Who is closer to this trophy? Who is further away?
With the NFL draft in the books and the offseason officially placed in the "almost done" phase, it's time to take a look at who did well—and who took a step (or three) backward.
Yes folks, it's time to determine which teams had their stock go up, and which had their stock go down. Of course, we really don't know how good these teams are, so let's start from the common point that this is all "on paper."
We'll get to "on field" down the road.
Still, despite that caveat, some teams look very much like they have improved, while others look to have regressed.
Let's see who they are.
I used Ourlads.com for the current depth charts, as the majority of teams don't have one set on their official pages as of yet.
For handy reference, I will be hot-linking the divisions here on the front page so you can jump to yours first, then backtrack and see how others did.
The AFC East has long been the New England Patriots and then everyone else. Contenders have emerged, such as the Jets in Rex Ryan's first two years as head coach, but then faltered.
This offseason saw two of the other three teams make strong moves, primarily in the NFL draft, which could set them up to be serious competition for the division title in the years to come.
The question then becomes, if the division improved overall, did the Patriots do enough to stay ahead of the pack?
Let's take a closer look at whose stock went up and whose went down in the AFC East.
The Bills weren't as free spending as they were in 2012, but they did good work nonetheless. They cut some fat (much of it belonging to Ryan Fitzpatrick's contract), added a little more defensive help and took some interesting risks in the draft.
When looking at everything, though, the tipping point for judging this offseason will come from whomever starts at quarterback for Week 1.
Kevin Kolb has never fulfilled the promise he had after some solid play in Philadelphia. The Bills were wise to offer him a low-risk contract (just two years with a base salary of $6.1 million, only $1 million of which is guaranteed) considering what they had before he arrived (Tarvaris Jackson and Aaron Corp). He could be a good choice to hold serve while rookie E.J. Manuel refines his game.
Manuel is eventually the lens through which this offseason will likely be measured. The former Florida State quarterback has tremendous upside, but he currently is a "one read and go" type of player and has some hiccups in his delivery. He wasn't asked to read progressions very much and doesn't appear to do it effectively as of right now.
That's not to say he can't learn to, just that it might take some time. If they rush him into the lineup, it could backfire.
On the plus side, Doug Marrone's offense is touted to be a quick-hit, high-speed one, which might fit well with Manuel's learning curve. It's not that he won't have to make reads, it's that he won't have a lot of time to overthink it.
Regardless of who is under center, the Bills drafted two solid wide receivers in Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin. Woods is a versatile receiver with reliable hands and a tremendous catch radius. He'll be a great addition across from Stevie Johnson and will make teams pay when they ignore him in favor of the veteran.
Goodwin is a super-fast track star who is very raw. If he can improve his technique, though, he could be a deadly vertical threat.
Add that to the aforementioned Johnson, as well as C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson in the backfield, and the Bills offense should look much better in 2013—assuming it can get production from its quarterback.
When the offseason began, it looked like GM Jeff Ireland was in a mad scramble to save his job. He looked a bit crazy, but everything is seems smarter post-draft.
On the one hand, a lot of the free-agency moves that were made are loaded in such a way as to potentially make 2014 a mess from a cap standpoint.
On the other, the Dolphins played the NFL draft like a virtuoso pianist. And really, next year's cap is next year's problem.
The plan for Miami was pretty simple overall: Give Ryan Tannehill the tools to succeed and avoid putting him in a position where he has to constantly throw from behind.
A lot of focus was on the addition of free-agent wide receiver Mike Wallace, and rightfully so—it gives Tannehill a major weapon to throw to.
However, beyond Wallace and other offensive additions like Dustin Keller, Lance Louis and Brandon Gibson, Ireland did a solid job of bringing in defensive players as well.
Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler are solid players upgrading the linebackers, and Brent Grimes was a good signing and helps lock down the secondary.
Losing Reggie Bush and Anthony Fasano isn't the end of the world, and while Kevin Burnett and Tony McDaniel might be missed, they aren't irreplaceable. Sean Smith is a loss, but that's mitigated by the presence of Grimes.
The question is whether Jonathan Martin and rookie Dallas Thomas can step in and replace Jake Long. Long had a down year but still has something left in the tank. Martin struggled at times in 2012, and plugging a Day 2 rookie in at left or right tackle might be a bit much.
Still, Thomas is a versatile lineman who can kick inside to guard if necessary, though he might need to get stronger to be fully effective.
