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We've got issues: Breaking down AFC free-agency needs

  • By Vic Carucci NFL.com
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» Wyche: NFC free-agency primer


Free agency starts Friday morning at 12:01 ET. While clubs finalize their approach for this signing frenzy, we take a look at every club in the AFC, their areas of strength, weakness and their plan. We also list their potential key free agents, which could change between now and kickoff to free agency as teams look to trim their rosters and open up salary-cap space.

Key dates on free-agency calendar
Feb. 26 -- Deadline for submission of qualifying offers by clubs to their restricted free agents whose contracts have expired and to whom they desire to retain a right of first refusal/compensation.

Feb. 27 -- Veteran free-agency signing period begins. Trading period begins.

April 17 -- Signing period ends for restricted free agents.

April 24 -- Deadline for old club to exercise right of first refusal to restricted free agents.

June 1 -- Deadline for old clubs to send tender to unsigned unrestricted free agents to receive exclusive negotiating rights for rest of season if player is not signed by another club by July 22.

June 15 -- Deadline for old clubs to withdraw original qualifying offer to unsigned restricted free agents and still retain exclusive negotiating rights by substituting tender of 110 percent of previous year’s salary.
» Complete NFL calendar ...

AFC EAST

Buffalo Bills

Potential key free agents: UFA -- OT Kirk Chambers, LB Angelo Crowell, CB Jabari Greer, QB J.P. Losman, C Duke Preston, CB Derrick Dockery, TE Robert Royal. RFA -- LB Keith Ellison.

What worked last year: Cornerback is solid and their special teams remain among the NFL's best.

What needs fixing: Center, tight end, outside linebacker, and quarterback depth are the most pressing needs. The pass rush could use a boost and they could get better at safety.

What's the game plan: To gain ground in a highly competitive division, they must be aggressive in trying to fill as many holes as possible before the draft. A potential dilemma is fulfilling OT Jason Peters' demand for a pay raise.

Miami Dolphins

Potential key free agents: UFA -- CB Andre Goodman, S Renaldo Hill.

What worked last year: A whole lot, which led to an incredible turnaround. Quarterback, running back, linebacker, and the secondary are in good shape. Re-signing OT Vernon Carey was huge.

What needs fixing: Help is needed at wide receiver and on the defensive line.

What's the game plan: Find a wide receiver and address the lines in free agency, although any shopping will be modest. Most holes will be filled in the draft.

New England Patriots

Potential key free agents: UFA -- FB Heath Evans, WR Jabar Gaffney, P Chris Hanson, S Rodney Harrison, RB LaMont Jordan, S James Sanders, LS Lonie Paxton, G/OL Russ Hochstein. RFA -- LB Pierre Woods.

What worked last year: Whether Tom Brady returns from a knee injury or Matt Cassel sticks around after receiving a franchise tag, quarterback is covered. Wide receiver and offensive line are also in fine shape.

What needs fixing: Outside linebacker; they didn't get nearly enough of a pass rush from that position, which is suffering from age. The Pats also allowed the second-most touchdown passes in the NFL last season (27).

What's the game plan: They won't be aggressive in free agency, but will look for depth. They'll look for an outside linebacker in the draft.

New York Jets

Potential key free agents: UFA -- CB David Barrett, LB Eric Barton, WR Lavarenues Coles, K Jay Feely, K Mike Nugent, CB Hank Poteat, FB Tony Richardson, TE Chris Baker, OG Brandon Moore. RFA -- S Abram Elam.

What worked last year: RB Thomas Jones is an effective runner behind solid blocking. Dominant DT Kris Jenkins could become even more effective with the creative scheming of new coach Rex Ryan.

What needs fixing: Replacing retired QB Brett Favre is the top priority. Defensive end, cornerback, and wide receiver are areas of need.

What's the game plan: Pursuing a free-agent quarterback is possible, although finding a replacement from within is more likely. A cornerback and defensive end will be targeted in the draft.


AFC NORTH

Baltimore Ravens

Potential key free agents: UFA -- QB Kyle Boller, C Jason Brown, CB Corey Ivy, S Jim Leonhard, LB Ray Lewis, FB Lorenzo Neal, LB Bart Scott, K Matt Stover, TE Daniel Wilcox. RFA -- WR Mark Clayton, P Sam Koch, CB Derrick Martin, TE Quinn Sypniewski, WR Demetrius Williams.

