One Free Agent Every NFL Team Absolutely Must Target This Offseason
For 20 teams out there the offseason began in earnest on Monday. They are now turning the page from a disappointing 2012 season and looking forward to filling holes on their roster.
While the new league year doesn't begin until March, we do have a decent understanding of team needs and which players will be available come Spring.
On that note, it is important to understand that the franchise tag will be utilized less in 2013 than before. The NFL decided to go with a minimal increase in the salary cap, which has put some teams under the proverbial eight-ball. This seems to indicate that there will be more player movement in the new year.
Today's article is going to focus on one player that each NFL team must target. I will take into account all possibilities, so remember this article doesn't mean that said player will actually leave his current team.
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Jake Long, Offensive Tackle, Miami Dolphins
The Arizona Cardinals yielded a total of 58 sacks in 2012, which was an increase of four from their anemic performance the season before.
Some of this has to do with playing four different quarterbacks who are not starter caliber, but Arizona needs to fix this issue if it is going to compete in the NFC West moving forward.
2012 draft pick Bobby Massie might be the answer at one tackle position. Outside of that, Arizona really doesn't have much. Fellow rookie Nate Potter did little to impress since stepping into the starting lineup.
I just don't envision Arizona spending a high pick on a blindside protector when there are ample options in the free agent market. Jake Long would immediately become one of the best tackles in the division and help whoever is under center next season.
This makes too much sense not too happen.
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Jared Cook, Tight End, Tennessee Titans
Current Atlanta Falcons tight end and all-time leading receiver from that position Tony Gonzalez continues to think about retirement following the 2012 season. While Gonzalez still seems to be a viable receiving option, Atlanta needs to start making plans for the future at this all-important position.
General manager Thomas Dimitroff could make the decision to select a tight end early with both Zach Ertz and Tyler Eifert first-round possibilities. Though, that makes little sense considering Atlanta needs help on the other side of the ball and traded a lot of picks to acquire wide receiver Julio Jones a couple seasons back.
Cook doesn't seem to be too happy in Tennessee and could easily make the decision to walk when the new league year begins in March. He tallied just 44 receptions and 23 yards in 13 games this season after a career 2011 season.
Those numbers, however, are a bit misleading. Cook took on a lesser role with youngster Jake Locker, who struggled a great deal, under center. He caught just 61 percent of the passes thrown in his direction.
That won't be as much of an issue with Matt Ryan throwing him the ball.
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Dashon Goldson, Safety, San Francisco 49ers
The Baltimore Ravens need to start planning for life after Ed Reed, who could easily call it quits following the playoffs. What better fit for their defense than Dashon Goldson? The hard-hitting free safety may leave a little to be desired in coverage, but he is among the most physically imposing defensive backs in the NFL.
It also doesn't hurt that Goldson is coming off another Pro Bowl campaign.
While I am sure that San Francisco is going to do everything in its power to re-sign the veteran safety, it does appear he will actually hit the open market.
If so, Baltimore needs to make a play.
Michael Vick, Quarterback, Philadelphia
Note: Vick is technically not a free agent yet. He is, however, set to earn a huge roster bonus when the new league year starts. The veteran quarterback will be released.
It is becoming evident that Ryan Fitzpatrick isn't the long-term solution at quarterback for the Buffalo Bills. This has only been magnified since they fired head coach Chan Gailey on Monday. A new head coach is going to want to install his scheme and a new quarterback under center.
While Vick is nowhere near a long-term solution either, he could act as a stopgap for a rookie drafted in April. Depending on whether the former Pro Bowler can return to form; Buffalo's offense would take on a whole new level with him under enter. Just imagine a combination of C.J. Spiller and an effective Vick in the backfield.
Additionally, Vick won't be demanding a great deal of money on the free agent market following what was a disastrous 2012 season. Buffalo could get him on the cheap and draft a quarterback in April to groom.
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Randy Starks, Defensive Tackle, Miami Dolphins
Despite finishing the season strong against the run, the Carolina Panthers were shredded versus some really good running teams throughout the season. They need to add bulk and talent along the interior of their defensive line.
