The Biggest Weakness for Each NFL Team Entering Free Agency

Russell S. Baxter@@BaxFootballGuruContributor IFebruary 26, 2016

The Biggest Weakness for Each NFL Team Entering Free Agency

0 of 32

    Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

    Problems, problems.

    With the positives of evaluating what your team accomplished in 2015 come the notion that there are still some things that need fixing.

    Hence, we will take a look at each of the 32 NFL teams and determine what the biggest weakness is for each franchise as the start of free agency (March 9) draws closer.

    Of course, there are some teams with more problems than others. But the emphasis here is on each club’s biggest shortcoming and, in some instances, how it might become worse before it gets better. Using a combination of rankings, performance and, in some cases, a few units that could be decimated by the possibility of numerous losses at a position, these issues should be at the top of each team’s respective to-do list.

    How it eventually gets done may be another story indeed.

     

    All free-agent and salary-cap information, as well as 2016 transactions, are courtesy of Spotrac. Team salary-cap figures change on a daily basis.

Arizona Cardinals: Offensive Line

1 of 32

    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Only the Carolina Panthers (500) scored more points than the Arizona Cardinals (489) this past season.

    Quarterback Carson Palmer enjoyed a career year, throwing a franchise-record 35 touchdown passes, and Bruce Arians’ squad won a franchise-record 13 games.

    Yes, the Arizona running game was better than it was a year ago, ranking eighth in the NFL in rushing yards per game after finishing next to last in the league in the same category in 2014.

    But the wise people at Pro Football Focus tell us only three teams this past season were less efficient when it came to pass blocking. The Cards gave up a modest 27 sacks during the regular season, but Palmer was under constant siege in the 49-15 loss to the Panthers in the NFC title game.

    While the left side of the line appears secure with tackles Jared Veldheer and Mike Iupati, center Lyle Sendlein, right guard Ted Larsen and right tackle Bobby Massie are all slated for unrestricted free agency. Tackle D.J. Humphries, guard Jonathan Cooper and center A.Q. Shipley are waiting in the wings, but this could be an area the team addresses in both free agency and the draft.

Atlanta Falcons: Pass Rush

2 of 32

    Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    It seems like we’ve been down this path before and more than just on an occasional basis.

    In 2014, the Atlanta Falcons were tied for last in the league with 22 sacks, a total Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston managed on his own. In 2015, the Falcons managed a mere 19 sacks—two sacks or less in each contest and zero sacks in four of those 16 games.

    Atlanta used the eighth overall pick in last spring’s draft on defensive end/outside linebacker Vic Beasley, and he wound up leading the team with a mere four sacks. Defensive end Adrian Clayborn, signed in free agency last offseason, finished second on the club with three sacks but is slated to hit the open market once again.

    A total of 41 sacks in 32 games over a two-season stretch just isn’t going to get it done in this day and age, and that's especially true in a division that includes quarterbacks Drew Brees, Cam Newton and Jameis Winston. In six games versus the New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2015, the Falcons totaled a combined eight sacks.

    Let’s see how the team chooses to address this shortcoming this offseason.

Baltimore Ravens: Secondary

3 of 32

    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    It’s hard to win in football when a team is forced to utilize four different starting quarterbacks.

    It’s even harder to win when that team gives up 99 points more than it did the previous season. That’s basically a six-points-per-game increase.

    This past season, the Baltimore Ravens finished 5-11, the first losing campaign under head coach John Harbaugh, who took over the team in 2008. It’s worth noting 12 of the team’s 16 games in 2015 were decided by six points or less, including seven of the team’s 11 losses.

    Baltimore’s defense surrendered 40 offensive touchdowns this past season, 30 through the air, and managed only six interceptions. In fact, the Ravens’ total of 14 takeaways was the third fewest in the league behind the Dallas Cowboys (11) and San Francisco 49ers (12).

    There could be some changes ahead in a secondary that failed to answer the bell.

Buffalo Bills: Linebacker

4 of 32

    Bill Wippert/Associated Press

    It’s safe to say the Buffalo Bills defense was a disappointment this past season. And face it, that’s a pretty big understatement.

    In 2014, only three teams in the league gave up fewer total yards. The Bills led the NFL with 54 sacks, and the team ranked third in the NFL with 30 takeaways.

