Save for the Falcons and the Patriots, the NFL is at a standstill. With one game remaining to be played in the 2016 season, there are 30 teams eager to begin the process of getting better and bolstering their rosters so that they might participate in this game a year from now.
For the Patriots and Falcons, the future is now, this week. For everyone else, the NFL combine and the start of the new league year and the 2017 NFL Draft can't come quickly enough. Each franchise knows how much work needs to be done to reach this pinnacle. They can't wait for this week, and this final game, to be in the past so that the waiver wire can open back up and the transactions can begin anew. Obviously, some teams are closer to this pinnacle than others, and, let's face it, in a season that was largely defined by the ineptitude of certain franchises and the amount of suspect football being played in prime time and otherwise, there is no shortage of clubs who need major reconstruction before they are anywhere close to Super Bowl-ready.
With that in mind, here's a team-by-team look at the top offseason priority for each of the 30 teams that aren't in Houston this week for the big game.
Above all else, they need to make a quick decision on their quarterback. Is Carson Palmer the guy for 2017, or can they upgrade? Would Tony Romo be a better option? Palmer is a declining asset, for sure, and they need to draft a quarterback of the future, regardless. They're not going to be able to keep their bevy of free agents on defense (Calais Campbell, Chandler Jones, Tony Jefferson, etc.), so getting more out of the offense is imperative.
Edge presence. All over the defense. Defensive end. Outside linebacker. Cornerback. The Ravens fell apart on that side of the ball in December and they are still very thin on play-makers there and with Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil long in the tooth, this transition can't happen quickly enough.
They, too, better sort out QB. They want to keep Tyrod Taylor on the cheap, but he would be foolish to re-do his deal there instead of actually seeing what kind of money is out there in a shallow free-agent quarterback market. With GM Doug Whaley seemingly torn between whether his team is playoff-worthy or totally rebuilding, there's no better place to start than under center.
When Cam Newton won NFL MVP for the 2015 season he didn't need an offensive line. But, yeah, he does most of the time. They need a left tackle and a right tackle. Take some of that money you never gave to Josh Norman and invest in the guys who protect the franchise quarterback.
I'm letting Alshon Jeffery walk and continuing to add any play-maker I can find on offense. Matt Forte is gone and Martellus Bennett is gone and Brandon Marshall is gone and who knows if Kevin White is going to be a player or not. They need work at any position someone could be required to catch the football. I would already be trying to keep Brian Hoyer on the cheap, too, to try to stabilize the quarterback room with Jay Cutler on the way out.
They've been drafting offensive lineman to try to replenish that unit on the fly. It isn't working so well and what was once arguably the best unit in the league is getting old and springing some leaks. Andy Dalton isn't a guy who can do it on his own. That infrastructure needs help and finding a replacement for Geno Atkins is going to be necessary on the other side of the line of scrimmage as well.
Stop me if this is redundant. They can't simply punt on all of the top quarterbacks in another draft and look for some kind of steal. They aren't smarter than everyone else. Cody Kessler isn't a starting quarterback, especially given the weather in Cleveland. So, yeah, they're going to be drafting someone in the top two rounds and they love Mitch Trubisky of North Carolina.
Stop me if I am banging the same drum over and over here, but getting that extension done for Zack Martin is a top priority for the Cowboys. They have the best offensive line in the NFL and it had everything to do with the immediate impact Dallas received from Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott in their rookie seasons. Martin is the next man up to get paid by Jerry Jones.
Player development isn't a sexy topic, but cultivating your existing talent separates the best clubs from the middling ones, and after what amounted to a redshirt season from rookie quarterback Paxton Lynch, this offseason has to be all about getting him ready to play. He is too strong and athletic to keep languishing, and if he can't beat out Trevor Siemian next fall, John Elway isn't going to be pleased.
It wasn't that long ago that the Lions had the most fearsome defensive line in the NFL. That's no longer close to being the case and young GM Bob Quinn needs to rebuild this team from the inside out and get some bite at the line of scrimmage. A guy like Calais Campbell to pair with Ziggy Ansah -- who needs to stay healthy in 2017 -- could go a ways toward restoring order on a defense sorely lacking for talent.
They don't like to spend in free agency, but imagine what a guy like Chandler Jones might mean to them, with Julius Peppers nearing the end and Clay Matthews oft-injured? The defense has fallen off badly from a talent standpoint the past five years or so. Spending a little more on the open market is in order here.
End the Brock Osweiler circus. Declare this Tom Savage's job to lose and then don't let him lose it. Love him up and build him up as best you can. Give him every rep possible. And if you can find a way to figure out Tony Romo and Osweiler under the salary cap, then, all the better. And keep J.J. Watt away from the weights and in bubble wrap until September if you can.
Pass rush. Pass rush. Pass rush. Not sure where it comes from. You generally have to draft it. But rookie GM Chris Ballard will sink most of his draft into that side of the ball. The Colts can't make the other team's quarterback squirm, which cost them the playoffs last season. They couldn't close out the Texans twice despite Houston's tragic quarterback situation. The much-maligned offensive line is making strides, but the defensive line is inept.
