Who needs what, when, and how, or: An Outsiders guide to the 2023 NFL Off-season.
With the Big Game decided, the 2023 Combine on the horizon, and the NFL Draft marching ever closer, let's get into what each team needs from its off-season, how much cap space they have, and their most significant decision they have looming in front of them.
With all that in mind, let's head out to the desert to see what the Cardinals have in front of them.
Arizona Cardinals - 4-13, 4th in NFC West
Needs - EDGE, CB, IDL, LB
Cap space available - $12.7M
First pick in 2023 draft - #3 (First Round)
The Cardinals' biggest question this off-season is - With new GM Monti Ossenfort and HC Jonathan Gannon in place, do the Cards try to contend in 2023 or will they go into full-on rebuild mode?
With rumors swirling about the Cardinals potentially trading WR DeAndre Hopkins and the retirement of DE J.J. Watt, you might get the feeling that Arizona will tear it down. However, with Kyler Murray returning from a torn ACL and the trade for Marquise Brown last off-season coupled with a high pick in the draft and their choice of pass rushers available in that spot I think you'll see the Cards keep things together for at least 2023.
Atlanta Falcons - 7-10, 4th in NFC South
Needs - IOL, IDL, RB, WR, OT, LB, SAF
Cap space available - $61.4M
First pick in 2023 draft - #8 (First Round)
The Falcons' biggest question this off-season is - Do the Falcons like Desmond Ridder enough to give him the reins in 2023 or will they take a swing at one of the available veteran quarterbacks?
The Falcons have been one of the most common names that come up when trade partners for Lamar Jackson are discussed and while everyone would love to have a talent like Jackson, it just doesn't make sense for a team that just got out of "Salary Cap Hell" to then put itself in that position again. It might be one thing if Atlanta was a QB away, but they aren't. Keeping Ridder and drafting someone they like to set up a QB competition in camp makes much more sense.
Baltimore Ravens - 10-7, 2nd in AFC North
Needs - WR, CB, RB, IOL, LB
Cap space available - $24.4M
First Pick in the 2023 draft - #22 (First Round)
The Ravens' biggest question this off-season - What happens with Lamar Jackson, does he stay or go?
He stays, for 2023 at least, even if it's under a Franchise Tag. If that's the case they're kicking the can down the road another year, creating animosity with Jackson, letting more QBs sign bigger deals, and just generally painting themselves farther into this corner. Lamar has his eyes set on a fully guaranteed contract like DeShaun Watson and the Ravens (plus every team not in Cleveland) are leery of doing that. For me it comes down to a simple question - Does Lamar want to be the highest-paid QB or does he want to be a highly-paid QB and (potentially) play for Championships?
Buffalo Bills - 13-3, 1st in AFC East
Needs - SAF, IOL, WR, IDL, LB
Cap space available - $20.2M
First pick in the 2023 draft - #27 (First Round)
The Bills' biggest Question this off-season is - What additions will Buffalo be able to make that will push them past the Bengals and Chiefs?
It depends on how the Bills prioritize their needs. If they sit tight at #27 they should be able to have a shot at either Florida OG O'Cyrus Torrence who would absolutely fill their need on the interior or Boston College WR Zay Flowers who I expect to open eyes at the combine. If they want to cover the defense, specifically Safety or IDL they might trade back and pick up an extra 2nd-round pick and target either S Antonio Johnson (TAMU), Jordan Battle (Alabama) or potentially DT Siaki Ika (Baylor).
Carolina Panthers - 7-10, 2nd in NFC South
Needs - QB, TE, EDGE, IDL, RB, WR, IOL, SAF
Cap space available - $5.6M
First pick in the 2023 draft - #9 (First Round)
The Panthers' biggest question this off-season is - In as winnable division as there is in the NFL (every team finished below .500), what additions can the Panthers make to claim the division in 2023?
Barring getting one of the veteran QBs like Derek Carr or Jimmy Garroppolo and shoring up their offensive line there doesn't seem like a lot of paths to a division championship in 2023. With that, said this division is a mess. Everyone's QB situation is unsettled and no one seems in a position to fix it this off-season. The upside is that they drafted Matt Corral in 2022 and after recovering from a Lis Franc injury he might be in a position to challenge Sam Darnold (if he returns) for the starting spot.
