NFLTR Review: 32 Questions For 32 Teams, Part I

There’s still one more game to play but most of the NFL is already looking ahead to the 2023 season. In this issue:

  • Is Ron Rivera’s prove-it season already doomed?
  • Why the Rams might push the chips in again
  • The weirdest thing about this Aaron Rodgers situation, & much more

32 Questions For 32 Teams: Part I

For the most part, teams go into each offseason with a long list of things to try and improve upon for the next season. Only one team ever ends up truly satisfied with how things ended, so that sends the other 31 back to the drawing board to some degree. 

But there’s always one main thing, one big question that if it could be answered would make other doubts moot or help the rest fall into place. A question that sets the tone for the entire season, good or bad. 

As we gear up to plunge into the offseason, here’s one take on what that one question for every team might be, starting worst to first. 

Bears: Can Bears GM Ryan Poles capitalize on a massive war chest of resources? 

No team is in a better position to improve this offseason than the Chicago Bears. They have by far the most cap space of any team and could have $100 million at their disposal with a couple of moves. They also have the No. 1 overall pick and nine total selections in the upcoming 2023 draft. We see teams make big jumps every year, and the Bears could be the latest if they use their significant resources wisely. 

Obviously that’s easier said than done. 

There’s not much of a track record to go off of for Poles since he’s only been on the job for about a year. But the Bears got a lot of criticism for putting one of the worst rosters in the league around QB Justin Fields (which looks astute given they finished with the No. 1 pick). His big swings have been to sign and back out of a deal for DT Larry Ogunjobi, and to trade what ended up being the No. 32 pick for WR Chase Claypool

Poles will have more options available to him this offseason, but it’s imperative he come away with better results than what those moves look like so far. 

Texans: Are things finally moving forward for the Texans? 

Last year, we were asking the same thing as the Texans were looking for a new head coach just a year after hiring David Culley. This year, they fired Lovie Smith following just one season. Along with GM Nick Caserio’s inability to find a replacement for departed QB Deshaun Watson, it all makes it feel like the Texans are stuck in neutral on their rebuild. 

But the hire of new HC DeMeco Ryans is a much-needed jolt of energy. This is different than the past two years. Ryans was one of the top candidates on the market and had a lot of competition for his services. He chose Houston, where he spent the majority of his playing career. He’s young and his arrow is firmly on the rise compared to Culley and Smith who were each in their mid-60s. 

Caserio has also amassed a good number of picks from trading Watson, which along with the No. 2 pick they earned this past season should put them in position to draft a potential answer at quarterback. So right now, things feel pretty good in Houston. History tells us that first-time head coaches and rookie quarterbacks are no sure things, though, which is why the way this season plays out will be so important. 

Cardinals: Can they break the cycle of despair?

The best thing that happened to the Cardinals in 2022 was signing QB Kyler Murray to an extension. Or at least that should have been a good thing for the organization to lock up a talented young quarterback. Instead, like so much surrounding the Cardinals last year, it curdled with the whole controversy about the “homework clause” mandating Murray put in extra film work. 

The team is starting with a clean slate in 2023. They have a new general manager in Monti Ossenfort and will have a new head coach. Plenty more changes are surely coming. Ordinarily, the top priority for the new regime would be trying to get the best out of Murray, helping him figure out how to take his game to another level and be the player that can elevate the team. His torn ACL will severely complicate that. 

So instead, the bar is set much lower. The new regime just needs to lay a foundation for an organization that has seen fits and starts of success but never anything lasting. No one is going to expect much from the Cardinals in 2023. It’s going to take some time. 

Colts: Will the draft bring an answer at QB? 

The Colts are one of a plethora of teams with major questions about the quarterback position heading into this season. For the past few years, they’ve cycled through veteran after veteran trying to regain their balance after the surprise retirement of Andrew Luck, who they fortuitously lucked into drafting after they moved on from Peyton Manning. Indianapolis has found out the hard way that it doesn’t work like that most of the time. 

