Forecasting How Free Agency Will Affect the 2013 NFL Draft

Dan Hope@Dan_HopeContributor IIIMarch 5, 2013

Forecasting How Free Agency Will Affect the 2013 NFL Draft

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    For all the 2013 NFL mock drafts that many draft prognosticators and I compiled in recent months, projections could change drastically once the NFL free agency period begins on March 12. With many teams projected to address major priorities with their early draft picks, those projections will change if teams instead fill those needs by signing top free agents.

    One of the most important parts of the process for determining team draft needs is following which players re-sign with their current NFL teams and which players sign big contracts to address the needs of other teams. Teams’ greatest needs are often dictated by the key players they lose to free agency and which free agents from other teams they make a failed effort to sign.

    The franchise-tag portion of free agency has already created waves in 2013 NFL draft projections, most notably the Kansas City Chiefs’ move to franchise tag left tackle Branden Albert for the 2013 season, which strongly decreases the likelihood of them drafting Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel with the No. 1 overall pick. Similarly, the Bengals’ tagging of Michael Johnson made a defensive end an unlikely selection at No. 21.

    The following slideshow, however, focuses on the players who didn’t receive tags today, making them available to be signed by any team in the NFL should they not be re-signed by their current NFL teams prior to March 12. How will teams’ draft decisions be affected by whether they are able to bring back their current standout players?

    NFL teams are listed alphabetically by city name.

Arizona Cardinals: Lack of Cap Room Limits Potential for Big Moves

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    The positive for the Arizona Cardinals in this year’s round of free agency is that they have very few key players up for free agency. What's working against them, however, is the fact that they have many roster holes on both sides of the ball and not much money to work with to sign free agents and fill those needs.

    Even after releasing linebacker Stewart Bradley and cornerback William Gay as cap casualties, the Cardinals still have less than $7 million of cap room. This limits their potential to make a strong push for major free agents who could address needs, such as Miami Dolphins left tackle Jake Long, Buffalo Bills guard Andy Levitre or Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Derek Cox.

    If the Cardinals are unable to make any key free agent additions, their needs to upgrade the offensive line, at quarterback and cornerback will all persist into April’s draft.

Atlanta Falcons: Loss of Key Players Could Create Needs

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    The Atlanta Falcons already have increased needs at defensive end, running back and cornerback, with their recent releases of John Abraham, Michael Turner and Dunta Robinson. They face the potential for some other major needs, however, if they are unable to re-sign a number of other key free agents.

    The Falcons will be in need of new starters at strong safety, left tackle and/or cornerback if they lose William Moore, Sam Baker and/or Brent Grimes, all of whom are unrestricted free agents. Additionally, the Falcons have the task of trying to coax tight end Tony Gonzalez, an unrestricted free agent also considering retirement, to return to the Falcons to fill what would otherwise be a need at tight end.

    Although the releases of Abraham, Turner and Robinson freed up approximately $16 million in cap space, they will have a tough time re-signing all four of Moore, Baker, Grimes and Gonzalez. Any four of those players leaving would create needs at their respective position that the Falcons should look to address early in the 2013 NFL draft, with there already being a major need in place for defensive linemen and a feature running back.

Baltimore Ravens: Another Pass-Rusher On Tap for Super Bowl Champs?

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    The Baltimore Ravens could go in a number of directions with the final pick of the first round as defending Super Bowl champions, but one possible direction at No. 32 overall could be a pass-rushing outside linebacker should they lose Paul Kruger as an unrestricted free agent.

    Kruger emerged as a standout for the Ravens in his contract year, and led all the Ravens in the postseason with 4.5 sacks including two in their Super Bowl win. But with more than $25 million tied up in their other star outside linebacker, Terrell Suggs, over the next two seasons, their ability to invest big money in Kruger is limited.

    Outside linebacker isn’t necessarily a need for the Ravens even if they lose Kruger, because they have a very solid pair of starters in Suggs and 2012 second-round pick Courtney Upshaw. Adding another pass-rusher at the position, however, would not be a bad decision at all if they lose Kruger and the value is there at the end of the draft’s first round.

