Power Ranking Every NFL Front Office so Far This Offseason
Avoiding desperation is essential to efficiently running an NFL team. Constructing a strategy and then operating within its boundaries is how you accomplish this.
It sounds too simplistic but each offseason we see a litany of teams that either deviate from their strategy or act independently of one altogether. It is front offices such as these that overspend in free agency and self-impose pressure to strike gold in the draft.
This isn’t to say that spending in free agency is an automatic qualifier for careless front office performance. Spending often can be the means to executing a team’s strategy.
For example, the Tennessee Titans' spending this offseason, albeit excessive, has immediately improved their on-the-field product. Conversely, there is the Dolphins, but I'll get into them later.
A successful NFL team will plot out the entire offseason before it begins.
Look at Seattle a season ago. They identified quarterback, rightfully so, as a significant problem area. To address this, they acquired Matt Flynn early in the offseason.
Signing Flynn alleviated their desperation at quarterback. They entered the draft with the freedom that they possessed confidence in Flynn as a starter. This opened their draft wide-open. It allowed them to take a risk, that is what at the time was deemed a risk, and draft Russell Wilson. If they hadn’t first signed Flynn, there was no chance they could have drafted Wilson.
What they would have done is operate similarly to how Cleveland did.
The Browns entered the draft desperate. They lacked confidence in Colt McCoy, which cornered them into drafting a quarterback early. They did so with the selection of Brandon Weeden late in the first round, and now, just one year later, enter the draft desperate once again.
With the current format of NFL calendar it is imperative for teams to address needs in free agency, as it comes before the draft.
Teams that do this are able to draft value rather than need, which elevates competition on a positional level. Relying heavily on a draft pick to pan out is a cautionary tale in the NFL. Prospects are simply too unpredictable. Teams spend hundreds of hours scouting players yet still miss all the time.
Teams don’t like to admit it, but luck plays a role in the draft.
If the Patriots knew who Tom Brady was, they wouldn’t have waited until the sixth round to select him. Nor would the Redskins with Alfred Morris or the Colts with T.Y. Hilton.
Yet, in all three situations, the team possessed options at the position prior to the draft. Washington had Roy Helu and Tim Hightower, the Patriots had Drew Bledsoe and the Colts had Reggie Wayne and Donnie Avery. Like the Seahawks' quarterback situation, they weren’t desperate.
As I rank how each team’s front office has performed this offseason, keep in mind that what I’m really ranking is their commitment to their apparent strategy and how they are setting themselves up for April’s draft.
Simply ranking each team’s offseason activity would be too arbitrary at such an early junction of the NFL year.
So, let the ranking begin.
32. New York Jets
The Jets are feeling the repercussions of their monumentally idiotic offseason last year.
They threw an undeserved contract to Mark Sanchez that has crippled their salary cap this season and to make matters worse, they eroded his confidence by bringing in Tim Tebow, for no reason other than to sell jerseys and to age Skip Bayless.
The Jets lost a wealth of last year's team, including Shonn Greene, LaRon Landry, Yeremiah Bell, Dustin Keller, Mike DeVito and Calvin Pace.
The only additions the Jets made that saw significant playing time last season were outside linebacker Antwan Barnes, guard Willie Colon and defensive linemen Antonio Garay.
They signed quarterback David Garrard, who missed all of last season with an injury, but given the atrocity that was Mark Sanchez last season, Garrard could very well end up being the Jets' starter.
The Jets front office has done nothing this offseason that suggests it won't have to completely rebuild the roster after the 2013 season; begging the question, why wait until then? Why not just fire Rex Ryan now?
You just let the majority of his defense go anyway. Why not just accelerate the inevitable and release Sanchez?
Sure you have to write him a big check to leave, but you may as well put that check on the 2013 books, as the Jets are going to be a bottom feeder anyway.
Does anyone really want another year of this anyway?
Oh yeah, did I mention they have managed to ostracize their best player Darrelle Revis?
31. Washington Redskins
Salary cap reparations have hamstrung the Redskins this offseason.
I would feel sympathetic to Washington, but general manager Bruce Allen was in charge during the 2010 offseason from which the violations stem. So forget being sympathetic.
