NFL Nation: 2014 NFL MVP Replacements AFC

Whether it's a marquee QB or an interior defensive lineman, no team can afford to lose its most valuable player.

So, who steps in if the unfathomable happens? Our NFL Nation reporters and Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl have teamed up to identify each team's most important player and which player in the 2014 draft each team can target to groom as a potential replacement -- MVP insurance. For some teams, their future stars may be slightly younger than others as draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.

Henne
He doesn’t put up big numbers and has his limitations, but quarterback Chad Henne is the MVP of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Henne started 13 games this past season and threw for 3,421 yards and 13 touchdowns with 14 interceptions, although he had nine TD passes and five interceptions in the final five games. Henne obviously didn’t tear it up, but he did bring stability to the offense and rarely put the team in a bad position.

He also wasn’t exactly working with elite weapons, either. He lost his best receiver (Justin Blackmon) to an indefinite suspension, didn’t get much from tight end Marcedes Lewis until the last month, and then lost his second-best receiver (Cecil Shorts) for the final three weeks because of an injury.

Henne’s contract expires in March, but the Jaguars want him back and Henne said he’d like to return. It’s critical that he does, because Blaine Gabbert has not developed into the franchise quarterback the team hoped he would be after they traded up to select him with the No. 10 overall pick in 2011. Gabbert won the starting job in training camp, but was miserable in his three starts, throwing seven interceptions and just one touchdown pass.

The Jaguars are almost certainly going to draft a quarterback in May, and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch and head coach Gus Bradley would like to have someone experienced with the offense to mentor the young QB and be the starter if needed. Ideally, that would be Henne, who is a better fit for that role than Gabbert.

That depends on whether the Jaguars can work out an extension for Henne before he becomes a free agent, or convince him to return after he has tested the market. If not, then the Jaguars will start Gabbert, a free agent, or a rookie in 2014. That is not the kind of continuity the franchise needs.

MVP replacements: Denver Broncos 

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
12:00
PM ET
Whether it's a marquee QB or an interior defensive lineman, no team can afford to lose its most valuable player.

So, who steps in if the unfathomable happens? Our NFL Nation reporters and Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl have teamed up to identify each team's most important player and which player in the 2014 draft each team can target to groom as a potential replacement -- MVP insurance. For some teams, their future stars may be slightly younger than others as draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.

Decker
No question the Denver Broncos' MVP is quarterback Peyton Manning, who has said he has every intention of playing in 2014. He will have a physical in the coming weeks, and if the doctors give Manning the thumbs up -- and the team expects them to -- Manning will play in ’14 with the possibility of 2015 on the table.

They Broncos have taken quarterbacks in the past two drafts -- Brock Osweiler in 2012 and Zac Dysert in 2013. They like Osweiler’s progress at Manning’s side. He has shown confidence when he’s been asked to run the offense, and has upper-tier arm strength. The Broncos believe he is a starter in waiting, but John Elway is also from the Ron Wolf school when it comes to quarterbacks and the draft -- he always believes you should think about taking one, no matter what your depth chart looks like.

But the Broncos do have some major questions to answer in free agency this year. Wide receiver Eric Decker and running back Knowshon Moreno are two of their regulars set for unrestricted free agency. Moreno tore an ACL in 2011 and had stem cell treatment on the knee before the 2013 season, so there is some concern there, and Decker might not find the payday he wants in Denver given Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas will both be scheduled as unrestricted free agents. So, with limited salary cap space, the Broncos will have to look at Decker and decide how much of a commitment they want to make at the position with the Thomases on deck.

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MVP replacements: Pittsburgh Steelers 

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
12:00
PM ET
Whether it's a marquee QB or an interior defensive lineman, no team can afford to lose its most valuable player.

So, who steps in if the unfathomable happens? Our NFL Nation reporters and Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl have teamed up to identify each team's most important player and which player in the 2014 draft each team can target to groom as a potential replacement -- MVP insurance. For some teams, their future stars may be slightly younger than others as draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.

Antonio Brown's teammates voted him Steelers MVP for the second time since 2013 after he authored the greatest season by a wide receiver in franchise history.

But let’s be honest here: Ben Roethlisberger is the player the Steelers can least afford to lose, and it’s not even close.

Roethlisberger
That’s not a knock on Brown as much as it a nod to how important the quarterback position is in the pass-centric NFL.

