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NFL Offseason: Moves the Top Eight Teams Who Can't Sign Free Agents Should Make

Dan Van Wie@@DanVanWieContributor IIIMarch 9, 2010

NEW ORLEANS - FEBRUARY 09: New Orleans Saints Quarterback Drew Brees #9 and teammates celebrate during the New Orleans Saints Super Bowl XLIV Victory Parade as they ride past the Louisiana Superdome on February 9, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Skip Bolen/Getty Images)
Skip Bolen/Getty Images

A Super Bowl Championship. Victory parades down main street, as witnessed in this picture of the New Orleans Saints, fresh off winning Super Bowl 44. Becoming fat cats on the banquet circuit. These are the goals and bi-products of what every NFL team sets out to do each season, to be Super Bowl Champions.

For the final eight playoff teams from this past season, they were able to make the playoffs, but seven of them came up lacking or short in the second season. What held these teams back from winning it all?

We will attempt to delve in to each of the final eight teams, and address what trades or moves they should be contemplating to reach the next level. We will look at New Orleans as well, to see what trades the Saints should consider if they are to repeat as Super Bowl Champions. Can the Saints even repeat?

In the 44 years of Super Bowl history, only eight teams have ever repeated, but nobody has ever won three times in a row. Only the Buffalo Bills made it four times in a row, but that is a different story altogether, and is still an amazing accomplishment.

Why Is It So Hard To Repeat?

For starters, the deck is already stacked against all eight playoff teams. The NFL likes parity, so the first thing that happens is the schedule for all eight teams will be harder the following year, as they will face more playoff caliber teams than those teams that failed to qualify for the playoffs.

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Then you look at the free agency rules. The Saints, Colts, Vikings and Jets will have their hands tied as they are only allowed to sign a free agent in the event that one of their own free agents is signed away by another team.

The better free agents of these four teams are likely to be resigned, as the Colts have done with re-signing Gary Brackett, while the Saints are busy trying to re-sign Darren Sharper and Jahri Evans.

For the four playoff teams that did not advance to the championship conference round, (Cowboys, Ravens, Cardinals, and Chargers), they can replace a lost starter in free agency, plus they can sign one unrestricted free agent with a first year salary in the $5.5 million range.

If those two factors aren't difficult enough, then you add into the equation that you are drafting in the final eight picks of each round of the draft. We have all witnessed how many high draft picks turn out to be busts, so there is no guarantee with draft picks. Most teams are targeting your free agents due to their playoff experience, so re-signing your free agents gets very expensive.

As a result, you have to cut from other areas of the team to re-sign your own players, or you let them walk and hope the draft picks you receive in compensation can bring you a player that will produce at the same level. Not necessarily a formula for success.

When you look at the big picture, it is little wonder that teams have a difficult time repeating lately in the Super Bowl, or even qualifying for the playoffs the following year. Just ask the Pittsburgh Steelers about how easy it was to repeat. In fact, only three teams have repeated in the last 20 years, Dallas, Denver and New England.

Trading May Be the Best Option the Final Eight Teams Have to Plug their Holes

So, for the eight teams in question, trading is the only other avenue available to improve your team. Sure, you have to give up something to get something. But if you are already at the top of your division, trading away a portion of your future to stay atop your division makes tremendous sense. 

Let's take a look at each of the following eight playoff teams to see what moves might be available for them to consider:

New Orleans Saints : The Saints are trying to minimize the holes in their team by re-signing Darren Sharper and Jahri Evans.

They just lost linebacker Scott Fujita to Cleveland, so will need to find someone to plug his position. Besides losing Fujita, back up QB Mark Brunell and running back Mike Bell are testing their value in the market, so neither one may return.

If the Saints resign Sharper and Evans, there does not appear to be a huge need to  make any trades. They already have Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas to replace Mike Bell, and also have Lynell Hamilton possibly taking on a more prominent role. You would think they can draft a linebacker or sign a free agent veteran to replace Fujita.

Indianapolis Colts   As much as they have a great passing attack led by Peyton Manning, I believe the inconsistent running game held the Colts back during their playoff run. The defense is quick and talented. 

So far, the Colts have not lost many quality players. The deal to bring back Gary Brackett was a big one. He is a force at linebacker for the Colts.They have extended a second-round tender to restricted free agent OL Charlie Johnson, but may be interested in upgrading this position.

The Colts may be losing FS Antoine Bethea, as he is talking to multiple teams.

They did not tender Hank Baskett, so not sure what is worse for the Colts, losing Baskett and his botched Super Bowl onsides kick, or losing Hank's number one fan?

What else do the Colts need to improve on? Special teams might be one area. The Bills just unloaded a few special teams stand outs in John Wendling and Ashlee Palmer, so they are available in the market.

Potential trades: Acquire a safety if they lose Bethea via free agency. A possible safety trade target is Donte Whitner.

Minnesota Vikings : They just lost RB Chester Taylor to the Bears, and who knows if and when Brett Favre will return to the Vikings. Pat Williams has a year or so left, which means the Vikings will need to find a suitable replacement when Williams decides to call it a career. Tavaris Jackson was only offered a third round tender, so may want to seek a team where he is held in higher esteem.

