Our Roster Reset series takes a division-by-division look at where things stand across the league heading into the 2020 NFL Draft. Marc Sessler examines the pecking order in the NFC.
While Tom Brady's exodus from Foxborough marks a sea change in the AFC, his arrival in Tampa stirs equally seismic ripples in the NFC. The Bucs are now must-see material, but they aren't alone. The top-heavy conference remains stocked with a familiar lineup of well-coached clubs determined to march right back into January.
The absence of the Rams atop this list reminds us just how much changes in the NFL over the course of a year. Are they a better team today than the Cardinals? A three-win disaster in 2018, Arizona's drafting of Kyler Murray and acquisition of star wideout DeAndre Hopkins could be enough to rattle the presumed hierarchy come September. Let's dig in:
Playoffs or bust
Saints coach Sean Payton walked back comments calling 2020 the "final season" for Drew Brees, but it sure feels like it. After signing a two-year, $50 million pact with the Saints, the 41-year-old quarterback agreed to a broadcasting deal with NBC. Adding receiver Emmanuel Sanders to the air attack -- and keeping uber-dynamic Taysom Hill in a blossoming role -- only improves a Super Bowl-ready roster.
The Sanders signing came at San Francisco's expense, but the Niners also return 10 of 11 starters from last year's Super Bowl defense. Trading away chaos-spinning lineman DeForest Buckner is risky, but netting Indy's No. 13 overall pick paves the way for general manager John Lynch to add a blue-chip pass catcher in this month's draft.
I refuse to count out the Seahawks, with Russell Wilson coming off an MVP-caliber campaign. Signing veteran tight end Greg Olsen helps, but concern lingers over a club that produced fewer sacks than all but the Lions, Falcons and Dolphins in 2019 -- especially if free agent Jadeveon Clowney winds up elsewhere.
I place Green Bay at the bottom of the tier as a club destined to regress from its 13-3 mark of a year ago. The Packers can't convince me they're done at receiver after adding Devin Funchess and little else, but the draft should help pad the roster of a win-now franchise still sitting atop the North.
The Eagles turned weakness into strength by trading with the Lions for cornerback Darius Slay, who lands in Philly as one of the game's top cover men. Football Heads everywhere adore the addition of rough-and-tumble signee Javon Hargrave to an already talented defensive line. On offense, a healthy Carson Wentz has the potential to operate as a top-five passer.
After his much-ballyhooed year away from the gridiron, new Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy is under immediate pressure to craft a winner with the returning Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper. What could possibly go wrong? The Vikings are vastly changed after hitting the ejector seat on a flock of core personnel. Agitated wideout Stefon Diggs was shipped to the Bills, while the defense lost behemoth Linval Joseph, three corners and two safeties. The toughest loss of all might be Everson Griffen, though the free-agent pass rusher hasn't ruled out a return. Can Mike Zimmer be trusted to do more with less?
The Bears are better on paper with Nick Foles replacing wayward flinger Mitch Trubisky -- if Foles stays healthy. History tells us that's a high-concept wild card. Adding Robert Quinn to the defensive front is juicy, but handing $9 million guaranteed to disappearing tight end Jimmy Graham is up there with the mysteries of Egypt.
The cap-challengedRams were slapped with a $21.8 million dead cap hit after trading wideout Brandin Cooks to the Texans. Running back Todd Gurley's departure adds another $11 million-plus in dead weight. With no first-round pick and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips out of the picture, Sean McVay has plenty on his plate.
What more can be said about the Bucs? Brady joins a talent-rich offense across from a stout Tampa defense led by the returning Shaq Barrett. The team won seven games with the last quarterback tossing a league-high 30 interceptions. Coach Bruce Arians won't suffer those frustrations again, assuming Tom Brady is still Tom Brady.
The arrow is up on Cardinals GM Steve Keim, who landed Hopkins for a song in a deal that also unloaded David Johnson's weighty contract onto Bill O'Brien and the Texans. Coach Kliff Kingsbury's four-wideout attack is set to pop, with Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk catching lobs from the electrifying Murray. Keim padded an improving defense in free agency and also owns the No. 8 overall pick in the draft. This might be the club nobody wants to play come November.
Uphill battle to the playoffs
The Falcons replaced exiting tight end Austin Hooper by swinging an expensive trade with Baltimore for the yet-to-break-out Hayden Hurst. Meanwhile, runner Devonta Freeman is gone in favor of the question-mark-laden Todd Gurley. Atlanta could wind up 10-6 or 6-10, and neither result could be labeled a stunner. Same for the Panthers, but I refuse to see Teddy Bridgewater as an upgrade over Cam Newton. It's easy to believe in new coach Matt Rhule, but the roster will struggle to overcome a tidal wave of departures in Luke Kuechly, Greg Olsen, Trai Turner and corner James Bradberry alongside a rash of defensive starters.
What to make of Detroit's offseason? The Lions vexed onlookers by trading Slay, vastly overpaying career backup tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai and signing a gaggle of jettisoned Patriots. I won't be surprised if Ron Rivera has the Redskins playing over their heads, but Washington swung and missed on Byron Jones and Amari Cooper during a low-octane foray into free agency. The Giants tagged Leonard Williams and hold hope in Daniel Jones, but holes remain across the board.