    With the addition of head coach Rex Ryan, this unit figured to be even better in 2015. Instead, this group seemed to go backward. The Bills dropped to 19th in the league in total defense and saw their sack total fall to 21 this past season. A year after Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus and Jerry Hughes all totaled 10 or more sacks, Williams and Hughes teamed for 10 sacks.

    Let’s not heap the blame on the defensive line. Pro Football Focus ranked 90 inside linebackers in 2015, and Preston Brown finished dead last. PFF also rated 130 outside linebackers in a 3-4 scheme this past season, and Nigel Bradham finished (you guessed it) last on that list. Bradham is also eligible for free agency March 9.

    Perhaps the real issue lied with Ryan, who has sent out mixed messages (via Mike Rodak of ESPN) about what went wrong in 2015. In any case, the team needs better play at the linebacker position no matter it they approaches things.

Carolina Panthers: Safety

5 of 32

    John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

    When a team plays 19 games in a season and manages to reach the Super Bowl and only loses two of those games, there can’t be that much that needs fixing.

    However, in the case of the Carolina Panthers, there seemed to be one glaring issue that haunted the team during its 17-2 overall showing in 2015.

    We saw it on too many occasions throughout the season. Teams able to generate big plays against the Carolina defense and Ron Rivera’s team squandering more than a few double-digit leads. In all of those instances, the Panthers still found a way to win those games thanks to some final-moment heroics from quarterback Cam Newton and the offense, so the shortcoming was masked to a degree.

    While free safety Kurt Coleman was near the top of the league rankings in terms of play at his position, strong safety Roman Harper was at the opposite end of the list. He’s also slated to become a free agent in less than two weeks, and the decision to bring back the 10-year veteran and two-time Pro Bowler could be an interesting one for general manager Dave Gettleman.

Chicago Bears: Linebacker

6 of 32

    Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

    When a team employs the 3-4, as was the case last season with the Chicago Bears, it can never have enough linebackers.

    Unless that team is the Bears, who are still in need of help at the position—especially at the inside spots, which were an area of serious concern for a team that finished tied for 22nd in the NFL in rushing defense. In his first season at inside linebacker, Shea McClellin struggled in all aspects. Both he and Christian Jones were big liabilities against the run, and McClellin could be a free agent in less than two weeks.

    Outside linebackers Pernell McPhee, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young combined for 19.5 of the team’s 35 sacks and were also effective against the run, but don’t rule out the Bears adding a little more depth here as well.

    As previously stated, a team can’t have enough linebackers when it employs the 3-4 scheme, and the team needs some upgrades here if Vic Fangio’s unit is to take another step forward.

Cincinnati Bengals: Wide Receiver

7 of 32

    Joshua Lindsey-USA TODAY Sports

    Now this is what you would call a slippery slope. Does a team as talented and deep as the Cincinnati Bengals have a definitive weak spot?

    As we stated from the top, every club does. And here we want to point out that while A.J. Green is one of the premier wide receivers in the league, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Brandon Tate could all become unrestricted free agents. But even with all four veterans under contract, we’re not sure this unit doesn’t need some additional talent.

    While Green totaled 86 catches for 1,297 yards and 10 touchdowns, Jones (who missed all of 2014), Sanu and Tate combined for 100 receptions and five scores—four of those by Jones. The team does have tight end Tyler Eifert, who enjoyed a breakout year, but don’t be surprised if the Bengals look for a little more wideout help for quarterback Andy Dalton.

Cleveland Browns: Quarterback

8 of 32

    Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

    Hey, let’s make it a somewhat even 25…as in different starting quarterbacks for the Cleveland Browns since they re-entered the league as an expansion team in 1999.

    Yes, there have already been two dozen different starting signal-callers for the team in 17 seasons, with Josh McCown and Austin Davis joining the list this past season. As for Johnny Manziel, Eric Prisbell of USA Today Sports has the latest on his future with the club.

    This past season, the Browns won only three games and while McCown, Manziel and Davis combined for 20 touchdown passes and 4,156 yards through the air, they also teamed to commit 23 of the team’s 30 turnovers—10 by McCown.

    Along with Connor Shaw and Pat Devlin, the Browns currently have five quarterbacks under contract. Who knows what that number will look like in the upcoming weeks?