Starks was one of the best defensive tackles against the run this season. He anchored a unit that finished 13th in that category.
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Andy Levitre, Guard, Buffalo Bills
Whoever comes in to coach the Chicago Bears is going to need major upgrades on the offensive line. From my estimation they need two tackles and a guard. While Chicago will most assuredly look to the draft for upgrades, they will need to hit the free agent market as well.
Not only is Levitre a solid run-blocking guard, he is damn good in pass protection as well. Bills' quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was sacked 30 times, 14 less than Jason Campbell and Jay Cutler in Chicago.
This is an area that general manager Phil Emery must address in free agency and Levitre will be the top guard available.
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William Moore, Safety, Atlanta Falcons
Chris Crocker has been serviceable at strong safety for the Cincinnati Bengals this season, but he is nowhere near the long-term solution alongside free safety Reggie Nelson. Look for Cincinnati to upgrade this position in the offseason.
It will have ample options in what appears to be a deep draft class, but I can easily envision Cincinnati going the free agent route here.
Moore has been one of the better in the box safeties this season. He tallied nearly 80 tackles, eight passes defended and two forced fumbles for a vastly improved Atlanta defense. He would also be a great fit in a similar scheme in Cincinnati.
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Brian Hartline, Wide Receiver, Miami Dolphins
From a Cleveland Browns perspective this makes too much sense not too happen. They need a consistent receiving threat on the outside and aren't really an attractive free agent destination. Hartline played his college ball at Ohio State and was born in Canton.
Josh Gordon appears to be a steal at this stage, but he is going to need more help on the outside. Hartline is that type of possession receiver that would do wonders for Brandon Weeden in Cleveland. He is more consistent than any receiver they have on the roster. His addition would also push Greg Little down to a more suitable No. 3 receiver.
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Brandon Moore, Guard, New York Jets
Tony Romo has gotten most of the pub since his meltdown against the Washington Redskins in Week 17, but he is the least of the Dallas Cowboys' problems right now. They are in dire need of help along the interior of their defensive line. Too many times protection broke down from that part of the offense.
In reality Dallas probably needs to add two starting guards and a starting center this offseason if it is going to be viable in the NFC East in 2013.
Moore is a top 10 guard in the NFL and would add a solid veteran presence along the interior of the line. Dallas could then turn its attention to adding another guard and a center in a deep 2013 draft class.
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Kenny Phillips, Safety, New York Giants
The strong safety would be one of the best at his position in the NFL if he could just stay healthy. Just look at how the Giants performed with him in the lineup. He has, however, missed 23 games in the last four seasons and could be on his way out of New York.
If so, the Denver Broncos need to pay attention. Phillips would be an immediate upgrade over Mike Adams alongside a vastly improved Rahim Moore. He would also come on the cheap.
This seems like a perfect fit to me.
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Brent Grimes, Cornerback, Atlanta Falcons
The Detroit Lions were surprisingly good against the pass in 2012. They ranked 14th in yards against through the air. With that in mind, Detroit did allow quarterbacks to post an accumulative quarterback rating over over 90 and only intercepted 11 passes all season.
Needless to say, Detroit needs a true No. 1 corner to replaced Chris Houston, who seemed to regress this year.
While Grimes is coming off a serious injury that cost him all but one game, he was a Pro Bowler in 2010 and had a solid 2011 season. He would immediately come in and help counteract the likes of Randall Cobb and Brandon Marshall in the NFC North.
Expect Detroit to also address this position in April's draft.
Green Bay Packers
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Steven Jackson, Running Back, St. Louis Rams
Note: Jackson is not a free agent. He did, however, negotiate an "out" in his contract back in October and will be on the market come March.
The Green Bay Packers have long been after Jackson, who might be on his way out of St. Louis. They have attempted to acquire him multiple times throughout the years.
In order to get more balance on the offensive side of the ball, Green Bay may have to actually hit the free agent market. Should Jackson get released, it would be his most likely landing spot.
Green Bay ranked 20th in rush offense at 106.4 yards per outing. Just imagine how good it would be with a solid veteran running back.
