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NFL Offseason Guide 2014: Team-by-Team Primer and Predictions

Ty SchalterNFL National Lead WriterMarch 5, 2014

NFL Offseason Guide 2014: Team-by-Team Primer and Predictions

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    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    This is going to be the most frustrating NFL free-agency period in a long, long time. A massive $10 million increase in the salary cap has turned sellers into holders, holders into buyers and buyers into Warren Buffett.

    With key free-agents-to-be getting re-signed and extended left and right, and an already-thin class ready to be pounced on by most of the league, salaries are going to go through the roof.

    Worse, with the entire NFL trying to copy the pass-rushing, pass-smothering defenses of the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers, the few defensive ends and two-way safeties that are hitting the open market will have plenty of bidders.

    As you read through these team-by-team primers and projections, be prepared to see an awful lot of players like safeties Jairus Byrd and Donte Whitner, cornerback Alterraun Verner and defensive end Michael Johnson.

    Almost every team wants their skill sets on its roster, but only one team will actually land any of them. As a result, many squads will sign a lot of Plan B, Plan C and Plan D players to surprisingly rich contracts—and make a lot of reaches for need in what will be one of the deepest draft classes in recent memory.

Arizona Cardinals

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    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

    Approximate Cap Room, per Spotrac.com: $17,875,088

    Free Agents: 23

    Tagged Players: None 

    Key Free Agents Likely to Stay: ILB Karlos Dansby, OLB Matt Shaughnessy, PK Jay Feely

    Key Free Agents Likely to Leave: RB Rashard Mendenhall, WR Andre Roberts, OT Eric Winston

    Key Targets: OT Jared Veldheer, WR Robert Meachem, S T.J. Ward

     

    Nominal starting tailback Rashard Mendenhall averaged just 3.2 yards per carry in his first season with the team. It's hard to see him returning with surprise rookie standout Andre Ellington set for a bigger role and young change-of-pace back Stepfan Taylor behind him.

    According to Kyle Odegard of AZCardinals.com, the team will likely allow slot receiver Andre Roberts to leave, and will eye a veteran who could complement starters Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd as a replacement.

    He isn't a free agent, but Fitzgerald is in the fourth year of a massive eight-year contract. Per Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com, his huge 2015 cap hit could force the Cardinals to make a decision after this year about his future.

    As Kent Somers of AZCentral.com reports, resurgent inside linebacker Karlos Dansby is a priority for the team, and it's likely he returns.

    The pass-first Cardinals allowed Palmer to be sacked 41 times in 2013, per Pro Football Reference. As a result, they're in the market for a veteran upgrade at left tackle, according to Urban. Raiders free agent Jared Veldheer seems like the best combination of skill set and availability.

    Safety Yeremiah Bell was underwhelming next to standout rookie free safety Tyrann Mathieu. The Cardinals have room to make a run at one of the top two-way safeties.

    Kicker Jay Feely missed a few critical kicks down the stretch and may have competition in camp, but it seems likely he'll at least make it there.

Atlanta Falcons

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    Approximate Cap Room, per Spotrac.com: $26,157,188

    Free Agents: 12

    Tagged Players: None

    Key Free Agents Likely to Stay: C Joe Hawley, DT Jonathan Babineaux

    Key Free Agents Likely to Leave: DT Peria Jerry

    Key Targets: OT Branden Albert, OG Jon Asamoah, DT Randy Starks, DE Michael Johnson, S Jairus Byrd

     

    The Atlanta Falcons are looking to reload after a stunning faceplant in 2013, and dumping overpaid players like cornerback Asante Samuel, linebacker Stephen Nicolas and guard Garrett Reynolds was a good first step.

    Defensive tackle Peria Jerry and safety Thomas DeCoud, who isn't a free agent, could be shown the door as well, clearing up even more cap space but opening more holes in the roster.

    As D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported, DeCoud is in limbo as a possible "cap casualty." Whether the Falcons like their chances of signing a top free safety like Jairus Byrd may be the tipping point.

    Defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux could be in a similar spot as the Falcons try to bolster their pass rush. If a tackle who could collapse the pocket, like Randy Starks, was willing to sign, Babineaux could be on the outs.

    It's a lean year for pass-rushing defensive ends, but the Falcons got burned by skimping at that position last season, and they should be aggressive in pursuing the closest player this free-agent class has to an edge-rusher: Michael Johnson.

    Interior offensive lineman Joe Hawley, as ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure noted, took over as starting center and outperformed former second-round pick Peter Konz. The Falcons will likely try to hang on to both as they re-tool their offensive line. They may target a younger guard, like Jon Asamoah, to help solidify the inside.

    Last, but certainly not least, expect the Falcons to be in the mix for a starting left tackle like Branden Albert.

    More than $26 million of cap room might not be enough to sign four or five of 2014's very best free agents, but they have a few contracts (like receiver Julio Jones) that can be restructured—and a head coach, Mike Smith, who's coaching for his job.

Baltimore Ravens

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Approximate Cap Room, per Spotrac.com: $24,929,137

    Free Agents: 21

    Tagged Players: None

    Key Free Agents Likely to Stay: WR Jacoby Jones, OT Michael Oher, ILB Daryl Smith, CB Corey Graham

    Key Free Agents Likely to Leave: OT Eugene Monroe, DT Arthur Jones, S James Ihedigbo

    Key Targets: WR Robert Meachem, OT Anthony Collins

     

    The Baltimore Ravens scratched their first offseason to-do off the list when tight end Dennis Pitta scratched his John Hancock on a five-year, $32 million contract. The second, re-signing offensive tackle Eugene Monroe, is proving to be much trickier.

    As Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun reported, "the [two] sides are far apart" in negotiations. Monroe would arguably be the best left tackle on the market if allowed to leave; the Ravens may not be prepared to wildly overpay for Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) 10th-best left tackle of 2013.

    ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley is "quietly confident" the Ravens will re-sign key inside linebacker Daryl Smith, who played well on the one-year prove-it deal he signed last spring. Hensley also sees cornerback Corey Graham and offensive tackle Michael Oher as likely candidates to stay (assuming Monroe leaves, in the latter's case).

