NFC Roster Reset: Rams, Saints, Eagles sit atop conference

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Concudan

Still Chargin
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http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000001025401/article/nfc-roster-reset-rams-saints-eagles-sit-atop-conference

Our Roster Reset series takes a division-by-division look at where things stand across the league heading into the 2019 NFL Draft. Gregg Rosenthal examines the pecking order of the entire NFC below.

At this time a year ago, I listed six NFC teams that appeared to be legitimate championship contenders. Three of those teams -- the Falcons, Packers and Vikings -- didn't even make the playoffs.

The other three -- the Rams, Eagles and Saints -- all made it to the Divisional Round. The NFC remains the NFL's deeper conference, but this trio enters 2019 as the resident favorites. History indicates they won't all stay near the top for long, but let's take a quick crack at where the NFC stands leading up to the draft.

Playoffs or bust
Los Angeles Rams, New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles.

The Rams have identified their core young players and done an enviable job locking many of them up long-term. That provides the backbone of the organization, with veteran pickups like Eric Weddle and Clay Matthews -- as well as the one-year deal to keep Dante Fowler Jr. -- filling in the cracks. While some role players and coaches have departed, the key ingredients to Sean McVay going 24-8 the last two regular seasons all remain in place.

The Saints have the most trustworthy quarterback in this tier and a sneaky young roster built on the team's boffo draft class of 2017. Getting over their second crushing playoff loss in as many seasons looks like a bigger task than any of the team's offseason departures.

There was a lot of concern in Philadelphia about the team's lack of cap space entering February. Then general manager Howie Roseman found a way to bring in DeSean Jackson, Malik Jackson and Jordan Howard without losing that much. The strength on both the offensive and defensive lines combined with Carson Wentzbeing another year removed from ACL surgery should give the Eagles some margin for error, especially if their awful injury luck turns around.

Anything less than a playoff appearance from these teams would qualify as a huge disappointment.

The crowded middle
Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, Atlanta Falcons, Seattle Seahawks, Carolina Panthers.

The continuity that Vikings coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman have built on their talented and expensive defense is remarkable. They kept that trend going by retaining Anthony Barr and keeping Everson Griffen this offseason. With Kirk Cousins entering the second year of his three-year contract, it sure feels like the Vikings are in a win-now window before the group breaks up.

The arrival of Bears coach Matt Nagy felt like the start of something special in Chicago last year, but it's going to be difficult to repeat such a dominant defensive campaign. The Cowboys had a strange offseason, adding players past their prime like Randall Cobb, Jason Witten and Robert Quinn, while trying to save money for extending their young stars. Teams quarterbacked by Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan should not remain under .500 for long unless there are serious problems elsewhere in the organization. The Packers did plenty to buoy coordinator Mike Pettine's defense in free agency, so it's on new head coach Matt LaFleur to deliver offensive improvements.

The Seahawks and Panthers have been among the most consistent NFC teams all decade because of their quarterbacks and head coaches. Those enormous assets remain in place and both teams made some quiet, smart moves to fortify their offensive lines this offseason.

Don't sleep on us
San Francisco 49ers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Detroit Lions.

There is some serious post-hype potential for the 49ers and Bucs, two former "it" teams that buzz now has forgotten. It's Year 3 of the John Lynch/Kyle Shanahan partnership, with enough raw talent on defense and offensive acumen from Shanahan to win 10 games in 2019 after winning 10 games combined over the last two campaigns.

In an offense-first league, Bruce Arians is taking over a Bucs attack with an abundance of talent and a 25-year-old quarterback in Jameis Winston who has already produced plenty. The Bucs' defense was the bigger issue under former coach Dirk Koetter.

The Lions added some quality starters (Trey Flowers, Justin Coleman) to Matt Patricia's defense, and they still have an above-average starting quarterback in Matthew Stafford.

While both the Bucs and Lions are saddled by difficult division schedules, it shouldn't be a shock if any team in this tier finds a way to January.

Uphill battle to the playoffs
Washington Redskins, New York Giants.

Only three NFC teams have enough systemic problems to be considered true playoff long shots. Two of those organizations are in the NFC East. Both the Redskins and Giants' quarterback situations figure to change after the draft, but will a rookie signal-caller be ready to change either team's fortunes?

The problems for both teams are similar: They are hoping for veteran quarterbacks to be "good enough" without the defensive personnel to pull off that strategy. The Giants lost talent from a below-average unit from a year ago. Redskins coach Jay Gruden has been searching for an identity on defense for years, and former Giants safety Landon Collins can't turn the group around by himself. Winning eight games would qualify as overachieving for either team, which is not where you want to be with a 38-year-old quarterback like Eli Manning or a coach entering his sixth season at the helm like Gruden.

