Evan Silva

Offseason Low Down

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Team Needs & Roster Rankings

Monday, February 4, 2013

9. Baltimore Ravens

OT: Baltimore got a major late-season boost when an in-shape Bryant McKinnie emerged as the team's starting left tackle. 33-year-old McKinnie is headed for free agency, however, and may not be in GM Ozzie Newsome's plans. It's clear by now that Michael Oher's best position is right tackle. Finding a long-term blind-side protector for Joe Flacco should be Newsome's top priority.

LB: Ray Lewis' Last Ride is over, and every-down inside 'backer Dannell Ellerbe's contract is up. Jameel McClain's healthy return should give this unit some credibility, but it could quickly turn from a strength into a weakness. The cap-strapped Ravens also may not be able to afford free agent rush linebacker Paul Kruger. At least they can turn to 2012 second-rounder Courtney Upshaw.

WR: Salary cap woes may force Newsome to part with Anquan Boldin ($6 million salary) and Jacoby Jones ($4 million in salary and bonus), depleting a receiver depth chart that would be down to Torrey Smith, Tandon Doss, and developmental project Tommy Streeter. In the Ravens' vertical-oriented pass offense, wideouts who can create separation are an absolute must.

S: Lardarius Webb's return will shore up Baltimore's cornerback position, but stalwart free safety Ed Reed is expected to leave in free agency. Unless they know something we don't about 2012 fourth-round pick Christian Thompson, the Ravens are devoid of in-house replacement options.

10. Pittsburgh Steelers

RB: Top returning backs Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman are restricted free agents. Longtime feature runner Rashard Mendenhall is an unrestricted free agent and not expected to return. In his season-ending press conference, GM Kevin Colbert conceded that Pittsburgh's talent level at running back has not been up to par. The Steelers figure to add multiple new faces this offseason.

TE: Pro Bowl-caliber starter Heath Miller shredded his right knee in late December, tearing the ACL, PCL, and MCL. He's a candidate to open next season on PUP. The Steelers feel good internally about 2012 seventh-round pick David Paulson, but he'd be a big downgrade from Miller.

DL: Franchise staple Casey Hampton will walk in free agency, leaving a 330-plus-pound hole at nose tackle. Perhaps Pittsburgh can paper over the position with Steve McLendon, Ziggy Hood, and Alameda Ta'amu, but none of the three looks like a long-term solution. The nose is a critical component of coordinator Dick LeBeau's 3-4 defense, which has long been stout versus the run.

WR: The Steelers have turned the page on deep threat Mike Wallace, leaving Antonio Brown, restricted free agent Emmanuel Sanders, and pedestrian veteran Jerricho Cotchery as their top three receivers. Sans Wallace, there isn't a vertical playmaker remaining in the group. Pittsburgh is apparently set to downgrade from a top-five pass-catching corps into the depths of mediocrity.

11. Washington Redskins

OL: Left tackle Trent Williams, center Will Montgomery, and right guard Chris Chester are all signed long term and make up the core of Washington's zone-blocking offensive line. The unit's two 2012 weak links -- left guard Kory Lichtensteiger and right tackle Tyler Polumbus -- are both headed for free agency. Last year's third-rounder Josh LeRibeus might be able to handle left guard moving forward, but Washington does not have a viable in-house right tackle replacement.

CB: DeAngelo Hall's openness to a contract restructure helps matters, but there is next to no depth behind him and fellow starter Josh Wilson. Nickel back Cedric Griffin's contract is up, and seventh-rounder Richard Crawford was the only other Washington corner to play significant 2012 snaps. The Redskins shouldn't feel truly comfortable at any of their four defensive back positions.

LB: Brian Orakpo's return helps this unit on paper, but it's fair to wonder if he's become unreliable physically. Orakpo has twice torn his left pectoral muscle and didn't recover fully the first time. Ryan Kerrigan remains a stud bookend, but 2012 Orakpo replacement Rob Jackson's contract is up and there is no remaining depth. Washington needs to continue to prioritize pass rushers.

