Every NFL Team's Biggest Need This Late in Free Agency
This has been one wild offseason.
Not that NFL free agency isn't usually quite the ride. But it's been even wackier in 2018 than it is normally. A number of big names got even bigger paychecks, a few stars got huge contracts after getting the boot...and the league turned up a new highest-paid player.
And the trades. My oh my, the trades. There have so many deals involving prominent players in the last two weeks that the NFL is starting to feel like the NBA.
Some teams, like the Los Angeles Rams, have made a huge splash in free agency. Others, like the Cleveland Browns, have quietly gotten better. And then there are the clubs like the Oakland Raiders, who have just left folks scratching their heads.
However, no matter how well (or not) teams have fared, none is perfect. Every squad still has at least one hole to fill—a weakness that needs to be shored up with another signing or two or via the draft.
Here's a look at each team's primary one.
All salary cap information courtesy of Over the Cap.
Arizona Cardinals: Wide Receiver
Quarterback and the offensive line were the two biggest areas of need for the Arizona Cardinals this offseason. The addition of Sam Bradford addressed the former, while there have been a few moves in regard to the latter, from the signings of Andre Smith and Justin Pugh to the trade that sent Jared Veldheer to the Denver Broncos.
Now the Cardinals need to get Bradford someone to throw to who isn't named Larry Fitzgerald.
With the departure of the Browns (Jaron and John—no relation), Arizona is thin behind the future Hall of Famer. There's J.J. Nelson...and that's about it.
There are a few options still available on the open market, though. Jordan Matthews has already been in for a visit with the team. Eric Decker and Jeremy Maclin are on the downslope of their careers but when healthy have shown the ability to post 1,000-yard seasons.
This year's draft class isn't a great one for wide receivers, so it would be something of an upset if the Cardinals don't make at least one more addition at the position before the draft gets underway.
Atlanta Falcons: Offensive Guard
The Atlanta Falcons have made the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, don't possess any glaring roster holes or weaknesses and didn't spring any prominent leaks in free agency.
But their interior offensive line could still use some work—specifically at guard.
This isn't to say Wes Schweitzer is terrible. But the third-year pro is just OK.
There's a reason why Georgia's Isaiah Wynn has been linked to the Falcons in so many mock drafts. The 6'3", 313-pounder is a pro-ready prospect who is not only the best guard in the draft not named Quenton Nelson but also a great fit for Atlanta's zone-blocking scheme.
There are some draft picks that almost make too much sense.
This is just such a pick.
Baltimore Ravens: Tight End
Ozzie Newsome didn't just fill the Baltimore Ravens' biggest offseason need with the signing of wide receiver Michael Crabtree. The general manager also got a mulligan on what might have been the most curious deal in all of free agency: Ryan Grant's four-year, $29 million contract, which was voided by a failed physical.
However, Baltimore's job isn't done yet as far as the pass-catching corps is concerned. Joe Flacco has long been a quarterback with an affinity for tight ends. And Baltimore is weak at the position.
This late in the game, the Ravens are going to have trouble doing much about that in free agency. The best players available are 37-year-olds Antonio Gates and Ben Watson, who are well past their primes.
Not to mention that Watson played in Baltimore last year, so if the Ravens had any intention of bringing him back, they could have done so by now.
If Baltimore adds a tight end, it's probably going to be in the draft, with South Dakota State's Dallas Goedert a possibility at No. 16 overall.
Buffalo Bills: Wide Receiver
The Buffalo Bills are surely at least exploring a move up in the draft to acquire a quarterback. With two picks in Round 1 (Nos. 12 and 22), the Bills appear to have the capital, and the two-year, $10 million contract AJ McCarron signed wasn't a long-term commitment.
So, Buffalo has a quarterback who can hold down the fort if its pursuit falls through or a rookie signal-caller needs time to develop.
But given the Bills receiving corps, it may not matter who their quarterback is.
Buffalo's 31st-ranked passing game last year can't be laid at the feet of the departed Tyrod Taylor. The Bills have one of the NFL's weakest groups of receivers—and it hasn't gotten a bit better this offseason.
Kelvin Benjamin is entering a contract year after a disappointing season and another surgery. Zay Jones' first year in the league sailed right past disappointing and into awful.
LeSean McCoy might want to get ready for another heavy workload.
Carolina Panthers: Safety
This is a toss-up. With the trade of Daryl Worley, an argument can be made that cornerback is as substantial a need for the Carolina Panthers as it is to upgrade the men who line up behind them.