The one team with no expectations

Arizona Cardinals
General manager Steve Keim, whose job status could be tenuous, would probably disagree with the heading above. But the Cardinals are among the very few NFL teams entering 2019 with close to zero playoff hopes. That doesn't mean it's impossible, but they will be installing their third offense and third defense in as many seasons, presumably with a rookie quarterback at the helm. It's not the worst place to be for a first-time head coach like Kliff Kingsbury. Six wins and a competent offense qualifies as a great year.
 
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Concudan

Still Chargin
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NFC East roster reset: Huge decisions loom for Giants, Cowboys
http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000001025031/article/nfc-east-roster-reset-huge-decisions-loom-for-giants-cowboys

Our Roster Reset series takes a division-by-division look at where things stand across the league heading into the 2019 NFL Draft. Jeremy Bergman examines the current makeup of the NFC East below.

The NFC East is in flux. What's new? For the 14th consecutive year, a different team in the league's most TV-friendly octant won the division. It makes sense. Rents are soaring in metropoles like New York, D.C., Dallas and Philly. It's hard to stay in the penthouse for long.

The Super Bowl LII champion Eagleslearned that the hard way in 2018, struggling through Carson Wentz's injuries and a Lombardi hangover that took half a season to get over. Philly only looked Super Bowl-bound again when Big (Game) Nick Foles re-entered the starting lineup. But now Foles has flown south with the geese, and Philly is set to move on with the MVP-caliber, IR-acquainted Wentz for the foreseeable future. The Eagles still have the best situation in the division, from general manager Howie Roseman on down, and though they might be favorites to win the NFC East in 2019, they can't claim to be division champions heading into the new campaign.

That's the domain of the Cowboys, who surged through the conference with a dominant last half, thanks to an at-the-time-ridiculed trade for Amari Cooper. It looked as if Dallas was mortgaging its future by surrendering a first-round pick -- potentially a high one -- for the receiver, and that might still be true. But the addition of Cooper jump-started Dallas' one-dimensional offense and propelled the 'Boys to their first playoff victory in four years. If recent history is any indication, Dallas is due for a downturn. The Cowboyshave alternated playoff seasons for the past five years, and no NFC East team has gone back-to-back since Andy Reid's Eagles won four straight division titles in the early aughts. But before Dallas can even think about January football, it needs to ensure its stars will have stars on their helmets for 2019 and beyond.

The Giants sent their biggest star packing this offseason when they rid themselves, in their minds, of Odell Beckham Jr., who gets to join an organization on the rise in Cleveland (more on that below). The move was an indication of a greater identity crisis taking hold in East Rutherford. New York's honchos insist Big Blue can win while rebuilding and keep Eli Manning under center all the while. The rest of the Giants' offseason will provide a hint as to whether that's truly the plan.

Identity crises are nothing new for the Redskins, who are stuck between a rock and Alex Smith's boondoggle of a contract. The injured Smith, who likely won't play in 2019 and might never play again, will be the highest-paid player on Washington's roster this season. Again, the 'Skins are hamstrung by an aggressively large contract not paying out in wins or, in this case, availability. Washington, which struggles with injuries and on-field mediocrity every year, is at risk of suffering from the same ills again in 2019.

FREE AGENCY NOTABLES

BIGGEST ADDITION: Landon Collins, safety.
Old Team: New York Giants. New Team: Washington Redskins.
By biggest, do we mean "largest contract signed" or "most impactful on-field acquisition" or "most outsized body-mass index"? My editors did not outline this. So, I'll take it to mean a mix of the first two definitions. Whether Washington's signing of Collins for $84 million total (and $45 million in guarantees) over six years was the right move for the team or for the safety is not the issue at hand here; D.C. needed help in the secondary, and Collins has a sincere reverence for Redskins great Sean Taylor, so it can be seen as a personnel and personal match. But the move was BIG because it helped Washington and hurt/embarrassed one of its rivals at the exact same time. The Giants were supposed to franchise tag Collins on a tender worth $11.15 million for safeties. Desiring an extension instead of a tag, Collins was not expected to immediately sign the tender, but that's not the point. Instead of even handing him the tag, New York let Collins hit free agency, where he was quickly scooped up by the division-rival Redskins, who made him the highest-paid safety in the league ($14M per). Washington saw value in the three-time Pro Bowl safety where the Giants did not. New York thinks it replaced Collins with Jabrill Peppers, whom they acquired from Cleveland in the OBJ trade and whom Big Blue brass will argue is a cheaper, rangier option with higher upside. But letting Collins Amtrak down to a hated division rival without a fight was a questionable move by New York.

BIGGEST LOSS: Odell Beckham Jr., wide receiver.
Old Team: New York Giants. New Team: Cleveland Browns.

