By: Tony Meale

NFL Free Agency has begun ( check out our Free Agency Tracker here ) and we’re taking a look at which players each team and division needs to pick up to improve in the 2012 season.


Philadelphia (8-8)

Last season’s sexy preseason Super Bowl pick didn’t even make the playoffs.

That said, the Eagles won their last four games by a combined 125-46. Even more important, DeSean Jackson is going to get paid. That 2011 would be Jackson’s last year in Philly was a foregone conclusion. But after getting franchised – something most players dislike – Jackson, ironically enough, is happy (or at least should be, as he’s getting a pretty hefty raise). Jackson –maybe the speediest wideout in the game – is perfect for Philly’s offense, particularly with Michael Vick’s ability to buy time in the pocket.

So what do the Eagles need? Offensively, they could really use a Brandon Jacobs-type, someone who can grind out yards; that way, Philly doesn’t have to line up in shotgun every time it’s 3rd-and-1. Given Vick’s injury risk, the Eagles also need a better backup than Vince Young.

Defensively, Philly needs depth in the trenches and a run-stuffing linebacker. That’s where Boston College standout Luke Kuechly comes in at pick No. 15. He’s exactly the type of hard-nosed player that unit needs.

New York (9-7)

Super Bowl champions typically don’t need to improve on much – unless they’re losing valuable commodities to free agency, and the Giants may lose Mario Manningham, among others.

As long as Eli Manning has Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, the passing game figures to be fine. But the Giants finished last in the league in rushing last season. They should be in the market for a mauling offensive lineman – or at least one who can protect Manning, who was sacked 11 times in the postseason.

Defensively, the Giants have the best line in football, period, but re-signing Aaron Ross and getting more depth at linebacker would greatly improve New York’s odds of winning the division for the third time in five years.

Dallas (8-8)

Dallas started 7-4 last season before dropping four of five – including a pair to the Giants – to miss the postseason for the second year in a row. Tony Romo haters rejoiced.

The only problem is, it wasn’t Romo’s fault. The Cowboys’ defense ranked 14th last year, including seventh against the rush. Not bad. The pass defense, however, was abysmal, finishing 23rd. It wasn’t just the ranking, either. Dallas got burned way too many times last season by guys who were flat out wide open. Terence Newman is unlikely to be re-signed, which is probably a good thing, but the Cowboys need to make a push for Cortland Finnegan.

Dallas, which selects 14th in the draft, should consider taking Michael Brockers, a stud defensive end out of LSU, or – if unable to land Finnegan or another elite cornerback – North Alabama’s Janoris Jenkings or Alabama’s Dre Kirkpatrick.

No matter what the Cowboys do, missing the playoffs for a third straight year is not an option. But if they do, Romo may be out – regardless of how the defense plays.

Washington (5-11)

The Redskins have lost 10+ three straight seasons. Awesome.

Washington is considered a front runner in the Peyton Manning sweepstakes, but something tells me the Redskins want Peyton more than Peyton wants the Redskins. Unless Vincent Jackson or Marques Colston signs, who does Washington have for Peyton to throw to? Jabar Gaffney? Santana Moss? Fred Davis?

I’m not saying those guys aren’t decent pass-catchers, but are any of them elite? Or even above average?

But truthfully, I’m not so sure Washington should even want Manning. The Redskins have been the NFC East doormat for several years now. Is it possible that they could bring in Manning, right the ship and win a Super Bowl within a three- or four-year window? Yes. Is it likely? No.

If I’m a Redskins fan, Manning’s health isn’t nearly as big of a concern as his age. The fact is, this is a lifeless franchise, one that needs to start over with youth. Washington’s trade up should give them Robert Griffin III. He’s an electric, exciting player who could wind up being the face of the franchise for the next decade.

But re-signing or signing a bunch of veterans is not the way Washington should go. Yes, the NFL is a win-now league, but in three years, the Redskins would be better served by having a 25-year-old Robert Griffin than an almost-40 quarterback on his way to Canton.

Tony Meale is a freelance writer for, and, among others. His fantasy football work has led to guest appearances on several radio outlets, including ESPN Radio and Sirius Radio. He has a Master’s in Journalism from Ohio University and has been recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists for outstanding work. A Cincinnati native, he is currently writing a book on one of the great sports stories never told. Follow Tony Meale on Twitter @tonymeale.

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