NFL Nation: Eight in the box 030813

» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

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?

Houston Texans: The Texans might add no one of note in free agency, as they have minimal cap room and people they need to re-sign, starting with safety Glover Quin. But, given the players likely not to return, they will have more open spots than a draft class alone will be able to fill. One of those is nose tackle Shaun Cody. Much has been made of the team’s need to fortify at inside linebacker. Brian Cushing and whoever is beside him would benefit from better run-down play from the nose, so how about bringing in a guy for a spot where they’ll have only Earl Mitchell if Cody is gone? I propose Tampa Bay’s Roy Miller, a solid run-stopping player I believe could adjust to the role in Wade Phillips’ scheme, which is not like most 3-4 fronts.

Indianapolis Colts: The Colts have a lot of money and need to upgrade at several spots. What’s the best match given the available offensive linemen, cornerbacks, outside linebackers, safeties and receivers? I’m going with a cornerback. Perhaps the price of Atlanta’s Brent Grimes comes down a little because he’s coming off a torn Achilles tendon. But he’s the type of confident coverage player who would make for a very solid one-two combination with Vontae Davis, and could solve the team’s issue at a spot where it was incredibly vulnerable last season. If the Colts had Grimes and Davis, could re-sign Jerraud Powers and/or Darius Butler and add a player or two in the draft, they could turn a 2012 weakness into a 2013 strength.

Jacksonville Jaguars: The new regime in Jacksonville has downplayed the concept of spending big in free agency. Given the high-dollar contract failures of the team with some veterans in recent years, that’s understandable. The solution, however, is not to shut down spending -- it’s to spend smarter. Someone who ranks as a virtual sure thing at a position of need could help this team. New England right tackle Sebastian Vollmer qualifies, provided his back doesn’t appear to be an issue going forward. He can help make room for running backs and protect a quarterback, and the Jaguars need to do far better at both.

Tennessee Titans: The Titans have pledged to rebuild the inside of their offensive line, and it should mean two guards to sandwich around center Fernando Velasco. One of those guards should be a veteran, and Buffalo free agent Andy Levitre fits the bill. He’s a durable player who’s never missed a game; he’s good, if not great, at everything; and his best football should still be ahead of him. Head coach Mike Munchak and offensive line coach Bruce Matthews haven’t given themselves enough to work with on the interior. With a talent like Levitre, the two Hall of Famers should really be able to help get peak production.
» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

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?

Denver Broncos: Glover Quin, S, Texans: Sure, I could see the Broncos making a big splash at a high-profile position like receiver in the form of someone like Mike Wallace or Wes Welker. I wanted to focus on a position that may not get as much thought in Denver, but where the team is interested in getting better. The Broncos are interested in adding to the secondary. A player like Quin would be a great fit. The team likes Rahim Moore (despite his playoff gaffe against the Ravens) and they have high hopes for Quinton Carter. But Quin can come in and help these guys and provide an upgrade from Mike Adams. Getting a tough player in the back of a strong defense would only help Denver.

Kansas City Chiefs: Sean Smith, CB, Dolphins: The Chiefs are an interesting team. Despite being 2-14 in 2012, they don’t have a ton of screaming needs. Getting a quality cornerback to team with Brandon Flowers may be just the thing this defense needs. The Chiefs tried it with Stanford Routt last season (to replace top dollar Dallas free-agent signee Brandon Carr), but it didn’t work. Yes, the Chiefs could use the No. 1 pick on Alabama's Dee Milliner and I still think a trade for Darrelle Revis would be worth exploring. But adding a tall, athletic corner like Smith could be the ticket as well. He won’t be cheap, but he has skills and a Smith-Flowers pairing would be interesting.

Oakland Raiders: Cary Williams, CB, Ravens: The Raiders won't have a ton to spend and they have a lot of positions that need help. But I’m going with a cornerback, because I think it is the team’s greatest need. Really, name a legitimate starting in-house candidate in Oakland that is not an emergency option. Williams may be too sought-after for Oakland to afford. But he is a solid starter who has been through the wars. If the price is right, he’d fill a big need for Oakland. A more affordable option will be former Denver cornerback Tracy Porter. I think Oakland -- coach Dennis Allen was Porter’s position coach in New Orleans -- will be interested, but if Williams fell to Oakland, I think it would be worth considering.

