NFL Free Agency: AFC Team Needs

There are two opportunities in the coming months for NFL teams to improve their rosters. They can sign free agents, bringing valuable experience to the team. Or they can do it through the draft, where a foundation for the future is built. One thing’s for sure, and that’s that when it comes to roster improvement, there’s serious competition.

Here are the needs for each AFC team this offseason;

AFC East

Buffalo Bills

The biggest need the Bills will have to address is the wide receiver position. After having a mediocre and inconsistent play at the position for a few seasons, Buffalo has to make this a priority. Fortunately for them, this is a good draft class for WR, and they are well-positioned to take one of the top players, such as Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, Ceedee Lamb or Laviska Shenault. Not only should they draft one of these players, but they should also add at least two WRs at a minimum before the 2020 season starts.

The other positions on offense are mostly filled already. While depth at running back, and an upgrade at backup quarterback are needed, they can be addressed on Day 3 of the draft. Another offensive guard needs to be added, as the Bills need to find a new starter and add possible depth on the offensive line overall.

While they had one of the league’s best defenses in 2019, the Bills have work to do on the edge. If they can’t bring back defensive end Shaq Lawson and/or linebacker Lorenzo Carter, the Bills will need to add replacements for both. The core of their secondary is intact, but depth at cornerback is still required.

Miami Dolphins

After gutting their roster in 2019, almost every position on the Dolphins’ roster needs work. As one of the worst-kept secrets in the league, Miami is expected to make a move for either Joe Burrow or Tua Tagovailoa to be their next franchise QB. Whoever they choose at the position, they need to offer better protection for them by upgrading the interior OL and finding a starting right tackle. Depending on how they feel about Miles Gaskin, a versatile RB should be taken in the draft. A #1 WR is another need to fill, although they have suitable backups and a #2 WR in DeVante Parker.

The Dolphins’ defense is the biggest weakness after QB and the OL. Finding starters on the defensive line, especially a disruptive DE to play opposite Christian Wilkins, would instantly improve the roster. They also need to draft at least one linebacker, even if they bring one in during FA. Although Raekwon McMillan and Charles Harris have been stable at the position, they still need to find starter-caliber players at both the inside and outside spots.

Additionally, Miami needs to find new safeties in the near future. They have an unfilled vacancy at free safety after trading away Minkah Fitzpatrick and need to solve this on Day #2 of the draft with few quality options in FA. Likewise, strong safety cannot remain unaddressed, as current starter Reshad Jones turns 33 in 2021, and after this season, costs them just over $4 million against the cap. While the team is unlikely to move on from him anytime soon, finding his replacement should be on their radar as something to figure out before it’s too late.

New England Patriots

Not only did the Patriots’ roster need work last year, but it might have gotten worse since. If Tom Brady leaves as a free agent, QB becomes the biggest need, unless 2nd-year QB Jarret Stidham is ready to take the reins. RB is their deepest spot, and they have starters at WR but could add depth there. Their tight end spots remain destitute after Rob Gronkowski’s retirement, and it’s not a good year for the position in either FA or the draft. Yet, they need to consider either trying to attract a free agent like Austin Hooper or trying their luck with a rookie.

The line on both sides of the ball also need further work. The Patriots will be hoping OT Isaiah Wynn sees significant time on the field but may need to consider replacing him or finding a better backup, as well as a starting OG with Joe Thuney entering free agency. Although DE is in strong shape, their defensive tackle position alongside Lawrence Guy needs an upgrade.

With LB Kyle Van Noy, FS Devin McCourty and FS Nate Ebner also free agents, New England has multiple starting spots on defense to fill. A fast, strong and capable tackler at OLB will be a priority for the team, as one of the central pieces to Bill Belichick’s scheme. McCourty could return still, but it isn’t a long term solution at the position, as he will be 33 before the season starts. Adding another FS will happen regardless of whether he does re-sign, as versatility in the secondary is also important to how the defense plays.

New York Jets

The Jets saw promise from QB Sam Darnold in his first two seasons, but have to commit to protecting him with a rebuilt OL. Aside from last year’s rookie OT Chuma Edoga, the entire other four starter spots are open. They will have to find at least two in FA, as they lack the draft capital to fill out the entire OL. However, their 11th overall pick should be used on the OL, as there are several top candidates who will be available, such as Jedrick Wills, Tristan Wirfs, Cesar Ruiz or Lloyd Cushenberry III.

