2017 NFL Free Agency: One Move Every Team Should Still Make

Gary DavenportNFL AnalystMarch 15, 2017

2017 NFL Free Agency: One Move Every Team Should Still Make

0 of 32

    Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

    To say the first week of NFL free agency has been eventful is an understatement.

    Over the past several days, we've seen the Jacksonville Jaguars sink over $100 million in another defensive overhaul. The Cleveland Browns invested in their offensive line. And new general manager John Lynch of the San Francisco 49ers hit arguably the NFL's most talent-deficient roster hard.

    Much has been done, but there's still a lot to do.

    Some of the biggest names that hit free agency remain on the market, and while many roster holes have already been plugged, every team in the league still has at least one need to address.

    Now, many of those needs will be attended to in next month's NFL draft. All the proposed moves you're about to see won't come to pass.

    But they should.

Arizona Cardinals

1 of 32

    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Add Depth in the Secondary

     

    It wasn't long ago that the Arizona Cardinals had one of the deepest secondaries in the NFL, especially at safety. But attrition has taken a toll in that regard, with Tony Jefferson the latest veteran defensive back to leave the desert for greener pastures.

    Ah. Foliage humor. Gotta love it.

    The free-agent pickings at the back end are slim, but there are a few players left who could help the Redbirds try to get back to the postseason in 2017.

    Darius Butler is a prime example. The soon-to-be 31-year-old is far from a "shutdown" corner, but Butler is an eight-year veteran coming off one of the better seasons of his career who has experience playing all over the secondary.

    In fact, toward the end of the 2016 season the Indianapolis Colts experimented with Butler at free safety. Think a poor man's Tyrann Mathieu.

    OK, a very poor man's Tyrann Mathieu.

    The Cardinals already brought veteran safety Antoine Bethea over, but the team could still use some additional depth, especially as Mathieu returns from yet another significant injury.

    Butler (or a player like him) could be a nice insurance policy in that regard.

Atlanta Falcons

2 of 32

    Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    Sign Connor Barwin

     

    The Atlanta Falcons have been relatively quiet to this point in free agency. The team has interest in Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Dontari Poe, but other than that there hasn't been a lot of buzz surrounding the NFC champions.

    It's no secret the Falcons could stand to add a pass-rusher. While the top-tier guys were all either franchised, re-signed or have found new homes, one late arrival on the open market could provide a nice boost.

    Over eight seasons in the NFL, Connor Barwin has proved himself to be a very good edge-rusher. He might not be able to recapture the greatness of his 14.5-sack 2014 in Philadelphia or even his 11.5-sack campaign in Houston in 2011, but the 30-year-old can set the edge against the run and throw in seven or eight sacks.

    Barwin is also very versatile, having multiple years of experience playing both standing up and with his hand in the dirt. He's played in multiple schemes and on the left and right sides of the defense.

    So long as Atlanta feels like it is in the hunt for Poe, it's unlikely it would take a run at Barwin, as Poe could easily eat up half of Atlanta's $20 million or so in cap space.

    But at this point in free agency, if the Falcons want to add a pass-rusher, Barwin is the best player still for sale.

Baltimore Ravens

3 of 32

    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Add an Outside Linebacker

     

    The Baltimore Ravens entered free agency with three primary needs—outside linebacker, cornerback and wide receiver.

    The Ravens have made some nice additions, but none that filled those needs. Given the demand for those positions around the NFL, the cupboard is pretty bare. The best edge-rusher left is probably Elvis Dumervil, a 33-year-old the Ravens, just, um, cut.

    There was one young outside linebacker left who was rather interesting, however.

    Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones has underwhelmed since the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted him in the first round in 2013. Jones has tallied all of six sacks in four seasons, including just one in 2016.

    Still, Jones was quietly a top-25 3-4 outside linebacker last year per Pro Football Focus and fared very well in run support in just under 500 snaps.

    He also signed with the Arizona Cardinals on Tuesday. So much for that idea!

    That was a running theme while writing this. Current events gummed up the works.

    At this point the best options left are either Erik Walden, a 31-year-old coming off a fluke 11-sack season for the Colts, and Dumervil.

    Given that (and the fact the available players at their other positions of need are equally, um, yeah), it wouldn't surprise me one bit if we don't hear a whole lot more from Ozzie Newsome in free agency.

Buffalo Bills

4 of 32

    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Sign Sean Spence

     

    Sneaky signing alert! Sneaky signing alert!

    The Buffalo Bills have already made at least one shrewd move in 2017 by not fixing that which was not busted and restructuring the contract of quarterback Tyrod Taylor.

    However, it doesn't appear the team will bring back 2016 tackle leader Zach Brown, which leaves the Bills in the market for a weak-side linebacker for the new 4-3 front of equally new head coach Sean McDermott.