But in James Bradberry, Kevon Seymour and Captain Munnerlyn, Carolina has at least something at corner. The situation at safety is direr, with journeyman Colin Jones penciled in as the starter next to the 37-year-old Mike Adams.
The Panthers need at least one safety. Maybe two.
Fortunately for them, there's more fruit left on the vine at the position than at most others. Eric Reid and Kenny Vaccaro have extensive starting experience and the ability to play multiple spots. Tre Boston's a familiar face, having spent all but one of his four seasons in Carolina.
The Panthers are up against it relative to the salary cap, with just $10.7 million in space. But their best chances to make an immediate upgrade at safety may well lie in free agency—by the 24th overall pick, top prospects like Derwin James (Florida State) and Minkah Fitzpatrick (Alabama) will be long gone.
Chicago Bears: Offensive Line
The Chicago Bears have been aggressive in trying to upgrade the weapons available for second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, adding tight end Trey Burton and wide receivers Taylor Gabriel and Allen Robinson.
Their next course of action should be bettering the line in front of him.
The right side especially could use some work. Neither right tackle Bobby Massie nor (projected) right guard Bradley Sowell are world-beaters. But the problem for the Bears is the same as that of every team that's looking for line help at this juncture—the available free agents are still on the open market for a reason.
The dream scenario for Chicago, then, isn't hard to pinpoint. If Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson somehow falls to No. 8—which isn't outside the realm of possibility—the Bears would all but certainly pounce. It would be a gift to get one of the top overall players in the draft at an area of need.
If Nelson doesn't make it that far, however, Chicago will have a difficult decision to make. No tackle is widely considered a top-10 pick, so the Bears would have to wait until Day 2 to address the line unless they trade down.
Cincinnati Bengals: Offensive Line
The Cincinnati Bengals already hit the offensive tackle position in free agency by adding Cordy Glenn in a trade with the Bills. Given how poorly Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher played a year ago, it's entirely possible the Bengals aren't done at the position.
Andy Dalton is a different quarterback in a clean pocket as opposed to when there are defenders in his face. And in 2017, someone was just about always in Dalton's face.
That's because the interior of the line wasn't a whole lot better than the tackles. Right guard Kevin Zeitler had left for a massive contract with the Browns, and center Russell Bodine went to the Bills this spring.
Not surprisingly, there's not much meat left on the free agent bone on the offensive front. Really good offensive linemen don't hit free agency at all, and even average options get scooped up quickly via big deals.
At tackle, Austin Howard is the best of a mostly unimpressive lot. Evan Smith is the top available guard, but like Howard, Smith's on the wrong side of 30.
Add it together, and prospects like Connor Williams (Texas) and Mike McGlinchey (Notre Dame) should be in the mix for Cincinnati at No. 21.
Cleveland Browns: Quarterback
As Matthew Florjancic of WKYC reported, Browns head coach Hue Jackson said the organization doesn't view the recently acquired Tyrod Taylor as a "bridge" starter.
"This guy is the starting quarterback on our football team," Jackson said. "There are no 'bridge' players. This guy goes out and gets this organization to winning and gets us to the playoffs or whatever all that is, none of you guys would be writing 'bridge' anymore."
If you believe that line, Jackson also has some oceanfront property near Yuma available for a song.
The reality is the Browns aren't going to the playoffs in 2018. Jackson probably won't be with the team past this season. And while Taylor and Drew Stanton provide Cleveland with an upgrade over DeShone Kizer, Taylor's not the long-term answer.
The Browns haven't used a top-20 pick on a quarterback since they picked Tim Couch No. 1 overall back in 1999. In just the past two seasons, Cleveland passed on Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson—trading back with the Philadelphia Eagles and then the Houston Texans.
The Browns have the Nos. 1 and 4 picks this year, the second thanks to that trade with Houston. They need to use one of them to land a potential franchise quarterback.
Preferably the first.
Dallas Cowboys: Defensive Tackle
The Dallas Cowboys have had a busy offseason for a team that annually rolls into free agency in some degree of salary-cap distress. They tried to improve a weakness at wide receiver with the signings of Deonte Thompson and Allen Hurns and strengthened an already formidable offensive line with the addition of Cameron Fleming.
It's the other line that should be next on the list.
David Irving showed well when on the field in 2017, piling up seven sacks in just eight games. But Irving has an injury history and is one more misstep away from a lengthy suspension. Maliek Collins would likely benefit from more of a rotational role.