What worked last year: Most defensive positions are set, and the offense is in good shape.

What needs fixing: With Ray Lewis or Bart Scott likely to depart in free agency, there will be a need at inside linebacker. They also might need to replace free-agent C Jason Brown. A play-making wide receiver and cornerback depth are on the wish list.

What's the game plan: Having slapped a franchise tag on OLB Terrell Suggs, the Ravens can focus on trying to keep Lewis or Scott. Free agency offers some wide receiver possibilities. They'll use the draft for an inside linebacker and cornerback.

Cincinnati Bengals

Potential key free agents: UFA -- OT Stacy Andrews, RB Cedric Benson, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, CB Jamar Fletcher, C Eric Ghiaciuc, WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh. RFA -- RB DeDe Dorsey, WR Glenn Holt, LB Rashad Jeanty, DT John Thornton, LB Brandon Johnson.

What worked last year: The defense finished 12th in the league, but couldn't offset the ineptitude of the NFL's worst offense.

What needs fixing: The hope for '09 hinges on QB Carson Palmer coming back strong from the elbow injury. WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh and OT Stacy Andrews could exit via free agency. So could RB Cedric Benson. The defense needs pass rushing help.

What's the game plan: The offseason shopping list includes an offensive tackle, a running back and a defensive end. Replacements also might be necessary for Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson, if he gets his wish to be traded.

Cleveland Browns

Potential key free agents: UFA -- LB Andra Davis, CB Daven Holly, S Sean Jones, LB Willie McGinest, RB Jason Wright.

What worked last year: Not enough, which is why they have a new coach (Eric Mangini) and GM (George Kokinis). The offensive line is in decent shape, as is the interior of the defensive line. Special teams are among the league's strongest.

What needs fixing: A replacement for aging RB Jamal Lewis is needed. Cornerback, defensive end and outside linebacker must be addressed.

What's the game plan: Settling on a QB is the top priority. It'll probably be Brady Quinn over Derek Anderson. They'll look for a defensive end (Julius Peppers?) in free agency and target a running back or cornerback in the draft.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Potential key free agents: UFA -- QB Charlie Batch, LB Keyaron Fox, QB Byron Leftwich, CB Bryant McFadden, OT Marvel Smith, WR Nate Washington, G Kendall Simmons. RFA -- OT Willie Colon, OT Trai Essex, OG Chris Kemoeatu, TE/FB Sean McHugh, LS Greg Warren.

What worked last year: The NFL's No. 1 defense remains intact, which, along with Ben Roethlisberger's passing, makes a seventh Super Bowl title possible.

What needs fixing: After signing OT Max Starks to a one-year franchise-tag tender, they could lose OT Marvel Smith and/or OG Chris Kemoeatu in free agency. Backup QB Byron Leftwich and WR Nate Washington will probably exit as well.

What's the game plan: Never a team to do much in free agency, they'll target an offensive lineman with their first-round pick.


AFC SOUTH

Houston Texans

Potential key free agents: UFA -- S C.C. Brown, S Will Demps, RB Ahman Green, LB Morlon Greenwood, LT Ephraim Salaam, DE Anthony Weaver. RFA -- TE Owen Daniels.

What worked last year: Most spots on the NFL's third-ranked offense are set. Andre Johnson is one of the best wide receivers in the game and Steve Slaton was a surprise rookie sensation. Placing a franchise tag on CB Dunta Robinson solves at least one problem.

What needs fixing: To finally become a playoff team, they need to improve on defense. The first step was revamping the defensive coaching staff. Next is adding size and talent at outside linebacker. After the likely trade of backup QB Sage Rosenfels to Minnesota, a new understudy will be needed.

What's the game plan: They'll work free agency for linebackers and a quarterback, but spend modestly.

Indianapolis Colts

Potential key free agents: UFA -- WR Marvin Harrison, RB Dominic Rhodes, C Jeff Saturday, P Hunter Smith. RFA -- LB Freddy Keiaho.