    Sean Spence might not leap to mind as a potential replacement. The 26-year-old has never started more than nine games in a season or recorded more than 54 tackles.

    However, Spence played well in about 500 snaps for the Tennessee Titans in 2016, chipping in three sacks to go with those 54 tackles.

    Switching to the outside in the 4-3 would be an adjustment for the former Miami Hurricanes standout, but quickness has always been the 231-pounder's best attribute anyway.

    Throw in the modest contract that would be involved, and I can't overstate how much I like this idea.

    That guarantees it won't happen.

Carolina Panthers

5 of 32

    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Sign Offensive Line Help

     

    There's been something of a theme to the Carolina Panthers' signings this year. Call it the reverse of a youth movement.

    After adding Julius Peppers and Mike Adams on defense, Carolina might as well go the geriatric route with one more signing.

    With the New Orleans Saints' signing of Detroit's Larry Warford, it appears Jahri Evans' time in the Big Easy is over. Evans turns 34 in August, and his best days of opening holes on the interior are behind him. According to the rankers at Pro Football Focus, Evans ranked 39th among all guards in 2016.

    That ranking isn't great, but it's better than 2016 starter Trai Turner (who was named to the Pro Bowl) turned in for the Panthers. Evans has also been remarkably durable, playing over 1,000 snaps in all but one of his 11 NFL seasons.

    The Panthers could also go the tackle route with an older player like Ryan Clady or Sebastian Vollmer. Both are the wrong side of 30 and have struggled with injuries in recent years, but each has played at a high level in the past and might have one decent season left in the tank.

    According to Spotrac, the Panthers only have around $8 million in cap space at present. But the team needs to try to do something to solidify an offensive line that ranked in the bottom half of the league in both run blocking and pass protection at PFF.

Chicago Bears

6 of 32

    Ed Mulholland/Getty Images

    Bring in Ryan Fitzpatrick to Back Up Mike Glennon

     

    To be filed under "sentences I never ever thought I'd write."

    No matter what you think of the Chicago Bears' decision to sign Mike Glennon, the fact is Glennon is all but surely going to be the Bears' starter in 2017.

    Depending on how you feel about this year's rookies at the position, it may well be that the Bears need to add another signal-caller at some point.

    You do not want David "Who?" Fales or Connor "Seriously, Who?" Shaw to start a game if Glennon goes down or is ineffective.

    Ha ha..."if"

    What the Bears need is a veteran option who is good enough to (in theory) start a game or two but not so good that Glennon will feel overly threatened.

    Robert Griffin and Geno Smith are out...too young.

    Case Keenum is out too. I feel like Chicago fans are being punished enough, and that would just be piling on.

    So is Josh McCown, if only because the earth might not be able to bear the weight of the irony of Glennon's making $15 million to lose his job to McCown again.

    That leaves Fitzpatrick, who (kidding aside) could serve as a solid mentor for Glennon and whoever else the Bears bring in for what's shaping up to be a long year.

    Bright side? The quarterback prospects in 2018 look a fair bit better than this year.

Cincinnati Bengals

7 of 32

    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Line Them Up

    I had this slide all nicely written with a poetic ode as to why the Bengals should reunite with right tackle Andre Smith after he spent a year in Minnesota.

    Per Jeff Darlington of ESPN, that's exactly what they did.

    That doesn't mean Cincinnati general manager Mike Brown can rest on his laurels, however. The Bengals needed more than just a tackle thanks to the departure of Andrew Whitworth.

    With Kevin Zeitler in Cleveland, they need guard help as well. An upgrade at center isn't a bad idea either. Not given Andy Dalton's status as a really good quarterback when he isn't pressured and a so-so one with guys in his face.

    Or the Bengals could kill two birds with one stone by bringing an Ohio boy home.

    At 33, Nick Mangold isn't a boy any longer. After an injury-marred 2016 season in New York, the former Ohio State star also might not be the player who made multiple Pro Bowls with the Jets.

    Still, 80 percent of Mangold, at guard or center, might well be better than what the Bengals have now.

    If they're going to get back to the playoffs, that has to change.

Cleveland Browns

8 of 32

    Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    Re-Sign Austin Pasztor

     

    The Cleveland Browns have taken a badly needed buzz saw to an offensive line that sputtered last year. On paper at least, the additions of guard Kevin Zeitler and center JC Tretter, coupled with the re-signing of guard Joel Bitonio and the presence of future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas, give the Browns the makings of a stout front.

    One hole remains, at right tackle. But there doesn't have to be one.

    Austin Pasztor wasn't a world-beater as the Browns right tackle in 2016. But he wasn't awful either, ranking 35th among all tackles per the graders at Pro Football Focus. At 26, Pasztor is just entering the prime of his career.