If help's coming at defensive tackle, it's going to be in the draft. Dallas expressed some interest in signing Ndamukong Suh, but Suh joined the Rams, so the remaining free-agent options are few and far between.
Whether it's big bodies like Washington's Vita Vea or Alabama's Da'Ron Payne or smaller tackles like Michigan's Maurice Hurst, the Cowboys could have their choice of defensive tackles at No. 19 in the draft.
Denver Broncos: Quarterback
The Broncos were one of a number of teams that hopped on the quarterback carousel this offseason. Trevor Siemian is gone—replaced by Case Keenum.
Unfortunately for John Elway, Denver (and every other team that missed out on Kirk Cousins) settled for what appears to be a short-term solution.
Two years and $36 million is a sizable investment for a 30-year-old quarterback who has had all of one good season. And while Keenum looked great with the Minnesota Vikings last year, it'd still behoove Elway to continue to be aggressive at the position moving forward—especially with the fifth overall pick in the draft.
Assuming the Browns take a quarterback with either the first or fourth pick and the New York Jets traded up to No. 3 with a signal-caller in mind, two of this year's Big Four (USC's Sam Darnold, UCLA's Josh Rosen, Wyoming's Josh Allen and Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield) could be available when the Broncos go on the clock.
If that's the case, Elway's should think long and hard about taking one.
When opportunity knocks, you have to answer.
Detroit Lions: Running Back
The running back position was easily the Detroit Lions' biggest need entering the offseason. And after they added bruiser LeGarrette Blount, their ground game is better on paper than it was last year.
But Blount is also a 31-year-old tailback who has topped 800 rushing yards just twice in his eight seasons. He may be good at wearing teams down and banging away between the tackles, but he's not a feature back. And Ameer Abdullah has had problems staying healthy.
In other words, Matt Patricia and Co. need to do more.
Detroit could use its first-round pick (No. 20) on a tailback. At that point, the Lions would likely have their choice of all the backs not named Saquon Barkley. A Day 2 pick on someone like Rashaad Penny of San Diego State is another possibility.
There are also a couple of veterans who might make sense as stopgaps behind Blount. DeMarco Murray and Alfred Morris are on the downslopes of their careers, but they'd at least offer some measure of insurance against the injuries that have hit the Lions backfield in recent years.
Green Bay Packers: Cornerback
This has been something of an odd offseason for the Green Bay Packers. In bringing in defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson and tight end Jimmy Graham, they did something under first-year GM Brian Gutekunst that rarely happened under Ted Thompson.
Green Bay spent money in free agency. Quite a lot of it, actually.
But the Packers did little to improve their secondary—unless you believe swapping Damarious Randall (who was traded to the Browns) for the 35-year-old Tramon Williams is an upgrade.
Hint: It isn't.
There are a couple of free-agent corners still available (Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Bashaud Breeland chief among them), and it's possible the Packers will bring back Davon House, who played on a one-year deal last season.
But Green Bay's best chance to upgrade the defensive backfield appears to be to hit the cornerback position relatively early in the draft, whether it's in the first round with a player like Iowa's Josh Jackson or on Day 2 with someone like Jaire Alexander of Louisville or Maryland's J.C. Jackson.
Houston Texans: Offensive Tackle
Houston entered the offseason in a pickle. It was second in the NFL in sacks allowed last year, so the offensive line was a huge priority. But the Texans have zero first- or second-round picks in the draft, and they lost out to the New York Giants in the bidding for tackle Nate Solder.
Houston got some help with the signings of Zach Fulton and Seantrel Henderson, though Henderson has missed 24 of games over the last two seasons and another six in 2015. Counting on the 25-year-old to be available all season is asking for trouble.
The Texans are in decent shape relative to the salary cap—they are sixth in cap space ($33.8 million). They have the wiggle room to afford Austin Howard, Chris Clark (who played in Houston last year) or Greg Robinson.
Houston could also look to Round 3 of the draft and pick a rookie like Pitt's Brian O'Neill or Louisville's Geron Christian.
The problem is that if any of those players start for a substantial part of the season, it would probably be, um, bad.
Indianapolis Colts: Edge-Rusher
Before the Indianapolis Colts dealt the third overall pick to the Jets for the sixth pick and a bucket of second-rounders, plenty of mock drafts connected them to North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb.
