The 2015-2016 NFL season officially went in the books last Sunday, and the Scouting Combine is only a few weeks away. Free agency opens on March 9. With front offices and coaching staffs settled, impending free agents identified, and salary cap situations beginning to clarify, here is a look at the four most glaring positional needs for every club entering the 2016 offseason.
Teams are listed loosely in order of roster quality.
"RFA" = Restricted Free Agent
Notable Free Agents: LT Russell Okung, OLB Bruce Irvin, NT Brandon Mebane, CB Jeremy Lane, WR Jermaine Kearse, RB Christine Michael (RFA), OG J.R. Sweezy, DT Ahtyba Rubin, C Patrick Lewis (RFA), P Jon Ryan, QB Tarvaris Jackson, RB Fred Jackson, DT Demarcus Dobbs, T/G Alvin Bailey (RFA), RB Bryce Brown
Offensive Line: Due to Russell Wilson's movement ability and position coach Tom Cable's penchant for maximizing talent, the Seahawks have skated by with sub-par line play for the past several seasons. An aggressive mindset will be required for GM John Schneider to patch up the unit this spring. LT Russell Okung and RG J.R. Sweezy's contracts are up, while LG Justin Britt and RT Garry Gilliam are coming off miserable years. The Seahawks played in-season musical chairs at center after trading away Max Unger. Wilson's sack total (45) was the highest of his career. Look for Schneider to attack this weakness in both free agency and the draft.
Cornerback: Shutdown LCB Richard Sherman is still playing at an elite level going on age 28, but the rest of Seattle's cornerback corps has holes. RCB Deshawn Shead flashed promise in spurts, but was largely a liability. A late-season difference maker, slot corner Jeremy Lane's contract is up. Released by Seattle in December, Cary Williams was a colossal-if-predictable free agent bust. At very least, the Seahawks need a cornerback capable of making a serious run at a starting job. Re-signing Lane would be a nice first step toward solidifying this position group.
Wide Receiver: Tyler Lockett was highway robbery in the 2015 third round, but Doug Baldwin is entering his contract year and Jermaine Kearse is a candidate to get overpaid in free agency. 2014 second-rounder Paul Richardson is likely a bust. It's conceivable Baldwin could make offseason noise about his contract, which pays him just $4 million after a breakout 14-touchdown campaign. Jimmy Graham's blown-out knee enhances pass catcher as a need.
Defensive Line: Starting DTs Brandon Mebane and Ahtyba Rubin are scheduled for free agency, while RE Cliff Avril and LE Michael Bennett will both enter next season on the wrong side of 30. The Seahawks do have Avril and Bennett signed long term, to go with promising youngsters DT Jordan Hill, 25, and DE Frank Clark, 22. This isn't necessarily a weakness on Seattle's roster, but it's a position at which the team can afford to upgrade and likely will try.
New England Patriots
Offensive Line: New England's most glaring 2015 deficiency was its interior offensive line, where rotating guards Josh Kline, Tre' Jackson, and Shaq Mason were frequently beaten in pass protection and C Bryan Stork endured a sub-par, injury-shortened year. As Stork (25), Jackson (23), and Mason (22) are all young and growing, it's possible the Patriots will bank on improvement from within. After firing position coach Dave DeGuglielmo immediately after the season, however, Bill Belichick very clearly knows this was his team's primary weakness.
Running Back: Dion Lewis will return from his torn ACL, but LeGarrette Blount is up for free agency after suffering a year-ending hip injury, and James White is best employed as a lightly used role player. This may finally be the offseason where Belichick targets a true three-down back capable of both churning yards in the run game and contributing in the pass game. If free agent Matt Forte is willing to sign for a reasonable price, he'd fit beautifully in Foxboro.
Tight End: The Patriots are expected to release Scott Chandler after a disappointing campaign. Belichick and OC Josh McDaniels value the capability of running two-tight end sets because they add versatility and diversity to personnel packages, and can result in mismatches in both the run and pass games. An intriguing in-house prospect is 2015 sixth-rounder AJ Derby, an ex-college quarterback who plays with a mean streak but spent his rookie year on I.R.
Wide Receiver: Brandon LaFell ($2.8 million) and Danny Amendola ($6.5 million) are candidates for release. Julian Edelman turns 30 in May. Enigmatic underachiever Aaron Dobson has 16 catches over the past two seasons. A pair of cheap, flier-type veteran signings might make sense. Young wideouts often struggle to grasp the Patriots' complex route concepts.
Notable Free Agents: CB Josh Norman, CB Charles Tillman, SS Roman Harper, FB Mike Tolbert, OG Amini Silatolu, DT Kyle Love, DE Frank Alexander, P Brad Nortman, CB Cortland Finnegan, OG Chris Scott, WR Stephen Hill (RFA)
Cornerback: While Josh Norman seems like a virtual lock for either the franchise tag or a long-term deal, Carolina's cornerback cupboard is bare beyond him and slot corner Bene Benwikere, who is coming off a broken left leg. RCB Charles Tillman and fill-in slot CB Cortland Finnegan are free agents. With DC Sean McDermott running a Cover 3 defense, expect GM Dave Gettleman to zero in on big, long-armed cornerbacks capable of making plays on the ball.
Safety: The Panthers have successfully hid SS Roman Harper's coverage limitations, but it's time for new blood as Harper enters free agency at age 33. One in-house candidate for a bigger role is rising third-year S Tre Boston, who didn't embarrass himself as a late-season rookie starter in 2014. Boston, however, is not quite the true "box safety" Cover 3 defenses tend to employ. The Panthers may target a tone setter to complement FS Kurt Coleman.
Defensive End: Building the Panthers in the likeness of his old Giants teams, Gettleman has stocked the roster with talented defensive linemen that play in a deep rotation, keeping its members fresh. Wave tackle Kyle Love's contract is up, while RE Jared Allen ($8.5 million) and LE Charles Johnson ($10.75 million) are owed gargantuan base salaries. Johnson, DTs Kawann Short and Dwan Edwards, and DE Mario Addison are all entering contract years.
Offensive Line: Carolina masked its shortcomings up front by playing run-heavy offense and dialing up max protections on passing downs. LT Michael Oher and RT Mike Remmers remained liabilities; Oher graded out dead last in Pro Football Focus' run-blocking grades among 76 qualified offensive tackles, while Remmers was most memorably dominated by Broncos OLB Von Miller in Super Bowl 50. The contracts of Oher, Remmers, C Ryan Kalil, and LG Andrew Norwell all expire after 2016.
Green Bay Packers
Notable Free Agents: CB Casey Hayward, OLB Nick Perry, NT B.J. Raji, DE Letroy Guion, OLB Mike Neal, RB James Starks, WR James Jones, K Mason Crosby, FB John Kuhn, TE Andrew Quarless, QB Scott Tolzien, T/G Don Barclay, SS Sean Richardson
Inside Linebacker: The Packers plan to move Clay Matthews back outside, creating a void at inside linebacker that 2015 fourth-round pick Jake Ryan didn't seem ready to solve. Green Bay's next-best option is Sam Barrington, who played poorly in 2014 before suffering a year-ending foot injury in the 2015 season opener. Nate Palmer was totally ineffective in his place. This is a position at which GM Ted Thompson needs to make multiple additions.
Defensive Line: Multiple reinforcements are also needed on the defensive line, where NT B.J. Raji and DE Letroy Guion are free agents, and to this point 2013 first-round pick Datone Jones has only worked his way into a rotational role. 27-year-old (in May) LE Mike Daniels is the Packers' lone surefire building block in the trenches.
Tight End: Green Bay has lacked a seam-stretching tight end since Jermichael Finley's career-ending neck injury. Richard Rodgers is a plodder with zero run-after-catch ability, and underachiever Andrew Quarless is headed to free agency. The Packers figure to hope for improvement from within at wide receiver, where Jordy Nelson (ACL) returns, Randall Cobb is still only 25, and Jeff Janis, Jared Abbrederis, Ty Montgomery, and Davante Adams provide youthful hope. Thompson needs to find Aaron Rodgers a legitimate weapon at tight end.
