The Biggest Mistake Each NFL Team Must Avoid This Offseason
The NFL's business season is officially at hand, and it's here that championship-quality rosters are assembled.
One decision can make or break a team in the offseason, so it's critical that each squad recognize the areas of need on its roster and address them in an appropriate fashion.
Let's break down the mistake each NFL team must avoid making during the 2013 business season.
Arizona Cardinals: Not Upgrading the Offensive Line
I've been on record saying that the 2012 Arizona Cardinals had the worst quarterbacking trio in the history of organized sports. There is no question that they will seek to aggressively upgrade the position.
However, there is a need that's even more pressing for the Cardinals: to fortify an offensive line that was, well, offensive in 2012, allowing a league-high 58 sacks.
Quarterback Kevin Kolb is due to make $11 million in 2013. There's no way that will happen, but I expect Kolb to remain with Arizona because, really, who else is going to pay him even half of that salary?
I also expect the Cardinals to make a significant run at free-agent signal-caller Drew Stanton, who joined the SiriusXM Blitz this week and talked about his admiration for new Arizona coach Bruce Arians.
Still, there's no way that Kolb, Stanton, Skelton or even Montana or Favre could have had success behind the Cardinals' current line. New general manager Steve Keim will use both the draft and free agency to make sure Arizona can protect its quarterback in 2013.
Atlanta Falcons: Not Upgrading the Pass Rush
The Atlanta Falcons finally got over the proverbial hump last season, winning a playoff game and nearly advancing to Super Bowl XLVII.
It was their lack of a pass rush that prevented them from reaching the big game, as they didn't get to 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick nearly enough (only one sack in the NFC title game). The Falcons defense also only recorded 29 sacks on the season.
Atlanta, behind outstanding general manager Thomas Dimitroff, is set to contend for years to come. But in order for the team to reach the Super Bowl, Dimitroff must give defensive coordinator Mike Nolan a few more pass-rushers to add another dimension to what was a solid yet unspectacular defense in 2012.
Baltimore Ravens: Letting Contract Talks with Joe Flacco Become Ugly
The Baltimore Ravens have arguably the best front office in football, spearheaded by general manager Ozzie Newsome and director of player personnel Eric DeCosta. These guys don't bungle many decisions, and it's proven year in and year out with the team's success.
I believe that letting the contract talks become ugly with their Super Bowl-winning quarterback, Joe Flacco, would be a disaster.
Flacco is elite. He's coming off one of the great postseason runs by a quarterback in the history of the league. He deserves to get paid.
Whether it's the franchise tag or a contract paying in excess of $20 million annually, the Ravens must take care of their quarterback.
If the Ravens can make a deal quickly with Flacco's agent, Joe Linta, it will enable them to focus on retaining their other big-name free agents (Paul Kruger, Ed Reed, etc.) in hopes of making another Super Bowl run in 2013.
Buffalo Bills: Letting Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tarvaris Jackson Compete for QB Job
On Friday, the Bills released a statement that they'd re-signed quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, with quotes from new head coach Doug Marrone saying that Jackson would compete for the starting quarterback job this offseason with incumbent Ryan Fitzpatrick.
If I were a Bills fans, upon reading that, I'd have smashed my face into the keyboard.
I'm a huge fan of Marrone, and I believe there is a zero percent chance that either Jackson or Fitzpatrick starts more than a handful of games this year in western New York.
I very much expect the Bills to use a high draft pick on a quarterback, with the tea leaves pointing towards Marrone's college signal-caller, Syracuse's Ryan Nassib.
But if the Bills decide to roll with Fitz and T-Jack, all bets are off. That would be a season-ending mistake for Buffalo.
Carolina Panthers: Not Getting Cam Newton's Attitude Right
The Carolina Panthers and new general manager Dave Gettleman are in a precarious position this offseason.
