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Biggest remaining offseason priority for each NFC team: Payday for Justin Jefferson, Cowboys stars?

Much of the 2024 offseason is in the rearview mirror, with a majority of top free agents off the market and the draft complete. However, there are still pressing matters for each team to address before the '24 NFL season kicks off on Sept. 5.

Kevin Patra identifies the top remaining offseason priority for each NFC team below.

Top priority: Figure out how much they must count on rookies once again. 

The Cardinals leaned heavily on first-year players last season. They were the only team to have rookies take at least 2,000 snaps on offense and defense. In Year 2 of the rebuild, rookies will again be asked to shoulder a big load. Marvin Harrison Jr. walked from the 2024 NFL Draft red carpet into a WR1 role. Running back Trey Benson profiles as a player who should siphon reps from James Conner. The defense will once again see a lot of youngsters play key roles, including first-rounder Darius Robinson up front and second-round corner Max Melton on the back end. The depth in the secondary is largely made up of rookies, so if injuries strike, they'll need to step in. The Cardinals will need to spend the rest of the summer determining which of these rookies and Year 2 players Jonathan Gannon and his staff can lean on. Their play will determine if Arizona is still a year away from being competitive or can challenge in the NFC West. 

Top priority: Get more out of Kyle Pitts.

We could deliberate the Falcons quarterback situation for the bajillionth time since the team stunned the league by drafting Michael Penix Jr. eighth overall on April 25 after paying big bucks to Kirk Cousins earlier this offseason. But it will be years before we have a clear picture of how that move panned out. Instead of treading in that water, let's move on to something more tangible for the 2024 Falcons. Since going for 1,026 yards as a rookie, Pitts has struggled. The past two seasons, he's combined for 1,023 yards on 81 catches with five touchdowns. He's lacked strength in traffic and missed opportunities for YAC. Were those issues simply a product of a poor quarterback situation? The Falcons added Darnell Mooney and Rondale Moore to complement No. 1 WR Drake London, but for the offense to be explosive, Pitts needs to exploit linebackers and safeties. Cousins used his tight ends liberally in the past, so Pitts should have plenty of opportunities to show his lack of production wasn't a talent or focus issue. 

Top priority: Ramp up Bryce Young's development. 

The Panthers' offseason moves highlighted a desire to improve the supporting cast for the second-year QB. Carolina spent big money to upgrade the interior of the offensive line in hopes that the shorter Young would have better pockets to throw from. They traded for veteran receiver Diontae Johnson and moved up to select WR Xavier Legette in the draft's first round. The Panthers also added second-round running back Jonathon Brooks and athletic fourth-round tight end Ja'Tavion Sanders. On paper, the situation has been bolstered. It's on coach Dave Canales and his staff to develop an offense that maximizes Young's attributes. The coach was hired for his work with Geno Smith and Baker Mayfield the past two years. The Panthers need the same magic to dig Young out of his rookie misery. 

Top priority: Find more edge-rushing help.

GM Ryan Poles did a splendid job upgrading the offense around Caleb Williams. The WR room went from thin to sparking discussions about whether there's enough pigskin to go around. D'Andre Swift improves the backfield. The offensive line isn't mauling, but it's serviceable and certainly not as bad as it was in recent seasons. The one place the Bears didn't upgrade was opposite Montez Sweat off the edge. They'll throw bodies at the situation in the form of DeMarcus Walker, Dominique Robinson and fifth-round rookie Austin Booker, among others. Still, there isn't an obvious complement who can take advantage of the attention Sweat will command. It's slim pickings at this point, but a free agent like Carl Lawson or Emmanuel Ogbah could prove impactful for an otherwise solid defense. 

Top priority: Extend someone!

The Cowboys have three obvious extension candidates: Dak Prescott, CeeDee Lamb and Micah Parsons. Each has earned a new contract. When will they get it? With each contract signed elsewhere, the price only increases. By all accounts, Dak and Dallas are ready to play out the final year of his deal and see where they’re at next offseason. That's a risky proposition for the Cowboys, who could see their starting QB plucked away for a boatload of cash. Then Jerry Jones' club is left with ... Trey Lance? The longer the Cowboys wait to pay Lamb, the more expensive it likely becomes, especially if Justin Jefferson or Ja'Marr Chase ink new deals first. The number is already north of $30 million per year. It's only getting higher. Dallas has more runway with Parsons, but again, waiting hasn't worked for the Cowboys with other contracts. Shouldn't a change of gear be in order for one of the few true game-wrecking talents in the NFL?