The Redskins tried to cheat the system and got caught.
How it went down was, prior to the 2010 uncapped season, the NFL warned teams against front-loading contracts. Now you’re probably asking yourself, how would over paying players be considered cheating? Here’s how.
During the uncapped 2010 season, you could hypothetically pay players a considerable portion of their contract while it was uncapped. So lets say in 2009 you sign a player to a contract spanning six years that is valued at $55 million, $22.5 million of which is guaranteed.
Now if you know that 2010 is going to be an uncapped season, which all NFL owners did as they were the ones with all the negotiating power of the new CBA, in 2009 you could load the 2010 salary heavily—lets say just south of $20 million.
By doing this, during seasons that you know will have a salary cap, you will only have to pay this player an average of about $6 million per year—not too mention after the loaded second season you will have fulfilled the guaranteed portion of the contract, which would allow you to release this player and free up an abundance of salary for your 2011 salary cap.
Now, this not-so-hypothetical contract was actually the exact contract the Redskins signed DeAngelo Hall to.
With Albert Haynesworth, they schemed to pay the defensive tackle $32 million of his $41 million guaranteed over the first 13 months of the contract, which of course spanned from March 2009 to April 2010.
What is that old adage about Karma catching up to transgressors?
Back to the present. The Skins actually fared okay considering their post-cheating reduced salary cap. They signed veteran linemen Jeremy Trueblood and Tony Pashos on the cheap to compete with Tyler Polumbus who was brutal last season.
When they freed up some of their dirty money by releasing Hall, they responded by signing E.J. Biggers to a one-year deal, who granted had a rough season last season for Tampa Bay, but he is only 25 years old and to get a player with starting experience for cheap is always a plus.
Washington’s deceit three years ago is costing them this offseason and would warrant them last if not for the Jets, which should have probably tried cheating.
30. Buffalo Bills
The Bills are a fine example of a team who operates without a strategy. Their handling of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Mario Williams illustrates their reactionary and careless business model.
This offseason, the Bills preceded free agency by hiring a new coach and cutting Fitzpatrick. They wisely placed the franchise tag on Jairus Byrd, cheaply signed linebacker Manny Lawson, but they let ascending young guard Andy Levitre walk.
Buffalo wasn’t cash strapped this offseason, yet behaved like they were.
Cutting Fitzpatrick isn’t as frugal as it appears, as they still owe him $10 million over the next two seasons. Further, they could have afforded to re-sign Levitre (they currently have no replacement for him). They will almost certainly draft a quarterback high, which makes letting Levitre leave even worse.
The Bills are mortgaging next season and the foreseeable future that they will find franchise-altering quarterback in this year’s draft, which is a gamble so say the least.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars
You would think that a team that has to tarp off entire sections of their stadiums to counter poor attendance would at least try to give their fans some hope.
Instead Jacksonville is sitting on their money, adding a slew of largely unknown free agents.
The highlights of their incoming class are Geno Hayes, who played well as a rotational linebacker for Chicago last season, and defensive tackle Roy Miller, who was fantastic as a rush stopper last year for Tampa Bay.
Jacksonville’s other front office activity consisted of releasing Laurent Robinson, Dawan Landry and Aaron Ross.
The Jaguars are sitting on $30 million in cap space and could’ve spent some of it on any number of their team needs in free agency. There was a wealth of edge rushers this year, many of which could have improved the NFL last ranked pass-rushing defense.
Shame on you Jacksonville. Apologies Jaguars fans, your front office continues to betray you.
28. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals began the offseason by hiring a new general manager and head coach. Last year, their offense was criminally ineffective, but their defense showed promise.
Given this imbalance logic would suggest the Cardinals priority would be closing the gap by improving their offense. Right?
Well they kind of did, but not really.
The obvious deficiency of last year’s offense is at quarterback, but in reality the crux of Arizona’s incompetence offensively was their offensive line. This is not say that John Skelton is a misunderstood talent. He’s not.
In fact it’s perplexing how he is even in the league. But, the team’s inability to achieve any success both running and passing is indicative of their line’s failures.
Yet, the Cardinals have not signed a single offensive lineman in free agency.
