Welcome to the NFL’s summer break, where players and coaches take a vacation but transactions never really stop.
Each year as training camps approach in late July, there is a flurry of contract extensions and roster additions in preparation for the coming season.
While the bulk of free agency is in the rearview, there are still a host of veterans who could help fill the gaps. Players like Duane Brown, Julio Jones, Jason Pierre-Paul, Ndamukong Suh, Will Fuller, and many others remain free agents and could help upgrade rosters at this late stage.
There are no perfect NFL teams. Some, like the Buffalo Bills or Denver Broncos, have fewer glaring weaknesses than others. Some, like Atlanta, Detroit and Houston, are in the middle of rebuilds and have more question marks. But no team’s roster is fully set.
As we venture into the summer, let’s look at 10 roster holes that could be bolstered in the coming months.
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Hamstrung by a miserable salary cap situation and lacking draft assets, new GM Ryan Poles eschewed calls to pair Darnell Mooney with a big-name weapon. Instead, in free agency, the Bears tossed bodies at the situation, hoping to unearth a gem. Chicago added Byron Pringle, Equanimeous St. Brown, Tajae Sharpe and Dante Pettis. Not exactly a who’s who of pass catchers. They drafted Velus Jones Jr. in the third round. He will be asked to play a significant role from the jump. Mooney is a stud. But the rest of the veteran crew doesn’t do much to help Justin Fields make a Year 2 leap in a new offense.
Pete Carroll continues to insist the Seahawks will be just fine rolling with whoever wins the QB competition between Geno Smith and Drew Lock. Smith’s experience gives him a leg up heading into camp, but Lock’s talent could win out. Smith hasn’t entered a season as the starter since 2014, and while he played decent replacing the injured Russell Wilson for a few games last season, there isn’t a ton of upside. Lock, meanwhile, couldn’t beat out Teddy Bridgewater in Denver and struggled when on the field last year. Would either represent a QB who could keep Seattle in contention in a rugged NFC West? There is a reason rumors persist that the Seahawks could be waiting to see if Jimmy Garoppolo or Baker Mayfield are eventually cut. Regardless of how it plays out, the long-term solution to the Wilson heir doesn’t appear to be on the roster.
The release of corner James Bradberry after no trade materialized leaves Big Blue incredibly young on the outside. Adoree’ Jackson is the only vet with vast starting experience. Currently, the Giants are counting on Aaron Robinson (Year 2), Darnay Holmes (Year 3), Rodarius Williams (Year 2), and rookie third-rounder Cordale Flott in their corner group. Don Martindale’s defense relies heavily on being able to match up on the outside. Adding a vet to the crew at either corner or a safety on the cheap would go a long way to solidifying a young group.
The Packers are counting on Aaron Rodgers to buoy a pass-catching corps currently led by Allen Lazard (who has never had a 520-yard season), Sammy Watkins (394 yards in 2021), soon-to-be 32-year-old Randall Cobb, Amari Rodgers (four catches for 45 yards as a rookie) and rookies Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs. Perhaps Watson is explosive out of the gate en route to an Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Perhaps Watkins stays healthy, and Lazard proves a go-to player in Year 5. Perhaps. Rodgers’ otherworldly play is a reason to be confident the Green Bay offense won’t fall apart without Davante Adams. The QB’s desire to play with veterans, however, is also a factor. Will importing a Julio Jones type on the cheap or bringing Odell Beckham Jr. to Lambeau as his rehab gets closer to finishing be in play if the current group doesn’t mesh? Beyond the WR room, given Robert Tonyan is coming off an ACL tear, there are questions at tight end, where the Pack are counting on Josiah Deguara to make a Year 3 leap.
Rob Gronkowski’s retirement, coupled with O.J. Howard leaving for Buffalo in free agency, creates uncertainty at the tight end position for Tom Brady. Cameron Brate is the main veteran target. Fourth-round pick Cade Otton, who missed time this offseason recovering from ankle surgery, is the best bet to take over snaps if healthy. Tampa also has sixth-round rookie Ko Kieft, 29-year-old Codey McElroy (one career catch) and rookie free agents JJ Howland and Ben Beise on the roster. That’s a lot of youth. The Bucs could look to the veteran free-agent market to add stability to a position Brady loves to target. Vets like Jared Cook, Kyle Rudolph or Eric Ebron could be among the options.
The Chiefs failed to bring back Melvin Ingram, leaving their edge-rushing group thin. As a result, a lot is riding on Frank Clark, who posted just 4.5 sacks last season, miraculously finding his form, and rookie first-rounder George Karlaftis being a home run out of the gate. Even if you believe Karlaftis is legit — I do — that’s a lot of pressure on a rookie. Kansas City ranked 29th in sacks last season with 31. The Chiefs need more help alongside Chris Jones to up that standing in 2022.
Surprisingly, the Cardinals didn’t address the cornerback position until the seventh round of the draft, selecting Christian Matthew, despite a need at the position. The tragic death of Jeff Gladney, who signed with Arizona in March, exacerbated the Cards’ concerns on the back end. Alongside Byron Murphy sits a big question mark. Arizona is counting on Marco Wilson to make significant strides after struggling as a rookie. The Cards faltered down the stretch last season, allowing 30-plus points in four of their final six games (including the playoffs). With Chandler Jones no longer harassing QBs for the team, even more pressure is on a secondary with question marks heading toward camp.
Most of the focus has been on the Ravens’ receiving corps following the trade of Marquise “Hollywood” Brown to Arizona in April, but edge rusher is also glaring. Who will pair opposite Odafe Oweh in Mike Macdonald’s defense? The Ravens drafted David Ojabo in the second round, and he should be a steal, but who knows when he’ll be healthy enough to be an every-down player after tearing his Achilles in March. Tyus Bowser is also coming off Achilles surgery. In addition, the team is still in mourning after the heartbreaking news this week of Jaylon Ferguson’s death. For a defense with no other glaring weaknesses on paper, adding another edge defender would help take pressure off inexperienced depth and their guys coming back from injury.
Alex Mack’s retirement this offseason put the Niners in a tough position at the pivot. The current choices are: veteran Jake Brendel, who played just six offensive snaps last season and hasn’t started a game since 2018; Daniel Brunskill, who would move over from guard, creating another hole on the interior; rookie sixth-round pick Nick Zakelj, who played OT primarily in college; or undrafted rookie free agent Dohnovan West. The instability at center is especially concerning, given San Francisco is handing the reins over to Trey Lance this season. Importing a veteran — i.e., JC Tretter — could be the best option to plug the gap without relying on inexperience at all three interior O-line spots.
L.A. wanted to bring back Von Miller, who chose instead to cross the country and sign with the Buffalo Bills in free agency. To date, the Rams haven’t filled the void. Leonard Floyd, who netted 20 total sacks over the past two seasons in Los Angeles, remains a stud on one side. However, beyond Floyd and uber-rich DT Aaron Donald, no Rams player on the roster reached the five-sack threshold in 2021. Given their go-for-broke style, it would be a surprise if GM Les Snead didn’t add a big-name pass rusher at some point between now and the trade deadline.
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