Players Every NFL Team Must Target in Free Agency This Offseason
With all of the recent hiring and firing of NFL general managers, head coaches, offensive and defensive coordinators and coaching staffs, the 2013 season is off to a roaring start.
It will take some time to identify which free agents every NFL team wants to target in free agency. Every new regime has to determine which players they want to retain and which ones need to be released because they don't fit with the new schemes.
Shortly after Super Bowl XLVII is over, NFL teams will need to decide if they want to pay out huge roster bonuses to veterans that they want to keep, or will they release a select few to save room on their salary cap?
There were already a large number of free agents that existed on every roster, due in part to the short-term contracts that were signed after the 2011 NFL work stoppage ended. Many players were scrambling for a deal, so they entered into short contracts with the hope of securing greater financial security down the road.
But as we saw with the Oakland Raiders in 2012, and what the New York Jets are facing in 2013, it is very easy for teams to get caught in bad salary-cap scenarios. The end result is that these teams are forced to release expensive players that they really would like to keep.
We will look at some key internal free agent decisions, and which external free agents to target based on who they might lose to free agency.
All salary cap space numbers used in the presentation came from a story by John Clayton of ESPN.com. According to Clayton's figures, there are currently nine teams that are already under the salary cap for 2013. That means a number of players will probably be released after the Super Bowl.
Free agent status listed for any player is courtesy of Rotoworld.com.
The Arizona Cardinals hired Bruce Arians to turn this team around, and his work is clearly cut out for him.
Team Needs - The Cardinals gave up 58 sacks in 2012, by far the most in the NFL. Kent Somers wrote on his blog that the Cardinals could have as many as four coaches working with the offensive linemen in 2013. That would be a positive development.
In addition, the Cardinals had the worst overall offense in the NFL, to go along with the worst rushing offense. The team committed 34 turnovers and were next-to-last in average points per game. Arians has his work cut out for him.
Salary cap space left to work with: $723,000. That won't get you very much in the current NFL.
Kevin Kolb's salary is just one of the reasons that the Cardinals don't have much salary cap space to work with. In 2013, Kolb is set to earn a base salary of $9 million and is due another $2 million in a roster bonus on March 15. It is one thing if he could produce for Arizona at that level, but unfortunately that isn't the case.
Free Agents to Target: Arians needs to bring in some quarterbacks to either compete against Kolb or that can take the job away from him. Not much is available through free agency, so he must hope that veterans like Alex Smith, Michael Vick or Matt Flynn are released. The next tier of quarterbacks includes the likes of Matt Moore, Tarvaris Jackson, Jason Campbell and David Garrard.
The Cardinals need help at tackle. The best options there are Jake Long (MIA), Ryan Clady (DEN), Andre Smith (CIN), Phil Loadholt (MIN) and Sebastian Vollmer (NE).
The Atlanta Falcons made a strong run in 2012, and were looking like they had a legitimate chance to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLVII until they were shut out by San Francisco in the second half of the NFC Championship game. At least the Falcons got the playoff monkey off of their back.
Team Needs - improve their running game, and defense against the run. They also need to upgrade their pass rush, as they were No. 28 in sacks in 2012.
Atlanta will have to decide what to do with Brent Grimes, as he was already expensive before his injury, and they have failed to sign him to a long-term deal.
Salary cap space left to work with: $4.9 million under the cap.
The Falcons will be looking to add some pass rushers, and to become more physical on both sides of the ball, as they lost in the line of scrimmage battle against San Francisco.
Free Agents to Target: Sign Brent Grimes to a new deal. Tackle Sam Baker is also a free agent in 2013.
Michael Turner isn't the back he once was, so the Falcons would be wise to try to snag another running back in free agency. Free agents include Steven Jackson (St.L.), Reggie Bush (MIA), Shonn Greene (NYJ) and Rashard Mendenhall (PIT).
The Falcons will also have to replace TE Tony Gonzalez. Available free agents include Martellus Bennett (NYG), Dustin Keller (NYJ), Anthony Fasano (MIA), James Casey (HOU) and Jared Cook (TEN).
Pass rushers in the market include: Anthony Spencer (DAL), Cliff Avril (DET), Connor Barwin (HOU) and Osi Umenyiora (NYG).
The Baltimore Ravens made it back to the Super Bowl in 2012, but the team will be taking on a different vibe in 2013 when Ray Lewis has retired.
Coach Harbaugh has been able to lead his team to the playoffs every year, so the Ravens will need to come up with a replacement for Lewis and hope that Ed Reed decides to come back for at least another year.
There is also the matter of signing quarterback Joe Flacco to a new deal. Flacco is the only starting quarterback that is a free agent in 2013 that could turn around a franchise. It would be unimaginable for Baltimore not to sign him to a new deal prior to the start of free agency.
Team Needs - shore up the secondary and find a replacement for Ray Lewis. The Ravens' defense had some rather ugly stretches in 2012, and the defense was showing that they had aged at times. Adding some more youth and depth to the unit would be a prudent move.
Salary cap space left to work with: $15.7 million under the cap.
Some of the free agents for Baltimore this offseason besides QB Flacco include LB Dannell Ellerbe, S Ed Reed, OLB Paul Kruger, DL Ryan McBean, T Bryant McKinnie and CB Cary Williams.