Roethlisberger is locked up for two more seasons, and team president Art Rooney II has said the Steelers will sign their franchise quarterback to a new contract at some point -- one that will allow him to play his entire career in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers won’t look toward the NFL draft or free agency to add Roethlisberger injury insurance, and it’s not because the 10th-year veteran played every snap in 2013.

They took care of Big Ben fallback plans last year when they signed Bruce Gradkowski, a veteran but one who is younger than previous backups Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch, and selected Oklahoma’s Landry Jones in the fourth round of the draft.

Drafting a wide receiver early, perhaps even with the 15th overall pick, makes sense for myriad reasons.

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MVP replacements: Indianapolis Colts 

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
12:00
PM ET
Whether it's a marquee QB or an interior defensive lineman, no team can afford to lose its most valuable player.

So, who steps in if the unfathomable happens? Our NFL Nation reporters and Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl have teamed up to identify each team's most important player and which player in the 2014 draft each team can target to groom as a potential replacement -- MVP insurance. For some teams, their future stars may be slightly younger than others as draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.

Luck
You would think the quarterback with the first name Peyton and last name Manning was still taking snaps under center for the Indianapolis Colts the past two seasons.

Just as Manning did at different times during his 14 seasons with the Colts, Andrew Luck has made them winners despite obvious holes on the offensive line and a flawed defense.

That’s why Luck is the clear-cut team MVP.

Luck isn’t a product of the system. Green Bay was able to plug Matt Flynn in at quarterback in Aaron Rodgers' absence. Colts coach Chuck Pagano is a defensive-minded coach. Luck has been able to mask a number of their problems with his natural abilities. The Colts found out what it’s like not to have a backup plan when Manning missed the 2011 season. That is why Luck is wearing an Indianapolis’ jersey today.

Luck’s backup, Matt Hasselbeck, will be 39 years old next season and plans to retire at the end of the 2014 season.

Chandler Harnish has spent the past two seasons on the practice squad, but he’s done little in that span to prove he’s ready to take the necessary step to be Luck’s backup. Harnish only completed 47 percent of his pass attempts in the preseason last year.

The Colts can draft a quarterback in the middle or late rounds to be third on the depth chart in an attempt to make him Luck’s backup once Hasselbeck retires.

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MVP replacements: New York Jets 

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
12:00
PM ET
Whether it's a marquee QB or an interior defensive lineman, no team can afford to lose its most valuable player.

So, who steps in if the unfathomable happens? Our NFL Nation reporters and Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl have teamed up to identify each team's most important player and which player in the 2014 draft each team can target to groom as a potential replacement -- MVP insurance. For some teams, their future stars may be slightly younger than others as draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.

Wilkerson
Barring injury, the Jets don't have to worry about losing Muhammad Wilkerson anytime soon. He has one year remaining on his rookie contract, plus a fifth-year option the team is likely to exercise. In other words, they can control him through 2015. Good thing for the Jets, because Wilkerson is the best defensive player on a defensive-oriented team.

The Jets have picked a first-round defensive lineman in each of the last three drafts, so there's virtually no chance they will do it again. Still, you have to wonder how they'd replace Wilkerson in the event of a serious injury. That would be a problem because of his talent (obviously) and versatility. He can line up in any position on the line -- 3-4 end, 4-3 end and 4-3 tackle. There are packages in which he plays over the center.

Wilkerson's backup in 2013 was Leger Douzable, a career backup eligible for unrestricted free agency. He played well in a limited role and there's a chance he could move on, which would be a blow depth-wise. Sheldon Richardson, coming off a terrific rookie season, is another versatile lineman, but he's best suited to the interior. They're set at nose tackle with Damon Harrison and Kenrick Ellis.

So, basically, they don't have another Wilkerson or even a reasonable facsimile, especially if Douzable departs. Wilkerson wore down late in the season because he played so many snaps, so having a reliable backup is critical. But they will have to find that guy in free agency or the later rounds of the draft, because after taking Wilkerson, Quinton Coples and Richardson in consecutive first rounds, they've already invested plenty in one position. At 6-foot-5, 280 pounds, Coples has the Wilkerson body type (shy 25 pounds), but he just spent a year learning to play "rush" linebacker, so it would be a waste to make him learn another position.

