Two weeks remain in the NFL regular season and 15 of the 32 teams in the league have been eliminated from playoff contention. If you’re a fan of one of those teams, you might feel like checking out for the year. Offered here for you is an alternative. It’s time to look ahead to 2013 and think about what your team may do during the offseason. Team by team there are specific needs, cap space (current based on current roster configuration. It’s very hard to guess which players will be released and/or traded during the offseason which can dramatically affect that number), projected draft position and possible solutions from both the free agent class, trade market and the draft offered here for you to ponder.
This coming off-season’s free agent quarterback class is neither deep nor talented. The headliner by far is Joe Flacco, who by all indications will not be leaving Baltimore. If the Cardinals desire to go the veteran route, they may have to once again make a trade. Could they re-unite Kevin Kolb and Michael Vick? The problem may be finding the cap space to ink a suitable replacement. However, at this point anything may be an upgrade at the quarterback position for this team. If the Jets cut Mark Sanchez lose, they could try to revive his career on the cheap. After the Kevin Kolb experiment has failed I can’t see this franchise making another quarterback trade. If Matt Barkley (QB, USC) falls to their draft slot, they may not be able to pass on him and save face with their fan base. The fans will be much more willing to live with the struggles of a rookie than a veteran the team gave up draft picks to get.
On the offensive line, the free agent market for tackles is great with the likes of former number one overall Jake Long and current Bronco Ryan Clady becoming available. Either would likely demand a salary taking up all the Cardinals’ cap space however. Cheaper options like the Saints’ Jermon Bushrod and the Bengals’ Andre Smith would be more realistic. For the guards, the Patriots’ Brian Waters might come cheap as he is at the tail end of his career. Many interesting options present themselves at tight end. Delaney Walker, Chris Cooley and Visanthe Shiancoe will all be looking to go to a team where they will be the main man at that position as Todd Heap has not worked out for the Cardinals as they had hoped. Possibilities for free agent corners include Buffalo’s Leodis McKelvin and Washington’s Cedric Griffin.
Only four teams in the AFC have more cap space than the Bills and they have demonstrated they are not afraid to pay big money to get defensive talent to come to Orchard Park. Enter Ray Maualuga. Putting him in the middle instantly upgrades the talent and package options of the Buffalo defense. If Texas A&M’s hybrid DE/OLB Damontre Moore is available at the Bills’ draft slot, expect Buffalo to pick him. Moore would be a perfect complement to Mario Williams’ pass-rushing ability.
It would not be a reach at all for the Bills to sign Jason Campbell or Matt Moore to push Ryan Fitzpatrick as well as provide a viable option if Fitzpatrick falters. Providing Fitzpatrick with more weapons may be the first priority though. To energize the fan base, expect the Bills to make a strong play for the Patriots’ Wes Welker. The Patriots’ have long made a practice of letting aging players go. Don’t be surprised if Welker is in a Bill uniform next season. At tight end, the Bills may tender restricted free agent Tom Crabtree a contract the Packers will be unwilling to match.
Ohio State defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins makes a lot of sense for Carolina at number five overall. I can’t see the Jets re-signing both Yeremiah Bell and LaRon Landry with Darrelle Revis coming back healthy and needs elsewhere. Either Bell or Landry will be available for the Panthers at corner.
Instinct says that Detroit’s offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus signs with Carolina. The emergence of Randall Cobb in Green Bay makes either Donald Driver or Greg Jennings expendable as both will be free agents. The Panthers will make a push for whichever one the Packers don’t re-sign. The 49ers’ Leonard Davis represents a realistic and veteran option for the Panthers at guard.
Quarterback as this team’s number one need? Didn’t they just draft Brandon Weeden? Hasn’t he performed respectably for a rookie on a young team? Yes, yes and yes. The reason why this is the top need is the fact that if Weeden gets hurt or becomes ineffective, this team could easily find itself in the same position as the Cardinals. They need to address it before it becomes an issue. Rex Grossman or Luke McCown may land here. The lack of a consistent wide receiver threat that makes defenses game plan around him is the next step for this offense. If they really want to make a splash they could go after the Steelers’ Mike Wallace. A conservative approach would be the Chiefs’ Dwayne Bowe.
Defensively Denver’s Ty Warren would be a solid signing at tackle and the Bears’ Israel Idonije would make sense at end. At number nine overall, if Heisman trophy candidate Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o is available, the Browns will be lighting up the phone to get him.
