Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios for Every Team's Free-Agent Class

Russell S. BaxterContributor IMarch 21, 2013

Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios for Every Team's Free-Agent Class

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    We're just a little over a week into free agency, and all 32 teams have been busy either a) signing players, b) retaining performers or c) watching some of their stars leave for greener pastures...

    Or d) all of the above.

    Here’s a look at what clubs have done so far during this free agency period, with an emphasis on who franchises have added to their rosters via signings and even trade. We’ll try to forecast the positives of the changes, but we'll also take a look at what could happen if a few things go wrong.

    Obviously, some teams are much more active in free agency than others, and we will take that into account in our evaluation. For instance, there are a few teams that have not added a player via free agency or trade this offseason.

    Such is the way in the NFL, where every team has its own game plan.

Arizona Cardinals

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    Best Case

    Former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall revives an Arizona Cardinals running game that was dead last in the NFL last season, totaling 1,204 yards in 16 games. In consecutive years in the Steel City (2009-10), Mendenhall ran for 1,108 and 1,273 yards, respectively, and the Cards are hoping he can recapture that form.

    Former Pro Bowl strong safety Yeremiah Bell, always amongst his teams’ top tacklers, ably replaces star veteran Adrian Wilson, while Antoine Cason (San Diego Chargers) or Jerraud Powers (Indianapolis Colts) earns a starting role opposite Patrick Peterson. 

     

    Worst Case

    Quarterback Drew Stanton, who was with Bruce Arians in Indianapolis last season, wins the starting job but has problems staying healthy behind a problem-plagued offensive line. The Cardinals allowed a league-high 58 sacks in 2012 and a whopping 162 sacks in their last 48 games dating back to 2010.

    Mendenhall, who Arians had in Pittsburgh, isn't the same after suffering a knee injury in the 2011 regular-season finale. Defensive end Matt Shaughnessy, late of the Oakland Raiders, struggles as a 3-4 end and doesn’t add to the pass rush. 

Atlanta Falcons

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    Best Case

    Not a lot to deal with here. The Atlanta Falcons basically replaced running back Michael Turner with eight-time 1,000-yard rusher Steven Jackson, who spent his first nine NFL seasons with the St. Louis Rams.

    The Atlanta running game wasn’t much of a factor last season, but that was almost by choice. But if the former Pro Bowler can be much more efficient when it comes to killing the clock without the Falcons altering their new game plan too much, it’s a major win for Mike Smith’s club.  

     

    Worst Case

    The wear and tear of nine seasons catches up with Jackson, who has totaled 2,395 carries and 10,135 yards on the ground, plus 407 receptions.

    Again, the Falcons are a much more pass-oriented offense these days and probably aren’t looking for 300 attempts and 1,300 yards rushing from Jackson. But if the former Rams star doesn’t produce more than Turner did in 2012, both the Falcons offense and defense will feel the effects.

Baltimore Ravens

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    Best Case

    Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has always worked wonders in the NFL draft, and he'll have to do so again this year. Don’t bet against the top executive getting the job done, especially with an additional four picks via the compensatory process.

    As for veteran additions, head coach John Harbaugh is hoping that one-time Dallas Cowboys teammates Chris Canty and Marcus Spears can bolster a defensive front that figures to improve with their presence.

     

    Worst Case

    The departures of linebackers Ray Lewis (retirement), Paul Kruger (Cleveland Browns) and cornerback Cary Williams (Philadelphia Eagles) were certainly expected. The losses of inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (Miami Dolphins), strong safety Bernard Pollard (released) and free safety Ed Reed (Houston Texans) may have been a bit surprising, though, and that many changes on one side of the football could be felt all season.

    Additionally, the loss of wide receiver Anquan Boldin, traded to the San Francisco 49ers, means Joe Flacco has to find another go-to pass catcher. 

Buffalo Bills

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    Best Case

    After making a big-time splash last offseason with the free-agent additions of defensive end Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, the Buffalo Bills have been pretty quiet to date. There’s a new outside linebacker in Manny Lawson (Cincinnati Bengals), who hopes to bring a little moxie to a defensive unit that was next to last in the league in rushing yards allowed last season.

