Ranking the NFL’s contenders, plus contract clarity coming?

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Where has the time gone? It feels like we were just overreacting to a poor showing by Caleb Williams in the Bears’ first OTA session open to the media.

Now the Bears rookie looks decisive and was impressing teammates in practice. According to internet law, the team is placed back on the Super Bowl track. Today:

  • 💬 Contract buzz
  • 🔢 Teams ranked by tier
  • 💴 Post-June 1st cap changes

Let’s start with Dianna’s scoop on this week’s workouts.

What Dianna’s Hearing: Four teams with contract situations

This is the last week of workouts for nine NFL teams, who will break for the summer before returning for training camp in late July. These mandatory practices are similar to OTAs — with no live contact permitted.

One difference: This week, players can be punished financially if they miss a team workout. A player who misses all three days will be fined over $100,000. All eyes will be on teams with star players looking for extensions.

  • Vikings: Justin Jefferson is looking to be the highest-paid wide receiver in the history of the NFL, and though the deal isn’t done, I believe he’ll show up.
  • Dolphins: Tua Tagovailoa attended a majority of voluntary practices, and despite not having a new deal in place, the Dolphins expect him to be there this week. Based on my conversations, I still believe that Tua’s new contract will get done later this summer. He will also be sporting a new look.
  • 49ers: For contract reasons, both Brandon Aiyuk and Christian McCaffrey have missed all of San Francisco’s voluntary OTAs. It would be very unlike McCaffrey to not attend a mandatory practice, yet coach Kyle Shanahan has openly said he has no concerns with his star running back working out away from the team. I still anticipate McCaffrey attending, but it would be a surprise if Aiyuk shows up.
  • Cowboys: Dallas has a lot of mouths to feed contract-wise, from Dak Prescott to CeeDee Lamb to Micah Parsons, as the latter should become the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player on his next deal. While this could be a dangerous game of contract chicken, Prescott is expected to attend minicamp, and we will see about Lamb and Parsons.

The Athletic’s Mike Jones has more on what to watch at NFL minicamps. Back to you, Jacob.

NFL Rankings: From the Chiefs to the Panthers

The first Monday of every month this offseason, I’ll share an updated version of my NFL tiers, which will shift based on offseason moves, injuries and camp reports. Here we go:

Tier 1: The favorites

Fresh off a visit to the White House, Kansas City returns with the pieces needed to make it four Super Bowls in six years, while Brock Purdy and the 49ers hope the Aiyuk and McCaffrey situations are resolved smoothly enough to win HC Kyle Shanahan’s first Super Bowl.

1. Chiefs 

2. 49ers 

3. Lions 

4. Ravens 

5. Bengals 

There’s a slight drop down to the Lions, Ravens and Bengals, all of whom have been unable to get over the humps. The Ravens and Bengals have new defensive and offensive coordinators, respectively, while the Lions kept OC Ben Johnson, return all their core players and addressed their struggling secondary.

Tier 2: Can they put it together?

The Texans went from 3-13-1 to winning 10 regular season games, their division and a playoff game in year one with DeMeco Ryans and C.J. Stroud. After a productive free agency and nine draft picks, Houston should be even better in 2024.

6. Texans 

7. Packers

8. Bills 

9. Eagles

10. Cowboys

11. Jets 

The Bills went 6-1 after their bye week, with their only blemish coming in a 27-24 playoff loss to the Chiefs. Green Bay was the youngest team to win a postseason game (average age of 25 years, 214 days) and was one quarter from beating the 49ers in the playoffs.

Both the Eagles and Cowboys return major pieces, while the Jets will go as far as Aaron Rodgers — who is impressing in OTAs — and their defense can take them.

Tier 3: Need to see more

New OC Ken Dorsey joins a rehabbing Deshaun Watson on a team that somehow won 11 games during an injury-plagued 2023. Losing offensive line coach Bill Callahan hurts, but they added 2021 Coach of the Year Mike Vrabel, who’s been closely involved on the field as an advisor.

