Most of the dollars NFL franchises allotted for free agency spending have been doled out, but several teams still have significant voids to fill. Here are the teams that still feature major needs going into free agency's latter stages and the draft.
While this situation is better than some teams', the Panthers join a few in being stuck at quarterback. Noise coming out of Carolina this offseason points to the franchise regretting guaranteeing Teddy Bridgewater $33 million. The Panthers offered plenty for Matthew Stafford and were the clubhouse leaders in Deshaun Watson interest before the Pro Bowler's off-field trouble paused trade rumors. The Panthers appear to realize the capable but limited Bridgewater will not lead them to contention, but unless they somehow trade into the draft's top four, it is looking like this year's fifth-best QB prospect may be their best option.
Other teams need greater numbers at position groups, while the Colts have a stout offensive line. But they just traded a future first-round pick (likely) for Carson Wentz. Anthony Castonzo's retirement leaves a clear hole at left tackle after he spent the past 10 seasons there. Wentz led the NFL in sacks taken last season, with 50. He got there in only 12 games. Signings Sam Tevi and Julie'n Davenport are not on Castonzo's level. Given the payments coming for guard dynamo Quenton Nelson and right tackle Braden Smith, the Colts need to find a true replacement for Castonzo in the draft.
In a season in which numerous 49ers suffered major injuries, one of the NFL's most injury-prone players stayed healthy. The 49ers rewarded Jason Verrett for his rare string of starts by re-signing him. They also brought back slot corner K'Waun Williams and auxiliary corner Emmanuel Moseley. But Verrett still missed three games last season and has played in just 39 of a possible 112 as a pro. He cannot be relied upon, and Richard Sherman revealed he will land elsewhere. The 49ers do not feature many holes on defense, but they will likely need multiple starter-caliber players to fill this one.
Brian Flores' defense excelled using a variety of pass rushers, but two of those -- Shaq Lawson and Kyle Van Noy -- are gone. This leaves career-long supporting caster Emmanuel Ogbah, who admittedly was good in Miami last season (Dolphins-high nine sacks), without much support at defensive end. GM Chris Grier has intriguing options to fill the spots, though. The Dolphins have two first-round picks and two second-rounders to address this issue, however. Several free agent edges -- Justin Houston, Ryan Kerrigan, Melvin Ingram, Jadeveon Clowney -- are available as well.
This has gone from the Raiders' clear strength to an iffy area. The Raiders shipped out Pro Bowlers Rodney Hudson and Trent Brown and dealt veteran guard Gabe Jackson as well. While the Raiders did re-sign guard Denzelle Good and bring back soon-to-be 38-year-old Richie Incognito at a cheaper rate, they sound ready to promote an inexperienced center (Andre James) and have 2020 fourth-round pick John Simpson waiting in the wings at guard. Right tackle, however, is the team's biggest post-fire sale issue. Three-year backup Brandon Parker does not appear the answer. Short- and long-term needs now exist on Las Vegas' line.
Because of other QB headlines around the league, news cycles did not fixate on Washington's stopgap plan being a soon-to-be 39-year-old and a backup who was out of football for most of last season. Washington's Ryan Fitzpatrick-Taylor Heinicke depth chart may be operational in 2021, and Fitz played well in spurts in Miami. But a 10,000-foot view of this situation reveals one of the strangest setups in recent QB history. Equipped with a playoff-caliber defense, Washington attempted to trade a first-round pick and change for Stafford. The gap between that reality and the plan that came to fruition is sizable.
The Lions' post-Darius Slay cornerback troika -- Desmond Trufant-Justin Coleman-Jeff Okudah -- barely played together last season, and the franchise's new regime cut Coleman and Trufant. It is strange a team that used the highest draft pick on a corner in 23 years is needy here, but the Lions absolutely are. Detroit needs two corners to flank Okudah, who missed half of last season due to injury. While the Lions are not exactly trying to contend in 2021, attempting to upgrade the league's 30th-ranked pass defense would help the cause.
After bailing on Adoree' Jackson's fifth-year option -- in the final year this tactic can be utilized -- and cutting Malcolm Butler, a Titans defense that posted one of the worst third-down stoppage marks in modern NFL history has questions at corner. Janoris Jenkins, who will be 33 this year, may be a one-season placeholder. The Titans drafted Kristian Fulton in the 2020 second round, but he played just 18% of their defensive snaps last season. Trying to shake a cold streak, GM Jon Robinson has work to do at this premier position.
