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

» Carucci: AFC 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 NFC, 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 ...

NFC EAST

Dallas Cowboys

Potential key free agents: UFA -- WR Miles Austin, DE Chris Canty, WR Sam Hurd, DT Tank Johnson, LB Zach Thomas, S Keith Davis, LB Kevin Burnett.

What worked last year: Depth at running back, the defensive front seven, Jason Witten.

What needs fixing: Team chemistry, QB Tony Romo's poise/confidence.

What's the game plan: They will have to restructure some contracts and maybe cut players to make a serious run at Ravens UFA linebacker Ray Lewis, but they could try. T.O. could be cut but it doesn't look that way. A younger backup to Romo must be acquired and getting WR Roy Williams more involved should provide more scoring options. Despite talent, the Cowboys didn't put up enough touchdowns.

New York Giants

Potential key free agents: UFA -- SS James Butler, K John Carney, CB Sam Madison, CB R.W. McQuarters, WR Amani Toomer, RB Derrick Ward. RFA -- CB Kevin Dockery.

What worked last year: Earth, Wind and Fire; the defense.

What needs fixing: The passing game, re-signing or replacing UFA running back Derrick Ward (Wind).

What's the game plan: With concerns about WR Plaxico Burress' availability and the parting with WR Amani Toomer, a wide receiver must be found. Veteran unrestricted free agents Marvin Harrison and T.J. Houshmandzadeh can be had, but a youthful, big receiver like UNC's Hakeem Nicks or Ohio State's Brian Robiskie might be a better option, The return of DE Osi Umenyioira could help offset the loss of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnoulo.

Philadelphia Eagles

Potential key free agents: RB Correll Buckhalter, SS Sean Considine, FS Brian Dawkins, OT Jon Runyan, TE L.J. Smith, OT William Thomas. RFA -- WR Hank Baskett, OG Nick Cole.

What worked last year: Maturity over adversity, QB Donovan McNabb, CB Asante Samuel.

What needs fixing: Upgrades at WR, depth at RB, help on the O-line.

What's the game plan: Re-signing longtime standout safety Brian Dawkins isn't a given. Offensive tackles Jon Runyan and William Thomas are unrestricted free agents, so the Eagles must replenish those positions. Getting guard Shawn Andrews back to health would be a huge upgrade. T.J. Houshmandzadeh could be the perfect fit -- at the right price. A pro like Raiders UFA wide receiver Ronald Curry could have a role. A blocking tight end, which could be found in the draft, is needed to complement emerging starter Brent Celek.

Washington Redskins

Potential key free agents: UFA -- LB Khary Campbell, DE Phillip Daniels, FS Reed Doughty, DE Demetric Evans, OG Jason Fabini, OG Pete Kendall, LB Marcus Washington. RFA -- DT Kedric Golston, DT Anthony Montgomery.

What worked last year: Clinton Portis, the run defense.

What needs fixing: QB Jason Campbell, offensive tackle, defensive line.

What's the game plan: Coach Jim Zorn must figure out how to best use Campbell. Re-signing CB DeAngelo Hall is a priority. Reports have the Redskins seriously pursuing Haynesworth, who would make a big difference. Dallas UFA defensive end Chris Canty is also desired, according to reports. It's likely that the team will acquire a young edge pass rusher and at least one offensive tackle.


NFC NORTH

Chicago Bears

Potential key free agents: UFA -- QB Rex Grossman, RB Kevin Jones, WR Brandon Lloyd, OT Fred Miller, OT John St. Clair.

What worked last year: Rookie RB Matt Forte; home-field advantage.

What needs fixing: The ability to win close games, the offensive line, defensive playmakers.

What's the game plan: Kyle Orton is the QB but competitive depth needs to be put in place. The run defense is fine but they must tighten up the defense and add some playmakers on offense. Free agent safety Gibril Wilson could be an option to replace Mike Brown. Adding a right offensive tackle is needed and longtime Packers OT Mark Tauscher, who is coming off knee surgery, is an unrestricted free agent.

Detroit Lions

Potential key free agents: UFA -- DT Shaun Cody, OT George Foster, K Jason Hanson, RB Rudi Johnson, LB Paris Lenon, WR Shaun McDonald, LB Ryan Nece, QB Dan Orlovsky, OG Stephen Peterman, DE Corey Smith, CB Stanley Wilson. RFA -- QB Drew Henson.