Buffalo Bills: Re-Signing Andy Levitre Should Be Priority

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    The Buffalo Bills have some significant contributors on defense who are free agents but, with standout safety Jairus Byrd franchise tagged, replacements should be sought for the rest of them for the Bills’ new hybrid defensive system under new coordinator Mike Pettine.

    A player who would be a major loss for the Bills, however, is left guard Andy Levitre.

    Levitre is one of the NFL’s best guards. Losing him as an unrestricted free agent would create a need at left guard that would have to be addressed through the draft or free agency.

    If the Bills lose Levitre, a smart move for them with the No. 8 overall pick would actually be to replace him with one of two outstanding guard prospects in the 2013 NFL draft in Alabama’s Chance Warmack or North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper.

    Given, however, that guards are rarely valued as top-10 draft picks, they should focus on re-signing Levitre, so that they can save that first-round pick for upgrading at quarterback, wide receiver or defensive reinforcements.

Carolina Panthers: Cornerback Could Become a Major Need

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    Two of the three cornerbacks from the Carolina Panthers’ weak 2012 secondary may not return. Veteran cornerback Chris Gamble’s $10.9 million cap hit is likely to be purged according to the Charlotte Observer, while Captain Munnerlyn is an unrestricted free agent.

    The Panthers are currently projected as being over the salary cap by Spotrac so, even releasing Gamble will not allow for much cap flexibility for the Panthers. If they do look to sign a cornerback other than Munnerlyn, they could look at mid-tier cornerbacks on the market such as San Diego’s Antoine Cason, Detroit’s Chris Houston or Denver’s Tracy Porter.

    But, if the Panthers cannot sign any serviceable cornerbacks in free agency, then the position arguably becomes their biggest need. In that case, the Panthers would likely draft a cornerback in the first two rounds from a crop that includes Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks, Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes, Washington’s Desmond Trufant and Rutgers’ Logan Ryan.

Chicago Bears: Decision to Make at Middle Linebacker

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    Brian Urlacher was one of the defensive superstars of the millennium's first decade and is a potential future Pro Football Hall of Famer, but the 34-year-old is past his prime. That could leave the Bears with a tough decision to make: re-sign unrestricted free agent Urlacher to a short-term deal for 2013 or draft his replacement at middle linebacker in the early rounds of the 2013 NFL draft?

    If the Bears do not re-sign Urlacher, the Bears could very well follow up by drafting a middle linebacker to replace him in Round 1 or 2. Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o, LSU’s Kevin Minter,  Kansas State’s Arthur Brown and Georgia’s Alec Ogletree are all possibilities as an Urlacher replacement in the draft’s first two rounds.

Cincinnati Bengals: Replace Andre Smith With Another Alabama Right Tackle?

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    Even with nearly $50 million of cap room, there is no guarantee that they will re-sign right tackle Andre Smith, especially considering his January arrest for attempting to board a plane with a gun, as well as a reported asking price of $9 million according to Pro Football Talk.

    If the Bengals end up letting Andre Smith go elsewhere, they could select a strikingly similar player as his replacement with the No. 21 overall pick. Like Smith, D.J. Fluker is an Alabama product with long arms, a massive body, good power and good athleticism for a right tackle but lacks the foot quickness of a left tackle.

    While Fluker may not immediately (or ever) be as good as Smith, considering Smith has established as one of the NFL’s best right tackles, he would come at a far lower price without any off-field baggage.

Cleveland Browns: Use of Cap Room Could Eliminate Some Major Needs

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    The Cleveland Browns haven’t been major players in recent years during free agency, but that could all change this offseason.

    The Browns should come with a new philosophy given that they have a new owner (Jimmy Haslam), team president (Joe Banner), vice president of player personnel (Michael Lombardi) and coach (Rob Chudzinski). They also have nearly $50 million of cap room to work with, according to Spotrac.

    The Browns have a number of significant needs on their roster, including pass-rushing outside linebacker, cornerback and wide receiver. With a new philosophy and plenty of money to work with, they could be players in the market for immediate upgrades, such as Baltimore Ravens linebacker Paul Kruger, New England Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib or Green Bay Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings.

