1. Interior OL. After cutting staples of their offensive line a couple years back due to age and bloated salaries, the Cowboys stuck with a group of young, inexperienced men. Since, they've struggled to protect Romo and did a poor job opening up holes for the run game a year ago. Attempting to patch up holes with low-key free agent pick-ups last offseason, Dallas will now need to make a more concentrated effort to rebuild the line to afford Tony Romo and his offense a realistic opportunity to flourish. Nate Livings, Phil Costa, and Mackenzy Bernadeau could all be upgraded and competition for each position should be pursued. Improving even 2 of 3 this offseason would be a big win.
2. S. Monte Kiffin, the pioneer of the Tampa 2 defense will look to implement his scheme with the Dallas roster. The transition from an aggressive defense to a more assignment-sound, fast, but passive defense may be a difficult mental change for the Cowboys out of the gates. Of the personnel adjustments to make the scheme work, Dallas will need to find improvements at free safety. The Tampa 2 scheme requires a pair of safeties capable of primarily splitting the deep field in two.
3. DL Depth. In the 10 games missed by Jay Ratliff, the Dallas defense struggled on the defensive line. Though he figures to be an even more natural fit in Kiffin's scheme, much of the line is still better suited for Rob Ryan's 34 front. Relying heavily on front four pressure, the new scheme will require the Cowboys to improve their pass rush on the defensive line. If the team can't afford Anthony Spencer this offseason, the situation at defensive end may become more dire than its current need for depth at defensive tackle.
4. RB Depth. A violent running style has forced DeMarco Murray to miss 9 games over his first two seasons. Without him, the offense has been inept moving the ball on the ground, averaging just 3.1 yards per carry compared to Murray's 4.1. Offensive line help should alleviate the direness of the situation, but depth at the running back position should become more crucial to Dallas than other teams. Without him, defensive fronts have been able to key in on a one-dimensional offense causing Tony Romo to fall under more duress. A mid-round pick here makes sense.
5. OT. The situation at offensive tackle could become grimmer if the team decides to release right tackle Doug Free who is due $7 million this season and holds an even more exorbitant cap charge. Though the cap consequences are bad, the consequences of losing the second best player from a line that played poorly a year ago could be even worse. The difference in losing Free for the offseason will be the difference between acquiring depth and a starting caliber tackle.
1. S. Opposing offenses moved the ball up and down the field at will on the 2012 Redskins. With Orakpo injured early in the year, the front 7 failed to pressure the quarterback, prolonging coverage responsibilities in the secondary. With 58 pass plays allowed of 20 yards or more, the Redskins ranked 6th from the bottom and are in desperate need of a safety to help prevent the pass over the top. Brandon Meriweather is on his 3rd team in as many years and arguably the better of their safeties. They can try to squeeze a season out of him or Reed Daughty at strong safety, while finding an improvement at free safety this year.
2. CB. It's difficult to allow over 280 yards per game through the air without having a strong need at cornerback. DeAngelo Hall hasn't played to his paycheck, but the Redskins' lack of internal options and Hall's desire to stay in Washington make a contract restructuring likely. By keeping Hall, the team can afford to look to the draft to fill just a depth need in the in the short term, only if they can't find a player high on their board capable of immediately challenging for a starting position.
3. RT. Coming into the year, there were numerous concerns about the offensive line holding up for Robert Griffin without turning him into an injury risk. RGIII has taken steps toward earning a reputation as an injury-prone player, but only by his own decision-making and unrelenting will to earn every possible inch on a given play. With assistance from Shanahan's creative scheme, the line has held its own in pass protection for the most part and has synchronized with Alfred Morris on the ground. The only position of need is at the future of the right tackle position where they can upgrade in pass pro and durability.
4. 3-4 ILB. Seemingly defying his age every year, London Fletcher will be projected as the starting opening day inside linebacker for the Redskins next year at 38. Any productivity they get from him should be considered a bonus as they should materialize a realistic back-up plan in place. The man who tries to fill his shoes will have to play downhill, with intelligence, and through blockers just as Fletcher does.
5. WR/TE. In the 6 contests without Pierre Garcon, the Redskins offense averaged nearly 5 points less per game. With just a single starting caliber receiver and a number of depth guys behind him, the Redskins are putting too much pressure on RGIII's legs and taking an unwise gamble offensively. No quarterback in this league has succeeded over a long period of time taking 10-15 hits per game and as they try to bring that number down and develop Griffin as a passer, another starting receiver will be important. At tight end Fred Davis is a high-quality starter, but his price may be too steep for the cap-strapped Skins.
