Week 6 is a pivotal time in NFL front offices. This is the week when NFL GMs stand back, take a breath and try to figure out where their team is going. As I can tell you from recent experience, the direction is not always a positive one. And while some contenders may be weighing the merits of trades for a final missing piece, others need to start looking to the future.
The standings tell the tale. Since 1990, teams that start the NFL season with a 1-4 record make the playoffs only 5.6 percent of the time. That means it is time for a long hard look in the mirror for at least five still-developing teams -- the Chiefs, Browns, Raiders, Jaguars and Panthers. In most cases, front offices will use this week to assess their biggest voids and try to find creative ways to fill them. And they often begin filling them long before the start of free agency or the draft.
Over the next several weeks you will see teams calling in a number of free agents for workouts. Beginning on cut-down day, front offices start crafting a list of prospective players to try out, ranking them based on their performances in the preseason (or, in some cases, regular season) as well as the team's positional needs and priorities. This is standard practice as teams try to guard against injuries, but teams outside of the playoff hunt will also use the rest of their season as a kind of audition period to see which of their problems -- if any -- they can solve on the cheap.
As teams turn their focus to adding in-season free agents, the talent pool there will dry up fast. In my experience, any available free-agent talent has completely dried up by Halloween. Once the new players are aboard, the front office will pay close attention to their play so that by Thanksgiving the team can begin its economic evaluations and prepare to prioritize its moves for the offseason.
But the first step is to determine positions of need. To be clear, this is a snapshot of how things appear in the aftermath of Week 6. In some instances, particularly in Kansas City, the needs could change. No team is going to make a final assessment this early. What they will do is try to get an idea of the road ahead. And that's what I'm going to do here.
Looking at those five teams mentioned earlier, here are the key areas I think they'll want to address in the days ahead.
Looking at the Chiefs, the top need is clear. They need a new quarterback.