Analysis

Biggest remaining offseason priority for each NFC team: Can 49ers placate Deebo Samuel?

Much of the 2022 offseason is in the rearview mirror, with a number of top NFL free agents off the market and the NFL draft complete. However, there are still pressing matters for each team to address before the 2022 NFL season kicks off on Sept. 8.

Marc Sessler identifies the top remaining offseason priority for each NFC team below.

Top priority: Add another beak in the secondary


Arizona's decision to ship a first-round pick to Baltimore for Marquise "Hollywood" Brown appeared less desperate after learning about the six-game ban slapped on centerpiece wideout DeAndre Hopkins. Brown shores up a crew that also includes Rondale Moore and A.J. Green, but the Cardinals aren't without holes. Adding a veteran presence at cornerback would lift a fresh-faced group fronted by Byron Murphy (24 years old) and Marco Wilson (23). Jeff Gladney was signed in free agency -- to the tune of $4 million guaranteed -- but the former 2020 first-rounder of the Vikings missed all of last season due to a domestic violence charge, of which he was later acquitted. There's youth and potential in this group, but it's not a chore to visualize the Bird Gang getting scorched on occasion by pass-happy air squadrons.

Top priority: Give Arthur Smith a chance on offense


Eighth overall pick Drake London has already been crowned as Atlanta's top wideout. Everything behind him -- Damiere Byrd, Olamide Zaccheaus and the traded-for Bryan Edwards -- signifies a position in need of a spark. Even with Kyle Pitts in the mix, the Falcons are rolling out one of the more talent-poor, skill-position lineups league-wide. General manager Terry Fontenot must hunt over hill and dale for trade bait and street veterans with upside. Arthur Smith coached this squad up a year ago, but stopgap passer Marcus Mariota -- and sure-to-see-starts-as-a-rookie draftee Desmond Ridder -- will face one white-knuckle bar fight after the next with an opening slate that includes the Saints, Rams, Bucs, 49ers and Bengals over the first seven weeks. 

Top priority: Say "yes" to Baker Mayfield 


A year ago, my task for the Panthers read: rebuild Sam Darnold. He's still in the building after a putrid 2021 campaign, looming today as a coach killer. Darnold was put into a tough situation inside an attack with a decrepit O-line and Christian McCaffrey missing 10 games. The excuses end there, though, and so should Carolina's commitment to Sam. I'm not pushing for third-rounder Matt Corral to be thrown to the wolves, either, when general manager Scott Fitterer has options on the horizon that can keep this regime afloat. Armed with the second-most cap space league-wide, the Panthers remain a viable landing spot for Baker Mayfield. He's unquestionably a better option than Darnold and would hit town with a chip on his shoulder the size of Ecuador behind a much-improved front five. Desire a cherry on top? The Panthers open their season at home against Mayfield's once-beloved Browns. 

Top priority: Don't burn Justin Fields in the storm of a rebuild


The Bears have made it crystal clear that 2022 is being sacrificed for tomorrow's riches. GM Ryan Poles operates with a fair amount of swagger and appears to have a plan, but he's saddled with dueling agendas: Tearing down the roster for something sturdier while also managing the young career of Fields. The second-year quarterback is learning the playbook from scratch under new coordinator Luke Getsy and is tasked with throwing the ball to a gaggle of suspect targets. Darnell Mooney can play, but asking Byron Pringle, Equanimeous St. Brown and rookie Velus Jones to save the day is a sketchy scenario. Getsy believes his system will maximize this pedestrian crew, saying of his former pupil Davante Adams: "Davante wasn't Davante until he became Davante." Noted, sir, but let's ensure we let Justin become Justin before he becomes a shell-shocked, second-year arm on a bottom-five roster. 