Speaking of questionable moves ... Forget the division -- there might not be a bigger loss in the entire league this offseason than that of Beckham. The Giants shocked the football world when they traded the transcendent wide receiver to the Browns. It was considerably surprising because Beckham carries a $16 million dead-money hit on New York's cap in 2019. New York has since "replaced" OBJ with slot man and YAC-god Golden Tate. If Tate is to be the No. 1 WR in NY, then the Giants are paying out roughly $31 million for him to fill in Beckham's production, which at his peak was over 100 receiving yards per game. The Giants will say this is for the best over time, that the future of the franchise rests on the legs of Saquon Barkley and the arm of the franchise-quarterback-to-be-named-later, both of whom deserve to be the focal point of the offense, and not on the gluey gloves of an eccentric wide receiver with special field-stretching capabilities and a penchant for sideline hysterics. Ten years from now, New York's front office might be proven right. But Beckham's absence will linger over this franchise until the Giants emerge from their rebuild as winners. That is, unless the Browns win a Super Bowl first with OBJ on the field -- then the swap will haunt the G-Men for all eternity.

SLEEPER ADDITION: Jordan Howard, running back.
Old Team: Chicago Bears. New Team: Philadelphia Eagles.

Philly's low-risk, high-reward trade for Howard came more than two weeks after the start of free agency, on a nondescript Thursday evening, when some Eagles fans might have actually been snoozin'. A small-potatoes acquisition that just might've filled one of the only holes on Philadelphia's roster, it was the very definition of a sleeper pickup. The Eagles were held back by a lack of balance on offense last season. With Jay Ajayi and Darren Sproles sidelined with injuries, Philadelphia averaged just 98.1 rushing YPG and 3.9 YPC (28th and 30th in NFL). That was a far cry from 2017, when a Super Bowl-winning trio of Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement guided Philly's running game to 132.2 YPG (third) and 4.5 YPC (tied for third). Howard, who is third in the NFL in rushing since entering the league in 2016 (behind only Ezekiel Elliott and Todd Gurley), has the potential to be the lead back that Ajayi, still a free agent, could not be last year. Even better for Roseman and Co., Howard costs just $2 million in 2019, after which his contract is up. It's a prove-it year for a 24-year-old running back with high upside. Plus, if Howard performs well and Philly lets him hit free agency after the year, the Eagles can recoup a compensatory pick.

WHAT'S NEXT?

Dallas Cowboys: It's big decision(s) time in Big D. The Cowboys have a slew of contract extensions to work on, with nearly every one of their above-the-fold playmakers. DeMarcus Lawrence, currently on his second franchise tag, wants to be the highest-paid edge rusher in football. According to NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport, though, talks are at an "impasse" as Lawrence holds off getting shoulder surgery. (UPDATE:Lawrence agreed to a five-year deal worth more than $100 million with Dallas on Friday, per Rapoport.) Starting quarterback Dak Prescott's rookie deal is up at the end of the 2019 season, and Dallas has to decide whether to pay him like a franchise starter. Ezekiel Elliott could have his fifth-year option picked up to extend his deal through 2020, unless the Cowboys strike a team-friendly extension beforehand. And then there's Amari Cooper, for whom Dallas traded a first-round pick and who is entering the fifth year of his rookie deal. Aside from Lawrence's new deal, none of these contract situations look to be resolved before the draft later this month, where the Cowboys don't currently hold a pick until Day 2. And we thought "Who shot J.R.?" was the biggest question to ever hang over Dallas ...

New York Giants: One of the most important drafts in franchise history, that's what's next. New York's selection of Offensive Rookie of the Year Saquon Barkley with the second overall pick last year was lambasted by some, given that Manning was thought to be aging out of the starting QB job and Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Josh Rosen were still on the board. If the Giants don't acquire the right franchise signal-caller in this year's draft, then WFAN callers will rise from the sofas, storm the Meadowlands and call for GM Dave Gettleman's head. The OBJ trade netted New York a second first-round pick (No. 17) to go with the sixth and 37th overall selections, giving Gettleman an arsenal of valuable picks to use to trade up into the top five for a quarterback, if he so desires. Big Blue could also use them to swing a trade for Rosen, whom the Cardinals could sell off in between the first and sixth overall picks (if they take Kyler Murray No. 1 overall, as has been rumored). New York has a lot of holes to fill -- right tackle, edge rusher, wide receiver, etc. -- but the success of the organization's offseason and Gettleman's tenure will be judged squarely on their ability to acquire a successor to Eli.

Philadelphia Eagles: Having escaped from cap hell and filled needs at defensive line and running back, Philly can kick back and focus on building depth and a future through the draft. The Eagles have three selections in the first 57 picks and could use them to choose an eventual successor to Jason Peters at tackle or an immediate replacement for Jordan Hicksin the linebacking corps. Philly should also keep an eye on an extension for Wentz, whom the Eaglesmight want to pay before Prescott, Jared Goff and Patrick Mahomes get their franchise deals.