Chicago Bears - 3-14, 4th in NFC North
Needs - WR, OT, EDGE, IDL, RB, IOL, LB, CB
Cap space available - $98.8M (Most in NFL)
First pick in the 2023 draft - #1 (First Round)
The Bears' biggest question this off-season is - Is Justin Fields Chicago's QB of the next ten years or not?
The $10,000 question of this off-season, right? Most of the speculation seems to center around the fact that Fields was neither HC Matt Eberflus nor GM Ryan Poles' choice, they inherited him. I think they might have conversations about trading him, but in the end, the trade that gets done is the Bears trading back and letting the #1 overall pick go for a haul of picks.
Cincinnati Bengals - 12-4, 1st in AFC North
Needs - TE, CB, SAF, OT, IOL, LB
Cap space available - $33.9M
First pick in the 2023 draft - #28 (First Round)
The Bengals' biggest question this off-season is - With extensions looming for both Joe Burrow and JaMarr Chase, just how much can the Bengals add?
We'll find out shortly. A "for instance" would be WR Tee Higgins who has been a big part of the Bengals' success the last couple of years and is entering the last year of his rookie deal. He'll be looking for something (much) closer to market value and I have to feel the smart thing would be to trade him now and save that money for the big two while also grabbing an extra pick or two for Higgins. Alternatively, they could hold onto him and Transition Tag him after next season, receiving a pick if he signs elsewhere.
Cleveland Browns - 7-10, 4th in AFC North
Needs - IDL, WR, TE, OT, EDGE, LB, SAF
Cap space available - $18.8M
First Pick in the 2023 draft - #43 (Second Round)
The Browns' biggest question this off-season is - How will the Browns add the defensive tackle that new DC Jim Schwartz's defense requires?
The most direct way to fill that role would be signing a free agent like Daron Payne or Javon Hargrave. Given the Browns' cap restrictions that is. . .unlikely, so looking at who might be available with their first pick you zero in on one of two players- Baylor's Siaki Ika or Michigan's Mazi Smith both of who should be available in that position.
Dallas Cowboys - 12-5, 2nd in NFC East
Needs - IOL, IDL, LB, CB, WR, OT EDGE, SAF
Cap space available - $11.2M
First pick in the 2023 draft - #26 (First Round)
The Cowboys' biggest question this off-season is - Can the Cowboys shore up their offense enough to enable them to contend in 2023?
They aren't there yet and it'll be interesting to see if they can get there, but the good news is that the Cowboys have a pretty solid base with Dak Prescott, CeeDee Lamb, and a stout offensive line. The bad news is that Michael Gallup flopped as WR2, RB Tony Pollard is a free agent (and recovering from a broken fibula), and Ezekiel Elliott is likely to be cut if a restructuring of his contract can't be agreed to. I would expect the 'Boys to continue shoring up their lines but if a potential star like Bijan Robinson slips into the late portion of the first round, it might be too much for Jerry to pass up.
Denver Broncos - 5-12, 4th in AFC West
Needs - OT, LB, IOL, IDL, CB
Cap space available - $3.9M
First pick in the 2023 draft - #29 (First Round - from SF)
The Broncos' biggest question this off-season is - Is Russell Wilson due for a rebound in 2023 or was he a product of Pete Carroll's offense and the Seattle defense?
Which is more likely? Wilson was propped up by an offensive genius and great defense in Seattle or that 2022 was a blip caused by a combination of a new city, new teammates, and a new offense? There is a third possibility though. Wilson turned 34 late last season and is reaching an age where he will likely start seeing a slow decline in his skills. I think we will probably see a bounceback season from Wilson and the Broncos, partly from more familiarity with the offense and partly from new HC Sean Payton's influence.
Detroit Lions - 9-8, 2nd in NFC North
Needs - WR, LB, CB, QB, IDL, SAF
Cap space available - $23.1M
First pick in the 2023 draft - #6 (First Round - from LAR)
The Lions' biggest question this off-season is - With an encouraging 2022 season behind them, do the Lions attempt to make a blockbuster move with the draft capital they have (five in the first three rounds) or continue to draft well and build the roster for the long haul?
