Analysis

AFC free agency needs: Bengals, Titans, Ravens among teams that must address offensive line

The free agency negotiating window opens at noon ET on Monday, March 14, with contract signings permitted when the new league year officially begins at 4 p.m. ET on the ensuing Wednesday, March 16.

So, what are each team's biggest needs heading into the open market? Here's a look at the AFC.

NOTE: All cap figures pulled from Over The Cap at noon ET on Thursday, March 10.

Baltimore Ravens
2021 record: 8-9 · T-3rd in AFC North
  • Needs: DB, OL, DL
  • Cap space: $15,650,982


Injuries stretched the Ravens' corner crew thin in 2021, underscoring the need to get more youthful on the outside behind Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters. Adding a playmaking safety in free agency (e.g., Justin Reid or Marcus Maye) and drafting a young corner early would solidify the back end. Upgrades along the O-line are needed after struggles sideswiped the Ravens' offensive plans last season. The interior O-line was already a need, and tackle became an issue with Alejandro Villanueva retiring. With Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams and Justin Houston all headed toward free agency, there is also a need in the trenches on the defensive side of the ball. The run D won't be the same if Baltimore loses either Campbell or Williams inside.

Buffalo Bills
2021 record: 11-6 · 1st in AFC East
  • Needs: DL, WR, CB
  • Cap space: $440,821


With key front-line players, including Jerry Hughes, heading toward free agency, upgrading the defensive line is the biggest need for a balanced Buffalo roster. Adding a veteran interior presence would be a coup for an already stalwart defense. A free agent like Calais Campbell, D.J. Jones or Sebastian Joseph-Day would look nice on the Bills' line if they can find the cap space. Buffalo was in the market to add speed at the receiver position even before Cole Beasley requested a trade. A downfield weapon who can earn YAC is needed for the Bills' offense to take the next step. Re-signing corner Levi Wallace is a priority, especially with Tre'Davious White coming off injury.

Cincinnati Bengals
2021 record: 10-7 · 1st in AFC North
  • Needs: OL, OL, OL
  • Cap space: $34,640,967


I kid that Cincinnati's only need is offensive line. Tight end, corner and linebacker could also use additions. But let's be completely honest: If the Bengals used every dollar of their cap space on offensive linemen, Cincy fans would be thrilled. Chasing tackle Terron Armstead and guard Brandon Scherff is a start. Adding significant depth along the line in addition to whatever starters they can corral is also a need. The Bengals can't watch Joe Burrow get sacked 70 times again and pray he survives.

Cleveland Browns
2021 record: 8-9 · T-3rd in AFC North
  • Needs: WR, Edge, DT
  • Cap space: $17,948,115


What once looked like a strength in the wide receiver room is soon to be a weakness if the Browns move on from Jarvis Landry, as is expected. Donovan Peoples-Jones would be the only reliable target left. A splash play for a receiver is in the cards, especially if Cleveland wants to give Baker Mayfield a fair shake in his fifth season. On defense, there are needs to fill along the entire front, where Jadeveon Clowney leaves a hole on the edge, and upgrades on the interior are necessary.


UPDATE: The Cleveland Browns have agreed to acquire WR Amari Cooper from the Dallas Cowboys in exchange for a 2022 fifth-round pick and a swap of sixth-rounders, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Saturday. The trade does not become official until the start of the new league year (4 p.m. ET on Wed., March 16).

Denver Broncos
2021 record: 7-10 · 4th in AFC West
  • Needs: Edge, LB, CB
  • Cap space: $26,224,246


Tuesday's massive trade for Russell Wilson forced me to scrap everything I'd written about the Broncos' needs. This was a playoff-ready team without a QB. Now it has one of the top signal-callers in the NFL. General manager George Paton netting Wilson without gutting his roster is a coup. Now Paton can spend his offseason sprucing up the defense. An edge rusher is necessary, and bringing back Von Miller would be a fine place to start. Adding depth to the secondary -- with Kyle Fuller and Bryce Callahan headed to free agency -- is also on the to-do list.

