For most NFL teams, the process of figuring out how to get better starts this week.
And every club – even the one that winds up winning the Super Bowl next month – will try to make upgrades during the offseason via free agency, the draft or trades.
”Teams are self-evaluating right now,” said Ted Sundquist, the former general manager of the Denver Broncos, ”letting the owner know, `This is where we think we’re at. This is the direction that we’re going to go. This is where we think we need to improve in order to get to the playoffs next year.’ You have a firm understanding, having come out of Week 17, where your holes are.”
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Some teams need more help than others, of course. And some moves will work out better than others.
”Sometimes, the chips just fall the way they do,” Sundquist said, ”and your plan just gets blown up.”
What’s known is that there will be change.
”When you finish the season in the National Football League, you’re probably dreaming if you think you’re going to have the same exact roster back as you had a year ago,” Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. ”We’re going to have a draft with new players. We’re going to have free agents. We’re going to lose some of our free agents.”
Reporters from The Associated Press who cover the NFL look at what each team’s most pressing needs are:
COWBOYS : DE, CB – Suspensions and injuries cast doubt over whether Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence are long-term answers as pass rushers. CBs Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr might not be back, so Dallas could revisit 2012, when it signed Carr in free agency and moved up in the draft to take Claiborne.
GIANTS : OL, QB – The running game has been bad for years and the offensive line could use plenty of help, especially at tackle. Eli Manning just turned 36, so it’s time to find a real QB of the future.
REDSKINS : DL, LB – Didn’t do much last offseason to upgrade their defensive line, which needs a run-stopper or two; only eight teams allowed more rushing yards. A starting linebacker, plus depth there, is also a must.
EAGLES : WR, CB – A topflight wideout, particularly a deep threat, is the most pressing need, because Philadelphia only had one with 500 yards receiving. A starting cornerback is another priority.
FALCONS : DT – Atlanta’s biggest remaining hole is the interior defensive line, where Jonathan Babineaux is 35.
BUCCANEERS : RB, WR – Running back became a priority when Doug Martin was suspended for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. Also needed: a receiver to take attention off Mike Evans.
SAINTS : DE, CB, LB – Need another edge rusher to make teams pay for using multiple blockers on DE Cameron Jordan. New Orleans struggled with CB depth, while an upgrade over journeyman MLB Craig Robertson would help a struggling defense, too.
PANTHERS : WR, OL – Cam Newton’s numbers went from MVP-worthy to mediocre and part of the problem was a lack of help. Carolina had just one receiver among the top 50 in catches. Offensive tackle is an area of need, with Michael Oher’s uncertain future and Mike Remmers’ inconsistent play.
PACKERS : CB, OLB, RB – After a series of injuries at cornerback, stunting the development of Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, Green Bay needs someone at that position, along with help for the pass rush. Also must figure out a plan at running back.
LIONS : OL, LB – Detroit must do a better job of protecting QB Matthew Stafford and improving the running game, so a veteran to join an offensive line that started two rookies in 2016 would be a good start. Could replace oft-injured LB DeAndre Levy.
VIKINGS : OL – The line failed to protect QB Sam Bradford at times and largely was responsible for the league’s worst rushing offense (75.3 yards per game, 3.2 per carry). Left guard Alex Boone and center Joe Berger are probably the only keepers.
BEARS : QB – Whether or not Jay Cutler stays, Chicago clearly needs its quarterback of the future.
SEAHAWKS : OL, RB – Despite an overhaul last offseason, offensive line is still an issue. Wouldn’t hurt to add a running back to ease Thomas Rawls’ load.
CARDINALS : CB, OL – The most glaring need is a DB to play opposite Patrick Peterson. Arizona needs help along the interior and depth for its offensive line.
RAMS : OL, WR – To help Jared Goff and Todd Gurley, improvement is needed along the mediocre line and throughout an unimpressive receiving corps.
49ERS : QB – San Francisco has plenty of needs, but none more important than quarterback after neither Blaine Gabbert nor Colin Kaepernick impressed this season. The only other QB on the roster is journeyman Christian Ponder, so the Niners might add a couple.
PATRIOTS : DE – After trading Chandler Jones in the offseason, then Jamie Collins in October, and with Chris Long a free agent, New England likely will want young talent to replenish the front seven.