    Pasztor is young, versatile lineman with 43 career NFL starts who can play both guard and tackle. Were the Browns to draft a tackle early in this year's draft, Pasztor could at worst be valuable depth as a "swing" lineman. Bringing him back also eliminates much of the need to reach for a tackle at all in a relatively weak draft class at the position.

    Pasztor probably won't come cheap given the contracts even mediocre tackles have received in free agency this year. But the Browns can afford it—even after their recent spending, no team has more cap space than Cleveland, per Spotrac.

    Put all that wiggle room to good use.

Dallas Cowboys

9 of 32

    David Richard/Associated Press

    Release Tony Romo

     

    The Dallas Cowboys are currently stuck in something of a free-agent purgatory. With Tony Romo still on the roster, the team only has about $3 million in cap space per Spotrac.

    However, despite this reality and the fact several important contributors (including two of the team's top cornerbacks) from last year's 13-win squad are floating around on the open market, Jerry Jones continues to hold on to Romo in the hopes another team will sacrifice a draft pick to obtain him.

    This, despite a clear lack of interest from teams like the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans in swinging a trade, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter (via ESPN.com): "Possible interested teams in Romo appear unwilling to take on the 36-year-old's contract or overpay for a quarterback who has started four games during the past two seasons because of injuries."

    This staring contest has nearly reached the point of ridiculous. Never mind the pick the Cowboys aren't going to get. Teams don't want to pay Romo $14 million and change in salary in 2017.

    You know, that same salary that's keeping the Cowboys from re-upping players like cornerbacks Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr.

    Make no mistake. At some point Romo is going to leave Dallas one way or another.

    The only question now is how much company he has when he does.

Denver Broncos

10 of 32

    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Acquire Tony Romo

     

    Of course, there is another possibilityif the Broncos want to be sure they get that quarterback they keep saying they don't need.

    To this point the Denver Broncos have done everything in their power to downplay the notion of swinging a trade for Romo.

    But as Mark Kiszla wrote for the Denver Post, the free-agent rampage the New England Patriots embarked on last week leaves Denver in a bit of a bind.

    "The Broncos not only surrendered their championship to the Patriots," he said, "they watched as the eyes of the NFL nation drifted from Denver to New England and Dallas. Romo might break his back trying, but know what he could immediately do for the Broncos? Put them back in the center of the NFL conversation."

    He's absolutely right. Given his injury history, Romo isn't a sure-fire solution to all that ails the champions of Super Bowl 50. But were he to stay healthy, with one of the NFL's best receiving corps at his disposal and a punishing defense to back him up, Romo would turn the Broncos from pretenders to contenders in the blink of an eye.

    It's a possibility the Broncos need to explore and a gamble worth a Day 3 pickespecially if they can get Romo to rework his contract. I'd wager they could. As much as Romo wanted to finish his career in Dallas, he also wants to win.

    And he can win in Denver.

    Make it happen, Mr. Elway.

Detroit Lions

11 of 32

    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    Re-Sign Anquan Boldin

     

    Anquan Boldin may be 36 years old, but he isn't quite ready to call it a career just yet. As Dave Birkett reported for the Detroit Free Press, Boldin indicated he's open to returning to Detroit for a second season with the Lions.

    "There's definitely interest there," Boldin said. "But for me, it's seeing what opportunities lie there and going over it with my wife, because any decision that I make is not just affecting me. It affects me, my wife, my two boys. It's something that I have to take into consideration."

    That's all the Lions should need to hear.

    Boldin isn't the player he was in his heyday, and he isn't going to run past anyone at this point. But he's still as hard-nosed a receiver as you'll find, and Boldin ranked second on the team last year in catches (67) while pacing the Lions with eight scores.

    Regardless of what the Lions do (or don't do) at the receiver position in the NFL draft, Boldin has shown he can still get the job done in the NFL.

    Given that re-upping the three-time Pro Bowler isn't going to break the bank, bringing Boldin back to Motown is an easy call.

Green Bay Packers

12 of 32

    Tom Dahlin/Getty Images

    Pull the Reverse Favre

     

    Let's be honest. This one isn't happening for a number of reasons.

    For starters, Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson isn't known as the sort who goes gaga in free agency. If anything, he does the opposite. He goes agag.

    OK, that's gibberish.

    But Thompson isn't a big spender. The addition of tight end Martellus Bennett is likely the only "impact" signing the Packers will make this spring. The rest will probably be depth adds and lower-end options.

    Never mind that Adrian Peterson will soon turn 32 years old. Or that he's coming off a major knee injury. Or that the Packers run their offense almost exclusively from the pistol and shotgun—formations Peterson has struggled to produce from in the past.

