Free agency is nearly upon us, with the market officially opening at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, March 9. After that? The 2016 NFL Draft, taking place in Chicago over the last three days of April. So, yes, 'tis the season for roster reconstruction!
With that in mind, Chris Wesseling provides three big needs for each AFC team (listed in alphabetical order). Click the NFC tab below for Gregg Rosenthal's take on the team needs in the other conference.
There's pressure to re-sign Kelechi Osemele, who is the best offensive lineman on the market. Even if Osemele is brought back to replace Eugene Monroe at left tackle, the Ravens will need to fill the vacancy at guard opposite perennial Pro Bowler Marshal Yanda. With Lardarius Webb expected to transition to safety and Jimmy Smith coming off a disappointing season, cornerback should be a priority in free agency and the draft. Even if the Breshad Perriman pick finally pays off, wide receiver is a need with Steve Smith entering his final season.
It was just a year ago that we were wondering if the Bills boasted the NFL's most dominant defensive line. Now Mario Williams is gone and 32-year-old Kyle Williams' offseason is in jeopardy following meniscus surgery. On the other side of the ball, both guard spots are question marks with Richie Incognito yet to re-sign and John Miller yet to prove a better option than the departing Kraig Urbik. With the Buffalo futures of Percy Harvin and Chris Hogan up in the air, the Bills could use receiver depth behind Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods.
Both starting safeties and top cornerback Adam Jones are free agents. The Bengals can move Darqueze Dennard, Shawn Williams and Josh Shaw into bigger roles, but will still need to add depth in the secondary. Free agency also threatens to rob the linebacker corps of depth, with Vincent Rey and Emmanuel Lamur ready to hit the market. And don't forget: Vontaze Burfict will serve a three-game suspension at the beginning of the season. Cincinnati will need to add a wide receiver or two if Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu leave for greener pastures.
Josh McCown showed an ability to move the offense last season, but he can't stay healthy and isn't the future under Hue Jackson. The Browns are fully expected to target a quarterback with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft. After whiffing on Justin Gilbert in the first round of the 2014 draft, cornerback is also a big need. Whether or not Josh Gordon is reinstated from suspension, Jackson likely will recruit Marvin Jones and/or Mohamed Sanu from Cincinnati.
The Broncos simply need stability up front, with the futures of left tackle Ryan Clady and left guard Evan Mathis up in the air and younger players still unproven as quality starters. With Owen Daniels reaching his mid-30s and Vernon Davis likely done in Denver, tight end is a position of need. If Malik Jackson prices himself out of John Elway's range, Derek Wolfe and Sylvester Williams will need help on the defensive line.
The Texans are expected to look to the draft for their next franchise quarterback after watching Brian Hoyer faceplant on Wild Card Weekend. Arian Foster simply can't stay out of the trainer's room. Although the 29-year-old has played well when healthy, it's time for the Texans to find their next lead back, whether Foster remains on the roster or not. The offensive line needs reinforcements with center Ben Jones and guard Brandon Brooks due to reach free agency and left tackle Duane Brown recovering from a torn quadriceps.
General manager Ryan Grigson realizes he must "build that defense" with an emphasis on finding pass rushers, but he also pointed out that the offensive line remains a top priority after Andrew Luck and Matt Hasselbeck took regular beatings last season. The secondary also will have to be addressed with cornerback Greg Toler and safety Dwight Lowery poised for free agency.
The Jaguars drafted an impressive offensive nucleus over the past two years. Now they need to pull off the same feat on the other side of the ball, starting with a renovation of the hapless defensive line. Even if Dante Fowler Jr. comes back strong from ACL surgery, this defense needs help getting to the quarterback and stopping the run. Although the Jags saw improved play out of their cornerbacks last season, consistency at safety remained elusive. The bottom line is that this defense simply needs impact players.
The Chiefs boasted one of the NFL's stingiest secondaries in the second half of last season, but they can't afford to lose veteran cornerback Sean Smith to free agency. Safeties Tyvon Branch and Husain Abdullah also are due to reach the open market. It's a credit to Kansas City's offensive line that the ground attack didn't lose a step after Jamaal Charles' ACL injury, but pass protection was a major problem, as Alex Smith was sacked at one of the highest rates in the league. The lack of depth at wide receiver was glaringly obvious when Jeremy Maclin entered the Divisional Round game with a high-ankle sprain.
Veteran Brent Grimes lost a step in 2015, and Miami has long needed a reliable No. 2 cornerback. The Fins throw a third- or fourth-round pick at the interior of the offensive line every spring and still seem to have the league's worst guard play. Reshad Jones might have been the NFL's finest box safety in 2015, but there's a need for a true center fielder to hold down the back end of the secondary.
Losing Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount to injuries, the Patriots had the league's least productive backfield down the stretch. Lewis is ahead of schedule in his return from ACL surgery, but Blount is a free agent. New England used more O-line combinations than any other team in 2015. Pass protection was culpable for the AFC Championship Game loss, as Tom Brady absorbed 16 hits from the Broncos. With Jerod Mayo retiring and Jonathan Freeny best suited to a reserve role, the Patriots could use a middle linebacker, allowing Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower to concentrate on wreaking havoc in opposing backfields.
The Jets have needed a dynamic edge rusher ever since Quinton Coples went bust after the 2012 draft. If they are serious about competing, they can't go through another season with Calvin Pace as the top outside linebacker. With Chris Ivory and passing-down specialist Bilal Powell both ready to reach the open market, there are two vacancies in the backfield. The Jets need to think about targeting D'Brickashaw Ferguson's successor at left tackle. An early-round draft pick could challenge Breno Giacomini at right tackle before sliding over to Ferguson's spot down the road.
Charles Woodson did well to help bring the Raiders back to respectability, but there's no in-house replacement at either safety spot. With suspended free agent Aldon Smith's Oakland future in doubt, edge rusher is a need opposite Khalil Mack. If Donald Penn doesn't re-sign before next week, the Raiders will need a blind-side protector for Derek Carr.
Even if William Gay, Antwon Blake and Will Allenweren't due to hit free agency, the secondary would still be the top priority in Pittsburgh. The Steelers have needed a true No. 1 cornerback ever since NFL Media's Ike Taylor reached his decline phase three years ago. The team is high on 2015 fifth-round pick Jesse James, but he's not ready to fill Heath Miller's shoes as a do-it-all tight end. With left tackle Kelvin Beachum and left guard Ramon Foster unsigned, the offensive line will need attention after a strong showing in 2015.
Playing behind a tattered offensive line for the second straight season, Philip Rivers was pressured on 40 percent of his dropbacks. At the very least, the Bolts must stabilize right tackle and center this offseason. With nine-year veteran Eric Weddle no longer around to captain the secondary, safety should be a priority. Jimmy Wilson was torched by the Raiders when he filled in last October. It's long past time for San Diego to bolster the defensive line behind Corey Liuget.
Coach Mike Mularkey confirmed to Around The NFL that Jeremiah Poutasi's future is at guard, which means the Titans need a tackle to pair with Taylor Lewan in their effort to keep franchise quarterbackMarcus Mariota in one piece. Mularkey and new general manager Jon Robinson are also in the market for a "strong, physical runner" as the focal point of their new smashmouth offense. This team also needs speed on the outside after Tennessee wide receivers finished last in the NFL in receptions (130) and second-to-last in yards (1,665) in 2015.