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By the Numbers

3 Pre-Free Agency Needs for Every NFL Team

by Ian Hartitz
Updated On: February 13, 2020, 5:31 pm ET

17. Dallas Cowboys

Team needs: Quarterback, secondary, pass catcher

  • This shouldn't be hard: Re-sign Dak Prescott. He ranks among the league's top-13 QBs in adjusted net yards per attempt and QB Rating among 43 signal callers to start at least 16 games since 2016. Per PFF, the 49ers (58%), Chiefs (54%) and Saints (53%) were the only teams with a higher percentage of catchable deep ball targets than the Cowboys (53%).
  • The Cowboys are the only team in the league with fewer than $10 million devoted to their 2020 secondary. CBs Byron Jones and Anthony Brown are each free agents, while this safety group has been in need of an upgrade for awhile. The secondary was poor against No. 1 WRs (19th in DVOA), No. 2 WRs (25th), Other WRs (20th), TEs (26th) and RBs (19th) alike in 2019.
  • It remains to be seen what the Cowboys will do with potential free agent WRs Amari Cooper, Randall Cobb and Tavon Austin as well as TEs Jason Witten and Blake Jarwin. Perhaps they'll gamble that Prescott can elevate an average group; the Cowboys posted the fifth-highest rate of on-target passes in 2019. Still, they'll need someone other than Michael Gallup.

18. Pittsburgh Steelers

Team needs: Quarterback, offensive line, pass rusher

  • Ben Roethlisberger will turn 38 in March. Clearly neither Mason Rudolph nor Devlin Hodges are the answer; they ranked 36th and 40th in adjusted net yards per pass attempt, respectively, among 42 QBs to throw at least 100 passes last season. This is a sneaky complete team, but they'll need to pray that Big Ben stays healthy if the plan is to wait on adding another QB.
  • Nobody averaged fewer yards before contact per rush than the Steelers in 2019. Each of Hodges (No. 9) and Rudolph (No. 10) ranked among PFF's most-pressured QBs on a per-dropback basis last season. The offensive line obviously deserves some blame, although defenses also didn't make a habit of respecting this passing attack.
  • The Steelers boasted the league's best defense in Havoc rate and pressures per dropback. Still, OLB Bud Dupree and DT Javon Hargrave are free agents, and the team's robust 36.9% blitz rate was the seventh-highest mark in the league. This team doesn't have many pressing needs, but finding a more consistent complement on the edge to game-wrecking OLB T.J. Watt would be nice.

19. Chicago Bears

Team needs: Quarterback, safety, offensive line

  • Mitchell Trubisky among 42 QBs to throw 100-plus passes in 2019: adjusted net yards pet attempt (No. 35), QB Rating (No. 32) and touchdown rate (No. 36). Only Josh Rosen (4.4), Joe Flacco (5.9), Josh Allen (6.2) and Sam Darnold (6.3) have averaged fewer adjusted yards per attempt than Trubisky (6.4) among QBs with at least 16 starts since 2017.
  • One-year starter Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is a free agent, as are backup safeties Deon Bush and DeAndre Houston-Carson. FS Eddie Jackson has already inked a long-term deal, but his counterpart remains the most-glaring weakness in the Bears' otherwise sturdy defense. The Bears allowed the seventh-most yards per game to opposing TEs in 2019.
  • RG Kyle Long retired, leaving the Bears offensive line very thin. They struggled to get much of a push in 2019, averaging the fourth-fewest adjusted line yards per rush while ranking 31st and 30th in 2nd-level and open-field yards per carry, respectively. G James Daniels was the only Bears guard or tackle ranked among PFF's top-30 players at their position.

20. Los Angeles Rams

Team needs: Offensive line, cornerback, defensive line

  • The Rams failed to adequately replace LG Rodger Saffold or C John Sullivan in 2019 and suffered extreme regression from LT Andrew Whitworth. Jared Goff's contract is too expensive to immediately move on from. Ranking 19th in adjusted line yards per rush and allowing Goff to be pressured on 35.8% of his dropbacks isn't good for business.
  • Obviously CB Jalen Ramsey is a baller, but the Rams still have another starting CB to fill after trading both Marcus Peters and Aqib TalibNickell Robey-Coleman (PFF's No. 19 ranked corner) is a great nickelback, and Troy Hill (No. 12) was fantastic after stepping into the starting lineup, but at the very least the depth of the unit should be addressed.
  • Edge defenders Michael Brockers and Dante Fowler are free agents. All-world DL Aaron Donald can control the middle of the trenches on his own, but investing elsewhere in this front seven should be prioritized. The Rams were a below-average run defense in adjusted line yards per rush allowed over left end (No. 18), left tackle (No. 17), right tackle (No. 25) and right end (No. 22).

