theScore goes division by division to identify the biggest positional needs for all 32 NFL teams entering free agency.


New England Patriots

Biggest need: Edge rusher

Other needs: Linebacker, tight end

Positing any upgrades the Patriots should make as “needs” is a bit disingenuous, as the reigning Super Bowl champions possess depth across the board and are well-suited to retain a number of key players.

New England recorded 34 sacks in 2016, tied for 16th in the NFL. Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard are slated to become free agents and while the Patriots could retain them both if they so desired, it’s a position worth addressing this summer.

Dont’a Hightower is coming off a standout season but it’s been widely reported that he’s seeking a lucrative deal this summer, a position that Bill Belichick may balk at. If Hightower leaves, the Patriots will need to find another elite run-stopper to make up for his departure.

Rob Gronkowski is on pace to become the greatest tight end of all-time, but there’s reason to be concerned about his long-term health after suffering a season-ending back injury. Martellus Bennett will test free agency as well, and the Patriots could be facing a void at one of their positions of strength.

Potential free-agent targets: The Patriots enter free agency with approximately $62 million in cap space. New England will spend some of it on trying to retaining some of their key free agents – namely Malcolm Butler (restricted), Hightower, and LeGarrette Blount.

Calais Campbell is a top-tier lineman who boasts an incredible array of pass-rush moves. Campbell is seeking a Super Bowl and he may be inclined to take less than market value to join the Patriots. Johnathan Hankins and Domato Peko also represent great value for the Patriots.

Retaining Hightower will be among the Patriots’ top priorities. But if he leaves, Lawrence Timmons could stand in as a reasonable facsimile. Malcolm Smith is another reasonable option for the club.

If Bennett isn’t retained, the Patriots will go through a dire tight end class and Jack Doyle may represent the best value going forward.

Miami Dolphins

Biggest need: Defensive tackle

Other needs: Safety, edge rusher

It may be hard to digest that a team that signed Ndamukong Suh to a six-year, $114-million contract two years ago sports a need at defensive tackle. However, outside of Suh and Jordan Phillips, the Dolphins are barren at the position.

Reshad Jones is among the NFL’s best safeties but missed 10 games due to a rotator cuff injury and the Dolphins need to develop a contingency plan in the event he goes down again. Lacking both talent and depth at safety outside of Jones, it’s time for the Dolphins to remedy this need.

The Dolphins also lack depth at edge rusher and need to fortify the position. Cameron Wake is one of the NFL’s standout defenders, but with Terrence Fede and Julius Warmsley as the only other options they have, the Dolphins need to bolster their roster.

Potential free-agent targets: Bennie Logan and Johnathan Hankins are in the prime of their careers and while both defensive tackles may come with an expensive price tag, the Dolphins should make offers to both of them, fortifying what ought to be an improved front seven.

Johnathan Cyprien is one of the premier run-stopping safeties in the NFL and would add to the Dolphins’ bruising identity in the secondary. If Jones goes down with injury, Cyprien can provide a reasonable impression of his skill set. Miami should also consider adding T.J. McDonald or Rashad Johnson.

The Dolphins should aim to retain Andre Branch, but if he leaves, Jabaal Sheard and Datone Jones should provide the team with good value at edge rusher on team-friendly contracts.

Buffalo Bills

Biggest need: Quarterback

Other needs: Safety, wide receiver, linebacker

The Bills are playing a game of roulette with franchise quarterback Tyrod Taylor ahead of a March 11 deadline. If Taylor remains on the roster, the Bills will pay him a $27.5-million roster bonus. Taylor passed a physical and if the Bills intend to release him, they’ll have to do so before the bonus kicks in.

This scenario dictates everything the Bills do in free agency. With Taylor on the roster, the Bills will address needs at safety, wide receiver, and linebacker. However, if Taylor is released, the Bills will need to find a new quarterback imminently.

There are real concerns about Aaron Williams returning to action after suffering his second severe neck injury in two years. With a host of replacement-level players set to take his place, the Bills need to find an upgrade.

Sammy Watkins battled through foot issues throughout the entire 2016 season, while Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin, and Justin Hunter are all slated to become unrestricted free agents. Irrespective of retaining Taylor, the Bills may need to replenish the roster.

Lorenzo Alexander and Zach Brown are also scheduled to test free agency, and if both players leave Buffalo, there will be a gaping hole in the front seven.

Potential free-agent targets: If Taylor leaves, Mike Glennon may be the best stop-gap option available for the Bills. Other options include Geno Smith and Ryan Fitzpatrick, although the latter may cause fans to walkout on the club.

Barry Church is coming off one of the best seasons of his career and will provide the Bills with a veteran option at safety, if he chooses to sign with the club. T.J. McDonald is 26 and has shown flashes of stardom at times, and the Bills would be able to ink him to a cost-effective deal.

Buffalo should try to retain Alexander and Brown if possible, but if the duo elects to leave, Malcolm Smith should be on its radar. Dont’a Hightower is an unlikely option, but he could elevate the defense to new heights if the Bills break the bank.

New York Jets

Biggest need: Cornerback

Other needs: Quarterback, tight end

Darrelle Revis faces up to 20 years in jail stemming from an altercation in Pittsburgh, where he was charged with four felonies. Revis was a liability on the field for the first time in his career, while Buster Skrine, Marcus Williams, and Juston Burris don’t inspire any confidence whatsoever.

It doesn’t appear likely that Geno Smith or Ryan Fitzpatrick will be on the roster next season, but it’s also unlikely the Jets will find their franchise pivot on this year’s market.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Brandon Bostick are the best tight ends on the roster. That sentence alone should jar the Jets into action.

Potential free-agent targets: Morris Claiborne is a high-risk, high-reward cornerback and the Jets ought to pursue him this summer. He’s five years removed from being the sixth overall pick and the Jets could acquire a player finally reaching his ceiling. Logan Ryan is another top corner worth recruiting, coming off the best season of his career.

This year’s tight end class is barren, but Jared Cook is a low-risk, high-reward prospect for the Jets, who’ve received next to nothing from the position during Todd Bowles’ tenure.

(Photos courtesy: Action Images)