The NFL offseason is typically a time for optimism. Every team is 0-0 and looking to continue building towards contending for a championship. Whether it's via free agency or the NFL draft, there are avenues to retain, replace or add players onto the roster to hopefully make a playoff push. That said, some teams have easier paths than others.
Take the Chicago Bears, for example. They are coming off a season where they had the worst record in the entire NFL. But, they enter this offseason with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and by far the most amount of cap space in the league at nearly $100 million. When you pair that with the progress made by Justin Fields during his sophomore season, things are trending upward in Chicago.
The same, however, can't be said for every team, and that's what we'll be diving into here. Below, we'll highlight a handful of teams, in no particular order, that may be looking at an offseason that provides a number of rough patches.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
First pick: 19th overall
Cap space: $-57,027,890 (32nd)
For the second straight offseason, the Buccaneers saw Tom Brady ride off into retirement, but this time feels a bit more permanent than last year. So, Tampa Bay will be looking for a new quarterback to lead them in 2023 and they aren't exactly in a position to make a big swing similar to how they did it back in 2020, when they landed Brady in the first place.
The Bucs do not have a commanding draft position to be able to take a top-ranked prospect at the NFL draft and currently have a horrific salary cap situation that finds them just above $57 million over the cap. Given where they are with their books, it's unrealistic that they could make massive pushes for the likes of Aaron Rodgers or Lamar Jackson if they become available, or even free agents like Derek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo.
The most likely scenario is that 2021 second-round pick Kyle Trask ascends as the starter and the team brings aboard a veteran signal-caller at a low cost. Could that be recently released quarterback Carson Wentz? The oddsmakers at SportsLine think so as they have Tampa Bay as the favorite to sign him. The combination of Trask and Wentz is a far cry from having Tom Brady lead you out of the tunnel, but that appears to be the road Tampa Bay is heading down.
Meanwhile, free agency could see a mass exodus of players when factoring in the cap concerns. Cornerbacks Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting are set to hit the open market, as are linebacker Lavonte David, defensive end Akiem Hicks, and safety Mike Edwards. We've also already seen the Bucs begin trimming the roster to get below the salary cap, parting ways with running back Leonard Fournette and releasing offensive tackle Donovan Smith.
This could be an offseason where Tampa Bay looks itself in the mirror and decides to break down what's left of its championship core and enter a full rebuild.
First pick: 23rd overall
Cap space: $25,980,205 (8th)
This really depends on how you view the Lamar Jackson situation. If Baltimore is able to retain him by agreeing to a lucrative contract extension, then they have no business being on this list. However, the longer we go and no deal is struck, the more of a possibility it becomes that these two part ways. If that becomes the case, then you're talking about a team that is completely resetting at the most important position in the sport.
Of course, if they are painted into a corner where they have to trade Jackson, they'll get a significant return that will likely include a pick that puts them in a position to draft his replacement. However, now you're talking about bringing along a rookie quarterback and asking him to contend in a division that includes Joe Burrow, Deshaun Watson, and Kenny Pickett. If they opt not to draft his replacement, then you're dipping your toe into the veteran quarterback market that includes Jimmy Garoppolo and others, which would be a downgrade in the short term and long term from Jackson, while still shelling out significant dollars.
So, it's not that the Ravens are facing a rough offseason, it's more that they could be, depending on how this Jackson saga unfolds.
New Orleans Saints
First pick: 30th overall
Cap space: $-29,979,864 (31st)
New Orleans is in a similar situation to their NFC South rival in Tampa Bay. They have one of the worst cap situations in the NFL and do not possess a draft pick high enough to put them in the conversation with these top-tier prospects to fill their quarterback need.
The Saints have been heavily linked to free agent Derek Carr and have met with him on multiple occasions, but there's a chance that they do lose out on the former Raiders signal caller to other teams in the league like the Panthers or Jets, who are both arguably more attractive landing spots that could more easily surround him with talent. Then what? Is it another year of Andy Dalton and Jameis Winston or do you try to pivot to Garoppolo or another quarterback of that ilk?
Then, there's the situation with players on the roster who are set to become free agents. Considering where they are cap-wise, it seems like they'll be unable to retain star defensive end Marcus Davenport, leaving a giant hole to fill along the defensive line. Offensively, the team is still hamstrung by Michael Thomas' contract that'll count for roughly $13.6 million on the salary cap.
Meanwhile, there's also the possibility that Alvin Kamara receives punishment from the NFL between now and the start of the regular season after he was indicted on charges of battery resulting in substantial bodily harm and conspiracy to commit battery.
First pick: 52nd overall (second round)
Cap space: $-15,311,674 (26th)
The NFL stripped away the Dolphins' first-round pick this year due to what they deemed to be impermissible contact with Tom Brady when he was part of both the Patriots and Buccaneers. After trading their other first-round pick (from San Francisco) for Bradley Chubb, they are currently on the outside looking in on the opening round of the 2023 NFL Draft and the top 50 overall. Currently, Miami is not scheduled to be on the clock until No. 52 overall.
For a team that is currently $15.3 million over the cap, injecting the roster with cheap, young talent via the draft is an ideal way to stay competitive, but they won't be afforded that luxury in the first round this offseason and will watch the rest of the league bring in blue-chippers.
Speaking of the cap, there are needs on this roster and not a ton of room to work with. Tight end Mike Gesicki and tackle Greg Little along with running backs Jeff Wilson and Raheem Mostert are some of the more notable looming free agents, but their biggest need might come at corner. Byron Jones, who missed all of last season due to injury, recently stated that he "can't run or jump" due to his injuries, which isn't an encouraging sign for his prospects going forward. As we've seen throughout the years, cornerbacks don't come cheap and Miami may not have the capital to put an upper-echelon player opposite of Xavien Howard.
At quarterback, the Dolphins are in a precarious situation when it comes to Tua Tagovaila. He showed that he could be a player the team can build around when healthy, but that's where the concerns come in. Tagovailoa was shut down for the year after suffering multiple concussions and that has brought his longevity in the league into question during a time when the Dolphins need to decide if they'll place the fifth-year option on him and possibly agree to an extension. So, things do have the ability to get a bit awkward if Miami doesn't want to attach itself to him long-term.
Los Angeles Rams
First pick: 37th overall (second round)
Cap space: $-14,202,453 (24th)
The good news for the Rams is that Sean McVay did not decide to retire and the club will get Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, and Aaron Donald back healthy after that trio was shut down at the end of last year's disappointing season. However, L.A. isn't exactly in a position to improve. Rather, they may just be rolling back out pieces to their Super Bowl-winning roster, albeit two years older.
They are in a tough situation when it comes to the salary cap, currently ranking 24th in the NFL. So, that leaves little room to bring in anyone who could provide a major boost to the on-field product. Then, when it comes to the NFL draft, they continue to be outside of the first round and only have two selections inside the top 150 (No. 36 and No. 69 overall).
Instead of talking about being able to bring in a high-profile player to help the roster, the major scuttlebutt surrounding the Rams is the possibility of trading away star cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Losing a player of his caliber would help their cap situation slightly, but would certainly make them a less competitive football team in 2023.