Top priority: Find WR depth.

Amon-Ra St. Brown is an alpha and is now paid like one. Detroit is banking on Jameson Williams becoming an every-down threat after playing mostly a gadget role in his first 18 games. It's a gamble given Williams' consistency struggles as a route runner and catcher of pigskins. But GM Brad Holmes traded up two years ago for the speedster, so he will be given every chance to prove he's not a one-trick pony. Behind the Sun God and Jamo are even bigger question marks. Donovan Peoples-Jones had one decent season in Cleveland before being traded to the Lions. Kalif Raymond is a fine fourth or fifth wide receiver, but he’s not an every-down No. 3. Detroit could wind up missing Josh Reynolds. There isn't much depth left on the open market, particularly for a boundary receiver, where Detroit needs help. Perhaps someone like Michael Thomas still has some juice left. The Lions could see if the offense can get by for the first part of the season before checking in on the trade market around Halloween.

Top priority: Settle on one spot for Jordan Morgan.

The debate over whether the Packers' first-round pick should start at tackle or guard isn't terrible. The Packers view Morgan as capable of playing four different spots on the line. That's nice versatility. Morgan's good footwork should help him overcome shorter arms at tackle. Playing him at guard is a good fallback option if taking over the left tackle spot becomes a struggle. If the Green Bay staff -- which has earned the benefit of the doubt on offense -- feels that putting Morgan at guard gets the best five on the field in 2024, so be it. Long-term, he's probably a tackle. The key for the rookie is to get to one position and master those reps. The worst thing would be flip-flopping the Arizona product around the line in his first year. 

Top priority: Bolster the back end of the defense.

Unless the Rams believe third-rounder Kamren Kinchens can start from Day 1, they should be in the market for an upgrade at safety. Kamren Curl was inked this offseason, but Russ Yeast is set to be the other starter at free safety. Yeast struggled last year before ultimately losing his starting gig. It's a spot where the Rams, under new DC Chris Shula, could look to import a veteran. Unlike other positions, safety hasn't been fully picked over in free agency. Several viable veterans remain on the open market, from Justin Simmons to Eddie Jackson to Quandre Diggs and others. 

Top priority: Pay Justin Jefferson.

Jefferson deserves a massive, market-setting payday. We know it. He knows it. The Vikings have acknowledged it. It's all in the details. Earlier in the offseason, there were projections that had JJ landing somewhere between top-paid WR Tyreek Hill's $30 million per year and Nick Bosa's $34 million per year as the non-QB with the highest average annual salary. With recent receiver deals already bridging that gap -- A.J. Brown inked a $32-million-per-year deal -- it might take making Jefferson the new highest-paid non-QB to get a deal done. The Vikings might not love that idea, but with the likes of CeeDee Lamb and Ja'Marr Chase also looking at securing deals, it feels inevitable one of them gets close to or passes Bosa. 

Top priority: Make sure Derek Carr is on the same page as Klint Kubiak.

After two years of hoping to replicate Sean Payton's offense without the master, Dennis Allen finally moved on to a new offense. Kubiak brings tenets of the Shanahan scheme -- dating back to the coaching days of Mike Shanahan and Klint's father, Gary Kubiak -- that should fit the Saints’ personnel well. Pre- and post-snap motions, outside zone runs and attacking the middle of the field all set up well for New Orleans’ weaponry. It's a quarterback-friendly system, which bodes well for Carr, but it's not a given that the veteran will thrive. He struggled last season amid injuries and inconsistent play. The hope is that Kubiak will smooth out those issues. It's a massive year for everyone involved in New Orleans. From Allen to Carr and on down. Another season without a playoff berth in a winnable division could be followed by major changes within the franchise. They're banking on Kubiak turning around an offense that hasn't found a groove since Drew Brees retired. 

Top priority: Bolster the young secondary.

Depending on how training camp shakes out, the Giants could wind up starting second-round safety Tyler Nubin and third-round nickel back Dru Phillips. With second-year player Deonte Banks, the club's best corner, it's an extremely young crew. Corner is particularly green. Big Blue could use a veteran presence on the outside at a position that notoriously eats up young players. Bringing back Adoree’ Jackson almost makes too much sense. New York could also check in on Stephon Gilmore. Heck, it might even be worth calling Patrick Peterson, who could moonlight at both secondary spots and would make sense as a mentor who could help tutor the young group. 

