NFL roster cuts: AFC | NFC

NFL Nation: 2012 Free-agency Assessment

NFC West free-agency assessment

March, 30, 2012
3/30/12
11:00
AM ET
AFC Assessments: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Arizona Cardinals

Key additions: OL Adam Snyder, CB William Gay

Key losses: CB Richard Marshall

Sando's grade so far: C-minus. Arizona gets credit for making a strong run at Peyton Manning and securing a visit with him at Cardinals headquarters. That was a bold move and one that could have instantly transformed the Cardinals into a contending team. But it did not work. Coach Ken Whisenhunt had a point when he said the Cardinals were comfortable moving forward with Kevin Kolb and John Skelton as their quarterbacks. However, it was still telling that Arizona would aggressively pursue another quarterback eight months after allocating $12.4 million per year to Kolb. Most of the other teams making big investments in quarterbacks last offseason sat out the Manning sweepstakes.

Overall, Arizona has done little to upgrade its roster. Committing $19 million in bonus money to Snyder, Levi Brown and Kolb will not make the team $19 million better. Marshall was a valued contributor and the MVP on defense last season, according to coordinator Ray Horton. He'll be missed after signing with Miami. On the other hand, the Cardinals did win seven of their final nine games last season. Perhaps they have fewer holes than conventional wisdom suggests.

What’s next: The Cardinals need help at offensive tackle and have shown interest in Buffalo Bills free agent Demetrius Bell. The team would be fortunate to address the position before the draft. Whisenhunt has consistently defended Brown, who has played both tackle spots since 2007. The team's decision to give Brown a $7 million signing bonus as part of a streamlined contract showed Whisenhunt wasn't bluffing. But another starting tackle would help.

The Cardinals have yet to reach a long-term agreement with franchise player Calais Campbell. Getting a deal done with Campbell would reduce the defensive end's salary-cap charge ($10.6 million for now). It would reward a rising young player and head off future headaches associated with using the tag a second time next offseason.

Receiver and possibly outside linebacker are also areas where the Cardinals could use reinforcements.

San Francisco 49ers

Key additions: WR Randy Moss, WR Mario Manningham, RB Brandon Jacobs

Key losses: Snyder, WR Josh Morgan, ST Blake Costanzo

Sando's grade so far: B-plus. The 49ers had relatively few holes on their roster after a 13-3 season. Pursuing Manning provided a temporary distraction without inflicting long-term damage. The 49ers needed to keep together their core, and they accomplished that goal. Alex Smith's re-signing to a three-year deal was key. Smith will return to the team, maintaining continuity and giving the 49ers' offense a chance to build on last season. But the contract terms will not limit the 49ers' options beyond this season, a plus.

The 49ers succeeded in re-signing Pro Bowl cornerback Carlos Rogers after using the franchise tag to retain Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson. Those moves solidified the secondary. Addressing the situation at wide receiver was a top priority heading into free agency. Moss and Manningham were low-risk, high-reward additions. Both have the potential to provide qualities the 49ers were lacking last season, but neither carried a high price tag. Retaining receiver Ted Ginn Jr. restored firepower to the return game.

What’s next: Using the draft to improve the long-term outlook at receiver still could be an option. But with Moss, Manningham and Ginn on the roster, the 49ers should not feel pressured to select a wideout with the 30th overall choice in the draft. The team now has flexibility. There has been no indication that the 49ers or any team will seriously pursue Pittsburgh Steelers restricted free agent Mike Wallace, who reportedly wants Larry Fitzgerald money.

The 49ers could use a veteran right guard for insurance in case Daniel Kilgore isn't ready for the starting job. They have visited with Leonard Davis and Deuce Lutui, both former Cardinals. Keeping Snyder would have been nice, but the Cardinals paid a $5 million signing bonus to get him. That price was too high for the 49ers, who similarly balked last offseason when the New York Giants gave center David Baas an $8.5 million bonus.

St. Louis Rams

Key additions: CB Cortland Finnegan, C Scott Wells, DT Kendall Langford, WR Steve Smith

Key losses: WR Brandon Lloyd, P Donnie Jones, OLB Chris Chamberlain

Sando's grade so far: B. The Rams would get a higher grade for their offseason in general, but this item focuses on free agency. That excludes from consideration Jeff Fisher's hiring as head coach, and general manager Les Snead's ability to maximize value for the second overall pick in the draft. The Finnegan and Wells signings give the Rams welcome leadership while upgrading important positions. Langford should help the run defense.

The Rams have yet to address their playmaking deficiencies. They did not land any of the high-profile wide receivers in free agency. There's a chance Smith will recapture old form in his second season back from microfracture knee surgery, but the Rams are not counting on that. They will almost certainly emerge from free agency without even marginally upgrading the weaponry for quarterback Sam Bradford. That is a disappointment.

What’s next: The outlook remains bright for St. Louis. The team owns the sixth, 33rd and 39th choices in the 2012 draft, plus two first-rounders in each of the following two drafts. There will be time and opportunity for the Rams to add the offensive firepower they need so badly, perhaps with Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon or Alabama running back Trent Richardson at No. 6 overall.

Much work lies ahead. The Rams emerged from this week with eight fewer players on their roster than the average for the other 31 teams. Using free agency to address holes at outside linebacker and left guard would provide flexibility heading into the draft. The Rams still need a backup quarterback as well. Bradford is the only QB on the roster. It's looking like the team is serious about bringing back right tackle Jason Smith despite injury concerns and a fat contract that will presumably require adjustment.

Seattle Seahawks

Key additions: QB Matt Flynn, DT Jason Jones

Key losses: TE John Carlson, DT Anthony Hargrove

Sando's grade so far: B-plus: The Seahawks knew for months that Manning would probably hit the market and still could not secure a meeting with him. Their pursuit included a flight by coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider to Denver in a desperation move that failed to impress Manning. That was a rare disappointment for Seattle in free agency.

