NFC top-three team needs

As NFL teams around the country put the final touches on their free-agent strategy, we examine the top three needs for each of the teams, according to the beat writers that cover those teams. Today, the NFC is up to bat, arranged by division.


1. Kicker: The Cowboys were undone by Nick Folk's sudden decline. He cost them games and affected how they called games. It didn't get any better when he was cut and replaced by Shaun Suisham. The Cowboys must find a kicker they can rely on. Look for them to consider Colts free-agent kicker Matt Stover.

2. Offensive tackle: LT Flozell Adams is getting old and RT Marc Colombo is coming off injury and a horrible performance in the playoffs. The Cowboys need to address the position for the future. They also might look at a guard to replace Kyle Kosier on the inside.

3. Safety: One area of the defense that needs addressing is safety. Ken Hamlin is good at getting players lined up but he makes few plays.


1. Linebacker: When the Giants line up in 2010, they will do so minus two-thirds of their starting linebacking group from a year ago. LB Antonio Pierce, who played the middle linebacker spot was released by the team, while last year's starting strong side linebacker, Danny Clark, is an unrestricted free agent who's not expected to be re-signed. In addition, the team is not likely to retain the oft-injured, soon-to-be restricted free agent Gerris Wilkinson. If the Giants do indeed complete the sweep by parting ways with Clark and Wilkinson, they will definitely need to replenish depth at this position.

2. Offensive line: William Beatty is expected to be inserted into the starting lineup at one of the tackle spots next season. Meanwhile the team might look to cut the cord on Guy Whimper, a former draft pick and restricted free agent whom Beatty and Kevin Boothe both surpassed on the depth chart in 2009. The Giants will also probably want to find additional depth at backup guard and center, as third-year man Adam Koets seems to have stalled in his quest to get to the next level in his development.

3. Safety: The Giants went into the 2009 season extremely thin at this position, a situation that was magnified by the early-season loss of starter Kenny Phillips. With veteran C.C. Brown, a restricted free agent, not likely to be brought back, and Phillips' longterm prognosis far from settled despite his being on schedule in his rehab, the Giants could look to add some veteran depth as insurance, even if they decide to leave Aaron Ross, who last year played four games at the position until his chronic hamstring issue put him back on the shelf, at safety.


1. Free safety: The departure of Brian Dawkins hurt the Eagles a lot more than they expected. None of the three people that replaced him — Sean Jones, Quintin Demps or Macho Harris — were very effective, which had a trickle-down effect on the play of strong safety Quintin Mikell. The Eagles likely will look for a safety fairly early in the draft.

2. Defensive end: The Eagles need an every-down left end to complement Pro Bowl right end Trent Cole. Undersized Juqua Parker, who started at left end last year, had a career-high eight sacks but isn't a guy that requires extra attention from blockers. And he's not very good at the point of attack because of his size. The Eagles had hoped Victor Abiamiri might fill that role, but he can't stay healthy, and was used strictly as a nickel tackle last year.

3. Center: The Eagles' starting center, Jamaal Jackson, tore his ACL late in the season and it's unlikely he'll be anywhere close to 100 percent by the start of next season. Nick Cole replaced him in the Eagles' last two games, but Cole is a better guard than center.


1. Offensive tackle: Stalwart left tackle Chris Samuels, 32, is expected to retire because of a spinal injury that ended his 2009 season in Week 5. Stephon Heyer isn't the answer at right tackle. Nor were Samuels' replacements at left tackle.

2. Guard: The Redskins started four right guards after mainstay Randy Thomas, who's 34 and figures to be gone, was lost for the year in Week 2. None were good.

3. Running back: Clinton Portis' final eight games of 2008 and first eight of 2009 were mediocre. He missed the last half of the year with a concussion, leaving his future in doubt less than seven months from his 29th birthday. Backup Ladell Betts will be 30 and is coming off major knee surgery.


1. Offensive line: Depending on whether Frank Omiyale stays at left guard or is switched back to his original position at tackle, the Bears need a starting-caliber player at whatever spot Omiyale doesn't play. Actually, based on his inconsistent performances last season, the Bears might even seek an upgrade for Omiyale. QB Jay Cutler must get better protection than he did last season if Mike Martz's offense is to flourish.

2. Defensive end: DLE Adewale Ogunleye is an unrestricted free agent and perennial disappointment Mark Anderson is restricted. Versatile journeyman Israel Idonije could step in for Ogunleye, but ideally the Bears would like someone who provides a better pass rush.

3. Free safety: The roster is full of string-safety types who are capable of physical play and solid run support, but the Bears lack a true ball hawk who is adept at coverage and can patrol the deep middle.


1. Defensive line: The Lions failed to generate a four-man rush and were inconsistent against the run in 2009. They need both a pass rusher on the edge and a force in the middle. They could use the No. 2 pick on one of two tackles: Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh or Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy.

2. Defensive back: Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham likes to blitz, but the Lions couldn't cover behind it in 2009. Safety Louis Delmas, the first pick of the second round last year, is their only really promising DB.

3. Running back: Kevin Smith is recovering from a torn ACL and separated shoulder, and the Lions needed more explosiveness at the position even before he got hurt.


1. Offensive tackle: The Packers potentially have vacancies at both positions since veterans Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher are due to become free agents. Even if the team brings both of them back, they're only short-term solutions at an advanced age — Clifton will be 34 and Tauscher 33 later this year.

2. Running back: Given the trend of teams to divvy up the carries between two backs, getting a worthwhile complement to Ryan Grant figures to be a priority. The Packers haven't had that luxury because of the fragile health of Brandon Jackson and DeShawn Wynn.

