Offseason road maps (cont.)
Team Needs: QB, RT, DE. The buzz in Miami is that owner Stephen Ross wants Peyton Manning if he is set free and healthy. New coach Joe Philbin would be happy to sign expected free agent Matt Flynn, his backup QB in Green Bay. Either would be a major upgrade at the Dolphins' greatest need and, if neither works out, the team could try to trade up to draft RGIII or pick Ryan Tannehill from Texas A&M. An upgrade on the right side of the O-line is required, particularly at RT where Iowa's Riley Reiff would be a great first round pick to replace Marc Colombo. The defensive end positions also will be targeted for upgrades via draft and free agency, as will the free safety spot.
Team Needs: WR, OT, DB. Last year's No. 1 pick Christian Ponder must make a big leap in Year 2. He needs a big-time wide receiver, better pass protection from his O-line and a healthy Adrian Peterson, coming off left knee reconstructive surgery. With the No. 3 pick in first round, the Vikings likely will choose between USC tackle Matt Kalil and Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon, and look to free agency and later draft rounds to shore up the other spot (they could draft Kalil and then raid K.C. -- as they did when they acquired Jared Allen in 2008 -- for free agent WR Dwayne Bowe). Despite 50 sacks, the Vikings pass defense was awful, allowing 34 TD passes with only eight interceptions.
Team Needs: CB, DE, WR. Their Super Bowl run proved once again that the Patriots are superbly coached by Bill Belichick and have a great QB in Tom Brady, which allowed them to overcome some personnel deficiencies. The team's biggest problem area is the secondary, where the Patriots had to use wide receiver Julian Edelman late in the season. Their No. 31-ranked pass defense is somewhat misleading, as teams had to throw on the Pats once they fell behind. But the Patriots could not match up for 60 minutes with Eli Manning and his trio of wide receivers, so look for them to draft -- or sign in free agency --corners and another pass rusher. The Pats need to re-sign or, more likely will franchise, free-agent-to-be WR Wes Welker and then add another impact wide receiver or two, while bidding farewell to Chad Ochocinco and perhaps Deion Branch. And the rich get richer -- the Patriots have two first-round picks (No. 27, which they acquired from the Saints last year, and No. 31) with which to add talent.
Team Needs: DE, LB, OT. The first priority is to sign QB Drew Brees to a long-term deal in the Tom Brady/Peyton Manning neighborhood or, if necessary, put the franchise tag on him. They will also look to find a way to bring back All-Pro guard Carl Nicks and Marques Colston, one of Brees' favorite targets. That covers the league's top-ranked offense. The problems are on defense, where the Saints lack a dominant edge rusher. New defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo relies on pressure from the front four, so if Houston doesn't franchise Mario Williams, the Saints could take a run at him (the Cards' Calais Campbell and Colts' Robert Mathis may also be on their radar). Or they'll have to look to later rounds in the draft for DE help, since their first round pick was traded last year in the move up to get Mark Ingram.
Team Needs: LB, RB, OL. It's hard to nitpick the champs, but there are reasons why the Giants were 7-7 before they started their epic run. Eli and the passing game are outstanding, but the running game ranked last during the regular season (Brandon Jacobs, with his $4.9 million due next year, will likely be released). The Giants also could add some young muscle to the O-line. They'll need to replace Super Bowl hero WR Mario Manningham if he leaves in free agency. The defense ranked 27th in regular season but came on late. Help will be sought at linebacker and in the secondary, but the corner position will improve as 2011 top pick Prince Amukamara takes on a bigger role (a foot injury limited him earlier in the year) and Terrell Thomas returns from his preseason ACL injury.
