The Most Surprising Move Every NFL Team Did Not Make This Offseason
The 2014 NFL offseason saw every team working to implement its surefire team-building strategy in the hopes of making it to the big show in Santa Clara this January. Unfortunately, no general manager is perfect.
Sometimes we know exactly what a team needs in order to improve heading into the next season, and the powers that be totally disregard what seems like the best thing for the organization. This can leave fans and media alike shocked and concerned.
In this slideshow, we break down every team's most surprising move it did NOT make this offseason.
Holding on to Receiver Stevie Johnson
Buffalo Bills general manager Doug Whaley confirmed his commitment to EJ Manuel with not only the absence of drafting a quarterback but also in his investment to provide Manuel with a significant weapon.
Sammy Watkins was the fourth pick overall in this year’s draft. He is a player who the Bills believe can add instant impact for their franchise QB while creating several opportunities for the offense in general.
The success of this franchise will live and die by the arm and legs of EJ Manuel. Adding weapons to the roster was a wise decision and a step in the right direction, but they should have stacked the deck against opposing secondaries that much more by holding onto Stevie Johnson, who has been their best receiver over the last few years.
Johnson would have forced defenses to pay him mind while the younger guys could benefit from lighter coverage on the opposite side. Besides, this is now an extremely inexperienced crop of pass-catchers, and Johnson could have provided the veteran presence every receiving corps needs.
Adding a Game-Changer
Perhaps it’s because former GM Jeff Ireland and recently hired GM Dennis Hickey struggle to identify stars. Maybe they have game-changers, and I just don’t know it.
A game-changer is a guy who is elite at his position and can turn a game around single-handedly with superior skill.
Brent Grimes is one of the best players at his position, but he is a fringe star at best in this league after dealing with a severe injury in 2012.
They thought adding Mike Wallace would help remedy this weakness, but the fact remains the Dolphins are in need of some elite game-changers on their roster.
In free agency they brought running back Knowshon Moreno on board after he had a career year in Denver. But let’s face it—Moreno’s stats were inflated by a system that Peyton Manning orchestrated to perfection. With that said, Moreno should be a solid addition, but he is not what most would consider a game-changer.
Receiver Hakeem Nicks would have been a highly affordable option to help bolster the passing game. Darrelle Revis is another name that would have been worth considering.
This is a team loaded with B-level talent, but there is a glaring lack of stars present in South Beach. This doesn't mean they can't win games, but it surely makes their job that much more difficult.
New England Patriots
Adding More Receiving Weapons for Tom Brady
If there was any question whether the Patriots went toe-to-toe in a full-on arms race with the Denver Broncos for AFC supremacy, all you have to do is look at their additions. Adding cornerback Brandon Browner, safety Patrick Chung, cornerback Darrelle Revis and defensive end Will Smith is indicative of a team looking to bring home the trophy this year.
Tom Brady is in the twilight of his Hall of Fame career, and the Patriots look as if they know the window for a Super Bowl run with him at the helm is quickly closing. This is the time to go all in and see if you can take at least one more championship home.
For New England, the addition of wide receiver Brandon LaFell was decent but not really enough to give this squad the type of weapons it once had when it went undefeated during the regular season. The Patriots also drafted Jeremy Gallon in the seventh round. He is an undersized kid who plays much bigger than he is.
With that said, you have to wonder how secure the Patriots feel having Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola as the starting flankers. Behind these two is a lot youth and inexperience. This system is notoriously challenging to master, and some players never end up panning out.
Having a receiver with size and vertical speed would be ideal, but this team will just have to bank on other options at this point.
The Broncos have taken a similar and perhaps even more desperate approach to the offseason—but at the end of the day, only one team can reign supreme.
New York Jets
Adding More Offensive Weapons
Let’s face it: Talent-wise the Jets were a five-win team last year but overachieved enough to put together an 8-8 season. This offseason the Jets will look to improve upon their mediocre season in 2013 and try to make a run for the playoffs. Unfortunately they failed to bring in enough talent to instill a lot of confidence in their playoff prospects.
After Eric Decker, the options at WR are riddled with question marks. Jeremy Kerley was their leading receiver last year and was the only member of that receiving corps who overachieved. He is undersized and not incredibly gifted from a physical standpoint.