Free agency gutted the Falcons here, with their top three safeties from the past four seasons -- Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen, and Damontae Kazee -- all now on other teams' payrolls. The Falcons' new coaching staff is starting from scratch here, which makes sense after a 32nd-ranked pass defense helped lead the previous regime out the door. Former Raider Erik Harris, signed in free agency's initial days, figures to play a role. But defensive coordinator Dean Pees' backline needs multiple contributors.
After James Conner's 2018 Pro Bowl nod appeared to fill the Le'Veon Bell void quickly, his injury issues led to the Steelers basically disregarding the run game last season. Conner is a free agent, and his top backups -- fourth-round picks Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland -- have not exuded starter appeal. The Steelers have a host of lineup vacancies and need some more starter-level O-linemen in order to revive their run game, but they may have to draft a back early. Perhaps the Day 2 draft slot that Pittsburgh ordinarily devotes to a fast-developing receiver should this year be used on a runner.
The signings of center Corey Linsley and guard Matt Feiler filled needs for a ravaged Chargers offensive line, but they have carried a left tackle issue for multiple years. Their primary 2020 left tackle, oft-embattled blocker Sam Tevi, signed with the Colts. Trey Pipkins has not shown himself to be especially capable in two seasons. The Bolts saw Justin Herbert deliver one of the best rookie seasons in quarterback history with a bottom-tier O-line; landing a left tackle in the draft to complete this overhaul could elevate the fast-rising passer to another level.
The Patriots went wild in free agency and on the trade market, acquiring perhaps 10 new starters. If Cam Newton is the team's QB1, the splurge will not be especially consequential to the AFC's Super Bowl chase. QBR's No. 30 passer from 2016-19, Newton equaled that in 2020 -- his worst season as a pro. The Patriots only guaranteed Newton $3.5 million but holding the No. 15 overall pick, they might be shut out of the draft's top five quarterbacks. It would make sense if the Pats reacquired Jimmy Garoppolo, given the 49ers' recent trade, but they are stuck until they make a legitimate effort to improve at QB.
This Ravens offseason illustrated one of their front office tenets better than any. They do not pay up to extend non-Terrell Suggs edge rushers. Both Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue departed, leaving two depth chart holes -- unless Baltimore intends to start 2020 backups Pernell McPhee and Tyus Bowser -- at impact spots. Judon led the Ravens in sacks over the past two seasons, making two Pro Bowls, and while he and Ngakoue should satisfy the compensatory-pick-crazed franchise, the Ravens have a key need staring at them in the latter stages of free agency.
Urban Meyer essentially confirmed what every NFL follower already knew: the Jaguars will fill their biggest need with Trevor Lawrence. The Clemson phenom will have Marvin Jones, D.J. Chark, and 2020 second-rounder Laviska Shenault to target, but the team currently has no notable threat at tight end. Injury-prone Tyler Eifert is unsigned, and the Jags passed on big dollars for Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith. They also let Gerald Everett sign elsewhere. Pass-catching tight ends are not easy to locate, as evidenced by the Patriots' payments, and this figures to be a place for the Jags to look on Day 2 of the draft.
Deshaun Watson took 62 sacks in 2018 -- the most of any QB since 2006 -- and aside from the crippling Laremy Tunsil trade, Houston's O-line revamp did not take. Opponents dropped Watson 49 times last season (second-most in the NFL), and the Texans ranked 31st in rushing. GM Nick Caserio went bargain shopping thus far, trading for Marcus Cannon, who was considering retirement before opting out last season and replacing center Nick Martin with Justin Britt (out of football in 2020). Tunsil checks off one box for the Texans, but they have no long-term answers beyond their left tackle.
Last season, the Texans ranked last in run stoppage and played the starring role in enabling Derrick Henry's 2,000-yard journey. This happened despite J.J. Watt playing 16 games. Pro Football Focus' No. 7 overall edge defender in 2020 (among other honors), Watt is gone. Little of note remains up front in Houston. The Texans signed ex-Cowboy and Raider D-tackle Maliek Collins and drafted Ross Blacklock with the DeAndre Hopkins-fetched second-round pick last year. GM Nick Caserio does not have first- or second-round picks to bolster this group, which should be inviting for fantasy opponents in 2021.
This roster does not need much, but its edge situation certainly requires attention. The Colts relied on Justin Houston as their top edge rusher over the past two seasons, and while they have not ruled out re-signing the veteran, the team may need more than one contributor. Former second-round defensive end Kemoko Turay has played seven games since October 2019, and ex-Charger backup Isaac Rochell looks like a depth addition. The Colts' starting D-ends may not be on the roster presently, which is certainly a risk entering April.
