Free agency is nearly upon us, with the market officially opening at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, March 9. After that? The 2016 NFL Draft, taking place in Chicago over the last three days of April. So, yes, 'tis the season for roster reconstruction!
With that in mind, Gregg Rosenthal provides three big needs for each NFC team (listed in alphabetical order). Click the AFC tab below for Chris Wesseling's take on the team needs in the other conference.
The Cardinals boast a loaded roster, but the team was too reliant on manufacturing pressure with blitzes. They need more defenders who can win one-on-one matchups, whether as a rush linebacker or defensive end. Their defensive line was effective, but it has no young impact players. The starting spot opposite Patrick Peterson at cornerback is also up for grabs, with Jerraud Powers headed for free agency.
The Falcons don't need to be picky. There aren't many positions outside of quarterback and running back they couldn't use help at, and that's especially true on defense. They have a lot of part-time players in the linebacker group. Their defensive ends are either run-stoppers who can't get pressure (Tyson Jackson) or pass-rush specialists who need to bulk up (last year's top pick, Vic Beasley). The offensive line looked much better in coordinator Kyle Shanahan's first year with the team, except for at center.
Cam Newton makes the players around him better, but the Panthers risk relying on that maxim too much. The team can't count on Michael Oher and Mike Remmers to hold down the tackle spots again next year, and the skill positions (wide receiver, running back) could use more depth. On defense, the cornerbacks not named Josh Norman were noticed for the wrong reasons late in the season. Stalwart defensive end Charles Johnsonwas released Thursday, making it more pressing for general manager Dave Gettleman to find another hog molly on the outside to replace him. Gettleman is in an enviable position, because none of his needs are too pressing. He can draft with patience.
It would be easier to list the positions the Bearsdon't need to fill, because the roster has turned over so quickly. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio still needs a couple of starters at defensive end, while also wanting pass rushers and inside help at linebacker. Tracy Porter is one of three free agents at cornerback; the position is down to Kyle Fuller and little else. The Bears should essentially sign and draft talent on defense wherever they can. Their whole team is a need.
Counting on Darren McFadden -- who appeared in 16 games for just the second time in his eight-year career -- to run well and stay healthy again is the type of gamble Jerry Jones doubles down on too often. There is no depth in the backfield behind McFadden. Cornerback Brandon Carr, a haunting ghost of Jones' free agency past, looks likely to get cut, opening up a hole in a mediocre secondary. The defensive line could quickly go from a strength to a weakness. Randy Gregory is facing a four-game suspension to start the season. Greg Hardy and Jeremy Mincey are free agents, while DeMarcus Lawrence is coming off back surgery. The team's second best defensive tackle is ... Nick Hayden? Despite all this, the Cowboys may be compelled -- Jones' denials aside -- to use the No. 4 overall pick on a quarterback, because their franchise player has broken his collarbone three times and it's not healing quickly. Fun times!
Once the defining strength of the team, the Lions' defensive line is awfully thin. Nearly 2,000 snaps spread across four players are slated to leave via free agency, including Haloti Ngata -- re-signing Tyrunn Walker is just a start. The entire offensive line needs help, especially at right tackle. And each potential move is complicated by Calvin Johnson's possible retirement. The Lions say they won't pressure Megatron for a decision, meaning they may have to fit his huge cap number on the roster next week even though he won't play again. First-time GM Bob Quinn essentially has to pass his first test without even knowing the questions.
Rumors floated around the NFL Scouting Combine that GM Ted Thompson might dip his toe back into free agency this year after reports that coach Mike McCarthy pined for a more aggressive approach. Moving Clay Matthews back to outside linebacker doesn't solve the team's need for pass rushers by itself, and it opens up a hole on the inside. Green Bay's roster is in solid condition otherwise, although the team needs a swing tackle, and re-signing B.J. Raji would solve their nose tackle spot.