The big question going into this season was whether the inexperience and lack of depth in the secondary would doom this team. The answer has been yes. At number eight overall Alabama’s corner DeMarcus Milliner would be a great fit. For a safety, the Lions should be able to take advantage of the Steelers’ inability to sign both Ryan Mundy and Will Allen and scoop up the one the Steelers don’t re-up with. At defensive end Seattle’s Alan Branch or Tampa Bay’s Michael Bennett would be attractive options. As far as linebackers go, San Diego’s Shaun Phillips or Oakland’s Phillip Wheeler should interest the Lions.
The number one priority on offense is finding a bookend for Calvin Johnson. The Lions should look no further than St. Louis’ Danny Amendola. If Amendola re-ups with the Rams, then the Colts’ Donnie Avery would be an attractive second choice.
If you’re looking here and you are puzzled by the fact that I again listed quarterback as a top need for a team with a starter they recently drafted and you didn’t read the Browns’ information, go read it because the same situation applies here. It’s very hard to win on a perennial basis in this league without good depth at quarterback. This team needs to be proactive here. They would also be well served to work out a plan appropriate for and work out the trade they should have made last offseason. This franchise needs Tim Tebow. That’s not going to translate into any more wins on the field than Blaine Gabbert did, but it will put more butts in the seats.
Whoever they bring in, upgrades on the offensive line are needed. Minnesota’s Phil Loadholt or Kansas City’s Branden Alberts would be good choices at tackle while the Colts’ Andy Levitre or the Panthers’ Mike Pollak would be serviceable at guard.
Jarvis Jones, DE/OLB from Georgia, would address this team’s need at linebacker. At corner is where I expect the Jaguars to try to make a splash by pursuing Philadelphia’s Dominique Rogers-Cromartie or Tampa Bay’s Ronde Barber.
As soon as the regular season ends, the Chiefs will be on the clock. They have a fan base that has grown weary after 19 seasons without a playoff victory. The current regime married itself to the success (or more appropriately lack thereof) of quarterback Matt Cassel. The expectation is that general manager Scott Pioli, head coach Romeo Crennell and a lot of his staff as well as Cassel will all be out of town quickly after the season ends. With the first pick in the draft Kansas City is going to address its biggest need and draft quarterback Geno Smith out of West Virginia. Will Beatty from the Giants or Sebastian Vollmer from the Patriots should be a target for offensive tackle.
The three first round draft picks on the defensive line have been unworthy of their draft position to say the least. Expect the Chiefs to go the free agent route here and pursue Pittsburgh’s Casey Hampton or Washington’s Kedric Golston. Another inside linebacker to complement Derrick Johnson could make the Kansas City linebacking corps the best in the AFC. Perhaps the Chiefs sign away Keith Brooking from division rival Denver or Erin Henderson from the Vikings? Depth at safety is an issue. Look for the Chiefs to address that with Sean Considine or Chris Crocker.
There’s a good chance that offensive tackle Jake Long may not return and that will be a big void for Miami to fill. Replacing Long wouldn’t be easy but Bryant McKinnie or Sean Locklear might be the most likely candidates if anyone can. Ryan Lilja is an interesting option at guard. As far as wide receiver goes, look for them to take Keenan Allen out of California with that twelfth pick.
Ernie Sims or Omar Gaither could be good fits at inside linebacker. The corner market is deep and landing a guy like Jairus Byrd or Mike Jenkins is not out of the realm of possibility for the Dolphins this coming offseason.
All you have to do is look at the defensive numbers from across the league to see where the needs are on this team. Upgrades are necessary at every level. To run a 4-3 scheme in the NFL today you need superb athletes all over the field. The personnel that have been on this Saints’ defense is from an era where size was needed to stop the power running games offenses were running. That is no longer the case in the NFL. To win on defense teams have to have athletes that can win individual matchups with running backs, tight ends and wide receivers.
A viable option for this team at thirteenth overall is LSU DE/OLB Barkavius Mingo. The Saints could use him to fill a hole at either or both positions. Antwan Applewhite and Robert Geathers would be good choices for end if they draft a linebacker. DeAndre Levy or Jasper Brinkley could work for the team at linebacker if they draft an end.
Isaac Sopoaga and Keyunta Dawson could fit at defensive tackle. In the secondary realistic choices would be James Sanders and Sherrod Martin at cornerback as well as Dimitir Patterson and David Bruton at safety.
This is a hard franchise to prognosticate given all the possible changes. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the general manager, head coach and most of his staff, starting quarterback and back-up quarterback could all be gone this offseason. It’s no foregone conclusion that any part of this team will return in 2013. That being said, even if Sanchez is retained because of his cap hit, he may not go into next season as the starter. Rumors have started to swirl about Michael Vick. I think Matt Flynn would be a better fit here, but once again, it all depends on who ends up making the decisions.
