Overhaul needed: Five teams with completely new looks at a position
There's some roster revamping to be done on every team every offseason in the NFL, but some teams take it to extremes at positions of need, rounding up the usual suspects and firing them all (or most of them). Here are the five teams that dramatically reconstructed themselves at one particular position, hopefully transforming their depth chart's weak link into a strength:
The Problem: The Bucs passing defense was all kinds of atrocious, getting torched for more yards than any team in the league in 2012 (297 per game) in addition to surrendering 69 completions of at least 20 yards, a 93.5 passer rating and a 65.4 completion percentage. The 30 touchdown passes allowed by Tampa Bay ranked fifth most in the NFL.
Subtracted: Cornerback Ronde Barber retired; cornerback E.J. Biggers signed with Washington in free agency.
The Upshot on the Upgrade: It's hard to imagine how the Bucs could have been more aggressive or successful in addressing their top liability than the trifecta they executed this spring, trading for the game's top cornerback in Revis (albeit in the midst of an ACL rehabilitation), signing one of the best young safeties in Goldson to a free-agent mega-deal, and landing Banks, college football's Jim Thorpe award winner (which goes to the nation's top defensive back) in the second round.
With no Barber, no Biggers and no Aqib Talib (the talented but troubled cornerback dealt to New England last October), the Bucs secondary has been almost completely remade in a span of about seven months. The safety duo of Goldson and 2011 first-round pick Mark Barron is now one of the league's most promising, and if Revis Island returns, the peninsula of Tampa Bay is remarkably better at cornerback with the ex-Jet, Banks, as well as holdover Eric Wright.
The Problem: You've got to be able to both throw and catch the rock to score in today's NFL, and Miami didn't do nearly enough of that last season, finishing 27th in points (18 per game) and 26th in passing (199 yards per game). The Dolphins' measly 13 touchdown passes ranked last in the AFC East, with even the dysfunctional and QB-challenged New York Jets having more.
The Upshot on the Upgrade: We don't want to jinx the Dolphins and call them the clear-cut 2013 NFL offseason champions, but nobody went bigger and bolder in March and April than Miami, which is in whatever comes after must-win-now mode on the urgency scale. In terms of makeovers, nothing got the Dolphins' attention more than their receiving game, because rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill seemed virtually weapon-less at times in 2012, with only receiver Brian Hartline posing any kind of problem for a defense.
The Dolphins wisely retained the dependable Hartline by re-signing him before free agency opened, and then they anted up to fill out the rest of their four-wide formation with Wallace, Gibson and Keller giving Miami's passing game a whole new threat level. Miami was forced to overpay the ex-Steeler Wallace to coax him to town, but his deep speed should force opposing secondaries to respect the Miami long game, and open up plenty of space underneath for Gibson, Hartline and Keller to do their damage.
The Problem: The most gruesome train wreck of the NFL's 2012 season was easily the collective efforts of the four hapless souls the Cardinals started at quarterback: Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer. Arizona somehow started 4-0, but finished 5-11, ranking last in average gain per pass attempt (5.6), interceptions (21), sacks (58), and passing rating (63.1). The Cardinals were 31st in touchdown passes (11) and total points (250).
Subtracted: Released Kevin Kolb, John Skelton and Brian Hoyer.
The Upshot on the Upgrade: Absolutely nothing could be worse than what Cardinals fans were subjected to at the game's most pivotal position last season, so Palmer could go down in a ball of flames and Stanton decide to throw left-handed and it would still represent a quarterbacking upgrade under first-year head coach Bruce Arians. Granted, getting the dead-last-ranked running game on the rebound and the sieve-like offensive line patched up will help any quarterback look and play better. But for Arizona, being competitive in the suddenly glamorous NFC West starts with getting some professional results at quarterback. The Cardinals' Kurt Warner era must seem further away all the time.
The Problem: Inside linebacker Ray Lewis retired, inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe signed with Miami in free agency, and outside linebacker Paul Kruger signed with Cleveland in free agency. But hey, you always pay a price for winning big. At least the Ravens got their money's worth out of that veteran threesome, claiming an unexpected Super Bowl victory as the AFC's No. 4 seed last season. The issue is that when you're a 3-4 defense, losing three starting linebackers in a matter of weeks tends to be noticeable.
Subtracted: Lewis retired after 17 seasons as a franchise icon; Ellerbe and Kruger left via free agency for AFC playoff wannabes in Miami and Cleveland, respectively. And McClain retired, just weeks after the Ravens gave his bust-like NFL career a second chance.
The Upshot on the Upgrade: Remember that crazy, hazy first week of free agency, when so many folks were gathered around, taking turns throwing dirt on Baltimore's decimated defense? No Lewis, Ellerbe or Kruger meant no chance for the Ravens in 2013, went the basic storyline. But then Baltimore got a break via a tardy fax machine in adding Elvis Dumervil in free agency, and doubled down by drafting talented Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown in the second round. Even with Rolando McClain's cameo on the Baltimore roster, the Ravens are still confident that the contingent of Terrell Suggs, Dumervil, Courtney Upshaw, Brown and the rehabilitating Jameel McClain (spinal cord contusion) will form the nucleus of a productive linebacking corps this season.
The Problem: The Patriots basically blew up their receiving depth chart this offseason, an admission that even with Tom Brady pulling the trigger, the team's passing attack still hasn't been able to match the vertical and deep game it featured when Randy Moss was running go routes in Foxboro. New England swapped Danny Amendola in for Wes Welker at slot receiver, but said goodbye to Brandon Lloyd after his one low-impact season in Patriots colors. The goal is to find a mix of pass catchers who can threaten every quadrant of the field, not just within 20 yards of the line of scrimmage.
Subtracted: Wes Welker signed with Denver in free agency, and the Patriots released Brandon Lloyd. Deion Branch and Donte' Stallworth were not re-signed.
The Upshot on the Upgrade: There is turnover, and then there is what the Patriots have done at receiver this offseason. Of the whopping 12 receivers currently on the New England roster, the only one with any real pass-catching experience in New England (not counting special-teamer Matthew Slater) is the recently re-signed Julian Edelman, who is coming off a broken foot that shortened his 2012 season to just nine games. As Bill Belichick himself put it recently, it's "a re-do'' at the position. The hope is that Dobson provides a stretch-the-field outside threat and that Boyce is a reliable intermediate threat to help keep the chains moving. The small glut of veteran receivers like Jenkins, Jones, and Hawkins were brought in with the intention of creating plenty of competition and giving New England some proven pass catchers to fill out the depth chart.