What worked last year: WR Calvin Johnson, rookie RB Kevin Smith.

What needs fixing: Everything -- especially the defense.

What's the game plan: With the No. 1 pick, the Lions must hit on a player to build with, not around. They have their choice of positions to upgrade but at some point, they have to groom a quarterback to replace Daunte Culpepper. Matthew Stafford or Mark Sanchez could be it. Tons of cap space could allow for a run at DT Albert Haynesworth, but getting top-shelf free agents to come to Detroit will be a tough sell. Drafting wisely and augmenting with character free agents is the way to re-build.

Green Bay Packers

Potential key free agents: UFA -- DT Colin Cole, DE Mike Montgomery, OT Mark Tauscher. RFA -- S Atari Bigby, CB Jarrett Bush, TE Tory Humphrey, WR Ruvell Martin.

What worked last year: QB Aaron Rodgers, defensive backfield, WR Greg Jennings.

What needs fixing: The defensive front, OT, late-season gumption.

What's the game plan: A switch to a 3-4 defense under the guidance of Dom Capers could help take advantage of a solid group of linebackers. Though DE Aaron Kampman will play some OLB, the team would like to acquire a veteran OLB and Atlanta UFA Michael Boley could be a fit. Some help at OT could be needed if Mark Tauscher leaves via free agency. Eagles UFA tackle William Thomas is the best on the market.

Minnesota Vikings

Potential key free agents: UFA -- C Matt Birk, S Michael Boulware, LB Heath Farwell, WR Robert Ferguson, LB Napoleon Harris, TE Jim Kleinsasser, CB Benny Sapp, S Darren Sharper. RFA -- DT Fred Evans, CB Charles Gordon.

What worked last year: Defense, running game, offensive line play.

What needs fixing: QB play, possible DT suspensions.

What's the game plan: The expected trade for Houston QB Sage Rosenfels could provide some stability at the position. Incumbent Tarvaris Jackson needs to improve but he might be running short on chances. If defensive tackles Pat and Kevin Williams get suspended over the StarCaps diuretic test, the Vikes will have to build some depth at that spot to get them through the first part of the season. Getting middle linebacker E.J. Henderson back from a foot injury should help.


NFC SOUTH

Atlanta Falcons

Potential key free agents: UFA -- LB Michael Boley, LB Keith Brooking, OT Wayne Gandy, DT Grady Jackson, S Lawyer Milloy, TE Justin Peelle. RFA -- OT Tyson Clabo, OG Harvey Dahl.

What worked last year: Matt Ryan, the running game, WR Roddy White, DE John Abraham.

What needs fixing: Every level of the defense, offensive line depth, tight end production, WR Roddy White's contract, which expires after the '09 season, replacing the leadership and production of safety Lawyer Milloy and possibly OLB Keith Brooking. The team needs to find a second OLB to replace UFA Michael Boley.

What's the game plan: GM Thomas Dimitroff said the Falcons won't be a major player in free agency, although Eagles TE L.J. Smith, an unrestricted free agent, could be pursued. Rams UFA cornerback Ronald Bartell could be another option. White, a Pro Bowl wideout, should have an extension done before the season. The Falcons could likely draft an OLB like Larry English as a first-round option.

Carolina Panthers

Potential key free agents: UFA -- OL jeremy Bridges, WR D.J. Hackett, DT Darwin Walker. RFA -- RFA -- TE Jeff King, DB Nate Salley.

What worked last year: Tailbacks DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart; moving DE Julius Peppers to the right side; WR Steve Smith.

What needs fixing: What to do with Peppers, who was franchise tagged to limit UFA options,the defensive side of the ball overall, depth at quarterback, more receiving options.

What's the game plan: The Panthers need to soothe bad will between Peppers and the team and sign him to a long-term deal; a new defensive coaching staff could help that and it could shape up the defense. With no first-round draft pick and little money for free agency because of big contracts awarded to OT Jordan Gross and Peppers, Carolina must draft well (defensive line help, future starting QB) and coach up existing players.

New Orleans Saints

Potential key free agents: UFA -- S Josh Bullocks, TE Mark Campbell, CB Aaron Glenn, WR Devery Henderson, RB Deuce McAllister, RB Aaron Stecker, OT Jonathan Stinchcomb, LB Jonathan Vilma. RFA -- OG Jahri Evans, WR Lance Moore.

