In further proof that the NFL really has turned itself into a 365-day-a-year sport, the NFL Combine starts today.
That’s right, the “Underwear Olympics” is underway with all 32 NFL teams sending representatives to Indy to get their first good look at the next group of NFL stars.
With the off-season here, and the Combine beginning we decided to kind of do a “two-for-one” in today’s article, looking at every team’s single biggest need heading into the Combine.
It doesn’t mean every team will address that need through the draft or players evaluated in Indy. But think of this as a baseline starter spot for each team heading into the 2022 off-season, as these needs will be addressed over the coming months, through the draft, or otherwise.
Arizona Cardinals: Cornerback
The Cardinals haven’t been able to stabilize the cornerback position since Patrick Peterson was donning the red, white, and (sometimes) black. They’re going to draft a couple of reinforcements with their draft picks because Arizona will be hard-pressed to spend significant money in free agency on a splashy addition, considering they’re currently in the red with their cap figure.
Atlanta Falcons: Wide Receiver
With the future in doubt for Calvin Ridley and the likely departures of Cordarrelle Patterson and Russell Gage into free agency, the Falcons have a desperate need for pass-catchers. They have Kyle Pitts, and that’s a great start. Matt Ryan isn’t getting any younger, so he could use some playmakers to help him age a bit more gracefully. The NFC South isn’t a world-beater division, and even the Falcons have a chance now that Tom Brady retired and Sean Payton has moved on.
Baltimore Ravens: Secondary
Baltimore has minimal flexibility to make a move at a cornerback or safety with their $9m of cap space. The Ravens throughout 2021 lost Marcus Peters before the season even started and then Marlon Humphrey towards the end of the season. Those injuries only cast a more significant light on the lack of depth at cornerback.
Buffalo Bills: Wide Receiver
Emmanuel Sanders is likely gone, and Isaiah McKenzie may opt for a locale with more opportunity, so the Bills could be in the market for a wide receiver this offseason. The free-agent market has options, but the Bills don’t exactly have the best cap situation, so the draft may be the avenue in which they find Josh Allen yet another pass-catching weapon, I mean, as if he needs it, right?
Carolina Panthers: Quarterback
Sam Darnold is #notgood. The Darnold trade the Panthers made last offseason with the Jets was a flop. Darnold is a bit of a lame duck, entering a fifth-year option exercised by Carolina that’s fully guaranteed. The Panthers could use their sixth-overall pick on a quarterback and be on their way with the potential future of the franchise, with some nice pieces around him.
Chicago Bears: Offensive Line
Priority one for the Chicago Bears should be protecting quarterback Justin Fields at all costs. The Bears have the salary cap room to make a significant move, and in combination with the draft, Chicago could be on its way to achieving that goal. They also need another outside receiver opposite Darnell Mooney, as Allen Robinson likely has played his last snap for the team.
Cincinnati Bengals: Offensive Line
Famously, the Bengals shrugged off the popular opinion of needing a franchise left tackle with their fifth-overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft and selected the highly-touted wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase. All he did was help lead the Bengals to their first Super Bowl in 34 years. With over $50m in cap space, the Bengals can throw money at whoever they want to shore up their offensive line and keep Joe Burrow upright.
Cleveland Browns: Wide Receiver
A top-flight wide receiver is a dire need for a Cleveland Browns team currently featuring Jarvis Landry as their top wide receiver. The same Landry that saw what his friend and former teammate Odell Beckham Jr. did by tweeting out his frustrations with the Browns. Landry may want to see how green the grass is on the other side. If Landry were to carve out a path to a new team, that only exacerbates the lack of weapons for Baker Mayfield and company in Cleveland.
Dallas Cowboys: Offensive or Defensive Line
The Cowboys are strapped for cash, will likely be losing some essential pieces, yet, remain in a good spot compared to the rest of the NFC East. They need some protection for Dak Prescott and some interior defensive linemen as well. The draft will be the likely avenue towards that end. Do they trade Amari Cooper to make something happen?
Denver Broncos: Quarterback
Former Packers offensive coordinator and now Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett could make a monumental splash and acquire Aaron Rodgers. He could also make a trade for another veteran quarterback for less capital or draft a rookie let Drew Lock take the reins. The last two options aren’t very sexy. Still, the current veteran market for free-agent quarterbacks doesn’t exactly lend itself to a lot of flexibility unless they want to bring back Teddy Bridgewater. No matter what they do, expect a new face in the quarterback room in some capacity in Denver.
