The 2018 off-season is finally here and the Philadelphia Eagles are the team that emerged victorious in Super Bowl LII. For the Eagles, their big off-season priority is going to be to keep their core players in place to make another run at a Lombardi Trophy. For the other 31 teams, the goal will be to improve their roster so that they are better than the Eagles in 2018 and they can hoist the Lombardi Trophy in 2019.
The off-season is a time where teams have to answer questions about their roster and how they are going to fix areas that were of big concern in 2017. Each year, we ask what the biggest question is for each franchise and what they are going to need to do to fix that glaring issue on the team. We release it as a two-part article. In Part I, we look at each team alphabetically from the Arizona Cardinals to the Kansas City Chiefs. We look at the remaining 16 teams in Part II, which can be viewed by CLICKING HERE.
1) Arizona Cardinals – How do they replace QB Carson Palmer with someone better than Blaine Gabbert or Drew Stanton? Palmer announced his retirement the day after head coach Bruce Arians announced his retirement and it was time for both of them to go. In Palmer’s case, he had declined significantly from 2015, when he was a MVP candidate. He just turned 38 years old in December and missed nine games with a broken arm. It made no sense for him to return with a new coach and a rebuilding effort in place in Arizona. Former Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks too the job as the new head coach in January and he is not going to want to stake his head coaching future on a quarterback that appears to be over the hill.
Arians was a terrific coach, going (49-30-1) since 2013 and he made the playoffs two times. Even this year with Palmer missing nine games and RB David Johnson missing 15 games, he somehow managed to keep the team playing and they finished .500. The problem is that he has had several health scares over the years and at 65-years old he was not going to be able to keep coaching at the NFL level. The Cardinals will be starting over in 2018 with a new head coach and new quarterback. Now that they have found their head coach, priority number one has to be finding a quarterback to replace Palmer. The two that tried to do the job this year will not be up to the task if Arizona has any desire to make Wilks a successful hire and for this team to return to the playoffs for the first time since the 2015 season.
2) Atlanta Falcons – How does this offense regain the form of the 2016 season? This offense was a massive disappointment last year. With basically the same roster on offense they declined in almost every meaningful area on offense. They went from 540 points scored to 353 points scored. They went from 6,653 yards gained to 5,837 yards gained. They went from 4,725 yards of passing offense and 38 passing touchdowns to 3,990 yards of passing offense and 21 passing touchdowns. They went from 1,928 yards rushing and 20 rushing touchdowns to 1,847 yards rushing and 12 rushing touchdowns. They went from 9.2 Yards Per Pass Attempt to 7.8 Yards Per Pass Attempt. They went from 4.6 Yards Per Rush Attempt to 4.3 Yards Per Pass Attempt. Their completion percentage dropped from 69.9 percent to 64.7 percent, their QB rating dropped from 116.8 to 91.9 and their interception percentage increased from 1.3 percent to 2.3 percent.
Some of this falls at the feet of the players. QB Matt Ryan and WR Julio Jones need to play better than they did in 2017. However, the glaring change that happened between the 2016 and 2017 season is Steve Sarkisian became the offensive coordinator. I would have let him go after the season, but they decided to keep him. It is hard to make a change when the team made the Divisional Round and head coach Dan Quinn believes there was more wrong than his offensive coordinator. That may be true, but this offense needs to regain its 2016 form and Sarkisian appears to be part of the problem, not part of the solution. They made the playoffs this year, because their defense was eighth in points allowed and ninth in yards allowed. They are a Super Bowl team waiting to happen, but they have to do better than scoring 10 points in a playoff game, which is what they did in their loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
3) Baltimore Ravens – How do they make this offense more consistent in 2018? There is one glaring weakness on this team. They were the sixth ranked scoring defense and 12th ranked yardage defense. They were 10th against the pass and 15th against the run. They had three shutouts on the year and held to 20 or less points nine times. They were (9-0) in those games. The offense just did not hold up its end of the bargain. To be fair, they were ninth in points scored, although some of those points were attributed to the five defensive touchdowns and two special teams touchdowns they scored on the season. It would also be important to note that they found a running game later in the year, as RB Alex Collins appears to have found a home. He finished the year with 1,160 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns.