What worked last year: Drew Brees and the passing game, DT Sedrick Ellis.

What needs fixing: The defense, particularly against the pass, TE Jeremy Shockey's health.

What's the game plan: Signing UFA middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma is a must for new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Veteran Vikings safety Darren Sharper could be headed to the Big Easy (the city and the Saints' secondary), according to reports. Pierre Thomas proved he can be an adequate starter in place of recently released RB Deuce McAlister. Drafting a cornerback or outside linebacker is a priority for the Saints.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Potential key free agents: UFA -- CB Will Allen, LB Derrick Brooks, CB Phillip Buchanon, DE Kevin Carter, WR Michael Clayton, WR Joey Galloway, QB Jeff Garcia, WR Ike Hilliard, LB Cato June, SS Jermaine Phillips, TE Jerramy Stevens. RFA -- OT Donald Penn.

What worked last year: MLB Barrett Ruud, KR Clifton Smith, the offensive line.

What needs fixing: Offensive skill positions, defensive tackle.

What's the game plan: With plenty of cap space and a need at defensive tackle, Haynesworth could very much be in play. Franchising free-agent WR Antonio Bryant was a solid move but help is needed elsewhere. A home-run RB and another wide receiver could offset quarterback uncertainty, which will have Luke McCown, Josh Johnson or Brian Griese as the starter -- for now. Re-signing safety Jermaine Phillips, although he is injury-prone, is a must.


NFC WEST

Arizona Cardinals

Potential key free agents: UFA -- RB J.J. Arrington, DE Bertrand Berry, DE Antonio Smith, FB Terrelle Smith, QB Kurt Warner. RFA -- TE Leonard Pope.

What worked last year: The passing game, a favorable schedule, peaking at the right time.

What needs fixing: The Anquan Boldin/Kurt Warner/Edgerrin James situations, tweaking the defense to fit a 3-4 scheme.

What's the game plan: The Cards need to retain Warner and draft a tailback to replace James, who will be gone sooner or later. They also need to address the hard feelings between Boldin and the team and re-work his contract -- if that's preferred over possibly trading him. Arizona should decide if DE Antonio Smith fits into the 3-4 and, if not, replace him with someone who does, like Dallas DE Chris Canty. Ravens LB Bart Scott could be in play, too.

St. Louis Rams

Potential key free agents: UFA -- DB Ron Bartell, WR Drew Bennett, CB Fakhir Brown, QB Trent Green. RFA -- OG Richie Incognito.

What worked last year: DE Chris Long and WR Donnie Avery had decent rookie seasons; CB Ron Bartell and S Oshiomogho Atogwe proved to be solid players.

What needs fixing: Offensive line, big-play talent, quarterback depth, size at linebacker.

What's the game plan: The No. 2 pick likely will be used on an offensive tackle, with Baylor's Jason Smith and Virginia's Eugene Monroe as top prospects. Defensive tackle and bigger linebackers have to somehow be found. Franchising Oshiomogho tied up cap space, but WR Torry Holt and OT Orlando Pace could be released to make more room to retain UFA Bartell and possibly add a veteran receiver like Amani Toomer.

San Francisco 49ers

Potential key free agents: UFA -- WR Bryant Johnson, LB Takeo Spikes.

What worked last year: Coach Mike Singletary finished 5-4 after taking over for Mike Nolan; ILB Patrick Willis; RB Frank Gore.

What needs fixing: Quarterback stability, the passing game, offensive line.

What's the game plan: Shaun Hill is the leader to start at quarterback, but drafting a QB, even with the 10th overall pick, is a possibility. The more pressing need is upgrading the offensive line, which allowed 55 sacks. With moderate cap flexibility, free agent upgrades could be marginal.

Seattle Seahawks

Potential key free agents: UFA -- WR Bobby Engram, RB Maurice Morris, FB Leonard Weaver..

What worked last year: The medical trainers, OLB Julian Peterson.

What needs fixing: Passing game, running game, pass defense.

What's the game plan: Coach Jim Mora says not much needs to be done with the roster except to get everyone healthy. The Seahawks have to add help at WR but in the zone-running scheme Mora will use frequently, the receivers need to be big and be able to block. Toomer could be a short-term fix. Free agent WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh might not be thrilled with the short-passing game Seattle will use.

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