Wes Welker's signing was the biggest news of the free-agency period, but did it have enough of an impact to make the Broncos the top team to beat in the NFL?
The free-agency frenzy has slowed down considerably, and now seems like as good a time as any to look at where each team stands.
With several free agents still searching for homes and the 2013 NFL draft less than a month away, there's still time for things to change.
That being said, things shouldn't change too drastically between now and then. It's not as though the Jaguars are going to draft someone at No. 6 overall who completely changes the way you think about the team in comparison to the other 31 teams.
Before I reveal too much with pretense, let's get right to the rankings.
Key Additions/Re-signings: CB Alan Ball, RB Justin Forsett, LB Geno Hayes, C Brad Meester, DT Roy Miller, CB Antwaun Molden, WR Jordan Shipley
Key Subtractions: CB Derek Cox, DT Terrance Knighton, S Dawan Landry, CB Rashean Mathis, WR Laurent Robinson, CB Aaron Ross
The Jaguars secondary was picked apart in 2012 to the tune of 7.4 yards per pass attempt, and its personnel in that area was decimated this offseason by a series of salary-cap cuts and departures.
Even if it weren't for the secondary, the Jaguars have big holes all over the field. The offensive line is in serious need of help after allowing Jaguars quarterbacks to be sacked on 7.9 percent of drop-backs last year, the seventh-highest percentage in the league.
Speaking of quarterback, until that situation is improved—be it by Blaine Gabbert, Chad Henne or anyone else—the Jaguars will continue to struggle, regardless of the performance of Maurice Jones-Drew, Justin Blackmon or anyone of Jacksonville's very few top-notch playmakers.
Key Additions/Re-signings: LB Lorenzo Alexander, CB Yeremiah Bell, LB Jasper Brinkley, CB Antoine Cason, S Rashad Johnson, RB Rashard Mendenhall, CB Jerraud Powers, DE Matt Shaughnessy, QB Drew Stanton
Key Subtractions: LB Quentin Groves, QB Kevin Kolb, S Kerry Rhodes, CB Greg Toler, S Adrian Wilson
The Cardinals are hoping new head coach Bruce Arians can fix their anemic passing game —with all due respect to quarterback Drew Stanton, his track record doesn't exactly inspire confidence in his ability to do so.
Adding the oft-injured Rashard Mendenhall (missed 11 games in the past two years) to replace the oft-injured Beanie Wells (missed 13 games in the past three years) registers about the same on the confidence scale.
The defense could improve with the addition of Antoine Cason, and Yeremiah Bell helps take some of the sting off losing Adrian Wilson. But there are still significant holes to fill on the offensive line, at tight end, outside linebacker and at other spots on both sides of the ball—most glaringly at the most important position in the game.
Key Additions/Re-signings: OT Khalif Barnes, LB Kevin Burnett, DE Jason Hunter, LB Kaluka Maiava, LB Nick Roach, DT Pat Sims, DT Vance Walker
Key Subtractions: DT Desmond Bryant, RB Mike Goodson, S Michael Huff, CB Mike Mitchell, DL Richard Seymour, LB Philip Wheeler
The Raiders defense will look dramatically different than it did in 2012, but will it look better? They did good for themselves in bringing in Pat Sims to replace the departed Desmond Bryant, but losing out on Philip Wheeler could hurt them. Kevin Burnett will take away some of the sting, but he doesn't have much left in the tank at this point.
Defensive tackle Vance Walker is a younger version of Richard Seymour and a better pass-rusher at this stage of his career. With Nick Roach coming in, the Raiders may finally have a more suitable answer at middle linebacker than Rolando McClain.
The question mark is at defensive end. Jason Hunter comes to the team with potential, having been listed as the starting defensive end for the Denver Broncos for much of training camp, but that potential remains untapped at this point.
Huff was an anchor for the secondary, which now lacks any semblance of starting talent outside of Tyvon Branch. That doesn't bode well for a defense that allowed a 97.5 passer rating to opposing quarterbacks last year, the third-worst rating in the NFL.
Carson Palmer is an above-average quarterback (85.3 passer rating ranked 16th out of 32 qualifying quarterbacks in 2012) and Darren McFadden remains Oakland's best playmaker on offense, but neither will alone fix the woes of the team.
Key Additions/Re-signings : LB Antwan Barnes, OG Willie Colon, TE Jeff Cumberland, K Nick Folk, DT Antonio Garay, QB David Garrard, RB Mike Goodson, OT Austin Howard
Key Subtractions: SS Yeremiah Bell, DE Mike DeVito, RB Shonn Greene, TE Dustin Keller, FS LaRon Landry, DT Sione Po'uha
Given the sheer volume of starts the Jets lost, you'd think they'd rank lower here. They have players waiting in the wings at a few spots, though: Mike DeVito out, Quinton Coples in. Bart Scott out, Demario Davis in. Sione Po'uha out, Kenrick Ellis in.
If healthy, Antonio Garay, Antwan Barnes and Mike Goodson are all upgrades over the players they're replacing. Garay and Barnes are a perfect fit for the one-gap aggressive style of defense the Jets run. Goodson provides a nice speedy option in the backfield for Marty Mornhinweg's West Coast offense.