With $15.7 million to work with, Ravens fans should have faith that Ozzie Newsome will find a way to sign Joe Flacco to a long-term deal and still address other needs. Whether or not he has much left over to keep Ed Reed happy is another story. That might depend on how expensive it will be to retain Flacco.
The Ravens might have to ask Anquan Boldin to take less money, since he is due to make $6 million in 2013. If he is unwilling to do that, they might need to part ways with the veteran receiver.
Free Agents to Target: If Boldin does leave, one coup for the Ravens would be to land Mike Wallace away from Pittsburgh. With Torrey Smith on one side and Wallace on the other, that would be a dynamic set of receivers for Flacco to work with.
There isn't that much talent available in free agency at middle or inside linebacker. You have Brad Jones (GB) and Bradie James (HOU). Brian Urlacher (CHI) is on his last legs and Larry Foote (PIT) isn't really a spring chicken either.
With all of the injuries in the secondary, adding some more depth makes sense. The top CB free agents are Keenan Lewis (PIT), Aquib Talib (NE) and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (PHIL). The best safeties in the market are Jairus Byrd (BUF), Glover Quin (HOU), Kenny Phillips (NYG) and Louis Delmas (DET).
The Buffalo Bills have a number of free agents in 2013, but the two key players they need to bring back are G Andy Levitre and S Jairus Byrd. Both players have been extremely reliable and productive and will be entering their prime years. You just don't let players like that walk away.
Team Needs - improve the run defense, quarterback, add some better wide receivers and upgrade the linebackers. Gave up 23 rushing touchdowns, the most in the NFL in 2012.
Salary cap space left to work with: $20.6 million, and they still have that much available after the Mario Williams deal.
Buddy Nix has stated that he wants to add at least one quarterback and possibly two. Whether or not Ryan Fitzpatrick is brought back or released will probably be determined by who the Bills pick up in the draft and during free agency.
The free agent market for quarterbacks looks very slim considering that Joe Flacco will probably be signed by Baltimore. It is possible that quarterbacks like Michael Vick, Alex Smith and Matt Flynn could be released, or the Bills could wind up snagging one of them in a trade to bring in some competition for Fitzpatrick.
Free Agents to Target: The best wide receivers in the market are Mike Wallace (PIT), Dwayne Bowe (KC), Greg Jennings (GB), Wes Welker (NE) and Danny Amendola (ST.L.).
LB options range from Philip Wheeler (OAK), Daryl Smith (JAX), Brad Jones (GB), Dannell Ellerbe (BAL) and Paul Kruger (BAL).
The Carolina Panthers retained Ron Rivera as head coach, but still made a number of changes in the front office. They hired Dave Gettleman as GM and Mike Shula is now the offensive coordinator.
Team Needs - The Panthers have some free agents they need to address in the offseason, including DL Dwan Edwards, DB Captain Munnerlyn and WR Louis Murphy. Gettleman has to figure out a way to get out from the mess than former GM Marty Hurney left with so much money tied up in running backs.
Salary cap space left to work with: Panthers are $11.8 million over the cap. Not the greatest scenario for Gettleman to walk into.
Free Agents to Target: The free agent targets most typically associated with the Panthers are WR Dwayne Bowe and S Brent Grimes. While it is conceivable that the Panthers could land one of these players, the reality is that both of them may be too ambitious because of their salary cap situation.
Other targets for Carolina could be T Jake Long, S Jairus Byrd and DT Henry Melton. It will be an interesting offseason for the Panthers to see what Gettleman can create.
The Chicago Bears fired Lovie Smith for not being able to take his talented team to the playoffs enough. Marc Trestman comes in from the CFL and will look to improve an offense that was ranked No. 28 overall. The passing attack, despite the addition of Brandon Marshall, finished the year ranked No. 29 in the league.
One free agent the Bears need to bring back is DT Henry Melton. Melton had a stellar 2012, and if the Bears let him walk in free agency, he would be greatly missed.
Team Needs - another WR to line up opposite of Marshall. Improve the offensive line, as Cutler was sacked 38 times and was forced to miss action due to injury.
Brian Urlacher has enjoyed a wonderful career, but he is getting closer and closer to calling it a career. The Bears need to have a starter ready to plug in for him in the near-term.
Salary cap space left to work with: $13.3 million. Not a ton of money, but clearly better than a number of other NFL teams.
Free Agents to Target: WR Dwayne Bowe or Greg Jennings could be a nice fit in the Bears offense. TE options include Jared Cook (TEN) and Fred Davis (WASH).
For a starting tackle, the Bears can look at Jake Long (MIA), Brandon Albert (KC), Sebastian Vollmer (NE) or Andre Smith (CIN). The top guards on the market are Andy Levitre (BUF) and Louis Vasquez (SD).
The Cincinnati Bengals finally came up with a repeat appearance in the postseason, so things are looking up for the team.
In the 2013 offseason, the Bengals have a very favorable salary cap scenario, but are cursed with a high number of pending free agents that they need to figure out who they want to bring back.