Re-signing Marshawn Lynch before the signing period took off much of the pressure. Re-signing Red Bryant without using the franchise tag rewarded the Seahawks for a disciplined approach to the market. That approach paid off again when the Seahawks landed Flynn without rushing into an imprudent contract. Flynn spent five days on the market before signing with Seattle. The Seahawks got him for about half as much per season as Kolb cost a year ago, without even promising him the starting job. That was impressive.

What’s next: Quarterback and pass-rusher were Seattle's top two needs heading into free agency. Flynn solved one of them for now, at least. Jones, an inside pass-rusher signed from Tennessee, should help the other area. But the need for outside pass-rush help persists. The team could use the 12th overall choice in the draft for a defensive end.

Linebacker is another obvious position of need for Seattle. Market conditions favor Seattle's re-signing veterans David Hawthorne and Leroy Hill at reasonable rates. Both were starters last season. Hawthorne visited Detroit and New Orleans in free agency, but those teams subsequently signed other linebackers. Hill turns 30 in September, has had some off-field issues in the past and should have more value to Seattle than to another team. Still, it's an upset if the Seahawks do not address linebacker in the draft.

NFC East free-agency assessment

March, 30, 2012
3/30/12
11:00
AM ET
AFC Assessments: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Dallas Cowboys

Key additions: CB Brandon Carr, S Brodney Pool, QB Kyle Orton, FB Lawrence Vickers, LB Dan Connor, G Nate Livings, G Mackenzy Bernadeau

Key losses: WR Laurent Robinson, TE Martellus Bennett, FB Tony Fiammetta, CB Terence Newman, G Kyle Kosier (cut)

"You ain't a beauty, but hey, you're all right": Rather than go big for the biggest names out there, the Cowboys took a more directed, focused approach to free agency this year. They did spend a lot to bring in Carr, but they had a glaring need at cornerback and they believed Carr was the best one on the market. The two guards were specifically targeted by Cowboys' scouts and new offensive line coach Bill Callahan, and Connor was brought in to address a need at inside linebacker while 2011 draft pick Bruce Carter continues to develop.

The only loss that they didn't upgrade is that of Robinson, who signed with the Jaguars after coming out of nowhere to catch 11 touchdown passes from Tony Romo in 2011. The Cowboys will hope that one of the young receivers on their roster fills that No. 3 wide receiver role, or that they can catch lightning in a bottle again this year as they did with Robinson last year. They could miss Kosier's leadership on the offensive line, but he was getting old and injured and they needed to keep getting younger on the line.

What's next: While they'll keep an eye out for a bargain-bin receiver to replace Robinson, and they could try and find another tight end to replace Bennett, the Cowboys' main focus the rest of this offseason is likely to be on defense. They could add to the safety or cornerback mix in the draft or with another free agent. They'll keep looking to upgrade the pass rush, either with another outside linebacker or a defensive lineman. Those are the likely areas in which the Cowboys will focus their efforts in the draft.

Otherwise, it's going to be about sorting things out, especially on the offensive line. They need to find a pair of starting guards from a group that includes the two newcomers and the two youngsters -- David Arkin and Bill Nagy -- they drafted last year. Training camp should help sort out what needs to be sorted out on the offensive side of the ball. The draft will be for adding more pieces to Rob Ryan's defense.

New York Giants

Key additions: TE Martellus Bennett

Key losses: RB Brandon Jacobs, WR Mario Manningham, CB Aaron Ross, T Kareem McKenzie

"Reason to believe": The Giants don't like to make big free-agent splashes, and since they're up against the salary cap they also have little choice. But their second Super Bowl title in five years should help ease any concerns fans might have about if they're doing enough in the offseason. The Giants' way is to establish fair prices for the positions they need to fill and to be patient until they find players willing to play for their number. They'd have loved to have Jacobs or Manningham or Ross back, but not for the kind of money those guys found in free agency. They'd love to have linebacker Jonathan Goff and defensive end Dave Tollefson back, but if they get big-money deals elsewhere, the Giants will let them go too.

They targeted Bennett right away and signed him on the second day of free agency, since they saw in him a young talent at a position where they lost two players to major knee injuries in the Super Bowl. And they re-signed cornerback Terrell Thomas and punter Steve Weatherford, two of their offseason priorities. But since then, the Giants have been quiet, content that they have a good, deep, championship roster and willing to let the market come to them.

What's next: The areas of concern, if there are any for the Giants, are linebacker and offensive line. And if Goff comes back, they like what they have at linebacker with the incumbents and last year's rookies. With McKenzie leaving, they could move David Diehl from left tackle to right tackle, but they'll still need to add depth at tackle as they look to the future on the offensive line.

There remains the chance that the Giants could trade defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who was disgruntled about his contract this time last year and now only has one year to go. If they did that, they could move Mathias Kiwanuka from linebacker back to his old pass-rushing spot on the line. But the Giants would have to be really blown away by an offer to move Umenyiora, who has relaxed a great deal about his contract situation and said he'd like to stay.

Philadelphia Eagles

Key additions: LB DeMeco Ryans (trade), G Mike Gibson

Key losses: DE Juqua Parker, WR Steve Smith, QB Vince Young

"We take care of our own": The Eagles' focus so far this offseason has been internal. They extended the contracts of right tackle Todd Herremans and defensive end Trent Cole, signed wide receiver DeSean Jackson to a long-term deal and re-signed free-agent guard Evan Mathis. The Eagles believe last year's team was a good roster that underachieved, and they basically are taking a mulligan and hoping it works this time.

The one exception is a big one -- the trade that brought them Ryans from Houston in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick. The Eagles were pitifully weak at linebacker last year, and that weakness hurt their otherwise successful implementation of the "Wide 9" defensive line formation. They could get to the passer with their front four, but teams were able to attack the middle of their defense at will. The addition of Ryans, a veteran middle linebacker who was a productive tackler and beloved leader with the Texans, should help solve a lot of those problems.

