When the lockout is over, it could be a mad dash for talent all over the NFL. With that in mind, we examine the most important things each team must accomplish with a division-by-division breakdown. This is a look at the AFC East.
Fortify offensive line: The Bills need help here, especially at right tackle. Maybe last year's fifth-round pick Ed Wang stays healthy or rookie Chris Hairston will emerge, but I still think a veteran free agent would be the way to go. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Jeremy Trueblood could be out there as well as the Atlanta Falcons' Tyson Clabo. It would be interesting to see where the Steelers' Willie Colon shakes out after a physical.
Re-sign Posluszny, Florence: The defense can't afford to go backwards, and losing linebacker Paul Posluszny and or corner Drayton Florence would be a step in the wrong direction. Posluszny told me he wants to return to the Bills, while general manager Buddy Nix told me the club wants Florence back. Unless the team finds upgrades at both spots, Buffalo needs its own players back. It's tough for the Bills to compete in a condensed version of free agency and I don't think the front office is going out and overpaying to replace either Posluszny or Florence.
Upgrade at tight end: Coach Chan Gailey is a heck of a play-caller and offensive mind. Still, he would be more effective with a better tight end. David Martin and Shawn Nelson are adequate, but a guy like the Oakland Raiders' Zach Miller would do wonders in Buffalo. The New York Giants' Kevin Boss would also be an upgrade.
Add another QB to the mix: Chad Henne might be on the verge of turning the corner in his career but the Dolphins can't take the chance of handing him the keys to the car. They need legitimate competition. Not a backup waiting his turn, someone who can push to start or even come in and take the job. Kyle Orton is someone to consider.
Sign a third-down back: While the Dolphins can always re-sign one of their backs (Ronnie Brown or Ricky Williams), it might be time to get a third-down threat out of the backfield. If the New Orleans Saints part with Reggie Bush, he would fit. Darren Sproles' work with the San Diego Chargers shows he would also add a dimension to Miami's offense as would the Atlanta Falcons' Jason Snelling.
Find a move tight end: Anthony Fasano is fine but a vertical threat at tight end would open up the running game and keep coverage away from Brandon Marshall. Whoever the starting quarterback is, a tight end capable of flexing his alignment and getting downfield changes how teams play the Dolphins. Boss averaged 15.2 yards per reception last year for the Giants.
New England Patriots
Get another pass rusher: Great 3-4 defenses, ala the Pittsburgh Steelers, get 20 sacks from their outside linebackers. The Patriots need help in this area. Jermaine Cunningham, a second-round pick in 2010, might be ready to live up to his end of the bargain. Meanwhile, Tully Banta-Cain and Rob Ninkovich are steady, but neither guy is LaMarr Woodley. The bad news for the Patriots is the fact that there really isn't a decent list of potential fits in free agency and they might be stuck manufacturing a pass rush with scheme. They might be able to find an inside linebacker to create more pressure. The Steelers have found success with Lawrence Timmons in that role.
Sign a tall receiver: The Patriots don't need to bring back Randy Moss or sign Plaxico Burress. Still, they sure would be dangerous with a big-time receiver outside of Wes Welker. Brandon Tate is decent, but there are better options in free agency. A guy like Sidney Rice would return to his 2009 production (83 receptions, 1,312 yards and eight touchdowns) if he was on the other end of the Tom Brady passes. The Patriots could also look to hurt the New York Jets by going after Santonio Holmes or even Braylon Edwards. Edwards was known as a guy who dropped passes but has improved since coming over in a trade with the Cleveland Browns in 2009.
Give Mankins an extension: Logan Mankins will eventually be gone if he continues to get paid with the franchise tag. The team needs to get him under a long-term deal. Take a look at the top guard contracts in the NFL and that means a six- or seven-year deal that averages about $8 million over the first three seasons. Mankins made the Pro Bowl in 2010 after missing seven games due to his holdout. He has been called for holding five times in the last five years and he protects the franchise quarterback.
New York Jets
Re-sign Holmes, add another receiver: Mark Sanchez has been developed masterfully since arriving in New York in 2009 and he really can't afford to lose his receiving targets. Santonio Holmes is a major threat and Sanchez knows where he is at all times. To start over with another guy and no time to develop a rapport would be a mistake. After Holmes is secure, the team has options with re-signing Braylon Edwards or going after a guy like Plaxico Burress. It's all about making the Super Bowl and this is no time to go in the wrong direction by letting weapons go.
Have a top corner opposite Revis: Teams throw away from Darrelle Revis, which puts a strain on the opposite corner. Rex Ryan likes to blitz and play man-to-man coverage, another factor that adds to the stress on the corner partnered with Revis. Antonio Cromartie wants to return and the Jets need to make sure they replace talent with talent if the veteran goes elsewhere. Cincinnati Bengals corner Johnathan Joseph must be on a short list if Cromartie bolts. To this point, 2010 first-round pick Kyle Wilson doesn't look like the answer and might be better suited in a sub role.
Upgrade front seven: Ryan knows how to create pressure from just about anywhere. The outside linebackers are adequate and the failure of Vernon Gholston to develop leaves the team short of quality pass rushers. They can continue to blitz safety Jim Leonhard but sooner or later it will lead to big plays for the opponent. Re-signing Shaun Ellis is important for the short term and the Jets might have to consider bringing back Jason Taylor for one more season. If Taylor could replicate his 2010 production, when he had five sacks and two forced fumbles, it would be worth it.