Dallas Cowboys: Defensive End

9 of 32

    Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

    Talk about a lot of questions.

    What exactly is the deal when it comes to a deal for defensive end Greg Hardy, who may or may not be re-signed by the club? He played in 12 games for the Dallas Cowboys and totaled six sacks.

    Veteran Jeremy Mincey’s contract expires March 9, and he comes off a season in which he played 14 games and recorded zero sacks. Will he be back in 2016?

    Second-year defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, who led the club with eight sacks this past season, just had surgery (via Todd Archer of ESPN) and is on the mend. Will he be ready in time for training camp?

    And what does the future look like for Randy Gregory, who faces a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy? Answers?

    “I mean, you’ve got to get your four best players on the field and you can’t manufacture a right end if there’s not one there,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said to Archer. “A lot of guys who play right end who maybe aren’t the perfect — what you’d call the perfect fit — but can still be highly productive there.

    “If you end up having four really solid players, then you can still, I think, get good pressure on the quarterback," Jones added.

    Right now the Cowboys would be happy to find one or two solid and healthy players at defensive end.

Denver Broncos: Offensive Line

10 of 32

    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Entering the 2015 season, the Denver Broncos’ biggest concern had more to do with the people blocking for Peyton Manning instead of the quarterback himself.

    And while all’s well that ends well, it will be interesting to see who will be the men up front leading the way in 2016, regardless of who’s behind center.

    As it turned out, the line’s biggest strength proved to be continuity. Starting with Week 4, the team’s offensive front started the same five players in the same positions for the remainder of the season and through three playoff games. From left to right, it was tackle Ryan Harris, guard Evan Mathis, second-year pro Matt Paradis at center, veteran guard Louis Vasquez and second-year tackle Michael Schofield.

    Still, this was an offense that averaged only 107.4 yards per game rushing while the Broncos gave up 39 sacks. Denver’s offensive unit scored only 32 touchdowns during the regular season and four more in three postseason games. The subpar play of Manning was a big reason for those shortcomings, but there were other considerations as well.

    Still, it all resulted in a Super Bowl title for the team. But going forward, the line has some issues to address, such as re-signing or not re-signing Mathis and determining the future of former Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady, who missed all of 2015 with a torn ACL.

Detroit Lions: Running Back

11 of 32

    Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

    A season ago, only four teams in the NFL gained fewer yards on the ground than Jim Caldwell’s Detroit Lions.

    Unfortunately, the team outdid itself in 2015 by finishing dead last in the league by averaging a dismal 83.4 yards per game rushing. The Lions totaled 1,335 yards rushing as a team, less than Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson (1,485) and Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin (1,402).

    Recently, the team parted ways with running back Joique Bell, who ran for 311 yards and four of the team’s seven touchdowns on the ground. For now, the Lions will rely on second-year pro Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick. The latter is a bigger part of the passing attack via 80 catches for 697 yards and three touchdowns this past season.

    Be it free agency or the draft, the Lions have to address this position in a big way if they are to help quarterback Matthew Stafford’s cause as well as a defense that would enjoy a little less time on the field.

Green Bay Packers: Defensive Line

12 of 32

    Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

    This inability to consistently stop the run has got to stop if “Titletown” is going to earn another title.

    For some reason, the Green Bay Packers never seem to get noticeably better when it comes to stopping the run. The last season is a prime example as Dom Capers’ unit ranked 21st in the league in rushing defense.

    There have been attempts to rectify the issue, such as moving linebacker Clay Matthews from the outside to the inside, but to no avail so far. Some felt that the return of nose tackle B.J. Raji, who missed all of 2014 due to injury, but that did not make the expected impact, and he’s now free to sign elsewhere this offseason. 

    The team recently re-upped with nose tackle Letroy Guion on a new deal (via Packers.com), but the Packers will be missing reserve defensive tackle Mike Pennel for the first four games of the season (courtesy of Tom Silverstein of the Journal Sentinel) after being suspended for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

    Defensive ends Josh Boyd and Datone Jones as well as defensive tackle Mike Daniels return, but this is a suspect area indeed that could use a little more talent.

Houston Texans: Quarterback

13 of 32

    Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

    You have to give credit to Houston Texans head coach Bill O’Brien. Over the course of two seasons, he’s led the team to an 18-14 regular-season record and in 2015 rallied from a 2-5 start-to-finish 9-7 and win the AFC South.