This time, it seems like the Colts are ready to take a plunge on a young signal caller, and they’re in good position with the No. 4 pick to be able to do so. One way or another, whether it takes a trade or if they’re able to sit tight, they’ll go into this season with someone who will be expected to be the franchise savior. After that, it’ll be up to the Colts to develop and build around their rookie. Taking a quarterback with a high pick obviously doesn’t guarantee any success. 

Broncos: Can Sean Payton fix Russell Wilson?

Maybe fix is the wrong word. The 2022 season was a disaster in a number of ways for the Broncos and Wilson, going beyond just simple growing pains. But Wilson certainly didn’t play up to the capabilities we’ve seen from him in the past. Given his age, the narrative that he’s hit the cliff and is cooked is understandable, even if I — and more importantly Payton — don’t buy it. No matter what, Denver is stuck with Wilson until 2024. Their roster is not bereft of talent, and if Payton can get more production out of Wilson, the vision the team had last offseason might not be dead. 

If Wilson can’t find his way, though, it could be the end of his career. It probably will be curtains for GM George Paton. And it’ll put the Broncos right back on the quarterback wheel, which has become an unfortunately familiar place in the past several years. 

Rams: How does Sean McVay reload? 

Plenty of commentators will say the Rams need to hit the reset button after a year in which their apparently reckless roster building caught up to them. To that, I say McVay didn’t spurn retirement to come back to a team that still has DT Aaron Donald, QB Matthew Stafford, WR Cooper Kupp and CB Jalen Ramsey and blow it up. 

Still, there are some lessons from 2022. The Rams were one of the NFL’s healthiest teams for years, to the point some beat reporters started suggesting they’d found some kind of secret sauce that enabled their specific team-building philosophy. Injuries devastated the roster though, taking out nearly the entire offensive line and hitting some of their big stars. The Rams also seemed caught off guard by losing OLB Von Miller in free agency to the Bills, and their pass rush never recovered after being one of the best in football in 2021. 

Between the injuries, the Miller situation and Stafford’s early-season struggles in the dropback passing game, there’s a case to be made the Rams’ arrogance caught up with them. Perhaps not taking the opportunity to pivot to a more sustainable team-building plan this year is arrogant, too. But I think if they reinstalled more of a play-action heavy attack, landed one or two impact edge rushers and reinforced the offensive line depth, they very well could thread the needle once again. 

Raiders: What is Josh McDaniels’ plan? 

A lot of people expected McDaniels to blow things up and put his stamp on the team after taking over as the new head coach in Las Vegas. Instead, the team plunged into the AFC West arms race last offseason, extending QB Derek Carr, trading for WR Davante Adams and signing OLB Chandler Jones. It looked like they expected to contend. 

But after an 0-2 start, the narrative coming out of the team building flipped to “this was always a significant, multi-year rebuilding job.” And perhaps that’s true. Teams can’t lie with their actions, though, and the Raiders’ actions said they thought they could contend. The narrative again this offseason is that the team is going to focus on building sustainably. But they were heavily linked to signing Tom Brady before he retired and could look into a trade for Packers QB Aaron Rodgers if he’s available. Acquiring either would be a pretty big contradiction. 

Maybe McDaniels wants to have his cake and eat it too. Plenty of teams have tried in the past to rebuild while staying competitive. It usually doesn’t work. More often than not, if you sit on the fence too long, you get hemorrhoids. 

Falcons: They’ve had to subtract out of necessity for two years, now what does it look like when addition is the primary focus? 

While the division-rival Saints have drawn most of the attention for being in “cap hell,” the Falcons have quietly had a worse cap situation for the past two years. They’ve had to move on from franchise pillars like WR Julio Jones, QB Matt Ryan and WR Calvin Ridley over the past two seasons, and their activity in free agency has been limited to shopping in the dollar store. 

But this year, the Falcons will be flush with cap space, and they’ll have another top-ten pick at their disposal. They’ll have the ability to shake up the team in a major way, though judging by GM Terry Fontenot and HC Arthur Smith’s comments so far this offseason, they’ll play things a little more conservatively. Smith has arguably overachieved with a 7-10 record each of the past two seasons. The expectations will be higher in 2023, though. Seven wins won’t be enough to call the season a success. 

Panthers: Can they find a quarterback? 

