The start of NFL free agency is less than one month away, and teams have already begun to rework their rosters by restructuring contracts and releasing veteran players.
There’s no doubt all 32 franchises feel the pressure of a projected decrease in the 2021 salary cap, but it won’t stop them from making bold moves this offseason, especially with big-name players like J.J. Watt, Allen Robinson and Patrick Peterson on the market. After scanning the entire league — from teams that are in full rebuild mode to those attempting to find the missing piece for a potential Super Bowl run — one question emerged:
Which team needs to be most active in free agency?
JOE THOMAS: Typically, the most active teams in free agency check one of two boxes: They are either built to win now or have a lot of cap space. The Colts check both boxes and have the potential to be a championship-caliber team with the right aggressive moves. Now that Indianapolis has its quarterback (Carson Wentz) in place, GM Chris Ballard would be wise to add playmakers around him to take the Colts’ top-10 offense to the next level. The same goes on the defensive side of the ball, as Indy has the luxury of going after some top free agents at positions of need (defensive end and cornerback) to improve Matt Eberflus’ top-10 unit.
CHARLEY CASSERLY: I’m choosing the New York Jets because, unlike other rebuilding teams, they will have a quarterback (either Sam Darnold or a drafted QB with the No. 2 overall pick) to work with this year. In free agency, I would focus on bolstering up the front on both sides of the ball, but especially on defense. With DT Quinnen Williams already in place, the Jets need a pair of aggressive defensive ends and another defensive tackle to give Robert Saleh a strong front four. Some defensive ends I would target are Trey Hendrickson, Shaquil Barrett, Yannick Ngakoue, Carl Lawson and Romeo Okwara.
BRIAN BALDINGER: It’s time for the Cincinnati Bengals to open the checkbook and build this team into a contender behind Joe Burrow. The Bengals showed last season that they could compete with AFC North teams, and having a talented quarterback on a rookie contract and big cash available (sixth-most cap space in the league, per Over the Cap) sets them up nicely to make a jump next season. Personally, I would start with locking up defensive end Carl Lawson, who has proven to be a core player for the defense.
MARC ROSS: While the other teams with more (or comparable) cap space are in developmental mode, the Colts are a playoff squad that needs to ensure this is a make — not break — year for newly acquired QB Carson Wentz. Much of Wentz’s struggles in Philly were blamed on the limited supporting cast, so Colts GM Chris Ballard must justify the trade and make sure Wentz’s performance is excuse proof by surrounding the quarterback with as much offensive talent as possible. Specifically, the Colts should target a left tackle (to replace the retired Anthony Castonzo) and a playmaking tight end, while also shoring up the wide receiver position.
DeANGELO HALL: The New York Jets are in perfect position to make a lot of moves this offseason with the second-most projected cap space (nearly $68 million, per Over the Cap) and the second overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. I think they’d be wise to keep their promising young quarterback Sam Darnold and trade back out of their No. 2 pick in an effort to acquire more picks and load up with young talent. In free agency, there are a ton of guys they should look to target, including wide receivers Allen Robinson and Kenny Golladay (if the Lions don’t place the franchise tag on him). Defensively, safeties Justin Simmons and Anthony Harris could be good options, along with another pass rusher or fast, athletic inside linebacker. The Jets have a real opportunity to turn the franchise around this offseason.