NFL Nation: Eight in the Box 071213

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

A look at the one offseason move each team in the AFC South needed to make but didn't.

Houston Texans: They still have time to extend Brian Cushing and Antonio Smith, so I can’t say they regret not having done so yet. I think they will be OK at linebacker. They aren’t going to be eight-deep the way owner Bob McNair naively suggested they should have been last year when injuries thinned the group. They are counting on two college defensive ends converting to outside linebackers (Sam Montgomery and Trevardo Williams). A veteran addition like Daryl Smith or Karlos Dansby could have offered assurances, but such a player could have overstuffed the group.

Indianapolis Colts: Sean Smith got roughly $2 million more over three years in Kansas City than the Colts gave to Greg Toler. Ryan Grigson and Chuck Pagano have made largely solid personnel choices, so they get the benefit of the doubt on Toler at the start. But Smith is roughly 3 inches taller and 20 pounds heavier, and he has been more durable than Toler. I’ll be comparing the two going forward. If not that move, how about Brent Grimes over Darius Butler? Grimes would have been more expensive but could have been a second or third cornerback if he fully recovers from his Achilles injury. I fear they could regret not doing more at cornerback.

Jacksonville Jaguars: For a team that moved on from Derek Cox, Rashean Mathis and Aaron Ross, the Jaguars had a lot of work to do to restock at cornerback. Alan Ball and Marcus Trufant are not good enough veteran answers to surround and supplement three draft picks. Sean Smith is the sort of bigger corner the Jags like and could have upgraded the position. And he’s just 26, so he would have fit the team’s desire to be young. He got a three-year, $16.5 million deal, which is probably a bit rich, and the Jags would have had to go further. But they’ve got a ton of money and could have spent more while still being very fiscally responsible.

Tennessee Titans: The Titans will rush the passer better with some new people and the influence of Gregg Williams. But defensive end Michael Bennett could have been had at a reasonable price and, as a bigger defensive end, he would have been a better addition than Ropati Pitoitua. Bennett went to Seattle for a one-year, $4.8 million deal. The Titans wouldn’t have been as attractive a destination as Seattle, but they could have gotten Bennett with a multiyear deal. Are Pitoitua and fifth-rounder Lavar Edwards enough to boost the pass-rush production and fortify the run-stopping at end?
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

One move each AFC West team needed to make but might regret:

Denver: Letting Elvis Dumervil leave. The Dumervil fiasco was the only real bummer for Denver in the offseason. The Broncos had a tremendous free agency and appear to have added some nice pieces in the draft, but the Dumervil departure looms as a potential issue. We all know the backstory. Denver and Dumervil agreed to a restructured contract, but there was a missed deadline. He ended up in Baltimore. Dumervil was a key complement to star pass-rusher Von Miller. Denver thinks it can give Miller the necessary pass-rush help by committee, led by former Charger Shaun Phillips. But if Phillips and crew can’t replicate Dumervil’s impact, it will hurt the Broncos.

Kansas City: Not signing Desmond Bishop. The Chiefs are another team that did well in the offseason. They added a strong coach in Andy Reid and a strong general manager in John Dorsey and upgraded at quarterback with the addition of Alex Smith. But there is potential for the team to regret the Bishop miss. He chose Minnesota over Kansas City last month after being cut by the Packers. Bishop had a relationship with Dorsey from their Green Bay days, and the Chiefs could have used Bishop’s veteran presence as a 3-4 inside linebacker. The Chiefs are preparing to use fourth-round pick Nico Johnson as a starter. He looked good in the offseason, but he simply can’t match Bishop’s experience. I don’t foresee Johnson being a problem for the Chiefs, but if he is not ready, Kansas City may wish it made a bigger push for Bishop.

Oakland: Not adding a reliable pass-rusher. Oakland was challenged this offseason. It was strapped by salary-cap issues again. It had to cut several players and saw a lot of talented free agents leave. General manager Reggie McKenzie did his best to replenish the roster. Still, there are holes, starting at pass-rusher. The Raiders were badly lacking in that area last year, and no reliable help was added. Oakland hopes an improved secondary and creative schemes will generate a pass-rush burst. Again, Oakland had restrictions in free agency, but it might regret not taking a pass-rusher in the first round of the draft.

