Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his notebook. This edition features a holiday twist ...
Perhaps it is merely a coincidence that the NFL's regular season comes to a close during the holiday season, but both occasions cultivate an item defined by desire: the wish list. Like toy-crazy kids crafting letters to Santa, front-office heavies itemize their dream hauls for the coming offseason.
Throughout December, decision-makers assess their respective coaching staffs and rosters to determine the team's strengths and weaknesses, crafting plans to fill their biggest needs in the new year.
Given some time to assess the 11 teams that have already been eliminated from playoff contention, here is what I would put at the top of each wish list:
Biggest wish: Franchise quarterback
If you want to know why Jacksonville hasn't been able to field a consistent winner this millennium, look no further than the team's spotty quarterback play over the past couple decades. Mark Brunell is considered the only franchise quarterback in Jaguars history, and the organization's inability to find a legit QB1 since the three-time Pro Bowler departed has fueled their struggles. That's why it is imperative for the Jags to nail the pick when presumably selecting their quarterback in the draft. Currently holding the No. 1 overall selection, this team desperately needs a five-star playmaker at the game's most important position with leadership skills, intangibles and a winning pedigree to turn the franchise around.
Biggest wish: Offensive weapons
It doesn't matter if Sam Darnold or a new gunslinger is installed as the Jets' QB1 -- the team needs to add more offensive playmakers to the lineup. From running backs to tight ends and wide receivers, the Jets need weapons to help their quarterback flourish in an AFC ruled by high-powered offenses. General manager Joe Douglas has plenty of ammunition -- including two first-rounders in each of the next two drafts, thanks to the Jamal Adams trade -- to upgrade New York's firepower for years to come.
Biggest wish: Protection for Joe Burrow
The No. 1 overall pick is on his way to stardom for the Bengals, based on his impressive play over the first 10 games of his NFL career. Burrow posted five 300-yard outings while demonstrating the poise and playmaking ability to put the team on his back. That said, the rookie's season was cut short due to a torn ACL/MCL that occurred when he took a high-low hit while attempting a pass from a collapsed pocket. Playing behind a leaky O-line, Burrow took a beating in Year 1, absorbing 32 sacks and more than 70 quarterback hits in just over half a season. The Bengals need to upgrade the protection in front of Burrow to ensure that he throws behind a fortress going forward. Whether the team drafts a premier left tackle or adds multiple proven veterans, the team's top priority must revolve around a plan to keep the QB clean.
Biggest wish: Quarterback in waiting
It is time for the Falcons to find their quarterback of the future, given Matt Ryan's advancing age and declining play. A hefty contract might limit Atlanta's options on the 35-year-old QB in the coming offseason, but the team can snag a young passer in the upcoming draft and let him serve as an apprentice for a season before handing him the reins in 2022. Seeing how the Falcons' lofty draft position (currently No. 4) coincides with a stellar 2021 quarterback class, this is the perfect time to shop for the position. If Atlanta's new general manager and head coach can agree on the right QB1 candidate, the Dirty Birds could undergo a quick rebuild to re-emerge as contenders in the NFC.
Biggest wish: Quarterback of the future
Teddy Bridgewater has been the perfect bridge quarterback for the Panthers. The veteran passer has been an exceptional leader in Charlotte, while playing well enough to help Carolina remain competitive in the NFC South. Despite Bridgewater's solid display of football character and ability, Matt Rhule and the Panthers should be on the hunt for a young, dynamic quarterback to build around. The evolution of the game makes it pretty crucial to feature a quarterback with the mobility and running skills to create explosive plays on designed runs or impromptu scrambles. Add in some polish in the passing department, too, and the Panthers' offense can go from good to great with an electric QB1 surrounded by a talented cast of playmakers that includes Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson.
Biggest wish: Offensive mastermind
The Texans are seemingly wasting the rare talents of Deshaun Watson in his prime. The fourth-year pro has emerged as a top-five quarterback despite playing in a rudimentary offense that lacks creativity and imagination. Without an innovative system that creates easy throws and big-play opportunities through clever play design, Watson is forced to routinely pull rabbits out of hats in order to keep Houston's offense afloat. Considering how much Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson and others benefit from the designs of creative schemers, the Texans should make it a priority to give Watson a superior mind to help him grow as a playmaker.
Biggest wish: Game management manual
The Chargers' penchant for losing one-score games in inexplicable fashion should prompt the team to search for a manual that helps the coaching staff navigate critical situations. Since 2006, the Bolts have the most losses of seven points or fewer (71) in the NFL, despite consistently fielding one of the most talented rosters in the league during that span. The combination of special teams errors, turnovers and mental miscues are mind-boggling, particularly considering this has transcended four coaching regimes. The close-contest curse has eroded the confidence of the players and late-game jitters have certainly impacted the way Los Angeles finishes games. To eradicate the litany of errors that have led to the one-score losses, the team must evaluate the best practices for critical situations and put every team member -- including the coaches -- through the paces to help everyone master the process of finishing the job.
Biggest wish: A+ head coach
After suffering through the Matt Patricia era, the Lions must prioritize finding a culture builder when selecting their next head coach. Widespread reports of a dysfunctional environment under the former Bill Belichick disciple should prompt Detroit's management team to identify and secure a head coach with exceptional communication skills, leadership ability and tactics. To repair the broken chemistry between players and coaches, the new head man needs to be a people connector with the maturity and problem-solving skills to create cooperation that enables the Lions to finally perform up to the potential of their collective talent.
Biggest wish: Running back
There is no question that Kyle Shanahan's system has been able to squeeze elite production from a pedestrian collection of running backs, but the 49ers' offense could go to the next level by acquiring a five-star runner to handle the RB1 duties. And it isn't necessary for San Francisco to expend a first-round pick on a running back in order to find a star. The 2021 RB class will feature enough blue-chip playmakers for the team to acquire a potential marquee runner on Day 2. Given the success of Dalvin Cook and Cam Akers (former Day 2 picks) in Shanahan-like schemes, the 49ers should make adding a dynamic running back a top offseason priority.
Biggest wish: Pass rusher
The potential loss of injury-plagued Von Miller makes pass rusher the Broncos' No. 1 need heading into the offseason. Although Drew Lock skeptics will suggest otherwise, Denver must have at least two blue-chip pass rushers in the lineup to contend with the outstanding collection of quarterbacks in the AFC West. With or without Miller, the Broncos must seriously consider adding another explosive pass rusher to the mix to complement Bradley Chubb. The first-time Pro Bowler is a disruptive force off the edge, but needs an effective running mate on the opposite side to alleviate some of the pressure on him to act as a one-man army. If Miller returns, he can mentor the young rusher as the newbie acclimates to the pro game and contributes as part of a rotation.
Biggest wish: Roster repair
It is too easy to point to a new quarterback as New England's biggest need in 2021. While the team needs better production and performance from the position, the Patriots' issues extend far beyond QB. This is a team in desperate need of a talent infusion at nearly every marquee spot. From the offensive line to the receiving corps to the defensive front, the Patriots need to upgrade the speed, athleticism and playmaking ability all over the roster. And it is a massive project that will require New England to devote significant draft capital and free-agent dollars to pull it off. Although we've never before seen Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick go nuts on a shopping spree during their two-plus decades together, it is time for the Pats to reconsider their budgetary restraints to fix a roster that is unable to compete with their division rivals.