    Still, imagine the hullabaloo on social media if arguably the greatest player in the history of the Minnesota Vikings signed a short-term, incentive-laden deal with their most hated rivals.

    Twitter would blow up.

    They say revenge is a dish best served cold.

    Well, it's very cold in Titletown.

    Signing Peterson would certainly be revenge for the day Brett Favre first put on a purple hat.

Houston Texans

13 of 32

    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Sign Jay Cutler

     

    Yes, there's been a lot written about the possibility of Tony Romo's moving across the state of Texas to Houston. But I'm working under the assumption here Romo lands in Denver.

    What? D comes before H. I don't make the rules here, people.

    If that comes to pass, it's a no-brainer for Houston general manager Rick Smith to take a run at the next-best option available under center in free agency.

    For all the criticism that's directed at the 33-year-old Cutler, the fact is it wasn't that long ago (2015) that he completed almost 65 percent of his passes with a plus-10 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a passer rating well over 90.

    The Texans have an elite wide receiver in DeAndre Hopkins, a talented young tailback in Lamar Miller, a Pro Bowl-caliber left tackle in Duane Brown and one of the NFL's best defenses.

    In other words, they are a team built to win now with one glaring weakness—the lack of a proven quarterback.

    Say what you will about Cutler, but he would be a huge upgrade over anyone presently on Houston's roster in that regard.

Indianapolis Colts

14 of 32

    Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

    Sign ILB Zach Brown

     

    The Indianapolis Colts possess over $40 million in cap space and a massive, glaring hole at inside linebacker. The team is already considering moves to remedy the latter situation, bringing in Arizona's Kevin Minter for a visit, according to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports.

    The Colts should aim higher.

    Zach Brown was the AFC's leading tacker in 2016, piling up over 140 stops for the Buffalo Bills on his way to being named a second-team All-Pro. He graded out 12th among all inside linebackers according to Pro Football Focus.

    At 27, Brown is in the prime of his career. He's an agile, athletic linebacker who can play every down, and Brown has spent the majority of his career in the 3-4—which just so happens to be the scheme the Colts employ.

    Brown isn't go come cheaply after his career season, and the argument can be made that it's Dont'a Hightower who tops the rankings for the available inside linebackers in 2016.

    But odds are good Hightower isn't leaving New England, and the Colts can more than afford to spend some coin on getting better up the middle of the defense.

    More importantly, they need to.

    Badly.

Jacksonville Jaguars

15 of 32

    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Sign Jared Cook

     

    The Jacksonville Jaguars haven't been shy in free agency this year. For the second straight season the team has dumped a fortune into the defense. On top of monster contracts for defensive end Calais Campbell and cornerback A.J. Bouye, the team has hosted, well, everyone for a visit.

    What they have not done is attempt to procure a tight end to replace Julius Thomas, who they traded to Miami.

    Enter Jared Cook, who starred late last season for the Green Bay Packers during their run to the NFC Championship Game.

    It's far from a can't-miss signing. Cook is a notorious tease who hasn't topped 750 receiving yards since 2011.

    Still, the 29-year-old has topped 12 yards a catch in six of his eight seasons. Tease though he may be, Cook would represent a clear and significant improvement over the likes of Marcedes Lewis, who is 32 and hasn't caught more than 25 passes since 2012.

    If 2017 is a make-or-break season for Blake Bortles, the least the Jags can do is maximize his chances for success. Where tight ends in free agency are concerned, the only real way to do that is with some home Cook-ing.

    That play on words was about as brutal as Jacksonville's offense last year.

Kansas City Chiefs

16 of 32

    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Bring Gerald Hodges to Kansas City

     

    The Kansas City Chiefs won the AFC West last year, but a KC defense that was once among the NFL's best struggled, especially against the run.

    In swapping out nose tackle Dontari Poe for Bennie Logan, the Chiefs may already have gotten a bit better in that regard. But now the team needs an upgrade behind him.

    With next to no cap space, the Chiefs need for that upgrade to be cheap.

    Gerald Hodges just might fit the bill. The 26-year-old was in and out of a San Francisco 49ers lineup that was historically bad against the run in 2016, but that wasn't Hodges' fault. He was actually a top-10 inside linebacker last season against the run according to Pro Football Focus.

    Derrick Johnson has long been a stalwart in the Kansas City defense, but he's 34 years old. Ramik Wilson and D.J. Alexander are younger but have been inconsistent.

    The Chiefs didn't have the resources to chase Lawrence Timmons. They don't have them to take a run at Zach Brown.

    But with a little creative accounting the Chiefs could likely fit Hodges under the cap.

    And patch a hole in their run defense in the process.

