The Jacksonville Jaguars' rebuild might come along faster than anyone expects. That's what happens when you're about to grab a generational quarterback prospect in the draft and also have the most salary-cap space in the NFL to work with in free agency.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are about to take center stage this offseason, an unusual spot for a team that is often bad and ignored. Drafting Trevor Lawrence first overall will change the latter, at least. So will buzzy new head coach Urban Meyer.
Lawrence is an easy bet to go with the first pick to the Jaguars, and they have the ability to build around him. Given that Lawrence will be on a rookie deal for at least three years, it allows the Jaguars to hand out a few long-term contracts without too much worry about what it means for the cap. Any big deals they'd sign this offseason will come off the books about the time Lawrence is ready to sign a long-term deal, which will happen if he's as good as advertised.
You don't need your favorite team to have the first pick or oodles of cap space to be excited for the offseason. Each NFL team will be reshaping itself in free agency, which officially begins on March 17 after the so-called legal tampering period starts March 15. Some teams won't have the cap space to make many moves, and others lay low in free agency as a team-building philosophy. But we're about to get some interesting action around the league for the next month and a half.
Here is a ranking of the most interesting teams to watch in free agency, with last year's record and the current cap space as of Wednesday morning via Spotrac based on an estimated $185 million cap (Pro Football Talk reports the cap will be closer to $182.5 million) along with the team's biggest priority over the next few weeks:
It's a tale as old as time: Pay your quarterback a half a billion dollars, lose the flexibility to be a player in free agency. The Chiefs can probably make a few under-the-radar moves once they get under the cap, perhaps getting a discount from free agents who want to be with a contender, but it'll likely be a quiet offseason for the Chiefs.
The Lions already shook things up by trading away Matthew Stafford for Jared Goff and picks. That signaled a rebuild is underway, which means the Lions likely aren't going to be very aggressive signing players. Not giving the franchise tag to receiver Kenny Golladay was a curious way to start free agency, especially since Marvin Jones could depart too. This roster could look really rough by the end of the offseason.
The Giants probably aren't in for a splashy offseason. They somehow don't have much cap space despite a quarterback on his rookie deal and not many other stars to pay. The Giants used a lot of the little space they had to franchise tag defensive lineman Leonard Williams. New York could add a few players but nothing major.
The Steelers are in a tough spot. They seem lukewarm on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger coming back, but had little choice given his contract. They have some key free agents, but not a lot of cap space to do much about them.
The Titans are probably going to have to make a decision between tight end Jonnu Smith and receiver Corey Davis, if they can re-sign either. It seems unlikely there would be another major addition if they can retain one of those two, but the front seven on defense could use some help too.
The Falcons haven't made the playoffs in three straight seasons but are still in a bad salary cap situation. That's a rough combination. There will be Matt Ryan speculation, but it doesn't seem anything is happening right away. The lack of salary cap space means there isn't much to see here until the draft.
26. Minnesota Vikings (7-9, cap space: minus-$1 million, biggest priority: defensive line)
It's hard to fault the Vikings for swinging big on Kirk Cousins a few years ago. It's hard to find a quarterback if you don't have one. But everyone knew Cousins' deal would impact the Vikings' cap for a long time. That means the team is still in transition, trying to clear out some veteran deals while still trying to be competitive.
25. Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1, cap space: $46.6 million, biggest priority: protecting Joe Burrow)
Joe Burrow is coming off a torn ACL, and the team was blamed for not doing enough to fix the offensive line to protect last year's No. 1 overall pick. The Bengals are notoriously cheap but it would be a shock if they didn't spend on an offensive lineman or two. They need to invest in keeping Burrow upright.
24. Las Vegas Raiders (8-8, cap space: $36.2 million, biggest priority: defensive backs)
The most predictable part of every offseason is the Raiders being linked to every possible free agent and trade target. Agents should give Jon Gruden a commission for all of the leverage they've been able to create by strategic media leaks about the Raiders, even if none of those big signings or trades ever happen. The Raiders were making strides last season until another late-season collapse. They'll probably make a big move or two, especially to bolster the pass defense, but they likely won't do much else, no matter how many tweets include them on every free agent's list of possible destinations.
23. Arizona Cardinals (8-8, cap space: $17.5 million, biggest priority: retaining their own free agents)
The Cardinals already made their big move, luring J.J. Watt with a big contract. What comes next is figuring out how to retain some of their own free agents like linebacker Haason Reddick and cornerback Patrick Peterson. Part of grading the Watt addition will be seeing how many other starters Watt's contract costs the Cards this offseason.
