Seattle Seahawks 10--6
TOP PRIORITY: CORNERBACK
After an uneven first few months, the Seattle defense regained its dominant form in December. Not coincidentally, that's when undrafted fourth-year cornerback DeShawn Shead emerged and when cornerback Jeremy Lane returned from ACL and wrist injuries. Both are free agents now, and Seahawks history says they won't be re-signed. GM John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll prefer to build cheaply at corner, through the draft. They used a fifth-rounder last year on lanky Tye Smith, though he failed to earn meaningful snaps even when the club was scrambling for answers.
ALSO: PASS RUSHER. Another team will almost certainly offer free agent Bruce Irvin more money.
February 15, 2016
LOS ANGELES RAMS 7--9
TOP PRIORITY: QUARTERBACK
The Rams got the better of the doubly disappointing Sam Bradford for Nick Foles trade, but only because Foles also came with the Eagles' second-round pick. He also came with a lack of quickness—physically, mentally and in his throwing motion—and was benched in mid-November. The Rams can't afford to use that extra second-rounder on Foles's replacement; they need to get their franchise QB in round 1. L.A.'s offense is currently built to run the ball. In today's NFL that means it's built to go no better than 10--6—or, more likely, 6--10.
ALSO: CORNERBACK. Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson are at the end of their rookie deals.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 5--11
TOP PRIORITY: WIDE RECEIVER
It will be interesting to see whom GM Trent Baalke brings in at receiver for Chip Kelly's scheme. In Philadelphia, Kelly dumped high-priced speedsters Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson and drafted possession guys. The results were disastrous. Baalke presumably values speed. Why else would he spend $40 million on the fundamentally flawed Torrey Smith in free agency last year? Anquan Boldin could be re-signed, though his age (35) tops a growing list of things that can catch up to him. Ultimately, San Francisco will need at least two solid all-around wideouts with decent speed or a bona fide playmaker who can affect coverages.
ALSO: GUARD. It was a problem for the Niners in 2015; now they need two athletic ones to make Kelly's system work.
ARIZONA CARDINALS 13--3
TOP PRIORITY: OFFENSIVE LINE
Center Lyle Sendlein, guard Ted Larsen and tackle Bobby Massie are all free agents—and all replaceable. Arizona has a deep-drop, pocket-passing offense that employs a lot of empty formations. With no running back in to block, the burden falls entirely on the O-line. The Cards have succeeded despite mediocrity up front, but why keep risking it? Management invested in the line over the last two years, signing LT Jared Veldheer in 2014 and LG Mike Iupati in '15, when they also drafted developmental tackle D.J. Humphries in round 1. That's three starting linemen; two more are needed.
ALSO: DEFENSIVE LINE. Depth is essential in a scheme that's heavy on rotations.