Team Needs - to try to bring back as many of their quality free agents that the Bengals determine are on good-quality deals. The team is faced with trying to sign up to 12 free agents of varying degrees of quality. The 12 free agents are:
T Andre Smith, DE Michael Johnson, P Kevin Huber, DB Nate Clements, OLB Thomas Howard, OLB Manny Lawson, S Chris Crocker, K Josh Brown, DB Pacman Jones, DE Robert Geathers, DE Wallace Gilberry and DB Terence Newman.
Salary cap space left to work with: The Bengals have the most cap space of any NFL team, with $55.1 million available to work with. But when you realize how many key free agents are eligible to test free agency, you understand why they have so much money available to spend.
Free Agents to Target: If the Bengals succeed in signing 10 of their 12 key free agents that we identified, that will suck up the majority of their available cap space. Since these are quality free agents that we are talking about, this is where the majority of their attention should go in free agency.
The Cleveland Browns have to determine if they want to continue to roll with Brandon Weeden as their starting quarterback, or if they will bring in somebody to compete with him for the job. The Browns have turned over their front office, so that means there might be some major personnel changes as the new regime assesses what they have to work with.
Michael Lombardi will handle player personnel, and Rob Chudzinski will take over as the new head coach. With Norv Turner coming in as offensive coordinator, you would have to think that the Browns offense will improve in 2013.
Team Needs - Browns need to improve on both sides of the ball. The overall offense was No. 25 in the NFL, while the overall defense was No. 23. The Browns averaged 18.9 points per game, which was good for No. 24 in the league.
The Browns need to try to sign Phil Dawson to a new contract. He continues to excel and can be the difference in winning two or three extra games per year based on his long-range field goals.
Salary cap space left to work with: Cleveland is $48.9 million under the salary cap. That is the second-best figure in the NFL and it means that the Browns should be active in bringing in some talented free agents this offseason. The Browns will be the envy of a number of GM's around the league.
With $48.9 million available, the Browns can literally target anybody they want to sign. New owner Jimmy Haslam wants to bring a winner to Cleveland, so he can show the fans that he means business in free agency.
Free Agents to Target: If for some strange reason the Baltimore Ravens aren't able to convince Joe Flacco to sign a long-term deal, the Browns could step in with a big offer for him. That would elevate the Browns offense and cripple the Ravens in one big move. The likelihood though is that Flacco returns to the Ravens.
Other quarterbacks that could become free agents in 2013 would be Michael Vick and Matt Flynn. Alex Smith is another possibility. Any of the three could take over as the starter.
The Browns could now afford to sprinkle in some talented veteran players to help guide the youngsters, which is the formula the Indianapolis Colts used so well this year. Targets could include WR Dwayne Bowe, Greg Jennings or Wes Welker. Dustin Keller could be an attractive tight end target.
The Dallas Cowboys fired defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and took the play-calling duties away from head coach Jason Garrett. That is a start to some of the changes that Jerry Jones promised.
But the Cowboys still have holes as was witnessed down the stretch run. Unfortunately, they are not in a great salary cap situation to do much about it.
Team Needs - need to add to their offensive line, especially their interior linemen. Adding some talent at defensive end and at strong safety makes sense as well.
The Cowboys are needing to decide what they will do with free agent Anthony Spencer. If they decide to sign him to a new contract, it means that they will have to release some other veterans to free up cap space for him. One of those veterans that might be in trouble due to earning more than he produces is WR Miles Austin.
Center Phil Costa is a restricted free agent, so the Cowboys will likely sign him to a new deal.
Salary cap space left to work with: The Cowboys are $18.2 million over the cap.
Free Agents to Target: Due to the poor salary cap scenario, the Cowboys can't be as big a player in free agency as they were in 2012. Jones will figure out some creative ways to free up cap room, but if they sign Spencer, that will be an expensive deal.
Interior linemen options for the Cowboys range from Andy Levitre (BUF), Louis Vasquez (SD), Fernando Velasco (TEN) to Brandon Moore (NYJ).
The Denver Broncos were so close to advancing to the AFC Championship game, but as we all know you have to play for a full 60 minutes. Just ask Rahim Moore what happens if you let down for just one play.
The Broncos are one of the more complete teams in the NFL, as they finished in the top-10 in both overall offense and defense.
The defense could use some depth at MLB, safety and nose tackle.
Team Needs - big priority is to continue to protect Peyton Manning. Signing free agent T Ryan Clady to a long-term deal would be a step in the right direction.
Salary cap space left to work with: Denver has $18.5 million to work with in 2013.
Free Agents to Target: Not a great free agent class for middle linebackers. Options include Brad Jones (GB) and Dannell Ellerbe (BAL). Safety options include Jairus Byrd (BUF), Dashon Goldson (SF) and Ed Reed (BAL).
DT options range from Henry Melton (CHI), Randy Starks (MIA), Richard Seymour (OAK) to Jason Jones (SEA).
The Detroit Lions have quite a few contracts that expired in the 2012 season, but they don't have the luxury of much salary cap space to do much about it. Some creative financing will be needed to return most of their free agents back to the fold in 2013.
Team Needs - Detroit needs to improve their defense, but is in a tough situation because they have a number of decent free agents without much salary cap room left to maneuver with. Here is a quick hit list of their free agents in 2013:
S Louis Delmas, DE Cliff Avril, K Jason Hanson, CB Chris Houston, RB Kevin Smith, LB Justin Durant, DT Corey Williams, DT Sammie Lee Hill, CB Jacob Lacey, LB DeAndre Levy and T Gosder Cherilus. They also need to sign restricted free agent RB Joique Bell to a deal.