Despite the Rams brass bending over backwards to sell Case Keenum as a viable option, the team's quarterback situation could be the worst in football. It doesn't help that the wide receiver group has been an albatross around GM Les Snead's cascading mane. The defense has some top-shelf players, but there's also a lack of depth everywhere but at cornerback and defensive tackle. Robert Quinn is the only real NFL defensive end on the roster, and there is a huge hole at linebacker, unless they re-sign Mark Barron.
Minnesota has two big-money tackles (Matt Kalil, Phil Loadholt) under contract for 2016, but they aren't guaranteed to keep their jobs. Teddy Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson need help up front any way they can find it. Speaking at the NFL Scouting Combine, coach Mike Zimmer bemoaned the lack of a partner at safety to pair with Harrison Smith. Former Bengal George Illoka would make a lot of sense. After swinging and missing in last year's trade for receiver Mike Wallace, the Vikings could be looking for help at that position on the market.
The talent gap between Cameron Jordan and the rest of the Saints' defensive line last season was the size of Lake Pontchartrain. Help is needed inside and out. The Saints hope 2015 rookies Stephone Anthony and Hau'oli Kikaha can stall the spinning wheel of linebackers in New Orleans, but more work is required there. The team also needs more bodies at cornerback, with Brandon Browner leaving. The risk here is that the Saints are forever fixing the defense, allowing their once-dominant offense to slowly decay.
Take one of the worst-performing, least-talented defenses in football, then subtract many of their best players. That's what GM Jerry Reese has to deal with this offseason in New York. (Remember: It was all Tom Coughlin's fault.) With Jason Pierre-Paul, Robert Ayers and Cullen Jenkins headed for free agency, the Giants are starting from scratch at defensive end. Their linebackers, aside from Devon Kennard, wouldn't play for most teams. New York is also thin in the secondary and should monitor depth at wide receiver, with Victor Cruz's future up in the air. (But remember: It was all Tom Coughlin's fault!)
This is a strong roster overall, with the defensive talent looking well-suited to run coordinator Jim Schwartz's defense. Still, with Nolan Carroll hitting free agency, they have little depth at cornerback and could need a starting safety to replace Walter Thurmond, who is also bound for the market. The team hasn't drafted an offensive lineman since 2013 and could use an eventual replacement for left tackle Jason Peters. After splurging to re-sign key players -- defensive end Vinny Curry,safety Malcolm Jenkinsand quarterback Sam Bradford -- GM Howie Roseman doesn't need any position too desperately. (He's also in the enviable position of picking players again after being banished during the Chip Kelly era.)
New coach Chip Kelly and GM Trent Baalke shouldn't fool themselves. This roster needs help on both sides of the ball, so they shouldn't be picky when looking for value. We focused mostly on offense, as quarterback Colin Kaepernickwants out of town. Torrey Smith is stretched as a No. 1 receiver and there isn't anyone close to a No. 2 on the roster. The interior offensive line also looks like a trouble spot, with Alex Boone likely to leave via free agency.
Perhaps the toughest team of the decade needs to get tougher up front on both sides of the ball. Seattle has two offensive line starters (tackle Russell Okung and guard J.R. Sweezy) headed for free agency, and question marks remain on the roster. GM John Schneider has not been able to find consistent blocking for Russell Wilson, and Seattle has to be concerned about the running game, with only Thomas Rawls and Christine Michael returning. Nose tackle Brandon Mebane may finally be done stopping runs for Seattle's defense, while fellow starter Ahtyba Rubin is also headed for the open market.
The Bucs' defensive end spot is turning into the NFC equivalent of Cleveland's quarterback position, annually among the league's worst. It's hard to find a less imposing pass rush. The cornerback position is unsettled after the team's bigger names, Alterraun Verner and Johnthan Banks, lost playing time late last season. The safety position isn't much better, so first-time head coach Dirk Koetter shouldn't expect a lot of immediate help for his offense.
The Redskins are like a baseball team that is weak up the middle. Their top two nose tackles, including last year's free-agent pickup Terrance Knighton, are free agents. All the inside linebackers they tried last year were underwhelming, although Perry Riley should be back. They also need a starting center. GM Scot McCloughan is only in Year 2 of his quest to make this team bigger and tougher.