What worked last year: The formula for success under new coach Jim Caldwell hasn't changed: A dominant passing attack featuring one of the best passers the game has ever seen, QB Peyton Manning. Re-signing CB Kelvin Hayden keeps a key area intact.

What needs fixing: Defensive tackle is a key area of need. Center also has to be addressed, even if they re-sign Jeff Saturday, and offensive guard is on the radar. The release of WR Marvin Harrison creates a significant hole.

What's the game plan: Preferring to spend to keep their own, they'll look to fill most gaps in the draft.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Potential key free agents: UFA -- LT Khalif Barnes, CB Drayton Florence, C Brad Meester, OG Chris Naeole, LB Mike Peterson, WR Jerry Porter, S Gerald Sensabaugh, RB Fred Taylor, WR Reggie Williams.

What worked last year: Not nearly enough, which is why they fell far short of lofty preseason expectations and shook up the front office. RB Maurice Jones-Drew is their best player. Linebacker is a strength.

What needs fixing: The offensive line was a mess. A major upgrade is needed at wide receiver.

What's the game plan: They'll address the offensive line and wide receiver in free agency and the draft.

Tennessee Titans

Potential key free agents: UFA -- DB Chris Carr, QB Kerry Collins, DT Albert Haynesworth, P Craig Hentrich, WR Justin McCareins.

What worked last year: If they can keep Albert Haynesworth, they have one of the most dominant DTs in the league. If they can keep Kerry Collins, they're solid at QB. The running game and offensive line are solid. Putting a franchise tag on TE Bo Scaife was more important than it might seem.

What needs fixing: Presuming Haynesworth and Collins stick around, the biggest needs are wide receiver, defensive end, cornerback and outside linebacker.

What's the game plan: They want to keep Haynesworth, who just might find no takers for his steep salary demands in the open market. They're trying to re-sign Collins, too.


AFC WEST

Denver Broncos

Potential key free agents: UFA -- CB Dre' Bly, FS Marlon McCree, RB Michael Pittman.

What worked last year: QB Jay Cutler figures to continue to thrive under new coach Josh McDaniels, an offensive whiz with enough talent at wide receiver and tight end to get maximum production through the air.

What needs fixing: New defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is converting a woeful defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4, meaning the search is on for 3-4 personnel. Running back needs serious attention.

What's the game plan: They should find a 3-4 defender or two in free agency. They'll likely address running back in the draft.

Kansas City Chiefs

Potential key free agents: UFA -- LB Rocky Boiman, LB Donnie Edwards, QB Damon Huard, CB Patrick Surtain, LB Pat Thomas. RFA -- S Jarrad Page, C Rudy Niswanger.

What worked last year: Almost nothing, which is why there's a new GM (Scott Pioli) and coach (Todd Haley). TE Tony Gonzalez remains one of the best at his position.

What needs fixing: Too much for one offseason, but they'll probably start with quarterback. Defensive end, outside linebacker, wide receiver, and offensive tackle are needs.

What's the game plan: If a deal can't be worked out for Matt Cassel, the QB Pioli discovered in New England, the position could be addressed with the third pick of the draft. So could several other spots.

Oakland Raiders

Potential key free agents: UFA -- OG Cooper Carlisle. RFA -- C Jake Grove, LB Ricky Brown.

What worked last year: CB Nnamdi Asomugha might be the NFL's best at his position, but they did pay a ridiculous sum to keep him.

What needs fixing: Wide receiver, offensive tackle, defensive end and defensive tackle are areas of need.

What's the game plan: Anything's possible with one of the league's most unpredictable teams. But even though they've dumped several big contracts, they probably won't do much shopping in free agency. This is in preparation for 2010.

San Diego Chargers

Potential key free agents: UFA -- DE Igor Olshansky, OG Mike Goff, C Jeremy Newberry.

What worked last year: Even if they part ways with LaDainian Tomlinson, running back is protected by the franchise tag on Darren Sproles. Quarterback, wide receiver and tight end are in good shape.

What needs fixing: Defensive end, offensive tackle, inside linebacker and running back depth are areas to address.

What's the game plan: GM A.J. Smith has an aversion to big spending in free agency, so look for him to again rely heavily on the draft.

Have a question for Vic? Send it to AskVic@nfl.com, and the best ones will be answered on NFL.com.

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