Adding three draft picks to the wide receiver position last week was the implementation of quantity over quality. Perhaps this was in the hopes that one of these mid- to late-round prospects would become a significant weapon.
Jalen Saunders is the most likely candidate here, but even he is a long shot to be a major player in the offense. After all, the kid is 5’9” and weighs 170 pounds in full gear. It’s fair to say "diminutive" is an understatement.
Geno Smith should be improved from his rookie season, but does he have the supporting cast around him to truly take off?
Chris Johnson is merely a shell of the man who once ran for 2,000 yards in a season, and this offensive line hasn’t been known for opening many holes for running backs in the last few years.
Rex Ryan is a good coach, but expecting more than another eight-win season in 2014 would be asking for a lot of things to go right.
Trade Ray Rice for Extra Draft Picks
When a TMZ video of Ray Rice emerged of him dragging his fiancee out of a hotel elevator after he allegedly knocked her out with a punch, it quickly tarnished his clean-cut reputation and made it incredibly difficult to cheer for him.
Last year Rice struggled with injuries and put up his worst numbers as a pro. He claims to be back to full health and is looking forward to a rebound season. He is in the third year of a six-year deal and is expected to count $8.75 million against the salary cap this year. His price certainly exceeds the 3.1 yards per carry and four rushing touchdowns he had in 2013.
Trading him for extra draft picks could have saved the team money while allowing it to add more youth and depth on the roster. The Ravens could have even used the extra pick to take one of the talented young running backs available in this class. Besides, backup RB Bernard Pierce is very capable of shouldering the load at a much cheaper price.
It’s reasonable to consider the possibility that the smallish Rice, who runs like a power back at times, has too much mileage and will never be what he used to be.
These are good practical football reasons to move on from Rice if him punching the woman he now wants to marry isn’t a good enough reason for you.
Going Big on a Free Agent
Sure, we’re all for the idea of building through the draft and not overpaying for guys who are not cornerstones for the franchise, but the Bengals have established a roster that can really make a push for a Super Bowl in 2014.
But to better the odds, the Bengals could have taken advantage of having some extra cap space and been a bit more aggressive in the free-agent market, especially considering they have about $24 million in cap space still available to play with, according to Spotrac.
If there were no players they think could have helped tip the scale in their favor, they could’ve re-signed guys like offensive tackle Anthony Collins or maybe Michael Johnson.
Imagine if they would have made a run for Darrelle Revis, Jared Allen and/or Julius Peppers?
The Broncos and Patriots were aggressive accumulating talent this offseason and seem to have widened the gap between themselves and Cincinnati.
They should have tried to land a safety like T.J. Ward, Donte Whitner or Jairus Byrd. Adding a presence like that could end up being the difference between a playoff appearance and a Super Bowl ring.
Drafting a Receiver
Well, the Browns have officially added a new level of excitement to the city when they drafted Johnny Manziel in the first round of the draft.
Since his arrival in Cleveland, Manziel has become the most popular selling jersey in the NFL. He also brings with him a media circus unlike anything Cleveland has seen since the LeBron James era.
Even before Johnny Manziel has taken a single snap for the Browns, his reputation and exciting style of play have the fanbase excited to a degree seldom witnessed.
However, he may lack the supporting cast to truly elevate the organization in Year 1.
Who is Johnny Football going to be throwing the ball to?
This might not have been such a big concern had the incident involving Josh Gordon never happened. But after testing positive for marijuana, Gordon is looking at a possible year-long suspension, and the Browns did nothing by way of the draft to prepare for this, as noted by Terry Pluto of The Plain Dealer:
But who will take the place of Gordon?
The answer is no one, given the fact Gordon led the NFL in receiving yardage. He is the big-play guy, averaging 18.9 yards for his 87 receptions.
Supposedly, the Browns front office was aware of Gordon's suspension before the draft. So they passed on Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins knowing that Gordon was facing a suspension.
The Browns can still bring in a veteran like Santonio Holmes, who is a free agent who could help if the situation gets dire.
The Browns did add veteran Nate Burleson and Andrew Hawkins.
Drafting Secondary Early and Often
The Steelers have struggled more recently than any of us are used to. As one of the more stable franchises in the NFL, it’s been odd watching this team look as mortal as it has.
The offense had been depleted over time—primarily through free agency—and the defense was get progressively older and slower.