Former GM Marty Hurney, deservedly fired last October, left the team in a significant salary-cap bind, doling out horrendous contracts to players like Charles Godfrey, Jon Beason, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.
It will be extremely difficult for Gettleman to manage the cap, and the Panthers will likely be forced to improve solely via the draft.
With significant roster addition not in the cards for Carolina this offseason, the team must instead focus on getting franchise quarterback Cam Newton's attitude right.
Too often last year, Newton made waves for his bizarre behavior. Whether it was posing after touchdowns while getting blown out, calling a reporter "sweetheart" or giving mercurial press conferences after losses, Newton drew too much negative attention to himself.
There's no question that he has the physical tools to be an All-Pro-level quarterback. In order for Carolina to take the next step, it'll be up to Newton to get himself right between his ears.
Chicago Bears: Failing to Fix Jay Cutler
When Bears general manager Phil Emery hired Marc Trestman as the team's head coach, there was one clear objective in mind: for Trestman to "fix" quarterback Jay Cutler and improve the team's offense, which has so often let the team down in its recent era of defensive dominance.
Even though former head coach Lovie Smith, the architect of the Bears' successful Tampa-2 defense, was fired, I'm not worried about that side of the ball. I loved the team's hire of former Jaguars defensive coordinator Mel Tucker to the same position. I believe Tucker will have the Bears defense playing at a high level in 2013.
That leaves the offense, and Cutler, as the biggest question mark. There's no doubt that Cutler has the skills to be an elite quarterback, but he hasn't truly put it together yet.
Improving Cutler's decision-making will be Trestman's biggest challenge this offseason.
Cincinnati Bengals: Not Adding More Playmakers on Offense
The Cincinnati Bengals are on the up-and-up, coming off back-to-back playoff appearances and boasting a roster with some excellent young talent, most notably wide receiver A.J. Green.
However, I believe that if the Bengals are to take the next step and win a playoff game, they simply must surround quarterback Andy Dalton with more weapons.
Now, I'm not convinced that Dalton will be the guy to lead Cincinnati back to the Super Bowl. His performance in Houston in the Wild Card Round was both alarming and wretched. Still, he's earned the right to be the unquestioned starter in 2013—and for him to continue improving, the Bengals need to add playmakers on offense.
As I wrote earlier in the week, I think Reggie Bush would be a dynamic fit in the Bengals backfield.
Cincinnati has a ton of cap space, and there are quality skill-position players on the market, particularly at receiver. If the Bengals are to win a playoff game next year, they'll need to upgrade in those areas.
Cleveland Browns: Drafting a Quarterback in the First Round
I'm not sold on Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden. His rookie season was way too up and down (mostly down) for my liking, and I didn't like his poise or decision-making in close games.
However, I think it would be a mistake for Cleveland to draft a quarterback in the first round of April's draft.
Believe it or not, the Browns have the building blocks for a successful team in the coming years. New head coach Rob Chudzinski hit a home run with his staff, as Norv Turner will coordinate the offense and Ray Horton will oversee the defense.
I doubt the Browns can win in 2013, but they are set to win in 2014 and beyond. Drafting another quarterback in the first round would submarine those chances. Instead, Cleveland should take the best player available with the sixth overall pick and continue to infuse the roster with young, quality talent.
Dallas Cowboys: Letting Rumors of Jason Garrett's Demise Linger
The Dallas Cowboys have already had a disastrous offseason, starting with owner Jerry Jones' outright neutering of head coach Jason Garrett when Jones hired Bill Callahan as offensive coordinator—the post Garrett held for the last seven seasons.
In a press conference last week that bordered on the bizarre, Garrett claimed that the decision on the play-calling next season hadn't yet been made.
It's almost as if Garrett and Jones are playing a high-stakes game of chicken, with the Cowboys organization waiting in limbo on the result.
If Jones wanted to fire Garrett after the season, he should have done so. I believe that Jones would love to replace Garrett with someone like Jon Gruden.