They instead replaced departures at other positions, and in most cases the replacements are downgrades. They swapped Beanie Wells for Rashard Mendenhall: push. Kevin Kolb for Drew Stanton: cheaper but worse. On the defensive end, Greg Toler for Antoine Cason: huge downgrade. Adrian Wilson for Yeremiah Bell: downgrade.
The Cardinals are throwing all their faith into the draft without any contingency plans.
As weak as the draft is at quarterback, there wasn’t much talent in free agency so I can excuse them there. But free agency was loaded with offensive lineman that could have immediately helped the Cardinals.
27. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers lost a ton this of talent this offseason including their best receiver Mike Wallace, a starting guard in Willie Colon, a vociferous leader in the locker room in James Harrison and a starting cornerback Keenan Lewis.
They signed one-time Steelers William Gay and Plaxico Burress in hopes to replace Lewis and Wallace but neither are anywhere close in talent compared to their predecessors.
The Steelers did make a nice signing in Matt Spaeth who is fantastic blocking tight end who will help Pittsburgh’s pass protection.
Pittsburgh can make up ground in the draft, and they’ll have to if they want to return to the playoffs in 2013.
As of now it’s been a brutal offseason for the Steelers.
26. Minnesota Vikings
I would have been fine with the Vikings trading Percy Harvin were it not for their consequent signing of Greg Jennings.
For one, they overpaid the 29-year-old receiver and secondly he doesn’t fit their offense at all. Jennings' success in Green Bay was the result of precise timing routes that were dependent on the accuracy of Aaron Rodgers and Bret Favre.
Christian Ponder simply lacks the arm talent to utilize Jennings abilities. The Vikings also cut their best cornerback Antoine Winfield without bringing in a replacement.
The Vikings did succeed in signing Matt Cassel, who could very well end up their starter by seasons end, and re-signing offensive tackle Phil Loadholdt.
The Vikings front office is banking on Adrian Peterson repeating his MVP performance, which is far-fetched, Christian Ponder’s development, perhaps more far-fetched, and for them to bring in a offensive playmaker and a starting corner in the draft, which is moderately possible.
That’s a front office strategy that is hard to buy in to.
25. San Diego Chargers
So far this offseason, San Diego hasn't addressed many of their positional needs in free agency. The major transactions they made were signing third down running back Danny Woodhead and cornerback Derek Cox; neither of course should be classified as major but that is how dull San Diego has been so far.
They sort of addressed their need at tackle by signing King Dunlap who struggled against speed rushers last season in Philadelphia making him extremely vulnerable.
If San Diego didn’t fire Turner, they would have found themselves even lower on the list.
24. St. Louis Rams
The Rams made two signings in free agency, both were expensive and only one was worth it.
Jake Long was a great acquisition for the Rams, which desperately needed a bookend tackle for quarterback Sam Bradford. The other transaction, tight end Jared Cook, addressed a need but came at too steep of a price. Cook has a high ceiling but his production doesn’t match the $35 million contract St. Louis gave him.
The tight end market was deep this offseason and with the abundance of other needs St. Louis has—notably receiver, safety and cornerback—the money spent on Cook could have been distributed around to other positions.
Now, with no money left, the Rams will be forced to address these needs in the draft.
The Rams also lost starters from their already stagnant offense including the face of their franchise Steven Jackson. Daryl Richardson showed enough last season to keep the team optimistic and they still have their 2012 second round pick Isaiah Pead, but ultimately the Rams will go as far as Bradford takes them.
Now if your success is contingent on your quarterback improving, wouldn't it be wise to surround him with receivers?
As of now their receiving core consists of Brian Quick, who had just 11 receptions last year, and Chris Givens who showed some promise. The Rams have two first round draft picks this year so have the opportunity to make themselves look like geniuses.
They could equally make themselves look like idiots if they miss.
23. Miami Dolphins
A season ago, the Dolphins struggled both passing the football (ranking 26th) and defending the pass (ranking 27th).
Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill played well, especially when considering the talent he had to throw to.
The Dolphins front office recognized and addressed the problem area by signing the prize of free agency Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace, adding tight end Dustin Keller, re-signing their leading receiver in 2012 Brian Hartline and signing slot receiver Brandon Gibson. Defensively the Dolphins signed linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler.
