The NFC isn't going to be as strong as the AFC heading into the 2023 season, yet there's an opportunity for teams to compete for the Super Bowl thanks to the lack of elite teams in the conference. Sure the NFC has its heavyweights like the Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers, and Dallas Cowboys -- but the lack of superpowers gives other teams a chance to make a surprising playoff run in 2023.
While teams in the AFC are loading up to surpass the Kansas City Chiefs, teams in the NFC are trying to put themselves in a position to be in contention for a Super Bowl run. The playoff field is harder to predict in the NFC, especially with Aaron Rodgers no longer with the Green Bay Packers and Tom Brady's retirement from the league. There are spots in the postseason up for grabs.
What was the best offseason move each team in the NFC to set itself up for a potential postseason run in 2023 (or beyond)? What was the best offseason move each Super Bowl contender in the conference made?
Traded No. 3 overall pick to Texans
In a year which the Cardinals have made it clear they won't be contending for the NFC West, the franchise put itself in the best position to grab two picks in the top five in 2024. Arizona traded the No. 3 overall pick to Houston in exchange for the No. 12 overall pick (first round), No. 33 overall pick (second round), along with a 2024 first-round pick and 2024 third-round pick.
The Cardinals used the No. 12 pick to move back up and selected Paris Johnson at No. 6, getting their offensive lineman of the future for whoever their next franchise quarterback is, which they set themselves up by acquiring the Texans first-round pick in 2024.
If the Cardinals are the worst team in 2023, that 2024 first-round pick will be No. 1 overall -- the prime spot to select USC's Caleb Williams. If the Texans are one of the worst teams in the AFC, which they are projected despite drafting C.J. Stroud and Will Anderson (the Cardinals pick), Houston is still in their rebuild. That pick is in a prime spot to be a top five selection.
Arizona is rebuilding the franchise from the ground up -- and has two premium picks as a result. The Cardinals have two first-round picks, a second-round pick, and three third-round picks as a result of their trades (six in the top 100).
Signed Jessie Bates III
Was it a quiet offseason for Atlanta? Not on the defensive side of the ball, as the Falcons worked to get players that fit Ryan Nielsen's scheme. Bates is the centerpiece of the defensive moves, signing one of the best safeties in football to a four-year, $64 million deal.
Bates had the same impact last year as he had in previous years, finishing with 71 tackles, eight passes defensed and a career-high four interceptions for the Bengals in 2022. Opposing quarterbacks had just a 49.8 passer rating targeting Bates, completing just 59% of their passes.
The Falcons had a bottom ten pass defense last season, ranking 25th in pass yards allowed and 23rd in pass touchdowns allowed. Richie Grant and Jaylinn Hawkins were their starting safeties last season, so Bates is a massive upgrade. Bates should get A.J. Terrell back to his All-Pro level too.
Traded up to No. 1 overall pick, selected Bryce Young
Frank Reich was the first head coach with an offensive background hired in Panthers franchise history, and he worked quickly to get a franchise quarterback. The Panthers moved up from No. 9 to No. 1 prior to the draft, putting themselves in position to select Bryce Young.
Carolina parted ways with the No. 9 pick, the No. 61 pick (second round), a 2024 first-round pick, a 2025 second-round pick, and wide receiver D.J. Moore to move up eight spots and get to No. 1. The Panthers were sold Young is going to be the next superstar quarterback, which now will come down to Reich developing Young and the front office building a good team around him in a wide open NFC South.
Because of Young, the Panthers can compete in the NFC South this year. Fortune favors the bold, which is the route Carolina is taking with Young.
Traded down from No. 1 pick, got D.J. Moore as part of package
The Bears have a statement to Justin Fields as their franchise quarterback, trading down from the No. 1 pick and giving him a playmaker in D.J. Moore as part of the package. Fields has a No. 1 wide receiver in Moore, along with Darnell Mooney as a deep ball wideout as his No. 2. If only Chase Claypool can turn things around, Fields has a good trio of wide receivers for 2023.
The Bears also received the No. 9 pick, the No. 61 pick (second round), a 2024 first-round pick and a 2025 second-round pick in addition to Moore. Chicago improved the offensive line by trading down from No. 9 and selecting Darnell Wright, then moved up to No. 56 on draft night and selected cornerback Tyrique Stevenson.
