After building their rosters over the last few months, all 32 teams possess at least one concern heading into the 2018 season. Now that we're post-draft, let's take a look at some summer subplots. Today, Herbie Teope examines one burning question for each NFC team.
The Cowboys have a large void to fill with the departures of wide receiver Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten, both of whom combined for 1,398 yards and 11 touchdowns on 132 catches in 2017. Dallas, however, got busy during the draft, using a third-round pick on Michael Gallup (81st overall) and a sixth-round pick on Cedric Wilson (208th overall) and trading for Tavon Austin, whom the Cowboys view as a running back. Still, there could be a committee approach at the receiver position among Gallup, Wilson, Allen Hurns, Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams and Deonte Thompson. As for tight end, the Cowboys won't replace Witten's production any time soon with rookie Dalton Schultz, Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin and Rico Gathers on the roster.
Quarterback Eli Manning enters his 15th season following a disappointing 2017 campaign, one that saw Manning throw for the third-fewest touchdowns passes (19) and the second-lowest yards per attempt (6.1) in his accomplished career. He was also benched for a game by then-head coach Ben McAdoo before returning to the starting lineup to close out the season. Now 37, Manning should be primed for a comeback when considering the presence of new offensive-minded head coach Pat Shurmur, a healthy Odell Beckham Jr. at wide receiver and the arrival of electrifying running back Saquon Barkley, whom the Giants selected as the second overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Quarterback Nick Foles deserves a lot of credit for helping guide the Eagles to a Super Bowl win. But this team belongs to Carson Wentz, who underwent surgery in mid-December to repair a torn ACL. Wentz has not been medically cleared yet, but he has publicly stated his goal is to be ready by the regular-season opener against the Atlanta Falcons on Sept. 6. Coach Doug Pederson, however, pumped the brakes during rookie minicamp, indicating the Eagles will play it smart with Wentz and not rush him back onto the field. With Foles in the mix, there won't be a need for the team's franchise quarterback to hurry the recovery process.
Washington Redskins: How does the offensive line look?
The Redskins acquired a very mobile quarterback in Alex Smith, who has 2,433 career yards rushing and 14 touchdowns on 529 attempts. While the Redskins likely didn't trade for Smith with a view on his running skills, the 13-year veteran may have to use all the tricks in his bag to stay upright if the Redskins don't gain stability along the offensive line, especially at left guard. Arie Kouandjio, who is scheduled to undergo surgery to repair a partially torn quad, was waived by the team Tuesday. Washington recently re-signed Shawn Lauvao, and Tyler Catalina and Kyle Kalis are on the roster. With Kouandjio out of the mix, the competition between the trio could go well into training camp before the Redskins settle on a starter.
Chicago Bears: Will Mitch Trubisky turn the corner?
The Bears hired Matt Nagy, a former quarterbacks coach, as their new head coach, and Nagy's arrival should immediately pay off for second-year pro Mitch Trubisky, who threw for just 2,193 yards and seven touchdowns in 12 starts last year. The less-than-stellar numbers in a pass-happy NFL weren't Trubisky's fault, however, as the Bears struggled to put together a consistent receiving corps. That changes in 2018 with the free-agent signings of wide receivers Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel, and with the signing of tight end Trey Burton. With Nagy and what -- on paper -- appears to be a quality receiving unit, Trubisky is primed to show why the Bears traded up to select him as the second overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Once is a fluke, twice or more is a habit, as the saying goes. The Lions' ground attack -- or lack thereof -- falls in the latter category after finishing last in the league (76.3 yards rushing per game) in 2017, 30th in 2016 (81.9) and last in 2015 (83.4). Ameer Abdullah, whose 552 yards rushing led the team in 2017, returns in the final year of his contract. But the Lions clearly had the ground game in mind during the offseason, signing bruising veteran LeGarrette Blount to a one-year deal during free agency and using a second-round pick (43rd overall) on Kerryon Johnson. It is often said a running game is a quarterback's best friend, and Matthew Stafford would certainly benefit if his backfield-mates came through in 2018.
Green Bay Packers: Will new pieces in a young secondary do enough?
The Packers' commitment to adding impact defensive backs early and often in the draft continued in 2018. In fact, the team's selection of Jaire Alexander as the 18th overall pick marked the third time in the last four years that Green Bay invested its first pick on a DB (Alexander, Kevin King in 2017 and Damarious Randall in 2015). The results, however, haven't proven positive. Green Bay traded Randall to the Cleveland Browns in March and has finished in the bottom half of the league against the pass the past two seasons (23rd in 2017 and 31st in 2016).
The Vikings got their franchise quarterback when they signed Kirk Cousins to a three-year, $84 million deal during free agency. Now, can Minnesota fully protect its investment? The Vikings entered the draft in need of a guard after 13-year veteran Joe Berger announced his retirement in March. The Vikings, however, stayed out of the early run on interior linemen before using a second-round pick (62nd overall) on Brian O'Neill. The rookie offensive lineman has the versatility to play left and right tackle, but that doesn't address the immediate need for an interior blocker.
Atlanta Falcons: Will offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian unleash his weapons?
It's hard to imagine an offense anchored by quarterback Matt Ryan, wide receiver Julio Jones and running back Devonta Freeman would finish the 2017 season ranked 15th in scoring (22.1 points per game), just one season removed from finishing first (33.8). But that is exactly what happened, leading a lot of fans and analysts to point fingers at offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who took over when Kyle Shanahan became the 49ers head coach. In Sarkisian's first year, the offense experienced a significant drop in numerous statistical categories despite returning a relatively intact unit. As for the 2018 season, Ryan, Jones and Freeman are once again in the fold, and the Falcons added rookie wide receiver Calvin Ridley in the first round of the draft. On paper, Atlanta should field a potent unit, provided Sarkisian finds a way to call the right plays and get the most out of his group of talented weapons.