In an attempt to re-establish some degree of physical dominance, the Steelers opted for players who were either incredibly large or possessed unique speed.
First-round selection Ryan Shazier is one of the fastest linebackers in this draft, and RB Dri Archer had the fastest 40 time (4.26) at the NFL Scouting Combine this year according to NFL.com.
On the size tip, the Steelers added DE Stephon Tuitt and NT Daniel McClullers. Tuitt stands 6’5”, 304 pounds, while McClullers measures in at a whopping 6’7”, 352 pounds.
The strategy seems to be—win the battle up front with brute strength while outrunning the opponents from the flanks. This is exactly what they need to do to get back to Super Bowl-caliber level.
However, one critical area of the defense remains too slow, too old and lacking in depth. Starting cornerbacks Ike Taylor and William Gay are serviceable players, but they lack top-end speed. This is critical when competing against today’s offenses.
The Steelers did draft CB Shaquille Richardson in the fifth round, but the needs in the secondary would require both an increase in quality and quantity. It's time for this unit to get younger.
The secret is out on this defense. When you are able to spread these guys out and keep them in sub-packages, they become a very beatable defense.
Draft Another WR
Texans fans are well aware that at a position notorious for self-centered divas, but they have been lucky enough to enjoy one of the best yet quietest receivers in the NFL—that is until recently.
Now it appears even Andre Johnson’s patience has worn thin with the lack of continued success with the Texans organization after sinking to 2-14 last season.
After the team’s final game of the season against the Raiders, Johnson told CBS Houston, “I’m under contract so I have to play my contract out,” when he was asked about his future going forward.
The seven-time Pro Bowler said two weeks ago that he did not plan on attending OTAs or the Texans' mandatory minicamp in June.
This offseason his disappointment does not seem to have diminished one bit. He has remained true to his word and elected to skip offseason activities with the team.
Johnson is known as one of the classiest and most professional receivers in the NFL. At the age of 32 he is frustrated with the lack of success he’s experienced with the Texans organization.
They did add the most talented player in the draft, Jadeveon Clowney. But one area they failed to address was wide receiver.
They drafted receiver DeAndre Hopkins in the first round a year ago, but they still need to bring in some more youth and depth at the position. Andre Johnson is now 32 years old and is not getting any younger. If he went down, the Texans would be severely lacking in targets.
The current backups at receiver are Keshawn Martin and DeVier Posey, neither of whom has demonstrated the talent to step into a starting role.
When you have that kind of drop-off in talent between the starters and backups, it’s time to upgrade that position. This was a very deep class of wideouts, and the Texans should have done more to take advantage of it.
Adding More in the Secondary
With the addition of key contributors like linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, DE Arthur Jones and WR Hakeem Nicks in free agency, coupled with WR Donte Moncrief in the draft, the Colts have really improved their position as contenders for the crown.
Andrew Luck returns with another year of experience and a ton of weapons at his disposal.
One question on offense will be whether RB Trent Richardson will show up and be the runner the Colts thought he would be when they traded their first-round pick for him in this year’s draft.
Richardson averaged a horrendous 2.9 yards per carry as a Colt last season and is looking more and more like a bust with each carry.
The defense is also coming along as they insert the proper personnel needed for their hybrid front—which is a modification of the 3-4 defense and was made popular with the Baltimore Ravens.
One thing we can expect to see this year is a very productive passing game and capable defense overall—that is, once Robert Mathis returns from his four-game suspension.
Obviously the Colts have come a long way since hiring Chuck Pagano as their head coach, making it to the playoffs both years he's been there, but they haven't gotten back to Super Bowl contention just yet.
Vontae Davis and LaRon Landry are pretty much the only guys in the Colts defensive backfield who can pose a real danger to opposing offenses. The depth at cornerback on this team is relatively thin and also lacks elite talents.
Strong safety is a position that should have more focus in either free agency or the draft. Relying on Corey Lynch to solidify that position could be costly.
For now, Indy will try to make do with a limited talent on the back end.
First off, let me just say that head coach Gus Bradley and GM David Caldwell know what they're doing for the most part.
I continue to be impressed with Bradley and what he’s trying to accomplish in Jacksonville. The GM and head coach have worked well together to bring some of the best young talent in the NFL on board.
