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. That article can be viewed by CLICKING HERE. We look at the remaining 16 teams in Part II, which will be released on February 14th; a Valentines Day present from the Maniax to our loyal readers.
17) Los Angeles Chargers – The Chargers employed four below average kickers in 2017, can they find a reliable one in 2018? The Chargers really put themselves in a bind when they lost their first four games by three points, two points, 14 points and two points. Had they had competent kicking, they could have started the season (3-1) or (2-2). Instead, they started the season (0-4) and even though they went (9-3) in their final 12 games, they still missed the playoffs on a tiebreaker. They had no losses to bad teams in the final 12 games, losing at New England by eight points, at Jacksonville by three points and at Kansas City by 17 points. All three of those teams were in the playoffs. They just could not overcome a horrible start to the season.
Kicker is not a heavily discussed position in the NFL. This team started the season with K YoungHoe Koo. They switched to K Nick Novak, K Travis Coons and K Nick Rose. The result was 20 for 30 on field goals and 37 for 42 on extra points. In a league where most of the games are decided by a touchdown or less, a team cannot have that much drama at the kicker position. The Chargers have needs on the offensive line, they could use a better running game and they could use a stouter run defense. Their biggest liability this year was the kicker and they must address that this off-season if they want to make the playoffs. They did sign K Roberto Aguayo to compete with Rose at kicker. Seeing that Aguayo was cut after one season in Tampa Bay, even though he was a second round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft; it would be wise to have a better contingency play if Rose is not the answer. They are wasting prime years of QB Philip Rivers career by not having a kicker that can close out close games.
18) Los Angeles Rams – How does this offense become more than the RB Todd Gurley show? The Rams had a great season; they went from the 32nd ranked scoring offense to the top-ranked scoring offense. QB Jared Goff made good strides in his second year. He finished the year 296 of 477 for 3,804 yards, 28 touchdowns, seven picks and a QB rating of 100.5. However, the whole offense ran through Gurley. He finished the year with 2,093 yards from scrimmage and 19 offensive touchdowns. His yardage amounted to 35.02 percent of their yards from scrimmage and his touchdowns amounted to 42.22 percent of their offensive touchdowns scored.
They just did not have another dominant weapon in the offense. Rookie WR Cooper Kupp had the next most yards from scrimmage with 869 yards and WR Sammy Watkins was their next best touchdown threat with eight touchdown receptions. WR Robert Woods was probably their best target when healthy, he averaged a team-leading 65.1 yards per game receiving and he scored five touchdowns in just 12 games. There is nothing wrong with Gurley being the focal point of the offense, but it feels like they have a bunch of WR2 and WR3 on the roster. If they had someone like New Orleans Saints WR Michael Thomas, this offense would have a devastating look to it. That is there challenge this off-season, find a receiver that can be the focal point of the passing game and allow their solid supporting cast to fall in line behind him. If they can do that, this could be an offense that scored 500 points and gains 6,500 yards from scrimmage in 2018.
19) Miami Dolphins – QB Jay Cutler was not a success story in 2017, can they take the next step with QB Ryan Tannehill in 2018 or do they need to find a new quarterback? How long do the Dolphins invest in Tannehill as their starting quarterback? This is a guy that has had some success in the league. He has twice thrown for over 4,000 yards and he has some mobility, having rushed for 311 yards and a touchdown in 2014. He also is coming off a torn ACL from August and missed the entire 2017 season. The Dolphins tried to go with QB Jay Cutler, but he finished the year with 2,666 yards passing, 19 touchdowns, 14 picks and a QB rating of 80.8. Other than an upset of New England at home, he was mostly below average this year.
