With the NFL scouting combine about to get underway and free agency around the corner, here are some key considerations facing each AFC team as they begin building their 2016 rosters:
Baltimore Ravens: A team that lost 20 players (and most of its stars) to injured reserve should rebound without a lot of help from the outside. But GM Ozzie Newsome has to address holes on a once-proud defense.
Buffalo Bills: They must clear salary cap space, especially if they decide to franchise LT Cordy Glenn and hope to re-sign G Richie Incognito, which only lends credence to the rumored departure of DE Mario Williams. Defensive upgrades will probably have to come from draft.
Cincinnati Bengals: They risk losing virtually the entire secondary and a handful of other starters to free agency. The Bengals, who have more than $30 million to spend, tend to pay their own, yet also have drafted several potential replacements. Wideout and safety loom as areas of need.
Cleveland Browns: QB Johnny Manziel will soon be told to leave, and C Alex Mack could opt out. Though the latest regime inherits problems aplenty, it has options – including the second and 32nd picks of the draft and roughly $40 million of cap space, some of which could be earmarked for speedy WR Travis Benjamin and RT Mitchell Schwartz. And, of course, they need to find a franchise quarterback – again.
Denver Broncos: Now the champagne problems. Super Bowl MVP Von Miller will surely be tagged, so GM John Elway must figure out how much QB Brock Osweiler is worth. If he’s retained, DE Malik Jackson and LB Danny Trevathan will likely be ex-Broncos very soon. If Osweiler is not retained, then things get very interesting.
Houston Texans: Unless they get a quarterback, the Texans will remain a fringe playoff team. So do they pony up for Sam Bradford or Osweiler, or hope Paxton Lynch or Connor Cook is available with the 22nd pick of the draft?
Indianapolis Colts: They clearly can’t keep all of their unsigned players – TEs Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener, LB Jerrell Freeman, backup QB Matt Hasselbeck and K Adam Vinatieri among them – and the Andrew Luck bill must be paid in the next year. But with new contracts in hand, GM Ryan Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano might be wise to take this opportunity to rebuild through the draft.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Despite gaping holes defensively and on the offensive line, the Jags may be on the verge of a breakthrough. Jacksonville doesn’t historically draw top-tier free agents, but GM Dave Caldwell can afford to overpay with more than $70 million available to dole out.
Kansas City Chiefs: Re-upping S Eric Berry should be atop the checklist. But it’s probably time to say goodbye to longtime LBs Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson (and likely CB Sean Smith) in order to bolster the offense.
Miami Dolphins: DE Olivier Vernon is the guy they probably can’t afford to lose. But re-signing him means they probably won’t be able to afford much else, including a top running back to replace Lamar Miller.
New England Patriots: As great as Tom Brady is, he would clearly benefit from better blocking and some semblance of a ground game. But the Pats appear too cap-strapped to be players in free agency, and Deflategate cost them their first-round draft pick.
New York Jets: Expect DE Muhammad Wilkerson to be franchised. GM Mike Maccagnan's next move would be re-signing QB Ryan Fitzpatrick – if his market doesn’t skyrocket. NT Damon Harrison and RB Chris Ivory will likely have to cash in elsewhere.
Oakland Raiders: GM Reggie McKenzie has loads of cap space and an exciting roster to entice free agents. He needs a left tackle, help up the middle defensively and maybe a strong veteran voice with S Charles Woodson and DE Justin Tuck retiring.
Pittsburgh Steelers: GM Kevin Colbert rarely pursues free agents. Might he reconsider to address one of the league’s worst pass defenses?
San Diego Chargers: The defense sorely lacks playmakers. QB Philip Rivers needs a better supporting cast. The top four tight ends are unsigned. Otherwise, the Bolts are in great shape.
Tennessee Titans: They have the top pick of the draft and about $50 million in cap space. It isn’t nearly enough to address the holes around QB Marcus Mariota. Trading the No. 1 pick to accrue more choices would be ideal. Finding better blocking and a legit tailback should be the main priorities.
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