The problem for them all year was moving the ball through the air. They were 27th in yards gained and 29th in passing yards gained. It became better as QB Joe Flacco was able to recover from a back injury that caused him to start the season slowly. They were (5-2) in their final seven games and one of those games was a one-point loss at Pittsburgh. They were in the drivers seat to make the playoffs until a 49-yard touchdown pass to Cincinnati Bengals WR Tyler Boyd with 44 seconds left in Week 17 cost them a victory. Even though a bad defensive played ended up being their undoing, this team must improve the passing game. Their leading receiver was WR Mike Wallace with 52 receptions for 758 yards and four touchdowns. TE Ben Watson had 522 yards receiving and four touchdowns. Nobody else had more than 50 receptions, 500 yards or three receiving touchdowns on the season. They must add wide receivers and tight ends to the mix . If they do not, they will have the same issues in 2018 with an inconsistent passing offense.
4) Buffalo Bills – Who is their starting quarterback in 2018? QB Tyrod Taylor did some good things in his three years in Buffalo. He was great at not turning the ball over, his interception percentage for the three years was a stellar 1.3 percent. His QB rating of 92.5 was very good, because of the low turnovers and a completion percentage of 62.6 percent. He also was a good runner for them, tallying 1,579 yards rushing and 14 rushing touchdowns. That is a big reason they were able to qualify for the postseason this year. His playmaking ability, combined with his low turnovers helped them win enough games to be the sixth seed.
Even though he does some good things, they are never going to take the next step with Taylor behind center. His sack percentage of 9.1 percent is atrocious. His yards per attempt are an anemic 6.9 and 6.7 yards per attempt the last two years. He threw only 14 touchdown passes this year. That is not enough production to carry a team in the playoffs. This team was lucky to make the postseason this year. Pro Football Reference gave them an Expected W-L: 6.4-9.6 this year. They have a lot of areas they need to upgrade other than quarterback. Their defense was not very good, ranking 18th in points allowed 26th in yards allowed. RB LeSean McCoy turning 30-years old this year, they cannot depend on him to be the bell cow back for much longer. Until they find a long-term answer at quarterback, they are going to be a fringe playoff team, even if they address these other problems in 2018. They are not tallying enough production at the most important position on the field to challenge the better rosters in the NFL.
5) Carolina Panthers – Is offensive coordinator Norv Turner the cure for this offense? I am not sure what to think of this hire. On the one hand, Norv Turner has been in the NFL as an offensive coordinator since he was with the Dallas Cowboys in 1991. He has been the offensive coordinator for teams that finished in the Top-10 in points scored 10 times and in the Top-10 in yards gained eight times. There is no questioning his resume as an offensive coordinator. But what if I told you that the last time his teams finished in the Top-10 in scoring or yards gained was 2011 (sixth) and the last time his team finished in the Top-10 in points scored was 2010 (second).
It is not like he has been out of the league for five seasons. He was the offensive coordinator in Cleveland in 2013 and Minnesota in 2014, 2015 and part of 2016 before he just left the job mid-season. The best those teams did in points scored was 15th and the best those teams did in yards gained was 18th. The difference in this situation is that the Panthers have a franchise quarterback in QB Cam Netwon. They also have some nice pieces around him in TE Greg Olsen and RB Christian McCaffrey. Norv has never coached someone with this type of mobility. He earned his stripes as the offensive coordinator for Dallas Cowboys QB Troy Aikman and he was the head coach for QB Philip Rivers in San Diego for a number of years. It could be the match that Newton needs to take his passing efficiency to the next level or it could be a nightmare with a coordinator that has not had much success in recent year. How this offense gels under Turner and how he adapts to having a quarterback with Newton’s mobility will be the key to their 2018 season.
6) Chicago Bears – How do they find some weapons for QB Mitchell Trubisky? I am not sure if Trubisky is a franchise quarterback in the making. There were some things to like in his 12 starts this year. He had 2,193 yards passing and a 77.5 QB rating while throwing only seven picks for an interception percentage of 2.1 percent. He took 31 sacks, which is not great, but not bad for a rookie. He showed himself to be a capable runner, tallying 41 rushing attempts for 248 yards and two rushing touchdowns.
