NFL Teams That Have the Most Work to Do Before Free Agency

Russell S. Baxter@@BaxFootballGuruContributor IFebruary 23, 2016

NFL Teams That Have the Most Work to Do Before Free Agency

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    William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports

    Let’s face it: All 32 NFL teams have plenty to do before the start of the new fiscal year, as well as the beginning of free agency on March 9.

    There are just some that have more to do than others.

    Here we will take a look at eight franchises (in alphabetical order) that have quite the workload ahead of them. Be it re-signing their own free agents, opening up cap space or freeing up money to spend on some new talent, the following clubs have more to do than most. Such is the case with the New Orleans Saints, who roughly two weeks ago cut ties with six-time Pro Bowl guard Jahri Evans, a 10-year veteran with the franchise.

    Keep in mind that when we refer to retaining players, that is based on quality and not just numbers. This simply isn’t a list of who has the most players to re-sign, as you will quickly see. And in some instances, it may be one particular side of the football that requires the most attention.

    And yes, we expect the fanbases for all 32 teams to make a case as to why they should be on this list. 

Baltimore Ravens

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    Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

    This may be the worst-kept secret in the league, and it was no secret.

    When Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco signed his new lucrative six-year contract following the team’s Super Bowl championship season in 2012, you knew there would have to be some restructuring down the road.

    While the cap hits for Flacco’s deal from 2013-2015 were minimal, that’s not the case these next three years. And that’s why the veteran signal-caller spoke on the subject in January, according to Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com.

    “Come on, I want to win, so I want to do everything we can to get something done,” Flacco said. “I don’t know exactly what that is or exactly what that’s going to be because we haven’t talked about it yet. But I know that that’s a huge number and it’s not really realistic.”

    As of Tuesday morning, the Ravens were basically $3.4 million under the cap. And if the team wants to add some pieces this offseason, it will need a little more room than that.

Buffalo Bills

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    Bill Wippert/Associated Press

    As of this writing, no team in the league was in worst shape in terms of the salary cap than the Buffalo Bills.

    That's not the kind of thing you want to hear if you’re a fan of a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 1999.

    General manager Doug Whaley and head coach Rex Ryan are at the helm of a team that doesn’t have an overwhelming number of free agents to re-sign. But when you finish with the league’s top-ranked rushing attack, but the left side of your offensive line (tackle Cordy Glenn and guard Richie Incognito) can hit the open market in a few weeks, that’s a bit of a concern.

    As documented by John Warwow of the Associated Press, we’ve been hearing as far back as December that the franchise will let go of defensive end Mario Williams this offseason, but we’re still waiting. His departure will open up $12.9 million for a team that disappointed in 2015 with an 8-8 record.

    The first thing is to get Glenn and Incognito under contract (although the former could get the franchise tag if needed). Then, we will see what’s in store for the rest of the offseason.

Cincinnati Bengals

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    David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

    The Cincinnati Bengals may be the most talented and deepest team in the NFL.

    That theory is about to get tested over the next few weeks, though.

    A team that has reached the playoffs five consecutive years has its share of prominent names who can hit the open market next month.

    Start with wide receiver. Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Brandon Tate could all become unrestricted free agents. Right tackle Andre Smith could leave as well, although the team did draft a pair of tackles (Cedric Ogbuehi and current H-back Jake Fisher) with its first two picks in 2015.

    On defense, safeties Reggie Nelson and George Iloka and cornerbacks Leon Hall and Adam Jones are in the final weeks of their current deals, as are linebackers Vincent Rey (who led the Bengals in tackles in 2015) and Emmanuel Lamur. And key defensive line reserves Wallace Gilberry and Pat Sims could leave as well.

    It’s safe to say the organization has some work ahead of it.

Dallas Cowboys

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    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    It’s now been two decades since the Dallas Cowboys won the Super Bowl. In fact, they haven’t reached the NFC title game since 1995.

    It always seems like this franchise is close to the salary cap, and this year is no exception. At the moment, Dallas is less than $5 million under the number, and the team has some decisions to make, especially on defense.

    And that work wasn’t made easier when the NFL announced that 2015 rookie defensive end Randy Gregory will miss the first four games of the upcoming season for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.