This draft in particular was one of the best draft classes I’ve seen. Nearly every player the Jaguars took was a guy who I had rated near the top of his position. The Jaguars also added a litany of weapons to help revive an anemic offense from a year ago.
Receivers Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson are poised to become a deadly tandem, while linebacker Telvin Smith is a vastly underrated addition to the defense. Blake Bortles has franchise QB written all over him, and even the late-round addition of Storm Johnson can end up being a steal.
Studying tape of his running style left me highly impressed. Few RBs have the combination of power and elusiveness that Johnson showed running behind Bortles at UCF.
I also believe Allen Robinson will emerge as one of the top wideouts from this class.
Even though the Jaguars will be highly inexperienced on offense with the influx of rookies, they should be an improvement from a year ago.
With that said, the pass-rushing unit could've certainly used some more TLC this offseason.
For several years, Jacksonville Jaguars fans have been clamoring for a pass-rusher. Needless to say, the team has failed to prioritize the position year after year.
Bringing in Chris Clemons and Red Bryant were nice additions in free agency, but they're nowhere near enough to satisfy the needs of this defensive line in terms of a pass rush. Bryant has 3.5 sacks total in six seasons, and Clemons is nearly 33 years old and coming off an injury.
Jason Babin and Tyson Alualu are penciled in as the starting defensive ends at the moment.
Now the question becomes, will the Jaguars do something between now and the start of the season to boost their pass-rushing presence? At this point it seems unlikely.
Re-Sign CB Alterraun Verner
The Tennessee Titans look to retool a defense that was ranked 19th overall last year. To do that they brought in renowned defensive coordinator Ray Horton, who was recently released from the defensive coordinator spot in Cleveland, a unit which ranked ninth in the NFL in yards allowed.
In order for Horton to implement his philosophy, the Titans will have to acclimate by switching from a 4-3 defensive front to a 3-4.
Tennessee’s defensive personnel are not built to handle the 3-4 scheme, but Horton apparently sees more benefit to switch to what he knows best rather than playing a 4-3 all year. Unfortunately he will make most of that defense uncomfortable until the players learn the differences in scheme and philosophy.
Letting Pro Bowl CB Alterraun Verner slip away in free agency was a major step back for a defense looking for any edge it could get to build a dominant unit. Verner is coming off a breakout campaign in 2013 and was one of the best playmakers in the league.
Adding a Run-Stuffing Inside Linebacker
The Broncos have officially put on the full-court press in putting together the most talented team in football. On paper it can be argued that the Broncos are indeed the most dangerous team in all the land.
This offseason the Broncos went on a spending spree of epic proportions, adding players like WR Emmanuel Sanders, DT Marvin Austin, CB Aqib Talib, S T.J. Ward, DE and LB DeMarcus Ware.
GM John Elway understands this is probably Peyton Manning’s last chance at a Super Bowl. His intention is clear. Help Peyton Manning finish off his career with a bang.
But one area that Elway did somewhat neglect is the interior linebacker position.
As loaded as the Denver Broncos are, they could surely use an upgrade at the middle linebacker position, which is currently held by Nate Irving and Jamar Chaney. Chaney, coming from adequate duty during his time with the Eagles and Falcons, is hardly an imposing figure against power-running teams.
Bringing in a heavy hitter to blow up the interior gaps and set a physical tone would have given this defense an element that has lacked over the last few years. This could have been addressed in the draft or cheaply via free agency.
Denver may have so much surrounding talent who cover up this problem, but it's still a weak link on a very impressive roster overall. Obviously all critiques are relative.
Kansas City Chiefs
Holding onto Some Offensive Linemen
It’s difficult to see where your team has improved when you factor in the departures of players such as OT Branden Albert, OG Jon Asamoah, DE Tyson Jackson, S Kendrick Lewis, WR Dexter McCluster and OG Geoff Schwartz. That’s three talented starters on the offensive line and a handful of other contributors.
Guard Jeff Linkenbach was the Chiefs' only free-agent addition on the offensive line, which will now be forced to compete against a daunting Broncos defensive front twice during the regular season. Linkenbach is hardly enough to replace the purge on their hogs up front.
The Chiefs were also badly in need of another target to help Alex Smith out but failed to deliver on that during free agency or the draft. Tiny De'Anthony Thomas could help replace the loss of Dexter McCluster, but that’s hardly enough to view as an upgrade to the unit.