Running Back: The Packers' only two running backs signed for 2016 are Eddie Lacy and John Crockett. James Starks and FB John Kuhn's contracts are up. After coach Mike McCarthy called out Lacy publicly for his conditioning after the season, expect Green Bay to bring in competition for its workhorse runner. Lacy is believed to have ballooned near 260 pounds.
Notable Free Agents: FS Rashad Johnson, FS Tony Jefferson (RFA), RT Bobby Massie, CB Jerraud Powers, C Lyle Sendlein, RB Chris Johnson, OLB Dwight Freeney, OG Ted Larsen, WR Jaron Brown (RFA), TE Jermaine Gresham, ILB Sean Weatherspoon, SS D.J. Swearinger (RFA), OLB LaMarr Woodley, DE Red Bryant, FS Chris Clemons, QB Drew Stanton
Offensive Line: The Cardinals have hit big on LT Jared Veldheer and LG Mike Iupati in free agency, but whiffed on RG Jonathan Cooper in the draft, and need upgrades on C Lyle Sendlein and RG Ted Larsen, who are both free agents. 2015 first-round pick D.J. Humphries figures to replace free agent RT Bobby Massie. Right guard and center are the trouble spots.
Outside Linebacker: Although Arizona played stout 2015 defense, DC James Bettcher's unit ranked 21st in sacks (36) despite blitzing at a league-high rate. OLBs LaMarr Woodley and Dwight Freeney are aging with expiring contracts, while 2014 third-round pick Kareem Martin hasn't panned out. Alex Okafor and Markus Golden are promising pieces, but the Cardinals lack a big-time sack threat off the edge. Okafor and Golden combined for just six sacks in 2015.
Cornerback: Slot corner Tyrann Mathieu has suffered a torn ACL twice in the past three seasons, while RCB Jerraud Powers' contract is up and Justin Bethel failed to make good on his increased late-season snaps. Beyond Patrick Peterson, there's not much the Cardinals can count on at cornerback for 2016. Safety may also become a need with Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger up for restricted free agency. FS Rashad Johnson is an unrestricted free agent.
Quarterback: The Cardinals have tried to find a potential quarterback of the future behind 36-year-old Carson Palmer, blowing a 2014 fourth-round pick on Logan Thomas before trading for Matt Barkley last fall. Thomas was cut after the Barkley trade, however, and Barkley failed to unseat Drew Stanton for the primary backup job. Stanton is now a free agent. GM Steve Keim may not invest a high pick at quarterback, but he's likely to draft one this spring.
Notable Free Agents: SS Reggie Nelson, WR Marvin Jones, CB Pacman Jones, CB Leon Hall, RT Andre Smith, FS George Iloka, WR Mohamed Sanu, MLB Vincent Rey, DT Pat Sims, DE Wallace Gilberry, DT Brandon Thompson, OLB Emmanuel Lamur, OT Eric Winston
Defensive Back: Safety is the most pressing need on Cincinnati's roster because both incumbent starters -- FS George Iloka and SS Reggie Nelson -- have expiring contracts. 2013 third-round pick Shawn Williams did acquit himself well in a reserve role and could be poised for more run. At very least, the Bengals' other safety position needs to be addressed. At cornerback, 2012 and 2014 first-round picks Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard have been early-career disappointments, while stalwart CBs Pacman Jones and Leon Hall are free agents. LCB Kirkpatrick was arguably the weakest link in the Bengals' 2015 secondary. Coming off shoulder surgery, Dennard is an unknown with one start through two seasons.
Wide Receiver: Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu's contracts are up, leaving the likes of Mario Alford, James Wright, and Jake Kumerow behind A.J. Green. Retaining Jones would solve this need, but he'd be smart to test the market as one of free agency's top-three wideouts. Even if Tyler Eifert takes another step forward, the Bengals need to find another starting wideout.
Defensive Line: Three-technique DT Geno Atkins regained dominant form following a down 2014, but NT Domata Peko turned in a rough year in run defense and will turn 32 next season. Peko is also entering the last year of his deal. Oft-used reserve DTs Brandon Thompson and Pat Sims are both free agents. At defensive end, the Bengals' pass rush was lacking beyond LE Carlos Dunlap. Recent early-round draft picks Margus Hunt and Will Clarke haven't panned out. No. 3 DE Wallace Gilberry's contract is up.
Linebacker: Rey Maualuga has matured into a functional middle linebacker, and WLB Vontaze Burfict is one of the highest-impact defenders in the league. SLB A.J. Hawk is barely an NFL-caliber player anymore, however, while Vincent Rey and Emmanuel Lamur are headed to free agency. 2015 third-round pick Paul Dawson is an in-house candidate for more snaps. A fifth Bengals need is center, where Russell Bodine made no noticeable sophomore strides after a rough rookie year and needs to face 2016 competition.
Notable Free Agents: LT Kelvin Beachum, OG Ramon Foster, CB Brandon Boykin, NT Steve McLendon, CB William Gay, SS Will Allen, WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, ILB Sean Spence, CB Antwon Blake, FS Robert Golden, DE Cam Thomas, QB Bruce Gradkowski, RB Jordan Todman, QB Michael Vick
Cornerback: Pittsburgh fielded one of the league's weakest 2015 cornerback corps, rotating William Gay, Antwon Blake, and Ross Cockrell before getting Brandon Boykin involved down the stretch. Gay, Blake, and Boykin are all free agents. 2015 second-round pick Senquez Golson (shoulder) missed his entire rookie year and stands 5-foot-9, 176. In order to match up with A.J. Green and Josh Gordon in the AFC North, the Steelers need a legit No. 1 corner.
Offensive Line: The Steelers will get C Maurkice Pouncey back from his broken fibula, but LT Kelvin Beachum and LG Ramon Foster are both free agents, while RG David DeCastro is entering his contract year. After Beachum tore his ACL in October, replacement Ali Villanueva struggled mightily in his absence, allowing the seventh most sacks among offensive tackles despite playing the 56th most snaps at the position. Pittsburgh must address at least two offensive line spots (LT, LG).
Safety: FS Mike Mitchell has settled in as a passable starter, but SS Will Allen's contract is up and 2013 fourth-rounder Shamarko Thomas doesn't look remotely ready to replace him. Nor does Robert Golden, a free agent who beat out Thomas for the Steelers' third safety job in 2015. As DC Keith Butler mixes and matches Cover 2 and Cover 3, Pittsburgh will hunt for a versatile bookend to Mitchell who's capable of covering tight ends and running the alley.
Quarterback: Michael Vick and Bruce Gradkowski are headed to free agency, leaving only Landry Jones behind injury-riddled Ben Roethlisberger. Jones floundered in his 2015 spot opportunities, committing five turnovers as a two-game starter and completing just 58.2% of his throws. The Steelers figure to target free agent veterans to compete for the backup job.
Notable Free Agents: OLB Von Miller, DE Malik Jackson, ILB Danny Trevathan, RB C.J. Anderson (RFA), QB Brock Osweiler, ILB Brandon Marshall (RFA), OG Evan Mathis, RB Ronnie Hillman, DE Antonio Smith, SS David Bruton, FS Shiloh Keo, FS Omar Bolden, TE Vernon Davis, LT Ryan Harris, WR Jordan Norwood, OT Tyler Polumbus
Quarterback: Peyton Manning is expected to retire going on age 40. Even if Peyton wants to keep playing, it probably won't happen in Denver due to his $19 million salary. Brock Osweiler had some promising 2015 moments, but too often lacked decisiveness in the pocket, ultimately got benched, and currently is not signed for 2016. Denver's only other quarterback prospect is 24-year-old Trevor Siemian, a 2015 seventh-round pick out of Northwestern.
Offensive Line: The Broncos' fielded one of the league's weakest offensive lines in 2015, consistently losing one-on-one battles due to a shortage of athleticism. LT Ryan Clady's return should provide a boost, but Clady has missed 30 games over the past three seasons due to ACL and Lisfranc injuries. 2015 second-round OT Ty Sambrailo is coming off year-ending surgery to repair a torn shoulder labrum, and played poorly before going down. Fill-in LT Ryan Harris and LG Evan Mathis are free agents, while RG Louis Vasquez is entering his contract year. RT Michael Schofield isn't a starting-caliber player. Multiple additions are needed in this position group.