TE: The Redskins can make this position better if free agent Fred Davis is re-signed and recovers smoothly from Achilles' surgery, but it's a concern at the moment. Logan Paulsen is a high-effort player short on skill. Converted wide receiver Niles Paul is a situational tight end only. Chris Cooley is a free agent, and he may begin his broadcasting career as soon as this offseason.

12. Chicago Bears

OL: The Bears don't just need a tackle, guard, or center. They need help at every line position. 2011 first-round pick Gabe Carimi is looking like a bust at right tackle, and J'Marcus Webb has been inconsistent at best on the left side. Guards Lance Louis, Chris Spencer, and Chilo Rachal are all free agents. 34-year-old center Roberto Garza has fallen off a cliff. It's time for an overhaul.

LB: New Bears coach Marc Trestman doesn't seem inclined to bring back free agent middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, not that he should. Going on 35 with bad knees, Urlacher is a shell of his old self. Strong-side starter Nick Roach's contract is also up, giving Chicago two spots to fill.

TE: Perhaps the worst move of GM Phil Emery's tenure so far was to re-sign Kellen Davis last offseason. Davis flopped as the Bears' starting tight end and will likely be released. 2012 fourth-rounder Evan Rodriguez is an intriguing prospect, but doesn't profile as an every-down tight end.

DT: This position can remain a strength if the Bears re-sign free agent Henry Melton. After back-to-back productive seasons at "three technique," however, he won't be cheap. Stephen Paea is a solid run stuffer and Nate Collins is a quality reserve, but Chicago needs a pocket pusher inside.

13. Dallas Cowboys

DT: The Cowboys are switching from a 3-4 to 4-3 defense under new coordinator Monte Kiffin, meaning the complexion of their front seven will change. Nose tackle Jay Ratliff is in danger of being released, which would add yet another question mark to Dallas' defensive line. Jason Hatcher is a probable starter, but two quality interior linemen are required in the four-man front.

DE: DeMarcus Ware should transition smoothly from linebacker to weak-side end, and the Cowboys want to re-sign Anthony Spencer to continue manning the position across from him. Spencer wants big money and is uncertain to return. 2012 third-rounder Tyrone Crawford may be an option at left defensive end, although Crawford wasn't a big-time pass rusher at Boise State.

OG: The Cowboys seem to believe they have several viable guard options in Nate Livings, Ronald Leary, and Mackenzy Bernadeau, but of them only left guard Livings was a capable 2012 starter. Center Phil Costa is a restricted free agent coming off foot surgery. Even if Dallas appears to have numbers at guard and center, its interior run blocking was a huge problem area last season.

RB: Starter DeMarco Murray has missed nine games through two seasons, and top backup Felix Jones is headed to free agency. Lance Dunbar and Phillip Tanner are borderline NFL players. The Cowboys could use a durable backup for Murray who would also function in a change-of-pace role off the bench. Expect Dallas to target this position in the middle rounds of April's draft.

14. Minnesota Vikings

WR: The fact that Minnesota has never given Christian Ponder a legitimate outside receiver makes his early-career performance a blurry evaluation. Percy Harvin is a beast in the slot, but Jerome Simpson, Michael Jenkins, and Devin Aromashodu have served to hold back the offense rather than further it. The Vikings need to be in the market for a field stretcher like Mike Wallace to ease the burden on Harvin and Adrian Peterson, who operate around the line of scrimmage.

S: Vikings 2012 first-round pick Harrison Smith paid immediate dividends with playmaking ability and coverage skills in the deep half. Running mate Mistral Raymond, however, was a liability across from him. Raymond would stick to special teams in an ideal world, and the Vikings would pair Smith with a safety offering better talent. Pat Chung would be an interesting free-agent target.

LB: The Vikings enter 2013 feeling good about only one of their linebacker positions. Strong-side starter Chad Greenway is a Pro Bowl-caliber performer, but middle man Jasper Brinkley and weak-side 'backer Erin Henderson are both free agents. Brinkley is the guy they need to replace.

QB: The jury remains out on Ponder after two NFL seasons. In 2012, he went through long stretches looking like a top-12 draft bust, and Ponder has also been prone to injury. Joe Webb clearly isn't a viable competitor, so the Vikings may tap the free-agent market for an upgrade at backup quarterback. Veteran Matt Moore would probably be GM Rick Spielman's best target.