Top priority: Blend Kellen Moore's offense with what Jalen Hurts does well.

It will be interesting to see how the Eagles juggle Moore's under-center run game with Hurts, who spent 93.5% of his snaps in shotgun or pistol last season. For comparison, Justin Herbert was under center on 18.9% of his snaps last year under Moore. With the Cowboys in 2022, Moore had Dak Prescott under center on 43.5% of his snaps. Blending the two styles could lead to some intriguing opportunities in Philly, including jumpstarting the potential play-action game. I don't see Moore going heavily under center with Hurts. Keeping the big QB in the shotgun gives him options, and he's clearly comfortable in that formation. But the Eagles became predictable last season. Moore's varying formations should immediately make the offense more difficult to handle and enjoyable to watch. And let's hope the 20 billion WR screens we saw from Philly last year are scrapped from the playbook, too.

Top priority: Ignore the WR questions, plow toward another NFC Championship Game.

It's likely not going to matter how many times Kyle Shanahan, John Lynch or any player dismisses the rumors about the receiver room. They'll continue to come. Until or unless the Niners lock up Brandon Aiyuk to a massive deal that works for multiple years, the questions will be asked ad nauseam. It's simply how the world turns. See a storyline: pound it into oblivion. Unless Aiyuk is willing to sit out the season, it makes no sense for the Niners to break up their stud WR corps. Any assets obtained in a trade now likely won't help lift a Lombardi Trophy in February 2025. The Niners should keep the core together, shrug at bi-weekly questions on the topic and continue to dice up defenses. It might stink for Aiyuk in the short term. The second-team All-Pro is worth well more than his $14.1 million salary in 2024, but he could be staring at a $30 million-per-year payday if he gets to the market in ‘25. The question is whether he will sit out if he doesn't get it this year in San Francisco. 

Top priority: Unleash Jaxon Smith-Njigba.

There were flashes last season where JSN looked like the next great wide receiver from Ohio State. He can cut on a dime, make ridiculous grabs and win on multiple levels. He came on after a fractured wrist suffered in the preseason slowed him early in his rookie campaign. However, the stats never matched the talent. Smith-Njigba didn't hit the 70-yards-receiving mark in any game and finished with fewer than 20 yards in each of the final two tilts. I expect much more in 2024. Ryan Grubb is taking over the offense, which should help unleash the second-year receiver. The former University of Washington OC is no stranger to getting three WRs heavily involved in the offense. With Tyler Lockett taking a pay cut to remain in Seattle this season, tracking how Grubb divvies the reps during training camp and early in the season will be notable. DK Metcalf is WR1, but JSN should get a shot at leapfrogging Lockett for WR2 duties. 

Top priority: Sort out corner spots opposite Jamel Dean.

The Bucs traded away Carlton Davis, believing they could cover up for the departure of the high-priced veteran. Dean is a stud, but the question is who will man the opposite side and the nickel slot? Third-year pro Zyon McCollum gets the first shot at outside corner but had a roller-coaster year in 2023, when he got picked on at times but also tied for second on the Bucs in PBUs (nine). Christian Izien manned the slot last season and flashed, but he also occasionally got caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Third-round rookie Tykee Smith should be a candidate to play the nickel spot on Day 1. He has the feet to stick with slot receivers and a good nose against the run game. There is talent in the Bucs' secondary, but it's mostly unproven. 

Top priority: Protect Jayden Daniels at all costs.

Luckily, Daniels showed in the SEC that he's good at escaping pressure in the pocket. He'll likely have to do plenty of that in the NFC East. The Commanders imported center Tyler Biadasz from Dallas and former Chiefs reserve Nick Allegretti to play guard. The moves were upgrades but aren't surefire roadblocks. Outside of Sam Cosmi at right guard, there are questions up and down the Commanders O-line, along with depth issues. The biggest question comes at left tackle, where soon-to-be 33-year-old Cornelius Lucas is penciled in to start over third-round rookie Brandon Coleman. Regardless, left tackle will be a spot opponents target incessantly during Daniels' rookie campaign. The hope is the whole is greater than the sum of its parts along the D.C. O-line in 2024. Otherwise, the rookie QB could be scrambling for his life. 

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