At this point it would be a miracle for them to match their 11-5 record from a year ago, but you can never count head coach Andy Reid out.
Sign Young Free Agents
At the start of the free-agent period the Raiders had more cap space than any other team in the NFL. So what did they do with their fat pockets?
Surprisingly they opted out of overpaying for young talent with promising futures in favor of cheaper veterans who are entering the back nine of their NFL careers. Their best signing, in my opinion, was CB Tarell Brown from San Francisco. Brown is an underrated CB who is entering the prime of his career, and the Raiders acquired him at a reasonable price.
Aside from that, their additions this offseason have taken on the look of a team desperate to win now while disregarding the need for building a dynasty. Adding guys like QB Matt Schaub, WR James Jones, RB Maurice Jones-Drew, CB Carlos Rogers, DE Antonio Smith, DE Justin Tuck and LB LaMarr Woodley to short-term contracts is essentially renting veterans for a year and starting all over next offseason.
So why do this?
GM Reggie McKenzie is on the hot seat this year and understands that if he fails to show significant improvement this season he’ll likely be sent packing. He seems to believe that if he can’t save his job now, he won’t be able to continue building through the draft like he prefers.
San Diego Chargers
Releasing Jarret Johnson
If the San Diego Chargers were looking to upgrade their roster from outside the organization, they certainly did a bad job of that—minus the draft.
Nearly the entire roster is composed of either guys from the 2013 roster or rookies. This shows just how much GM Tom Telesco values continuity.
A lot of guys will be returning from injuries in 2013 which forced them to miss some or most of the season last year. This could be considered an upgrade if you want to look at it that way.
Remarkably though, the Chargers didn’t really lose or gain any free agents this offseason other than running back Donald Brown, opting instead for the return of veterans like Dwight Freeney (who was injured in training camp last year) and Malcom Floyd.
Sometimes less is more but not when you’re in a division with the powerhouse Denver Broncos. The more subtle approach is not likely to close the gap on the elite teams until much later down the line.
One addition they should have made was to part with outside linebacker Jarrett Johnson.
Holding on to Jarret Johnson for his leadership and run-stuffing acumen may seem wise to some, but this is a guy who brings absolutely nothing to the defense by way of a pass rush. To make matters worse, Johnson will turn 33 in August and seemed much older back in 2007 when I was with him in Baltimore.
The San Diego Chargers defensive front operates from a base 3-4 scheme, and its bookends are a couple of slow, aging veterans in Johnson and Dwight Freeney.
Johnson has always been sound with his assignments and technique, but one thing he has never been is a pass-rusher.
Melvin Ingram is returning from a knee injury and will have to earn a starting job after a couple of underwhelming years to start his once promising career. They also drafted a promising rookie in Jeremiah Attaochu.
Firing Jason Garrett
Regardless of what owner Jerry Jones says, Jason Garrett has shown little to nothing that warrants his return as the head coach of the Cowboys.
With the Super Bowl window closing fast on this Dallas Cowboys squad, the urgency is notched up to the next level. However, despite the need to win now, Dallas had its hands tied behind its back and had to make the tough decision of letting the cornerstone of the team's defense, DeMarcus Ware, go.
The narrative this year will likely be whether head coach Jason Garrett makes it through the season without being fired. Either way, the drama in Big D would be pretty chaotic should this type of season really unfold.
It appears Jones is failing on his decisions to hire and fire coaches as of late. Firing Rob Ryan two years ago proved disastrous after he led the Saints defense to a remarkable turnaround in 2013 while the Cowboys continued to decline on that side of the ball.
I'm afraid time is up for Jason Garrett. He should have been fired at the end of last season.
New York Giants
Drafting a Tight End
Losing Hakeem Nicks, Justin Tuck and Andre Brown won’t help this team fight back from a 7-9 season, but we should be able to expect Eli Manning to step his game up after a horrifying 2013 campaign. However, it would have been really helpful for him to have a nice, reliable security blanket. Yet, the New York Giants didn't do much to make that happen.
Drafting the explosive receiver from LSU in the first round does add a much-needed playmaker to the offense, but he wasn't even a go-to receiver in college.
Tight end is a glaring weakness when you look at the names currently on the roster. Adrien Robinson is expected to start and is followed by Kellen Davis and Larry Donnell. If you don’t know who these people are, don’t worry, you’re not alone.