The problem is there were not enough good plays. He only had seven touchdown passes in 12 games, which is horrific. His yards per pass attempt were just 6.6 yards per attempt. His completion percentage was not good at 59.4 percent, especially for an offense that did not stretch the field. Was that really his fault though? While they did have a nice running game, led by RB Jordan Howard and his 276 rushing attempts for 1,122 yards and nine rushing touchdowns, he had no receivers that could stretch the field. Their only receiver that had more than 55 receptions and more than 400 yards was WR Kendall Wright. He led the team with 59 receptions for 614 yards and one touchdown. Trubisky may be a bust or he may be an All-Pro quarterback in the making, but it will be impossible to tell which one he is until the Bears give him some players in the passing game that can help him move the ball. He showed enough with a limited supporting cast this year that there is reason to be excited with a new coaching staff in place for 2018. Former Kansas City Chiefs head coach Matt Nagy will be in charge of creating an environment that will allow Trubisky to thrive in 2018 and beyond.
7) Cincinnati Bengals – Marvin Lewis has been there for 15 years and had no playoff wins, how does that change in 2018? I am not sure why they brought Lewis back in 2018. This team is just (13-18-1) the last two seasons and Lewis has never won a playoff game in seven trips to the playoffs. There was speculation he would not return in 2018 to pursue other opportunities. It was very unexpected news when he signed a two-year extension through 2019. Now they are bringing him back hoping that 2018 will be a different story than all the previous postseason failures.
They have some good pieces in place on offense. The biggest challenge will be improving an offensive line that limited their ability to make big plays on offense. QB Andy Dalton was sacked 39 times and the running game only averaged 3.6 yards per attempt. Dalton averaged 6.7 yards per attempt, because he had no time to find receivers downfield. If they can fix the offensive line and improve on a run defense that was 30th against the run, they have enough talent to make the playoffs. The problem is they have had good teams in the past, but under Lewis they have failed to advance to the Divisional Round. How that changes in 2018 even if the roster improves will also be an intriguing question.
8) Cleveland Browns – How do they make their franchise resemble a NFL team? I do not think there is one question you can ask about this team. It is hard to decrease win totals for three straight seasons when the initial season win total is three. That is what the Browns managed to do, they went from three wins in 2015 to one win in 2016 to zero wins this year. They are now (4-44) in their last 48 games and head coach Hue Jackson is now (1-31) in his two seasons with the team.
The Browns did take the step of hiring former Kansas City Chiefs GM John Dorsey to be their GM, former Green Bay Packers director of football operations Eliot Wolf to be their assistant GM and former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley to be their offensive coordinator. Those are three strong hires from good franchises that could help change the culture in Cleveland. They also have the first, fourth, 33rd and 35th pick in the NFL Draft. The problem is they had three first round picks last year and they failed to win a single game. They cannot keep being the best-positioned team in the NFL Draft if they do not do anything with the picks that lead to winning games. At this point, they are the (2013-2016) Philadelphia 76ers of the NFL, in a perpetual state of tanking and rebuilding. They need to do what the 76ers have finally begun to do this year; start transitioning into being a franchise that is playing for this year instead of next year.
9) Dallas Cowboys – Is WR Dez Bryant still an elite wide receiver? This team has a lot of questions, but Bryant is the big one. Per ESPN.com, Bryant is set to count $16.5 million against the salary cap. The Cowboys can free up $8.5 million if they release him or $12 million if he is designated as a post-June 1 cut, with him counting $4 million against the cap in 2019. That may be a very tempting move, seeing Bryant had only three plays over 20-yards tin 2017 and he finished the year with 69 receptions for 838 yards and six touchdowns. To put that in perspective, New York Jets WR Jermaine Kearse finished the year with 65 receptions for 810 yards and five touchdowns playing with QB Josh McCown and he was paid only $2.2 million and is set to make $5 million this year.
It is hard to tell what is going on. Bryant and QB Dak Prescott were not on the same page this year. Did the offense struggle due to Prescott being a product of playing with RB Ezekiel Elliott? Elliot was suspended for six games and the offense looked lost at times without his running ability to balance the offense. Is Bryant just showing his age, as he turns 30-years old this season? Was the play calling an issue? It probably is a combination of all of these things, but Dallas has to consider if Bryant is worth paying elite receiver money when he is performing at an average level. Bryant has indicated that he will not take a pay cut if asked, it will be interesting to see what they do to shake up a passing offense that did not live up to expectations in 2017.
