Back to work
For the 20 teams not in the midst of game-planning for the NFL playoffs, the offseason officially commenced on New Year's Day. Here's an early team-by-team look at the most pressing issues facing the clubs who have already packed it in:
Arizona -- Round up the usual suspects. The Cardinals have another coaching search to conduct. Dennis Green is out, but the status quo batted .500, because VP of football operations Rod Graves was given a contract extension. Early rumors have Arizona eyeing Tennessee offensive coordinator Norm Chow. On the field, the offensive line will get heavy attention. Tackle Leonard Davis will be allowed to walk in free agency, and the Cards would love it if Wisconsin tackle Joe Thomas lingers to No. 5.
Atlanta -- The Falcons coaching search will dominate the earliest days of the offseason, and then whomever they tap will set the course for the rest of it. Presumably, finding a way to best utilize Michael Vick's talents will again be at the top of the priority list, along with balancing out an offense that finished first in rushing and last in passing. Securing some consistency at receiver is a must if Vick is ever going to arrive as a top-shelf NFL passer.
Buffalo -- The Bills showed improvement in Dick Jauron's first season, but there are many deficiencies to address. Finding a run-stuffing defensive tackle to consistently hold the point of attack is job one. The Bills have to get bigger up front after giving up 141 yards rushing per game, and will likely let middle linebacker London Fletcher reach free agency. Running back Willis McGahee wants a contract extension, but he didn't do enough to earn one in 2006. Quarterback J.P. Losman could use another receiving threat to go with Lee Evans.
Carolina -- The Panthers' underachievement this season will spawn change, and that may start with the departure of offensive coordinator Dan Henning, who presided over a unit that finished last in the crucial category of third-down conversions (31.1 percent). Carolina might also bid farewell to defensive end Mike Rucker due to age and injuries, and can't be sure if it can count on linebacker Dan Morgan to return from his latest concussion. At quarterback, another veteran to either back up or compete with Jake Delhomme is needed.
Cincinnati -- The Bengals' .500 finish was a huge disappointment, and for the first time in his four-year tenure, coach Marvin Lewis will enter an offseason with increasing pressure coming to bear on him. The team's lack of off-field discipline has been a public-relations disaster, and on field, the defense is desperate for a leader and play-maker to build around. Look for Cincy to pursue a big-name free agent like linebacker Adalius Thomas as the centerpiece of its personnel upgrades.
Cleveland -- Browns owner Randy Lerner will decide the fate of coach Romeo Crennel in the coming days, but if Crennel returns, part of the deal will likely include changes to his staff. A veteran offensive coordinator could be sought to replace Jeff Davidson, and assistants Terry Robiskie and Ben Coates could be on their way out as well. Cleveland's offensive line is a mess, and the team should be a player in the veteran quarterback market, with Charlie Frye far from entrenched.
Denver -- The shooting death of cornerback Darrent Williams got the Broncos offseason off to a shocking start, and now Denver has a very unexpected need to fill in its secondary. With Jay Cutler in place at quarterback, Jake Plummer will leave to seek a starting opportunity elsewhere. With Rod Smith's game declining, the Broncos require some much-needed receiving help for Javon Walker.
Detroit -- The early read is that the Lions won't spend their No. 2 draft pick on a quarterback, sticking with veteran Jon Kitna, who threw for more than 4,200 yards this season. But Detroit is in the market for an impact runner, given Kevin Jones' iffy availability with a left foot injury. Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson might fit the bill at No. 2, as could Wisconsin offensive tackle Joe Thomas. As for GM Matt Millen, his job is apparently safe for a seventh season, 24-72 record and all.
Green Bay -- Here we go again: The Brett Favre Retirement Watch, take three, is underway. The Packers believe it'll be a relatively quick process this time around, but nobody can hold the sports world hostage like No. 4. In the meantime, finding a replacement for departed offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski rises to front-burner status for coach Mike McCarthy. Two possible successors are on staff: quarterbacks coach Tom Clements and offensive line coach Joe Philbin.
Houston -- Whether or not the franchise will extend the David Carr era to a sixth season is the foremost question as 2007 begins. Coach Gary Kubiak and general manager Rick Smith are undecided if they'll keep Carr or shop him around the league with two years remaining on his contract. Identifying a No. 1 running back amid the crowd of contenders -- Ron Dayne, Wali Lundy, Chris Taylor, Domanick Davis -- is another priority.