After all, the likes of James Starks, Alex Green, Cedric Benson and DeJuan Harris aren't really going to scare defenses in the ultra competitive NFC North.
Jackson seems to have another year or two of decent football in those tires. Why not go to a team with a better chance to grab the Lombardi than the Rams? It makes too much sense.
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Greg Jennings, WR, Green Bay Packers
Outside of Andre Johnson the Houston Texans had one of the least impressive wide receiver units in the entire National Football League.
Kevin Walter, Lester Jean and Keshawn Martin combined for a grand total of 57 receptions and four touchdowns on 107 targets. That equates to just a 53 percent success rate.
At 31, Johnson isn't getting any younger himself.
Houston could easily afford to spend top dollar on a free agent wide receiver and draft early at that position as well in April. In fact, it needs two more consistent pass catchers in order to be viable moving forward.
Jennings, who suffered through a myriad of injuries this season, will most likely be heading out of Green Bay following the postseason. He will demand a lofty contract on the open market. The Packers seem set at wide receiver with Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and James Jones. They really have no reason to bring Jennings back next season.
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Issac Sopoaga, Defensive Tackle, San Francisco 49ers
The Indianapolis Colts are going to need to get a run-stuffing defensive tackle in their new 3-4 defensive scheme. They have been shredded apart against the run this season to the tune of 137.5 yards per game. Even more recently, Indianapolis has been downright anemic in this category, giving up over 630 rushing yards in the last three games.
Rookie fifth-round pick Josh Chapman could fill this role, but he has been injured all season and wasn't active for a single game during the regular year.
Sopoaga anchors one of the best defensive fronts in the entire National Football League. He will, however, be calling a new city home in 2013. San Francisco has a nice young core in the form of Ricky Jean-Francois and Ian Williams to hold down the fort along the interior of its defensive line. In addition, it has a minimum of 13 picks to address this position in April's draft.
In short, "Soap" would be a great fit in Indy.
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Cliff Avril, Defensive End, Detroit Lions
The Jacksonville Jaguars tallied a total of 20 sacks in 2012, ranking them dead last in he National Football League. Jeremy Mincey couldn't build on a strong 2011 campaign that saw him record eight sacks alone as he finished with just three this season. Additionally, rookie second-round pick Andre Branch couldn't get anything going in limited playing time.
Whoever is calling the shots in Jacksonville this upcoming offseason will have to address its anemic pass rush.
It does have the second overall pick in April's draft, which makes Jarvis Jones from Georgia a real possibility. Even if Jacksonville does add a pass rusher early in the draft it will still need to add a veteran presence at defensive end.
This is where Avril comes into play.
He has recorded 28 sacks in the last three seasons and has been one of the most consisting pass-rushing 4-3 defensive ends in the NFL. Acquiring his services would be a real coup.
Kansas City Chiefs
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Alex Smith, Quarterback, San Francisco 49ers
Note: Alex Smith still has two years remaining on his contract. He will, however, be looking for a new franchise come March, whether it be as a free agent or via trade.
The Kansas City Chiefs will look at adding a young quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick in April's draft. Of course, Geno Smith from West Virginia comes to mind first.
That being said, there really aren't any start em' right now NFL draft prospects coming out in the 2013 NFL draft. Kansas City would be well served finding a serviceable veteran quarterback to lead its offense for the next season or two.
This is where the veteran Smith comes into play.
Despite being benched in lieu of Colin Kaepernick, No. 11 was continuing to redefine his career in 2012. Smith finished 2012 first in the NFL in completion percentage and third in quarterback rating (behind Aaron Rodges and Peyton Manning).
Over the course of his last 25 starts Smith tallied 30 touchdown passes compared to 10 interceptions. He would be a perfect fit in Kansas City.
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Dwayne Bowe, Wide Receiver, Kansas City Chiefs
The Miami Dolphins, who are in desperate need of a legit No. 1 wide receiver, have been linked to Bowe for quite some time now.
Brian Hartline did record a 1,000-yard season for Miami, but is also set to be a free agent in March. Does it overpay for a secondary option or dole out the necessary cash for a true play maker on the outside?
