1 Need Every NFL Team Should Address in the 2021 Draft, Not Free Agency

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistMarch 9, 2021

1 Need Every NFL Team Should Address in the 2021 Draft, Not Free Agency

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    There's a common belief in the NFL world that successful teams build through the draft. In many aspects, this is true. Building a "dream team" through free agency doesn't work the way it does in other sports. When it does work, the financial implications rarely lead to sustained success.

    Exceptions exist, of course, like the 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Key contributors to their championship run like Tom Brady, Shaquil Barrett, Leonard Fournette and Ndamukong Suh came to Tampa through free agency. Teams can and will continue trying to complete their championship puzzles through the open market.

    It's a more relevant strategy for playoff-caliber squads than rebuilding franchises, which should definitely forge their foundations with draft picks. However, even teams with realistic title hopes should look to fill some positions through the draft rather than free agency. Whether due to cap space, draft positioning or the available player pools, the draft is often the preferable option.

    That will be the case once again in 2021. While COVID-19 protocols make prospect evaluations trickier than in years past and free agency will be vital, every team has at least one need it should fill through the draft. We'll examine those needs here.

Arizona Cardinals: Running Back

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    Alabama RB Najee Harris
    Alabama RB Najee HarrisRusty Costanza/Associated Press

    The Arizona Cardinals have the foundation of an elite passing game with Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins and Christian Kirk. They would do well, however, to add a top-tier workhorse running back to the offense.

    The issue with chasing a back in free agency is that Arizona is projected to have $13.6 million of cap space available. The team will need a large chunk of that to sign draft picks, so pursuing Aaron Jones or re-signing Kenyan Drake would be a financially tricky endeavor.

    Quality running backs are regularly uncovered late in the draft—or even after it, as was the case with 2020 rookie standout and undrafted free agent James Robinson—so Arizona would be wise to consider targeting the position on draft weekend.

    Going after a premier prospect like Alabama's Najee Harris with the 16th pick may be unnecessary, but all options should be on the table—as long as those options involve drafting a running back.

Atlanta Falcons: Quarterback

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    BYU QB Zach Wilson
    BYU QB Zach WilsonAssociated Press

    Matt Ryan is under contract through 2023, so quarterback isn't an immediate need for the Atlanta Falcons. However, if they want to plan for life after the 35-year-old signal-caller—and they should—then now would be a great time to target a young quarterback to groom.

    Going after a free agent like Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston isn't feasible, as Atlanta is projected to be $15.9 million over the salary cap. More importantly, though, the Falcons own the fourth pick in the draft. That's a prime spot to land a top prospect like Brigham Young's Zach Wilson or Ohio State's Justin Fields.

    There's no telling when the Falcons will draft this high again. If new head coach Arthur Smith is successful, it won't be anytime soon. Even if Atlanta winds up with another top-five selection in the near future, that draft may not have a quarterback class as deep and as talented as this one.

    The Falcons have an opportunity to solidify their quarterbacking future, and they need to take advantage of it.

Balimore Ravens: Wide Receiver

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    LSU WR Terrace Marshall Jr.
    LSU WR Terrace Marshall Jr.Michael Woods/Associated Press

    The Baltimore Ravens have several talented pass-catchers, including wideout Marquise Brown and tight end Mark Andrews. However, the Ravens lack a No. 1 receiver who can help Lamar Jackson continue developing into a top-tier passer.

    Brown, a 2019 first-round pick, has been a terrific deep threat, but he isn't a top target on the perimeter. He has just 1,353 receiving yards through 30 career games. Fortunately, this year's draft class is loaded with prospects who could be Baltimore's next No. 1, and the Ravens might be able to land one in the first round.

    The Ravens won't pick until 27th, so top prospects like Ja'Marr Chase and DeVonta Smith should be off the board. However, players like LSU wideout Terrace Marshall Jr. could fall to No. 27 or within reasonable trade range.

    Baltimore can afford to target a free agent like Kenny Golladay or Allen Robinson II. However, the team's $24.3 million in projected cap space will go quickly if the Ravens commit to bringing back defenders like Yannick Ngakoue and Matt Judon.