Los Angeles Chargers

17 of 32

    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Bring in a Versatile Safety

     

    Here's a fact of life in the AFC West: If you don't have a good secondary, it's going to be a long season. The Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders are both loaded at receiver.

    At cornerback at least, the Los Angeles Chargers are pretty well off. Jason Verrett is a talented young cover man when he can stay on the field. Casey Hayward may have been the steal of free agency last year, leading the NFL in interceptions in his first year with the team.

    The Bolts already re-upped strong safety Jahleel Addae, but free safety Dwight Lowery is something of a liability. They could stand to add depth at the position given Addae's injury history.

    Fortunately, there are a couple of veterans available in free agency who might be able to suit the Chargers' needs well—and relatively inexpensively to boot.

    Lardarius Webb made the switch from cornerback to free safety last year in Baltimore. While the 31-year-old had some early struggles, Webb finished the year 22nd among NFL safeties in pass coverage per PFF.

    Leon Hall hasn't made the switch to safety full-time yet, but he dabbled at the spot for the New York Giants. He's also played in the slot. While he was squeezed out by a numbers game in the Big Apple, Hall in no way looked washed up in New York.

    These players aren't long-term solutions, but you aren't likely to find those at this point in free agency anyway.

    Both would come in handy when those potent passing attacks come to La La Land, though.

Los Angeles Rams

18 of 32

    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Sign Bradley McDougald

     

    Since the Buccaneers came to terms with free-agent safety J.J. Wilcox on a two-year contract, Bradley McDougald's days with the team appear to be over. Given that Los Angeles has to date made no effort to re-up T.J. McDonald, it would seem the four-year veteran is in a similar position with the Rams.

    Get where I'm going with this?

    McDougald has started 31 games in Tampa the past two years, tallying an average of 89 tackles a season over that stretch. He's also intercepted a pair of passes over each of those seasons.

    Now, McDougald's grade of 47th among safeties in 2016 at Pro Football Focus isn't going to blow anyone away.

    But he's a decent young player capable of manning both safety spots who would be an inexpensive replacement for McDonald.

    While that grade just inside the top 50 doesn't inspire much awe, it's also seven spots higher than McDonald finished the year.

    So I guess you could say it isn't awe-ful.

    You're welcome.

Miami Dolphins

19 of 32

    Tom Dahlin/Getty Images

    Acquire a Veteran Cornerback

     

    I originally had a specific player in mind here, but Terence Newman re-signed with the Minnesota Vikings on Wednesday, the team announced.

    Apparently he wants a chance to win a ring in 2017 and thinks Minnesota is a Super Bowl contender.

    Isn't that adorable?

    However, while the name may have changed, the plan remains the same. The Dolphins need to go get a veteran corner to pair with veteran Byron Maxwell and youngsters Xavien Howard and Tony Lippett.

    Granted, the big names are already off the board. But given Miami's cap situation, it wouldn't have been able to afford them anyway.

    Make a move for a steady veteran like Leon Hall, Brandon Flowers, Brandon Carr or Darius Butler, and the Dolphins will have patched the largest remaining hole on a defense that (on paper, at least) has gotten quite a bit better this offseason.

Minnesota Vikings

20 of 32

    Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images

    Sign Latavius Murray

     

    In a perfect world, I'd like to see the Vikings bring back Adrian Peterson. Call me a traditionalist, but I'd like to see the Hall of Famer finish his career where it started.

    However, per Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press, Peterson's father indicated a few days ago that his son hasn't even received an offer from the Vikes. It doesn't look like the team is all that interested in extending the relationship.

    The Vikings did have a back in for a visit, though. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter (h/t Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk), after Eddie Lacy signed with the Seattle Seahawks on Tuesday, Latavius Murray changed his plans, scrapping a visit to Seattle in lieu of a trip to Minneapolis.

    If the Vikings are indeed serious about turning the page at running back, Murray presents them with the best combination of past production and future potential.

    Murray scored 12 rushing touchdowns for the Oakland Raiders last year and went over the 1,000-yard mark the year before, but unlike most of the other tailbacks available at 27, Murray is still in his prime.

    Odd though it may be to consider a different tailback in the purple and gold, if the Vikings are done with Peterson, Murray is the best available choice on the free-agent market.

New England Patriots

21 of 32

    Eric Espada/Getty Images

    Deal Jimmy Garoppolo and/or Malcolm Butler

     

    With Wednesday's re-signing of inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower, per ESPN.com, the New England Patriots continued an offseason that, to date, has been nothing less than masterful. If the Pats just sat on their hands until the NFL draft, they'd no doubt be called one of free agency's biggest "winners."

    But this article isn't about doing nothing, and given how aggressive the Patriots have been to date, they might as well push through to the end.

    If the Cleveland Browns come calling with a bushel of picks looking to swing a deal for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, then do it.

