Obviously, when it comes to rejiggering/reconstruction, every NFL team hopes to knock it out of the park. But some needs are more pressing than others. So which team is facing the highest stakes this offseason?
Not to add insult to injury, but Denver has the most at stake this offseason, simply because of how the 2013 season just ended. It goes without saying -- Peyton Manning doesn't have all that many years left, and the Broncos brought him in to win championships, plain and simple. So this is an excruciatingly tight window for John Elway to operate in.
Of course, while they melted down in Super Bowl XLVIII, the Broncos' performance all season indicated they weren't that far away from the Seahawks, particularly if the five defensive starters who wound up on IR return to health. The Broncos need a speed upgrade, and particular attention has to be paid to the pass rush and the secondary.
There is no clearer path to success in the NFL than finding a superstar quarterback and surrounding him with complementary pieces. Oh, and having a takeaway-driven defense that can rush opposing signal-callers is helpful, too. Well, for years, the Texans have had almost every part of that equation in place -- except the quarterback. So their mission this offseason is to find someone to take snaps for new coach Bill O'Brien.
Houston has the first overall pick of the draft, and potentially, that's the avenue the Texans will take to find their man. If they hit, they'll be set for the next 12 years or so, just as the Colts and Seahawks are. If Houston misses, however, the team likely will have to press the reset button, possibly setting things back another three years. The stakes don't get higher than that, especially for a squad that is built to win now at every other position.
Cleveland, without question. Fans have little to no faith in the Browns' front office, rightly or wrongly, and thus, it is imperative that Cleveland's decision-makers get it right in the next couple of months. The Browns canned their handpicked head coach (Rob Chudzinski) after only one year, giving the impression that they had a predetermined plan for replacing him. The coach they eventually went with -- former Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine -- wasn't the most exciting hire to some. Obviously, that situation needs time to breathe, and Pettine needs more than one year.
The Browns should have well over $40 million in cap room. They have two first-round picks in the draft. The artillery is there -- it's up to the generals to do something with it. Huge offseason for this organization, any way you look at it.
This is a critical offseason for the St. Louis Rams, both on and off the field. Of course, there will be questions about the franchise's future, which can loom large over an organization. You just have to look at the final years of the Rams' prior Los Angeles/Anaheim tenure to see that.
There are also a lot of interesting personnel-related issues. One season after going 4-1-1 in the NFC West and finishing third, St. Louis found itself at the bottom of the best division in football with a 1-5 mark against divisional foes. The Rams have the second and 13th overall selections in the 2014 NFL Draft. You might think quarterback (and former No. 1 overall pick) Sam Bradford is secure, but never say never. The team could add another solid defender (almost a must in that division) and/or a play-making receiver -- or St. Louis could throw caution to the wind and go with Johnny Manziel (though I would consider that the longest of long shots).
No matter what, coach Jeff Fisher has to finally deliver a winning season. Which would be his first since 2008.
The New York Giants are faced with a "How close are we to blowing it up and starting all over again?" kind of offseason. Look at all of the question marks on the offensive side of the ball alone:
» Has Eli Manning peaked? (With two years still left on his deal.)
» Can Andre Brown be a force, or will he continue struggling to stay healthy?
» Is David Wilson's career over because of his neck? And if he does play, can he be an effective runner, what with his fumble-itis?
» Hakeem Nicks had the worst contract year this side of DeSean Jackson -- so, do the Giants keep him?
» Or do they let Nicks go and hope Rueben Randle is the answer?
Rolling the dice on most of these players for 2014 is an extremely risky proposition. The Giants have to make the right calls in personnel -- or Jimbo Fisher will be giving Eli his marching orders in 2015.