    Solid veterans like defensive end Arthur Jones and safety James Ihedigbo, though, are likely to cash in; their positions will be two of the most sought-after during this free-agency period.

    Baltimore could target a possession receiver like Robert Meachem or James Jones to give Joe Flacco another target on offense. The Ravens will certainly make a play for a better tackle than Oher if they can't keep Monroe. Snaking young Anthony Collins away from the division-rival Cincinnati Bengals would be a clever move.

Buffalo Bills

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Approximate Cap Room, per Spotrac.com: $25,667,410

    Free Agents: Nine

    Tagged Players: None

    Key Free Agents Likely to Stay: TE Scott Chandler, LB Arthur Moats, S Jim Leonhard, PK Dan Carpenter

    Key Free Agents Likely to Leave: DE Alex Carrington, S Jairus Byrd

    Key Targets: QB Shaun Hill, OG Jon Asamoah

     

    The Jairus Byrd saga has been one of the most-watched negotiations of 2014, as the Buffalo Bills opted not to apply a second consecutive franchise tag to him.

    If the Bills won't give Byrd the money he's looking for—and if they haven't by now, they likely won't—he'll immediately become the crown jewel of a rich safety class.

    Buffalo, despite having lots of cap space, is in year two of a complete rebuild. Switching schemes to Jim Schwartz's 4-3 will result in some roster churn, but the team is more likely to let veteran defenders walk and draft replacements.

    It may frustrate Bills fans, but that's the likely reality.

    With plenty of young offensive weapons and a second-year first-round quarterback in EJ Manuel, they could opt to back him up with a veteran mentor like Shaun Hill—who spent three seasons under new defensive coordinator Schwartz in Detroit.

    Scott Chandler might be one of the best overall tight ends available in a very weak free-agent class, but he's just not the devastating downfield mismatch most teams are after. He may test the waters, but the Bills need a big, reliable target for Manuel more than most teams need a possession tight end. Head coach Doug Marrone expressed a desire to bring Chandler back at the NFL combine, per Chris Brown of the official team site.

Carolina Panthers

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    Approximate Cap Room, per Spotrac.com: $7,263,215

    Free Agents: 23

    Tagged Players: DE Greg Hardy (franchise, non-exclusive)

    Key Free Agents Likely to Stay: WR Ted Ginn Jr., S Mike Mitchell

    Key Free Agents Likely to Leave: WR Brandon LaFell, CB Captain Munnerlyn

    Key Targets: OT Anthony Collins

     

    The Carolina Panthers surprisingly became one of the best teams in the NFL last season, but they're set to lose a few pieces in free agency.

    The most valuable free-agent defender the Panthers were set to lose, however, should be back for 2014, as they franchise-tagged defensive end Greg Hardy. The Panthers also kept reliable kicker Graham Gano by signing him to a four-year deal.

    Though wide receiver would have been most fans' first choice as a top free-agent target, the retirement of stalwart left tackle Jordan Gross puts the Panthers in an awful spot. They'll surely spend what little cash they have targeting a top-flight protector for franchise quarterback Cam Newton.

    Worse yet, nearly every contributing wideout beyond the ageless Steve Smith is a free agent: Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon are all without contracts. Per Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer, the Panthers will try to re-sign Ginn, while they'll allow both Hixon and LaFell to test the market.

    Person also reports the Panthers want safety Mike Mitchell back, but guards Travelle Wharton and Geoff Hangartner could be retiring along with Gross.

    The Panthers simply don't have the cap room to replace them both with starting-caliber veterans. They may have to rely on the draft to solidify their interior line.

Chicago Bears

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Approximate Cap Room, per Spotrac.com: $8,919,728

    Free Agents: 20

    Tagged Players: None

    Key Free Agents Likely to Stay: DT Corey Wooton, CB Charles Tillman

    Key Free Agents Likely to Leave: DT Henry Melton, LB James Anderson, S Major Wright, KR/WR Devin Hester

    Key Targets: DE Michael Bennett, S T.J. Ward

     

    The Chicago Bears are feeling the crunch of several consecutive failed Super Bowl pushes.

    Aging free agents like cornerback Charles Tillman, returner Devin Hester and quarterback Josh McCown will command enough money in free agency to make keeping them difficult for the cap-strapped Bears. Perhaps only Tillman, a first team All-Pro in 2012, seems likely to be worth the outlay.

    Other aging vets, like linebackers James Anderson and D.J. Williams, and safety Major Wright, have simply worn out their welcome in Chicago.

    Defensive tackle Henry Melton has been rehabbing his knee and his reputation after tearing his ACL in 2013—and subsequently getting arrested for public intoxication. Bears general manager Phil Emery wants Melton back, according to ESPN.com's Jeff Dickerson, but he'll have plenty of competition for the young interior pass-rusher.

    With Wright on the way out, the Bears could try to compete to sign one of the top safeties. To do that, they'll need to restructure some of their bigger contracts. One candidate might be defensive end Julius Peppers, but his production has been suffering lately.

    2015 is the last season of Peppers' deal; could the Bears do something with him and target a replacement like Michael Bennett? Fred Mitchell of the Chicago Tribune reports Bennett's brother, Bears tight end Martellus, has been selling him on Chicago for a while.

Cincinnati Bengals

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Approximate Cap Room, per Spotrac.com: $27,554,960

    Free Agents: 12

    Tagged Players: None 

    Key Free Agents Likely to Stay: WR/KR Brandon Tate, P Zoltan Mesko

    Key Free Agents Likely to Leave: OT Anthony Collins, DE Michael Johnson, CB Brandon Ghee, S Taylor Mays

    Key Targets: None?

     

    The Cincinnati Bengals are in the enviable position of having a young, balanced, deep, contending roster. As Geoff Hobson of the Bengals' official team site explained, the team's top targets are its own quality players, like defensive end Michael Johnson and offensive tackle Anthony Collins.

    The Bengals, fittingly enough, are playing defense.