Regardless, a decision must be made, and soon. Either Garrett is the coach or he isn't. The longer the uncertainty lasts, the worse off the Cowboys will be.
Denver Broncos: Not Improving the Secondary
The Denver Broncos had an outstanding 2012 campaign, finishing 13-3 and winning the AFC West. However, their heartbreaking 38-35 loss in double overtime to the Ravens in the divisional round exacerbated their need for a better secondary.
Even though cornerback Champ Bailey (35 years old next season) commands a $10.5 million price tag in 2013, I expect executive VP of football operations John Elway to figure out a way to keep him in Denver another season.
It'll be up to Elway to add more quality to a unit that cost the Broncos dearly in the postseason.
Detroit Lions: Continuing to Be an Undisciplined Team
The 2012 Detroit Lions were a circus, unable to sustain the momentum created in 2011's magical run to the postseason. Last year was a season of disappointment, both on and off the field, as the Lions were undisciplined and often unraveled in close games.
Forget about the talent on the field. The Lions have enough of it to at least contend in the NFC.
This offseason, the onus needs to be on head coach Jim Schwartz to improve the discipline of his football team. Too often, the Lions played without poise, and that's a reflection of Schwartz.
There's no question that Schwartz is coaching for his job in 2013. In order for him to keep it, his team simply must play with more discipline.
Green Bay Packers: Failing to Add Playmakers on Defense
The Green Bay Packers offense will be just fine in 2013, even if, as expected, the team doesn't retain wide receiver Greg Jennings.
It's the team's defense that needs to be addressed moving forward, as it was absolutely shredded by 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the divisional round of the playoffs en route to a season-ending 45-31 loss.
The first domino has already fallen for Green Bay, with the team releasing future Hall of Fame cornerback Charles Woodson. There will likely be more changes to come, as general manager Ted Thompson isn't afraid to make tough decisions.
Expect the Packers to aggressively upgrade their defensive personnel this offseason.
Houston Texans: Not Re-Signing OLB Connor Barwin
Houston started the 2012 season strong but faded fast, closing at 12-4 and losing out on a first-round bye before getting smashed by the Patriots in the divisional round.
The turning point for the Texans season was when linebacker Brian Cushing tore his ACL and was lost for the year in October. The linebacker group, and the defense as a whole, were never the same after his injury.
With outside linebacker Connor Barwin set to hit the free-agent market, I believe general manager Rick Smith must make a push to keep him in Houston.
While Barwin didn't have his best season in 2012 (only three sacks), he's a solid player who could absolutely bounce back in 2013. Simply put, the Texans can't afford to lose him with their concerns at the linebacker position.
Indianapolis Colts: Not Spending Their Money Wisely
The Indianapolis Colts enter the offseason coming off a surprise trip to the postseason and flush with salary-cap space, which should make fans of the horseshoe very happy.
As long as Andrew Luck is under center and improving, the Colts will be contenders in the AFC. But, in order for Indianapolis to take the next step, it will need to vastly upgrade the talent around Luck, particularly on the offensive line and in the defensive pass rush.
General manager Ryan Grigson has the funds to do so, and if he spends wisely, the Colts will be a powerhouse in 2013 and beyond.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Drafting a Quarterback in the First Round
I don't believe in Blaine Gabbert. I don't believe in Chad Henne. I don't believe that you can win consistently with either guy under center.
With that said, I'm not sure the 2013 Jacksonville Jaguars could win if Steve Young was their quarterback.
New general manager David Caldwell has been charged with improving the 53-man roster of a team devoid of talent, stripped bare by former GM Gene Smith.
While I liked the appointment of Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley as head coach, it's going to take time for the Jaguars to become a winning franchise. Right now, there isn't enough talent on either side of the ball.
I don't think it'd be a wise decision for the Jaguars to draft a quarterback with the second overall pick. I don't believe there's a quarterback worthy of the spot, and the team has way too many holes.
