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CBS SPORTS - With the Super Bowl behind us, and free agency around the corner, it’s time to take a look at the key questions facing every NFL team this offseason.
The teams that do the best job of answering them in a positive way are the teams that will show improvement, which, for some, could mean a Super Bowl victory. For others, it might just mean a step in the right direction.
For the Ravens, the Super Bowl champions, it will mean trying to stay on top.
Not all teams will answer their major questions, which could lead to coaches being fired, general managers hitting the road and complete turnover.
So take a look at the key questions facing all these teams. The teams that answer them best might just be playing in Super Bowl XLVIII next year.
How do they improve the pass rush?
Aside from John Abraham, who could be a cap casualty, the Falcons have little in terms of pressuring the quarterback. In a division with Drew Brees and Cam Newton, that has to change. Look for Atlanta to draft one or two pass rushers early in the draft. They could also look at an edge rusher in free agency.
What do they do at quarterback?
New coach Bruce Arians is known as an offensive guy. But you can’t make chicken salad out of chicken crap. So he needs a quarterback. Who is that guy? It doesn’t seem as if Kevin Kolb or John Skelton will be that guy, so they need to get one. Is it Drew Stanton, who was with Arians in Indianapolis? Or do they draft one? Without a quality quarterback, Arians would be doomed to fail.
What does Joe Flacco get paid?
The Ravens have the franchise tag in their pocket, but the $14.6 million that goes with it will be tough to eat in their current cap situation. It could be as high as $20 million. That could mean the release of some veterans. The ideal way to handle it would be to give Flacco a long-term deal and then try and keep guys like Dannell Ellerbe.
Is Ryan Fitzpatrick the quarterback in 2013?
The Bills can let him go and save some money on the cap. They paid him a big deal in 2011 and he hasn’t played as well as expected. New coach Doug Marrone might want his own guy in there. That could mean a rookie first-round pick. Or do they keep Fitzpatrick for another year?
How do they get more out of Cam Newton?
In the second half of 2012, Newton flashed star potential as a passer. He improved from a slow start and really seemed much more comfortable in the pocket. I think the Panthers have to decide that this is his team and not feature so much read-option in their offense. He’s good enough to be a pocket passer. Let him do it under new coordinator Mike Shula.
Can new coach Marc Trestman turn Jay Cutler into a Super Bowl quarterback?
Trestman, who comes from Canada, is considered an offensive wizard. He loves the passing game, which should make Cutler happy. This is a passing league, and the Bears have been too run heavy. Let Cutler chuck it around in 2013, which is something I think they will do.
What do they do with Andre Smith and Michael Johnson, their top two free agents?
One of those two will get the franchise tag. Johnson would seem to be the more likely of the two because edge rushers have more value. Johnson had 11½ sacks last season and he is only 25. Smith played well at right tackle in 2012 and appears ready to push for a Pro Bowl — if right tackles ever got in.
Is Brandon Weeden the long-term answer?
That’s a question that new coach Rob Chudzinski and football men Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi have to decide. If he isn’t, they have to find a guy. I think they will give Weeden another year to show what he can do. And that would be the right decision. It’s too soon to pull the plug.
How do they fix the defense?
It starts with a change at coordinator from Rob Ryan to Monte Kiffin. That will mean a change to a 4-3 Cover-2 scheme, which means DeMarcus Ware playing with his hand down all the time. That’s a big change. The Cowboys need to improve in the secondary if they are to make a smooth transition.
What to do about a lack of running attack?
With Peyton Manning putting up big numbers, you would think the Broncos could run the ball better than they did. They averaged 3.8 yards per rush, which was 25th best in the league. That’s not good enough. They need to focus on finding an elite back to complement Manning.
Do they bring back defensive end Cliff Avril?
They already released Kyle Vanden Bosch, their other defensive end, so it would make sense. The problem is the Lions don’t have a lot of cap room and Avril will be expensive. It’s going to be tough. But the pass rush wasn’t great with him anyway, which makes it tricky.
Green Bay Packers
What do they do with top receiver Greg Jennings, who is a free agent?
They probably let him walk. The Packers have Randall Cobb, James Jones and Jordy Nelson left if Jennings goes. And Aaron Rodgers can make any receiver look good. Jennings is good, but if his price gets out of whack, the Packers have no choice but to let him go.
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