NFL 2012-2013: Each Team's Best and Worst Offseason Move
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In the NFL, Organized Team Activities (OTAs) are basically over for most teams, and training camp is looming in July. In short, the transaction period is coming to an end.
This offseason—the first full one since the new CBA was announced last fall—was filled with several action-packed weeks of free agent signings, compelling trades, and an exciting draft that helped level the playing field across the NFL.
Every team had needs this offseason, and many were quick to act. A lot of teams had unhappy superstars, and many were quick to fix that. A majority of teams had coaches, GMs or presidents they wanted out of town, and several of them acted on whims as well.
2012 looks to be a promising season as teams like San Diego, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, and Indianapolis try to rebound; while San Fran, Baltimore, New England and reigning champs New York try to stay on top.
So, without further ado, let's introduce and analyze each team's best and worst move of the 2012 NFL offseason, organized by division.
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Best: Extending Pass-Rusher Cameron Wake
Cameron Wake, arguably the Dolphins' most vital piece on defense, was due for a contract extension. After playing two years in the CFL, he was signed to a four-year deal in 2009 with an average base salary of $615,000. After three seasons and an impressive 28 sacks, the man obviously deserved more.
With reports that Wake was planning on holding out until he received his deal, the Dolphins avoided situations like those of DeSean Jackson and Chris Johnson from 2011 by giving Wake a four-year, $49 million extension. With him back in the fold, this Dolphins defense won't take a step backwards in 2012.
Worst: Trading WR Brandon Marshall to Chicago
I know I'm in the minority on this one, but I really do believe that losing a wide receiver of Marshall's caliber is a blow to any team. Additionally, I don't really see much potential in either of the draft selections they got in the deal, Oliver Vernon and Michael Egnew. Neither was very productive in his senior season, and Vernon was even suspended for half of it.
Marshall may have dropped some balls here and there, but he is still one of the toughest covers in all of the NFL: he caught 167 balls for 2228 yards in two seasons as a Dolphin.
And those were with mediocre quarterbacks.
The best way to develop a young quarterback like Ryan Tannehill is to give him weapons to work with, and while running back Reggie Bush is one of the best in the business, the Dolphins didn't do themselves any favors in terms of the passing game.
New England Patriots
Lloyd catches a touchdown pass just over the outstretched arm of Donte Whitner.
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Best: Signing Brandon Lloyd
If you're still debating whether the signing of Joseph Addai or Lloyd was better, listen to this number: of the 2656 yards receiving by Patriots WRs last season, Wes Welker had 1569.
Now, if (God forbid) Welker—standing at a not-so-tall at 5'9" and 185 pounds—was to be injured, the Patriots receiving corps would easily resemble a CFL one.
Lloyd brings stability and depth to the position, and even though the tight-end duo of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski is heavily involved in the passing game, the Patriots still needed a true outside threat, seeing as Welker primarily goes from the slot. In the last two seasons, Lloyd has accumulated 2414 receiving yards with 16 touchdowns, impressive numbers that will definitely help the Patriots in 2012.
Worst: Franchising Wes Welker
It isn't the act of retaining Welker that has people doubting this move. It is the fact that he doesn't have a long-term deal that simply befuddles me. Since he joined the Patriots back in 2007, Welker has amassed 554 receptions and 6105 yards.
For those of you that aren't mathematicians, that is 111 receptions and 1221 yards per season.
There is no doubt that Welker is a top three receiver, maybe even the best in the NFL. He brings consistency, clutch ability, and a solid NFL IQ that will make him extremely productive for at least four more years. Is a four-year deal really too much to ask for?
Bob Levey/Getty Images
Best: Signing Mario Williams to a 6-Year Deal
Overall, the Bills had an excellent offseason. They started out by re-signing star receiver Stevie Johnson and finished it off by drafting CB Stephen Gilmore and extending running back Fred Jackson. The biggest move, however, was adding former No. 1 overall pick Mario Williams.
The Bills, to put it simply, were awful when it came to rushing the passer last season. They were tied for 27th in the league with only 29 sacks, easily last in the AFC East. The blueprint to success against their division-rival quarterbacks—Mark Sanchez, Tom Brady, and now Ryan Tannehill—has been to get pressure with the front four early in the game. Williams brings 53 sacks and 11 forced fumbles to the table, two strengths that will give this Bills defense a boost in 2012.
Worst: Bringing in Vince Young
Since the Bills had such a good offseason, it is tough to find a dark spot. One I did spot, however, is the signing of former Eagle Vince Young to be the backup quarterback. Yes, I know that the Bills aren't very deep behind starter Ryan Fitzpatrick at the position, but it seems like anyone could've better than Young.
I follow Philadelphia pretty closely, so last season I was able to get a decent glimpse of what Young is really made of. From the "Dream Team" comments to the four-interception embarrassment against Seattle, he didn't necessarily endear himself to Eagles fans. I know that Young has a knack for winning some big games, but is the rest of the Terrell Owens-esque package really worth it?
New York Jets
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Best: Signing LaRon Landry
With Jim Leonhard hurt and the rest of the safety corps young and/or unproductive, the Jets front office knew they had to make a move—and move they did.
LaRon Landry may have had an injury-riddled start to his career in Washington, but when he's healthy, Landry is one of the top safeties in the NFL. New York was smart to give him only one-year, $4 million, because now they aren't locked into a long-term deal that could end badly.