3. Safety: Incumbent starters Nick Collins and Atari Bigby will be restricted free agents if 2010 indeed becomes an uncapped year, so the team is all but certain to retain both players. There's little depth beyond them, however, and the Packers could be looking for an upgrade over the injury-plagued Bigby.


1. Cornerback: This becomes a position of need because of the ACL injury suffered by starting right corner Cedric Griffin and the foot problem that plagued left corner Antoine Winfield for much of last season. Benny Sapp could leave as a free agent further weakening this spot. Asher Allen will be entering his second season in 2010 but the Vikings need more depth here.

2. Quarterback: If Brett Favre doesn't return, or even if he does, the Vikings still don't have a long-term solution here. Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels are expected back — Jackson likely will be a restricted free agent — but are they the answers? The Vikings could use the 30th pick in the draft on this spot.

3. Safety: Madieu Williams has underwhelmed in his two seasons since signing as a free agent and Tyrell Johnson was extremely up-and-down in his first season as a full-time starter. Jamarca Sanford, a seventh-round pick in 2009, was impressive in limited time because of his willingness to hit but the Vikings might want to look at adding more pieces at these spots to create competition.


1. Defensive end: There are several good pass rushing defensive ends in the draft.

2. Cornerback: The Falcons will need to get bigger at cornerback and could go for Oklahoma State's Perrish Cox or Boise State's Kyle Wilson in the first round.

3. Backup quarterback: Chris Redman is a free agent and the Falcons will have to make a decision on whether to keep him or continue to develop John Parker Wilson.


1. Defensive end: If the Panthers fail to re-sign defensive end Julius Peppers or don't use the franchise tag on him it makes filling his role a priority. The Panthers drafted Everette Brown last year with an eye toward him taking Peppers' place. Look for the team to re-sign its other starting defensive end, Tyler Brayton. Charles Johnson will also return.

2. Wide receiver. Muhsin Muhammad will be 37 this year and the Panthers need a more explosive receiver to take some pressure off Steve Smith, who received constant double coverage last year.

3. Quarterback. The Panthers seem to like Matt Moore well enough, but Jake Delhomme's stock could be dropping. At the very least, the team will almost certainly let Josh McCown and A.J. Feeley walk and look to add another young quarterback via the draft or free agency.


1. Defensive tackle: The Saints were 21st against the run this season in allowing 122.1 yards per game and they were gashed for some big runs — especially in the second half of the season. Former first-round draft pick Sedrick Ellis is solid, but he could use some help in the middle.

2. Running back: After failing in a bid to get back into the first round of the 2008 draft to draft Beanie Wells, the Saints may well have one on their radar again. While Pierre Thomas, Mike Bell and Reggie Bush teamed up to help the Saints rank sixth in rushing at 131.6 yards a game, all had minor knee problems.

3. Tight end: Jeremy Shockey still has a lot left in the tank and David Thomas was a nice addition, but Shockey has been plagued by injuries the last three seasons and the Saints were thin at the position after Billy Miller was lost for the season with a torn Achilles' tendon.


1. Defensive line: The Bucs allowed nearly 160 yards per game rushing last season, primarily because they were beaten at the point of attack. Jimmy Wilkerson is recovering from a torn ACL. Chris Hovan is past his prime. Stylez G. White is a third-down rusher. With the third overall selection, they should be in position to draft an elite player.

2. Receiver: The Bucs will not franchise WR Antonio Bryant. They could re-sign him, but it depends on the market value. Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik said they want to build around Josh Freeman. But players like Michael Clayton and Maurice Stovall will not help him very much.

3. Cornerback: Ronde Barber is 34. The Bucs want to continue to press receivers when possible. They have a shutdown corner in Aqib Talib. They need another one.


1. Pass rusher: The Cardinals did a decent job with pressuring QBs this year, but they lack an elite rusher that could help close out games.

2. Inside linebacker: Karlos Dansby is likely to leave via free agency, and the team needs a playmaker at that position.

3. Quarterback: Matt Leinart is the only QB under contract. The club needs to draft a quarterback to prepare for the future.


1. Wide receiver: The returning group has a bunch of complementary receivers, but no proven standout. The Rams have to find a way to score points and take the defensive pressure away from running back Steven Jackson.

2. Quarterback: Will Bulger return? Will the first few rounds bring another young quarterback to develop? Those questions will dominate the offseason leading up to the draft.

3. Defensive lineman: There is a need for both a presence inside and on the edge where the futures of Leonard Little and James Hall are unknown. A consistent pass rush from both spots is needed.


1. Offensive tackle: The 49ers did not get consistently solid play from right tackle Adam Snyder, so that spot will be the top priority to fill in the draft. The 49ers should be able to accomplish that with one of their two first-round draft picks.

2. Return specialist: The 49ers struggled to find a player who could simply catch a punt. Their lack of production, and turnovers, in the return game were big factors in losses at Houston and Seattle. The club might look to land a dynamic return man within the first three rounds.

3. Cornerback: The club needs to add more speed to the secondary, and getting a young cornerback will give them the versatility to mix up their coverages on third downs.


1. Running back: New offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates said Justin Forsett and Julius Jones are good fits for the team's zone blocking scheme. However, the Seahawks could still use a dynamic playmaker at the running back position.

2. Defensive end: With Patrick Kerney likely not coming back this year and the Seahawks struggling to generate a consistent pass rush the past two seasons, the team could use an elite pass rusher coming off the edge.

3. Offensive tackle: With Walter Jones likely retiring and Sean Locklear struggling to stay healthy, Seattle needs an upgrade at the left tackle position.

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