They made some good moves this offseason, but none of that changes a few glaring problems with the Jets roster:
- Though loaded with young potential, the defense now lacks proven talent outside of Muhammad Wilkerson and Darrelle Revis;
- Mark Sanchez is still the starting quarterback—if not, it's David Garrard, and neither should make you feel too good about the offense next year;
- The group of wide receivers is a boom-or-bust lot, with Santonio Holmes and Jeremy Kerley providing solid underneath options but no established deep threat to take the pressure off them.
Unless a lot of young players show a lot of progress in a short amount of time, this could be a season of growing pains for the Jets.
Key Additions/Re-signings: RB Ronnie Brown, CB Derek Cox, OT King Dunlap, KR Richard Goodman, OG Rich Ohrnberger, TE John Phillips, OG Chad Rinehart, RB Danny Woodhead
Key Subtractions: LB Antwan Barnes, CB Antoine Cason, DT Aubrayo Franklin, DT Antonio Garay, OLB Shaun Phillips, ILB Takeo Spikes, OG Louis Vasquez
Usually, the presence of a franchise quarterback is enough to bump a team up a few spots in rankings. Philip Rivers hasn't been that level of quarterback in a couple of years, though, having failed to reach an 89 passer rating each of the past two years after posting ratings of 100-plus for three consecutive seasons.
A struggling offensive line (8.5 sack percentage was the worst in 2012), a lackluster running game (3.6 YPA ranked second-worst in 2012) and the decline of Antonio Gates could all be lending a hand in that. No matter how you slice it, though, the offense is far from the juggernaut it was from 2008-2010.
Losing players like Barnes, Franklin and Garay could be a positive or negative depending on how you look at it. It will allow younger players like Melvin Ingram, Cam Thomas and Corey Liuget to have their turn, but the return may not be immediate in those cases. Losing Shaun Phillips is hard to put a positive spin on.
The Chargers have too many holes to fill in one draft, and unless Rivers and the receivers start firing on all cylinders and the defense overcomes its losses, the 2012 season could be a transition phase.
Key Additions/Re-signings: FS Jairus Byrd, LB Manny Lawson, CB Leodis McKelvin, OLB Bryan Scott
Key Subtractions: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, WR Donald Jones, OG Andy LeVitre, WR David Nelson, OG Chad Rinehart
The Bills have a lot of untapped talent on the roster, especially on defense. New defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is handed a defensive line loaded with highly paid talent in Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, Mario Williams and Mark Anderson. That being said, the defense will have to pick up a new scheme and still lacks at both linebacker and defensive back. Adding Lawson and re-signing McKelvin don't fix those weaknesses.
There is also some untapped potential on offense, and the under-use of running back C.J. Spiller was a storyline we followed on the AFC East blog all season long. New head coach Doug Marrone is expected to make better use of Spiller after his Syracuse Orange led the Big East in rush attempts in 2012.
The Bills still need help at wide receiver and tight end, though, and now have to look for help at guard after losing both LeVitre and Rinehart.
The most glaring hole? As with most of the teams at the bottom of this list, the most glaring hole is at quarterback —where the team has moved on from Ryan Fitzpatrick and tentatively into the Tarvaris Jackson era.
Even if the Bills draft a quarterback at the top of the draft, as it seems they would like to do, there are still several positions in need of top-end talent, including holes at wide receiver and offensive guard.
Key Additions/Re-signings: DT Dwan Edwards, WR Ted Ginn Jr., S Mike Mitchell, CB D.J. Moore, CB Captain Munnerlyn
Key Subtractions: LB James Anderson, DE Antwan Applewhite, DT Ron Edwards, CB Chris Gamble, WR Louis Murphy, G Mike Pollak
The Panthers entered the 2013 offseason with salary cap problems —which forced the release of cornerback Chris Gamble—and have been limited in their offseason moves as a result.
The Panthers seriously lack weapons on offense, with wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Greg Olsen the only two players to go over 50 catches in 2012. Will Brandon LaFell finally come into his own? Can the Panthers find a suitable No. 2 wide receiver to make up for the loss of Louis Murphy?
Even with their struggles in the passing game, they still have explosive potential and ranked first in yards per completion (13.8) in 2012.
The combination of Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson gives the Panthers plenty of pass-rushing productivity off the edges, and linebacker Luke Kuechly should continue to grow off his Defensive Rookie of the Year campaign.
But after giving up the league's ninth-worst defensive passer rating of 91.7, the Panthers clearly still have work to do against the pass—work which was helped by the re-signing of Captain Munnerlyn, but not so much by the departure of Chris Gamble.
Key Additions/Re-signings: TE Jared Cook, DE William Hayes, LT Jake Long
Key Subtractions: WR Danny Amendola, S Craig Dahl, LB Bradley Fletcher, WR Brandon Gibson, RB Steven Jackson, DT Trevor Laws, WR Steve Smith, OT Chris Williams
The Rams will be breaking in a brand new set of skill position players next season with the departures of Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson, Steve Smith and Steven Jackson. The Rams have confidence in Daryl Richardson, who was stealing touches from Jackson last season and averaged 4.8 yards per carry on 98 carries.
Can Chris Givens and Austin Pettis step up to be the top options in the passing game? Will Brian Quick's role increase? Either way, adding Jared Cook gives the Rams a speedy option in the seam and one whose size and speed combination could create mismatches all over the field.
The Rams defense took strides last year under the coaching of Jeff Fisher, but with so much change at the skill positions on offense and Sam Bradford yet to show a consistent line of development at the NFL level, there are plenty of reasons to be concerned about the Rams' prospects in 2013.