Running Back: The foundation of coach Gary Kubiak's offense is the run game, where committee partners C.J. Anderson (restricted) and Ronnie Hillman (unrestricted) both have expiring contracts. Montee Ball is long gone, and Juwan Thompson is a pedestrian talent or worse. Anderson figures to return on a second-round tender. Both as a runner and in pass protection, Hillman was a liability in the second half of 2015 and probably won't be back.
Inside Linebacker: Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall have formed one of the NFL's premier inside linebacker duos, but Trevathan is an unrestricted free agent and Marshall is restricted. Whereas Marshall will be easy to retain with a second-round tender, Trevathan may prefer to test the market in hopes of striking it rich. In-house candidates for bigger roles include promising 2014 seventh-round pick Corey Nelson and special teams standout Todd Davis.
Kansas City Chiefs
Notable Free Agents: SS Eric Berry, CB Sean Smith, ILB Derrick Johnson, DE Jaye Howard, OLB Tamba Hali, T/G Jeff Allen, SS Tyvon Branch, DE Mike DeVito, FS Husain Abdullah, QB Chase Daniel, OT Donald Stephenson, OLB Frank Zombo, WR Jason Avant
Offensive Line: 2013 No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher took a small step forward in his transition to left tackle, but the rest of the Chiefs' line is littered with concerns. T/G Jeff Allen and OT Donald Stephenson are free agents. LG Ben Grubbs' season was ended by a severe neck injury in Week 7, while right guard figures to be open for competition. Alex Smith has absorbed 90 sacks over the past two seasons. Only Blake Bortles (52) and Aaron Rodgers (46) were sacked more than Smith (45) in 2015.
Cornerback: Kansas City's most consistent corner in 2015, RCB Sean Smith is headed for free agency and could net a surprisingly big pay day at age 28. Slot CB Phillip Gaines tore his ACL last September, while 2015 third-round pick Steven Nelson couldn't lock down slot corner as a rookie, forcing FS Ron Parker to play there more than expected. LCB Marcus Peters looks like a long-term building block, but the Chiefs' cornerback situation is entirely unsettled after him.
Wide Receiver: Jeremy Maclin gave the 2015 offense an enormous lift, but the Chiefs' wideout group is otherwise pedestrian. Incumbent No. 2 Albert Wilson is better suited for a No. 3 or 4 role. An athletic freak, rising second-year WR Chris Conley is coming off a quiet 17-catch rookie season. Conley may eventually be Kansas City's solution across from Maclin, but until he establishes himself as such GM John Dorsey should at very least pursue serious competition.
Safety: The Chiefs can solidify safety by locking up or tagging SS Eric Berry, but until they do this position will need to be addressed. Berry, Husain Abdullah, and Tyvon Branch combined to account for 63% of Kansas City's 2015 safety snaps. All three are currently slated for unrestricted free agency. Branch seems likeliest to leave in pursuit of a full-time job. Another Chiefs need is defensive line, where versatile DE/DT Jaye Howard and rotational run stopper DE Mike DeVito's contracts are up, and NT Dontari Poe is entering his contract year.
Notable Free Agents: DE Greg Hardy, DE Jeremy Mincey, MLB Rolando McClain, CB Morris Claiborne, OLB Kyle Wilber, OG Ronald Leary (RFA), QB Matt Cassel, RB Lance Dunbar, RB Robert Turbin, DT Jack Crawford, TE James Hanna, NT Nick Hayden, FB Tyler Clutts, OG Mackenzy Bernadeau
Cornerback: The Cowboys will finally move on from the failed Morris Claiborne era, while LCB Brandon Carr is severely overpaid at his $9.1 million base salary. Dallas played musical chairs at slot corner throughout 2015 and prefers to keep first-rounder Byron Jones at safety. The Cowboys will hope Orlando Scandrick regains form after tearing his ACL and MCL late last August. They need at least one starting-caliber boundary corner, and quite possibly two.
Running Back: Dallas' running back cupboard is bare behind Darren McFadden, who turns 29 before next season. Joseph Randle predictably flopped, and trade acquisition Christine Michael never got a legitimate chance before Dallas cut him in November. After they stunningly bypassed running backs in the 2015 draft, expect the Cowboys to take one early this April.
Defensive Line: RE Greg Hardy won't be re-signed, while rotational DLs Jeremy Mincey and Jack Crawford can follow him into free agency. In DT Tyrone Crawford and DEs Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory, the Cowboys do have three building blocks up front. Crawford is coming off a disappointing season, however, and Gregory may not be ready for a full-time role. Dallas needs an upgrade on NT Nick Hayden and more talent to round out the depth chart.
Linebacker: With MLB Rolando McClain and SLB Kyle Wilber's contracts expiring, the Cowboys may lose their starting middle linebacker and a useful role player. Anthony Hitchens would start in the middle if the season began today, with Sean Lee on the weak side. 2015 fourth-rounder Damien Wilson is a candidate for more snaps, but he barely played as a rookie. This is a position Dallas should be able to patch up cheaply in free agency. It can also be argued that backup quarterback, tight end, and wide receiver are needy positions for the Cowboys.
Outside Linebacker: Baltimore's pass defense collapse can be mainly traced to a shortage of pass rush. Terrell Suggs tore his Achilles' last fall and will turn 34 next October. Bookend Elvis Dumervil can still bring heat off the edge, but he is better suited for a rotational role at age 32. Early-down edge setter Courtney Upshaw's contract is up. 2015 fourth-round pick Za'Darius Smith did come on strong with 3.5 sacks in the final three weeks, but at the moment aging Suggs and Dumervil, and potentially-promising Smith are all the Ravens have.
Cornerback: Starters RCB Jimmy Smith and LCB Lardarius Webb are both coming off disappointing seasons, while slot CB Kyle Arrington got benched six weeks into the year. The Ravens were forced to turn to journeyman Shareece Wright as a starter down the stretch, and Wright is now headed for free agency. Current No. 4 corner Will Davis has suffered two ACL tears in the last two seasons. The Ravens need a legitimate starting-caliber cornerback capable of pushing Webb, who is owed an $8 million salary in 2016 and $8.5 million in 2017.
Offensive Line: The Ravens' roster is in a lot better shape than its 2015 record (5-11) suggests. Baltimore's offensive line needs some work, however, with stud LG/LT Kelechi Osemele's contract expiring and LT Eugene Monroe seemingly incapable of sustaining health. Having battled knee, ankle, and shoulder injuries, Monroe has missed 15 games over the past two seasons. RG Marshal Yanda is going on 32. RT Rick Wagner is entering a contract year.
Wide Receiver: With Steve Smith Sr. (Achilles), Breshad Perriman (PCL), Michael Campanaro (back), and Darren Waller (hamstring) all coming off year-ending injuries, Kamar Aiken is the only receiver under Baltimore's 2016 control who turned in a full, productive season. And Aiken is a restricted free agent. Anything the Ravens get from Smith at age 37 should be considered a bonus. Perriman is essentially an unknown after a lost rookie year.
New Orleans Saints
Notable Free Agents: TE Ben Watson, RB Khiry Robinson (RFA), OG Tim Lelito (RFA), DT Kevin Williams, FS Rafael Bush, RB Tim Hightower, CB Kyle Wilson, TE Josh Hill (RFA), K Kai Forbath, TE Michael Hoomanawanui, RB Travaris Cadet, QB Luke McCown, QB Matt Flynn
Defensive End: The 2015 Saints so lacked pass-rush talent that they started undrafted rookie Bobby Richardson at right end, then finished 27th in sacks (31). New Orleans' secondary isn't quite as bad as it's billed to be -- particularly if CB Keenan Lewis and promising slot corner Damian Swann return healthy -- but this is a team in severe need of disruptive bodies front.