They believe in Blake Bortles, doubling down on what looks like a major error taking him third overall a few years back. And, well, if that's the case, then get him a legit left tackle in the draft. The left side of the offensive line still needs major work, and they're probably going to end up drafting another QB in 2018 anyway, once Tom Coughlin has to watch Bortles play with a rooting interest, and that kid is going to need his blindside protected, too.
I would explore trading Alex Smith and trading for Tony Romo. Smith has taken the Chiefs as far as he can, and adding a more dynamic quarterback, given the influx of speed and playmakers on offense the past 24 months, it's time to find a more profound option at quarterback. Otherwise, this team is ready to make a power move.
Something needs to change in their training room. They need a complex study on the injuries that continue to decimate the roster. Is it something with the practice regimen? Are players not getting enough sleep? Why so many offensive linemen going down all the time? Are they drafting and signing players prone to certain injuries? It has gone on too long to be a complete fluke, and if they could ever stay remotely healthy, this team could make a jump.
Sign at least two to three free-agent receivers. You'll probably miss on a few, but the current group is inept. Jared Goff doesn't just need help; he needs people around him who are difference makers. Who can legit make him better while he struggles to figure out what it takes to win in the NFL? He needs quantity and quality. And fast. Yes, the offensive line is a disaster too.
Just making sure, again, that Ryan Tannehill doesn't need surgery. The offseason reps are too vital to a young quarterback in his situation and the more time he spends around head coach Adam Gase, the more he absorbs. You don't want him to lose any OTA or training camp reps he doesn't have to miss, and with the Dolphins season over for nearly a month now, I wouldn't let that linger on.
Move on from Adrian Peterson. Do it soon and do it swiftly. Don't let his future hang over the offseason. And draft every offensive lineman you possibly can. You need them all. Maybe draft nothing but offensive linemen.
Sean Payton has passed on guys like Dak Prescott and Paxton Lynch who have caught his attention in recent years. But with Drew Brees once again in the final year of his deal, identifying a quarterback of the future has to happen. Probably in the first round if a decent candidate is there for the taking. The sooner he gets under Payton's tutelage, the better.
Odell Beckham has played three NFL seasons and is about as close to Jerry Rice as we've seen in quite some time. Forget about fifth-year options. Passing games continue to break records and the price of receivers is always growing. Get him signed long-term now. And draft a left tackle so Ereck Flowers can move to the right side where he belongs.
Sometimes you have to purge before you binge. This offseason is about stripping it down and starting over. Sorry. Old players making huge money like Darrelle Revis, Nick Mangold, David Harris and Brandon Marshall need to make way for younger options. Obviously, they need a quarterback, and Trubisky is an option for them, too, but that's going to take time. In the meantime, they need to get younger, cheaper and more dynamic. And get a pass rusher in the first round, if at all possible.
Keep drafting defensive backs. The front seven will get better and maybe, just maybe, they have Aldon Smith and Mario Edwards for the full 2017 season. If they do, this unit will be much more consistent. Keep drafting corners and safeties, because the free-agent splurges of the past few years can't be duplicated annually. Oh, and you had better sign Khalil Mack and Derek Carr now, Vegas or no Vegas.
It's all about receivers for the Eagles as well. Yeah, the offensive line needs retooling, too, but getting Carson Wentz someone who can line up outside the hash marks and make a play is a required starting point for the 2017 offseason. They might land Torrey Smith in a trade, but they need to draft a receiver high as well.
Figure out a way to get Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown signed long-term. The Steelers are always flush against the cap and need to get creative at times to make things work, but there's no better time than the present. These two are the best at what they do. Maybe Bell gets franchised. Either way, they can't lose them.
This is a total and complete rebuild, outside of perhaps the defensive line. They need to hire the best scouts and execs possible to put around rookie GM John Lynch, because this is nothing like John Elway in Denver. Elway inherited some stud players, had a nice front office in place around him and Peyton Manning fell in his lap. Lynch has none of that. The 49ers had better establish a legit infrastructure above all else so they start to make shrewd decisions, because this is going to take time. College scouting director. Player personnel director. Pro personnel director. Get those right, or else.
The offensive line remains in tatters. It's their sole position group that doesn't rate among the better in the league. Certainly the Seahawks' only position group that isn't at least average. What about a rare trade-up for the Seahawks for the best tackle in the draft? Russell Wilson can't keep getting tossed around.
Would Adrian Peterson make any sense here? Doug Martin enters 2017 on suspension and a lot of pieces are in place for the Bucs. Getting that running game fully powered up again would be great for Jameis Winston.
Move up for the top receiver in the draft. Do something bold. Marcus Mariota needs someone other than tight end Delanie Walker to count on. Get him a legit outside presence to open up that offense. Package a few picks if necessary, but determine the most dynamic receiving threat in this draft and make a concerted effort to land him.
Defense. Defense. Defense. Let DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon walk and shuffle those resources into the defensive line and secondary. There will be an acute focus on that side of the ball this winter and spring in Washington. For all of the talk about Kirk Cousins, he's going to get franchised. The defense needs work.