They have 16 games + the theoretical postseason to see whether the man can play/stay healthy and then decide what to do with him after the season.
Worst: Trading for Tim Tebow
I know the Jets are a business entity, and Tim Tebow jerseys are some of the most craved on the market, but this move just makes no sense. Literally none whatsoever. Not only are they bringing in a former starter to play backup, but the guy he is backing up just received a three-year extension and has been known to struggle mightily at times.
The front office is basically sending this memo to Mark Sanchez: "Here are the keys to the franchise, Mark, but if you mess up we have a $5 million Plan B waiting in the wings. But hey, no pressure."
Wallace catches a touchdown pass over his shoulder against the Rams.
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
Best: Hiring Todd Haley as the Offensive Coordinator
After ranking poorly in scoring—tied for 21st with only 20.3 points per game—the Steelers decided to make a change at offensive coordinator. Out went Bruce Arians, in came Todd Haley.
Haley, an offensive coordinator at the time, led the 2008-2009 Arizona Cardinals—the second-best offense in the NFL—to the Super Bowl, and maximized the production of quarterback Kurt Warner. Then in 2010, when his team was actually healthy, Haley led the Kansas City Chiefs to an AFC West title and one of the best offensive rankings as well.
He knows how to work with his quarterbacks, and will utilize the talent Pittsburgh has and solve their red-zone issues, for the most part.
Worst: Not Signing Mike Wallace Long-Term
When the reports came out in April that Mike Wallace was considering a holdout, Pittsburgh's front office should've taken swift measures to lock up their star wideout. Even though his asking price was high, no teams even took a sniff at him during the restricted free agency period.
Now that Wallace understands that he isn't worth Larry Fitzgerald money, the Steelers should try and resolve this issue quickly. If it lingers over into the season like it did with the Eagles' DeSean Jackson, Pittsburgh could have quite the distraction on its hands.
Grubbs was a rock on the Ravens' line last season.
Larry French/Getty Images
Best: Re-signing Lardarius Webb
The re-signing of Webb will really help solidify a defensive corps that otherwise would be one of the worst in the league. Not only was Webb sixth on the team in tackles, but he also led them in interceptions, passes defended, and defensive touchdowns scored.
He is a vital piece of this defense, and with the loss of pass-rusher Terrell Suggs to an injury, he will be that much more important in keeping this unit together through 2012.
Worst: Failing to Address Left Guard
The Ravens losing Ben Grubbs was tough, especially because they had one of the best rushing attacks in the league. What they had the opportunity to do was match the Saints: New Orleans lost a high-profile lineman but replaced him with Grubbs. Then when the Eagles failed to sign guard Evan Mathis early on in the free-agency period, Baltimore could've done the same thing.
What ended up happening, however, was the Ravens whiffing and the Eagles succeeding in landing the highly-touted guard. Now that position is a weak spot for a Ravens team that seems to be taking a step backwards in 2012.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Best: Signing Ben-Jarvus Green-Ellis
For what seemed like the 50th year in a row, the Bengals were completely inept in the running game. They averaged only 3.9 yards per carry, and a lot of that could be contributed to starting running back Cedric Benson.
Not only does bringing in the Law Firm help freshen their legs, but the man is a monster inside the red zone. He has 24 touchdowns in the last two seasons combined, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Bengals' red-zone efficiency and rushing efficiency go up at the same time thanks to this move.
Worst: Letting Jerome Simpson Walk
This isn't a bad move just because of "The Flip", though that play is still ridiculous. This is a bad move because the Bengals are removing their second-best option in the passing game just as their young quarterback is starting to develop.
Simpson caught 50 balls for 725 yards in 2011, coming in second behind star rookie A.J. Green. Andy Dalton seemed to be comfortable last season throwing the ball to Simpson, Green and tight end Jermaine Gresham. Even though the addition of Mohamed Sanu helps, the chemistry that developed last season between Simpson and Dalton is now lost.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Best: Drafting Brandon Weeden and Trent RIchardson
A lot of people, including me, love what Colt McCoy did in college and his intangibles. He's a great guy with a great feel for the game. When push comes to shove, however, it's all about production and that is especially important at the quarterback position.
The Browns offense took a huge step backwards in 2011, and drafting Brandon Weeden in the first round was a great move. All reports from OTAs are that Weeden is coming along nicely, and could even be named the starter ahead of McCoy before training camp begins.
A strong quarterback and a strong running back—which the Browns got in Weeden and third overall selection Trent Richardson, respectively—can go a long way to winning games. The Browns had desperate needs on offense, and they took the necessary steps to fill them.
Worst: Not Addressing the Glaring Need at Wide Receiver
On the flip side, the Browns didn't do enough at the wide receiver position to help out their new franchise quarterback. With all the undrafted free agents they signed, it seems that last season's corps is going to be history.
Putting your faith in the hands of one fourth-round rookie, Josh Cribbs, Greg Little, and three undrafted free agents seems risky. Only one of them, Josh Cooper, has looked good at camp; and fourth-round pick Travis Benjamin has shown spurts of brilliance, but mostly just inconsistency. Cleveland still has some time to make a move, but the pool of good wide receivers is almost gone and they'll be hard-pressed to find someone who'll fit their budget now.
Luck working out at the Colts' minicamp.