    However, Collins and Johnson both play premium positions in a year where there is a strong seller's market for both. If both Collins and Johnson hit the market, their prices will likely skyrocket straight through the Bengals' budget for either.

    Returner Brandon Tate is serviceable and will come cheap. Mesko has filled his role as an injury replacement for Kevin Huber, but will likely be kept on the camp roster until Huber's had a chance to prove he's full go.

    The Bengals will likely look to their own roster—and the draft—to replace any departing veterans.

Cleveland Browns

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Approximate Cap Room, per Spotrac.com: $46,281,355

    Free Agents: Five

    Tagged Players: C Alex Mack (transition)

    Key Free Agents Likely to Stay: PK Billy Cundiff

    Key Free Agents Likely to Leave: RB Willis McGahee, S T.J. Ward

    Key Targets: RB Ben Tate, CB Sam Shields

     

    If someone, such as your humble columnist, were to throw his hands up and say "Who even knows what the Cleveland Browns are planning this offseason?," it wouldn't come from a lack of trying. 

    For the second time since new Browns owner Jimmy Haslam took over in 2012, the Browns have undergone a complete leadership overhaul. The current long-term vision is anyone's guess.

    New general manager Ray Farmer has slapped center Alex Mack with a transition tag, giving him matching rights on any offer sheet Mack signs. The Browns released inside linebacker (and well-regarded leader) D'Qwell Jackson, and aging running back Willis McGahee might not be far behind.

    Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal relayed a statement from safety T.J. Ward's agent noting "several conversations" have been held with Browns officials, but as of yet, the two sides haven't come together. In a market hungry for safeties, Ward could kick off a bidding war.

    The Browns have the cap room to win nearly any bidding war, but it remains to be seen if Farmer wants to start his tenure as general manager by spending that kind of cash on a safety.

    The Browns desperately need a long-term answer at quarterback, but that will likely come in the draft.

    CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora reported on Twitter that Green Bay Packers cornerback Sam Shields could find a home in Cleveland.

    Most importantly, though, after the bold midseason move to trade away former top tailback Trent Richardson, the Browns could find a perfect replacement in Ben Tate. The Houston Texas drafted Tate to play in the one-cut running game favored by new Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. It would make perfect sense for him to be the new workhorse in Cleveland.

Dallas Cowboys

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    Approximate Cap Room, per Spotrac.com (before Tony Romo restructure): $329,312

    Free Agents: 17

    Tagged Players: None 

    Key Free Agents Likely to Stay: G Brian Waters

    Key Free Agents Likely to Leave: DT Jason Hatcher, DE/LB Anthony Spencer

    Possible Targets: DT Henry Melton, OT Zach Strief

     

    First things first: The cap space number at the top of this page doesn't reflect the restructured contract of quarterback Tony Romo. The Dallas Cowboys have also asked defensive end DeMarcus Ware to take a pay cut, per ESPN Dallas' Todd Archer.

    Star defensive tackle Jason Hatcher has made it clear he's going to the highest bidder, per ESPN Dallas' Tim McMahon, and that likely won't be the Cowboys. Might they replace Hatcher with another talented pocket-collapser like Henry Melton?

    It's possible, if Melton comes cheaper. Archer reported Melton would have interest if the Cowboys came calling.

    The Cowboys could make some more moves to clear up cap space to get Melton—and possibly snag an upgrade right tackle Doug Free—but likely not without getting rid of players who can still contribute, like cornerback Morris Claiborne.

Denver Broncos

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Approximate Cap Room, per Spotrac.com: $17,912,168

    Free Agents: 21

    Tagged Players: None

    Key Free Agents Likely to Stay: CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

    Key Free Agents Likely to Leave: WR Eric Decker, RB Knowshon Moreno, LB Wesley Woodyard

    Key Targets: WR Julian Edelman, LB D'Qwell Jackson

     

    Heavy is the head that wears the crown, but really heavy is the head that spends a whole lot of money trying to get the crown and falls just a little short...or something.

    The Denver Broncos went all-in to win the Super Bowl in 2014, but they busted out of MetLife Stadium.

    Now, they have to settle up. Key pieces like receiver Eric Decker, tailback Knowshon Moreno, linebacker Wesley Woodyard and even Broncos legend Champ Bailey are going to cost more money to keep than Denver will likely be willing to pay.

    Though the Broncos have replacements for most of those players already on the roster, they must re-sign top cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Ross Jones of Fox Sports confirmed Rodgers-Cromartie is indeed the Broncos' "top priority."

    Someday, cornerback Champ Bailey will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That someday might be five years from now, as CBS Sports' Jason LaCanfora reports the Broncos will cut him.

    However, as the Seattle Seahawks proved in Super Bowl XLVIII, the Broncos could stand to solidify the middle of their defense. Mike Klis of The Denver Post reports inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson has already been in for a visit, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see the squad chase one of the better safeties on the market.

    If the New England Patriots let receiver Julian Edelman walk, there would be a bit of deja vu in the Broncos signing him to replace Decker.

Detroit Lions

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Approximate Cap Room, per Spotrac.com: $11,745,130

    Free Agents: 19

    Tagged Players: None

    Key Free Agents Likely to Stay: RB Joique Bell (RFA), DE Willie Young

    Key Free Agents Likely to Leave: QB Shaun Hill, TE Brandon Pettigrew, S Louis Delmas

    Key Targets: WR Jacoby Jones, CB Alterraun Verner, S James Ihedigbo

     

    The Detroit Lions, attempting to pull off a first-to-worst-to-first double turnaround, initially must decide what to do with former first-round draft pick Brandon Pettigrew. Though the tight end has the frame and ability to be an impact two-way player, his inconsistent hands and unimpressive effort in blocking make him unlikely to be worth top-tier money.

    Lions general manager Martin Mayhew confirmed Pettigrew is "definitely" a priority, according to Justin Rogers of Mlive.com, but head coach Jim Caldwell wasn't nearly so emphatic. In all likelihood, Detroit will rely on sophomore surprise Joe Fauria and look to draft Pettigrew's replacement.