Considering this draft class had a lot of promising tight end prospects throughout the rounds, the Giants should have taken a chance on a guy at some point to compete with the guys currently on the roster.
Robinson was drafted in the fourth round in 2012, but he has yet to catch a single pass. In fact, he is only credited with contributing in three career games in two years. He does have potential to be a real difference-maker, but the NFL will never have a shortage of guys with potential.
If Robinson falters, it could be a long road for Eli and the G-Men.
Keeping DeSean Jackson
When you release a productive and dynamic playmaker like DeSean Jackson, it’s going to leave a hole on your roster that won't get filled overnight.
Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly attempted to throw some dirt on that hole by drafting Oregon receiver Josh Huff and highly productive Vanderbilt wideout Jordan Matthews. Both players had productive college careers and were brought in specifically out of immediate need.
The Eagles currently have Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin penciled in as the starters. Matthews and Huff will require time to familiarize themselves with the speed of the league but could be more than just serviceable down the road.
It seems like there is a lot more to this story we don't know about—or at least there should be. Because Jackson’s contributions to the offense are going to be sorely missed, and Eagles fans can only hope his release was a necessary one. From the information available, it just doesn’t appear to be the case.
Changing Their Name
Several areas of the Washington Redskins roster could use some upgrades. However, no position really presents a terrible weakness.
Offensive line would have been the biggest hole had the team not addressed it somewhat in free agency and the draft. Wideout could have been another major hole, but DeSean Jackson has the power to change that loss into a gain one big play at a time. He affects defenses even when balls are not being thrown his way.
The real gaping hole for this team is the lack of a new name.
The masses have already let it be known that Washington is badly in need of a new name—preferably one that doesn’t belittle a group of people who have already been persecuted enough in the country that once belonged to them.
According to Mike Holmgren per NBC’s Pro Football Talk, even he thinks the Redskins are due for a new name. He went on to add, “I think it’s the right thing to do. Now, apparently 50 Senators also agree with me.”
Doing More to Re-sign Melton
Chicago ranked dead last in the league in run defense last season, allowing a whopping 161.4 yards per game on the ground.
This offseason the Bears decided to part ways with both Julius Peppers and Henry Melton, who is returning from an injury-riddled season in 2013.
Although replacing these core players with veteran sack master Jared Allen and the versatile yet powerful Lamarr Houston was a smart move, they certainly should have done a little more to try and retain the services of Henry Melton.
Melton is a quick, explosive interior presence with a knack for penetrating the line of scrimmage. To make matters worse, his best years (if he can stay healthy) seem to be ahead of him as he is only 27 years old.
Adding to the defensive line rather than replacing players one-for-one seems like a more suitable solution to their defensive woes from a year ago.
Adding more Talent at Cornerback
As of right now, the starting cornerbacks for the Lions should be second-year stud Darius Slay and the speedy underachiever Chris Houston. Depth at CB is a major concern for Lions fans, and it’s one position that could lead to their demise this upcoming season.
Last year the Lions defense ranked 23rd in total passing yards and 19th in both average yards per pass and opponent passer rating.
Despite these numbers they only added safety James Ihedigbo via free agency and CB Nevin Lawson, who they drafted in the fourth round in this year’s draft.
In a division where you have to shut down passing attacks like the Bears and Packers', you would think a fortified secondary would be a priority.
Green Bay Packers
Drafting Tight End Crockett Gillmore
With the 98th pick in the draft the Packers picked up former Cal tight end Richard Rodgers. This was an obvious position of need for Green Bay considering it will no longer rely on the services of Jermichael Finley. Finley is currently an unrestricted free agent who is looking to sign with a team after he was medically cleared by his own doctor to return to action.
He underwent vertebrae fusion surgery after an awkward fall on his neck caused him to miss all but six games of the 2013 season.
There were some who question whether Rodgers even should've been drafted, so it looks to be a puzzling selection. Whatever the case may be there, Crockett Gillmore is the tight end who was drafted the very next pick and is a much more productive and impressive prospect from what I can tell in scouting them both.
Gillmore is a natural pass-catcher with toughness and a lot of playmaking ability. I suspect Gillmore will turn out to be the better pro several years from now.