Detroit Lions: Wide Receiver
The Lions are very much underway into their rebuild, so they say goodbye to bottom-of-the-roster wide receivers like Josh Reynolds, Kalif Raymond, and KhaDarel Hodge. As that trio heads to free agency, the Lions could opt to spend some draft capital on a wide receiver to give Jared Goff (or another quarterback) a chance on the outside.
Green Bay Packers: Wide Receiver
If Aaron Rodgers comes back, Davante Adams likely comes back with him. Even if Adams returns (likely on a franchise tag), the Packers will need a wide receiver or two, but that would probably be acquired in the NFL Draft, given the team’s necessity to rectify their negative cap space. The Packers have already restructured the contracts of Aaron Jones and Kenny Clark in the last two days, with more cap clearing on the way. If the Packers use free agency to add to the wide receiver position, it will be through the bargain-basement options similar to their addition of Devin Funchess a few seasons ago.
Houston Texans: Everything. Literally, everything
What do they need? Well, talent, for starters. The Texans are currently in wait-and-see mode with DeShaun Watson, and until his situation is finalized, the Texans won’t have any extra draft capital to improve their dire roster. Any talent infusion at critical areas like offensive tackle, cornerback, or quarterback would be welcome.
Indianapolis Colts: Quarterback & any pass-catcher
The Colts have to figure out what they’re doing with Carson Wentz, as they have not fully committed to Wentz being the team’s quarterback in 2022. It likely will require a trade, whether moving up in the draft or trading for a veteran option from another team. The Colts are barren at wide receiver outside of Michael Pittman Jr. and often-injured Parris Campbell. They might be the least athletic skill-position group in the league outside of Jonathan Taylor, so any additional talent at receiver or tight end added to the Colts’ roster would be welcomed.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Any pass-catcher
Somebody, please get Trevor Lawrence some help. The #1 overall pick will net Jacksonville help in the trenches on offense or defense. As for the rest of the draft selections (and almost $60m in cap space), the Jags are in a great spot to add talent to their ranks. New head coach Doug Pederson will make sure of that.
Las Vegas Raiders: Wide Receiver
If the Raiders want to keep the offensive momentum going, they’ll get Derek Carr another weapon on the outside. Zay Jones could come back, but he is a free agent. Bryan Edwards has disappointed after two seasons. Hunter Renfrow bailed out the Raiders time and time again while all-world tight end Darren Waller was injured. Vegas has the cap room to maneuver and some draft capital to make a splash heading into the 2022 season.
Los Angeles Chargers: Cornerback
The market for cornerbacks is pretty robust and that’s just what the Chargers need. Not only is the market robust, but they have almost $60m to work with in bringing in talent. Asante Samuel Jr. is a nice start towards fortifying the position, as he was taken in the 2021 NFL Draft, but reinforcements are needed. The Chargers could also use a wide receiver, as Mike Williams is an unrestricted free agent and Keenan Allen isn’t getting any younger.
Los Angeles Rams: Interior Offensive Line
This one is pretty easy. The Rams are set to lose Austin Corbett, Joseph Noteboom, and Brian Allen in free agency, but the Rams are on the wrong side of the black in terms of cap room. That makes it tough without any high draft capital to improve the team after their Super Bowl win. Les Snead will have to get creative to shore up the interior offensive line this spring.
Miami Dolphins: Offensive Line
As of this writing, the Dolphins have the most available cap space in the NFL. The team desperately needs offensive line help and luckily for them, there are options to throw money at. The Dolphins also have a late first-round pick, so there are plenty of ways to improve the life of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. If the team is truly committed to Tua and his development (and the team has publicly said that they are), then they will fortify the front lines and make that their focus this offseason.
Minnesota Vikings: Edge rusher or Cornerback
The Vikings need a lot of help in multiple spots on their defense, namely on the back-end and in their pass-rush. The team and new general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah have work to do without a positive number in their cap room to maneuver and upgrade these spots, so look for the draft to be their avenue towards that improvement. The Vikings are unlikely to bring back Patrick Peterson and Mackenzie Alexander.