    Per Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman, many NFL teams expect that very thing to happen.

    "I've been able to confirm," Freeman wrote, "that the Patriots want two first-rounders from the Browns for Garoppolo, as Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com first reported. The Browns would be stupid to do that (insert Browns joke here).

    "Most around the league, however, think New England's asking price will come down and there remains a solid chance of a trade happening. We'll see."

    Ditto for restricted free agent cornerback Malcolm Butler, who is meeting with the Saints this week. It's unlikely New Orleans will part with the 11th overall pick to land Butler, but it isn't impossible. Nor is working out another compensation package.

    The reality is if the Patriots don't trade those players now, they will more likely than not leave in a year for big money anyway. And New England has demonstrated it isn't averse to dealing stars in contract years.

    See Collins, Jamie. And Jones, Chandler.

    The Patriots traded away a handful of picks over a wild first week of free agency.

    Time to go get those picks back...and then some. Assuming, of course, the price is right.

    In for a penny...

New Orleans Saints

22 of 32

    Elsa/Getty Images

    The Butler Did It

     

    The reality is the New Orleans Saints rank 25th in the NFL in cap space according to Spotrac. As such, it's as likely as not that New Orleans has spent all it's going to spend, at least where players of note are concerned.

    Add in that per an ESPN.com report the Saints will meet with restricted free agent cornerback Malcolm Butler on Thursday, and it's a near certainty the Big Easy is essentially closed for business. The Saints have to craft an offer the Patriots won't match and surrender a first-round pick, or come up with a trade and then re-sign the hero of Super Bowl XLIX.

    The second route is the more likely avenue for pulling this off. The Patriots aren't going to give away PFF's fifth-ranked cornerback in 2016. But from the moment the Pats inked Stephon Gilmore to a five-year, $65 million whopper of a deal last week, the writing was on the wall.

    Butler was expendable.

    He isn't going to come cheaply. But Butler is entering the prime of his career and is a proven NFL option at a position of great need for the Saints.

    If you're going to be aggressive, you might as well go all the way, especially as Drew Brees' time as the Saints quarterback draws to a close.

    Go get him, Mickey Loomis.

New York GIants

23 of 32

    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Add Another Tackle

     

    In 2016, the Giants' two starting tackles (Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart) both finished outside the top 60 at the position at Pro Football Focus.

    Eli Manning would confirm this, but he's still running from opposing pass-rushers and as such was unavailable for comment.

    Despite those deficiencies (or maybe because the free agents at the position weren't especially awe-inspiring) the Giants have stood pat at the position so far outside signing D.J. Fluker to a one-year deal.

    The problem is this year's draft class at tackle doesn't have anyone doing cartwheels either. If a Giants team that made the playoffs last year has aspirations of a return trip, adding some more depth up front isn't a bad idea.

    Most of the available players (Ryan Clady, Sebastian Vollmer, King Dunlap) are aging veterans whose glory days appear to be in the rearview mirror. Frankly, given New York's shortage of cap space, it might not be able to realistically afford even those older linemen.

    The tackle market gets kooky quick.

    However, Mike Adams is a 27-year-old who has both played on the left and right side and knows what it's like to be relegated to backup status.

    Tackle isn't the team's only need, but the others will be much easier to hit in April.

    So go get another big ugly. And hope that quantity can do the job if quality does not.

New York Jets

24 of 32

    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    Sign Chase Daniel

     

    The New York Jets have been rumored as a possible destination for any number of free-agent quarterbacks this offseason. Jay Cutler will reportedly meet with the team soon, according to Ian Rapoport.

    But as Paul Schwartz of the New York Post recently pointed out, a new name has entered that list of potential signal-callers for Gang Green this week.

    And it would be wise for the Jets to consider picking him up.

    No, Chase Daniel will most certainly not fix all that ails the Jets under center. He isn't going to fix most of it.

    Daniel is a 30-year-old career backup who has started all of two games in eight seasons. He has attempted 78 passes total in his career. Daniel has thrown one touchdown pass in the National Football League.

    But let's be honest. The Jets are at the beginning of a full-on rebuild. Adding Cutler reeks of how the Jets have done business the past several years—attempting to patch holes in the roster with aging veterans due to some ill-conceived notion that they are in any way, shape or form a legitimate contender.

    That way of thinking has dug the team a hole it's going to take a while to dig out of. Even if you think Bryce Petty or Christian Hackenberg might be the answer for the Jets at quarterback in the future, in the present they aren't ready to start.

    Sign a veteran "bridge" starter in Daniel who won't cost a lot. Heck, bring in Josh McCown too if you want and let them battle for the job.

    Just be honest and admit to yourself that it's time to look to tomorrow, because today isn't going to be much fun.

