Offseason priorities for every NFC team - NBC Sports

Offseason priorities for every NFC team
Some lucky enough to only need small adjustments -- most need lots of help
February 10, 2012, 5:02 pm

But if a team's smart, they'll listen to us. These are the most crucial aspects entering the 2012 offseason.

Here's a rundown for the NFC. (The AFC is here.)

NFC EAST

Dallas Cowboys

Image:ÿTerence Newman
Jose Yau / AP

Dallas cornerback Terence Newman might not be back next season.

2011 record: 8-8

Biggest need: Revamped secondary

Longtime top cornerback Terence Newman will be an offseason salary cap casualty, and free safety Abram Elam has also been a liability in coverage. The Cowboys fielded a bottom-10 pass defense in 2011 despite racking up the seventh most sacks in football. The secondary personnel is obviously a problem. Also, Dallas will be in the market for upgrades at guard and center.

New York Giants

Image: Aaron Ross, Wes Welker
Mark Humphrey / AP

Giants cornerback Aaron Ross tackles Patriots receiver Wes Welker.

2011 record: 9-7

Biggest need: Back-seven reinforcements on defense

Cornerbacks Aaron Ross and Terrell Thomas are free agents, and so is nickel back Deon Grant. The Giants are set at both outside linebacker spots, but need a long-term answer inside after playing musical chairs at the position since Antonio Pierce's retirement. On offense, New York could explore upgrading at left tackle and at running back. Brandon Jacobs has tip-toed around the backfield too often in recent years, and is due an unwieldy $4.9 million in salary and bonuses.

Philadelphia Eagles

Image: Keenan Clayton, Juan Castillo
Rich Schultz / AP

Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo will be in his second season leading Philly's defense.

2011 record: 8-8

Biggest need: Unified team concept

Fast-breaking after the lockout, the Eagles chose the worst possible time to be the league's most active team in terms of scheme and personnel change. They started predictably slow, and were in far too deep a hole by midseason to overcome quarterback Michael Vick's injuries. On defense, Philadelphia attempted to combine up-field pass rushers on the defensive line with linebackers who couldn't tackle. They got smoked by the run. Retaining defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, the Eagles will hope that continuity breeds success. They certainly could use better linebackers.

Washington Redskins

Image: Shanahan
Rob Carr / Getty Images

Redskins coach Mike Shanahan is desperate for a franchise quarterback.

2011 record: 5-11

Biggest need: Franchise quarterback

The Skins quietly put together one of the NFL's premier 2011 draft classes. At least four picks look like 2012 starters, and six more have a legitimate chance to be key long-term contributors. But Mike Shanahan's club will continue to tread water until it acquires a franchise quarterback. The Redskins must also address issues in the secondary, where strong safety LaRon Landry is a free agent, and at receiver, where Santana Moss and Jabar Gaffney are both past their primes.

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NFC NORTH

Chicago Bears

Image: Cutler
Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images

Who willÿJay Cutler throw to in 2012?

2011 record: 8-8

Biggest need: Big-play receiver

The Bears' 2011 season tanked due to unlucky, late-season injuries. Their offseason approach shouldn't be affected by bad luck. The passing game needs to be a focus, however, by way of capitalizing on Jay Cutler's strong, accurate arm and creating more "chunk" plays off play action. Offensive coordinator Mike Tice has openly prioritized acquiring a No. 1 receiver, and the Bears may need two new starters with Johnny Knox returning from surgery to stabilize his vertebra.

Detroit Lions

Image: Matthew Stafford, Jeff Backus, Kamerion Wimbley
Paul Sakuma / AP

Detroit's main priority should be protecting Matthew Stafford's blind side.

2011 record: 10-6

Biggest need: Franchise left tackle

The Lions have seen the best of Jeff Backus, and it's time to address the future of the left tackle position as Detroit's long-time starter rehabs a torn biceps muscle while entering what would be his age-35 season. (Backus is also a free agent.) Quarterback Matthew Stafford was lucky to make it through 16 games in 2011; he suffered a midseason high ankle sprain and late-year broken finger. The Lions will also attend to their secondary, which has been an ongoing weakness.

Green Bay Packers

Image: Matthews
Jeffrey Phelps / AP

Can any Packer except Clay Matthews provide a consistent pass rush?

2011 record: 15-1

Biggest need: Pass rush

The Packers had the NFL's best regular season record, but late-year losses to the Chiefs and Giants exposed deficiencies. Clay Matthews is Green Bay's only legitimate pass rusher, and on offense the running game's performance could be described as pedestrian at best. An explosive playmaker in the backfield would diversify the Packers' offense and restore it as the most dangerous in the league. G.M. Ted Thompson's team also must find a weak-side edge rusher.

Minnesota Vikings

Image: Christian Ponder
Jim Mone / AP

If Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder is to have any chance as an NFL starter, he needs a better line.

2011 record: 3-13

Biggest need: Left tackle

Dating back to Florida State, Christian Ponder has been injured in some form in each of the past three seasons. While solutions at wideout, cornerback, safety, and linebacker are necessary for Minnesota to compete in the NFC North, the Vikings' No. 1 priority must be to upgrade Ponder's protection. Incumbent left tackle Charlie Johnson can transition smoothly to guard. The Vikes will give USC's Matt Kalil and Iowa's Riley Reiff long looks before they pick No. 3 overall in the draft.