The Jaguars must select the best player available with their first draft pick. It shouldn't be a quarterback.
Kansas City Chiefs: Drafting a Quarterback First Overall
Although the Chiefs finished 2-14 in 2012, the cupboard isn't exactly bare for new head coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey. The team does have pieces in place to potentially succeed in 2013.
At his introductory press conference, Reid stressed the need to find the "next Len Dawson"—a directive that the franchise has failed at for 40 years.
While the starting quarterback for the 2013 Chiefs is likely not on the roster, I believe it'd be a mistake for Reid and Dorsey to use the first overall selection in April's draft on a quarterback.
Instead, Kansas City would be better served trying to trade for Reid's former quarterback in Philadelphia, Nick Foles, or acquiring 49ers signal-caller Alex Smith and selecting the best player available with the No. 1 pick.
Miami Dolphins: Letting Jake Long Walk in Free Agency
The Miami Dolphins outperformed expectations in 2012, finishing with a 7-9 record in Joe Philbin's first year on the job. With quarterback Ryan Tannehill improving, Miami seems set to contend in the AFC for years to come.
For the Dolphins to continue to get better, they must retain the services of free-agent left tackle Jake Long.
I know that Long hasn't played at a Pro Bowl level in the past two seasons, but he's still an excellent option at the position. While rookie right tackle Jonathan Martin was solid in 2012, I don't believe he'd have an easy transition moving to protect Tannehill's blind side.
Miami has a ton of cap space. In addition to bringing in a receiver or two to help the team's moribund passing attack, signing Long needs to be a top priority.
Minnesota Vikings: Keeping Percy Harvin
With Vikings star receiver Percy Harvin reportedly grumbling, both about his contract and the direction of the offense, it's time for Minnesota and its general manager, Rick Spielman, to move on from the mercurial player.
I'm not discounting Harvin's ability. He's clearly one of the most dynamic players in football, and he makes a difference in the passing game, run game and on special teams.
But he's been too much of a headache (no pun intended) for the team to keep around.
Harvin clearly doesn't believe in quarterback Christian Ponder. With the team committed to Ponder in 2013, it'd be a mistake to have someone like Harvin in the locker room questioning the team's offensive philosophy and its quarterback.
Even though the Vikings won't get fair market value for Harvin, they have enough cap space to sign a quality receiver (Mike Wallace?) and acquire a few draft picks to supplement their roster.
New England Patriots: Not Re-Signing Sebastian Vollmer
While the Patriots have flashier free agents on their agenda to sign (Wes Welker, Aqib Talib), their biggest priority needs to be re-signing right tackle Sebastian Vollmer.
New England did an excellent job keeping quarterback Tom Brady upright in 2012, as he was only sacked 27 times. Brady is obviously the linchpin of the Patriots' success, so keeping him clean in the pocket is a significant priority.
Vollmer is a quality right tackle entering the prime of his career. The Patriots would be wise to lock him down for years to come.
New Orleans Saints: Not Adding Talent on Defense
Last season, the Saints defense was historically bad, as it gave up the highest yardage total in NFL history.
Once head coach Sean Payton was reinstated after the Bountygate saga drew to a close, his first order of business was to fire defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and hire Rob Ryan to the same position.
The Saints will be switching to a 3-4 defense in 2013, and general manager Mickey Loomis must add playmakers capable of succeeding in that scheme.
Two players to keep an eye on in April's draft are Texas OLB Alex Okafor and Oregon OLB Dion Jordan.
New York Giants: Failing to Improve the Linebacking Corps
The 2012 New York Giants didn't get a chance to defend their Super Bowl title in the postseason, falling just short of the tournament at 9-7.
While the offense struggled mightily at times in 2012, I believe the unit will bounce back in 2013. A healthy Hakeem Nicks will go a long way toward improving the team's production.