At this point, Tannehill has been in the league since 2012. He is (37-40) as a starting quarterback and he has never started a playoff game. He turns 30-years old at the end of July. He is not a young quarterback with potential; he is a veteran player with a career QB rating of 86.5 and a career Yards Per Attempt of 7.0. He showed some flashes of brilliance in 2016 when he helped lead the Dolphins to the playoffs, but his wins that year were against Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, the New York Jets, San Diego Chargers, LA Rams, San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals. The only one of those teams that picked outside of the Top 13 was Pittsburgh. He’s shown he is good enough to be a starter, but not good enough to be a difference maker on a Super Bowl contender. He is coming off an ACL injury; I think it would be prudent to draft a quarterback in the second or third round and start developing a backup plan in case Tannehill is injured or ineffective in 2018.
20) Minnesota Vikings – Who will be their starting, backup and third-string quarterback in 2018? Minnesota had a meltdown in the NFC Championship Game. They had the best scoring defense, yardage defense and third down defense in the NFL. They were second against the run and the pass. They lost that game 38-7 and they gave up 456 yards. It was a terrible performance, but the Vikings are not going to blow up their entire defense over one bad game. Instead, they are going to tweak an offense that was 10th in points scored and 11th in yards gained and hope that a stronger offense paired with this defense will deliver their first Lombardi Trophy in franchise history.
The problem is they have no quarterback from the 2017 roster under contract. QB Sam Bradford, QB Teddy Bridgewater and QB Case Keenum are all free agents this off-season. The Vikings maybe able to resign one of them or the price tag could become too expensive for all three of them and they could look to lure a quarterback there in free agency or they could draft one in the NFL Draft. They are a Super Bowl caliber defense with an offense that needs a leader behind center. While all three quarterbacks have shown flashes in the NFL, none has shown to be a franchise quarterback. What Minnesota decides to do in terms of resigning them, pursuing a veteran in free agency or drafting one will be the biggest storyline of their off-season.
21) New England Patriots – Can a 41-year old QB Tom Brady continue to play at a MVP level? There are going to be wholesale changes on the defensive side of the football. They lost defensive coordinator Matt Patricia to the Detroit Lions, where he became the head coach after their Super Bowl loss. Their defense has to grapple with the fact that their offense became the first offense to gain 600 yards in a game and lose and their quarterback became the first quarterback to throw for 500 yards, three touchdowns and no picks in a game and lose. The reason for those NFL first is their defense gave up 41 points and 538 yards and they allowed the Philadelphia Eagles to convert 10 of 16 third downs and two of two fourth downs. There will be some major changes on the defensive side of the ball in the hope they can return to the Super Bowl and actually stop the opposing offense.
That is a good plan for the 2018 off-season, but Brady is now going to be 41-years old and he is coming off a MVP season. An upgraded defense would really help their Super Bowl chances, but if Brady ends up showing his age, it will not matter. They need him to continue to play at a high level if they want to return to the Super Bowl. Brady is in great physical condition and he is showing no signs of slowing down. He is also going where no quarterback has gone before. The best season by a 41-year old quarterback was probably Seattle Seahawks QB Warren Moon, who had 3,678 yards passing, 25 touchdowns, 16 picks and a QB rating of 83.7 in the 1997 season. Those may sound like bad stats now, but the passing yards and passing touchdowns were both fifth in the league that year. If Brady can keep his MVP edge at 41-years old, this team should be able to compete for the Super Bowl next year if they can upgrade the defense. There is no road map for 41-year old quarterbacks playing at a MVP level, so it will be interesting to see how long Brady can hold off father time.
22) New Orleans Saints – Will QB Drew Brees be back in New Orleans in 2018? There is losing a playoff game and there is doing what the Saints did in the 2017 playoffs. S Marcus Williams was a great rookie and should be a big part of their defense for years to come, but he made a bad mistake allowing Vikings WR Stefon Diggs to catch the ball, tackling his teammate instead of Diggs and allowing Diggs to have a clear path to the end zone. Instead of securing a 24-23 playoff win in Minnesota, they lost the game 29-24 and now have to figure out what they tweak with a roster that won 11 games and made it to the brink of the NFC Championship Game.
