We all know the Dallas Cowboys need to solve the Dak Prescott situation. The Atlanta Falcons need to rebuild their entire defense. The San Francisco 49ers need to add a wing to their rehabilitation facility. The Philadelphia Eagles need a prescription for some stronger chill pills. The Seattle Seahawks need a new secondary. But let’s look past the obvious problems and try to identify each NFC team’s real “biggest need” for the offseason.
Context for the NFC offseason needs endeavor
We’ll skip the Green Bay Packers, Los Angeles Rams, New Orleans Saints, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers because they are still in the playoffs.
We’ll also try to keep things real when it comes to cap constraints and the fact that a four-way Jimmy Garoppolo-Matthew Stafford-Matt Ryan-Carson Wentz trade will not actually happen. Many NFC teams face tougher questions in 2021 than they faced in 2020, and the draft and free agency offer few answers. But we’ll do our absolute best to find them.
Offseason Needs: NFC East
Dallas Cowboys’ new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s defense needs great cornerbacks — Legion of Boom-caliber, Richard Sherman-shaped cornerbacks. Anything less, and the Dallas Cowboys will end up like the 2018-2020 Atlanta Falcons on defense. The Dallas Cowboys have quantity at cornerback but dubious quality.
Trevon Diggs had a brutal rookie season. Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis — who have experience in a similar scheme run by former not-quite-defensive-coordinator Kris Richard — are free agents for the Dallas Cowboys. This is a team that must reserve enough cap space to pay their franchise quarterback.
Alabama’s Patrick Surtain Jr. would be a perfect fit if he’s available with the 10th overall pick. And the Dallas Cowboys shouldn’t shy away from him just because Diggs took so many lumps. After all, what are the odds of drafting two Alabama busts in the secondary?
New York Giants
General manager Dave Gettleman (with the help of head coach Joe Judge) did a fine job spackling over the Giants’ many deficiencies by signing a bunch of journeyman veterans to sure up the defense.
Cornerback James Bradberry, safety Logan Ryan, and edge rusher Kyler Fackrell (a 2021 free agent) will be gone or on the downsides of their careers by the time the Giants are ready for an actual playoff run, as opposed to their 2020 “tournament winner earns an automatic bid no matter what” playoff run.
A ballhawk like South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn or a versatile Malcolm Jenkins-type like Oregon’s Jevon Holland should be available with the 11th overall pick. The Giants also need help all over their offense — including a plan 1B if Daniel Jones craters at quarterback, but this is an article about biggest needs, not all the needs.
The Eagles are a prestige Netflix drama about an NFL team right now, not an actual team. Their offseason needs include a coaching staff overall, some guidance counseling in the quarterback room, and an entire thinktank of economists to figure out how to clear up a $51-million cap deficit for the NFC club.
Featured | Rolfe’s First-Round 2021 NFL Mock Draft
Free agency ain’t happening in Philly this year, and the Eagles should just draft the best available athlete in every round.
Edge rushers are often the best athletes available with the sixth overall pick, and the Eagles should prioritize someone like Miami’s Gregory Rousseau. Team sack leaders Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox are a combined 62 years old.
Washington Football Team
Quarterback is the most obvious need. Wide receiver is the more solvable problem.
It will be easier to use the 19th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft to pluck a sturdy playmaker like Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman and then add a veteran role player (Isaiah McKenzie if they want a slot playmaker, Kendrick Bourne if they prefer a hard-blocking possession guy) than to dive into a thorny quarterback market.
Ron Rivera’s defense is good enough to return to the playoffs — with a winning record this time — with a stopgap quarterback like Jacoby Brissett and a vastly upgraded arsenal.
Offseason Needs: NFC North
It’s hard to improve upon Robert Mays of The Athletic’s Twitter summary of the Bears: “Guys, the Bears are only a QB, three offensive linemen, two WRs, a safety, CB depth, a new defensive coordinator, and a different offensive approach away from contending. They’re close, and the leadership knows this.”
Like Washington, the Bears are in dire need of a quarterback but have positioned themselves in the draft order and on the salary cap spreadsheet almost perfectly to not acquire one. And like the Eagles, their front office lacks the proper number of mirrors to help them identify the problem.
Talk about a volume of offseason needs for an NFC team. The Lions need a front office and coaching staff, a complete roster overhaul, and at least a long-range succession plan for Matthew Stafford at quarterback. In other words, they are where the Bears will be next year, except that they have Stafford.
With needs up and down the depth chart, the Lions need a beacon of hope — a face for the cover of the media guide who wasn’t also on the 2008 media guide, a name for the first paragraph of the season-ticket letter.
LSU receiver Ja’Marr Chase or Alabama receiver DeVonta Smith may not fill the most pressing needs. Yet, either would look great paired with Kenny Golladay. Both would help the franchise establish an identity moving forward. One of them should be available with the seventh overall pick.
