Senior NFL Columnist

Key questions for 2013: The biggest issue facing every team

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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.

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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.

Atlanta Falcons

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.

Arizona Cardinals

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.

Baltimore Ravens

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.

Buffalo Bills

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?

Carolina Panthers

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.

Chicago Bears

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.

Cincinnati Bengals

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.

Cleveland Browns

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.

Dallas Cowboys

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.

Denver Broncos

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.

Detroit Lions

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.

Houston Texans

How do they improve the pass rush?

Take away J.J. Watt's huge sack year and they got very little from the rest of the front seven. Connor Barwin is a free agent, but he is coming off a down year at outside linebacker. Does he come back? What about adding another edge rusher?

Indianapolis Colts

How do they fix the offensive line?

They could make a run at an elite right tackle if one were to become available. Andrew Luck took too many shots last season. The line is average at best. Look for some early picks in the draft on the line. They have to protect the franchise player.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Who plays quarterback?

They have a new general manager (Dave Caldwell) and a new coach (Gus Bradley). Will they have a new quarterback? I think Blaine Gabbert gets the first shot to be the starter. He is still just 23 years old, and I hear both Caldwell and Bradley think he has the ability to grow. Look for the Jaguars to get another quarterback to go with Gabbert and Chad Henne.

Kansas City Chiefs

What does new coach Andy Reid do at quarterback?

There is talent on this team, but it won't matter if they didn't fix the quarterback position. Matt Cassel isn't the answer. The Chiefs could look to get a veteran player -- maybe Alex Smith -- or they could consider a quarterback with the first overall pick, but that would seem unlikely.

Miami Dolphins

How do they improve a pass offense that was 26th in passing yards?

They have to get weapons for Ryan Tannehill. In his rookie season, Tannehill flashed at times but he didn't have much in terms of speed outside. The Dolphins have to be willing to find a big-play weapon or two for him this offseason. It's not fair to judge him until they do.

Minnesota Vikings

What do they do to help Christian Ponder show he's the long-term guy at quarterback -- or is he?

Ponder struggled much of the season in 2012, even with Adrian Peterson running wild -- that's a concern -- but he played well late. The Vikings have to get him help in the passing game. Percy Harvin, who seems to be always hurt, is a slot receiver and he might be traded. They need a stretch-the-field player. That's the one big thing lacking on the Minnesota offense. Ponder needs that, although Jarius Wright has potential.

New England Patriots

Do they keep right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and receiver Wes Welker or do they let them walk and go younger?

As strange as it sounds, Vollmer would probably be the priority here. He is coming off a nice season -- although he tailed off late -- and helps bookend the line with Nate Solder. Welker is getting up in years, so if his demands are too high the Patriots might just let him walk. They can draft a younger, faster version.

New Orleans Saints

Now that Sean Payton is back as coach, how do they fix the defense?

It starts with a new scheme. They will change to the 3-4, but now they have to find the pieces to go with it. It looks like Rob Ryan is in as the defensive coordinator. He knows the 3-4, but it will be interesting to see the dynamic of Payton and Ryan together. They need edge rushers, too.

New York Giants

What to do with the offensive line?

That is a unit that tailed off in a big way in 2012. Now left tackle William Beatty and left guard Kevin Boothe are free agents. They have to fix that side of the line. The rest of the line wasn't much better. Eli Manning needs better play up front.

New York Jets

What do they do about the quarterback position?

Is Mark Sanchez salvageable after a horrible 2012 season? If not, what can they do? We know Tim Tebow isn't the answer. Maybe the move to coordinator Marty Mornhinweg will help. It can't hurt.

Oakland Raiders

Do they keep Carson Palmer?

He is scheduled to have a cap figure of $13 million, and that seems high for a quarterback who hasn't lived up to the expectations in Oakland. But what do they do if he refuses? Cut him? Then what? They have a tough decision there.

Philadelphia Eagles

Who will play quarterback for new coach Chip Kelly and in what offense?

Kelly ran the spread at Oregon, so it could mean Mike Vick is back to run it. But Kelly, who is known as an up-tempo coach, can also consider Nick Foles and go to a more conventional offense that plays fast. It will be interesting to see what Kelly decides to do.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Will this be the offseason of change for the Steelers?

It sure looks that way. The Steelers don't have a lot of cap room and they have some key free agents like receiver Mike Wallace. General manager Kevin Colbert has already hinted at big change coming. What do they do with their aging vets, such as James Harrison? There will be major changes on the offensive line as they go to a different style of blocking.

St. Louis Rams

How do they liven up an offense that was 25th in scoring?

It starts with better line play in front of Sam Bradford. They have to improve that unit in the offseason. Look for maybe a first-round pick there. They also have to hope second-year receivers Chris Givens and Brian Quick make strides in the offseason work. They need those two to stretch the field more.

San Diego Chargers

How do they fix the offensive line?

Philip Rivers took a beating in 2012 and new coach Mike McCoy and coordinator Ken Whisenhunt have to make sure the line is better to allow Rivers to get back to old ways. The problem is the Chargers don't have a lot of cap room to fix it. Expect some picks on the line early in the draft.

San Francisco 49ers

Will there be a Super hangover?

The last losing team in a Super Bowl to return the next season was the 1993 Buffalo Bills. That's a long time ago. The 49ers are built to have long-term success, with a deep, talented roster, but the division is closing on them fast.

Seattle Seahawks

How do they amp up the outside passing game?

They have the quarterback in Russell Wilson, but they need some help outside. Sidney Rice hasn't been what they expected. Look for the Seahawks to address receiver in free agency and in the draft. Wilson needs help.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

What should they do about Josh Freeman's contract?

It appears they will roll the dice with Freeman and not give him a long-term deal. Freeman is entering the final year of his rookie contract, so that's a risk. But he struggled in the second half of 2012. The Bucs probably want to see him do it early in 2012 and then maybe they give him a long-term deal.

Tennessee Titans

Is Jake Locker the long-term answer?

Locker flashed at times in 2012, but he was way too inconsistent. Now that the team has settled on Dowell Loggins as the offensive coordinator after Chris Palmer was fired during the season, Locker might be ready to show big improvement. If not, coach Mike Munchak and his staff will be looking for work next January.

Washington Redskins

How is Robert Griffin III's knee recovery?

After seeing Adrian Peterson do what he did, we tend to think that ACL injuries are easy to overcome. But RG3 has a long, hard fight on his hands. And when he does get back, will he be the same explosive runner? His ability to plant his foot in the ground and make cat-quick cuts is a big part of what made him special as a rookie. Can he play the same way in 2013? Will he miss time?


Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.
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