2012 NFL Free Agent Predictions: 5 Teams That Will Buy a Playoff Berth
Meanwhile, the teams that seek the quicker path of free agency wind up on the outside looking in.
There's no prize for winning the offseason, after all.
But each year some teams break out the checkbook and spend heavily on proven veterans to augment, or in some cases build, their franchise around.
2012 stands to be one of the more exciting free-agency periods in recent history. The Indianapolis Colts flooded the market in the start of their rebuilding phase, including their keystone player Peyton Manning.
But Manning is just the shiniest bauble in a whole collection of free agents looking to land serious contracts.
This year, some of those teams might just be able to buy themselves into the playoffs. Most have already built a solid roster and need a couple players to put them over the top.
And some teams will buy up free agents because they have no other choice.
The Atlanta Falcons have already spent plenty of money on their roster, and it's done great things for them so far.
Barely a year removed from losing Michael Vick to a federal prison sentence, newly hired general manager Thomas Dimitroff came out swinging in 2008. He drafted Matt Ryan and Sam Baker in the first round, then signed Michael Turner in free agency.
Dimitroff continued making bold moves, he traded for Tony Gonzalez in 2009, signed Dunta Robinson in 2010 and traded up for Julio Jones in 2011.
The Falcons keep inching closer to a Super Bowl appearance, and this coming year could be their time. Tony Gonzalez signed a one-year extension in January, but will likely retire following this season. Brent Grimes is currently franchised, and Matt Ryan is approaching free agency as well.
To further entice Atlanta, their division rival Saints stand to lose plenty of their key players to free agency. With New Orleans likely taking a step back, the Falcons could fill the void and go from a wild-card team playing on the road to a division leader with a first-round bye.
But they'll have to move fast; Cam Newton hit the ground running in his rookie year; the Panthers will be relevant again much earlier than the Falcons would care for.
Atlanta should look into landing Mario Williams as their prize catch in this year's free agency. They could also bolster their secondary with Tracy Porter or Brandon Carr.
Realistically, only a couple large contracts could stand between the Falcons and a shot at the Super Bowl.
Kansas City Chiefs
As recently as 2009, the Chiefs were one of the most moribund franchises in the league. Winning a meager 10 games in three years with little talent disillusioned many fans and brought about a change at general manager and head coach.
Three solid drafts in the last four years helped make Kansas City relevant again, though they haven't quite made the shift from playoff hopeful to playoff contender.
With another change at head coach, the Chiefs look ready to speed things up in their development. Scott Pioli announced Kansas City will be pursuing Peyton Manning. Should the Chiefs land the future Hall of Fame quarterback, they'll need to land other free agents to ensure he's successful.
Fortunately for Kansas City, they have the salary cap room to make that happen. And with the 11th pick in the NFL draft, the Chiefs could reasonably land two new starters in the draft. Having already signed Stanford Routt at cornerback, Kansas City needs only a couple solid players to complete the picture.
With a right tackle likely coming through the draft, the Chiefs should pursue a premier left guard and other reserve linemen to protect Manning. Plus, additional weapons like Mike Tolbert and Dallas Clark would make things even easier on Manning.
If Kansas City spends big this season, they should land their first playoff win since the 1993 season.
If they can land the former Colts quarterback, they'll need to pick up some more assets to complement Manning's style of play.
With Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas already on the roster, the Broncos have a solid pair of receivers to work with. It's not so crowded as to preclude signing Reggie Wayne, or Dallas Clark at tight end.
Both players would certainly make Manning much more comfortable as he takes on the task of leading a new team.
The Buffalo BIlls will need to do something fast if they want to keep their current administration.
After a strong opening last year, the Bills faltered down the stretch to finish at 6-10 for the season. Recently-extended Ryan Fitzpatrick threw only five touchdowns in his last five games and closed the season with a very pedestrian 79.1 quarterback rating.
It's on defense that the Bills need the most help, though. Buffalo allowed over 20 points in eight of their last nine games, and held opponents in the single digits only twice all year.
Buffalo will field a 4-3 front this year, so making a move on Mario Williams or Dwight Freeney (should Indianapolis go ahead and cut him) would go a long way to shoring up their defense. Chan Gailey could also take a shot at one of the cornerbacks in free agency. Gailey was the offensive coordinator in Kansas City when Brandon Carr was drafted and could try coaxing him to come up north.
Whatever they do, the Bills need to do it fast. Ten wins over two seasons won't help Gailey keep his job.
The Washington Redskins don't make the list because they stand ready to sign a couple free agents and reach the playoffs.
They're here because it's the only way they can make something happen anytime soon.
The Redskins just paid a king's ransom in draft picks to the St. Louis Rams in exchange for the second overall pick. Washington will likely draft Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III and will be better for it.
But if the Redskins hope Griffin will ever be anything more to them than another first-round bust, they need to surround him with real talent. On offense, Washington lacks any real playmakers. Santana Moss is growing long in the tooth. Fred Davis could break out as a receiving threat, but one top target does not an offense make.
And even a fleet-footed player like Griffin needs some protection. The Redskins need to invest heavily on their interior offensive line as well to keep Griffin on his feet and moving the ball forward.
If Washington could land a guard like Ben Grubbs or Carl Nicks, a legitimate receiver (Marques Colston, Vincent Jackson) and a running back to pair with Ray Helu, Griffin could come out and have a strong rookie year like Cam Newton.
Otherwise, Griffin's name might just end up right next to Patrick Ramsey's, Heath Shuler's and Jason Campbell's on the list of Redskins first-round quarterback busts.