21. Philadelphia Eagles

Team needs: Cornerback, wide receiver, linebacker

  • The list of No. 1 WRs to ball out against the Eagles over the past 24 months is too long for a single bullet point. The team decided against addressing the position last offseason due to injuries, but the performance of Sidney Jones (PFF's No. 66 CB), Avonte Maddox (No. 87), Jalen Mills (No. 101), Rasul Douglas (No. 115) and Ronald Darby (No. 127) in 2019 confirms that new talent needs to be added to the group immediately.
  • Philly was exposed at the end of last season without the likes of DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor on the field. 2019 second-round pick JJ Arcega-Whiteside finished the season with just 10 receptions for 169 yards and a touchdown despite playing all 16 games. The Eagles were the league's fifth-worst offense in yards after the catch per reception.
  • The Eagles didn't quite manage to replace LB Jordan Hicks, leading to only Nigel Bradham (No. 35) ranking among PFF's top-50 LBs in 2019. The Eagles boasted the league's third-best defense in adjusted line yards allowed per rush ... but ranked 23rd in open field yards allowed per carry. They currently have the 10th-fewest 2020 dollars devoted to the LB position.

22. Buffalo Bills

Team needs: Front seven, offensive line, quarterback

  • 2019 No. 9 overall pick Ed Oliver (PFF's No. 75 ranked interior defender) failed to adequately replace long-time DT Kyle Williams as a rookie. Ultimately, the Bills were much better against the pass (No. 5 in DVOA) compared to the run (No. 18). Only the Bengals, Ravens and Colts have fewer 2020 dollars devoted to the LB position than the Bills.
  • LG Quinton Spain is a free agent. The Bills were a below-average unit in adjusted sack rate (No. 23) and adjusted line yards per rush (No. 16). They're one of nine teams with fewer than $30 million 2020 dollars devoted to the offensive line. OT Cody Ford (2019 2nd), G Wyatt Teller (2018 5th) and G Dion Dawkins (2017 2nd) are their only o-linemen drafted since 2015.
  • I believe in Josh Allen (I think). The inclusion of QB on this list is more a testament to how complete this Bills team is as well as a realization that they should probably bring in someone to compete with career backup Matt Barkley. Allen improved in literally every passing metric in 2019, but still ranked just 24th among 42 qualified QBs in adjusted yards per attempt.

23. New England Patriots

Team needs: Quarterback, pass catcher, front seven

  • Tom Brady will be 43 next August. There isn't much reason at the moment to believe 2019 fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham is a realistic long-term answer at the position. The Patriots ranked 21st in yards per play in 2019, marking their least-efficient season since 2002 (22nd). Brady's average of 6.8 adjusted yards per attempt was his worst mark since 2006.
  • Obviously Brady wasn't great in 2019, but the lack of reliable WRs or TEs didn't help matters. Julian Edelman (No. 30) was the team's only WR ranked among PFF's top-70 players at the position in yards per route run. Improvement in year two from 2019 first-round WR N'Keal Harry should be expected, although this remains a unit of need with Phillip Dorsett a free agent.
  • New England boasts a loaded secondary. They were slightly less dominant at the line of scrimmage, achieving the 10th-highest pressure rate despite blitzing on 37% of their opponent's dropbacks in 2019. Front-seven contributors Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Danny Shelton, Shilique Calhoun and Adam Butler are free agents. You were almost better off running (4.2 YPC) compared to passing (5 NY/A) vs. the Pats.

24. New Orleans Saints

Team needs: Quarterback, wide receiver, pass rush

  • Each of Drew Brees, Teddy Bridgewater and Taysom Hill are free agents. Neither Brees (No. 43 in deep-ball rate) nor Bridgewater (No. 46) made a habit of throwing the ball downfield in 2019, meaning Hill's strong arm could wind up being utilized regardless of who winds up starting under center. Brees is 41 and evaluating whether or not he wants to play in 2020.
  • Michael Thomas deserves to be in any conversation surrounding the single-best WR in the NFL. Still, Ted Ginn is a free agent, and Tre'Quan Smith hasn't provided much consistency as a complementary pass-game option. Adding a big-play option to clear out underneath and intermediate areas of the field for Thomas, Alvin Kamara and Jared Cook would be huge.
  • The loss of DE Marcus Davenport truly hurt the Saints Defense down the stretch of the 2019 season. This defense ranked third and second in Havoc rate and pressured per dropback, respectively, but had to blitz at a top-10 rate to do so. More consistent pressure from their defensive line could help ease the burden on the team's talented – but under-performing – CBs.
Ian Hartitz

All things NFL. Great day to be great. You can follow Ian on Twitter @Ihartitz.