The new Dolphin acquisitions came at a price as Miami lost Sean Smith, Jake Long and Karlos Dansby, three of the teams better players in 2012.
Wallace and Keller will help young Tannehill a lot, but overall the Dolphins didn’t spend efficiently. They are taking a big risk on Ellerbe who has only started 14 games and simply overspent on both Wheeler and Hartline.
Their already porous pass defense will depend desperately on the Dolphins finding cornerbacks in the draft and if Ellerbe doesn’t pan out their run defense might be worse too.
Overall, the Dolphins are slightly better as the NFL is an offensive league and they finally possess a weapon in Wallace.
They would benefit significantly by adding a cornerback before the draft to give them some room for error, free agents Nnamdi Asomugha, Brent Grimes and Antoine Winfield would all be affordable for the Dolphins who still have some cap space leftover.
But the Dolphins signed most of these contracts as multi-year deals, which could haunt them in coming years.
22. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers entered this offseason shackled by a strew of bad contracts.
These contracts were signed by former general manager Marty Hurney—see the contracts of their entire backfield—so don't blame the current administration the teams inactivity.
Yet, Carolina has made the most of a bad situation. They re-signed Captain Munnerlyn and Dwan Edwards and added further depth to their weak secondary with the acquisitions of D.J. Moore, Mike Mitchell and Drayton Florence.
In a division that consists of Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Josh Freeman, there is no such thing as too much depth in the secondary. They also added Ted Ginn who significantly improves their return game and adds depth at receiver.
They have a ways to come yet, but overall Carolina has done a solid job with their limitations thus far.
21. Dallas Cowboys
Jerry Jones was handicapped with a small budget this offseason, which might be reason he has had a positive one.
Before I give Jones too much credit, understand that the reason the Cowboys were cash-strapped is because he got caught and reprimanded for trying to scheme during the uncapped salary season as alluded to earlier on the Redskins slide.
In the Cowboys case, they tried to pull a fast one by loading up the 2010 contract of Miles Austin, who to the Cowboys credit is way better than Albert Haynesworth and DeAngelo Hall.
But Jones succeeded this offseason as he was able to retain Anthony Spencer, who doesn’t get much recognition but is every bit as vital to the Cowboys pass rush as DeMarcus Ware. They also added Justin Durant, who should help a defense that struggled against the run in 2012.
Talent isn’t an issue for Dallas, rather their hindrance lies in their poor execution. Execution reflects coaching, or in the case of the Cowboys, the lack of coaching.
The only true criticism I can place at Jerry Jones doorstep this offseason was his failure to fire Jason Garrett. In his two seasons as head coach Garrett has done little to reassure Cowboy Nation of his competence and has fumbled late-game decision-making too many times to justify keeping his job.
Despite his constant growth of haters, Tony Romo is a good quarterback.
No, he’s not elite, but there is only a handful of quarterbacks in the NFL better than him. So long as he is under center and Jason Garrett stays out of his own way the Cowboys will be good enough to compete in the NFC East.
Overall, the Cowboys would be significantly higher on this list if not for their slimy salary tactics in 2010.
20. Detroit Lions
The 2012 Lions were much better than their sorry 4-12 record indicated.
Nine of their losses were by one score or less. They were severely unbalanced offensively but their defense ranked 14th and 16th against the pass and run, respectively.
So, one would think the Lions offseason would focus of retaining their young core of talent, increase team discipline and sprinkle in some new acquisitions where necessary.
The Lions made one of the best value signings in free agency with their acquisition of Reggie Bush as he is schematically a perfect fit for the Lions single back offense and is coming off a strong season in Miami. Detroit also re-signed Chis Houston and Louis Delmas and added safety Glover Quinn and defensive end Jason Jones.
So they did exactly what they needed to, right?
They would have had they re-signed defensive end Cliff Avril and either re-signed or replaced tackle Gosder Cherilus. Avril’s departure was the most flagrant due to the incredibly cheap price Seattle was able to sign him for. Cherilus is forgivable based on the high rate the Colts lured him away for, but with a wealth of available free agent tackles the Lions should’ve signed a veteran to a modest one-year deal.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The 2012 Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense posted one of the more bizarre statistical seasons in NFL history. They managed to have the best rush defense and the worst pass defense.
