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HOW WILL YOU TURN AROUND YOUR FRANCHISE?

Jan. 16, 2012
Jan. 16, 2012

Table of Contents
Jan. 16, 2012

LEADING OFF
GOLF PLUS
Inside: THE WEEK IN SPORTS
BCS CHAMPIONSHIP
NFL PLAYOFFS: AFC
NFL PLAYOFFS: NFC
COLLEGE BASKETBALL
POP HERRING
POINT AFTER
Departments

HOW WILL YOU TURN AROUND YOUR FRANCHISE?

For the 20 NFL teams that didn't make the playoffs, the off-season will still be plenty busy. Here are the priorities for each between now and the April 26--28 draft, in order of selection

1 | Indianapolis Colts

This is an article from the Jan. 16, 2012 issue

No matter who coaches this team, no matter who the general manager is, the Colts must use the first pick on one of the draft's two highest-rated QBs—Stanford's Andrew Luck or Baylor's Robert Griffin III. Peyton Manning will be 36 in March and is coming off three neck surgeries in two years.

2 | St. Louis Rams

They should ransom the second overall selection to a quarterback-needy team for at least three high draft picks. With wideout Brandon Lloyd likely to leave in free agency, St. Louis needs two receivers, a shutdown corner and a pass rusher to pair with defensive end Chris Long. And that's just to start.

3 | Minnesota Vikings

Trading down for multiple picks would help a team desperate for stalwarts at guard and left tackle. But the biggest trouble by far is at cornerback. Minnesota needs two, particularly with broken-down Antoine Winfield turning 35 next June.

4 | Cleveland Browns

President Mike Holmgren said last week that he's not ready to "anoint" Colt McCoy as the starting QB. But unless Luck or Griffin fall this low, the Browns should give McCoy a real chance and use their three picks (two in the first round, one in the second) to build an offense around him.

5 | Tampa Bay Buccaneers

After drafting primarily for defense in each of the last two years, general manager Mark Dominik must get quarterback Josh Freeman some help, both at tackle and at receiver. And because ownership must start spending money to show the fan base it cares, I'd start with one of the top free-agent cornerbacks out there: Cortland Finnegan of the Titans. He would bolster a defense that gave up a whopping 30 passing touchdowns this year and must play six games a year against Drew Brees, Cam Newton and Matt Ryan.

6 | Washington Redskins

One of the toughest calls for Mike Shanahan will be what to do at quarterback. In order to move up and take either Luck or Griffin, he'll be forced to trade away part of the team's future. Gambling on the Packers' Matt Flynn (right) in free agency means the coach would have to put more faith in a limited résumé than he would like.

7 | Jacksonville Jaguars

They better find the right man to coach Blaine Gabbert, or the 2011 first-round pick will go down as one of the biggest quarterback busts in years. New owner Shahid Khan can help his young QB by springing for a receiver like the Chargers' Vincent Jackson in free agency.

8 | Carolina Panthers

Thanks to Newton, the Panthers (who tied with the Dolphins this year and will determine the owner of the 8--9 picks with a coin flip) exploded on offense in 2011, improving by 13 points per game over last season. Now they've got to address the secondary and the pass rush. It might be smart to rent Colts defensive end Robert Mathis in free agency for a couple of years.

9 | Miami Dolphins

They are solid on defense—only five teams allowed fewer points this year—but must improve on offense. Miami should let Chad Henne go and use Matt Moore as a bridge to a long-term quarterback, then do whatever it takes to get Luck, Griffin or Flynn.

10 | Buffalo Bills

What to do about immature receiver Stevie Johnson, a free agent who may not be worth the trouble at $7 million a year? Tough call. But the problems are worse on defense, where a massive infusion of talent is needed at pass rusher and linebacker. I'd target Cardinals' defensive end Calais Campell in free agency.

11 | Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs (who tied with the Seahawks and will determine the owner of the 11--12 picks with a coin flip) need a tight end—Tony Moeaki's a primo player when healthy, which isn't often enough—to help quarterback Matt Cassel move the chains. And they need help on the offensive line to keep Cassel safe.

12 | Seattle Seahawks

G.M. John Schneider's not the type to mortgage the future in order to move up in the draft for a quarterback, but he may be the type—seeing how he was on the Green Bay scouting staff that drafted Flynn in 2008—to pay for one. If so, you can trust Flynn to be more like Matt Hasselbeck than Rob Johnson.

13 | Arizona Cardinals

Job One should be to re-sign defensive end Calais Campbell. Job Two? Straighten out QB Kevin Kolb. Instead of worrying about the wisdom of betting five years and $63.5 million on him last year, the Cardinals should draft offensive linemen and start building a fortress around Kolb, then add a good pass-catching tight end in free agency.

14 | Dallas Cowboys

Two cornerbacks. Not one. No team, other than Minnesota, needs help at corner as much as Dallas, and the Cowboys should start with a young vet like the Chiefs' Brandon Carr. After that, they can wait for draft day. The first round could see four or five cornerbacks picked.

15 | Philadelphia Eagles

Interesting call for Andy Reid, who might have a chance to bring former Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo back as defensive coordinator. To do that, Reid would have to make the painful decision to reassign Juan Castillo. But the Philadelphia coach has shown he's not afraid to make tough calls when it comes to his assistants.

16 | New York Jets

A maturity transplant for Santonio Holmes (below) would be a start. The Jets are likely to bring the ill-suited captain back because he's owed $7.75 million in guaranteed money. After that, Rex Ryan needs to invest in a quality safety. I'd recommend hard-hitting free agent Michael Griffin, of the Titans. And if the Colts do release Manning, New York might consider signing him, though they have major cap problems and the former MVP would be a tough fit.

17 | Oakland Raiders

The Bengals have this pick, via the Carson Palmer trade, but we'll diagnose the Raiders anyway. They made a good start by putting former Green Bay scout Reggie McKenzie in charge of their rudderless front office. Free agency will have to be a priority, because Oakland doesn't have a pick in the draft until a likely compensatory choice at the end of round 3.

18 | San Diego Chargers

General manager A.J. Smith's last three drafts have not been good, and the Chargers sorely need a pass rusher. They also require help on the left side of the offensive line; tackle Marcus McNeill and guard Kris Dielman are nearing the end of the road. Acquiring reliable replacements for both will be vital to QB Philip Rivers's success in 2012.

19 | Chicago Bears

They started the offensive-line overhaul with first-round tackle Gabe Carimi in 2011. They have no choice but to pick another tackle this time, with J'Marcus Webb having allowed 24½ sacks in the last two seasons.

20 | Tennessee Titans

The Titans need to avoid being pillaged in free agency; Finnegan and Griffin would be huge losses in the secondary. After that, they could use a physical wideout, such as the Chargers' Jackson, in free agency or the draft, as well as a sideline-to-sideline linebacker.

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PHOTOJOHN BIEVERPEYTON MANNINGPHOTOJOHN BIEVERPHOTOED MULHOLLAND/US PRESSWIRE