The draft was effectively run by Ireland, who surprised many when he orchestrated a jump up to the third overall pick, selecting not Lane Johnson (as people assumed would be the choice), but the versatile Dion Jordan.
Jordan was graded by many (including Bleacher Report) as an outside linebacker, but as featured columnist Alessandro Miglio pointed out earlier this week, he can be so much more.
Versatility is highly prized by teams—one of the reasons I've used the word at least three times in this article—and increasingly critical on defense. While Jordan has some question marks, none of those involve his ability to have an impact anywhere across the defensive front.
Ireland did a very good job of getting value with virtually every pick. Dion Sims is a solid backup tight end with upside, Mike Gillislee can easily step ahead of the underwhelming Daniel Thomas and backup Lamar Miller, and Jamar Taylor could jump right into the lineup.
Of course it could all fall apart Week 1, but for now, it looks like the Dolphins improved their roster by leaps and bounds.
As is often the case, the Patriots were more notable this offseason for who they lost than who they signed. Gone are Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Patrick Chung, Trevor Scott and Danny Woodhead.
The Patriots have always been quick to shuck aging or overpaid talent—or talent looking to be overpaid—and normally does just fine replacing those parts.
After all, save for Tom Brady, the team has always been more than the sum of its parts.
To help give Brady a replacement for Welker, the team signed Danny Amendola away from the St. Louis Rams. Amendola is younger, though perhaps not quite as good as Welker at his peak. Welker's not at his peak anymore, so it's easily a wash and perhaps an improvement.
The team hasn't replaced Brandon Lloyd in any obvious way. The two rookies (Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce) who were drafted are decent, but the team hasn't exactly excelled at scouting receiver talent, and Michael Jenkins isn't an answer to everything.
Still, as long as Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez can be back early in the season (both are coming off surgery), Brady will have enough weapons at his disposal.
The team also acquired LeGarrette Blount during the draft, though it's hard to predict his chances of cracking the lineup, as Stevan Ridley has the bulk of the work locked up with Shane Vereen getting the third-down work.
I almost had the Pats' stock going down because of the overall losses and the concerns I have about replacing their losses with enough quality.
If Gronkowski and Hernandez are out for the beginning of the season, we may see all this crash down around Bill Belichick.
This is a hard offseason to get my head around. The Jets cut some dead weight (good), made some head-scratching draft choices (not good) and are still tied to Mark Sanchez and his ill-conceived contract.
The Jets couldn't really keep LaRon Landry for the price he wanted, nor should they have kept Bart Scott nor Shonn Greene, both of whom never amounted to what we expected of them.
They may regret letting Dustin Keller and Sione Pouha go, but you can only spend so much money.
Of course, they also traded Darrelle Revis, the best player on the team.
That trade was inevitable, and it's a bit of a miracle the Jets got the price they were after since there were few takers. Revis, as good as he was, was constantly agitating for a new contract every offseason, and it just finally became too much.
The downside is that no matter who you drafted, you weren't getting the new Revis.
Dee Milliner is a very good corner, but he is unlikely to ever be Revis. The comparison will happen because he entered the facility as Revis left, but it's an unfortunate comparison and one fans should avoid making. No matter how good he is, Milliner will always lose in a comparison to Revis.
Milliner is a solid cornerback who could become a great one if he can stay healthy and become a better tackler. And, let's face it, sometimes Revis wasn't very good in that area either.
So, even if Milliner is a downgrade from Revis, it was still a draft pick you could get behind.
Sheldon Richardson, maybe not so much.
You could argue Richardson was the best player available, although with Star Lotulelei and Sharrif Floyd still on the board, I'd have to disagree. But even that argument doesn't explain taking your third defensive lineman in the first round in three years (Muhammad Wilkerson in 2011, Quinton Coples in 2012 and now Richardson), as well as the third defensive tackle in the first two days in two of the last three drafts (Kenrick Ellis in the third round of the 2011 draft).
That isn't to say Richardson won't end up being a good pick. After all, he has a high motor, can make plays everywhere on the field and can change direction on a dime.
However, with so many issues—and a desperate need for a pass-rusher—why reach for a position you already had?
Aside from that, the Jets actually had a solid draft. Geno Smith was a completely solid selection with the No. 7 pick in the second round—a low-risk, high-reward move that spells the writing on the wall for Sanchez. Smith should sit for a year, but even if he bombs out, it's the beginning of a move toward a new quarterback, which is good.