    If the Browns can add key free agents to fill some of their needs, they will have more flexibility to draft for value in April, especially considering they are without a second-round draft pick.

Dallas Cowboys: Not in Any Position to Be Free Agency Players

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    The Dallas Cowboys’ decision to franchise tag Anthony Spencer all but eliminated the possibility of them making a play for any key free agents. With the Spencer tagging, the Cowboys are projected to be nearly $4 million over the cap according to Spotrac, even with the subsequent release of safety Gerald Sensabaugh on Monday.

    Areas the Cowboys should be looking to upgrade include the right side of their offensive line, both safety spots and at defensive tackle but, without the cap room to sign many free agents, they may be forced to make most of their moves through the draft.

Denver Broncos: How Will Denver Broncos Improve Their DT Situation?

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    Defensive tackle has been a point of weakness for the Denver Broncos for a number of years running now, and it isn’t looking any better yet going forward to the 2013 season. Currently, the Broncos only have two defensive tackles under contract for next year (Mitch Unrein and Sealver Siliga), although Derek Wolfe also plays inside on some pass-rushing downs.

    One of the Broncos’ biggest needs is to add a true run-stopping force at the position.

    This could happen in the early rounds of the 2013 NFL draft with a player such as Purdue’s Kawann Short, North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams or Georgia’s John Jenkins, but free agency is also a possibility. The Broncos could start by signing unrestricted free agents Justin Bannan and Kevin Vickerson, but should enter the market for potential upgrades such as Oakland’s Richard Seymour, Seattle’s Alan Branch or New Orleans’ Sedrick Ellis.

Detroit Lions: Losing Cliff Avril, Chris Houston Could Perpetuate Major Needs

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    Even if the Detroit Lions were to re-sign their top free agents at defensive end and cornerback, both of those positions would still be needs given their lack of talent on the roster at both positions.

    But, if the Lions lose Cliff Avril and/or Chris Houston as unrestricted free agency, they will have a desperate need to address those positions in the early rounds of the 2013 NFL draft.

    The impact of these potential free-agent losses is likely to manifest itself from the beginning of the draft with the No. 5 overall pick. If the Lions lose Avril, they could opt to replace him with a pass-rushing defensive end such as Florida State’s Bjoern Werner, Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore or BYU’s Ezekiel Ansah. If they lose Houston, there is a strong likelihood that the Lions will draft Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner if he is available at No. 5.

    The potential losses of unrestricted free agent defensive end Lawrence Jackson and/or cornerback Jacob Lacey may cause the front four to overtake the secondary as a priority.

    It would come as no surprise if the Lions use their first three picks all on those two positions.

Green Bay Packers: Draft Replacement for Greg Jennings Possible

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    The Packers go into free agency in a good position. They don’t have many pressing needs or key players who are unrestricted free agents. One player who could affect their strategy for April’s draft, however, is free agent wide receiver Greg Jennings.

    Jennings’ value to the Packers decreased in a big way in 2012, as the trio of Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and James Jones stepped up while Jennings spent most of the season battling injury. That makes it unlikely that the Packers will invest in bringing Jennings back at market value, but shouldn’t preclude them from drafting another receiver for depth in the 2013 NFL draft, with the retirement of veteran Donald Driver and likelihood that pass-catching tight end Jermichael Finley will not return.

    The Packers have little behind their top trio at wide receiver, so wide receiver becomes a very possible Day 2 selection if Jennings departs. Possible second or third-round choices could include Oregon State’s Markus Wheaton, West Virginia’s Stedman Bailey and Arkansas’ Cobi Hamilton.

Houston Texans: Secondary Upgrades Could Be In Order

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    The Houston Texans’ secondary really struggled down the stretch this past season, folding in their exit from the playoffs, a divisional round loss to the New England Patriots. In the defeat, the Texans surrendered three touchdowns to Tom Brady, who racked up seven touchdowns and no interceptions in two games against Houston 2012.

