We’ve always known NFL quarterbacks, like their head coaches, generally get too much credit when they win and more than their share of blame after a loss. But even ultra-talented QBs such as the pair in the Super Bowl next week — Patrick Mahomes and Jalen Hurts — need lots of help from their skill position players and their protectors on the offensive line.
Here’s my breakdown of one move that can help every NFL starting QB next season … even if we don’t yet know who all these teams will trot out on opening weekend in September.
AFC: East | North | South | West
NFC: East | North | South | West
Draft Offensive Line Help
QB Josh Allen took a lot of big hits on scrambles and designed runs last season, and he says he played through an elbow injury since Week 9. The Bills need to upgrade their offensive line. Guard Rodger Saffold is turning 35 and is headed to free agency. With their first-round pick at No. 27, the Bills should draft a top guard such as O’Cyrus Torrence from Florida.
Sign a Right Tackle in Free Agency
The league’s 26th-ranked running game needs improve to take some pressure off Tua Tagovailoa by balancing out the offense. The Dolphins forfeited their first-round pick for tampering, so they should look to free agency and try to sign Mike McGlinchey (49ers) or Kaleb McGary (Falcons), who would be great additions at right tackle to help the run game and to protect the left-handed Tagovailoa’s blind side. Then Miami could add a running back with its second-round pick.
New England Patriots
Draft an Offensive Tackle in Round 1
There are issues at offensive tackle that need to be resolved to help new (and former) offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien and QB Mac Jones as he seeks improvement in his third season. The Pats can save $11 million by releasing Trent Brown, and Isaiah Wynn is a pending free agent. The Patriots have the cap room to chase the top tackles, or with the 14th overall pick they can hope that one of the highly rated tackles is available — Peter Skoronski (Northwestern), Paris Johnson Jr. (Ohio State), Broderick Jones (Georgia) or Anton Harrison (Oklahoma). Or better yet, get a quality free agent and a high draft pick.
New York Jets
Target Paris Johnson Jr. in Draft
Zach Wilson, Mike White or — gasp! — Aaron Rodgers. Whoever emerges as Jets QB needs a better running attack than the league’s 25th-ranked one, which was the case last season. Getting Breece Hall back from injury will help a lot, but better play is needed on the interior offensive line. The No. 13 overall pick may be a bit early for Torrence, but Johnson Jr. has played guard in the past along with tackle. The Ravens’ Ben Powers or the Eagles’ Isaac Seumalo would be good additions, too. Tennessee’s Nate Davis is an intriguing free-agent option as a guard. He’s has played well but battled injuries.
Trade for DeAndre Hopkins or Draft Top WR in Round 1
Lamar Jackson is headed to the franchise tag or a lucrative extension with the Ravens. It would be a big surprise if he was traded. In the 12 games he played this season before he missed time because of a knee injury, it was obvious that Jackson’s receiving corps was lacking. Expected No. 1 receiver Rashod Bateman’s foot injury was the main culprit.
In order to improve the league’s No. 28 passing attack, the Ravens need a healthy Jackson and Bateman, and they need to sign a free-agent receiver — perhaps Allen Lazard (Packers) or JuJu Smith-Schuster (Chiefs). How about trading for DeAndre Hopkins, whom the Cardinals may want to deal? Picking 23rd, Baltimore also could draft a top receiver such as Quentin Johnston (TCU) or Jordan Addison (USC) if they last that long or in a trade-up, or grab another first-round receiver at their spot such as Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who was injured most of 2022 but had 347 receiving yards and three TDs for Ohio State in the 2022 Rose Bowl.
Target McGlinchey or McGary in Free Agency
The Bengals are loaded at the skill positions, but it’s very apparent Joe Burrow needs better protection. He was sacked five times and took 12 QB hits against the Chiefs last week, including a final-drive-stopping sack by Chris Jones. The regular-season numbers weren’t good with 44 sacks allowed in 16 games, ninth most in the league on a per-game basis. Starting left tackle Jonah Williams allowed 12 sacks and missed the last two playoff games because of a knee injury. Right tackle La’el Collins tore his ACL in Week 16.
So tackle should be the top priority via free agency if they can sign a player such as McGlinchey or McGary if they’re not franchised. The Chiefs won’t let Orlando Brown Jr. hit the open market. They could select a tackle such as Anton Harrison (Oklahoma) if he’s still available when they pick late in the first round (No. 28).