The overall problem I have with this offseason—and why it's a "stock down" label for me—is that while I applaud getting rid of some dead weight, the team didn't do enough to restock.
Even acquiring Chris Ivory has me only cautiously optimistic. Is he an upgrade over plodding Shonn Greene? Absolutely...if he actually stays on the field. However, Ivory is often dinged up or hurt, and he misses his share of action.
So, is it a good move? I guess. I'm just not sure if it will end up paying off—which is the big issue with the Jets offseason.
They made a lot of moves, but none definitively made them that much better. It's another roster that may be completely different when the players hit the field, but so far, it looks like the Jets took a step back.
The North has been the dominion of the Steelers and Ravens for some time now, with the Ravens capping things off this year by winning a championship.
However, the Bengals have closed the gap considerably, and the Browns always make things interesting.
Things could be even more interesting this year, as the Ravens lost a lot of personnel.
Did the rest of the division close the gap, or will it just be a Ravens-fueled factory of sadness?
The Ravens won a Super Bowl.
And then started leaving in droves.
First, Ray Lewis retired, which we already knew was happening. Once Ray-Ray had squirrel-danced for the last time, Bernard Pollard, Anquan Boldin, Ed Reed, Dannell Ellerbe and many more left for other teams.
The Ravens lost 14 players total (including Lewis), and at first glance, that scuttled their chances for a repeat championship. But perhaps not.
First of all, the majority of the departing players were past their prime and, for the most part, not that integral to the overall defense. That's not to say that a guy like Reed won't be missed, but losing him now isn't the same as losing him in his prime.
He can be replaced.
So that's what the Ravens did—either via the draft or free agency—with most of the players who left.
Their biggest signing will probably end up being Elvis Dumervil, who found himself out of Denver after the great fax fiasco of 2013.
It's hard to miss Brendon Ayanbadejo when you sign Dumervil to replace him.
Chris Canty was a solid signing if he stays healthy, and Michael Huff will look pretty good at safety with the pressure the front seven will bring.
The Ravens can hope Jacoby Jones is able to step up in place of Boldin. If not him, perhaps Tandon Doss.
When they'd exhausted free agency, the Ravens attacked the draft.
Matt Elam has the potential to be as effective as Reed was. He is a little undersized and needs to rein in his tendency to go for the big hit. Still, when he connects, he'll devastate a receiver or tight end. He can play press or man and is comfortable in zone as well.
Arthur Brown was a fantastic grab in the late second round, and his versatility will make him a huge asset to this defense. While he isn't the size most teams want, Brown's high football IQ, excellent range and overall athleticism is going to eventually help fans forget Ellerbe—and maybe make the loss of Ray Lewis sting a bit less.
The year after a Super Bowl victory is always tough, and certainly the Ravens face an uphill climb.
But as far as I can see, this is a team that could be as good as it was last year—and eventually perhaps even better.
The Bengals didn't lose anyone major in free agency and, in fact, added a few interesting players.
James Harrison, for example, may be old and not as effective as he has been in the past, but he's still got something left in the tank. His six sacks are far more than any other Bengals outside linebacker can claim.
The Bengals got very interesting in the draft—adding Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert wasn't a move anyone saw coming. However, when you look at Jermaine Gresham's emergence and see the teams around the league running two-tight-end sets effectively, you have to like the idea of Eifert, Gresham and A.J. Green lining up to spread the field.
Eifert is big, strong and athletic—a guy who is as equally tough to beat on a jump ball as he is to tackle once the ball is in his hands. He can line up as a traditional tight end as well as split out wide.
Andy Dalton needs more playmakers. Green and Gresham play well, but injuries and uneven play put the kibosh on the rest of the receivers. Eifert could be a huge asset.
And so could Giovani Bernard. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a solid player, but he's far from special and pretty replaceable.
Bernard has more pop than "Law Firm," accelerates better getting to the second level and is a much better receiver out of the backfield. He needs to improve his pass protection, but he's a great fit for this offense.
I don't expect to see a time share here, as I believe this will be Gio Bernard's job by midseason. Book it.
Margus Hunt was a great pick in the late second (another "versatility pick"), Rex Burkhead is an intriguing back they got late, and all across the offense the Bengals piled up depth.
Did they do enough to catch the Ravens and Steelers? We'll have to wait and see, but what is clear to anyone looking is that this team improved quite a bit this offseason.
The Browns continue to build a defense while leaving us guessing on the offensive side of the ball.
They saw 18 players leave to free agency, including (at press time) Josh Cribbs, their phenomenal kick returner.