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Best: Replacing Peyton Manning with Andrew Luck
This move was a no-brainer. Peyton Manning, coming off of a season where he took no snaps due to a neck injury, was due a $28 million bonus if Indianapolis didn't part ways with him. The option of drafting the best quarterback prospect in the last decade was on the table. It was a win-win.
Luck was simply too much of a beast to pass up here. In his senior season at Stanford, Luck completed 71.3 percent of his passes, threw for 3517 yards, and had a touchdown/interception ratio of 37:10. He was incredible.
As the Colts turn the page onto a new dynasty, the only way they could really move on was by releasing their longtime star QB. They did well, and now they've set themselves up for success in the next decade.
Worst: Not Re-Signing Philip Wheeler
Philip Wheeler was a nice force at the outside linebacker position for the Colts last season, and now that he's signed with the Raiders, the Colts only have one proven guy in the corps: Pat Angerer.
We all know how vital the linebacker position is to the success of a team, but in this case it's the darkest spot for the Colts defense. Antoine Bethea's resurgence last season has the secondary feeling better, while Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney—whatever their age—have the defensive line on lockdown.
Wheeler would only have cost the Colts approximately $1.1 million, which is definitely a sum they can afford to pay. They really dropped the ball on this one.
Rick Dole/Getty Images
Best: Giving Blaine Gabbert More Weapons to Work With
Aside from Maurice Jones-Drew, the NFL's leading rusher with an impressive 1606 yards, the Jaguars offense was pitiful in 2011. And by "pitiful" I mean dead last in passing and total offense.
Yeah, it was that bad.
But new owner Shahid Khan seems to have taken the focus away from his sixth-ranked defense and put more effort into helping out last year's first-round pick Blaine Gabbert.
That started with adding more talent at the wide receiver position, which was headlined by Mike Thomas (44 receptions, 415 yards and one touchdown) last season. Not only did they go out and grab two above average free agents in Laurent Robinson and Lee Evans, but they also used a first-round selection on a wide receiver for the first time since 2005.
Acquiring Justin Blackmon, Evans, and Robinson adds a uber-talented rookie, a long-threat veteran and a touchdown machine, respectively: just what the doctor ordered.
Worst: Not Keeping Justin Blackmon Under Control
Even though Blackmon swore to never drink again in a recent press conference, the rookie looked more like a scared, unapologetic little kid than someone taking full responsibility for his actions.
The Jaguars traded up to grab the Oklahoma State product, and yet they weren't able to keep him from committing his second alcohol-related offense in two years! He could receive probation from the court, a suspension from the league, and now contract talks have broken down in the midst of the problem.
I know that Jacksonville can't keep their eyes on Blackmon 24-7, but even so I think they should have taken precautionary measures such as warning him against this kind of activity and even place limits on his off-the-field activities.
Chris Trotman/Getty Images
Best: Signing Arian Foster to a Five-Year Deal
Like many of the teams out there, the Texans realized the importance of signing their star and avoiding a holdout. Unlike the Patriots, Bears, and others, however, they were able to get a deal done without using the franchise tag.
Foster has been an absolute monster over the last two seasons, accumulating 2840 yards and 26 touchdowns in only 29 games. That's 98 yards and nearly a touchdown every game, which are both the best in the NFL in that time span.
Due to Andre Johnson's injury early in the season, the Texans needed Foster and backup Ben Tate to carry the weight of the offense on their shoulders. Those two didn't disappoint, and it is why making Foster happy—Tate is still under contract—was so key for Houston in the offseason.
Worst: Losing 40% of the Offensive Line
But the Texans also lost a lot of talent in the offseason, unfortunately, and the offensive line took the brunt of the releases and non-signings. The line, which helped Foster and Tate achieve those incredible numbers will now be without right guard Mike Brisiel and right tackle Eric Winston.
Winston and Brisiel were pretty good last season, and whether or not Houston was brushing up against the cap, they should've made much stronger moves to re-sign both. They lost highly paid linebacker DeMeco Ryans and cornerback Jason Allen anyway, so with the exception of Foster, the team wasn't able to staunch the talent flow out of Houston.
...And now the rest of the offensive line and the running backs will have to pay for the front office's mistake.
Wimbley bears down on Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. He had 6 tackles and a sack versus Denver.
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Best: Bringing in Kamerion Wimbley
It was tough to put this one ahead of adding All-Pro guard Steve Hutchinson, but what made the Wimbley signing so key was Tennessee's complete ineptitude when it came to rushing the passer in 2011.
The Titans were 31st in the league in sacks and 30th in yards lost through sacks, which meant that opposing offenses were able to create a steady rhythm and progressively get better throughout the game without the quarterback being flustered or there being a need for an extra blocker. This was part of the reason why Tennessee also ranked 24th in total rushing defense.
Wimbley can help with both situations. Not only does the man have 42.5 career sacks, but he also has 369 tackles in 95 games. He is coming off of one of his best seasons in Oakland, and will really help improve a defense that is undergoing a scheme change this offseason.
Worst: Letting Cortland Finnegan Go
The Titans may have two serviceable starters at cornerback in Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty, but it's always tough to lose one of the top cornerbacks in the league to free agency.
Not only will Tennessee lose Finnegan's 473 career tackles, 14 interceptions, 68 passes defended and three defensive touchdowns, but also the swagger that made him the team's de facto defensive leader.