It's the defense that should concern Giants fans, and the team simply must improve the talent at the linebacker position.
General manager Jerry Reese is one of the very best in football, but he's largely ignored improving the position with high draft picks, instead focusing on the pass rush, secondary and offense. It's been hard to argue with his results thus far, but I believe the Giants need to add playmakers at linebacker.
I'd be surprised if Big Blue doesn't spend its first-round pick, 19th overall, on a tackling machine at the linebacker position.
New York Jets: Not Upgrading the Quarterback Position
While I believe the Jets already made one huge mistake this offseason when they kept head coach Rex Ryan, there is still hope for Gang Green in 2013—but only if the team upgrades at quarterback.
New general manager John Idzik surely knows that Mark Sanchez isn't good enough. Sanchez has regressed the past two seasons, and he was absolutely awful for the duration of the 2012 season.
Even though Sanchez is likely to return because of his atrociously high cap number, the Jets would be foolish to not aggressively seek to upgrade the position, whether via the draft or free agency.
I wouldn't be surprised to see the Jets use their first-round selection on a quarterback or if the team made a run at someone like Alex Smith in the offseason.
Oakland Raiders: Starting Carson Palmer in 2013
While the Oakland Raiders have significant needs across the board (trading Darren McFadden, anyone?), their biggest is certainly at the quarterback position.
Carson Palmer isn't good enough anymore. He wasn't good enough in 2010, 2011 or 2012. He won't be good enough in 2013, and he's not worth the $13 million he's owed.
Previously in this column, I've advocated for several teams to not use their first-round pick on a quarterback. In the case of the Raiders, I think it'd be appropriate.
I believe the Raiders should draft West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith with the third overall pick, which would inject life and excitement into an extremely jaded fanbase.
Philadelphia Eagles: Not Overhauling the Secondary
I'm a fan of new Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly, and I believe he'll have the team's offense humming in 2013 and beyond.
What worries me is the defense, particularly a shoddy secondary that gave up way too many big plays in 2012.
The Eagles could have as many as four new starters in the secondary in 2013, as the team will likely cut free-agent mega-bust Nnamdi Asomugha after a disastrous two-year run in Philadelphia.
General manager Howie Roseman and new vice president of player personnel Tom Gamble will need to fix the secondary if the Eagles are to contend in a tough NFC East.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Failing to Replace Mike Wallace
While Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Mike Wallace didn't have his best season in 2012, he was still the team's preeminent vertical threat who opened up space for other playmakers on offense.
Wallace will definitely not return to Pittsburgh, so it'll be up to the Steelers' outstanding general manager, Kevin Colbert, to find a replacement.
It won't be easy, as the Steelers find themselves in a precarious position with the salary cap. The team will likely need to cut some fan favorites, including James Harrison and potentially Troy Polamalu, to alleviate financial concerns.
I trust Colbert to fill in the roster and find adequate replacements for players who will be cut on defense. But I'm worried about the Steelers being able to replace Wallace and what he means to their offensive attack.
San Diego Chargers: Failing to Upgrade the Offensive Line
While I believe that new Chargers general manager Tom Telesco and head coach Mike McCoy will right the ship in San Diego, I'm not sure it can happen this year, and it's because of deficiencies across the offensive line.
Bottom line: The team didn't do a good enough job of protecting quarterback Philip Rivers in 2012, allowing 49 sacks on the campaign.
If Rivers can remain upright, there's no question that he can succeed in McCoy's offense. In order for that to happen, though, the offensive line must improve.
I think the Chargers should make a strong run at Dolphins free-agent tackle Jake Long and certainly spend a draft pick or two on the offensive line.
San Francisco 49ers: Getting Caught in the Super Bowl Hangover
Even though they lost Super Bowl XLVII in heartbreaking fashion, the San Francisco 49ers are poised to be a dominant force in the NFC for years to come.