Their defense made a lot of strides in 2017, but it still was only 10th in points allowed and 17th in yards allowed. They need to figure out what went wrong with a running game that averaged 129.3 yards rushing per game in the regular season and only 101 yards per game in the playoffs. However, none of that really matters if their future Hall of Fame quarterback is not back in 2018. Brees is coming off a year in which he threw for 4,334 yards, 23 touchdowns and eight picks. He is playing at a high level and he wants to return to New Orleans. He is also 39-years old, so as long as the Saints and him can come to an agreement on years and guaranteed money, he should be back for another run in 2019. However, if they cannot make that happen, this team will have a glaring void at the quarterback position.
23) New York Giants – Will this franchise try to reboot with QB Eli Manning or do a complete rebuild? The Giants were a disaster this year, going (3-13) and earning the second pick in the NFL Draft. They have a lot of needs on this team. Their offensive line was a disaster; they need to revamp that entire unit. They need a running back that can handle 15-18 carries and gain 1,000 yards for the year. They need to retool a defense that was 27th in points allowed and 31st in yards allowed; a decline from second in in points allowed and 10th in yards allowed in 2016. There are not enough free agents and draft picks to fix this disaster in one year, they are probably looking at a 2-3 year rebuild where they shed aging veterans from their salary cap space and add young players into the fold.
Here is the question. Manning just turned 37-years old in January. Let’s assume there is nothing wrong with his arm and that the 6.7 and 6.1 yards per attempt and 86.0 and 80.4 QB rating of the last two years is a result of bad offensive line play and inadequate skill position players. Does it make sense to rebuild around a 37-year old quarterback? Manning holds all the cards with his no-trade clause, so they cannot just deal him to the Cleveland Browns and walk away with some picks. They also would absorb a $12.4 million cap hit if they release him before June 01, but would save $9.8 in cap space. They could also designate him a post June 01 cut, spread the cap hit of $12.4 million over two years and save $16 million in cap space in 2018. While it is hard to say good-bye to a two-time Super Bowl MVP and the face of the franchise since 2004, it is a necessary move. Manning may be able to help a team win a Super Bowl, but not the Giants as they are currently constructed and if he wants to play and win a third ring, he needs to do it somewhere other than the Giants and they need to move on to a new era of Giants football. New head coach Pat Shurmur seems to be leaning toward keeping Manning, but it is hard to imagine them not going quarterback early in the NFL Draft. If they fall in love with a quarterback during the draft evaluation process, the Giants may change their mind about Manning.
24) New York Jets – Can they find a franchise quarterback in the NFL Draft without having a Top-5 pick? The Jets were one of the feel good stories of the NFL even though they won only five games. After 12 weeks, they were (5-7) and a game out of the final Wild Card spot. That was incredible for a team many people projected to win 1-3 games. A big reason they were able to stay in the race so long is that QB Josh McCown not only stayed healthy, but he played well. He had a 67.3 completion percentage, 2,926 yards passing, 18 touchdown passes, nine picks and a QB rating of 94.5. It was a very unexpected performance for the 38-year old journeyman quarterback playing on one of the worst rosters in the NFL.
The upside to him playing well is they developed a lot of young players and head coach Todd Bowles was able to keep his job for 2018. The downside is that he did eventually breakdown from injury and they lost their last four games and earned the sixth pick in the NFL Draft. It is clear that a 39-year old McCown is a good bridge for developing a franchise quarterback, which they do not have on the roster. However, he is not a good bet to be healthy for 16 games and leading the Jets to a playoff spot. His ability to keep them competitive hurt them for the NFL Draft to have their choice of a franchise quarterback. They need to resign McCown this off-season, but they also need to figure out what quarterback has the potential to be a franchise quarterback and draft him with that sixth pick. McCown back as the starter with no apprentice behind him would be a disaster in 2018.
25) Oakland / Las Vegas Raiders – How do they revive a once promising offense that went south in 2017? You could argue the Raiders were the most disappointing team in the NFL last year. Many people thought they would win 10-12 games and compete for a Super Bowl. Instead, they went (6-10) and they fired head coach Jack Del Rio and replaced him with Jon Gruden. Gruden last coached in the NFL in 2008 with Tampa Bay and he last coached with Oakland in 2001. He has won a Super Bowl (2002), but has been in the ESPN booth for nine seasons. It will be interesting to see how all that time away from coaching has changed him since we last saw him on a NFL sideline.
