*The free agency market officially opens at 4 p.m. ET on March 18. Before the cavalcade of comings and goings gets rolling, Grant Gordon provides three big needs for each NFC team (listed in alphabetical order) below. *
Arizona Cardinals: Outside linebacker, offensive line, wide receiver
Projected cap space: $39.7 million
Terrell Suggs got a ring with the Chiefs after his December release from the Cardinals, but his time in Arizona didn't work out all that well. The Cardinals need to upgrade on the outside and get someone to aid Chandler Jones, whose huge statistics and play are generally lost in the desert air. The team ranked 17th in sacks with 40, but nearly half (19) came from Jones. Second was Suggs with 5.5. Offensively, re-signing left tackle D.J. Humphries to a three-year deal in February was a smart, albeit possibly risky, move, but the other side of the line needs to be solidified as the team proceeds with quarterback Kyler Murray as the face of the franchise. The return of 11-time Pro Bowler Larry Fitzgerald is also great to see, but the 36-year-old future Hall of Fame receiver's time is limited. Christian Kirk continues to show promise, posting 68 catches for 709 yards and three scores in Year 2, but the Cardinals need Murray to have a bona fide No. 1 pass catcher to grow with season after season. Even if Kirk ends up being the guy, they'll need a No. 2, so the search will continue this offseason.
Atlanta Falcons: Cornerback, pass rusher, offensive line
Projected cap space: $4.3 million.
The Falcons are a prime candidate to become the latest quick turnaround story in an NFL world full of them. Underachievers for a few seasons now, talent is still in abundance (at least on paper) for Atlanta. The most glaring weakness seems to be on the defensive side of the ball. Desmond Trufant was effective at cornerback (earning Pro Football Focus' 30th-best defensive grade at his position), but the Falcons need more at the position than just Trufant to get the defense to contender status once more. In terms of the pass rush, the Falcons decided to move on from Vic Beasley, a former first-round pick who underachieved the past three seasons, and must weigh whether to bring back Adrian Clayborn, who managed 4.0 sacks and two forced fumbles last season in his second stint with the team. Atlanta hasn't had a player hit double-digits in sacks since they went to the Super Bowl in the 2016 season, and that was Beasley (15.5). While Atlanta attempted to address its offensive line issues last offseason, the problems persisted, as evidenced by 50 sacks allowed. Free-agent signee James Carpenter struggled at guard before he hit injured reserve, while the debut seasons of first-round draft picks Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary were marked by injury and sub-par play, respectively.
Carolina Panthers: Quarterback, cornerback, linebacker
Projected cap space: $34.5 million.
Coach Matt Rhule and Co. have a tall task looming in the offseason as the Panthers are in the midst of a franchise renovation. The stickiest quandary is at quarterback. Cam Newton appears to be returning to Carolina after an injury-plagued 2019, but the 30-year-old is also in the final year of his contract, while Kyle Allen and Will Grier hardly provided reason to believe they can steer the franchise in the long term while filling in for Newton last season. Cornerback was a glaring weakness, with James Bradberry, Ross Cockrell and Donte Jackson -- who got the majority of the starts at CB -- garnering defensive grades by PFF of 60.9 or lower. Javien Elliott, who had just three starts, graded out the highest at 67.2. If Newton were to move on, he would join former franchise mainstays such as coach Ron Rivera (now in Washington), tight end Greg Olsen (now in Seattle) and arguably the team's most talented player, linebacker Luke Kuechly, who abruptly retired. Looking for Olsen's successor will be added to the to-do list if Ian Thomas can't get the job done, but linebacker takes precedence. Shaq Thompson's presence lessens the blow of Kuechly's departure, but Thompson, talented as he is, has never played without Kuechly. Replacing one of the league's best linebackers is hardly easy, but it's something the franchise must endeavor to do as the colossal changes in Carolina continue.
Chicago Bears: Offensive line, quarterback, tight end
Projected cap space: $16.6 million.
Another season of scrutiny awaits as the Bears have apparently determined they're sticking with Mitchell Trubisky at quarterback. Regardless of whether the former No. 2 overall pick starts again in 2020, new blood is needed there. Ideally following the Titans' blueprint of last season, the Bears would do well to bring in a veteran QB who can push Trubisky in practice and occasionally whisper some wisdom into his ear (Andy Dalton might be perfect for this role) -- and provide an upgrade from 2019 backup Chase Daniel in the event that all is not well with Trubisky. For all the criticism shouldered by the QB, the Bears' offense as a whole took a step back, and it began with the offensive line's play. Kyle Long's retirement stings, but he played just four games last year and missed 34 over the last four seasons. Improvement is needed across the board for a unit that ranked as the No. 25 O-line in 2019, per PFF, but most notably at the guard spots and likely at center, after Cody Whitehair's play waned. Tight end Trey Burton, who signed a lucrative contract with the Bears after winning a Super Bowl in Philly, posted the best season of his career in 2018 -- a 569-yard, six-touchdown showing -- that was still far from elite-level production. And then came 2019, when an injured Burton missed half the season and had all of 14 receptions. As the maturation saga of a man named Mitch carries on, having a top-level tight end in Matt Nagy's offense is of the utmost priority, and questions linger about Burton's ability to fill that role.