10) Denver Broncos – They have 3 bad quarterbacks on the roster, how do they find one good one? The Broncos were a disaster at quarterback this year. QBs Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch combined to go 332 for 566 with 3,668 yards, 19 touchdown passes, 22 picks, 6.5 Yards Per Attempt and a QB rating of 73.0. One amazing thing was how close all quarterbacks were in QB rating. Siemien had a QB rating of 73.3, Osweiler clocked in at 72.5 and Lynch had the lowest rating at 72.0. Siemian was the only one to win a game, going (5-5). Osweiler was (0-4) and Lynch was (0-2).
Despite having the third ranked yardage defense, fourth ranked passing defense, fifth ranked rushing defense and 12th ranked rushing offense they won only five games. It turns out you can lose games in the NFL if you play good defense and run the ball. The way to do that is have Denver’s quarterback situation. They cannot go into 2018 with this trio of jokers at quarterback. They need to find a good quarterback, either in free agency or in the NFL Draft. If not, they will continue to be a 5-7 win team that struggles to score 20 points most weeks. They failed to score 20 points 10 times this year and they were (1-9) in those games. They need to become a good offense again and that starts with finding a quarterback.
11) Detroit Lions – How can this team find a running game in 2018? – The league has moved to more pass friendly rules over the years, so it is not uncommon to see good offenses that throw the ball 600 times per year and rely on a committee of running backs. There were only nine running backs this year that gained 1,000 yards and many teams rely on a running back by committee to run the ball. Philadelphia had the third best rushing offense in the NFL and their leading rusher was RB LeGarrette Blount with 768 yards rushing. They had three running backs that gained at least 300 yards rushing, which is how they were that good at running the ball without a bell cow running back.
That is not what is going on in Detroit. They are on the cusp of history, the last time they had a 100-yard rusher was RB Reggie Bush, back in 2013. They have a chance to break the record for most consecutive games without a 100-yard rusher, which was set by Washington in the 1960s. QB Matthew Stafford is a good quarterback, but he needs a running game to add balance to the offense. That will be their biggest priority in the off-season. Former New England Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia is now their head coach and he is there to fix the defense, but his biggest task is to figure out how this team can run the ball better in 2018.
12) Green Bay Packers – How can they make the roster around QB Aaron Rodgers stronger? The Packers started the season (4-1), but when Rodgers broke his collarbone, the team went (3-8) in their remaining 11 games. Rodgers only had one additional start, a 31-24 loss at Carolina in Week 15. If you look early in the year, Rodgers engineered two game winning drives, otherwise they could have been (2-3) when he went down with an injury. The Packers made some early off-season moves that indicate they seem to realize that their formula of relying on Rodger to win everything is not a good recipe for winning another Super Bowl. They decided to reassign GM Ted Thompson, which would seem to indicate that they are going to be more active in free agency this off-season. His replacement is Brian Gutekunst. They also fired both offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett and defensive coordinator Dom Capers. Those coordinators will be replaced by Mike Pettine and Joe Philbin.
It is obvious why the defense needs to be upgraded. They were 26th in points allowed and 22nd in yards allowed in 2017. Even with Rodgers starting in 20016, they were 21st in points allowed and 22nd in yards allowed. It was time for a change there. They need to revamp the defense, retool the wide receiver core and improve the offensive line. That is going to require more activity in free agency than previous years. These moves show the Packers should be more active in free agency this year in an attempt to make their roster more than a one-man band. It also shows that expectations are going to be high and that if an improvement is not made, head coach Mike McCarthy could be the next person to be shown the door.
13) Houston Texans – Will QB DeShaun Watson be ready for training camp in 2018? Watson was having a historic campaign when he went down with an ACL tear. The NFL record for touchdown passes in a rookie season was 26, set by Indianapolis Colts QB Peyton Manning (1998) and Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson (2012). Those quarterbacks both accomplished that feat in 16 games, Watson had 19 touchdown passes in just seven games and looked poised to have a 40 touchdown season. In a year filled with injuries, Watson was one of the hardest to stomach. It felt like we were watching something historic and a freak injury robbed us of witnessing something special.
ESPN.com’s Sarah Barshop reported in early January that Houston Texans head coach Bill O’Brien had said that Watson was ahead of schedule in his recovery from the ACL tear. It is not uncommon for optimism about injuries at this time of year; Indianapolis Colts fans were fed the same garbage about QB Andrew Luck last off-season. The good news is that there has been nothing but positive news about the ACL and he hurt it early enough in the year that he should be ready for training camp. His return to form will make the Texans a player in the AFC South and will be the biggest news item surrounding this team in the off-season.
