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April 07, 2023

NFC Hierarchy/Obituary: Post-free agency edition

Eagles NFL
040723JalenHurts Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

The Eagles are still the most talented team in the NFC.

For those of you who are new here, we do a "Hierarchy/Obituary" post every week during the season, in which we kill off teams that have reached the point where they have almost no chance to make the playoffs. We then write their obituary and never speak of them in the Hierarchy again. 

Anyway, it's my hackneyed sell-out spin on the more traditional "power rankings." Got it? Cool. Let's do a post-free agency edition.


16) Cardinals (4-13 in 2022): The Cardinals are a laughingstock franchise. Their most recent embarrassment is an accusation from former team executive Terry McDonough that the Cardinals supplied McDonough with a burner phone to communicate with then suspended GM Steve Keim, who of course was banned from communicating with the team. McDonough alleges that he was demoted by owner Michael Bidwell because he and one-and-done head coach Steve Wilks objected to the burner phone scheme. The full story, broken by The Athletic, is worth a read, but the best parts are that (a) McDonough recorded conversations with Keim, and (b) he still has his burner phone four years later, lol.

I'm picturing a group of detectives sitting around trying to translate football jargon recorded by McDonough.

As for the Cards' new head coach, remember when Jonathan Gannon was getting head coaching interviews after the 2021 season, and Eagles fans were like, "WTF? Why?" and the answer was that he "connects with players?" Well, we a got a glimpse of him connecting with his new players:


The bad owner and the questionable head coaching hire aside, this roster is gross. Remember when Zach Ertz wanted out of Philly and he thought Arizona gave him a better chance to win? Oops.


15) Buccaneers (8-9 in 2022): The Bucs won one of the worst divisions ever a year ago, and the Cowboys easily dispatched of them in the playoffs. With the retirement of Tom Brady, their run as contenders is over and the NFC South as a whole could be even worse in 2023. The likely starting quarterbacks for each team:

• Buccaneers: Baker Mayfield
• Saints: Derek Carr
• Falcons: Desmond Ridder
• Panthers: Either Andy Dalton, or whoever they draft with the first overall pick



14) Falcons (7-10 in 2022): The Falcons reside in extended purgatory, as they have won seven games in four of the last five seasons. 

• 2018: 7-9
• 2019: 7-9
• 2020: 4-12
• 2021: 7-10
• 2022: 7-10

In the one year they went 4-12, they selected a tight end with the fourth overall pick in the ensuing draft.


13) Panthers (7-10 in 2022): The Panthers' roster as a whole sucks and they're probably in for another down year in 2023, but if you squint hard enough, you can see that they are at least heading in the right direction, in that they are prioritizing the right positions.

In 2017, Dave Gettleman's last season with the team, the Panthers took a running back with a top 10 pick. Since then, they have taken a wide receiver (D.J. Moore), an edge rusher (Brian Burns), a defensive tackle (Derrick Brown), a cornerback (Jaycee Horn), an offensive tackle (Ikem Ekwonu), and they'll be taking a quarterback in the 2023 draft. 

Burns and Brown are both already really good. If Horn and Ekwonu can develop into studs and they make the right choice in the draft at quarterback, the Panthers will have themselves a nice nucleus to build around.


12) Commanders (8-8-1 in 2022): Soon enough Commanders fans can celebrate Daniel Snyder's sale of the team. But in 2023, as usual there isn't much to look forward to since the team doesn't have a quarterback. The starter will likely be determined by a training camp battle between second-year player Sam Howell and free agent acquisition Jacoby Brissett.

Since Snyder bought the team in 1999, 27 different quarterbacks have started games for Washington. They are Brad Johnson, Jeff George, Tony Banks, Shane Matthews, Patrick Ramsey, Danny Wuerffel, Tim Hasselbeck, Mark Brunell, Jason Campbell, Todd Collins, Donovan McNabb, Rex Grossman, John Beck, Robert Griffin III, Colt McCoy, Kirk 'Kurt' Cousins, Alex Smith, Mark Sanchez, Josh Johnson, Case Keenum, Dwayne Haskins, Kyle Allen, Taylor Heinicke, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Garrett Gilbert, Carson Wentz, Howell, and coming soon, Brissett.

