With the season over and teams beginning to prepare for free agency and the all important draft, coaches are assessing their weakness on the roster and looking where they need help the most.
We’ll take a look at the AFC first and break down where each team could be headed for the 2010 offseason. Keep in mind that these needs are focused towards the team’s draft plans, but could be fixed in free agency as well.
New England Patriots
Logan Mankins is a free agent this offseason, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he’s not re-signed. Still, even if he is, Stephen Neal on the other side is 34 and could use a replacement. They did a great job in drafting Sebastian Vollmer at left tackle last year in the draft, and it’s time to invest in the interior part of the line.
The Patriots offense had their record-breaking season with Donte Stallworth and Randy Moss on the outside and Wes Welker in the slot. He’s still productive when split out, but when Welker is in the slot the offense is much more productive and runs smoother.
Getting another physical receiver in the draft would help a lot, as last year’s late rounder Brandon Tate is no lock to fill that role.
Acquired last year from the Raiders, Derrick Burgess is a 32-year-old free agent and even if he’s retained, he’ll need to be in some sort of rotation. And on the other side, Tully Banta-Cain can never live up to Pro Bowl status. If they hope to reclaim past Patriot defense success, they’ll need another Vrabel or Colvin or McGinest.
New York Jets
Fan favorite Brad Smith is a restricted free agent, which means that he’ll likely stick around this year, but next offseason could be a big question mark.
Jericho Cotchery is probably better in the slot, and they can’t rely on the unsure hands of Braylon Edwards to get them out of every dangerous situation.
Another big target for the young Sanchez would bring this offense into the Top 10 in the league talent-wise.
Calvin Pace was brought over from Arizona and has been their best pass rusher, no question. He’s set on one side. However, it’s safe to say that if Rex Ryan can’t fix Vernon Gholston, he’s a bust.
Outside of Pace, the other side at outside linebacker had only three sacks total. Another stud pass rusher to help and eventually take over for Pace would be a smart move.
Shaun Ellis and Marques Douglas, the two top starters from last season, are both 32-years-old and on the definite down-slope of their respected careers. They both can probably play and start for a majority of the time next season, but some sort of future is needed if this defense hopes to continue to have dominance.
Look at what Haloti Ngata did for Ryan’s defense in New York.
The Dolphins have no receiver above 6’1" or above 190 pounds outside of last year’s third round project Patrick Turner.
They are loaded with speed receivers and after the catch dynamos, but they have no red zone threats for Chad Henne to play with. One big receiver with starting ability makes this receiver corps one of the best and deepest in the league.
Joey Porter is on the verge of being released, and Jason Taylor is a slated free agent and would likely serve the team as a coach rather than a productive starter. Generating a pass rush will only help the young corners they have on the outside and without the aforementioned starters, it could be difficult.
The Dolphins defense is arguably one of the best in the league, but their biggest weakness on defense is their run defense.
Their defensive line is very young, so with the development of another offseason of work should improve them. However, they were penetrated up the middle and Channing Crowder is more of a roaming inside linebacker rather than a hole-plugger.
They need to help their 4.2 YPC they had last year on defense.
Terrell Owens and Josh Reed are both free agents this year and unlikely to be re-signed with Owens saying he wants to go to Cincy and Reed not in the long-term plans.
The offense was 30th in passing last year and while that wasn’t all the receiver’s fault, adding another playmaker along with Lee Evans definitely should help.
After they “gave up” Jason Peters for a first round pick last year, they still have a gaping hole that needs to be filled. Jon Scott, last year’s starter for a majority of the season, has only 14 games started in his career, and he’s a career back-up and spot starter at right tackle. They need a force at left tackle, regardless of who their QB is.
Who is their starter going to be? The seventh round third stringer Ryan Fitzpatrick? Brian Brohm, who was cut by the Packers last season? The benched Trent Edwards who has quickly lost favor in Buffalo? Hopefully for Bills fans, the answer is none of the above.
Whether it’s free agency or they get lucky in the draft with Bradford or Clausen falling to them, they need an upgrade bad if they hope to get out of the AFC East basement.
Last year there were many questions about who would be the starter at right tackle to take over for Marvel Smith. The winner was Willie Colon, but I still feel that he’s a better fit at guard in the NFL. Protecting Big Ben needs to be priority No. 1 this offseason.
Two things you never want in your starting cornerbacks: first, the Steelers were 16th in passing yards allowed, but I believe that is mostly thanks to the 47 sacks the defense generated. Second, the cornerbacks had a combined two interceptions last season. Obviously some upgrades are needed.