The Brandon Weeden project continues, but the team added Jason Campbell to the depth chart, and the hope is he can compete for the starting job. Chicago Bears fans will tell you that the Browns are better off if that doesn't happen.
Campbell did play well when he started for Oakland before he got hurt and subsequently replaced by Carson Palmer, but he looked like a mess in his brief moment replacing Jay Cutler.
It's hard to believe that even if he does win the job from Weeden that he's a huge upgrade.
The Browns didn't have many picks to work with this year, but they seemed to do a good job with what was there.
Barkevious Mingo may start camp behind Jabaal Sheard, but he should find a way onto the field soon enough. Mingo is a great athlete who can explode off the snap and can blow past an offensive lineman in multiple ways. He needs to be a bit more consistent when using his strength to shed blocks and could stand to choose some better angles.
That said, he will get after the quarterback, which you need to do in this league.
I really like strong safety Jamoris Slaughter (I mean, how could you not with that name?). Right now they have Slaughter at strong, but he could actually play free safety as well (there's that versatility again).
He'll probably do a lot of special teams to begin with, but eventually he'll be on the field, and I think he could contribute sooner than later.
Ultimately, though, between the draft and free agency, the team did virtually nothing to shore up an offense that needs some help. Sure, Trent Richardson, Josh Gordon and Greg Little should be enough, but this was an offense that was 19th in the league in passing and 28th in passing touchdowns.
I don't see that improving much in 2013.
I hope I'm wrong, but we may see more sadness out of the factory this year.
The Steelers strike me as a team in a weird state of flux.
Mike Wallace, James Harrison and Rashard Mendenhall are gone. The team had receivers in the pipeline already and probably won't miss Harrison all that much—plus they picked up rookie running back Le'Veon Bell (more on him in a minute).
Still, they don't seem like they've improved much, specifically on the offensive line. This was a line that gave up 37 sacks and helped the running backs to an average of just 3.7 yards per carry.
How much of that was the running backs and how much was the line is debatable. The team must feel pretty good, since it made no moves to shore the line up this offseason.
David DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey are solid pieces of the line, but I'm not sold on the rest yet. Maybe the aforementioned Bell is the key.
Bell is the prototypical size for a back and has the leg strength to run through tackles. But he isn't going to run away from too many defenders, and his overall speed (from burst to acceleration to lacking an "extra" gear) leaves a lot to be desired.
It will be interesting to see how he fits in with the other backs here.
Medical concerns and a smaller-than-desired frame make the first-round pick of Jarvis Jones a bit of a risk, but he could be a fierce outside presence for the Steelers. Jones may not be your prototypical-sized defender, but he tends to make up for that in motor and effort.
Still, this is a team that didn't seem to do a ton to reload. Perhaps they didn't need to, but in a tight AFC North, the Steelers seem like a team that didn't do enough to keep up with the franchises around them.
This division looked like it was all Houston's for the taking, but some Andrew Luck and surprising play made it more of a contest than the Texans bargained for.
Given that the Colts turned things around so quickly, it's interesting to see what they do in year two. Meanwhile, the Texans need to find a way to get over the hump and make a real run at the Super Bowl.
On the other side of the equation are the Titans and Jaguars. The Titans seem to have the pieces to play well but can't get them all to fit, while the Jaguars are still trying to find a way to make Blaine Gabbert work out.
Oh, and Justin Blackmon was just suspended for the first four games of the season.
Are we going to be stuck with another year of the "haves" and "have nots?"
Or did the bottom-feeders of the division finally do enough to make it interesting?
My biggest question with this team isn't going to be resolved in the offseason, but at this point, is Matt Schaub the guy to take the Texans to the promised land?
I have my doubts.
They added a great rookie receiver in DeAndre Hopkins, who should transition to the pros easily and make some real noise across from Andre Johnson. Hopkins runs a great route and has shown the ability to be dangerous after the catch.
Adding him to an offense with the aforementioned Johnson as well as Owen Daniels and Arian Foster, well, really, Schaub should have no issue moving the ball.
He may not be "the guy" to win a Super Bowl, but the offense should be able to score on anyone with this group.
Defense is a bit trickier. Sure, they have All-World Pass-Swat Champ J.J. Watt and will have Brian Cushing back from an injury that really hurt this defense, but they lost Connor Barwin to Philadelphia, and the next men up have big shoes to fill.
