2012 NFL Offseason: Each Team's Biggest Priority Ahead of Next Year
Whether it be Steve Smith blindsiding Tom Coughlin to better his chances of winning a Super Bowl ring—good decision Steve!!!—or Jeff Fisher suddenly departing into the wilderness of unemployment, there is never a shortage of story lines during the NFL offseason.
Despite the fact that the regular season is relatively short, with only 16 regular season games currently each year, the NFL remains very active on fans' minds throughout the whole calender year.
With new coaches and high draft picks bringing optimism to the bottom feeders, and free agency or retirements creating holes in champions, the offseason is a fascinating time for fans of all teams.
This time last year, Carolina Panthers fans were anxiously anticipating the arrival of Cam Newton and trying to figure out if Newton was going to be the biggest mistake in franchise history or their saviour. It may be difficult to realize after his rookie year, but very few people actually believed in Newton at this time last year.
Such is the drama of the NFL offseason. Such is the riddle faced by the Indianapolis Colts this year.
It is not only the team with the worst record in the league who have major issues to fix this offseason however. From the Colts, Rams and Vikings to the Patriots and Giants, every NFL team has work to do over the coming months.
As such I've compiled a list of each team's biggest priority to deal with between now and training camp next year.
*While I understand it is the offseason and there is a certain level of expectations on us in the media, I promise you there will be absolutely no mention of Brett Favre in this article...well, except for that one!
San Francisco 49ers
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Jim Harbaugh reignited the career of Alex Smith after implementing his offensive scheme last offseason, this year he needs to find out if Smith can kick on even further by giving him more talent at receiver. Maybe it's just a coincidence, but Harbaugh's offense in college never really had standout talent at receiver either.
Considering he is supposed to be an offensive guru, which he has proven himself to be, then adding an elite receiver to the outside of the offense could see one half of the Harbaugh Bowl in place in Louisiana next year.
The 49ers have a huge amount of cap space available to them this year. Signing someone like Vincent Jackson, Mike Wallace, Reggie Wayne, Steve Johnson or Marques Colston. The 49ers have so much cap space available, and so few holes, that they could bring in multiple improvements over to start over Michael Crabtree and company.
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After the dismissal of Mike Martz, the Bears must look to institute a new offense quickly under former offensive line coach Mike Tice who is now the offensive coordinator. Because of Martz' unique offense, this transition could be very difficult.
The Bears must figure out whether Matt Forte is worth the big money it will cost to bring him back, evaluate Kellen Davis' potential to be a starting tight end while also trying to improve a porous offensive line.
Re-signing Forte makes sense because there is a need for some level of familiarity on offense. With an aging defense, the Bears need to adjust as quickly as possible to their new coach.
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Wide Receivers Andre Caldwell and Jerome Simpson are free agents this year, as well is running back Cedric Benson. Jordan Shipley and Anthony Hawkins aren't enough to complement A.J. Green, therefore a starting caliber receiver will need to be brought in.
The running back position needs to be improved upon with Benson leaving. Because of Andy Dalton's achievements as a rookie, the Bengals need a more dynamic partner for him in the backfield running Jay Gruden's offense.
With two first round picks the Bengals have multiple options to address their biggest need this offseason. With roughly $60 million in cap room, they could also address all their needs in free agency as the right type of players are available this year.
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The Bills defensive front seven has been a problem for the team over the last few years. It has always been a weakness but they began the rebuilding process last year by bringing in Marcell Dareus, who starred as a rookie.
This year they are changing schemes in order to put their two best players, Dareus and Kyle Williams, in the best position to succeed. Dareus and Williams will line up inside in a 4-3 formation but the team cannot rely on Shawne Merriman to play defensive end. Realistically, the Bills will need to bring in two defensive ends this offseason.
There are pass-rushers available in the first round of the draft, but the Bills need to make a major play for one of the free agent pass-rushers at defensive end.
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John Elway previously said that Tim Tebow will enter training camp as the team's starting quarterback. That doesn't exactly guarantee Tebow the starting job next year in Denver come the regular season but it does tell you that the team will need to make moves to build around him.