Top priority: Mesh the big boys up front


I recently heard a fellow at the bar tell his pals: "The Cowboys still have the best line around." Not so fast, mister. Zack Martin remains an elite right guard. A healthy Tyron Smith can wage war at left tackle. The remaining front five, though, rests on shifting sands after La'el Collins landed with the Bengals. Tyler Biadasz is slotted at center, with Terence Steele hanging out at right tackle. First-rounder Tyler Smith played tackle at Tulsa, but he now finds himself in a tussle with Connor McGovern for left guard. It's no help that McGovern refused to emerge as a clear-cut starter last season, but the scenery looks brighter if Tyler Smith's road-grading abilities pan out in Year 1. 

Top priority: Stay loose, stay sexy


Cornerback could use help, unless Jeff Okudah decides to fulfill his draft pedigree. Safety, too. Depth issues exist behind what should be an excellent offensive line. The playful Lions have their share of needs, but I'll point to something more ethereal: culture. Record aside, there's no question Dan Campbell's first season as head coach was enjoyable down the stretch and successful in partially rebranding a team eternally starring as a bowl of vanilla ice cream. With Hard Knocks on the horizon, a promising rookie class and better weapons around Jared Goff, the Lions are morphing into a buzzy pick for the NFL's most lovable squad. Don't do anything to mess it up. 

Top priority: Achieve bankability at tight end


I'm tired of talking about Green Bay's post-Davante Adams wideout room. We get it: There's no clear No. 1. It's a soup. There's a haze at tight end, too, where Robert Tonyan -- after a superb 2020 -- is coming off a torn ACL. Marcedes Lewis turns 38 this week and posted just 23 grabs last season. Josiah Deguara (25), Tyler Davis (four) and Dominique Dafney (two) combined for 31 catches. The Packers ignored the position in the draft. If Tonyan doesn't return to form, Aaron Rodgers is missing more than just Mr. Adams.

Top priority: Bring back OBJ


Odell Beckham Jr.'s comfort in a Rams uniform grew with each passing tilt. Especially in the playoffs, as the wideout amassed a 21/288/2 line in three-plus games before tearing up his knee in the Super Bowl. He looked unstoppable in that bout before the injury and simply fits this incarnation of the Rams. The Allen Robinson signing lowers the need for Beckham's services, but rolling into the NFC West with a foursome of Robinson, Beckham, Van Jefferson and the mighty Cooper Kupp would keep L.A. humming. Will GM Les Snead decide to sign him before the Saints come calling?

Top priority: Ensuring that Cousins and O'Connell jive


Mike Zimmer's final days with the Vikings were spent in agitation over Kirk Cousins. The ex-coach "complained openly in coaching meetings" about his quarterback's lack of " 'winning plays,' " per Chad Graff of The Athletic. The chilly relationship took its toll, but Minnesota brass is counting on Zimmer's replacement, Kevin O'Connell, to milk the most out of Cousins, a task that begins with the installation of an offense that should bring a Rams-esque feel to U.S. Bank Stadium. Film maven Nate Tice noted last year's Vikings ranked dead last employing 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE), while the Rams ranked second. Translation: We could see much more of Justin Jefferson all over the formation, including the slot, where he wreaked havoc at LSU. All the big names have returned for the Vikings, but how they're used could be a new-look treat.

Top priority: Keep being the Saints


We'd have had plenty to talk about a fortnight ago. But then New Orleans turned around and filled needs by signing versatile safety Tyrann Mathieu and reliable wideout Jarvis Landry. GM Mickey Loomis earns points for working around early cap concerns, addressing needs in the draft and aggressively adding veterans with flair to the locker room. Who am I to tell the Saints how to proceed? Just keep rolling. This is a team in the NFC with zero fear of Tom Brady. Instead of shying away in a post-Sean Payton universe, they've turned weaknesses into strengths and vibe as a playoff-or-bust caravan rumbling toward September. 

