Over the next couple of weeks, I will be unveiling an analysis of each NFL team including team offseason needs and areas that need improvement. I will release one division at a time, every other day until each team is covered. In depth coverage of the Texans and Cowboys will be coming your way this offseason as well.
Also, be on the lookout for our draft coverage, starting after the Super Bowl, with a full mock draft included!
It looks as if the Broncos will roll into next season riding Tim Tebow as the starter once again. This begs several questions and creates quite a dilemma for the front office of the Broncos. Do they approach the draft and free agency with the idea of building AROUND Tebow? Do they try to mold Tebow into a more traditional pocket quarterback? Is that even possible?
No one knows for sure, but the Broncos have to pick a direction and go for it. They cannot ride the fence. They need to stick to a scheme and live or die by it. One thing is clear, they must become more consistent on defense, and they need an upgrade in talent. Champ Bailey is 33, and while he played well this season, his best days are behind him. Corner Andre Goodman is also 33, and safety Brian Dawkins is a 38-year-old unrestricted free agent. It’s self-explanatory that this secondary needs an infusion of young talent. The Broncos are also weak up the middle. They have good, young talented pass rushers in Von Miller, Elvis Dumervil, and Robert Ayers, but the defensive tackle and middle linebacker positions could stand to be strengthened. Denver finished 22nd in the NFL in rush defense. If they want to play a grind-it-out style of offense, they need to become more physical on defense. In other words, this team needs to find a unified identity.
Offensively, Tebow needs more weapons, Donte Rosario is not the answer at tight end. It is obvious that he needs a reliable security blanket to throw to when plays break down (which they seem to do often for the Broncos). At running back, Willis McGahee isn’t getting any younger, and he had his fair share of injury problems this season. Knowshown Moreno is garbage and he can’t stay on the field. To run the read-option, the Broncos need to add AT LEAST one quality running back, maybe two.
The Oakland Raiders self-destructed towards the end of the season and became victim to the steamroller that was the Denver Broncos’ seven game winning streak. Didn’t see that coming, did they?
The Raiders’ rush defense was atrocious this past season. They gave up 5.1 yards per carry, which is surprising considering how much money they have invested in the defensive tackle position in Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly. The Raiders also forced an NFL-low 3 fumbles this year, a number that really jumps out. I think that indicates poor coaching, and one has to wonder whether this defense just gave up towards the end of the year. The Raiders have talent in the secondary in Tyvon Branch and Stanford Routt, but they need to add some playmakers who can force some turnovers, and in particular a dynamic pass rusher. The top priority will be re-signing safety Tyvon Branch.
Offensively, the Raiders went all in on Carson Palmer. Once again they took themselves out of the first round of the draft, and with Palmer being 32, the window to win the AFC West will be closing shortly. Being handcuffed with fewer draft choices and big money tied up in average players, the situation in Oakland could end up getting pretty bad really fast. The Raiders’ immediate concern should be the offensive line, in particular the tackle position. Khalif Barnes is not the answer, and neither is Stephon Heyer. Whether they address the line through the draft or free agency remains to be seen, but considering they won’t have access to any of the top tackles in the draft, free agency seems like the more sensible option. The Raiders have plenty of talent at the skill positions, with Bush and McFadden at running back and up and comers like Denarius Moore at wide receiver. A full offseason for Carson Palmer and the new coaching staff to work together should help more than anything.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs had a forgettable season, but injuries to running back Jamaal Charles, safety Eric Berry, and tight end Tony Moeaki didn’t help. I didn’t mention Matt Cassel for a reason, because even when he was healthy he didn’t seem to help much. The late addition of Kyle Orton at least brought some respectability to the quarterback position, as the Tyler Palko experiment was a disaster.
The Chiefs need a lot of work, and one offseason may not be enough time to get it all done. Assuming Kyle Orton is not re-signed, Matt Cassel will be the quarterback once again. The Chiefs must address the offensive line, though, no matter who is under center. Barry Richardson is an unrestricted free agent, and Chief fans probably wouldn’t be sad to see him leave. He played awful. The running game really struggled, but as I said the absence of Jamaal Charles likely had something to do with that. The Chiefs own the 11th pick in the draft, and it will be used on either offensive line help or another pass rusher. Dwayne Bowe is a free agent, and the Chiefs really need to make an effort to resign him. He is the only legitimate playmaker they have at wide receiver, and losing him would cripple their already-floundering offense.
The Chiefs recorded just 29 sacks this year, and if it weren’t for Tamba Hali and his relentlessness, they would have had an historically bad year rushing the passer. They absolutely must get another pass rusher opposite of Hali to keep defenses honest. The secondary was actually pretty good this season, and they have tons of talent in that department. Getting Eric Berry back from injury at the safety position will be like adding a Pro Bowler to the roster next season as well. He was sorely missed. The Chiefs have lots of talent on this defense. If they can get the right personnel to get to the quarterback, they could have one of the better defenses in the NFL.
San Diego Chargers
The 2011 season for the Chargers was a curious one. For some unexplainable reason, Phillip Rivers played like garbage for the first half of the year, only to turn on the jets and lead his team on a furious run towards the end of the year that almost got them into the playoffs. Either way, the Chargers proved they are a team to be reckoned with in the AFC West, and with the talent they have in this division, there is no reason they can’t win it every year.
The Chargers have a whole lot of in-house work to be done in free agency this year. Vincent Jackson, their dynamic wide receiver, is an unrestricted free agent, and there is a strong possibility he could “bolt” (pun intended). Running back and touchdown machine Mike Tolbert is also a free agent, but I expect him to be retained at a reasonable price. He is an often overlooked and valuable component to this offense. The wild card is Pro Bowl center Nick Hardwick, who reportedly is considering retirement at age 29. If he does retire, that could throw a wrench into the Chargers’ offseason plans. Losing a Pro Bowl offensive lineman is a tough pill to swallow. The Chargers also have issues to deal with at the tackle position. Marcus McNeil went down with a season ending neck injury, so his career could potentially be in jeapordy. The signing of Jared Gaither was a good one, but he has had a history of chronic back problems as well, so nothing is guaranteed. The Bolts would be wise to grab some talent via the draft at tackle that they could develop, as well as looking to add a veteran in free agency would could help provide some insurance should the worst happen.
Defensively, the Chargers were pretty average against both the run and the pass this season. Middle linebacker Takeo Spikes is 35 years old, DT Antonio Garay is 32, and DT Tommie Harris is washed up. The Chargers need to get better up the middle to improve their 20th ranked rushing defense. They also need to find an answer for the strong safety position. Bob Sanders was brought in this past year with the hope that he would be able to return to his All-Pro ways, but that didn’t work out as planned. A better solution needs to be found. Eric Weddle is great at free safety, but he can’t do it all by himself. This team has both a lot of talent and a lot of questions that need to be addressed. The way the front office manages this offseason will make or break their 2012 campaign.