It made a lot of sense. With Indianapolis moving to a four-man front in 2018 after ranking 31st in sacks a year ago, edge-rusher was the team's top need. Chubb's the top prospect at the position.
Hand, meet glove.
That idea may be off the table now. And not just because the Colts moved back, either—the Giants traded Jason Pierre-Paul and could take Chubb at No. 2.
If Chubb falls to No. 6, Chris Ballard would probably pull a hamstring as he races to turn in a card with Chubb's name on it. It's more likely Indy will spend one of its three second-rounders on a player like Ohio State's Sam Hubbard, LSU's Arden Key or Wake Forest's Duke Ejiofor.
If help for Jabaal Sheard is coming, it will be in the draft. The remaining free agents are either aging veterans like Robert Ayers or younger players like Kony Ealy who never lived up to their draft status.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Linebacker
Here's something you don't hear every day: The Jacksonville Jaguars are in pretty good shape relative to other teams.
They don't have many glaring weaknesses, though one might be at the linebacker spot.
Telvin Smith is one of the better "Will" linebackers in the NFL. Third-year pro Myles Jack has shown flashes but just as many growing pains. With Paul Posluszny's retirement, the pressure has ratcheted up on Jack to become a leader in the defense. Even if he's up to the task, the Jaguars still need to add depth and/or a starter on the strong side.
Jacksonville has been fairly aggressive in free agency, inking quarterback Blake Bortles to a new deal and signing guard Andrew Norwell.
A thrifty add (Jerrell Freeman, Kevin Minter) should be a possibility. So should selecting a linebacker with the 29th overall pick. But if the Jaguars bring in another linebacker, it will probably be a player like Oren Burks of Vanderbilt or Josey Jewell of Iowa on the second or third day of the draft.
Kansas City Chiefs: Defensive Line
There's been plenty written about the changes the Kansas City Chiefs have undergone after the trades of quarterback Alex Smith and cornerback Marcus Peters and the addition of wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
The team's biggest problem isn't as talked about—or as new.
The Chiefs ranked 25th in run defense last year, allowing 118.1 yards a game. That was in large part because of a lack of push up front. The team's best run-stuffing lineman, Bennie Logan, hit free agency and hasn't been brought back, so the line is at the top of the offseason priority list.
That doesn't mean Kansas City is in position to do a lot about it. Compliments of the trade that landed Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs don't have a first-round pick. They also have only $8.3 million in cap space.
Whether it's a Day 2 pick or a value signing, Kansas City will need a bit of luck to find an impact player for the defensive line.
Los Angeles Chargers: Defensive Tackle
In Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa, the Los Angeles Chargers have possibly the best one-two punch of edge-rushers in the league.
But if Ingram and Bosa are rock solid, the middle of the Bolts defense was softer than a chewed piece of Hubba Bubba. Only the Washington Redskins allowed more yards per game on the ground than L.A.'s 131.1, and no team surrendered more yards per carry than its 4.9.
So, adding a defensive tackle was a huge priority for the Chargers before Corey Liuget earned a four-game suspension for violating the performance-enhancing drugs policy.
That addition isn't coming in free agency because Los Angeles has only $12.7 million in cap space. That might be enough to sign Johnathan Hankins (the best available tackle), but the Chargers would then have to play the shell game to get their rookie class signed.
As much as L.A. could use help at tackle, it will be difficult to pass on Alabama run-stuffer Da'Ron Payne if he lasts to pick No. 17.
Los Angeles Rams: Linebacker
Frankly, the Rams' biggest need might be a bucket of cold water for their fans. After an array of signings and trades, Los Angeles has what looks to be a great defense and inspired its fanbase to dream of a February trip to Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII.
Wade Phillips has been reunited with Aqib Talib, who will pair with Marcus Peters at cornerback. The signing of Ndamukong Suh to a one-year, $14 million deal gave Los Angeles an interior duo of Suh and Aaron Donald—the sort of thing you usually see more in Madden than reality.
However, that defense isn't bulletproof—at least not yet.
The trade of Alec Ogletree to the Giants opened a hole at inside linebacker opposite Mark Barron. Ditto the deal that sent outside linebacker Robert Quinn to the Miami Dolphins.
Apparently, Rams GM Les Snead gets paid by the trade.
Despite this flurry of activity, L.A. still possesses $28.4 million in cap space, though finding a starter at outside linebacker isn't going to be easy at this juncture.
The 23rd overall pick should afford Snead the chance to fortify one of those spots.