     

    Worst Case

    The franchise opted to part ways with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who put up some decent numbers in terms of yards and touchdown passes but also had his issues with turnovers. Still, Tarvaris Jackson is the man behind center for now, and he didn’t see any playing time in 2012.

    It will also be interesting to see who will fill the shoes of left guard Andy Levitre, whom the Bills probably needed to re-sign but wasn’t in their price range. His loss will make it tough on the offense in general.

Carolina Panthers

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    Best Case

    By last season’s end, a much-maligned Carolina Panthers defense had made major strides and wound up finishing 10th in the NFL in terms of fewest yards allowed. But in a division loaded with competent quarterbacks and explosive wide receivers, you need all the cornerbacks you can get.

    Veteran Drayton Florence (Detroit Lions) and D.J. Moore (Chicago Bears) may be excellent additions for a defensive unit that picked off only 11 passes last season.

     

    Worst Case

    As mentioned, the Panthers looked like a better defense by season’s end. Certainly, the addition of linebacker Luke Kuechly, the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year, was a major plus. But with veterans such as cornerback Chris Gamble (limited to four games) and outside linebacker James Anderson getting pink slips, the team has to hope it can come up big in the draft and add some depth to this unit. 

Chicago Bears

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    Best Case

    If new left tackle Jermon Bushrod (New Orleans Saints) performs as he did the last two seasons, the Chicago Bears will have solved a major issue on their offense. And tight end Martellus Bennett (New York Giants) gives quarterback Jay Cutler an option at the position not seen since the Bears traded Greg Olsen to the Carolina Panthers.

    This duo could make Marc Trestman’s offense very formidable and more balanced in 2013.

     

    Worst Case

    The decision to part ways with middle linebacker Brian Urlacher after 13 seasons (the veteran defender is an unrestricted free agent) is a bit of blow, but it’s made more of an issue by the fact that the Bears couldn’t retain outside linebacker Nick Roach (Oakland Raiders). The versatile performer was Urlacher’s fill-in when the eight-time Pro Bowler was unavailable.

    Both moves could come back to haunt the team this season. 

Cincinnati Bengals

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    Best Case

    The Cincinnati Bengals are another one of those teams that haven’t added any new faces. But with 12 potential unrestricted free agents on the defensive side of the ball, the team did a good job bringing back players such as linebacker Rey Maualuga and defensive ends Robert Geathers and Wallace Gilberry.

    The Bengals also put the franchise tag on defensive end Michael Johnson, who has signed his tender. Keeping that sixth-ranked defense as intact as possible was a big priority. 

     

    Worst Case

    The team didn’t have a lot of issues in terms of free agency and the offensive side of the football. But it’s interesting to note that the Bengals have yet to re-sign unrestricted right tackle Andre Smith, who has gotten better his last two seasons in the league. True, Cincinnati did allow 46 sacks last season, but the former Alabama standout looked like a player on the rise, and keeping the offensive line intact would be a positive.

Cleveland Browns

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    Best Case

    It’s all about putting pressure on the opposing quarterback for the Cleveland Browns this offseason. The additions of outside linebackers Paul Kruger (Baltimore Ravens) and Quentin Groves (Arizona Cardinals), as well as defensive end Desmond Bryant (Oakland Raiders), give new defensive coordinator Ray Horton some interesting options. The Browns finished with 38 sacks in 2012 and that number should increase this season.

     

    Worst Case

    One of the franchise’s most consistent players since the team’s return in 1999 was placekicker Phil Dawson, who signed with the San Francisco 49ers this offseason. If the Browns continue to struggle to score points, as has been the case for a number of seasons, that reliability from the Pro Bowl specialist will be sorely missed.  

Dallas Cowboys

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    Best Case

    Like a couple of other teams, the Dallas Cowboys (due to cap reasons) haven’t made the plunge into free agency this offseason. Ideally, they would like to get quarterback Tony Romo re-signed, as the former Pro Bowler is entering the final year of his current contract. And Jerry Jones hopes to do it without having to open up any more salary cap room by releasing players.

     

    Worst Case

    Two players who occasionally came up big in particular spots in recent seasons were wide receiver Kevin Ogletree and tight end John Phillips, who left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Diego Chargers, respectively. The Cowboys are obviously set with wideouts Dez Bryant and Miles Austin and Jason Witten at tight end, but the loss of those backups could be bigger than anticipated.  

