Expert Analysis


15 min read

5 NFC Teams with the Most Work To Do in 2024 Offseason

Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper, right, and former general manager Scott Fitterer
Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper with general manager Scott Fitterer before the game at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

In today’s NFL, teams can quickly make the leap from the abyss to the postseason with the right decisions on hiring coaches and player acquisitions. 

That was the case this season for the Houston Texans. They hired coach DeMeco Ryans and drafted quarterback C.J. Stroud No. 2 overall. The Texans jumped from 3-13-1 to 10-7 and AFC South champs.

All NFL teams have offseason to-do lists but for teams that miss the playoffs, the list is usually longer.

Here are five NFC teams who I see in varying stages of competitiveness — some close to playoff caliber and some further away — and my proposed pathway to success going forward. My list of five AFC teams will come later this week.

Carolina Panthers (2-15)

Where To Repair

It’s a sad state of affairs when a team has the worst record in the league and doesn’t have the benefit of the first pick in the upcoming draft. That’s the case for the Carolina Panthers who traded away their 2024 first-round pick in the trade-up for QB Bryce Young.

The franchise has been a mess with a 14-37 record over the past three years. Owner David Tepper made bad decisions with his head coach and GM hires. Both spots are open entering the offseason after coach Frank Reich was fired midseason and GM Scott Fitterer was let go this week.

The major player personnel moves have not worked out thus far. The Young deal not only cost the team several high picks but also sent star receiver DJ Moore (96 catches, 1,364 yards, eight TDs) to the Chicago Bears. Trading Pro Bowl running back Christian McCaffrey to the San Francisco 49ers in 2022 robbed the Panthers of their best offensive player for Day 2 and 3 picks.

The Panthers’ offense ranked last in a disastrous rookie season for Young, who will always be compared to Stroud (which looks bad in Year 1). Young’s 73.7 passer rating ranked last among starters and he was sacked 62 times (second-most) so the offensive line must be improved.

The defense ranked fourth in yards allowed but last in takeaways (11) and sacks (27) so more playmakers are needed. Two of their best defenders — edge/OLB Brian Burns (eight sacks, 50 tackles) and linebacker Frankie Luvu (125 tackles, 5.5 sacks) are headed to free agency.  

Carolina Panthers edge Brian Burns
Re-signing linebacker Brian Burns (0) is imperative for the Carolina Panthers. (Morgan Tencza-USA TODAY Sports)

Next Steps, Possible Solutions

The Panthers need to hire an offensive head coach with the most logical choice being Detroit Lions OC Ben Johnson. Johnson grew up in North Carolina and went to college at North Carolina. He would bring his successful scheme and coach up Young as he did with Jared Goff. 

Tepper needs to find a general manager with a keen eye for talent to boost the roster. That begins with upgrading the offensive line and wide receiver corps for Young.

Adam Thielen had an excellent season (103 catches for 1,014 yards, four TDs) and has a good connection with Young. The new GM should draft another talented receiver with either the high second- (No. 33 overall) or third-round pick and grab a quality O-linemen with the other high pick.

The team must find some later-round gems and hit free agency hard. It has $40 million of cap room to seek another receiving weapon. A rich class includes potential free agents Tee Higgins, Michael Pittman or Mike Evans. Re-signing Burns and Luvu also should be top priorities. The franchise tag is a viable vehicle for retaining Burns and then signing him long-term as a key building block.

Chicago Bears (7-10)

Where To Repair

The Chicago Bears made significant progress with a four-win gain from 3-14 last season. With the 2023 first- and second-round picks from the Young trade, the Bears drafted starting right tackle Darnell Wright and cornerback Tyrique Stevenson (four interceptions, 86 tackles). Both should continue to improve. 

The Bears also have the Panthers’ first overall pick this year along with a second-rounder in 2025. Plus Moore’s addition was huge as the team’s top receiver.

The team’s 4-2 finish appears to have secured the immediate future for GM Ryan Poles and coach Matt Eberflus. Their futures are tied to the big decision ahead on whether to keep the No. 1 overall pick and select their highest-rated quarterback (likely Caleb Williams, Drake Maye or Jayden Daniels) or keep an improving Justin Fields as the starter and trade down a couple of spots to select a blue-chip prospect such as wide receiver Marvin Harrison, Jr.

Fields ranked 20th in passer rating among QBs with at least 10 starts and his 657 rushing yards were behind only Lamar Jackson among quarterbacks (and Fields missed four games with a thumb injury). The Bears need to further bolster the offensive line because Fields took 44 sacks in 13 games. Another impact wide receiver alongside Moore would be a big help to whoever is quarterbacking the team.

Eberflus’ defense made major strides, ranking 12th overall and No. 1 vs. the run. Poles added the team’s top two tacklers — linebackers T.J. Edwards (158 tackles) and Tremaine Edmunds (112 tackles) — in free agency and then made a great trade and wise signing on an extension for DE Montez Sweat, who had 12.5 sacks and made the Pro Bowl.

Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields
What the Chicago Bears do with quarterback Justin Fields is the franchise's key question of the offseason. (Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Next Steps, Possible Solutions

The Bears are in a three-year playoff drought and have not won a postseason game since 2010. The pressure is on Poles to get it right at quarterback and improve the overall talent level while Eberflus is expected to succeed in a tough NFC North that is on the rise. The Lions and Packers made this year’s playoffs and the Vikings likely would have if Kirk Cousins hadn’t torn his Achilles.

It’s a tough call to trade Fields and perhaps take a step backward with a rookie quarterback unless that player performs as Stroud did for the Texans which is rare. If Poles believes the top college quarterback is a future Patrick Mahomes, MVP-type player, then he should pick that player, trade Fields and draft a top receiver with the Bears’ second No. 1 pick (9th overall). Or Poles could pick the best offensive lineman on the board and go wide receiver with their next pick, which is in the third round after trading the No. 2 for Sweat.

If Poles is not convinced there’s a game-changing quarterback at the top of the draft, he should keep Fields, trade down a spot or two and select Harrison. Pairing him with Moore would create one of the league’s top duos. With the remaining picks and $62 million in cap room, the Bears should bolster the offensive line and add another edge rusher while re-signing Pro Bowl corner Jaylon Johnson whose contract is expiring.

Minnesota Vikings (7-10)

Where To Repair

The Minnesota Vikings experienced the NFL’s biggest drop in victories, going from 13 wins in 2022 to seven. It was a difficult season filled with major injuries. The most prominent were Pro Bowlers Kirk Cousins, WR Justin Jefferson and TE T.J. Hockenson on offense and second-leading sacker D.J. Wonnum and top corner Byron Murphy on defense.

A rash of turnovers fueled a 1-4 start but first Cousins and then Josh Dobbs led a five-game winning streak. Then more injuries and turnovers (the Vikings ranked second-worst with 34 giveaways) along with poor pass defense fueled a poor finish. Three division losses ended the team’s playoff chances.

The Vikings had a top-10 offense in yards and the fifth-ranked passing game. Jefferson played great as usual with 1,074 receiving yards in his 10 games and first-rounder Jordan Addison had an excellent season with 10 TD receptions to tie for the lead among rookies.

Defensive coordinator Brian Flores brought his aggressive scheme with good results early until the injuries caught up with the defense. The pass rush diminished and the young corners couldn’t hold up in coverage. Danielle Hunter had a career-best 16.5 sacks and led the league with 23 tackles for loss. Hunter and Cousins will be free agents, and the Vikings cannot use the franchise tag on either.  

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins
Quarterback Kirk Cousins' injury impacted the Minnesota Vikings' season and his free-agent status is the club's biggest decision of the offseason. (Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports)

Next steps, Possible Solutions

This is a team that can quickly return to the playoffs with some astute moves. The Vikings have more cap room entering 2024 ($39 million) than they are accustomed to in recent years but they have some big-ticket players to deal with, starting with Cousins. 

It would make sense for the team to re-sign Cousins, who ranked third in passer rating at the time of his injury in Week 8. He is on a good path to recovery from his torn Achilles, wants to return and has a close connection with coach Kevin O’Connell and his teammates. But it will cost around $40-45 million per year to get Cousins back.

GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah holds the No. 11 pick in the April draft. He should re-sign Cousins and then draft a quarterback from the talented incoming class with that pick or move up a couple spots if necessary. 

Hunter is a four-time Pro Bowler and the Vikings’ best defensive player. He should be a priority re-signing for around $25 million per year. The other major signing will be Jefferson’s extension in the coming months at more than $30 million per year. Using voidable years and large signing bonuses spread over several years in these contracts will lower the 2024 cap hits.

With the remaining cap room, the Vikings should try to keep Wonnum (eight sacks, 15 QB hits and 62 tackles in 15 games) and a defensive leader in linebacker Jordan Hicks. They could add pass rush help on the interior D-line and on the edge in free agency and the draft. And they should acquire more quality cornerbacks and better backup help for the offensive line.

It also would help the Vikings if Flores does not depart for a head coaching job because he will be in that mix during the next month.

New york Giants (6-11)

Where To Repair

It’s hard to not be a playoff team when you lead the league in turnover ratio at plus-12 but that’s the kind of crazy season it was for the New York Giants. Like the Vikings, the G-Men were coming off a playoff season but got off to a poor start at 1-5 and lost their starting QB, Daniel Jones, to a torn ACL. The offensive line was a mess, allowing a league-high 85 sacks (20 more than the closest team) as the offense fell to 29th overall and 31st in passing.

Injuries to former first round, top-10 pick tackles Evan Neal (10 games missed) and Andrew Thomas (seven games missed coming off a Second-Team All-Pro season) along with rookie second-round center Jon Michael Schmitz missing four games killed the offense. The replacements did not play well and Neal was ineffective in his limited duty.

Pro Bowl back Saquon Barkley’s production dropped with the O-line issues. After producing 1,650 combined yards rushing and receiving with 10 TDs in 2022, Barkley had 1,242 combined yards this season (10 TDs) and his yards per carry fell from 4.4 to 3.9.

