It's that time of year again: The NFL free agency negotiating window opens at noon ET on Mon., March 13, with contract signings becoming official when the new league year begins at 4 p.m. ET on Wed., March 15. This marks the first phase of player movement during the offseason, as franchises look to address their rosters' most pressing needs. Before the frenzy begins, the Next Gen Stats analytics team delves into the three biggest needs for each of the 32 NFL teams. Today we hit the AFC. (Check back Friday for the NFC rundown.)
- Needs: QB, WR, DL
- Cap space: -$8,356,018
General manager Eric DeCosta and head coach John Harbaugh have opted to place the non-exclusive franchise tag on Lamar Jackson, leaving uncertainty about the quarterback's future in Baltimore. An agreement on contract guarantees continue to stand in the way of a long-term deal, and now, under the non-exclusive designation, Jackson can freely negotiate with other teams. The market for Jackson will be the catalyst for whether DeCosta and Co. opt to bring back the 2019 Most Valuable Player or whether they inherit two first-round picks for his rights. The problem is only magnified by backup Tyler Huntley's expiring contract and having only two picks in the top 100 of next month's draft.
Finding stability at wide receiver is also a top priority. Last season, Ravens receivers aligned wide totaled just five receiving touchdowns and accumulated 1,807 air yards on targets, both bottom-five marks league-wide, per Next Gen Stats. On the defensive side of the ball, adding youth along the defensive front is of the utmost importance with veterans Justin Houston and Jason Pierre-Paul set to hit free agency, Calais Campbell as a possible trade/restructure candidate, and 30-year-old Michael Pierce limited to three games in 2022. No defensive lineman played more than 60 percent of defensive snaps last season.
- Needs: RB, S, IOL
- Cap space: -$19,184,694
When locking up franchise quarterback Josh Allen to a six-year deal two offseasons ago, the Bills backloaded the contract to accelerate starting in Year 3. After benefitting from two seasons of elite quarterback play at a significant discount -- Allen counted for a combined $26.5 million in cap space over the last two seasons -- the bill has finally come due. The Bills enter the 2023 offseason nearly $20 million over the cap, making it unlikely they retain impending free agents like left guard Rodger Saffold, linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and safety Jordan Poyer. The Bills have been known for their depth over the last few seasons, which should help them weather the inevitable turnover, but they will have to both restructure some contracts and part ways with reliable players to get back into the green. Hamstrung from being buyers in the free agency period, the Bills will look to replenish their roster in the draft. Replacing Poyer will be a priority, as offenses lost -55.2 expected points added when targeting him over the last two seasons. To put that in perspective, no other player accounted for less than -40 target EPA over that time frame. Leading rusher Devin Singletary is also a free agent, and while the Bills drafted James Cook in the second round last year, they will definitely look to round out their backfield. The team has lacked an explosive run game outside of Allen over the course of his tenure.
- Needs: TE, RB, CB
- Cap space: $34,651,354
Director of player personnel Duke Tobin and the Bengals may be in the most enviable position in the NFL: having their standout quarterback still on his rookie deal, reaching two consecutive AFC Championship Games and possessing plenty of cap space to improve the roster. That said, the Bengals need to stay flexible if they want to be able to keep Joe Burrow, Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins together for the long haul. An immediate need arises at tight end with zero players at the position currently under contract for 2023. This group served as a safety blanket for Burrow last season, catching +7.1 percent of their targets over the middle of the field over expected (second in the NFL). The running back position is also suddenly in flux, with Joe Mixon being a potential cut candidate and his backup Samaje Perine an unrestricted free agent. The Bengals should be able to absorb the loss of playmaking safety Jessie Bates on the backend with second-year pro Daxton Hill, but the outside cornerback position opposite Chidobe Awuzie could use shoring up. The much maligned Eli Apple is a free agent and Cam Taylor-Britt struggled when filling in for Awuzie last season, allowing a 115.2 passer rating on 55 targets in coverage.
- Needs: WR, DT, Edge
- Cap space: -$14,049,131
Between Amari Cooper, Donovan Peoples-Jones and David Njoku, the strength of the Browns' receiving corps last season was in the short to intermediate part of the field. What the offense missed was a reliable vertical threat. Cooper was the only Browns player with a deep touchdown reception with just two. Defensively, the front seven desperately needs revamping. No pass rush relied more on a single player than the Browns did on Myles Garrett last season. Garrett generated 72 pressures in 2022, trailing only Nick Bosa. The only other Browns defenders who even eclipsed a paltry 15 pressures last year were edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney and defensive tackle Taven Bryan (19 apiece), both set to become free agents. Without a first-round pick in next month's draft and limited cap space, look for general manager Andrew Berry to get creative with veteran stopgaps in free agency.