Buffalo Bills: Running Back

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    North Carolina RB Michael Carter
    North Carolina RB Michael CarterGerry Broome/Associated Press

    The Buffalo Bills had a serviceable rushing attack in 2020, but they could stand to upgrade their backfield. Even though it got 421 rushing yards from quarterback Josh Allen, Buffalo ranked 20th in both rushing yards and yards per carry.

    If the Bills can pair a quality rushing attack with their third-ranked passing offense, they may be unstoppable on that side of the ball.

    However, the Bills don't have the cap space to chase a top free-agent running back at $2.6 million under the cap. It would make more sense to bolster the backfield through the draft.

    This shouldn't require the Bills to reach for a running back with the 30th pick in the draft. Prospects like Clemson's Travis Etienne and North Carolina's Michael Carter should be available on Day 2, which would be a great day for Buffalo to target the position.

Carolina Panthers: Quarterback

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    Ohio State QB Justin Fields
    Ohio State QB Justin FieldsLynne Sladky/Associated Press

    The Carolina Panthers are in the market for a franchise quarterback, even with Teddy Bridgewater under contract for two more seasons. If they weren't, they wouldn't have made a play for Detroit Lions signal-caller Matthew Stafford.

    According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Panthers offered Bridgewater, the No. 8 pick and a fifth-rounder to the Lions for Stafford. Instead, Detroit dealt Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams.

    This leaves Carolina with a big want and the eighth pick in the draft. Common sense suggests the Panthers would like to use the pick on a quarterback prospect like Mac Jones or Justin Fields, as the free-agent market has limited viable starting options.

    Carolina likely has no interest in bringing back Cam Newton or signing another potential bridge quarterback like Mitchell Trubisky. It could roll the dice on a younger retread like Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston, but it should take advantage of a high pick in a strong quarterback draft.

Chicago Bears: Quarterback

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    Alabama QB Mac Jones
    Alabama QB Mac JonesChris O'Meara/Associated Press

    The Chicago Bears won't benefit from enviable draft position like the Falcons and Panthers. They won't make their first selection until No. 20 since their 8-8 record was good enough to make the postseason.

    However, Chicago would be better off targeting a quarterback in the draft than pursuing one in free agency. The Bears are a projected $2.8 million over the salary cap. Bringing back Mitchell Trubisky or signing another temporary solution might get them back into the postseason, but they shouldn't be eager to pay for that option.

    This need will disappear if Chicago can clear cap space and successfully trade for Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson—which appears to be the franchise's ideal plan.

    "The thinking among multiple sources is the Bears have prioritized making a run at Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson," Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune wrote.

    Barring a Wilson trade, the Bears should focus on getting their next quarterback through the draft.

Cincinnati Bengals: Offensive Tackle

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    Oregon OT Penei Sewell
    Oregon OT Penei SewellJohn Bazemore/Associated Press

    The Cincinnati Bengals have multiple reasons to draft an offensive tackle this April. The most obvious is that quarterback Joe Burrow was sacked an alarming 32 times in 10 games before his rookie season ended because of a knee injury.

    The Bengals are projected to have $47.6 million in cap space, but the free-agent tackle market isn't robust. Trent Williams and Russell Okung top the list of tackles, and both are likely to draw several bidders. Financially, it would make more sense for Cincinnati to target a guard like Brandon Scherff or Joe Thuney and look to the draft for a tackle.

    The Bengals have the fifth overall selection and could land one of the top two tackle prospects—Oregon's Penei Sewell and Northwestern's Rashawn Slater.

    Using this two-pronged approach could help the Bengals revamp their offensive line and ensure that Burrow's future campaigns aren't prematurely ended by injuries.

Cleveland Browns: Linebacker

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    Notre Dame LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah
    Notre Dame LB Jeremiah Owusu-KoramoahMichael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    The Cleveland Browns need to address their defense, which ranked 21st in points allowed in 2020. Two of the biggest needs are at linebacker and on the edge, where Cleveland could use a long-term complement to Myles Garrett.