He had the ability to plaster onto the beasts of the AFC—including division rivals Andre Johnson and Reggie Wayne—which made him so valuable to the team; now they're stuck with two potential #2 guys and no real star corner.
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images
Best: Signing Peyton Manning
This is most likely the biggest free agent signing in the history of the Broncos. Pairing Manning up with young receivers Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas along with former Colt Brandon Stokley, John Elway has significantly bolstered his offensive firepower.
Adding a guy with 55000 yards and 400 touchdowns in his career can do that for a team.
Tim Tebow was a nice story. He really was. He had the intangibles, the charisma, and even the legs to get the job done in crunch time. Long story short, he isn't a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback and Peyton Manning is.
Worst: Trading out of the 1st Round Twice
At No. 25, many believed the Broncos would replenish their thin linebacking corps—which will now be missing D.J. Williams for six games—with Alabama product Dont'a Hightower. Hightower had a good career in college and could have been a playmaker on defense that the Broncos would've loved.
Then the team traded their pick to the New England Patriots for the 31st pick; the Pats promptly selected Hightower as part of another smart move by the front office.
Then Denver traded their 31st pick to Tampa for a fourth-round swap and the 36th pick, giving up an opportunity to grab Boise State back Doug Martin and bolster their backfield. Neither of those trades really gave Denver an advantage, and both lost them an opportunity to select players who would have helped them immediately.
Kansas City Chiefs
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Best: Bringing Back Romeo Crennel as the Head Coach
When an interim coach helps a sub-.500 squad knock off the previously unbeaten Super Bowl champions, there has to be the consideration to bring him back as the full-time man. In Kansas City's case, they did—and it seems that is the right choice heading forward.
Not only does Crennel have the full backing of his players, but he also will focus on two things the Chiefs will be able to excel at this year: playing good defense and running the ball, as Jamaal Charles will be back and healthy.
Worst: Not Locking up Dwayne Bowe
As much as I love Tamba Hali and Jamaal Charles, Dwayne Bowe is still the No. 1 guy on opponents' scouting reports every single week.
The Chiefs have done a nice job strengthening the depth of the wide receiver position by bringing in guys like Steve Breaston, Jon Baldwin and Junior Hemingway, but none of them will be given enough breathing room to operate if Bowe isn't on the opposite side wreaking havoc.
Kansas City really needs to lock up their star soon, otherwise he could hold out, play badly in 2012, or even refuse to sign with the Chiefs in 2013. None of those three sound very appealing for Kansas City fans.
San Diego Chargers
The Chargers selected Ingram at #18 overall.
Al Bello/Getty Images
Best: Re-Tooling at Outside Linebacker
The Chargers needed a pass rusher and a veteran run-stopper at outside linebacker, and they were able to get both in this year's offseason.
First came the signing of former Ravens 'backer Jarret Johnson, who is coming off of a decent season in which he recorded 56 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Johnson doesn't exactly put a lot of pressure on the quarterback, but he does set the edge well and can make huge plays in the run game. Those are qualities the Chargers were looking for at one of the OLB positions.
In the team's other big move, they were able to draft former Alabama defensive end Melvin Ingram in the first round. The Chargers were 23rd in sacks last year and Ingram will join pass-rushing threat Antwan Barnes on the outside this year, as the two try and improve on San Diego's troubles.
Barnes, Ingram, and Johnson give San Diego depth at the position and will help the team try and rebound from a disappointing 8-8 season.
Worst: Not Firing Head Coach Norv Turner
Norv Turner may be a good regular season coach, but so were Jeff Fisher and Andy Reid. Tennessee moved on from Fisher and half of Philadelphia's residents want their team to do the same with Reid. So why didn't the Chargers let go of Turner?
He's had the services of Antonio Gates, Shawne Merriman, Philip Rivers, Antonio Cromartie, Vincent Jackson, Darren Sproles, Michael Turner, LaDanian Tomlinson, Eric Weddle, and others during his tenure; up until last year, in fact, San Diego was considered one of the most—if not the most—talented teams in the NFL.
Still ,he's gone only 3-3 in the playoffs with a respectable 49-31 (an average of 10-6 per season) regular season record. His only really "successful" season came in his first year, when he led his team to two playoff wins and the AFC Championship Game.
Then, over the next two years, despite going 21-11 in the regular season and winning the division both times, he managed to only go 1-2 in the playoffs and was even upset in the divisional round by the upstart Jets in 2009.
Since then, the team has continued to deteriorate, posting records of 9-7 and 8-8 while failing to make the playoffs both years. San Diego's diehards have called for his firing as well as that of GM A.J. Smith, but the Chargers failed to make a move.
It's the definition of insanity, people: Doing the same thing over and over again, yet expecting a different result.
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Best: Signing Ron Bartell
Oakland had quite the shakeup in the defensive backfield, releasing veteran corners Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson. So, naturally, they had to find a replacement for those two guys. They found a perfect match in Ron Bartell.
Bartell missed nearly all of 2011 with a neck injury, but with the injury fully healed, the Raiders can expect big things from the former second-round draft pick. He has eight career interceptions, but it's his success rate that impresses the most. When healthy, he can be a lockdown corner. Oakland's 27th-ranked passing defense could use one of those.
Worst: Bringing in Dave Tollefson
The guy has two Super Bowl rings. He had five sacks last season. I get all that. But how in any way does Dave Tollefson help the Oakland Raiders?