Miami Dolphins: Defensive Tackle
It's been a wild offseason for the Dolphins. They traded their leading receiver (Jarvis Landry), added an edge-rusher in another deal (Robert Quinn) and released arguably the best player on the team in Ndamukong Suh.
According to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, the Dolphins may yet have a bit of wheeling and dealing in them.
"Specifically," he wrote, "the Dolphins are looking for a tight end, a linebacker, maybe a running back and perhaps a defensive tackle that might be on the trade market."
That last position is the team's most pressing need.
Releasing Suh cleared a lot of coin off the Dolphins' books, but it also left Miami with a massive hole inside—a hole that's nigh impossible to fill in free agency this late. The Dolphins could probably have any of this year's rookie tackles at No. 11, but a more likely scenario is a veteran stopgap of some sort coupled with a Day 2 pick like Florida's Taven Bryan or R.J. McIntosh of Miami.
Minnesota Vikings: Offensive Line
It's Super Bowl or bust for the Vikings in 2018. That much became abundantly clear when they gave Kirk Cousins a three-year, $84 million contract—every dime of which was guaranteed.
Minnesota's top priority at this juncture should be to protect that investment.
The Vikings offensive line was good in pass protection last year (sixth in the NFL, per Football Outsiders), but there have been indications that Minny isn't happy with the status quo. Reports have indicated the Vikes are considering moving Mike Remmers inside full-time after he shifted there late last year.
Whether or not Remmers makes the move permanent may depend on how the first round of the draft plays out. Were the Vikings to acquire a tackle like UCLA's Kolton Miller, Remmers could kick to guard. But a guard like UTEP's Will Hernandez or Ohio State's Billy Price would mean Remmers slides back to the edge.
In any event, if a lineman who can help keep Cousins upright is available at No. 30, that should be the play.
Minnesota has 84 million reasons to make the call.
New England Patriots: Offensive Tackle
You don't often see the words "need" and "New England Patriots" mentioned together. It seems that whatever happens with Tom Brady's Beantown Bombers, the team just keeps winning. Players come and go, but the results remain the same.
It's fair to wonder if this year might be different.
Coming off a defeat to the Eagles in Super Bowl LII, the Patriots have lost several players in free agency—including tackles Nate Solder and Cameron Fleming.
As things stand, the blindside protector for New England's 40-year-old quarterback is second-year pro Antonio Garcia—a third-round pick whose next NFL snap will be his first (he missed his rookie year with blood clots in his lungs).
If that doesn't make the Patriots nervous, it should.
The free agents available at the position leave quite a bit to be desired. And with less than $9 million in cap space, New England isn't in much of a position to spend anyway. And depending on how the draft plays out, the Patriots could get frozen out of the higher-end rookie tackles.
One way or another, New England has to add a tackle or two.
New Orleans Saints: Front Seven
Specific, isn't it?
The thing is, the New Orleans Saints are another 2017 playoff team without one massive hole that must be addressed. They have swung (and missed) on a number of big-name free agents, most recently Ndamukong Suh.
Per Josh Katzenstein of the Times-Picayune, head coach Sean Payton said the front seven is one area that stands out.
"I think the front seven you'll look closely at," Payton said. "And then I think we're in a position where you truly want to be taking the best-graded player. It may be in an area where you have depth, but that's something that we won't be afraid to do."
At this point, it's hard to pin things down more than that. The Saints need an edge-rusher opposite Cameron Jordan—like maybe Harold Landry of Boston College. An interior presence like Michigan's Maurice Hurst. And linebacker help like Alabama's Rashaan Evans.
Which hole gets filled at No. 27 will depend on who's available. Then New Orleans, with $8.5 million in cap space, might be able to squeeze in another free agent.
New York Giants: Cornerback
There's been a ton of speculation regarding what the Giants will do with the second overall pick in the draft.
This much we know: Unless New York trades down, that pick isn't going to be spent on its biggest need.
Back in the halcyon days of yore known as 2016, the Giants fielded a top-10 defense and made the playoffs. Last year, that defense fell off a cliff—and so did New York.
The defense has undergone major changes already. Jason Pierre-Paul was shipped to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a move that opened the door for the Giants to draft Bradley Chubb at No. 2. And New York finally addressed its longtime hole at linebacker by trading for Alec Ogletree.
But a cornerback spot that not too long ago was a strength is now a question mark. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is gone. Eli Apple never exactly showed up.