14) Indianapolis Colts – What is the state of QB Andrew Luck‘s shoulder? Obviously the biggest story is that the team announced that New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, only to have them spurn him and return to New England. McDaniels is not the first person to do this nor will he be the last, but the big question is why the Colts announced they had a hire when their candidate had not signed a contract and what gave McDaniels pause about taking the job. It could be that he liked New England or that he sees himself as the successor to Bill Belichick and that waiting is the more prudent move. Regardless, the Colts finally made a very smart move by firing head coach Chuck Pagano and they look like idiots with how they handled this. It gives the appearance they have never hired a head coach before.
The elephant in the room is that this is either one of the more attractive jobs in the NFL or one of the bleakest jobs in the NFL, because no one knows what this team is going to be capable of achieving until we know if Andrew Luck has a fully functional shoulder. Without Luck, the team went (4-12) this year and they currently have the third pick in the NFL Draft. They have needs on offensive line, running back and the entire defense. However, they need to know if Luck is going to be available to them in 2018 and right now there are still questions about whether he needs another shoulder surgery. While it appears he is trending in the right direction, McDaniels backing out of the job puts that question back in play. Does he know something that the rest of us do not know. Until there is clarity as to Luck’s shoulder, the Colts are going to have a tough time upgrading the roster, especially in free agency. They are also going to have time landing an elite head coach or coordinator to take that job. While draft picks must report there, it is going to be tough to convince anyone that has a choice to sign there if Luck’s timetable for return is a complete unknown.
15) Jacksonville Jaguars – Can QB Blake Bortles take this team to the Super Bowl in 2018? Sometimes it is obvious what the right decision is in terms of personnel and other times the choice is very hard. This is a very difficult decision, because Bortles helped this team advance to their first AFC Championship Game appearance since 1999. While he had only 3,687 yards passing, 21 touchdowns, 13 picks and a QB rating of 84.7 in the regular season, he had 594 yards passing, three passing touchdowns, no picks and a QB rating of 91.0 in the postseason. Other than a sluggish performance against the Buffalo Bills in the Wild Card Round, he was pretty impressive in the postseason.
What do you do with him at this point? He turns 26-years old, he could be on the verge of breaking out and they could have a franchise quarterback for the next decade. He could have just had a fluky postseason playing with a great running game and a great defense leading the way. Keep in mind that while he played well against the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots, he also had 88 yards rushing and 87 yards passing in the Wild Card Round against the Buffalo Bills. Complicating the decision, they could waive him and not owe him any of his $19 million for 2018 and find a veteran quarterback. Maybe they will not be able to release him though, because Bortles just had wrist surgery and he has to be healthy by the start of the league year if they are going to waive him and not owe him that $19 million that is guaranteed for injury. Jacksonville is ready to win a Super Bowl, if they can figure out their quarterback situation. Who they put behind center in 2018 is the biggest question of their off-season.
16) Kansas City Chiefs – How do they recover from their latest playoff disaster? Head coach Andy Reid has blown two playoff games in which his team had an 18-point lead at the half. The rest of the coaches that have ever coached in the NFL have two blown leads of that magnitude in the playoffs. The fallout is that QB Alex Smith was traded to Washington and second year QB Patrick Mahomes will become the starting quarterback in 2018. They have some nice pieces in RB Kareem Hunt, WR Tyreek Hill and TE Travis Kelce. If he is capable of playing at the NFL level, he will have some nice weapons to work with on offense and they should score a lot of points.
The question though is can this team do any better with Reid in the playoffs. Reid is a great regular season head coach, he currently ranks 11th in regular season wins and if they win 11 games next year, he will pass former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Chuck Noll for eighth all time in regular season wins. Reid has six former assistant coaches that are now NFL head coaches. The guy is a borderline Hall of Fame coach, but he also is one of the worst strategists in the NFL that consistently botches challenges, clock management and time / situation awareness. This team is playing for one thing only, a Super Bowl. They need to retool a defense that regressed in 2017 and they could use some more wide receivers. How Reid develops Mahomes and how they will respond the next time they make the playoffs is the big question for the Chiefs entering this off-season.