Dallas Cowboys: Quarterback, wide receiver, safety
Projected cap space: $77.3 million.
The Cowboys have long coveted a standout safety, and -- with their rumored interest in Jets star Jamal Adams not amounting to anything before last October's trade deadline -- they are still searching for one. But the biggest offseason concern lies at the quarterback position, where Dallas will either need to come to terms on the megadeal Dak Prescott desires or tag him. Akin to what's going on with Prescott is the team's situation at wide receiver. Amari Cooper was a game-changer for the offense when Dallas acquired him via trade during the 2018 season. Ensuring he'll have a star on his helmet for years to come is a huge priority. Ideally, adding a No. 3 option behind Cooper and Michael Gallup is also on the to-do list. If a deal can't be worked out with Cooper, he'll have to be replaced with another prominent outside option.
Detroit Lions: Cornerback, defensive tackle, pass rusher
Projected cap space: $47.7 million.
The Darius Slay dilemma -- the three-time Pro Bowl cornerback is looking for an extension and a lofty raise with a season remaining on his current deal -- might well be the Lions' most pressing concern this offseason. Regardless of whether Slay stays or goes, the Lions' cornerback situation is in need of a massive restructuring. Detroit was the No. 28 coverage defense in 2019, per PFF, and even the great Slay garnered a subpar 56.4 overall grade (tied for 89th in the NFL among cornerbacks with a minimum of 300 snaps, per PFF). On top of that, starter Rashaan Melvin is a free agent, as well. Defensive tackle Damon "Snacks" Harrison already left Motown, with Mike Daniels likely to follow and run-stuffer A'Shawn Robinson also headed for free agency. The Lions need bodies and improvement on the inside of the D-line, and they need production on the outside. Even after the big free-agent acquisition of Trey Flowers (seven sacks), the Lions were toothless in the pass rush, generating a pressure rate of 18.4 percent (32nd in the NFL), per Next Gen Stats. At season's end, they had 28 sacks, which was second-to-last in the NFL and cause for offseason concern.
Green Bay Packers: Wide receiver, inside linebacker, tight end
Projected cap space: $20.5 million.
Despite dealing with a bum toe for a good portion of the season, Davante Adams proved himself to be one the game's best wideouts once more, hauling in 83 catches for 997 yards and five scores in 12 games. Another eye-popping fact about his year: Adams had more than twice as many receptions as the next-closest receiver on the team, Allen Lazard (35 catches). Neither Lazard nor Geronimo Allison (a paltry 34 catches) filled the Packers' need for a certifiable No. 2 wide receiver, and with Allison headed for the open market (Lazard will be an exclusive rights free agent), it's a huge need for yet another offseason. Along those same lines, tight end Jimmy Graham's time in Wisconsin has likely come to an end. It'll be interesting to see whether the Packers go ahead with second-year pro Jace Sternberger, whose rookie year was largely spent on IR, or track down a big-time free agent. Despite posting a team-best 155 tackles and finishing a third consecutive campaign with 140-plus tackles, linebacker Blake Martinez finished with a PFF grade of 58.7 (51st among linebackers with 300-plus snaps) and is headed for free agency. Looming large is the fact that 49ers running back Raheem Mostert ran for 220 yards -- the most all-time in a conference championship game -- against the Packers in the NFC title match, exposing a huge need to shore up their run-stopping capabilities in the middle.
Los Angeles Rams: Offensive line, Pass rusher, safety
Projected cap space: $14.8 million.
For all the head-scratching surrounding the journey to ordinary that the Rams' offense embarked on after the loss in Super Bowl LIII, the largest culprit might well have been the line -- ranked 31st as a unit by PFF. Though it's only a temporary fix, the expected re-signing of veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who is a formidable option even at 38, will help steady things. The rest of the line needs help, beginning at center, where L.A. could use an upgrade, with the versatile Austin Blythe, who filled in after Brian Allen was injured, headed for free agency. Opposite Whitworth, Rob Havenstein dealt with injury, like much of the line, and while he's under contract for three more seasons, might not be a long-term fit. On the defensive side of the trenches, there's also reason for concern. All-world defensive tackle Aaron Donald can't do it himself, and Dante Fowler (11.5 sacks) is a free agent, while Clay Matthews (eight sacks) is entering his 12th season. And, of course, there's the likely top offseason storyline: running back. The 26th-ranked running game needs to improve, whether Todd Gurley is somehow moved and replaced or the team locates a solid second option, with Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson each showing little in their time last season. There are many more holes to fill on the Rams' roster, which is likely to include as many fresh faces as the shuffled-up coaching staff.