    That said, Houston includes a number of their defensive backs being free agents and their best move may be to let them go and replace them with draft picks in an effort to upgrade their secondary.

    Their most significant free agent is starting free safety Glover Quin, who is a solid starter but leaves something to be desired in deep pass coverage. If the Texans let Quin go as an unrestricted free agent, they could replace him in the early rounds of the draft with a player such as LSU’s Eric Reid or Oklahoma’s Tony Jefferson.

    Additionally, rotational cornerbacks Alan Ball and Brice McCain are unrestricted free agents. Both of them struggled when pressed into duty last season, so the Texans would be smart to upgrade behind Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson with drafted talent in the early or middle rounds.

Indianapolis Colts: Time to Start Offensive Line Rebuilding In March

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    Left tackle Anthony Castonzo isn’t exactly among the league’s best left tackles. That said, he is the only solid starting-caliber player on the Colts’ offensive line going forward to 2013. The Colts need to make a serious rebuilding effort of their line this offseason to better protect their quarterback, an effort that should begin with adding veterans free agency.

    While need should push the Colts to use their first-round pick on an offensive lineman assuming one of value is still available at No. 24 overall, they may feel less handicapped by that need if they can add some key free agents in March. Players such as Buffalo Bills guard Andy Levitre, New England Patriots right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and San Diego Chargers guard Louis Vasquez should all be of interest.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Loss of Terrance Knighton Would Open Door for DT at No. 2

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    The Jacksonville Jaguars need help all over their defense and losing key free agents at every level is not going to help that cause. The defensive players they are able to re-sign or sign away from other teams, however, should play a role in dictating which defensive playmakers the Jaguars look for early in the 2013 NFL draft.

    The biggest indicator could be the return or non-return of defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. The Jaguars could very much use an upgrade on the interior defensive line and, if they lose Knighton without signing a key free agent at the position, that puts them in the likely market for an impact player at defensive tackle — Florida’s Sharrif Floyd, Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson or Utah’s Star Lotulelei — with the No. 2 overall pick.

Kansas City Chiefs: Moves Already Made Sets Stage for Defensive Lineman at No. 1

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    The Kansas City Chiefs likely won’t be major players in the free-agent market because they’ve already all but exhausted their cap room with four major moves this offseason.

    Less than one week after agreeing to a trade for quarterback Alex Smith, the Chiefs kept three of their own in the fold Monday by franchise tagging left tackle Branden Albert and agreeing to five-year contracts with wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and punter Dustin Colquitt.

    With these four moves, it is very unlikely that the Chiefs will make any significant play at re-signing defensive end Glenn Dorsey or signing another starting defensive end for their 3-4 defense. With their needs at left tackle and quarterback addressed at least for the short term, the most likely choices for the No. 1 overall pick appear to be three potential 5-technique defensive ends: Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson, Florida’s Sharrif Floyd and Utah’s Star Lotulelei.

Miami Dolphins: Expect Another Early OT Draft Pick to Replace Jake Long

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    The Miami Dolphins invested the 2008 No. 1 overall pick on left tackle Jake Long but, as he remains unsigned, it appears likely that his first contract with the Dolphins may be his last. If the Dolphins do in fact lose Long, drafting another starting offensive tackle will be one of their major needs.

    Whether the Dolphins would view 2012 second-round pick Jonathan Martin as a left or right tackle long-term is uncertain, but there is not another starting-caliber offensive tackle on the roster. This should prompt the Dolphins to use at least one of their five picks in the first three rounds to select an offensive tackle if they lose Long.

    It appears likely that the top three offensive tackles (Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel, Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher, Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson) will all be off the board in the top 11 picks, but any of them would be a great choice at the Dolphins’ No. 12 overall selection if available. If not, Day 2 options include Syracuse’s Justin Pugh, LSU’s Chris Faulk and Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s Terron Armstead.

Minnesota Vikings: Time To Replace Jasper Brinkley at Middle Linebacker

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    Jasper Brinkley did not have a very strong showing in his first season as a starting middle linebacker for the Minnesota Vikings. His Pro Football Focus (subscription required) rating of -18.0 was the fourth-worst of all inside linebackers who played at least 25 percent of their team’s snaps in 2012.