22. Dallas Cowboys (6-10, cap space: $4.5 million, biggest priority: defense)
Now that Dak Prescott is signed to a long-term deal, the Cowboys have a better idea how much capital they'll have to attack the defense, a weakness that was glaring last season. The Cowboys will need to refresh the offensive line too, but this offseason is all about defense now that the biggest question has been answered.
21. Los Angeles Rams (10-6, cap space: minus-$29.6 million, biggest priority: linebacker)
The Rams' big move was made, paying a ton to get Matthew Stafford in a trade. The Rams typically don't worry much about things like "draft picks" and "financial responsibility" so while it seems impossible they'd make any more bold moves given their cap situation, it can't be ruled out completely.
20. Green Bay Packers (13-3, cap space: minus-$5.8 million, biggest priority: receiver, still)
Well, we know they won't be signing a receiver or tight end. They have a tough call on Aaron Jones, and that move will dictate what else the Packers do in the offseason. It seems reasonable they'd want to spend now to maximize their changes to win with Aaron Rodgers, but that hasn't been the case lately and it makes them a tough team to predict.
19. Carolina Panthers (5-11, cap space: $22.3 million, biggest priority: upgrading at QB)
Carolina is in the same situation as a few other teams, with a good amount of cap space and no quarterback to spend it on. The Panthers are seemingly looking to upgrade from Teddy Bridgewater but that might have to happen in the draft. In the meantime, they could continue to build up a defense that was very young last season.
18. Buffalo Bills (13-3, cap space: $4.6 million, biggest priority: offensive line)
Josh Allen hasn't gotten his big extension yet, which gives the Bills a little wiggle room for an impact player on a one-year deal. They don't have a ton of cap space but they are a championship contender and will be creative and aggressive to add to the roster.
17. Philadelphia Eagles (4-11-1, cap space: minus-$25.3 million, biggest priority: not losing too much while cutting cap)
The Eagles are suddenly a mess. They traded Carson Wentz after an uncomfortable few months. They need to restructure multiple deals or cut some players just to get under the cap. It's a team that was bad last season and needs improvements in free agency, but could be shedding some expensive veterans instead.
16. New Orleans Saints (12-4, cap space: minus-$55.2 million, biggest priority: getting the cap under control)
It's a bit strange that Drew Brees hasn't announced the retirement everyone seems to know is coming, but presumably that will happen. The Saints are in a weird spot, probably needing to rebuild but with enough stars (other than quarterback) that it's hard to tear things down. They didn't make it easier with their surprising move to give the franchise tag to safety Marcus Williams. How the Saints manage to shed enough salary get under the cap — yes, that number above is real, and shocking — will be one of the stories to watch this offseason.
15. Washington Football Team (7-9, cap space: $41.5 million, biggest priority: QB)
Washington has a ton of cap space. They also don't have a quarterback. This is a multi-year project to build up the roster and Ron Rivera's team made strides last season, so Washington is on the right track. They could certainly add some good pieces in free agency while they figure out what to do at QB.
14. Denver Broncos (5-11, cap space: $35.2 million, biggest priority: upgrading from Drew Lock)
John Elway isn't building the roster anymore, and we get to learn about George Paton's philosophy. Elway was always aggressive in free agency, and the Broncos do have a good amount of cap space. They'd presumably love to use that cap space on Deshaun Watson but it's hard to see how they could offer enough to get the Texans to deal. Assuming that doesn't work and it's another season of Drew Lock at QB, perhaps Plan B is adding to the defense. Von Miller's future is a big component of that.
13. Indianapolis Colts (11-5, cap space: $50.6 million, biggest priority: replacing Anthony Castonzo at LT)
Landing Carson Wentz, and not giving up too much to do it, answers a big quarterback question after Philip Rivers' retirement. Regardless of whether Wentz can rebound, the Colts won't spend all offseason chasing a QB. That allows them to use their cap space, built up through years of responsible spending, on other areas of need. But the Colts have typically avoided any big long-term deals, so they might not be as active as the cap space would indicate they could be.
12. Chicago Bears (8-8, cap space: minus-$20 million, biggest priority: figuring out QB)
Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy are back, which didn't make many Bears fans happy. That duo has to know it needs to win or else. Could that lead to an offseason of reckless spending as they look to make the playoffs in 2021? We've seen that happen before from lame-duck GMs and coaches. Though salary cap problems will make that difficult anyway.
11. Los Angeles Chargers (7-9, cap space: $32.7 million, biggest priority: offensive line)
The Chargers might be one strong offseason from being one of the NFL's sleeper contenders. Justin Herbert was great as a rookie, and he's still cheap. That allows Los Angeles to chase high-end free agents with a good amount of cap space. There's already talent on the roster and a great opportunity to add some more. Keep an eye on the Chargers; this might be the team we're talking about a lot over the summer.
