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One offseason move for each AFC team: Bengals must keep Tee Higgins; time for Texans to spend

While the Chiefs and 49ers prepare for Super Bowl LVIII, 30 other teams are already preparing for the offseason.

With free agency just five weeks away, here's at least one move each AFC team -- outside of Kansas City -- should make.

Click here for one offseason move each NFC team must make.

Baltimore Ravens
2023 record: 13-4

The Ravens have a host of key defenders heading for free agency, including Jadeveon Clowney, Patrick Queen and Geno Stone, but retaining Madubuike -- who just finished the final season of his rookie contract -- is key if Baltimore's defense is to avoid a major dip in 2024. The 26-year-old led the Ravens (and all NFL defensive tackles) with 13 sacks, but it wasn't just about the QB takedowns. Madubuike also pushed the pocket (logging 64 QB pressures, per Next Gen Stats), caused havoc and ate up double-teams, allowing linebackers free runs to make plays.

With top-paid DTs like Quinnen Williams and Jeffery Simmons recently landing contracts worth more than $90 million, the Ravens could use the franchise tag (projected to be roughly $20 million, per Over the Cap) as a placeholder to ensure Madubuike doesn't leave Baltimore in 2024. Retaining the DT could mean losing a player like Queen, but that's the cost of doing business.

Buffalo Bills
2023 record: 11-6
  • Say goodbye to some longtime vets. 

The future of Stefon Diggs -- who carries a $27.9 million cap hit in 2024, per Over the Cap -- will garner the most attention, but it would be messy for the cap-strapped Bills to part ways with the wideout, and it would leave an already thin WR corps bare. Instead, expect Buffalo to bid adieu to some trusty veterans. Corner Tre'Davious White, who is coming off a torn Achilles and is set to count for $16.4 million against the cap, is one obvious candidate. Jettisoning Jordan Poyer ($7.7 million cap hit) would leave a hole at safety, especially with Micah Hyde headed to free agency. But after failing to advance beyond the Divisional Round of the playoffs over the past three seasons with their all-in approach, it's time for the Bills to skew younger and less costly.

Cincinnati Bengals
2023 record: 9-8

Letting a pivotal offensive cog walk without getting anything in return makes no sense, especially considering the Bengals are projected to have sufficient cap space that they could end up signing enough players to prevent them from being awarded a compensatory pick for losing Higgins. Instead, Cincinnati could use that short-term space to ensure Higgins doesn't hit the open market -- where he'd probably see upwards of $25 million per year as his new team's No. 1 wideout -- in 2024. Using the tag on Higgins gives Cincy three options:

  1. Extend Higgins on a deal that is commensurate with his value (even factoring in a potential Ja'Marr Chase extension, this should be possible, though it would leave less money to spend elsewhere).
  2. Ride out 2024 with Higgins on the tag and reassess after the season.
  3. Trade Higgins post-tag to a WR-needy team willing to give him a contract extension.

If it were me, I'd try to extend Higgins in an effort to keep dangerous pass catchers at Joe Burrow's disposal. However, as we saw last offseason, when safety Jessie Bates ended up signing in Atlanta, the Bengals aren't afraid to turn the page from a player when the financials don't line up to their liking.

Cleveland Browns
2023 record: 11-6
  • Find a field-stretching No. 2 WR.

The Browns found success with their vertical passing attack under Joe Flacco. If they are to keep that going when Deshaun Watson returns to the starting lineup in 2024, adding an outside speed threat to pair with Amari Cooper is a must, especially with recent efforts to bolster the receiving corps (trading for Elijah Moore and drafting Cedric Tillman last year) failing to pan out. The 2024 NFL Draft is deep enough at the receiver position that Cleveland could wait until April to address this element, even with the team's first pick currently set to be in the second half of the second round. The Browns' lack of projected cap space -- along with their need to restock the defensive front -- will make it challenging to add a big-money receiver in free agency, but not impossible. They could also go after a free agent like Gabe Davis or Marquise Brown. However it comes, GM Andrew Berry needs to pair Cooper with a legitimate partner for Watson and the offense to reach its potential.