Minnesota Vikings: Cornerback, interior offensive line, pass rusher
Projected cap space: $1.4 million.
Thanks to the outstanding play of safeties Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris (a free agent that the Vikings should prioritize bringing back), the Vikings were one of the best cover teams (graded third best in coverage by PFF) despite having some of the worst cover corners. Trae Waynes (graded 62nd in coverage by PFF among cornerbacks with 300-plus snaps) and Mackensie Alexander (57th) are impending free agents, while Xavier Rhodes (112th) has long been a source of frustration on the outside and is a candidate for release. (UPDATE: The team announced it released Rhodes as well as defensive tackle Linval Joseph.) Harris could be re-signed to play alongside a fresh-faced cornerback crop. Up front on defense, Everson Griffen is half of a heckuva potent pass-rushing tandem with Danielle Hunter -- and also a free agent after opting out of his contract. Coach Mike Zimmer has voiced his desire to have Griffen back, and re-signing him would be a wise move. The offensive line needs progress from second-year center Garrett Bradbury, who struggled as a rookie, and likely some fresh blood at the guard spots.
New Orleans Saints: Wide receiver, cornerback, quarterback
Projected cap space: $9.3 million.
Michael Thomas is myriad kinds of amazing. Spectacular as he is, he's been a one-man band in the Saints' receiving corps. Setting a single-season receptions record is historic, but it's not necessarily the greatest thing when one considers Thomas' 149 catches were 68 more than anyone else on the team (running back Alvin Kamara was second with 81) and a staggeringly ridiculous 119 more than the next wide receiver (Ted Ginn with 30). The team is long overdue to add a legit No. 2 receiver. At cornerback, Eli Apple -- a plus against the run and often times a liability in coverage -- could move on via free agency, while Marshon Lattimore's inconsistency is emblematic of the cornerbacks collectively. The big question is what will happen with the expensive contract of Janoris Jenkins (he's set to carry a cap number of $11.25 million in 2020) and whether he's a fit for the future. Drew Brees is coming back -- check. But even after Brees' next contract is worked out, there's the question of what will happen with backup Teddy Bridgewater, who is headed for free agency after a perfect stint as a starter last year with Brees on the mend from a thumb injury, and Swiss Army knife/hopeful full-time quarterbackTaysom Hill, who is set to become a restricted free agent. Pending how those situations play out, the Saints might well need to think about somebody else as Brees' eventual successor.
New York Giants: Pass rusher, cornerback, quarterback
Projected cap space: $74 million.
In the greatest Giants seasons, one common thread was the presence of a stellar pass rusher, but that's been missing for some time. With just 36 sacks as a team, the Giants ranked 22nd in the NFL. Markus Golden's team-leading 10 sacks were more than double anyone else's, and he's a free agent. More than one big-time addition would be welcomed. Deandre Baker hardly had an outstanding rookie season, but the first-rounder should be given time to develop into a top-class corner. However, there is a large need for an upgrade at the position, especially in the form of someone to play alongside Baker, as Corey Ballentine also struggled in his rookie year, while the team took some aspirin and got rid of the headache that was Janoris Jenkins. Though the Giants are all in on Daniel Jones as their franchise quarterback, Jones is still just a second-year signal-caller. He's also coming off a rookie campaign in which he had injury issues. The retirement of Eli Manning voided Big Blue of a veteran presence, and the Giants could really use a reliable backup, somebody such as Chad Henne or Colt McCoy, who could fill in if needed and provide Jones with some wisdom.
Philadelphia Eagles: Wide receivers, cornerback, defensive line
Projected cap space: $41.9 million.
A huge need for wide receivers -- particularly healthy ones -- remains for the NFC East champs. It was borderline remarkable that coach Doug Pederson was even able to field an offense down the stretch in 2019, with injuries befalling seemingly every wide receiver, from DeSean Jackson to Alshon Jeffery to Nelson Agholor. Agholor will likely leave via free agency. Jeffery's contract is an ugly one, and he could be a trade candidate. Jackson's health, meanwhile, is always a concern; the 33-year-old appeared in just three games last season. Even if the receiving corps was healthy, it would need to be improved; as Carson Wentz continues to grow into one of the league's premier signal-callers, he could use a true No. 1 receiver. Comparable to the team's need at receiver are its concerns at cornerback. Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby are free agents, and the Eagles have had a pressing need for a true top-flight CB for some time. Like much of the team, the defensive line has been troubled by health issues, as impending free agents Timmy Jernigan (10 games played) and Hassan Ridgeway (seven) shared the field for just two games last year. While there is promise in the presence of Fletcher Cox and the return of Malik Jackson from a foot injury that cost him most of 2019, at the very least, depth at DL is a need, and so too is more front-line talent.