My money is on general manager Jeff Ireland attempting to make a splash in free agency.
For his part, Bowe has been one of the most consistently good wide receivers in the NFL over the course of the last three seasons. He is averaging over 1,000 yards and about eight scores during that span.
It's hard to put into words exactly what Bowe's presence in Miami would mean for impressive young quarterback Ryan Tannehill. He would give the Texas A&M product that go to guy on third down and a huge target on the outside.
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Aqib Talib, Cornerback, New England Patriots
Antoine Winfield isn't getting any younger and 2010 second-round pick Chris Cook is nothing more than a marginal nickel guy in the NFL. Outside of those two, the Minnesota Vikings don't really have a ton of options at cornerback. Rookie Josh Robinson, despite flashes, leaves a lot to be desired in terms of coverage. Meanwhile, A.J. Jefferson is a pure depth guy.
Minnesota finished the regular season ranked 24th against the pass and yielded 28 touchdown passes compared to just 10 interceptions.
Needless to say, it needs a major upgrade here.
Talib has been really good for New England since a mid-season trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He is, by all accounts, a true No. 1 corner in the NFL.
New England Patriots
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Jairus Byrd, Safety, Buffalo Bills
While it is hard to imagine Buffalo letting this Pro Bowl safety walk in free agency, it might not have much of a choice due to a less than stellar salary cap situation. If Byrd is able to test the waters he will garner a great deal of interest around the league.
Leave it to the New England Patriots to swoop in and nab one of the best players from a division rival. This is the type of move that they seem to make on a near yearly basis.
Byrd would be a major upgrade alongside Devin McCourty at the free safety position. His addition would make New England's secondary one of the best in the AFC East just like that. Byrd recorded five interceptions and four forced fumbles in a ridiculously good 2012 season for Buffalo.
New Orleans Saints
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Dwight Freeney, Defensive End/Outside Linebacker, Indianapolis Colts
The Colts experiment of moving Freeney to outside linebacker in their newly installed 3-4 scheme has been an utter failure. He recorded his lowest sack total (five) since an injury plagued 2007 season saw him tally 3.5 in nine games.
It just isn't a good fit for the veteran pass-rush specialist. Look for Indianapolis to let him walk in March.
On the open market, Freeney would draw a tremendous amount of interest from teams that run a 4-3 defensive scheme.
For their part, the New Orleans Saints were unable to garner a consistent pass rush and were forced to blitz way too much in 2012. They got to the quarterback a total of 30 times with Cameron Jordan and Will Smith accounting for nearly half the sacks.
New Orleans could easily continue the move of Jordan inside to defensive tackle, while implanting Freeney opposite Smith to create a solid pass-rushing defensive line.
This seems like a perfect fit.
New York Giants
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Andre Smith, Offensive Tackle, New York Giants
The New York Giants need to get some young new blood in at the offensive tackle position and Smith would be an ideal fit. The former top five overall pick of the Cincinnati Bengals turned in one of the best performances for a right tackle in the entire NFL this season.
With that in mind, there are going to be some teams out there that will continue to have that red flag raised in their minds when broaching the subject of signing Smith. After all, 2012 represented the first season that he showed up to camp in shape.
New York would be well served to take a shot with Smith at a lower monetary figure than most people expect at this point.
He would be an immediate upgrade over David Diehl at right tackle and would allow New York to continue utilizing Will Beatty along the left side of the line.
New York Jets
Victor Cruz, Wide Receiver, New York Giants
If the New York Jets are serious about protecting the ball better on offense they would be well served to make a run at Alex Smith this offseason. Short of that, there really aren't a ton of solid free agent quarterback options.
Instead, New York will probably have to settle with reaching for a quarterback in the first round of April's draft.
It really doesn't matter who the Jets have under center if they can't provide that unnamed quarterback with a legitimate wide receiver group. Stephen Hill showed flashes this season, but wasn't healthy for the vast majority of the year. Meanwhile, Santonio Holmes missed the final 12 games of the year with a major injury.
