Not every need can be met via the draft. So what's a team to do? Thankfully, the free agency period will be here soon. To help get you ready for the opening of the NFL's annual talent marketplace on March 11, Elliot Harrison is taking a division-by-division look at all 32 squads' biggest priorities, continuing with the NFC West below.
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Top priority in free agency: Offensive line.
Arizona won 10 games last season and boasts a solid overall depth chart. Could the team use an upgrade over Carson Palmer? Sure -- but Michael Vick and Josh McCown (who started his career with the Cardinals) are not it. Meanwhile, Andre Ellington is going to be the man at tailback, and the wideouts are set. Offensive line, however, could use some improvement, starting at tackle. Now, there is a solid chance Arizona will hit this position in the draft, but guard is another soft spot. That was not an area of strength last year, thanks in part to first-round draft pick Jonathan Cooper suffering a broken leg in the preseason. He'll be back, but that doesn't mean the team can't upgrade the other spot, where Paul Fanaika is penciled in as the other starter. Another potential area for Arizona to address with available cash (around $15 million): the edge pass rush. Yes, John Abraham's still under contract, and yes, he just posted an 11.5-sack season. But the 14-year veteran turns 36 in May -- Father Time has to catch up with him at some point, right? Problem is, there aren't many 3-4 edge rushers available in free agency. Thus, the Cardinals' front office might just opt to acquire some mid-tier free agents to fill holes.
Other areas of interest: Outside linebacker, cornerback, kicker.
St. Louis Rams
Top priority in free agency: Wide receiver.
This figures to be a very interesting offseason for the Rams, who hold two high-value first-round draft picks: No. 2 overall (courtesy of the Redskins, as part of the 2012 swap that allowed Washington to draft Robert Griffin III) and No. 13. Many openly wonder exactly where this team is headed with Sam Bradford under center, but it's difficult to judge the quarterback's potential given the limited group that surrounds him. The Rams' talent level, particularly at wideout, has been lacking. Sure, some of the guys on the roster have upside -- see: Tavon Austin -- but who is Bradford's go-to guy on third down? (If you know, please tweet us: @HarrisonNFL.) The Rams don't have a ton of cap room, so they won't be able to go out and get an Eric Decker. How about Hakeem Nicks or James Jones? Those two might end up being slightly out of reach, but both merit evaluation. Nicks' injury problems are bound to keep his price tag down. And when it comes to Jones, what's the league-wide perception: difference maker or product of unreal QB Aaron Rodgers? The marketplace won't lie.
Other areas of interest: Outside linebacker, defensive back, offensive line.
San Francisco 49ers
Top priority in free agency: Defensive line.
From top to bottom, San Francisco's roster is stacked. That's a tribute to GM Trent Baalke, though Jim Harbaugh has made the most of this immense talent on the field of play. (Boys, boys -- can't we all just get along?) Still, despite three straight NFC Championship Game appearances, the depth chart isn't flawless. At some point, the Niners must spruce up an aging defensive line that doesn't really have playmakers. Sure, Justin Smith is solid, but he'll turn 35 in September -- the same month Ray McDonald will turn 30. And while San Francisco has a fair amount of depth here, none of the backups are guys who can get after the quarterback. In fact, all of the defensive linemen not named Justin Smith combined for 5.5 sacks last season. The team needs someone up front to create pressure. Yes, in a 3-4, OLBs typically get the lion's share of sacks, but that doesn't preclude the linemen from chipping in at least every so often. Somebody needs to step up, or Baalke must find a 3-4 end who can push the pocket the way Smith has in years past. The Niners have around $10 million to play with, which likely will keep them from getting a Jason Hatcher or Arthur Jones, but Antonio Smith could be a possibility. If the club decides the draft is a better conduit for D-line talent, then grabbing a safety in free agency seems logical.
Other areas of interest: Safety, interior offensive line, cornerback.
Top priority in free agency: Offensive line.
There aren't a lot of glaring needs on this football team. That said, the offensive line could use some attention. This unit wasn't too reliable last season. Granted, much of that had to do with injuries or guys playing hurt, but accumulating better depth (and maybe a starter at guard) wouldn't be the worst way for GM John Schneider to spend available funds -- especially with Paul McQuistan and Breno Giacomini hitting free agency. Of course, the Seahawks' cap space largely will be affected by whether or not they re-sign defensive end Michael Bennett, who plans to test the open market. To be clear, I wanted to put tight end as the top priority for this club. How much more effective would this offense be with a stud to sprint up the hash marks for Russell Wilson? Then again, the Seahawks just don't use the tight end that much, and when they do, Zach Miller isn't the worst option. He caught five touchdown passes, dropped just one ball and didn't fumble. Basically, he's a reliable dude who will have to do until the club either a) drafts someone high or b) has more cap room to make moves.
Other areas of interest: Wide receiver, tight end, backup quarterback.