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MVP replacements: Kansas City Chiefs 

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
12:00
PM ET
Whether it's a marquee QB or an interior defensive lineman, no team can afford to lose its most valuable player.

So, who steps in if the unfathomable happens? Our NFL Nation reporters and Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl have teamed up to identify each team's most important player and which player in the 2014 draft each team can target to groom as a potential replacement -- MVP insurance. For some teams, their future stars may be slightly younger than others as draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.

In leading his team in rushing, receiving and touchdowns, Jamaal Charles was the engine for the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense. It’s scary for the Chiefs to think of what they might be without Charles, except they scored 44 points in their playoff loss to Indianapolis mostly without him. He left the game for good on Kansas City’s first possession with a concussion.

That ignores two important points. One, perhaps the Chiefs with a healthy Charles for an entire game would have scored enough points to beat the Colts. Second, that was one game. What if they needed to replace Charles for a longer period?

Charles
The Chiefs drafted Knile Davis from Arkansas in the third round last year for just that scenario. At 227 pounds, Davis is more powerful and also might be just as fast. He doesn’t have Charles’ vision and cutting ability, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t be effective for the Chiefs over the longer term as their featured back.

Davis brings some risks to the lineup as well. He was a notorious fumbler in college and had trouble holding on to the ball at times as a rookie. He is far less polished than Charles as a receiver and pass-protector, so the Chiefs might have to look elsewhere for a back they could trust on passing downs.

Davis has an injury history from college and ended his season by breaking his leg against the Colts. The Chiefs believe Davis will be ready to play when next season begins, but he’s still a raw player who would benefit from the offseason practice he might not get.

It wouldn’t hurt the Chiefs to find some insurance for Davis, their insurance for Charles.

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MVP replacements: Cincinnati Bengals 

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
12:00
PM ET
Whether it's a marquee QB or an interior defensive lineman, no team can afford to lose its most valuable player.

So, who steps in if the unfathomable happens? Our NFL Nation reporters and Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl have teamed up to identify each team's most important player and which player in the 2014 draft each team can target to groom as a potential replacement -- MVP insurance. For some teams, their future stars may be slightly younger than others as draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.

Burfict
Based on how his first two seasons have gone, linebacker Vontaze Burfict is the Cincinnati Bengals’ obvious MVP. A case also could be made for receiver A.J. Green, who has been selected to the Pro Bowl each of the three years in his career.

Burfict has ranked among the team’s tackle leaders the last two seasons. This year, he was the top tackler in the league, en route to setting a single-season franchise record with 171 total stops.

Signed through the 2014 season, Burfict likely will be looking at a big pay raise when his next contract is negotiated. Because of his undrafted status, he made the league minimum when he was signed following the 2012 draft. His anticipated pay increase should be exponentially bigger since he started so low on the pay scale.

Regardless of how high Burfict’s price tag will be after next season, he should be well within range for the Bengals to re-sign him. He’s beginning to turn into the type of young player around which a team structures other parts of its defense.

But for the sake of conversation, assume he doesn’t get re-signed. Since he wasn’t commanding much of the team’s payroll, it would be easy to replace him, financially speaking, either in the next two drafts or in free agency. Would his production be replaceable, though? That’s highly doubtful and it’s why the Bengals hope he stays healthy and keeps playing at his high level.

While Rey Maualuga and Vincent Rey could play Burfict’s spot, neither has proven he can replicate quite the same level of intensity.

As for Green, odds might be better – not significantly, though – that the Bengals could navigate life without him if they had to. While he has put up first-round pick numbers since arriving in 2011, the former No. 4 overall selection still has struggled to consistently dominate games. Some of that stems from his occasional ad-libbing on routes, thereby throwing off quarterback Andy Dalton.

If by some strange twist of fate Cincinnati doesn’t re-sign Green this offseason or next year when his first contract expires, it has a solid enough receiver in Marvin Jones. The No. 2 wideout emerged as a real pass-catching threat in 2013. The pool of young receivers in this draft class also is so deep that the Bengals could draft one and groom him along the next two seasons.

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MVP replacements: Buffalo Bills 

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
12:00
PM ET
Whether it's a marquee QB or an interior defensive lineman, no team can afford to lose its most valuable player.

So, who steps in if the unfathomable happens? Our NFL Nation reporters and Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl have teamed up to identify each team's most important player and which player in the 2014 draft each team can target to groom as a potential replacement -- MVP insurance. For some teams, their future stars may be slightly younger than others as draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.