Adding Help in the Secondary
The Minnesota Vikings have collected some impressive talent over the last few years that should eventually pay off. Teddy Bridgewater looks like he could be the face of the franchise as well as a guy the team can continue to build around.
The one area that seems to have a hole is the secondary. I understand the starters are doing pretty well, but I personally think some upgrades to the backups at this position would be ideal, especially at the strong safety position where Jamarca Sanford is listed as the starter.
Adding depth here could push the starters to work harder and breed better players through competition. It also inherently gives the team insurance in case anyone goes down with injury.
Safety is a position that the Vikings could see get exploited by teams with talented pass-catchers down the middle of the field. Harrison Smith is their best player there but could use some help in a division loaded with talented aerial attacks.
Drafting Anthony Barr or Aaron Donald
The Atlanta Falcons approached free agency and the draft knowing they desperately needed a pass-rusher and help on the offensive line. They signed guard Jon Asamoah and drafted tackle Jake Matthews but pretty much ignored the need for a rusher off the edge.
The Falcons will are now forced to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks with Kroy Biermann, Jonathan Massaquoi and Osi Umenyiora from their new 3-4 defensive front. Biermann is a solid player coming off an injury, and Massaquoi is a younger player with potential.
Umenyiora is well over the hill and completely unproven in a two-point stance. We shouldn’t expect him to contribute much. Free agent Tyson Jackson will help some inside but not by way of pressure on the QB. He only has nine total sacks in five seasons.
There doesn’t appear to be a player on the roster who can rack up double-digit sacks next season, but Massaquoi and Biermann do have some potential.
OLB Anthony Barr and DT Aaron Donald were the best available pass-rushing options when they opted for Matthews with the sixth overall pick.
Offensive line is a huge need but one that could have been filled later in the draft. Dominate pass-rushers were off the board early this year, and the Falcons missed out on a key opportunity to address a critical need.
New Orleans Saints
Adding More Pass Rush
The New Orleans Saints will always be competitive as long as they have Drew Brees and Sean Payton calling the shots. But they could still use some help at several positions.
Their biggest challenge will be trying to manufacture a pass rush from the outside linebackers on a consistent basis. Scheme and blitzes might be the only option with the current talent on the roster.
Junior Galette and Parys Haralson are serviceable, but both are better utilized as depth pieces than as featured starters at a key position for the success of this defense.
This offseason there were several viable options worth exploring in free agency, but it seemed as though the team was not interested in spending the money in that way. Adding a guy like Michael Bennett could have been a huge boost to the Saints' Super Bowl hopes.
It’s incredible how defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was able to succeed despite so many deficiencies on that side of the ball. However, I seriously doubt the team can keep up the smoke-and-mirrors act for long. Pretty soon, the coaches on the other side of the ball are going to catch on to the act.
Signing WR Hakeem Nicks
The Carolina Panthers certainly addressed their defensive needs in the 2013 draft, taking defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. What they failed miserably at addressing in free agency was providing Cam Newton with some bona fide weapons. Hakeem Nicks would have been a wonderful addition to this Panthers team and one it could have acquired at a bargain price.
Carolina drafted Kelvin Benjamin with its first pick, and he will give Newton a reliable target, but the Panthers still need an additional receiver or two. Besides, Benjamin is raw and completely unproven as a guy who can fill the role as a No.1 WR.
Adding WRs Jason Avant and Jerricho Cotchery was the least they could do. Those guys are reserve options on any other team besides the Panthers, who now will look to feature these marginal veterans out of a lack of better options.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Giving Rookie QB Brett Smith Some Time
I understand many of you don’t know who rookie quarterback Brett Smith is. The kid went undrafted after declaring early for the NFL draft out of Wyoming.
Apparently his style of quarterback play is something NFL teams are not interested in, evidenced by the lack of interest from around the league after the Buccaneers decided to release Smith after one minicamp with the team.
I firmly believe this is a kid who belongs in the NFL and can have a lot of success under the proper tutelage.
New offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford has a reputation for being great at developing quarterbacks.
Brett Smith might not look like a star at first glance, but under the pressure of game-like conditions, this kid rises in the crop in a way few have the ability to do. His poise, courage and toughness in the face of chaos was unrivaled by the 2014 QB draft class.
It’s a shame we won’t be able to see him perform in a Bucs uniform this preseason.