As the team’s strong finish to the season showed, the Panthers roster isn’t miles away from contending. They had major weaknesses at head coach and quarterback, and while new HC Frank Reich isn’t perfect, he has a solid track record of success in some challenging situations in Indianapolis. What ultimately doomed him was the inability to find an answer at quarterback, and that will be Carolina’s top priority this offseason. 

With the No. 9 pick, Carolina should have a crack at landing a first-round quarterback if it wants, and are also in position to trade up if they determine there’s a player worth the cost. The draft seems like the best avenue to find the long-term answer the team is pursuing.

Saints: Does the recipe work without Brees & Payton? 

In back-to-back years, the Saints lost a Hall of Fame quarterback and a borderline Hall of Fame coach. And their response was to change as little as possible and hope their substitutions did an adequate job. It’d be like going to make gumbo, finding out you’re out of chicken stock and sausage, and deciding to substitute orange juice and baloney instead. Just make something different!

Once again, the Saints are going to run back most of their team, with a few notable subtractions. Payton’s replacement, HC Dennis Allen, kept most of his staff intact, and the team still has a precarious financial situation to navigate as they try to patch a roster that keeps springing holes — and still doesn’t have an answer at quarterback. 

Titans: Is it time to move on from Ryan Tannehill?

The Titans have a fresh face with GM Ran Carthon coming in this offseason. And sometimes a new perspective can spark a shakeup. The team is already ripe for change with a number of older players on cuttable deals and coming off a year in which they missed the playoffs. Tannehill is also in the last year of his deal. 

Of course the obvious question is if Tennessee moves on from Tannehill, who are they moving to? It won’t be 2021 third-round QB Malik Willis, as he lost his job to career practice squad QB Joshua Dobbs when the team was fighting to hang on to a postseason berth. There are some possibilities the Titans could explore but it will have to be balanced against the unfortunate truth that it’s easier to get worse at quarterback than it is to get better. Trying to refortify the roster around Tannehill and give Willis more time to develop might be the best bet. 

Browns: The AFC is loaded with QB talent. Can Deshaun Watson be that guy for the Browns?

Before Watson forced his way out of Houston and had to face the justice system for scores of sexual assault claims, he was viewed as the top potential rival to the Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes. Expecting him to pick back up where he left off was never realistic but the Browns probably thought he’d at least be better than Jacoby Brissett when he did get the chance to play. Instead, the end of the 2022 season became about knocking off the rust. 

For 2023, the rust is supposed to be gone now. Everyone in Cleveland has major expectations, and if Watson and the Browns don’t live up to them, heads are going to roll. 

Jets: Can the Jets land the missing piece at quarterback?

If you’d told Jets fans and the organization before the season started that they’d finish with seven wins and have a chance to make the playoffs in Week 18, nearly everyone would have signed up for that. Expectations changed after the team hit seven wins by Week 12, and the six-game losing streak left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth, including owner Woody Johnson

Johnson has been back to his hands-on ways since returning from his four-year stint as the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom, and it’s pretty clear reading between the lines that he expects the Jets to be playoff contenders in 2023. If they’re not, there could be big changes. New York is gunning for a veteran quarterback this offseason as the final piece, and there are enough options to where they should be able to land someone. As we’ve seen this offseason, though, signing or trading for a veteran is no guarantee it all comes together. 

Patriots: Has Bill Belichick lost his fastball?

It’s still not clear what exactly Belichick was trying to do with his idea to split the primary offensive coaching duties between Matt Patricia and Joe Judge when neither had any real experience coaching that side of the ball. It predictably went poorly. New England won’t have to deal with that setup in 2023 but we’ve now seen three years of Belichick without Brady and it’s safe to say one side has had a lot more success than the other. 

Obviously it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, as Brady landed on a stacked team and Belichick had to find a new franchise quarterback, which might be the hardest team-building goal in sports. And the Patriots have still generally been good on defense and special teams, hallmarks of the Belichick era. Cracks have shown up though, little things like penalties, excuses and a lack of attention to detail that you didn’t see when “the Patriot Way” was at its peak. The Patriots have been mostly average instead of good or even great over the past three years. 