San Diego: Not adding a top left tackle. Like Oakland at pass-rusher, San Diego didn’t have a lot of options. It didn’t have a lot of cap room to play with, and the rookie pool at left tackle dried up quickly in the draft. The top three left tackle prospects went in the first four picks of the draft. So San Diego didn’t really have a lot of chances to grab a left tackle. However, it is a premium position, and sometimes you have to do what it takes to fill a problem at a premium position. San Diego finally settled on Max Starks at left tackle. He is decent but not great. He is a short-term answer. The Chargers still have no idea whom their left tackle of the future will be. If Starks fails or gets hurt, it will have a major effect on quarterback Philip Rivers. If that happens, we will all be pointing to San Diego’s inability to get a clear-cut answer at left tackle.
A look at the one move each team in the AFC North needed to make but didn't:

Baltimore Ravens: Sign a veteran wide receiver in free agency. The Ravens addressed all the losses from their Super Bowl team except one. Baltimore traded Anquan Boldin, its leader in receiving yards the past three seasons, to the San Francisco 49ers and didn't sign a receiver in free agency or draft one until the seventh round. Even though Boldin was never a 1,000-yard receiver for the Ravens, Joe Flacco depended on him in clutch situations. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Boldin led the Ravens with 43 targets on third down this season (including the playoffs) and ranked seventh among wide receivers with 29 catches on third down. The Ravens are banking on Jacoby Jones to replace Boldin, but that could reduce Jones' role as a returner. Tight end Dennis Pitta will likely absorb Boldin's production in the passing game.

Cincinnati Bengals: Add a proven starter at strong safety. This is a move the Bengals have needed to make for a couple of seasons. Cincinnati has talent and depth throughout a defense that should end up being one of the top five in the NFL this season. The soft spot on defense is at safety, where the Bengals will start Taylor Mays, Shawn Williams or George Iloka. This was a trouble spot last season when the Bengals shuffled Mays, Jeromy Miles and Nate Clements at strong safety for the first four games before re-signing Chris Crocker. The Bengals passed on a free-agent safety in his prime, Dashon Goldson, even though they were among the teams with the most salary-cap room entering free agency. At this point, the Bengals have a top-notch free safety in Reggie Nelson and a big question mark at strong safety.

Cleveland Browns: Bring in a starting cornerback. There was no criticism over the Browns not bringing back Sheldon Brown, who started the past three seasons for Cleveland. The second-guessing comes from the fact that the Browns did the minimum to replace him. They drafted Leon McFadden in the third round and didn't sign an established starter in free agency. The most high-profile cornerback signed by the Browns was Chris Owens, who was benched last season when he was the Atlanta Falcons' nickelback. Like the Bengals, Cleveland had the salary-cap room to make a significant upgrade. The Browns had free agent Brent Grimes in for a visit before he signed with the Miami Dolphins, and they didn't actively pursue the likes of free agents Sean Smith, Keenan Lewis, Antoine Cason, Chris Houston and Aqib Talib. There is a big drop-off from Joe Haden to the rest of the cornerbacks.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Add a tight end as insurance for Heath Miller. Some have speculated that the Steelers' ignoring of the tight end position this offseason is a sign the team expects Miller to be ready for the start of the season. Miller, who had a resurgence in Todd Haley's first season as offensive coordinator, tore knee ligaments late in the season and had surgery Jan. 2. The last word on Miller came in late May, when there was a report he was running 100-yard sprints. Still, it's unknown whether Miller will be suiting up for the Sept. 8 opener against the Tennessee Titans. The Steelers have put themselves in a predicament if Miller is sidelined for an extended period. The Steelers signed Matt Spaeth in free agency, but he's a run-blocking tight end. He has averaged eight catches per season. The only other tight end with any experience is David Paulson, who had seven catches last season as a rookie. This combination isn't going to replace Miller's 71 catches and eight touchdowns from a season ago.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at the one move each team in the AFC East needed to make but didn't:

Buffalo Bills: The Bills used the draft and free agency to address needs at wide receiver and linebacker. However, one position that was glossed over that could come back to haunt Buffalo is cornerback. Former 2012 first-round pick Stephon Gilmore could be a stud in the making. He's aggressive and consistent around the football, which is evident by his team-high 16 pass defenses last season. No other Bills player had more than eight deflections. But the Bills have uncertainty at corner after Gilmore. Former first-round draft bust Leodis McKelvin is competing with corners Justin Rogers and Crezdon Butler for a starting role. Former cornerback Aaron Williams is being moved to safety, which further weakens Buffalo's cornerback depth. With Gilmore coming into his own, look for opponents to attack Buffalo's other weak spots at corner this season.

Miami Dolphins: If you're a regular reader of the AFC East blog, you know by now that I think Miami is taking a risk by not adding a left tackle this offseason. The Dolphins let four-time Pro Bowler Jake Long walk in free agency, but Miami didn’t draft a starting left tackle or sign one in free agency. The Dolphins are going with 2012 second-round pick Jonathan Martin at left tackle instead. Martin did a serviceable job at right tackle during his rookie campaign but looked shaky in December when he switched to the left side for the injured Long. To his credit, Martin did a lot of work in the weight room to improve his size and strength, which are needed. But unless Martin makes significant strides in Year 2, left tackle could be a position of weakness in 2013.

New England Patriots: The Patriots took hit after hit in the passing game this offseason. They lost both starting wide receivers -- Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd -- in addition to tight end Aaron Hernandez after he was charged with murder and faces five additional gun charges. New England could have done more to help at wide receiver. The Patriots signed average veterans Michael Jenkins, Lavelle Hawkins and Donald Jones. They also drafted unproven rookies Josh Boyce and Aaron Dobson. Even the talented Danny Amendola has major injury questions. He has played just 12 games the past two seasons. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has the potential to make his receivers look better than they are, but this is really a mediocre group, especially if Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski misses time this season.

New York Jets: The Jets could use more talent in a lot of areas. But similar to the Patriots, their biggest regret could be not spending money to sign a veteran receiver. New York has questions at quarterback with Mark Sanchez and rookie Geno Smith. But whoever is under center needs quality weapons around him. The Jets did a smart thing to sign former Pro Bowler Kellen Winslow to solidify their tight end position. New York would be smart to do something similar at wide receiver. The good news is it's not too late for the Jets. Some options still available in free agency include veteran receiver Lloyd and former Jet Braylon Edwards.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at the one move each team in the NFC North needed to make but didn't.

Chicago Bears: General manager Phil Emery approached the draft with hopes of selecting a quarterback, and there were reports of the Bears privately working out North Carolina State's Mike Glennon. The plan made sense for a number of reasons. First, the team was bidding farewell to 2012 backup Jason Campbell. Second, new coach Marc Trestman is known as a quarterback guru and the Bears could benefit from having him develop a rookie. Third, starter Jay Cutler is entering the final year of his contract. Ultimately, however, the Bears couldn't justify using any of their six selections on a quarterback. For now, 2012 third-stringer Josh McCown is penciled in as Cutler's backup.

Detroit Lions: It sounded greedy, but a need at wide receiver existed all offseason. After releasing Titus Young and shepherding Ryan Broyles through his second ACL rehabilitation in as many years, the Lions don't have many sure things behind receiver Calvin Johnson. Veteran Nate Burleson participated in offseason practice but suffered a major leg injury last season. Mike Thomas remains on the roster after being acquired last year from the Jacksonville Jaguars, and several players have talked up the potential of first-year player Pat Edwards. The Lions tried to supplement via free agency, pursuing Darrius Heyward-Bey, among others, but in the end, they added no one of experience and drafted no one with major potential.

Green Bay Packers: Did the Packers do enough from a personnel standpoint to improve their defense against the type of run-heavy offenses that gave them trouble last season? We all know they worked hard on developing a better approach and scheme, even sending their defensive coaching staff to a college coaching clinic at Texas A&M. But they added only one notable player, first-round draft pick Datone Jones, to their front seven. They also hope that 2012 first-rounder Nick Perry can establish himself as an outside linebacker. The Packers are hoping to play a different way with largely the same players.