I’ve avoided filling this article with “Team X needs a quarterback” discussions because A) they get boring and repetitive quickly, B) it veers into fan service for the rock bottom of the subreddit if we’re not careful (there are probably Kansas City Chiefs fans howling that they need a quarterback), and C) I wanted to spotlight how a team like the Vikings should be getting ahead of their quarterback problem instead of ending up like a version of the Falcons that never even got successful enough to be a meme.
The Vikings can cut Kirk Cousins before the 2022 season and only take a $10 million cap hit. That’s right — they are only one year away from sweet, sweet freedom — the last of 60 crippling payments on the midsized sedan they leased to own. But they won’t be able to move on from Cousins unless they have a succession plan in place.
If the Vikings don’t ween themselves from Cousins’ exorbitant mediocrity before they’re forced to make a move, they’ll be an almost-Wild Card team until the heat death of the universe.
The Vikings are in a perfect position to try a reclamation prospect like Sam Darnold or Gardner Minshew. Additionally, they could spend a midround pick on a “safe” second-tier prospect (Florida’s Kyle Trask) or a high-upside project (SMU’s Steve Buechele, for example).
If the Vikings let some of these guys marinate on the bench in 2021, they won’t be tempted to extend Cousins’ contract for four more years after he goes 15-of-27 for 146 yards and one fourth-quarter touchdown in a lopsided loss to the Green Bay Packers.
Roster Needs: NFC South
No general manager nor head coach when we went to press. Over $24 million in cap debt. A still-effective but slowly-aging Matt Ryan eating up $40 million in cap space. An insert-the-same-adjectives Julio Jones eating up $23 million more. This is an NFC team with a myriad of offseason needs.
The Falcons need a purge. An ugly baseball-style purge, where great players like Ryan and even Julio are shipped away for pennies on the dollar and fewer draft picks than you might think they are worth. Now is the time to do it, when incoming executives and coaches can sell each other and fans on the need for a “clean sweep” rebuild and write 2021 off as a mulligan year.
The Falcons will probably just draft some edge rusher who never really develops with the fourth overall pick instead.
The Panthers’ cap situation isn’t as great as it should be for a second-year rebuilding team. OverTheCap.com lists them with just under $14 million in cap space. Wide receiver Curtis Samuel is a priority in-house free agent, and decisions on two starting offensive linemen (Russell Okung and John Miller) to either re-sign or replace.
Who knew that a year with a collegiate head coach and a figurehead general manager would have consequences?
Anyway, the Panthers can go the best available athlete route on defense, or the offensive line, with the eighth overall pick. Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons might be the ideal fit for a team that needs a tone-setter. The team has a 25-year history (Sam Mills, Dan Morgan, Luke Kuechly) of outstanding inside linebackers.
Roster Needs: NFC West
An upgrade on the interior offensive line would make life easier for Kyler Murray and make Kliff Kingsbury’s offense look less like Ask Madden on a malfunctioning console. Someone like Ohio State’s Wyatt Davis could be available with the 16th overall pick to replace departing and highly replaceable free agent guard J.R. Sweezy.
The Cardinals also have ancient/fading starters Larry Fitzgerald and Patrick Peterson to replace. Defensive lineman Chandler Jones appears to have hit the downside of his career. Like so many NFC teams (their divisional foe, Seattle Seahawks, included), the Cardinals have more offseason needs than resources to provide solutions. But at least they have the quarterback. Probably. Maybe.
San Francisco 49ers
Yes, 49ers fans, you want a new quarterback. And the moment you cut Jimmy Garoppolo loose in a dinghy in the San Francisco Bay, you will be left with zero quarterbacks. It’ll be too late a draft pick to select one of the top prospects. It’s a market full of cures likely to be far worse than the sickness. If you think Matt Ryan is the answer, you are asking the wrong questions.
So while the 49ers should kick tires on Garoppolo’s eventual replacements, they will be better served taking the Washington approach with the 12th overall pick. Add more receiving options for Garoppolo and Mister Second-Tier Prospect. As a team that’s likely to get much better just by getting healthier, the 49ers would even benefit from an outside-the-box decision.
Imagine if they drafted Florida tight end Kyle Pitts to pair with George Kittle in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. There would be so many wide-open passing opportunities underneath that any game manager would look excellent. And the 49ers know just where to find such a game manager.
The Seattle Seahawks need defensive backs, defensive backs, cornerbacks, safeties, upgrades to their secondary, and defensive backs, in that order. With no first-round pick, the Seattle Seahawks may be forced to go the reclamation route in free agency. For example, sifting through the Gareon Conley/Sidney Jones category of low-cost knockaround former prospects.
Maybe Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll can still spin straw into gold in the secondary if given just the right straw. It hasn’t worked in several years, but the Seattle Seahawks have left themselves with few other options.