It’s the dog days of the NFL offseason, more or less, unless you are one of those people misguidedly inclined to read too much into the glorified walkthroughs known as OTAs. In which case, I probably lost you a long time ago.

A year ago I gave my take right about this time on the most intriguing player in each NFL franchise as we inched closer to the start of training camp and actual NFL padded practices. This year, I’m expanding the scope of this exercise to include the most intriguing figure in any organization. It could be a coordinator, coach, owner, trainer, and well, in one instance – in the NFC -- I’d actually go so far as to pick someone not even on the payroll at all.

Here are the most intriguing figures, team-by-team, in the AFC. Click here for my take on the NFC's most influential.

I wanted to go big picture here, with so many franchises undergoing macro-level issues that frankly will trump anything that any one player does for a team on the field this season. We have teams that could end up for sale, and three teams vying for two spots in Los Angeles. It’s far too easy to do a list like this, in this quarterback-driven league, and end up with it overloaded with passers. I wanted to limit myself from going overboard with quarterbacks and try to approach things from a different perspective, in some cases more nuanced, perhaps. And in one case, I just had to lump a group of players together.

Basically, I’m looking at individuals whose decisions and/or performance on the field or off it could go a long way toward dictating the short-term future of their franchises, if not their entire long-term prospects in the instances where franchise relocations could be involved. So here goes: The most influential figure for each team in the AFC:

Buffalo Bills

Rex Ryan, head coach: He is the identity of the Bills and he’ll get whatever he wants, more or less, from rookie owner Terry Pegula. Ryan is clearly the new sheriff in town. His bold and brash nature is now synonymous with a team that frankly generated little-to-no national buzz for a long, long time and has been seemingly stuck at 6-10 for, oh, a decade or so. It’s all about Sexy Rexy now and he has all the tools on defense to punish people, and, well, yeah he still pretty much doesn’t have a quarterback and Bill Belichick is still standing in his way. But, dammit, if the Bills do go 6-10 this year, they won’t be boring in doing so.

Rex Ryan has big plans for the Bills. (Getty Images)
Rex Ryan is ready to rock in Buffalo. (Getty Images)

Miami Dolphins

Mike Tannenbaum, Executive VP of Football Operations: Make no mistake, Tannenbaum is running this thing. Miami, on paper, had a tremendous offseason and Tannenbaum has the owner’s ear on pretty much all matters. But the team has yet to play a game with him in charge, and with coach Joe Philbin on the hot seat, and expectations raised, we’ll see how quickly any changes come if the team doesn’t have the season some are projecting. The early returns have been very positive from a roster, cap and contract standpoint.

New England Patriots

Robert Kraft, owner: I almost went Tom Brady here, but post Deflategate I’m going with the biggest man on campus. We already know that Brady and Belichick will use the NFL’s overblown penalties against them to post a monster season … what we don’t know is what Kraft might get on the back end for dropping any attempt to challenge the NFL formally for those penalties, and when or where his influential hand might fall. Make no mistake, he’s still fuming over how this was all handled by the highest parts of the league office, and he may be the most powerful man in football next to the commissioner himself. At some point in 2015 I wonder if he doesn’t bite his tongue, pending the outcome of Brady’s appeal and eventual court case.

New York Jets

Geno Smith, quarterback: The Jets spent like madmen and made brash, proactive moves to try to bolster pretty much every aspect of the franchise, except for quarterback. They weren’t in love with the kids in the top of this draft at that position and the new brass wants to give Smith a legit shot for one year with some semblance of talent around him. There are way more pass-catching options now, and the rebuilt secondary should make that defense stout again, so if Smith can manage games and protect the football this might be one of the more surprising teams in the league.

Cincinnati Bengals

Marvin Lewis, head coach: It’s all about the playoffs for the Bengals now, and Lewis’s inability to win a postseason game is beyond chronic. It’s almost ingrained. His teams have been totally pummeled in the second half of postseason games and some sort of counter-adjustment to that must occur. With him getting one-year extensions that aren’t exactly a ringing endorsement at this point, you have to wonder when owner Mike Brown’s well-renowned patience might run out. Another playoff beatdown could be it.

Cleveland Browns

John DeFilippo, offensive coordinator: This group was a mess in the second half of last season and the talent on offense is hard to find and now a rookie coordinator is taking the reigns after Kyle Shanahan pulled off the coup of the decade to get out of his deal. The easy headline would be Johnny Manziel here, but I don’t expect him to see the field much at all, and DeFilippo will have his hands full culling production out of this group in what could be a make-or-break season for head coach Mike Pettine. Constant change has been a hallmark of owner Jimmy Haslam’s reign in Cleveland.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Le’Veon Bell, running back: Bell makes the Steelers go, as his absence from their playoff loss to Baltimore indicated, and he starts this season serving a one-game suspension. That game, against reigning champs New England, could be the difference between making the playoffs and not doing so in such a hotly-competitive league. And Bell, I am sure, will be devoted to making up for lost time once he’s back. His amazing ball-catching skills force defenses to compensate and opens up so much for the bevy of weapons outside as well. I almost went with rookie defensive coordinator Keith Butler, who takes over for legend Dick LeBeau, but I think this team will go as Bell goes. If he stays healthy and out of trouble, the Steelers might have the best offense in the game.