    Addressing both positions in free agency will be difficult. The Browns are projected to have $16.9 million in cap space. In the draft, linebacker appears to be a safer position.

    While the Browns probably won't have a shot at Penn State's Micah Parsons at No. 26, prospects like Notre Dame's Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Tulsa's Zaven Collins could be available. They don't carry the question marks of a pass-rushing prospect like Gregory Rousseau, who opted out of the 2020 season and has only one year of quality production on his resume.

    Cleveland doesn't need an elite edge defender—just a quality complement to Garrett. It might find one at a fair price in free agency. The Browns should target a centerpiece for their linebacker corps in the draft.

Dallas Cowboys: Edge-Rusher

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    Michigan edge-rusher Kwity Paye
    Michigan edge-rusher Kwity PayeAssociated Press

    Like the Browns, the Dallas Cowboys need to fix their defense. Dallas ranked 28th in points allowed and 23rd in overall defense.

    The Cowboys are currently projected to have $18.3 million in cap space. That number is going to change, though, with quarterback Dak Prescott agreeing to a new four-year, $160 million deal.

    While this draft isn't heavy on defensive talent, it makes financial sense for the Cowboys to use the draft to address their defensive needs. Adding a pass-rusher to complement DeMarcus Lawrence is probably the way to go.

    Adding a defensive tackle who can improve their 31st-ranked run defense would also make sense. There might not be a viable early target, though. According to ProFootballTalk's Peter King, NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah doesn't have a D-tackle with a first-round grade.

Denver Broncos: Quarterback

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    Alabama QB Mac Jones
    Alabama QB Mac JonesChris O'Meara/Associated Press

    While the Denver Broncos may not be ready to turn the page on quarterback Drew Lock, they do appear to be weighing their alternatives. According to Troy Renck of Denver7 News, the Broncos are interested in quarterback Deshaun Watson if the Houston Texans make him available.

    Denver seems likely to at least bring in competition at quarterback. It could afford to do so in free agency with a projected $33.2 million in cap space, but the draft seems like a better option.

    The Broncos own the ninth overall pick. If they want one of the top three or four signal-callers, they can likely land him at No. 9 or be within reasonable trade range.

    Denver may not be in position to draft a prospect like Mac Jones or Justin Fields next year or the year after. If the Broncos can draft a prospect they view as superior to Lock, they must strike.

Detroit Lions: Wide Receiver

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    LSU WR Ja'Marr Chase
    LSU WR Ja'Marr ChaseGerald Herbert/Associated Press

    The Lions might be able to retain No. 1 wideout Kenny Golladay in free agency. With $12.1 million in projected cap space, though, that is not guaranteed. Even if the Lions bring him back, it would behoove them to strengthen the receiving corps to better support new quarterback Jared Goff.

    Given Detroit's cap situation, that's not a realistic option.

    However, the Lions are armed with the seventh overall pick, which they should use on a wide receiver. Top prospects like Alabama's DeVonta Smith and LSU's Ja'Marr Chase may be on the board, and the Lions should be prepared to pounce.

    Even if Detroit capitalizes on the quarterback market and leverages the No. 7 pick for assets, it should look to address the receiving corps in the draft as opposed to free agency. The Lions need to figure out what they have in Goff, and they cannot afford to sign more pass-catching talent.

Green Bay Packers: Linebacker

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    Alabama LB Dylan Moses
    Alabama LB Dylan MosesRon Jenkins/Associated Press

    The Green Bay Packers need linebacker additions to bolster a run defense that ranked 21st in yards per carry allowed in 2020. Last year's signing of linebacker Christian Kirksey was supposed to help address the issues, but he failed to meet expectations, and the Packers released him last month.

    Targeting a top free agent like Lavonte David is unrealistic, as the Packers are projected to be $11.1 million over the salary cap. If Green Bay wants to strengthen its linebacker corps, it will have to do so through the draft.

    While the Packers won't be on the clock until pick No. 29, they should have options in Round 1. Prospects like Notre Dame's Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Alabama's Dylan Moses may still be on the board.

