- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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Welcome to Eight in the Box, an NFL Nation feature that will appear each Friday during the offseason. This week's topic: Who should be the primary target (including trades) for each team when free agency begins?
Atlanta Falcons. After releasing veteran John Abraham, the team is without an elite pass-rusher. That’s why the Falcons should make Cliff Avril their top target in free agency. Sitting near the end of the first round, they’re not likely to land an impact pass-rusher in the draft. They have to bring in someone from the outside, and Avril is the closest thing there is to a sure thing. At 26, Avril still is very much in his prime. He won’t be inexpensive, and the Falcons have made it clear their priority is to re-sign their own free agents. But there aren’t many other places to turn for a pass-rusher, so this is one spot where the Falcons can devote some money.
Carolina Panthers. The Panthers have a glaring need at cornerback. Josh Norman and Josh Thomas can be role players, but they’re not No. 1 cornerbacks. That’s why the Panthers should go after San Diego free agent Antoine Cason. Ron Rivera knows him from their time together with the Chargers, and Rivera has a history of bringing in players from San Diego. Cason, 26, already is good but could become even better. Put him behind a pass rush anchored by Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy, and Cason could become a star.
New Orleans Saints. There is very little cap room to work with in New Orleans, but general manager Mickey Loomis is a creative guy. He can free up enough money for the Saints to make a few moves in free agency. As the Saints switch from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4, they can’t afford to sit still with their personnel. More than anything, they need a pass-rusher. Indianapolis defensive end/linebacker Dwight Freeney is on the market and would be a good fit here. Freeney has played on a Super Bowl champion team, and his presence could go a long way in helping new coordinator Rob Ryan rebuild the defense.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs are in a cap position in which they can do just about anything they want. The thing they should do is trade for New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis. The Bucs are one of the few teams with the ability to take on his long-term cap ramifications. The Bucs also are desperate for help at cornerback. Adding Revis would give them a shutdown corner, and that could help a defense that ranked No. 32 against the pass last season.