The start of the 2020 free agency period is about a week away. There are a whole bunch of stars and even more solid starters potentially hitting the market this offseason, which could lead to a huge amount of change for the league. With that in mind, we're going to spend this week walking through the types of moves each and every team can make. But rather than go by division or conference, we're going through the list in order of potential spending power.
We began by digging into the teams with $60 million in cap space or more, allowing them to be the most active squads when the market opens next week. On Wednesday we covered the , each of whom has $45-60 million in cap room. Below, we'll continue with the seven teams that have a moderate amount of space, ranging from $20-45 million.
New England Patriots ($44 million)
Pressing Needs: WR, TE, OL
Minor Needs: EDGE, LB
It's likely that about a quarter of the league will be depending on what happens with the Patriots. I have been firmly in the camp that believes Tom Brady will play for a non-Patriots team when I see him on an NFL field in a real NFL game in a non-Patriots jersey and not a moment sooner, and the most recent reporting surrounding this situation indicates that's the right camp to be in. If he actually makes it to the open market, though, it's considerably more likely that he does leave because the Pats would have to pay both a dead-money charge and his 2020 salary to keep him. Still, the most likely outcome is that he signs a new deal prior to March 18 and the team promises to upgrade the infrastructure around him.
Doing that will mean making some hard choices regarding important players like Thuney, McCourty, Collins, and Van Noy. It's unlikely they can retain all four of those players and give Brady a better group of pass-catchers to work with. The most likely of that group to leave is probably Thuney, even if only because the Patriots already paid their other star guard (Shaq Mason) big money. With Dante Scarnecchia retiring again there could be some worry about the offensive line falling off even farther than it did last season, though, so the Patriots need to make sure to find a suitable replacement if they do let Thuney walk.
Some of the skill position improvement could come from players like Mohamed Sanu and N'Keal Harry simply playing better than they did last year, but the Pats also just have to upgrade their talent base. A.J. Green and Hunter Henry have been rumored targets, and each of those players makes sense. If the Bengals and Chargers place the franchise tag on those players, then chasing after guys like Emmanuel Sanders (who has drawn strong interest from New England before) and Austin Hooper is a good backup plan.
New England has never been known to shell out big money for edge rushers or their versatile linebacker types, but needs to put a priority on retaining at least two of Collins, Van Noy, and Elandon Roberts in order to ensure that they don't experience too much of a drop-off defensively. The Pats are always looking to revitalize the careers of older players who are coming off uncharacteristically poor seasons and/or young guys who didn't live up to their pedigree in their first NFL stop, so players like Pernell McPhee and Vic Beasley could make a good deal of sense. Bill Belichick also loves acquiring smart players who can fill a specific role, so if the Cowboys fail to retain Sean Lee, it would not be surprising if the Pats had interest as a replacement for whichever of their three linebackers leaves town.
Arizona Cardinals ($39 million)
Pressing Needs: WR, TE, OL, DB
Minor Needs: EDGE, IDL
Putting Kyler Murray in the best possible position to succeed is the only thing that matters for the Cardinals over the next few years. He was working with one of the worst combinations of offensive line and pass-catchers in the NFL last season, and the Cards should be interested in dramatically upgrading both of those units. Doing so likely means letting Drake walk, which the team should be just fine with but is instead publicly balking at.
The very fact that Drake -- who washed out of Miami -- was so successful in Arizona is an argument for not paying him. Go find the next Drake. It's not that difficult. They literally just did it, at an incredibly low cost. It's far more important for the Cardinals to give Murray some better targets on the perimeter, where they struggled to test defenses for much of last season. This team is my favorite potential fit for Jets wideout Robby Anderson, who is a deep threat that would both fit well with Murray's ability to drop the ball in the bucket down the field and help take the top off the defense to give Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk more room to work underneath.
Even more important than giving Murray some better pass-catchers, though, is making sure he has significantly better pass protection than he did last year. They don't have a lot of cap room to sign multiple players, but they can create a bit more by cutting players like Robert Alford and Maxx Williams, and redistributing that extra money to the line. Potential solid but low-to-mid-cost options include Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Demar Dotson, Ron Leary, Andrew Wylie, Ben Garland, and more.
Arizona also needs to give Patrick Peterson, Byron Murphy, and Budda Baker some help in the secondary, though it may be wiser for them to do so in the draft given how many holes the team needs to fill on offense simply to boost Murray's chances of success.
Baltimore Ravens ($38 million)
Pressing Needs: WR, EDGE
Minor Needs: IDL, LB
The Titans dared Baltimore's receivers to beat them in the divisional round of the playoffs, and they couldn't do it. Marquise Brown is a wonderful big-play threat but hasn't shown the ability to be more than that yet, and coming into next year with Willie Snead as the No. 2 wideout is something the Ravens just can't afford to do.