The Giants' defense ranked 27th in yards allowed and had only 34 sacks (fourth-fewest) but tied for the league lead with 31 takeaways. They have several talented players to build around on defense led by Pro Bowl nose tackle Dexter Lawrence and edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux (11.5 sacks). They’ll be playing under a new defensive coordinator in 2024 because DC Wink Martindale is leaving due to his acrimonious relationship with coach Brian Daboll.

New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones and coach Brian Daboll
The New York Giants need a return to health from quarterback Daniel Jones and more harmony on coach Brian Daboll's staff. (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

Next steps, Possible Solutions

There’s some speculation GM Joe Schoen will take a quarterback with the sixth overall pick in April and let Daboll groom him behind Jones for a year or two. I don’t see the Giants giving up on Jones, who had a fine 2022 season. He went 10-7-1, including a road playoff win in Minnesota, completed 67.5 percent of his passes and had a 92.5 passer rating to rank 13th. Jones added 708 rushing yards — fourth best among quarterbacks — with seven touchdowns on the ground.

Schoen deemed Jones worthy of a four-year, $160 million ($92 million guaranteed) pre-free agency contract last March and the dead money is $69 million this year and $22 million in 2025.

So I see the Giants focused on keeping Jones and their offensive tackles healthy, further developing Neal and adding quality O-linemen in free agency (with their $37 million in cap space) and via the draft. More pass rush help via free agency would be beneficial. Safety Xavier McKinney just completed his best season (116 tackles, three interceptions) and should be a priority re-signing before he hits free agency in March.

The Giants have an extra second-round pick from trading Leonard Williams and they also could use an elite wide receiver to help Jones. That could come from free agency, the draft or the further development of recent high picks Wan’Dale Robinson (2022 second round) and speedy Jalin Hyatt (2023 third round).

Barkley’s one-year, franchise-tag deal is up and the Giants should re-sign him in the range of the Jonathan Taylor contract. Taylor got an additional three years and $42 million so his deal averaged $11.6 million per year including the last year of his rookie contract.

And if there is any dysfunction on the coaching staff beyond the Daboll/Martindale issues, that needs to be cleaned up in a hurry. It’s hard enough to win in the NFL when everyone is on the same page and extremely difficult if that’s not the case. The Giants can return to the playoffs in 2024 if they get everything back on track.

Washington Commanders (4-13)

Where To Repair

The Washington Commanders are going to experience a major makeover in 2024 under new owner Josh Harris. Harris will hire a new coach after firing Ron Rivera along with a new head of football operations who is expected to replace GM Martin Mayhew. This follows a disastrous season that started with two victories and ended with eight straight losses.

QB Sam Howell had some good games in his second season but he led the league with 21 interceptions and his dismal 78.9 passer rating ranked 31st. He also threw for 3,946 yards while being the most-sacked quarterback in the league with 65. The 27th-ranked run game didn’t help him either so it was not a good year for the offensive line. The offense’s 32 giveaways contributed heavily to the league’s worst turnover ratio at minus-14.

The Washington defense had a dramatic downturn from third-ranked in 2022 to last in 2023. The team had 39 sacks to rank 26th. The pass rush lost two good edge rushers when they traded Montez Sweat and Chase Young in midseason with a limited return of second- and third-round picks.

Washington Commanders cornerback Kendall Fuller
The Washington Commanders must consider signing cornerback Kendall Fuller, intercepting a pass, to a contract before free agency. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Next steps, Possible Solutions

Harris must hit on the general manager and coach hirings. He’ll be aided by former NBA executive Bob Myers and former Vikings GM Rick Spielman in the searches.

Once the new GM and coach are in place, the Commanders must select their next franchise quarterback with the second overall pick. Perhaps they’ll get lucky as the Texans did with Stroud at No. 2 last year.

The next general manager will be thrilled to enter free agency with a league-high $86 million in cap room. He also has the extra second-rounder from the Sweat trade and a late third from the Young deal. In all, the team will have three picks in the top 40 and five picks in the top 100.

That’s a strong arsenal to tap into along with the huge cap space to add a lot of talent on both sides of the ball. It will start at quarterback with the rookie, and Howell is worth keeping as an experienced backup.

The offense also needs help on the line and at running back and should add more quality wide receivers to augment four-time, 1,000-yard wide receiver Terry McLaurin and 2022 first-rounder Jahan Dotson.  

Edge rusher must be a priority after the departures of Sweat and Young. It’s a good idea for the Commanders to go after a top edge rusher via the draft and in free agency from an excellent group that could include Danielle Hunter, Josh Allen, Brian Burns, Jadeveon Clowney and Leonard Floyd among others. 

Two fine defensive backs — safety Kamren Curl (115 tackles) and corner Kendall Fuller (two interceptions, 79 tackles) are headed to free agency and are worth re-signing. If they aren’t, Washington must replace them with equal or better talents in free agency or the draft to help the downfallen defense.