    As a result, the Vikings should be looking to move on from and upgrade above the unrestricted free agent linebacker.

    It would come as a surprise if the Vikings drafted a middle linebacker in Round 1, but a player such as LSU’s Kevin Minter or Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o could entice them to do so. If they wait until Day 2, North Carolina’s Kevin Reddick and Oregon’s Kiko Alonso are two possible options to take over that role in the middle of the Vikings defense.

New England Patriots: Talib Loss Could Mean Another First-Round CB For Patriots

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    The Patriots finally found some stability at the cornerback position down the stretch this past season with the starting tandem of trade acquisition Aqib Talib and rookie Alfonzo Dennard. Talib, however, is an unrestricted free agent and, with Dennard currently dealing with legal troubles, cornerback looks as though it could be the Patriots’ greatest need a team that has invested many early draft picks in the secondary of late.

    Among the Patriots’ most prominent free agents, it is more likely that they will re-sign wide receiver Wes Welker and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer before Talib. If they lose Talib, the Patriots would be smart to take advantage of a deep cornerback draft class with their first-round pick.

    Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks, Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes, Boise State’s Jamar Taylor and Washington’s Desmond Trufant are all talented cornerbacks who could be in play for the Patriots at the No. 29 overall pick. At least one of them should still be on the board, should the Pats opt to trade into the second round.

New Orleans Saints: Filling Defensive Needs in Free Agency Looks Unlikely

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    The New Orleans Saints feature a historically awful defense last season, allowing an NFL-record 6,500-plus yards. That said, they need to upgrade their personnel at all three levels on the defensive side of the ball. Unfortunately for the Saints, they are already projected to be over the salary cap by Spotrac, which will likely limit them to draft picks to upgrading their defensive personnel.

    The Saints could add some cap room by restructuring or terminating the contracts of Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma, who have a combined cap hit of more than $23 million next season and neither of whom is a great fit for the Saints’ switch to the 3-4 defense. If not, however, the Saints will be fill needs at right defensive end, outside linebacker and cornerback.

    Barring a surprise free-agent signing with some restructured/terminated contracts, the Saints’ best game plan in Round 1 would be to draft the best-available defensive end, outside linebacker or cornerback. Potential first-round picks include Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, LSU outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo, Oregon outside linebacker Dion Jordan and Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks.

New York Giants: Osi Umenyiora Free Agency Opens Door For First-Round DE

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    The New York Giants’ pass-rush began to lose its luster last season, as neither Osi Umenyiora nor Justin Tuck proved to be a consistent or formidable pass-rush threat across from star defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. With Umenyiora unlikely to return as an unrestricted free agent, the Giants are most likely to replace with him an early draft pick at defensive end.

    That won’t necessarily happen in Round 1, but given how crucial the Giants’ pass-rush was to their two Super Bowl wins at the end of the 2007 and 2011 seasons, it should definitely be a consideration at the No. 19 overall pick. Possible first-round choices as pass-rushing defensive ends include BYU’s Ezekiel Ansah, Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore and Florida State’s Cornellius “Tank” Carradine.

    Potential losses of unrestricted free agents Chase Blackburn and Martellus Bennett could also lead the Giants to fill another need with LSU middle linebacker Kevin Minter or Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert at the No. 19 overall pick.

New York Jets: Potential Losses at Guard, Safety Could Create Early-Round Needs

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    The New York Jets’ most pressing needs on each side of the ball are fairly obvious: quarterback on offense, pass-rushing outside linebacker on defense.

    The Jets could possibly address their need for an outside linebacker through free agency with an addition such as Baltimore’s Paul Kruger, but their primary focus in free agency should come in determining which free agents of their own they can re-sign.

    The Jets have two more potentially major needs at offensive guard and at safety, because their pair of starters at both positions are unrestricted free agents. Among the two position groups, the Jets should make the strongest effort to bring back a very solid guard duo of Matt Slauson and Brandon Moore. The two safeties, LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell, are not strong long-term options.

