Everyone in the NFL is looking up (again) at Tom Brady, and in a novel twist, the Buccaneers. No two rosters are the same, and therefore every team's needs are different. Quarterback drama has dominated the discourse in the league for several weeks now, but there are other big stories for the rest of the league. Let's take a look at the biggest offseason question for every NFL team.
Patrick Peterson? Gone. Dre Kirkpatrick? Also a free agent. The Cardinals, like every team with a dynamic quarterback on a rookie deal, could stand to surround Kyler Murray with more weapons. All the offensive talent in the world won't matter, however, if Arizona can't find quality pieces in the secondary. Virginia Tech's Caleb Farley should be available in the middle of the first round, but Alabama's Patrick Surtain II will likely be gone much earlier. The Cards will have to either find reinforcements in free agency or address the position in the draft, even if it isn't with one of the top two players available.
The Falcons have a new coach, the fourth pick in the draft, and most importantly, have been a non-factor since their Super Bowl LI meltdown against New England. Ryan would have to be traded after June 1 because of cap considerations, but Atlanta should be exploring any and all potential deals because Ryan is the rare quarterback who really could put the right roster over the top, but can't drag the Falcons to greatness by himself. There are three years left on his deal, and owner Arthur Blank doesn't seem inclined to see Ryan go, but it would be best for the franchise long-term.
With all due respect to Marquise Brown, he is not his cousin Antonio, and never will be. Lamar Jackson's game as a passer can still be refined, but it's more than fair to point out that the Ravens haven't surrounded him with true game-breaking talent. This year's wide receiver class is deep, again, so will Baltimore bite on a top receiving target? Purdue's Rondale Moore would be intriguing, but he's not a big guy and profiles similarly to Brown. Either way, since the Ravens are going to pay Jackson like a franchise quarterback, they owe it to him and to themselves to surround him with weapons.
Allen made huge strides this season and garnered some MVP consideration in the process. He and Stefon Diggs were a dynamite combination, but the Bills were decisively outclassed by Kansas City. That was due in large measure to the Chiefs' pass rush, which got home with alarming ease and regularity in the AFC Championship Game. Buffalo has multiple free agents on the offensive line, and they would benefit from seeking out offensive line help with multiple picks in this year's draft, or in free agency. Allen is the franchise, and his physical style means the Bills must avoid exposing him to any more punishment than is necessary.
North Dakota State's Lance is a tantalizing prospect; his numbers are eye-popping, his physical skills obvious. The only question is quality of competition. The Panthers have the eighth pick, and Teddy Bridgewater was underwhelming last season. Carolina has other needs, but Lance should be available when the Panthers' turn comes in the first round. Do they want to take a big swing and potentially set themselves up for the next decade at the most important position on the field, or will new general manager Scott Fitterer take a more conservative approach?
Mitchell Trubisky wasn't the answer. Neither was Nick Foles. Is Carson Wentz really worth the home run swing? That's pretty murky, as well. The Bears find themselves without a quarterback, a familiar script for the franchise for most of its existence, and at pick 20, their draft options are likely limited to Mac Jones and Kyle Trask, or to a free agent or, in the case of Wentz, a blockbuster trade.
Before his season-ending injury, Burrow was sacked 32 times in 10 games. Had he played the entire season, he might have ended his rookie year as the league's most-sacked quarterback. The Bengals must decide if they want to spend another draft pick on a premium offensive line talent, or if they want to take whichever game-breaking wide receiver - DeVonta Smith or Ja'Marr Chase - is still available with the fifth-overall pick.
Cleveland's offense is a known commodity, and assuming talent wins out overall, they'll find a way to be better with Odell Beckham Jr. back healthy, despite their numbers improving without him last season. The Browns' real need is on defense, particularly up the middle at linebacker. There are multiple first-round-graded players at inside linebacker; tempting though it might be to take a shot at a splashier position, Cleveland would be crazy to pass if one is still available at pick 26.
Prescott's numbers suggest this should have happened a long time ago. However, the Cowboys may well franchise tag him yet again, as they are seemingly still not willing to commit long-term, with his injury further complicating matters. The protracted back and forth is a distraction for the entire franchise, and while Jerry Jones has surrounded Prescott with elite talent, at this point it's probably wisest to just get a deal done and move forward with him as the team's franchise quarterback, with a contract to match. If another franchise tag is in the offing, all bets are off.
One thing we know about Denver's never-ending search for a young passer to lead the franchise for the next decade or more: Drew Lock isn't the answer. He was an inaccurate mess in 2020, and any good that he did was immediately offset by a propensity for bad turnovers. Denver needs to end that experiment and go back to the drawing board. Justin Fields would be a home run, but he's unlikely to be available when Denver makes the ninth overall pick. Would Trey Lance be the answer? Whatever the Broncos decide to do, they have to get it right, or they'll be stuck in the AFC West basement for years.
