Who will be replacing Elvis Dumervil in Denver now that he's joining the Baltimore Ravens?
Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Neither was Baltimore, New England or Green Bay.
We’re roughly a couple weeks into free agency, and while there may be some additional moves to make along the way, teams have brought in their share of talent to either shore up or rebuild their roster.
But what issues remain for the 32 clubs in terms of needs? The NFL draft is a month away to the day (April 25-27), so we thought we’d take some time to address a few areas that still need some help or simply a little tidying up.
And who knows? By the time you get around to reading this, a team or two may have already addressed their respective situations.
Hence, the NFL offseason really never slows down.
Yes, everyone wants to talk quarterback when it comes to the Arizona Cardinals.
But it’s hard to ignore what has been a sore spot for this team in recent seasons.
Over the last three years (2010-12), the Cards have allowed a total of 162 sacks, 50 or more sacks in each of those campaigns.
In 2012, Arizona not only gave up a league-high 58 sacks, but the team’s ground game was the least productive in the NFL. The Cardinals ran for 1,204 yards as a team—a total surpassed by 10 players in the league this past season.
Hence, the offensive line is an area that must still be addressed. But to date, it hasn’t been during free agency.
To be fair, last season, the team did play without left tackle Levi Brown. But the former first-rounder was also with the club in 2010 and 2011 when there were similar issues.
Perhaps, help is on the way. But maybe it won’t be coming until late April.
This may be getting ready to be rectified (somewhat) if you believe what you read about New York Giants free agent Osi Unenyiora.
A few weeks ago, the Atlanta Falcons released three veterans, including defensive end John Abraham. The one-time first-round pick by the Jets (2000) was the team’s best pass-rusher since he joined the franchise in 2006, totaling 68.5 sacks in seven seasons with the club.
Last season, Abraham not only totaled a team-high 10.0 sacks, it was more than one-third of the team’s total of 29 sacks.
So let’s say that the Falcons do add Umenyiora and his 75.0 career sacks. The team must also find other options when it comes to getting to the quarterback.
Veteran safeties Bernard Pollard and Ed Reed spent the 2012 season together helping the Baltimore Ravens win Super Bowl XLVII.
Now instead of seeing each other on a weekly basis, the former teammates will be seeing each other twice each year as members of the AFC South. Pollard was released by the Ravens and signed by the Tennessee Titans. Reed took the unrestricted free-agent route out of Baltimore and signed with the Houston Texans.
Last season, Pollard led the Ravens with 98 tackles during the regular season. Meanwhile, Reed totaled 61 interceptions in his 11 seasons with the franchise and ranks 10th in NFL history in that department.
Baltimore recently re-signed strong safety James Ihedigbo, and as of now, have former undrafted free agent Omar Brown in Reed’s spot.
We shall see if general manager Ozzie Newsome has a veteran move up his sleeve, or will youth be served in the Ravens’ secondary?
Some may say why is the onus on the Buffalo Bills wide receiving corps when there seems to be so much uncertainty at quarterback?
That’s another subject for another time.
Veteran Stevie Johnson remains the team’s top target, but a few young players may have to step up in 2013. The team decided not to tender offers to restricted free agents David Nelson and Donald Jones. The latter caught 41 passes for 443 yards and four touchdowns and is now with the New England Patriots.
For now, second-year pro T.J. Graham is the starter opposite Johnson. The third-round pick from a year ago caught 31 passes for 322 yards and a score as a rookie last season. Veteran Brad Smith remains, but he totaled only 14 receptions in 2012.
It was another much-too-little, much-too-late season for the Carolina Panthers in 2012.
A year after winning four of their last six games to finish 6-10 one year earlier, Ron Rivera’s team parlayed four straight wins and a 5-1 stretch for a 7-9 record this past season.
That’s not going to get it done when you finish second in the NFC South and a mere six games out of first place.