Houston Texans
2021 record: 4-13 · 3rd in AFC South
  • Needs: QB, CB, RB ... OL, DL, WR
  • Cap space: $18,324,833


Name a spot where Houston doesn't need improvement? Davis Mills played better down the stretch, but the jury is still out on whether he's a long-term answer. With the Texans still in the nascent stages of a rebuild, it feels likely they give Mills a chance to continue that development before deciding next offseason on whether he's the future. The entire defense basically needs to be re-signed or replaced with upwards of seven starters hitting free agency. With Rex Burkhead the only veteran back on the roster, the RB room is in desperate need of youth and speed. David Culley getting four wins out of this roster remains astounding.

Indianapolis Colts
2021 record: 9-8 · 2nd in AFC South
  • Needs: QB, WR, OT
  • Cap space: $69,806,446


Wednesday's trade of Carson Wentz solved one problem -- an overpaid QB who'd quickly worn out his welcome -- but created another. The Colts now have a massive hole at quarterback and are set to start their fifth QB in five years. Jimmy Garoppolo has already been linked as a replacement. Whether that's an actual on-field upgrade would remain to be seen. Whoever plays quarterback needs help. The Colts' receiver room is barren aside from Michael Pittman Jr. Using cap space to get a legit sidekick for Pittman is necessary, so it might require tossing money at Christian Kirk, Allen Robinson, D.J. Chark, etc. The offensive line also needs attention with LT Eric Fisher set to hit free agency.  

Jacksonville Jaguars
2021 record: 3-14 · 4th in AFC South
  • Needs: OL, WR, LB
  • Cap space: $38,797,130


Outside of QB and RB, Jacksonville is another team with needs all over the roster. Upgrading the O-line is a must to protect Trevor Lawrence. Using another franchise tag on Cam Robinson is only a start. The Jaguars should still be in on other high-priced O-linemen like guards Brandon Scherff and James Daniels. Bringing back D.J. Chark would be a start at receiver, but adding more speed to the position is needed, even if a field-tilting No. 1 option isn't in the cards. On defense, linebacker and edge rusher are both needs, though the Jags could wait for the draft to fill those voids.

Kansas City Chiefs
2021 record: 12-5 · 1st in AFC West
  • Needs: DB, DL, WR
  • Cap space: -$5,990,465


Re-signing Tyrann Mathieu is the priority. Getting it done is a different matter. What the multifaceted safety brings to the table makes the Chiefs' defense function. If Kansas City loses him to a higher bidder, it will create a massive hole. Corner is also an area of concern with Mike Hughes and Charvarius Ward heading to free agency. Sticking with the defense, how the Chiefs replace Melvin Ingram's production will be key after he became a crucial cog following the midseason trade. On offense, finding a productive second fiddle to Tyreek Hill is a need. Sorry, but continually praying Josh Gordon finally finds the fountain of youth ain't it. Last year, the Chiefs tried to lure JuJu Smith-Schuster to K.C. We'll see if they succeed in such an endeavor this time around.

Las Vegas Raiders
2021 record: 10-7 · 2nd in AFC West
  • Needs: WR, OL, CB
  • Cap space: $17,783,225


Hunter Renfrow remains underrated, but the Raiders need a big-time playmaker to get the most out of the offense. The Davante Adams pipe dream burst, but potential options remain for a team with cap space. Adding an Allen Robinson or Christian Kirk and then dipping into the position in the draft would fill out the room for first-year Raiders HC Josh McDaniels. With questions about where Alex Leatherwood will play (bet on guard), there remain holes on the O-line. With Casey Hayward slated for free agency, there are significant gaps on the back end that the Gruden/Mayock combo just couldn't fill. McDaniels and GM Dave Ziegler could chase former Patriots corner Stephon Gilmore or J.C. Jackson in free agency.

Los Angeles Chargers
2021 record: 9-8 · 3rd in AFC West
  • Needs: DT, CB, LB
  • Cap space: $42,316,690


With Mike Williams getting a new contract this week, the Chargers can focus their free-agent efforts on defense. The interior requires upgrades after getting run over on the ground last year. Much was made of the Chargers' timeout on the final drive of the season, but that doesn't come into play if L.A. could have stopped the run at all in 2021. Corner is another need with nickel Chris Harris Jr. a free agent. Finding a running mate for Asante Samuel Jr. is key to Brandon Staley's scheme. And the Chargers are thin at linebacker with Kyler Fackrell and Kyzir White heading into free agency.