Denver Broncos
2023 record: 8-9

We don't need to rehash the Russell Wilson situation -- that will get plenty of attention in the coming weeks. Instead, let's look at the wideout room, where the status quo won't do for another season, no matter what happens at QB. Jeudy (53.6 receiving yards per game) still hasn't broken out heading into his fifth pro season, and the Broncos would probably like to move on. However, given the $12.987 million Jeudy is guaranteed on his fifth-year option in 2024, it might be hard to find a buyer. Trading Sutton, who caught 10 TD passes in 2023, would deal a bigger blow to the Broncos' on-field upside in 2024 but should garner a better trade return. Last offseason, Sean Payton dismissed rumors that Denver was shopping its top wideouts. This year should be different.

Houston Texans
2023 record: 10-7
  • Go big-game hunting. 

The 2023 Texans were a fantastic story, advancing to the Divisional Round of the playoffs behind a stellar crop of talented young players. Now, with most of said youngsters still playing on their rookie contracts, it's time to strike. Yes, Houston should use some of its swath of projected cap space to retain key free agents like Jonathan Greenard, Steven Nelson, Blake Cashman and Dalton Schultz, but taking big swings in free agency could set the Texans up for the long haul. Adding the likes of Danielle Hunter or L'Jarius Sneed would make DeMeco Ryans' D exponentially more formidable. On offense, how might Saquon Barkley look next to QB C.J. Stroud? What about bringing Texas A&M product Mike Evans home to pair with receivers Nico Collins and Tank Dell? Last year's draft moves paid off big time. This is the year to spend cash on veterans to supplement those youngsters before they need to be paid themselves.

Indianapolis Colts
2023 record: 9-8

Now is not the time for the Colts to get cute with their offense. Pittman proved he's a difference-making talent in 2023, setting career highs in catches (109) and receiving yards (1,152) with four TDs in 16 games. His ability to get open off the snap meshes perfectly with coach Shane Steichen's offense, and he rarely drops the ball when it's in his vicinity. I wouldn't be shocked if the Colts end up tagging Pittman early as a placeholder for an extension. He's a vital piece that Indy should cultivate alongside Anthony Richardson, not seek to replace.

Jacksonville Jaguars
2023 record: 9-8

Frankly, it's something the Jaguars should have done last offseason. After Allen's 17.5-sack 2023, the cost to keep him only went up -- and it will continue doing so the longer they wait. Allen's final stat line wasn't built on flukey sacks. He finished second in the NFL with 96 QB pressures, per Next Gen Stats, and his 19.6% pressure rate ranked third. Allen is worth a big-money contract. Using the franchise tag is always an option if the sides can't get a deal done before the deadline, but that would make it harder -- and more expensive -- to hang on to Calvin Ridley and others. Don't pussyfoot around when it comes to paying QB destroyers.

Las Vegas Raiders
2023 record: 8-9
  • Find their QB of the future.

It seemed like the Jimmy Garoppolo era ended in November, when Antonio Pierce said Aidan O'Connell gave the Raiders "the best chance." Jettisoning Garoppolo now would result in a hefty dead-money figure ($28.318 million if they cut him outright), but the sunk cost of losing Garoppolo would surely be more palatable if the Raiders were to then move ahead with two signal-callers on rookie contracts. I'd like to see the Raiders follow Houston's 2023 playbook: find a rookie QB in the draft to build around, with second-year pro O'Connell cast as their version of Davis Mills, and bring in a low-cost veteran mentor for the two. In more than a decade as the Chargers' GM, Tom Telesco only traded up in the first round of the draft once. Now that he's GM of the Raiders, will Telesco sell the farm to get higher than No. 13 overall? Or is he comfortable seeing if Bo Nix, Michael Penix Jr. or J.J. McCarthy fall to him? Either way, for Pierce's first full season as head coach to get off to a good start, there needs to be a better plan at QB than last year's, which seemingly amounted to "pray Jimmy G stays healthy."

Los Angeles Chargers
2023 record: 5-12
  • Do some spring cleaning.

Jim Harbaugh's return to the NFL provided pizzazz for the Chargers' offseason, but an aging, injury-prone, highly-paid roster desperately needs an overhaul. Mike Williams ( who will be coming off a torn ACL and carries a $32.5 million cap figure for 2024, per Over the Cap) and Eric Kendricks ($9.3 million cap figure) look like clear candidates to be cut as the team digs out of its projected salary-cap hole. L.A. could also part with sack leader Khalil Mack, who still has pop entering his age-33 season but carries a $38.5 million cap hit. Then there is Joey Bosa ($36.6 million cap hit), who's been limited to just 14 total games over the past two seasons due to injury. And Keenan Allen's cap hit of $34.7 million is untenable for a receiver who will be 32 years old when the season begins. I'd prefer the Bolts find a way to extend Allen to ensure Justin Herbert has his favorite target, but it's conceivable that the Chargers and Allen could decide a clean break is best for all. L.A. won't lose everyone, but some big fish should shake free.