Jacksonville -- Already facing an offseason quarterback decision, the Jaguars further complicated the issue on Sunday when coach Jack Del Rio benched starter David Garrard in the second half and inserted Quinn Gray, who played well. With Byron Leftwich potential trade bait and entering the last year of his contract, the Jags could let Garrard and Gray compete for the top job, or add a veteran passer. Running back Fred Taylor wants a new contract, and safety Deon Grant appears bound for free agency.
Miami -- Limbo is the official state of affairs in Miami, at least until coach Nick Saban decides whether he's staying put or 'Bama bound. Once that topic is put to rest, the Dolphins will again have quarterback questions to delve into. Can they count on Daunte Culpepper to return to form in '07, or could Joey Harrington or Cleo Lemon represent the immediate future? For their sake, the Dolphins hope Jason Taylor's retirement talk was just year-end fatigue.
Minnesota -- With Brad Johnson expected to be released, the Vikings will be in the market for a veteran quarterback to compete with the inexperienced Brooks Bollinger and Tavaris Jackson. Look for Minnesota to use its $23 million in anticipated cap room to pursue play-makers on offense, where receiver and tight end are obvious concerns. The club also could face a decision on safety Darren Sharper, who was replaced late in the team's regular-season finale.
Oakland -- The prize of owning the No. 1 draft pick should be used to address the Raiders' festering quarterback problems, and Notre Dame's Brady Quinn will be the name most often mentioned. But with just 12 offensive touchdowns scored in 2006, the offensive side of the ball has needs everywhere. If coach Art Shell returns for a second season, it'll be with a new offensive coordinator to replace John Shoop, who replaced Tom Walsh in November. Receiver Jerry Porter will be moved, and Randy Moss could follow him out the door.
Pittsburgh -- With the close of the Bill Cowher era expected any day now, the Steelers will have face their biggest offseason of change in 15 years. But the scope of the transition will be lessened if offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt or O-line coach Russ Grimm succeeds Cowher as is anticipated. The top personnel priorities will be improving an offensive line that got pushed around more than we're used to seeing, and jacking up a pass rush that disappeared at times in 2006.
San Francisco -- With that overtime upset at Denver, the 49ers finished the season looking like a team on its way up, but the piece of the puzzle still missing is a big-play receiver for quarterback Alex Smith to connect with. With almost $40 million of anticipated cap room, San Francisco should be able to find itself a pass-catcher in free agency. The defense is young and talented, but another pass-rush threat is needed in the front seven.
St. Louis -- The Rams reached respectability at 8-8 in 2006, but what they need to advance to the playoffs seems well-defined. The defensive line has to have a pass rusher to compliment end Leonard Little, and a run-stuffer at tackle is another necessity. On offense, extra receivers Kevin Curtis and Shaun McDonald are potential free agents and would need to be replaced if they do not return. Steven Jackson's season was a monster, but another back must be added given Stephen Davis's age and injury history.
Tampa Bay -- The Bucs quarterback situation will get the most attention from coach Jon Gruden. Though Chris Simms will return in 2007, he'll likely have competition for the starting job, whether it's added through the draft or in free agency. Tampa Bay owns four of the top 68 picks in the draft and has significant holes to fill at offensive tackle, and on defense, where the level of pass rush and play-making dropped precipitously this year after the unit finished No. 1 overall in 2005.
Tennessee -- The Titans could lose offensive coordinator Norm Chow to Arizona, which wants to interview him for its head coaching vacancy. Chow's work with rookie quarterback Vince Young was superb and losing him could represent a setback in Young's development. Also, general manager Floyd Reese's contract runs out in February, and there is no firm indication of his future status in light of Tennessee picking up coach Jeff Fisher's option for next season.
Washington -- Redskins coach Joe Gibbs has served notice that the franchise's way of doing thing is under review, and it's about time. Washington is considering the long overdue move of adding a general manager to oversee its personnel department, with an eye toward correcting the Redskins' penchant for making key mistakes in free agency. With Ladell Betts emerging as a No. 1 rushing option and signed to a long-term deal, Washington could choose to dangle Clinton Portis in trade talks.