It's fun updating that list every year.

Oh, and the Commanders will probably win juuuust enough games to be in a poor position to draft a quarterback in 2024.


11) Bears (3-14 in 2022): The package the Bears received for the No. 1 overall pick:

  1. 9th overall pick in 2023
  2. 61st overall pick in 2023
  3. 1st round pick in 2024
  4. 2nd round pick in 2025
  5. WR D.J. Moore

They now have 10 picks in the 2023 draft, with extra picks in Rounds 2, 4, and 5. They would have had three 2's if they hadn't made an insanely idiotic trade for Chase Claypool at the 2022 deadline, but whatever.

Entering the season, the Bears' offensive line was regarded by some as one of the worst in the NFL. However, they got a surprisingly encouraging season out of rookie fifth-round pick Braxton Jones at LT, and Teven Jenkins had a breakout season at RT. Add in the free agent acquisition of Nate Davis, and the Bears could have a decent O-line, in addition to a capable receiving corps of Moore, Claypool, and Darnell Mooney.

In his first two seasons, Justin Fields has been one of the most polarizing players in the NFL. His ability to make plays with his legs is obvious, but many believe that he won't ever become a good passer. For the first time in his career, Fields will have a competent supporting cast around him, and heading into his third season there should be reasonable expectations for significant growth as a passer. Personally, I think he'll get better as a passer, but if I'm the Bears, I'd worry about the toll his running style will take on his body. There could be a small window to capitalize on his passing improvements (if they happen) while also enjoying the fruits of his electric playmaking as a runner.

But the Bears will not be the worst team in the NFL again in 2023.


10) Rams (5-12 in 2022): Whatever you may think of Matthew Stafford, he was playing hurt last year until he finally went down for good. The Rams started guys like Baker Mayfield, John Wolford, and Bryce Perkins behind an absolutely decimated offensive line. Assuming Stafford is healthy and can stay upright, the Rams will be better in 2023.

But probably not that much better. If you look at the Rams' depth chart, some of these defensive starters are unrecognizable. Jonah Williams (not the Bengals' offensive lineman), Marquise Copeland, Keir Thomas, Christian Rozeboom, Michael Hoecht, Russ Yeast, Robert Rochell, Cobie Durant, etc. I mean... Russ Yeast?

Just quadruple team Aaron Donald.


9) Giants (9-7-1 in 2022): If you include the playoffs, the Giants had a point differential of -30 last season. That was bottom 10 in the NFL. They had some good game results in 2022 simply by hanging around into the fourth quarter and benefiting from opponents' big mistakes, but was there ever a point where you watched them play and thought, "That team looks really impressive?"

Anyway, after a flukey trip to the divisional round, they're running it back with a now way more expensive Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley, which I guess is what you might expect from a team hoping to cling to a morsel of success after having the literal worst record in the NFL over the previous five years. 


8) Vikings (13-4 in 2022): Is Kirk Cousins still the quarterback? Yes? Cool, next...


7) Saints (7-10 in 2022): The Saints' recent trend of foregoing a long overdue rebuild continues. They have the best quarterback in the NFC South in Derek Carr,  which probably makes them favorites in their division, but their ceiling in 2023 is getting blown out in the wildcard round of the playoffs.


6) Seahawks (9-8 in 2022): The 2022 season was the Seahawks' first without Russell Wilson as the Week 1 starter since 2012, and most NFL observers had them pegged as a rebuilding team that would likely be picking in the top 10 in the 2023 NFL Draft, and possibly even top five. I had them 14th in the NFC Hierarchy before the start of the season. 

But they got unexpectedly solid play out of Geno Smith, and bunch of their rookies — like LT Charles Cross, RT Abraham Lucas, CB Tarik Woolen, CB Coby Bryant, and RB Kenneth Walker, to name a few — provided immediate production.

They got out to a 6-3 start to the season, but faded down the stretch, losing six of their final nine games, including a never-in-doubt loss to the Niners after they back-doored their way into the playoffs. In the end they ultimately were what we originally thought they were.