His biggest challenge is going to be to figure out how an offense that was seventh in points scored and sixth in yards gained in 2016 went to 23rd in points scored and 17th in yards gained without losing any of their best players in 2017. A good way to accomplish that would be to find a running game. They have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, but RB Marshawn Lynch was their leading rusher and he had only 207 carries for 891 yards and seven touchdowns. They could definitely use a more explosive running game, which might help QB Derek Carr rediscover his 2016 form. They also need to figure out why WR Amari Cooper and WR Michael Crabtree failed to eclipse 700 yards receiving. The Raiders are a very talented team, but they underperformed last year and need to show that was a fluky season.
26) Philadelphia Eagles – Do the Eagles keep Super Bowl MVP QB Nick Foles this off-season? The Eagles are in a very good position for 2018. They have 44 of their players already signed through 2018. They also have 32 players signed through 2019. The downside is that Spotrac.com estimates that the Eagles are an estimated $7 million over the cap for 2018. They are going to have to make some cuts and the best way to improve the roster with little cap room is the NFL Draft, because rookies cost a lot less than veterans in free agency. The problem for the Eagles in that department is they also do not have a ton of draft picks, because of their trade with the Philadelphia Eagles for QB Carson Wentz in the 2016 NFL Draft. They only have a first, fourth, fifth and sixth round pick in this Draft, so an easy way to shed $7 million in salary and acquire draft capital is to trade Foles to a quarterback needy team for a second round pick.
The problem is that Wentz tore his ACL in September and if he has any setbacks in his rehab process, the Eagles may need Foles for the first month of the season. The Eagles have no reason to tip their hand right now and they should act like they have no intention of trading Foles, because it will help increase his value. Foles will never have more value than he has right now and the Eagles need the cap space and the draft picks. They just have to balance those needs with Wentz’s health, because it would be a shame to trade a backup quarterback that can competently fill in for Wentz and suffer through a slow start, because they traded their insurance policy. Thankfully for them, they really do not need to pull the trigger until the NFL Draft, which gives them time to evaluate Wentz’s rehab and make an informed decision.
27) Pittsburgh Steelers – Can their defense finally return to their 2005-2010 form? There are many questions on offense, but the bottom line is that the Steelers have been in a perpetual effort of rebuilding their defense. While they have made some strides over the last five years, the defense keeps failing them in the postseason. When this team won two Super Bowls and appeared in a third from 2005 to 2010, their defense was king. They were third in points scored and fourth in yards allowed in 2005, 11th and 9th in 2006, second and first in 2007, first and first in 2008, 12th and fifth in 2009 and first and second in 2010. They really have not been a good unit since 2013 and they have been investing draft picks to fix that unit. They were 18th and 18th in 2014, 11th and 21st in 2015, 12th and ninth in 2016 and seventh and fifth last year. That improvement in 2017 is a big reason they earned a bye in the Wild Card Round for the first time since 2010.
However, in the postseason, they lost 45-42 in the Divisional Round to a Jacksonville team that also gashed them 30-9 in the regular season. Their defense was never the same after they lost LB Ryan Shazier to a serious spinal injury. However, the last two years they surrendered 36 and 45 points in their final postseason game and even though the offense didn’t show up in the first quarter and dug themselves a 21-0 hole early, the defense was the most glaring problem. Without question, there will be questions on the offensive side of the ball. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley is gone and former quarterback coach Randy Fichtner now has that role. RB Le’Veon Bell is a pending free agent and they need to figure out what they do with his contract. QB Ben Roethlisberger is turning 36-years old this year and they have to think about finding a replacement. However, until they find a defense that can show up in the playoffs, they can have all the offensive firepower they want. This defense must be fixed this off-season if they want to return to their first Super Bowl since the 2010 season.