- Needs: RB, DT, LB
- Cap space: $8,813,625
Head coach Sean Payton will look to turn the Broncos around after a disastrous beginning to the Russell Wilson era. Making matters worse, the Broncos don't have any selections in the first two rounds of this year's draft as a result of trading for Wilson. After losing Javonte Williams to a season-ending knee injury in October, the Broncos cycled through several veteran backs. They will need to shore up their backfield even if Williams is ready at the start of next season. On the defensive side, their pass rush could use reinforcements. Defensive tackle Dre'Mont Jones generated the second-most pressures on the team last season (36) and is set for a big payday as an unrestricted free agent. Starting linebacker Alex Singleton will also enter free agency after being a stabilizing force at the second level of the defense last season, allowing just 5.6 yards per target.
- Needs: QB, WR, Edge
- Cap space: $40,272,704
The Texans are almost guaranteed to select a quarterback with the second overall pick in this year’s draft. But Jimmy Garoppolo also makes sense in Houston given his history with both general manager Nick Caserio and new head coach DeMeco Ryans. Improving the receiving corps then becomes a top priority to help set up the new quarterback for success. It would not be a surprise to see the Texans move on from a disgruntled Brandin Cooks, which would leave Nico Collins as the only player remaining on the roster to account for over 5 percent of the team's air yards last season. The team is also hopeful that 2022 second-round receiver John Metchie III will be back as soon as next month after missing all of his rookie season after being diagnosed with a form of leukemia. On the defensive side of the ball, the secondary looks the most promising after the Texans hit on Derek Stingley Jr. and Jalen Pitre in the first two rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft. Bringing back edge rusher Ogbonnia Okoronkwo should be a top priority after his breakout 2022 campaign -- his first as a full-time player. He generated a 16.4 percent pressure rate lat season, ranking tied for second among defenders with at least 200 pass-rush snaps in 2022.
- Needs: QB, WR, Edge
- Cap space: $11,903,876
Following four seasons of rotating veteran quarterbacks since Andrew Luck's retirement, general manager Chris Ballard looks poised to select a passer in next month's draft, with the Colts holding the fourth overall pick. To support their future QB, the team must revamp its receiver room and replace free agents like Parris Campbell, who gained +60 receiving yards over expected when aligned either out wide or in the slot last season. Meanwhile, the Colts must also look to fill the void left by free agent edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue, who was responsible for generating the second-most pressures (42) on the team in 2022.
- Needs: CB, S, OT
- Cap space: $7,387,861
After spending the most money in free agency last offseason, the Jaguars may now have to make cuts and restructure deals in order to stay under the cap. The defense was the team's strength in 2022 with a dominant pass rush that pressured opposing QBs on 32.9 percent of dropbacks (third-highest in the NFL); edge rusher Josh Allen was a key contributor, tallying 64 QB pressures (fourth-highest in the NFL). However, the secondary was mediocre, with the team forcing a -0.8 completion percentage over expected (16th in the NFL). General manager Trent Baalke may look to strengthen the cornerback and safety positions through free agency, especially with the recent release of cornerback Shaquill Griffin. With right tackle Jawaan Taylor set to be a free agent and expected to garner significant interest, the offensive line is also an area of concern. In 2022, quarterback Trevor Lawrence showed significant improvement, finishing with an 86 NGS passing score, the fifth-highest among qualified quarterbacks, but for him to continue to grow, Jaguars brass must prioritize the offensive line.
Needs: OT, WR, Edge
Cap space: $16,955,715
The reigning Super Bowl champions did just fine after letting shutdown cornerback Charvarius Ward walk and trading dynamic wide receiver Tyreek Hill last offseason. Young cornerbacks like Trent McDuffie, Jaylen Watson and L'Jarius Sneed held their own in coverage, while Patrick Mahomes squeezed all the juice out of his rag-tag group of wide receivers en route to his second MVP. The roster will continue to evolve this offseason as general manager Brett Veach tries to maintain flexibility while devoting nearly $50 million to his star quarterback in 2023. The Chiefs have already opted not to franchise tag left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and decided to release defensive end Frank Clark. Mahomes is adept at avoiding pressure with his mobility and Andy Reid's well-designed quick game certainly helps, but finding a new left tackle to protect the No. 1 asset in the league will still be a huge priority for this team. While Travis Kelce remains the focal point of the passing game, it certainly wouldn't hurt to upgrade the receiving corps. JuJu Smith-Schuster had a strong season on his one-year contract, finishing with +141 YAC over expected (eighth-most in the NFL). The Chiefs could choose to bring him back or look elsewhere to give Mahomes another weapon in the passing game. With the departure of Clark and Carlos Dunlap, 2022 first-round pick George Karlaftis remains as the most notable edge defender on the roster. Karlaftis had a productive first year in the league -- his 33 pressures was tied for third among rookies -- but pairing him with another disruptor could bring this defense to the next level.
- Needs: QB, DT, CB
- Cap space: $39,077,038
With Derek Carr now in New Orleans, Jarrett Stidham set to test the free agency waters and Chase Garbers as the only quarterback under contract for the 2023 season, Raiders general manager Dave Ziegler and head coach Josh McDaniels have a franchise-defining decision to make at the position. Whether the Silver and Black's next signal-caller arrives via free agency or trade (SEE: Aaron Rodgers, Lamar Jackson and Jimmy Garoppolo) or through the draft (Las Vegas holds the No. 7 overall pick) is yet to be determined, but expect the Raiders to be aggressive in finding their next franchise quarterback. On the other side of the ball, the Raiders need to shore up the defensive tackle position and tighten up the secondary. In 2022, the Vegas defense allowed the highest passer rating in the NFL and the fifth-most rushing yards over expected on rushes between the tackles from Week 8 on.