The one mistake that the 49ers organization could make is getting caught in the Super Bowl loser's hangover, which has claimed many victims over the years.
I don't think it will happen, though. San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh is too good at his job to allow it to happen. Expect the 49ers to be back in the postseason in 2013.
Seattle Seahawks: Not Improving the Pass Rush
Behind celestial quarterback Russell Wilson, the Seattle Seahawks will be a force in the NFC in 2013 and beyond.
But in order for Seattle to take the next step and advance to a NFC title game or the Super Bowl, the pass rush must improve.
When Chris Clemons, the team's sack leader, tore his ACL in the Wild Card Round against the Redskins, it exacerbated the team's need for more quality pass-rushers.
Last year's first-round pick, defensive end Bruce Irvin, had a nice regular season, finishing with eight sacks, but he disappeared in the team's divisional-round loss at Atlanta.
Adding another quality pass-rusher or two will be critical to the Seahawks' hopes of reaching the Super Bowl in 2013.
St. Louis Rams: Failing to Surround Sam Bradford with Playmakers
General manager Les Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher did an outstanding job in their first season at the helm in St. Louis, guiding a suspect Rams team to a 7-8-1 record.
If the Rams are to improve in 2013, they must surround quarterback Sam Bradford with more talent, as the offense is void of playmakers.
With running back Steven Jackson no lock to return and leading receiver Danny Amendola also set to hit the market, the Rams have some major decisions to make. I believe bringing back Amendola is important, even with his injury concerns, as he represents a security blanket for Bradford. However, I think Jackson will move on.
Look for Snead to try to sign one of the big free-agent wide receivers on the market and to use one, if not both, of the team's first-round picks to improve the skill positions on offense.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Not Pushing Quarterback Josh Freeman
I liked that Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano wouldn't give quarterback Josh Freeman a ringing endorsement after a 2012 season in which Freeman turned the ball over entirely too much.
I still believe Freeman has the tools to be a top quarterback in the NFL, but he needs to start showing it on the field.
It would be a mistake for general manager Mark Dominik and Schiano to not provide Freeman with real competition, whether via the draft or free agency. He's had three full seasons as the starter but has yet to lead the Bucs to the postseason. He hasn't earned the right to be the unquestioned starter.
Tennessee Titans: Failing to Improve Jake Locker
While the Tennessee Titans face a myriad of problems throughout their roster, none is more pressing than the one at the quarterback position. Second-year signal-caller Jake Locker played poorly in 2012, most notably in a Monday night train wreck against the New York Jets.
Head coach Mike Munchak's fate is tied to Locker, whom he drafted eighth overall in 2011. Munchak managed to escape the chopping block this offseason, but if Locker doesn't perform up to snuff in 2013, he'll surely be gone at the end of the season.
The Titans have the pieces in place on offense to make it work. Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright and Nate Washington provide a solid receiving corps, and Chris Johnson is still capable of busting out a huge play. The offensive line must improve, but that isn't an excuse for Locker not to get better.
If the Titans are to contend in 2013 and Munchak is to save his job, Locker must be better this coming season.
Washington Redskins: Not Showing Patience with RG3's Injury
This is an easy one.
Robert Griffin III is the Washington Redskins' franchise player. He moves the meter. He sells tickets. Most importantly, he wins football games.
He's also recovering from a devastating ACL injury, which may keep him out of the regular-season opener, if not longer.
The Redskins would be very, very wise to not rush their franchise quarterback onto the field before he's 100 percent ready. Backup Kirk Cousins showed last season that he's more than capable of handling the reins while Griffin recovers, and Rex Grossman is a serviceable backup in the event that Cousins goes down.
The most important thing for the Redskins in 2013 is that Griffin gets healthy and returns to the field when he's ready—and not a play before.
Nick Kostos is the executive producer of the SiriusXM Blitz, hosted by Rich Gannon and Adam Schein, on SiriusXM NFL Radio. You can follow Nick on Twitter.