The most important thing the Broncos need to do this offseason is begin to rebuild their secondary. Champ Bailey, 33, played to an All-Pro level last year, while Andre Goodman, 33, had a fine season across from him, but neither have much left in their careers. Brian Dawkins, the team's inspirational leader, is an incredible 38.
The only real way to get quality young replacements in the secondary is through the draft. Quality secondary players, unlike say running backs, are few and far between.
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Determining whether Colt McCoy is the team's answer at quarterback next season, or replacing him this offseason, is the most important issue in Cleveland right now. The Browns biggest—and I really mean biggest—offensive weapon, Peyton Hillis, is a free agent. But regardless of whether he returns or not, McCoy needs improvements at tight end as well as more receivers to target alongside Greg Little.
Pat Shurmur was an offensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams before becoming the team's head coach, but the Browns are still a defensive reliant team.
Wide receiver depth is the biggest issue and receivers such as Eddie Royal, Pierre Garcon, Brandon Lloyd, Deion Branch and Danny Amendola all available, the Browns must look to make moves to improve the offense this year.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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At the end of last season, the team's biggest issue was a lack of heart, desire and determination. Ultimately the way the Tampa Bay Buccaneers played last season, made me question the pride of each individual on the roster. It's okay in my mind, to not be talented enough and lose because of it. But it is absolutely not ok to lose for lack of effort.
Appointing a new head coach should change the attitude in the locker room, but the biggest football need in Tampa comes on the offensive side of the ball. Josh Freeman's reliance on Kellen Winslow and Mike Williams proved to be too much last season. Outside of those two, and some promise from Preston Parker, the Buccaneers really need more dynamic weapons to diversify what is a very rigid offense.
Select Trent Richardson or Justin Blackmon in the first round of the draft and add multiple free agents with the team's excess cap space.
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The Cardinals have a plethora of issues which need to be fixed, mostly on offense. While quarterback remains an issue despite the addition of Kevin Kolb last season, protecting whoever starts under centre is an even greater problem.
Levi Brown has been the team's starting left tackle for the best part of the last six years. During that time, he has never lived up to his reputation coming out of college. Brown is scheduled to count $17 million against the cap this year; removing that alone is a must for the Cardinals. Once that happens, the team must set about finding an adequate replacement.
Sign Jared Gaither/Max Starks/Jeff Backus in free agency. Draft a pro-ready tackle in the draft.
San Diego Chargers
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Philip Rivers made it clear that he wasn't injured last season despite a down year. When you watch the tape, it's easy to understand how Rivers had a bad season but it's very hard to understand how he didn't have some kind of injury by the end of the season. The Chargers entered last season with question marks over their pass protection and those questions were never truly answered.
They knew that the right side of their offensive line wasn't completely reliable, but then lost Marcus McNeil nine games into the year. Jared Gaiter ultimately arrived to solidify Rivers' protection late in the season but the group overall still needs a lot of work.
Let Vincent Jackson leave and invest in multiple new offensive linemen additions in free agency. Releasing Marcus McNeil, who is too injury prone, would also give them some extra funds to reinvest into the whole of the line.
Kansas City Chiefs
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Prior to the signing of Stanford Routt, the Chiefs' biggest issue in the offseason was re-signing Brandon Carr. However Routt is a very similar corner to Carr so don't expect him to return now.
Now the Chiefs' focus will shift onto re-signing Dwayne Bowe. Bowe returning to the Chiefs is the only major issue the team has on offense while they could add a nose tackle defensively. The Chiefs are in a good spot with a very talented roster all around entering the offseason.
The Chiefs have the cap space to franchise tag Bowe but they would ideally sign him to a long-term deal. Despite Jonathan Baldwin and Steve Breaston also being involved, the Chiefs need Bowe to be their number one receiver.
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Peyton Manning's time in Indianapolis is more than likely coming to an end this offseason. Dealing with Manning is obviously the team's biggest issue. However let's look past that, because to be honest it doesn't take much insight to say letting Manning go is a big deal.
Instead, the Colts biggest decision in the offseason revolves around their belief in Andrew Luck. The Colts need to decide if Luck can have a Newton-like impact with the Colts as a rookie. If he can make them competitive, they can keep their veterans opposed to trading them for value.
