The 2018-19 NFL season might be over but there is no time for rest as the Patriots and Rams will only be the last two teams to turn their attention to the 2019 NFL offseason.
Everybody within striking distance of the playoffs dreams of being next season's Patriots and everybody who struggled in 2018 has designs on being the next Rams and using the offseason to ensure they rise up the rankings in 2019. In the NFC North, the Bears and Vikings have to feel like they're close after last season while the Packers feel like they're always in contention with Aaron Rodgers despite a new head coach. The Lions also hope that Year Two under Matt Patricia brings them more success.
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With the waiver system already back in place and franchise/transition tag designation beginning in two weeks, all four teams are beginning to put a free agency plan together. The tampering period begins on March 11 and the new league year will begin at 4:00 p.m. ET on March 13.
And while there is a lot to be determined between now and then, each team's roster holes, their available cap space and the players whose contracts we know expire soon give us enough information to start determining who each team's free agency favorites might be. So let's take a look at three players each team should among the favorites for this offseason.
Chiefs CB Steven Nelson
Texans DB Kareem Jackson
Rams DE Dante Fowler Jr.
After signing Bobby Massie to an extension already this offseason, the Bears are pretty well set with their starting lineup on offense. So their free agency plan likely comes down to what happens with nickelback Bryce Callahan and safety Adrian Amos as they approach free agency.
Assuming they can only re-sign one or even fail to get a deal done for either, the secondary is the obvious focus, though the Bears won't have a lot of money to spend. Chiefs cornerback Steven Nelson looks like an affordable option and Matt Nagy should know him well from his time in Kansas City.
Nelson had 10 pass breakups and four interceptions last year and he'd fit right into the ball-hawking Bears secondary. Texans defensive back Kareem Jackson would also be intriguing because he can play outside cornerback, in the slot and possibly at safety as well. Finally, for depth off the edge, Rams DE Dante Fowler Jr. could finally reach his potential with Khalil Mack taking on double teams to give him plenty of one-on-one matchups across the formation.
Charger WR Tyrell Williams
Bengals TE Tyler Eifert
Seahawks DE Frank Clark
After the Lions traded Golden Tate away after a Week 7 loss to the Seahawks, the Detroit offense took a considerable turn for the worst. They had averaged 373 yards of offense in their first seven games with Tate but averaged just 291 yards per game without him. So it stands to reason that they need more playmakers on the outside.
Getting Marvin Jones back will be a help, but adding a big-play threat like Tyrell Williams (who has nine career touchdowns of 40 or more yards) would be a huge benefit for Matthew Stafford. The Lions also have a need at tight end, and while Tyler Eifert comes with obvious risks, the chance that he could return to his 2015 form (he's only 28) and could turn the Lions into a mismatch-creating nightmare for opposing defense has to intrigue.
On defense, it appears that Ezekiel Ansah's days are numbered after he played just seven games and is now 30. However, if the Seahawks don't get an extension done for Frank Clark, the Lions would be an intriguing landing spot for the Michigan man.
Green Bay Packers
Eagles EDGE Brandon Graham
Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence
Giants S Landon Collins
After firing Mike McCarthy during the season and hiring Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur to run the offense, defense actually still needs to be the focus during free agency. The Packers need edge rushing help with Nick Perry struggling to live up to his contract. Green Bay has a projected $35 million in cap space and could free up more than $11 million more by releasing Perry.
That should be more than enough for them to get in on the DeMarcus Lawrence sweepstakes if the Cowboys can't get an extension done. Lawrence is the premier edge rusher available in this free agency class with 25 sacks in the last two years. Of course, the Packers also have a history of success with veterans and Brandon Graham has been one of the most underrated edge rushers of this generation.
The Packer have also had problems in the back end and Landon Collins is going to be the biggest difference-maker available at safety. The Giants might use the franchise tag to make sure he doesn't get away, but if he's around the Packers should be involved in the discussions.
Dolphins OT Ja'Wuan James
Patriots OT Trent Brown
Chiefs C Mitch Morse
Outside of Riley Reiff, nobody on the Vikings offensive line should be safe after an abysmal showing in 2018. When they needed a win to get into the postseason against a Bears squad that had little to play for, they completely folded and allowed a talented Chicago front to manhandle them.
Even if they get back to the postseason in 2019, if they haven't done anything to fix the issues they'll just get bullied up front and get bounced in the Wild Card. Ja'Wuan James and Trent Brown would both be enormous upgrades opposite Reiff.
Meanwhile, Morse would also be an upgrade over Pat Elflein, who was one of the worst centers in the NFL last season according to PFF. Morse also has the sort of body that would seem to translate to guard in the event that the Vikings could go for an even higher-profile center like Matt Paradis.