I like what I saw from Jeremy Kerley (56 receptions and 827 yards), but he isn't more than a solid complementary receiver on a good team.
Enter into the equation Victor Cruz, who has the star power and has provided a great deal of production over the course of the last two seasons for Eli Manning and company.
Cruz is set to be a restricted free agent, which would seem to limit his chances of moving on. He would most likely require a first-round compensation if signed.
Does New York bite the proverbial bullet to get a clear No. 1 receiver? That's the important question here.
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Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Cornerback, Philadelphia Eagles
You are not going to win many games in the NFL with a combination of Shawntae Spencer, Ronald Bartell and Michael Huff starting at cornerback on defense.
This is the situation that the Oakland Raiders found themselves in during the 2012 season. First-year general manager Reggie McKenzie inherited a disastrous salary cap situation and set forth to change the front office philosophy in Oakland.
It isn't going to go out there and spend a ridiculous amount of money in free agency. Instead, Oakland will build through the draft and supplement with veteran acquisitions here and there.
Rodgers-Cromartie would seem to fit that bill. He had a down 2012 season and would probably come on the cheap. Additionally, the former Pro Bowl cornerback seems to fit what Oakland is attempting to build schematically on the defensive side of the ball.
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Branden Albert, Offensive Tackle, Kansas City Chiefs
I am pretty sure that the Philadelphia Eagles will avoid the free agent trap this season after being burned in each of the last two offseasons.
That being said, they're going to need to find a solid offensive tackle to play opposite Jason Peters, who missed the entire season with an injury.
While Philadelphia will not go out there and get into a bidding war for the likes of Jake Long and Andre Smith, it will look to upgrade at right tackle.
This is where Albert comes into play.
He will fly under the radar in free agency due to the big names at this position, but is right up there with Long and Smith atop the free agent class.
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Quentin Jammer, Cornerback, San Diego Chargers
Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert avoids free agency like the plague and it has worked for him since assuming leadership within the organization in 2000.
That's going to have to change without depth throughout an aging roster.
Cortez Allen showed promise in his second season. The Citadel product recorded 10 passes defended, two interceptions and three forced fumbles while starting three games for Pittsburgh in 2012. Ike Taylor is who we thought he was; a decent No. 2 cornerback on a good defense.
Outside of those two, Pittsburgh doesn't have a whole lot to speak of at cornerback.
While Jammer might leave a lot to be desired at this point in his career, he could step into a starting role or play nickel and be a major upgrade from what Pittsburgh currently has. He would also come on the cheap.
San Diego Chargers
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Sebastian Vollmer, Offensive Tackle, New England Patriots
Fellow Bleacher Report writer Chris Hansen focused on how the San Diego Chargers struggled a great deal in pass protection this season. The talented scribe had the following to say.....
Gaither’s play, or lack thereof, and the play of his backups were a big reason Rivers struggled. Not replacing Jeromey Clary was another poor decision by Smith. Rivers was sacked 30 times in 2011 and 49 in 2012. The Chargers’ sack percentage went from 8th at 4.9 percent to to 29th, with Rivers' going down on 8.5 percent of his dropbacks.
I couldn't agree more, Chris.
San Diego's pass protection issues were a primary reason Philip Rivers struggled through one of his worst seasons. His inability to have a pocket in the backfield led to timing issues and forced passes.
In order for the Chargers to become relevant in the AFC once again they're going to have to replace Clary at right tackle as well as find a consistent performer to pick up the slack along the left side of the line.
Vollmer is quickly becoming one of the better pass protectors from the right tackle position in the entire league. He has improved each and every season, which is an indication that he will be an All-Pro caliber player in the not so distant future.
Whoever the Chargers new general manager is, he will have to go out there and upgrade what was a disastrous offensive line, at least from the tackle position.
San Francisco 49ers
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Mike Wallace, Wide Receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers
In hindsight, the San Francisco 49ers would have been better served making an offer to Wallace last season rather than reaching for A.J. Jenkins, who caught zero passes as a rookie, in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft. It might be too early to close the door on Jenkins, but you expect more production from your top pick.
