As we prepare to put the 2011 NFL season in the books, let's turn our attention to 2012 free agency.
Free agency is always an exciting time when teams are shuffling players in an attempt to become or remain competitive for the coming season. There are different ways of going about that, whether it be rebuilding through the draft, re-signing as many of your own players as possible or shelling out the dough for highly-regarded free agents from elsewhere.
Whether it be in-house or not, here are five teams whose strategies will likely involve spending a lot of money this offseason.
Despite the relatively early exit, the Saints seem to be building a dynasty in New Orleans. However, they will have to spend a lot of money if they don't want to put that in too much jeopardy.
Priority No. 1 this offseason is re-signing Drew Brees, the prolific quarterback that broke Dan Marino's single-season record for passing yards. Brees is the face of this franchise and means just about as much to New Orleans as Tom Brady to New England and Peyton Manning to Indianapolis (until this year, of course).
Unfortunately, they also have Pro Bowl offensive guard Carl Nicks to re-sign. Nicks, along with Jahri Evans and Jermon Bushrod, form one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, and the Saints should do everything they possibly can to retain him.
Most don't think the Saints will have enough cap space to be able to keep both Brees and Nicks, but if there's away, the Saints need to find it.
If they can't keep Nicks on board, they are going to have to find an adequate replacement for him, and anyone that can begin to compare to Nicks will require a substantial sum.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are set to have a huge amount of money to spend for the second year in a row, and this time around they need to utilize it by signing a host of quality free agents.
Young quarterback Josh Freeman, who had an off year in 2011, is still improving, and receiver Mike Williams and running back LeGarrette Blount show a lot of promise as well. However, this team is severely lacking on the defensive side of the ball and in depth all around. The Bucs not only need a solid draft, but they need to spend a lot of their money on some immediate contributors that will help reverse their fortunes.
Guys like Stephen Tulloch, Curtis Lofton and D'Qwell Jackson could really improve their linebacking corps if they aren't re-signed by their respective teams, and Brandon Carr, Tyvon Branch and Michael Griffin would all be welcome additions to a shaky secondary. They obviously won't get all, or maybe even any, of these players, but they would do themselves well to find and sign this type of talent on the market.
The Bucs are young and look to have a promising future, but they need to start looking for more immediate success.
Despite going 3-13 this year, the Vikings are not far from a playoff team. A huge step in that direction would be simply finding four quality players in the secondary. It's widely believed that LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne will be drafted by the Vikings this coming draft, but they'll need to upgrade all three other positions as well. They can do that through free agency.
The Vikings also need to bring in some newer, younger talent to upgrade some of the team's other weak spots. Christian Ponder could use another legitimate receiving option opposite Percy Harvin.
The Vikings can continue rebuilding from the draft, but they need to get better quick if they want to make it back to the playoffs before guys like Jared Allen and Adrian Peterson fade.
The Dallas Cowboys are another team that is very close to being a playoff team, and a few good free agent signings might be just what they need to get back.
The team obviously needs to find a way to get past the mental block that's clearly affecting them, but an infusion of talent in the defensive backfield, where they are most needy, might help.
The Cowboys' defense, which wasn't bad last year, likely would have been much better last year with more talent in the secondary. Mike Jenkins is a pretty good corner, but Terence Newman is getting too old and Alan Ball and Orlando Scandrick have not proven to be capable replacements.
Safeties Abram Elam and Gerald Sensabaugh aren't terrible by any means, but both could be upgraded. They should take long, hard looks at guys like Brandon Carr and Michael Griffin.
This team has a lot of talent, and spending some money—something Jerry Jones is not opposed to—might actually be the solution.
The Buffalo Bills were one of this year's surprise teams—that is, until a few injuries completely derailed their season.
The Bills did have a lot of injuries, but the lack of quality depth showed through when guys like Fred Jackson and George Wilson went down. CJ Spiller wasn't bad in place of Jackson, but he's just not cut out to be a featured running back and is much more effective when utilized in a two-back system.
The Bills also need to re-sign Stevie Johnson, no matter how much of a pain they think he is. Johnson is a No. 1-caliber receiver, and they need his presence in a thin receiving corps.
On top of that, as well as Ryan Fitzpatrick played this season, he's simply not a franchise-caliber quarterback and can't be the Bills' long-term answer. They may want to consider taking a look at signing Matt Flynn of the Packers to compete for that role.
The bottom line is, the Bills lack depth but could be a playoff team with some good signings.