Salary cap space left to work with: The Lions are $1.1 million over the cap coming into the offseason. With so many free agents to sign, the Lions will no doubt need to restructure some veteran deals and see if they can find some cheap players to take the place of veterans they can't afford to resign.
Free Agents to Target: With so many free agents to sign and so little cap space, it wouldn't be a surprise if Detroit is fairly quiet during free agency. The Lions could target a DE like Israel Idonije (CHI), Dwight Freeney (INDY), or Osi Umenyiora (NYG).
Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers are entering an interesting offseason in 2013 as they have a number of long-term veterans that are all getting old together, but their usefulness compared to their cost is up for debate. A prime example is DB Charles Woodson, who will be 37-years-old in 2013 but he would cost the Packers $10 million next year.
The receiving corps might lose both Greg Jennings and Donald Driver, which would suddenly make the unit much younger.
Perhaps the biggest offseason issue is to figure out how to protect Aaron Rodgers better than they have been doing. He takes far too many sacks every year, and eventually the pounding will catch up to him.
Team Needs - improve the running game, and upgrade the pass blocking. The team allowed 51 sacks in 2012, which was next-to-last in the NFL.
Salary cap space left to work with: Green Bay is $7.1 million under the cap.
Free Agents to Target: The Packers could use a more reliable running back. Options include Steven Jackson (ST.L.), Reggie Bush (MIA), Shonn Greene (NYJ) and Rashard Mendenhall (PIT).
For the offensive line, C Fernando Velasco (TEN) and Dan Koppen (DEN) are options to target.
The Houston Texans were raided hard by free agency in 2012, so this year they are in a better position to sign the key free agents that they want to retain. Paramount on that list would be S Glover Quin and DE/LB Connor Barwin. Those two free agents would make the most sense to bring back for 2013.
The pass rush will be greatly aided when LB Brian Cushing returns in 2013.
Team Needs - Houston has committed to Matt Schaub as their quarterback, so trying to upgrade the offensive weapons around him would make sense. The Texans also need to address the offensive line and adding some greater depth there would help.
Adding another wide receiver that can help Andre Johnson out makes tremendous sense.
Teams will be doubling J.J. Watt, so finding some other pass rushers to ease the pressure on Watt would be another priority.
Salary cap space left to work with: The Texans are $12.9 million under the cap.
Free Agents to Target: Wide receiver options include Mike Wallace (PIT), Wes Welker (NE), Dwayne Bowe (KC) and Greg Jennings (GB) will be available. To stretch defenses, Wallace would make the most sense.
For the offensive line, the Texans could go after tackles like Phil Loadholt (MIN), Will Beatty or Sean Locklear (NYG), or Winston Justice (INDY). The best guard on the market is Andy Levitre (BUF) or Louis Vasquez (SD).
To improve the pass rush, Houston can look at players like Cliff Avril (DET), Osi Umenyiora (NYG), and Dwight Freeney (INDY), who are all expected to test the waters in free agency.
The Indianapolis Colts were one of the most improved teams in the NFL in 2012. GM Ryan Grigson brought 33 new players on the roster this season, and a result they have a number of cheaper contracts that give them great financial flexibility.
Team Needs - Indianapolis needs to improve the offensive line and the run defense. They could also use another cornberback, and a solid nose tackle. If Dwight Freeney opts to leave the team in free agency, then they will need somebody to pressure the quarterback from the outside linebacker slot.
According to this AFC South blog from ESPN, Freeney isn't expected to come back to the Colts in 2013, so some of that cap space will be devoted to improving the pass rush.
Salary cap space left to work with: The Colts are No. 3 in the NFL with $46 million under the cap. They are now in position to go out and sign some high-impact free agents this year.
Free Agents to Target: Offensive linemen that would be in demand in free agency include: G Andy Levitre (BUF), G Louis Vasquez (SD), T Jake Long (MIA), T Andre Smith (CIN), T Ryan Clady (DEN), T Phil Loadholt (MIN), T Will Beatty (NYG) and C Fernando Velasco (TEN).
Potential targets to improve the interior run defense include: DT Richard Seymour (OAK), DT Henry Melton (CHI), DT Randy Starks (MIA) and DT Jason Jones (SEA).
Cornerbacks to target would be Keenan Lewis (PIT), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (PHIL), Sean Smith (MIA), Chris Houston (DET), E.J. Biggers (TB), Derek Cox (JAX) and Sheldon Brown (CLEV).
The Jacksonville Jaguars were abysmal in 2012, so wholesale changes were made to the front office to get the organization turned around.
The team needs improvement across the board, so this rebuilding effort will have to be done in phases. For example, Jacksonville only came up with 20 sacks in 2012, which was the worst total in the league in 2012. They will have to find some creative ways to improve that aspect of their defense.
Another area for improvement is the quarterback play. Between Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne, the Jaguars might think long and hard about drafting another quarterback this year. Due to the injury to Maurice Jones-Drew, the Jaguars' rushing attack came in at No. 30 in the NFL. They only scored 15.9 points per game, which was also No. 30 in the league.