If they believe in Luck, re-signing Reggie Wayne and Robert Mathis becomes a possibility. If they don't, trading Dwight Freeney and Antoine Bethea becomes more likely. Bethea, in particular, is a star who should bring back some considerable value to the franchise.
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With a young growing offensive line already in place in front of DeMarco Murray for next season, the Cowboys need to focus all their offseason efforts on the defensive side of the ball. For all of the screen time that Rob Ryan receives in Dallas, his defense left a lot to be desired last year. In particular the team needs to sort out the secondary.
Cutting Terrence Newman makes a lot of sense. And there has been too much money invested in Orlando Scandrick for him to be a backup, so he must either become a starter or leave also.
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While the quarterback position remains an issue in Miami—it seemingly has since Dan Marino was there—this year's priority will be making a successful transition from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3. The Dolphins will need to find a defensive end to play across from Cameron Wake while also adding a pair of defensive tackles to play inside.
Sign Cliff Avril, Mario Williams or a veteran like Robert Mathis or John Abraham to play across from Wake. This free agent class isn't strong on 4-3 interior linemen so they may need to find stop-gaps or draft long-term options inside. Paul Soliai, Kendall Langford and Phillip Merling, Miami's free agents, are all better fits in different defensive schemes.
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The Eagles will mostly benefit from just having more time together during a full offseason. Creating continuity and understanding within the roster on both sides of the ball is pivotal for any NFL team, or any sporting team for that matter. Past that, the team needs more size at linebacker if they are continue to allow their defensive front four to focus on taking down the quarterback.
Vontaze Burfict should be available for the Eagles to select in the draft. Burfict is a questionable character but could be controlled by Andy Reid and his veteran staff. Outside of that, someone like London Fletcher in free agency would provide the production and leadership which the defense so desperately desires.
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Defensively, the Falcons could potentially undergo a major makeover this offseason. Outside of star defensive end John Abraham, they face the prospect of losing eight current/former starters. Leaders like Curtis Lofton, Abraham and Brent Grimes are vital to the team's success on defense and must be re-signed.
Re-signing their own players then identifying which free agents from other teams can come in and fill roles will be vital. Because Abraham is 33, the Falcons could look to move on from him instead of bringing back the fan favourite. Leaving Abraham go could allow them to spread his salary through the defense and improve multiple positions.
New York Giants
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Lost in the aftermath of the New York Giants' Super Bowl victory, was the franchise's continued injury issues. Tight ends Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum tore cruciate ligaments in the Super Bowl on February 5th therefore they won't likely be ready for next season. Bear Pascoe alone cannot carry the responsibilities of the position so the Giants will need to bring in help.
Mel Kiper has the Giants taking tight end Dwayne Allen from Clemson in the draft as a long-term fix, but the Giants could also look for a temporary fix, signing a veteran, instead relying on Ballard and Beckum to return later in the season.
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Whether the fans want it or not, Blaine Gabbert is the team's starter for now. Gabbert must be given his chance no matter how poorly he played as a rookie. In order for him to have any chance of performing well next year, the Jaguars need to give him more weapons to work with.
Surrounding Gabbert with multiple weapons is a must because he cannot continually rely solely on Maurice Jones-Drew and an inconsistent Marcedes Lewis.
Trading Jones-Drew wouldn't be a popular move, but it could open a lot more avenues for the Jaguars to improve. Trading the stud running back is unlikely to happen, therefore the team is likely to rebuild the receiving corp through free agency. Big names and reliable role players are both available this year for the Jaguars to try to sign.
New York Jets
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When Shaun Ellis left the New York Jets before last season, their most consistent disruptor upfront was lost. The Jets drafted Muhammad Wilkerson but the rookie alone couldn't fix a problem that was there even with Ellis.
The Jets need to retool their front seven and bring in more athletic and disruptive players. Incorporating youth will be a big part of the Jets focus as Bart Scott and Sione Pouha may not return.
The draft is the team's best option however Calais Campbell, a free agent defensive end from Arizona, would perfectly fit the Jets needs. The Jets likely don't have the cap space to sign Campbell but releasing players could be a consideration because Campbell could be that valuable to them.