What's next: There remains a strong chance the Eagles will trade cornerback Asante Samuel before or during the draft. They can afford to do so because they'd still be left with Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie as starting cornerbacks and the underrated Joselio Hanson at nickel corner. Other than that, the Eagles figure to be fairly quiet the rest of the way.

They're most likely to use their first-round pick on a defensive player, though Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly, who'd be a great addition, now looks likely to be gone by the time they pick at No. 15. So they could pick up another veteran linebacker and use the draft to add to their defensive line rotation. It's also likely they add a veteran safety and a veteran running back to back up LeSean McCoy, who's next in line for a new contract.

Washington Redskins

Key additions: WR Pierre Garcon, WR Josh Morgan, CB Cedric Griffin, S Brandon Meriweather

Key losses: S O.J. Atogwe (cut), S LaRon Landry, WR Donte' Stallworth

"When the change was made uptown and the big man joined the band": The Redskins' biggest move of the offseason was the draft-picks trade they made with the Rams, sending three first-round picks and a second-round pick to St. Louis in exchange for the No. 2 pick in this year's draft. That pick ensures that Washington, which has been looking for a franchise quarterback for a couple of decades, will be in position to take one of the two quarterbacks in this year's draft that projects as a franchise guy. They're most likely getting Baylor's Robert Griffin III, the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner who's got Redskins fans in a tizzy already.

The Redskins' first big moves when free agency opened were aimed at building a new offense for their rookie quarterback to run. Garcon and Morgan are, the Redskins believe, receivers with big-play talent who will fit well into the offense they like to run. The other two big additions -- Griffin and Meriwether -- were brought in to beef up the secondary, which lost its two starting safeties. It's possible Griffin could play safety, though he played cornerback in Minnesota.

What's next: The Redskins continue to try to re-sign veteran linebacker London Fletcher, and they're confident they can do that. They also want to bring back running back Tim Hightower, assuming he's recovered from his ACL injury, and they're in talks with him about doing just that. If they fail in either or both of those efforts, they'll need backup plans, as they'll lack depth at running back and inside linebacker.

Washington still could stand to add to its secondary and find help for the offensive line. Right tackle Jammal Brown has injury problems, and the team is looking for a better option. Demetrius Bell remains on the market and is a player Washington likes for that right tackle spot.

NFC North free-agency assessment

March, 30, 2012
3/30/12
11:00
AM ET
AFC Assessments: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Chicago Bears

Key additions: Running back Michael Bush, linebacker/special teams Blake Costanzo, quarterback Jason Campbell, receiver Brandon Marshall (trade), receiver Devin Thomas, receiver/returner Eric Weems.

Key losses: Running back Marion Barber (retired), cornerback Zack Bowman, cornerback Corey Graham.

Come on back: Lost in the shuffle of the Marshall trade were the return of three free agents who should play key roles in 2012. Tight end Kellen Davis figures to get an expanded role in offensive coordinator Mike Tice's scheme, especially as a receiver. Cornerback Tim Jennings should retain his starting role opposite Charles Tillman, with D.J. Moore in the nickel. And safety Craig Steltz will provide reliable depth at safety and will be one of the Bears' special teams leaders after the departure of Graham and Bowman.

What's next: There is no urgency yet, but the Bears will need to make peace with tailback Matt Forte at some point before the summer. Forte isn't happy that he's been made the Bears' franchise player and briefly lost his public composure when Bush signed a deal that guaranteed him about the same amount of money as the franchise tag will pay Forte. It's not a big deal if Forte skips the Bears' offseason program or even misses a few days of training camp, but the Bears will want to find a way to eliminate this issue by early August. Meanwhile, it wouldn't be surprising if the Bears address their offensive line during the draft.

Detroit Lions

Key additions: Defensive end Everette Brown, cornerback Jacob Lacey.

Key losses: Cornerback Eric Wright.

All in the family: With the exception of Wright, the Lions were able to retain the core of their 10-6 team. Among those who re-signed: Tackle Jeff Backus, safety Erik Coleman, defensive end Andre Fluellen, quarterback Shaun Hill and linebacker Stephen Tulloch. And don't forget that receiver Calvin Johnson is locked up for perhaps the rest of his career. He signed a new eight-year contract worth $132 million.

What's next: The Lions appear interested in adding competition at safety, having hosted free agent O.J. Atogwe earlier this month. Adding a safety remains a possibility, if not through free agency, then probably through the draft. And while Backus is re-signed for two years, it wouldn't be surprising if the Lions look for a long-term replacement in the draft.

Green Bay Packers

Key additions: Defensive lineman Daniel Muir, center Jeff Saturday, defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove.

Key losses: Quarterback Matt Flynn, center Scott Wells.

Shocker: The Packers usually do whatever it takes to keep their own players and avoid having to search the free-agent market for other the castoffs of other teams. They started off that way by re-signing tight end Jermichael Finley to a two-year contract, but when they were unable to sign center Scott Wells, they quickly targeted veteran Jeff Saturday and made him their first starting-caliber free-agent signee in five years. General manager Ted Thompson also authorized the acquisition of Hargrove and the pursuit of Dave Tollefson.

What's next: It's not out of the question that the Packers will add a veteran pass-rusher, whether at defensive end or linebacker. Then they'll get back into their comfort zone and start preparing for the draft, where it's reasonable to think they'll use at least one of their 12 picks on a center while also continuing to pursue pass-rushers.

Minnesota Vikings

Key additions: Cornerback Zack Bowman, tight end John Carlson, running back Jerome Felton and offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz.

Key losses: Nose tackle Remi Ayodele (release), guards Anthony Herrera (release) and Steve Hutchinson (release), tight end Jim Kleinsasser (retire), running back Jerome Felton.