As WR Robby Anderson leaves in free agency, the Jets will need to find another starting WR on the outside. They can address that on Day 2 of the draft. While they could look to add depth at TE and RB, as well as a backup QB, the offense really needs the OL fixed before anything else.

The Jets’ defense has talent through the middle. While they need to improve their pass rush situation, there are multiple free agents that could be added to help them, as well as talented interior defensive linemen. The priority on defense for the Jets is finding OLBs that can cover as well as be used to rush the passer. Although CB is another weakness, it isn’t a priority for the draft and might need to be explored through free agency and roster cuts closer to the season starting.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens

While they aren’t losing starters on offense necessarily, there is work to be done for the Ravens on this side of the ball. Shoring up the interior OL, and potentially replacing Marshal Yanda who is nearing retirement, will be a target for Baltimore on Day 2 of the draft. It’s a similar story with WR, as the team will look to find a bigger, outside guy in the middle rounds. Depth at RB, TE and even an upgrade at backup QB could also be on the cards but are far from pressing needs.

Instead, the Ravens have to make their biggest need fixing the pass rush. Their top pass rusher, Matt Judon, is a free agent, but even if he wasn’t this would still be Baltimore’s biggest weakness. Although they pick late in Round 1, it would be surprising to see them choose a different position. Once they find a replacement OLB, they will then need to also explore replacements for DT Michael Pierce if they can’t bring him back.

The back end of the defense is in a strong state with depth at CB and starters at ILB and safety. Baltimore could explore upgrades at all LB positions, but need to stay strong upfront more. These are likely Day 3 picks if they don’t double down at DT, OLB, and OL.

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals have a lot of needs, whether its roster needs or aging veterans needing replacement. While they will almost certainly take a QB (Joe Burrow) with the first overall pick, there is a chance they trade down, draft a different QB and add extra talent. In particular, the OL is in need of work at both OG spots and will need to be taken on Day 2 if they can’t flip their first-rounder into multiple first-rounders. WR and RB have starters, but the former needs a complement to Tyler Boyd. TE also needs filling with the departure of Tyler Eifert as a free agent.

The defensive line has established starters, including some youth at DE, but Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins are both over the age of 30. Beyond that, they also carry a minimal cap hit in 2021 and are scheduled for free agency in the next few years. The Bengals already needed a DT, but finding replacements for these long-term, high-quality veterans should happen sooner rather than later. There are some quality options in free agency, depending on how much Cincinnati is willing to spend.

The Bengals’ MLB position is another one that needs addressing and needs to be addressed through the draft rather than a weak free agency group. Their starting safeties are decided, but depth at the position is a need. Finding a CB to pair with Dre Kirkpatrick as a starter should also be considered in the middle rounds of the draft.

Cleveland Browns

While the Browns thought they took steps forward in the 2019 offseason, questions were raised during the season. The skill positions on offense remain stable, but the backup and rotational players have almost entirely gone. A #3 WR needs to be found, as does a backup QB and a backup RB. Cleveland also needs to make a decision about TE, where David Njoku had a promising 2018 but was essentially absent in 2019. If they want to move on from him, it might be difficult to find a starter ready to step in.

Aside from the OT spots, the OL is not a major priority. While they could upgrade at OG, free agency might be a better way to improve the protection unless the Browns want to make it their priority in the draft. Regardless, they will still need to add at least one more OL outside of the draft.

The Browns’ DL has young starters at each position, and overall has few holes on defense. 2019 rookie Mack Wilson is a good foundation at LB, but the other two starter spots are still waiting for attention. Likewise, the secondary is stable at CB, but the safety spots could be high priorities on Day 2 of the draft. While Morgan Burnett is fine as a starter, he is off contract after this season, and the Browns should seek to replace him if a chance presents itself in the draft.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers are in a transition phase as a franchise. QB Ben Roethlisberger is nearing retirement, and the team needs to begin exploring the future of the position. This could be done as early as Round 1 of the draft, or perhaps in the middle rounds with someone like Nate Stanley who has some similar traits to Big Ben. The OL is in a similar state, where the majority of the starters are over 30, and potential starters and backups could be taken anywhere in the draft. With just one pick in the first three rounds, they will need to be strategic.