Miami Dolphins
2021 record: 9-8 · 3rd in AFC East
  • Needs: OL, RB, WR
  • Cap space: $51,317,989


Protecting Tua Tagovailoa is priority No. 1 this offseason after Miami boasted one of the worst blocking units in the NFL in 2021. The Dolphins could chase 49ers guard Laken Tomlinson to upgrade the interior with a player familiar with Mike McDaniel's system. Speaking of running the Kyle Shanahan offense, a backfield upgrade is necessary. That doesn't necessarily mean shelling out big bucks for a running back, but rather finding ideal backs that fit the stretch scheme McDaniel wants to run. Also, upgrading the receiver corps would benefit Tua. The Dolphins need a receiver who can win off the line of scrimmage with regularity to pair with rising star Jaylen Waddle.

New England Patriots
2021 record: 10-7 · 2nd in AFC East
  • Needs: CB, WR, LB
  • Cap space: $13,423,971


With J.C. Jackson headed to the open market, the Patriots' secondary lacks the kind of lockdown corner desired in Bill Belichick's scheme. If Jackson's market gets too rich for the Pats -- as it's expected to do -- New England will likely toss some darts at cheaper veteran options. Once again, the Pats need receiver help, which they've eschewed for years. Getting Mac Jones targets who can win one-on-one battles and get open off the line of scrimmage should be a priority. And New England needs to get younger on defense, a unit which looked old and slow at the end of the season.

New York Jets
2021 record: 4-13 · 4th in AFC East
  • Needs: DB, WR, Edge
  • Cap space: $48,536,765


The Jets have a lot of needs -- and, luckily, a lot of cap space to help solve them. First and foremost is the secondary, where Gang Green is poised to lose Marcus Maye, unless he's willing to sign a one-year prove-it deal after blowing out his Achilles. Corner was an issue the Jets didn't address last offseason, and it was evident in 2021. Expect them to be in on the bidding for J.C. Jackson. Finding another receiver target for Zach Wilson is a priority, after the Corey Davis experiment did not work out well.

Pittsburgh Steelers
2021 record: 9-7-1 · 2nd in AFC North
  • Needs: QB, OL, CB
  • Cap space: $28,811,582


For the first time since 2004, the Steelers have questions at quarterback. With Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson off the board, where will Mike Tomlin and Co. turn? Chasing Jameis Winston in free agency and pairing him with a highly drafted rookie makes a lot of sense. Marcus Mariota could be good if Tomlin wants a QB with more mobility. And a trade for Jimmy Garoppolo is an option at the right price. Mason Rudolph is nothing more than a stopgap, so if the Steelers don't bring in a veteran in free agency, it will be a huge tell that they plan to draft a QB early. Regardless of who is under center, the Steelers need to upgrade an O-line that struggled mightily last season. Pittsburgh has excess money for the first time in years, and I'd expect Kevin Colbert to spend his final offseason as general manager using that cash on less flashy positions in need of a rugged upgrade.

Tennessee Titans
2021 record: 12-5 · 1st in AFC South
  • Needs: OL, TE, LB
  • Cap space: $3,746,949


The Titans were able to keep edge rusher Harold Landry in Tennessee on a big new deal, wiping out one need heading into free agency. The Titans have big questions up and down the offensive line. The releases of Rodger Saffold and disappointing 2021 signee Kendall Lamm create holes at guard, center and right tackle. Tennessee's line could not stay healthy last season, and pressure got to Ryan Tannehill much too quickly for the offense to operate. Tight end is also a need, with Geoff Swaim, Anthony Firkser and MyCole Pruitt all headed for free agency. The TE market lost a lot of luster after the franchise tags came down, but a veteran like Zach Ertz would be a significant addition to an offense in need of consistent play from that position.

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