Unless a trade back puts Denzel Ward in play, the Giants are going to have to wait until Day 2 to add a corner. But a youngster like Isaiah Oliver of Colorado would be a welcome addition at No. 34.
New York Jets: Quarterback
It's revelation time. Here comes a secret. A shock. A Grade A stunner.
The Jets need a quarterback.
Take a second to collect yourself.
New York certainly hasn't sat on its hands in that regard this offseason. Gang Green took a run at Kirk Cousins. When that didn't pan out, the Jets went with a two-pronged approach, bringing back Josh McCown and inking Teddy Bridgewater to a one-year deal.
Make that a three-pronged attack. New York also traded two 2018 second-rounders, a Round 2 pick in 2019 and the sixth overall pick in 2018 to Indianapolis to move up three spots to No. 3.
Teams don't make deals like that to draft linemen. That trade was made so the Jets can take one of the top rookie quarterbacks.
It's a good idea, too.
McCown played well before getting hurt last year, but he's 38 years old and always gets hurt. Bridgewater took the Vikings to the playoffs in 2015, but that's also the last time he played in more than mop-up duty.
Add a third, and maybe the Jets can solve their problem at football's most important position. It's only dogged the franchise for, well, forever.
Oakland Raiders: Linebacker
No prospect is being connected more with the Raiders than Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith. This isn't just a recent development, either. Mock drafts have been slotting Smith to Oakland since before the Super Bowl.
That's partly because Smith's an impressive player—an athletic and rangy inside linebacker whose skill set is well-suited to today's game. And it's partly because the linebacker spot is a huge hole in the middle of the Oakland defense.
The Raiders have been struggling at the position for a while now. Last year's in-season acquisition of NaVorro Bowman helped, but he's now a free agent. The Raiders hope to bring back the 29-year-old, according to Vic Tafur of The Athletic, but even if they do, they could slot Smith as the "Will" of the present and "Mike" of the future.
If the Bowman reunion doesn't come to fruition, the Raiders' need to add a linebacker will be all the more amplified. As a result, the Smith-to-Oakland marriage would make even more sense.
Philadelphia Eagles: Offensive Tackle
In news that should surprise exactly no one, the Eagles don't have a ton of holes. Teams with Swiss cheese rosters typically don't win the Super Bowl.
Philadelphia didn't just stand pat this offseason, either. It added another young cornerback, Daryl Worley, by trading Torrey Smith to the Panthers. An already stacked defensive line has vaulted into ridiculous territory with the acquisition of Michael Bennett, provided he doesn't face punishment from the league office for his recent legal trouble.
While the 2018 Eagles may be even better than last year's Super Bowl-winning iteration, Carson Wentz's blind side remains somewhat of a question mark. Future Hall of Famer Jason Peters is 36 and is coming off of a major knee injury. Halapoulivaati Vaitai played well in Peters' stead last year, but his name is far longer than his NFL resume.
This year's underwhelming crop of rookie tackles may work in the Eagles' favor. If one of the top prospects falls to Philly at 32—say, Oklahoma's Orlando Brown after his terrible combine—the team will be sorely tempted to stop that slide.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Inside Linebacker
At the combine, Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert told reporters that linebacker Ryan Shazier "won't play in 2018" as he continues to recover from the career-threatening spinal injury he suffered in December.
To fill that void at inside linebacker, the Steelers signed free agent Jon Bostic, who started 14 games and logged a career-high 97 tackles for the Colts in 2017. However, Bostic has played in just 25 of a possible 48 games over the last three seasons, including those 14 games a year ago.
NaVorro Bowman leads the list of available free-agent linebackers, but most of them are aging players in decline. But even if Colbert wanted to make a big free-agent splash, Pittsburgh lacks the money to do so. The Steelers are dead last in cap space with $4.7 million, and they still have a rookie class to account for.
Thus, they'll need to find linebacking help in that rookie class. If Rashaan Evans of Alabama makes it to No. 28, he isn't falling further than that. Leighton Vander Esch of Boise State and Malik Jefferson of Texas could be in play for Pittsburgh as well.
San Francisco 49ers: Edge-Rusher
No general manager has been more aggressive over the past two years than the San Francisco 49ers' John Lynch. If the 49ers' winning streak to close out last year was any indication, that aggressiveness is paying off.