If Favre returns, how much time does he have left? He took an absolute beating in the NFC Championship Game against the Saints, so one has to wonder how much more of a pounding his body can take. If I were running the Vikings, I would look to bring in a veteran QB to replace Jackson and be ready to step in if Favre either retires or gets hurt.

By losing Taylor, the Vikings can now sign a free agent from another team, but what position will they address? In addition, they need to draft somebody to groom to take over the QB spot. Shoring up the offensive line and finding a replacement for Pat Williams makes sense as well.

Trade target: The Eagles QB trio makes sense to look at. There aren't really any nose tackles in the trade market, so they may have to invest a high draft pick on one, in addition to finding a running back to replace Chester Taylor. Perhaps signing LaDainian Tomlinson makes sense for the Vikings.

New York Jets   The Jets have already been active in the off-season, as they recently completed the trade for San Diego cornerback Antonio Cromartie. That move should help to strengthen an already formidable defense. So the offense now has to improve for the Jets to win it all. Rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez gained some valuable experience in their playoff run, which will help him for the future.

What other weapons can the Jets surround Sanchez with? Wide receiver Braylon Edwards made some big drops in the playoffs so he will need to step up.

The Jets released running back Thomas Jones, so the jury is out now on the duo of Shonn Greene and Leon Washington. Can they effectively replace Jones, or should the Jets trade for another experienced running back? How healthy will Washington be due to his broken leg?

Trade Targets: At running back there is LenDale White and Marshawn Lynch. There is talk that the Jets may want to bring back Lavernius Coles to give them one more option at wide receiver.

Dallas Cowboys : You haven't heard anything from the Cowboys during free agency simply because this is a team that does not have very many glaring needs, if any.

The Cowboys are looking to return as many players to their roster next year as any team in the NFL. They have extended tender offers to almost every one of their free agents, and with the deep pockets of Jerry Jones, they have the ability to pay out whatever they want to in order to keep the team intact.

Strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh is talking to other teams now,  but he wouldn't be that difficult to replace either in free agency or in the draft. The Cowboys can basically focus on the draft and address areas where they want to add some future depth for the team. A nice position to be in.

Baltimore Ravens :The Ravens have several trade chips they can cash in as they have some flexibility at left tackle in Jared Gaither, due to the emergence of Michael Oher, and with an unhappy quarterback in Troy Smith, who wants to be a starter elsewhere. A number of teams need a left tackle so Baltimore should be actively looking to see what they could gain in return for him.

The Ravens addressed their shortage of offensive weapons by trading away two draft picks to the Cardinals for wide receiver Anquan Boldin. As a direct result of this deal, Derrick Mason may or may not be back with the team. Boldin will surpass Mason to be the primary wide receiver threat for Joe Flacco.

Maybe the Ravens should be entertaining another strong wide receiver to give Flacco even more options. They did make tender offers to wide receivers Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams, so they should be back as well.

Arizona Cardinals : Out of the eight playoff teams, has anyone been busier than the Cardinals? I couldn't help but think that the Cardinals belonged in the NBA the way their playoff games kept resulting in fast drives and trading touchdowns back and forth.

As many points as the defense gave up in the playoffs, that hasn't stopped other NFL teams from actively going after their defensive starters.

Kurt Warner wastes no time in announcing that he will be retiring, as did defensive end/linebacker Bertrand Berry.

They have already traded away WR Anquain Bolden to Baltimore for draft picks. Can Steve Breaston step up to take over for Bolden, or should the Cardinals be looking to acquire another wide receiver? Brandon Marshall may be a trade target.

They lost free safety Antrel Rolle to the New York Giants via free agency, as well as linebacker Karlos Dansby to the Dolphins. As a result, Arizona is scheduled to talk to Larry Foote as a potential linebacker replacement. The Cardinals traded for defensive back Kerry Rhodes from the New York Jets by giving up some draft picks to help replace Antrel Rolle.

Who will back up unproven Matt Leinart at quarterback? The Cardinals will probably want to acquire an insurance policy for QB, in the event that Leinart flops. They could talk to the Eagles about their surplus of QB's, or look at Rams QB Marc Bulger, who should be released in the near future. Another team with a surplus of QBs is in Buffalo, where either Trent Edwards or Ryan Fitzpatrick could serve as a backup.


San Diego Chargers : Since the season ended, the Chargers have released Ladainian Tomlinson, Michael Bennett, and Jamaal Williams. The Bolts have also traded away cornerback Antonio Cromartie for a 2011 draft choice.

From a team improvement standpoint, San Diego has a growing laundry list of team needs they hope to address via trade, draft or free agency: running back, cornerback, nose tackle, defensive end, and right tackle. They may also want to add another tight end, after losing Brandon Manumaleuna.

If that isn't enough to keep them busy, they also have to complete contracts for the following free agents that will command top dollars: Vincent Jackson, Shawne Merriman, Darren Sproles, Marcus McNeill, and Malcolm Floyd.

Not sure what San Diego would be willing to give up to bring Marshawn Lynch back to California, but that could be one move that would make sense with just Darren Sproles left in the backfield.