The team drafted two more defensive linemen, more than fixing the depth issue that plagued them once they lost Kamerion Wimbley. Even though Tollefson's numbers look good on the surface, a new system developed by ProFootballFocus.com ranks him third to last among all edge pass rushers. Meanwhile, Wimbley was ranked 17th, a good 57 spots ahead of his replacement.
Tollefson will be 30 by the time the season starts, so I'm really not sure what Oakland was thinking here, given that they have a decent amount of young blood on the defensive line.
Ryans is a beast. That's all there is to it, really.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Best: Trading for MLB DeMeco Ryans
The Eagles run the wide-9 defensive technique. That's fine, and you could see the results of it as the Eagles tied for 1st in the NFL with 50 sacks.
What they lacked, however, was a solid middle linebacker who could prevent the big play in the running game; they ranked 19th in yards per carry allowed.
That all changed in the offseason when the team acquired former Texans' star DeMeco Ryans. Ryans only cost Philadelphia a few spots in both the 3rd and 4th rounds, and what they got in return is an All-Pro-level talent: in his first four seasons, all in the 4-3, Ryans picked up 519 total tackles.
That is 130 a year, more than last year's MLBs Jamar Chaney and Casey Matthews combined.
DeMeco plays downhill, is an excellent tackler, and can become the leader that this defense has lacked since Brian Dawkins left. This move may have come out of left field, but it was a no-brainer.
Worst: Getting a Weak Draft Pick for Asante Samuel
No matter what people say about his tackling, Asante Samuel is a Top 15 corner. The Eagles were smart to trade him, but they really should've made a stronger move when it came to return value.
The fact that Samuel is owed $10 million next season definitely didn't help things, but teams desperate for corner help—and in a league headlined by passing, there were plenty—would've given more than the seventh-round pick the Atlanta Falcons did.
Unless their selection, Bryce Brown, becomes the next great Eagles running back, the Eagles made a grave mistake by giving Samuel away for so little.
New York Giants
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Best: Signing Martellus Bennett
When Jake Ballard tore his ACL in Super Bowl XLVI, it became apparent that the New York Giants needed help at the tight end position. The duo of Bear Pascoe and Travis Beckum simply wasn't going to cut it if New York wanted to keep pace with Philadelphia and Dallas.
So, what did they do? Take Dallas' backup tight end, Martellus Bennett, and bring him up north to the Meadowlands. Bennett is a large improvement from last season; not only is he a bigger, more athletic threat than Ballard inside the 20, but he is also considered one of the better blocking ends in the NFL.
This move will only help Eli as he vies for his third Super Bowl ring in six years.
Worst: Keeping David Diehl
The Giants were willing to let go of Kareem McKenzie, and while he may not be in the same physical shape as Diehl, something has to be taken from ProFootballFocus ranking Diehl as the worst interior linemen in 2011. Even though he's moving back to tackle with McKenzie gone, there is nothing Diehl's done to show that he's ready to perform.
There is no reason to pay Diehl $1.2 million this season, and even less of a reason to let him start over the younger guys he'll be competing with in training camp. The Giants need to improve their offensive line, and keeping Diehl around won't help them accomplish that.
Carr will really help the horrific Cowboys secondary.
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
Best: Signing Brandon Carr and Drafting Morris Claiborne
Maybe the five-year, $50.1 million contract was a little over the top. Maybe $26.5 million guaranteed was a little too risky. Maybe. But Matt Miller, one of B/R's more respected authors, has Carr ranked at least 40 spots ahead of the other two starting-caliber corners on the team: Orlando Scandrick and Mike Jenkins.
Adding one of the top corners in the NFL along with drafting the most exciting defensive prospect in the 2012 NFL Draft certainly will go a long way in helping Dallas' 23rd-ranked pass defense. Carr is a shutdown, press-type corner and Claiborne is an athletic, plaster-his-man kind of defensive back.
When you have a need, you need to go right at it. The Cowboys did just that with the cornerback position.
Worst: Not Addressing the Safety Position
Ironically, the 'Boys couldn't have done a worse job trying to fix the other defensive backfield position.
Gerald Sensabaugh will be starting at free safety thanks to an above average performance in 2011, but the strong safety position features yet another placeholder in Brodney Pool. Since the Cowboys signed him to a one-year deal, it seems that they'll be looking to make a bigger move in 2013, but for now it seems that the position will be underwhelming once again in 2012.
Griffin and Cousins work out at Redskins OTAs.
Best: Drafting Two Quarterbacks (esp. RG3)
Quarterback issues kept Washington in the cellar again in 2011; John Beck and Rex Grossman just won't cut it at the professional level. So what did the 'Skins do? "Go big or go home" by drafting Robert Griffin Jr. at #2 overall and then selecting Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins in the fourth round.
I know I'm in the minority here because a lot of people think Washington wasted their fourth round pick, but think about it this way: Griffin's playing style makes him more prone to injury than the average NFL quarterback, and of all the first-round quarterbacks, he's been said to have the most bust potential compared to where he was selected.
Then again, he also has the most upside—just think Mike Vick from 2010—and could transform a franchise that's been limited by bad offenses for a decade. All things considered, it was worth all the draft picks Washington gave up.
Cousins is a good selection in the fourth round because he has the potential to be a decent backup or even a low-grade starter in the NFL. He's more conservative than RG3, passing for 3316 yards, 25 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions in his senior season while leading his team to an 11-3 record.