    If the Packers can't justify adding an off-ball linebacker in the first round, it needs to be a position of priority on Day 2. The window with quarterback Aaron Rodgers won't stay open forever, and the Packers need to fill as many holes as possible before it closes.

Houston Texans: Wide Receiver

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    Michigan WR Nico Collins
    Michigan WR Nico CollinsPaul Sancya/Associated Press

    The Texans are in a tough spot. They're projected to have $33.2 million in cap space, but they don't own draft selections in the first or second rounds. They need to address a pass defense that ranked 29th in yards per attempt allowed last season, but that's not a realistic option for draft weekend.

    "If you want a corner," Jeremiah said, per King "you better get one in the first couple of rounds. It falls off after that."

    If the Texans plan to address their secondary, it'll have to be a free-agent priority. On the other hand, with Will Fuller V slated to hit the market and Randall Cobb largely a 2020 disappointment (441 receiving yards), receiver could be addressed on draft weekend.

    As in 2020, this is a deep draft at the receiver position. Houston should land a quality pass-catcher in the middle rounds.

    Of course, if Houston trades Watson, it will have a huge need at quarterback and likely multiple early picks, so the dynamic is subject to change.

Indianapolis Colts: Wide Receiver

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    Mississippi WR Elijah Moore
    Mississippi WR Elijah MooreBruce Newman/Associated Press

    The Indianapolis Colts have their quarterback in Carson Wentz. Their next goal should be surrounding Wentz with enough talent to succeed.

    Finding a left tackle to replace the retired Anthony Castonzo should be on the agenda. The Colts don't draft until 21st overall, however, and may have to chase one of the few prolific free agents at the position.

    Upgrading a receiving corps that could lose T.Y. Hilton this offseason? That's a more realistic draft goal. As previously stated, this is a deep receiver class, and Indianapolis could land a prospect like Purdue's Rondale Moore or Mississippi's Elijah Moore at No. 21.

    If Hilton departs in free agency, the Colts would have little receiver depth after second-year man Michael Pittman Jr. Adding a wideout early in the draft would help fix the issue.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Quarterback

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    Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence
    Clemson QB Trevor LawrenceGerald Herbert/Associated Press

    We'll keep this short. The Jacksonville Jaguars need a franchise quarterback. They own the No. 1 pick in this year's draft. Most expect the Jaguars to use the selection on Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, but Jacksonville must trust its draft evaluation.

    What Jacksonville cannot do is bypass the chance to draft a franchise quarterback and chase one on the open market instead. Whether it's Lawrence, Zach Wilson or another top signal-caller, the Jaguars have to draft the quarterback they believe in the most and not look back.

    Should the Jaguars sign a free-agent quarterback and pass on the opportunity to draft one at No. 1, it could go down as one of the biggest offseason blunders in NFL history.

Kansas City Chiefs: Linebacker

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    Tulsa LB Zaven Collins
    Tulsa LB Zaven CollinsMark LoMoglio/Associated Press

    The Kansas City Chiefs lost Super Bowl LV for two main reasons: They couldn't find an answer for the Buccaneers defense, and they couldn't contain the run once the Bucs looked to bleed out the clock. The Chiefs don't regularly have trouble figuring out opposing defenses, but stopping the run was a problem throughout 2020.

    The Chiefs ranked 21st in rushing yards allowed.

    Adding a rangy, run-stuffing linebacker could address the issue, but the Chiefs aren't in a position to do so through free agency at $21.8 million over the salary cap. They'll need to turn to the draft instead.

    While Kansas City won't select until the 31st overall pick, quality options should be available. If a linebacker prospect like Alabama's Dylan Moses or Tulsa's Zaven Collins is sitting there, the Chiefs would be wise to pull the trigger.

Las Vegas Raiders: Edge-Rusher

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    Miami edge-rusher Gregory Rousseau
    Miami edge-rusher Gregory RousseauAssociated Press

    There isn't a can't-miss pass-rushing prospect in this year's draft class as there has been in years past. With no Nick Bosa or Chase Young sitting at the top of draft boards, some teams will undoubtedly look to fill their pass-rushing needs in free agency instead.