Key Additions/Re-signings: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, RB Shonn Greene, OG Andy LeVitre, TE Delanie Walker
Key Subtractions: S Jordan Babineaux, TE Jared Cook, QB Matt Hasselbeck, DT Sen'Derrick Marks, RB Darius Reynaud, LB Will Witherspoon, DE Jarius Wynn
The Titans did just enough to tread water this offseason. Two of their key signings, Fitzpatrick and Greene, were brought in to fill backup roles that were vacated by departures (although Fitzpatrick could compete to start if Locker doesn't improve). Adding Delanie Walker should help take some of the sting off losing Jared Cook, but Walker is nowhere near the athlete Cook is.
The big signing is LeVitre, who should help open things up in the running game a bit better than Deuce Lutui.
Kendall Wright is a bright spot in the passing game, but Kenny Britt's future with the team is uncertain. ESPN's Paul Kuharsky reported that Nate Washington fell out of favor after delivering "half-hearted effort" in the final month of the season.
Derrick Morgan had a nice season for himself in 2012, and if he can build off that, the Titans defense would greatly benefit. Jason McCourty is a solid cornerback, and his campaign in 2012 proved the team was wise to extend him when it did.
With holes to fill all over the linebacking corps and at both safety spots, though, the defense could continue to struggle as it did in 2012.
Key Additions/Re-signings: DT Desmond Bryant, TE Kellen Davis, LB Quentin Groves, LB Paul Kruger, CB Chris Owens
Key Subtractions: K Phil Dawson, LB Kaluka Maiava, TE Ben Watson
Cornerback Joe Haden is a bright spot in the secondary, as is safety T.J. Ward, but the Browns lack any standouts on the back end beyond those two. The Browns continue to revamp the front seven with the additions of Desmond Bryant and Paul Kruger, two players who are expected to boost a pass rush that was only average to above average in every defensive category.
Of course, those signings won't help answer the colossal question surrounding the quarterback situation. Will Rob Chudzinski draft another quarterback in the first round, or does he have confidence that he'll be able to turn around Brandon Weeden?
Either way, the Browns are lacking playmakers on offense outside of Josh Gordon and Trent Richardson. It's going to take a leaps-and-bounds improvement over last year's 73.5 passer rating and 6.5 yards per pass attempt (both ranked bottom six in the NFL) for the Browns to keep up with the high-scoring offenses they'll face in 2013 and beyond.
Key Additions/Re-signings: RB Reggie Bush, FS Louis Delmas, CB Chris Houston, DT Jason Jones, S Glover Quin
Key Subtractions: DE Cliff Avril, OT Gosder Cherilus, LB Justin Durant, CB Drayton Florence, DE Lawrence Jackson, DE Kyle Vanden Bosch
Where would the Detroit Lions be without Calvin Johnson? It's a question most Lions fans probably don't want to know the answer to.
Matthew Stafford took a huge step back in 2012. Whether that was a result of the Lions being one-dimensional offensively, they needed to find a way to take some of the pressure off Stafford this offseason.
Making sure he doesn't have to throw the ball 663 times for the third consecutive season is a good place to start. Thus, signing Reggie Bush gives the Lions the potential for an explosive running attack to complement their dynamic passing game.
Of course, it would help if their pass defense wasn't one of the least efficient units in the NFL, allowing the 10th-highest defensive passer rating of 91.7 in 2012. Getting back Louis Delmas and Chris Houston and bringing in Glover Quin should help the secondary, but what of the loss of Cliff Avril?
The Lions pass defense could be improved with all the new recruits on the back end, but unless they get help off the edges in the draft, they could struggle to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks in 2013.
Key Additions/Re-signings: OLB Connor Barwin, TE James Casey, SS Patrick Chung, CB Bradley Fletcher, FS Kenny Phillips, DT Isaac Sopoaga, CB Cary Williams
Key Subtractions: CB Nnamdi Asomugha, OT Demetress Bell, OT King Dunlap, DT Cullen Jenkins, DT Michael Patterson, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
Chip Kelly's high-octane offense is expected to bring new life to the Philadelphia Eagles. That new life will have to come primarily from the old talent, though, as the Eagles haven't made many moves on the offensive side of the ball except to bring in a new tight end in James Casey.
They still have talent at wide receiver in DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, and LeSean McCoy gives Kelly a versatile back to use as frequently as possible.
The big question lies at quarterback. Is Michael Vick going to be a better quarterback for Kelly than he was for Andy Reid over the past two years when he put up an 81.8 passer rating while turning the ball over more than anyone not named Philip Rivers or Mark Sanchez?
He may not need to be, with a defense that has been revamped to include more 3-4 personnel and a new-look secondary at all four spots. After giving up a 99.6 defensive passer rating (second-worst in the NFL) and a whopping 7.6 yards per attempt (sixth-worst), it can't get much worse at this point.
Key Additions/Re-signings: RB LeGarrette Blount, LB Jonathan Casillas, TE Dallas Clark, TE Tom Crabtree, FS Dashon Goldson, P Chas Henry, WR Kevin Ogletree
Key Subtractions: DB Ronde Barber, DE Michael Bennett, CB E.J. Biggers, LB Quincy Black, RT Jeremy Trueblood
Pairing Dashon Goldson with last year's first-round pick Mark Barron gives the Buccaneers two dynamic athletes at safety. That being said, their pass rush is going to have to get much better after bringing down quarterbacks just 27 times in 2012, and they're going to have to do it without their top pass-rusher from last year in Michael Bennett. Losing E.J. Biggers will be another blow to a pass defense that allowed a 93.5 rating to opposing quarterbacks last year.