Minnesota Vikings: It's true that the Vikings chose a cornerback, Xavier Rhodes, with one of their three first-round draft choices, but it's still fair to question whether the team did enough to make up for the departure of slot cornerback Antoine Winfield in the offseason. Winfield had an excellent season in 2012 and was one of the underdiscussed reasons why the Vikings finished 10-6. The Vikings have what appears on paper to be a promising young core of cornerbacks, with Rhodes, Chris Cook and Josh Robinson. But none of them has played the nickel role that Winfield excelled at last season, and Cook has never been able to stay on the field.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at the one move each team in the NFC East needed to make but didn't.

Dallas Cowboys: Upgrade at right tackle. The Cowboys believe they improved their offensive line with the first-round draft selection of center Travis Frederick, and they may be right. But the problem is the line needed more help than that. Instead of getting the disappointing Doug Free to take a pay cut and stay, the Cowboys could have explored other options, such as using another early-round pick on a tackle or signing one of the veterans (Tyson Clabo, Eric Winston) who were cut during free agency. Cap issues were one factor, but basically the Cowboys seemed content with the idea of a right tackle platoon or training camp competition between Free and Jermey Parnell. They claim the platoon of that pair worked well late last season, but it's likely the right tackle's play looked good only in comparison to Free's terrible first-half performance.

New York Giants: Anything of consequence at linebacker. Sure, they brought back Keith Rivers. Yawn. And they signed Dan Connor. Double yawn. And they took a chance on Aaron Curry, who was once one of the top prospects in the league but has already washed out with two teams. Interesting, but certainly not a confidence-boosting sign. Mathias Kiwanuka, who was one of their starting linebackers the past two years, will move back up to defensive end to help replace Osi Umenyiora, who left as a free agent. And there are some young guys the Giants brought in as rookies two years ago who may be good enough to play or start. The Giants feel they got stronger up front at defensive tackle and never mind spending on defensive backs, but the middle of the field remains a weakness for them against offenses that are willing to exploit it. Some guys are going to have to outperform expectations at linebacker in 2013.

Philadelphia Eagles: Spend some money on the secondary. The Eagles were the only NFC East team that had cap room to burn. Even though they needed to improve all four starting positions in the secondary, they chose to go the economic route, bringing in uninspiring cornerbacks Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams and safety Patrick Chung. Former Giant Kenny Phillips is a premium talent at safety, but they got him inexpensively as well, and the reason is a chronic knee problem that could keep him from ever playing for them. New coach Chip Kelly was looking for physical cornerbacks with the ability to tackle, which is fine, and I can understand that the Eagles felt burned by the way the Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie moves of two years ago worked out. But the moves at defensive back feel like half-measures, and you get the feeling they'll be looking to upgrade the same spots next year. This was a team that should have at least looked into trading for Darrelle Revis, though it would have been hard to justify giving up the No. 4 overall pick in the draft for him.

Washington Redskins: Get Pierre Garcon's foot fixed. This one is on Garcon, of course. The team can't force a player to have surgery if he doesn't want to have surgery. Garcon did have a procedure to repair a shoulder problem, which is good, but it was the torn ligament in his foot that bothered him last season, cost him six games and is at risk of flaring up again if rest didn't cure it completely. Garcon was a hugely valuable part of the Redskins' offense as Robert Griffin III's No. 1 wide receiver. Everyone has heard that the Redskins were 9-1 in regular-season games in which Garcon played. The Redskins' cap problems prevented them from improving the secondary or the offensive line and from keeping special-teams captain Lorenzo Alexander. But when they look back on this offseason, their biggest regret may be that Garcon didn't get the foot surgery he needed.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at the one move each team in the NFC South needed to make but didn't.

Atlanta Falcons: There still is time to sign a veteran like Richard Seymour, but I’m surprised the Falcons didn’t do more at defensive tackle during the offseason. The team invested two draft picks in defensive ends but didn’t touch the middle of a defensive line that isn’t exactly a strength. Jonathan Babineaux is aging and heading into the final year of his contract. Corey Peters and Peria Jerry also are headed into the last year of their contracts. The Falcons stayed away from quick fixes this offseason, but they might get to training camp and realize they need another defensive tackle.

