Evan Silva

Offseason Low Down

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2018 NFL Team Needs

Monday, February 5, 2018

With the 2017 season officially in the books, expect NFL news to pick up soon in the form of veteran releases and eventually franchise tags. The two-week window for teams to tag free agents begins on Tuesday, February 20. The pre-free agency “legal tampering period” begins on March 12, and the free-agent market opens on March 14.

Here is a link to this year’s NFL Free Agents, sorted by position.

And this is my breakdown of each NFL team’s three biggest offseason needs.

Arizona Cardinals

Quarterback: Carson Palmer retired after his 15th season. Backups Drew Stanton, Blaine Gabbert, and Matt Barkley are all free agents, leaving Arizona without a single quarterback under contract for 2018. The Cards will revamp their quarterback room under new OC Mike McCoy, who promises to mold his scheme to fit player strengths and has done so in past stops with Tim Tebow’s Broncos and Philip Rivers’ Chargers.

Offensive Line: Arizona yielded the NFL’s third-most quarterback hits in 2016 (127), then allowed the second most in 2017 (123). 2015 first-round LT D.J. Humphries has been an injury-riddled disappointment, and RT Jared Veldheer struggled in his conversion to right tackle. LG Mike Iupati is a release candidate after missing 15 games due to elbow surgery. C A.Q. Shipley and RG Evan Boehm were both 2017 liabilities. Carolina’s Andrew Norwell is the top free agent guard on the market, and the Cardinals may have an “in” with Norwell after hiring ex-Panthers assistant Steve Wilks as head coach.

Defensive Back: The Cardinals are entering a near-full rebuild and could use additional help at receiver, tight end, and inside linebacker. Defensive line and off-ball linebacker could further become needs if Wilks changes schemes from James Bettcher’s 3-4 to his traditional 4-3. Secondary remains most pressing; cornerback opposite Patrick Peterson has been problematic for years, while CB Tramon Williams, SS Tyvon Branch, and CB Justin Bethel all have expiring deals. A secondary coach by trade, Wilks does come from a zone-coverage background that deemphasizes top-shelf defensive back traits. Still, the Cardinals would be foolish to scrap man coverage with Peterson as the cornerstone of their defense.

Atlanta Falcons

Defensive Line: D-Line linchpin Grady Jarrett is entering the final year of his deal, while RE Adrian Clayborn and NT Dontari Poe are both headed to free agency. Depth pieces Courtney Upshaw and Ahtyba Rubin’s contracts are also up. With Vic Beasley converting from linebacker to end, the Falcons’ biggest defensive line need is on the interior next to and behind Jarrett.

Wide Receiver: The Falcons’ starting wideouts remain a strength after Julio Jones finished second in the league in receiving yards (1,444) and Mohamed Sanu set a career high in catches (67). Today’s NFL is a three-receiver league, however, and Atlanta lacks depth with Taylor Gabriel headed to free agency. Ideally, the Falcons would find a deep-threat complement to Julio. Sanu plays 65% of his snaps in the slot. Current No. 3 Justin Hardy has shown a pedestrian skill set through three seasons.

Offensive Guard: Depth at cornerback and linebacker warrant honorable mentions for Atlanta’s No. 3 need. Still, the roster is in good enough shape that we may see the Falcons use a second- or third-day pick on a developmental quarterback, especially with Matt Ryan entering his contract year. The interior O-Line should still be prioritized after first-year starter Wes Schweitzer struggled at right guard and Ben Garland got blown up in pass protection following LG Andy Levitre’s late-season triceps tear. Atlanta can save $7 million in cap room by cutting Levitre. C Alex Mack is entering his age-33 season.

Baltimore Ravens

Wide Receiver: 2017 top receiver Mike Wallace’s contract is up going on age 32, Jeremy Maclin is once again a release candidate after a miserable debut in Baltimore, and 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman is a probable draft bust. Wideout is a longstanding Ravens weakness, and this is the neediest Ozzie Newsome’s club has been at the position in years.