Denver Broncos

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    Best Case

    The best news the Denver Broncos could receive is that defensive end Elvis Dumervil, released by the team last week due to a contract snafu of sorts (just the fax), re-ups with the club.

    But if the team’s additions of wide receiver Wes Welker (New England Patriots) and guard Louis Vasquez (San Diego Chargers) perform as expected, John Fox’s club will have weakened a key conference opponent as well as a divisional rival.

    And defensive tackle Terrance Knighton (Jacksonville Jaguars) could be a big surprise for a team whose run defense was exposed on occasion, most notably in the playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

     

    Worst Case

    If the team is unable to come to terms with Dumervil, that would put enormous pressure on outside linebacker Von Miller, a Pro Bowler in each of his first two NFL seasons. The Broncos tied for the league lead with 52 sacks in 2012, but Miller could be less effective without the star pass-rusher in the lineup.

    Head coach John Fox also has to hope that Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Philadelphia Eagles) proves to be an upgrade for Chris Harris, who returned two of his three interceptions for scores last season. 

Detroit Lions

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    Best Case

    Reggie Bush is the new main man in the backfield for the Detroit Lions, who made some strides in terms of the running game last season but still ranked only 23rd in the league in rushing. If Bush can get the tough yards and also provide the big plays not seen from this position since Jahvid Best was healthy, this will be a major addition.

    So should the signing of Glover Quin (Houston Texans), who can line up at cornerback or safety and hopes to add to a secondary that includes cornerback Chris Houston and safety Louis Delmas, both re-signed this offseason following injury-plagued campaigns.

     

    Worse Case

    Bush’s workload in recent seasons with the Dolphins, the two highest in his career in terms of rushing attempts, begins to wear on the seven-year pro.

    The Lions will also have a lot of new faces on both the offensive and defensive lines due to retirements (left tackle Jeff Backus), departures (right tackle Gosder Cherilus and defensive end Cliff Avril) and salary cap cuts (guard Stephen Peterman and defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch). How much do those decisions cost the team in terms of continuity in the trenches? 

Green Bay Packers

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    Best Case

    Not surprisingly, the Green Bay Packers haven’t added any new players via free agency, at least not this early in the game. This is a team that has enjoyed great success in the draft and, best-case scenario, they plan on doing it again this April.

     

    Worst Case

    It was going to be tough to give wide receiver Greg Jennings the money he obviously could and did get from the Minnesota Vikings in the open market. But what if the former two-time Pro Bowler comes back and comes up big in both of his meetings with the Packers?

    Even though quarterback Aaron Rodgers still has plenty of targets to choose from, the running game is still a concern. The team may regret not being able to secure running back Steven Jackson, who signed with the Atlanta Falcons. 

Houston Texans

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    Best Case

    The two-time defending AFC South champions had been very quiet on the free agent front until Wednesday night, when ball-hawking legend Ed Reed agreed to sign with the team. The Houston Texans defense had its issue from midseason on and through the playoffs a year ago.

    If the former Pro Bowler, he of 61 career regular-season interceptions, can elevate the Texans’ takeaway total (29 in 2012), he is worth the investment. 

     

    Worst Case

    Injuries were a bit of an issue for Wade Phillips’ defensive unit a season ago. And the free-agent departures of outside linebacker Connor Barwin (Philadelphia Eagles) and defensive back Glover Quin (Detroit Lions) are blows to the depth of a unit that needed that a year ago.

    The decision to release wideout Kevin Walter and watch fullback James Casey sign with the Eagles robs quarterback Matt Schuab of a pair of reliable targets. They will be hard to replace. 

Indianapolis Colts

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    Best Case

    If general manager Ryan Grigson has the same success with this free agent-class as he did with his 2012 draft, the Indianapolis Colts could be on their way to a big season. The team also added Aubrayo Franklin (San Diego Chargers) and Ricky Jean-Francois (San Francisco 49ers) up front, with the former perfect for Greg Manusky’s 3-4 defense.

    Outside linebacker Erik Walden is a bit of a wild card in terms of rushing the passer. But hard-hitting Pro Bowl safety will no doubt give this group some attitude. 