    The player the Lions drafted after Pettigrew, safety Louis Delmas, seems likely to walk. Many teams are looking for a safety, and Delmas hasn't been healthy enough to regularly practice for years. To replace Delmas, new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin might be very comfortable with recent pupil James Ihedigbo.

    The Lions, as always, need to shore up the cornerback position. After drafting Darius Slay in the second round of the 2013 draft, No. 1 cornerback Chris Houston had one of the roughest years of his career. Alterraun Verner would be a perfect fit for the Lions' physical defense.

    Restricted free agent Joique Bell emerged as a starting-caliber player in 2013, and they won't let him go.

    The Lions are desperate for a field-stretching receiver to draw coverage off of All-Pro Calvin Johnson, and new head coach Jim Caldwell could look to snag Baltimore Ravens speedster Jacoby Jones, whom Caldwell coached last season as the Baltimore Ravens' offensive coordinator.

    Backup quarterback Shaun Hill is three years removed from starting action, but he is arguably the best pure passer available in this very weak class. If there's a strong market for him, the Lions could let him walk.

    After having just two kickers over the last three decades, the Lions could be in the market for the second in two years. David Akers looked very replaceable in 2013, going 19-of-24.

Green Bay Packers

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    Approximate Cap Room, per Spotrac.com: $35,123,261

    Free Agents: 19

    Tagged Players: None 

    Key Free Agents Likely to Stay: None

    Key Free Agents Likely to Leave: RB James Starks, WR James Jones, TE Jermichael Finley, DT Ryan Pickett, DL B.J. Raji, CB Sam Shields

    Key Targets: DL Linval Joseph, S Chris Clemons

     

    Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson is, when it comes to free agency, a notorious spendthrift. With $35 million in cap room and a bevy of holes to fill, though, NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reports (via NFL Media's Dan Hanzus) the Packers could be big spenders.

    Who will they spend that money on?

    Not B.J. Raji, according to Rapoport. The Packers defensive tackle doesn't possess the pass-rush ability the Packers desperately lack up front. Longtime nose tackle Ryan Pickett is likely out at age 34 as well.

    Longtime Packers who just aren't producing well enough to re-up include tight end Jermichael Finley, running back James Starks, center Evan Dietrich-Smith and receiver James Jones.

    Cornerback Sam Shields will likely be looking for the kind of big-time money Green Bay just paid corner Tramon Williams, and it seems unlikely the Packers will bite. Instead, they'll likely bolster the defensive line with players like versatile big man Linval Joseph and fix the gaping hole in the back of their defense with a coverage-first safety like Chris Clemons.

Houston Texans

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    Approximate Cap Room, per Spotrac.com: $9,221,766

    Free Agents: 16

    Tagged Players: None 

    Key Free Agents Likely to Stay: DE Antonio Smith

    Key Free Agents Likely to Leave: RB Ben Tate, G Wade Smith, TE Garrett Graham

    Key Targets: RB Andre Brown, S Donte Whitner

     

    Houston Texans fans dealing with the calamitous one-season fall from Super Bowl contender to No. 1 overall pick-holder aren't going to find much comfort in free agency. Per Mike Wells of ESPN.com, the Texans aren't in a cap or roster position to make a splash.

    There's little question that it's time for running back Ben Tate to step out of starter Arian Foster's shadow, and the Texans are already paying Foster very well. Andre Brown could provide the size and punch needed to complement Foster without breaking the bank.

    After signing safety Ed Reed—one of the most disastrous free-agent moves of recent memory—and cutting him in the middle of the season, the Texans could use a hard-hitting backstop like Donte Whitner.

    Tight end Graham Garrett was a valuable part of the Texans' three-man rotation at that position, but he's likely to do very well in a free-agent class that has very few talented tight ends.

    Above all, though, the Texans need to solve their quarterback problem. That could mean signing a veteran like Mike Vick or Josh McCown, but it's far more likely the Texans draft a rookie like Blake Bortles or Teddy Bridgewater No. 1 overall, release Matt Schaub and look for a scrapheap veteran backup.

Indianapolis Colts

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Approximate Cap Room, per Spotrac.com: $40,907,029

    Free Agents: 25

    Tagged Players: None

    Key Free Agents Likely to Stay: PK Adam Vinatieri, P Pat McAfee

    Key Free Agents Likely to Leave: CB Vontae Davis, S Antoine Bethea, 

    Key Targets: WR Julian Edelman, CB Brandon Browner, CB Tarell Brown

     

    The Indianapolis Colts certainly "won" the 2013 free-agency period, if "winning" means getting tongues flapping and keyboards clicking. With an unorthodox strategy based around an aggressive pursuit of mid-level free agents, they filled out their depth chart with veterans.

    The strategy paid off, helping the Colts fight their way back to the playoffs for a second straight season. Now, can they build off of it?

    It looks as though the Colts have plenty of cap room, but big numbers coming up in 2015 and 2016 mean the team will be "prudent" and "fiscally sound" this spending period, as Colts general manager Ryan Grigson told media at the NFL combine.

    Step one is figuring out what to do with star cornerback Vontae Davis, who could fetch an extremely high price. Colts head coach Chuck Pagano told 1070 The Fan (h/t Kevin Bowen of Colts.com) that the Colts "have a plan" for Davis, but so far, that plan hasn't translated to keeping him around.

    If the Colts keep Davis, it likely means letting safety Antoine Bethea walk. If they let Davis get paid elsewhere, they could actually afford to upgrade Bethea's spot, as well as shop for a bargain cornerback like Brandon Browner.

    Step two is crafting a short- and medium-term strategy for fixing the wide receiver corps. T.Y. Hilton's effectiveness dramatically declined when Reggie Wayne went out with a season-ending injury, and "bargain" free agent Darrius Heyward-Bey was a bust. 

    Will the Colts make a play for a route-runner to complement Hilton, someone like Julian Edelman? Or will they target a big speedster in the draft? Perhaps they'll try to do both.