Chicago also has Carolina's first round pick for 2024 and second round pick for 2025, setting themselves up to get a more complete roster around Fields. The Bears are on the upswing -- now it's up to Fields to take the next step in his development.
Acquired Brandin Cooks
Not having Amari Cooper did affect the Cowboys offense a bit last year, so Dallas decided to correct the lack of playmaking wide receivers by trading a 2023 firth-round pick and a 2024 sixth-round pick. Dallas didn't give up much to acquire a player of Cooks' talent, a viable No. 2 option to CeeDee Lamb for 2023.
Having Lamb, Cooks, and Michael Gallup gives the Cowboys an excellent wide receiver trio, a group that should eliminate Dak Prescott's unusual turnover-prone season from last year. Cooks makes the Cowboys offense better, as Dallas will have a different look in the passing game with no Dalton Schultz in the fold.
Revamped secondary with cost efficient moves
The Lions pass defense was not good in 2022, ranking 30th in passing yards allowed and 23rd in pass touchdowns allowed. They certainly took measures toward improving that unit, signing Emmanuel Moseley and C.J. Gardner-Johnson to one year deals. They also signed Cam Sutton to a three-year deal, paying him $11 million a year.
Moseley and Gardner-Johnson were strong upgrades for one-year "prove it" deals, while Sutton was already a good cornerback. With Tracy Walker already in the fold, the Lions secondary went from a major weakness to a strength on that side of the ball.
Received premium draft capital for Aaron Rodgers
For a team that was stuck with a quarterback that didn't want to play for them, the Packers got a pretty good haul for a quarterback that was either going to play for the New York Jets or no one.
Green Bay traded Rodgers to New York and received a 2023 first-round pick (No. 13), a 2023 second-round pick (No. 42) and a 2023 sixth-round pick (No. 207) and a conditional 2024 second-round pick in exchange for Rodgers and a 2023 first-round pick (No. 15) and a 2023 fifth-round pick (No. 170).
Here's the kicker. That 2024 second-round pick becomes a first-round pick if Rodgers plays 65% of the snaps this season. As for the Packers picks, they selected edge rusher Lukas Van Ness at No. 13 and tight end Luke Musgrave at No. 42. The pass rush improved with an ascending player in Van Ness and a strong pass catcher in Musgrave -- another young receiver for Jordan Love.
The Packers were backed into a corner and made the best out of the situation.
Not restructuring contracts
The Rams have been "all-in" to make the Super Bowl the past couple of seasons, trading alway first-round picks and restructuring contracts to stay under the cap and keep a bunch of superstar players on their roster. General manager Les Snead decided to go ahead with a rebuild of sorts by trading away Jalen Ramsey and not restructuring the contracts of Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, and Aaron Donald -- protecting that cap space for future years.
The Rams didn't restructure deals in order to give significant cap space to free agents to make another Super Bowl run. They used 14 picks in the draft to get younger -- and have their own first-round pick in 2024 (their first pick in the first round since 2016).
Los Angeles also has $53.6 million available in cap space for 2024. Not going "all-in" has its dividends.
Hiring Brian Flores as defensive coordinator
Hiring Ed Donatell was a mistake by Kevin O'Connell in year once, but the Vikings head coach quickly corrected it by replacing him with Flores after one season. Flores turned the Miami Dolphins' defense around in two seasons and helped the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense to top-10 rankings in opponent points per game, opponent rushing yards per game, passes defensed, and interceptions. The Steelers run defense also were tied for the fewest run touchdowns allowed in 2022.
Flores appears to be in Minnesota for a few years, so the Vikings appear bound for a turnaround. The results may not show immediately, but that defense will improve in 2023 and beyond.
Signing Derek Carr
The Saints have gone through a whirlwind at quarterback since Drew Brees retired, starting five different quarterbacks in two seasons with no playoff appearances. In a wide open NFC South, the Saints have the division's best quarterback with Carr -- bringing stability to the position.
The Saints were the only team in the NFC South to have a top-10 defense in points per game allowed and yards per game allowed last season, a unit that has the same philosophy that has allowed it to rank top 10 in points and yards allowed in each of the past three seasons. In other words, Carr is playing with the best defense he's had in his career.
Carr may not make the Saints the best team in the NFC, but they should be in the conversation if he has a strong year.