    If the Jets lose their guards, Alabama’s Chance Warmack and North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper could both be in play at the No. 9 overall pick. The same goes for Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro at the safety position. But although the Jets will likely use their first-round pick on a quarterback or pass-rusher, they will have to find at least one guard and one safety early if they lose their current starters to free agency.

Oakland Raiders: Lack of Cap Space Leaves Plethora of Needs for Draft

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    Unfortunately for the Raiders, they have many roster needs on both sides of the ball, and less than $3 million of cap room with which to address those needs. That will likely limit the Raiders from making any significant free-agent signings, instead forcing them to make the most of their selections in the 2013 NFL draft.

    The Raiders’ greatest needs that they should look to address include defensive end, cornerback, middle linebacker and right tackle. Assuming the Raiders are unable to make any major free-agent moves to fill those needs, possible first-round choices to address needs include Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner or Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner.

Philadelphia Eagles: Big Moves Possible to Offset Draft Needs

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    Don’t expect the Philadelphia Eagles to conduct a repeat of the 2011 offseason, when their free-agent class highlighted by cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins and defensive end Jason Babin, keys in a supposed “Dream Team”, turned out to be colossal flops. That said, with nearly $30 million of cap room, the Eagles are in position to make one or two big free-agent moves to fill some of their needs.

    As it stands, the Eagles’ biggest needs looking forward to the draft are at 5-technique defensive end, safety, cornerback and right guard. With the money and market to make big moves, the Eagles are in position to make a play at top free agents who could address those needs including Kansas City defensive end Glenn Dorsey, San Francisco free safety Dashon Goldson, Miami cornerback Sean Smith and San Diego guard Louis Vasquez.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Re-Signing Decisions Will Determine Order of Draft Needs

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers’ key free agents this offseason include wide receiver Mike Wallace, running back Rashard Mendenhall, left tackle Max Starks, nose tackle Casey Hampton, inside linebacker Larry Foote and cornerback Keenan Lewis. With each player, their decision on whether to re-sign that player will determine how great the team’s need is at each given position.

    Any of the positions would be viable spots for the Steelers to address with their early picks in the 2013 NFL draft. Specifically in the first round, Tennessee wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, Alabama nose tackle Jesse Williams and running back Eddie Lacy, LSU inside linebacker Kevin Minter and Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks are all pick possibilities.

    The Steelers, however, should either re-sign a few of those players or sign other players at those positions via free agency, because entering the 2013 NFL draft with six major positions of need is too much to overcome for a team in immediate contention.

    Among the players in question, the Steelers’ top priority should be re-signing Lewis, who broke out as the Steelers’ best cornerback in 2012, but could likely be re-signed for a fraction of the price that Wallace will get on the open market.

San Diego Chargers: Losing Free-Agent Cornerbacks Could Define Draft Strategy

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    Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason have been a solid albeit unspectacular starting duo for the Chargers at cornerback, but now both are unrestricted free agents. It is likely that the Chargers will move on from at least one of the two cornerbacks, and losing either or both will put the team in need of drafting at the position.

    Depending on how the top 10 picks fall, cornerback could be in play as early as the Chargers’ No. 11 overall selection, but if the Chargers can draft a top offensive tackle instead at that pick, then San Diego will likely start to address their new cornerback need on Day 2.

    Potential Day 2 draft picks for the Chargers at cornerback include Washington’s Desmond Trufant, Rutgers’ Logan Ryan, Oregon State’s Jordan Poyer and North Carolina State’s David Amerson.

San Francisco 49ers: Who Will Be Playing Free Safety in 2013?

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    The San Francisco 49ers’ greatest need is already to build up their secondary, especially at the cornerback position, but that need could get a whole lot greater if they are unable to re-sign unrestricted free agent Dashon Goldson.

    Losing Goldson, one of the NFL’s best free safeties, would open up the position as the 49ers’ most pressing need for the 2013 draft. Without any other key free agents, re-signing Goldson should remain San Francisco’s top priority in March, but if they lose him on the open market, LSU’s Eric Reid or Georgia’s Baccari Rambo could become early-round options as free safety replacements.