The secondary was an issue last year as well. Johnathan Joseph is rock solid, but the Texans hope aging vet Ed Reed and rookie D.J. Swearinger can upgrade the safety position.
Aside from that, though, the defense only lost players, and—let's be honest—adding Reed at the end of his career isn't a huge upgrade anyway.
Can Whitney Mercilus and Brooks Reed fill in for Barwin? What will Cushing look like one year removed from his injury? Can Watt have another insane season like he did in 2012?
At the end of the day, this offseason left me with more questions than answers.
The Colts rode the Luck-Pagano wave for all it was worth, stunning most observers (and probably a few fans) with their playoff appearance a year after a long-term rebuild was all but assured.
Of course, the Colts weren't content to float on their 2012 wins and did a lot of wheeling and dealing in free agency—even if some of it wasn't as earth-shattering as a certain owner promised.
The team added two offensive line players (tackle Gosder Cherilus and Donald Thomas), a wide receiver (Darrius Heyward-Bey), a solid backup quarterback (Matt Hasselbeck) and five starting defensive players.
Ricky Jean-Francois, Aubrayo Franklin, LaRon Landry and Greg Toler were all solid signings, but Erik Walden was wildly overpaid, and it wouldn't shock me to see him on the bench sooner than later.
Still, for a team that largely seemed to ignore the defense in the 2012 NFL draft, it went hard after players in free agency.
The 2013 draft wasn't a home run by any stretch. I love Bjoern Werner, who was one of the best pass-rushers in college football last season. As he's only been playing football for a couple of years, Werner's best is yet to come, and the Colts are in on the ground floor.
After that, though, things were shakier. All the guys selected had upside, but many of them have question marks that are concerning. For example, Montori Hughes is incredibly fast, but that's about it. Hugh Thornton is a decent guard but can be wildly inconsistent at times.
Where the Colts definitely hit value could be "Mr. Irrelevant," Justice Cunningham. Cunningham is a darn good blocker and a solid athlete overall. The team is deep at tight end, but Cunningham can have a lot of value as a blocker and probably on special teams.
Overall, free agency definitely seems to have made this roster better, even if the draft didn't move the needle.
The biggest problem for the Jaguars at the end of 2012 remained the biggest question after the NFL draft: Is Blaine Gabbert the quarterback of the future?
It appears he will have one more season to prove his worth, as the Jaguars made no move to replace him in the draft or free agency, despite rumors to the contrary.
He starts the season behind the eight ball with Justin Blackmon suspended for four games.
Luckily, Cecil Shorts played well in 2012, and the team added Mohamed Massaquoi, but it's still a blow to the offense—which will once again run through Maurice Jones-Drew.
Jones-Drew will be returning from a foot injury, and one of the more intriguing additions could be his replacement if he gets hurt again.
Former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson transitioned to wide receiver during the draft process but was drafted to be a running back in Jacksonville.
Robinson put up huge rushing numbers from under center for the Wolverines and played his last few games in college as a running back to great effect. Robinson is quick and elusive and has a great second (and third) gear in the open field but can also break tackles.
It will be interesting to watch his transition to a pro backfield.
The Jaguars also took Luke Joeckel with the second pick in the draft, despite having a very good left tackle in Eugene Monroe. It could mean Monroe may get moved, or it could mean Joeckel will be an outstanding right tackle.
Pass-blocking, run-blocking, blocking at the second level—Joeckel can do it all.
Given that the Jaguars gave up the third most sacks in the NFL last season, they'll need him to.
Adding safety Johnathan Cyprien will also improve the secondary a tremendous amount. Cyprien is a relentless force on the field, but coming from a small school, there are questions about how he will deal with a much higher level of play.
The Jaguars added some key players in the draft and some solid ones in free agency, while also cutting some fat from the roster. While Gabbert and the quarterback position continues to be a question mark, and the suspension to Blackmon is a problem, the Jags did a solid job of continuing to build this team up and be in a position to win ballgames.
As with Jacksonville, the Titans' biggest question mark is under center. Is Jake Locker the guy?
In order to find out, they needed to upgrade the offensive line. Not just for Locker, either—running back Chris Johnson would like to see some gaps to run through next season.
To that end, they brought in free agent Andy Levitre from Buffalo and drafted Chance Warmack, arguably the best offensive guard in the 2013 NFL draft.
Warmack is an excellent pass-blocker and no slouch as a road grader. He's got the ability to maul defensive fronts and will blow defenders back off the snap to get Johnson space to run.