Methodical methodology: The Vikings made one big-money signing, bringing in Carlson as a new weapon for quarterback Christian Ponder, and otherwise have spent their offseason getting younger and signing complementary players. General manager Rick Spielman wants to end a cycle of seeking blue-chip players via free agency and instead count on the drafts for his difference-makers.

What's next: One way or the other, the Vikings need to find a deep threat for Ponder. The draft would seem the most likely place for that will happen. They are also midway through a rebuild of the secondary that could use at least one more cornerback and perhaps two safeties.

AFC South free-agency assessment

March, 29, 2012
3/29/12
11:00
AM ET
AFC Assessments: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Houston Texans

Key additions: None.

Key losses: OLB Mario Williams, RG Mike Brisiel, CB Jason Allen, TE Joel Dreessen, RT Eric Winston (cut), ILB DeMeco Ryans (traded), FB Lawrence Vickers (cut), QB Matt Leinart (cut).

Keepers and finance: Not everyone got away. The Texans managed to keep two very important players. They re-signed running back Arian Foster before he reached restricted free agency. And after he'd explored the market some, they struck a deal with unrestricted-free-agent center Chris Myers, a vital piece to a line that lost the two starters on the right side when Winston was cut and Brisiel bolted to Oakland.

Ryans was not a full-time player in the 3-4 defense, and his price tag was high. While Houston takes a $750,000 hit this season, he’s cleared from the books in the future. That will help the team as it tries to make sure players like outside linebacker Connor Barwin and left tackle Duane Brown don’t get away like Williams did.

What’s next: Depth paid off in a big way in 2011 as the Texans managed to win the division and a playoff game despite major losses. At several spots, like on the offensive line and at corner, the draft will serve to replenish the roster with the same kind of insurance.

But the Texans are not without need.

While they are likely to stick with Jacoby Jones as part of the team and like Kevin Walter, a more reliable and dynamic weapon to go with Andre Johnson at receiver is something they acknowledge wanting. A third outside linebacker can reduce the high-snap strain on Barwin and Brooks Reed. While they hope Rashad Butler will replace Winston and Antoine Caldwell will take Brisiel’s spot, adding a guy who can compete for one or both of those spots would be healthy.

Indianapolis Colts

Key additions: DE Cory Redding, WR Donnie Avery, C Samson Satele, S Tom Zbikowski, G Mike McGlynn, RT Winston Justice (trade), QB Drew Stanton (trade).

Key losses: QB Peyton Manning (cut), WR Pierre Garcon, TE Jacob Tamme, C Jeff Saturday, TE Dallas Clark (cut), LB Gary Brackett (cut), S Melvin Bullitt (cut), RT Ryan Diem (retired), WR Anthony Gonzalez, QB Dan Orlovsky, CB Jacob Lacey (not tendered), QB Curtis Painter (cut), DE Jamaal Anderson, G Mike Pollak.

So much we don’t know: We know background on coach Chuck Pagano and his coordinators and we know what Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson have said. But there will be a degree of mystery well into the season about what they intend to run and with whom. It’s unlikely to be a sweeping transition to a 3-4 defense, as it takes time to overhaul the personnel. But as they play a hybrid defense and move toward a conversion, they’ll need more than they’ve got – starting with a nose tackle.

On offense, they’ve said they’ll use a fullback. That’s a major departure from the previous regime. And we don’t know if a Donald Brown-Delone Carter duo at fullback will be sufficient to run behind. They need help virtually everywhere after the cap purge and free-agency turnover. Not everything will get addressed as much as they’d like in their first offseason.

What’s next: I expect more role players like Zbikowski and McGlynn, more castoffs like Justice and Stanton and more guys who are presumed finished by a lot of teams, like Avery.

They are all guys who didn’t cost much but who have upside and can help, at least as role players. And if they don’t pan out, it’s hardly a death blow to Indianapolis' major, long-term plans. Money is limited with big dead-money charges and a $19 million cap hit for defensive end Dwight Freeney the team has indicated it's willing to carry.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Key additions: WR Laurent Robinson, CB Aaron Ross, QB Chad Henne.

Key losses: DT Leger Douzable (did not tender).

Keeping their own: The Jaguars did well to hold onto players who have been valuable to them. The top of that list belongs to safety Dwight Lowery. They traded with the Jets for him before last season, shifted him full time to safety and got good work from him before he was hurt. It was crucial for the team to stay fixed at the position where it was horrific in 2010 before signing Dawan Landry and adding Lowery.

They also re-signed defensive end Jeremy Mincey, a great effort defensive end who was overextended in terms of playing time last year. He’s no sack-master, but he’s going to bust it on every play, break through sometimes and make the opponent work hard to stay in his way. And with the lack of quality defensive ends who hit the market, the Jaguars did well to keep him from jumping to Chicago.

What’s next: Receiver has to be addressed beyond a change in position coach and the addition of Robinson. If it’s not in the first round, it needs to be early. The franchise is trying to maximize Blaine Gabbert’s chances to be a franchise quarterback, and few would be able to establish themselves with the current cast of wideouts.

The Jaguars are a top pass-rushing end away from being a top-flight defense. Can they find him seventh overall in the draft? They could tab someone like South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram, though it’s hard to say he or any rookie would be an immediate solution. Most ends need some time to become impact guys in the league.

The Jaguars could certainly look to add in the secondary free-agent market and when players are set free late in training camp.

Tennessee Titans

Key additions: DE Kamerion Wimbley, RG Steve Hutchinson.

Key losses: CB Cortland Finnegan, DL Jason Jones, WR Donnie Avery.

Sidetracked: Did the Titans miss out on real chances to sign either Scott Wells, who went to St. Louis, or Chris Myers, who stayed in Houston, as their new center because they were focused on chasing quarterback Peyton Manning? Perhaps. But when the owner declares that his executives and coaches need to put the hard sell on an all-time great QB with roots in the team’s state, that’s what you do.

