My time spent in the front office of two NFL franchises gave me the knowledge and insight on how to build a team and maintain its structure. Having an eye on the future is necessary, too, which means strengthening the team through the yearly NFL draft and filling hot spots via free agency.
The free agency period begins today, March 11, and several teams have tagged their difference-makers with the franchise tag. (Carolina Panthers DE Greg Hardy, New Orleans Saints TE Jimmy Graham and Washington Redskins LB Brian Orakpo were the three highest-profile players on both sides of the ball.) While the 2014 NFL draft is slated for May 8-10, scouts are on the road attending spring workouts for the month of March and private workouts throughout April.
Each organization has different philosophies, viewpoints or values when going about its business during the offseason. The common denominator among all 32 teams, though: a needs list, which is the starting point for developing a game plan that doesn’t involve X’s & O’s and is directed strictly toward personnel.
Baltimore – WR, OT, OC, DB, CB
Firepower outside the numbers is what is needed in Baltimore to give a balanced attack on offense – and QB Joe Flacco more weapons. Defense, however, may tilt the scale in the way of need and best available player when time to pick.
Buffalo – DB, LB, TE, OT, DB, WR
While DB Jairus Byrd is seeking a long-term deal through free agency, the Bills already inked DB Aaron Williams to a contract extension. With a healthy EJ Manuel at the helm, a TE or slot receiver may push the Bills’ offense over the top and complement a solid defense.
Cincinnati – CB, WR, OLB, DB
Defense, defense, defense. The Bengals should take a page from the Seattle Seahawks and win with defense by filling holes at cornerback and safety positions early in the draft. Then Cincy should turn its focus to a big-play wide receiver who will complement A.J. Green on the other side.
Cleveland – QB, RB, OG, CB, DB
The old regime traded away Trent Richardson to the Colts and received their 2014 first-round pick. New GM Ray Farmer will pay close attention to detail in building his roster through free agency and the draft, and understands the Browns are not far from turning the “Factory of Sadness’ into a feared destination in the AFC North. Quarterback Brain Hoyer displayed his skill set and positional attributes prior to injury. Cleveland would be advised to move up to draft a QB, though, or add multiple players early and a QB later in the draft. The Browns need Blue players now.
Denver – OT, CB, DT, RB, ILB, OG
With the release of CB Champ Bailey, John and John (that’s Fox and Elway) will be looking to find a starter and build depth at the position. Protecting Peyton Manning and opening holes for the running game will be priority No. 2.
Houston – QB, DE, OT, ILB, DB, RB
The Texans’ 2014 tailspin was a direct reflection of the lack of leadership and playmaking ability from the quarterback position. In order to stop the freefall, the franchise has a very important decision coming in May: sit and pick or trade back. Which position is the highest graded on its board, defensive end or quarterback?
Indianapolis – DB, OG, WR, NT, CB
With DB Antoine Bethea testing free agency, the Colts’ needs list may have grown even more. A strong draft class at the receiver position, coupled with veteran WR Reggie Wayne’s continued rehab, will make for some interesting decisions in both free agency and the draft.
Jacksonville – QB, OT, CB, OG, WR
The Jags signed their “stopgap” quarterback, Chad Henne, to a two-year deal. Adding a young gun to groom, though, is vital. By agreeing to terms with UFA Red Bryant Jacksonville has ensured that DE is no longer a need.
Kansas City – WR, ILB, DE, CB
This draft is loaded with talent at the receiver position. Adding speed to complement Donnie Avery and Dwayne Bowe could be the direction the Chiefs, followed by a look toward the defensive front.
Miami – OT, WR, OG, RB , DT, DB, TE
With the Wells report now published – and neither Richie Incognito nor Jonathan Martin returning to the team – the Dolphins have glaring needs at both OT and OG.
New England – WR, NT, CB, OLB, OT, TE
While adding girth to the defensive line is important, acquiring receivers to surround Tom Brady will most likely be the directive.
NYJ – WR, CB, OG, DB, OLB, RB, OT
The Jets’ have released CB Antonio Cromartie, so expect them to find his replacement through free agency or the draft while adding receivers and interior linemen.
Oakland – QB, WR, OT, DE, DT
Will the Raiders’ brass wait on dual-threat QB Terrelle Pryor’s development or draft a quarterback? Their list of needs is long, with receiver at the top.
Pittsburgh – OT, DB, CB, WR
Despite Pro Bowl DB Troy Polamalu receiving a three-year, $20 million dollar extension recently, the Steelers will have to address his replacement sooner than later because of his mounting injury history. Drafting offensive tackles to protect Ben Roethlisberger will be the priority in a draft that is very talented throughout.
San Diego – OG, CB, DE, OLB, QB, RB
Interior offensive linemen and the cornerback position will be the focus early, but drafting and developing Philip Rivers’ replacement could happen this year.
Tennessee – DB, DE, CB, RB, QB
The Titans need help in the back end of their defense and on the edge /outside the numbers, but a pass rusher may be their most urgent need.
Key: QB = Quarterback, RB = Running Back, FB = Fullback, TE = Tight End, WR = Wide Receiver, OC = Center, OG = Guard, OT = Offensive Tackle, CB = Corner Back, DB = Safeties, OLB = Outside Linebacker, ILB = Inside Linebacker, MLB = Middle Linebacker, DT = Defensive Tackle, DE = Defensive End, PT = Punter, PK = Place Kicker, SNP = Snapper, RS = Return Specialist, ATH = Athlete