I'm curious to see what they do in the draft, and reserve the right to move them up if they crush it.


5) Lions (9-8 in 2022): The Lions had the reverse of the Seahawks' season. They started 1-6, but won eight of their last 10 games and nearly got into the playoffs. It would have been fun to see what they could have done in the postseason instead of the Seahawks.

The Lions are going to head into 2023 with all kinds of hype, which I get. They're a fun team with an explosive offense. But man, that defense still looks really shaky.


4) Packers (8-9 in 2022): This is a nine-pass sample size, but Jordan Love was impressive last season filling in for an injured Aaron Rodgers against the Eagles last season. 

There's a lot to like in that short video. Arm talent, mobility, decision-making. Aaron Rodgers' act wore thin in Green Bay which no doubt contributed to their decision to (likely) move on from him, but they wouldn't do it if they didn't also believe in Love.

The Packers currently have the worst odds to win the NFC North this season. I think that's an overreaction to their unexpectedly rare bad season in 2022 and the impending trade of Rodgers, who by the way had an injured hand for most of the season. So I guess my offseason NFC hot take is that they're still going to be relevant in the NFC and I think they have as good of a chance of winning their division as anyone else.


3) 49ers (13-4 in 2022): Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch agree that Brock Purdy is the 49ers' QB1 heading into 2023, via

"I think Brock has earned the right, with the way he played, that he's probably the leader in the clubhouse at that," general manager John Lynch told reporters Monday, via ESPN's Nick Wagoner. "If we were to line up, he'd probably take that first snap."

Speaking to NFL Network's Steve Wyche later in the day, coach Kyle Shanahan agreed with Lynch's sentiments.

"In the games he played, he played at a level that was the real deal," Shanahan said about Purdy. "If you go off that evaluation and what he did, he earned that job. He should be our starter on how he played. Because he has that film. And that was really cool to see."

When Purdy will be ready to play is a mystery, for now, depending on how quickly he can recover from UCL surgery.

Purdy went 7-0 (8-0 if you include a game he didn't start against the Dolphins) before the Niners got stomped into oblivion by the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game. In those wins, Purdy threw 16 TDs vs 3 INTs, and he had a quarterback rating of 111.4, amazing results from the literal last pick of the 2022 NFL Draft.

While impressive last season, Purdy does not have appealing physical traits as a starting quarterback. He has below average arm strength, he is not much of a threat to run with the ball, and he's small (6'0 5/8" with 29" arms and 9 1/4" hands).

If you're the 49ers and you're being honest about what you have at quarterback, Purdy is a rare example of a player coming off a rookie season where you're probably bracing more for regression than expecting improvement. It's also worth noting that Purdy has some pretty obvious quirks to iron out in his game. His passes come out low, and he'll often completely turn his back and run backwards when pressured, as shown here:

Teams around the league are going to diagnose those flaws and I'm sure a whole lot more. They'll have a better plan for him than the teams that faced him at the end of the season did. If Purdy falters, the Niners' other quarterbacks are Trey Lance, a player with physical talents worlds above Purdy's but who the Niners clearly don't trust... and Sam Darnold.

In other words, it's pretty much the same old same old for San Francisco — Great roster, but major questions at quarterback.


2) Cowboys (12-5 in 2022): Dak Prescott had arguably his worst season as a pro in 2022, and uncoincidentally it came when he had the worst offensive supporting cast of his career.

That said, the Cowboys very clearly got better this offseason. Their trades for Stephon Gilmore and Brandin Cooks eliminated two obvious, glaring needs on their roster with proven vets who both should have some juice left in the tank. They were also able to retain their most important free agents, notably Tony Pollard, Donovan Wilson, and Dante Fowler, who were all positive contributors in 2022. Oh and they let a bunch of overrated players — notably Ezekiel Elliott and Dalton Schultz — walk in free agency.

If the Cowboys can get a bounce-back season from Prescott, which in my opinion is a decent bet, they'll be the Eagles' biggest threats not just in the NFC East, but also in the NFC as a whole.


1) Eagles (14-3 in 2022): The 2022 Eagles were so stacked that they lost seven starters in free agency and they are still very clearly the most talented team in the NFC.

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