Ideally, the team will still find an alternative to Eugene Amano. If the Titans find a new center to go with Hutchinson, who replaces free agent Jake Scott in the starting lineup, the interior offensive line could see a big improvement. That could have a big bearing on running back Chris Johnson, provided he takes care of his own business.

What’s next: The Titans think Wimbley will excel as a full-time defensive end, but they can’t afford for him to be too full time. He’s a smaller guy who’s played mostly as a 3-4 outside linebacker, and shouldn’t be asked to play every down of every game. That means they still need more help at end, where the only other guys they have right now are Derrick Morgan and Malcolm Sheppard.

Look for them to address depth at corner -- where they feel fine about Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner as the starters, if that’s how it falls -- as well as at receiver. One wild-card spot could be running back. Are they content with Javon Ringer and Jamie Harper as changeups to Johnson, or would they like to add a big back?

AFC East free-agency assessment

March, 29, 2012
3/29/12
11:00
AM ET
AFC Assessments: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Buffalo Bills

Key additions: DE Mario Williams, DE Mark Anderson

Key losses: WR Roscoe Parrish, OT Demetrius Bell

What a rush: The Bills entered the offseason identifying their pass-rush as their biggest weakness. As a result, Buffalo went out and spent $127.5 million on a pair of pass-rushing ends who will fit in well with the team’s new 4-3 defense.

Williams ($100 million) and Anderson ($27.5 million) should be the best pass-rushing duo in the division. Williams has 59 career sacks, and Anderson recorded a career-high 10 sacks last season with the New England Patriots. Williams and Anderson will combine with defensive tackles Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus to be one of the NFL’s best defensive lines.

“We know we got push [up the middle],” Buffalo coach Chan Gailey said at the owners meetings this week. “So we were looking for edge-rush guys that can bring the quickness or speed off the edge.”

What’s next: Buffalo still has some needs heading into the draft. The good news is the Bills own a top-10 pick. That should provide one starter with potentially a couple more in the later rounds.

Left tackle was a rotating door last season that needs to be fixed. Three players started there for Buffalo in 2011, and the Bills would like to get one bookend to protect quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's blindside. Buffalo also has needs at receiver, linebacker and cornerback that could be addressed in the top half of the draft.

Miami Dolphins

Key additions: CB/S Richard Marshall, QB David Garrard, OT/G Artis Hicks

Key losses: WR Brandon Marshall, S Yeremiah Bell, QB Chad Henne, OT Vernon Carey, OG Marc Colombo, DE Kendall Langford

QB competition: The Dolphins are setting themselves up for another quarterback competition this summer. Garrard and incumbent Matt Moore will battle it out for the right to run rookie head coach Joe Philbin’s new West Coast offense.

Moore will enter camp as the favorite. He played with Miami’s receivers last year and is more familiar with the team. Garrard is 34 hasn’t played since 2010. He’s a bit of a wild card at this stage in his career.

"I envision Matt Moore, and David Garrard, and Pat Devlin at this point and time getting a lot of repetitions in the voluntary minicamp and as things move forward," Philbin said. "Based on what things happen we’ll divide the reps up from there. It’s an open competition. I told both guys [Moore and Garrard] that and we’re very clear about that."

What’s next: The Dolphins still have a lot of work to do. For example, Philbin was asked Tuesday at the owners meetings if his offensive line was set, and he rightly said “No, not at all.” Neither Carey nor Colombo are expected to return. The Dolphins also need a boost at receiver.

Many Miami fans are not happy with the way the front office has handled the team. The Dolphins have traded or released five starters from last year’s team. General manager Jeff Ireland says wait until the full body of work, which is fair. But the Dolphins still have a lot of work to do.

New England Patriots

Key additions: WR Brandon Lloyd, OT Robert Gallery, WR Anthony Gonzalez, WR Donte Stallworth, TE Daniel Fells, DL Trevor Scott.

Key losses: RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, DE Mark Anderson

Bargain hunting: The Patriots, as usual, didn’t go crazy in free agency. The reigning AFC champs bided their time, then went bargain hunting for players the Patriots feel have value. Lloyd makes sense on a lot of levels, especially for the relatively modest $12 million he received. Gallery, Scott, Stallworth and Fells are also players who could bring something to the team at a low number.

New England lost a pair of big-name free agents. Green-Ellis led the Patriots in rushing two years in a row, and Anderson was tied for the team lead with 10 sacks. The competition at running back will be interesting with second-year players Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. The Patriots most likely will search for pass-rushers in the draft.

What’s next: The Patriots won’t do much else in free agency, unless something catches their eye. New England’s focus is now on the draft and making good use of its four picks in the first two rounds.

New England hasn’t done much to address the defense. I expect three of its first four picks to be used on last year’s 31st-ranked defense.

New York Jets

Key addition: QB Tim Tebow, S LaRon Landry

Key losses: WR Plaxico Burress, RB LaDainian Tomlinson, S Jim Leonhard

Tebow time: The Jets acquired the most controversial and debated player this offseason. But will Tebow Time be a success? New York seems adamant implementing plenty of Wildcat into its ground-and-pound offense. Tebow will be a big part. He is a strong runner with the ability to run through tackles.

But Tebow also brings the hype and hysteria with him. You can multiply that by 10 since Tebow joined the New York market. So far, everyone is saying the right things. But it will be up to Tebow and quarterback Mark Sanchez to make this pairing work.

What’s next: The Jets still have big questions at wide receiver, right tackle and safety. Burress’ departure leaves a starting job open opposite receiver Santonio Holmes. New York also has a pair of struggling starters in right tackle Wayne Hunter and safety Eric Smith.

The Jets don’t have much cap room remaining. That leaves the draft as the most likely option, unless New York is able to find a cheap upgrade. There are more quality receivers and offensive tackles available in the first round than safeties. That may provide a clue to where the Jets are leaning.