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Matthew Stafford's 5,000 yards was enough to win him the Comeback Player of the Year in the NFL but it also covered some of the offense's cracks. The Lions running game was ineffective last year. Without rookie Mikel Leshoure and Jahvid Best struggling with concussions, the running game was essentially non existent until Kevin Smith gave it some life.
The Lions don't need running backs, but they do need to improve the interior of their offensive line.
Peter Konz is a highly-rated center in this year's draft class who could be an instant upgrade over Dominic Raiola or man one of the guard positions as a rookie.
Green Bay Packers
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While the Packers' secondary was much-maligned last season, the front seven of the defense didn't help their plight. The defensive line severely missed Cullen Jenkins, while Des Bishop and AJ Hawk, in particular, regressed as a duo. Erik Walden did more damage off the field than on it and eventually found himself on the bench.
Improving the defensive line and finding a new starting outside linebacker is vital for the team's future success.
The Packers are an offensive team, but the defense has to play to a certain level too if they are to win the Super Bowl again.
Drafting an outside linebacker makes the most sense but a veteran like Anthony Spencer, Jarrett Johnson, Ahmad Brooks or even Manny Lawson could improve the front.
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Cam Newton made the Panthers relevant again last year—at least on offense.
Defensively, the Panthers really struggled. Injuries decimated the front seven as Ron Edwards, a defensive tackle brought over from the Chiefs, was lost before the season even began while Jon Beason and Thomas Davis both landed on IR early on. Even with Edwards potentially returning, the team still needs better play from their defensive tackles.
Michael Brockers, the top defensive tackle in this year's draft class, is already scheduled to visit with the team. Bringing him in seems like the obvious choice even if he is more of a pass-rusher than run-stuffer.
New England Patriots
Chad Ochocinco should play a bigger role in the Patriots offense next year in place of Deion Branch, who is a free agent. But the Patriots still need a wide receiver to stretch the field. The team simply needs a speedster on the outside. As bad as their defense is talent-wise, Bill Belichick proved last season that he can win in spite of it.
Randy Moss is coming out of retirement but it's unlikely that Bill Belichick will give him another chance. The Patriots could look to sign Mike Wallace as a restricted free agent. If they do go down that route, then the team would have to give up it's second first round draft choice as compensation.
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Dennis Allen was appointed as the team's new head coach in January and he has quickly made his intentions known.
Fixing the team's discipline on the field from last season will be a major issue, which could see the team part ways with Rolando McClain. McClain's level of play hasn't been good and at times his effort has been even worse. However, the Raiders have only four linebackers under contract and are looking to use multiple defensive fronts next year.
In order to do that, they will need to bring in multiple additions to the linebacking corp with or without McClain.
There is a lot of depth available at the top of free agency for the inside linebacker position but the Raiders are more likely to move for multiple cheaper options both on the inside and outside. Free agency is their only option because they traded away their best draft picks for Carson Palmer during the season.
St. Louis Rams
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Sam Bradford needs both better protection and firepower on offense in St. Louis next year. While there is a lot of talk about the team taking Justin Blackmon, the young receiver isn't exactly a perfect fit in the Rams' offense. Blackmon is talented, but not the deep threat that Bradford is missing.
The return of Danny Amendola will give Bradford a stud possession receiver to work with. Blackmon doesn't figure to be as good as a Calvin Johnson or A.J. Green so the Rams biggest decision to make this offseason will be what to do with the second overall pick in the draft.
Trading the pick to a team looking to draft Robert Griffin III like the Washington Redskins or Cleveland Browns makes the most sense for the team.
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Ray Rice won't be leaving as he is certain to see the franchise tag if Ozzie Newsome cannot work out a long-term deal with the young running back. Therefore the team's main priority is a more sensitive subject.
If there is one thing in sports which I despise, it is a player living off of his reputation. Ray Lewis has reached that stage. In this passing era of the NFL, Lewis lack of pace finally caught up to him last year.
While he was injured, the Ravens' defense actually looked sturdier and better as a group. Lewis was exposed in the playoffs repeatedly by the New England Patriots' passing game. He has already said that he is returning, but bringing in more youth at the position is a must to move forward with Jameel McClain.
Dannell Ellerbe may already be the heir apparent, however if the Ravens don't believe he is, then drafting someone like Vontaze Burfict or Dont'a Hightower to learn from Lewis could be an option. Both Hightower and Burfict could also improve the defense in situational football as rookies also.