28) San Francisco 49ers – Can the add pieces around QB Jimmy Garoppolo to give themselves a chance to build an explosive offense? The 49ers decided that there was no sense in franchising a player that they wanted to be the centerpiece of their franchise for the next decade. It is very similar to what the Green Bay Packers did in 2008. The Packers knew what they had with QB Aaron Rodgers and rather than having him prove it for years before signing him to big money, they just gave him a six-year, $65 million contract extension through the 2014 season, despite the fact he had only been the starter since September of that season. It paid off, they had one of the best quarterbacks in the league at a competitive salary and they fielded teams that made the playoffs every season from 2009 to when the contract expired in 2014.
The 49ers situation is a little different, because Rodgers was not a free agent until after the 2009 season, where Garoppolo was a free agent this year. Franchising him was going to cost them $25 million this year, so they just signed him to a five-year, $137.5 million contract with $74 million guaranteed. There is no reason to belief he will be a bust, but that is a lot of money for a quarterback with less than eight starts and it is the type of decision that either punches a ticket to the Hall of Fame for the GM and head coach or puts them on the unemployment line. Now that their quarterback’s future is secure, the bigger question going forward is what additions in free agency and the NFL Draft do they put around him? They won their last five games of 2017 with WR Marquise Goodwin as their top wide receiver and TE George Kittle as their top tight end. If they can add better pieces in the passing game, this could be a very dangerous offense in 2018. Garoppolo is going to be a popular fantasy QB1 in later rounds and some big time signings will only increase the hype train in San Francisco.
29) Seattle Seahawks – How do they make their offense more than the Russell Wilson show? Here is how bad the Seahawks running game was in 2017. RB Mike Davis led all Seahawks running backs in rushing with 240 yards on 68 carries. That is the least amount by a leading rusher in franchise history, unless you want to count RB Sherman Smith’s 1982 strike-shortened season when he led the team with 202 yards in just nine games. They also had only one rushing touchdown by a running back this year, it was scored by RB J.D. McKissic in Week 4 against the Indianapolis Colts.
QB Russell Wilson probably would have been the MVP of the league had the Seahawks won the NFC West. The Seahawks scored 38 offensive touchdowns this year. Wilson either threw or ran for 37 of those touchdowns, which is the highest percentage by any player in NFL history. He was the fifth quarterback since the 1970 merger to lead his team in rushing and he just missed breaking Detroit Lions QB Jon Kitna‘s record for accounting for the highest percentage of a team’s yards from scrimmage. Wilson was 81.5 percent of the Seahawks offense; Kitna was 81.8 percent of the Lions offense back in 2006. They cannot go into 2018 relying on the same formula, they must upgrade a terrible offensive line, find a running back that can be a featured back and see if they can find a replacement for TE Jimmy Graham, who is likely to depart in free agency this year. They also have some questions on defense, as that unit has begun to age. This is a team that must have a good season all around as they try to retool a team that has aged since winning the Super Bowl in 2013.
30) Tampa Bay Buccaneers – How will this team become a better Red Zone offense? I think this franchise is an absolute disaster right now from a coaching standpoint. They have QB Jameis Winston, who was the first pick in the NFL Draft. They have WR Mike Evans, who is 6′ 5″ and 231 lbs. They have WR DeSean Jackson, who is among the fastest receivers in the league. They have second-year WR Chris Godwin, who played well down the stretch and could push Jackson for the starting job. They have TE Cameron Brate, who is an experienced tight end that has 14 touchdowns over the last two years. They have TE O.J. Howard, who is 6′ 6″ and can run the 40-yard dash in about 4.50 seconds. This team is loaded with great offensive players, they have a RBBC led by RB Doug Martin and their only weakness on offense is upgrading the offensive line.