San Diego Chargers: Andy Levitre, G, Bills: Levitre is one of the best guards in the league. He will be sought after in free agency. But if the price is not through the roof, I think the Chargers will be a player for his services. The Chargers’ primary task this offseason is to improve the offensive line. Levitre would be a great start. Levitre, who is from California, likely would be interested in signing and reuniting with former Buffalo offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris, who was just hired by the Chargers. He has a zone-blocking scheme. San Diego coach Mike McCoy said the Chargers will run the scheme that best fits the players, and I'm sure D’Alessandris would like to reunite with Levitre to help introduce his system. The Chargers’ best offensive lineman, guard Louis Vasquez, is also free. In the best-case scenario, San Diego would be able to keep both players, but it’s difficult to put top resources into two guards, especially with the team needing a left tackle. But because Levitre has experience in D’Alessandris’ system, I could see him being a more valued target than Vasquez.
» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

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?

Baltimore Ravens: Jermon Bushrod, OT, Saints. To answer the question, the Ravens will target their own players when free agency begins. The focus will be on inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and safety Ed Reed, and it's likely that order. But a primary target for the Ravens should be Bushrod. He's not a top-tier left tackle but he went to two Pro Bowls, owns a Super Bowl ring and knows what it takes to play in a fast-paced offense. Bushrod, who played college locally at Towson, is also more dependable than Bryant McKinnie. Adding Bushrod would allow Michael Oher to play right tackle, his more natural position. There's two problems with this working out: the Ravens may not have the salary-cap room to sign a free-agent offensive tackle and the Saints have made Bushrod a priority to re-sign.

Cincinnati Bengals: Dashon Goldson, SS, 49ers. He was going to be my targeted player for the Bengals even before an overblown radio interview linked him to Cincinnati. The Bengals ignored the strong safety position last season, and it resulted in the team shuffling through Taylor Mays, Nate Clements and Jeromy Miles in the first seven games. Cincinnati eventually had to bring back Chris Crocker to stabilize the spot. Goldson is a tough, physical player who is in the prime of his career. The Bengals have the cap room to meet Goldson's high price tag (likely about $8 million per season), but they might not want to invest so much in the safety position after signing Reggie Nelson to a four-year, $18 million contract last year.

Cleveland Browns: Cliff Avril, DE-LB, Lions. It would be a big statement by the new regime to land a top-five free agent like Avril. He upgrades the pass rush in a major way (29 sacks in his past three seasons) and can bring leadership to a young defense. There are concerns about giving a big contract to a player who has to switch positions. Avril would move from a 4-3 defensive end to a 3-4 outside linebacker, but it's not a major shift because he played linebacker in college. If the Browns are unable to get Avril, they can turn their attention to Ravens free agent Paul Kruger, or the draft. Oregon's Dion Jordan and Georgia's Jarvis Jones have been linked to Cleveland.

Pittsburgh Steelers: LaRod Stephens-Howling, RB, Cardinals. Sure, this isn't a big name like Goldson or Avril. But the Steelers don't have the salary-cap room to pursue top free agents. And, let's be honest, the Steelers don't step into the free-agent waters very much, and it would be accurate to list "none" as the targeted player. Still, if I had to pick a free agent who fits a need and can come at a reasonable price, it would be Stephens-Howling, a former star at Pitt. With Chris Rainey gone, Stephens-Howling is an elusive back who can provide a big-play spark, whether it's as a runner or receiver out of the backfield. His low per-carry average is more a reflection of the Cardinals' offense than his speed. This doesn't change the fact that Pittsburgh needs to find a young featured back in the draft. It's a bonus that Stephens-Howling can make an impact on special teams and has experience as a returner.
» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

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?

Dallas Cowboys: Louis Vasquez, G, Chargers. Cap-space problems likely price the Cowboys out of the top offensive line names available, but the line is their most desperate need and Vasquez is much more than a fallback option. Pro Football Focus ranked him as the eighth-best right guard in the league last year -- better than either of the midrange free-agent guards the Cowboys signed last year -- and he doesn't turn 26 for another month. He's the kind of free agent in whom it makes sense to invest -- a guy who's proven he can play in the league but is still hungry to prove more and young enough that they'd have him in his prime. I do still believe the Cowboys need to address the offensive line in the draft, but there's nothing wrong with a smart upgrade like this in the meantime to augment that plan.

New York Giants: Dannell Ellerbe, LB, Ravens. Yes, the Super Bowl champs will try to keep him. No, the Giants don't prioritize the linebacker position. If you're asking me if this is a player the Giants will sign, I'd have to say no. But what we're asking today is which player they should sign, and Ellerbe is a perfect fit. He's only 27 and has leadership experience and a championship ring earned while filling in for Ray Lewis this past year. The Giants' defense has drifted in and out too much the past few years in terms of focus and intensity, and Ellerbe would help with that from a position at which the Giants always seem to have a need.