For good reason, Tampa Bay’s front office has focused their offseason efforts around improving their deplorable secondary.
They signed All Pro safety Dashon Goldon and have been trying to trade for cornerback Darrelle Revis. Goldson helps immensely, but if talks for Revis dissipate Tampa will have to scramble to sign two starting cornerbacks.
That is not a sign of organizational stability.
Further, the Buc’s lost their best defensive player Michael Bennett to Seattle despite having a major cap room advantage. Also defensive tackle Roy Miller’s departure to Jacksonville will affect Tampa’s rush defense.
Outside of signing Goldson, Tampa has surrendered their offseason chasing the thread of Darrelle Revis. This is increasingly dangerous when you factor in that Tampa is negotiating with the highly unpredictable New York Jets.
If Tampa lands Revis all will be forgiven. If they don’t, the Tampa front office will have hell to pay.
18. Houston Texans
Houston lost Connor Barwin and Glover Quinn to free agency and in return overpaid Ed Reed and upgraded at punter with Shane Lechler.
Houston enters the draft without glaring needs, but could certainly use another pass rusher and another playmaker offensively to supplement their intimidating rushing attack and Andre Johnson
The Texans will still be a contender in the AFC, but their offseason success is dependent upon Ed Reed providing leadership to their defense and the complete recovery of linebacker Brian Cushing.
Overall the quiet offseason for the Texans ranks their front office's performance as average, which is nothing to be ashamed of.
17. New Orleans Saints
New Orleans has been cash-strapped this offseason, which is a serious disadvantage considering they had the worst defense in the NFL a season ago.
Yet, with the limited cash they possessed New Orleans made an immediate improvement on their secondary by signing cornerback Keenan Lewis. The hiring defensive coordinator Rob Ryan should energize the Saints defense. After all, they can’t get any worse.
The Saints offense will miss tackle Jermon Bushrod but the return of Sean Payton should alleviate the loss.
Considering the limited cap space the Saints front office has done a solid job so far this offseason. It isn’t far-fetched to think that Sean Payton presence will compensate for a couple wins alone, which would put the Saints in playoff contention.
16. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens offseason has fallen victim to their own success.
After their incredible Super Bowl run they had little choice but to sign Joe Flacco. The absurd size of the contract illustrates the clear plan of Ozzie Newsome moving forward: build around Flacco and trust the coaching prowess of John Harbaugh.
I’ve written at greater length my disagreement with their evaluation of Flacco, but I have to at least commend the Ravens for having a plan.
The result of signing Flacco triggered a series of cap clearing moves most notably the trading of Anquan Boldin whose impact on the Ravens offense was unquestioned. Losing Boldin will hurt Flacco but at his cap number they had little choice.
The Ravens also lost six significant defensive contributors: Ray Lewis, Cary Williams, Ed Reed, Paul Kruger, Dannel Ellerbe and Bernard Pollard. An under-reported aspect of the Ravens 2013 outlook is the return of stud cornerback Lardarius Webb, whom the Ravens were without for most of last season.
At first glance these subtractions seem severe but they all abide by the Ravens strategy so it’s hard to fault them. Further, by signing Elvis Dumerville Baltimore sent a beacon to its fans that they weren’t operating on auto-pilot.
Overall, losing talent after winning the Super Bowl is business as usual in the NFL. The Ravens have a plan and are operating accordingly. I don’t love how it’s Flacco centric, but I respect it nonetheless.
15. Oakland Raiders
The Raiders offseason has been devoted entirely to rearranging their defense that was among the league’s worst a season ago.
Their only meaningful loss was Desmond Bryant, who they couldn’t have afforded to keep anyway.
They signed three linebackers, Kevin Burnett, Nick Roach and Kaluka Maiava and replaced Bryant by signing Pat Sims. Nick Roach is the best of these frugal acquisitions as the Bears defense actually played faster and more efficiently last season when he played in place of the injured Brian Urlacher.