While the Panthers’ defense did finish 10th in the league in fewest yards allowed last season, it was a mediocre 14th against the run. The team did release defensive tackle Ron Edwards, who rebounded from a lost 2011 to start 11 games in 2012. And Carolina just re-signed Dwan Edwards, who will team with former third-round pick (2011) Sione Fua up the middle.
The Panthers have a potent pair of outside pass-rushers in ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy. Pairing them with a playmaker or two at defensive tackle could make this quite the foursome.
It’s a new start in the Windy City as head coach Marc Trestman takes over for Lovie Smith. And the well-traveled Trestman will be under the gun for numerous reasons, especially after Smith was let go following a 10-6 seasons (albeit no playoffs).
The franchise has been trying to fix the offensive line for what seems like years. And they may have made a big step in the right direction with the free-agent acquisition of left tackle Jermon Bushrod, who was named to the Pro Bowl each of the last two years while with the New Orleans Saints.
But left guard was a different issue last season. The team went through four different starters at that spot (Chris Spencer, Chilo Rachal, Edwin Williams and James Brown). On the right side, Lance Louis was an 11-game starter but was injured and now as unrestricted free agent has not been re-signed.
It will be interesting to see how the team addresses the positions, perhaps waiting until April’s draft. For now, it's Brown on the left and former right tackle Gabe Carimi at right guard (where he made three starts late last season) while former left tackle J'Marcus Webb slides over to right tackle.
The Cincinnati Bengals rode a solid second-half defensive performance into the playoffs last season.
But if the franchise is to make an unprecedented third consecutive postseason appearance, the team’s play on the offensive line must improve.
The good news is that the team does welcome back guard Travelle Wharton, who was signed a year ago, but was lost before the season ever began. On the other hand, it appears right tackle Andre Smith, an unrestricted free agent, will eventually re-sign with the team. But it hasn’t happened to date.
The Bengals, thanks in part to running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, were a better running team later in the year when it counted most. But quarterback Andy Dalton was sacked 46 times this past season, and those numbers have to change.
A good tight end can be a young quarterback’s best friend.
And we’re going to find out just how many friends Brandon Weeden has as he prepares for his second NFL season.
Under new head coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner, the Cleveland Browns opted to go in a different direction at tight end. With two-year pro Jordan Cameron already on the roster, Chudzinski brought in a familiar face in Gary Barnidge, who played for him with the Carolina Panthers.
This past week, the Browns also signed Kellen Davis, who was released by the Bears this offseason.
It will be interesting to see who emerges from that trio. Veteran Ben Watson, who recently signed with the New Orleans Saints, totaled 49 receptions for 501 yards and three touchdowns a year ago.
It’s time for another new defensive approach for the Dallas Cowboys.
This time, they’ll receive the full Monte—as in longtime coach Monte Kiffin, who hopes to fix what seems to continuously ail this club in recent seasons.
Granted, a stunning number of injuries to the team’s linebacking corps were a major reason the team had its issues.
With a playoff spot on the line with two games to go last season, the Dallas defense couldn’t stop New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees through the air, and a week later, couldn’t stop the Washington Redskins on the ground. An 8-6 mark turned into 8-8 for the second straight year.
With the new 4-3 look, Pro Bowl outside linebacker Anthony Spencer moves to defensive end. Sean Lee, who the team missed greatly in 2012 after he went down, will be the middle linebacker, and emerging Bruce Carter (whose season was also shortened) lines up on the right side.
Victor Butler is an unrestricted free agent who is making the rounds these days. With the Cowboys strapped against the cap, they may be waiting until the draft to find that third starter.
Now it appears that Elvis has left the building for good.
The facts are (pun intended) that Pro Bowl defensive end Elvis Dumervil went from reworked contract to ex-Denver Broncos standout in a blink of a confusing eye. Now the three-time Pro Bowler is apparently headed to Baltimore (per Chris Wesseling of NFL.com) to join the defending Super Bowl-champion Ravens.
So where does this leave the Denver defense, which tied for the NFL lead with 52 sacks in 2012? Well, more than a third of those (18.5) came from Pro Bowl outside linebacker Von Miller, who isn’t going anywhere. But not having Dumervil (11.0 sacks in 2012) could make Miller a bit less effective.