The offense, on the other hand, remains a mystery. Signing Vincent Jackson last offseason proved to be a wise move, as he allowed Mike Williams to flourish in his more natural role as the team's No. 2 receiver. Doug Martin and LeGarrette Blount provide a great two-headed punch at running back.
The offensive line did its part in 2012, but injuries shattered it to pieces down the stretch. Beyond that, Josh Freeman needs to get rid of the ball more quickly (spent an average of 2.82 seconds in the pocket, eighth-highest in the NFL). His trajectory has been all over the map, as he'll show signs of improvement followed by a few steps in the wrong direction. He was playing very well in 2012 until a rough five-game stretch to end the season.
With signs of consistent progress from their quarterback, this ranking could change greatly between 2013 and 2014.
Key Additions/Re-signings: RB Baron Batch, WR Plaxico Burress, CB William Gay, RB Isaac Redman, WR Emmanuel Sanders, TE Matt Spaeth
Key Subtractions: FS Will Allen, OG Willie Colon, DT Casey Hampton, LB James Harrison, P Jeremy Kapinos, CB Keenan Lewis, RB Rashard Mendenhall, FS Ryan Mundy, TE Leonard Pope, OT Max Starks, CB DeMarcus Van Dyke, WR Mike Wallace
The Steelers haven't made many moves, and absolutely no big splashes. But they didn't have much of a choice with so little cap space to work with.
The Steelers continue to hemorrhage talent from the roster, with Rashard Mendenhall, James Harrison and Mike Wallace all out the door. Of course, Pittsburgh had its reasons for parting ways with all three players, but it doesn't exclude them from needing to address the holes at all three spots now.
Of course, they will continue to field a formidable offense as long as Ben Roethlisberger is taking the snaps, but after ranking 22nd in scoring in 2012 with an offense that was among the league's worst at running the ball, it's clear he can't do it on his own and will have a harder time doing it without Wallace at his dispense. I'm sure Roethlisberger would also appreciate not being among the most pressured quarterbacks in the NFL (pressured on 34.1 percent of drop-backs, eighth-highest rate in the NFL).
The defense has faced prognostications of doom year in and year out due to its age, but it continues to get the most out of whoever is out there.
With a defense that consistently ranks in the top five in scoring (ranked sixth in 2012) and a top-10 quarterback, the Steelers should be better than 8-8 even in a difficult division. The fact they haven't been is a testament to a lack of talent at other positions, and this offseason certainly didn't help.
Key Additions/Re-signings: LB Ernie Sims, DE/OLB Anthony Spencer
Key Subtractions: LB Dan Connor, CB Mike Jenkins, RB Felix Jones, WR Kevin Ogletree, TE John Phillips, LB Brady Poppinga, DE Marcus Spears
The Dallas Cowboys didn't have much money to spend in free agency, so it wasn't a surprise that they were incredibly quiet. Fortunately, their cap misfortunes came in a year where it wound up having little impact on their roster, as very few key players ultimately left the fold.
The Cowboys still haven't answered significant questions about how they will execute Monte Kiffin's preferred defensive scheme with their current personnel. Safety Michael Huff and linebacker Justin Durant recently visited the Cowboys, so perhaps help is on the way.
Kiffin says 3-4 and 4-3 doesn't matter, but their secondary has been built toward a man-cover scheme and Kiffin has typically fielded zone coverage on the back end. The Cowboys need to find a penetrating defensive tackle, as well.
Offensively, say what you will about Tony Romo in pressure situations, but he is serving his team better than well over half of the other starting quarterbacks in the NFL based purely on numbers.
With the trio of Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Jason Witten still in the fold, the return to health of DeMarco Murray along with improvements on the offensive line with the return of Phil Costa, the Cowboys offense should be a force again in 2013.
Key Additions/Re-signings: OT Branden Albert, WR Donnie Avery, WR Dwayne Bowe, P Dustin Colquitt, QB Chase Daniel, DL Mike DeVito, TE Anthony Fasano, CB Dunta Robinson, QB Alex Smith, CB Sean Smith
There are still holes to fill on both sides of the ball, namely at outside linebacker, offensive tackle and defensive tackle. For the most part, though, the Chiefs have done an excellent job of building a team.
After adding Alex Smith, they showed they know his strengths and have assembled an offense that fits them. Smith loves to utilize tight ends, and adding Anthony Fasano gives the Chiefs a solid receiving option at the position without sacrificing too much in terms of blocking ability. Smith has also been at his best with a solid running game behind him, which he should have if Jamaal Charles is playing at his peak.
Stabilizing the receiving corps by retaining Dwayne Bowe, adding Donnie Avery and bringing back Branden Albert on the franchise tag were all good and necessary moves to bring Smith into the most nurturing environment possible.
On defense, the Chiefs made all the right moves toward building their new scheme. It will evidently be a 3-4 defense with man coverage on the back end, as Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson both fit that profile. Although DeVito is a scheme-versatile lineman, he is at his best at the 5-technique. That brand new unit will have to come together, as there is potential there. Until it does, I have my doubts.
Couple their signings on that side with the presence of outside linebacker Tamba Hali and safety Eric Berry, and the talent is clearly there for this unit and on offense as well. Will that talent realize its full potential under the coaching of Andy Reid? That will be the story of the Chiefs' 2013 season.