I have to say that early returns are encouraging. It looks like they'll be sticking with Jared Goff under center and most mock drafts have the Lions taking some combination of an EDGE, CB, OL, and WR. Could they make a splash? Sure, but it feels like the current regime in Detroit is set on building a foundation that can propel the Lions franchise forward to a better next twenty years than their previous twenty.
Green Bay Packers - 8-9, 3rd in NFC North
Needs - WR, TE, OT, EDGE, IOL, LB, SAF
Cap space available - $2.8M
First pick in the 2023 draft - #15 (First Round)
The Packers' biggest question this off-season is - Can the Pack make a deal that trades Aaron Rodgers AND nets them real assets in return?
My initial thought is that no, they can't unless they can find a team to give up future picks (2024 and forward). Right now the teams that make the most sense are the 49ers and Dolphins, both of who are without a first-round pick. The Jets have inquired about the possibility of a trade for the future Hall of Famer (we'll get to my thoughts on that later) and have the draft capital to make a trade happen. Lastly, we have Raiders lurking in the background and they are just crazy enough to swing a trade for him. If I'm the Packers, I trade Rodgers just so we no longer have that cloud hanging over the team and we can move forward but, at this point, it's just as likely he plays for Green Bay in 2023.
Houston Texans - 3-13, 4th in AFC South
Needs - QB, WR, OT, IOL, EDGE, IDL, LB, CB, SAF
Cap space available - $34.2M
First pick in the 2023 draft - #3 (First round)
The Texans' biggest question this off-season is - With the hiring of franchise hero DeMeco Ryans, a pair of Top 15 picks in the 2023 draft, and almost $40M in cap space, will the Texans continue to build or attempt a Jacksonville-esque leap to relevance next season?
The biggest obstacle in the way of the Texans emulating Jacksonville of a year ago is that the Jags had their QB of the future in place and Houston doesn't. They will be able to select a QB and WR (what most mock drafts have them doing) in this draft and solidify their offense while using later picks to build their defense. Getting WR John Metchie III back for 2023 after losing him for the 2022 season to a leukemia diagnosis, and subsequent treatment is a big boost as well.
Indianapolis Colts - 4-12, 3rd in AFC South
Needs - QB, WR, OT, CB, SAF, IOL, EDGE, LB
Cap space available - $2.6M
First pick in the 2023 draft - #4 (First Round)
The Colts' biggest question this off-season is - With their inability to find a QB, do the Colts trade into the Top 3 or retain draft capital and stay at #4?
To answer this question I need to ask another question. Do the Colts like the Top 2 QBs equally, or do they like one better than the other? If they like them equally, stay put and you'll get one of them, barring another team (Carolina?) making a move. If they have a preference they might be able to move up for a minimal cost, say picks #4 and #35. It's also possible (unlikely, but still. . .) that Tyree Wilson makes waves at the combine and the Texans kick the QB can until next year or draft someone later.
Jacksonville Jaguars - 9-8, 1st in AFC South
Needs - WR, TE, OT, IOL, IDL
Cap space available - $16.2M
First pick in the 2023 draft - #24 (First Round)
The Jaguars' biggest question this off-season is - Will the Jags be able to retain or replace their free agent losses and build off of a 2022 season that saw them go from drafting #1 overall to winning the AFC South?
Obviously, at $26M over the cap, the Jags are going to have to shed some salary, and looking at their cap breakdown they have some hard decisions coming up given that the three players making the most money would actually cost more against the cap if they were cut. The draft seems like the best way to replace those losses with a possible selection of Utah TE Dalton Kincaid or a receiver like OSU's Jaxon Smith-Njigba and look toward an IOL in the second round, maybe Old Dominion's OG Nick Saldiveri.
Kansas City Chiefs - 14-3, 1st in AFC West - Won Super Bowl
Needs - WR, OT, IDL, EDGE, SAF
Cap space available - $.4M
First pick in the 2023 draft - #31 (First Round)
The Chiefs' biggest question this off-season is - After TE Travis Kelce, who will the playmakers be for Patrick Mahomes in 2023?
It depends on if Juju Smith-Schuster, Mecole Hardman, or Jerrick McKinnon return as free agents. Assuming they aren't, you're looking at a starting WR corps that looks like Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Skyy Moore, and Kadarius Toney in the slot with Isiah Pacheco as the back. Look for the Chiefs to continue to be smart and dig for diamonds like Pacheco in the draft.
