Live football is still far enough away that every team in the NFL can continue to indulge in rosy thoughts about the season to come, with roster deficiencies remaining theoretical problems. Eventually, though, these holes will become real, with the worst of them perhaps threatening to derail otherwise-healthy rosters.
Which areas of concern stand out as the most significant? Below, I've ranked the nine biggest roster holes across the NFL.
It's hard to believe this is a problem area for a Pete Carroll-coached team, but the Seahawks have more questions on defense than offense for the second straight offseason. It's understandable that Seattle didn't want to spend big on a long-term extension for Jadeveon Clowney -- who struggled in 2019, missing three games with injury while registering a career-low three sacks -- but it's also worth noting that the Seahawks would have been in far worse shape without Clowney and his team-high 13 quarterback hits last season. Entering their playoff matchup with the Packers, the 'Hawks had generated a pressure rate of 18.1 percent and a sack rate of 3.9 percent without Clowney on the field, which would have ranked as the worst figures in the NFL, per Next Gen Stats.
So where will the pressure come from in 2020? Defensive lineman Jarran Reed will surely be asked to play a big role, having signed a two-year extension, but his sack production dropped from 10.5 in 2018 to 2.0 last season following his six-game suspension for a violation of the personal conduct policy to start the year. Can 2019 first-round pick L.J. Collier (zero sacks in 11 games) begin to make an impact? What about 2020 second-round pick Darrell Taylor, for whom Seattle traded up to acquire? The Seahawks added two veteran rotation players in Bruce Irvin and Benson Mayowa, but it wouldn't be surprising if they made another move to bolster the line, perhaps signing Everson Griffen or trying to acquire a trade piece, like, say, Olivier Vernon, should the Browns make him available.
The Packers haven't used a first-round pick on a receiver or tight end since Aaron Rodgers entered the NFL in 2005, and the streak continued this year with the selection of Rodgers' heir apparent, quarterback Jordan Love, at No. 26 overall. Green Bay didn't draft a single player to augment a wide receiver group that struggled to produce in 2019, with only Davante Adams managing to catch more than 35 passes among receivers. Whether Rodgers will have quality targets to work with at the tight end spot is an even bigger concern, with Jimmy Graham heading to the Bears in free agency. Jace Sternberger, a 2019 third-round pick, is the front-runner to step up, but he didn't catch a regular-season pass after spending much of the year on injured reserve. Third-round pick Josiah Deguara from Cincinnati will try to avoid a similarly unproductive fate in Year 1, but it's tough to expect much from a rookie at a position that is notoriously difficult to master.
The Packers are clearly becoming a run-first team heading into coach Matt LaFleur's second year on the job, but as Green Bay's loss to San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game shows, this team will need to generate more production in the passing game to take the leap to true Super Bowl contention as the Rodgers era winds down. The youngsters already on hand (Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Jake Kumerow and Equanimeous St. Brown) will have to step up. It will also help if Devin Funchess, a bargain-basement signing, is able to chip in.
The Redskins are in even worse straits here than the Packers, which will make it exceptionally challenging for quarterback Dwayne Haskins to continue developing in Year 2 of his NFL career. Outside of standout second-year pro Terry McLaurin, Washington does not have a single receiver who caught more than 34 passes in 2019 on the roster. In a perfect world, Kelvin Harmon, Steven Sims, Trey Quinn and fourth-round pick Antonio Gandy-Golden take leaps forward as Haskins grows into the franchise QB the Redskins hoped he'd be when they selected him in the first round last year. With Vernon Davis and Jordan Reed out of the picture, the only tight ends of note remaining are former fifth-round pick Jeremy Sprinkle and journeymen Richard Rodgers and Logan Thomas. Maybe rookie Antonio Gibson, a versatile third-round choice, can make some noise as a pass catcher, but unless new offensive coordinator Scott Turner is able to work some magic with this group, new coach Ron Rivera's crew will be hard-pressed to improve on last season's overall offensive ranking of 31st.
The franchise that once fielded safeties Cliff Harris, Darren Woodson and Roy Williams has not had a true impact player at either starting safety spot in a decade-plus. That drought will likely continue into 2020, unless Dallas trades for someone like Jamal Adams -- but I wouldn't hold my breath there. As much as this appears to be a position of need, the Cowboys don't seem to agree, based on the fact that they've selected just one safety in the first two rounds since choosing Williams in 2002. The plan right now seems to be to stick with Xavier Woods -- who has recorded just five total turnovers (four picks and one fumble recovery) over the past two seasons -- and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who signed with the team and will reunite with new coach Mike McCarthy after their time together in Green Bay. Darian Thompson is the third safety at the moment, but he could be usurped by Chidobe Awuzie, if he's able to move from corner to safety.