Key Additions/Re-signings: C Brian de la Puente, LB Will Herring, RB Chris Ivory, CB Keenan Lewis, WR Courtney Roby, TE Ben Watson
Key Subtractions: OT Jermon Bushrod, DT Sedrick Ellis, WR Devery Henderson, TE David Thomas
The Saints have had a very quiet offseason, which doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in those who felt the team needed to make improvements after missing the playoffs for the first time in three years.
As long as Drew Brees is reading defenses and putting up Arena Football League-like numbers, the Saints offense will continue to chug along.
What about the defense, though? The Saints will welcome in their third defensive coordinator in three years after moving on from Steve Spagnuolo, and Rob Ryan will have a bare cupboard to work with.
They ranked 31st in points allowed and gave up an NFL-record 7,042 yards. That's often a misleading statistic, but not in this instance for a defense that gave up a 93.8 passer rating and a league-worst 8.1 yards per attempt. Keenan Lewis could help the defense, but he's not going to turn it around all by himself.
The Saints are surely hoping the return of Sean Payton means a return to prominence.
Key Additions/Re-signings: QB Matt Cassel, FB Jerome Felton, LB Erin Henderson, WR Greg Jennings, OT Phillip Loadholt, WR Jerome Simpson
Key Subtractions: LB Jasper Brinkley, WR Devin Aromashodu, WR Michael Jenkins, CB Antoine Winfield
Given the enormous struggles of Minnesota's secondary in 2012, you'd think it would be concerned with building that area of the defense. Instead, the Vikings let go of one of the few playmakers they had back there in Antoine Winfield. The emergence of pass-rushers Everson Griffen and Brian Robison opposite Jared Allen could help, but they'll need to find at least one cornerback in the draft, possibly two.
Adrian Peterson and a cloud of dust on offense was enough to help get the Vikings to the playoffs, but with Percy Harvin now out of the mix, the Vikings aren't going anywhere unless either:
- Peterson avoids all laws of regression, or
- Christian Ponder reverses all signs of having hit his ceiling.
Yes, even with the luxury of handing the ball to the league MVP, and even with eight- and nine-men boxes and no one deep, Ponder could still only muster up enough arm strength to hit 6.1 yards per attempt (better than only Blaine Gabbert) and an 81.2 passer rating (12th-worst among QBs with over 275 attempts).
That's why, even with all Matt Cassel's struggles in Kansas City, he should still be threatening Ponder for the starting job.
Regardless, the Vikings QB in 2013 will have it a little bit easier now that the team signed Greg Jennings. But will the 29-year-old pass-catcher with a recent spate of injuries be able to fix the anemic pass attack on his own? My money is on no, even with Peterson on the roster.
Key Additions/Re-signings: S Chris Clemons, LB Dannell Ellerbe, WR Brandon Gibson, WR Brian Hartline, TE Dustin Keller, QB Matt Moore, DT Randy Starks, WR Mike Wallace, LB Philip Wheeler
Key Subtractions: LB Kevin Burnett, RB Reggie Bush, TE Anthony Fasano, LB Karlos Dansby, LT Jake Long, CB Sean Smith
The Dolphins left some holes on their roster even after the signings, including a true 4-3 defensive end to plug opposite Cameron Wake, a cornerback, left tackle and running back. They do, however, have 10 draft picks and five in the first three rounds with which to address those needs.
Beyond that, though, the Dolphins did a great job of addressing some of their biggest issues and compensating for some of the departures. The complete overhaul at linebacker will be one of the key storylines to watch this season, and it gives the Dolphins plenty of youth and athleticism at the second level.
Of course, the big one is Mike Wallace. He was not utilized as effectively last year as he had been in the past, which led to his drop in numbers. His issues with dropped passes are overstated as well, as he's actually dropped passes at a lower rate over the past two seasons than he had from 2009-2010.
As much as the Dolphins have done to add weapons on offense, it's all for naught if Ryan Tannehill doesn't take steps forward. He showed potential for growth, so with a bevy of weapons at his disposal, the general public will expect him to improve greatly over 2012.
Key Additions/Re-signings: CB Darius Butler, OT Gosder Cherilus, DT Ricky Jean Francois, DT Aubrayo Franklin, QB Matt Hasselbeck, FS LaRon Landry, P Pat McAfee, OG Donald Thomas, CB Cassius Vaughn, LB Erik Walden
Key Subtractions: WR Donnie Avery, DE Dwight Freeney, WR Austin Collie, DT Antonio Johnson, OT Winston Justice, RB Mewelde Moore, CB Jerraud Powers, QB Drew Stanton, LB Jamaal Westerman, S Tom Zbikowski
The Colts didn't lose a ton of talent this offseason, but the players who are leaving the fold will mostly be replaced by free agents who have been deemed better fits for the scheme.
LaRon Landry is an upgrade over the departing Tom Zbikowski, even if the Colts did have to overpay to get him. Same goes for the Walden-Freeney swap—including the part about paying too much—although Walden isn't as good of a pass-rusher as Freeney. Antonio Johnson was brought in by the last regime, so bringing in more 3-4 suited linemen in Francois and Franklin should also help the Colts execute their scheme.
Donald Thomas could be a very underrated signing for the Colts, who lacked push up the middle in the running game last year (30th in adjusted line yards off runs up the middle and behind guards). Not only could Thomas boost their push in that area, he doesn't sacrifice anything in lateral agility.