     

    Worst Case

    The Colts added tackle Gosder Cherilus (Detroit Lions) and guard Donald Thomas (New England Patriots) in order to improve their protection of quarterback Andrew Luck, who was sacked 41 times during his rookie season of 2012.

    Indianapolis is also hoping those additions can help improve a ground game that was ranked 22nd in the league this past season. The team could take a few step backwards if this area isn’t shored up.

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Best Case

    While scoring points has been an issue for the Jacksonville Jaguars in recent seasons, last year’s disastrous 2-14 finish can also be laid at the cleats of a defensive unit that was an incredible disappointment in 2012.

    The Jaguars finished 30th in the league in both run defense and total yards allowed, and the addition of defensive tackle Roy Miller (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) will go a long way in fixing that.

    And running back Justin Forsett (Houston Texans) could be a nice insurance policy for Maurice Jones-Drew, who missed a large part of last season.

     

    Worst Case

    The team overhauled its secondary with the releases of cornerback Aaron Ross and safety Dawan Landry, while Derek Cox signed with the San Diego Chargers and veteran Rashean Mathis remains unsigned.

    It’s safe to say that new head coach Gus Bradley, previously the Seattle Seahawks' defensive coordinator, had much more to deal with in the Pacific Northwest, and all of those changes in one offseason could indeed backfire.

Kansas City Chiefs

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    Best Case

    Quarterback Alex Smith, obtained in a trade with the San Francisco 49ers, comes and takes care of the football like he did the last few seasons with the Niners. The Kansas City Chiefs committed 37 turnovers in 2012, tied for the most in the NFL. And 27 of those 37 miscues were courtesy of quarterbacks Matt Cassel (19) and Brady Quinn (eight).

    New head coach Andy Reid also hopes that Dunta Robinson (Atlanta Falcons) makes a seamless transition to safety and cornerback Sean Smith (Miami Dolphins) is more of a ball hawk in Kansas City than he was with the ‘Fins (five interceptions in four seasons). The Chiefs managed just 13 takeaways last season, also tied for the worst in the NFL.

     

    Worst Case

    Reid is hoping he can get even more out of Alex Smith than Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh did. But one of the issues for the former No. 1 overall pick in 2005 was the constant change of offensive coordinators in San Francisco.

    Now, Smith finds himself in a new system once again. It will also be interesting to see what the offensive line, which opened the way for running back Jamaal Charles and the league’s fifth-ranked running game, looks like by September since the team did release right tackle Eric Winston after one season with the club. 

Miami Dolphins

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    Best Case

    New deep threat Mike Wallace (Pittsburgh Steelers) comes off somewhat of a down season but could find new life with the Miami Dolphins. He also gives second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill a stretch-the-field option that Tannehill didn’t have during his rookie season.

    Likewise, new tight end Dustin Keller (New York Jets) is also capable of making big plays downfield.

    The Dolphins wound up finishing 13th in the NFL and could improve with new linebackers Dannell Ellerbe (Baltimore Ravens) and Philip Wheeler (Oakland Raiders). 

     

    Worst Case

    The Dolphins had a nice thing going in terms of the defensive side of the football and still have Pro Bowlers Randy Starks (the designated franchise player) and Cameron Wake up front. But what if Ellerbe and Wheeler don’t perform like jettisoned starters Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett?

    It will also be interesting to see what Wallace shows up in 2013. The talented receiver scored eight touchdowns for the second straight season, but his yards-per-catch average (13.1) was down significantly from both 2010 (21.0), when he first became the regular starter with the Steelers, and 2011 (16.6). 

Minnesota Vikings

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    Best Case

    The Minnesota Vikings will save their best work for the NFL draft thanks to the deal that sent wide receiver Percy Harvin to the Seattle Seahawks for first- and seventh-round picks this April and a future selection in 2013.

    Meanwhile, quarterback Christian Ponder can always rely on wideout Greg Jennings (Green Bay Packers), who suffered through an injury-plagued 2012 and could bounce back in a big way.

     

    Worst Case

    Injuries have been a factor for Jennings in recent seasons, most notably a year ago when he was limited to only eight games. Over the course of the last two seasons, he’s missed 11 games and caught just 13 touchdown passes, one more than he managed in 2010 alone.