Oakland’s front office also freed cap space by releasing busts from the Al Davis Era, including Michael Huff, Tommy Kelly and Darius Heyward-Bey. The Raiders have a big decision to make at quarterback with the highly paid Carson Palmer and ascending Terrelle Pryor but are letting it play out over time as they should.
Overall the Raiders still have needs to address but for once they didn’t make an absurd free agent signing so give them credit.
14. Cleveland Browns
The newly formed Cleveland Browns front office was aggressive in free agency.
They improved their defense by signing linebacker Paul Kruger and defensive linemen Desmond Bryant to lucrative deals. The Bryant signing was appropriate but they most likely overpaid Kruger who struggles desperately against the run.
Offensively they did very little.
They let their spark plug Josh Cribbs leave and signed tight end Kellen Davis, who, if they can teach to catch or block might be a nice signing. The Browns offense is very young so it was wise of them not to overpay on a free agent.
Trent Richardson and the youthful receiving corps showed enough last year to trust in their progression. A sure-handed veteran receiver would have been a nice look for the Browns as drops were a problem for them a season ago (hint: Sign Brandon Lloyd).
The team’s greatest weakness is not the fault of the current regime.
They would be wise to improve at quarterback via trade or the draft but there wasn’t an available quarterback who is definitively better than Brandon Weeden. They did sign Jason Campbell, who wasn't strong in relief of Jay Cutler last season in Chicago, but that is likely more a compliment to Cutler making due with limited resources than an indictment of Campbell.
Cleveland’s front office did a solid job playing the hand they were dealt.
As they stand today the Browns still have $30 million in cap space which gives the team plenty of potential to improve as the offseason goes along.
13. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals entered the offseason with an abundance of cash and a stash of draft picks, which considering they have been a playoff team the previous two season was a very good sign.
They decided not to spend their money, at least not yet, which is puzzling. They re-signed Rey Maualuga, Robert Geathers and Adam Jones all to reasonable contracts but have yet to re-sign offensive tackle Andre Smith.
Smith will be the deal breaker for the Bengals offseason. By bringing him back they retain much of their young emerging offense. Without him they open themelves up problems.
Teams should never spend for the sake of spending, and the Bengals are wise to keep cap space available, but it would have been reassuring to see them add something in this year deep free agent class. Certainly they could have improved their secondary.
If the Bengals bring back Smith they will leap up this list, but as of now their front office resides just below average
12. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts offseason strategy was sound.
Given Andrew Luck’s minimal salary they wanted to spend cap space before they inevitably have to pay their quarterback. They certainly followed suit.
The Colts spent $34.3 million of their available cap space signing offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus, safety LaRon Landry, pass-rusher Eric Walden, cornerback Greg Toler, defensive linemen Ricky Jean-Francois, guard Donald Thomas, defensive end Lawrence Sidbury, quarterback Matt Hasslebeck and the re-signing punter Pat McAfee and cornerback Darius Butler.
For the most part the prices were appropriate except for in the case of LaRon Landry and Eric Walden who were both grossly overpaid.
Indianapolis improved their team but could have really sweetened their haul by singing a dynamic pass rusher rather than crossing their fingers that either Eric Walden or Jerry Hughes will develop into one.
Still, considering how much money they spent the Colts front office came out relatively clean.
11. New York Giants
The Giants front office not only made the right cuts this offseason but made some impressive additions to their roster.
New York made some sneaky free agent transactions by signing tight end Brandon Meyers, defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins and safety Ryan Mundy. They also re-signed offensive linemen Will Beatty and Kevin Boothe.
After missing the playoffs in 2012, the Giants front office wisely decided to reshuffle their roster. They didn’t overreact by overspending or by messing with the core of their team.
So long as Victor Cruz doesn’t get stolen away by another team the Giants will be entering the draft without any positional needs, which bodes well for them.
10. Green Bay Packers
Green Bay has had a positive offseason based entirely on their inactivity.
They let the Vikings overpay Greg Jennings and wisely decided not to cut Jermichael Finley, whose upside is too significant to bail on at this junction despite his dramatic spells of inconstancy. Jennings absence will be hard to notice if James Jones and Randall Cobb continue their ascent.
