The 2014 NFL year officially kicks the door open on Tuesday, March 11 at 4pm. No, that doesn’t mean that we are getting football in March. But rather, the 32 NFL teams can start signing free agents, or any player from another team who isn’t under contract.
There’s no such thing as a perfect team, and no matter how good your season was last year, there’s always room to improve. In the NFL, of course, there’s really only three ways to do that: (1) Develop the talent you already have, (2) Draft new talent and try to develop that or (3) Steal talent from other teams.
Free agency is the latter – steal talent from other teams. This can kill two birds with one stone: improve your squad while weakening another. The problem here is two fold. First, no one knows a player quite like the team they’re currently on. So if a team lets a player go, more often than not, he’s not going to be worth what his new team pays him. Second, the NFL is overly oriented in specific systems that it makes it very difficult for a player who was great in another system to transition to a new one.
Whatever holes the NFL teams can’t fix in free agency, they’ll have a chance to plug in May at the draft. Teams that draft right often lack the need to steal talent from other teams. Green Bay is a terrific example of this – recently, they went three years without signing an unrestricted free agent.
In today’s post, I’ll cover a pressing need for each of the NFC teams. Next week, we’ll come back with the AFC.
Arizona Cardinals (10-6 in 2013)
Arizona turned around big-time in 2013 under their new head coach Bruce Arians in QB Carson Palmer. But for them to be able to compete with the big boys of the NFC West, they’ll need to vastly improve their offensive line. This will allow Palmer the time he needs to find his receivers and open up running lanes for their backs.
Atlanta Falcons (4-12 in 2013)
Atlanta isn’t as bad as its record showed in 2013, and with a solid offseason can be right back in contention. They have huge investments on the offensive side of the ball, so a stud left tackle makes the most sense.
Carolina Panthers (12-4 in 2013)
Rebounding from a 1-3 start to finish 11-1, the Panthers are a young team going in the right direction. While some defensive improvements (particularly in the secondary) would be welcome, the most pressing need here is a big-time weapon for QB Cam Newton. Two aging running backs and a 36 year old top-line receiver won’t be able to help Newton carry the offense for long.
Chicago Bears (8-8 in 2013)
1st year head coach Marc Trestman brought a new (and must needed) offensive philosophy to Chicago. Though I’m not sold on the long term viability of QB Jay Cutler, right now the Bears need a big-time playmaker on defense. There’s some talent there, but Chicago should grab up at least two big-time players at any position on that side of the ball.
Dallas Cowboys (8-8 in 2013)
QB Tony Romo has taken this team as far as he can. Working his way through a $108 million contact, he is paid like a Super Bowl winning quarterback though he has yet to win a playoff game. His record is abysmal in December and when the chips are down, more often than not, he throws an INT. The Cowboys have a lot of needs, but none of them matter much until they decide to move on from Romo.
Detroit Lions (7-9 in 2013)
This is a team which is built to contend right now, and that’s why head coach Jim Schwartz lost his job after another sub-par season. Shane Stafford is not an elite quarterback, but is good enough with weapons like Reggie Bush and Calvin Johnson around him. In order for the Lions to take the next step and be more consistent offensively, they need another wide receiver to take the attention away from Johnson.
Green Bay Packers (8-7-1 in 2013)
The offense is generally pretty solid. Though another weapon for all-world QB Aaron Rodgers would be welcome, Green Bay badly needs a playmaker on the defensive line.
Minnesota Vikings (5-10-1 in 2013)
This team needs a lot of help. The Vikings have one big-time player in RB Adrian Peterson, but could make a big splash at literally any other position. Despite this, the Vikings’ biggest need, quite frankly, is to trade Adrian Peterson as quickly as possible. Running backs seldom last past age 30. Peterson turns 29 in just days, and already has had some significant injuries. The best thing for both Peterson and the Vikings is to move Peterson for as many draft picks as it can, then start the long road of rebuilding.
New Orleans Saints (11-5 in 2013)
The Saints finally found some balance in 2013, seeing a surprising resurgence of their defense. This after the team has spent its top pick on the defensive side of the ball each year since 2008. After re-signing all-world TE Jimmy Graham, the best thing the Saints can do is draft an offensive stud to solidify that side of the ball. Either a big-time offensive lineman or another receiver be most welcome.
New York Giants (7-9 in 2013)
The subject of whether QB Eli Manning is elite has been much debated, but with 27 interceptions and a sub 60% completion rating in 2013, the nays currently have it. The Giants don’t seem to be inclined to give up on their twice-Super Bowl winning quarterback, so the imperative for the 2014 offseason is protection, protection, protection.
Philadelphia Eagles (10-6 in 2013)
The Eagles’ offense finally looks pretty solid under new QB Nick Foles and head coach Chip Kelly. Now it’s time to turn their attention to the other side of the ball, specifically the team’s last-place pass defense. Look for the Eagles to snag the best player they can at either cornerback or safety (or both).
St. Louis Rams (7-9 in 2013)
I like QB Sam Bradford, but it doesn’t look like he’s got the durability to sustain as an NFL signal caller. Finding a top-line backup quarterback as an insurance policy will be key to taking a step forward in 2014. In addition, protecting Bradford so he doesn’t get hurt in the first place; the Rams need to put together the best o-line unit in the league at this point.
San Francisco 49ers (12-4 in 2013)
The second-best team in the league last season, the 49ers’ top offseason need would be to move out of the same division as the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. But, back in reality, the 49ers will be looking to get some playmakers into their defensive secondary. Figure a cover corner who could potentially replace impending free agent Carlos Rogers.
Seattle Seahawks (13-3 in 2013)
Unlike the Baltimore Ravens last year, the Seahawks are loaded with young talent and poised to be contenders in the league for years. But they absolutely must solidify their wide receiver corps. No team has spent as much time and effort on their receivers with so little to show for it.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12 in 2013)
Tampa Bay is just about starting from scratch. The talent they have is mostly returning from injuries. The good news is new offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford. Late of the University of California, Tedford is known for developing average quarterbacks into good ones. Tedford and the new Bucs brain-trust must decide if incumbent starter Mike Glennon is the guy. If not, they need to find their guy.
Washington Redskins (3-13 in 2013)
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Three first round picks and a second rounder were far too high a price to pay for any quarterback, even one as dynamic as Robert Griffin III. The cupboard is largely bare on both sides of the ball and the team is going to miss out on its #2 overall choice this year, which belongs to the Rams. But that’s water under the bridge. Griffin IS the franchise, and the best thing this team can do to protect the franchise is fix its offensive line. Other than left tackle Trent Williams, the o-line is mediocre at best. Four new starters wouldn’t be out of line here.