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NFC SOUTH

Atlanta Falcons

Image: Falcons
Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images

Can Matt Ryan rely on guys like Will Svitek to block for him?

2011 record: 10-6

Biggest need: Offensive line makeover

The Falcons finished the season with journeyman Will Svitek "protecting" Matt Ryan's blind side. Ryan felt the effects in the wild-card round, absorbing seven hits and failing to lead a touchdown drive. Svitek is a fine backup, but he shouldn't be a starter and the front office knows it. Center Todd McClure is a 35-year-old free agent, and the Falcons had arguably the worst right guard play in the league in 2011. Defensively, G.M. Tom Dimitroff must unearth at least one big-time pass rusher while finding ways to retain free agent linebacker Curtis Lofton and corner Brent Grimes.

Carolina Panthers

Image: Nate Burleson, Greg Hardy, Captain Munnerlyn
Rick Osentoski / AP

Don't believe what you see here. The Panthers need a defensive upgrade.

2011 record: 6-10

Biggest need: Defense

The Panthers fielded a top-seven offense in 2011, but had a bottom-five defense with no prayer of stopping the run. Left end, defensive tackle, and at least one linebacker spot must be addressed. In the secondary, right corner Captain Munnerlyn would be a nickel or dime back on a good team. Carolina could afford competition at the No. 2 receiver spot, but the defense will take precedence.

New Orleans Saints

Image: Smith
Grant Halverson / Getty Images

Will Smith's starting to look his age. The Saints need pass rushing help.

2011 record: 13-3

Biggest need: Pass rush

The Saints called more blitzes than any team in the league; they just rarely got home. In two playoff games, New Orleans was shredded by Alex Smith and Matthew Stafford for 679 yards and six combined passing TDs. 2011 first-round pick Cameron Jordan isn't much of a pass rusher, and Will Smith is declining going on age 31. Shaun Rogers and Aubrayo Franklin didn't work out on the interior. The Saints' defensive line needs a makeover. They're set most everywhere else.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Image: Blount
Mike Roemer / AP

Can the Bucs ever depend onÿLeGarrette Blount?

2011 record: 4-12

Biggest need: Discipline

Tampa's defense had plenty of talent under ex-coach Raheem Morris, but the linebackers and DBs were historically poor tacklers. After the season, rumors swirled that at least two of the club's top offensive players partied too much off the field and exhibited poor work ethic throughout the year. The Bucs could also use a diversified rushing attack. Starter LeGarrette Blount's inability to play on passing downs all too often rendered the Bucs' offense one-dimensional in 2011. Blount would be a Brandon Jacobs-like change-of-pace runner in an ideal world. Not a true feature back.

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NFC WEST

Arizona Cardinals

Image: Kolb
Christian Petersen / Getty Images

It was hard forÿKevin Kolb to adjust to a new team with poor pass protection.

2011 record: 8-8

Biggest need: Pass protectors

Regardless of whether the Cardinals start Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, or Peyton Manning under center in 2012, the team's pass protection must improve. Former first-round bust Levi Brown is a surefire cap casualty at left tackle, Arizona could use upgrades at both right guard and right tackle. There is solid talent at all three levels of defense and in the backfield with Ryan Williams returning from injury, but the Cards' wheels will keep spinning until they get a better offensive line.

San Francisco 49ers

Image: Crabtree
Dilip Vishwanat / Getty Images

Michael Crabtree's good, but Alex Smith could use a deep-threat receiver.

2011 record: 13-3

Biggest need: Vertical receiver

Michael Crabtree rounded into form after a disappointing sophomore NFL season, but he's not a matchup-busting wideout. Ideally more of a No. 2, Crabtree and the San Francisco offense could benefit from the addition of a bookend with speed to stretch defenses vertically. The 49ers have been linked to Vincent Jackson in pre-free agency rumors. Baylor's Kendall Wright would be a perfect fit in the draft, but the Niners would have to trade up from their scheduled slot at No. 30.

Seattle Seahawks

Image: Carroll
Christian Petersen / Getty Images

Is Pete Carroll looking for a franchise quarterback?

2011 record: 7-9

Biggest need: Quarterback

While the monetary commitments were relatively insignificant, G.M. John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll have whiffed on back-to-back offseason quarterback acquisitions. They've built around the position with a bit more success. Carroll is perhaps the league's best motivator, but the Seahawks won't take the next step without a legit franchise signal caller. On defense, Seattle may have to replace free agent left end Red Bryant, and linebackers David Hawthorne and Leroy Hill.

St. Louis Rams

Image: Bradford
Dilip Vishwanat / Getty Images

Sam Bradford had to evade defenders throughout 2011.

2011 record: 2-14

Biggest need: Help for Sam Bradford

The new-look Rams will concede former No. 2 overall pick Jason Smith was a bust when they waive him after the Combine. Incumbent left tackle Rodger Saffold will likely switch to guard or right tackle, leaving a gaping hole on quarterback Sam Bradford's blind side. Look for St. Louis to address its receiver needs in free agency, where this year's class is deep. The Rams' weak spots aren't limited to O-Line and wideout, of course. They'll be on the prowl for safeties, defensive linemen, linebackers, a viable No. 2 running back, and a backup quarterback. This is a bad team.

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