15. New Orleans Saints

LB: Back from suspension, coach Sean Payton is hellbent on turning his defense into a 3-4. Perhaps the most critical 3-4 component is outside-edge rushers capable of harassing the quarterback from a two-point stance. Junior Galette and Martez Wilson are in-house options, but neither has experience at the position. Look for the Saints to draft two rush 'backers in April. The Saints should be fine at inside linebacker with thumpers Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne back.

DT: Cameron Jordan and Akiem Hicks are ready-made 3-4 defensive ends; they both spent time there in college. At 6-foot-2, 306, incumbent 4-3 nose tackle Brodrick Bunkley is undersized to play the position in a 3-4. New Orleans got kicked in the mouth in the running game in 2012, so acquiring a lane clogger might be GM Mickey Loomis' top priority from a pure need standpoint.

OT: This wouldn't be a need if left tackle Jermon Bushrod were under contract for 2013. Bushrod is indeed a free agent, however, and Loomis is unlikely to break the bank to retain him. Charles Brown might be an in-house replacement if he could stay healthy. So far in his career, he can't.

DB: While the lack of pass rush made the entire unit appear worse than it really is, the Saints' defensive backfield didn't hold up its end of the 2012 bargain. Patrick Robinson was a frequent burn victim, and safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper turned in career-worst years. The Saints need to add competition in the secondary. These guys seem to be getting complacent.

16. Cincinnati Bengals

RB: Plodding early-down pounder BenJarvus Green-Ellis and 2012 practice squad member Dan Herron are Cincinnati's only two backs under contract for 2013. The Bengals need more "juice" at this position. UNC's Giovani Bernard -- profiled here -- would be a sensible target in the draft's second round.

DE: Both of the Bengals' 2012 starters at defensive end have expiring contracts. Carlos Dunlap can take left end Robert Geathers' place, but Cincinnati may have to use the franchise tag to retain right end Michael Johnson. Even if Johnson returns, an explosive nickel rusher would be a welcomed addition to coordinator Mike Zimmer's defense. Depth is a concern either way.

S: Zimmer played musical chairs at the safety spot opposite Reggie Nelson last season. When Nelson missed two games with a hamstring injury, the position turned into a disaster. Perhaps 2012 fifth-round pick George Iloka will get a longer look in training camp, but he won't be handed first-team snaps. Incumbent free safeties Nate Clements and Chris Crocker's contracts are up. The Bengals could also afford to address outside linebacker with Vontaze Burfict moving from weak side to the middle.

QB: After back-to-back late-season collapses, there should be questions within the organization about whether Andy Dalton is the long-term answer. He didn't get better in his second year. At the very least, Cincinnati will be on the lookout for a backup upgrade on free agent Bruce Gradkowski.

17. Detroit Lions

CB: Cornerback has seemingly been a trouble spot in Detroit forever. Top corner Chris Houston is a free agent and the Lions were torched opposite him for most of last season. 2012 draft picks Bill Bentley, Jonte Green, and Chris Greenwood are all talented prospects, but it's unclear if any of them is ready to start in 2013. Alabama's Dee Milliner is already a popular mock pick at No. 5.

DE: Left end Cliff Avril's contract is up and right end Kyle Vanden Bosch's career is nearing its end. What was recently one of the league's most loaded defensive end depth charts has fast become among the thinnest. Only KVB, Willie Young, and Ronnell Lewis are signed for 2013.

WR: Safety, interior offensive line, and linebacker are also needy positions for the Lions, but wide receiver is most pressing for the NFL's pass-heaviest team. Only Calvin Johnson can be counted on for 2013 production. Nate Burleson would have to accept a salary slash to return, and Ryan Broyles is coming off a second ACL tear. Titus Young has practically begged for his release.

RB: While Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell didn't embarrass themselves as a 2012 tandem attack, the Lions are looking to replace the homerun-hitting ability Jahvid Best left behind. Reggie Bush would be a sensible target in free agency, assuming he's willing to sign at an affordable rate.