12. Browns

13. Falcons

14. Colts 

15. Bears 

16. Dolphins 

The Falcons and Bears hope to improve on 7-10 seasons after adding their quarterbacks of the present (and/or future). With Anthony Richardson healthy and improving — and a strong draft haul — the Colts should build upon 2023’s winning record in year two with Shane Steichen. The Dolphins lost talent on both sides of the football this offseason.

Tier 4: One big question

This group has the talent to quickly rise, but enough worries to place them in the bottom half. The Rams made the playoffs last year, but how will they fare without All-World DT Aaron Donald? The Buccaneers brought everyone back, but can Baker Mayfield keep improving without QB whisperer Dave Canales?

17. Rams 

18. Buccaneers

19. Steelers 

20. Jaguars

21. Chargers

22. Seahawks 

The Steelers quarterback questions are obvious, while the Jaguars are probably asking themselves whether Trevor Lawrence can take a step forward after being outperformed by Gardner Minshew so far. Can new Chargers and Seahawks coaches get the most of their talented rosters?

Tier 5: Hinging on IFs

This group has a few major questions but could surprise if things go right. It’s a big IF. Most of their seasons hinge on finding competent quarterback play.

23. Saints 

24. Vikings 

25. Cardinals 

26. Raiders 

27. Titans 

The Cardinals have two-time Pro Bowler Kyler Murray and had the fifth-best draft, per The Athletic’s NFL Draft expert Dane Brugler, which sounds about right for a team that had 12 picks. With Marvin Harrison Jr. amplifying the offense, can Arizona’s defense improve as well?

Tier 6: Maybe next year?

It’s difficult to be optimistic about the following teams, all of which are missing multiple pieces. Still, the Broncos, Giants, Commanders and Patriots could be set up for 2025 if this season goes as planned.

28. Broncos 

29. Giants

30. Commanders

31. Patriots 

32. Panthers 

Adding HC Dave Canales, free-agent guards Robert Hunt and Damien Lewis and multiple receivers should help the Panthers’ league-worst offense. Last season, their defense quietly held teams to the fourth-lowest yards per game (293.9). I’m expecting a transition year, though.

Salary Cap Update: Post-June 1 impact

NFL rules state that if a team cuts a player before June 1, all of his future guarantees and remaining prorated signing bonus “accelerate” onto the upcoming year’s salary cap, while any player released or traded after June 1 will have his dead money spread over two seasons.

Teams that took advantage of this rule to reduce their 2024 cap hits include the Raiders (Jimmy Garoppolo’s $24 million), Dolphins (Xavien Howard’s $18.5 million) and the 49ers (Arik Armstead’s $17.8 million).

Per Over the Cap, the Patriots ($46.4M), Commanders ($43.4M) and Lions ($40.3M) now have the most cap room. Yes, the reigning NFC North champs could still be in the market for a player like veteran safety Justin Simmons.

Around the NFL

Per The Athletic’s Dan Duggan, “if Darren Waller retires or is released, the Giants will gain $11.6M in cap savings. Know there’s been a notion from some that the Giants and Waller had a handshake agreement not to announce anything before June 1.”

The Bills have signed 2020 Olympic gold medalist wrestler Gable Steveson, a football newcomer who’s listed as a defensive tackle.

Yesterday, the Commanders released K Brandon McManus after sexual assault allegations in lawsuit filed by two women in Duval County. The team now has no kicker on the roster.

Jacob’s Picks

📕 During Bears CB Jaylen Johnson’s announcement of his record-setting contract, he revealed he’s been to therapy for sexual addition. As Dan Pompei writes, it wasn’t a contract signing as much as a metamorphosis. (The Athletic)

📺 24 hours with Rome Odunze. A day with the Bears’ No. 9 pick in his hometown Vegas. (YouTube)

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