No. 30 was also their rank for overall defense, and their rush defense? You guessed it, No. 30 in the league.
Team Needs - improve pass rush and improve pass blocking. Jaguars gave up 50 sacks in 2012, which ranks them No. 30 in the NFL. By placing in the bottom-three of so many categories, the Jaguars will need to upgrade talent across the board.
Salary cap space left to work with: The Jaguars are $22.1 million under the cap.
Free Agents to Target: The Jaguars need to target playmakers on offense and defense. At quarterback, they might want to look at what is happening with Matt Flynn, as Gus Bradley would have a good handle on what kind of a player he is.
The Jaguars know DE Dwight Freeney well over the years in the AFC South, so he could help the pass rush.
As for improving the secondary, targets could include Keenan Lewis (PIT), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (PHIL), Sean Smith (MIA) and Chris Houston (DET).
Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs suffered through an abysmal 2012 season. Expectations were high for the Chiefs, but quarterback Matt Cassel was a major disappointment, and it is clear that the Chiefs need an upgrade at the position.
Romeo Crennel is out and Andy Reid is in, so the Chiefs should have a better situation at quarterback under Reid's guidance in 2013.
Another issue to address in the offseason is the retirement of G Ryan Lilja, so that is another position that needs to be filled.
Team Needs - the Chiefs were No. 32 in passing offense and were No. 32 in average points per game. They were a minus 24 in turnovers and were No. 29 in defensive sacks. The team needs help in a number of places, such as quarterback, wide receiver, defensive end and inside linebacker.
Salary cap space left to work with: Kansas City is $16.1 million under the cap.
Free Agents to Target: If Philadelphia releases Michael Vick, perhaps he will follow his old coach to Kansas City. The Chiefs could also make a run at Alex Smith if he becomes a free agent. The Chiefs will try their best to sign Dwayne Bowe to a long-term contract, but based on the way that negotiations went down in 2012, that doesn't appear promising.
Wide receivers targets would include Greg Jennings, Wes Welker, Danny Amendola and Brian Hartline.
The Miami Dolphins enter the second year with Joe Philbin and Ryan Tannehill, hoping that 2012 was part of the growing pains process for the rookie quarterback.
The Miami Herald is reporting that negotiations with pending free agent T Jake Long haven't been progressing very well. It probably didn't help that Miami gave Long a low-ball offer during the season. If Miami is resigned to the fact that Long will be too expensive to sign, they might need to use their first-round draft pick to secure a left tackle.
Long would be missed however. As recently as 2010, Pro Football Focus graded Long as their top pass blocker, with an efficiency score of 97.2.
Team Needs - try to sign Long to a new deal, within reason. If he is stuck on being one of the highest paid tackles in the game, Miami might need to let him walk. Miami needs to find a way to create more turnovers, as the 10 interceptions in 2012 was in the bottom-five in the league.
Dolphins still need to upgrade the wide receiving corps. Finding a replacement for Long could become a reality.
Salary cap space left to work with: Miami is $35.8 million under the cap.
Free Agents to Target: Greg Jennings has been a target for Miami to upgrade the receivers. If Miami can't sign him, there are other receivers that they can go after, such as Wes Welker or Dwayne Bowe.
As for other tackles, there is Sebastian Vollmer (NE), Andre Smith (CIN) and Ryan Clady (DEN).
The Minnesota Vikings made a great run in 2012 to land a berth in the postseason. The offense still needs some more firepower as you can only rely on Adrian Peterson for so long.
Team Needs - The Vikings had the No. 31 ranked passing attack in the NFL in 2012. Adding some talented wide receivers to give Christian Ponder some additional targets makes sense.
FB Jerome Felton is a free agent in 2013. He is considered one of the top fullback free agents in 2013. LB Erin Henderson and WR Devin Aromashodu are a couple other free agents the Vikings will have to decide if they want to bring back for 2013.
Salary cap space left to work with: The Vikings are $16.1 million under the cap.
Free Agents to Target: There are some interesting wide receivers that are available in free agency. Minnesota knows Greg Jennings (GB) very well, and he could really help. Other options are Dwayne Bowe, Danny Amendola, Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline.
The Vikings could use some depth at defensive tackle. Henry Melton (CHI) is the cream of the crop there. Other candidates include Randy Starks (MIA), Richard Seymour (OAK) and Jason Jones (SEA).
New England Patriots
The New England Patriots continued to knock on the door for another Super Bowl crown, only to fall a little bit short. That total is now up to eight years and counting, but there are plenty of NFL franchises that would be delighted to be in the running for so many years in a row.
The Patriots will have some major decisions to make in free agency this offseason, such as CB Aqib Talib, WR Wes Welker, T Sebastian Vollmer and WR Julian Edelman.
Team Needs - The secondary still needs some work, and if the Patriots lose Wes Welker in free agency, they will need to bring in another talented receiver to keep Tom Brady and the offense humming along.
Salary cap space left to work with: The Patriots are $18.6 million under the cap.
Free Agents to Target: It would hurt the Patriots to lose a versatile player like Edelman, that can play in so many different positions. As for wide receivers, Brady is lobbying the team to keep Welker, but he will likely be in demand from other teams wanting to improve their overall receiving corps.