Las Vegas Raiders - 6-11, 3rd in AFC West
Needs - RT, IDL, IOL, CB, LB, SAF, RB, EDGE
Cap space available - $46.2M
First pick in the 2023 draft - #7 (First Round)
The Raider's biggest question this off-season is - With Derek Carr released, who is under center for the Raiders in 2023?
Picking at #7 leaves the Raiders out of the running for either C.J. Stroud or Bryce Young, unless they like Kentucky's Will Levis or Florida's Anthony Richardson, drafting a rookie high in the draft isn't likely. As for the veteran options, of Jimmy G, Sam Darnold, or Baker Mayfield, Jimmy G seems like the only logical choice if the Raiders feel they can contend for the playoffs. If Garoppolo is the route they choose to go, they'll have plenty of competition for his services.
Los Angeles Chargers - 10-7, 2nd in AFC West
Needs - RT, IDL, WR, LB, TE, RB, SAF, IOL
Cap space available - $22.1M
First pick in the 2023 draft - #21 (First Round)
The Chargers' biggest question this off-season is - Is a change needed more on the offensive side or the defensive side for the Chargers to challenge for the AFC West crown?
So, if I said "both" would that be cheating? In the seven losses the Bolts suffered this past season, they held a halftime lead in four and proceeded to allow forty points in the fourth quarter of those games (where they lost by an average of 4.7 points). The other side of that depressing coin is that they also only scored an average of seven second-half points in the four losses. The defense needs to be stouter against the rush (28th Vs Rush in '22) and the offense needs to find a reliable weapon to go with Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. Strengthening the O-line should be addressed as well.
Los Angeles Rams - 5-12, 3rd in NFC West
Needs - WR, IOL, EDGE, CB, SAF, QB, RB, TE, OT
Cap space available - $14.2M
First pick in the 2023 draft - #36 (Second Round)
The Rams' biggest question this off-season is - Are the Rams still a Super Bowl contender or just a pretender?
The rash of injuries the Rams had to deal with in 2022 was as bad as any team in recent memory and I'd be lying if I said it didn't give me the warm fuzzies. Warm fuzzies aside, the Rams are going to run it back one more time and kick the rebuild can down the road for at least one more year. That's not the question though. Are they a contender? Well, while having Matt Stafford under center throwing to Cooper Kupp and being able to put Aaron Donald in the middle of your defense is always a good start, it's just not enough. Look for the Rams to finish third in the West again, just with a better record.
Miami Dolphins - 9-8, 2nd in AFC East
Needs - RB, TE, LB, CB, WR, OT, IOL, SAF
Cap space available - $15.3M
First pick in the 2023 draft - #51 (Second Round)
The Dolphins' biggest question this off-season is - Should Miami pick up Tua's fifth-year option or should the Dolphins begin preparing to draft another quarterback of the future?
I wasn't high on Tua when the 'Phins drafted him fifth overall in 2020, he just hadn't started enough games for my taste. Since then he has answered any questions about his ability to play in the NFL, the real question is his availability. After seeing Tua take some truly scary shots this year, including the Thursday night game in Cincinnati I attended, you have to wonder if continuing his career is advisable. Drafting a QB that they like in rounds 3-5 might be an advisable step.
Minnesota Vikings - 13-4, 1st in NFC North
Needs - QB, IOL, WR, IDL, CB
Cap space available - $23.1M
First pick in the 2023 draft - #23 (First Round)
The Vikings' biggest question this off-season is - What do they do with Kirk Cousins?
Do you start negotiations now with your 2024 free agent and hope you can come to a team-friendly number that's better than his projected market value (be prepared for sticker shock, I wasn't) or do you try to sign someone from next season's free agent class? Worse, do you try to rebuild in 2024 and waste (conservatively) three seasons of Justin Jefferson's prime on bad teams? Figure it out Minny, I doubt it gets better soon.
New England Patriots - 8-9, 3rd in AFC East
Needs - WR, IDL, LB, OT, EDGE, CB
Cap space available - $29.5M
First pick in the 2023 draft - #14 (First Round)
The Patriots' biggest question this off-season is - Can we expect a jump in performance from Mac Jones with Bill O'Brien taking over at Offensive Coordinator from assistants Matt Patricia and Joe Judge?