Worst: Overpaying for Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan
Washington was also able to make a splash in free agency by signing London Fletcher to round out an impressive linebacking corps, but then they started to stumble a little bit.
If they had been able to save some of the $64.5 million they spent on Morgan and Garcon, or even cut Morgan's $12M altogether, they might have been able to make another decent signing to help out RG3. They could've gotten anyone from Jerome Simpson to Brandon Lloyd to Eddie Royal, all of three of whom are much more accomplished receivers than Morgan.
Garcon may not be the prototypical #1 receiver, but he'll do in that spot for now, with Santana Moss at the #2. After that, however, the Redskins are really shallow at the position. I don't see much in Brandon Banks, Morgan, or Leonard Hankerson.
Green Bay Packers
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Best: Giving Jermichael Finley A Two-Year Deal
Jermichael Finley has the potential to become an elite tight end in the NFL, even on par with guys like Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski. He was good last season, but isn't living up to the hype that he entered the league with.
Giving the man a new deal was a no-brainer. I mean, he's definitely worth more than the $950,000 he was making in 2011. Now, however, Finley knows that he has two years to prove to the Green Bay front office that he's the real deal, otherwise young tight ends Andrew Quarless and Tom Crabtree will move up in the ranks.
Worst: Keeping a Roster Spot for Donald Driver
The Packers are stacked at wide receiver, headlined by Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, and James Jones. At the No. 4 spot they have versatile speedster Randall Cobb and the No. 5 spot has now come down to veteran Donald Driver and youngsters Tori Gurley and Dale Moss.
Driver definitely isn't worth the $2.6 million he's being paid right now, and it is frightening that the Packers haven't released him yet. He'll still be a somewhat viable target for one more year, but keeping him on the roster is not worth it compared to developing either Gurley or Moss in the offense.
Sometimes you just have to let go.
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
Best: Draft Day Trades on Day 1
The Vikings had a need on the offensive line, but they didn't need the number three pick to grab Matt Kalil. So they gave up the pick to Cleveland—who they knew was going to select Trent Richardson and not Kalil—in exchange for a fourth-round selection, fifth-round pick, and seventh-rounder.
This gave Minnesota the ability to once again make a trade, giving up a second- and fourth-round pick in exchange for Baltimore's 29th pick. Using that selection, they got their man at safety—Notre Dame's Harrison Smith—making sure that they fixed two huge holes with two highly-touted prospects.
Not only did they get their men exactly where they wanted to, but the trades gave them some leverage later in the draft and allowed them to draft for value rather than need in the fourth and fifth rounds.
Worst: Replacing Veteran K Ryan Longwell with Blair Walsh
Ryan Longwell may have struggled in 2011, but then again so did the entire Minnesota offense. Longwell is an adored veteran in Minnesota, with one of the longest track records of any kicker in the NFL.
Replacing him with rookie Blair Walsh, who went 21-35 as a senior at Georgia, was just plain stupid. Sure, Longwell's kickoffs aren't as strong and he struggled from a distance from 40-49 in 2011, but if you look at his numbers as a Viking he's been excellent.
He's hit 133 of 157 field goals (85.9%) and 36 of 47 between 40 and 49 yards (76.6%). Both numbers are head and shoulders above Walsh's college numbers.
Sure Walsh has more potential, but he was just the wrong choice (if any) to replace Longwell. If I—and most other Vikings fans—had it my way, Longwell would still be in Minnesota and Walsh would be an undrafted free agent.
Johnson celebrates a touchdown catch against the Saints in the playoffs.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Best: Locking up Calvin Johnson and Stephen Tulloch
The Lions aren't exactly deep at either wide receiver or linebacker position, but what they were able to do in the offseason was to insure that they are still talented.
Having a solid middle linebacker is crucial, something the Eagles found out in 2011 and acted upon by trading for DeMeco Ryans. The Lions have a conventional 4-3 'backer in Tulloch, who led the team in tackles with 111 one season after recording 160 in Tennessee. The man is the field general and leading tackler, so locking him up for five seasons only made sense.
At wide receiver, Megatron is as good as they come. Not locking him up long term would have ruined last year's fourth-best offense and soiled the amazing chemistry between QB Matthew Stafford and Johnson. Now Megatron will bring his 96 receptions, 1681 yards and 16 touchdowns back to Ford Field and the Lions will make another run at the division title in 2012.
Worst: Not Re-Signing Head Coach Jim Schwartz...Yet
Just like the Calvin Johnson deal, all Lions fans know this is coming, seeing that Schwartz turned the team around from a laughingstock into a 10-6 playoff team. So, why not hammer things out as quickly as possible?
The longer the Lions front office waits, the more antsy Schwartz will likely get. Even though he's nearly sure that the team is going to give him a nice extension, fears that linger over into training camp could negatively affect his judgment when making some of his more important coaching decisions. The Lions should just stay away from that and re-sign the guy.
Marshall is the #1 target that Jay Cutler needed.
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Best: Trading for Brandon Marshall and Drafting Alshon Jeffery
Jay Cutler has always been an above average quarterback, but in Chicago he's never had the wide receiver talent to become elite. Now, with the newly-acquired Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery at his side, Cutler is now able to work with a 2011 Pro Bowler and the fourth best receiver in the 2012 draft class.