DOLPHINS : LB – Kiko Alonso was solid when healthy, but Miami could use at least two linebackers after having trouble stopping the run and defending short passes over the middle. Plus, injuries exposed a lack of depth.
BILLS : WR, S, QB – Big holes at receiver, where Buffalo needs someone opposite Sammy Watkins, and safety, where Aaron Williams’ neck injury created problems. QB has been unsettled since Jim Kelly retired two decades ago.
JETS : QB, CB, S – A roster overhaul starts at quarterback, where Ryan Fitzpatrick was a bust, Geno Smith got hurt, Bryce Petty was uninspiring before getting hurt, and Christian Hackenberg is a real project. With Darrelle Revis a shell of his shutdown self, New York’s secondary could end up with four new starters.
TEXANS : OT, QB – LT Derek Newton tore both patellar tendons on one play in October and it’s unlikely he’ll be ready for the start of next season, while Duane Brown is an unrestricted free agent after next season. Houston could draft a QB after Brock Osweiler’s poor season.
TITANS : CB, WR – Cornerback is a glaring need, with Jason McCourty finishing up his eighth season and Perrish Cox gone. Tennessee could use a speedy wide receiver to stretch the field.
COLTS : Pass rusher, CB – Indianapolis needs someone to chase down QBs, thanks to Robert Mathis’ retirement and Trent Cole’s contract expiring. Adding a cornerback to start opposite Vontae Davis also would help.
JAGUARS : OL – Made strides along their offensive line, going from allowing 71 sacks in 2014, to 51 in 2015, to 34 this season. But if QB Blake Bortles is going to develop further, he needs more protection, so Jacksonville should add at least one tackle and maybe two interior linemen.
STEELERS : LB – James Harrison is 38 and isn’t going to play forever. Pittsburgh needs to develop a consistent pass rusher opposite Bud Dupree. Lawrence Timmons is set to become a free agent and former first-round pick Jarvis Jones not in the team’s 2017 plans.
RAVENS : CB – A season-ending injury to Jimmy Smith left the Ravens with journeyman Shareece Wright and rookie Tavon Young at the corners for the final three weeks.
BENGALS : OL, DE – Only six teams allowed more sacks. Cincinnati expected first-round pick Cedric Ogbuehi to move into the right tackle spot, but he struggled, had his role reduced, and was benched. The defense is old, and the line struggled to generate pressure at times.
BROWNS : QB – Robert Griffin III got hurt in the opener, missed 11 games, returned, showed rust, then got hurt again. After skipping the chance to draft a top college quarterback last year, Cleveland must get it right with one of its two top-10 picks.
CHIEFS : LB, WR – Derrick Johnson ruptured his Achilles tendon; he already was in the twilight of his career. So finding a middle linebacker is crucial. And Kansas City’s seemingly endless search for offensive help means it’ll eye a wideout to support Jeremy Maclin and Tyreek Hill.
RAIDERS : LB – Oakland could use a more dominant inside linebacker than Perry Riley Jr. or Malcolm Smith to complement edge rushers Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin.
BRONCOS : OL – Denver must refurbish its line for the second consecutive offseason. Two free agents, Russell Okung and Donald Stephenson, didn’t fare well. Guards Max Garcia and Ty Sambrailo regressed. Center Matt Paradis was bothered all season by bad hips.
CHARGERS : Owner – It won’t happen, but fans have been clamoring for it as Dean Spanos appears to be leaning toward moving the team to Los Angeles. The Chargers missed the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons – and were the only team to lose to the 1-15 Browns.
AP Sports Writers Genaro Armas, Bob Baum, Greg Beacham, Tim Booth, Dave Campbell, Tom Canavan, Schuyler Dixon, Josh Dubow, David Ginsburg, Fred Goodall, Will Graves, Kyle Hightower, Joe Kay, Larry Lage, Mark Long, Rob Maaddi, Michael Marot, Brett Martel, Charles Odum, Steve Reed, Kristie Rieken, Andrew Seligman, David Skretta, Arnie Stapleton, Teresa M. Walker, Dennis Waszak Jr., John Wawrow, Steven Wine, Bernie Wilson and Tom Withers contributed.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and AP NFL Twitter feed: http://twitter.com/AP-NFL