    If Jennings is unable to stay on the field, the decision to part ways with wideout Michael Jenkins could be a factor, although the club did re-sign Jerome Simpson.

    And if Ponder should have his struggles, inserting Matt Cassel (Minnesota Vikings) as the starter could be dicey if he plays as he did in 2012 (19 turnovers in nine games). 

New England Patriots

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    Best Case

    The new wide receiving tandem of Danny Amendola (St. Louis Rams) and Donald Jones (Buffalo Bills) offsets the absences of Wes Welker, who signed with the Denver Broncos, and Brandon Lloyd, who was released after one season with the team.

    The New England Patriots also added running back and kick returner Leon Washington (Seattle Seahawks), who should bolster the return game and give quarterback Tom Brady another target out of the backfield now that Danny Woodhead (San Diego Chargers) is elsewhere.

     

    Worst Case

    The Patriots' issues remain on defense. While the addition of former Pro Bowl strong safety Adrian Wilson figures to be a big-time plus, is there enough left in the tank after 12 physical seasons? And is New England prepared to move on without unsigned right tackle Sebastian Vollmer? The team added tackle Will Svitek (Atlanta) to the mix at the position.

New Orleans Saints

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    Best Case

    New cornerback Keenan Lewis (Pittsburgh Steelers), who comes from the team that gave up the fewest yards in the league in 2012, joins a New Orleans Saints defense that a year ago gave up the most total yards in a season in NFL history.

    One can only hope that Lewis, who knocked down 23 passes last season, brings a little attitude to Rob Ryan’s defensive unit.

     

    Worst Case

    With the team up against the cap, it was going to be hard to retain two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jermon Bushrod. And the improving blocker left to go block for Jay Cutler in Chicago. Former second-round pick Charles Brown is slated to become the new left tackle. Easier said than done, but should the Saints have made a better effort to retain Bushrod? Stay tuned. 

New York Giants

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    Best Case

    Tight end Martellus Bennett quietly (or not so quietly) had a pretty productive season for the New York Giants in 2012, catching 55 passes, five for touchdowns. But Brandon Myers was even quieter, mainly because he played for the Oakland Raiders. Myers totaled a team-high 79 receptions, good for 806 yards and four scores.

    The addition of versatile defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins (Philadelphia Eagles) will give Tom Coughlin’s club a lot of flexibility on the defensive front.

     

    Worst Case

    While he remains unsigned and is a restricted free agent, there is a concern that Pro Bowl wide receiver Victor Cruz could get an offer sheet from a team that may be too rich for the Giants to match. New York let go of running back Ahmad Bradshaw after he ran for 1,015 yards last season. Can David Wilson (along with Andre Brown) fill the void on a consistent basis? 

New York Jets

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    Best Case

    This will be a challenge. The New York Jets have to hope former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Willie Colon can fill the bill at left guard. Journeyman Mike Goodson showed flashes with both the Carolina Panthers and Oakland Raiders, and if he can beat out Bilal Powell for the starting job in the backfield, he could be a surprise for new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.

    Outside linebacker Antwan Barnes (San Diego Chargers) has always had a knack for getting to the quarterback.

     

    Worst Case

    The team made a decision to let a lot of veteran players either sign with other teams (safeties LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell, running back Shonn Greene, tight end Dustin Keller and defensive tackle Mike DeVito). The Jets also chose to release performers such as linebackers Calvin Pace and Bart Scott and safety Eric Smith. That much change in one season could have its drawbacks.

Oakland Raiders

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    Best Case

    The Oakland Raiders have overhauled their defense in a big way, most notably a linebacking corps that will have three new starters in Nick Roach (Chicago Bears), Kaluka Maiava (Cleveland Browns) and Kevin Burnett (Miami Dolphins).

    If Roach, who can line up both inside and outside, performs as he did in Chicago, he could be a Pro Bowl player in 2013. And that would be a big boost, along with the signing of defensive tackle Pat Sims (Cincinnati Bengals), for a defense that has been sporadic at best the last few seasons.

     

    Worst Case

    The decision not to retain tight end Brandon Myers (New York Giants), the team’s leading receiver in 2012, combined with the surprising release of wide receiver Darrius-Heyward Bey, leaves the Raiders without a pair of players who combined for 120 catches and nine touchdowns in 2012.