Not Bringing in Josh McCown
In the wake of the Daryl Washington year-long suspension, it would be easy to look back in hindsight and say the Cards should have never let Karlos Dansby go. But that would be unrealistic considering second-round pick Kevin Minter is poised and ready to shine after riding the bench for much of his rookie year.
The real concern for the boys in the desert will be what happens if their veteran QB, Carson Palmer, who is nearly 35 years old, gets hurt.
Over the years the already slow Palmer has become even more of a sitting duck. To make matters more worrisome, he will be standing behind a young, rebuilt offensive line that is both unproven and inexperienced. On paper it looks as if it's improved, but only time will tell the story.
Should Palmer go down, his current backups are Drew Stanton, Ryan Lindley and rookie Logan Thomas. Thomas is already out of consideration considering he is one of the more raw QBs of his class. Neither Stanton nor Lindley instill the team with much confidence, and it would be hard to imagine Arizona competing for a playoff spot with either guy under center.
The Cardinals should have pushed hard to aquire veteran QB Josh McCown during free agency to not only provide insurance to Palmer, but to compete for the starting job in an open competition.
McCown had career year last season when he led the league in total QBR with an 85.1, according to ESPN.
St. Louis Rams
Draft Sammy Watkins
A lot of critics believe Sam Bradford is the weak link of this team. Personally, I'm not willing to concede that just yet. Admittedly, he has not lived up to his contract or his draft position. This is a make-or-break season for Bradford, as he is quickly running out of excuses.
The receiving core isn’t without talent, but it is largely unproven and seems to be lacking a No. 1 option. Jared Cook is Bradford’s closest thing to a safety net.
Second-year wideout Tavon Austin disappointed in his rookie campaign. The St. Louis Rams are apparently still figuring out how to use him.
Meanwhile, Stedman Bailey will miss the first four games of the season after being suspended for performance-enhancing drugs. His absence will be felt, as every week counts in the NFC West. The Rams neglected to adequately address this weakness in the draft, though they did acquire some worthy talent.
Kenny Britt was an interesting addition who could end up paying off big time.
However, Sammy Watkins was in their fingertips with the second overall pick in this year's draft, and they let him slip away. This is a guy who could help swing the franchise into the next level and help save Bradford's career.
OT Greg Robinson was the man they went with. He should be a real asset in the running game, but his pass protection is suspect.
Watkins could end up being that star who only comes around every once in a while. The kind of guy who makes a franchise great.
San Francisco 49ers
Re-Sign Tarell Brown
The San Francisco 49ers were faced with difficult decisions this offseason as they tried to figure out who was affordable and worth keeping. For some reason, general manager Trent Baalke decided the entire starting secondary, more or less, was expendable.
The 49ers' first-round pick from a year ago, Eric Reid, appeared to be the only exception in the whole unit. The rest of the starting crew moved on to other teams.
The mass exodus was somewhat patched up with lesser talent, such as the free-agent signing of Antoine Bethea and Chris Cook. They also added more youth in the first round by snagging the versatile safety Jimmie Ward. However, that's hardly enough to break even with where the 49ers were a year ago.
Tarell Brown was one of the most underrated cornerbacks in the NFL and was still plenty young. He ended up signing with the Oakland Raiders across the bay for a very reasonable contract, one the 49ers could have and should have matched.
In 2012 Brown had the 13th-highest ranking among CBs in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
In the NFC West, the last thing this organization wants to do is fail to reload and/or upgrade positional talent. Now, the 49ers will be forced to rely upon unproven and inexperienced talent on one of the most critical units in football.
After all, in a passing league, you better be able to stop the pass.
Drafting Allen Robinson
Although I think Paul Richardson is an explosive option for the Seahawks in the second round, they missed terribly by not drafting Allen Robinson who was drafted 16 picks afterward.
Robinson has all the makings of a future No. 1 receiver with his combination of size (6'2", 220 lbs) and highly underrated athletic ability.
He is also a highly underrated athlete, which is evident when he ranked 11th out of over 600 prospects over the last three years in total measurables, which is a system that combines every physical tool into a single numeric value.
In three years, people will be surprised Robinson even lasted 61 picks.
With that said, Richardson has a bright NFL future as well, but he will never be a true No.1 option.
Ryan Riddle is a former NFL player who writes for Bleacher Report.
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