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Approximate Cap Room, per Spotrac.com: $59,338,624

    Free Agents: 17

    Tagged Players: None 

    Key Free Agents Likely to Stay: QB Chad Henne

    Key Free Agents Likely to Leave: RB Maurice Jones-Drew 

    Key Targets: OG Evan Dietrich-Smith, CB Brandon Browner, CB Walter Thurmond, DT Clinton McDonald

     

    Before the Jacksonville Jaguars do anything else this offseason, they have to define their quarterback strategy going forward. Will they—as they should—give up on Blaine Gabbert? What about Chad Henne? Will they sign a veteran to start, to back up or neither? Will they draft a quarterback with their No. 3 overall pick?

    Vito Stellino of The Florida Times-Union reported that the Jaguars have already approached Henne's representatives about opening talks on a new contract, which would fit with a strategy of moving on from Gabbert and drafting a rookie early.

    It's also time to let Maurice Jones-Drew find a new home. The Jaguars can't protect any quarterback with a runner who's averaging 3.4 yards per carry, as he did in 2013. Even if Jones-Drew has anything left inside him, the Jaguars don't have the offensive line to wring it out.

    Letting guard Uche Nwaneri walk frees up some cap room and reinforces the need to bolster the offensive line. A veteran with some gas left in the tank, like Evan Dietrich-Smith, could help patch things up.

    Of course, it's hard to write about the Jaguars without pointing out that head coach Gus Bradley was the Seattle Seahawks' defensive coordinator in 2012. Seattle defenders like cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond, plus defensive linemen like Michael Bennett and Clinton McDonald, could be interested in a reunion with Bradley.

Kansas City Chiefs

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    Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    Approximate Cap Room, per Spotrac.com: $9,792,443

    Free Agents: 16

    Tagged Players: None 

    Key Free Agents Likely to Stay: G Geoff Schwartz, LB Akeem Jordan

    Key Free Agents Likely to Leave: OT Branden Albert, G Jon Asamoah, DE Tyson Jackson, CB Dunta Robinson

    Key Targets: DE Arthur Jones, S Donte Whitner

     

    When the Kansas City Chiefs drafted athletic tackle Eric Fisher No. 1 overall in 2013, it signaled that Branden Albert would surely be moving on. The tackle will be one of the top, if not the top, pass protectors available in free agency; that's money the Chiefs can't afford to match.

    They will need to keep Akeem Jordan at inside linebacker, though, and surprise 2013 midseason pickup guard Geoff Schwartz. If the Chiefs do manage to keep both, that might mean guard Jon Asamoah hits the market.

    The Chiefs have started negotiations with end Tyson Jackson, as Jackson told SiriusXM Sports, but if they can't come to terms, Arthur Jones would be a perfect replacement.

    With what little cap room they'd then have left, the they'd be wise to pursue either an impact cornerback or impact safety. They may have to simply draft rookies to start in the secondary.

    Finally, working on a long-term extension for pass-rusher Justin Houston must be on the Chiefs' radar.

Miami Dolphins

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    Ed Zurga/Associated Press

    Approximate Cap Room, per Spotrac.com: $34,611,214

    Free Agents: 19

    Tagged Players: None

    Key Free Agents Likely to Stay: None

    Key Free Agents Likely to Leave: G Richie Incognito, G John Jerry, OT Tyson Clabo, DT Randy Starks, DT Paul Soliai, S Chris Clemons

    Key Targets: OT Branden Albert, OG Evan Dietrich-Smith

     

    It's almost impossible to overstate how badly the Miami Dolphins need help at offensive line. Left tackle Jonathan Martin and guards Richie Incognito and John Jerry are persona non grata in the wake of the oft-discussed bullying scandal.

    Combined with the massively disappointing play of tackle Tyson Clabo, the Dolphins have no viable starting linemen under contract beyond center Mike Pouncey. They repeatedly tried to trade for Branden Albert in 2013, per NFL Media's Gregg Rosenthal, and there's no reason to believe they won't be first in line for his services in 2014.

    As badly as they need offensive line help, they need defensive line help almost as much. Though it seems unthinkable the Dolphins would let both of their excellent defensive tackles, Randy Starks and Paul Soliai, go, there's little evidence either is close to signing in Miami.

    Middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson has already visited Miami, per NFL Media's Ian Rapoport (via NFL Media's Chris Wesseling). South Florida native safety Louis Delmas has visited too, according to Armando Salguero of The Miami Herald.

    Fortunately for the Dolphins, they managed to lock up surprise Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes to a multiyear deal well before he hit the market.

Minnesota Vikings

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    Approximate Cap Room, per Spotrac.com: $37,031,238

    Free Agents: 19

    Tagged Players: None 

    Key Free Agents Likely to Stay: QB Matt Cassel, DE Everson Griffen, DT Fred Evans, WR Jerome Simpson, CB Chris Cook

    Key Free Agents Likely to Leave: DE Jared Allen, RB Toby Gerhart

    Key Targets: CB Alterraun Verner

     

    The Minnesota Vikings have to sort out their quarterback situation first. Though Matt Cassel hardly lit the world on fire during his time in Minnesota, he outperformed the surely doomed Christian Ponder and the woefully mismanaged Josh Freeman. If the Vikings hang on to both Cassel and Ponder, they'll still be able to pick a quarterback high in the draft, but they won't have to.

    The Vikings have plenty of cap room, but there aren't a lot of high-impact player available at their biggest need positions. Given their rebuilding status, it may be best to go hard after one foundational player, like cornerback Alterraun Verner, and let veterans like Jared Allen and Toby Gerhart leave.

    With aggressive draft strategies and the maturation of 2013's first rounders, the 2014 season could position the Vikings to buy like crazy with rolled-over cap room in 2015.

     

New England Patriots

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    Eric Risberg/Associated Press

    Approximate Cap Room, per Spotrac.com: $12,699,255

    Free Agents: 14

    Tagged Players: None 

    Key Free Agents Likely to Stay: None

    Key Free Agents Likely to Leave: RB LeGarrette BlountWR Julian Edelman, LB Brandon Spikes, CB Aqib Talib

    Key Targets: WR Hakeem Nicks, WR Eric Decker, DT Paul Soliai

     

    By now, nobody should pretend they know what Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots are going to do with their roster. However, the players whose Patriots contracts are expiring will probably have to seek their fortunes elsewhere.