Oh, and the Colts also have this pretty good young quarterback named Andrew Luck. I've heard he's supposed to be something good one day—that is, if he's not already.
Key Additions/Re-signings: OT Will Beatty, OG Kevin Boothe, LB Dan Connor, DT Cullen Jenkins, WR Louis Murphy, TE Brandon Myers, CB Aaron Ross, RB Ryan Torain
Key Subtractions: TE Martellus Bennett, DT Rocky Bernard, LB Michael Boley, RB Ahmad Bradshaw, DT Chris Canty, WR Domenik Hixon, OT Sean Locklear, FS Kenny Phillips, LB Keith Rivers, K Lawrence Tynes, DE Osi Umenyiora
The Giants have lost a ton of players this offseason. Between Osi Umenyiora, Kenny Phillips, Chris Canty, Ahmad Bradshaw and Martellus Bennett, the Giants lost 47 starts from 2012 and 101 from the past two seasons. Those were key players.
All that said, they still have one of the top quarterbacks in the game throwing to two very talented receivers. Eli Manning's numbers took a hit even as the Giants offense flourished to the sixth-most points in the NFL, and he dipped below 60 percent completions for the first time since 2007.
Perhaps he missed tight end Jake Ballard and Mario Manningham, but they're not coming back. Will losing Martellus Bennett hurt as well? Brandon Myers knows how to get open, but Bennett was simply too athletic to cover for most linebackers, and too big for most cornerbacks.
Either way, he'll have largely the same offensive line blocking for him this year that he had last year when he was sacked a league-low 3.4 percent of his drop-backs.
The Giants also made some key additions on defense. Adding Cullen Jenkins will more than make up for the loss of Chris Canty, as long as Jenkins can stay healthy.
The incredible amounts of turnover at linebacker, defensive tackle and in overall veteran leadership will be the most pressing questions and concerns for the Giants headed into 2013.
Key Additions/Re-signings: CB E.J. Biggers, DE Kedric Golston, LT Tyler Polumbus, P Sav Rocca
Key Subtractions: LB Lorenzo Alexander, WR Brandon Banks, OT Jammal Brown, TE Chris Cooley, CB Cedric Griffin, CB DeAngelo Hall
The Redskins are edging on a team with top-10 talent, but they have some major holes on defense at cornerback and defensive end. The return of Adam Carriker and Brian Orakpo from injury should help the pass rush, which will in turn help the coverage (below average in every major pass defense category, 7.4 YPA was 10th-worst in NFL in 2012). Until those holes get filled, there are some serious doubts about the defense.
If Robert Griffin III isn't ready to go Week 1, that opens up another giant hole at quarterback. Kirk Cousins proved capable in his lone start, but no doubt, the Redskins and their fans want RG3 under center. They were one of the most explosive pass attacks in the NFL, ranking first in the NFL with 8.3 yards per pass attempt and ranking fourth with 12.6 yards per completion.
The pass defense must improve, so look for the Redskins to target a cornerback early in the draft. This is a good year to get one, though. The Redskins could take the NFL by storm if everyone is at full health.
Key Additions/Re-signings: TE Martellus Bennett, CB Zackary Bowman, OT Jermon Bushrod, DT Nate Collins, DT Henry Melton, LB D.J. Williams
Key Subtractions: TE Kellen Davis, LB Geno Hayes, DE Israel Idonije, OG Lance Louis, CB D.J. Moore, LB Nick Roach, LB Brian Urlacher
Jay Cutler has missed having a viable receiving tight end since Greg Olsen left the fold in 2011, and the Bears are hoping Martellus Bennett continues to show the dramatic signs of improvement he showed last year with the Giants.
They are also hoping Jermon Bushrod can get back to Pro Bowl form of a year ago after he struggled in 2012. Moving the line around with J'Marcus Webb at right tackle and Gabe Carimi at one of the guard spots should bring some much-needed stability to the line while putting players in the best position to succeed.
D.J. Williams provides a stop-gap solution to the departure of Brian Urlacher, who would have been a stop-gap solution to the next middle linebacker anyway, so that's a wash. It's too bad they're so close to the cap, because they would probably love to keep Israel Idonije from leaving for the 49ers.
The team has taken a questionable approach in addressing its needs this offseason and has left a couple of needs on the table with missing parts at wide receiver, defensive end and cornerback. The draft should help, but for now, the Bears still have some work to do.
Key Additions/Re-signings: DT Chris Canty, TE Ed Dickson, DE Elvis Dumervil, QB Joe Flacco, DB James Ihedigbo, DE Arthur Jones, TE Dennis Pitta, DE Marcus Spears
Key Subtractions: WR Anquan Boldin, LB Dannell Ellerbe, LB Paul Kruger, OT Bryant McKinnie, SS Bernard Pollard, FS Ed Reed, OG Bobbie Williams, CB Cary Williams
The Ravens may have to deal with the consequences of their we-don't-think-Joe-Flacco-is-elite gamble next season. Although Anquan Boldin wasn't his usual self in the regular season, he was dynamite in the postseason with 22 total receptions and four touchdown grabs.
Torrey Smith has proven a viable threat in the passing game, but he'll likely be the team's No. 1 receiver with Boldin out the door. With the two tight ends back in the fold, the Ravens offense should still be effective. Of course, they also have Ray Rice, who is still putting up solid numbers despite the ball being placed in Flacco's hands more frequently last season.