San Francisco 49ers: Cornerback, safety, offensive tackle
Projected cap space: $13.1 million.
It's hard to fathom that 2019 would be the last we'll hear from the 49ers as a Super Bowl contender. Still, there are areas of need, most notably in the defensive backfield. Jimmie Ward had his best season yet, grading out as the sixth-best safety, per PFF, and his play covered up some of the Niners' bigger deficiencies in the secondary. Re-signing him is paramount, although if the Niners can't do that, finding his replacement is priority No. 1. On the outside, cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon drove 49ers fans crazy throughout much of the campaign -- he tied for 69th among cornerbacks with 300-plus snaps in PFF's overall defensive grade -- and was benched during the playoffs. Despite his stellar play, Richard Sherman's age (31) also must be viewed as a relevant factor. Hence, there's room for improvement and depth at CB. On the other side of the ball, Joe Staley is still a plus at left tackle, but with Staley at 35, searching for his eventual replacement and some depth is a smart move.
Seattle Seahawks: Pass rusher, offensive line, wide receiver
Projected cap space: $44.7 million.
Though it would bode well for the Seahawks to be able to bring back Jadeveon Clowney, regardless of what happens with him, Seattle needs plenty of pass-rushing help. Rasheem Green led the Seahawks with a whopping four sacks last season, and the team had just 28, tied for second-to-last in all of the NFL. Beyond making multiple additions on the defensive front, the Seahawks also have some offensive line issues to address, considering Russell Wilson is under pressure as much as any quarterback (he tied for the league lead in sacks with 48). After declining Germain Ifedi's fifth-year option for 2020, Seattle will be seeking a new and improved right tackle -- although upgrades would be welcome just about everywhere on PFF's 27th-ranked line besides at left tackle, where four-time Pro Bowler Duane Brown is entrenched. The Seahawks have a potential pass-catching star in second-year pro D.K. Metcalf, and Tyler Lockett has phenomenal chemistry with Wilson, but a No. 3 receiver is much-needed. The signing of tight end Greg Olsen and hopeful return of TE Will Dissly from an Achilles injury are potential boons, but Seattle had huge drop-offs in 2019 after Lockett and Metcalf.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Quarterback, offensive tackle, defensive line
Projected cap space: $80 million.
The Buccaneers future of one-man roller coaster Jameis Winston hangs in the balance. Only Bruce Arians can say whether Winston should stay or go. If it's the latter, a veteran would presumably be brought in to replace Winston at quarterback. Just as pressing, if not more so, is the question of what the Bucs do with pass rusher Shaq Barrett, who resurrected his career with one season of destruction in Tampa Bay. Jason Pierre-Paul is also a free agent (as is DT Ndamukong Suh), and thus, the Bucs need to shore up their pass-rushing ranks -- Barrett was a force by himself for the most part, racking up 19.5 of his team's 47 sacks, though JPP did chip in 8.5. Whoever's under center will need aid at tackle. As a unit, the Bucs' offensive line was very good in 2019, but Demar Dotson is a free agent and Donovan Smith's struggles in the rushing game continue to hinder that aspect of the offense.
Washington Redskins: Offensive line, tight end, defensive line
Projected cap space: $61.1 million.
Perhaps the largest concern for new coach Ron Rivera this offseason is convincing the organization's best player to play for said organization. Realistically, the Redskins need changes across the board, but getting left tackle Trent Williams -- who, upset with the team over how it dealt with a medical issue, missed all of 2019 -- back would be huge, as would be the re-signing of free agent guard Brandon Scherff. And, of course, there could be the very real prospect of finding replacements for Williams and Scherff. (UPDATE: NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reported the Redskins have granted Williams permission to seek a trade. Washington also has applied the franchise tag to Scherff.)
Another byproduct of an unfortunate medical situation was the release of tight end Jordan Reed, who flashed phenomenal talent but was undone by constant injuries. Whether the Redskins go forward with 2019 first-rounder Dwayne Haskins or seek a possible replacement in the draft, their quarterback could use a reliable tight end. During their 3-13 campaign, the Redskins struggled in just about all facets, but they were horrendous at trying to stop the run, allowing 2,339 yards (31st in the NFL) and 4.7 yards per carry (tied for 24th). A run-stuffing defensive tackle should be on the offseason wish list.