Most NFL teams prefer to build their roster through the draft. It allows them to acquire cost-controlled, young talent. That philosophy isn't likely to change this offseason, but that doesn't mean teams won't try to add talent through free agency. Though it is nearly impossible to build the majority of a roster from free agency, at least without running into serious salary cap implications, teams may be able to add a key piece or two to help take them over the top. A great example is the Seattle Seahawks, who had a hole at pass rusher last offseason and went out and signed Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett.
Like Bennett and Avril did for Seattle, top free agents will often pay immediate dividends. For some, the perfect piece might just be waiting to hit the market.
Arizona Cardinals: LT Branden Albert
Bradley Sowell may be the worst starting left tackle in the league, give the Cardinals a desperate need for an upgrade. Though Albert has had injury issues the last two seasons, he has otherwise been a solid starter for the Chiefs over the last six seasons, and is worth the risk.
Atlanta Falcons: DE Lamarr Houston
Atlanta was the fourth-worst team in the league in terms of sacks last season, and needs somebody who can get to the quarterback. Houston proved he can do so in Oakland. Justin Babineaux is slated to hit the market, and the Falcons need help at both defensive tackle and defensive end. At 300 pounds, Houston has the ability to provide pressure from both positions.
Baltimore Ravens: LT Eugene Monroe
The Ravens gave up fourth- and fifth-round picks to bring Monroe up from Jacksonville in a mid-season trade, and they woud like a return of more than 11 games. It appears they may be on the verge of letting right tackle Michael Oher walk in free agency, and they would rather not be searching for two bookends this offseason.
Buffalo Bills: TE Dennis Pitta
After a seven-touchdown campaign in 2012, Pitta missed all but four games last season with a hip injury. Regardless, his potential makes him an intriguing replacement for Scott Chandler, whose contract is expiring.
The Panthers have 21 players set to hit free agency, and three of those expiring contracts belong to wide receivers Ted Ginn Jr., Brandon LaFell and Domenik Hixon. Carolina needs a cheap, playmaking compliment for the aging Steve Smith, and Baldwin, fresh off a Super Bowl win with the Seahawks, will be a restricted free agent.
The Bears had the worst safety play in the league last season. Chris Conte and Major Wright were Nos. 1 and 2 in missed tackles at the position, according to Pro Football Focus. On the flip side, Ward was second in tackles among all safeties. For a team that gave up nearly 30 points per game last season, the Bears need a reliable last line of defense.
Cincinnati Bengals: CB Vontae Davis
Leon Hall is plagued by injuries, Terence Newman is turning 36 and Adam Jones is now more than 30 years old. Davis would provide a fix in terms of durability and age. At 25 years old, he started all 16 games for the Colts last season. In the process, Davis held opposing receivers to a 50.6 catch percentage and has emerged as one of the best young corners in the game.
Cleveland Browns: RB Knowshon Moreno
Cleveland actually looks pretty smart after the Trent Richardson trade, but that still leaves them with an atrocious running back situation. The team's leading rusher in 2013, Willis McGahee, averaged a paltry 2.7 yards per carry, is 32 years old and is set to be a free agent himself. Moreno rushed for more than 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns for the first time in his career last season, and would be a massive upgrade McGahee, though his lack of production over the previous four years is cause for some concern. Ben Tate, who is looking to escape the shadow of Arian Foster in Houston, is another strong option for the Browns.
Thanks to rampant salary cap issues, Dallas will almost assuredly have to let defensive tackle Jason Hatcher walk in free agency. Henry Melton, an undersized but effective interior pass-rusher, could provide the perfect fit. He is coming off an ACL tear and a recent arrest, but those issues, while concerning, will also drive down his price tag for the cap-strapped Cowboys.
Denver Broncos: CB Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie
Offensive stars Moreno and Eric Decker have grabbed the headlines among Denver's in-house free agents, but Rodgers-Cromartie is likely the priority of the bunch. Peyton Manning is going to put up numbers regardless of who he is throwing to, and Montee Ball makes Moreno expendable. Rodgers-Cromartie, who Pro Football Focus rated as the fifth-best cornerback in the league last season, is a critical part of the secondary, especially considering that Champ Bailey will be 36 next season and Chris Harris is coming off an ACL tear.