    Blount and Talib are classic Belichick reclamation projects—the kind he seems to think he can make more of whenever he wants. Edelman is just the latest in a long string of questionably talented receivers Tom Brady has made look good.

    Soliai of the Miami Dolphins would be a perfect replacement for fading nose tackle Vince Wilfork, Nicks fits the reclamation-project mold and Decker's name is on here as much for irony's sake as anything else (though he would fit into the Patriots offense quite nicely). 

    Finally, there's the tight end thing. It's important to remember that the Patriots ran a lot of two-tight end sets recently because they had two good tight ends. With Aaron Hernandez in jail and Rob Gronkowski unable to stay healthy, the Patriots will surely look for a good tight end, but they won't break the bank just so they can have two good tight ends.

New Orleans Saints

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    Approximate Cap Room, per Spotrac.com: $1,567,990

    Free Agents: 19

    Tagged Players: TE Jimmy Graham (franchise, non-exclusive)

    Key Free Agents Likely to Stay: LB Parys Haralson

    Key Free Agents Likely to Leave: OT Zach Strief, OC Brian de la Puente, S Malcolm Jenkins

    Key Targets: WR Jerome Simpson, CB Tarell Brown, S Louis Delmas

     

    The most important deal got done, in a sense, when the New Orleans Saints franchise-tagged All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham. Though any number of things can happen from here, the Saints at least won't be losing Graham for nothing.

    Linebacker Parys Haralson was a nice surprise in 2013 before he tore a pectoral muscle in the playoffs. He seems likely to come back.

    Per Larry Holder of The Times-Picayune, safety Malcolm Jenkins is a good fit with the Saints on and off the field—but the market for safeties is hot, and, per Holder, former Lions safety Louis Delmas already visited the Saints.

    Brian de la Puente is practically the only center of note to come free this season; with no dominant center prospect in this year's draft, he's likely to find a team who'll pay him more than New Orleans. Same goes for Strief, who, per Holder, would like to stay in town—but for whom the market will just be too rich to ignore.

New York Giants

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Approximate Cap Room, per Spotrac.com: $18,127,186

    Free Agents: 26

    Tagged Players: None 

    Key Free Agents Likely to Stay: LB Jon Beason, FB Henry Hynoski, S Stevie Brown

    Key Players Likely to Leave: RB Andre Brown, WR Hakeem Nicks, DT Linval Joseph, DE Justin Tuck

    Possible Targets: RB Knowshon Moreno, RB Ben Tate

     

    Many things went wrong for the New York Giants in 2013, not the least of which was a running attack that got off track. With injured tailback David Wilson's status still up in the air and free agent Andre Brown likely to look for a change of scenery, Ebenezer Samuel of the New York Daily News says the Giants will be aggressive in the running back market.

    After that, the Giants' free-agent outlook is hazy. Free-agent fullback Henry Hynoski will likely be back, and rehabbing safety Stevie Brown will likely get another shot in New York after snagging eight interceptions in 2012.

    Jordan Raanan of NJ.com reported linebacker Jon Beason is the focus of the Giants' re-signing efforts, while fan-friendly defensive end Justin Tuck hasn't yet been offered a deal to return.

    The Giants' biggest battle will be for Linval Joseph, whose size and versatile tools will attract a lot of buyers—more, perhaps, than the Giants can outbid.

New York Jets

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Approximate Cap Room, per Spotrac.com: $23,328,583

    Free Agents: 22

    Tagged Players: PK Nick Folk (franchise, non-exclusive)

    Key Free Agents Likely to Stay: LB Calvin Pace

    Key Free Agents Likely to Leave: OG Vladimir Ducasse, TE Kellen Winslow

    Key Targets: QB Michael Vick, WR Emmanuel Sanders, WR Golden Tate, TE Scott Chandler

     

    There's good news and bad news for the New York Jets. The bad news is that they've got a ton of expiring contracts. The good news is that most of the players signed to those contracts weren't helping much.

    Also, the cap figure at the top of the page doesn't account for several likely cuts (such as Mark Sanchez and Antonio Cromartie) that would free up much more room.

    It's no secret which side of the ball needs more help on this franchise—it's the offense—and it's no secret that the Jets are looking to add several new wide receivers this offseason, per Seth Walder of the New York Daily News. The Jets will have the cash to go after at least one top veteran receiver and will likely draft another.

    To get them the ball, disappointing second-year quarterback Geno Smith will still be around, but don't be surprised if the Jets splash some of that cash on a starting-caliber veteran to push him—or push him back to the bench. The Jets have a very good defense, and a quick turnaround of the passing game could make them contenders.

    The only possible departure that would hurt the starting lineup is pass-rusher Calvin Pace, who had a 10-sack renaissance in 2013. There is mutual interest, per Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, but the 33-year-old Pace will likely want to capitalize on what might be his last 10-sack season with a multiyear deal.

Oakland Raiders

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    Approximate Cap Room, per Spotrac.com: $64,982,921

    Free Agents: 17

    Tagged Players: None 

    Key Free Agents Likely to Stay: RB Rashad Jennings, CB Tracy Porter

    Key Free Agents Likely to Leave: OT Jared Veldheer, RB Darren McFadden, DE Lamarr Houston

    Key Targets: QB Josh Freeman, WR Emmanuel Sanders

     

    General manager Reggie McKenzie scraped by last season, with a huge amount of dead money preventing him from making waves. Now, he's sitting on a mountain of live money and he knows what to do with it.

    "Biggest need?" McKenzie rhetorically asked Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group. "We have biggest needs, with an 's,' " McKenzie said. "We're going to attack it. I don't care if it's the waiver wire, an unrestricted guy, the trade, the draft, we're going to upgrade this team in any way."

    Having already re-signed offensive lineman Khalif Barnes, McKenzie will have to re-up key players like left tackle Jared Veldheer and defensive end Lamarr Houston—both of whom will have no shortage of suitors if the Raiders let them hit the market.