1. RT/RG. With Chip Kelly and money to spend, the Eagles will again be a team to watch in the offseason. The focus on offense has to be getting faster with more endurance to run Kelly's up-tempo style. As he begins evaluating the roster, he'll quickly notice the putrid play of his team's offensive line a year ago. The Eagles will closely monitor the recovery of Jason Peters from injury to decide just how dire their needs at tackle are. At right tackle, they'll have an even bigger problem with the system fit. They need to find an athletic guy with lateral quickness to excel in Kelly's projected scheme. Todd Herremans should be capable of holding down either the guard or tackle spot on the right side, opening up a need for the other position.
2. S. With draft picks and free agents in the past, the Eagles have been unable to find a good duo to play the sophisticated coverages the defense loved to play. With a new coaching staff, the defensive scheme will surely change, potentially breathing life into Nate Allen who showed promise his rookie year, but it's not an improvement they'll want to bank on. Philadelphia will go into the offseason looking for not one, but potentially two new starting-caliber safeties to compete with Allen, Colt Anderson, and Kurt Coleman. A solid new starter and a competition between the three for the other spot could alone lead to wide-ranging defensive improvements.
3. CB. With a $15 million salary due in 2013 and $12 million in each of the two years after that, Philadelphia's prize free agent signing of two years ago may have played his last snap in an Eagles uniform. There is hope that without a variety of other internal options, a restructuring would be in Philly's best interest, while Asomugha has stated he's open to those discussions as well. DRC hasn't lived up to his potential on the other side either making his re-signing tenuous. With the potential money they may tie up in the pair of underperforming corners, the defense may be better off severing ties with both while pursuing cheaper options in free agency to join a developing young bunch.
4. Front 7. In a trade with the Texans, the Eagles found their lone bright spot on defense with DeMeco Ryans at middle linebacker. In a 34 base look, Philadelphia would most likely pair Mychal Kendricks with Ryans on the inside with ends Brandon Graham and Trent Cole standing up. In this scenario, the Eagles could use depth at inside linebacker, but starting-caliber players on the defensive line. In the alternative scenario, staying in a 43 base front would keep open a position at strong-side linebacker, an area the Eagles have struggled with for several years.
5. OL Depth. For a team decimated with injuries up front, it's no surprise the Eagles were as poor in pass protection as they were. The experience for guys called to duty should have helped build depth, but given their poor performance, the offseason evaluation of the tape may cost a couple rosters spots early in the process leaving room for outside improvement. One of the biggest areas of concern will be the back-up center position behind Jason Kelce.
New York Giants:
1. CB. The Giants secondary has felt the full effects of the devastating ACL tears that have forced expected starter Terrell Thomas to miss the past two seasons in full. The preseason injuries have left the defense reeling in each of those years putting them in a deep hole early on. As they look to improve the unit, Corey Webster will need to do a self-study and correct mistakes in technique that have led to numerous defeats on double moves. Prince Amukamara should improve to settle into a starting corner, but using another high draft pick on a cornerback is feasible as is pursuing one in free agency to shore up depth and nickel situations. The Giants prefer big, physical corners that are willing tacklers on the perimeter.
2. LB. From every statistical measure besides the one that counts (points), the Giants were a porous defense. Yards per attempt (passing and rushing), gross yards, 3rd down conversions—the Giants ranked near the bottom of the league. One of the biggest improvements needed this offseason is the help of impact linebackers to help play the run, sideline to sideline. An upgrade in the linebacking corps will help reduce the burden in run defense from the safeties and give the defensive line more confidence in going after the passer thereby improving the entire defense. Though this all sounds good in theory, but the Giants haven't historically invested much in the unit.
3. RT. Playing in the final season of a contract he inked back in 2008, David Diehl is a potential offseason cut with a $4.1 million salary. He may be willing to accept a paycut to return to the team in 2013, but the Giants organization intends to get younger on the offensive line. At the very least, it's a safe bet to assume he'll compete for the starting gig on a line was the weak link offensively. In rebuilding the unit, expect the front office to fill this hole through the draft with an early pick. James Brewer is a dark horse to compete for this position from within.
4. DL Depth. The current outlook for next year shows a defensive line that may be thinner on depth than at any time since the Giants first Super Bowl run in the 2007 season, especially if they lose Osi Umenyiora and Rocky Bernard. For a defense that relied on pressure with the front four, the precipitous drop in sack numbers helps explain the struggles the Giants faced on that side of the ball. Without productivity off the bench, the team may be unable to move their personnel around as frequently on passing downs as they love to do.
5. OL Depth. The Giants seem committed to establishing a strong run game and building an offense around the deep playaction game. It's nice in theory and the Giants had some success, but not with enough consistency. With an improved offensive line, they can force the opposition to compress the field and beat them over the top with their vertically capable receiving corps led by Victor Cruz. In its current form, the right side of the line is playing more on will and experience than ability and will need to be pushed with youth if the Giants want to re-build a dominant offensive line to fully employ their approach.
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