Detroit Lions: CB Sam Shields
The Lions don't beat the Packers very often. If they could somehow lure a talented young playmaking corner like Shields away from their division rivals, the equation might change when the 2014 season rolls around. Detroit needs to get better in coverage, as well as producing turnovers. Shield has 11 picks over his last three seasons. However, it's first going to take some cap work for the Lions to free up space before they can to do much of anything in free agency this year.
Green Bay Packers: OLB Jason Worilds
The Packers' linebacking corps was decimated by injuries last season, exposing a critical lack of depth. It could get even thinner if they lose Mike Neal to free agency. Worilds piled up eight sacks in his fist true season as a starter in Pittsburgh, and will come much cheaper than Brian Orakpo, the crown jewel of the free agent linebackers.
Houston Texans: QB Matt Cassel
The Texans should spend the No. 1 overall draft pick on a franchise quarterback, but even if they elect to wait until the later rounds, a young signal caller will be arriving in Houston this offseason. The odds of Matt Schaub getting released grow by the day, but the team will still need a veteran to stabilize the position while the youngster is groomed. Cassel opted out of a similar situation with the Vikings, but could possibly be convinced to pair with Andre Johnson in H-Town.
Indianapolis Colts: ILB Daryl Smith
Brandon Spikes could be a possible candidate to fill the Colts' need at inside linebacker, but his shortcomings in pass defense may be an issue. Smith, who did an admirable job taking over for Ray Lewis in Baltimore last season, is a more well-rounded option, rating fifth-best among interior backers in pass coverage at Pro Football Focus.
Jacksonville Jaguars: DE Greg Hardy
The Jags have been patient in their rebuilding process, and may elect to go one more season before cashing in on their cap space. But they need an elite outside rusher right now, and Jadeveon Clowney might not be on the board when the No. 3 pick rolls around. Hardy was unstoppable late in the season for Carolina. He will only be 26 next season, making him the most attractive defensive end on the market.
Kansas City Chiefs: WR Jeremy Maclin
Alex Smith needs someone to throw to other than Dwayne Bowe. Maclin played under Andy Reid in Philadelphia, and after missing the entire 2013 season with an ACL tear, could come at a bargain price.
Miami Dolphins: LG Jon Asamoah
The Jonathan Martin/Richie Icognito debacle cost the Dolphins their left guard and left tackle, so they need serious help on that side of the offensive line. Asamoah is only 25 and has been reliable in his three years in Kansas City.
Minnesota Vikings: CB Brent Grimes
The Vikings were second-to-last in the NFL in 2013 against the pass, allowing 287 yards per game through the air. Their secondary was a mess after an injury knocked out free safety Harrison Smith, the most competent player among the bunch. Smith's return from injury and the addition of Grimes, who is over 30 but put together a Pro Bowl season in Miami, would solve a lot of problems.
New England Patriots: TE Scott Chandler
At first glance, tight end doesn't appear to be as pressing a need as wide receiver, especially with Rob Gronkowski on the roster. But Gronkowski's durability is a serious concern at this point, and even if he is healthy, the Pats love to run two-tight end formations. Bagging Chandler would allow Bill Belichick to run the offense like he did when Aaron Hernandez was still on the team.
Whether it be a franchise tag or a record-setting multi-year contract, the Saints need to find a way to keep Graham in New Orleans. His freakish combination of size, speed and leaping ability makes him close to un-defendable -- 1,215 yards, 16 touchdowns last season -- and he has already developed a scary connection with Drew Brees.
New York Giants: RB Ben Tate
You can take your pick among Giants long list of needs -- offensive line, secondary, defensive end, wide receiver -- but running back isn't a bad place to start. A serious neck injury has jeopardized the career of former first-round pick David Wilson, and there isn't much behind him. Tate has been trapped behind Arian Foster on Houston's depth chart for years, and is ready to prove he can be a feature back.
