The season is over for 20 NFL franchises and the wave of offseason changes has already begun. Black Monday has come with a multitude of front office and coaching changes, some expected and some surprising.
As these teams prepare to watch the playoffs from the sidelines, they also begin to transition into offseason mode. Front office personnel are preparing to make moves in the coming months to give their organizations the best chance for the present and future.
Whether in their first or 15th season, many organizations are feeling the pressure to improve immediately. This piece will examine three NFL teams that must take drastic chances this offseason given their current situation.
The Arizona Cardinals 2012 season can be aptly summed up by Larry Fitzgerald's expression above. The Cardinals jumped out to an early 4-0 start but would lose 11 of their next 12 games. In the wake of this dismal season, head coach Ken Whisenhunt and general manager Rod Graves have been fired.
With vacancies at their two top positions, the Cardinals are in full swing to find replacements. However, at this point it is still too early to know who the new faces of this organization will be.
It is hardly bold to claim that the Cardinals are in desperate need of a quarterback change, but that is exactly what must happen this offseason. The Kevin Kolb trade is quickly going down as one of the worst in recent memory and still haunts the Cardinals today. In order to move forward, the Cardinals' new management will need to be willing to part with past mistakes and make immediate changes.
The Cardinals have a team that is ready to compete right away with one of the league's best young defenses and an elite receiver in Fitzgerald. Michael Vick needs to be considered as the first option to right the ship in free agency. Vick still has the arm strength and talent to succeed in the NFL and will be one of the hottest commodities in free agency.
If the Cardinals elect to pass on a quarterback in free agency, they must use one of their first two picks (seventh and 39th overall). This draft class may not be flush with the quarterback talent from 2012, but the Cardinals cannot afford to wait.
If Geno Smith somehow slips, the Cardinals must jump at the opportunity to bring in the dynamic Mountaineer. Outside of Smith, the coaching and scouting staff will have to decide which of the remaining quarterbacks fit the new offensive system. Possible names to consider beyond Smith include Matt Barkley, Zac Dysert, Mike Glennon and Tyler Wilson.
The Buffalo Bills are another organization with plenty of pieces in place but lacking a true signal-caller. As part of the offseason fat trimming in the NFL, the Bills fired head coach Chan Gailey. The search for a new head coach is currently under way.
The Bills also made a change in front office management with owner Ralph Wilson stepping down as the ultimate decision-maker. Russ Brandon, the team's chief operating officer, was promoted to team president, but general manager Buddy Nix will still have power over personnel moves.
Russ Brandon needs to follow a similar formula to the Arizona Cardinals and do everything he can to secure a reliable signal-caller. Far too much money has been invested in Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has proven to be anything but consistent.
Michael Vick makes plenty of sense for the Bills with the offensive pieces in place. C.J. Spiller and Stevie Johnson are dynamic threats similar to those Vick had in Philadelphia.
In the draft, the Bills are rumored to be very interested in NC State's Mike Glennon. Glennon has the size and arm strength to be able to drive the ball through the tough winds of upstate New York. However, Glennon is far from a finished product and will require patience as he works through some growing pains.
Whether through free agency or the draft, the Buffalo Bills cannot afford to stick with the status quo. The Bills' key position players are hitting their prime and Buffalo can no longer wait for Fitzpatrick to improve. A major upgrade at the quarterback position is necessary if the Bills hope to contend for a playoff spot in the near future.
The St. Louis Rams are one of the hottest young teams in the NFL and are in position to be a consistent playoff threat. Head coach Jeff Fisher has transformed this perennial underdog into a legitimate threat for the future.
The Rams made the single best investment in their future last season by trading the second overall pick to Washington. This one trade yielded an extra second-round pick last year and an additional first-round pick in 2013 and 2014. The Rams cannot afford to treat these next two drafts as they have in the past.
With the development of young defensive standouts like Chris Long, Janoris Jenkins and Robert Quinn, the Rams will be a force to reckoned with for years to come. What the Rams have in defensive talent, however, they lack in offensive production. The Rams' biggest struggles to date have come from their offensive line, and now they must be aggressive in implementing change.
The Rams will have the 16th and an unknown extra first-round pick in 2013. In order to protect their franchise quarterback, the Rams must be aggressive in securing at least one elite offensive linemen. Depending on how the top 10 picks shake out, the Rams can elect to stick with their initial positions or use their ammunition to maneuver into a higher slot.
Pass protection must be the biggest priority for the Rams this offseason, and this year's draft class is the perfect time to do it. The Rams need to aim for either one of three offensive tackles (Joeckel, Lewan or Matthews) or one of two guards (Warmack or Cooper). Any of these players would provide an instant upgrade to the offensive line.