Corner is also unsettled, however, with no one standing out as an obvious No. 1 in the wake of Byron Jones' departure to the Dolphins via free agency. Dallas will have to hope rookies Trevon Diggs (a second-round pick) and Reggie Robinson (a fourth-rounder) are able to push for starting spots and allow Awuzie to move, with Anthony Brown, Jourdan Lewis and Daryl Worley also vying for snaps. However it shakes out, the Cowboys must get more turnovers on the back end after tying for last with Detroit and Arizona in interceptions (seven). The uncertainty in the secondary will only make it more critical for DeMarcus Lawrence -- who logged just five sacks in 2019 -- and the defensive front to generate pressure.
The Jets were reportedly courting ex-Titans/Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan, and it would be a wise signing, considering where this position group stands now. The No. 1 cornerback -- in theory, anyway -- is currently Pierre Desir, whose struggles in 2019 led the Colts to cut him one season into a three-year, $22.5 million deal that included $12 million guaranteed. The 29-year-old Desir will have to prove his issues stemmed primarily from a hamstring problem rather than an age-related decline in play. On the bright side, 2019 sixth-round pick Blessuan Austin impressed when activated off the PUP list in the second half of last year. He should beat out Arthur Maulet for the second corner spot, with 2020 fifth-round pick Bryce Hall also having a chance to snag some snaps. Brian Poole got his act together last season after ending his tenure with Atlanta in a tailspin to make slot corner a strength, but I'd expect general manager Joe Douglas to continue the roster churn at this spot after parting ways with 2019 starters Trumaine Johnson and Darryl Roberts.
I'm bullish on Miles Sanders' chances to become the first bell-cow back of the Doug Pederson era, but if something were to happen to him, the Eagles could be in trouble. The cupboard currently looks awfully bare when it comes to potential replacements, with Boston Scott, Corey Clement and Elijah Holyfield positioned as the top three backups. Carlos Hyde could have been an option, but he signed with Seattle. Devonta Freeman remains a possibility, but the former Atlanta starter might have salary demands that are too rich for the Eagles' blood. LeSean McCoy says he would love to return to his former team, but the fact that he was a healthy scratch for Kansas City in last year's playoffs raises questions about how much he has left in the tank. It might make sense to kick the tires on Lamar Miller, who is progressing in his rehab from reconstructive knee surgery.
Like the Eagles, the Bears will be taking a huge risk if a veteran isn't added to the RB depth chart behind lead ball carrier David Montgomery. Tarik Cohen had 64 carries last season, but he doesn't have the size to fill the role of every-down back. The only other options on the roster currently include Ryan Nall, who recorded 8 yards on two carries after being promoted from the practice squad, and undrafted rookies Artavis Pierce and Napoleon Maxwell.
I'm not trying to jinx anyone here, but I'll note that Jared Goff has managed to make it through three-and-a-half injury-free seasons as the Rams' starting quarterback. If something were to happen to him, a team that is built to win now would likely be in serious trouble, given that current backup John Wolford spent last season on the practice squad after failing to stick with the Jets as an undrafted free agent, while the other two quarterbacks on the roster -- Bryce Perkins and Josh Love -- are undrafted rookies. Re-signing last year's backup, Blake Bortles, remains a possibility, but the team's apparent reluctance to bring him back for another season speaks volumes . Because of Goff's high salary and other cap issues, Los Angeles is trying to stay frugal with backup QBs, though if Cam Newton were to become an option, management should seriously weigh that.
Scattershot play at this position is primarily what kept Pittsburgh out of the 2019 postseason. Ben Roethlisberger is back after missing most of 2019 with an elbow injury, but his backups remain Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges -- who struggled in Roethlisberger's place last season -- unless Paxton Lynch or J.T. Barrett can snag a spot. This is a gamble, considering Big Ben is 38 and has taken a beating at points during his Hall of Fame-caliber career. Just like the Rams, the Steelers could turn to Newton, who is capable of guiding this squad to the playoffs should he be pressed into service.