Can they change that in 2023? It will be the third season for QB Mac Jones and his third different offensive coordinator, though the selling point of hiring Bill O’Brien is that he’d worked in two systems Jones had played in before and should provide a higher comfort level — in addition to being an NFL-caliber offensive coach. There’s work to do on the roster, too. We might see what the greatest NFL coach of all time can do, or be reminded again of his limitations. 

Packers: What’s the deal with Rodgers?

Maybe I was just being naive, but I figured the massive deal Rodgers signed last year would kill all the trade talk for a little while. He could still go through his annual process on whether or not to retire, but if he played, there’d be little doubt about where. Maybe he still ends up in Green Bay but there’s too much trade speculation out there to ignore. 

What strikes me as interesting is that the Packers brass has shown zero public willingness to entertain a Rodgers trade, including after this last season ended. ESPN’s Adam Schefter said this past week that “league sources believe the Packers prefer to move on.” But does this sound like a team ready for Roders to bounce? Teams lie all the time, and perhaps Rodgers is hearing different things in private conversations inside the building. His comments on the matter certainly have been more open-ended than the Packers’. 

Whatever happens will have a massive impact on how Green Bay proceeds this year and in the future. If Rodgers stays, they’ll restructure a bunch of contracts again to try and keep the core of the team together while patching the weak spots that popped up in a disappointing 8-9 season. If he goes, they can turn the page to Jordan Love and start to clean up their books. A clean break might sound appealing but the Colts, Patriots, Broncos and Saints should all be cautionary tales of how low the bar can drop at quarterback when a legend moves on. 

Commanders: How will Ron Rivera save his job? 

On a more normal team with an owner with less going on, this might have been it for Rivera. A lot of coaches don’t survive three straight losing seasons, even if Washington snuck into the playoffs one of those years. The leash is running out, though, as new owners should take over at some point this year. Rivera has to make his case to them. 

The thing is, he might have to do it with his hands tied behind his back. The early word out of Washington is 2021 fifth-round QB Sam Howell will be the starter to begin the offseason at least. Howell flashed in his season-ending start but Rivera had to be talked into giving him the full game midweek. That sort of abrupt pivot starts to make a little more sense with the chatter from other reporters that owner Dan Snyder is going to be extremely budget conscious on his way out and might not want to sign a bunch of big checks. 

Quarterback is the biggest weakness on the team, but if Rivera isn’t going to be allowed to go after a prominent veteran to drop into the system, it really feels like he’s got an uphill battle on his hands in 2023. 