New England Patriots: Wide Receiver
The Patriots had a “Supermarket Sweep”-like mentality in free agency last spring, in which two of their prizes were wide receivers Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor. Bourne was solid at times, but Agholor was a bust in 2021. N’Keal Harry has been an unmitigated disaster as a former first-round pick. Jakobi Meyers is solid enough, but the wide receiver room could use some talent.
New Orleans Saints: Quarterback
In a situation as juicy as any daytime soap opera, the Saints are approximately $75m in the red with their salary cap. Not to mention, Sean Payton left the team, so this is a team in flux. To say the absolute least. Do they commit to Taysom Hill? It doesn’t seem that way, even with the monetary commitment they made to him last offseason. Go out and draft somebody and make them the future. The Saints have been a “kick the can down the road” franchise for years now, and it’s time to finally pick up the can and do something.
New York Giants: Offensive line
I’m old enough to remember when high-priced free agent Nate Solder was the answer. Solder is now an unrestricted free agent. Then, it was drafting second-round guard Will Hernandez in 2018. Hernandez lost his starting job midway through 2021 and now will leave too, as he’s an unrestricted free agent.
The Giants need reinforcement and some stability for Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley, and the rest of the talented skill position players. They’ll need to clear some cap room to do so, but the offensive line is as good of a place to reinforce. Andrew Thomas, the Giants’ 2020 first-round pick, is a nice start, but there’s work to do.
New York Jets: Secondary
The Jets will likely say goodbye to safety Marcus Maye, who is coming off of an Achilles injury suffered in 2021. With the cap space (almost $50m) and draft capital (two top-10 picks in the NFL Draft) available to them, the Jets should be able to begin addressing their back-end concerns and then some.
Philadelphia Eagles: Linebacker
The Eagles will lose Derek Barnett and Ryan Kerrigan, so their linebacker unit could use an infusion of talent. Luckily, Philadelphia has three top-20 selections to spend on talented players, which could give them an instant jolt.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Quarterback
The Steelers cannot go through the offseason with the thought that Mason Rudolph will be their starting quarterback in 2022. Whether by trade or draft pick, there will be a new quarterback not named Ben Roethlisberger under center (or in shotgun) in the Steel City. Whoever they tab as the starter will have a solid skill-position group to work with, so Pittsburgh’s quarterback saga will be at the very least, intriguing.
San Francisco 49ers: Secondary
The 49ers will have a full-on rebuild of their secondary unit as only Jimmie Ward and Ambry Thomas remain with the team following an unrestricted free agent exodus that includes Jaquiski Tartt, K’Waun Williams, and Josh Norman. The team will have to be creative with their improvements, not only considering their negative cap room, but their lack of a first-round pick.
Seattle Seahawks: Edge rusher
Seattle could be a franchise in transition, as they figure out what they’re going to do with not only quarterback Russell Wilson but with a team that, frankly, isn’t good enough to compete but isn’t bad enough to completely tank. They can start on the edge, where there are many veteran names like Chandler Jones, Harold Landry III, and Emmanuel Ogbah that could be enticed by Seattle’s fifth-highest available cash to dispense.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Quarterback
Tampa seems to be in the market for the quarterback now that Tom Brady retired, in case you all didn’t hear. Do the Bucs reunite with Jameis Winston? Dip their toe into the trade pool? Unless they acquire a significant improvement (Wilson, Rodgers, etc.), those waters might be choppy. It will be interesting to see what the team does at the most crucial position in football, but whoever they enlist as the starter will likely have fewer weapons to work with, as Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown are either leaving or already gone.
Tennessee Titans: Tight End
At tight end, the Titans have *checks notes* nobody. Geoff Swaim, Anthony Firkser, and MyCole Pruitt are all unrestricted free agents, so Tennessee will need to add to the position. Hopefully, somebody with at least a little bit of speed to help out Ryan Tannehill, who was really handcuffed when A.J. Brown and Julio Jones went down with various injuries in 2021. Perhaps they bring one (or more) of their 2021 tight ends back, but the position needs some athleticism.
Washington Commanders: Quarterback (and some pass-catching help?)
The Ryan Fitzpatrick experiment didn’t fare too well in 2021, as they got a portion of one game of Fitzpatrick’s services. Taylor Heinicke was serviceable (I have to be nice) at best, but with a name change, the Commanders may opt to look to the NFL Draft for a signal-caller that can usher in a new era for the franchise. A shiny new toy at wide receiver would certainly be welcomed too.
Follow Kevin Tompkins on Twitter @KevinTompkinsII