18. Carolina Panthers

CB: Salary cap problems will likely force the Panthers to release top cornerback Chris Gamble, and fellow starter Captain Munnerlyn is a free agent. Forced to start as a rookie, 2012 fifth-round pick Josh Norman was burned relentlessly in coverage. This is easily Carolina's weakest position.

OT: Ryan Kalil's return will fortify center, while left tackle Jordan Gross, left guard Amini Silatolu, and right guard Garry Williams figure to return as Carolina's other three offensive line starters. Byron Bell has been a major liability at right tackle, however, and must be replaced. The Panthers haven't had effective right-tackle play since Jeff Otah stopped trying. That happened back in 2009.

WR: The Panthers are lucky to have gotten as many quality seasons out of Steve Smith as they have. He's still going strong, but turns 34 in May and is Carolina's only dangerous wideout. Brandon LaFell disappointed in his 2012 opportunity to start, and once-promising David Gettis was a non-factor. The Panthers need to consider drafting a receiver in the first or second round.

DT: Carolina doesn't have a single effective defensive tackle signed for 2013. Dwan Edwards is a free agent, and Ron Edwards is a likely cap casualty after getting pushed around in the run game last season. Blowing up this position to start from scratch wouldn't be a bad idea for the Panthers.

19. Indianapolis Colts

OL: Right tackle and both guard positions could use offseason upgrades after the Colts overcame the AFC's worst line play to win 11 games. Despite elite pocket awareness and mobility, Andrew Luck absorbed 41 sacks -- the NFL's fourth highest total. New playcaller Pep Hamilton is a smash-mouth offensive mind, so look for Indianapolis to pursue maulers in the running game.

CB: GM Ryan Grigson's trade for Vontae Davis paid dividends down the stretch, but the Colts were sorely lacking at slot and left corner. Jerraud Powers was benched for Darius Butler, and both of them are offseason free agents. Grigson is a lock to address cornerback in April's draft.

LB: The Colts go three deep at inside linebacker with Pat Angerer behind Jerrell Freeman and Kavell Conner, but outside linebacker is a different story. While Robert Mathis can still get after the quarterback, he's 32 and battled back injuries in 2012. Dwight Freeney is a free agent, and Jerry Hughes is a mediocre situational player. Indianapolis needs a new franchise pass rusher.

DE: Ends in Chuck Pagano's 3-4 scheme are supposed to be immovable gap pluggers. 32-year-old Cory Redding struggled to duplicate his Baltimore success last season, and Ricardo Mathews would be a wave player on a good defense. The Colts have been gashed by the run for far too long. Grigson should target five-technique defensive ends in the draft's early to middle rounds.

20. Miami Dolphins

WR: Despite impressive individual play by rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, the Dolphins' 2012 offense was held hostage by their receivers' inability to separate. The Fins lacked playmakers out wide. Leading receiver Brian Hartline is now entering free agency, and Miami is left paper thin. The Dolphins have a ton of cap space and could pursue Greg Jennings, Mike Wallace, and/or Dwayne Bowe.

OT: The Dolphins are not expected to re-sign free agent left tackle Jake Long because his salary demands are too rich for their taste. 2012 second-rounder Jonathan Martin got blown up in pass protection as a rookie, so he'd be difficult to justify as a viable alternative. Miami must acquire at least one starting offensive tackle. Martin's year-one performance suggests they may need two.

CB: GM Jeff Ireland's 2012 trade of top cornerback Vontae Davis looks foolish in hindsight. Sean Smith took over as Miami's answer for No. 1 receivers and held up well, but is now a free agent. Offseason pickup Richard Marshall struggled in coverage before rupturing two discs in his back. Ireland's tendency to trade solid starters without a long-term replacement plan is head scratching. See also, Brandon Marshall.

S: Strong safety Reshad Jones has quietly emerged as one of the league's premier players at his position, but free safety Chris Clemons is a free agent and backup Jonathon Amaya strictly plays on special teams. The Dolphins could also afford to add talent at running back and defensive end.

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Evan Silva is a senior football editor for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .
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