Washington Redskins: The 'Skins will have to decide whether their future at the QB position is in this upcoming draft. Washington sits at No. 15, which is probably too late for Murray or Dwayne Haskins, but could be the sweet spot for Drew Lock or Daniel Jones. D.C.'s decision makers have sounded confident that either Case Keenum or Colt McCoy can get the job done under center this year, but I'm not so sure they actually believe that. Washington should also be in the market for a young receiver and edge rusher to replace the production of Jamison Crowder and Preston Smith, respectively.
 

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NFC North roster reset: Bears to fend off retooled division rivals?
http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000001024904/article/nfc-north-roster-reset-bears-to-fend-off-retooled-division-rivals

Our Roster Reset series takes a division-by-division look at where things stand across the league heading into the 2019 NFL Draft. Dan Parr examines the current makeup of the NFC North below.

A new order took hold in the NFC North last season. The insurgent Bears rose to the top of the heap while a malaise hung over the disappointing Packers and Vikings. At the bottom of the pecking order were the Lions, sputtering through a search for a new identity with a first-time head coach.

Now, Chicago seeks something it has experienced only once since the Ditka era -- consecutive division titles -- with retooled challengers seeking to make sure the Bears' grip on the top spot doesn't become a stranglehold.

The defending NFC North champs, led by reigning Coach of the Year Matt Nagy, are expecting progress in the development of third-year QB Mitch Trubisky and more dominance from their monstrous defense to propel them back to the postseason, despite a change at D-coordinator and significant turnover in the secondary.

In Green Bay, they're trying to rejuvenate Aaron Rodgers and Co. on the fly, bringing in young offensive whiz Matt LaFleur to reheat what went cold in 2018 while breaking from their recent standard by spending big in free agency to fill some glaring holes.

The Vikings are counting on basically the same core to do what it failed to accomplish in Kirk Cousins' first year in town -- contend for a Super Bowl -- after making some tweaks, primarily in the trenches.

As for Detroit, the franchise was highly aggressive in free agency, landing one of the biggest prizes on the market. If things go belly up for the Lions and Vikings again, though, the pitchforks could be out for Matt Patricia and Mike Zimmer.

FREE AGENCY NOTABLES
BIGGEST ADDITION: Trey Flowers, defensive end.
Old Team: New England Patriots. New Team: Detroit Lions.

There's a case to be made for four-time Pro Bowl selectee Anthony Barr, since he nearly did depart for a Jets team offering greener pastures, but we'll go with a true newbie to the NFC North who's more deserving of the nod here anyway. He doesn't arrive with sexy numbers (21 sacks in four NFL seasons), but make no mistake: Flowers was a big fish to reel in and fills a huge need off the edge. The 25-year-old DE's a palate cleanser after a year of Ezekiel Ansahplaying on the franchise tag left a bad taste in the mouths of Lions fans. Flowers knows his role in the defense, having blossomed under Patricia during their three years together with the Patriots, and he was the third-highest-graded edge rusher in the league last season, per Pro Football Focus. Expectations will be high for a player who just received $56 million in guarantees, and the fact that Bill Belichick was willing to let him walk might make some folks suspicious, but he'll be well worth the investment if he can play at the level he's displayed over the past couple seasons.

BIGGEST LOSS: Vic Fangio, defensive coordinator
Old Team: Chicago Bears. New Team: Denver Broncos.

The Bears are replacing safety Adrian Amos (Packers) and nickelback Bryce Callahan (Broncos) with cheaper options (Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Buster Skrine), but the absence that will be felt the most is on the coaching staff. The reigning NFL Assistant Coach of the Year is now the head man in Denver thanks in large part to his long-established reputation as one of the brightest defensive minds in the league. He has 19 seasons of experience as an NFL defensive coordinator. Fangio's replacement, former Coltshead coach Chuck Pagano, has just one (2011 with the Ravens). Pagano's a good coach who left Indianapolis with a winning record (56-46, including playoffs), but his defenses ranked 26th, 30th and 30th in his last three seasons at the helm. Yes, he has better talent to work with in Chicago. However, Fangio casts a long shadow after overseeing a top-10 defense in each of the past two seasons and a top-10 D in six of the last eight seasons (including 2011-14 with the Niners), never ranking lower than 15th.

SLEEPER ADDITION: Josh Kline, right guard.
Old Team: Tennessee Titans. New Team: Minnesota Vikings.