    The well-respected coach has accomplished all of this despite utilizing six different starting quarterbacks in two seasons. In 2014, it was Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Mallett and Case Keenum. This past season, it was Brian Hoyer followed by Mallett, while T.J. Yates and Brandon Weeden were pressed into duty as well.

    Of course, Hoyer started the playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs, and five turnovers later the team was on the short end of a 30-0 setback.

    Isn’t it time the Texans found one quarterback one way or another?

Indianapolis Colts: Defense

14 of 32

    Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

    It seems like we’re beating a dead horse, and in this case, that’s obviously more true than not.

    When was the last time the Indianapolis Colts actually fielded a defense that struck fear into opposing teams?

    Back in the day, the Colts threatened opponents with a potent pass rush featuring defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, but even then, it was a unit that had its issues against the run.

    These days, Chuck Pagano’s club just has issues everywhere on the defensive side of the football. The Colts ranked 26th in total yards allowed, 25th against the run and 24th versus the pass. Indianapolis surrendered 43 offensive touchdowns and 408 points (25.5 points per game)—including a two-game stretch in losses to the Steelers and Jaguars, in which they surrendered a combined 96 points.

    But first things first when it comes to this club, and that’s re-signing Jerrell Freeman, ranked by Pro Football Focus this past season as the league’s second-best inside linebacker behind Carolina’s Luke Kuechly.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Offensive Line

15 of 32

    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Last offseason, the Jacksonville Jaguars made their share of changes on the offensive line. They signed former Dallas Cowboys tackle Jermey Parnell, added free-agent center Stefen Wisniewski and drafted guard A.J. Cann in the third round. The latter would wind up replacing Brandon Linder at right guard after he went down for the season.

    Pass protection was an issue again all season, despite the fact that quarterback Blake Bortles would throw for 4,428 yards and 35 scores. The left side of tackle Luke Joeckel and guard Zane Beadles had its issues as well. All told, the Jaguars still managed to give up 51 sacks one year after Bortles was dumped 55 times.

    That’s 106 sacks on the young quarterback in 30 games. Regardless of how many changes have been made, a quarterback won’t last long in this league taking the kind of punishment Bortles has in two seasons.

Kansas City Chiefs: Wide Receiver

16 of 32

    Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

    Give the Kansas City Chiefs credit. Last offseason, the team addressed a need when it came to the pass-catching corps. As you will recall, the Chiefs went the entire season without a wide receiver catching a touchdown pass.

    That changed in 2015 with the free-agent addition of Jeremy Maclin, who led the team with 87 catches, good for 1,088 yards and eight scores.

    There were also positive signs from Albert Wilson and rookie Chris Conley, the team’s third-round pick in 2015. Each made his presence felt at times, but you can look for the team to continue to add to this area, be it via the draft or free agency.

    It will also be interesting to see if the Chiefs bring back veteran wideout Jason Avant, who played for Andy Reid in Philadelphia but caught just 15 passes for 119 yards this past season.

Los Angeles Rams: Quarterback

17 of 32

    Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

    So less than one year after trading for former Pro Bowler Nick Foles and supposedly securing the position for the next few years, the Los Angeles Rams appear to be looking for a reliable quarterback once again.

    That lack of reliability used to come from Sam Bradford, whose biggest issue was staying healthy. For Foles, he turned in a subpar performance this past season, throwing seven touchdown passes and committing a dozen turnovers before being sat down in favor of backup Case Keenum.

    Regardless of who was leading the offense, no team in the league gained fewer total yards and fewer passing yards per game than the Rams, with the club’s offensive unit producing a mere 27 touchdowns. With exciting performers such as 2015 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Todd Gurley and improving wide receiver Tavon Austin, the Rams need some capable quarterback play in a hurry.

Miami Dolphins: Offensive Line

18 of 32

    Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    The Miami Dolphins finished 6-10 in 2015, making it seven straight seasons the club has not only managed to miss the playoffs but also failed to post a winning record.

    When your team is in the bottom fourth of the league in both total offense (26th) and total defense (25th), it’s a little hard to be optimistic.

    One of the many issues was a ground attack than slipped from 117 yards per game on the ground in 2014 to just 93.5 yards per game rushing this past season. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill was sacked 45 times in 16 games.