    The Las Vegas Raiders might not be one of those teams. Las Vegas is projected to have $22.2 million in cap space. This means that the Raiders could struggle to land one of the top pass-rushers in free agency while still leaving enough money to sign draft picks.

    One of their early picks should be used on an edge-rusher. The Raiders amassed just 21 sacks as a team in 2020. In a division that features Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert, a lackluster pass rush will continue to be a liability if it isn't fixed.

    Whether the Raiders scoop up an edge defender with the 17th overall pick or look to add value on Day 2, their plan should be to find a pass-rusher in the draft instead of in free agency.

Los Angeles Chargers: Offensive Tackle

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    Northwestern's Rashawn Slater
    Northwestern's Rashawn SlaterCharles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Chargers need to find themselves a franchise left tackle. Full Stop. They have their answer at quarterback in Justin Herbert, and they need to do everything possible to keep him healthy and on the playing field.

    Herbert was sacked 32 times in 2020, tied for ninth-most in the league. That's a sack rate that L.A. must look to avoid moving forward. While the Chargers do have the cap space—a projected $32.7 million—to go after a free agent like Trent Williams, their options are limited.

    The Chargers may not be interested in bringing back Russell Okung a year after trading him away.

    They shouldn't be eager to overpay for a tackle on the open market anyway. While they are cap-flush this offseason, they also have pending free agents like Hunter Henry and Melvin Ingram III to address. If the Chargers can trade up for Penei Sewell or Rashawn Slater—or land another quality tackle prospect at No. 13—it would be preferable to spending $18 million-plus per year on an aging tackle who may not be around when Herbert is entering his prime.

Los Angeles Rams: Edge-Rusher

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    Pittsburgh edge-rusher Rashad Weaver
    Pittsburgh edge-rusher Rashad WeaverAssociated Press

    As previously mentioned, there is no sure-thing edge-rusher in this draft class. That's a problem for teams in need of pass-rushing help. A bigger problem for the Los Angeles Rams, though, is their dramatic lack of cap flexibility.

    Los Angeles is currently projected to be $38.6 million over the salary cap. For the Rams, landing a pass-rusher on the open market is a pipe dream.

    Finding an edge-rusher should be a priority for them nonetheless. The presence of defensive tackle Aaron Donald adds plenty of punch in the pressure department, but the Rams have relied on stopgaps on the edge over the last couple of seasons. Leonard Floyd filled that role in 2020 and delivered 10.5 sacks. Unfortunately, Floyd played on a one-year deal and is headed to free agency.

    Like it or not, the Rams will have to roll the dice on an edge-rusher somewhere in the draft—they don't have a first-round pick. They need a consistent edge presence next to Donald, and they simply cannot afford to find it in free agency.

Miami Dolphins: Offensive Tackle

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    Virginia Tech OT Christian Darrisaw
    Virginia Tech OT Christian DarrisawMatt Gentry/Associated Press

    We're working on the assumption that the Miami Dolphins will stick with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and not target a new signal-caller in the draft. Miami owns the No. 3 overall pick and could tab someone new as its quarterback of the future.

    Should the Dolphins stick with Tagovailoa, two positions make sense early in the draft. They could target a No. 1 wide receiver or a bookend right tackle to pair with 2020 first-round pick Austin Jackson. As previously noted, this isn't expected to be a deep free-agent tackle class, with 32-year-old Rick Wagner likely headlining the right tackle group.

    Miami could afford to spend at the position—it's projected to have $30.8 million in cap space—but if the Dolphins are going to lock up one of these two positions in free agency, wide receiver is the way to go.

    While the tackle market leaves plenty to be desired, the receiver pool will feature Kenny Golladay, Allen Robinson II, Chris Godwin and JuJu Smith-Schuster.

    Miami could still grab a receiver or two from this deep draft class, but targeting a right tackle prospect like Virginia Tech's Christian Darrisaw early should be a priority.