Offensive Line: The Ravens get back RG Marshal Yanda (ankle) and LG Alex Lewis (shoulder) from year-ruining injuries, but Yanda is going on age 34, has a $10.1 million cap number, and may be breaking down due to the cumulative effect of injuries. C Ryan Jensen will be a hot commodity in free agency, while RT Austin Howard was a free-agent bust to the extent beat writers think he could get cut. Lewis and LT Ronnie Stanley are Baltimore’s only two certified building blocks up front. The Ravens clearly want to play more power offense and will likely focus on plus run blockers in the draft.

Tight End: Quarterback should also be mentioned; 33-year-old Joe Flacco’s yards per attempt have dipped steadily for four years (7.2 > 6.8 > 6.4 > 5.7), and Baltimore’s only other signal caller under contract for 2018 is practice squad-type Josh Woodrum. In all likelihood, however, the Ravens are stuck with Flacco for at least two more seasons and will focus on surrounding him with as much talent as possible. With 37-year-old Ben Watson’s contract up, the Ravens are left with molasses-slow Nick Boyle and injury-plagued 2015 second-round disappointment Maxx Williams atop their tight end depth chart.

Buffalo Bills

Quarterback: The Bills were never interested in seeing Tyrod Taylor succeed, ridding the roster of pass catchers who suited Taylor’s limited skill set and replacing them with players who couldn’t get open. Per Next Gen Stats, no wideout corps in the NFL created less separation than Buffalo’s. Taylor was later confusingly benched for fifth-round rookie Nathan Peterman after a game in which coach Sean McDermott’s defense got humiliated for 298 rushing yards and six rushing TDs by the Saints. Either way, Taylor is almost certainly leaving town, and Peterman has shown no signs of becoming the Bills’ answer.

Defensive Front Seven: I cheated here to include two position groups, both massively deficient. Up front, Marcell Dareus is long gone and 35-year-old stalwart DT Kyle Williams is a free agent. 2016 first-round DE Shaq Lawson has shown minimal promise as a pass rusher; the 2017 Bills finished 30th in sacks (27). MLB Preston Brown, SLB Ramon Humber, and WLB Matt Milano were the Bills’ main three 2017 linebackers, and the first two are free agents. This front seven is headed for an overhaul.

Wide Receiver: Despite a rare playoff berth, the Bills are one of the neediest teams in the league. Arguably 2017’s biggest overachiever, Buffalo won 6-of-9 games by one score and finished 4-6 after a surprise 5-2 start. The Bills could also use a young back to groom behind 30-year-old workhorse LeSean McCoy, competition for C Ryan Groy, RG Vlad Ducasse, and RT Jordan Mills, and potentially two new cornerback starters with RCB E.J. Gaines and slot CB Leonard Johnson unsigned. Adding wideout talent must remain a priority despite Buffalo’s 2017 acquisitions of separation-lacking Kelvin Benjamin and historically inefficient rookie Zay Jones. Jordan Matthews and Deonte Thompson are free agents.

Carolina Panthers

Wide Receiver: 2017 second-round pick Curtis Samuel flashed enough in limited opportunities to have an inside track on Carolina’s 2018 third receiver job, but he can’t be counted on as a surefire starter. Devin Funchess is entering his contract year, and the Panthers have next to nothing at wideout beyond that. Greg Olsen’s advancing age (33 in March) further solidifies pass catcher as a primary need. Under vertical-oriented new OC Norv Turner, the Panthers should emphasize adding a downfield threat.

Offensive Line: The Panthers’ line struggled in both 2016 and 2017 in part due to injuries but largely to sheer ineffectiveness. Ex-GM Dave Gettleman whiffed badly on his five-year, $55.5 million investment on LT Matt Kalil. Stud LG Andrew Norwell’s contract is up, and he will command top dollar atop an otherwise barren interior O-Line market. C Ryan Kalil announced 2018 will be his final season.