Sign or Trade for Veteran Wide Receiver Help
The Browns are heavily invested in Deshaun Watson, so it makes sense to get him another solid target at wide receiver to play alongside Amari Cooper and Donovan Peoples-Jones. The team is without a first-round pick so they could go wide receiver in the second round (No. 43), but a better idea for immediate help is to sign a medium-priced vet such as Lazard, Smith-Schuster, Jakobi Meyers (Patriots) or D.J. Chark (Lions). A trade for Hopkins could be too pricey in salary and draft picks, which the Browns have few of due to the Watson trade. Brandin Cooks also has a high salary but may be less costly in trade compensation, and Watson played with him in Houston.
Upgrade Offensive Tackle Depth in Free Agency
Sitting pretty with the No. 17 and No. 32 picks, the Steelers should be looking for tackle help to better protect Kenny Pickett and help the middle-of-the-pack running game. Neither starting tackle — Dan Moore Jr. nor Chukwuma Okorafor — had a stellar season, and Pittsburgh should look for upgrades via a strong group of tackles in free agency and the draft. McGlinchey and McGary are logical targets for the Steelers to chase.
Target WRs Quentin Johnston, Jordan Addison in Draft
After picking what they hope will be a franchise quarterback second overall, the Texans should give that QB a great receiver prospect with their second No. 1 pick — 12th overall from the Watson trade — to continue their overhaul of the No. 25 passing attack. That likely would be either the 6-foot-4 Johnston, who runs 4.4, or the smooth, speedy Addison. Houston also should add a quality veteran free-agent receiver if they decide to trade the disgruntled Cooks, which is the expected outcome.
Sign OG Ben Powers or Isaac Seumalo in Free Agency
There’s little doubt the Colts will draft a quarterback with their fourth overall pick. The offensive line had been a team strength in the past, but that was not the case this past season with 60 sacks allowed (second most in the league). The Colts must do a much better job protecting their new QB than they did for Matt Ryan. They can add O-line help with their second-round choice, 36th overall. But first they should hit free agency and sign a top guard such as Powers or Seumalo or a quality tackle to challenge or supplant Bernhard Raimann.
Sign Evan Engram To Long-term Contract Extension
A major factor in QB Trevor Lawrence’s Year 2 improvement was the great connection he established with tight end Evan Engram, who had a career-high 73 receptions for 766 yards and four TDs. Engram was on a one-year, prove-it deal for $9 million, and he did just that. So the Jaguars need to keep their top-10 offense intact by putting the franchise tag on Engram or, better yet, signing him to a long-term deal. They also must hope the addition of wide receiver Calvin Ridley will make them even better in 2023. Then they can pick the best player available at No. 24.
Prioritize Adding Starting Offensive Tackles In Free Agency, Draft
Here’s another team looking for offensive tackle help in order to keep QB Ryan Tannehill, who finished the season on IR because of ankle surgery, or his successor upright. Wide receiver also is a need after the disastrous A.J. Brown trade, but tackle is the higher priority, which also will aid running back Derrick Henry. Former Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan can’t stay healthy and most likely will be released so the Titans can save $15 million on the cap. His replacement, Dennis Daley, allowed 12 sacks and will be a free agent. Here’s another interesting free-agent tackle — Jawaan Taylor, who played right tackle for the Jaguars and perhaps could play either side.
The competition will be fierce for free agents such as McGlinchey, McGary and Taylor, and Tennessee surely will make some calls and also looking in the draft for a tackle with their No. 11 pick. The Titans also need to re-sign guard Davis, who ended the season on IR with an ankle injury.
Re-Sign Dalton Risner, Target OT in Free Agency
After the trades for Russell Wilson and Sean Payton, the Broncos have no draft picks until Nos. 68 and 69 in the third round. That will make it tough to draft immediate help for their biggest area of need — an offensive line that allowed a league-high 63 sacks. So the best move to help Wilson is to first re-sign guard Dalton Risner pre-free agency and then try to land either McGlinchey or McGary in free agency if they’re available, or seek the next best free-agent option.
Kansas City Chiefs
Sign OT Brown Jr. to Long-term Extension
This is a no-brainer for the AFC champs, who want to keep Mahomes well-protected moving forward. The Chiefs should sign their four-time Pro Bowl left tackle Brown Jr. to a long-term deal instead of franchising him again at a much higher salary cap number. He’s only 26, which is a great age to commit to for the next four or five years on a player such as Brown Jr. He is critical for the NFL’s best QB and top offense.