The skill positions can not be ignored by Pittsburgh. A WR to support Juju Smith-Schuster around Round 2 is likely in a deep class at the position. TE and RB can be ignored in the draft due to the team’s lack of picks but will need to have talent added before the season starts.

However, the defense is mostly stable and has young starters at each level. A new DT should be added in free agency, even an older veteran as a stop-gap for a few years, such as Gerald McCoy or Vinny Curry, but with their limited cap space, maybe Jarran Reed or Akeem Spence. The LBs need minimal attention but doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try to find another starter OLB. CB and Safety are also stable, but an upgrade at outside CB should be explored one way or another, potentially with their Round 2 pick.

AFC South

Houston Texans

With both Carlos Hyde and Lamar Miller entering free agency, the Texans’ priority on offense is finding another RB. There’s a chance they bring one of those two back, but they have plenty of options, including Day 3 of the draft. QB, WR, and TE are fine, with any work done on these positions only adding backups. Likewise, the OL isn’t in need of urgent attention but could upgrade the interior, particularly OG.

Instead, the defense is Houston’s biggest problem, with holes at every level. Aside from JJ Watt, the entire DL needs rebuilding so that it can become more dominant and disruptive, especially in a division with strong OLs. While it may be tempting for them to sign a free agent here, adding pieces through the draft will be better for the team long-term, so that they aren’t in danger with the cap.

Although there are good starters at LB, there needs to be more consistency from them. Finding an upgrade over ILB Zach Cunningham and a rotational OLB should be key priorities on Day 2 of the draft. The secondary has young talent in place, but a game-changer at strong safety, especially one that plays in the box a lot, is perhaps their biggest need and could be how they use their lone pick in the first 3 rounds.

Indianapolis Colts

Although the Colts are in the QB sweepstakes this offseason, it is less dire for them than most teams. They can continue starting Jacoby Brissett for now, allowing them to draft and develop a QB, or add a veteran such as Philip Rivers or Teddy Bridgewater to carry them for a few seasons. Likewise, their TE and WR situations aren’t pressing, but they do need an injection of talent at both positions.

With such a stable offense, the Colts can instead target OL. As OT Anthony Castonzo leaves in free agency, Indy needs a new starter at left tackle, as well as additional depth across the line. This is most likely where they use their first-round pick, with the depth coming from cheap free agents and roster cuts in August.

The biggest needs on defense are to fill roster holes. A DT could be brought in as a FA, with money to spend, allowing a bigger name like Yannick Ngakoue, Chris Jones or Michael Pierce to be added. On Day 3 of the draft, they likely take a LB to add to the rotation. The secondary is the neediest part of the defense, especially CB and SS, and should be where they focus in the middle rounds of the draft.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars have one of the strangest situations at QB in the league, as it is unlikely they see either Gardner Minshew or Nick Foles as the future of the franchise. Yet, they aren’t desperate for a replacement, as they can continue evaluating both for another season. The Jaguars aren’t out of the running for a QB either in the draft, especially one they think could benefit from a year learning on the sidelines.

The rest of the offensive skill positions also needs an overhaul, outside of the WR group, and even there the Jaguars could add talent in the later rounds of the draft. Jacksonville needs a more versatile and dynamic RB than what Leonard Fournette offers, and also a better receiving option at TE. The OL is stable with quality starters, but the Jaguars shouldn’t ignore the chance to upgrade at OG.

On defense, the Jaguars need to add more to their rotation on the edge. Both DE and OLB have existing starters, but they need to get better in coverage at LB. The secondary needs a FS and a replacement starting CB for Jalen Ramsay, who was traded away in 2019. There is a very high chance that this is where they spend either of their 2 first-round picks if they aren’t using one or both to get a QB.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans’ biggest need is at QB, where they currently have no players under contract. While there is a high chance they bring back Ryan Tannehill, the Titans need to consider how they can fill the position long-term if they aren’t sold on Tannehill. Since they pick late in Round 1, they may wish to drop back a little if they can, or stay where they are, and take a QB such as Jacob Eason, Jake Fromm, or wait longer for someone like James Morgan or Bryce Perkins.