LaDanian Tomlinson’s retirement left a hole in this offense that Joe McKnight has been unable to fill at the same level. To be fair, even on his last legs, there have been few backs like Tomlinson in the history of the NFL. Rashad Jennings is an interesting option on the market. Reggie Bush’s contract with the Dolphins is also set to expire.
Since Santonio Holmes went down the wideout group has been quite unproductive. Given the quarterback situation is less than ideal but the lack of experience at wide receiver did little to help. The Jets could keep Domenik Hixon in New Jersey but with a different uniform or take a chance on the potential of Kevin Ogletree.
It’s unlikely the team will be able to re-sign both Yeremiah Bell and LaRon Landry so a replacement will be needed at safety. Shawntae Spencer or Antoine Cason are possibilities. At outside linebacker, that need could be addressed by taking LSU’s Sam Montgomery.
Carson Palmer has been a decent option for the Raiders at quarterback but that time is coming to a close. The team needs a viable backup now and an option for the future as well. The Raiders could kill two birds with one stone by acquiring Matt Flynn from Seattle. At guard Doug Legursky or Deuce Lutui could work well.
Defensively the need at tackle could be addressed by drafting Star Lotulelei out of Utah. Quentin Groves or Ashlee Palmer would be decent choices at inside linebacker. The Raiders should be one of the teams competing for the services of Aqib Talib or Tracy Porter at cornerback.
Just like with the Chiefs and Jets, massive changes could be coming here. One of the biggest could be moving quarterback Michael Vick. This franchise needs to make a decision on not only Vick but also current starter Nick Foles quickly. If the possibly new regime decides Foles is the answer then so be it, but if not then options in the free agent market are not plentiful. Getting Joe Flacco to leave Baltimore would be a difficult sell. It’s possible Philadelphia could draft a quarterback.
No matter who is behind center, the need for an upgrade at offensive tackle is pressing. Texas A&M’s offensive tackle Luke Joeckel would be a great pick for the Eagles. Bryan Scott and Erik Walden would be viable options for the Eagles at outside linebacker. Re-signing Dominique Rogers-Cromartie should be a priority along with bringing in a safety like Dashon Goldson.
Questions abound again about whether or not Norv Turner will see another season in San Diego. There are few better options available so he might be retained just for that reason. Upgrades are necessary along the offensive line if this team is going to return to contention in the AFC. Drafting Michigan’s offensive tackle Taylor Lewan would be a quick fix at tackle. At guard, re-signing Tyronne Green or Louis Vasquez could work for the Chargers.
Defensively the need for a tackle trumps all others. Look for the Chargers to make a play for Randy Starks or try to make Glenn Dorsey a better fit in a 4-3. At inside linebacker the Chargers’ targest should include Daryl Smith and Connor Barwin. Corner options for the Chargers are most likely Brent Grimes and Pat Chung.
Offensively this team is closer than some of the numbers suggest. A solid right tackle and a dynamic tight end could make this offense legitimate. Max Starks or Ryan Harris added at right tackle and Martellus Bennett or Dustin Keller could complete this side of the ball in Tampa Bay.
Defensively some depth on the defensive line will help. Shaun Rogers or Jason Jones could provide that. At inside linebacker Ramon Humber or Will Witherspoon could give the Bucs a starting option. This team’s draft pick would best be spent on Mississippi State’s cornerback Jonathan Banks to fill the void left by trading Aqib Talib midseason.
The contract situation with Chris Johnson makes running back an area of concern for the Titans. There is some depth here but if Johnson for some reason does depart, there would be a lot of question marks. I think the Titans will act proactively here. Bringing in a back like Khalil Bell or Danny Woodhead would help address this concern. At guard the Titans may simply just re-sign Kevin Matthews. Tight end could be an area where Tennessee pursues the top candidates hotly. If they don’t re-sign Jared Cook, look for them to be one of the teams pursuing Martellus Bennett.
Florida State’s Bjoern Werner would be an immediate fix at defensive end and not a reach at number six overall. As one of the many teams that have a need at inside linebacker look for the Titans to go after whom they can get and make offers to Larry Foote or Tavares Gooden.
Five more teams will be added to this list in the coming two weeks, as only 12 of the other 17 teams in the league can make the playoffs. I’ll keep it updated as the season comes to a close and the playoffs progress.