Michael Crabtree has finally flourished into the No. 1 receiver that many projected him to be coming out of Texas Tech a few seasons back. Randy Moss played extremely well in limited duty and could be back next season.
It gets murky at wide receiver after that. Mario Manningham tore apart his knee in Week 16 and might not be back in time for training camp during the summer. Fellow wide receiver Kyle Williams is also recovering from a serious injury.
Needles to say, San Francisco having to rely on Ted Ginn to be its "No. 3" wide receiver during the playoffs has to indicate that it will be looking for an upgrade in the offseason.
The good news for general manager Trent Baalke and company is that San Francisco has the most picks in the 2013 NFL draft and could easily afford to send a first rounder to Pittsburgh as compensation for signing Wallace.
In addition, Wallace would be a huge down field threat for up-and-coming quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the passing game.
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Fred Davis, Tight End, Washington Redskins
Zach Miller and Anthony McCoy have been a decent tandem for rookie quarterback Russell Wilson this season. It is important to note that Wilson would be more effective, if humanly possible, if he had a Pro Bowl caliber tight end to throw to.
Enter into the equation Davis, who was on the verge of breaking out big time this season prior to injuring his Achilles in late-October. All said, Davis has tallied 83 receptions for over 1,100 yards in his last 19 games. Those are top tier tight end numbers right there.
It also doesn't hurt that Davis played for Pete Carroll at Southern California. This seems like a match made in heaven.
St. Louis Rams
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Ryan Clady, Offensive Tackle, Denver Broncos
The St. Louis Rams need to get a franchise offensive tackle if they're going to be viable in the NFC West moving forward. The combination of Wayne Hunter and Barry Richardson just isn't going to get it done at right tackle.
While Rodger Saffold seems to have the left tackle position locked down, he isn't that franchise book end for Sam Bradford.
St. Louis could easily package its two first-round picks in order to trade up for a player like Luke Joeckel, but that would run counter to its philosophy of adding draft picks and building a deep roster.
Clady will most likely receive the franchise tag for Denver this offseason. He has been one of the most dominating offensive tackles in the entire National Football League over the last couple seasons and warrants top of the line money in free agency.
If, for some reason, Denver decides against making Clady one of the highest paid tackles in the NFL, I can easily envision the Rams making a play for him.
Either way, this is an area of concern for the vastly improved Rams.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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Derek Cox, Cornerback, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished the 2012 regular season dead last against the pass. They yielded an average of nearly 300 passing yards per game and allowed 30 touchdowns through the air.
That really isn't going to get it done.
Of course, losing Eric Wright to a suspension and trading Aqib Talib during the season didn't help.
With that in mind, The Buccaneers cannot rely on E.J. Biggers and Wright to be their two starting corners next season. Rookie Leonard Johnson has a tremendous amount of upside, but he is going to need some help on the other side.
Cox was up and down in 2012, but has tremendous on ball coverage skills. He also fits Tampa Bay's mold of adding youngsters to an improving roster. This is an addition that the Buccaneers could make to win now while also looking to the future.
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Michael Johnson, Defensive End, Cincinnati Bengals
The Tennessee Titans did record an average of three sacks per outing in 2012, but a lot of that came via the blitz. They are going to need to actually be able to generate a four-man pass rush in order to improve on a disastrous defensive performance.
Johnson recorded 11.5 sacks for Cincinnati during the regular year and will be a popular free agent when the league year begins in March. He has a wide arsenal of pass-rush moves, which makes him an intriguing option for defenses that run a 4-3 scheme.
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Louis Delmas, Safety, Detroit Lions
To say that the Washington Redskins need upgrades at safety would be a major understatement. This position really is their only major weakness on defense. Having to rely on the likes of Madieu Williams and Jordan Pugh really isn't going to get it done.
While Washington could easily turn to the draft for an upgrade here, it is lacking a first-round pick and will probably want to address other needs.
When healthy, Delmas is a really good starting free safety in the National Football League. He is solid against the run and above average in coverage.
Adding Delmas to the mix would enable the Redskins to be able to look at the strong side during the draft.