The other pressing need is at RB, where the Titans also need to decide if they are going to pay Derrick Henry a big contract or not. Additionally, Tennessee also needs to find a replacement OT for Jack Conklin if he isn’t brought back, meaning they need to manage the cap situation carefully. A RB like Jonathan Taylor could be their move in Round 1 of the draft if they choose not to pay Henry, allowing them to retain Conklin. Regardless, further depth is needed at OT and interior OL.

The Titans don’t have too many major needs on defense, however. They need an upgrade at Nose Tackle and a starter at ILB but will fill these through the middle of the draft. Adding a starter-caliber outside CB is a bigger priority, but might go unaddressed until later in the draft.

AFC West

Denver Broncos

Denver’s roster is not as devoid of talent as many would assume. They have a young starting QB, youth and depth at WR, RB, and TE, but need depth at these spots, especially a #2 and #3 WR. They do need a Center and backup Tackles, with a good chance to find a starting Center on Day 2 of the Draft.

After having dominant defenses for several years, the Broncos instead need to spend the majority of their resources improving this side of the ball. The spots on the entire defensive line are candidates for new talent, with a likelihood of free agency and early in the draft addressing these. Nose Tackle especially is a priority and could be how they use their Round 1 pick.

Denver’s LBs are sorted, but an upgrade at ILB shouldn’t be ignored. CB and FS are the biggest needs after the DL and should be where the middle rounds of the draft target. With plenty of options at CB and DL in FA, the Broncos are likely to address one of these in the coming months, indicating their strategy in the draft.

Kansas City Chiefs

Fresh off a Super Bowl win, the Chiefs don’t have too many major needs. Depth at RB, TE and a backup QB are all needs but will be done primarily in the latter half of the draft or with roster cuts in August. The Chiefs are more likely to take an OG on Day 2 to shore up one of their weaknesses, especially so they can run the ball a bit better.

The biggest weakness though is at LB. At both MLB and OLB the Chiefs can improve, which is where they could go in Round 1 depending on who is available. If not, it’s unlikely they wait until later than Round 3 before adding a LB.

The DL does need a DT, but the Chiefs could wait until Round 2 or 3 for this. Instead, if not LB in Round 1, CB is almost definite, as both Kendall Fuller and Bashaud Breeland left as free agents, making this their glaring roster holes. With limited cap space, these will need to be filled during the draft, hence one of their earlier picks going to a CB.

Las Vegas Raiders

While they appear committed to Derek Carr at QB, the Raiders aren’t necessarily ignoring their options at the position. Drafting one in Round 3 to eventually take over is a possibility. However, the biggest needs are at WR, where they are sorted for a #2 and #3 WR, but with a strong class, Las Vegas needs to take advantage of two Round 1 picks and find a #1 WR. The other areas of offense needing attention are a backup RB and a starting OG, although it’s not essential they find a starter at the expense of bigger needs.

Instead, the Raiders should be focusing on their LB spots. Both OLBs and the MLB need improving, and one of their first-rounders will be used on a LB. The DL is developing well and the team is still evaluating what they have, hoping the high draft picks spent there improve, but could add to the rotation.

The secondary is nearly as bad as the LB situation. At least one pick will be used on a CB, and a SS is also one of the bigger needs. The Raiders potentially explore the LB-Safety hybrids available in the draft, with a couple available in Round 1 they could take. 

Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers’ Offense has been decimated as players have hit free agency this offseason. They need not only a starting QB, but also new RBs, and a starting TE. QB will dominate their offseason, and they could try to package their Round 1 and 2 picks to move up and get Justin Herbert, Jordan Love, or even Tagovailoa or Burrow if they think either will be within their reach.

Moreover, the Chargers also need to upgrade at OT and OG. The Chargers might choose to ignore these, but each position has been a problem for them for years, and they can no longer continue to do so. With just over $50million in cap space, they should consider their options in free agency so that they can add skill positions in the draft.

Defensively, the Chargers have a talented DL but need to add depth to their rotation at DE, and as injury insurance. Similarly, they could find an upgrade at OLB, but with their needs on offense, this is more likely a rotation/situational player. Finding another CB and FS are other areas for the team to resolve, but can wait until the middle rounds of the draft if the team wants to add a QB early on.

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