-round pick. And while this year’s wideout crop is deep, by No. 49, the pool of difference-makers could be drying up.
However, another pool may not have been touched yet.
There are reports that indicate the Steelers are going to exercise their 2020 option on tight end Vance McDonald—a move that’s going to create difficult decisions elsewhere on the roster.
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David J. Phillip/Associated Press
The San Francisco 49ers aren’t in a good position to make major roster changes in 2020. They only have $12.7 million in cap space and one pick in the first four rounds.
Of course, they also don’t have many holes on the roster, what with being the defending NFC champions.
It could be worse.
If the 49ers are serious about bringing back defensive lineman Arik Armstead, then that cap space will evaporate quickly. That makes it all the more imperative that they use their limited draft capital to address needs to reload for another run.
If Armstead does return, then versatile safety Jimmie Ward is all but certainly out the door—even he seems to realize that. Per Matt Barr of 49ers Webzone, Ward has thrown his vote behind Tarvarius Moore as his replacement.
But at the tail end of the first round, there should be players available who could offer the same “Swiss army knife” skill set—headlined by LSU’s Grant Delpit.
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Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press
The Seattle Seahawks have a two-pronged problem along the defensive line.
The bigger part of that problem is edge-rusher Jadeveon Clowney. Despite the fact that Clowney’s numbers were down in 2019, he’s still going to command a huge contract on the open market. And Seattle pledged to not franchise-tag him when they acquired the 27-year-old from Houston last year, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Given what Seahawks GM John Schneider gave up to get Clowney (Jacob Martin, Barkevious Mingo and a 2020 third-rounder) and the lack of pass rush behind him, Seattle will probably do all it can to retain him.
That creates the second part of the problem.
Defensive tackle Jarran Reed is also set to hit free agency. Reed had a down 2019 as well, but he will still get paid. Spotrac lists his market value at $10.6 million annually. And the Seahawks can’t afford to commit over $30 million a season to the defensive line long-term without holes opening elsewhere.
It would be significantly cheaper to draft a player like Auburn’s Marlon Davidson or Oklahoma’s Neville Gallimore than to chase a veteran stopgap like Ndamukong Suh or Timmy Jernigan.
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The good news for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is that they have the fourth-most salary cap space in the NFL—almost $80 million.
However, by the time you account for a quarterback (whether it’s Jameis Winston or someone else) and a new deal or the franchise tag for 2019 sack king Shaquil Barrett, over half of that cash is gonesville. The list of Tampa’s free agents-to-be keeps going and is headlined by players like edge-rusher Jason Pierre-Paul and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
The Bucs have the No. 14 pick, and they can let the draft come to them. Selecting the best player available should be the course of action, whether it’s a right tackle, help for a perennially underperforming secondary or a replacement for the front seven.
With that said, the most cost-effective avenue long-term is likely that last one. If the Buccaneers can get their hands on a pass-rusher like Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa or a replacement for Suh like South Carolina’s Javon Kinlaw, it could pay big dividends for years.
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The Tennessee Titans went on a magical run to the AFC Championship Game in 2019, but that came at a cost—it dropped the team to 29th in the 2020 draft.
Said postseason run was spurred by the hard running of tailback Derrick Henry and the efficient passing of Ryan Tannehill. But both are about to hit free agency, and bringing the core of the offense back will all but decimate Tennessee’s $50.4 million in cap space.
Tannehill and Henry aren’t the only prominent Titans about to enter the open market. The decision to pass on Jack Conklin’s fifth-year option last year appears to have backfired. Veteran corner Logan Ryan won’t lack for suitors either.
The direction the Titans go will mostly depend on what happens during the 28 picks prior to theirs. But in addition to Ryan, three more Tennessee cornerbacks are set to hit unrestricted free agency.
That makes the secondary a primary target, and the Titans will be closely watching players like LSU’s Kristian Fulton and Alabama’s Trevon Diggs as Round 1 unfolds.
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Before we go any further, let’s make one thing clear. If recent rumors are correct and the Washington Redskins pass on Ohio State edge-rusher Chase Young with the second overall pick, it will be the biggest gaffe of the 2020 draft.
But it seems that Washington will have to choose between Young and Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa—it won’t get both.
It also appears that the team will be looking for a new starter on the blind side. According to Les Carpenter of the Washington Post, the team has given disgruntled left tackle Trent Williams permission to seek a trade.
Granted, the Redskins could pursue a veteran on the open market. But most of those would be stopgaps at best—and expensive. That wouldn’t be a great use of resources for a young, rebuilding team.
The more advisable play after that first-round pick is to circle back early in Round 2 and hope that a top-heavy tackle crop leaves them a player like USC’s Austin Jackson or Boise State’s Ezra Cleveland.