Mike Wallace could be an interesting addition, and we all know that Ed Reed is somebody that Coach Belichick thinks highly of.
New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints had a year to forget in 2012. With the bounty scandal, and subsequent suspension of players and coaches, the team is anxious to move ahead to next season, when Sean Payton will be leading them again.
Based on Payton being re-instated this week, it will be curious to see what changes he makes on the defensive side of the ball. It didn't take long for Payton to make his presence felt, as he fired defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo today.
Team Needs - The Saints had the worst overall defense in the NFL in 2012. Their pass defense was ranked No. 31. The Saints allowed 8.1 yards per pass attempt, tied for last in the NFL along with New York Giants. The Saints were also dead last against the run in 2012.
Salary cap space left to work with: If things aren't bad enough already, the Saints are already $14.7 over the salary cap for 2013. Good luck improving the defense with their hands tied behind their back.
Free Agents to Target: Defense, defense, defense. That will be the Saints offseason battle cry in free agency and in the draft. They have to upgrade the entire unit, but will be hard-pressed to bring in talent with very little money to spend in free agency.
The Saints will have to chop some veteran players first and then assess who they can bring in that will be relatively cheap. One veteran that looks to be in trouble is DE Will Smith, who Pro Football Focus graded out as the second-worst defensive end in 2012. Their article suggests that Smith should be released.
It is going to be another long offseason for the Saints in 2013. A story from the New Orleans Times-Picayune talks about the team going with a 3-4 scheme at times next season, which is one of the reasons that Spagnuolo is no longer there.
New York Giants
The New York Giants are another team that has limited capacity to be a player in 2013 free agency because the team is already over the cap by $4.7 million.
That means that you can expect a few veteran heads to roll, or at least a number of players will be asked to restructure their current deals to allow the team to get under the salary cap. One example could be CB Corey Webster, who will make a base salary of $7 million in 2013. That is just not a good return for the Giants.
Team Needs - The Giants' pass defense allowed 8.1 yards per pass attempt, which was tied with New Orleans for worst in the NFL. That is a reflection on an ineffective pass rush and weaker secondary play. On offense, the Giants will need to find a starting tight end.
Salary cap space left to work with: The Giants are already $4.7 million over the cap for 2013.
Free Agents to Target: The Giants will need to find a tight end as they lost Jake Ballard to New England and starter Martellus Bennett will be a free agent. The Giants don't need to look too far for a tight end, as the Jets don't have salary cap space to keep Dustin Keller, who will be a free agent in 2013.
With an upside-down salary cap situation, it will be difficult for the Giants to retain some of their key free agents this offseason. They have two restricted free agents in WR Victor Cruz and S Stevie Brown. The other free agents are:
T Will Beatty, S Kenny Phillips, K Lawrence Tynes, TE Bennett, OL Kevin Boothe, T Sean Locklear, DE Osi Umenyiora, LB Keith Rivers and LB Chase Blackburn.
New York Jets
The New York Jets finally filled their general manager vacancy by hiring John Idzik, but there was good reason for why so many candidates backed out of consideration. The Jets need a major upgrade in talent and are coming into 2013 with $19.4 million over the salary cap.
Jets fans will have to be patient with Idzik (is that word even in Jets fans vocabulary?), as he will probably need a year or two to work his way out of their roster and salary cap mess.
According to a story by Jason La Canfora from CBS Sports, the Jets are going to explore the trade market for CB Darrelle Revis to see what they can get for him. In addition, La Canfora reported that it will be difficult for the Jets to keep TE Dustin Keller, RB Shonn Greene and DT Mike DeVito due to their salary cap issues.
2013 is shaping up like a lost cause already for the Jets.
Team Needs - The Jets had the No. 30 overall offense in 2012, to go along with the No. 30 passing offense. The team was minus 14 in turnovers. New York needs help at quarterback, on the offensive line, at running back and at wide receiver.
Salary cap space left to work with: $19.4 over the cap. That is the worst situation of all 32 teams in the NFL.
Free Agents to Target: Being so far over the cap, the Jets will be hard-pressed to be players in free agency this year. The team will look to make a few steps, gradually working their way back to being more competitive in 2014-2015.
When the Oakland Raiders hired GM Reggie McKenzie last year, he knew that it would take years to work his way through the mess that he walked into.
The Raiders are already over the cap for the 2013 season, so McKenzie will probably have to either release some more veterans or not be able to re-sign some key players that the team would probably like to keep. One such example is nose tackle Richard Seymour.
Team Needs - The Raiders were No. 28 in points allowed in 2012. They ranked No. 31 in sacks and were No. 30 in forced fumbles. Improving the defense on all three levels is part of the challenge.
Salary cap space left to work with: The Raiders are $4.5 million over the cap, which is an improvement from where they were last year at this time. However, it doesn't make life any easier for the front office.
Free Agents to Target: If the Raiders could figure out a way to sign Seymour, they would love to have him clogging up the line of scrimmage. The likelihood is that he will be playing elsewhere in 2013.
The Raiders could go after Terrance Knighton (JAX) as a potential cheaper replacement for Seymour.
Oakland has another free agent in tight end Brandon Myers. If they can't sign Myers, the Raiders could target Dustin Keller (NYJ) or Jared Cook (TEN).
