Last week, we started with a look at the NFC East, and will continue a look at what teams might be looking to address in free agency as they move toward the draft with the ever-awesome AFC West. If you’re into the draft, here’s Mock 5.0.
Team Needs: Quarterback, Safety, Running Back, Cornerback, Tight End
Key Free Agents: DT Broderick Bunkley, S Brian Dawkins, DT Marcus Thomas, LB Wesley Woodyard, K Matt Prater
Yes, I’m listing quarterback as a need. First, you look at the numbers from a distance, and you would conclude that, despite winning a division and qualifying for the postseason, this team needs a major upgrade in the passing game. Even with the team committing to Tebow, they need other quarterbacks. Orton was released, Brady Quinn is an unrestricted free agent, and the team will need to bring other quarterbacks in this offseason. And then everyone will freak out when they do.
The Eric Decker injury also raises wide receiver as a potential spot to add depth (Eddie Royal is a free agent as well) and though Demaryius Thomas emerged, they could add there. Tight End would be an even bigger need, though there is likely not a major pass catcher available.
Meanwhile, on defense, the Broncos are going to sign the two tackles that are free agents, Bunkley and Thomas. The secondary needs youth, and Brian Dawkins may retire (or go elsewhere). Bailey and Goodman are both 33 at cornerback. If I’m projecting this team early, I’m thinking secondary is the biggest area to infuse younger players.
Team Needs: Defensive line (pass rushers), Cornerback, right side of Offensive Line
Key Free Agents: S Tyvon Branch, RB Michael Bush, QB Jason Campbell, OG/C Samson Satele, RT Khalif Barnes
Oakland doesn’t have many draft picks thanks to various trades, so they are going to need to be active in free agency. They ranked dead last in terms of yards per carry on defense, so much of the focus will be in shoring up areas on that side of the ball.
The release of Stanford Routt opens up a spot at cornerback, and the team must figure out what to do with Tyvon Branch. This team lacks a true #1 receiver right now, but I don’t think that they have the luxury of addressing it, and must hope that Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford stay healthy and make a big leap in years two and three, respectively, delegating Heyward-Bey to a lesser role.
Meanwhile, other teams in need of a running back will be salivating to sign Michael Bush, but with Darren McFadden’s injury history, Oakland may do everything they can to keep him.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
Team Needs: Pass rushers, Offensive Line, depth at RB and WR, Norv Turner replacement
Key Free Agents: WR Vincent Jackson, RB Mike Tolbert, C Nick Hardwick, OT Jared Gaither, NT Antonio Garay, S Steve Gregory
Does it seem like Vincent Jackson has been in contract squabbles with the Chargers for like five years? Well, they probably aren’t going to franchise him again, as the amount shoots up, so they have to decide if they want to pay him. His absence would open a need to at least bring someone in to challenge for a starting spot.
The biggest need, though, is to get more consistent pass rush (Antwan Barnes had 11 sacks, no one else over 4), and to address the offensive line issues that were so noticeable by season’s end. The team is expected to cut Marcus McNeill, who missed 7 games. Jared Gaither is a free agent, and came in to start at season’s end after being released by KC. Nick Hardwick is 30 years old. The team has some key questions to address at offensive line and I expect them to look there in free agency as well as the middle of the draft, if not earlier.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Team Needs: Quarterback, Defensive Line, Offensive Tackle, Tight End/Wide Receiver, Center
Key Free Agents: CB Brandon Carr, WR Dwayne Bowe, QB Kyle Orton, NT Kelly Gregg, C Casey Wiegmann, RT Barry Richardson
Both the offense and defense had key injuries early in 2011, but while the defense still played reasonably well despite some obvious flaws, the offense was horrific. The quarterback position needs to be addressed, whether it is sign Kyle Orton, retain Matt Cassel, or pursue someone else.
The right tackle position is a hole, and Richardson will be gone. Branden Albert is a solid left tackle, though he could flourish on the right side if the team had a different option–probably not going to happen this year, though, and the best bet is to find a Richardson replacement. Casey Wiegmann is likely to retire, and that would leave Jon Asamoah, Rodney Hudson, and Ryan Lilja to compete at the inside offensive line positions. The team could look to a veteran center elsewhere and have Hudson compete for a job at guard.
Dwayne Bowe is one of a deep class of wide receiver free agents, and the Chiefs will either need to sign him, or replace him with another option. Jon Baldwin will enter his second year, but I don’t think they can go into the season with Baldwin as option #1. Brandon Carr is getting positive reviews as he enters free agency, and the Chiefs may be out of the market if the price gets too high. They’ve been talking to Stanford Routt this week and could go a different route.
Meanwhile, assuming Eric Berry comes back healthy, the main glaring need on defense is interior defensive line. Kelly Gregg is old and was on a one year deal, while Tyson Jackson is imminently replaceable.
[photos via Getty and U.S. Presswire]