The Packers lack of spending allows them to deservingly pay their superstar Aaron Rodgers.
However, Green Bay still has needs that will have to be addressed through the draft.
Their offensive line needs help, they could use assistance in their secondary and they need to get another pass-rusher to play opposite Clay Matthews. They still have $18 million in cap space so expect to see Green Bay add some pieces yet.
The front office could have been slightly better, but it also could have been a heck of a lot worse.
9. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles appropriately initiated rebuilding mode this offseason.
They axed Andy Reid and most of the players associated with the "Dream Team" catastrophe. The hiring of Chip Kelly was bold but also progressive.
They made strong but subtle personnel additions such as signing edge rusher Connor Barwin, nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga, quarterback Dennis Dixon, tight end James Casey, cornerbacks Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams and safeties Patrick Chung and Kenny Phillips.
Further, they drastically reduced the salary of Michael Vick and acquired receiver Arrelious Benn from Tampa in exchange for only a sixth round pick.
Best yet, all the contracts, sans maybe Barwin, were signed on the cheap which is a clear and authoritative statement by the Eagles front office that this isn’t the free-spending Eagles of season’s past.
8. Atlanta Falcons
Coming off the heels of a fantastic season, the Falcons have stuck to their overall strategy of building their team around Matt Ryan.
They prepared for the offseason by cutting cap space and by result had limited money to spend. Yet, they upgraded at running back adding Steven Jackson to replace Michael Turner and re-signed starters Sam Baker, Tony Gonzalez and William Moore.
They also signed veteran defensive end Osi Umenyiora who will replace John Abraham just fine.
These moves were far from blockbuster but were still fantastic. Atlanta does need help secondary—it would be wise to sign Nnamdi Asogmugha—but have eliminated needs at other positions.
7. Chicago Bears
This offseason the Bears have made it very clear that they believe in Jay Cutler.
Their disastrous offensive line was improved by adding Pro Bowl tackle Jermon Bushrod and the upgrade at tight end from Kellen Davis to Martellus Bennett is substantial.
The mere subtraction of J’Marcus Webb improves the Bears offense.
Defensively the Bears had to part ways with the legendary Brian Urlacher but Chicago made the most of their limited cap space by placing the franchise tag on Henry Melton and signing veterans D.J. Williams, Tom Zbikowski, James Anderson and Turk McBride.
The Bears still need help on the offensive line, particularly at guard, but they enter the draft in good shape.
They probably overpaid for Bushrod but considering their need and their recent failures drafting tackles it’s a easy pill to swallow.
If Alshon Jeffery and Earl Bennett can stay healthy and if Chicago can maximize the skills of Martellus Bennett, who is prone to spells of inconsistency, the Bears will become far less dependent on Brandon Marshall and will see their offense grow exponentially.
6. Kansas City Chiefs
After a tumultuous 2012 season the Kansas City Chiefs have been pro-active this offseason.
They not only improved at quarterback by trading for Alex Smith but surrounded him with help by retaining Dwayne Bowe and Brandon Albert.
On the other side of the ball they added cornerbacks Sean Smith and Daunta Robinson as well as defensive linemen Mike DeVito and Marcus Dixon.
The Chiefs still need help in their run defense which ranked 27th in 2012, but the new Kansas City front office has done a admirable job so far this offseason.
In a weak AFC West, the Chiefs made enough improvements to contest Oakland and San Diego for second place and don't forget the possess the first overall pick in the draft.
Alex Smith will fit well with this offense so long as new coach Andy Reid learns from his neglect of LeSean McCoy in Philadelphia and feeds Jamaal Charles the rock.
5. Denver Broncos
The Broncos were a batted pass away from the AFC championship in 2012 and have approached their offseason accordingly.
All the media attention was focused on their signing of Wes Welker, who is certainly an improvement from Brandon Stokely, but the best thing Denver has done this offseason was to place the franchise tag on offensive tackle Ryan Clady.
With an immobile and fragile quarterback such as Peyton Manning, protection is imperative. Denver proved it by also adding guard Louis Vasquez whose presence will improve the already strong Bronco line.