    And can journeyman defensive end Jason Hunter (Denver Broncos) be a 16-game starter for the first time in his career? 

Philadelphia Eagles

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    Best Case

    There will be six new starters on the defensive side of the ball (all via free agency) for the Philadelphia Eagles, and new head coach Chip Kelly is certainly hoping a completely new secondary will come up big.

    Cornerbacks Bradley Fletcher (St. Louis Rams) and Cary Williams (Baltimore Ravens) are joined by safeties Patrick Chung (New England Patriots) and Kenny Phillips (New York Giants). The Birds will also make the move to the 3-4 defense, hoping Isaac Sopoaga (San Francisco 49ers) can handle the middle of the line.

    And outside linebacker Connor Barwin (Houston Texans) hopes to put a jolt back in a pass rush that went from 50 sacks in 2011 (tied for the most in the NFL) to 30 sacks last season.

     

    Worst Case

    Worst-case scenario, Barwin doesn’t recapture the form he had in 2011, when he led Houston with 11.0 sacks. A year ago, the outside linebacker played in all 16 games and totaled 3.0 sacks.

    If quarterback Michael Vick once again fails to stay healthy and former Oregon Duck and Pittsburgh Steelers signal-caller Dennis Dixon isn’t up to the task, it could be another long year in Philadelphia. 

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Best Case

    Per usual, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been the least-busiest teams in free agency in terms of obtaining players. They did grab a salary cap casualty in former Steeler William Gay (Arizona Cardinals), who hopes to fill in for free-agent departure Keenan Lewis (New Orleans Saints).

    They also signed former Chicago Bears tight end Matt Spaeth, who will try and fill in for Pro Bowler Heath Miller if he’s not ready for the start of the season due to a knee injury.

     

    Worst Case

    With Mike Wallace off to the Miami Dolphins, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are the slated starters at wide receiver. But Sanders is a restricted free agent, and if he doesn’t get an offer sheet from another team, the Steelers have to hope he doesn’t follow the same path as his predecessor.

    Last year, Wallace was also a restricted free agent and staged a long holdout, which may have had an effect on his play in 2012.

St. Louis Rams

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    Best Case

    New left tackle Jake Long (Miami Dolphins) has been named to four Pro Bowls in his five NFL seasons, but injuries have been a factor the last two years. Ideally, he remains healthy in 2013 and regains that standout form, helping the St. Louis Rams cut down on those 35 sacks allowed this past season.

    Tight end Jared Cook (Tennessee Titans) gives quarterback Sam Bradford a reliable downfield target from the tight end position.

     

    Worst Case

    Head coach Jeff Fisher made a lot of strides with a team that had won a total of 12 games the previous four seasons combined. But it’s important that the team builds on last season’s 7-8-1 finish.

    With the addition of Long, Rodger Saffold moves to right tackle. More importantly, if Long isn’t up to his former Pro Bowl form and injuries are an issue again, the Rams offensive line could spend the season shuffling the starting lineup, which could add up to disaster.

San Diego Chargers

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    Best Case

    Quarterback Philip Rivers has had his share of issues with turnovers the last two seasons. New head coach Mike McCoy has to be hoping that nifty running back Danny Woodhead (New England Patriots) can fill the role of pass-catcher out of the backfield, similar to former San Diego Chargers standout Darren Sproles.

    The new right side tandem of guard Chad Rinehart (Buffalo Bills) and tackle King Dunlap (Philadelphia Eagles) hopes to have an immediate impact on a line that allowed 49 sacks in 2012.

     

    Worst Case

    The offensive line continues its downward spiral from the previous season and Rivers once again has his issues avoiding sacks and holding onto the football.

    The Bolts brought in Derek Cox (Jacksonville Jaguars) to replace former first-round pick Antoine Cason. Hopefully that proves to be an upgrade for a defense that allowed 28 touchdown passes a season ago. 

San Francisco 49ers

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    Best Case

    The acquisition of veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin from the Baltimore Ravens is a major addition for Jim Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers. If the sure-handed veteran can do for quarterback Colin Kaepernick what he did for Joe Flacco, most notably in the 2012 playoffs, that’s a major win for the defending NFC champions.

