Six NFL teams in jeopardy of crippling setbacks during offseason

With Super Bowl 57’s completion, the NFL offseason is officially underway. And while it’s often framed as a time of hope for the 31 teams that failed to kiss the Lombardi Trophy, reality is rarely so kind. 

In a league designed to suppress or elevate teams to .500 – well, .471 or .529 in the modern era of the 17-game regular season – several high-profile clubs seem decidedly set up to regress and/or could be restricted from improving based on their past decisions and current circumstances.

Here are six that could have a devil of a time enhancing their situations in the coming months:

Baltimore Ravens

Though restored to the playoffs in 2022, they hardly seemed like legitimate contenders given the primary narratives surrounding this team were QB Lamar Jackson’s latest (turned out) season-ending injury and his ongoing contractual impasse. Per OverTheCap, Baltimore has nearly $25 million in salary cap space – yet that wouldn’t even cover the cost of a franchise tag (approximately $32 million) for Jackson, whose rookie contract is expiring, and most certainly not the roughly $45 million exclusive tag. And if talks with Jackson, who represents himself, remain stalled, it’s possible the Ravens would be inclined to trade him … which wouldn’t be likely to improve their position no matter how many first-round picks came back to them in return. Also, no second-round pick after last year’s trade for LB Roquan Smith. And it remains to be seen how the offense evolves, particularly as it pertains to Jackson’s uncertainty, under new coordinator Todd Monken.

Cleveland Browns

They finished a 7-10 campaign splitting their six games with QB Deshaun Watson on the field. Of more concern, they averaged 16.3 points and 298 yards with Watson – hardly the expectation, if understandable that he’d need time to acclimate to an offense that didn’t necessarily seem designed with him in mind. And yet the Watson bill has hardly been paid off, Cleveland’s first- (12th overall) and third-round (73rd overall) draft picks property of the Houston Texans. Not only that, his base salary will balloon from roughly $1 million in 2022 to a fully guaranteed $46 million over each of the next four seasons. The Browns currently need to shave more than $13 million to simply accommodate Watson’s salary, to say nothing of re-signing RB Kareem Hunt or pursuing defensive upgrades in free agency.

Green Bay Packers

If QB Aaron Rodgers decides to continue playing for them, the Pack will owe him a fully guaranteed $58.3 million bonus by the start of the 2023 season. If the sides settle on divorce proceedings – and AR12’s good buddies Randall Cobb, Marcedes Lewis and Mason Crosby are among the club’s free agents – Green Bay will eat more than $40 million in dead-money cap charges to make a trade. Regardless, aside from quantum leaps by young players – and possibly QB Jordan Love – hard to figure how an 8-9 team improves.

Los Angeles Rams

That 5-12 record was the worst ever posted by a defending Super Bowl champion, but at least it netted LA the draft’s sixth pick. What? That belongs to the Detroit Lions? Welp. And, wait, what? They may have to consider trading a superstar like six-time Pro Bowl CB Jalen Ramsey to get the salary cap in order? Welp. Better hope DL Aaron Donald, QB Matthew Stafford and WR Cooper Kupp return better than ever from injury-curtailed 2022 seasons and that a highly permissive offensive line finds a way to heal itself – almost certainly without the benefit of a major free agent or rookie infusion.

Miami Dolphins

Let’s start with the self-inflicted wound, owner Stephen Ross’ tampering with Tom Brady and Sean Payton when both were under contract elsewhere costing Miami this year’s 21st overall draft pick – leaving the Dolphins with five total selections. The Fins are also $16 million overspent despite having more than two dozen free agents, including top RBs Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson, the leading rushers for last season’s wild-card entry. Amid all that, QB Tua Tagovailoa is eligible for an extension, a tricky proposition given he’s averaged 12 games during his three-year career and at a time when primary insurance policy Teddy Bridgewater is unsigned.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

As of Monday, no team had more salary to shed ($55 million) in order to be in compliance with the 2023 cap – set at $224.8 million – than the Bucs, the defending NFC South champions (despite their 8-9 record) having already lost QB Tom Brady to retirement and set to surrender a bevy of free agents. Kyle Trask, who’s thrown nine NFL passes, is the only quarterback under contract for a team a long way from being able to afford another one.


Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.

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