    Not surprisingly, no team in the league graded out worst when it came to run-blocking, and the Dolphins were ranked 26th in the NFL when it came to protecting the passer.

    There’s a chance running back Lamar Miller could leave the team via free agency. There’s also a chance the Dolphins could be making some changes when it comes to their disappointing offensive front.

Minnesota Vikings: Wide Receiver

19 of 32

    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    When you think about the modern passing game, it seems hard to believe a team can have a quarterback who throws just 14 touchdown passes in 16 games and leads his club to 11 wins and a division title.

    But that was the case when it came to the Minnesota Vikings, one of only two teams in the league this past season (Rams) that totaled more touchdowns on the ground than through the air.

    Perhaps quarterback Teddy Bridgewater could use a little more help when it comes to targets, specifically at wideout. Rookie Stefon Diggs led the club with 52 catches, good for 720 yards and four touchdowns. But no other Vikings wide receiver totaled at least 40 receptions. And only six of Bridgewater’s 14 scores went to wide receivers.

    Having running back Adrian Peterson in the backfield is a great luxury. But the Vikings, who finished next to last in the league in passing yards per game in 2015, need a little more balance if they’re going to progress on offense.

New England Patriots: Running Back

20 of 32

    Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

    Following a season in which the New England Patriots came within a game of the Super Bowl despite a rash of injuries to the skill positions, some may feel the team’s current weakness is its inability to stay healthy.

    But be it by design or the residue of injuries, only two teams in the NFL gained fewer yards per game on the ground than the reigning AFC East champions this past season.

    The Pats utilized a slew of running backs, including the likes of Dion Lewis, LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden, James White and even veteran Steven Jackson. But the results added up to a mere 87.8 yards per game on the ground. And although the team actually scored 14 rushing touchdowns (three by quarterback Tom Brady), this was a club that totaled nearly 300 more passing plays (667) than running plays (383).

    At times, the Patriots were one-dimensional by choice, and who’s to argue with their constant success. But they may choose to take a different offensive path in 2016, and some additional talent at the running back position (along with better offensive line play) certainly wouldn’t hurt.

New Orleans Saints: Defensive Line

21 of 32

    Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

    A year after finishing next to last in the league in total defense, the New Orleans Saints actually got worse on this side of the football.

    Of course, we are also talking about a franchise that back in 2012 gave up the most total yards in one season in NFL history. So finishing 31st in the league in fewest total yards allowed in back-to-back years appears to be a drop in the bucket.

    But we said worse than a year ago, and that’s the truth. The Saints gave an NFL-high 476 points and set a new single-season record by surrendering an astounding 45 touchdown passes. The team also finished next to last in the league against both the run and the pass.

    Basically midway through the season, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was relieved if his duties and replaced by Dennis Allen. He hopes the team can find some support up front for Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Jordan, who produced 10 of the team’s 31 sacks.

    There’s a lot to be fixed here, but a team has to start somewhere, and more help along the defensive line feels like a priority.

New York Giants: Defensive End

22 of 32

    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    In 2014, the New York Giants struggled on defense, but there were positives in the sense that a pass rush that had fallen upon hard times appeared to be on the way back.

    But those 47 sacks of a year ago turned into just 23 sacks this past season, more than half of those by the combination of defensive ends Robert Ayers (9.5) and Cullen Jenkins (three). Both of those players, along with Jason Pierre-Paul and George Selvie, will be free to sign with other teams March 9.

    For the record, the Giants gave up the most total yards and the most passing yards in the league this past season. Steve Spagnuolo returns as defensive coordinator for a second straight year while the team has a total of 13 potential unrestricted free agents on this side of the football. It could mean a massive overhaul of the defense.

    When it comes to Spagnuolo, it’s the pass rush that’s the key. And right now that’s a major area of concern for Big Blue.

New York Jets: Tight End

23 of 32

    Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

    The New York Jets have some work to do when it comes to re-signing some of their key players. The list includes quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson and running back Chris Ivory.

    As far as weaknesses go, Todd Bowles' team got little or nothing from the tight end spot this past season. Jeff Cumberland and Kellen Davis combined for eight catches, good for 95 yards and one score.