Minnesota Vikings: Safety

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    TCU S Trevon Moehrig
    TCU S Trevon MoehrigBrandon Wade/Associated Press

    The Minnesota Vikings need to continue rebuilding a secondary that lost Mackensie Alexander, Trae Waynes and Xavier Rhodes last offseason. As a unit, the Vikings defense ranked just 25th against the pass in 2020.

    Part of the defensive restructuring will likely involve replacing safety Anthony Harris. The Vikings gave Harris the franchise tag last season but were unable to work out a long-term deal. That's problematic because Minnesota is projected to be $4 million over the salary cap.

    Inking Harris to a long-term deal or replacing him in free agency are both financially dicey options. Instead, the Vikings should look for their next starting safety in the 2021 draft.

    Minnesota is scheduled to select 14th overall, and it should have a good chance of landing TCU safety Trevon Moehrig. If the Vikings cannot land the top safety on Bleacher Report's draft board, they had better look to fill the safety spot later in the draft.

New England Patriots: Quarterback

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    Alabama QB Mac Jones
    Alabama QB Mac JonesLynne Sladky/Associated Press

    The New England Patriots have yet to replace quarterback Tom Brady on a long-term basis. They gave Cam Newton a year-long audition in 2020 but only managed to notch seven wins with him under center. With $68.7 million in cap space, New England could afford to use free agency again to fill the position, but that would only be delaying the inevitable.

    At some point, the Patriots have to find their permanent answer at quarterback. Now could be the perfect opportunity to do so through the draft, as the Patriots are scheduled to select 15th overall. While it may require a trade, New England should be within range of landing Trey Lance or Mac Jones.

    Should the Patriots return to their playoff ways in 2021, they're not going to be in that sort of draft range again.

    Should a quarterback like Deshaun Watson land on the trading block—and the Patriots are also interested in reacquiring Jimmy Garopolo, according to Greg A. Bedard of the Boston Sports Journal—then that could be the route to take.

    If the choices are between a free agent like Newton or Ryan Fitzpatrick and a shot at a top draft prospect, the draft is the way New England should go.

New Orleans Saints: Tight End

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    Penn State TE Pat Freiermuth
    Penn State TE Pat FreiermuthBarry Reeger/Associated Press

    If we're not counting the quarterback position—where Drew Brees is widely expected to retire this offseason—the New Orleans Saints don't have a ton of holes on the roster. However, they don't have any room for a big free-agency foray, so the needs they do have will largely have to be met in the draft.

    New Orleans is projected to be $47.2 million over the salary cap.

    The one need that may be met in free agency is at quarterback. If the Saints spend at all, it may be to bring back Jameis Winston, who was the backup in 2020 and who is still just 27 years old. That could make more sense than trying to land a quarterback at No. 28, though it would obviously require some financial finagling.

    According to Jeff Duncan of The Athletic, the Saints should be considered the front-runners for Winston's services next season.

    What wouldn't make sense would be signing a tight end following the release of both Josh Hill and Jared Cook. Instead, New Orleans should look to bolster the tight end room with a prospect like Penn State's Pat Freiermuth in the draft.

New York Giants: Wide Receiver

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    Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle
    Alabama WR Jaylen WaddleButch Dill/Associated Press

    The New York Giants need to find a legitimate No. 1 receiver to pair with third-year quarterback Daniel Jones. While players like Allen Robinson II and Kenny Golladay will likely be available in free agency, the Giants aren't in a position to chase them.

    New York is projected to be just $6.3 million under the salary cap.

    New York's cap situation could change if it is able to trade or release guard Kevin Zeitler and/or tackle Nate Solder—according to CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora, the Giants are looking to trade Zeitler now. However, any cap room the Giants create may be used to retain breakout defender Leonard Williams.

    The Giants are in a position to land one of the top wide receivers in the draft, though. They hold the 11th overall pick, which could be used on LSU's Ja'Marr Chase or Alabama's Jaylen Waddle. Making that move would net New York a top target and an opportunity to better uncover exactly what it has in Jones.