For a regime that has helmed two playoff berths in three seasons, the Ryan Pace-Matt Nagy Bears operation has encountered extreme scrutiny. Pace appears destined to be remembered as the GM who passed on Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. The Bears do not have the worst starting quarterback in the league, but their emergency Andy Dalton signing is emblematic of a plan gone awry. The Bears' 8-8 playoff berth pushed them down to pick No. 20, which comes after two years without a first-round pick. Chicago is not in a position to draft a top quarterback and lacks assets that appeal to Seattle. This is one of the most desperate situations in recent memory.
Although the Eagles finally shed the payroll-clogging Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson contracts, their receiver situation remains dire. First-rounder Jalen Reagor suffered multiple injuries during a largely unimpactful rookie season. Second-round pick J.J. Arcega-Whiteside has made less of an impact in two seasons. Carson Wentz's record $34 million dead-money hit hamstrung the Eagles in free agency, making this position a draft need yet again. The team hoping Jalen Hurts can provide a parachute after the Wentz debacle enters April with a high-stakes task at the receiver position.
Two years after trading Olivier Vernon, the Giants are still spinning their wheels at edge rusher. They traded Markus Golden last year and let 2020 starter Kyler Fackrell defect to the Chargers last week. The team gave Leonard Williams a monster contract that approaches Aaron Donald territory, and the signings of Kenny Golladay and Adoree' Jackson leave little room for the Giants to address this perennial need. No Giant edge still on the team recorded more than one sack last season. Though they improved on defense in 2020, the Giants cannot exit another draft without addressing this deficiency.
The disastrous Trumaine Johnson contract will still cost the Jets $8 million in dead money this year, and the team's new regime has not invested much in the position. New York is expected to use recent acquisition Lamarcus Joyner, who struggled in the slot as a Raider, at safety. Transitioning to a new defense, the Jets need at least two cornerback starters. Despite Richard Sherman's history with Robert Saleh, it would be odd for the All-Pro to join a rebuilding team. Veterans like Casey Hayward, A.J. Bouye and Steven Nelson reside in free agency. The Jets could use veteran and draft help in Saleh's first year.
The Mike Munchak-coached offensive line nucleus that lifted Le'Veon Bell to All-Pro status is down to just David DeCastro. For a team bringing back an immobile 39-year-old quarterback, after a season in which it ranked last in rushing, the Steelers have a host of O-line issues exiting March. Maurkice Pouncey retired; versatile starter Matt Feiler is a Charger; longtime left tackle Alejandro Villanueva is unsigned. While guard Kevin Dotson looks like a guard starter opposite DeCastro, possible tackle successor Zach Banner has two starts in four years. GM Kevin Colbert will need to work some magic.
The Bengals' failure to properly invest in their offensive line last year led to Joe Burrow's severe knee injury. While they can technically be classified as set at tackle (Jonah Williams, Riley Reiff), the Bengals remain vulnerable on the interior. Re-signing Quinton Spain may check off a guard spot (in pencil), but the team whiffed on 2018 first-round center Billy Price and must have better answers protecting Burrow when he returns. Some starter-caliber guards -- including Pro Bowler Trai Turner -- remain available. It is strange the Bengals have not operated with more urgency at these spots given Burrow's importance.
Like Earl Thomas two years ago, Trent Williams was on the verge of signing with the Chiefs. The Chiefs competing for a player that just set a tackle salary record shows their level of interest in upgrading here as if the Super Bowl did not sufficiently reveal the problem. The Chiefs cut longtime starters, Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz. The latter was one of this century's best right tackles. The Chiefs starting recently re-signed journeyman Mike Remmers, one of their Super Bowl starters, would be a massive downgrade. Even if Fisher is re-signed for cheap, he is coming off an Achilles tear. This stacked team has glaring issues at both spots.
Showing patience this year after starting nine quarterbacks since Peyton Manning retired, the Broncos continue to feature the same need. They have assembled perhaps their best defense since 2016 and have several promising young pass-catchers. Denver's enduring QB quest undercuts all of this. Drew Lock led the NFL in INTs despite only finishing 12 games; he has created a steep uphill battle. The Broncos make sense as a Sam Darnold trade suitor, with GM emeritus John Elway being a fan in 2018. With this draft possibly being the first to begin with four QBs, the team holding pick No. 9 is low on options to push/replace Lock.
Sam Robinson is a Kansas City, Mo.-based writer who mostly writes about the NFL. He has covered sports for nearly 10 years. Boxing, the Royals and Pandora stations featuring female rock protagonists are some of his go-tos. Occasionally interesting tweets @SRobinson25.