Former first-round pick Robert Ayers will fill the bill and could be a season-long starter. But the feeling here is that the Broncos are far from done addressing the position.
There are plenty of changes afoot for the Detroit Lions this upcoming season.
And that’s hardly surprising for a club that lost its final eight games to finish 4-12 and six games out of third place (and second place) in the NFC North.
But quarterback Matthew Stafford will have a new pair of bookends protecting him. The recent retirement of veteran left tackle Jeff Backus puts 2012 first-rounder Riley Reiff into the starting lineup.
However, the free-agent departure of right tackle Gosder Cherilus (Indianapolis Colts) leaves a void on the other side. As for now, it’s up to Corey Hilliard, who has made five starts in three seasons with the Lions, to take over for Cherilus.
So would Detroit take an offensive tackle in the first round for the second straight year? Stay tuned.
It hasn’t been for a lack of trying.
We’re talking about the Green Bay Packers and their failure to establish a running game in recent seasons.
Injuries have conspired against head coach Mike McCarthy and company to fill the void. They thought they had an answer with Cedric Benson last season, but he wound up missing most of the year.
The list at running back includes 2010 postseason hero James Starks, as well as Alex Green and DuJuan Harris. But it would be very surprising if general manager Ted Thompson doesn’t address this area in the draft.
Over the last two seasons, Aaron Rodgers has put up awe-inspiring numbers. But a year ago, he was the most sacked quarterback in the league, going down 51 times.
Safe to say, the Pack needs to be a little more balanced if they’re going to return to advancing beyond the divisional round of the playoffs.
It’s interesting to see what has transpired with the Houston Texans offense in recent seasons.
And the focus here is on the ground game, where the team features one of the best backs in the league in Arian Foster.
However, it wasn’t long ago that the Pro Bowl runner was being led by standout fullback Vonta Leach, who wound up taking the free-agent road to Baltimore. Lately, it’s been James Casey, but he was really a tight end in fullback’s clothing and was a pass-catcher, not a run-blocker. And now, he’ll be catching passes with the Philadelphia Eagles.
In an era where the position has taken a back seat, it will be intriguing to see how the two-time defending AFC South champions adjust this season.
With more than a little bit of “Luck” and a lot of perseverance, the Indianapolis Colts went from a two-win flop in 2011 to 11 wins and a playoff berth this past season.
But if Chuck Pagano’s team is going to mount a bigger challenge to the Houston Texans this fall, their defense has to take the next step.
The bottom line is that only three teams gave up more rushing yards per game last season than Greg Manusky’s defensive unit.
There are a ton of new faces in nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin (San Diego Chargers) and defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois (San Francisco 49ers) up front. And hard-hitting strong safety LaRon Landry should be a major plus.
Right inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman did lead the team with 145 tackles, while left-side starter Kavell Conner added 54 stops in 13 games.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see general manager Ryan Grigson add a little more oomph to this area.
No team in the league totaled fewer sacks than the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2012.
Of course, no team won fewer games last season than the Jaguars, whose 2-14 record was tied with the Kansas City Chiefs for the worst in the league.
In all honesty, the pass rush has been an area of concern for the team for numerous years. The team added defensive end Jason Babin after he was let go by the Philadelphia Eagles late last season. As for the Jaguars, defensive tackle Tyson Alualu led the club with 3.5 sacks a year ago.
Jacksonville did add defensive tackle Roy Miller (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) to the mix. But when your entire team (20) totals fewer sacks than NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt (20.5), you have some issues.
It’s been a huge offseason for the Kansas City Chiefs. That makes perfect sense since it was such a "small" 2012 regular season for the team.
And when you consider that over the last six years, the franchise has won just 29 games (and 10 of those victories came in 2010), it’s been a rough stretch for the organization.
For the third straight year, the Chiefs will open the season with a new head coach in Andy Reid. They’ll also have a new starting quarterback in Alex Smith (San Francisco 49ers) and numerous other new faces as well.