New York Jets: Quarterback

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    BYU quarterback Zach Wilson
    BYU quarterback Zach WilsonJeff Swinger/Associated Press

    The New York Jets may well stick with Sam Darnold at quarterback for another year or more. New head coach Robert Saleh and general manager Joe Douglas have not given much indication on which way they're leaning. Our assumption here is that the Jets will at least consider moving on from Darnold and weighing other quarterback options.

    If the new-look front office does want to consider other quarterbacks, free agency should be out of the equation. New York should pursue a Deshaun Watson trade or take the best quarterback available with the second overall selection.

    Since we don't even know if Watson will be available this offseason, drafting a quarterback is the most realistic route—and it's a good one.

    Whether it's Trevor Lawrence or Zach Wilson, the top prospect that Jacksonville doesn't take will be sitting there at No. 2. If the Jets aren't 100 percent sold on Darnold, they should race to turn in the draft card for said signal-caller.

    The Jets are projected to have $80.4 million in cap space and can afford to at least target other needs in free agency. They're not going to find a quarterback with the upside of Lawrence or Wilson there, though, and shouldn't even bother looking.

Philadelphia Eagles: Wide Receiver

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    Alabama WR DeVonta Smith
    Alabama WR DeVonta SmithRoger Steinman/Associated Press

    Despite using a first-round draft pick on wideout Jalen Reagor last offseason, the Philadelphia Eagles don't have a proven No. 1 wideout on their roster. Reagor produced a mere 396 receiving yards as a rookie, while Travis Fulgham led the team with just 539 receiving yards.

    The Eagles need to remedy this situation if they hope to give Jalen Hurts a fair shake at being the team's franchise quarterback. Unfortunately, Philadelphia is projected to be $34.4 million over the salary cap and cannot afford to find answers in free agency.

    Philadelphia can, however, target a receiver with the sixth pick in the draft, and it should. DeVonta Smith or Ja'Marr Chase could be just the playmaking No. 1 target that the Eagles have been searching for.

    The Eagles cannot be afraid to revisit the receiver position just because they used that first-round pick on Reagor.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Offensive Line

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    Alabama C Creed Humphrey
    Alabama C Creed HumphreyAssociated Press

    The Pittsburgh Steelers will have quarterback Ben Roethlisberger back for the 2021 season after his contract restructuring. They're also likely to have some serious offensive-line questions with left tackle Alejandro Villanueva headed to free agency and center Maurkice Pouncey retired.

    Even with Big Ben's restructured contract, the Steelers aren't in a position to find answers on the open market. They're still projected to have just $5.9 million in cap space.

    Pittsburgh must instead look to the draft early and often to address its offensive-line needs. This should start with the 24th pick, where a center like Oklahoma's Creed Humphrey or a quality tackle could be on the board. It will have to continue on Day 2, as filling just one hole isn't going to cut it.

    The Steelers are going to have to protect Roethlisberger to have any real success in 2021. Otherwise, they'll be doing nothing but delaying their inevitable search for his successor.

San Francisco 49ers: Cornerback

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    Virginia Tech CB Caleb Farley
    Virginia Tech CB Caleb FarleyLynne Sladky/Associated Press

    The San Francisco 49ers are going to have to revamp their secondary this offseason, as defensive backs Richard Sherman, Jason Verrett, K'Waun Williams and Jaquiski Tartt are slated for free agency. Bringing more than one or two of them back is financially unrealistic.

    The 49ers are projected to have $24.0 million in cap space. However, they also have to determine the future of left tackle Trent Williams. Retaining Williams would likely require the majority of their cap room.

    Therefore, the 49ers would be wise to turn to the draft for their cornerback needs. There are a few quality prospects who should be available early, including Virginia Tech's Caleb Farley and Alabama's Patrick Surtain II. The 49ers, meanwhile, will be armed with the 12th pick in the draft.

    Defense was San Francisco's strength when it went to the Super Bowl in 2019. If the 49ers hope to keep their defense stocked and retain Williams, targeting a cornerback in the draft is the only approach that makes sense.

Seattle Seahawks: Cornerback

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    Washington CB Elijah Molden
    Washington CB Elijah MoldenTed S. Warren/Associated Press

    Like the 49ers, the Seattle Seahawks would be smart to target cornerbacks in the draft rather than in free agency. They're projected to have $25.6 million in cap space after Carlos Dunlap's release.