Team Needs: WR, RB, S. The Jets unraveled with three straight losses to end the season, and Rex Ryan needs to clean up the locker room disharmony. Mark Sanchez was a focal point of that discord, and new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano is charged with getting Sanchez back on track after a season with 18 interceptions. Unless Peyton joins the Jets (doubt that would be his team of choice if free), it's Sanchez's team, and the Jets will try to find a young, speed receiver via the draft or free agency to help him. LaDainian Tomlinson is probably done in New York, so the Jets will add a young RB to compete with Shonn Greene and aid the 22nd-ranked rushing attack. The defense ranked fifth and is solid, but the Jets may draft a bigger safety.
Team Needs: MLB, OLB, CB. No first-rounder for the Raiders due to the Carson Palmer trade, so Palmer better step up his game in 2012 to justify the steep price. Palmer went 4-5 as a starter for the 8-8 Raiders, and he threw 16 interceptions. He will be helped by the return of Darren McFadden, who missed the last half of the season with a foot injury after rushing for 614 yards and a 5.4 yard average. The offense was ninth overall, so new coach Dennis Allen will focus on improving the 29th-ranked defense, starting with the run (league-worst 5.1 yards per carry allowed). Middle linebacker and outside linebacker will be a focus in free agency (Curtis Lofton or Stephen Tulloch possible) and in mid to late draft rounds. The Raiders also will seek help for the secondary (31 TD passes allowed). A free agent WR signing is likely, too (Cal's DeSean Jackson back to the Bay Area?). Allen also will work on reducing penalties -- the Raiders had 163 for 1,358 yards, both NFL records.
Team Needs: MLB, WR, SLB. Four straight wins to end the season was more like the team everyone expected after their flurry of free agent signings. The first concern is to vastly improve the -14 turnover ratio. That starts with QB Mike Vick, who needs to stay healthy and protect the ball better. The Eagles' biggest needs are at middle linebacker and strong side linebacker, and Curtis Lofton of Atlanta would be a good free agent addition. At WR, it's time to say goodbye to me-first DeSean Jackson and sign Dwayne Bowe, Marques Colston or Vincent Jackson in free agency. Andy Reid needs to get back to the playoffs or it's probably time for a change. He'll need the Eagles refocused from day one to avoid the poor start that doomed them in 2011.
Team Needs: OL, DT, CB. The offensive line needs to better protect QB Ben Roethlisberger. Other major concerns are age and injuries that are taking a toll on a defense that was top-ranked in the regular season but watched Tim Tebow and the Broncos gash them in the wild card round. The Steelers need to acquire nose tackles with Chris Hoke retiring and Casey Hampton coming off ACL surgery at 34. Defensive end depth is also needed. The starting secondary has age issues, so this will be a draft priority. Limiting the team are cap issues that could impact older, high salary players like Hines Ward.
Team Needs: OT, WR, CB. Coach Jeff Fisher and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer must get QB Sam Bradford back on track toward stardom after an injury-plagued and sub-par 2011 season. If they're going to keep Bradford healthy, the Rams need a much improved offensive line starting with the tackle spots. If the Rams trade down from the No. 2 to No. 4 spot in the first round, they may take WR Justin Blackmon (they'd probably prefer T Matt Kalil, but the Vikings will grab him). The Rams also have the cap room to go after a big-time WR in free agency and Dwayne Bowe, Marques Colston or Vincent Jackson would be a nice fit. The secondary and especially the corner spots will be a target and the No. 31 run defense must be improved. A better No. 2 QB than A.J. Feeley or Kellen Clemens also is needed.
Team Needs: OL, DL, WR. Coach Norv Turner and GM A.J. Smith barely survived an 8-8 season and to make it past 2012, they will need QB Philip Rivers to be more consistent and cut down on his 20 interceptions, which cost the Chargers during their six-game midseason losing streak. The team will try to upgrade both the offensive and defensive lines. Turner is counting on new defensive coordinator John Pagano to get more production out of the unit. The D-line needs to add players who can rush the passer and get better play from 2011 top pick DE Corey Liuget. It seems like Vincent Jackson has contract issues every year, and now he is headed for free agency. If he leaves, the Chargers need to draft or sign his replacement.