Besides the turnover issues last season, the Kansas City defense was also a big disappointment. Free-agent additions in defensive end Mike DeVito (New York Jets) and cornerbacks Dunta Robinson (Atlanta Falcons) and Sean Smith (Miami Dolphins) should help, as will the continued play of Pro Bowl inside linebacker Derrick Johnson.
But don’t be surprised if Reid and general manager John Dorsey look to upgrade the other inside linebacker spot, a place weakened by last year’s tragic death of Jovan Belcher.
Off a season in which the club showed plenty of promise under first-time NFL head coach Joe Philbin, the Miami Dolphins have been very busy so far in 2013.
While the team has made its share of free-agent additions in wide receiver Mike Wallace as well as linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler, the club has also taken a few hits.
One of the more notable losses was cornerback Sean Smith, who signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. It wasn’t long ago that the Dolphins looked like they had an up-and-coming tandem with Smith and Vontae Davis. The latter was dealt to the Indianapolis Colts a year ago.
Unsung Richard Marshall returns at one spot after seeing his season shortened by injury. Meanwhile, Nolan Carroll looks like the new starter in place of Smith on the left side.
While league MVP Adrian Peterson was a story himself in 2012, let’s not bury what the Minnesota Vikings accomplished as a team last season.
Leslie Frazier’s club was 10-6 and captured a wild-card berth, this was after the Purple Gang was a combined 9-23 the previous two seasons.
While Peterson rolled up 2,097 yards rushing and was the talk of the league, the Minnesota defense did its part in helping the club get things turned around.
But now that defense will be doing things without linebacker Jasper Brinkley, who finished fourth on the team with 97 tackles this past season. Brinkley signed a free-agent deal with the Arizona Cardinals.
Could the Vikings use one of their first-round picks on finding his replacement?
Didn’t the New England Patriots just add wideout Danny Amendola, formerly of the St. Louis Rams?
And didn’t Bill Belichick and company sign receiver Donald Jones, formerly of the Buffalo Bills?
Still, losing a player like Wes Welker (Denver Broncos) has to take its toll. The team also released veteran Brandon Lloyd after one season and 74 receptions with the club.
It appears Deion Branch and Donte’ Stallworth won’t return as well, although the pair managed a combined 18 catches last season. Receiver Julian Edelman remains unsigned.
Perhaps, we’re getting ready to see two tight ends each catch 100-plus passes this year. Or perhaps, Amendola and others will do great impressions of Welker and Lloyd, respectively.
Time and a few 100 receptions will tell.
No team in NFL history gave up more total yards in a season than the 2012 New Orleans Saints.
So it’s out with the new as in defensive coordinator Steve Soagnuolo (after one season) and in with the newer as in the familiar face of Rob Ryan, late of the Dallas Cowboys.
The Saints will employ a 3-4 defense, meaning plenty of adjustments. Fortunately, the team is set at inside linebacker with Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne. Meanwhile, defensive end Will Smith becomes an outside linebacker here and will be flanked by Jonathan Vilma.
But what about the line? Brodrick Bunkley is set at nose tackle and former first-round pick Cameron Jordan will be at left defensive end. However, the Saints are thin at right end and may have to scramble to find the right fit for this new-look defense.
When you finish 9-7 and win the Super Bowl, all is right in the world.
When you finish 9-7 and miss the playoffs, you did nothing right.
Hence, that's the current New York Giants, one of the league's more unpredictable and erratic clubs.
Then again, the 2012 G-Men proved to be very predictable on the defensive side of the ball. Only the Saints gave up more total yards per game and Tom Coughlin’s club ranked 25th against the run.
With middle linebacker Chase Blackburn unsigned, the team added Dan Connor (Dallas Cowboys). The team also let go of veteran Michael Boley this offseason. In just his second year, Jacquian Williams started three games and amassed 30 tackles and a sack in 10 contests.
This is an area that certainly bears watching.