Linebacker: Whereas 2015 first-round pick Stephone Anthony should have a promising future in the middle, second-year SLB Hau'oli Kikaha was a liability as a rookie starter. The Saints began cleaning house in their otherwise overpriced, underperforming linebacker corps, cutting David Hawthorne and Ramon Humber shortly after the season. WLB Dannell Ellerbe would've been next to go before he accepted a pay cut. Poor linebacker play was a main reason Football Outsiders graded last year's Saints 27th against the run.
Tight End: Ben Watson enjoyed a late-career breakout season (74-825-6) in 2015, but he's 35 years old and ticketed for free agency. Michael Hoomanawanui's contract is also up, while No. 2 tight end Josh Hill is a restricted free agent. The Saints may be able to re-sign Watson on the cheap, but they need to begin thinking about the future at this position.
Wide Receiver: Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead established themselves as a respectable 1-2 punch at wideout, but declining Marques Colston figures to be cut and Brandon Coleman failed to capitalize on increased snaps. As Cooks (5'10/189) and Snead (5'11/195) are both size deficient, the Saints may prioritize a bigger receiver capable of winning contested catches. Guard is another need after the team released longtime RG Jahri Evans. Incumbent LG Tim Lelito is a restricted free agent, and 2015 first-rounder Andrus Peat struggled badly inside.
Notable Free Agents: ILB Jerrell Freeman, TE Dwayne Allen, TE Coby Fleener, CB Greg Toler, K Adam Vinatieri, SS Dwight Lowery, DE Billy Winn, QB Matt Hasselbeck, RB Dan Herron, S Colt Anderson, OG Lance Louis, RB Ahmad Bradshaw
Offensive Line: Indianapolis' roster deficiencies were exposed with Andrew Luck out of the lineup for nine games. Never in doubt was the Colts' offensive line weakness, which GM Ryan Grigson has unsuccessfully attempted to paper over with failed draft picks and over-the-hill free agent flops. Only left tackle (Anthony Castonzo), left guard (Jack Mewhort), and perhaps center (Jonotthan Harrison) should be considered solidified. Contract-year RG Hugh Thornton has been a consistent liability, while RT Joe Reitz is suited for a sixth-man role.
Linebacker: The Colts' linebacker corps may need a facelift, especially if stud ILB Jerrell Freeman bolts in free agency. 2013 first-round pick Bjoern Werner is a bust. 33-year-old Trent Cole ($6.25 million) is a potential cap casualty, and Robert Mathis turns 35 soon. 32-year-old ILB D'Qwell Jackson has been a liability in each of his two years with the Colts. Mathis, Cole, ILB Sio Moore, and OLB Erik Walden are all entering contract seasons. 2014 fifth-round pick Jonathan Newsome took a step back after a promising rookie year. This team badly needs pass rush.
Cornerback: While star RCB Vontae Davis is signed through 2017, LCB Greg Toler is a free agent and the Colts could use an upgrade on Darius Butler, one of the weakest slot corners in the league. An in-house candidate for an increased role is 2015 third-rounder D'Joun Smith, though Smith's failure to earn playing time ahead of Butler and Jalil Brown down the stretch is a concern. Coach Chuck Pagano's scheme plays press-man coverage and frequently leaves its cornerbacks on one-on-one islands. Corners who excel in this technique are difficult to find.
Tight End: Running back, defensive line, and backup quarterback also could've made the Colts' biggest needs. I went with tight end because Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen are both unrestricted free agents and No. 3 tight end Jack Doyle is restricted. Tight ends have long been a big part of Colts OC Rob Chudzinski's pass game; Chud is a tight ends coach by trade. Chudzinski coached Bubba Franks, Jeremy Shockey, and Kellen Winslow at the University of Miami. He's overseen Shockey, Winslow, Antonio Gates, Jordan Cameron, and Greg Olsen in the NFL.
New York Jets
Notable Free Agents: DE Muhammad Wilkerson, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, NT Damon Harrison, RB Chris Ivory, RB Bilal Powell, DE Leger Douzable, ILB Erin Henderson, ILB Demario Davis, OLB Calvin Pace, OG Willie Colon, CB Darrin Walls, ILB Jamari Lattimore, TE Kellen Davis, SS Antonio Allen, WR Chris Owusu, RB Stevan Ridley, K Randy Bullock
Linebacker: The Jets need help at both inside and outside linebacker with ILB Demario Davis and OLB Calvin Pace not likely to be re-signed in free agency. Outside rush 'backer was a problem area late in Rex Ryan's tenure and continued into year one of Todd Bowles as Gang Green got just nine sacks from its entire OLB crew. The Jets desperately need an injection of speed into their linebacker corps. Stalwart ILB David Harris turned 32 last month.
Running Back: Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell, and Stevan Ridley accounted for nearly 88% of the Jets' 2015 running back snaps, and all three are headed to free agency. Powell may return, but Ivory is not expected back. Ridley played poorly in his limited opportunities and also figures to walk. OC Chan Gailey's offense best meshes with running backs who are capable of excelling in both the run and pass games, and who can exploit gaps created by Gailey's four-wide spread.
Offensive Line: The Jets' line largely protected Ryan Fitzpatrick well in 2015, but LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson showed signs of decline at age 32 and RT Breno Giacomini was a persistent liability. 2013 third-round pick Brian Winters has failed to nail down right guard. New York could use at least one upgrade at guard or tackle and a left tackle prospect to groom.
Defensive Line: Cornerback, perhaps tight end, and quarterback if the Jets don't re-sign Ryan Fitzpatrick -- they will -- could also be argued as Jets needs. I went with defensive line because difference makers NT Damon Harrison and LE Muhammad Wilkerson's contracts are up. Rotational DEs Stephen Bowen and Leger Douzable are also free agents, and RE Sheldon Richardson is entering his contract year. The Jets must address this position and add depth.
Notable Free Agents: CB Terence Newman, OG Mike Harris, OLB Chad Greenway, SS Andrew Sendejo, TE Rhett Ellison, SS Robert Blanton, DT Kenrick Ellis, RB Matt Asiata, CB Marcus Sherels, MLB Audie Cole, CB Josh Robinson
Wide Receiver: Whereas Stefon Diggs looks like a big hit for GM Rick Spielman, Mike Wallace was a horrible misfit with Teddy Bridgewater and will likely be released due to his $11.45 million salary. Jarius Wright is a slot receiver only, and Cordarrelle Patterson is a kickoff returner. The Vikings need a big, ball-commanding wideout who wins physically and turns short catches into long gains. Basically, what Charles Johnson looked like late in the 2014 season.
Offensive Line: The Vikings have some promising pieces on the line and should benefit tremendously from the return of C John Sullivan, who missed 2015 with a back injury. Sullivan is on the wrong side of 30 and endured a setback, however, while LT Matt Kalil and rookie RT T.J. Clemmings both struggled last season. Starting RG Mike Harris' contract is up. RT Phil Loadholt spent last year on I.R. with a torn Achilles' and may not return at his $5.4 million salary. After the season, coach Mike Zimmer declared the entire offensive line open to competition.
Safety: Star FS Harrison Smith is entering his contract year, while strong safety was a revolving door in Minnesota all season. Andrew Sendejo, Robert Blanton, and Antone Exum all failed to nail down the position when given opportunities. Undrafted rookie Anthony Harris did flash promise late in the season, but he should face a stiff challenge for the first-string role.
Linebacker: MLB Eric Kendricks and SLB Anthony Barr are the Vikings' building blocks at linebacker. The weak side is a question mark with Chad Greenway headed to free agency at age 33. Greenway may be re-signed for leadership purposes, but his on-field play has slipped dramatically. Zimmer prioritizes linebackers who play with athleticism and toughness.
Notable Free Agents: LT Cordy Glenn, OG Richie Incognito, DT Corbin Bryant (RFA), OLB Nigel Bradham, WR Percy Harvin, FS Bacarri Rambo (RFA), DT Alex Carrington, CB Ron Brooks, DT Stefan Charles (RFA), OT Jordan Mills, WR Leonard Hankerson
Offensive Line: Football Outsiders graded Buffalo's 2015 offensive line 23rd in run blocking and 27th in pass protection. Now, the Bills must find ways to retain free agents LT Cordy Glenn and LG Richie Incognito, who were their best two linemen last season. Glenn, in particular, will be a hot commodity if allowed to hit the market. RG John Miller was a disaster as a rookie, and RT Seantrel Henderson's playing future is in doubt due to Crohn's disease.