Las Vegas Raiders
Re-sign RB Josh Jacobs
They can use offensive line help or perhaps a new QB via their No. 7 and No. 38 overall picks in the upcoming draft, if they don’t land Rodgers or another top QB via trade or free agency. Jarrett Stidham probably will be re-signed as a possible bridge starter to a rookie QB or a backup to a vet. The Raiders’ first move should be to re-sign the NFL’s leading rusher in Josh Jacobs, a versatile back who ran for 1,653 yards and 12 TDs and added 400 yards receiving. The Raiders mistakenly did not exercise the fifth-year option on Jacobs despite two 1,000-plus-yard rushing seasons in his first three years. Now they have to pay more than they hoped, but it’s a critical move to help whoever is the next Raiders QB.
Los Angeles Chargers
Draft Top WR on the Board in Round 1
Justin Herbert had to cringe as he saw the Chargers’ late-season difficulties at wide receiver due to Keenan Allen missing seven games and Mike Williams being out for four games, including the playoff loss in Jacksonville after coach Brandon Staley’s ill-advised decision to play Williams in the meaningless regular-season finale. Allen will be 31 in April, and it’s time for the Chargers to draft his successor at No. 21. Quentin Johnston, Addison or perhaps Smith-Njigba would fit the bill.
Ink Dalton Schultz to Long-term Deal, Let Zeke Go
The defense is in good shape so the focus must be on offensive improvement. The first move to help Dak Prescott is to keep tight end Dalton Schultz, who has averaged 68 catches for 693 yards and 7 TDs during the past two seasons. Schultz played under the $10.9 million franchise tag last season, and with the Cowboys tight against the cap, it makes sense to sign Schultz to a long-term deal that would reduce his cap hit in 2023.
The Cowboys also should let Ezekiel Elliott go to save $5 million on the cap and put the savings toward a new deal for Tony Pollard, who is the better back and is two years younger than Elliott. Dallas also will look to add wide receiver help in the draft, perhaps with their first-round pick at No. 26.
New York Giants
Re-sign Saquon Barkley, Draft Top WR on Board in Round 1
With a playoff season and a road playoff win on his resume, Daniel Jones will be franchised or more likely signed to a three-year deal at around $35 million per year. Running back Saquon Barkley is a dual-threat player (1,650 combined yards rushing and receiving in 2022) who then becomes the priority to re-sign unless the Giants deem him too costly. However, they have plenty of cap room. With Barkley’s injury history, the Giants probably can sign him to an affordable deal or franchise him if Jones gets signed long-term.
Certainly, the Giants would love to get a No. 1 receiver in the draft to improve the No. 26 passing offense, and that will be a possibility at No. 25 in the first round where they’ll hope to have a shot at Addison, Quentin Johnston, Smith-Njigba or perhaps Zay Flowers (Boston College) or Jalin Hyatt (Tennessee).
Draft Skoronski or Johnson Jr. with 10th Pick
The Eagles are loaded on offense in support of Hurts. Miles Sanders is a Pro Bowl back headed to free agency, but he’s had one big season. I don’t expect general manager Howie Roseman to break the bank for him when the Eagles have other quality backs in Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott, who is also a pending free agent, running behind a great offensive line. Plus money will be needed for Hurts’ extension, which is on the horizon as he enters the final year of his rookie deal.
The rich get richer, and the Eagles have two first-round picks (No. 10 and either No. 30 or 31 depending on the Super Bowl result). If guard Seumalo leaves in free agency, the Eagles could draft Skoronski or Johnson Jr. at No. 10 overall and play him at guard before a move to tackle in future years. Or they could pick a running back to replace Sanders if he’s too pricey or Roseman doesn’t want to pay a running back anything approaching big money.
Sign Offensive Guard Help in Free Agency
Here’s another team where we wonder who will be their starting QB. It’s probably not Carson Wentz or Taylor Heinicke, but it possibly could be Derek Carr, Jimmy Garoppolo, second-year man Sam Howell or maybe the No. 16 overall pick in the draft. A prime move to help the next Commanders QB would be improving an offensive line that allowed 48 sacks (seventh most). A free-agent guard such as Powers, Seumalo or Davis are good first targets, and the O-line should be addressed in the first or second round.