Team Needs: WR, KR, DB. The 49ers were oh-so-close to being Super Bowl team in 2011. QB Alex Smith showed enough to be deserving of a new deal. The 49ers also need to upgrade their wide receiver corps. Michael Crabtree has talent, but his disappearing act in the playoffs is a concern. The return of former starter Josh Morgan from a broken ankle will help, and a high draft pick at WR seems likely. Punt returner is an obvious need with Ted Ginn a free agent and Kyle Williams coming off his two-fumble disaster against the Giants. Defense is stout in the front seven but the secondary could be upgraded after giving up 778 yards to Brees and Manning in the playoffs. However, it would be smart to re-sign CB Carlos Rogers and S Dashon Goldson after their fine seasons.
Team Needs: QB, T, DE. The Seahawks want to find a potential elite QB to replace Tarvaris Jackson, but they're in a tough spot. Picking at 11 or 12 in the first round, it's too far to trade up for one of the top two. Perhaps they can get a shot at Ryan Tannehill, the third-ranked QB. In free agency, they would have interest in Matt Flynn, but Miami (with Joe Philbin) has a leg up unless the Dolphins can sign Peyton. The Seahawks also must improve their pass protection after giving up 50 sacks, so they will draft offensive linemen in the early rounds. A better possibility in the first round is a pass-rushing DE to play opposite Chris Clemons (such as Melvin Ingram of South Carolina or perhaps a trade up for Quinton Coples). The Seahawks also should seek a vet WR from the strong free agent class. And they may have to franchise Marshawn Lynch after his strong season (1,204 rushing yards, 12 TDs).
Team Needs: WR, RB, CB, LB. Bucs were a mess in 2011, falling from 10-6 to 4-12. New coach Greg Schiano needs to instill discipline and get QB Josh Freeman back on track. Freeman needs better WRs, and perhaps Schiano can get DeSean Jackson under control if he is let go by the Eagles. The Bucs' 30th-ranked rushing attack could use an upgrade at RB. CB Ronde Barber, at 36, could be replaced by Morris Claiborne of LSU, one of the top corners in the draft, when the Bucs select fifth overall. Then Aqib Talib needs to return to form and Tampa would have a formidable pair of corners. Last in the NFL against the rush, the Bucs will look for linebacker help and need a healthy return from a biceps injury by DT Gerald McCoy.
Team Needs: DE, OG, DB. Can Matt Hasselbeck hold off 2011 No. 1 pick Jake Locker as the starting QB? We know it takes an elite QB to win big, and while Hasselbeck had a solid season, Locker has the better chance to eventually take the Titans to the top. The interior O-line needs to be bolstered to help Chris Johnson. Offensively, the Titans will continue to get emerging TE Jared Cook more involved. The Titans have major potential free agents in the secondary with CB Cortland Finnegan and S Michael Griffin. Don't expect them to meet Finnegan's lofty demands, but they likely will franchise Griffin, then look for more secondary help. The pass rush must improve, so DE Derrick Morgan needs to step up. A high draft pick is a possibility here.
Team Needs: QB, WR, DB. The Redskins beat the Giants twice, but still finished 5-11 mostly due to their erratic QB play. Rex Grossman and John Beck threw 24 interceptions for an offense that averaged just 18 points per game. The team may get in the Peyton derby if he's released, or chase Matt Flynn, who would probably prefer Miami. They probably won't be able to jump up from the draft's No. 6 spot to No. 2 to select RGIII, so they could settle for Ryan Tannehill. One way or another, they've got to have a new QB and then address WR, where they need youth and speed (DeSean Jackson fits that bill). The secondary can use some help, especially with S LaRon Landry coming off two injury-hampered seasons and headed for free agency. The Redskins will likely re-sign LB London Fletcher, a marvel at 36.
Jeff Diamond is the former VP/GM of the Minnesota Vikings, former president of the Tennessee Titans and was selected NFL Executive of the Year in 1998. He currently does sports and business consulting along with media work.
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