Top priority: Fill your James Bradberry-sized void


Chalk it up as a promising first offseason for new GM Joe Schoen. His lever pulls vastly upgraded an offensive line that operated as a disaster in recent years. That's good news for Daniel Jones, whose fifth-year option was declined by Schoen (with obvious input from coach Brian Daboll) in a calculated bit of self-scouting. It wasn't all perfect, though, as Big Blue largely botched matters with Bradberry, ultimately cutting the cornerback after failing to find a trade partner for his massive salary. The position is now a mess beyond Adoree' Jackson, with unproven 2021 third-rounder Aaron Robinson the next man up. Rookie Cor'Dale Flott and 2021 sixth-rounder Rodarius Williams could see serious snaps if the G-Men don't nab a veteran or two.

Top priority: Celebrate signing James Bradberry 


When I originally wrote this piece, I'd suggested signing Bradberry as the Eagles' top priority (are you proud, Dad?) -- and then they agreed to terms on a deal with him shortly before it was posted. With few other glaring needs remaining on the roster, let's dig into why this move works so well. Imagine: Your arch enemy is forced to release its top corner. Said corner then tumbles into your lap. Bradberry is second league-wide over the past six seasons with 82 passes defensed. Only Philly's Darius Slay (84) has more. Uniting the two gives the Eagles a menacing pair of cover men and shores up a weakness across from Slay. The alternative would have been to let less tasty options Zech McPhearson, Kary Vincent Jr., Mac McCain and Tay Gowan battle for primary roles.

Top priority: Free Jimmy; sign Deebo


It's clear Kyle Shanahan has zero interest in how the media views his quarterback room. The Niners coach appears content to keep Jimmy Garoppolo on the roster into the season if a trade partner fails to materialize. I suspect Shanny isn't nearly as smitten with second-year passer Trey Lance as some would hope. The Niners are dead last in cap space, though, while star wideout and backfield wonder Deebo Samuel has expressed his discontent this offseason. Cutting or trading Garoppolo opens up a whopping $25.5 million on the books and allows you to potentially extend your best player (Deebo) while crossing your fingers Lance eventually takes that mantle. What's the holdup?

Top priority: Be open to new ideas under center


It sure feels like the Seahawks think they're smarter than everyone else. We look at their quarterbacks -- Geno Smith and Drew Lock -- and see backup fodder. They peer at the pair and announce right back: "We're good." Flowery words from Pete Carroll about Lock and Geno make for pretty sonnets in leafy May. Darkness arrives when the games begin and Seattle's promising draft and general joie de vivre are scattered to the wind by the discovery that neither can carry a team for an entire season. The Seahawks can proceed with this plan as they please, yet I simply beg: If it's apparent this offseason you've got a genuine issue -- and it will become apparent -- consider other options. For starters, I would take Baker Mayfield over either of these players, even if the 'Hawks appear entirely unmoved by the concept.

Top priority: Gronk or bust 


Rob Gronkowski looms as a final piece of the puzzle for a run-it-back Bucs team determined to land one more ring. The 33-year-old tight end "remains undecided" about his future, per Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times, with newly minted coach Todd Bowles saying no timetable exists on a potential return. Following O.J. Howard's exit, the position is thin, with reliable Cam Brate ahead of fourth-round rookie Cade Otton and sixth-rounder Ko Kieft. Gronk is working out at the facility, undoubtedly fielding endless sweet nothings from Tom Brady about their shared future. It feels like a matter of time. 

Top priority: Help at linebacker


"Well, I think if we're looking at one position, it is gonna be linebacker," said coach Ron Rivera this month when asked about what's missing from this version of the Commanders. Cole Holcomb stands out as the only experienced starter as Washington waits for 2021 first-rounder Jamin Davis to fully bloom. Pro Football Focus ranked Davis 66th out of 87 eligible linebackers a year ago. David Mayo and Khaleke Hudson are in the mix, but back to Riverboat Ron, who said: "We don't have another veteran-type guy once we get past Khaleke. ... We'd like to get a few more guys to be a bit deeper there."

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