Linebacker: Buffalo's disappointing 2015 defense can be in large part attributed to poor linebacker play, both in pass coverage and run support. Second-year ILB Preston Brown was one of the team's biggest liabilities, and impending free agent WLB Nigel Bradham turned in a poor season as well. The Bills need at least one new starting linebacker, and very arguably two.
Wide Receiver: Sammy Watkins became what the Bills hoped for during a dynamic 2015 season (60-1,047-9), but Buffalo's wideout depth chart is weak beyond him. Possession target Robert Woods is best suited for a No. 3 role, while fellow returnees Chris Hogan, Greg Salas, and Marquise Goodwin are bottom-of-the-roster types. To complement Watkins and Tyrod Taylor's deep game, the Bills need a big, physical receiver with run-after-catch skills.
Cornerback: RCB Stephon Gilmore and LCB Ronald Darby proved excellent fits for Rex Ryan's defense, but smallish slot CB Nickell Robey was easy pickings for offenses while No. 4 CB Leodis McKelvin is a release candidate in the final year of his deal. This unit needs improved depth as Gilmore enters his contract year, and an upgrade at slot corner would really help.
Notable Free Agents: OG Brandon Brooks, OLB John Simon (RFA), DE Jared Crick, C Ben Jones, FS Quintin Demps, WR Nate Washington, SS Eddie Pleasant (RFA), K Nick Novak, P Shane Lechler, OT Chris Clark, RB Chris Polk, RB Jonathan Grimes (RFA)
Quarterback: Brian Hoyer, then Ryan Mallett, then back to Hoyer, then T.J. Yates, then Brandon Weeden, and back to Hoyer again. Texans coach Bill O'Brien has done well to coax semi-competent quarterback play out of a motley cast of signal callers, but it's time Houston took this position more seriously. Hoyer is a high-end NFL backup and nothing more.
Safety: Although it isn't for a lack of trying, the Texans have had little or no success when taking stabs at safeties. 2013 second-round pick D.J. Swearinger flamed out quickly and is now a member of the Arizona Cardinals. Ed Reed and Rahim Moore have been recent free agent whiffs. Signed to a three-year, $12 million deal last spring, Moore was benched seven weeks into the season. The Texans closed out the year starting 2014 seventh-round pick Dre Hal and journeyman special teamer Quintin Demps, who is now an unrestricted free agent.
Running Back: Arian Foster's (Achilles') release is believed to be imminent, while Chris Polk's contract is up. Plodder Alfred Blue (career 3.48 YPC) isn't a short- or long-term solution. The Texans need a running back capable of keeping the chains moving on offense, especially while their quarterback position gets settled.
Defensive Line: LE J.J. Watt earned his third DPOY award in four seasons, but got little help from his teammates up front. Free agent RE Jared Crick was a liability all year. NT Vince Wilfork can still fill versus the run, but adds nothing in the way of pass rush and is going on age 35. The Texans need to upgrade on Crick and keep adding young talent to the depth chart.
Quarterback: Eagles QBs have combined to rank 23rd and 22nd in passer rating the past two seasons, while release candidate Mark Sanchez ($4.5 million) is the team's only quarterback under contract for 2016. Andy Reid disciple Doug Pederson is bringing a West Coast offense back to Philadelphia. Free agent Sam Bradford may end up a failed one-year rental.
Defensive Back: $63 million investment LCB Byron Maxwell flopped as a No. 1 corner. RCB Nolan Carroll's contract is up after he fractured his ankle on Thanksgiving. Rookie Eric Rowe looked overmatched as a fill-in starter down the stretch. SS Walter Thurmond is a free agent, and he may look to cash in at the high end of a weak safety market. At the moment, FS/slot CB Malcolm Jenkins is the only Eagles defensive back who can be considered a quality starter.
Offensive Line: The Eagles are set at tackle and center, but LG Allen Barbre and RG Matt Tobin are coming off ugly years. Tobin especially needs to be replaced. An in-house competitor will be Andrew Gardner, who opened 2015 starting at right guard but suffered a year-ending foot injury three games in. The Eagles also need to think about tackles for the future. When RT Lane Johnson eventually replaces 34-year-old LT Jason Peters, a hole will form on the right side.
Defensive Line: Moving to a 4-3 under Jim Schwartz, the Eagles' defensive personnel looks surprisingly ready for the switch with Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham on the ends, Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan at tackle, and some combination of Jordan Hicks, Connor Barwin, Mychal Kendricks, Kiko Alonso, and DeMeco Ryans at linebacker. The Eagles still need depth on the line, however, with a shortage of outside edge rushers and run pluggers in the middle.
Notable Free Agents: QB Kirk Cousins, NT Terrance Knighton, RB Alfred Morris, ILB Mason Foster, CB Will Blackmon, OLB Junior Galette, NT Kedric Golston, ILB Will Compton (RFA), TE Logan Paulsen, FB Darrel Young, RB Pierre Thomas, QB Colt McCoy, ILB Keenan Robinson, G/C Josh LeRibeus
Offensive Line: LT Trent Williams, RG Brandon Scherff, and RT Morgan Moses are all entrenched as 2016 starters, but LG Spencer Long is coming off an uneven season and the Redskins' 2015 center play was arguably the worst in the league. Even under OL mastermind Bill Callahan, Washington generated no push in the running game, finishing 30th in the league in yards per carry (3.65). The Redskins need to give Callahan another talented interior piece.
Inside Linebacker: Keenan Robinson and Mason Foster are free agents, while Perry Riley is a release candidate at his $4 million salary. Restricted free agent Will Compton was a disaster when forced into heavy playing time, finishing 84th among 94 qualified inside linebackers in PFF's grades as a ten-game starter at inside linebacker on a Washington team that ranked bottom ten in Football Outsiders' run-defense DVOA. Combined, those four players accounted for 99.9% of the Redskins' 2015 inside linebacker snaps. GM Scot McCloughan may want to consider a complete overhaul of this position, though re-signing run stuffer Foster would be a solid first step.
Defensive Line: NT Terrance Knighton is a free agent, and 33-year-old RE Jason Hatcher openly discussed retirement at season's end. Top backup NT Kedric Golston's contract is also up. McCloughan hit on Knighton, super-sub DE Ricky Jean-Francois, and DE Stephen Paea (when healthy) in 2015 free agency. He'll have to make a few more moves here this offseason.
Running Back: Defensive back and quarterback -- in the extremely unlikely event Kirk Cousins hits the open market -- could also be classified as Redskins needs. I went with running back because free agent Alfred Morris is a surefire goner, and Matt Jones struggled mightily with both fumbles (5) and rushing efficiency (3.40 YPC) as a rookie. My sense is Jones can be a competent starter if the Redskins improve their interior run blocking, but I also don't think Jones should be locked into a competition-free starting job entering his second season.
Cornerback: LCB Brent Grimes' play fell off a cliff in 2015, and he turns 33 this summer. RCB Jamar Taylor was one of the NFL's most frequent burn victims. Slot corner Brice McCain turned in a mediocre season. FS Michael Thomas is a restricted free agent. The Dolphins must find at least one starting corner and competition for special teamer-turned-starter Thomas.
Guard: The Dolphins' guard play was abysmal in 2015, particularly LG Dallas Thomas. Rookie RG Jamil Douglas was benched in favor of Billy Turner one month into the season, and Turner didn't provide an upgrade. Thomas, 26, Turner, 24, and Douglas, 24, are young players worth keeping around, but none of them has yet proven cable of nailing down a starting job.
Linebacker: Run-defense liability MLB Kelvin Sheppard is expected to leave in free agency, and SLB Koa Misi's $5.3 million owed in salary and bonuses could get him cut. WLB Jelani Jenkins and potential Sheppard replacement Zach Vigil are the Dolphins' only linebackers assured of returning. Jenkins is coming off a disappointing season on the weak side.