Philadelphia Eagles: Kenny Phillips, S, Giants. So much uncertainty in the secondary, where the Eagles could be looking for four new starters. Phillips is as versatile a safety as there is on the market and would allow them to go in any number of directions with their cornerbacks or their other safety. He can cover. He can move up in the box and play the run. He's got Super Bowl experience. And if you're the Eagles or an Eagles fan, wouldn't it be fun to sign him away from the Giants and play him against them twice a year? Phillips has had some knee problems, which is his only red flag. If he checks out medically, then as a player who doesn't turn 27 until November he's a big-time answer for the Eagles at a position that has been driving them crazy since they let Brian Dawkins leave.

Washington Redskins: Ryan Harris, OT, Texans. Cap constraints will prevent the Redskins from dreaming big free-agent dreams, and I am fully aware that their greatest need is on defense in the secondary. But they need a right tackle as well, and Harris and Mike Shanahan know each other well from their days together in Denver in 2007 and 2008. Harris turns 28 on Monday and has zone-blocking, run-game experience. Best of all, he's not likely to cost much. If Shanahan liked Harris early in his career and still sees something, Harris could be an easy answer at an important position and allow the Texans to commit greater resources to the secondary and other needs.
» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

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?

Buffalo Bills: Buffalo has quite a bit of money to spend in free agency and few of its own players should be top priorities, with the exception of franchised safety Jairus Byrd and guard Andy Levitre, who should be the most sought-after free agent at his position. Bringing Levitre back should be a focus, and Buffalo could use more pieces on defense, but the Bills really need to add offensive weapons (especially if they plan to select a quarterback early in the 2013 draft). There are a lot of tight ends on the market and in the upcoming draft class, but free-agent wideout Greg Jennings would be my No. 1 target. Jennings is an established receiver who could legitimize the passing attack. The presence of Jennings would also allow Steve Johnson to see more favorable coverage matchups.

Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins have a lot of money to work with and should be one of the most active teams in free agency. On defense, cornerback and an edge pass-rusher are areas of need, but this offseason needs to be all about building around second-year franchise quarterback Ryan Tannehill. That would put Jennings in play here, too, but Steelers wideout Mike Wallace is younger and his fantastic speed would complement Davone Bess and Brian Hartline, who has reportedly agreed to a five-year contract to stay in Miami. Wallace also would allow Tannehill to show off his big arm downfield and help create room for Miami’s running game. And with Anthony Fasano also a free agent, Miami needs to address the tight end spot as well.

New England Patriots: The Patriots have plenty of cap room to be aggressive in free agency and improve an already-stacked roster, but they also have major contributors of their own whose contracts are up. The Tom Brady/Bill Belichick window could be closing in the near future, so expect the Pats to go all-in to upgrade their roster, which could possibly include trading backup quarterback Ryan Mallett for more draft picks that could further improve New England’s young core. The Pats’ roster could look much different next season, but former New England standout defensive lineman Richard Seymour would be a great guy to pursue. Seymour is familiar with how Belichick does things and the defense as a whole. He is getting on in age, but maybe the Patriots can get him at a slight discount. Because of the defensive tackles they presently have on the roster, New England would not have to play Seymour a high number of snaps, which could appeal to the veteran and allow him to stay fresh throughout the season. Seymour’s interior pass-rush skills would help a defense that lacks consistent interior push.

New York Jets: Considering their salary-cap situation, it is possible the Jets will be without cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie next season, which opens up yet another hole on a roster that needs a lot of work. On offense, the Jets needs to improve at the skill positions, and bringing back stalwart guard Brandon Moore also would be wise for this run-first team. Quarterback is a massive need, but there isn't an obvious name to meet that need right now. However, Rex Ryan's brother, Rob, coached outside linebacker Victor Butler in Dallas. Although Butler was a backup to DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer in Dallas' 3-4 scheme, he was very productive when called upon. Butler is young, the arrow is pointing up and the Jets' pass rush desperately needs a boost from the outside linebacker position. With the Jets' cap constraints, Butler would be the perfect option to fill that need at a reasonable price.
» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

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?

Chicago Bears: It's unclear how much interest the Bears would have, but a tight end like Jared Cook would make sense. General manager Phil Emery is on record saying that he wants better production in the passing game from the tight-end position, and Cook is a smooth receiver. He would be a big upgrade from Kellen Davis in that regard, and new coach Marc Trestman could find plenty of different ways to line Cook up and move him around.