The Ravens have also had to watch six of their defensive starters leave the fold. That being said, the Ravens defense slipped a bit last year from its typical top-of-the-league rankings to much more modest rankings across the board.
Adding Elvis Dumervil, Chris Canty and Marcus Spears should help relieve some of the sting left by those several key departures, but a brand new unit will still have to come together and learn the playbook and scheme in time for the 2012 season.
Key Additions/Re-signings: DE Robert Geathers, WR Andrew Hawkins, QB Josh Johnson, DE Michael Johnson, CB Adam Jones, LB Rey Maualuga, K Mike Nugent, WR Brandon Tate
Key Subtractions: K Josh Brown, CB Nate Clements, QB Bruce Gradkowski, LB Thomas Howard, LB Manny Lawson, RB Brian Leonhard, CB Terence Newman, RB Bernard Scott, DT Pat Sims
A.J. Green was targeted 164 times in 2012, and for as good as he is, the Bengals could stand to get a little more well-rounded on offense. Tight end Jermaine Gresham makes a good second option, but the Bengals' next closest wide receiver to Green's 97 receptions was Hawkins with 51. Next after that was Marvin Jones with 18. Adding a wide receiver should help.
The Bengals made smart moves on defense, bringing back Michael Johnson on the franchise tag after his 11.5 sacks helped them rank third in sacks overall. The starting secondary will be getting a face-lift with the departures of Terence Newman and Nate Clements, two veterans who were a combined 67 years old.
Adam Jones looks ready to step into a bigger role, and with Leon Hall locked into one of the starting spots at corner, the Bengals secondary should be fine, especially if the front seven continues to play like it did last year. They could definitely add some depth there.
With a strong defense and an offense that is missing but one or two key components, the Bengals could give the Ravens a serious run for the AFC North crown in 2013.
Key Additions/Re-signings: CB Brice McCain, FS Ed Reed
Key Subtractions: CB Alan Ball, DE Connor Barwin, OG Antoine Caldwell, TE James Casey, K Shayne Graham, LB Bradie James, CB Stanford Routt, LB Barrett Ruud, S Glover Quin
A lot of departures may not bode well for the Texans, but J.J. Watt, Brooks Reed, Andre Johnson, Arian Foster and Co. return, which means this Texans team is still among the top dogs in the AFC.
The addition of Ed Reed should help offset the loss of Glover Quin, but the secondary is not the focal point of this team. The front seven leads the charge for the Texans, and the defense as a whole built up 44 sacks and brought down quarterbacks on 7.04 percent of drop-backs (sixth-most in the NFL).
The real question for the Texans remains Matt Schaub. He is a good quarterback, but can he be a great quarterback...when it matters? Texans fans are tired of hearing about Schaub's lack of playoff success, although he did just get that first-win-monkey off his back this year.
Can Foster continue to bear the load of over 20 carries per game? He may have to until the Texans are able to open up the passing game a bit more.
Key Additions/Re-signings: OT Sam Baker, TE Tony Gonzalez, RB Steven Jackson, SS William Moore
Key Subtractions: DE John Abraham, CB Brent Grimes, S Chris Hope, LB Mike Peterson, CB Dunta Robinson, OT Will Svitek, RB Michael Turner, DT Vance Walker
The Falcons defense took a few hits this offseason with the departures of two of three starting cornerbacks and the salary dump of John Abraham. Losing Vance Walker robs the defense of a valuable role player.
It wasn't all bad for the Falcons, though. Retaining safety William Moore is a big deal for a secondary that will see a lot of change between 2012 and 2013. Keeping Tony Gonzalez keeps the three-headed monster intact with wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones.
Adding Steven Jackson on top of that will make the Falcons offense that much more difficult to defend. He brings with him a streak of eight consecutive seasons at over 1,000 yards rushing.
If the Falcons hadn't lost so many pieces on defense this offseason, it would be easy to pick them as a front-runner for the top seed in the NFC. This draft is expected to produce some talent at cornerback and defensive end, though, which gives the Falcons another opportunity to account for those losses.
Key Additions/Re-signings: CB Kyle Arrington, WR Donald Jones, CB Aqib Talib, OT Will Svitek, OT Sebastian Vollmer, RB/KR/PR Leon Washington, SS Adrian Wilson
Key Subtractions: WR Deion Branch, SS Patrick Chung, OG Donald Thomas, WR Wes Welker, RB Danny Woodhead
With the most prolific pass-catcher of the past six years out the door, the "In Belichick We Trust" motto will face its biggest test since the Hooded One took over in Foxborough.
Some believe Danny Amendola will be an upgrade over Wes Welker, but even those people contend that will only be the case if Amendola can stay healthy. Losing Danny Woodhead deprives the Patriots of another of their ultra-reliable options on offense, and moving on from Brandon Lloyd is yet another move that is sure to have some people asking, "Why?"
But the Patriots are relying on a few things:
- The return to health of two of the best tight ends in the game, and
- Tom Brady being Tom Brady.
Despite what many would make you think, the Patriots haven't had a bad offseason. Even with all the commotion around Welker, the Patriots were still able to retain two of their three key free agents in Aqib Talib and Sebastian Vollmer.
Adding Adrian Wilson is an underrated move that the Patriots hope will bring veteran stability to a secondary that sorely lacked it in 2012. Couple that with the moves to bring back Talib and Kyle Arrington, and a group that grew together in 2012 could continue to grow together in 2013.