    With veteran Phil Dawson taking over for jettisoned David Akers, the Niners are hoping they can count on the former Browns specialist the way they did Akers in 2011.

     

    Worst Case

    Free safety Craig Dahl (St. Louis Rams) takes over for two-time Pro Bowler Dashon Goldson, who left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If the veteran defender can’t fill Goldson’s shoes, the issues could continue for a secondary that had its issues down the stretch and in the playoffs a year ago.

    Now that Kaepernick begins his first full season as the starter, what happens if he can’t recapture last season’s magic and the team no longer has Alex Smith as insurance? 

Seattle Seahawks

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    Best Case

    The Seattle Seahawks gave up the fewest points in the league in 2012, but their defense was in the middle of the pack when it came to getting to the quarterback, with 36 sacks. The additions of defensive ends Michael Bennett (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Cliff Avril (Detroit Lions), each whom led their teams in sacks a year ago, could elevate the Seahawks' total to 45 or more sacks.

    And best case, wideout Percy Harvin—obtained from the Minnesota Vikings—stays healthy and leads the team in receptions, as well as kick and punt return average.

     

    Worst Case

    Harvin is unable to stay on the field for the entire season, which would not only hurt the offense but the special teams as well.

    Bennett enjoyed a career campaign with the Bucs in 2012 with 9.0 sacks, but can he duplicate that performance as a situational pass-rusher and/or a full-time starter? 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Best Case

    The addition of free agent Dashon Goldson figures to be a major plus for a defensive unit that finished dead last in the NFL in passing yards allowed in 2012.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman slumped down the stretch last season, but the addition of wideout Kevin Ogletree (Dallas Cowboys) and tight end Tom Crabtree (Green Bay Packers) give the young signal-caller some additional sure-handed options.

     

    Worst Case

    Defensive end Michael Bennett left for the Seattle Seahawks, and defensive tackle Roy Miller joined the Jacksonville Jaguars. Add in cornerback E.J. Biggers (now with the Washington Redskins) and linebacker Quincy Black (who played in just nine games in 2012 and was released this offseason), and they were all part of a Buccaneers defense that did give up the fewest rushing yards in the league last season.

    When you consider that Bennett led the team with 9.0 sacks in 2012, head coach Greg Schiano may wind up missing these players more than he thinks.

Tennessee Titans

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    Best Case

    The most intriguing move was the addition of running back Shonn Greene (New York Jets), who could spell five-year veteran Chris Johnson on occasion and make the former Pro Bowler even more dangerous.

    That Tennessee Titans running game will also benefit greatly from the additions of new guards Andy Levitre (Buffalo Bills) and Robert Turner (St. Louis Rams). And versatile tight end Delanie Walker (San Francisco 49ers) could have the club ranked amongst the top five in the NFL in rushing yards by season’s end.

     

    Worst Case

    The Titans did add some defensive help in the form of safety George Wilson (Buffalo Bills) and defensive tackle Sammie Hill (Detroit Lions). But it’s interesting to note that both come from teams that struggled on that side of the football (the Bills allowed 435 points last season, while the Lions gave up 437). They now join a club that allowed a league-high and franchise-record 471 points in 2012. 

Washington Redskins

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    Best Case

    Under head coach Mike Shanahan and general manager Bruce Allen, the Washington Redskins have stressed the draft in recent years (a combined 21 selections in 2011 and 2012). Hence, it's not a surprise that they brought in just one new face in tackle Jeremy Trueblood (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), whom the club hopes is an upgrade over veteran Jamaal Brown.

    The team also added another former Buccaneers performer in cornerback E.J. Biggers, who could take the sting out of releasing veteran DeAngelo Hall.

     

    Worst Case

    Thanks mainly to rookie running back Alfred Morris and an assist from rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, Washington led the league in rushing. The addition of Trueblood means a new face on an offensive line that remained pretty intact in 2012. But if the former Buccaneers blocker fails to deliver, the Redskins’ ground attack could suffer the consequences.

    Likewise with Biggers, who hopes to fare better with a healthier pass rush in 2013 than did Hall and company a season ago, when the Redskins totaled 32 sacks and allowed 31 touchdown passes.