2017 NFL Free Agency: Teams with the most at stake

John Elway’s best moves as an executive have come in free agency. That’s where he rounded out his 2015 championship defense, and that’s where he can make amends after falling short of the playoffs.

The Broncos don’t accept mediocrity. They won at least 12 games with a playoff bye in four straight seasons before going 9-7 in 2016. Elway’s standards are so high that he fired coach John Fox after one of those 12-win years. This is not an organization designed for patience, making the next two weeks vital for the franchise.

Quarterback Tony Romo — presuming he is eventually released by the Cowboys — is the obvious big-name target, but the Broncos could be active in free agency at a number of positions. They have been mentioned as a suitor for defensive lineman Calais Campbell, the No. 2 overall free-agent-to-be on our Top 101 list. The offensive line is also a glaring weak spot.

“I feel more comfortable if we can take care of some needs in free agency,” Elway said at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. “I think that we can supplement some needs that we have through free agency because I don’t like going into the draft with big needs.”

Elway does not want to let the Broncos become just another franchise on his watch. That’s why they are among the teams with the most at stake in this free agency period. So, who else has a lot on the line this month?

Arizona Cardinals

Having a starting quarterback at the end of the line is the easiest way to make a season feel like now or never. The flirtation of Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald with retirement this offseason puts an expiration date on this version of the Bruce Arians Cardinals.

Even general manager Steve Keim’s 4-year-old knows the team needs its next “quarterback of the future,” but Keim needs to balance that pressing concern with supplementing a talented defensive roster that could be decimated. Defensive end Calais Campbell, linebacker Kevin Minter and safety Tony Jefferson all could leave via free agency after productive seasons. Listening to Keim and Arians at the combine, it sounded like they knew this offseason was massive for them, and they weren’t going to stay quiet.

New Orleans Saints

Sean Payton will always be loved in New Orleans for bringing the city a Super Bowl championship, but he’s on the verge of not being liked very much as his Saints stewardship potentially winds down. Three straight 7-9 seasons and a systemic inability to fix the defense have wasted the underrated golden years of Drew Brees‘ career.

The anticipated trade of wide receiver Brandin Cooks and probable departure of disruptive defensive tackle Nick Fairley are only two changes that should hit this roster. With a fine skill-position group in place, expect the Saints to address their defense with the aggression of a staff that knows it’s running out of time. The team’s speed and talent on defense is lackluster at every level. One more losing season would test owner Tom Benson’s…