Miami Dolphins
2023 record: 11-6

Ogbah has been one of my favorite underrated playmakers for years. Until last season, he was able to make an impact in seemingly every game, somehow, some way, even if he didn't receive much fanfare. But the 30-year-old fell backward in 2023, generating just 5.5 sacks in 15 games, despite attrition sapping the Dolphins' roster of other edge rushers. The play simply doesn't warrant a 2024 cap hit of $17.7 million, especially when the Dolphins sit $50 million over the projected cap and have other issues -- like keeping Christian Wilkins from escaping. Linebacker Jerome Baker is another cut candidate, given his $14.8 million cap figure for next season. Former Pro Bowl corner Xavien Howard, who turns 31 in July and is set to count for $25.9 million against the cap, also feels like a potential cap casualty (with a June 1 designation), though that might depend on how he fits into the plans of new coordinator Anthony Weaver.

New England Patriots
2023 record: 4-13
  • Build a support system for a rookie QB.

Barring a wild turn, it feels like we can expect the Patriots to use the No. 3 overall pick on a quarterback. Jerod Mayo's tenure as head coach can't begin with the club putting that new signal-caller into a Bryce Young-type situation. The Pats need to make major offensive investments, and they should begin by retaining Mike Onwenu on the offensive line, then bringing in actual NFL-caliber receivers. Mayo promised to "burn some cash" this offseason. The priority with that spending should be ensuring that the presumptive rookie QB isn't tossed into a black hole.

New York Jets
2023 record: 7-10
  • Fix the offensive line ... again.

I don't think "avoid asking Aaron Rodgers for roster input" is technically an offseason move, so we'll go with the obvious for New York. Gang Green's offensive line was woefully ineffective and injury-hampered in 2023. Alijah Vera-Tucker is the best player on the crew, but he played in just 12 combined games over the past two seasons and he's been moved around the line. Putting AVT at RT might make it easier to find overall depth in free agency, where solid tackles are hard to come by. Joe Tippmann had an up-and-down rookie year, but he's probably the Jets' center. Beyond that, how the O-line shakes out is anyone's guess, particularly if Laken Tomlinson ($18.9 million cap hit for 2024) is cut. All the free-agents-to-be have their foibles, whether related to age or inconsistency, but the plan for New York can't be the same as it was last year. The Jets should use their first-round pick (No. 10 overall) on an offensive tackle, a position where the draft is deep, but that can't be the only upgrade path for GM Joe Douglas. Otherwise, Rodgers might not make it through his first start again.

Pittsburgh Steelers
2023 record: 10-7

The rookie played sensational football down the stretch; now, the Steelers must find help on the opposite side. Patrick Peterson is turning 34 in July and wound up moving to safety by the end of the 2023 season. Levi Wallace, whom Porter replaced, is headed for free agency and will probably be allowed to walk. The Steelers have to get under the cap, starting with possibly cutting Peterson ($9.8 million cap hit in 2024), Allen Robinson ($11.9 million cap hit), Damontae Kazee ($3.9 million cap hit) and others. Once under, they should aggressively seek a veteran to pair opposite Porter. Swiping Chidobe Awuzie from rival Cincinnati would be a spicy move. Or perhaps a veteran who might be had at less cost, like Adoree' Jackson, who has versatility and could be in for a bounceback campaign.

Tennessee Titans
2023 record: 6-11
  • Find answers on the offensive line.

Last year's revamp of the offensive line was a disaster. Free-agent addition Andre Dillard played horribly. Heck, some actual turnstiles put up more resistance than the offensive tackle, who gave up 12 sacks, tied for most among all offensive linemen, according to Pro Football Focus. Peter Skoronski, a first-round pick, went through predictable ups and downs and should be better in Year 2. Still, the injury-riddled line was one of the worst pass-protecting units in the NFL and rarely opened holes in the run game. Tennessee must find upgrades to protect Will Levis. New head coach Brian Callahan could try to bring over old friend Jonah Williams, who's had his struggles in Cincinnati but would be an upgrade for the Titans. The presence of Brian's father, accomplished offensive line coach Bill Callahan, on Tennessee's staff should help significantly.

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