http://www.floridatoday.com/apps/pbc...63/1002/SPORTS

A look at the NFC

BY CARL KOTALA
FLORIDA TODAY
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NFC East

Dallas: The Cowboys' biggest needs are on the offensive line, and they will likely look there in the draft and free agency. They also need help at linebacker and free safety. Finding a young wide receiver is a priority since Keyshawn Johnson is 33. Dallas is a likely destination for a veteran free-agent kicker.

New York Giants: Clearly, the Giants need to improve their secondary, particularly at cornerback. Free agent Will Allen didn't have a single interception and likely won't be back. Weakside linebacker Nick Greisen is a keeper. Left tackle Luke Petitgout could be a cap casualty, especially after struggling last season.

Philadelphia: Injuries and the Terrell Owens situation played a big role in the Eagles' fall from NFC champions to 6-10. But they have plenty of holes, too. They could use a top-flight receiver, a power runner and an edge rusher to compliment Jevon Kearse. Philadelphia needs a big offseason to regain its hold on the division.

Washington: Joe Gibbs already made a big pickup by hiring offensive coordinator Al Saunders. Backup QB Patrick Ramsey will probably be released or traded. Redskins will look for a wide receiver in free agency or the draft. It might be Antwaan Randle El, assuming the team can clear enough cap room. One potential victim? Linebacker LaVar Arrington.

NFC North

Chicago: The Bears have made Randle El, who grew up in Chicago, their No. 1 target. A speedy receiver who can stretch the defense would be a nice addition, along with a pass-catching tight end. Defensively, the Bears need help at cornerback and linebacker. There is concern about defensive lineman Terry "Tank" Johnson, recently arrested for the second time in eight months.

Detroit: New offensive coordinator Mike Martz has a history of bringing out the best in quarterbacks, which could give Joey Harrington a new lease on his Lions' career. Left tackle Jeff Backus is a free agent who could draw attention. Even if Detroit keeps him, the line needs to be improved. Wide receiver Charles Rogers could be released.

Green Bay: Brett Favre's retirement decision has drawn the most interest, but the Packers face other questions. Runners Ahman Green and Najeh Davenport are free agents. Green says he'd like to return, probably with an incentive-laden contract, to challenge Samkon Gado for the starting job. Other free agents: defensive end Aaron Kampman, defensive tackle Grady Jackson and kicker Ryan Longwell.

Minnesota: Daunte Culpepper's injury status and contract status continue to be a hot topic. Culpepper wants an extension, and there has been talk he could reunite with former coach Dennis Green in Arizona, or be traded elsewhere. Free agent runner Michael Bennett struggled last season and could be gone. Guard Toniu Fonoti was woefully out of shape when he came to the Vikings in a trade, but if he can get himself right, he's a mauler who might be worth keeping around.

NFC Central

Atlanta: Michael Vick is still waiting for a reliable wide receiver to throw to, but this team really struggled last season on defense. The Falcons need help on the line and especially at both safety spots. Free-agent left tackle Kevin Shaffer should get offers and the team appears to be ready to let him go. New QB coach Bill Musgrave will get a shot at turning Vick into a more efficient passer.

Carolina: Finding at least one other weapon to take the heat off wide receiver Steve Smith is a must. That could mean another receiver or a reliable running back who won't find his way to the injury list. Stephen Davis will likely be cut, and DeShaun Foster is a free agent. If Shaun Alexander doesn't stay in Seattle, the Panthers would be interested.

New Orleans: Aaron Brooks is done in New Orleans unless new coach Sean Payton likes the inconsistent quarterback. Center LeCharles Bentley will become a hot free-agent commodity unless he gets the franchise tag. The linebacking corps needs an overhaul, and the offensive line and defensive tackle spots need improvement.

Tampa Bay: The Buccaneers face a big decision at quarterback. Chris Simms is a restricted free agent, and it might be prudent to sign him to a long-term deal. Brian Griese is due a $2.6 million roster bonus in March and has a cap figure of roughly $7 million. The team would like to keep both, but might not be able to afford it. Tampa Bay is expected to approach star defensive players Simeon Rice and Derrick Brooks about restructuring their contracts. Otherwise they may be forced to let a big-name veteran go.

NFC West

Arizona: The Cardinals are expected to have roughly $20 million to play with this offseason. But how will they use it? They signed quarterback Kurt Warner, but Josh McCown is a free agent and might be allowed to leave. Arizona could make a splash by pursuing someone like running back Edgerrin James. Of course, it won't matter unless Dennis Green does something about a horrible offensive line.

St. Louis: Safety Adam Archuleta is the kind of big hitter defenses need, but he is likely headed elsewhere, possibly Chicago and former defensive coordinator Lovie Smith. The Rams have a tough decision up front, where Damion Lewis and Ryan Pickett are free agents. Pickett had the better season but might be more expensive. Don't be surprised if new coach Scott Linehan drafts a tight end.

San Francisco: Linebacker Julian Peterson, defensive end Andre Carter and linebacker Derek Smith will be free agents. It'll be interesting to see how many, if any, the ***** keep. Peterson, twice tagged as the franchise player, is expected to leave. The team is desperate for help at receiver but could draft a running back, forcing Kevan Barlow to win a job in training camp.

Seattle: The NFC champions have two of the biggest free agents. Running back Shaun Alexander's contract contains a clause that says he can't be given the franchise tag, so guard Steve Hutchinson likely will get it. Pro Bowl fullback Mack Strong, wide receiver Joe Jurevicius and defensive lineman Rocky Bernard are also free agents. The team could use help at safety.