    Veldheer has already expressed frustration to Scott Bair of CSNBayArea.com that his cap-rich team didn't make an early push to keep him. Houston told Bair he thinks the Raiders want a defensive end that will better fit the system.

    Offensively, the Raiders will likely give up on oft-injured running back Darren McFadden and re-sign breakout replacement Rashad Jennings. After that, the Raiders will likely have their pick of receivers and sign a quarterback who can push Terrelle Pryor—but not too hard.

Philadelphia Eagles

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    Approximate Cap Room, per Spotrac.com: $29,149,200

    Free Agents: 10

    Tagged Players: None

    Key Free Agents Likely to Stay: S Nate Allen

    Key Free Agents Likely to Leave: QB Michael Vick, S Kurt Coleman

    Key Targets: S T.J. Ward, S Jairus Byrd

     

    After being the undisputed talk of the NFL town for the entire 2013 offseason, things will be relatively quiet in the Novacare Complex this spring.

    Though it would suit the Philadelphia Eagles just fine to keep him around in case starter Nick Foles stumbles onto some Kryptonite, backup Michael Vick is the best quarterback in a very weak free-agent class. He'll surely go somewhere else and start.

    Philadelphia will take another crack at revamping its secondary, likely by letting Kurt Coleman walk and making a play for one of the top free-agent safeties, like T.J. Ward or Jairus Byrd.

    The Eagles already secured their future on the offensive line by locking up left tackle Jason Peters to a multiyear contract. They also addressed their need at No. 2 receiver by re-signing rehabbing Jeremy Maclin to a one-year deal, though they may well look to draft his eventual replacement.

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Don Wright/Associated Press

    Approximate Cap Room, per Spotrac.com: $-1,042,074

    Free Agents: 21

    Tagged Players: LB Jason Worilds (transition)

    Key Free Agents Likely to Stay: WR Jerricho Cotchery, DE Brett Keisel, DE Ziggy Hood

    Key Free Agents Likely to Leave: WR Emmanuel Sanders, S Ryan Clark

    Key Targets: S Louis Delmas

     

    With the transition tag tender to Jason Worilds—and his surprisingly quick signature of it—the Pittsburgh Steelers didn't clear the three-man logjam at outside linebacker (which includes LaMarr Woodley and Jarvis Jones). This could set up the eventual departure of Woodley, who's struggled to live up to his contract.

    Speaking of big contracts, the Steelers will have "terminations, restructures and extensions" to do to get under the cap, according to general manager Kevin Colbert, via Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

    As arguably the top free-agent receiver, Emmanuel Sanders is certainly gone; there's no way the Steelers will be able to top the money being thrown around by this year's big spenders. Nevertheless, the team should be fine with Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton and the likely-to-be-re-signed Jerricho Cotchery.

    Though the Steelers won't be making many buys, they did host safety Louis Delmas, per Scott Brown of ESPN.com. He'd likely replace Ryan Clark, who, at 34, seems to be at the end of the road.

San Diego Chargers

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Approximate Cap Room, per Spotrac.com: $7,466,336

    Free Agents: 15

    Tagged Players: None 

    Key Free Agents Likely to Stay: CB Richard Marshall, ST Darrell Stuckey

    Key Free Agents Likely to Leave: WR Danario Alexander

    Key Targets: OG Jon Asamoah, WR Golden Tate, WR James Jones

     

    The San Diego Chargers don't figure to lose many key pieces, especially after re-signing key inside linebacker Donald Butler to a seven-year deal, but they don't have a ton of room to wiggle. 

    Receiver Danario Alexander would be a great complement to breakout sophomore Keenan Allen, but Alexander is dealing with "major complications" from knee surgery, according to Alex Marvez of Fox Sports, and he is also a free agent. A bargain free-agent receiver like James Jones could fit the bill, or they could try to make a play for Golden Tate.

    On the offensive line, the Chargers desperately need stability. Though Asamoah is going to be a hot ticket, a pass protector like him (veteran or rookie) should be target for San Diego.

    Special teams gunner and captain Darrell Stuckey should be back.

    Richard Marshall wasn't a fan favorite last season—and with good reason: He graded 101st out of 110 qualifying cornerbacks, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). That said, he'll provide a cheap insurance policy in case a worthy rookie can't be drafted or a better cornerback can't be signed.

San Francisco 49ers

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Approximate Cap Room, per Spotrac.com: $10,021,111

    Free Agents: 12

    Tagged Players: None 

    Key Free Agents Likely to Stay: PK Phil Dawson

    Key Free Agents Likely to Leave: WR Mario Manningham, C Jonathan Goodwin, CB Tarell Brown, S Donte Whitner

    Key Targets: CB Walter Thurmond

     

    "Pay the man," San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh said in December when asked about kicker Phil Dawson, per Eric Branch of SFGate.com.

    With Jets kicker Nick Folk franchised and Panthers kicker Graham Gano re-signed, Dawson has the 49ers right where he wants them. He could be the only major free agent the 49ers retain, though.

    With star receiver Anquan Boldin already re-signed, Jonathan Goodwin likely to be supplanted by Daniel Kilgore, per Branch, and cornerback Tarell Brown and safety Donte Whitner likely to be paid handsomely in free agency, the 49ers will just have to lean on rookies and depth.

    Fortunately, no team has better depth—or more picks to play with—than San Francisco. 

    Just as they did in 2013, expect the 49ers to do a deft job of addressing their few needs. A bargain cornerback with a chip on his shoulder, like outgoing Seattle Seahawk Walter Thurmond, would do nicely.

Seattle Seahawks

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Approximate Cap Room, per Spotrac.com: $16,042,553

    Free Agents: 20

    Tagged Players: None 

    Key Free Agents Likely to Stay: WR Doug Baldwin, TE Anthony McCoy

    Key Free Agents Likely to Leave: WR Golden Tate, OT Breno Giacomini, DT Clinton McDonald, DE Michael Bennett, CB Walter Thurmond, CB Brandon Browner 

    Key Targets: CB Captain Munnerlyn


    Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider has his work cut out for him. A whole host of key starters and rotational players from his Super Bowl-winning squad are ready to cash in on their success.