Tight end also could be in play for Washington in the first two rounds because Logan Thomas is 31, and there are several tight ends in this draft who can be more productive than Thomas’ 39 catches for 323 yards and one TD last season.
Sign, Draft Help at Receiver
Improving the league’s worst passing attack is high on the Bears’ lengthy to-do list. They likely will trade down a few spots from No. 1 overall and gain extra picks to add wide receiver help for Justin Fields. Lazard, Smith-Schuster, Meyers and Chark should be among their receiver targets to go with returnees Darnell Mooney and Chase Claypool, whom they, unfortunately, overpaid for with the No. 32 overall pick going to the Steelers.
Offensive line upgrades also are needed, and the defense needs lots of help, but GM Ryan Poles can’t do it all in one off-season. He should first improve the wide receiver group, and then maybe Fields can run less and stay healthy. Also, re-signing starting running back David Montgomery would be helpful if he is not too costly. The Bears have the most cap room in the league to juice up all areas of the team.
Re-Sign RB Jamaal Williams
Look out for the Lions in 2023. Quarterback Jared Goff’s excellent play in 2022 will allow the Lions to work on improving their last-ranked defense with two No. 1 picks (No. 6 overall courtesy of the Rams in the Matthew Stafford/Goff deal, plus their own No. 18 overall). To keep Goff and the fourth-ranked offense on track toward another big season, the Lions should re-sign Jamaal Williams before he hits free agency. Williams led the NFL with 17 rushing TDs and had his best season with 1,066 rushing yards. He also is a well-liked team leader.
Green Bay Packers
Re-sign Lazard, Draft TE, OT
Here we go with more Rodgers drama. At first, I thought the Packers would not be willing to absorb the huge dead money hit by trading their mercurial star quarterback, but if they can get a strong offer of high picks, I think there’s a decent chance they move on from Rodgers and turn to Jordan Love.
Whichever QB is left standing will need Lazard back as a good veteran receiver (60 catches for 788 yards, 6 TDs in 2022) to go along with talented Christian Watson and No. 3 receiver Romeo Doubs, so I’d make retaining Lazard my first move.
Then with their No. 15 and No. 45 overall picks, the Packers can add help for their QB with a tight end and an offensive tackle. The latter would set the stage for releasing too-expensive and often-injured David Bakhtiari in 2024 when the dead money hit is lessened.
Either Re-sign Bradbury or Pursue Free-agent Center
The Vikings have center Garrett Bradbury headed to free agency after the team did not exercise his fifth-year option. He added some weight and had a better season than in prior years, and the Vikings should try to keep him if it’s not too pricey. Bradbury and QB Kirk Cousins have a good rapport.
The Vikings should make a call to Jason Kelce’s agent and if Bradbury does move on, the Vikings should take a run at the Browns’ Ethan Pocic in free agency after Kelce turns them down. They most likely will use their first-round pick (No. 23) on a much-needed cornerback or edge rusher, and perhaps draft a center with their third-round pick or trade up into the second round to pick one if they don’t keep Bradbury or land a veteran free agent.
Re-sign or Franchise OT McGary
Whether it’s Desmond Ridder or another QB at the controls, they’ll need their fine right tackle McGary to improve the league’s No. 24 offense – especially the No. 31 passing offense – while maintaining an excellent rushing attack (No. 3). The Falcons have the second-most 2023 cap space, an estimated $56 million, so there’s plenty of room to franchise McGary while the team works on a long-term deal. McGary would be a hot commodity if he hits the open market, which the Falcons should not let happen.
Sign, Draft Tight Ends, Receivers
Before drafting their quarterback of the future with the No. 9 overall pick – or by trading up a few spots to get him – new coach Frank Reich and the Panthers need to begin addressing the No. 29 offense and similarly ranked passing game. The team should work free agency to add help at tight end and wide receiver, and then utilize their two second-round picks (No. 39 and 60) to further reinforce those areas.
I’d focus first on tight end where starter Ian Thomas had only 21 catches for 197 yards. Try to sign Engram if he’s not franchised or go after Miami’s Mike Gesicki, who played under the franchise tag last season. Gesicki’s role as a receiver was reduced with the arrival of Tyreek Hill to pair with Jaylen Waddle. Gesicki fell from 73 catches in 2021 to 32 last season and should hit the open market.