Dan Campbell's rebuild needs to identify defense first ; Jared Goff will be fine as a placeholder, if nothing else, for one season, after which Detroit can cut him loose. If an elite wide receiver like Ja'Marr Chase is available, the Lions might be tempted to bite, but if the franchise wants to set the proper course, they need to start with the defense and build from the inside out. May I suggest Penn State's Micah Parsons, for starters?
The Packers looked like geniuses for drafting Jordan Love in the first round last year, if for no other reason than the move infuriated Rodgers so much that he went out and won himself another MVP award. The Packers still have Davante Adams and then a bunch of Rodgers creations to round out the rest of their pass-catching corps. Giving him someone who can be a true running buddy to Adams would make Green Bay nearly unstoppable on offense in 2021, and make them the worthiest challenger to Tampa Bay in the NFC.
J.J. Watt has been released, Deshaun Watson is furious about the Texans' lame-duck coaching search, and the team is the laughingstock of the league. All the turmoil seems to stem from the outsized influence that Easterby wields in the front office. His title is Executive Vice President, Football Operations, despite the fact that he has no personnel background. Owner Cal McNair needs to come to his senses and fire Easterby soon, or things will get even worse in Houston.
Philip Rivers' retirement certainly wasn't a surprise by any means, but it left the Colts with a talented, well-constructed roster that doesn't have a quarterback to lead it. Indianapolis has the 21st pick in the draft, and Alabama's Mac Jones should be available. Opinions on Jones vary wildly; he might have a high floor, but a low ceiling. Indy feels like a destination where he could step in and play well quickly, but do the Colts want to go that route, or try to snag a middle-tier free agent? How general manager Chris Ballard proceeds will determine the immediate future of the franchise.
Meyer's start in Jacksonville has already gotten bumpy, as he hired former Iowa strength coach Chris Doyle to be the team's director of sports performance, only for Doyle to resign days later after a significant public backlash. Meyer hasn't yet run a practice and has already made missteps. Trevor Lawrence will be Jacksonville's pick in the draft, but he'll need to be great from the start, and Meyer is going to have to make more prudent decisions, or this big experiment has the potential to go awry, and fast.
Patrick Mahomes' worst game came behind an offensive line missing both starting tackles, against a defense peaking at the right time. Kansas City will presumably have Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz back and fully healthy for 2021, but will the Chiefs go for some extra offensive line depth, anyway? If they don't, and instead try to grab another wide receiver, it might be a sign that the Super Bowl was a perfect storm, where everything that could go wrong did. If for some reason the offensive line issues are more than just a byproduct of injuries, Kansas City must address them in the draft.
Jon Gruden went on a Pro Football Focus podcast with Cris Collinsworth and said that his team needed an "alpha" in the secondary. This created something of a problem, because Richard Sherman was also on the podcast, and many viewed the incident as a case of blatant tampering. Sherman happens to be the kind of "alpha" player Gruden was speaking of. A mix of secondary help young and old is a must for a defense that has been terrible on the back end and exists in a division with the league's best quarterback and a young gun who just won Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Herbert's rookie campaign was impressive enough in a vacuum, but the fact that he made so many eye-popping plays was made all the more impressive by the fact that the Chargers' offensive line was an unmitigated disaster, and Herbert faced near-constant pressure. Los Angeles needs a complete offensive line overhaul, and they need it fast because their window to build a truly impressive roster around Herbert starts with this offseason. A few cost-effective veterans and draft picks would do the trick. If it doesn't happen, the Bolts will have wasted Herbert's most cost-effective seasons.
Los Angeles paid a steep price to get Stafford from the Lions, so much so that most analysis of the trade suggested it was more about getting Jared Goff out of town than it was bringing Stafford in. Sean McVay has never had a quarterback with Stafford's physical gifts, and Stafford has never played in a system as quarterback-friendly as McVay's. The Rams will bring back a top-heavy, star-studded defense; if they're going to advance past the divisional round, Stafford will have to be the driving force.
Tagovailoa was at the center of one of the strangest quarterbacking dynamics in the league, first gaining the starting job over Ryan Fitzpatrick, only to have Fitzpatrick rescue the Dolphins in a late-season win over the Raiders. There have been questions about Tagovailoa's ability to be a true franchise quarterback, but outside of DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki, Miami didn't have much in the way of offensive talent. Florida's Kadarius Toney should be available at pick 18, or Miami might get lucky and have Jaylen Waddle fall all the way to them. Either way, the Dolphins can't make any true judgments on Tagovailoa until they get him more weapons.
The Vikings need to fix their defense more than anything, and in Jordan Jefferson, they have a dynamic young playmaker to pair with Dalvin Cook. I can't shake the feeling, however, that any and every move is futile as long as Cousins is under center. Watching from afar, it feels like there is an invisible ceiling on what the team is capable of as long as Cousins is the quarterback. He's uncuttable, so Minnesota certainly won't be making a change at the moment. The task now involves trying to figure out how to build the best possible team around him, and hope for the best.