Long time Steeler star and icon, Casey Hampton is 32 and a free agent this offseason. While I hope he is re-signed, it’s not like the Steelers to wait until a player is past his prime to draft a future. If Hampton is brought back, look for it to be a one or two year deal and they’ll look for a future replacement.
Their top four receivers are free agents this offseason.
Derrick Mason is likely to retire once again, Mark Clayton hasn’t been good enough to warrant to be brought back as a starter, Kelly Washington is best fit at the slot, and Demetrius Williams never developed into a full-time starter. Flacco is still young and needs playmakers around him if he hopes to reach All-Pro status.
Kelly Gregg, the long-time cog at the middle of the respected Ravens defense is 32 and a free agent in the 2012 offseason. By then, he’ll be past his prime and in need of a replacement. By taking someone early in this loaded defensive tackle draft, they can develop him and project him in the starting job in a year or two.
I’ve thought Ray Lewis needed an eventual replacement for a while now, and at 34, he’s only got until the end of his contract in 2012 to be a star-caliber player.
The Ravens lost Bart Scott and although they can get by without him with Lewis there, they’ll need another star to take the reins once Lewis is done.
At safety, Chris Crocker has done a solid job, totaling 51 tackles and two interceptions a season ago. However, at 29, he’s reached his full potential and if the Bengals intend to let their physical cornerbacks press like they should, they’ll need a better centerfielderto make some big plays.
Upgrading at left tackle in last year’s firtst rounder Andre Smith was a good start, but they still need help inside. Bobbie Williams is a 32-year-old free agent, and Nate Livings is a restricted free agent who, if brought back, is nothing to feel safe about at guard.
With their low first round pick, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them address that there.
Some speculated that Chase Coffman, last year’s mid-round tight end pick, would fill the void. However, it looks as though he’s better fit as a second option. They’ve already invested two mid rounds in receivers, and with the signing of Matt Jones and rumored signing of TO to go with Chad Ochocino and Lavernous Coles, a tight end seems like a logical option.
Once thought of as spoiled at the position, the former Cinderella quarterback (Derek Anderson) and the former firtst round steel (Brady Quinn) have both lost their chance to be the team’s future. One or both could be gone by next season.
If the team hopes to start over, they’ll need to get things straight at the quarterback position.
I still believe that Kamerion Wimbley is a star in the making at outside linebacker for the Browns, and from what I’ve heard, they do as well.
However, Jason Trusnik, the former division III player and special teams stud, was starting by the end of the season and as much as it’s a cool story, he’s not NFL starting material.
Another playmaker would go a long way to helping the secondary.
Eric Wright has developed, as expected, into a solid starting cornerback. And Brandon McDonald has done a very decent job at the other side, occasionally being targeted in some games though.
While I think both form a solid, young unit, the stats don’t indicate, as the Browns were 29th vs. the pass.
Moving McDonald to the third cornerback spot and adding another start could be the answer.
Antonio Johnson has outperformed what they expected at the three technique, but I don’t know if he’s the option. Even in the Super Bowl, the interior of the line generated very little pressure and Pierre Thomas seemed to run up the middle at will.
At right guard, Kyle DeVan isn’t a great starter.
Bill Polian said that the offensive line was to blame for the team’s loss, and I think it starts with the inside. Jeff Saturday is 35, so he’s got only a few years, if that, left.
Mike Pollack, a former second round pick, could replace one of them, but they’ll need some athletic lineman either in the draft or free agency.
With Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, and Raheem Brock off the bench, it seems as though the team is set at defensive end. However, it’s obvious that the team really needed Freeney to play in the Super Bowl and they really lack another star past him.
Brock is 32 and both Freeney and Mathis are injury-prone. Think of what the Chargers did by drafting Larry English, and the Colts are very well known at helping positions they have great production in to ensure they continue.
Jevan Kearse has been a staple of the team throughout his time with the Titans, and Kyle Vanden Bosch has been the quietly productive sidekick. However, they are 32 and 30 respectively and are both free agents.
The Titans are known for letting some big time free agents walk, and even though they’ve addressed defensive end often in recent years, another stud can help this defense drastically.
Questions have come up about if the team will re-sign Keith Bullock. If I had to guess, I’d say he’s gone. Plus, with David Thornton set to hit free agency in 2011, they could need another linebacker. And, even if both are re-signed, they are both over 30 and will need some youth eventually.
While renowned for their tough, physical play at the line, they were at the forefront of the 31st rated defense against the pass. They could have a lot to do with the Texans and Colts being two of the most productive offenses in the NFL last year, but either way they must contain these in division rivals. Plus, Nick Harper is set to be a free agent.
After a breakout rookie season, Steve Slaton took a step back this season. He suffered through fumbles and led the team to a 30th-ranked rushing attack and under 100 YPG.