    In 2015, we never got a chance to see Jace Amaro build on a very respectable rookie season (38 receptions for 345 yards and two touchdowns), and via Rich Cimini of ESPN, the team won’t exactly exercise any patience waiting on him to make an impression. He missed this past season with a torn labrum (as Daniel Popper of the New York Daily News reported back in September).

    Yes, there’s a big HELP WANTED sign hanging out there somewhere when it comes to tight end and the Jets.

Oakland Raiders: Safety

24 of 32

    Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

    There were plenty of positives when it came to the Silver and Black this past season, from the play of quarterback Derek Carr and wide receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree to the impressive performance of Khalil Mack, which earned the second-year defender All-Pro honors at both defensive end as well as outside linebacker.

    But the Oakland defense still had its issues. The team finished 22nd in the league in total yards allowed and 26th in pass defense. Despite totaling 38 sacks (15 by Mack), the Raiders still gave up 25 touchdown passes this past season.

    The team recently released strong safety Nate Allen, off a disappointing debut season with the club, but then opted to re-sign him. There will be no return from veteran free safety Charles Woodson. He takes his 65 career interceptions in 18 NFL seasons and will begin a television career with ESPN.

    And unless the Raiders can’t fix what now ails them at safety, they won’t be ready for prime time (or a playoff appearance) any time soon.

Philadelphia Eagles: Quarterback

25 of 32

    Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

    There’s been a somewhat disturbing trend when it comes to the quarterback play of the Philadelphia Eagles these past two seasons.

    The numbers are a little bizarre, but they do tell a story. Off a season in which he threw 27 touchdown passes and just two interceptions in 2013, Nick Foles threw for 13 scores and committed eight turnovers in eight games one season later. After he went down with a broken collarbone, enter Mark Sanchez, who totaled 14 touchdown passes as well as 14 turnovers.

    This past season, it was nearly deja vu as new starter Sam Bradford threw for 19 scores but also committed 17 turnovers. Sanchez was pressed into duty a few times and totaled four scores through the air while coughing up the ball five times.

    It all adds up to mediocre play at the quarterback position, something new head coach and former NFL quarterback Doug Pederson hopes to rectify sooner rather than later.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Cornerback

26 of 32

    Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

    The Pittsburgh Steelers, traditionally one of the league’s better defensive teams, have been in a bit of a rut these past two seasons—most notably when it comes to stopping the pass.

    In recent years, an inconsistent pass rush had to shoulder some of the blame for the issues in the secondary. But in 2015, only the Denver Broncos (52) and New England Patriots (49) totaled more sacks than the Steelers (48). Pittsburgh also totaled 30 takeaways, the team’s highest total since its Super Bowl appearance in 2015.

    While cornerback Ross Cockrell was a pleasant surprise and veteran William Gay was solid, Brandon Boykin didn’t see the field nearly enough. Cortez Allen wound up finishing the season on injured reserve while Antwon Blake had a very rough year.

    Yes, 2015 draft choices Senquez Golson and Doran Grant could have a say this upcoming season. And a team that finished 30th in the league in pass defense and gave up 29 scores through the air could use all the help it can get.

San Diego Chargers: Defensive Line

27 of 32

    Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

    There were a lot of reasons the San Diego Chargers plummeted to 4-12 this past season. And while the fingers usually point to the quarterback and the head coach, there was plenty of blame to go around.

    While the Chargers were ranked 27th in the league in terms of total rushing yards allowed, Pro Football Focus ranked the Bolts as the NFL’s worst team against the run this past season.

    The three-man front of defensive end Kendall Reyes (a potential unrestricted free agent), nose tackle Sean Lissemore and defensive tackle Corey Liuget just didn’t generate a lot of big plays this past season. To be honest, the line has been a disappointment in recent years.

    In 2015, outside linebacker Melvin Ingram led the team with 10.5 sacks, and bookend teammate Jeremiah Attaochu added six sacks. But the team got to opposing quarterbacks a combined 32 times; better play from the front three may have made the linebacking corps more effective.

San Francisco 49ers: Quarterback

28 of 32

    Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

    Here’s a story that seems to be taking a bizarre twist. In any case, it’s evident the San Francisco 49ers have some issues behind center.