Oakland Raiders

25 of 32

    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Shore Up the ILB Corps

     

    Despite having over $35 million in cap space according to Spotrac, the Oakland Raiders have been relatively quiet so far in free agency. The team's biggest acquisition (tackle Marshall Newhouse) was added to an area of Oakland's roster that was already a strength.

    Now the Raiders need to get down to the business of bolstering one of their biggest weaknesses.

    With the departure of Malcolm Smith across the bay and the Raiders set to use more three-man fronts in 2017, Oakland's current starters at inside linebacker would probably be Cory James and Ben Heeney, a pair of youngsters who have struggled when asked to start in the past.

    The Raiders' first order of business should be bringing back veteran Perry Riley, who made 11 starts for the team in 2016. The 28-year-old is no superstar, but Riley is a capable seven-year veteran with plenty of experience playing in the 3-4.

    Then it's a matter of adding someone next to him. Zach Brown led the AFC in tackles in 2016 as an inside linebacker in the Buffalo Bills' 3-4, but his big year could lead to a big payday. Kevin Minter was a 16-game starter each of the past two years for the Arizona Cardinals who would likely be available for a significantly lower cost.

    There's always the draft too. How the Raiders upgrade their inside linebackers isn't as important as doing it, although adding at least one veteran is likely wise.

    But it needs to get done. Otherwise an Oakland squad with aspirations of a trip to Super Bowl LII is going to struggle to stop the run.

Philadelphia Eagles

26 of 32

    Jason Hanna/Getty Images

    Put (Jamaal) Charles in Charge

     

    The Philadelphia Eagles have already done some major work on improving the weapons available to quarterback Carson Wentz with the addition of wideouts Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffery.

    However, a rushing attack that tailed off as the 2016 season wore on could use some juice too.

    Maybe from a face that's very familiar to head coach Doug Pederson.

    As David Murphy wrote for the Philadelphia Daily News, Pederson left the door open for a reunion with former Kansas City Chiefs tailback Jamaal Charles in the City of Brotherly Love.

    "I've got history with him in Kansas City for three years, and I think he's a tremendous running back," Pederson said. "You know, it's something that we'll evaluate now. We'll grade him just like we do every free agent and every person that's released and see where he can fit into our offense."

    After two straight injury-plagued years, it isn't a stretch to say Charles is no longer the back who (at present) has the highest yards per carry of any qualifying runner ever. But it may also be premature to say the 30-year-old is toast.

    As part of a committee attack (perhaps with a rookie between-the-tackles type) Charles might just have another year or two of effectiveness in those legs.

    If that's the case, the revamped Philly offense would have plenty of options to keep its young quarterback happy.

Pittsburgh Steelers

27 of 32

    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Sign a Veteran Cornerback

     

    You may be noticing a trend here. There's a reason why some positions in free agency get hit harder (and more quickly) than others.

    Whether it's pass-rushers, the offensive linemen that stop them or help in the secondary, there are spots where every team in the NFL is perpetually looking to improve.

    The Steelers are no exception, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see Pittsburgh add a body or two in the defensive backfield.

    The list of veteran cornerbacks in free agency is long but a bit uninspiringespecially for a team with less than $10 million in salary cap space per Spotrac.

    However, when accounting for only the top 51 players, that number balloons to about $18 million, so it's possible the Steelers might be able to add a vet like Brandon Flowers.

    When healthy, the 31-year-old is still a more than effective player. In 352 snaps in 2016, Flowers was a top-30 performer at his position in 2016 per Pro Football Focus.

    The problem is that "when healthy" caveat. Flowers hasn't played in all 16 games in a season since 2011, and the nine-year pro has missed 15 games over the last two years.

    When you're combing through the second wave with limited resources, though, caveats are what you get.

San Francisco 49ers

28 of 32

    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Upgrade at Cornerback

     

    The San Francisco 49ers have been as active in free agency as any team in the NFL. Even so, only the Cleveland Browns have more wiggle room under the salary cap.

    That's good because the 49ers still have at least one huge area of weakness that hasn't been addressed—the cornerback position.

    Unfortunately, the high-end options have already found new homes. The only players left still in or near their primes are either huge injury risks (Sam Shields) or youngsters who have mostly disappointed to this point in their careers (Morris Claiborne).

    That isn't to say, however, there's nothing left. Leon Hall played fairly well last year for the New York Giants. Brandon Carr isn't a "shutdown" corner anymore (if he ever was), but he's still at least a steady veteran.

    Yes, they're on the wrong side of 30. But these veterans could at least serve as a stopgap option while also mentoring the young defensive backs the 49ers will hopefully add in this year's draft.

Seattle Seahawks

29 of 32

    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    Re-Sign DeShawn Shead

     

    OK, believe it or not, this slide was originally titled "Seal the Deal with Eddie Lacy."