Defensive Line: Running back and tight end are also potential weak spots on Miami's roster, but defensive line help is most pressing. Not only are RE Olivier Vernon and LE Derrick Shelby's contracts up, but top pass rusher Cameron Wake is 34 years old and coming off a torn Achilles' tendon. NT Earl Mitchell is entering his contract year after a sub-par season. 2015 second-round pick Jordan Phillips got pushed around in run defense as a rookie. The Dolphins won't let Vernon walk, but they need one more useful body up front and arguably two.
New York Giants
Notable Free Agents: DE Jason Pierre-Paul, CB Prince Amukamara, DE Robert Ayers, WR Rueben Randle, K Josh Brown, DT Cullen Jenkins, CB Trumaine McBride, TE Larry Donnell (RFA), SS Brandon Meriweather, MLB Jasper Brinkley, C/G Dallas Reynolds, DE George Selvie, CB Jayron Hosley, FS Craig Dahl, WR Hakeem Nicks, TE Daniel Fells
Every Position on Defense: The Giants' roster deterioration under slumping GM Jerry Reese cost Tom Coughlin his job. New York was especially horrific on defense in 2015, finishing 28th in Football Outsiders' pass-defense DVOA and 21st against the run. RE Robert Ayers, LE Jason Pierre-Paul, and RCB Prince Amukamara were three of the defense's top players, and all are now free agents. Linebacker and safety were disasters on Steve Spagnuolo's unit.
Wide Receiver: Rueben Randle never got better after flashing early-career promise and is now headed into free agency. The Giants can't count on a 2016 impact from Victor Cruz, who tore his patellar tendon in 2014, then tore his calf last November. Cruz is a release candidate going on age 30 with $8 million owed to him in salary and bonuses. Dwayne Harris is best suited for a No. 4 receiver/special teams role. There's Odell Beckham, and not a whole lot else.
Running Back: The Giants used a frustrating four-way committee for most of 2015, preventing their stable of backs from ever finding a rhythm and ultimately doing more run-game harm than good. Then-OC Ben McAdoo found success once he settled on Rashad Jennings as New York's lead runner down the stretch, but Jennings turns 31 in March. 2014 fourth-round pick Andre Williams remained horribly ineffective. Jennings and Shane Vereen can be quality role players, but the Giants will lack a consistent run game until they find a true lead back.
Offensive Line: Reese made the decision to release LT Will Beatty, who missed last season with a torn pectoral followed by a rotator cuff tear in his shoulder. Drafted to open his career at right tackle, first-round pick Ereck Flowers struggled badly when forced onto Eli Manning's blind side. Last year's loss of Beatty weakened two positions, as fill-in Marshall Newhouse got pummeled at right tackle. Although effective when healthy, RG Geoff Schwartz missed 19 games over the past two seasons and followed Beatty out the door this week.
Notable Free Agents: RT Ryan Schraeder (RFA), OG Chris Chester, DT Adrian Clayborn, DE Kroy Biermann, MLB Paul Worrilow (RFA), DE/LB O'Brien Schofield, K Shayne Graham, SS Charles Godfrey, OLB Philip Wheeler
Defensive End: Last year's Falcons finished dead last in the NFL in sacks (19). The main culprit was a defensive end group that generated no pressure beyond the contributions of rookie RE Vic Beasley. LE Tyson Jackson has never been a pass rusher, while key rotational linemen Kroy Biermann, O'Brien Schofield, and Adrian Clayborn are ticketed for free agency.
Offensive Line: With RG Chris Chester headed to free agency and C Mike Person coming off an abominable season, the Falcons' offensive line priorities should be on upgrading the interior. There isn't a starting-caliber center on the current roster. 33-year-old Chester struggled in pass protection and is now coming off shoulder surgery. At tackle, Jake Matthews took a needed step forward on Matt Ryan's blind side. RT Ryan Schraeder is a restricted free agent.
Tight End/Wide Receiver: Whether it be a starting tight end or a legit No. 2 wideout, the Falcons need pass-catching help. Overpaid Roddy White looked out of gas at age 34, while 31-year-old (in March) TE Jacob Tamme played too many snaps. 2015 fourth-round pick Justin Hardy may have a promising future at slot receiver, but is better viewed as a role player. Last season, it was Julio Jones and little else in one of the NFL's thinnest passing offenses.
Defensive Back: LCB Desmond Trufant is a true shutdown force and RCB Robert Alford has developed into a quality starter. Slot corner was a weakness all season, however, while aging SS William Moore was among the NFL's first offseason cuts. Moore failed in the "Kam Chancellor role" at box safety in Dan Quinn's Cover 3. Middle and weak-side linebacker also need reinforcements.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Notable Free Agents: RB Doug Martin, DT Jacquies Smith (RFA), DT Henry Melton, CB Sterling Moore, OLB Danny Lansanah (RFA), SS Bradley McDougald (RFA), FS Keith Tandy, DT Tony McDaniel, FS Chris Conte, RB Bobby Rainey, CB Mike Jenkins
Defensive Back: Tampa Bay's cornerback play in Lovie Smith's final year as coach got so bad the Bucs actually used journeyman Sterling Moore to shadow No. 1 receivers down the stretch. A 2011 undrafted free agent, Moore has spent time with four different teams in five seasons. Every single Bucs 2015 cornerback received a negative pass-coverage grade from Pro Football Focus. The safety play wasn't any better. Tampa Bay's secondary needs a facelift.
Defensive End: The Bucs entered 2015 with the weakest defensive end group in the league. They emerged with the No. 26 pass defense, per Football Outsiders' DVOA. A lot of that is attributable the NFL's worst secondary, but it's also explainable by a lack of consistent up-front pressure. Jacquies Smith led Bucs ends in sacks (7) but was easily washed out against the run, and is now a restricted free agent. Under new DC Mike Smith, sub-rusher Howard Jones (5 sacks) and run-stopper LE William Gholston (3) are the only other potential keepers.
Offensive Line: LT Donovan Smith had a brutal rookie season on Jameis Winston's blind side and would probably be better suited for right tackle or guard. Washed-up RT Gosder Cherilus was similarly ineffective across from him. LG Logan Mankins, who turns 34 in March, is owed $7 million in the last year of his deal. C Evan Dietrich-Smith got benched in favor of Joe Hawley, who was signed off the street in Week 2. Impressive small-school rookie Ali Marpet is the Bucs' only offensive lineman who should be assured of returning at his starting post.
Wide Receiver: I also considered running back as a need, but perhaps not with Doug Martin's re-signing seemingly a foregone conclusion. Next up is wide receiver, where Vincent Jackson has become increasingly inefficient at age 33, and whose season was ended by a knee injury. Third receiver Louis Murphy tore his ACL in November. The Bucs need a complement to Mike Evans who could work into three-wide sets and replace Jackson by 2017. One intriguing in-house prospect is Kenny Bell, a 2015 fifth-round pick who graduated from Nebraska as the school's all-time leading receiver but missed his entire rookie year with a hamstring injury.
San Diego Chargers
Notable Free Agents: FS Eric Weddle, TE Antonio Gates, CB Patrick Robinson, TE Ladarius Green, RT Joe Barksdale, SS Jahleel Addae (RFA), DE Ricardo Mathews, DE Kendall Reyes, TE/FB David Johnson, OT Chris Hairston
Defensive Line: The Chargers need a talent influx in the trenches after ranking dead last in run-defense DVOA. Among San Diego's incumbent defensive linemen, only RE Corey Liuget should be counted on as a 2016 starter. 2012 second-round bust Kendall Reyes figures to walk in free agency, while oft-used reserve Ricardo Mathews' contract is also up. NTs Sean Lissemore and Ryan Carrethers were rag dolled in 2015 and are best suited for backup roles.
Defensive Back: San Diego's most pressing secondary need is at safety, where FS Eric Weddle won't return after a fallout with the organization, and SS Jahleel Addae heads into restricted free agency. The Chargers gave up on 2015 free agent signing Jimmy Wilson, cutting him in mid-December. San Diego's current safety depth chart might be the worst in the league. Cornerback also needs reinforcements after 30-year-old LCB Brandon Flowers looked washed up before a Week 13 knee injury sent him to injured reserve. Slot CB/LCB Patrick Robinson was an excellent 2015 find by GM Tom Telesco, but is now an unrestricted free agent.