This isn't a suggestion that Kline, who was released by the Titans after reportedly refusing to take a pay cut, is set for a breakout year at 29 years old after the lowest-graded season of his career, per PFF. It is, however, an acknowledgement of how consequential he could be to the Vikings in 2019. The offensive line was a disaster for Minnesota last season, and thus far, Kline has been the only addition to the group. That figures to change come the draft, but Kline is penciled in as the starter at right guard and he has to be at least functional for his new team if Minnesota doesn't want to relive the nightmares from its disappointing 2018 campaign. He's made 46 consecutive starts at right guard, which is the longest active streak among NFL guards, per the Pioneer Press, and the Vikes are going to need the consistency -- along with solid play -- up front that they sorely lacked.

WHAT'S NEXT?
Chicago Bears: With limited draft capital (five picks; second-fewest in the league), including no selections in the first or second round, the Bears will need to use the middle rounds to supplement their depth at positions like edge rusher, tight end -- where a blocking specialist is needed -- and running back, now that Jordan Howard has been dealt. Oh, and then there's the matter of making sure they don't go through another painful season at kicker.

Detroit Lions: GM Bob Quinn did a nice job of filling holes in free agency, but one area that remains a glaring need is at outside cornerback, where he must find competition for 2017 second-round pick Teez Tabor.

Green Bay Packers: The Packers added Preston Smith, Za'Darius Smith and Adrian Amos to the mix on defense, shoring up the biggest deficiencies on that side of the ball. Now, doesn't Aaron Rodgersneed another weapon? Davante Adams is great, but be it at wide receiver, tight end or running back, LaFleur's offense could use another jolt of electricity if it's going to join the ranks of the elite in the NFC. That is, unless the Packers draw an inside straight and get a breakthrough from one or more of the three receivers they selected on Day 3 in last year's draft (J'Mon Moore, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown), a renaissance for Jimmy Graham and a fully healthy season from Aaron Jones.

Minnesota Vikings: Priority No. 1 is still the offensive line. They should be looking to add another starter there, likely at left guard or left tackle (if they want to kick starting LT Riley Reiff inside). Adding depth at defensive tackle, where Shamar Stephen was signed to replace Sheldon Richardson, and running back should be on the to-do list, too.
 

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Still Chargin
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NFC South roster reset: Saints hold throne; rivals try to rebound
http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000001025338/article/nfc-south-roster-reset-saints-hold-throne-rivals-try-to-rebound

Our Roster Reset series takes a division-by-division look at where things stand across the league heading into the 2019 NFL Draft. Herbie Teope examines the current makeup of the NFC South below.

The NFC South belonged to the New Orleans Saints for a second consecutive season in 2018, marking the first time in team history the Saints won the division title in back-to-back years.

The rest of the division experienced turmoil, though, as the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falconsdisappointed with identical 7-9 seasons, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished last for the second year in a row.

As the four teams prepare for the 2019 campaign, the division still goes through New Orleans. However, the Saints need to muster up another round of mental toughness after their second heart-breaking postseason exit in as many years. But there is a silver lining, as the controversy stemming from the Saints' loss in the NFC Championship Game prompted change to the rules governing the NFL's replay system.

In Atlanta, the Falcons need new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter to get the most out of a potentially potent offense, which proved an issue for Steve Sarkisian over the past two seasons. Koetter has familiarity with quarterback Matt Ryan from previously serving as Atlanta's coordinator, so that will help. The Falcons also need to stay healthy, as injuries, especially on defense, contributed to the derailing of their 2018 season.

Head coach Ron Rivera is likely to continue calling defensive plays for Carolina, but the team's season will once again bank on the arm and legs of quarterback Cam Newton. The Panthers will also experience transition on defense with the departure of some veteran leaders, including longtime linebacker Thomas Davis, who signed with the Los Angeles Chargers as a free agent.

As for Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers turned the head-coaching reins over to Bruce Arians, who came out of retirement to take the job. Arians' primary mission will be getting quarterback Jameis Winston to fulfill his potential as he enters the final year of his contract. Arians is trying to turn around a franchise that's coming off two straight 5-11 seasons and hasn't been to the postseason since 2007.

FREE AGENCY NOTABLES
BIGGEST ADDITION: Jared Cook, tight end.
Old Team: Oakland Raiders. New Team: New Orleans Saints.

Head coach Sean Payton mentioned at the NFL Scouting Combine that the Saints would look at tight ends before the 2019 NFL Draft, and Payton found what he was looking for. One of the league's top passing offenses received a major boost with the arrival of Cook, who signed a two-year deal with the team last month and projects to provide the Saints their best receiving tight end since Jimmy Graham left via trade in 2015. The Saints entered the offseason with Josh Hill, Garrett Griffin and Dan Arnold on the roster at the position after Benjamin Watson's retirement, so Cook offers a huge pass-catching upgrade. His 68 receptions for 896 yards and six touchdowns with the Oakland Raiders in 2018 out-paced all Saints tight ends combined the past season. The Saints enjoy utilizing a 12-personnel grouping (one running back, two tight ends), but now have the missing piece in the passing game with Cook, whose receiving ability in the middle of the field should help take away defensive pressure on wide receiver Michael Thomas.