The Philadelphia Eagles have finally parted ways with Andy Reid, and the Chip Kelly era will now begin. Kelly is still looking to identify his coordinators, but that shouldn't take that much longer.
Team Needs - The Eagles' pass defense gave up 33 touchdown passes in 2012, the most in the NFL. It will help to get Nnamdi Asomugha back healthy in 2013.
The Eagles could use some help on the offensive line, in the secondary and at outside linebacker.
Salary cap space left to work with: The Eagles have $5.2 million to work with.
Free Agents to Target: First order of business for Kelly is to determine if he wants either Michael Vick or Nick Foles as his starting quarterback. Once he has made that determination, then the team can start addressing other issues.
Tackles available in free agency include Sebastian Vollmer (NE), Jake Long (MIA), Andre Smith (CIN) and Ryan Clady (DEN).
At corner, the Eagles can target Brent Grimes (ATL), Aqib Talib (NE), Cary Williams (BAL), Keenan Lewis (PIT) and Sean Smith (MIA). The Eagles have to decide if they want to re-sign Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are traditionally very quiet when it comes to being an active player in free agency. If the team decides to let WR Mike Wallace walk away in free agency this year, it will be interesting to see if the team opts to replace him with a free agent, or if they turn to the draft instead.
Team Needs - Once again the Steelers turned the ball over too much on offense, and didn't generate enough turnovers on defense. The team came up with just 10 interceptions on the season, which placed them in the bottom-five in that category.
The offensive line could use more talent, as Ben Roethlisberger has to take too many hits in the pocket. The Steelers will probably have to replace Wallace at wide receiver, and could use some more help in putting pressure on the quarterback. James Harrison is not the force he had been two years ago.
All three running backs are free agents in 2013, so it is hard to say if either Rashard Mendenhall or Isaac Redman will be back. Jonathan Dwyer is a restricted free agent.
Salary cap space left to work with: Pittsburgh is already $10.8 million over the cap for 2013. This is just one of the key reasons that they might have to let Mike Wallace walk away in free agency.
Free Agents to Target: The Steelers tend to take care of their own players first. LB Larry Foote, CB Keenan Lewis and NT Casey Hampton are all free agents in 2013.
From Pro Football FocusL
There haven't been many outside linebackers like James Harrison in recent memory: a dominant pass-rusher who could make plays in the run game and handle himself in coverage. He was the complete package.
But injuries have slowed him down, sapping some of the explosiveness that defined him as a player. He's still making plays in the run game, but his pass-rushing productivity rating dropped to 7.7 in 2012 from 13.6 the year before. With a huge cap hit and the Steelers up against it, they need to make the right business decision and see what they really have in Jason Worilds.
San Diego Chargers
The San Diego Chargers finally pulled the plug on Norv Turner and are hoping that offensive guru Mike McCoy can lead them back to the playoffs.
The Chargers said goodbye to GM A.J. Smith and hired Tom Telesco to help sign a number of pending free agents in 2013.
Telesco has to figure out who they want to bring back from the following free agents: G Louis Vasquez, DE Shaun Phillips, WR/KR Michael Spurlock, G Tyronne Green, K Nick Novak, CB Antoine Cason, S Corey Lynch and CB Quentin Jammer. They also need to sign restricted free agent WR Danario Alexander.
Team Needs - The Chargers gave up 49 sacks in 2012, so improving the pass blocking would be a big plus. In addition, the Chargers had the No. 31 overall offense in the NFL in 2013. They can improve the offense with some additions to the offensive line and with a running back to challenge Ryan Matthews.
The defense can use an upgrade at linebacker.
Salary cap space left to work with: The Chargers are $8.7 million under the cap.
Free Agents to Target: Bringing in a dynamic RB like Reggie Bush makes sense, because you just don't know for sure what you are going to get from Matthews.
The Chargers can look at a tackle like Jake Long, Andre Smith, Sebastian Vollmer or Ryan Clady.
As for linebackers, they could go after Paul Kruger to pair him with ex-teammate Jarret Johnson.
San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers are blessed with plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, as evidenced by playing in the NFC Championship game in consecutive years.
But to keep talent you have to pay for it. With all of their All-Pro players, the 49ers will be finding it increasingly difficult to be able to retain everybody, so things will get interesting for Trent Baalke in the next year or two.
As it is, the 49ers have some key free agents coming up this offseason, like S Dashon Goldson, G Leonard Davis, WR/KR Ted Ginn, DL Ricky Jean Francois, WR Randy Moss, DL Isaac Sopoaga and TE Delanie Walker.
Team Needs - The 49ers don't really have many holes, unless some of the pending free agents mentioned above decide to play for somebody else next year. Then the 49ers will have to turn to free agency or the draft to see who they can plug in.
Salary cap space left to work with: The 49ers are $3.9 million under the cap.
Free Agents to Target: Due to the limited room under the cap, the 49ers don't project to be major players in free agency. The vast majority of their starters are under contract for 2013 already, so it is not out of question that they could come back for a third-straight NFC Championship game in 2013.
If they lose Goldson, San Francisco could go after Jairus Byrd (BUF), Glover Quin (HOU) or Louis Delmas (DET). It would be interesting if Byrd was paired back up with Donte Whitner again, as they were both drafted by Buffalo.
