Most NFL teams are done making sweeping changes to their rosters for the 2023 season. Both free agency and the draft are in the rear view. But another key deadline for transactions falls on Friday. Many players, particularly those with pricey contracts, cannot be released or traded without steep financial penalties. After June 1, however, many of those players can be moved more easily.
With that in mind, here's a look at the biggest remaining needs for some of the NFL's leading contenders as well as some of the top post-June 1 cut and trade candidates:
Top remaining needs for contenders
Irv Smith Jr. is a fine low-risk, high-reward option in place of Hayden Hurst, but the former Vikings starter has missed 13 games the last two seasons, with a career-high receiving total of 365 yards. Cincinnati already boasts an elite receiving corps for Joe Burrow, but the more weapons the merrier.
Derwin James is a tone-setter on the back end, but Brandon Staley is otherwise counting on former sixth-rounder Alohi Gilman, who's never been a full-time starter, to step in and elevate a talented but mercurial secondary. The free agent pickings may be slim, but if L.A. intends to survive the AFC fight, it could stand to add reinforcements.
In reality, Patrick Mahomes' presence renders the need for star wideouts almost moot. It helps, of course, that Travis Kelce is still in MVP form at tight end. But ideally you'd also rather not bet on Kadarius Toney staying healthy and/or consistent as your new No. 1 if you're trying to repeat as Super Bowl champs.
Their defense looks promising, especially under new coordinator Vic Fangio, and Tua Tagovailoa has one of the speediest supporting casts in the game. But if the biggest question in Miami is Tua's health, then it stands to reason the Dolphins' top priority is a sturdy front. Starters Austin Jackson and Liam Eichenberg are coming off iffy or injury-riddled campaigns.
Trent Williams is still holding down the fort on the left side, and the interior has been solid while paving the way for Kyle Shanahan's heavy ground game. But Mike McGlinchey's departure in free agency can't be totally overlooked. Regardless of who's under center, San Francisco requires premium protection to fire on all cylinders.
Going all in for Aaron Rodgers should have New York in the mix for an AFC East title, if not more. But they've gotta keep the former MVP upright, and while Duane Brown is a proven name at left tackle, he's also going on 38 and coming off an injury-shortened season. Fellow OT Mekhi Becton has also played just one game the last two years.
Detroit seriously upgraded its secondary this offseason, adding lots of physicality and versatility at both corner and safety. Aidan Hutchinson is also capable of doing most of the heavy lifting up front. But if Dan Campbell's squad wants to ensure a real run, the Lions could probably use more than Alim McNeill and Isaiah Buggs at the heart of the D-line.
With Roquan Smith as the heat-seeking missile at the center of their defense, the Ravens are promising enough. But their pass rush is still built mostly on projection, with young guys like Odafe Oweh and David Ojabo seeking breakout performances. Adding a proven plug-and-play veteran could help their outlook off the edge.
Top post-June 1 cut and trade candidates
Titans fans will be in a tizzy at another mention of a possible Tannehill departure, and that's fine; the veteran is more likely than not to open 2023 under center in Tennessee. But new management has eyes on the future after trading up to draft fellow quarterback Will Levis in the second round, and what if, say, Tannehill's old pal Arthur Smith calls with an exploratory offer? The Titans could save an instant $27 million by dealing the aging Pro Bowler and leaning further into a rebuild.
Probably the favorite among all the big names listed to be cut loose, Cook has a sterling resume with four straight 1,100-yard rushing seasons to his name. It's very possible he'll eventually take a pay cut to stick in Minnesota, where the offensively minded Kevin O'Connell adores his natural athleticism. Still, going on 28 and due $14M+ in each of the next three years, with Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah pivoting to a younger setup, his release would save an instant $9M.
The veteran has spoken favorably of new Cardinals brass and just last offseason inked a three-year extension. But Arizona is headed for a slow-burn rebuild with QB Kyler Murray on track to miss part of 2023 due to injury, and the team recently embraced its fate by outright cutting No. 1 wideout DeAndre Hopkins. It's not illogical to assume Ertz, who's going on 33 and spent the majority of his career contending with the Eagles, would request a quiet exit to suit up elsewhere. His release would also save $600K.
Aiming for a deep playoff run, the Ravens aren't necessarily in the business of subtracting good players, but Queen is entering a contract year after Baltimore declined to exercise his fifth-year option, and the team just paid lucrative bucks to fellow inside linebacker Roquan Smith. In need of more pass-rushing juice (more on that below), the Ravens could look to reallocate resources to other spots. Dealing the former first-round pick would presumably net them draft capital, plus an instant $2.3M.
Briefly one of the game's most dominant edge rushers, Barrett is now 30 coming off an injury-shortened season and due a whopping $21.3M in 2023, just as Tampa Bay appears to be bracing for a down year post-Tom Brady. Few clubs are likely to absorb his contract via trade, but the Bucs could save $14.6M by sending him to the open market. A handful of contenders would surely sniff around at that point, considering the former All-Pro as a rotational pass rusher.