The four-year run of New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez has been interesting to say the least. In each of his first two seasons (2009-10), the former first-round pick helped take Rex Ryan’s team to the AFC Championship Game. In each of his last two seasons (2011-12), he committed exactly 26 turnovers.
Now in his fifth season, Ryan currently has five quarterbacks on the roster. Along with Sanchez, there’s Tim Tebow and Greg McElroy, who earned a start in December. Former undrafted free agent Matt Simms is on the list as well (can’t hurt to have a Simms playing at the Meadowlands).
Then there’s David Garrard, who hasn’t played since 2010. Add in a new coordinator in Marty Mornhinweg and who knows what the Jets’ offense will look like this season…and who will wind up the starting quarterback.
The years, as of late, have been lean for the Oakland Raiders.
But now we’ll finally get to see what general manager Reggie McKenzie really has in mind.
We’ve already seen his handiwork as the team looks to get better on defense. The Silver and Black will have an entire new linebacking corps in Nick Roach (Chicago Bears), Kaluka Maiva (Cleveland Browns) and Kevin Burnett (Miami Dolphins).
But what about the Raiders’ pass-catching corps in 2013? The team released former first-round pick Darrius Heyward-Bey, who was just beginning to come into his own. More significantly, tight end Brandon Myers signed with the New York Giants. The former sixth-round pick led Oakland with 79 receptions a year ago.
The team has a pair of third-year tight ends in Richard Gordon and David Ausberry. It will be interesting to see if either is the main man this upcoming season.
Under new defensive coordinator Bill Davis, the Philadelphia Eagles will convert to a 3-4 scheme in 2013.
But do the Birds have the right people in place to pull this off?
Thanks to free agency, the Eagles have an entirely new secondary, a pass-rushing outside linebacker and a nose tackle. Former defensive end Trent Cole will now line up at outside linebacker as well.
But what of the men up front opposite free-agent import Isaac Sopoaga in the middle. For now, former undrafted free agent Cedric Thornton lines up at left defensive end, while 2012 first-round pick Fletcher Cox shifts from 4-3 defensive tackle to a 3-4 end.
It should be an interesting transition for a defense on a team in transition.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have always done a great job restocking the cupboard when it’s a little bare.
Now would be a great time to reinforce that theory.
With the release of outside linebacker James Harrison this offseason, Mike Tomlin’s team has lost a vital cog from its highly regarded defense.
Harrison, along with a number of Steelers’ defenders, had problems staying healthy last season. And one of the league’s best units missed Harrison, LaMarr Woodley and Troy Polamalu when they weren’t in the lineup.
Always known for their stellar linebacking corps, there could be some questions this season. Three-year veteran Jason Worilds is slated to replace Harrison and inside linebacker Larry Foote enters his 12th NFL season.
Foote could be pushed by Sean Spence, who missed his rookie campaign in 2012. And Worilds could get a challenge from two-year pro Chris Carter.
It will be interesting to see if general manager Kevin Colbert opts to address this group not only via the draft but with a veteran or two as well.
While it being a 7-8-1 season isn’t usually something to get excited about, it was a sign of major progress for the St. Louis Rams.
Under head coach Jeff Fisher, the victory total was obviously a step in the right direction after a 2-14 finish the previous year and just 12 wins from 2008-11.
The St. Louis defense opened some eyes last season, tying for the league lead with 52 sacks. But there are some changes afoot. While the Rams are in fine shape at the corners, thanks to the tandem of veteran Cortland Finnegan as well as young Janoris Jenkins (who returned four takeaways for touchdowns as a rookie in 2012), safety is a different story.
Free safety Quintin Mikell was released, and strong safety Craig Dahl is now a member of the San Francisco 49ers’ secondary.
With a pair of picks in the first round in April, it will be interesting to see what kind of moves the Rams will make.
It’s been a forgettable three-year stretch for the San Diego Chargers.
And it’s been a rough last two seasons for quarterback Philip Rivers.
