We can now change the dates on our NFL-sanctioned checkbooks to 2012. The Super Bowl is over, and the time for celebrating and partying after a loss is done. Time to begin focusing on the next season. We’ll start with the Super Bowl Champions and their division, and work our way through the rest of the league over the next few weeks.
NEW YORK GIANTS:
Team Needs: Tight End, Depth and Youth at Offensive Line, Middle Linebacker and Safety
Key Free Agents: CB Aaron Ross, CB Terrell Thomas, MLB Jonathan Goff, RT Kareem McKenzie, WR Mario Manningham
McKenzie is likely gone at right tackle, and they can move Diehl to that spot with William Beatty at left tackle. With the exception of Beatty, even if McKenzie moves on, the line is aging, and they ranked last in yards per carry this year. I wouldn’t be surprised if they went offensive line in the first three rounds.
Of course, with both tight ends suffering knee injuries in the Super Bowl, that now becomes more of an area of need in the draft and free agency. It could also impact how they view Manningham and the need to resign him.
Terrell Thomas and Jonathan Goff, both projected starters who missed the season, are free agents. The Giants drafted Prince Amukamara in the first round last year, and with Ross and Thomas as potential free agents, need to make a decision there.
With success comes players wanting to get paid as well, and we’ve already heard from Jason Pierre-Paul on extending Umenyiora, who has a year left, and Victor Cruz wanting to get paid after his big season.
Team Needs: Cornerback and Safety, Interior Offensive Line, Linebacker
Key Free Agents: LB Anthony Spencer, LB Bradie James, WR Laurent Robinson, S Abram Elam, S Gerald Sensabaugh, G Montrae Holland
The Cowboys are likely to swap their tackles, with first round pick Tyron Smith moving to left tackle and Doug Free to right. The interior line has Kyle Kosier, who will be 34, Montrae Holland, a free agent, and Phil Costa, who is replaceable. I expect Dallas to be strong contenders for Carl Nicks, at a clear area of need, if the Saints do not franchise him.
The biggest free agent question is Anthony Spencer, and that will dictate whether they need to do anything at the position. Spencer was inconsistent at OLB in 2011, and Dallas may decide to look elsewhere, though the bigger secondary questions may leave them feeling its not an area they can focus on if they lose him. Bradie James is also a free agent at inside linebacker next to Sean Lee.
The primary focus in both the draft and free agency, though, should be the secondary. Terence Newman is expected to be released, and both starting safeties are free agents. Expect a lot of turnover on the back end in 2012. [ed. note: Gerald Sensabaugh signed a new deal in December]
Team Needs: Linebacker, Safety, Wide Receiver (if DeSean leaves), Cornerback
Key Free Agents: WR DeSean Jackson, G Evan Mathis
The Eagles are in pretty good shape entering the offseason, with a few key free agents and clearly defined needs. And this team had the best point differential in the division last year, and lost close games.
The big one is DeSean Jackson, who groused about his contract all year. The Eagles could franchise him, but do they want to? If they let him go, then that opens a hole opposite Jeremy Maclin that will need to be filled.
Evan Mathis is 30, right at the age when the Eagles used to start letting free agents walk. However, he provided stability in the interior, and as they showed last year, this organization may be changing to keep some key veterans.
Asante Samuel wants out, and if they do trade him, will need to address cornerback. Meanwhile, the most glaring needs were down the middle on defense at linebacker and safety. Nate Allen played better, but the other safety position needs to be addressed, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the attacked linebacker in both free agency and early in the draft.
Team Needs: Quarterback, Offensive Line, Safety, Wide Receiver
Key Free Agents: London Fletcher, S Laron Landry, QB Rex Grossman, DE Adam Carriker, TE Fred Davis, G Kory Lichtensteiger
The good news is that the Redskins were 2-0 against the Super Bowl champions. The bad news: they were 3-11 against the rest of the league. The John Beck/Rex Grossman experiment, pilloried by the public, failed. The Redskins will be one of the teams in the Peyton Manning sweepstakes, though with questions on the offensive line, would he consider them?
For the second year in a row, Trent Williams struggled with injuries, missing 6 games in 2011. The rest of the line had injuries (Lichtensteiger, the best interior lineman, only played in 5 games) and when those popped up, the offense struggled mightily. Washington would be another team in the Carl Nicks derby, and will be needing to add multiple players.
Laron Landry could be gone, opening a hole in the secondary. The ageless London Fletcher is a free agent as well.
Meanwhile, the other concern is at receiver, where the Redskins have squandered picks in recent years, and where Santana Moss and Jabar Gaffney are not young. Fred Davis had a breakout year, but then had the drug suspension that ended his season. He’s a free agent as well.
[photos via Getty]