BIGGEST LOSS: Tevin Coleman, running back.
Old Team: Atlanta Falcons. New Team: San Francisco 49ers.

Mark Ingram leaving the Saints and signing with the Baltimore Ravenswarrants consideration here, but there are three other teams in the division that suffered losses, too (and the Saints' signing of RB Latavius Murray lessened the blow at bit for New Orleans). The Falcons once boasted one of the NFL's top backfields with an effective one-two punch featuring Coleman and Devonta Freeman, but they now must find a way to replace the production they lost with Coleman's departure. In four seasons with the Falcons, Coleman gained 2,340 yards rushing and 1,010 yards receiving with 29 total touchdowns (18 rushing) as an ideal complementary rusher to Freeman. With Coleman's exit, the Falcons first need a healthy Freeman, who played in just two games in 2018, and then they must figure out the pecking order among Ito Smith, Brian Hill and Kenjon Barner, who joined Atlanta in free agency after spending the 2018 season in Carolina, if they don't add a rusher via the draft.

SLEEPER ADDITION: Matt Paradis, center.
Old Team: Denver Broncos. New Team: Carolina Panthers.

Paradis' health is worth monitoring as he returns from a fractured fibula -- he's said he expects to be cleared to return by June -- but the Panthers were comfortable enough with his recovery to sign him to a three-year deal in the first days of free agency. Carolina's front five did a nice job last season paving the way for running back Christian McCaffrey and the league's fourth-ranked rushing attack. But Paradis fills the spot previously anchored by five-time Pro Bowl selectee Ryan Kalil, who retired after 12 seasons. The Panthers need Paradis to be more than just a competent replacement, as he'll be expected to be an immediate starter and leader on the offensive line. If he thrives in those roles, there's no reason why the Panthers can't continue being one of the NFL's top rushing units.

WHAT'S NEXT?
Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons did a good job of bolstering depth within the offensive line by signing guards James Carpenter, Jamon Brown and Adam Gettis. Defensively, though, the Falcons need to shore up the edges given the losses of Bruce Irvin(Panthers) and Brooks Reed (Cardinals). Adding a defensive tackle to help Grady Jarrett certainly wouldn't hurt, as would an injection of more talent at the cornerback position given the departures of Robert Alford (Cardinals) and Brian Poole (Jets). They have the draft capital to address those needs, with nine total picks. Outside of the draft, the Falconsare making progress on long-term deals for Jarrett, who received the franchise tag, and wide receiver Julio Jones.

Carolina Panthers: The Panthers took care of their own by re-signing safety Eric Reid and offensive tackle Daryl Williams, but the team should look to add another cornerback in a division full of high-powered passing games and in light of ranking 18th against the pass in 2018. Bringing in more pieces on the offensive line should be on the menu, too, given the amount of injuries the team endured on the front five last year. While the Panthers, who hold seven picks in the 2019 draft, signed defensive end Bruce Irvin away from the Falcons, adding another pass rusher through the draft would also make sense following the retirement of Julius Peppers. Carolina is set at QB1, but the Panthers should consider bolstering the competition behind Cam Newton at the position given his continued recovery from shoulder surgery.

New Orleans Saints: The Saints currently hold six total draft picks, but will be watching from the sidelines in the first, third and fourth rounds after dealing away those picks in trades. The lack of early picks signals the Saints might have a hard time snagging an immediate contributor, and that should be fine at team headquarters given that the pieces are mostly already in place for another run at a Super Bowl with a 40-year-old Drew Brees. At defensive tackle, Sheldon Rankins might not be ready for the start of the 2019 campaign while recovering from a torn Achilles tendon suffered in the postseason. The Saints have David Onyemata returning and signed Malcom Brown and Mario Edwards at the position, but it wouldn't hurt to add another big body to the rotation. If the Saints feel the same way, bringing back Tyeler Davison, who remains unsigned in a slow free-agent market for defensive tackles, more than makes sense. Davison knows the scheme well after four seasons in New Orleans.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Given head coach Bruce Arians' recent lukewarm take on Gerald McCoy, the defensive tackle position might be a high priority for the new coaching staff. Linebacker is likely on the wish list, too -- perhaps on the edge and inside, although the Bucs did sign edge rusher Shaquil Barrett. Inside linebacker is clearly a need after the departure of Kwon Alexander to the San Francisco 49ers. Tampa Bay recently brought in former LSU ILB Devin White, a projected first-round pick, for a pre-draft visit. Ultimately, there's a lot of retooling needed for a defense that is transitioning from a 4-3 to a 3-4 base under new coordinator Todd Bowles.
 