Offensive Line: The Chargers' front five will get significant boosts simply by getting healthy after RG D.J. Fluker, LG Orlando Franklin, and LT King Dunlap combined to miss 19 games due to injury. 2014 third-round C Chris Watt has failed to show durability or starting-caliber skill through two seasons, and probably needs to be replaced. After finishing 40th among 40 qualifying centers in Pro Football Focus' grades, fill-in C Trevor Robinson isn't the solution. San Diego's most reliable offensive lineman, RT Joe Barksdale's contract is up.
Tight End: The Chargers are expected to re-sign Antonio Gates, but he turns 36 this spring and likely has no more than a year or two left. Intriguing-if-enigmatic backup Ladarius Green looks poised to test free agency, where Green's market could be strong based on his age (26 in May) and playmaking upside. Third tight end John Phillips is also a free agent.
Notable Free Agents: WR Alshon Jeffery, RB Matt Forte, CB Tracy Porter, TE Zach Miller, OG Patrick Omameh (RFA), OLB Sam Acho, DE Mitch Unrein, C Will Montgomery, DE Jarvis Jenkins, OG Vlad Ducasse, ILB Shea McClellin, WR Marc Mariani, CB Sherrick McManis, SS Ryan Mundy, CB Alan Ball, TE Rob Housler, FS Chris Prosinski
Defensive Line: While first-year GM Ryan Pace did well to hit on second-round NT Eddie Goldman in last May's draft, the Bears fielded one of the league's worst 3-4 defensive end groupings throughout the year. Jarvis Jenkins and Mitch Unrein led the unit in snaps played and are both free agents. Middling rotational ends Will Sutton, Bruce Gaston, and Ego Ferguson return. The Bears arguably need two new starters on the defensive line.
Inside Linebacker: Finishing 31st in Football Outsiders' run-defense DVOA, the 2015 Bears struggled in most sections of the front seven. They were especially plodding at inside linebacker, where the Shea McClellin era can now mercifully end. The rest of Chicago's inside 'backers -- Christian Jones, Jonathan Anderson, LaRoy Reynolds, and John Timu -- are players who should be competing for the bottom part of a 53, not penciled in as starters.
Cornerback: RCB Kyle Fuller took a needed step forward after a rough end to his rookie year, but the Bears have very little behind him. LCB Tracy Porter's contract is up, while Chicago's cast of slot corners failed miserably last season. Re-signing Porter could paper over the position opposite Fuller for another year, but the Bears clearly need more talent here.
Offensive Line: Outside linebacker, running back, and quarterback also deserve a mention in the Bears' needs. Offensive line looks more pressing with LT Jermon Bushrod a virtual lock for release after losing his starting job, and fill-in LT Charles Leno and rookie C Hroniss Grasu coming off sub-par seasons. Leno, 24, and Grasu, 24, are young prospects who should improve, but the Bears would be smart to pursue competition for both players.
Notable Free Agents: DT Haloti Ngata, OLB Tahir Whitehead, DE Jason Jones, DT Tyrunn Walker, DE Darryl Tapp, SS Isa Abdul-Quddus, G/C Manuel Ramirez, SS James Ihedigbo, OLB Travis Lewis, WR Lance Moore, DT Jermelle Cudjo, CB Josh Wilson
Offensive Line: The Lions will hope for internal improvement from young guards Laken Tomlinson and Larry Warford, but C Travis Swanson failed as a first-year starter and Detroit's right tackle position was a revolving door of ineffectiveness throughout 2015. LT Riley Reiff also got exposed in pass protection. This may finally be the year Reiff transitions to right tackle or guard. The Lions need two new starters on the line; one center and one tackle.
Wide Receiver: With Calvin Johnson seemingly poised for retirement, wideout is suddenly among the Lions' biggest offseason needs. Behind Golden Tate, Detroit's current depth chart is rounded out by T.J. Jones, Corey Fuller, Ryan Spadola, and Corey Washington.
Defensive Line: Once the team's greatest strength, defensive line could devolve into a weakness if the Lions aren't careful. DT Haloti Ngata, LE Jason Jones, DT Tyrunn Walker, and DE Darryl Tapp are all free agents, leaving behind RE Ziggy Ansah and rotational DE Devin Taylor as Detroit's only surefire assets. The Lions need more edge rush and bodies to clog the middle.
Defensive Back: While LCB Darius Slay is developing into a legitimate shutdown corner, 35-year-old RCB Rashean Mathis fell off a cliff before he landed on I.R. with a concussion last November, and fill-in Nevin Lawson wasn't a whole lot better. Sixth-round pick Quandre Diggs did have an excellent rookie season at slot cornerback. Strong safety is arguably the biggest concern with Isa Abdul-Quddus and James Ihedigbo both slated for unrestricted free agency.
Defensive Back: The Jags have invested recent draft capital into SS Johnathan Cyprien, FS Josh Evans, and 2015 third-rounder James Sample, but so far none have panned out. At cornerback, only LCB/slot CB Aaron Colvin and RCB Davon House had somewhat effective seasons. Jacksonville ranked 31st in pass-defense DVOA, much of which can be blamed on a pass rush the team hopes 2015 first-round pick Dante Fowler and the return of three-technique DT Sen'Derrick Marks will kick start. Still, more talent is needed on the Jaguars' back end.
Offensive Line: LT Luke Joeckel and RT Jermey Parnell are both coming off rough years in pass protection, while ineffective LG Zane Beadles is a release candidate due to his $5.5 million owed in salary and bonuses. Arguably Jacksonville's steadiest 2015 lineman, C Stefen Wisniewski is now a free agent. The return of stud RG Brandon Linder will help the interior, but competition is needed for disappointing Joeckel, and the Jags may need a new starting center. An in-house candidate is 2015 third-rounder A.J. Cann, who starred at center in college but struggled with technique as a rookie NFL guard.
Tight End: Marcedes Lewis and Clay Harbor's contracts are expiring, leaving practice squad types Nic Jacobs and Ben Koyack behind Julius Thomas. A rising sixth-year pro, Thomas has never made it through a 16-game season. Per PFF's Mike Clay, Jacksonville utilized "12 personnel" (two tight ends) on 30% of its 2015 pass plays, the NFL's fourth highest clip.
Inside Linebacker: Defensive line is another arguable need, though the return of Fowler and Marks could satisfy it. Whereas OLBs Telvin Smith and Dan Skuta are coming off solid seasons, MLB Paul Posluszny's decline continued in 2015. Posluszny has become a liability in both run defense and coverage. The Jaguars seemingly value Posluszny's leadership skills enough to keep him around, but they need to start thinking about an eventual replacement.
Notable Free Agents: LT Donald Penn, OLB/DE Aldon Smith, WR Andre Holmes, T/G J'Marcus Webb, OLB Benson Mayowa (RFA), WR Rod Streater, G/C Tony Bergstrom, P Marquette King, CB Neiko Thorpe (RFA), FS Larry Asante, QB Matt McGloin (RFA), SS Taylor Mays, T/G Khalif Barnes
Defensive Back: With the exception of in-season waiver wire gem LCB David Amerson, the Raiders' cornerback play was among the league's worst. Oakland also must find an immediate replacement for retired FS Charles Woodson, who played at a high level in his final NFL season. Nate Allen was an injury-ravaged disaster at free safety. 2013 first-round CB D.J. Hayden is a certified bust. At very least, the Raiders need a slot corner and two new starting safeties. One option would be to slide CB T.J. Carrie to safety, where he played some snaps in 2015.
Inside Linebacker: Last offseason, the Raiders committed an $18 million deal to ILB Curtis Lofton and a $7 million pact to ILB Malcolm Smith. Neither panned out, with Lofton most notably getting creamed by tight ends in pass coverage while Smith was washed out against the run. Oakland simply needs better players here. An in-house candidate for more snaps is 2015 fifth-round pick Ben Heeney, whose defensive role expanded as his rookie year progressed.