This Week In Football

  • Exactly a year to the day after he announced he was retiring the first time, Buccaneers QB Tom Brady announced again he is ending his NFL career — for good. No one would be blamed for being skeptical after how things played out last year but I do believe Brady, who just accomplished his long-held goal of playing until he was 45, is sincere this time. We can’t say much more about Brady than we did a year ago. He’s the best NFL player of all time and will be for quite a while. His departure has other massive implications. He won’t be an option for QB-needy teams, and while the Bucs will need a new starter, his decision to retire instead of play elsewhere will be a huge boon to their salary cap situation. This will increase the demand for other quarterbacks potentially available, which we’ll get into later. 
  • The other major NFL bombshell this week was the Broncos closing the deal to land former Saints HC Sean Payton in a blockbuster trade. Denver will send their first-round pick this year, which originally belonged to the 49ers and came to the Broncos via the Dolphins, and a second-round pick next year in exchange for Payton and a 2024 third. It’s a steep price for a coach and perhaps that’s why it appears that Payton was the Broncos’ third choice behind Michigan HC Jim Harbaugh and eventual Texans HC DeMeco Ryans despite having the best resume of any of them by far. It’s absolutely worth it for Denver to land Payton, however. The process as a whole was messy — with conflicting reports about the Broncos asking Ryans to take them back before going to the altar with Payton. But something similar played out with the Jaguars last year with their coaching search. They ended up with Doug Pederson and are quite happy about that now. And Payton’s got a better resume than Pederson. 
  • We dug into everything between the Texans and Ryans earlier in this column. It’s a homerun hire based on what we know now. Ryans was a hot candidate with a ton of options the past two years. And Houston was able to land him despite bumbling its way through the past few years. Ryans should be in a decent position to have success with Houston’s wealth of draft picks. Time will tell though. 
  • That leaves two open head coaching jobs; the Cardinals and the Colts. Neither search seems like it’s about to wrap up anytime soon, but here’s where things seem to stand:
    • The Colts interviewed at least 14 candidates in their first round, and have at least eight candidates for a second round of interviews reported so far. While the second round has traditionally been the finalist round, that’s an incredibly high number of finalists, which is why reports that the Colts are looking at doing a third round make a lot of sense. Here’s where their search stands so far
    • Gut reaction and just my opinion, I think Rams DC Raheem Morris, Giants DC Wink Martindale and Eagles OC Shane Steichen would make a lot of sense as potential finalists. I don’t think interim HC Jeff Saturday is an option but we’ve obviously been surprised by owner Jim Irsay before. 
    • Things are moving slowly in Arizona as well as they mosy through their search. Judging by the list of candidates, the Cardinals are leaning toward a defensive head coach who can help shift the culture and bring in more of a sense of accountability that owner Michael Bidwill felt the team has been lacking. There hasn’t been a lot of concrete reporting on who that might be but the connections to Steelers LB coach Brian Flores are hard to ignore. 
  • As the head coaching spots get filled, we’ll have much more on the dozen-plus offensive coordinator vacancies still open around the NFL. One of the highest-profile ones was filled though when former Cowboys OC Kellen Moore, set loose by Dallas, landed almost immediately with the Chargers in the same position. Not a lot of people in Dallas were sorry to see him go — you should see Cowboys fans in our mentions whenever we write about Moore — but there’s a good chance Moore becomes the second prominent member of the Cowboys offense to find a ton of success elsewhere in as many years, following in the footsteps of WR Amari Cooper. Payton may be off the market, but Cowboys HC Mike McCarthy won’t be under any less pressure now that he’s the one designing the offense and calling plays. 
  • There aren’t nearly as many open defensive coordinator jobs but there’s a ton of activity there. 
    • The Dolphins landed the top name on the market, closing the deal with former Broncos HC Vic Fangio after some suspense. That’s a massive get for HC Mike McDaniel, as the defensive side of the ball often let the offense down in 2022 despite some real talent to work with. 
    • Broncos DC Ejiro Evero is now the top name remaining, as he’s in play both as a potential head coach and for a number of defensive coordinator positions. Denver seems interested in keeping him now that Fangio’s off the market but he’ll have plenty of options. The Vikings and Rams are two teams to monitor, as he has strong connections with both. 
    • The Falcons filled their vacancy by hiring Saints co-DC Ryan Nielsen, who previously had been a highly-thought-of defensive line coach. Saints HC Dennis Allen continued to run the defense, so it’ll be interesting to see what Nielsen comes up with in his first crack at striking out on his own. 
    • New Orleans’ other co-DC, Kris Richard, was let go instead of allowed to take the full-time job, so the Saints will be shaking up their defense this offseason even though that side of the ball seemed to play better than their offense. 