    On Thursday, Rand Getlin of NFL Network reported the agents for quarterback Colin Kaepernick have asked for the team’s permission to seek out a trade. This certainly is in stark contrast to what we heard from Niners’ general manager Trent Baalke a day earlier (recapped by Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com) from the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

    “The good thing is we have two guys that have gone in and proven they can play,” said Baalke on Wednesday in reference to Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert. The 49ers executive also indicated that the team might also look elsewhere for more help at the position.

    “You are going to kick the tires on anyone that’s available,” Baalke added. “We feel pretty good about the guys we have, but we’re always looking.”

    Now it appears it's Kaepernick who is looking, although new head coach Chip Kelly wasn’t sold on Getlin’s report regarding the five-year pro. “He’s seemed excited every time I’ve talked to him…,”Kelly told the Sacramento Bee. “I’ve also learned to not believe everything that’s on the Internet.”

    It’s going to be a very interesting few months in the Bay Area.

Seattle Seahawks: Offensive Line

29 of 32

    Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    Once the Seattle Seahawks were able to sort out their issues on the offensive line, they became a dangerous team in the latter stages of the season. After surrendering 31 sacks in their first seven games, the team allowed only 14 sacks during the club’s 7-2 finish.

    Unfortunately, when Pete Carroll’s club ran into the tougher defensive fronts in the league, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson would be somewhat of a sitting duck. Including the playoff split with the Minnesota Vikings and the Carolina Panthers, the efficient signal-caller was sacked a combined seven times.

    While the line needs upgrading, it also stands to lose some key performers such as left tackle Russell Okung, right guard J.R. Sweezy and reserve center Lemuel Jeanpierre.

    The Seahawks haven’t picked in the first round since 2012. Don’t be surprised if they are looking for offensive line help early in the draft and early in free agency.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Secondary

30 of 32

    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    In 2014, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers gave up the fifth-most passing yards in the league. That number looked a whole lot better this past season as the team finished 16th in the league in pass defense.

    In four of the past five seasons, the Bucs have allowed 30 or more touchdown passes, and in 2014, they allowed 28 scores though the air. Over that span, the club has generated a combined 179 sacks while allowing 148 touchdown tosses.

    While the team’s pass rush seems to be getting better (the Buccaneers' sack total has increased four straight years), the ability to stop teams through the air remains a problem. It’s safe to say general manager Jason Licht has some calls to make on a few potential unrestricted free agents, such as cornerbacks Sterling Moore and Mike Jenkins and safeties Keith Tandy and Chris Conte.

Tennessee Titans: Running Back

31 of 32

    Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

    The Tennessee Titans have been on quite a roll…backward.

    It wasn’t long ago that the team was off to a 3-1 start in 2013. The Titans have managed a forgettable 9-35 since and have won a total of five games in the last two seasons combined.

    Despite a promising debut campaign from quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Titans offense ranked 30th in the league while only four teams in the NFL gained fewer yards rushing by season’s end. One year after finishing 26th in the league in rushing offense, the Titans “improved” to 25th in 2015.

    At this stage, it’s hard to believe that the answer in the backfield lies somewhere among Antonio Andrews, Bishop Sankey, David Cobb and Dexter McCluster. So don’t be surprised if the Titans make a strong run at potential free agents such as Matt Forte (Bears) or Doug Martin (Buccaneers) early in the signing period.

Washington Redskins: Defense

32 of 32

    Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

    Only four teams in the league gave up fewer total yards than the Washington Redskins this past season. The team also finished 26th in the NFL against the run and 25th in terms of passing yards allowed.

    Things were supposed to be better under new defensive coordinator Joe Barry, and while the club did make some strides here, there’s still plenty of work to be done.

    Washington totaled 38 sacks and 27 takeaways while allowing 40 offensive touchdowns. They allowed 379 points, easily the most of any team that made the playoffs in 2015.

    We’re still waiting to see if the Redskins will be able to re-sign quarterback Kirk Cousins, and the two sides continue to talk (via Michael Phillips of the Richmond Times-Dispatch). And while the team looks to keep the offense intact for the most part, general manager Scot McCloughan will also be looking to bolster the other side of the football.

     

    Unless otherwise noted, all player and team statistics come from Pro-Football-Reference and ESPN.com. All player ratings courtesy of Pro Football Focus. Depth charts courtesy of Ourlads.