    “This is a disappointment,” said Cowboys director of player personnel Stephen Jones, per Ryan Wilson of CBS Sports.  “We have been clear with Randy about what his responsibilities are and what is expected of him. This is something that he is going to have to work through and correct.”

    Wilson also reported that CBS Radio’s Mike Fisher of 105.3 The Fan says the Cowboys are “done” with defensive end Greg Hardy, who signed a one-year deal with the team last year.

    So where does this leave the Cowboys on defense? Hardy, fellow defensive linemen Jeremy Mincey and Jack Crawford and linebackers Rolando McClain and Kyle Wilber can all become free agents. So can disappointing 2012 first-round pick/cornerback Morris Claiborne.

    And we won’t even discuss the team’s search for a running back.

Detroit Lions

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    The Detroit Lions are in good shape when it comes to the salary cap. The more significant news is the fact that a defense that was playing pretty good football by season’s end in 2015 could look a whole lot different.

    NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported that the team will release middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch next month and not re-sign safety James Ihedigbo. Veteran cornerback Rashean Mathis has already announced his retirement. 

    Plenty of other names on this unit can take advantage of free agency in a few weeks. Defensive tackles Haloti Ngata and Tyrunn Walker and defensive end James Jones can walk, and outside linebacker Tahir Whitehead could join them.

    There’s still plenty of talent with defensive end Ziggy Ansah, outside linebacker DeAndre Levy (who missed all but one game), emerging cornerback Darius Slay and free safety Glover Quin. But for the second straight offseason, this side of the football could see a major overhaul.

Kansas City Chiefs

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    John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

    Kansas City, here it goes?

    This past season, the Chiefs overcame a 1-5 start, reeled off 10 straight wins and won a playoff game for the first time since 1993.

    They managed to do that thanks largely to a defensive unit that was seventh in the league in total defense while racking up 47 sacks. The Chiefs also totaled 29 takeaways in 16 regular-season games and got five more in the postseason win at Houston.

    But a lot of the key components from that defense can become free agents, from Pro Bowl free safety Eric Berry to linebackers Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson to cornerback Sean Smith. Add defensive linemen Jaye Howard and Mike DeVito and defensive backs Tyvon Branch and Husain Abdullah and that’s a lot of star power for a team that made big strides in 2015.

New York Jets

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    Bill Wippert/Associated Press

    You could make a strong case that the 10-6 New York Jets were the best team in the league not to make the playoffs this past season.

    But if the team wants to reach the postseason for the first time since 2010, general manager Mike Maccagnan will be busy the next few weeks.

    Only three teams finished ahead of the Jets in terms of total defense in 2015, and the unit has possible free-agent candidates in defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, nose tackle Damon Harrison, inside linebacker Demario Davis and veteran outside linebacker Calvin Pace.

    Of course, Wilkerson is the biggest concern here, and don’t be surprised if the five-year veteran gets the franchise tag. On Monday, the team opened up some cap room by releasing cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who announced his departure via Instagram, as reported by Rich Cimini of ESPN.com.

    Cromartie said:

    I would like to (thank) the Jets organization for bringing me back this past season. I had a lot of fun and I know my first [half] of the season didn’t go well and I thank you guys for pushing and believing in me to keep me on the field so I could finish strong. Today is a sad day for me not because of my release but the guys I became really close (to) in our DB room.

    Elsewhere, a team that ranked 10th in the league in rushing must make decisions on Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell and Stevan Ridley, all of whom could become free agents on March 9.

Seattle Seahawks

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    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

    Over the past four seasons, the Seattle Seahawks have reached the playoffs each year and have won at least one playoff game. They captured one Super Bowl title and fell just short in another.

    Now, the club has some issues to address in terms of personnel, most notably on the offensive side of the ball. The line already had its issues in 2015, and now left tackle Russell Okung and right guard J.R. Sweezy can become free agents. So can underappreciated wide receivers Jermaine Kearse and Ricardo Lockette.

    Most of the key performers on defense are locked up, although Seattle didn't pick up the option for 2012 first-round selection/outside linebacker Bruce Irvin. Veteran defensive tackle Brandon Mebane can also become an unrestricted free agent.

    It will be interesting to see how this solid organization handles free agency. Given Seattle's recent track record, it should play out just fine.

    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.

    Unless otherwise noted, all player and team statistics come from Pro-Football-Reference and ESPN.com.