The Pats are short on talent, are getting older at certain positions on the field. There has been talk of a Jimmy Garoppolo/Bill Belichick reunion, but that feels like it would end in disappointment. Belichick might not have the stomach for it, but all signs point to a decisive, aggressive rebuild being the franchise's best bet. The Bills look like they will be good for the foreseeable future, the Dolphins are also building something impressive, and the Jets might be closer than they look. If Belichick can swallow his pride for a season, he could have the Patriots back in contention soon.
The Saints aren't in a great place at quarterback. Brees seems likely to retire, and Taysom Hill's work as the starter was solid, but nothing more. Jameis Winston is the most talented player on the depth chart, something that was true even with Brees still playing this past season, but he might not come back to New Orleans. The Saints aren't in a position to draft Brees' replacement, and if they can't come up with a viable succession plan, one of the league's better rosters will go to waste.
Kyler Murray has DeAndre Hopkins. Baker Mayfield has Odell Beckham Jr., in addition to several other talents. Josh Allen has Stefon Diggs. Just about every well-regarded young quarterback in the league has a defined number one receiver, but Jones possesses no such thing. The Giants will have Saquon Barkley back this season, and they have needs at other places on the field, but either in the draft or via free agency, New York needs to make sure that Jones has someone dynamic to target.
Sam Darnold is still the Jets' starting quarterback, but that seems like an increasingly tenuous reality. Armed with the second pick, the Jets can either select BYU's Zach Wilson or try to make the biggest splash of any team this offseason and pry Deshaun Watson from the Texans. If the Jets can do the latter, they will instantly transform themselves into an AFC East contender, despite still having holes elsewhere on their roster; Watson is that good. Regardless of what path the team ends up traveling, it seems more likely with each passing day that Darnold has played his last down for New York.
The situation with Wentz has completely deteriorated, all the way to the point where he now seems so radioactive, and his contract so onerous, that the Eagles would have to take something far less than a great deal to offload him. Philadelphia doesn't have anything close to a sure thing at quarterback; Jalen Hurts was intriguing, but not good enough to cement himself as the starter, so the Eagles will likely be vying for Justin Fields with the sixth overall pick, despite having already allocated massive amounts of draft capital to the position over the last few seasons.
Roethlisberger and owner Art Rooney II have to sit down and hammer things out, but Rooney made it clear at his season-ending meeting with the media that Roethlisberger's $41.2 million cap hit for next season, the highest in the league, is untenable. The team and its quarterback need to find some sort of financial common ground, and while Roethlisberger and his camp have said all the right things, it's not out of the question that the two sides can't figure out a solution that works for all parties involved and instead part ways.
Strange things happen on draft day, so while the 49ers don't figure to have a shot at one of the blue-chip quarterbacks in this year's draft, it seems obvious that they would snatch up, say, Trey Lance if he was still available with the 12th pick. Garoppolo might have trade value, particularly for a team like New England, but it feels like his time in San Francisco is done. It's a decision the 49ers need to make, and standing pat with a quarterback who couldn't close the deal in Super Bowl LIV seems like the wrong move.
Wilson isn't pleased with the number of hits he's taking, and while his propensity for hanging onto the football has much to do with the number of times he's sacked and knocked around every game, the Seahawks' offensive line could use some help. So too could the team's skill position depth; D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett are great, but another weapon for Wilson wouldn't hurt. The Seahawks weren't far from the number one seed in the NFC this year. If they can keep Wilson happy - and healthy - a deep playoff run might follow.
The reigning champs will have Tom Brady back, which makes it likely that certain members of the team will be more willing to come back on somewhat team-friendlier deals, but there are still important decisions ahead for the Bucs. Shaq Barrett, Chris Godwin, and Lavonte David are the biggest names, but Antonio Brown's future is murky, and there are a number of other question marks. The Bucs' ability to make hard decisions in certain cases will be instrumental to their chances of successfully defending their title.
Tennessee was atrocious defensively last season; one reason is that they allowed the fourth-most rush yards after contact in the NFL last season, and their poor play at linebacker was a major reason why. The Titans have many needs, including more weapons on offense, but they must find a way to improve their toughness and tackling up the middle, particularly in a division that features Indianapolis' bruising offensive line, and the potentially ascendant Jaguars. Missouri's Nick Bolton could be had in the first round, and the Titans might even be able to trade back a few spots to get him.
The Football Team was near the bottom of the NFL in virtually every offensive category, and they clearly need a quarterback. Alex Smith is not the long-term or even the short-term answer, and Taylor Heinicke's gutsy playoff performance aside, there is little reason to believe that he is anything more than a career backup. Unfortunately, picking 18th means that Washington won't have access to any of the blue-chip quarterback prospects - Alabama's Mac Jones is the best quarterback likely to be left at that point - so the Football Team must decide if they want to load up in other areas - particularly wide receiver - or potentially reach for Jones.
Chris Mueller is the co-host of The PM Team with Poni & Mueller on Pittsburgh's 93.7 The Fan, Monday-Friday from 2-6 p.m. ET. Owner of a dog with a Napoleon complex, consumer of beer, cooker of chili, closet Cleveland Browns fan. On Twitter at @ChrisMuellerPGH – please laugh.