New Orleans Saints
Figure Out Economical Guard Solution
The defense is top five so the focus will be on improving the No. 19 offense. The Saints need to figure out their quarterback situation between Jameis Winston, Andy Dalton, possibly bringing in a free-agent QB or drafting one at No. 29 with the pick they gained in the Payton deal.
Andrus Peat has played in only half the games during the past two seasons, and even though the Saints would only gain about $1.4 million in cap savings by cutting him, they probably don’t want to pay him close to $12 million next season. They need all the savings they can find with the league’s worst cap situation (reportedly $57 million over ). Perhaps a pay cut would be in order for Peat, but a release is certainly possible in which case guard will be a priority. One of the top free agents could be in play, but with the cap difficulties, it’s more likely the Saints draft O’Cyrus Torrence if he’s still there or possibly Andrew Vorhees from USC with their second-round pick.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Draft Help for Multiple Offensive Line Spots
Only a few years removed from a Super Bowl title, this team is in a tough spot with the second-worst cap situation and needing a new QB after Tom Brady’s retirement. The Buccaneers pick No. 19, and they need to upgrade a depleted interior offensive line after Alex Cappa left last year in free agency and Ali Marpet retired. That will help the league’s lowest-ranked running game (77 yards per game, 3.4-yard average), which in turn will aid whoever quarterbacks the Bucs.
Running backs Leonard Fournette and Rachaad White will be fine with better blocking in front of them, which can be provided by one of the top O-linemen in the draft (such as Skoronski, Johnson Jr. or Jones at tackle or Torrence inside) and with a free-agent signing if the Buccaneers can find the cap room.
Re-sign OT Kelvin Beachum, Target Free-agent Linemen
With the third overall pick, the Cardinals likely will draft defense, but the offensive line must be improved to ensure Kyler Murray’s future health as he returns (perhaps not until mid-season in 2023) from ACL and meniscus surgery on his left knee. The Cardinals allowed 46 sacks (ninth most). In the second round at No. 35, there will be a good O-lineman available. Prior to the draft, the Cardinals should re-sign tackle Kelvin Beachum and go after the top free-agent offensive linemen in order to upgrade the position group, improve the pass protection for Murray and help the No. 22 running game.
Los Angeles Rams
Pursue Starting Center in Free Agency
There is no first-round pick, as usual, for the Rams, who are coming off a disastrous season. They have an early second-rounder (No. 36) to bring in offensive line help. The Rams should seek a new center before the draft. It’s highly unlikely Kelce would leave Philly in free agency, so a good target would be the Browns’ Pocic, who had an excellent season. The Browns have prior starter Nick Harris coming back from injury, so they probably won’t pay a big price to keep Pocic.
Rams center Brian Allen is not as big and strong as Pocic. Then the Rams can add more O-line help for Stafford. He had neck and spinal injuries that derailed him and the Rams in 2022 when the line gave up 59 sacks (third-most in the league) after allowing 31 sacks in 2021.
San Francisco 49ers
Retain OT McGlinchey at All Costs
Whether it’s Trey Lance or Brock Purdy as starting QB, the 49ers’ first move to help their young QBs should be to franchise McGlinchey or, even better, sign him long term to lower the cap hit. His fellow tackle — All-Pro Trent Williams — says he is considering retirement, which likely won’t happen this year for the 34-year-old. The 49ers need to keep McGlinchey because they have no draft picks until the third round because of trades for Lance and running back Christian McCaffrey.
Target Guards in Free Agency, Draft
The Russell Wilson trade continues to bring a draft bonanza to Seattle. They have the No. 5 overall pick from Denver and their own at No. 20 along with two second-round picks. The top priority on offense after they re-sign quarterback Geno Smith to a short-term deal will be to give him better pass protection. The Seahawks allowed 46 sacks, the 10th worst in the league. They’ll surely draft to improve the league’s 26th–ranked defense at No. 5, but an offensive guard is possible at No. 20, and wide receiver could be in play in the second round with Tyler Lockett turning 31.
Seattle has $31 million in cap room, and I think they should go after a top interior offensive lineman such as Powers, Seumalo or Davis as their first move to help their QB.
Jeff Diamond is a former Minnesota Vikings general manager and Titans team president. He was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. Follow him on Twitter at @jeffdiamondnfl.