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Whether it be Peyton Manning or Robert Griffin III, the Washington Redskins must finally make an investment in a quarterback capable of carrying them to the playoffs. The Redskins' roster as a whole is capable of winning the NFC East, however without a quarterback capable of consistently running Kyle Shanahan's offense, they will never surpass the Giants, Cowboys or even the Eagles.
Signing Manning or trading up in the draft for Robert Griffin III are the most likely options. But don't rule out bringing in someone like Matt Flynn either.
New Orleans Saints
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The Saints goals this offseason are simple: Identify and re-sign their key free agents.
The Saints have Drew Brees, Carl Nicks, Tracey Porter and Marques Colston, amongst others, hitting the open market in March. It is vital that they re-sign Brees, while they will be hoping to bring back at least three of those key players.
Franchising Drew Brees is an option, but they will hope to sign him to a long-term deal in order to use the tag on Carl Nicks. From there, all they can do is try to outbid others to retain their stars.
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Marshawn Lynch has become a lynchpin of the team's offense since being acquired in a trade from the Buffalo Bills. Lynch is a free agent this year so re-signing him to a long-term deal is their main priority.
The Seahawks have the perfect play-action offense in place in Seattle once Sidney Rice is healthy. However, without a strong running game which Lynch is a major part of, the Seahawks offense would not have a chance of reaching it's full potential.
Re-sign Lynch or invest heavily in a replacement. The Seahawks are one of the few teams still dependant on their running game in the NFL.
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Omar Khan, the man responsible for structuring the Steelers' salary cap, has already made a lot of dents into the team's excess expenditure carrying over from last season. Replacing Casey Hampton or evaluating if he can still play after his torn ACL at the end of last season is the team's most important priority.
In Dick LeBeau's defense, the nose tackle position is vital for the success of the whole defense. Hampton doesn't get the statistics but his work upfront occupying blockers is what makes the team so dominant against the run and allows their linebackers to make plays around him.
Sione Pouha is a very good option in free agency to create a rotation with impressive youngster Steve McLendon, while Dontari Poe has been mentioned as a potential first round draft pick.
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Prior to last season, I wrote that the Houston Texans offense was a wide receiver away from being elite. Heading into this offseason, that remains the team's greatest issue. Defensively they should carry over a lot of their success from last season, while Andre Johnson and Matt Schaub should be fit next year.
With Arian Foster being a restricted free agent, which makes it unlikely that he leaves, the Texans arguably could be favourites for next year's Super Bowl with improved receiver depth.
Draft prospects Kendall Wright or Alshon Jeffrey could be available, although Jeffrey is expected to go much higher by some. There are also potential starters available in free agency such as Stevie Johnson.
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When they drafted Jake Locker prior to last season, the Tennessee Titans invested their future in the former Washington quarterback. This offseason will be focused on developing Locker and determining whether he or Matt Hasselbeck is going to be the team's starter this year.
The Titans have their key pieces in place around Locker for the future with Chris Johnson, Kenny Britt and Jared Cook all under contract this year. Instead they must focus their free agency activity on re-signing key defensive free agents such as Jason Jones and Cortland Finnegan.
This offseason is an important one for the Titans on both sides of the ball. Getting as much work done with Locker as possible is a must while letting some defensive free agents leave for long-term success is an option.
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Adrian Peterson's injury is something that most of the franchise needs to forget about and let Peterson work on it. There is nothing that they can do to effect his rehab. Outside of that, the Vikings have two very pressing needs in the secondary and on the offensive line.
While the secondary is arguably the greater issue, fixing the offensive line may be the better route this year because of the likelihood of star USC left tackle Matt Kalil being available. Kalil figures to be a player who can hold down Christian Ponder's blind side for the next decade and would be a major improvement over current starter Charlie Johnson.
Draft Matt Kalil. Improving the talent inside the line could be a focus of the draft also but shouldn't be as big a priority as locking down a blind side protector for Ponder.
Cian Fahey is a featured columnist on Bleacher report, contributor to theguardian.co.uk's NFL coverage, lead writer at ffblife.com and blogger for Irishcentral.com. You can follow him on twitter @Cianaf