    Seattle would be wise to use cap space to bolster the offensive line. Pass protection has become a point of contention for quarterback Russell Wilson.

    "I'm hearing Russell Wilson's camp has grown increasingly frustrated by the Seahawks' inability to protect the 8 time Pro Bowler," La Canfora tweeted.

    Seattle may also want to use some draft capital on the line too, but making a free-agent addition to Wilson's blocking unit should be a priority. This will likely leave the Seahawks with little cap space to address a secondary that ranked 31st in passing yards allowed last season and is set to lose cornerbacks Shaquill Griffin and Quinton Dunbar in free agency.

    Spending on the O-line and targeting a cornerback in the draft is the logical play here.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Running Back

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    Clemson RB Travis Etienne
    Clemson RB Travis EtienneBrian Blanco/Associated Press

    The Buccaneers are armed with $18.1 million in projected cap space and the 32nd pick in the 2021 draft. However, Tampa also has a host of valuable players—including Chris Godwin, Shaquil Barrett, Lavonte David, Ndamukong Suh, Rob Gronkowski and Leonard Fournette—scheduled to reach free agency.

    Even if the Bucs are able to generate a ton of cap space between now and March 17—a Tom Brady extension could help in that regard—Tampa will likely look to its own players when it comes to free agency.

    One could argue that the players who aren't retained will become the positions to target in the draft. That would be a fair take. If we're going to single out a position, though, it would be running back.

    Fournette was a valuable piece to the Super Bowl puzzle. However, Tampa still has Ronald Jones II on the roster and should be able to find a viable back in the draft. Whether that's early or late in the draft will depend on which other players are retained.

    This isn't a knock on Fournette as a player but a reflection of the value of running backs in free agency. Fournette has a projected market value of $8.1 million annually, and that represents a chunk of cap space that could be better spent on a player like Suh, David or Gronkowski.

Tennessee Titans: Wide Receiver

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    North Carolina WR Dyami Brown
    North Carolina WR Dyami BrownGerry Broome/Associated Press

    The Tennessee Titans have a budding star in wide receiver A.J. Brown. However, they recently released wideout Adam Humphries and could lose Corey Davis in free agency. This will make receiver a significant need, and one that can't reasonably be addressed in free agency.

    Tennessee is projected to have just $9.9 million in cap space.

    Again, this is expected to be a deep and talented receiver class, and it's one into which the Titans should tap. Even if there's an early run on receivers and/or the Titans don't use a first-round pick on the position, prospects like North Carolina's Dyami Brown and Oklahoma State's Tylan Wallace could be options.

    The Titans could wait until the middle rounds of the draft and still find great receiver value, though waiting may only be a smart move if they're able and/or willing to bring back Davis. Given Tennessee's cap situation, that may not be an option.

Washington Footbal Team: Quarterback

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    North Dakota State QB Trey Lance
    North Dakota State QB Trey LanceBruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    The Washington Football Team has officially released veteran Alex Smith. This means that aside from postseason standout Taylor Heinicke, Washington mostly just has questions at the quarterback position. The Football Team would do well to search for answers in the draft.

    Even after using the franchise tag on Brandon Scherff for a second consecutive year, Washington is projected to have $30.8 million in cap space. Therefore, money shouldn't be the biggest issue for Washington. The lack of quality free-agent quarterbacks could be.

    Sure, Washington could bring in a potential stopgap signal-caller like Ryan Fitzpatrick or Cam Newton, but this wouldn't give the reigning NFC East champions a long-term solution.

    While the Football Team may be forced to trade up from the 19th pick to land a quarterback prospect like Alabama's Mac Jones or North Dakota State's Trey Lance, doing so would potentially set up the franchise for a sustained run atop the division.

    Planning to target a quarterback in the draft would also allow Washington to use its cap space to retain players like Ronald Darby and/or to chase one of the top free-agent wide receivers.


    *Contract and cap information via Spotrac. Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference, unless otherwise noted.