Jackson
Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone didn't hide his feelings when one his offensive captains fell to the turf last October.

Running back Fred Jackson already had been dealing with a knee injury, but this one -- coming during a 23-21 Bills win over Miami in Week 7 -- looked worse.

"I was scared," Marrone said. "I saw it happen. He went down in a quick movement. At first, I was concerned."

Jackson eventually got back to his feet, waved off a cart and re-entered the game. It was just one of several injuries that Jackson shrugged off this season, which proved to be one of the best of his career.

The Bills still finished with a 6-10 record, but it's hard to see them performing even that well if Jackson hadn’t been able to play in all 16 games. Because of that, Jackson is the Bills' MVP.

Without Jackson, the Bills would be forced to use C.J. Spiller as their workhorse back, and that poses problems. While he provides tremendous value as an explosive second option in the backfield, Spiller has turned in negative plays and might not have the durability to handle a full workload.

Jackson enters the final season of his contract in 2014, and complicating matters is his age. He turns 33 in February. While Jackson hasn't shown signs of slowing down, his clock is still ticking.

If the Bills want to maximize the chances for their young quarterback, EJ Manuel, to succeed, they need a player like Jackson to ease the pressure.

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Whether it's a marquee QB or an interior defensive lineman, no team can afford to lose its most valuable player.

So, who steps in if the unfathomable happens? Our NFL Nation reporters and Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl have teamed up to identify each team's most important player and which player in the 2014 draft each team can target to groom as a potential replacement -- MVP insurance. For some teams, their future stars may be slightly younger than others as draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.

Mathews
Quarterback Philip Rivers is the best player on the San Diego Chargers.

But perhaps the most important player for San Diego’s offense is running back Ryan Mathews. The Chargers got an up-close look at the impact Mathews has on the team’s success when he was limited to just five carries for 26 yards because of a severe ankle sprain in San Diego’s 24-17 AFC divisional playoff loss to Denver.

The Chargers had morphed into an efficient, ball-control offense led by the physical running style of Mathews. The Fresno State product played a full, 16-game season for the first time in his NFL career in 2013, finishing with career highs in rushing attempts (285) and rushing yards (1,255) during the regular season.

The Chargers finished 7-1 in games that Mathews ran the ball at least 19 times during the regular season.

Mathews enters the final year of his rookie contract in 2014. Running back Danny Woodhead provides a nice complement to Mathews, with his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield in passing situations. And Ronnie Brown is a physical runner in between the tackles. But the Chargers do not have a similar style runner to replace Mathews if he gets injured, which affects San Diego’s ability to operate at a high level on offense.

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MVP replacements: New England Patriots 

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
12:00
PM ET
Whether it's a marquee QB or an interior defensive lineman, no team can afford to lose its most valuable player.

So, who steps in if the unfathomable happens? Our NFL Nation reporters and Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl have teamed up to identify each team's most important player and which player in the 2014 draft each team can target to groom as a potential replacement -- MVP insurance. For some teams, their future stars may be slightly younger than others as draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.

Brady
The obvious MVP for the Patriots is quarterback Tom Brady, while cornerback Aqib Talib would fall into the different category of “overlooked” MVP.

Brady is signed through the 2017 season, so the Patriots are locked in with him for at least another four seasons. Yet as we remember from the 2008 season, when Brady sustained a season-ending knee injury on the 15th offensive play of the season, the picture can change in an instant.

Backup Ryan Mallett enters the final year of his contract in 2014, and coach Bill Belichick seems to be high on him.

“Ryan has improved significantly in the three years that he's been here. I thought he made another strong jump this year and if at some point he ends up having to play, whenever that is, I think he is certainly on the road to being ready to play,” Belichick said on sports radio WEEI.

Given Mallett’s contract status, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Patriots target a quarterback in the middle rounds of the draft.

As for Talib, who is scheduled for free agency March 11, his ability to match up with the opponent’s top receiver and be competitive provided great value to the team. We saw how the defense was affected when Talib was knocked out of the last two AFC Championship games.

The Patriots have Alfonzo Dennard (third year), Kyle Arrington (sixth year) and Logan Ryan (second year) next in line on the depth chart.