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NFC West roster reset: Rams rule roost; Cards intrigue abounds
http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000001025162/article/nfc-west-roster-reset-rams-rule-roost-cards-intrigue-abounds

Our Roster Reset series takes a division-by-division look at where things stand across the league heading into the 2019 NFL Draft. Gennaro Filice examines the current makeup of the NFC West below.

The league-wide obsession with Sean McVay reached satirical heights earlier this year, when the coaching carousel seemingly became the football version of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, with the Los Angeles Rams' head coach playing the gravitational role of the prolific thespian. "Ever shared oxygen with Sean? Wanna coach an NFL team??!" Admittedly, though, it's impossible to deny McVay's current place atop the NFC West marquee.

In the 15 years prior to McVay's arrival, the Ramswon the NFC West once, while finishing in the bottom half of the division nine times. Two years into McVay's tenure, the Rams have two division titles -- and they just went 6-0 against NFC West foes, winning each game by an average of 18 points. So, yeah, McVay has earned all the shine in these parts. Heading toward the 2019 campaign, Los Angeles isn't just the front-runner in the division, but a leading candidate to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, as the organization did this past February. That's not to say the Rams will cakewalk their way to a divisional threepeat, though. The NFC West doesn't lack for savvy coaching and capable quarterback play -- two vital ingredients for competitive Sundays in today's NFL.

Seattle was the one NFC West team that played the Rams tough last year, with the Seahawks losing the two showdowns by a combined seven points. Pete Carroll's club was supposed to be rebuilding, but the 'Hawks caught fire down the back half of the season, winning six of their last seven games and snagging a wild-card slot. A playoff loss at Dallas doesn't change the notion that the transitioning Seahawks were ahead of schedule in 2018 -- and could truly arrive in 2019.

Meanwhile, the 49ers are trying to regain relevancy after a season in injury-induced purgatory. At this time one year ago, San Francisco was hype central. Jimmy Garoppolo had replenished the Faithful with hope, winning all five of his post-trade starts to close out the 2017 campaign, and the Niners were a sexy playoff pick. When free-agent acquisition Jerick McKinnon tore his ACL on Sept. 1, it was a gut punch. When Jimmy G tore his ACL 22 days later, it was a knockout blow. With those two back in the fold and some talented free-agent reinforcements coming aboard (LB Kwon Alexander, who's recovering from a torn ACL of his own, DE Dee Ford and RB Tevin Coleman), are the post-hype 49ers poised to break through this fall?

Arizona holds up the rear in this division, but currently leads the pack in offseason intrigue. Are the Cardinals, with a new head coach (and a new Air Raid offense), about to spend a top-10 pick on a quarterback for the second year in a row? According to the good folks over at NFL Media Research, this has only happened once in the common draft era (going back to 1967): When the Baltimore Colts took Art Schlichter at No. 4 in 1982 and John Elway at No. 1 in '83. Of course, Elway, who didn't want to play for the Colts and threatened to play baseball instead, was traded to the Broncos within a week of his selection. If Arizona takes a certain baseball-playing quarterback at No. 1 in this year's draft, something tells me he won't be traded by Cinco de Mayo.

FREE AGENCY NOTABLES

BIGGEST ADDITION: Kliff Kingsbury, head coach.
Old team: Texas Tech (and USC, sort of). New team: Arizona Cardinals.
In November, Kingsbury was fired by Texas Tech after a third straight losing season dropped his career record to 35-40. In December, Kingsbury was hired to be USC's offensive coordinator. In January, Kingsbury became the Cardinals' head coach. Interesting winter, eh? Kingsbury, who was recently pranked by McVay (does that count for anything, resume-wise??), is known for his prolific offensive production. As a former Texas Tech star quarterback himself, Kingsbury put up video game numbers in Mike Leach's Air Raid attack. Then, as an offensive coordinator (at Houston and Texas A&M) and a head coach (Texas Tech), Kingsbury directed high-octane offenses while fostering a series of future NFL QBs, including Case Keenum, Johnny Manziel, Baker Mayfield (briefly, though not exactly swimmingly) and Patrick Mahomes. Clearly, Kingsbury's reputation as a QB whisperer was the driving force in Arizona's bold hire, but which QB do the Cardinals want Kingsbury whispering to: Josh Rosen (the 10th overall pick last year) or a potential target at No. 1 overall this year? That's the question that has owned the pre-draft rumor mill, and whatever the answer ends up being will play a decisive role in determining whether Arizona's polarizing gamble on Kingsbury pays off.