  • Once again, we have a bunch of quarterback updates to go through. Unfortunately a few of them are injury related. 49ers seventh-round QB Brock Purdy was knocked from the NFC title game with what was later revealed to be a torn UCL in his elbow. It’s a severe injury that will take at least six months to recover from following surgery, possibly longer depending on the degree of repair that’s needed. That will sideline him until training camp, opening the door back up for QB Trey Lance who should be recovered from his ankle injury in a few weeks. Assuming the 49ers don’t add another veteran quarterback — and the retirement of Brady takes the top option off the table — Lance will have his chance to reassert his claim to the starting job during OTAs, with a battle in training camp between him and Purdy sure to follow. It’s not entirely out of the question San Francisco adds a veteran given their unique situation but it does appear that veteran won’t be Jimmy Garoppolo. 49ers HC Kyle Shanahan seemed to rule that out definitively. He’ll be available for other teams to pursue. 
  • Elsewhere in the NFC West, Cardinals QB Kyler Murray is coming off his torn ACL, which usually takes nine to 12 months to rehab following surgery. Murray had his surgery in late December, so that would put the front end of his return in September possibly. However, NFL Media reported that Murray is going to take his time with his rehab to make sure he’s 100 percent before he returns, which would be consistent with how the Cardinals have handled his other injuries in the past which weren’t as severe. That could push his return closer to midseason, There are even some whisperings it could be longer. If that’s the case, Arizona could be in the market for a bridge starter this offseason, joining the long list of teams in need of help at the position. 
  • It’s not all bad injury news, though. Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa was cleared from the concussion protocol, and every indication is he and the team are full steam ahead with each other for 2023 at least. Anything beyond that will be determined by Miami’s decision with Tagovailoa’s fifth-year option in May. It would guarantee Tagovailoa $25.382 million for the 2024 seasons, which would lock him onto the roster at least if not cement him as the starter. Miami could decline the option and still have the franchise tag to fall back on if Tagovailoa plays well, like how things played out with the Giants and Daniel Jones this past season. It will be more expensive, probably $35 million or more, but gives Miami more flexibility. 
  • That tag number is going to be impacted by a number of major quarterback deals that should get done this offseason. Bengals QB Joe Burrow and Chargers QB Justin Herbert are eligible for extensions for the first time and the expectation is Burrow, if not both, will top $50 million a year. Eagles QB Jalen Hurts is also in this batch, as he’s eligible for a new deal for the first time and is expected to cash in big. Philadelphia doesn’t have the benefit of a fifth-year option to give them more negotiating time since Hurts wasn’t a first-round pick but the Eagles like to get extensions done early anyway. This past season was Hurts’ breakout year but he shouldn’t be that far behind Burrow and Herbert, if at all. 
  • With Brady out of the picture, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers becomes the next big name the NFL’s watching to see if he becomes available. We covered it earlier, but there’s a persistent belief around the league that the Packers would like to move on from Rodgers, despite the team’s public stance to the contrary so far. If Rodgers becomes available, it’s looking like the Jets will be one of the top contenders, with New York also eyeing other prominent veterans set to be available like Garoppolo and Raiders QB Derek Carr.
  • Things with Carr have been quiet so far but we could see them pick up soon. The team has a deadline of February 15 to get a trade hammered out as that’s when Carr’s guarantees vest, and he said he doesn’t plan to give the team an extension. Raiders GM Dave Ziegler is at the Senior Bowl along with reps from nearly all the other teams, so it’s an environment ripe for negotiations. He expects Las Vegas to have a market for Carr, but there’s still a needle to be threaded for negotiations. The odds are good that Carr could make more than $40 million guaranteed if he were an unrestricted free agent, and with a no-trade clause he has the leverage to force Las Vegas to cut him. 
  • The NFL announced the salary cap for 2023 will be set at $224.8 million, which is an increase of more than $16 million from last year’s number. That’s the biggest cap jump in league history and an indication of where things are headed. There’s a good chance the cap will increase by more in future years as the billions in increased revenue from the NFL’s last round of TV deals and other streams of income like gambling start to hit the books. Keep that in mind when you see some of the deals that will be signed this offseason. They may look huge but they’re just keeping pace with inflation. 

Check This Out

  • This is a fun piece from Jimmy Kempski of the Philly Voice. Did Mel Kiper draft better than your team? The answer may surprise you. 
  • Giants HC Brian Daboll would be my pick for coach of the year, though I don’t have a vote. It’s clear he brought a lot of fresh ideas to New York and did better than any coach I can think of in a long time in maximizing every last drop out of a limited roster. It all started with his unique and innovative hiring process, which the Athletic’s Dan Duggan went in depth on. 
  • From the Ringer’s Ben Solak, an essay on why hiring a college head coach is always always always always a bad idea. Coming off basically three years of Matt Rhule as a Panthers fan, I can get on board with this take. Bookmark it whenever Pat Fitzgerald, Matt Campbell or any other college head coaches start to get NFL buzz. 

Looking for the latest NFL Insider News & Rumors?

Be sure to follow NFL Trade Rumors on TWITTER and FACEBOOK for breaking NFL News and Rumors for all 32 teams!

Leave a Reply