New York Jets: WR Eric Decker
Rumor has it the Jets aren't interested in Decker, but the marriage makes sense. Decker wants to be paid like a No. 1 receiver after a breakout year in Denver, and the Jets have the cap room to do it. Poor Geno Smith was forced to throw to a cast of nobodies during his rookie season. Even if the Jets have their doubts about Decker, he's undoubtedly a massive upgrade over what they currently have at the position.
Oakland Raiders: LT Jared Veldheer
Veldheer has been one of the Raiders' best players during his four-year stay in Oakland, and the team needs to lock him down with a long-term contract. They will likely be taking a quarterback high in the draft, and protecting that investment with a reliable blind-side blocker is a priority.
Philadelphia Eagles: OLB Brian Orakpo
The Eagles may be cautious about investing in high-priced free agents after their so-called "dream team" of 2011 imploded, but Orakpo is worth the money. The Eagles' secondary also needs an upgrade, but adding a pass-rushing threat like Orakpo, who had 10 sacks last season, will indirectly help that issue as well.
Pittsburgh Steelers: WR Hakeem Nicks
Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery are set to be free agents, and the Steelers, sitting nearly $13 million over the estimated 2014 salary cap, can't afford to bring them both back. Sanders is as good as gone, which means Pittsburgh needs to bring in a cheap complement to Antonio Brown. Enter Nicks, who had a disappointing, touchdown-less season with the Giants, but does have a proven track record of success prior to his disappointing 2013.
San Diego Chargers: CB Aqib Talib
While the Chargers have a solid pairing at safety with Eric Weddle and Marcus Gilchrirst, they could use some help at corner. The free agent corner market is deep, and Talib figures to be one of the top players on the board. The Chargers aren't flush with cap space, but should have enough to pull off a significant deal or two if they choose. Shoring up the secondary with a legitimate top corner could help the Chargers make a consecutive playoff appearance next season.
Verner may be a bit rich for the Niners' taste given that they may be forced to pony up a hefty extension for Colin Kaepernick. However, some financial creativity could land them one of the top cover guys on the market. They could save $6.6 million by cutting Carlos Rogers, then turn around and use a portion of their saving to replace him with Verner.
Seattle Seahawks: WR Golden Tate
The Seahawks have plenty of candidates for re-signing, but not much cap room to do it. Michael Bennett is set to walk and Earl Thomas is due a sizable raise. Re-signing Tate, as crazy as it might have sounded one year ago, is a priority, however. Fellow wideout Doug Baldwin is also a free agent, Sidney Rice and his exorbitant contract are expected to be cut and Percy Harvin is a major injury risk.
St. Louis Rams: WR Anquan Boldin
The Rams attempted to address the wide receiver position by drafting Tavon Austin and Steadman Bailey out of West Virginia last year, but neither was very productive in 2013. That's not to say that they won't be in the future, but Sam Bradford needs immediate help if he hopes to live up to his massive salary.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: DE Michael Bennett
The Buccaneers let Bennett walk out of Tampa last season, and then watched as he piled up 8.5 sacks with the Seahawks. Lovie Smith's first priority will be strengthening the defense, and he needs a reliable edge rusher to do so. Bennett and the Bucs could be set for a reunion.
Tennessee Titans: ILB Karlos Dansby
Ken Whisenhunt is expected to move the Titans into a 3-4 defense, but doesn't currently have the pieces at linebacker to run it. Dansby had a strong showing in Arizona's 3-4 last season, and while he's getting up there in age (32), his experience will be invaluable in helping to smooth the defensive transition.
Washington Redskins: FS Jairus Byrd
One thing Mike Shanahan didn't leave in ruins was the Redskins' salary cap situation, which is currently around $24 million under the projected limit. They will have plenty of money to upgrade their woeful secondary with a Pro Bowl safety who is ready to make his exit from Buffalo.