This one-two punch will not only give Cutler great receivers to throw to, but it will take the pressure off of guys like Earl Bennett and Johnny Knox. These moves should definitely help improve Chicago's 26th-ranked passing attack in 2012.
Worst: Slapping the Franchise Tag on Matt Forte
Just like with Wes Welker and New England, it wasn't the act of retaining Forte that makes this a bad move. It's the fact that the Bears are paying him a hefty salary and still don't have him locked up past 2012. The longer they wait, and the better he plays, the higher the value.
Matt may be asking for a little too much at the moment, but the Bears need to do what the Birds did with DeSean Jackson and sign the man to an extension. He's just too valuable not to.
Brian A. Westerholt/Getty Images
Best: Drafting Luke Kuechly
Even though linebacker was already the strong suit of the Panthers defense—led by Jon Beason, Thomas Davis and James Anderson—drafting Luke Kuechly was a move for the future. The former Boston College star has a bright future ahead of him in the NFL, and when the Panthers move to a 3-4 defense, he gives them one of the top five linebacking corps in the league.
There's nothing wrong about strengthening your strengths, especially when it's the first round of the NFL Draft.
Worst: Failing to Address Defensive Tackle
What frustrated Panthers' fans about the Kuechly selection, however, was that Carolina made very little effort to improve on one of 2011's worst defensive tackle rotations. Panthers head coach Ron Rivera believed that Jon Beason's absence was completely responsible for Carolina's poor run defense, something that few people outside of North Carolina would agree with.
Instead, he's left the position to veteran Ron Edwards and a couple of young guys with little to no track record. Many believed that, since the team selected Kuechly in the first round, they would go ahead and grab a defensive tackle in the second. Unfortunately, they went out and got offensive lineman Amini Silatolu.
Now the team will have to fend for itself with the market seemingly closed, and hope that Jon Beason makes as much of a difference as Rivera claims he will.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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Best: Signings of Carl Nicks and Vincent Jackson
The Bucs front office clearly didn't like what they say from the offense in 2011, so they decided to blow things up and start somewhat anew.
On the line, they cut center Jeff Faine and moved guard Jeremy Zuttah to the middle. Who did they replace him with? One of the NFL's best interior linemen, Carl Nicks, who'll now play opposite another Pro Bowl guard in David Joseph.
Mike Williams had a nice rookie season in 2010, but once he became the main focus of opposing secondaries, he struggled mightily. The addition of a truly No. 1 guy, Vincent Jackson, will help increase the amount of space Williams is given to operate and also give Josh Freeman a Pro Bowl-level deep threat.
Worst: Giving So Much Money to Eric Wright
With all the improvements on offense, the Bucs knew they couldn't afford to leave their secondary out to dry. As such, they drafted Alabama safety Mark Barron in the first round and threw money at former Lion Eric Wright.
Wright is an excellent player with a decent amount of upside, but there is no way he should be given more money than guys like Darrelle Revis, Brandon Flowers, and Joe Haden. Instead of paying the man over $7 million a year, they should've shown some conservatism and kept more cap space open to get a linebacker or defensive lineman.
New Orleans Saints
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Best: Signing Curtis Lofton from Atlanta
It was a tough pick between this signing and the signing of Ben Grubbs to replace Carl Nicks, but getting Lofton from a division rival to replace the suspended Jonathan Vilma was pure genius.
Not only will Lofton take over as the team's middle linebacker, leading tackler, and defensive field marshal, but this move also deprives Atlanta of their driving force in 2011. It's a win-win for New Orleans: They bolster their defense while detracting from the Falcons'.
Worst: Letting Go of Tracy Porter
When the Saints moved Johnny Patrick to the nickel spot, they left the gate open for signing the 25-year old Porter to a one year deal. They didn't. And now they are stuck with Patrick Robinson across from Jabari Greer.
Porter is definitely worth the $4 million Denver is paying him for one season, something the Saints should've offered. The man has good athleticism and good ball skills, avoiding getting beat down the field on almost every occasion. It wasn't worth it to let him go, especially considering he's only been in the league four years and has plenty left in the tank.
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
Best: The Trade to Acquire Asante Samuel
The Falcons had a below average pass defense in 2011, ranking 20th in the NFL. They were determined, however, to change that for 2012.
First they re-signed slot corner Brent Grimes, and then subsequently traded a seventh-round pick to Philadelphia for pick-happy outside corner Asante Samuel, who has 45 career interceptions. This completes the all-important trio of 2 outside corners and a slot man which includes former defensive rookie of the year Dunta Robinson.
The Falcons gave up so little to acquire a top 15 or 20 cornerback. Now they have a big-play guy on the outside, a big-hit, press man corner on the other side, and an above average slot corner to cover guys like Jason Avant, Mario Manningham, and Jimmy Graham.
Worst: Losing Curtis Lofton to the Division-Rival Saints
Not only did Atlanta lose middle linebacker and defensive leader Curtis Lofton, but they let him go to the division rival Saints—who will be without Jonathan Vilma already—if they hadn't signed Lofton, it would've been likely that the defense would fall apart.
Now the Falcons are in a tough situation. They signed Lofa Tatupu to try and offset the loss of a key veteran at the position, but Tatupu didn't even play in 2011, after seeming to lose steam rather quickly near the end of 2010.