They also quietly signed Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to a cheap contract and added Stewart Bradley to provide depth at linebacker. Unfortunately for Denver, a fax machine drops them significantly on this list.
Not only did they just lose Elvis Dumervil, they lost him to a fellow AFC contender.
The Broncos are a win-now team.
John Elway has demonstrated this strategy with the acquisitions of Manning and Welker. Denver will be hard-pressed to replace Dumervil’s production this season. The brunt of the Dumervil blame may be on his agent, but communication is a two-way street and the Denver front office deserves some of the blame.
4. New England Patriots
New England lost a lot of production in Wes Welker and Danny Woodhead, as well as solid players in Donald Thomas and Patrick Chung.
However, the development of Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen more than compensates for Woodhead’s departure and there is no reason to believe that Danny Amendola and Donald Jones can’t replace Welker.
Additionally, the Patriots improved their defense by re-signing Aqib Talib and adding Adrian Wilson and may have finally added a special team threat in Leon Washington.
The Pats also re-signed tackle Sebastian Vollmer and added offensive linemen Will Svitek to replace Donald Thomas.
Overall, New England has improved their defense and special teams and if their offense did depreciate it was only slightly. Sounds like a strong offseason to me.
3. Tennessee Titans
The Titans had deep pockets this offseason and used their financial advantage in free agency efficiently by recognizing their needs and strategically addressing a majority of them without overextending themselves financially.
They swapped Jared Cook for Delanie Walker at half the price, added two starting guards including the best available Andy Levitre, signed two veteran starting safeties in George Wilson and Bernard Pollard and added solid backups in Shonn Greene, Sammy Lee Hill and Ryan Fitzpatrick.
By releasing Matt Hasslebeck the Titans are officially handing the reigns to Jake Locker, a gesture that could do wonders to his confidence. If it doesn’t and he struggles Ryan Fitzpatrick is among the best backup quarterbacks in the league.
The only need Tennessee didn’t address was cornerback, but with their remaining cap space they can still bring in a veteran in addition to drafting a corner, such as Dee Milner.
The Titans roster is much better than it was a year ago and for that I applaud the job of their front office.
2. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers front office pulled off two fantastic trades this offseason.
They got incredible value in both, securing the 34th overall pick for Alex Smith and surrendering only a sixth round pick for Anquan Boldin.
They re-signed Darcel McBath who is the heir apparent to safety Dashon Goldson and signed Glenn Dorsey on clearance to replace Isaac Sopoaga. The only need they were unable to replace was at tight end as they lost Delanie Walker to free agency.
The 49ers subtle activity in free agency was the right move as the core of the 49ers team is young. The only position they have to address in the draft is tight end meaning the 2012 NFL runner up will be able to draft based on value with their many draft picks.
That is a scary thought for the other NFC contenders.
1. Seattle Seahawks
Seattle closed 2012 as one of the hottest teams in the NFL.
Lost in the Super Bowl whirlwind that was Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers was that Seattle crushed San Francisco in their Week 16 matchup. Seattle's road woes subsided late last season as the Hawks secured impressive road wins against Chicago and Washington and nearly pulled off a playoff upset in Atlanta.
Seattle’s brain trust has built on the teams second half momentum this offseason by aggressively improving the roster.
Percy Harvin, who lest we forget was garnering MVP talk early last season, gives Seattle the dynamic playmaker they lacked in 2012.
Harvin’s grievances in Minnesota, his contract and the performance of Christian Ponder, won’t arise in Seattle as the Seahawks front office has already extended Harvin’s contract and of course boast one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL in Russell Wilson.
Seattle also bolstered their pass rush by signing Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett.
Avril signed for a mere two years $12 million, when in juxtaposition to the mammoth deals pass-rushers Paul Kruger and Connor Barwin signed makes Avril one of the great values of the 2013 offseason.
Seattle’s recognition of the NFC deep competition was evident by their aggressive offseason. As it stands today, Seattle’s roster is absent of a single weakness, and is excellent at the most vital positions: quarterback, offensive line, pass rush and defensive back.
Considering they had the best draft in 2012 and possess a serious trade chip in Matt Flynn, it's frightening to think that Seattle will only get better as the offseason progresses.