    Players like defensive end Michael Bennett and cornerback Walter Thurmond are proven younger veterans who play premium positions with thin free-agent crops. They'll likely command more than Schneider can spend. Seattle also could lose right tackle Breno Giacomini to a higher bidder.

    The Seahawks' top three receivers are all unsigned; I'd expect Schneider to prioritize Baldwin, but Tate will likely sign elsewhere.

    The good news is that Schneider has been one of the most clever diamond-in-the-rough extractors over the past few seasons. Not only should he be able to snag an instant-impact rookie or two, he may well uncover a few bargains as well.

    Captain Munnerlyn doesn't fit the typical Seahawks cornerback profile, but with most teams outbidding each other to copy that very profile, he could be a value pickup to replace Thurmond in the slot.

St. Louis Rams

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    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    Approximate Cap Room, per Spotrac.com: $10,522,229

    Free Agents: 11

    Tagged Players: None

    Key Free Agents Likely to Stay: OT Rodger Saffold

    Key Free Agents Likely to Leave: None

    Possible Targets: CB Alterraun Verner, S Jairus Byrd, S Donte Whitner


    There are only so many starting-caliber left tackles in the NFL, and the St. Louis Rams aren't looking to let theirs go any time soon. With the Rams having a young roster and a little bit of cap money to throw around, it's no wonder Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reports talks between the Rams and Saffold are "intensifying."

    The Rams are dead-set on competing in the cutthroat NFC West, and improving their secondary with a physical corner like Alterraun Verner or a two-way safety like Jairus Byrd would be huge. However, they will be going head-to-head with teams that have money to burn for those two.

    Look for a safety like Donte Whitner or Antoine Bethea to get a more modest deal in St. Louis but still have plenty of impact.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Approximate Cap Room, per Spotrac.com: $18,791,710

    Free Agents: 24

    Tagged Players: None

    Key Free Agents Likely to Stay: FB Erik Lorig, C Ted Larsen, DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, LB Jonathan Casillas, LB Dekoda Watson, LB/ST Adam Hayward, PK Rian Lindell, LS Andrew Economos

    Key Free Agents Likely to Leave: None

    Possible Targets: OT Eugene Monroe, DE Jared Allen, DE Michael Johnson, KR Devin Hester

     

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers need to improve in the same two areas every NFL team always wants to improve in: pass rush and pass protection.

    The free-agent pickings are slim in the pass-rush side of the ball, and top defensive end Michael Johnson will have plenty of suitors.

    A nice fallback plan might be Jared Allen, likely a cap casualty in Minnesota. He, of course, played under new Buccaneers defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. Allen isn't the every-down monster he used to be, but he can still put pressure on the quarterback when called upon.

    Speaking of reuniting, likely Chicago Bears cap casualty Devin Hester could be heading south given his well-known fondness for new Bucs head coach Lovie Smith. He meets a Bucs need at returner.

    On the protection side, Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun reports the Bucs will "go after" left tackle Eugene Monroe, who was Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) highest-graded left tackle set to be a free agent.

Tennessee Titans

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Approximate Cap Room, per Spotrac.com: $13,006,953

    Free Agents: 13

    Tagged Players: None

    Key Free Agents Likely to Stay: RB/KR Leon Washington, OL Michael Otto

    Key Players Likely to Leave: WR Kenny Britt, C Robert Turner, CB Alterraun Verner

    Possible Targets: WR Jacoby Jones, C Jonathan Goodwin, DT B.J. Raji

     

    Re-signing strong safety Bernard Pollard before he hit free agency was a coup, but new Tennessee Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt needs a lot more pieces in place before his preferred 3-4 defense can be installed.

    One of those pieces, of course, should be second team All-Pro cornerback Alterraun Verner, but Verner's going to command a hefty price on the open market. And he told Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean he won't "be a fool" and accept a "super-small" contract.

    Though it's always hard to project how defensive linemen will do in a new alignment, it's hard to see beastly defensive tackle Jurrell Casey failing to catch on as a 3-4 defensive end. Still, an anchoring nose tackle like B.J. Raji could make a huge difference to defensive coordinator Ray Horton.

    It's hard to see the Titans keeping Kenny Britt around. After the mercurial receiver again failed to reach his once-great potential in 2013, most of his value is in name recognition. A bargain speedster like Jacoby Jones could help keep defenses honest in 2014.

Washington Redskins

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    Approximate Cap Room, per Spotrac.com: $20,383,235

    Free Agents: 21

    Tagged Players: LB Brian Orakpo (franchise, non-exclusive)

    Key Free Agents Likely to Stay: LB Perry Riley Jr.

    Key Players Likely to Leave: DE Adam Carriker

    Possible Targets: DL Linval Joseph, DE Arthur Jones, CB Aqib Talib, S Donte Whitner

     

    Finally out from under the oppressive weight of NFL-imposed salary cap penalties, general manager Bruce Allen has a few coins to rub together. Franchise-tagging pass-rusher Brian Orakpo was a smart move; very few replacements will be available in free agency—and as always, Washington is running with a deficit of draft picks.

    Inside linebacker London Fletcher is retiring, and Washington has no depth there. Perry Riley Jr. is not a world-beater, but if the team lets him go, it's hard to see Washington finding a player of equal quality in this market.

    Defensive ends Adam Carriker and Stephen Bowen haven't been producing in line with their salaries of late, so it wouldn't surprise if either were let go. Arthur Jones would be a nice fit, but, as Greg Bedard of Sports Illustrated suggested, stealing Linval Joseph from the division-rival New York Giants would be an even bigger coup.

    Though Allen tried to reload the secondary with a brace of rookie safeties in 2013 (Phillip Thomas, Bacarri Rambo), an impact veteran would go a long way to stabilizing the defense. Washington re-signed feast-or-famine cornerback DeAngelo Hall, but upgrading to a steady veteran like Aqib Talib would also help out the struggling Washington pass rush.

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