Free Agency 2016

NFC Teams Who Must Hit In Free Agency

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As we continue our free agent coverage, let’s take a look at teams in the NFC that can’t afford to miss this off-season.

San Francisco 49ers – It feels like the Jim Harbaugh era was a century ago. In reality, San Francisco was just in the NFC Championship Game three years ago, while playing in the Super Bowl the previous season.

As we fast-forward, the 49ers arguably have the least talented roster in the entire league.

With so many holes, you’d think general manager Trent Baalke would be actively seeking ways to improve their talent pool, but that’s been far from the truth thus far.

Sure, the Niners signed former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, but that isn’t going to sell tickets in the Bay Area.

The past two years have been awful for this prideful franchise, as they’ve went (13-19) during that timeframe. In order for this franchise to get back to where it’s suppose to be, they first must figure out who’s the main man under center.

Considering Chip Kelly’s ego and up-tempo system, it’ll be interesting to see if he believes he can fix Colin Kaepernick or if he will be traded.

Los Angeles Rams –  For a team that’s been the definition of ‘average’ in recent years, it’s surprising to see them so quiet during the free agency period thus far. Just like many other teams, the primary area of concern comes at quarterback.

Currently, the Rams are waiting to see if any teams have interest in Case Keenum and Nick Foles.

If the Rams decide neither guy is the answer under center, don’t be surprised to see them make a serious push at Robert Griffin III.

Whoever ends up tossing the ball around the lot in LA, they’ll need some legit pass catchers to make it work.

Seattle Seahawks – Over the past few years, we’ve grown accustomed to seeing the Seahawks compete for a Super Bowl title and while they still made the playoffs this past season, it just didn’t feel the same this time around.

As I say that, the Seahawks finished first in fewest points allowed  (17.3), which makes you wonder where things went sour because Russell Wilson had the best season of his young career.

Nonetheless, Seattle seems poised to make another deep run next year, but re-signing left tackle Russell Okung is absolutely vital for this ball club or finding a worthwhile replacement.

Detroit Lions – It’s hard not to feel bad for Lions fans.

After experiencing Barry Sanders retire in his prime, six-time Pro Bowler Calvin Johnson has done the same exact thing.

Left in dire need of a receiver, Detroit went out and reached a deal with Marvin Jones, who was highly considered as the top free agent prospect at his position. Upon the signing, people are going to naturally wonder if Jones can replace ‘Megatron’, but the 25-year-old knows that’s not happening.

“That’s the thing everybody should know,” Jones stated. “I’m not coming here trying to replace Calvin Johnson. You’re not going to replace Calvin Johnson. He’s definitely one of a kind and you probably won’t see anybody like him.”

The signing of Jones won’t even matter if they’re unable to protect Matthew Stafford. Detroit has allowed 89 sacks the past two seasons, which is why they’re targeting Okung.

Minnesota Vikings – As free agency begins to heat up, Minnesota is an interesting team to follow for obvious reasons. Despite being one and done in postseason play this past season, the Vikings aren’t far off from being legitimate contenders in the NFC.

From a defensive standpoint, Mike Zimmer’s squad is ready, but the other side of the ball is where the problems lie. In the regular season, Teddy Bridgewater and company finished 29th in total offense.

Adrian Peterson was Adrian Peterson.

However, the aerial attack was nothing to brag about, as Minnesota finished only ahead of the Rams in passing offense.

With that being said, don’t expect general manager Rick Spielman to break the bank.

“Are we going to spend big money on free agents? Absolutely not,” Spielman stressed. “But if there are guys out there looking to come in and compete on a very good football team, we’re always going to welcome them to come in and compete.”

While that’s fine and dandy, in order for Minnesota to reach the next level, they must surround Bridgewater with some playmakers on the perimeter.

New Orleans Saints – Unlike Minnesota, the Saints issues come on the defensive side of the ball. With very limited cap space, it was a bit of a shocker to see New Orleans sign tight end Coby Fleener to a five-year deal worth $36 million.

Now, this is nothing against Fleener and his ability, but considering the Saints have much bigger needs defensively, it doesn’t quite make sense.

This past season, New Orleans yielded the league’s top passing attack, while having the 31st ranked defensive unit.

Drew Brees, 37, isn’t getting any younger, so it’s essential for New Orleans to take advantage of this opportunity while it lasts because after Brees is gone, the Saints will most likely go back to being irrelevant for a while.

Dallas Cowboys – The window to compete for a title is so small in the NFL and the Cowboys window just seems to get smaller by the year.

Obviously, last season was very unfortunate as Tony Romo missed 12 games and top receiver Dez Bryant missed a healthy chunk of the season as well.

While it’ll be nice to believe Romo will remain healthy, it’s something you can’t assume if you’re Jerry Jones, which is why he must sign a capable backup quarterback.

Also, Dallas needs some pass rush help, especially with the unpredictable futures of Greg Hardy and Randy Gregory.

It’s now or never for Dallas.

Philadelphia Eagles – Of course this team had to make the list.

Following the Chip Kelly debacle, the Eagles have made a concerted effort to remove everyone associated with him except for Sam Bradford.

The Eagles have already signed several players such as offensive lineman Brandon Brooks, safety Rodney McLeod, linebacker Nigel Bradham, quarterback Chase Daniel and cornerback Ron Brooks.

To be quite frank, no matter what happens this off-season, the Eagles won’t be looked at as contenders in the NFC, but fortunately for them, they’re in the NFC East, which doesn’t have a true favorite.

This team has plenty of holes that won’t all be able to be filled during free agency. However, at this point, it’s all about creating small victories that will hopefully turn out to be bigger victories over time.


About Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels is an NFL columnist for Football Insiders. He has several years of experience covering the NFL and NCAA football. He's the radio color commentator for Lincoln University football. Mark's work has been featured on Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports and Yard Barker.