Carolina Panthers: This one is almost too easy. The Panthers went into the offseason with a glaring need at cornerback. They signed some midlevel players and have hopes for some of their young corners. But this team doesn’t have anything close to a No. 1 cornerback. In a division in which you’re going up against the likes of Roddy White, Julio Jones, Vincent Jackson and Marques Colston, that’s a scary proposition. The Panthers did put a lot of emphasis on their defensive line, which better generate a tremendous pass rush to compensate for the lack of elite talent at cornerback.

New Orleans Saints: General manager Mickey Loomis worked some minor miracles to get out of a nightmare salary-cap situation in the offseason. But the Saints, who are converting to a 3-4 defensive scheme, didn’t bring in any elite pass-rushers. They thought free agent pickup Victor Butler could blossom into something, but Butler will miss the season after suffering a knee injury during an offseason workout. That leaves the Saints looking to Will Smith, Junior Galette and Martez Wilson as their outside linebackers. Smith is aging and converting from defensive end to linebacker. Wilson and Galette have shown some potential, but neither is a proven pass-rusher.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sources have told me the Buccaneers would have given strong consideration to drafting tight end Tyler Eifert with their first-round pick if they hadn’t traded it away in the deal for cornerback Darrelle Revis. That tells me the Bucs realized they had a significant need at tight end. The shocking thing is they didn’t make some other dramatic move to improve the situation at the position. Instead, they’re going with Luke Stocker and Tom Crabtree. There are indications that the Bucs think Crabtree can be a productive pass-catcher. But I wouldn’t count on the tight ends being a big part of Tampa Bay’s passing game this season.

Eight in the Box: Offseason regret

July, 12, 2013
7/12/13
12:00
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NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at the one offseason move each team in the NFC West needed to make, but didn't:

Arizona Cardinals: Pass-rushing outside linebacker is one position where the team could have upgraded more aggressively. Using a fourth-round pick for Alex Okafor addressed the position to some degree. Sam Acho, O'Brien Schofield and Lorenzo Alexander are the other players expected to factor on the outside in 3-4 looks. The Cardinals haven't been hurting for sacks. Their defensive front could generate pressure more directly if the responsibilities for ends Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett evolve as expected. But with inside linebacker and leading 2012 sacker Daryl Washington serving a four-game suspension to open the season, Arizona might need more pass-rush presence from the perimeter.

St. Louis Rams: The Rams appear set on defense except at safety, where Darian Stewart and 2013 third-round choice T.J. McDonald are the projected starters after the team parted with 2012 starters Craig Dahl (signed by San Francisco) and Quintin Mikell (released for salary reasons). Stewart played 83 percent of the defensive snaps in 2011, but his playing time fell to 7 percent last season. McDonald is just getting started. Safety is one position the team could address by adding a veteran as the summer progresses. For now, it's a question mark. We should note, however, that rookie linebacker and first-round pick Alec Ogletree adds considerable range and coverage potential to the defense. He could wind up drawing some coverage responsibilities.

San Francisco 49ers: This roster doesn't have many holes, so we'll have to reach a little. Some thought the 49ers needed to upgrade more at cornerback, but the team thought restoring its front seven would plug some of the leaks that sprung in the secondary late last season. On offense, hindsight says the team could have moved even more aggressively at wide receiver, but there was no way to know Michael Crabtree would suffer a torn Achilles tendon during routine offseason workouts. Even then, San Francisco was proactive by acquiring Anquan Boldin before Crabtree's injury. Swing tackle was one position where the 49ers arguably needed another option. Re-signing Adam Snyder provided some insurance there.

Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks, like the 49ers, have a roster without many holes. They addressed key needs for a nickel corner (Antoine Winfield) and pass-rush help (Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett). The offensive line is one area where the team arguably could have moved more aggressively. An injury to one of the starting tackles could force guard Paul McQuistan to play out of position while taxing depth on the interior, particularly if 2011 first-round pick James Carpenter doesn't shake significant injury concerns. The Seahawks believe in line coach Tom Cable's ability to make just about any situation work. He's their insurance policy.

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