- Needs: DT, LB, WR
- Cap space: -$6,913,624
The Chargers will look to strengthen a defense that underwhelmed last season all while having to navigate their cap situation. Defensive tackles Christian Covington, Breiden Fehoko and Tyeler Davison and linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Drue Tranquill are all headed to free agency. It will be general manager Tom Telesco's priority to revamp a defensive unit that allowed +638 rushing yards over expected in 2022, the most RYOE in a single-season since the NGS metric was introduced in 2018. On offense, adding a downfield threat for Justin Herbert's big arm would help open things up for the Chargers and new OC Kellen Moore. It would also give the Chargers another threat to rely on with Keenan Allen entering his 11th pro season.
- Needs: OL, CB, TE
- Cap Space: -$721,820
After allowing a league-high 24 touchdowns in man coverage last season, the team is looking to improve their secondary. They have already begun making roster changes, releasing veteran cornerback Byron Jones, and now need to find a new CB2 as Nik Needham heads to free agency. The Dolphins also must address the safety position, with Eric Rowe hitting the market, and find a player to pair with Jevon Holland under new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. With the injuries to the Dolphins' quarterback room in 2022, it would be in Miami's best interest to improve its pass protection after allowing the fifth-highest pressure probability at 15.8 percent (the probability a pressure occurs within 3 seconds). Several offensive linemen will become free agents, including Brandon Shell and Greg Little, so adding new talent is imperative to better protect Tua Tagovailoa. Additionally, the team will be seeking a new tight end after Mike Gesicki never seemed to quite fit in Mike McDaniel's offense, seeing his fewest targets (52) and receiving yards (362) since his 2018 rookie season.
EDITOR'S UPDATE: The Dolphins have agreed to acquire Jalen Ramsey from the L.A. Rams, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Sunday, March 12.
- Needs: WR, OT, CB
- Cap space: $31,859,752
Once again, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots will be in the market for wide receivers with both Jakobi Meyers and Nelson Agholor set to become free agents. Meyers led the Pats with 804 receiving yards with most of his success coming on crossing routes, earning 210 yards on such routes. With starting right tackle Isaiah Wynn also hitting the market, Mac Jones could use added protection as his 34.0 passer rating when under pressure in 2022 was the second-lowest in the NFL among qualifying QBs. In the secondary, New England awaits Devin McCourty's looming retirement decision and has six other DBs entering free agency, including cornerback Jonathan Jones, who led the Patriots with four interceptions and -5.6 receptions over expected allowed as the nearest defender in coverage in 2022 (13th in NFL). The Patriots reportedly want to re-sign Jones despite not tagging him.
- Needs: QB, IOL, OT
- Cap space: $1,521,881
Jets brass has made their top priority quite clear: owner Woody Johnson, GM Joe Douglas, head coach Robert Saleh and others flew to meet with Aaron Rodgers in California on Tuesday. One thing is evident amid all of the quarterback uncertainty in New York: The Jets need an upgrade at the position. In 2022, Jets quarterbacks produced a -5.3 percent completion percentage over expected (tied for 31st in the NFL) and took on pressure on 32.3 percent of dropbacks (tied for seventh-highest in the NFL). On top of needing a new signal-caller, seven New York offensive linemen, including starting center Connor McGovern and right tackle George Fant, are set to hit free agency.
- Needs: CB, S, LB
- Cap space: -$908,182
It may seem odd to suggest the Steelers will spend much of their time focusing on what was their biggest strength: pass defense. After all, their secondary recorded the third-lowest completion percentage over expected (-3.0) in the NFL in 2022. However, several defensive backs are set to hit free agency, a list that includes cornerback Cameron Sutton, who allowed the fourth-fewest receptions over expected as the nearest defender in coverage last season (-9.5). As for the unit's ability to stop the run, the expiring contracts of linebackers Robert Spillane and Devin Bush could also leave the Steelers vulnerable. Pittsburgh allowed just 29 rushing yards over expected in 2022 (seventh-fewest in the NFL). Continuing their defensive domination in all areas will be important for the franchise going forward as its young quarterback continues to develop.
- Needs: WR, OT, Edge
- Cap space: $13,293,721
The Titans are a team in transition after ending Jon Robinson's seven-year tenure as general manager and replacing him with former 49ers director of player personnel Ran Carthon. The new regime has already started retooling the roster, cutting veterans Taylor Lewan, Robert Woods and Bud Dupree. The Titans are even reportedly shopping running back Derrick Henry, who has been the foundation of the offense throughout the Mike Vrabel era. Beyond 2022 first-round pick Treylon Burks, the Titans wide receiver corps is wide open. Burks is the only wideout remaining on the roster to account for more than 6 percent of the team's air yards last season.