Le'Veon Bell accepts responsibility for his arrest last year. (Getty Images)
Le'Veon Bell will have to make up for lost time after sitting out the Steelers' opener. (Getty Images)

Baltimore Ravens

Courtney Upshaw, linebacker: This defense has always been about crushing quarterbacks, but with so many edge players departing in free agency in recent years (Paul Kruger, Pernell McPhee, Jarrett Johnson to name a few), and with Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumerville much closer to the end than their prime, Upshaw needs to become a factor for this team and help usher in a young wave of players able to attack the opposing quarterback. Factor in the loss of Haloti Ngata and Art Jones from the interior of this defense in the past 15 months, and you realize how much the youngsters must make an impact. CJ Mosley did as a rookie last year and Upshaw needs to play to his full pedigree in 2015.

Indianapolis Colts

Jim Irsay, owner: He’s a bit of a different cat, he’s been chased by his own demons and is no stranger to controversy himself. And he may be playing with fire by allowing his franchise quarterback and immensely successful head coach to play out their contracts another year. Chances are both only drive their price up exponentially, and I’m baffled, frankly, that both Andrew Luck and Chuck Pagano aren’t locked up long-term already. Luck, we know, won’t go anywhere. He’s just going to cost the Colts a lot more with another stellar season, especially with guys like Cam Newton continuing to drive quarterback prices up. Pagano, I imagine, would be a much-coveted coaching free agent. Interesting play.

Will Jim Irsay regret not paying Andrew Luck now? (USATSI)

Houston Texans

DeAndre Hopkins, receiver: The Texans have a playoff roster everywhere but at the quarterback spot, and with face-of-the-franchise Andre Johnson gone from their receiving group, Hopkins will be counted on to elevate the play of others. He’s the man in that passing game now, and he is a helluva talent. He and Ryan Mallett seemed to be simpatico in the brief time they played together. He’s the fulcrum now. You could make a case for Jadeveon Clowney here, coming back from an injury-marred rookie season, but I think that defense will be fine with or without him.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Gus Bradley, head coach: Bradley’s message and ethos is contagious, his enthusiasm is off the charts and clearly this team has made some strides in recent years. But it’s a results business and the Jags can’t keep building massive holes in the first two months of the season. They are at a point where progress will be measured more by wins and losses, and this could be a pivotal season for him. The roster has improved from the one he inherited and the Jags have a few dynamic players in the fold now.

Tennessee Titans

Marcus Mariota, quarterback: The worst team in the NFL doesn’t take the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback second overall for him to ride the bench, and he won’t. Much is in his hands now, as the ownership group figures out its long-term future (or perhaps sells as many around the NFL expect by the spring of 2016) and decisions will be made on how much time to give head coach Ken Whisenhunt and GM Ruston Webster. Drafting Mariota was a huge nexus in the future of the organization. If it doesn’t work, don’t think there won’t be major consequences.

Denver Broncos

Ryan Harris, left tackle.: Peyton Manning was not right in the second half of last season and he was especially not right when teams were able to pressure him. It was downright ugly at times, and with star left tackle Ryan Clady hurt again and out for the season, and the offensive line already a major source of offseason concern, having to sign Harris off the street to watch Manning’s blindside might be a bad omen of what’s to come. Not everyone gets to go out on his own terms, and an injury to Manning would obviously irrevocably alter the course of this franchise that is hoping it’s still on the cusp of a Super Bowl and holding back Father Time in the process.

Kansas City Chiefs

Alex Smith, quarterback: Could it be that Smith finds himself back more or less where he was in San Francisco before he was dealt to Kansas City? Is he a nice quarterback, and an all-time great guy, who perhaps might be best equipped to take a team only so far? He can help them turn the corner and make strides, but is he going to roll off two or three straight wins in January? His contract will mandate that he’s in town through 2016 in all likelihood, but a tepid season like 2014 might hasten the process of finding a quarterback of the future. Getting the ball downfield and getting some receivers in the end zone is imperative.

San Diego Chargers

Dean Spanos, owner: He’s played the game with the city of San Diego for so long and been the good guy and all of that, but two teams are going to be playing in LA by 2016 and he can’t afford to sit this race out. Energy is focused on the project he is spearheading with the Raiders in Carson and this is his baby. He may have divested day-to-day control to his capable sons and assistants, but shepherding this franchise into a proper NFL stadium will be a huge part of his legacy and Spanos is favored by many of his fellow owners to do just that. His popularity and amicable nature are important factors in what will be a little bit like electing a prom king when it comes to the ownership votes on who gets to go to LA.

Dean Spanos is not interested in another southern California team. (USATSI)
Will Dean Spanos win the NFL's race to LA? (USATSI)

Oakland Raiders

DJ Hayden, cornerback: It would have been easy to go with owner Mark Davis, who has been begging to get his team to LA for quite some time, but he’s more or less along for the ride with Spanos’ project for now and he’ll be the second man in that LA equation either way many figure. Now, if Hayden can give them anything at all -- their first round pick in 2013 was coming off a serious medical issue at the time he was drafted and has been oft-injured since -- Oakland just might have the makings of a bi-time defense. The linebackers are badass and the defensive line is good enough; having anything close to a shutdown corner would be huge. Maybe Hayden can get it done.