NFC South free-agency assessment

March, 29, 2012
3/29/12
11:00
AM ET
AFC Assessments: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Atlanta Falcons

Key additions: LB Lofa Tatupu, G Vince Manuwai

Key losses: LB Curtis Lofton, WR/KR Eric Weems

Keeping their own: Much to the chagrin of their fans, the Falcons chose not to pursue defensive end Mario Williams or any other big-name free agent. Instead, they focused hard on keeping their own guys. That started before the season ended with tight end Tony Gonzalez re-signing and continued into free agency as the Falcons made it a point to lock up guys like receiver Harry Douglas, defensive end John Abraham and running back Jason Snelling. They also protected cornerback Brent Grimes with the franchise tag.

The only loss that really hurt was Lofton. The Falcons liked him, but new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan didn’t view him as a three-down player. The Falcons still made an effort to keep Lofton, but weren’t willing to pay big money. They brought in the veteran Tatupu, who could be a short-term answer. But there’s a hope within the organization that second-year pro Akeem Dent can step forward and win the job immediately because he’s the guy that’s going to end up there for the long term.

What’s next: Don’t completely rule out the addition of a minor or mid-level free agent or two, but the Falcons are focusing mainly on the draft. Even with Abraham back, they’re still looking to improve their pass rush and defensive ends could be in play. But the Falcons also could add a defensive tackle because Jonathan Babineaux and Peria Jerry are coming off sub-par seasons. Some depth in the secondary and a kick returner also are possible targets.

Key additions: RB/FB Mike Tolbert, G Mike Pollak

Key losses: G Travelle Wharton

The splash came last year: The Panthers haven’t been very active in free agency. That’s largely because they made their big moves coming out of the lockout last year. They signed defensive end Charles Johnson, running back DeAngelo Williams, linebacker Jon Beason, defensive tackle Ron Edwards and linebacker Thomas Davis to huge deals, and that’s why they had very little salary-cap room to work with this year.

But the Panthers didn’t really reap the rewards of some of those signings because Beason, Davis and Edwards all suffered early injuries. That took a toll on the defense. But all three of those guys are back and healthy and that should improve the defense immediately. Carolina developed an explosive offense last season and a strong defense could turn the Panthers into playoff contenders.

What’s next: The Panthers have very little cap room and don’t figure to make many more moves in free agency. They’re focused in on the draft and there needs have been narrowed. They’re likely to address cornerback and defensive tackle early in the draft. But don’t be surprised if they take a linebacker somewhere in the first three or four rounds, and it’s even possible they could target one in the first or second. Davis is coming off his torn ACL and the Panthers don’t know if he’ll be anything close to what he was before the injuries.

New Orleans Saints

Key additions: LB Curtis Lofton, DT Brodrick Bunkley, G Ben Grubbs

Key losses: G Carl Nicks, CB Tracy Porter

Miracle workers: Faced with an extremely tight salary-cap situation and some bizarre off-field events, it’s somewhat amazing the Saints were able to keep as much as they did. They didn’t want to lose Nicks, who might be the best guard in the league and is in his prime. But that’s the price they had to pay to make sure they kept quarterback Drew Brees and receiver Marques Colston, as well as adding players like Lofton, Grubbs and Bunkley.

The Brees situation remains complicated. He's still carrying the franchise tag. The Saints need to get him signed to a long-term deal quickly. Even more than ever, the Saints need Brees’ leadership abilities. They need him signed and happy before their offseason program starts April 16.

What’s next: With the possibility of multiple defensive players facing possible suspensions as a result of the bounty program, the Saints still could be looking to make significant moves. It will be hard to draft players that will make an instant impact because the Saints are without picks in the first two rounds. That means they might have to pull some more help out of free agency, even with limited cap space. They could use another pass-rusher to complement Will Smith. Even after adding Lofton and Bunkley, the Saints still could use depth at linebacker and defensive tackle.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Key additions: WR Vincent Jackson, G Carl Nicks, CB Eric Wright

Key losses: C Jeff Faine

Locking them up: Part of the reason the Bucs didn’t lose much of anything in free agency is because they’ve done a nice job of locking up some core players in recent years. They made it a point to make sure offensive linemen Donald Penn, Davin Joseph and Jeremy Zuttah never got close to leaving. Add Nicks to that group and the Bucs have a chance to have one of the league’s better offensive lines. As the season gets going, some other young players will be rewarded with contract extensions as they show they fit in coach Greg Schiano’s system.

What’s next: After making the initial splash, the Bucs said they’re done with free agency and are focused on the draft. That’s largely true, although the team is keeping a close eye on what remains on the market. This is a team that still is building and will still have needs after the draft. The Bucs have a big need at running back, where they have to find at least one player to complement LeGarrette Blount. The cornerback position could be an early target in the draft even after Ronde Barber decided to return for a 16th season. There also is some uncertainty about Aqib Talib's future. Even if he remains with the team, the Bucs need depth at the position. There also is uncertainty at linebacker and a need for depth at safety and tight end.

AFC North free-agency assessment

March, 29, 2012
3/29/12
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AFC Assessments: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Cincinnati Bengals

Key additions: RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, S Reggie Nelson, G Travelle Wharton, CB Jason Allen, CB Adam Jones, DE Jamaal Anderson, DE Derrick Harvey

Key losses: DE Frostee Rucker (Browns), G Nate Livings (Cowboys), G Mike McGlynn (Colts), DE Jonathan Fanene (Patriots), WR Andre Caldwell (Broncos)

Grade after first wave of free agency: B. The Bengals were the most active team in the division and they should have been. Cincinnati entered free agency with over $50 million in salary-cap space, which was more than the rest of the AFC North combined. The Bengals upgraded at running back and left guard while bringing back their top free-agent priority in safety Reggie Nelson. The biggest knock against the Bengals is they didn't make a splash by signing a high-profile free agent like guard Ben Grubbs or wide receiver Robert Meachem.