Detroit Lions: I'm all for the Lions pursuing running back Reggie Bush, who would provide a speedy alternative to Mikel Leshoure and also re-open a level of the passing game that has been missing without Jahvid Best. But the Lions' lack of reliable depth at safety is no less important, especially when you remember that general manager Martin Mayhew wants more playmakers in the back end. The Lions might not have the salary-cap space to sign Dashon Goldson, but fellow free agents William Moore and Glover Quin would help matters.

Green Bay Packers: Running back Steven Jackson has plenty of wear on his 29-year-old body -- nearly 2,800 touches. But a move to Green Bay would set up a satisfying conclusion to his career. The Packers will never move too far away from their pass-first philosophy, but part of that approach is the result of never having a big running back like Jackson. He could capitalize on defenses focused on Aaron Rodgers and the passing game and provide a new level of physicality to this offense.

Minnesota Vikings: There is plenty of clamor for the Vikings to make a run at speedster Mike Wallace. That's one option. From a bigger-picture perspective, a more inclusive approach would have the Vikings targeting a second-tier free agent -- such as Brandon Gibson -- re-signing Percy Harvin to a multi-year contract and focusing on a top-end speedster in the draft. Gibson has outside skills and wouldn't threaten the Vikings' salary-cap structure at the position.
» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

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?

Arizona Cardinals: This was a tough assignment because I'm not of the mind that teams should rush out to sign free agents at inflated prices. In most cases, NFC West teams should let the market settle before striking. My first inclination for Arizona would have the Cardinals seeking to stabilize the quarterback position. Much depends upon whether Kevin Kolb remains in the picture. Kolb is due to receive a $2 million roster bonus March 17. Free agency begins five days earlier, potentially giving Arizona some time to decide upon its course. Indianapolis' Drew Stanton is a free agent and would come to Arizona already knowing the offense coach Bruce Arians is installing. Miami's Matt Moore was someone I thought might project as a solid backup with the potential to start if needed, but he re-signed with the Dolphins. Not that Stanton or Moore would excite anyone, but after watching John Skelton and Ryan Lindley struggle last season, the Cardinals need to get better at quarterback as soon as possible. They need options.

St. Louis Rams: The Rams would be well served finding a right tackle in free agency, knocking off a clear need before the draft. The big question, as usual, is whether the price would make sense. But after using 16 starters on the offensive line over the past two seasons, St. Louis could justify the investment. New England's Sebastian Vollmer or Minnesota's Phil Loadholt would give the Rams an imposing presence on that side of the line. Both are proven and young, an ideal combination. Last offseason, the Rams spent big for veteran center Scott Wells, with underwhelming results. Wells was 31 years old at the time. He struggled getting and staying healthy. He had played 111 regular-season games when St. Louis signed him. Vollmer (51) and Loadholt (63) have played 114 games between them. They've got fewer miles. In looking through the available tackles, I also noticed Sam Baker, who played left tackle for Atlanta when Rams line coach Paul Boudreau was with the Falcons. Baker has been hurt, however.

San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers could use depth along their defensive line and insurance for Justin Smith while the All-Pro end recovers from arm surgery. Oakland's Richard Seymour has the experience, versatility and talent to instantly upgrade the 49ers' rotation. Signing Seymour to a short-term deal would be the goal here. San Francisco could address the line further by re-signing its own free agents and targeting a future starter in the draft. Signing Seymour would be a shorter-term proposition as the 49ers attempt to maximize their championship window. The team would be buying time to acquire and develop longer-term solutions along the line. General manager Trent Baalke did recently say he thinks the team has adequate depth along its line. He suggested that coaching philosophy explained why the 49ers used such a limited rotation last season. Whatever the case, San Francisco could stand to add defensive linemen. I can't endorse signing Seymour to a lucrative deal, but if the 49ers could get good value, the move could make sense.

Seattle Seahawks: Again, there's no urgency to overspend early in the signing process. Seattle mostly needs to continue building through the draft. Targeting 49ers tight end Delanie Walker should appeal on a couple of levels, however. It would give the Seahawks a chance to weaken a division rival while helping their own offense and special teams. Walker matched or set career highs in receiving yards (344), receiving touchdowns (three) and yards per reception (16.4) last season. He's 28 years old and possesses versatility Seattle could use as the team continues to diversify its offense. Seattle has more pressing needs, of course. Defensive end is a position for the Seahawks to address while Chris Clemons recovers from knee surgery. I'm not sure the team should rush out to sign one of the older pass-rushing veterans such as John Abraham or Dwight Freeney. But if Seattle targeted a veteran pass-rusher early in the process, that would be defensible, too.
» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

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.

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