This is a 500-point offense in the waiting, yet they ranked just 18th in points scored with 335 points. Despite having two monster targets in Evans and Howard, they ranked 24th in red zone scoring offense at 49.06 percent. This is a team that should have fired their head coach or at the very least made changes to the offensive staff and hired a new play caller. As it stands right now, head coach Dirk Koetter is retaining his job as head coach and play caller and there are no planned changes to the offensive staff. Instead, they seem to think injuries were their biggest problem. There is no reason this team was this bad at scoring touchdowns and they need to figure out what they are going to change in 2018 to make that happen. They could afford to upgrade the offensive line, but their needs to be a change in offensive philosophy in 2018.
31) Tennessee Titans – Mike Mularkey was not the right head coach to make QB Marcus Mariota a franchise quarterback, is new head coach Mike Vrabel? Tennessee is one of the more confusing teams in the NFL. On the one hand, they made their first playoff appearance since 2008 and earned their first playoff win since 2003. Normally they throw a parade for a head coach that ends years of frustration, not move in another direction. The problem is the team declined, especially Mariota. In 2016, he had 3,426 yards passing, 26 passing touchdowns, nine picks and a QB rating of 95.6. In 2017, he had only 3,232 yards passing, 13 passing touchdowns, 15 picks and a QB rating of 79.3. The offense was a disaster this year, especially on the road and their passing game was 28th in pass attempts, 23rd in passing yards gained, 30th in touchdown passes thrown and 17th in net yards per passing attempt.
When a young quarterback is struggling like that, there are a number of concerns. Is the quarterback regressing, is the scheme bad, is the head coach not the right person for the job. Mularkey is on his third head-coaching job, he’s (36-53) as a head coach in the NFL and he has never won more than nine games in a season. Mariota was the second pick in the NFL Draft and has shown flashes of brilliance. It is obvious why they made this move, but Vrabel is a defensive mind coach. He played linebacker in the NFL for 14 years and he was the defensive coordinator for the Houston Texans. It will be interesting to see if the new coaching staff can improve an offense that is loaded with talent. The person that will be in charge of helping Vrabel with that task is former Rams offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur. Given the success the Rams had working with Goff last year, that could end up being a great hire.
32) Washington – Will QB Alex Smith be an upgrade from QB Kirk Cousins as their starting quarterback in 2018? Washington franchised Cousins for back-to-back seasons. That means that if Washington had applied the franchise tag for a third straight season, Cousins would have been entitled to a one-year deal with $34.47 million in fully guaranteed money. That would have been insane, as Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford became the highest paid quarterback last year with a five-year deal worth $135.000 million and $60.50 million guaranteed. His cap hit next year is $26.5 million or eight million less than what Cousins would be entitled to if Washington were to apply the tag. Cousins turns 30-years old and he is just (15-16-1) playing with the tag the last two years. While he did have 4,093 yards passing, 27 touchdowns, 13 picks and a QB rating of 93.9, they also were just (1-5) against teams in the 2017 postseason. Some of that could be attributed to an offensive line and running back core decimated by injuries and their defense was just 27th in points allowed and 21st in yards allowed. Also, Cousins had a QB rating of over 100.00 in three of those five losses to playoff teams, which does suggest the supporting cast probably deserves more of the blame.
Washington decided it was best to go in another direction, so they traded for Smith and gave him $71 million guaranteed and locked him up for the next five seasons. We’ll see if that ends up being a good move, but I do not think Smith is going to have a lot more success in 2018 than Cousins had the last three years. Smith is coming off a year where he had 4,042 yards passing, 26 passing touchdowns, just five interceptions, a completion percentage of 67.5 percent and a QB rating of 104.7. He also had a supporting cast that featured RB Kareem Hunt, WR Tyreek Hill and TE Travis Kelce. He does not have those weapons in Washington and their offensive line is not as good as Kansas City. If they can improve the supporting cast and if Washington can play an offense that suits Smith’s talents, maybe they can see the same production Smith had last year. Smith had a career year last year, but he also failed to throw a touchdown to a wide receiver in 2014. He does some very good things, but his lack of arm strength has some limitations and Washington needs to upgrade the supporting cast if they are going to see production that will carry them to the playoffs.