When you consider that the Chargers have committed 54 turnovers in their 32 games and that Rivers has 47 of those gaffes (35 interceptions, 12 lost fumbles), those are some sobering thoughts.
The former Pro Bowl quarterback was also sacked 49 times last season, as only the Cardinals gained fewer total yards in 2012.
Unfortunately, due to numerous circumstances, the team’s offensive line has eroded over the last few years. And that unit is expected to have three new starters this season in guards Rich Ohrnberger (Arizona Cardinals) and Chad Rinehart (Buffalo Bills), as well right tackle King Dunlap (Philadelphia Eagles).
Stay tuned for further developments.
Although they had their issues late in December as well as in the playoffs, the San Francisco 49ers boast one of the best defensive units in the league.
Heading into this offseason, Jim Harbaugh knew he could lose a pair of starters via free agency. And he did indeed when Pro Bowl free safety Dashon Goldson signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga joined the Philadelphia Eagles.
The latter is the more intriguing loss, as well as the hardest to perhaps replace. The Niners did add former first-rounder Glenn Dorsey (Kansas City Chiefs) to the mix, but he’s more of an insurance policy for veteran Justin Smith.
It will be intriguing to see how the 49ers fill the hole, especially with three picks in first two rounds in the draft. But is there a stop-gap veteran who could take over for now?
Thanks to an impressive stretch run, the Seattle Seahawks not only reached the playoffs last season but won a postseason game at Washington.
And while they came up short in the divisional round at Atlanta, Pete Carroll’s team has been designated as one of the NFC’s Super Bowl favorites.
But if the franchise is to make just its second appearance in the Big Game, there is one area on the defensive side of the ball that needs addressing.
While no team in the league gave up fewer points, and only three clubs surrendered fewer total yards, the Seahawks were just 10th in run defense. It has to be a bit of a concern for Carroll, especially in the rough and tumble NFC West.
Veteran Brandon Mebane returns at defensive tackle, but Alan Branch hasn’t been re-signed. And while the team has addressed the outside via ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett (although the latter’s availability may now be in question), defensive tackle looks like an area of need.
Under first-year head coach Greg Schiano, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers showed some signs of progress a season ago.
But there are also some big issues to be addressed if the team is to challenge the Atlanta Falcons for the NFC South title and/or reach the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
Via free agency, the team lost cornerback E.J. Biggers to the Washington Redskins. On the other side, the franchise appears ready to part ways with disappointing Eric Wright.
The Bucs are pretty set at safety with second-year pro Mark Barron and free-agent pickup Dashon Goldson. Cornerback Leonard Johnson saw his share of action last season. But the team that allowed the most passing yards in the league in 2012 has some big concerns.
There’s nowhere to go but up for the Tennessee Titans in 2013. At least that’s the direction head coach Mike Munchak hopes his team is headed.
After finishing 9-7 during his first season on the sidelines, Munchak watched his club slump to 6-10, and in the process, gave up a league-high 471 points, the most in the franchise’s 53-year history.
For now, the interior of the Titans’ defensive line will be manned by Karl Klug and Jurrell Casey, a pair of young performers who both came via the draft in 2011.
However, much more help is needed here. The club did add defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill (Detroit Lions) via free agency. But we’re talking about a defensive unit that was ranked 27th in total yards allowed, including 24th against the run.
All upgrades are welcomed.
The Washington Redskins are coming off a season in which they won their first division title since 1999.
If Mike Shanahan’s club plans on repeating that feat this upcoming season, there will have to be improvement on the defensive side of the football.
And a lot of that has to come in the form of a secondary that took its lumps last season, mainly because the Washington pass rush wasn’t up to snuff. The Redskins totaled just 32 sacks a year ago, due in large part to the loss of outside linebacker Brian Orakpo in Week 2. Conversely, Shanahan’s club gave up 31 touchdown passes.
With the release of veteran DeAngelo Hall, the team filled the void with the signing of cornerback E.J. Biggers (Tampa Bay Buccaneers). He’ll team with veteran Josh Wilson, but a little more experience at the position would be a big help.