10. Cleveland Browns (11-5, cap space: $26.9 million, biggest priority: safety)
Will the Browns ever run out of cap space? It seems they go into every offseason with the ability to spend big. A step forward in 2020, their typical generous approach to the offseason and the possibility of an Odell Beckham Jr. trade makes them a team to watch.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5, cap space: minus-$397K, biggest priority: keeping the band together)
Chris Godwin got the franchise tag and will stay. Shaq Barrett didn't get the tag and might be gone. Same goes for Ndamukong Suh, Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown and Leonard Fournette. Bruce Arians was confident the Buccaneers could keep their free agents, but it won't be easy. Signing Lavonte David to an extension on Tuesday helped. How the Super Bowl champs navigate keeping their core together for another run will be a big story this month.
8. San Francisco 49ers (6-10, cap space: $28.6 million, biggest priority: cornerback)
I think Jimmy Garoppolo returns, mostly because the 49ers don't have a decent replacement. But if they can find a new quarterback and Garoppolo is on the move, the 49ers become interesting in a hurry. They're already a great rebound candidate for 2021, with plenty of talent on hand and a cap situation that should allow them to add a couple pieces. Figuring out the cornerback position is a must.
7. Houston Texans (4-12, cap space: $34 million, biggest priority: showing signs of competency)
Interesting teams aren't always the best teams. There's a train wreck element to the Texans after the past couple years. The biggest potential move in the NFL this offseason is Deshaun Watson being traded. Whether he stays despite letting the world know he's unhappy, or gets traded, it's a big story. The Texans could turn the offseason on its head.
6. Baltimore Ravens (11-5, cap space: $26.6 million, biggest priority: going all-in during a championship window)
The Ravens have a good amount of cap space, thanks to Lamar Jackson still being on his rookie deal. Assuming Jackson will get paid soon, the window for the Ravens to make some luxury short-term signings is now. The Ravens are very good and if they're able to add a couple good free agents, they could be a title contender again.
5. New York Jets (2-14, cap space: $72.5 million, biggest priority: building an offense around whoever the QB will be)
The Jets can make a huge move if they decide to make a big play for Deshaun Watson. The second pick would be enticing in trade talks because it would allow the Texans to replace Watson with an exciting rookie. If that doesn't work, the Jets seem likely to draft a quarterback at No. 2, though building around Sam Darnold is a possibility too. The Jets are one of three teams with way more cap space than anyone else, which means that no matter who the quarterback is, he should be getting some new teammates to work with. This could end up being the team to win the offseason.
4. Seattle Seahawks (12-4, cap space: $24.8 million, biggest priority: fixing the Russell Wilson relationship)
How the Seahawks attack the offseason will get dissected more than usual. If they don't get offensive line help, is that a message to Russell Wilson? If they do add to the offense, is that a sign they're allowing Wilson more say in how they go about their business? Then again, maybe the Seahawks throw a wrench into the whole offseason by trading their future Hall of Fame quarterback.
3. Miami Dolphins (10-6, cap space: $35.6 million, biggest priority: either trading for Deshaun Watson or building around Tua Tagovailoa)
All of the Dolphins' maneuvers to add draft picks and cap space are starting to pay off. The big question is, will the Dolphins use some of that extra capital to land Deshaun Watson, moving on quickly from Tua Tagovailoa? Will they stick with Tua and trade the No. 3 pick to a team desperate at quarterback, or stay put and take an impact receiver or offensive lineman third overall? Miami has a lot of paths to improve a roster that came along quickly last season, and they could end the offseason as a serious challenger to the Bills for the AFC East title.
2. New England Patriots (7-9, cap space: $72.6 million, biggest priority: adding talent everywhere)
The Patriots have a ton of cap space. They have spent big before, but that was when they were clearly Super Bowl contenders. This is a different situation, with a team that doesn't want to do a long-term rebuild but has many questions starting at quarterback and going through the rest of the roster. How the Patriots approach free agency will provide valuable clues on how close Bill Belichick thinks his team is to making it back to the playoffs.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-15, cap space: $72.8 million, biggest priority: making sure Trevor Lawrence has a good infrastructure)
Not long after having to shed a bunch of bloated contracts, the Jaguars are in a fun spot. They have the first overall pick and the most salary cap space in the NFL. Considering their next quarterback will be Trevor Lawrence on his rookie deal for a while, there's no reason Jacksonville can't spend on a couple of big-ticket free agents. This is a recipe for the Jaguars transforming from one of the NFL's worst franchises into a must-watch team this season and beyond.
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