Acquired Darren Waller
The Giants certainly lacked a playmaking tight end last season, as Waller will certainly provide that if he's healthy. Waller had the second-most catches (65) and receiving yards (789) among tight ends split out wide since 2019 (Travis Kelce was first). He had seven catches of 20-plus yards downfield in 2022 -- the most among tight ends despite missing eight games.
Waller had the second-longest average target length among tight ends last season (13.4), while Jones had the second-lowest average pass length last season (6.4). Jones was also 31st in the NFL in percentage of targets targeting tight ends (15%).
The Giants parted ways with a third-round pick to acquire Waller, who should have a tremendous impact on Jones for 2023.
Signed Jalen Hurts to contract extension before Lamar Jackson
The Eagles made plenty of excellent offseason moves, but their best one was signing Hurts to his massive extension before Jackson, Justin Herbert, or Joe Burrow agreed to contract extensions. Hurts set the market for those quarterbacks, making an average annual salary of $51 million per year -- the highest for any player in NFL history.
That status lasted 10 days, as Jackson signed a five-year contract with the Baltimore Ravens, making $52 million per year. Baltimore used the Hurts' contract with the Eagles as a barometer for Jason, which helped both sides get a deal done.
Come the start of the season, Hurts could be fourth on the average annual salary list with Herbert and Burrow getting extensions soon. A tremendous job by the Eagles to get the Hurts deal completed first, setting the new market for quarterbacks across the league.
Signed Javon Hargrave
The 49ers needed to get pass rushing help for Nick Bosa on the defensive line, and they got the best available free agent in Hargrave. He finished the season with a career-high 11 sacks, 57 pressures, 40 hurries, 16 quarterback hits and a pressure rate of 13.2%.
Hargrave finished fourth amongst defensive tackles in sacks, eighth in quarterback hits, tied for eighth in tackles for loss (10) and 11th in tackles (60). Since signing with the Eagles in 2020, Hargrave is fourth amongst defensive tackles in sacks (23), tied for seventh in quarterback hits (42) and tackles for loss (24).
Outside of Bosa, the 49ers didn't have any player finish with over five sacks in 2022. The defensive tackles combined for just three sacks last season. Hargrave is a major addition for that defense.
Drafted Devon Witherspoon at No. 5 overall
Seattle had a really good offseason that can vault the Seahawks into a surprise Super Bowl contender in the NFC, but the selection of Witherspoon was paramount for a young secondary that needed a playmaker opposite Tariq Woolen.
Witherspoon allowed the fewest yards per attempt (3.0) as the primary defender in coverage last season, making the Seahawks' secondary one of the best young units in the NFL. Pairing Tariq Woolen with an elite cover corner should do wonders for both players as they are arguably the best young cornerback duo in the game.
Re-signed Jamel Dean
Tampa Bay wasn't as active this offseason as in previous ones, a result of Tom Brady retiring and not a lot of cap space available. The Buccaneers used their cap space wisely in re-signing Dean, which appeared to be a formality he would move on at the beginning of the offseason.
Opposing quarterbacks had just a 66.2 passer rating targeting Dean last year (47.9% completion rate), and he'll be paired with Carlton Davis for the next few years. Paying both Davis and Dean probably wasn't the wisest move for the Buccaneers, but a necessary one if Tampa Bay wanted to keep the core pieces of its defense intact.
The Buccaneers can repeat as NFC South champions in 2023.
Hired Eric Bieniemy as offensive coordinator
Getting Bieniemy to leave Kansas City and become a play caller was the best move the Commanders could have made this offseason. Bieniemy takes over a Commanders offense that has started 12 different quarterbacks since 2018 -- the most in the NFL. Washington averaged 18.8 points per game last season under Scott Turner (24th in NFL) and 330.3 yards per game (20th in NFL).
Bieniemy played a crucial role in the development of Patrick Mahomes and the evolution of the Kansas City Chiefs offense over the past five years. The Chiefs have scored the most points per game in the NFL (30.1) since Bieniemy became the offensive coordinator in 2018, along with the most yards per game (406.2). Mahomes also has the most passing yards, passing touchdowns, and the highest passer rating since the start of the 2018 season -- all with Bieniemy as the offensive coordinator.
If Sam Howell becomes as good as Washington has proclaimed he is, Bieniemy is arguably the best hire of any team this offseason. He gets the opportunity to command this offense and get the Commanders into contending status in the NFC.