    It was back to the old drawing board after the Seahawks did that very thing Tuesday.

    Now that Seattle accomplished that goal, we'll simplify things.

    DeShawn Shead had a solid season starting opposite Richard Sherman in 2016, but a serious knee injury in the divisional round led Seattle to pass on offering a restricted free agent tender to the 28-year-old.

    However, Seahawks general manager John Schneider didn't rule out bringing Shead back to the Pacific Northwest.

    "DeShawn is a great kid. He's got really strong faith," Schneider told reporters. "You'd want him to be your son, you know what I mean? His mindset is like, 'Hey, I'm going.' I say he's probably not going to be there right away; that's just me. He's probably got a different mindset. He's crushing his rehab right now."

    This isn't to say Seattle doesn't need to add another corner, especially with Shead's status for early in the season up in the air.

    However, if Schneider really does believe Shead will make a full recovery, he's worth bringing back.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

30 of 32

    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    Get a Better Backup Quarterback

     

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers showed real promise in 2016, winning nine games under first-year head coach Dirk Koetter and finishing second in the NFC South.

    The Buccaneers were also one of the fortunate NFL teams who started the same quarterback in all 16 games. That put them in the minority, however.

    And the Tampa depth chart behind Winston is...ungood.

    There are alternatives out there, though.

    They include Geno Smith.

    Yes, that Geno Smith.

    Stop laughing. I'm serious.

    For all the criticism Smith has endured over four seasons with the New York Jets, he remains a big-armed 30-game starter who is only 26 years old.

    Now, Smith may be looking for an opportunity to start. And some fool team (looking at you, Cleveland) may give it to him.

    But the best thing for Smith might well be a backup job, at least for now. One as far away from the bright lights of New York as possible.

    Somewhere quiet, like Tampa—where Smith can try to resurrect his career under a QB guru like Koetter.

    Meanwhile, the Buccaneers get a more proven Plan B if disaster strikes and Winston misses time.

Tennessee Titans

31 of 32

    Marc Serota/Getty Images

    Add a Wide Receiver

     

    The Tennessee Titans are flush with cap space—over $50 million according to Spotrac.

    However, after losing out in the Brandin Cooks sweepstakes and watching Kendall Wright bolt for the Windy City, the Titans still haven't bolstered their receiving corps in free agency.

    The problem at this point is most of the really big bolsters have already bolted. DeSean Jackson, Terrelle Pryor, Alshon Jeffery and Kenny Britt have all already signed contracts with new teams.

    That leaves the Titans with what amounts to two options.

    Tennessee could opt for a lower-ceiling veteran like Baltimore's Kamar Aiken. Aiken's no superstar, but he did rack up almost 1,000 receiving yards in 2015. His extensive experience in the slot could also help to replace Wright's production.

    If you're wondering whether I was being sarcastic there, I honestly don't know. Maybe?

    The Titans could also sign a riskier receiver like Michael Floyd, who won a Super Bowl with the New England Patriots last year after being let go in-season by the Arizona Cardinals.

    Floyd is a big-bodied five-year veteran with speed to burn who piled up over 1,000 yards for the Redbirds back in 2013.

    However, Floyd's off-field issues make signing him problematic.

    As ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss reported, Floyd can't even visit with prospective suitors...without permission from a judge.

    Not exactly the way you want to kick off a job interview.

Washington Redskins

32 of 32

    Jason Hanna/Getty Images

    Hit the Defense on the Nose

     

    I was going to close this out with some sort of clever play on words about former Kansas City Chiefs nose tackle Dontari Poe. Something really witty like, "Sign Dontari Poe."

    But as things stand right now (after quarterback Kirk Cousins signed his franchise tender), Washington is toward the bottom of the NFL in salary cap space.

    I don't know that it has the wiggle room to afford Poe even if he was amenable to playing in Washington, and the current climate in D.C. doesn't make it the most appealing of landing spots.

    That doesn't change the fact the Redskins badly need a nose tackle. Presumptive 2017 starter Kedric Golston is 33 and missed most of last season. 2016 starter Ziggy Hood is 30 and struggled against the run last season. Phil Taylor is a former first-round pick who hasn't come anywhere close to living up to that draft slot.

    The Redskins also lost their best defensive end when Chris Baker joined DeSean Jackson and bolted for Tampa Bay. Washington signed Terrell McClain (Dallas Cowboys) and Stacy McGee (Oakland Raiders) to replace him, but they aren't the player Baker is.

    Heading into the offseason, improving Washington's 24th-ranked run defense was arguably the team's top priority.

    So far it's headed in the opposite direction.

     

    Snap counts via Pro Football Focus.