There's still work to do, though. San Francisco's previous regime invested heavily in the defensive line, but most of those players were drafted to play in a three-man front. The Niners have a few keepers in DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas, but another edge-rusher is likely high on Lynch's wish list.
Fulfilling that wish might be easier said that done. The 49ers are flush with cap space ($46.9 million), but that doesn't mean Lynch is interested in flushing a large portion of it on an unimpressive veteran like Robert Ayers.
By the time the Niners are on the clock at No. 9, North Carolina State's Bradley Chubb will be long gone. Their remaining options should include a more conventional end like UTSA's Marcus Davenport or a more versatile option like Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds.
San Francisco also has a gaggle of Day 2 picks, where the likes of Kansas defensive end Dorance Armstrong of Kansas and Ohio State defensive end Jalyn Holmes could be in play.
Seattle Seahawks: Offensive Line
Times are changing in the Emerald City. By trading defensive end Michael Bennett and releasing cornerback Richard Sherman, the Seattle Seahawks signaled a seismic shift.
No longer is this team about the Legion of Boom and the defense. The Seahawks are all about mobile quarterback Russell Wilson.
It's a good thing that Wilson's mobile too.
Because Seattle's offensive line isn't good. At all.
Last year, the Seahawks were 31st in run blocking and 26th in pass protection, per Football Outsiders. The hope is that a healthy Duane Brown and newcomer D.J. Fluker will help shore up things.
But Brown is 32 and has missed at least four games in two straight seasons. Fluker was a 2013 first-round pick, but he missed almost half of last year and is on his third team in six campaigns.
Seattle's line is the same patchwork unit it's been over the last few years—and so far that hasn't worked out. The team only made it to the divisional round the past two campaigns because of Wilson's heroics.
The Seahawks have one pick in the top 100 (18th overall). They should use it to protect the offense's centerpiece.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Defensive Back
The Buccaneers were not especially good against the pass in 2017.
And by that, I mean horrible. They allowed 260.6 yards per game through the air, and no team surrendered more.
While big names such as Malcolm Butler, Aqib Talib, Trumaine Johnson and even Richard Sherman changed teams this offseason, Tampa Bay—sitting on over $32 million in cap space—whiffed on all of them. Instead, the Bucs settled for bringing back veteran Brent Grimes on a one-year, $7 million pact.
The free agents left at cornerback are uninspiring. The safeties are only bit better, with players like Kenny Vaccaro and Eric Reid still on the open market.
Luckily, there's one bite on the apple remaining. It will be an upset if Tampa Bay doesn't take it.
Barring a funky start to the draft, either Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick or Ohio State corner Denzel Ward will be on the board when the Bucs pick at No. 7. Both are the top players available at their positions and potential difference-makers on the back end.
One of those two is heading to Tampa Bay. Book it.
Tennessee Titans: Edge-Rusher
It can be argued the Tennessee Titans have more immediate needs than at edge-rusher. Inside linebacker comes to mind after Avery Williamson left in free agency.
Sometimes, though, teams have to consider the big picture.
For the Titans, it's this: Brian Orakpo will be 32 years old by the time Week 1 rolls around. Derrick Morgan is 29. Both players are entering the last year of their contracts. And the Titans have a big bag of nothing behind them.
Tennessee is in good shape relative to the salary cap—only three teams have more than their $38.7 million. But the chances of finding quality edge-rushers on the open market a month into free agency are only slightly better than the odds of your pet fish picking the winning Powerball numbers.
None of this is a secret, and dozens of mock drafts have linked the Titans to a pass-rusher with the 25th selection. That includes the latest mock from Bleacher Report's Matt Miller, who projects the Titans will choose Ohio State's Sam Hubbard in that spot.
Washington Redskins: Defensive Line
The Redskins were about as effective at stopping the run last year as Congress is at agreeing on...anything.
They ranked last in rushing defense, giving up 134.1 yards per game.
The return of a healthy Jonathan Allen (the team's first-round pick in 2017) will help, but the defensive front remains a priority.
Washington has $19 million in wiggle room—enough to potentially add a player like Johnathan Hankins or Bennie Logan on a short-term deal. That would allow the team to focus on a linebacker, an edge-rusher or a defensive back when it picks at No. 13 in April's draft.
The whole defense needs work.
If the team can't bolster the front with a free agent, Washington Huskies defensive tackle Vita Vea should be in play with that selection. The 6'4", 347-pound Vea is just what the Redskins need: a mammoth space-eater who also has the quickness to get upfield and harass the quarterback.