Also, power backs Chris Brown and Ryan Moats are free agents and both are unlikely to be retained.
Kevin Walter is a free agent this year, but sign him or not, I don’t feel like he’s the future at the No. 2 receiver spot. Either way, I still think Houston needs a playmaker opposite Andre Johnson.
The Texans have an average center in Chris Myers and could use upgrading. I think, however, their current starter at right guard, Antoine Caldwell, could be that replacement. If he does make the move, though, that leaves Chester Pitts, whose a free agent this offseason, and Kasey Studdard, who’s a free agent next year.
Tory Holt has been released and the Jaguars start another offseason in search of receiver help.
Mike Walker emerged as a great option last season, but outside of him no one is starting worthy yet. Mike Thomas and Jarrett Dillard both have potential long term, but for the “last stand” Jaguars, they need an impact maker ASAP.
Last year’s “terrible” selection in Derek Cox turned out to be a steal, as Cox had four interceptions and looks like the future on one side at cornerback. However, Rasheed Mathis is 30 and has lost his touch as a starting caliber cornerback. Adding another piece could finish the transformation of the secondary with Cox and Reggie Nelson.
Mike Peterson left last season and Clint Ingram couldn’t quite fill that role. He’s a free agent this offseason and is unlikely to return.
With no real solid options on the horizon, it’s important that the Jaguars have great OLBs to help their young defensive ends develop.
San Diego Chargers
LaDainian Tomlinson has now officially said he won’t return, and that will leave a gaping hole at running back. Darren Sproles was franchised last season, but he’s likely to be brought back. Either way, he is only 5’6" and can’t carry a seasons load by himself.
Marcus McNeil is a free agent this year and even though he emerged as a rookie to be the team’s left tackle, he may still be viewed as expendable.
Dombrowski is only very average on the other side, and Jerome Clary is in the same boat, but he’s a restricted free agent.
Ryon Bingham is 28, Jacques Cesaire is 29, and Alfonso Boone is 34. All three are their best defensive ends, all of which are in or past their prime and aren’t appealing options as the defense tries to be more consistent.
Andre Davis is 30 and is a free agent next off-season. Whether he’s in their plans to be re-signed or not, they’ll need an upgrade to allow for DJ Williams to roam a little more.
The defense was 26th vs. the run and with another playmaker up the middle, the defense could be drastically improved.
Their two starters, Ben Hamilton and Russ Hochstein, are 32 and 31 respectively and are free agents, along with often used back-up Chris Kuper. I doubt that all three are brought back, and even if they are, Casey Wiegmann is 36 and a free agent in 2011, so they still need some depth at interior lineman.
Similar to their offensive line woes, they really lack youth at defensive end that can stay long term. Ryan McBean is solid on one side, but Kenny Peterson is 30 and Vonnie Holiday is 35, both on the way down or past their prime.
After being 26th vs. the run, they need any help up front they can get.
Their top four linebackers, Kirk Morrison, Thomas Howard, Ricky Brown, and Napoleon Harris, are all set to become free agents, and I wouldn’t be surprised if at least Morrison and Howard try to skip town and become stars someplace else.
Always a huge question mark, it’s rare that Al Davis “falls in love” with an offensive lineman, and the last one he did, Robert Gallery, is currently fighting for a starting guard job. Khalif Barnes was a failed project and he and right tackle Cornell Green at 33 are both slated to be free agents. Plus, Mario Henderson is a better fit at right tackle.
Sorry Al, but it’s time to move on from JaMarcus Russell. He’s not going to pan out as a quarterback and the only way he could be a starter is if they had a dominate offensive line and reliable receivers.
Bruce Gradkowski is a “fun” quarterback but he‘s definitely not a guy you build around.
Kansas City Chiefs
I never felt Brandon Albert was a left tackle prospect and it appears that I was right. However, I do feel he could be a great right tackle or All-Pro guard.
Adding a left tackle is crucial this offseason, as the team allowed 45 sacks last season.
Considered one of the worst units in the league, a left tackle who can start right away can allow for this offensive line to shift guys in their right spots.
The team relied upon Chris Chambers and Bobby Wade to be the factors for this team this year outside of Dwayne Bowe, who didn’t live up to expectations this season.
Mark Bradley is solid, but outside of Bowe, no one has the potential to be a 1,000 yard receiver.
Matt Cassell needs help if they think he’ll live up to his huge contract.
Derrick Johnson is a free agent, and he was their best inside backer last season. Joe Mays is very average, and would be better in spot duty, not full time starting. Outside of them, there are no other starters to man the inside and without a playmaker here, the defense will continue to get embarrassed.
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