Adding Leon Washington provides an answer at the long-unfilled void in the kick-return game, where the Patriots have ranked near the bottom of the league for a few years now.
They could still add a situational pass-rusher, a backup defensive tackle and, of course, another wide receiver, but the Patriots did well enough in addressing a few of the less glaring issues this offseason.
Key Additions/Re-signings: TE Jermichael Finley, LB Rob Francois, LB Brad Jones
Key Subtractions: RB Cedric Benson, TE Tom Crabtree, RB Ryan Grant, WR Greg Jennings, LB Erik Walden, DB Charles Woodson
The Packers' disastrous pass defense of the 2011 season turned out to be an anomaly until the team got ripped to shreds by the juggernaut that is Colin Kaepernick in the playoffs. For that reason, it's understandable why they took little if any measure to improve.
The offense, on the other hand, has been a juggernaut for two years running now, so it's with even more sound logic that the team opted not to make any dramatic improvements on that side of the ball.
With Aaron Rodgers still under center and reading defenses like it's his job (because it is), the Packers figure to remain a juggernaut in 2013 even without Greg Jennings. Randall Cobb, James Jones and Jordy Nelson should be enough to keep the offense going, and everyone has to be thrilled that Jermichael Finley is returning.
That being said, the revolving door at running back continues to spin with Cedric Benson and Ryan Grant still unsigned. The Packers will turn to either Alex Green or James Starks, neither of which is likely to make them feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside. If Dujuan Harris takes the reins and is a factor, the Packers offense could be even more of a threat in 2013.
Key Additions/Re-signings: LB Stewart Bradley, DT Terrance Knighton, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, OG Louis Vasquez, WR Wes Welker
Key Subtractions: DT Justin Bannan, LB Keith Brooking, DE Elvis Dumervil, C Dan Koppen, S Jim Leonhard, CB Tracy Porter, WR Brandon Stokley, DT Ty Warren, LB D.J. Williams
It didn't take two minutes after the Broncos signed Wes Welker before analysts were calling it a move that shifted the balance of power in the AFC. Welker's statistical production speaks for itself as one of the top slot options in the game, and surely he'll be an upgrade over Brandon Stokley in the slot. But as Michael Schottey pointed out, it's not quite the earth-shaking move many pundits want it to be.
Adding Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at cornerback could be a big addition, though, and if nothing else, a solid upgrade over Tracy Porter. He's not going to blow anyone up in run defense, but if he can clean up some fundamental flaws and avoid penalties, he could be a nice complement to Champ Bailey on the other side.
Those upgrades will help, but no matter how much Broncos fans wouldn't like to admit it, losing Elvis Dumervil could be hugely problematic, especially since they don't really have anyone to replace him (unless they expect Robert Ayers to make a significant jump this year).
There are questions at running back, defensive end and safety, but with Peyton Manning leading the charge and with a few key additions this offseason, the Broncos are looking like one of the top teams in the NFL for 2013.
Key Additions/Re-signings: DE Cliff Avril, DE Michael Bennett, WR Percy Harvin
Key Subtractions: DT Alan Branch, K Steven Hauschka, LB Leroy Hill, DT Jason Jones, WR Ben Obomanu, CB Marcus Trufant, RB/KR/PR Leon Washington
The Seahawks are expected to be the trendy pick to get to the Super Bowl in the NFC. Why not? They fielded the league's best scoring defense, and the offense really made strides down the stretch.
If Russell Wilson continues on his trajectory toward one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL today, the offense could emerge as one of the scariest.
Oh, yeah, they also made three of the biggest splashes of the offseason.
Percy Harvin is expected to help open up the passing game with a solid vertical threat and could even provide depth at running back (if he can stay healthy).
Adding defensive ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett is hugely important to a 4-3 defense that could be without its star pass-rusher, Chris Clemons, if he should miss time with the ACL injury he suffered in the playoffs. Now, the Seahawks will have a nice three-man rotation that includes Avril, Bennett and first-round draft choice Bruce Irvin.
With all the additions on top of what was already considered a stacked roster, the Seahawks' Super Bowl bandwagon could fill up in a hurry, if it hasn't already.
Boldin was helping the Ravens shut the door on the 49ers Super Bowl dreams in February, and by the end of March, he was the reason many believe they are front-runners for the Super Bowl next year.
Key Additions/Re-signings: WR Anquan Boldin, S Craig Dahl, K Phil Dawson, DT Glenn Dorsey, LB Dan Skuta, S Darcel McBath, WR Marlon Moore
Key Subtractions: DT Ricky Jean Francois, WR Ted Ginn, S Dashon Goldson, QB Alex Smith, DT Isaac Sopoaga, TE Delanie Walker
Jim Harbaugh should be in charge of hosting family dinners for awhile to repay his brother John for the bargain-bin discount that was the trade of a sixth-round pick for wide receiver Anquan Boldin. Adding Boldin in the slot should help alleviate the loss of tight end Delanie Walker.
Losing safety Dashon Goldson could hurt an already reeling secondary, but if the front seven continues to play at a high level, the defense shouldn't miss a beat. Glenn Dorsey didn't live up to the hype in Kansas City, but he could be an underrated signing if used correctly by Vic Fangio. Dorsey helps compensate for the losses of Francois and Sopoaga.
Improving a Super Bowl team is certainly difficult, but even the smallest of changes are necessary in order to return to center stage.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained first-hand or via team press releases.