The Seattle Seahawks made a remarkable run in 2012, as they arguably improved as much as any team in the NFL this season. From their performance in the postseason, the Seahawks appear to be ready to be an annual postseason contender in the NFC.
Team Needs - They can go after a defensive tackle, wide receiver and add depth to the offensive line.
Salary cap space left to work with: Seattle is $18.6 million under the cap.
Free Agents to Target: There are some attractive offensive linemen available in free agency in 2013, such as: Jake Long (MIA), Andre Smith (CIN), Andy Levitre (BUF), Sebastian Vollmer (NE), Phil Loadholt (MIN), Ryan Clady (Denv), Sam Baker (ATL) and Brandon Moore (NYJ).
Wide receivers to consider are Danny Amendola (ST.L.), Brian Hartline (MIA), Greg Jennings (GB) and Dwayne Bowe (KC).
Seattle has to determine if they want to bring back DT Jason Jones, who will be a free agent in 2013.
St. Louis Rams
The St. Louis Rams made some great strides under head coach Jeff Fisher in 2012, and appear to be headed in the right direction. This team still needs some additional fine tuning, but another solid draft class will help them take another step in the right direction.
Team Needs - The Rams played with more confidence in 2012 under Fisher. One surprising stat is that the team only came up with four fumble recoveries for the entire year, so maybe new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan can make that number jump.
St. Louis could use a tackle, running back, safety and improve their wide receivers.
Salary cap space left to work with: The Rams are $1.8 million under the cap. That isn't much breathing room, so the Rams may be fairly quiet in free agency.
Free Agents to Target: The Rams have to determine if they want to bring back Danny Amendola, who plays hard but still gets hurt too often. Adding a player like Brian Hartline might make sense, or bringing in Wes Welker to use his quickness on the fast carpet makes sense as well.
Steven Jackson is slowing down, so adding another running back to eventually replace Jackson is a proper add for depth. Running back targets are Shonn Greene, Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made some strides under new coach Greg Schiano in 2012, only to hit the wall in the second half of the season.
Schiano wants to create some competition for quarterback Josh Freeman, which can be accomplished either in the draft or in free agency.
Team Needs - They need to find a corner, tight end and to add some depth to the defensive line. The defense has to improve, as they were ranked No. 29 overall, No. 32 in pass defense and were No. 29 in sacks.
Salary cap space left to work with: Tampa Bay is a healthy $31.3 million under the cap coming into this offseason. They made a splash in free agency last year, and are in position to do it again this year.
Free Agents to Target: One way to improve the pass defense is to add some sack specialists like Cliff Avril (DET), Michael Johnson (CIN), Connor Barwin (HOU), or Anthony Spencer (DAL).
Tight ends to target are Dustin Keller (NYJ), Anthony Fasano (MIA), Fred Davis (WASH) and Jared Cook (TEN).
The Tennessee Titans need to improve their defense in 2013. Two ways they can do that is by generating more pressure on the quarterback and to find better talent for the secondary.
Bud Adams has left Mike Munchak in place to try to coach the team back to the playoffs, but if Munchak can't deliver in 2013 that could be the last straw.
Team Needs - Improve the pass rush, and find some help for the secondary. Adding another wide receiver target for Jake Locker makes sense. If TE Jared Cook leaves in free agency, they will need to replace him.
Salary cap space left to work with: Tennessee is $19.4 million under the cap.
Free Agents to Target: There are a number of wide receivers in free agency that would be considered to be good additions to Kenny Britt. Options range from Dwayne Bowe (KC), Mike Wallace (PIT), Greg Jennings (GB), Wes Welker (NE), Danny Amendola (ST.LOU) and Brian Hartline (MIA).
As for safeties, the best player in the market is Jairus Byrd (BUF). Other options include Louis Delmas (DET), Glover Quin (HOU), Kenny Phillips (NYG) and LaRon Landry (NYJ).
The Washington Redskins are still going to have their hands tied in free agency in 2013 due to the fine that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell levied on the team last year. To further complicate matters, Washington is already $4 million over the cap, so they will be hard-pressed to bring in many free agents from the outside, much less signing their own free agents.
One veteran player that is in a tenuous spot is CB DeAngelo Hall, who is slated to earn $7.5 million in 2013. That doesn't appear to be a very good return on investment. The Redskins aren't in the position to be upside-down on any one specific player.
Another potential issue is veteran WR Santana Moss, who is getting up there in age (34-years-old). He could be released, as one of the creative moves needed, which would free up about $2.5 million for the 2013 cap.
Team Needs - The Redskins had the No. 28 overall defense in 2012, to go along with the No. 30 pass defense. They were also in the bottom-five for forcing fumbles with just 10 on the year. They need to identify more playmakers on defense.
Salary cap space left to work with: $4 million over the cap already. Washington is scheduled to lose another $18 million in fines in 2013 salary cap space from the Goodell fine over collusion issues. That money will be distributed throughout the remaining NFL teams.
Free Agents to Target: The cupboard is pretty bare. With so little to spend, the Redskins will have to do some creative financing to free up salary cap money. The Redskins went on a spree last year, but 2013 looks to be much bleaker on the free agency front.
Washington also has to determine if they want to free up cap space to bring back tight end Fred Davis.
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