The prize of the Bengals' signings is running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who is an improvement over Cedric Benson. Green-Ellis isn't known for breaking long gains, but he is a force in the red zone and has never fumbled in the NFL. Wharton is a step up from Nate Livings at left guard because he is a strong run-blocker who will open holes inside. The biggest losses came on the defensive line, where Cincinnati will miss Frostee Rucker on run defense and Jonathan Fanene in the pass rush.

What’s next: The Bengals can still close the gap between the Ravens and Steelers because they have two first-round picks in the draft (No. 17 overall, which came from Oakland in the Carson Palmer trade, and No. 21). Even with the signing of Wharton, Cincinnati needs a right guard and could have a shot at the top interior offensive lineman coming out of college. Stanford's David DeCastro is one of the safest picks in the draft and would start immediately for the Bengals.

The second first-round pick could be used on a wide receiver or a cornerback. The Bengals surprisingly didn't add a free-agent wide receiver to pair with A.J. Green. Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill or Baylor's Kendall Wright should be available in the bottom third of the draft. Another need is cornerback because Cincinnati could use an eventual replacement for Nate Clements, who is entering his 12th season. Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick, the second-best corner in the draft, has a chance of sliding to the Bengals.

Cleveland Browns

Key additions: DE Frostee Rucker, LB D'Qwell Jackson, CB Dimitri Patterson, DE Juqua Parker

Key losses: RB Peyton Hillis (Chiefs), S Mike Adams (Broncos), G Eric Steinbach, OT Tony Pashos

Grade after first wave of free agency: C. Browns president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert said they were building this team through the draft and they weren't joking. The Browns desperately needed to improve at quarterback, wide receiver and right guard. But Cleveland's offense came out of the initial wave of free agency empty-handed. Blame the Washington Redskins. The Browns attempted to move up in the draft to take Robert Griffin III, and the Rams instead traded the second overall pick to the Redskins. Cleveland reportedly pursued wide receivers Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan, and both took high-priced deals from Washington.

The Browns provided more help to the defense in free agency. Frostee Rucker will make an impact in stopping the run, which was the biggest weakness on the NFL's 10th-ranked defense. Juqua Parker, who has 31.5 sacks over the past six seasons, will team with Jabaal Sheard to give Cleveland a strong rush coming off both edges. The Browns didn't try to keep Peyton Hillis and Mike Adams from going elsewhere.

What’s next: Offense, offense and offense. Did I mention offense? The Browns need a quarterback but there's no one worthy of the fourth overall pick. Cleveland could trade down to select Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill or wait until the second round for Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden. The big decision comes if the Browns stay put at No. 4. Cleveland's choices are Alabama running back Trent Richardson or Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon. The Browns could use either one because they don't have a starting running back or a No. 1 wide receiver.

Cleveland has a second first-round pick as a result of last year's trade with the Atlanta Falcons. The Browns need to target a wide receiver (if they don't take one earlier in the first round), right tackle or outside linebacker with the 22nd overall pick. Baylor receiver Wright, Mississippi offensive tackle Bobby Massie and Nebraska outside linebacker Lavonte David have been linked to Cleveland.

Baltimore Ravens

Key additions: C Matt Birk, ILB Jameel McClain, OLB Brendon Ayanbadejo, CB Corey Graham, S Sean Considine

Key losses: G Ben Grubbs (Saints), OLB Jarret Johnson (Chargers), DE Cory Redding (Colts) and CB Domonique Foxworth

Grade after first wave of free agency: D. The Ravens lost three starters (Ben Grubbs, Jarret Johnson and Cory Redding) from last season's AFC North champion team and have yet to add anyone to replace them. It was a a rough start to free agency for Baltimore, which didn't sign any of its first three visits (guard Evan Mathis, defensive end Mark Anderson and receiver-returner Ted Ginn Jr.). The toughest part of free agency was when the Ravens failed to sign Mathis, who re-signed with the Eagles, after Baltimore had just lost Grubbs.

Baltimore was able to keep two free-agent starters, Matt Birk and Jameel McClain, and boost a struggling special-teams group that allowed three touchdowns last season. The Ravens signed Cory Graham, a Pro Bowl special-teams player from the Bears; Brendon Ayanbadejo, a three-time Pro Bowl special teams standout; and Sean Considine, who played special teams for three seasons under John Harbaugh in Philadelphia.

What’s next: The Ravens' biggest need is at left guard, but there might not be one that warrants being taken at No. 29. Wisconsin center-guard Peter Konz's stock has slipped recently even though he can guard right away before switching to center in future seasons. It's hard to pin down a player for Baltimore, which can go in a lot of different directions in the first round.

The Ravens could take the best wide receiver available (especially if he's a returner) because they need a third target who can eventually take Anquan Boldin's starting spot. They could take a safety because Ed Reed turns 34 at the start of the season and Bernard Pollard is a free agent next year. And they could take an offensive tackle because they don't have a reliable backup and Bryant McKinnie is a free agent in 2013.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Key additions: None

Key losses: CB William Gay (Cardinals), LB James Farrior, NT Chris Hoke, G Chris Kemoeatu, DE Aaron Smith, WR Hines Ward

Grade after first wave of free agency: D. It's been a quiet free-agency period so far for the Steelers. Then again, it's usually quiet for the Steelers at this point in the offseason. The only team that consistently does less than the Steelers in free agency is the Green Bay Packers.

The Steelers avoided a failing grade because they've only lost two starters from last season's playoff team. James Farrior was cut in the team's salary-cap purge, and William Gay left as an unrestricted free agent. What Pittsburgh really lost in trimming $25 million to get under the cap was veteran depth and leadership. Injuries would force young players to step up into starting roles.