Seattle Seahawks: Will Seahawks Turn to Draft for Defensive Tackle Upgrade?

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    Alan Branch is an unrestricted free agent and, although the Seahawks’ defense made leaps and bounds to becoming one of the league’s best in 2012, Branch’s play next to Brandon Mebane as under defensive tackle/5-technique defensive end left something to be desired.

    If the Seahawks decide not to make a major play at re-signing Branch, they will most likely turn to April’s draft for a possible upgrade in an interior penetrator. Potential options for the Seahawks in the first two rounds of the draft include North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams, Purdue’s Kawann Short and UCLA’s Datone Jones.

St. Louis Rams: Will Rams Upgrade Offensive Line Through Draft or Free Agency?

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    The Rams will enter the 2013 NFL draft in a good position, being the only team with two first-round draft picks. They may not want to wait until the draft, however, to address their need to improve their offensive line.

    Two starting offensive linemen (Robert Turner and Barry Richardson) are both unrestricted free agents and, although both performed better than expected last season, there is still significant room for the Rams to improve. If the Rams let Turner and Richardson go, it could set the Rams up to make a run at offensive line free agents such as Miami Dolphins left tackle Jake Long, New Orleans Saints left tackle Jermon Bushrod or New York Jets guard Brandon Moore.

    If the Rams, however, let Turner and/or Richardson go and do not find upgrades via free agency, then offensive line will persist as a major need going into the draft. Potential first-round picks for the Rams to improve their line include North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper, Alabama guard Chance Warmack and Alabama right tackle D.J. Fluker.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Will Buccaneers Rebuild Secondary In Free Agency?

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    Last year’s big free-agent acquisition that was supposed to bolster the Buccaneers’ secondary, cornerback Eric Wright, crashed and burned and could lead to a release this offseason. Releasing Wright, however, could open up the Buccaneers to make another big run at much-needed defensive backs in free agency this year.

    The Buccaneers already have more than $30 million in cap room according to Spotrac, but in addition to Wright’s contract potentially being voided, cornerback E.J. Biggers and free safety Ronde Barber are also unrestricted free agents. That leaves strong safety Mark Barron as the only sure returning starter in the secondary.

    Barber will almost certainly return to the Buccaneers if he does not retire, and Biggers could be back as well, but that does not change their need for players at both positions. While it should be expected either way that the Buccaneers will draft at least one defensive back in the early rounds, potential free agent targets could include Miami Dolphins cornerback Sean Smith, Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Derek Cox and San Francisco 49ers free safety Dashon Goldson.

Tennessee Titans: Go All In For Upgrade at Guard?

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    The Tennessee Titans’ greatest need is to upgrade at guard and many Titans fans would like to see them make a power play to acquire a mainstay at the position.

    The Titans should be in position to get one of two fantastic guard prospects in the draft in North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper or Alabama’s Chance Warmack at the No. 10 overall pick, but may not have to deal with the debate of whether to draft a guard in the top 10 if they can sign a top guard such as Buffalo’s Andy Levitre or San Diego’s Louis Vasquez this March.

    With more than $20 million in cap room according to Spotrac, the Titans can afford to give out one big contract this March and acquiring a star at guard might be their best move.

Washington Redskins: Must Take Advantage of Less Resources This Offseason

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    The Redskins are currently projected as being over the salary cap by Spotrac, so they aren’t in good position to make any big moves this March. They are also the only team currently without a first-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft, a result of their trade up to the No. 2 overall pick for quarterback Robert Griffin III last season.

    The Griffin trade was certainly worth the price they paid, but if they are going to become stronger contenders, they may need to make some creative cuts or contract restructuring to open up cap room to supplement their draft picks.

    The Redskins have major needs they must address one way or another at safety and right tackle, and could have another need at tight end if they lose unrestricted free agent Fred Davis.

    What they are able to do in March will heavily influence the positions they need to fill with their Day 2 draft picks in April.

    All information on unrestricted free agents found at; all salary cap information found at Spotrac.

    Dan Hope is an NFL Draft Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report.