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MVP replacements: Oakland Raiders 

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
12:00
PM ET
Whether it's a marquee QB or an interior defensive lineman, no team can afford to lose its most valuable player.

So, who steps in if the unfathomable happens? Our NFL Nation reporters and Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl have teamed up to identify each team's most important player and which player in the 2014 draft each team can target to groom as a potential replacement -- MVP insurance. For some teams, their future stars may be slightly younger than others as draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.

Jennings
Rashad Jennings was, ironically enough, signed by the Oakland Raiders as a free agent last offseason to be the perpetually injured Darren McFadden's primary backup at running back.

And Jennings ended up being the Raiders’ team MVP, though not without dealing with injury himself. Jennings missed one game with a concussion, but appeared in 15 and started eight.

No, he did not have eye-popping stats, but his hard-running style and excellent ball security (he did not fumble once this past season) made his career-high 733 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns seem like much more. He also had career highs in catches (36) and receiving yards (292), averaging 4.5 yards per carry and, oh yeah, he blocked two punts.

Thing is, Jennings is going to be an unrestricted free agent, as is McFadden. Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said he wants to re-sign Jennings, but thought McFadden would test his value in free agency.

Where do the Raiders turn if they lose Jennings?

Though they have a backup running back in Jeremy Stewart, Oakland is excited about the potential of Latavius Murray, a big (6-feet-3, 230 pounds) back with speed who was a sixth-round draft pick last year out of Central Florida. He spent the 2013 season on injured reserve after hurting his ankle in the preseason and spending most of the season wearing a walking boot.

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MVP replacements: Miami Dolphins 

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
12:00
PM ET
Whether it's a marquee QB or an interior defensive lineman, no team can afford to lose its most valuable player.

So, who steps in if the unfathomable happens? Our NFL Nation reporters and Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl have teamed up to identify each team's most important player and which player in the 2014 draft each team can target to groom as a potential replacement -- MVP insurance. For some teams, their future stars may be slightly younger than others as draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.

Grimes
Grimes
The Miami Dolphins' MVP in 2013 came as a surprise. But it was clear by the end of the season that cornerback Brent Grimes had the strongest, most consistent year of any Miami player.

Grimes was signed on a one-year “show me” contract after tearing his Achilles and missing most of 2012. Grimes stayed 100 percent healthy in 2013 and had, in his words, his best season. Grimes recorded 60 tackles, four interceptions and earned his second Pro Bowl nod. One of his interceptions was returned for a touchdown.

After a stellar season, Grimes now becomes Miami's biggest in-house free agent for first-year general manager Dennis Hickey. Grimes is in position to cash in with a sizable contract extension from the Dolphins or somewhere else. The one-year franchise tag also is a possibility with Miami.

The Dolphins are not well-prepared to handle the potential loss of Grimes. Veteran Dimitri Patterson is under contract for one more year. However, he's had injury issues his entire career. Nolan Carroll is inconsistent and a free agent.

It's possible that 2013 second-round pick Jamar Taylor and/or third-round pick Will Davis could make big jumps in 2014. However, the Dolphins haven't seen enough from either player as rookies to know if they're ready for the starting lineup.

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MVP replacements: Tennessee Titans 

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
12:00
PM ET
Whether it's a marquee QB or an interior defensive lineman, no team can afford to lose its most valuable player.

So, who steps in if the unfathomable happens? Our NFL Nation reporters and Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl have teamed up to identify each team's most important player and which player in the 2014 draft each team can target to groom as a potential replacement -- MVP insurance. For some teams, their future stars may be slightly younger than others as draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.

The Tennessee Titans have two players who qualify as MVPs on a team that is thin on star power: Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey and wide receiver Kendall Wright.

Tennessee has a reasonably good stable of defensive tackles beyond Casey, with Sammie Lee Hill, Antonio Johnson and Mike Martin. But none of them are equal forces against the run and the pass, and none of them are capable of posting 10.5 sacks the way Casey did in 2013.

Wright
Johnson is a free agent, and guys on the defensive line will likely have altered roles in a new scheme to be installed by new defensive coordinator Ray Horton. They have enough other defensive needs -- edge pass-rusher, play-making linebacker -- that finding depth behind Casey can’t be a priority.

His rookie contract runs through 2014, and re-signing him will be a major priority as the team looks to the future.

