Instant Debate

Broncos, Patriots, Rams among teams facing highest offseason stakes

Offseason is a misnomer in today's NFL. The 2015 season just ended, but teams already are busy preparing for the 2016 campaign. This week, all 32 franchises storm Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine. Next month is free agency. And the month after that brings the 2016 NFL Draft.

Bottom line: We're in prime roster (re)construction season. And while everyone has moves to make, big and small, some organizations have more pressing work to do than others. With that in mind, which team is facing the highest stakes this offseason?

Even though the Denver Broncos are coming off a Super Bowl-winning season, a bunch of guys are set to hit free agency (some restricted, others unrestricted), so they're going to see some change this offseason. A lot of those players are key pieces, including both running backs ( C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman), both linebackers ( Von Miller and Brandon Marshall), defensive lineman Malik Jackson -- and then there's the big question at the quarterback position with Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler. When you win a championship and have a lot of players coming up right when you win -- guys who are going to want premium dollar because they got the Super Bowl title under their name now -- it's going to be hard. The first thing the Los Angeles Rams have to figure out is who's playing quarterback. Nick Foles wasn't the answer last season and Case Keenum leaves a lot to be desired. The team also just dumped two longtime defensive leaders (Chris Long and James Laurinaitis), so there's now a question of who will fill that void within the locker room. The search for a dynamic wide receiver, more help along the offensive line and the money to hold on to young talent (cornerbacks Trumaine Johnson and Janoris Jenkins are both unrestricted free agents looking to cash in) all will be worth watching as this team progresses through the offseason.

The Rams already play in a division where two of the NFL's best teams reside (Arizona and Seattle). They don't want to start their next chapter in Los Angeles with a mediocre product. I'm going to say New England because the window is closing, regardless of what we all think about Tom Brady. We saw what he was capable of doing this season, but at the end of the day, the Patriots weren't good enough. Yes, they had injuries and some other issues, but the bottom line is they weren't good enough to compete at a championship level, which is unusual.

The Pats have to find new pieces to get that fifth championship because the Brady-Belichick days are dwindling. They have to make certain that they get what they need on the offensive line and give Brady more weapons. They need more receivers that can do some things outside of the numbers. I would focus on these four teams:

**Denver Broncos:** They need to keep 
Von Miller -- but with 
Brock Osweiler as their QB, too. You can't count on 
Peyton Manning's health anymore. So, yeah, the 
Broncos must open the checkbook and pay whatever it takes to retain Miller and Osweiler. They also have a number of other key free agents, though, and might have to let some go in order to keep Miller and Osweiler -- guys like 
Malik Jackson, 
Danny Trevathan and 
Ronnie Hillman. 
**Oakland Raiders:** Oakland's clearly a team on the rise, and the 
Raiders have a great deal of money to spend this offseason. They have their QB ( 
Derek Carr) and some good offensive weapons, but must improve the defense to take the next step. 
**Indianapolis Colts:** 
Chuck Pagano eventually received an extension despite a highly disappointing season, but I don't see Jimmy Irsay functioning in a patient mood -- and why should he? He has 
Andrew Luck, one of the best QBs in the game, a guy 
Irsay's going to break the bank for when he signs him to an extension. The 
Colts need to upgrade their OL and pass rush. 
**Los Angeles Rams:** Still gonna take some getting used to writing that full team name again ... The 
Rams have a playoff-caliber defense and a 
Pro Bowl RB, but they desperately need a QB. 
Season-ticket applications are flying in right now, but that will not last if they don't win. Mediocrity will not sell in L.A. They need to get a QB, perhaps in a bold, aggressive move like trading two No. 1s for 
Kirk Cousins if the 
Redskins franchise him. 

The Cowboys went from 12-4 in 2014 to 4-12 in 2015 thanks to Tony Romo missing 12 games with injury. (Dallas went 3-1 in the games Romo played.) Now, in the NFL, much is always expected of the team with the star on its helmet. It will be harder for the Cowboys to get back to the level of success enjoyed in 2014 because Romo is a year older, running back Darren McFadden -- who had a 1,000-yard season in 2015 -- managed to play the whole campaign without getting hurt despite his reputation as an injury risk, and wide receiver Dez Bryant is coming off an injury and has to play big. The defense also needs to create more takeaways: The Cowboys ranked dead last in the league with 11 last season after having the second-most (31) in 2014.

Dallas will be provided with an opportunity to improve because Jerry Jones tries to make everything available for that team to win with financial support. Making it difficult, however, is that the New York Giants and Washington Redskins likely will have gotten better by the time the 2016 season kicks off.

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