NFL Draft 2012: 8 Ways Free Agency Has Already Affected Teams' Draft Strategies

James Christensen@@nepatriotsdraftContributor IMarch 23, 2012

NFL Draft 2012: 8 Ways Free Agency Has Already Affected Teams' Draft Strategies

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    After a lockout prevented teams from tinkering with their rosters before the 2011 NFL Draft, having a normal free agency period before the 2012 NFL Draft has been a god-send for teams looking to improve their rosters.

    Some teams haven't made enough of an impact through free agency to change their needs come April. Others may have drastically changed their approach.

    Here are eight teams that may have changed their draft day plans since the beginning of NFL free agency.


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    The Patriots have been incredibly active in free agency. They have taken care of nearly all of their needs on offense—save running back with BenJarvus Green-Ellis' departure—by signing receivers Brandon Lloyd and Donte Stallworth to go with Wes Welker and New England's tight ends.

    Robert Gallery was also added to the offensive line, giving the Patriots a lot of versatility on a line with some injury and retirement issues on the horizon.

    Having the offense ready to roll will allow the Patriots to focus on adding talent to their much-maligned 2011 defense.


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    The Dallas Cowboys entered March with a distinct desire to upgrade their secondary. They accomplished that goal early on, signing former Chiefs cornerback Brandon Carr to a free-agent contract.

    Although the Cowboys could still add another piece or two to the secondary this off-season, they now have a lot more flexibility in how they use the 14th pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.

    Instead of possibly reaching for a cornerback that might not be worthy of a top selection, Dallas can be patient and take the best player available, confident that they can find a complementary cornerback in the middle rounds.


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    The Texans did the Chiefs a huge favor by releasing right tackle Eric Winston. Kansas City promptly picked up a top five player at their biggest position of need.

    Instead of taking an offensive tackle like Riley Reiff or Jonathan Martin, Winston's signing will allow the Chiefs to target an impact player for their defense. An inside linebacker, safety, cornerback or defensive lineman could all be the pick come April.

    Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly will certainly get a long look from Romeo Crennel and Scott Pioli.


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    Poor Dolphins fans.

    They missed out on Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn. Their biggest move to date is adding former Jaguars QB David Garrard, who didn't even play in 2011 due to injury.

    Players don't seem to want to play in Miami. Coaches don't seem to want to coach there. The whole thing looks dysfunctional.

    With the air of desperation surrounding Miami, they may be tempted to take a high ceiling prospect like Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill with their first-round pick and see what he's got right away.

    Alternatively, we may see Miami write off the 2012 season and "pay starkly for Barkley" or "lay flat for Matt," referring to consensus No. 1 2013 NFL Draft pick Matt Barkley (QB, USC).


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    The Bills have made the biggest splash in free agency, adding former Texans defensive end Mario Williams and Patriots DE/OLB Mark Anderson to an already potent defensive line featuring Kyle Williams and Marcel Dareus.

    Locking in the front four will allow the Bills to aggressively target players that can help the inconsistent Bills offense and suspect defensive secondary.

    Adding a quarterback could also be an option if Ryan Tannehill is still on the board.


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    Tampa Bay has been on a spending spree as of late, adding two big-name free agents in wide receiver Vincent Jackson and guard Carl Nicks.

    Adding these two prized possessions to an offense that struggled in 2011 might be just enough for them to pass on a dynamic offensive player like running back Trent Richardson in favor of a defender such as cornerback Morris Claiborne.

    Adding another receiver to keep the heat off of Jackson could also be a possibility; Justin Blackmon is an attractive target.


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    The Giants are obviously a very good football team, as that shiny Lombardi reminds everyone. However, some serious holes have shown up during free agency. 

    Losing receiver Mario Manningham to the 49ers and cornerback Aaron Ross to the Jaguars is certainly going to sting come September. If the Giants are not able to replace them in free agency, New York may have to spend picks at WR and CB rather than tending to their needs on the offensive line.

    South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore in the first round or Vanderbilt's Casey Hayward in the second round are two cornerbacks that would make sense for the "G-Men."


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    After losing Stanford Routt, Kamerion Wimbley, Michael Bush, Trevor Scott and more in free agency, the Raiders are left with a ton of holes from a team that really over-achieved in 2011.

    Unfortunately for the new Raiders brain-trust—head coach Dennis Allen and GM Reggie McKenzie—the late Al Davis left the cupboard pretty bare in the NFL draft department.

    The Raiders are not scheduled to make a pick until the fifth round of the 2012 NFL Draft. McKenzie and Allen understand that they inherited a tough situation, but they are working on rebuilding the Oakland franchise.

    My question is: Will the Raiders continue their new strategy and stay patient, or will they make another reckless move up the draft board and continue mortgaging their future?