What’s next: There are question marks at running back, guard, inside linebacker, nose tackle and cornerback. Despite all of those needs, the consensus has been Pittsburgh will draft Alabama inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower if he's available at No. 24. He has a great combination of size and speed and excelled in a 3-4 defense in college. It seems like Hightower would be the perfect fit for Pittsburgh.

There's no chance that Memphis' Dontari Poe falls to the Steelers, but there some quality nose tackles in the draft. Those who should be available after the first round are: BYU's Loni Fangupo (second round), Washington's Alameda Ta'amu (third round) and Alabama's Josh Chapman (fourth round). The Steelers likely will become active later in free agency, especially in retaining their own players. Wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, running back Mewelde Moore and quarterbacks Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch could potentially return to the team.

AFC West free-agency assessment

March, 29, 2012
3/29/12
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AFC Assessments: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Denver Broncos

Key additions: QB Peyton Manning, CB Tracy Porter, TE Joel Dreessen, TE Jacob Tamme, S Mike Adams, QB Caleb Hanie, WR Andre Caldwell.

Key losses: DT Brodrick Bunkley, WR, Eddie Royal, TE Daniel Fells, QB Tim Tebow, QB Brady Quinn, TE Dante Rosario.

Did they get better? The Broncos added Manning and that move changes the course of the entire division. Denver is instantly the favorite to win the AFC West again because of this addition. Yes, there are risks as the 36-year-old Manning missed the entire 2011 season with a neck injury that required several surgeries. Denver is convinced Manning is fully recovered and has been cleared to play.

If the 2012 Manning is anything like the Manning we last saw, Denver will be in good shape and the offense will be dangerous. The key is on defense. It has improved greatly and the Porter and Adams additions should help, even while losing Bunkley will hurt. Overall, this team made huge strides in the offseason.

What’s next: Denver’s biggest need areas are at defensive tackle (the Broncos may need two), running back, safety, receiver and linebacker. However, much of that need is for depth purposes.

Denver’s only true glaring hole is at defensive tackle. Expect the Broncos to use their No. 25 pick on the position. I wouldn’t be surprised if the team’s second-round pick is used on a running back unless the Broncos like one of the remaining veterans on the market.

Kansas City Chiefs

Key additions: CB Stanford Routt, RT Eric Winston, RB Peyton Hillis, TE Kevin Boss, QB Brady Quinn.

Key losses: CB Brandon Carr, QB Kyle Orton, FB Le'Ron McClain, LB Demorrio Williams.

Did they get better? Had it not been for the Manning blockbuster, everybody would be taking about what the Chiefs did. I think the Chiefs’ work in free agency was among the best five in the NFL.

Instead of giving quarterback Matt Cassel serious competition, the Chiefs further committed to him by giving him some strong pieces on offense. Hillis will team with Jamaal Charles to make a dangerous running tandem. Winston is one of the league’s better right tackles and Boss and Tony Moeaki will give opposing defenses fits in double tight end sets. This will be a varied offense that will have many weapons. The Chiefs are solid on defense and Routt is a veteran who is comparable to Carr, but more experienced and is less expensive.

What’s next: The Chiefs could use a nose tackle, help at inside linebacker, secondary depth and offensive line depth. They will get a good player with the 11th pick and I think they will try to solidify the middle of the defensive line with someone like Memphis’ Dontari Poe. If the Chiefs can add an impact defender with that pick, it will complete an outstanding offseason.

Oakland Raiders

Key additions: G Mike Brisiel, CB Ron Bartell, CB Shawntae Spencer, CB Pat Lee.

Key losses: LB Kamerion Wimbley, RB Michael Bush, QB Jason Campbell, CB Stanford Routt, TE Kevin Boss, DT John Henderson, RB Rock Cartwright, WR Chaz Schilens, DE Trevor Scott, CB Chris Johnson.

Did they get better? It’s difficult to argue this team improved. Just look at all the losses. It’s a pure fact of numbers, Oakland lost much more than it brought in. This team has more questions than it did at the end of last season and it has more holes. With limited cap space and the fact Oakland doesn’t pick in the draft until No. 95, the Raiders will have a difficult time adding any more impact players. Depth can be an issue.

I understand why this has happened. The new Oakland regime had to get things in order, and sometimes, before a team can make major steps forward as an organization, it may have to take a step back. There is still a lot of talent in Oakland, but it is clear the other three teams made more impactful additions.

What’s next: Oakland will be challenged to find impact players, but it will need to add depth at several places after finding a starting outside linebacker. Oakland needs depth at linebacker, the secondary, offensive line, running back and at quarterback. I think we will see Oakland be patient and add at spots all the way up into the season.

San Diego Chargers

Key additions: WR Robert Meachem, LB Jarret Johnson, WR Eddie Royal, FB Le’Ron McClain, QB Charlie Whitehurst, S Atari Bigby, TE Dante Rosario, LB Demorrio Williams

Key losses: WR Vincent Jackson, RB Mike Tolbert, G Kris Dielman, S Steve Gregory, QB Billy Volek.

Did they get better? I’ve talked to a lot of scouts who believe the Chargers improved. The truth is they lost two good players in Jackson and Tolbert and so did not improve as much as Denver and Kansas City did. But the Chargers did get creative and added a lot of pieces for the price it would have cost to keep Jackson. They also retained key offensive linemen Nick Hardwick and Jared Gaither. Meachem and Royal give quarterback Philip Rivers some interesting weapons.

Johnson will help the defense and he will make it tougher. The Chargers may have gotten a little deeper while losing some star power.

What’s next: The Chargers still haven’t addressed their greatest need outside of keeping its offensive line intact. San Diego will no doubt use its No. 18 pick on the best available pass-rusher to help Johnson is not a great pass-rusher.

Other needs include a big backup running back, offensive line depth and some more depth in all layers of the defense.

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