If they end up franchising Judon there will not be much money left over to add perimeter receiving talent, but the good news is they don't necessarily need to break the bank for a No. 1 wideout. The bad news is there's really nobody available in free agency that gives them what they need, unless the Cowboys somehow fail to retain Amari Cooper. They might be better served looking for a wideout early in the draft again, and using free agency to add another edge rusher opposite Judon and find replacements for whichever of Smith, Pierce, and Onwuasor they don't retain.
Jacksonville Jaguars ($34 million)
Pressing Needs: TE, OL, IDL, DB
Minor Needs: QB, LB
It's a shame the Jaguars won't be able to take advantage of Gardner Minshew's absurdly cheap contract for at least another year. Perhaps they find a way to dump Nick Foles on some other team, but even if they do, they'll be left with $18,750,000 of dead money and only $3,125,000 of cap savings.
So, there's a tight budget for the Jags to fill a bunch of holes. It gets even tighter if they use the franchise tag on Yannick Ngakoue, as has been rumored of late. Ngakoue has already said publicly that he has no interest in remaining in Jacksonville, but perhaps the Jags can work out a tag-and-trade situation where they can pick up some additional assets, whether in the form of hole-filling players or draft capital that would allow them to add talent on the cheap.
One area of immediate and obvious need is the secondary, where it's almost hard to believe how much talent the Jaguars have shed over the past couple years. Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye are gone. Tashaun Gipson and Barry Church are gone. Aaron Colvin is gone. That group formed arguably the best secondary in the league as recently as two years ago. Tre Herndon and D.J. Hayden are the team's top corners now, and Jarrad Wilson looks like the safety opposite second-year man Ronnie Harrison. Again, this unit needs an upgrade.
If they're looking for low-cost options, both Ross Cockrell and Chandon Sullivan had strong seasons last year on pretty cheap contracts, and don't seem all that likely to get paid big money on the market. At safety, a solid veteran like Adrian Phillips or Clayton Geathers could make sense, as could a younger player who may be tough for his team to retain, like Broncos safety Will Parks. (The Broncos are likely to franchise-tag fellow safety Justin Simmons, and have bigger needs elsewhere.)
Carolina Panthers ($25 million)
Pressing Needs: TE, OL, EDGE, IDL, LB, DB
Minor Needs: QB, WR
The most likely scenario involves the Panthers largely sitting out big-money free agency and trying to create more cap room a year or two down the line. Hiring Matt Rhule and giving him a seven-year deal to lead the team, then trading away Trai Turner, gives you a pretty good idea that this is going to be a long-term rebuilding project in Carolina. There's some disagreement within the organization whether that's the case, but actions speak pretty loudly here. Still, losing Bradberry in free agency would hurt, given that he has blossomed into a shutdown No. 1 corner over the past few years. If the Panthers can retain him, they should.
Chicago Bears ($25 million)
Pressing Needs: QB, WR, TE, OL
Minor Needs: DB
Nothing matters here beyond whether the team still views Mitchell Trubisky as its definitive long-term starter at quarterback. They probably shouldn't, but they also probably do anyway. Will they try to go the Ryan Tannehill route by bringing in a veteran to be the presumptive backup but who can become the starter if and when Trubisky struggles again? Marcus Mariota and Andy Dalton have both been rumored targets for that type of role, and both of them make sense.
Whoever is under center, though, it would be nice if the Bears afforded them some more quality targets beyond Allen Robinson. Anthony Miller was better over the second half of the season than the first, but the team still needs more than just those two guys. And they probably need somebody beyond Trey Burton at the tight end spot, though it's possible they still think Adam Shaheen will turn into the guy they need.
Los Angeles Rams ($24 million)
Pressing Needs: OL, LB, DB
Minor Needs: EDGE
The Rams have four important defensive free agents to retain, and can probably only bring back two of them unless they restructure Aaron Donald's contract and/or sign Jalen Ramsey to an extension that lowers his 2020 cap hit from its current number. There have been rumors that they'll use the franchise tag on linebacker Cory Littleton -- an extremely underrated player and one of the best coverage linebackers in the NFL. If they do that, though, it might mean losing Fowler and opening up a major need on the edge, losing Robey-Coleman and opening up a need in the slot, and/or losing Brockers and opening up a need next to Donald on the interior. And with the retirement of Eric Weddle, there's also a need at safety next to Taylor Rapp.
Lurking in the background of all this are the Rams' needs along the offensive line. One of the best groups in the NFL took a major step backward in 2019, and though they seemed to get back on track late in the season, there is still a need for a talent influx here. The Rams likely cannot spend big money on fixing that issue ... but they also don't have the draft capital to address it in April. They're going to be one of the most fascinating teams to watch this offseason simply because they have a bunch of holes and not much ammo with which to fill them.