Wright caught 94 passes in his second season for 1,079 yards, and his position coach, Shawn Jefferson, said the receiver can revolutionize the slot receiver position. Wright has improved consistently since the Titans drafted him in the first round in 2012 out of Baylor.

He had to play a bit more outside last season because Kenny Britt bombed.

Wright and deep threat Justin Hunter, a second-round choice in 2013, are one of the best things the Titans have going for them.

Wright might be the most distinctive player on the Tennessee roster, so if the Titans lost him they’d likely have to alter their scheme to make up for it rather than finding a similar player to fill in or replace him.

The Titans have spent two of their last four highest picks on Wright and Hunter. Odds are receiver isn’t a draft priority for them this time. The offense needs a right tackle and maybe, most importantly, a quarterback.

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MVP replacements: Houston Texans 

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
12:00
PM ET
Whether it's a marquee QB or an interior defensive lineman, no team can afford to lose its most valuable player.

So, who steps in if the unfathomable happens? Our NFL Nation reporters and Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl have teamed up to identify each team's most important player and which player in the 2014 draft each team can target to groom as a potential replacement -- MVP insurance. For some teams, their future stars may be slightly younger than others as draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.

Some argued before the start of last season that the player the Houston Texans could least afford to lose was quarterback Matt Schaub. In a sense, the Texans did lose him during the 2013 season. They lost the version of Schaub that helped keep the offense stable enough for back-to-back division titles and instead went 2-14 with the worst record in the NFL.

Watt
Watt
But so much else went wrong last season that it’s difficult to pin that on just the quarterback position. Further, nobody would argue that Schaub was the team’s MVP. Another player’s loss would be even more devastating to the Texans: defensive end J.J. Watt.

This past season was proof that Watt’s impact can’t cover up every other problem on the Texans' defense, but he was disruptive even when his havoc wasn’t reflected on the stat sheet. Watt notched six batted passes and 10.5 sacks in 2013, and was one of the most disruptive players in the NFL on a per-dropback basis.

The problem for the Texans is in their insurance for Watt.

For the past three seasons, he’s played opposite defensive end Antonio Smith, a talented pass-rusher whose contract expires in March.

The Texans didn’t have Smith in their 2013 season opener as he served a suspension for an on-field confrontation with former Dolphins guard Richie Incognito. In Smith’s absence, second-year defensive lineman Jared Crick started. He played solidly, but with Smith’s potential departure in free agency, defensive end is a role the Texans need to bolster.

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MVP replacements: Baltimore Ravens 

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
12:00
PM ET
Whether it's a marquee QB or an interior defensive lineman, no team can afford to lose its most valuable player.

So, who steps in if the unfathomable happens? Our NFL Nation reporters and Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl have teamed up to identify each team's most important player and which player in the 2014 draft each team can target to groom as a potential replacement -- MVP insurance. For some teams, their future stars may be slightly younger than others as draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.

The obvious MVP for the Baltimore Ravens is quarterback Joe Flacco, and you only have to look at last year to understand why.

When Flacco was at his best in the playoffs (11 touchdowns and no interceptions), the Ravens won the Super Bowl. When he was throwing a career-worst 22 interceptions, Baltimore was an 8-8 team.

Flacco
Flacco signed a six-year, $120.6 million contract before last season, but it's essentially a three-year deal. His salary-cap number becomes burdensome in the 2016 season, when it escalates to $28.5 million. So the Ravens have a couple more seasons before they have to address his contract again.

What the Ravens have taken for granted is Flacco's durability. He has never missed a start in his six-year career, which is why the Ravens can risk having an inexperienced and inexpensive backup in Tyrod Taylor. The Ravens have brought in competition for Taylor the past two seasons, but Taylor has remained by beating out Curtis Painter and Caleb Hanie. Still, the Ravens have sent the message that they aren't giving the No. 2 quarterback job to Taylor, who has never thrown a touchdown in an NFL regular-season game.

It's a different situation for the Ravens' overlooked MVP, tight end Dennis Pitta. The Ravens struggled for most of the season in the red zone and on third downs when Pitta was out with a hip injury. With Pitta being an unrestricted free agent, the Ravens have to decide whether to put the franchise tag on him or sign him to a long-term deal.

Tight end is the thinnest position on the Ravens' roster right now. The only two players under contract are practice squad players Matt Furstenberg and Nathan Overbay.

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