Defensive Line: Cornerback also warrants a mention after CBs James Bradberry and Daryl Worley’s underwhelming sophomore campaigns, and slot CB Captain Munnerlyn’s apparent late-season falling out with the coaching staff. Up front, the Panthers need to replace free agent DT Star Lotulelei, while DE Julius Peppers’ contract has expired after the 38-year-old led the team in sacks (11). Typically, Ron Rivera’s team has emphasized defensive line over secondary when deciding how to value assets.

Chicago Bears

Wide Receiver: Cameron Meredith’s (ACL) return will theoretically help, but the Bears can no longer operate as if Kevin White is a functional part of the roster. 2017 top receiver Kendall Wright’s contract is up. New coach Matt Nagy and OC Mark Helfrich are spread-offense advocates and will need to make use of more than two receivers. This position could be overhauled.

Cornerback: RCB Prince Amukamara, LCB Kyle Fuller, and slot CB Bryce Callahan formed one of 2017’s most underrated cornerback trios, but the first two are unrestricted free agents and the third is restricted. Coming off a breakout season at age 26, Fuller will be a high-priced commodity. Three-year, $16 million investment Marcus Cooper was among Pace’s cavalcade of 2017 free agent misses.

Linebacker: Depth on both lines was also considered here, in addition to a veteran backup for Mitchell Trubisky with Mike Glennon likely to be cut. The Bears’ linebacker corps is tougher to sort out with OLB Pernell McPhee, ILB Jerrell Freeman, and ILB Danny Trevathan on bloated contracts and suspect depth on the edge. Keeping its pass-rush corps intact should be a priority for Chicago.

Cincinnati Bengals

Offensive Line: Aside from LG Clint Boling, it’s pick a spot, any spot for Bengals offensive line areas in need of upgrading. Letting go of LT Andrew Whitworth and RG Kevin Zeitler in 2017 free agency was an all-too-predictable disaster, as Cincinnati’s colossal downturn in offensive line play effectively torpedoed both the run and pass offenses.

Quarterback: Andy Dalton has continued to show he is only as good as the personnel around him, and Dalton too often recently has dragged them down. In salary cap terms, the Bengals could easily cut Dalton in any of the next three years. The Bengals have given no indications they view A.J. McCarron as the future, even agreeing to an ultimately failed trade to send McCarron to the division-rival Browns last Halloween.

Defensive Front Seven: One more need comes to mind: Tight end with Tyler Eifert’s contract up. There are multiple front-seven areas worth upgrading on the interior defensive line and both linebacker positions alongside WLB Vontaze Burfict, who he himself has missed 28 games over the past four years due to injuries and suspensions.

Cleveland Browns

Quarterback: Errant and indecisive, DeShone Kizer put few promising moments on 2017 tape, and Cleveland’s quarterback room regrettably lacked a veteran presence after coach Hue Jackson tried to convince Josh McCown to retire and become a coach. Beginning with the No. 1 overall pick, a makeover of the Browns’ quarterback depth chart seems imminent under new GM John Dorsey.

Wide Receiver: The Browns are brimming with pass-catcher potential in Josh Gordon, Corey Coleman, and David Njoku, but production is lacking. Albeit due mostly to horrendous injury luck, Coleman has only 718 yards through two seasons. Gordon seems on the right track, but Cleveland can’t rely on him. Njoku is coming off an inconsistent, underutilized rookie year. Perhaps they only need one more player, but the Browns have to secure a pass-catcher upgrade, ideally at wide receiver.

Defensive Back: Running back with Isaiah Crowell’s contract up, left tackle if Joe Thomas retires, and outside pass rusher opposite Myles Garrett also qualify as arguable or potential needs. DC Gregg Williams complained about his personnel late in the season, saying he didn’t have good enough corners to play man coverage after using box-safety Jabrill Peppers as the deepest free safety in the league. In mock drafts, the Browns have been heavily linked to versatile Alabama S/CB Minkah Fitzpatrick.

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Evan Silva is a senior football editor for He can be found on Twitter .
Email :Evan Silva

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