BIGGEST LOSS: Earl Thomas, safety.
Old team: Seattle Seahawks. New team: Baltimore Ravens.
With Richard Sherman playing for the rival Niners, Kam Chancellor unlikely to ever take the field again due to a neck injury and now Thomas relocating to Baltimore, the Legion of Boom has fully exited the room. Not to take anything away from Sherman and Chancellor, who each earned four Pro Bowl nods in Seattle, but Thomas was the most gifted Legionnaire. With instincts that can't be taught and range that can't be explained, Thomas was the dream single-high safety in Pete Carroll's Cover 3 defense. At 29 years old, with six Pro Bowls and three first-team All-Pros under his belt, the guy's on a Hall of Fametrack. It'll be exciting to watch his second act in Baltimore. But who will (attempt to) fill his shoes back in Seattle? Tedric Thompson got a crack at the job last season, after Thomas broke his leg in late September. Results were ... mixed. While he's penciled in as the starter right now, the 'Hawks could look to an intriguing safety class in this month's draft. Let's throw a dart at one prospect who could fit the bill: Maryland's Darnell Savage, a smart, instinctive center fielder whose 4.36 40 speed is on full display when he's closing on the football. And he just so happens to be on Seattle's list of pre-draft visitors.

SLEEPER ADDITION: Jason Verrett, cornerback.
Old team: Los Angeles Chargers. New team: San Francisco 49ers.
A first-round pick of the Chargers back in 2014, Verrett's body has, quite simply, failed him. Limited to just 25 games due to various injuries over the last five seasons, the cornerback missed the entire 2018 campaign after tearing his Achilles tendon on the first day of training camp. When he actually hits the field, Verrett plays the position at a high level. In 2015 -- the only season in which he's eclipsed four starts -- Verrett made the Pro Bowl and tied for Pro Football Focus' highest coverage grade among cornerbacks. With San Francisco still seeking a starting cornerback opposite Richard Sherman, handing Verrett a one-year, $3.6 million deal is the kind of low-risk, high-reward deal that could pay off in spades.

WHAT'S NEXT?
Arizona Cardinals: The 2019 NFL Draft's No. 1 question: What's going on with the No. 1 pick? No one knows anything in the NFL's silly season, but it sure seems like Kyler Murray is on the verge of replacing Josh Rosen as Arizona's quarterback of the present and future. Yes, Arizona just traded up to nab Rosen 12 months ago. No, the pocket passer wasn't put in a position to succeed, given the sieve of an offensive line fielded by the Cardinals in 2018. Life isn't fair. And Murray, with his rare playmaking talent, appears to be a better fit in Kingsbury's modern offense -- not to mention, he offers the kind of escapability that would come in real handy with an O-line that remains suspect (though the recent acquisitions of OT Marcus Gilbert and OG J.R. Sweezy didn't hurt). If Arizona is indeed zeroing in on the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, the Cards will almost certainly flip Rosen to a team seeking a more traditional dropback quarterback. (Everyone's looking at you, Giants.)

Los Angeles Rams: With just one pick in the top 90 -- No. 31 overall -- the Rams aren't likely to net a whole lot of instant-impact players in the coming draft. Fortunately, there aren't many glaring holes on this roster. The thinking here is that Les Snead will spend that first-round pick on a big body for the trenches. Los Angeles cut loose starting center John Sullivan, while Andrew Whitworth could be heading into his final season at age 37. Meanwhile, Ndamukong Suh's departure leaves a big hole at the nose, while Dante Fowler Jr. and Clay Matthews could be short-term solutions on the edges.

San Francisco 49ers: The good news: With QB Kyler Murray seemingly destined to go No. 1 overall (one way or another), the Jimmy G-led Niners should be able to get the top player on their board at No. 2. The bad news: The top three players on most big boards (Nick Bosa, Quinnen Williams and Josh Allen) all line up on the defensive front, an area where San Francisco has already expended significant first-round capital in recent years. The fake news: That the bad news actually matters enough to alter this year's draft plan. How does a defensive line featuring Bosa, Dee Ford and DeForest Buckner sound to you? Like QB nightmare fuel? Good. Don't overthink it.

Seattle Seahawks: First and foremost, the Seahawks need to figure out a path forward with their franchise quarterback. Heading into the final year of his current contract, Russell Wilson now wants a new deal by April 15, when Seattle begins its offseason program, according to NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport. While the price tag figures to be steep (potentially highest-paid-player-in-NFL-history steep), deadlines spur action. And it's hard to imagine the 'Hawks playing hardball in negotiations with the 30-year-old signal-caller. On the draft front, Seattle holds a league-low four picks, with only two in the top 120. So GM John Schneider will have to allocate his limited resources wisely. On the plus side: For the first time in recent memory, O-line isn't a crying need.