Carolina Panthers: How will new offensive coordinator Norv Turner utilize the running backs?
Billionaire David Tepper is set to become the new owner of the Panthers, pending a league vote. And with the business side taken care of, focus falls on the football field, where Norv Turner takes control of the offense. Turner's history shows his affinity for running backs, as he has worked with the likes of Emmitt Smith, LaDainian Tomlinson, Stephen Davis, Adrian Peterson and Darren Sproles, among others. And Turner has a quality one-two punch in Christian McCaffrey and C.J. Anderson in Carolina. Because of the duo's unique skill set -- especially McCaffrey's receiving skills -- when combined with quarterback Cam Newton's proven history to gain yards, it will be fun to watch how Turner unleashes the ground game against opponents.
The Saints' rushing attack, which finished the 2017 season ranked fifth in the league, suffered a setback with the announcement of Mark Ingram's four-game suspension for violating the league policy on performance-enhancing substances. New Orleans remains in good shape to ride out Ingram's absence given the presence of Alvin Kamara, who totaled 1,554 yards from scrimmage and 13 touchdowns last season en route to being named the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year. Nevertheless, the Saints want to play it smart and not overwork the dynamic second-year pro. Short of bringing in a veteran, the Saints will see what Jonathan Williams, Trey Edmunds, Daniel Lasco and rookie Boston Scott can do to earn a complementary role to Kamara.
Tampa finished the 2017 season ranked last in the league against the pass, after finishing 22nd in 2016. Clearly, something had to be done, considering the Buccaneers are in the division that Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton call home. Brent Grimes, who's entering his 12th season, and Vernon Hargreaves return from last season's roster, and the Bucs used second-round picks on cornerbacks M.J. Stewart (53rd overall) and Carlton Davis (63rd overall) in the 2018 NFL Draft. How the Buccaneers' pass defense holds up in 2018 will have a large role in determining close games, an area of focus for a team that lost four of its final five games by a combined 15 points. The team's secondary should get a boost from the Bucs' revamped defensive line, which includes free-agent signees Jason Pierre-Paul, Beau Allen, Vinny Curry and Mitch Unrein, in addition to the drafting of first-round pick (12th overall) Vita Vea.
Rookie quarterback Josh Rosen provides the future, but the first-round pick (10th overall) could become the present sooner than expected if Sam Bradford, who signed a two-year contract during free agency, can't stay healthy. Bradford hasn't been the role model of durability during his career, playing a full 16-game regular season just twice since entering the league as the first overall pick with the then-St. Louis Rams in 2010. While early reports on Rosen out of Arizona's OTAs are positive, it is important to temper enthusiasm, because players often look good practicing in shorts and helmets under no-contact rules. The true evaluations won't begin until the pads come on in training camp. Nevertheless, there is excitement growing for Rosen, and he needs to be ready to go at a moment's notice, given Bradford's injury history.
The Rams come off a division-winning season and an 11-5 record, but the team wasn't playing around during the offseason, adding numerous high-profile players. Pro Bowl cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib (acquired via trade) provide a tremendous boost to the team's secondary, while three-time All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh pairs with reigning DPOY Aaron Donald on the defensive line to give opposing offensive coordinators nightmares. Then, the Rams bolstered their offense by acquiring wide receiver Brandin Cooks in a draft-day trade with the New England Patriots. On paper, the Rams look like a team made for "Madden." The challenge will be to maintain the cohesion Los Angeles enjoyed in 2017 en route to a postseason berth. Look no further than the 2011 Eagles team, which was dubbed the Dream Team after a flurry of notable offseason additions -- and finished 8-8. The amount of star power on a single team doesn't mean much if there's no chemistry.
Uncertainty surrounds 2017 first-rounder Reuben Foster, who will learn May 23 whether he will stand trial on felony domestic violence and weapons charges. Additionally, Foster has a June 20 court hearing pertaining to a marijuana possession arrest from January. Regardless of the outcomes of both cases, the linebacker remains subject to potential NFL discipline under the league's personal conduct policy and/or the substances of abuse policy. Foster was expected to be a large part of the 49ers' defense, but the uncertainty about his future could leave the team searching for answers. Sure, San Francisco has made some moves to shore up its defense, signing cornerback Richard Sherman in free agency and drafting linebacker Fred Warner in the third round. They also get back linebacker Malcolm Smith, who missed the entire 2017 season with a pectoral injury. But Foster's status continues to linger, and any extended absence will have an adverse effect on the defense.
Quarterback Russell Wilson has been sacked at least 40 times in five of his six professional seasons. He's clearly been on the bad end of hits, so what did the Seahawks do to protect the franchise quarterback during the offseason? They signed veteran guard D.J. Fluker during free agency and waited until the fifth round to select offensive tackle Jamarco Jones. Seattle returns four starters from the 2017 offensive line -- center Justin Britt, left tackle Duane Brown, right tackle Germain Ifedi and guard Ethan Pocic -- and Fluker should compete immediately for a starting job. Tackle George Fant also returns from a torn ACL suffered during the 2017 preseason and should be ready to compete for a spot during training camp. Nevertheless, the Seahawks are placing a lot of confidence in new position coach Mike Solari, who replaced Tom Cable, to fix protection issues.