Originally Posted by Drek
With that $9.75M to work with and our full allotment of draft picks this is the road map I'd outline for us:
1. Running Back.
I see a RB taylor made for this offense in the draft, his name is Stepfan Taylor from Stanford, currently projected as a late 2nd/early 3rd by most draft prognosticators. He's a well rounded three down back who can contribute in all phases of the Manning offense, much like Knowshon Moreno. He should offer a bit more explosiveness than Moreno and will be an ideal #2 behind him for a season or two before replacing him. Couple this with Hillman developing physically and we could have a good two back tandem of Taylor and Hillman for a long time going forward.
2. Offensive Line.
I'd love to draft one of the premier guards in this class, and Barrett Jones before his lisfranc was my top target with our first round pick. Unfortunately I just don't see the numbers adding up there, as the premier OGs likely go before our first round pick, Jones' health makes him a question mark we can't really afford to roll the dice on before round 3, and honestly, we need a guy we know can contribute right away. To me that means free agency. Obviously a late round OL should be included in the mix, but a quality 6th man needs to be acquired on the OL. To that end my personal preference would be signing Louis Vasquez away from the Chargers. He was a spread OL in college and is a better pass protector than run blocker, but has improved in that aspect of his game in the pros. Most importantly he's big and powerful. With the Chargers dropping both Smith and Turner there will likely be some front office transition and Vasquez isn't the kind of guy you put a tag on. For an AAV around $4-$5M we likely could lock up a 26 year old starting guard for a reasonable price. This would bump Beadles to the swing guard/tackle role, making him that 6th man I was talking about. If Vasquez can't be had then Donald Thomas from New England would be a solid alternative, competing with Beadles for the LG job while also providing another player with some experience at OC in a pinch.
3. Defensive Tackle.
We won't be in range to grab a standout DT in the draft and also will not have the money to go after a Henry Melton. That's ok because I see a perfect fit that will likely sign cheap on a "make good" deal. Terence Knighton of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Some off-field issues and freak injury problems have greatly depleted Knighton's value, including him losing his starting job in Jacksonville. They have a new GM and are likely once again changing coaches. This sounds like an excellent opportunity for Del Rio to recruit one of his former standouts, getting Knighton here on reasonable money to provide the 4-3 nose tackle this defense needs to take the next step. His salary would likely be quite reasonable since he needs to re-establish his value. If he does that and makes our roster he'd bump one of the other DTs off, making this more or less cap neutral as far as the final 53 man roster is concerned (what the cap number is based on).
4. Middle Linebacker.
To me this is where we go with our first round pick. Manti Te'o, Kevin Minter, and Alec Ogeltree are all first round worthy MLBs and one is almost definitely going to be available for us in the first. If Te'o's lackluster championship game makes him slide to us then great, we're sitting pretty, otherwise I'd be more than happy with Alec Ogeltree, the former safety with elite athleticism and NFL ready coverage skills. He'd instantly improve our ability to handle opposing TEs.
This is a two part solution. Step one, move Champ to safety, taking his declining speed from only above average back to elite status, step two is sign another corner to battle Carter for the #2 job opposite Harris. This leaves a safety depth chart of Champ, Rahim Moore (he's a solid player, he's coming back, quit hating on him for one play), Q. Carter, and Bruton. I like the looks of that. So that leads straight to...
Ideal world Del Rio can get us a sweet deal on Derek Cox from Jacksonville. While oft-injured he's a standout when on the field. I don't see that happening though, he's likely looking at >$7M AAV and we'd have a hard time fitting that on the books. The alternative also comes from Jacksonville though, in the form of Rashean Mathis. A former standout at corner he wasn't quite up to par this season after his ACL tear in 2011. He's healthy now though and got stronger as the year went on. He's an older experienced veteran who would provide us a very solid base to only work up from at #2 corner if Carter takes the next step forward. This way worst case scenario Mathis is #2, Carter is #3, and Omar Boldin is #4. Solid group. Add another mid to late round corner and we should be doing ok here.
So that's a road map I'd like to see the team shoot for. Use the available cash to splash the pot in stealing a division rival's best young OL, fixing one of our weaknesses while creating one for them, add even moderate draft luck and we can hit needs while still going BPA in rounds 1 and 2, then fill out the other immediate needs with low cost veteran signings that Del Rio should have some strong appeal to.
I completely agree with this except for the need at OL/S.
We already have a much improved interior with Walton/Beadles so I think they'll get better next year now that they'll be used to playing in this offense. Kuper will be at full strength next year along with Franklin continuing to improve. Koppen, Blake, and Ramirez will provide very good depth. So the question is: Any OL we bring in would have to be better than any of these guys to make the final roster.
The best chance for improvement in this team is going to come one of two ways:
1. Upgrading the biggest weakness in the roster at MLB, DT, RB (Moreno is good in this offense but we should expect a lot more from our run game it's up against 6 man fronts with safeties deep most of the time). Our run game is NOT a home run threat with any of our backs and there's huge room for improvement there. Our OL, passing game is good enough to create opportunities for the run game but ask yourself how many times the likes of Moreno/Hillman couldn't evade that final tackler that was the difference between a nice 12-15 yard gain and a home run?
2. BPA in the draft. We need another x-factor in this team. We have a number of them like Von with his pass rush, Trindon Holliday in Special Teams, Manning in the passing game but we still need a couple more difference makers against the run (either at DT or MLB) and a home run threat at RB or even TE.
I think the TE position is the dark horse in terms of need. Tamme isn't a difference maker, he's a decent compliment but not a guy who's going to dominate the opposition and our passing game is built to open up the crossing/shallow routes over the middle for a big time TE to exploit.