Much of the attention in NFL free agency goes to the team that adds the new player. But what about the team left with a gaping hole on its roster? It's not always filled by an able-bodied backup. Instead, teams often look toward the NFL Draft for a replacement.
This year is certainly no different. Some of the biggest moves from the first week of free agency have teams rearranging their draft boards to fill the need. But that need isn't always satisfied in the first round. Here's how some of the league's biggest free agents can be replaced early and late in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Denver Broncos lose Danny Trevathan
Gone are Trevathan and the 736 defensive plays he was in last season, after he signed a four-year contract with the Chicago Bears.The Broncos need a to find a linebacker next to Brandon Marshall, and the only in-house options are Todd Davis and Corey Nelson. This is arguably a bigger need for Denver than replacing Malik Jackson, the league's highest-priced free agent this year.
In the draft, the first-round replacements like Myles Jack and Darron Lee will be gone when Denver's pick comes up at No. 31. The only first-round option is Kentrell Brothers of Missouri, and he projects more as a second-round choice. He doesn't have the range Trevathan does, but he's a sure tackler.
For Denver, a rookie inside linebacker could be found in the middle rounds. Dominique Alexander of Oklahoma is an athletic linebacker with range. Nick Vigil of Utah State left school after his junior season following a year of 144 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. Vigil, and Antonio Morrison of Florida, could be options early on Day 3 of the draft.
Denver has an opening at quarterback
If the Broncos fail to secure a suitable veteran quarterback to replace Brock Osweiler, how they handle the draft will determine the short and long-term future of the franchise. In the first round, the three top quarterbacks – Jared Goff, Carson Wentz and Paxton Lynch – will most likely be gone. Well, unless things get weird:
Take deep breath, Broncos fans Elway, Kubiak have QB hold-fort and draft plan. Believe Paxton Lynch is future if Cards take Connor Cook 29.— Jim Corbett (@ByJimCorbett) March 10, 2016
That's a lot to parse in a single tweet by the USA Today reporter. But let's stick to Denver. Maybe Lynch will be an option, but that seems unlikely. Cook, the experienced Michigan State starter, could be. If Cook is drafted to a team that lets him play early, he should find success with the right supporting cast. From a readiness standpoint, he's more suited than most of the quarterbacks in this year's draft. His ceiling, however, is considered much lower than the top three signal callers.
If the Broncos wait longer for their quarterback – the biggest risk a team can take in the draft – there are a few options. Brandon Doughty, the wildly productive quarterback from Western Kentucky, is one candidate in the middle rounds. His tools aren't eye-popping, but he throws with good timing and accuracy. Another candidate could be Stanford's Kevin Hogan. If not for a long delivery, he'd be more regarded as a prospect. He went to John Elway's alma mater, so the Broncos' front office chief should know him plenty.
Bruce Irvin out in Seattle
If the Seahawks find Irvin's successor in the draft, there are some mid-round sleepers. That is, of course, assuming they don't use the No. 26 pick to acquire a pass rusher. In the first round, that player could be Georgia's Leonard Floyd. He has experience rushing the quarterback standing up or with his hand in the dirt. He even played some inside linebacker for Georgia last season.
The issue with Floyd and the Seahawks is that the Bulldogs' player might not be there at 26. A possibility in the second round is Kamalei Correa of Boise State, though the chances of him being there with the No. 56 pick are also slim. General manager John Schneider could drop down in the first and target Correa early in the second. Schneider isn't afraid to make a trade, and dropping down would put them in the sweet spot for Correa in the late 30s or early 40s range. Jordan Jenkins, Floyd's teammate at Georgia, may not be an athletic star, but he's also capable of lining up in a variety of ways. His draft range is the third round. Much later, Florida's Alex McCalister is a developmental possibility with length and a solid first step.
Kansas City Chiefs replacing Sean Smith
As expected, cornerback Sean Smith opted for a big payday, signing a four-year, $38 million contract with the Raiders. Although the Chiefs have been adding players in the first couple days of free agency, none have been corners. If the Chiefs wait until the draft to find a replacement, they have a lot of choices. In the first round, Ohio State's Eli Apple has become a popular choice in mock drafts. He can do many of the same things Smith did for the Chiefs.
If the Chiefs wait, and want a longer corner, Rashard Robinson is intriguing on Day 3. He was suspended indefinitely by LSU in 2014 and hasn't played organized football since. But he has impressive length for the position and knows how to use it to jam and redirect receivers. Another cornerback on Day 3 with size is Deiondre' Hall of Northern Iowa. Other than getting burned by Braxton Miller, he had an impressive Senior Bowl. He has a penchant for making plays, and showed it with 13 career interceptions in college.
Cleveland Browns lose Mitchell Schwartz
Any of the Browns' big four lost free agents – Schwartz, wide receiver Travis Benjamin, safety Tashaun Gipson and center Alex Mack – could be mentioned. It's Schwartz, though, who is the most important to replace. Mack's replacement at center will most likely be Cameron Erving, a first-round pick last year. Gipson's replacement could be veteran Jordan Poyer. Benjamin's replacement isn't really needed since, well, the Browns have no semblance of a passing offense.
Schwartz's replacement will be key with the Browns expected to draft a quarterback with the second overall pick in the draft. At the start of the second, the Browns could target one of the offensive tackles who slides out of the first round. That could include Shon Coleman of Auburn or Germain Ifedi of Texas A&M. If Cleveland waits, there are some intriguing blockers in the middle of the draft. Joe Haeg should be available in the third round, and would pair nicely if the Browns draft his North Dakota State teammate Carson Wentz at No. 2. Pearce Slater of San Diego State, Brandon Shell of South Carolina and Joe Gore could be Day 3 possibilities.
Kelechi Osemele spurns Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens wanted to bring talented offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele back, but he opted to sign a five-year, $58.5 million contract with the Raiders. Osemele played guard for much of his career, but showed promise at left tackle in the final three games of last season. That leaves Baltimore searching for either his replacement at left guard, or a player who can beat Eugene Monroe for the left tackle spot.
With the sixth overall pick, the Ravens should be in a position to select Notre Dame's Ronnie Stanley. Although Stanley needs to get a little stronger for the NFL, he should be a plug-and-play rookie. Beyond the first round, Ifedi and Le'Raven Clark of Texas Tech could be candidates. Both players can play guard or tackle, which gives the Ravens some roster wiggle room.
Cincinnati Bengals burned at wide receiver
The Bengals lost both Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu last week, leaving them with A.J. Green, tight end Tyler Eifert and not a lot else in the passing game. In the first round, the Bengals should have their pick of Corey Coleman of Baylor, Josh Doctson of TCU and Michael Thomas of Ohio State
Considering that Jones and Sanu aren't No. 1 receivers, the Bengals could look to wait and fill the position later in the draft. Charone Peake could be the latest receiver out of Clemson to make waves in the NFL, following Martavis Bryant, DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins. He's not on their level, but he's big like Sanu and a solid route runner. Kolby Listenbee of TCU could fill a role as a speed vertical receiver in the fourth or fifth round of the draft. A late sleeper could be Ohio State's Jalin Marshall. He's raw, coming out after his junior season, but he can offer many of the same things Jones did for Cincinnati.
If the Bengals want pure dependability, Malcolm Mitchell of Georgia, Daniel Braverman of Western Michigan and Tajae Sharpe of Massachusetts are all mid-Day 3 picks who can contribute early but maybe not provide a lot of potential.