With the NFL’s free agent market set to open next Tuesday, we take a division-by-division look at each team’s primary needs.
Analysis: The biggest issues for the Super Bowl champs are, by far, in the secondary. The Patriots have been attempting to revise CB Darrelle Revis’s contract to retain him for a second season. They surprised many on franchise-tag-deadline day Monday by using the designation on K Stephen Gostkowski, not on S Devin McCourty. That gives the Patriots until next Tuesday to try to re-sign McCourty before he hits the open market. He undoubtedly would be in great demand in free agency, given his abilities and the lack of attractive alternatives at the position on the free agent market. Another potential free agent that the Patriots probably want to re-sign is RB Shane Vereen, who had 11 catches against the Seahawks in the Super Bowl. Coach Bill Belichick never has shied away from difficult decisions regarding even long-tenured players. He made one of those prior to last season by trading away G Logan Mankins. The Patriots might make up for that deal by bolstering the interior of their offensive line this offseason.
Last Season’s Record: 9-7
Needs: QB, pass rusher, RB
Analysis: Coach Rex Ryan moved from one AFC East team to another, hired by the Bills after being fired by the Jets, but the issues have remained familiar. Ryan has a team with a potentially overpowering defense but QB issues. The Bills benched would-be franchise QB EJ Manuel in favor of Kyle Orton last season. Now Orton has told the team that he is retiring and the Bills probably need an alternative to Manuel. They tried but failed to sign Josh McCown, who landed in Cleveland after being released by the Buccaneers. Will Ryan bring in Mark Sanchez, his former QB with the Jets who spent last season in Philadelphia? The two did reach a pair of AFC title games together before things unraveled later during Sanchez’s stay in New York. Former Browns starter Brian Hoyer also is available. The Bills did not use their franchise player tag on DE Jerry Hughes, who had 10 sacks in each of the past two seasons, and might need to replace his pass-rushing production. Another offensive playmaker to go with young WR Sammy Watkins couldn’t hurt. RB C.J. Spiller is eligible for free agency and the Bills will have to either re-sign or replace him.
Last Season’s Record: 8-8
Needs: WR, offensive line, DT, LB, S
Analysis: QB Ryan Tannehill is coming off a 4,000-yard passing season and is eligible for a new contract three years into his NFL career. The Dolphins’ other option would be to exercise their 2016 option in his current four-year rookie deal, with the price for that now set at $16.155 million. More importantly, the Dolphins must fortify their team around Tannehill. He has been sacked 139 times in three seasons. The interior of the offensive line must be bolstered. Reinforcements might be needed at WR, with Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson having been released and speculation that Mike Wallace will be traded or released. The run defense must be fixed, and potential free agent DT Jared Odrick must be re-signed or replaced. There is significant work to be done for this team to reach legitimate contender status.
Last Season’s Record: 4-12
Needs: QB, offensive line, CB
Analysis: The Jets have a new brain trust in GM Mike Maccagnan and Coach Todd Bowles, and their preferred first big move undoubtedly would be to get a new franchise QB in place. But can they pull it off? It won’t be happening in free agency, given the lack of quality QBs available. A trade is always possible. It could happen in the draft, although the Jets probably would have to move up from the No. 6 overall pick to land Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston. The offensive line needs help. A CB could be a top target in free agency. But if Darrelle Revis remains in New England and is not available, the options at that position become more limited.
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