I think we'll likely see an improvement with O'Brien taking the reins versus the Particia/Judge fiasco. O'Brien has shown over the last several years that he can tailor an offense to his signal caller's strengths and get the most out of him. Those things aside I think we'll see the biggest jump if the Pats are willing to resign Jakobi Meyers and Devante Parker can regain his Miami form because $6.2M is just too much for a receiver who only catches 47 balls and 3 TDs. Adding a receiver in the draft like Quentin Johnston or Jordan Addison would be big too.
New Orleans Saints - 7-10, 3rd in NFC South
Needs - QB, TE, EDGE, IDL, WR, IOL, SAF
Cap space available - $33.7M
First pick in the 2023 draft - #29 (First Round - from DEN)
The Saints' biggest question this off-season is - Will the Saints find their 2023 QB in the Draft or will they attempt to sign one of the veteran quarterbacks as they become available?
At this point, I'm convinced the best thing the Saints can do for their future is to cut all the (roster) dead weight they can, go through a year or two of salary cap hell, and come out the other side. It's been two years since Drew Brees retired, this is still a team designed for him to be QB, and worst of all, you have a formerly great receiver who is going to hit the cap at a whopping $59.4M in 2024 if something isn't done. Sacrifice 2023, get a high pick (maybe Caleb Williams?), and move forward, this roster is a damn train wreck.
New York Giants - 9-7-1, 3rd in NFC East
Needs - QB, WR, TE, IOL, LB, CB, RB, EDGE
Cap space available - $40.1M
First pick in the 2023 draft - #26 (First Round)
The Giants' biggest question of the off-season is - Do either Daniel Jones or Saquon Barkley suit up for Big Blue in 2023?
Probably both are back in blue in 2023. Jones has finally become something of what the Giants thought he would when they drafted him back in 2019 and Barkley is looking like he's back to what he was his rookie year before his second season was cut short with an ACL injury. Personally, I transition tag Jones and let him find out the hard way just what his actual value is (hint- it's less than the transition tag value) and maybe we can get a medium-term contract done. Barley is different but I think a deal gets done for him as well.
New York Jets - 7-10, 4th in AFC East
Needs - OT, IOL, QB, IDL, LB, CB, SAF
Cap space available - $2.6M
First pick in the 2023 draft - #13 (First Round)
The Jets' biggest question of the off-season is - Are the Jets really just a QB away from contending?
No. They ARE a QB away from a playoff berth though and because of that the Jets find themselves in a tricky situation. They're bad enough that they finished 4th in a competitive division and good enough that with competent QB play they're at least three, maybe four games better. If they can sign Derek Carr and solidify their offensive line while continuing to draft well, they might be contending for a division title in a year or two.
Philadelphia Eagles - 14-3, 1st in NFC North - NFC Champions
Needs - RB, IOL, LB, CB, WR, EDGE, IDL, SAF
Cap space available - $9.8M
First pick in the 2023 draft - #10 (First Round - from NO)
The Eagles' biggest question this off-season is - How will losing both their OC Shane Steichen (Colts HC) and DC Jonathan Gannon (Cardinals HC) affect the Eagles' ability to make it back to the Super Bowl?
There's not a ton of history I could find on teams making it to the Super Bowl before then losing their OC and DC. I found two instances - the 2005 New England Patriots lost OC Charlie Weis and DC Romeo Crennel and the 1994 San Francisco 49ers lost OC Mike Shanahan and DC Ray Rhodes. Both teams returned to the playoffs but not the Superbowl. Do I expect Philly to be really, really good next year? Yep. Will they make it back to the Super Bowl? Who knows, in the NFL's one-and-done playoff scenario having a bad day is the end of your season.
Pittsburgh Steelers - 9-8, 3rd in AFC North
Needs - OT, IOL, IDL, LB, CB, WR, SAF
Cap space available - $4.8M
First pick in the 2023 draft - #17 (First Round)
The Steelers' biggest question this off-season is - Will second-year QB Kenny Pickett be allowed more freedom in the offense during year two?