Defensive Line: Gone are LE Justin Tuck (retirement) and OLB Aldon Smith (suspension, free agency). DE/OLB Mario Edwards' future is reportedly in some question due to a genetic issue in his neck. OLB Khalil Mack and NT Dan Williams are established studs, but the Raiders need more talent up front. An outside rusher to complement Mack would be ideal.
Offensive Line: With LT Donald Penn, RG J'Marcus Webb, T/G Khalif Barnes, and C/G Tony Bergstrom's contracts all expiring, the Raiders have holes to fill on the line. 2014 third-round pick LG Gabe Jackson has been one of GM Reggie McKenzie's biggest hits, while Rodney Hudson is one of the league's top centers. Austin Howard is a solid right tackle. Left tackle and right guard are Oakland's chief concerns as free agency approaches. 2015 fourth-rounder Jon Feliciano is an in-house option at right guard, but he struggled in three rookie-year starts.
Offensive Line: Last year's Titans coughed up a league-high 54 sacks, simultaneously ranking dead last in Football Outsiders' pass protection metric. Tennessee's lone plus starter is LT Taylor Lewan, who may kick to right tackle if the Titans draft a left tackle with the first overall pick. Centers Brian Schwenke and Andy Gallik were horrific, and through three seasons RG Chance Warmack hasn't even been a league-average starter. RT Byron Bell is a free agent. 2015 second-round pick Jeremiah Poutasi wasn't remotely ready to play as a rookie.
Running Back: In parentheses are the forty times of the Titans' current top-three backs: Antonio Andrews (4.82), Dexter McCluster (4.58), David Cobb (4.81). Straight-line speed does not a running back make, but Tennessee's 2015 backfield very clearly lacked explosiveness with Andrews (3.64 YPC) as the lead runner. 2014 second-round pick Bishop Sankey has been a total flop. Cobb is probably the best pure runner on the roster, but he barely played as a rookie.
Defensive Back: The Titans' free safety need is obvious after longtime FS Michael Griffin's release. Cornerback could also afford talent injections to upgrade on Blidi Wreh-Wilson and B.W. Webb behind RCB Perrish Cox and injury-plagued LCB Jason McCourty. The Titans may have stumbled upon their slot corner of the future in 2015 UDFA Cody Riggs, who excelled in his limited rookie-year chances. LCB/slot CB Coty Sensabaugh figures to walk in free agency.
Defensive Line: Sammie Lee Hill and Al Woods held down nose tackle for last year's Titans. Both have expiring contracts, and there isn't a realistic replacement on the current roster. Tennessee finished 24th in run-defense DVOA. Dick LeBeau's unit did get strong years from RE Jurrell Casey, LE DaQuan Jones, and sub-rusher Karl Klug, all of whom will return.
Los Angeles Rams
Notable Free Agents: CB Janoris Jenkins, DT Nick Fairley, CB Trumaine Johnson, DE William Hayes, LB/S Mark Barron, FS Rodney McLeod, QB Case Keenum (RFA), RB Benny Cunningham (RFA), K Greg Zuerlein, C Tim Barnes, WR Brian Quick, DE Eugene Sims, FB Cory Harkey, WR Wes Welker
Quarterback: The Rams haven't had stable quarterback play since the Marc Bulger era. Just three months after signing him to a new three-year, $27 million deal, the Rams benched Nick Foles for Case Keenum. Restricted free agent Keenum was promptly named the starter "entering the offseason" by coach Jeff Fisher. If Fisher had his way all the time, of course, the Rams would kick incessant field goals and run Todd Gurley repeatedly into brick walls. Hopefully for the Rams' sake, GM Les Snead realizes quarterback remains a huge need.
Wide Receiver: These are the wide receivers the Rams currently have under contract for 2016: Tavon Austin, Kenny Britt, Stedman Bailey (gunshot wounds), Bradley Marquez, Deon Long, Isiah Ferguson, and "Kain Colter." Don't feel bad if you haven't heard of half of them. The Rams haven't had a wideout clear 750 yards since Torry Holt did it in 2008. This passing game is a joke.
Offensive Line: LT Greg Robinson has been worse than anyone could've imagined through two NFL seasons, while injury machine RG Rodger Saffold (shoulder) is coming off yet another surgery. The Rams' 2015 center play was as bad as it gets, and starter Tim Barnes' contract is now expiring. Third-round pick OG Jamon Brown struggled at guard before breaking his leg in Week 10. This offensive line is in shambles, though that's par for the Rams' course.
Defensive Back: Both of the Rams' starting cornerbacks -- RCB Janoris Jenkins and LCB Trumaine Johnson -- are headed to free agency and could strike it rich. The return of E.J. Gaines from a Lisfranc fracture should soften the blow, but Los Angeles lacks much else in the way of potential 2016 starters. Free safety is another concern with incumbent starter Rodney McLeod also ticketed for the open market.
Quarterback: The Browns' only viable quarterback is Josh McCown, who turns 37 in July and is recovering from a broken collarbone. New coach Hue Jackson has proven to be a master of scheming up offense to maximize his quarterbacks' strengths and minimize weaknesses, but McCown is a short-term stopgap at best and Johnny Manziel's career may already be over.
Wide Receiver: The Browns could stabilize their wideout group to some extent by re-signing Travis Benjamin, but Benjamin would be smart to test the market as one of the top receivers available at age 26. Benjamin's loss would leave Brian Hartline, Andrew Hawkins, Taylor Gabriel, and the ghost of Dwayne Bowe as Cleveland's top returning receivers. At least until he's officially reinstated, the Browns can't count on surefire impact from Josh Gordon.
Outside Linebacker: Last year's Browns ranked 28th in sacks (29) and got only 11 from their outside linebacker position group. Armonty Bryant (5.5) led the unit, but is likely facing a suspension following a December arrest and is entering his contract year. Cleveland reportedly shopped OLB Paul Kruger at October's trade deadline, and he may now be a release candidate at his $6.5 million salary. 2013 first-rounder Barkevious Mingo has been a big disappointment. 2015 second-rounder Nate Orchard did flash promise on increased snaps down the stretch.
Offensive Line: Cleveland's lone strength the past few years, this O-Line is headed for some offseason shakeup. C Alex Mack is fully expected to opt out of his contract, while free agent RT Mitchell Schwartz may want to go to a team where his consistently solid play is more appreciated. The Browns do have intriguing in-house options in 2015 first-round pick Cameron Erving as Mack's likely replacement, and ex-Seahawk Michael Bowie as a right tackle option.
San Francisco 49ers
Quarterback: New 49ers coach Chip Kelly is reportedly lukewarm on Colin Kaepernick, who is allegedly intent on getting a fresh start away from San Francisco. Blaine Gabbert played slightly better than expected down the stretch, but was still far from good. He's an NFL backup. Even if it merely entails getting Kap to "buy in" under Kelly, the 49ers need a starting quarterback.
Offensive Line: San Francisco's 2015 offensive line was abysmal, both as a run-blocking and pass-protecting unit. They're now in danger of losing stud LG Alex Boone to free agency. 49ers GM Trent Baalke has whiffed mightily on virtually all of his offensive line draft picks in recent years. Only LT Joe Staley and RG Andrew Tiller return as bankable 2016 assets.
Wide Receiver: Free agent Anquan Boldin figures to seek work for a contender going on age 36, while $40 million free agent bust Torrey Smith caught 33 passes in 16 games during his first year as a 49er. The receiver depth chart is rounded out by Bruce Ellington, Quinton Patton, Jerome Simpson, 2015 fourth-round redshirt DeAndre Smelter, and CFL import Eric Rogers.
Cornerback: Inside linebacker, outside linebacker, nose tackle, and No. 2 running back also deserve mentions on a 49ers roster that's steadily eroded on Baalke's watch. Cornerback stands out above them facing Russell Wilson and Carson Palmer twice per year. San Francisco did get decent 2015s from LCB Tramaine Brock and slot CB Jimmie Ward, though Brock is hardly a difference maker and Ward is a smallish slot defender only. The Niners need a No. 1 corner.