If he can return to his 2006 form, where he recorded 123 tackles, two forced fumbles, and an interception, the Falcons will be okay. If not—and that seems more likely—the Falcons' defense could really regress in 2012.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Best: Addressing the Quarterback Position Nicely
The Seahawks quarterbacks in 2011, Charlie Whitehurst and Tarvaris Jackson, were pretty bad. They combined to throw nearly as many picks (14) as touchdowns (15) while posting a horrendous combined passer rating of 77.6.
Seattle wasted no time, signing Packers' backup Matt Flynn to a three-year deal and then drafting Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson in the third round of the NFL draft.
In his only start of the season against the Detroit Lions, Flynn was incredible. He completed 31 of 44 passes (70.4%) for 480 yards and 6 touchdowns. That's as many touchdowns as Tarvaris Jackson had through eight starts for Seattle. Flynn may be an unproven talent, but he has the arm and the instincts to get it done.
Wilson also had an excellent senior season for the Badgers, completing 72.8% of his passes for 3175 yards, 33 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions. The offense leaned heavily on running back Montee Ball, but Wilson was the one who usually finished drives and made the clutch plays.
Unlike other quarterback scenarios, last season really was the QBs' fault in Seattle. They had excellent wide receivers—Doug Baldwin, Sidney Rice, and Mike Williams—and a top-seven rusher in Marshawn Lynch. Now the Seahawks have two quarterbacks who can help them compete with the division-leading 49ers in 2012.
Worst: Failing to Re-Sign David Hawthorne
Big plays and adroit tackling were two things that kept Seattle's defense in the game most weeks, but now the Seattle defense—which added pass-rushing end Bruce Irvin—will be without defensive captain and former middle linebacker David Hawthorne.
Hawthorne led the linebacking corps in tackles by a lot, recording 115 in 15 games last season. Hawthorne also picked off three passes and recovered a fumble for the team.
Seattle may have been able to sign Barrett Ruud to help recover from Hawthorne's signing with the Saints, but unless Ruud plays out of his mind in 2012, the team will definitely miss their leading tackler.
Saint Louis Rams
Bringing in Williams only means uncertainty and scandal, two things this young team doesn't need.
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Best: Signing Cortland Finnegan
Three things that Finnegan brings to the team: the style of defense that was played under Fisher in Tennessee, talent at the cornerback position, and the kind of swagger that goes along with an "in-your-face" personality.
Whenever you hire a new head coach, it's nice to have a talented, veteran player who can convey the nuances of the defense to a young player. Finnegan is exactly that.
In addition, he brings swagger to a team that lacked it for much of last season due to injuries and a slow start.
And then, of course, you have one of the top 15 cornerbacks in the league. Signing Finnegan is a win-win-win for the Saint Louis Rams.
Worst: Making Gregg Williams the Defensive Coordinator
Hiring Gregg Williams as the new defensive coordinator was just a cursed move. Not only does this team have a lot of bad publicity surrounding it—albeit less than the Saints—but now they might lose their defensive coordinator for the entire season.
With a young team like Saint Louis features a lot of new guys on defense, bringing in a new defensive coordinator is a smart move. With Jeff Fisher, a defensive-minded coach, coming in as the head coach, there would be a two-headed monster controlling the defense.
Now, unfortunately, one of the assistant defensive coaches will take over and any chance at consistency for the season might be lost.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Best: Signing Calais Campbell Long Term
The Cardinals had one of the best defensive end duos in the entire league last year, in Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett. By signing the 25-year old Campbell to a five-year deal, this team was able to insure the future success of the position.
Campbell had his best year in 2011, recording 72 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 10 passes defended, and 8.0 sacks. He was the king of knocking balls down at the line, and will continue to lead the defense in 2012 thanks to his new deal.
Worst: Giving Kevin Kolb a $7 Million Roster Bonus
Because the Cardinals weren't able to acquire Peyton Manning this offseason, they thought they were forced to give Kevin Kolb his roster bonus and take a $10.5 million cap hit as a result. They were wrong.
Not only did Kolb miss significant time due to injuries in 2011, but when he was in, he threw nearly as many interceptions (8) as touchdowns (9) while posting a below average 81.1 passer rating. John Skelton was much more successful as the starter, so the Cardinals should have dumped Kolb and used the money they saved to go out and sign two or three other impact players.
San Francisco 49ers
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Best: Signing Mario Manningham
The biggest weakness in the playoffs last season for the 49ers offense? The wide receiving corps. Frank Gore was good, Alex Smith was clutch, and Vernon Davis was as good as ever.
Now the 'Niners receiving corps is starting to become complete. They have a long-distance speed threat (Ted Ginn); an athletic, gifted possession receiver (Michael Crabtree); and now they have a slot guy who can run good routes and be Alex Smith's safety net (Mario Manningham).
Signing Manningham brings Super Bowl experience, another excellent option (2315 career yards) in the passing game, and deprives last year's NFC champions, the Giants, of one of their favorite offensive targets. Kind of like the Saints' signing of Curtis Lofton, this move is a "win" any way you look at it.
Worst: Letting Blake Costanzo Walk
Costanzo was the anchor on all of the special teams units last season for San Francisco, recording 16 tackles and forcing plenty of other plays to go the 'Niners' way.
Blake took twice the money in Chicago, but I think San Fran could have afforded to spend $1.4 million dollars on the guy who made their special teams units some of the best in the NFC.
But the fact that I'm looking at special teams just goes to show one thing: the 49ers are poised for a nice run in 2012 thanks to an offseason filled with good moves.