I think it's quite likely that Pickett is not only allowed more freedom in the offense in year two but that Pickett makes a jump in production and efficiency. I really liked Pickett last year and was more than a little surprised he slid as far as he did so I'm just continuing to back that horse. I know a lot of Steeler fans wanted OC Matt Canada gone but, if this interview is to be believed, Pickett is glad he's sticking around.
San Francisco 49ers - 13-4, 1st in NFC West
Needs - RT, CB, IDL, IOL, SAF, LB, WR
Cap space available - $2.5M
First pick in the 2023 draft - Undetermined (Third Round - Compensation)
The 49ers' biggest question this off-season is - With Brock Purdy undergoing elbow surgery, Trey Lance, who is still recovering from a broken ankle, and Jimmy Garoppolo a pending free agent, where do the Niners turn for their QB in 2023?
This is the team that it makes 1000% sense to mortgage the future on for Aaron Rodgers. The Niners have some third-round picks to play with but I get the feeling that the Packers are going to want more than a couple of third-rounders to get this deal done. If the Pack would be willing to get more in 2024 if Rodgers were to return to San Fran, the 49ers have most of their own picks back in 2024 and could make that happen. Barring a trade though, I could see them opting to attempt to sign Jimmy G to stick around as a known quantity.
Seattle Seahawks - 9-8, 2nd in NFC West
Needs - QB, IOL, EDGE, IDL, LB, SAF, WR
Cap space available - $24.7M
First pick in the 2023 draft - #5 (First Round - from DEN)
The Seahawks' biggest question this off-season is - Do the Seahawks have enough high-end draft capital to shore up a wildly inconsistent defense?
Maybe? OK, probably, yes. I admit that I'm a pick hoarder, however many I have, it's never enough. Seattle though has four picks in the first two rounds (#5, 20, 37, and 52) and at the very least should be looking at a pair of starters and a pair of players who will be pushing for time/become starters. If, however, the trade proposed in Mel Kiper's latest draft comes to pass, the Seahawks could find themselves with at least one more second-round pick and probably much more. More picks=more better in my book.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers - 8-9, 1st in NFC South
Needs - QB, EDGE, LB, CB, RB, WR, IOL, IDL, SAF
Cap space available - $58.5M (Worst cap situation as of 2/28/23)
First pick in the 2023 draft - #19 (First Round)
The Buccaneers' biggest question this off-season is - With Tom Brady's retirement, are the Bucs going to enter rebuild mode, or will they try to contend in a winnable division?
It's going to be interesting to see how the Bucs dig themselves out from under this mountain of debt they have had (mostly) brought on by Brady's retirement. I'm sure we'll see some extensions and restructuring, but you'll also likely see some veterans looking for a new team. It feels like the Bucs are going to go with Kyle Trask at QB in 2023 so I suppose that answers the question from their side as no one I've seen or heard views Trask as the future in Tampa.
Tennessee Titans - 7-10, 2nd in AFC South
Needs - WR, OT, IOL, IDL, LB
Cap space available - $9.9M
First pick in the 2023 draft - #11 (First Round)
The Titans' biggest question this off-season is - Will the Titans and GM Ran Carthon be able to rebuild the roster so that it is capable of contending or is a complete rebuild in order?
For my money, a complete rebuild is in order. I am, however, not in charge of the Titans franchise, a franchise it is worth noting, that has a hard time hitting the reset button. Ryan Tannehill is nearing the end of his career, Taylor Lewan was just released, Derrick Henry has more miles on him than a New York City cab and will turn 30 before the end of next season, and in the eight games he played, Malik Willis looked nothing like a QB of the future. You do you though, Ran Carthon.
Washington Commanders - 8-8-1, 4th in NFC East
Needs - IOL, LB, CB, QB, WR, EDGE
Cap space available - $12M
First pick in the 2023 draft - #16 (First Round)
The Commanders' biggest question this off-season is - Will new OC Eric Bienimy turn the Commanders into the NFC East version of the Chiefs, or will we find out that Andy Reid was the mastermind behind the offense?
Most likely it's somewhere in the middle. The Commanders aren't going to become an offensive juggernaut just because they hired Bienimy. They don't have a QB, they have one player (Terry McLaurin) who is equivalent to anyone on the Chiefs, and chemistry like the Chiefs have doesn't come instantly. So, when week one gets here, whatever happens, don't freak out too much either way, give them some time.