On the downside, though, this offense lost tight end Jared Cook, who seemed to have just started coming into his own. Kenny Britt continues to be a great weapon for Locker but misses too many games. Nate Washington has been solid but unspectacular, while Kendall Wright is still getting his feet under him.
The Titans drafted Justin Hunter to add to the passing offense. While he has a great deal of ability, he was hurt his junior year and never really got back on track. On top of that, the words "raw" and "inconsistent" come to mind when watching his games or reading scouting reports.
It may take some time for him to have an impact in the offense, though I have no doubt he will eventually.
Defensively, the team merely added a few players here and there. Bernard Pollard should be a decent addition to the strong safety position, and Sammie Hill can fit well in the center of the line.
While I like the moves to improve the offensive line, I don't think they did enough across the whole team to take a big step forward.
The acquisition of Peyton Manning was a game-changer not just for the Broncos, but for the entire AFC West—it shifted the balance of power completely to Denver.
Given the partial and complete rebuilds happening in the other three cities, the Denver Mannings seem to be in complete control.
Can San Diego regain its mojo? Can Andy Reid turn the fortunes of Kansas City around quickly? Can Dennis Allen and Reggie McKenzie keep the Raiders ship from completely capsizing?
And did the Broncos do enough to build on the success they had in 2012?
You can't give Peyton Manning enough weapons. Despite having Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, the Broncos went out and grabbed Wes Welker from the Patriots. While Welker is clearly not as good as he used to be, he's still got more than enough left in the tank to make Manning very, very happy.
The team also added Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to help shore up a secondary that gave up several big plays in the playoffs last season.
But it wasn't the additions that will define the offseason and free agency, it was the one big subtraction.
Call it what you will (I call it the "Great Fax Kerfuffle of 2013"), but having Elvis Dumervil depart because of a screwup via his agent is definitely a blow to the defense and probably the one chink in otherwise strong armor.
Even if Dumervil wasn't worth the money he got from Baltimore, you don't easily replace 11 sacks. Can Derek Wolfe push his total from six to 11?
The best defensive addition might be rookie Sylvester Williams. His great first step and power make him a dangerous pass-rusher and allow him to get the jump on run plays. Williams has only been playing football for five years, so he still has some learning to do, but his ceiling is very high.
The team also tried to shore up the running back position by selecting Montee Ball. Ball is a solid runner who can break tackles and run defenders over, but he has a tremendous amount of wear on him after carrying the ball a phenomenal amount of times in school.
Still, since Willis McGahee is aging, Knowshon Moreno is unreliable and Ronnie Hillman struggled in his brief appearances last season, Ball has a shot to have an impact.
Overall, the biggest negative for this offseason was definitely the departure of Dumervil, but the team has made some key additions to an already potent team.
When you go from Matt Cassel flailing around the field to Alex Smith coming off a couple of years under Jim Harbaugh where he looked as good as anyone in the league, well, it's hard not to score it an upgrade.
Combined with the savvy move to add Chase Daniel as a backup quarterback so you're not relying on the likes of Brady Quinn and Ricky Stanzi, the Chiefs have definitely started moving in the right direction.
And of course, if you're going to invest in your quarterback, you have to protect him, and the Chiefs did just that.
Geoff Schwartz was not used nearly enough by the Vikings last year, in part due to injury, and while Brandon Albert isn't happy, having him around allows them to start rookie Eric Fisher at right tackle.
Fisher was a bit of a surprise as the first overall selection, but after a tremendous Senior Bowl, scouts took notice of his tape and he rose up draft boards. Fisher has the size, strength and speed to succeed at the pro level as a left tackle and is likely to end up there when Albert inevitably departs.
While starting a tackle on the right side after selecting him first overall might seem insane, it allows the Chiefs to have a pair of great tackles as well as make sure Fisher's transition to the NFL is as painless as possible.
I'd have liked to see a little more help for Alex Smith at wide receiver, because while Dwayne Bowe is talented, Jon Baldwin has yet to emerge as a consistent force, and Dexter McCluster hasn't quite performed the way they were hoping he would.
Donnie Avery should help, but he's only had one good season, so how much he will improve the offense is debatable.
While there are still some question marks, overall this is a team that made some strong moves this offseason and improved the roster quite a bit.
I've already written that as far as I'm concerned, Dennis Allen and Reggie McKenzie have done an excellent job in getting the Raiders back on track.
The team dumped 19 players (and with possibly more to come) this offseason, while completely revamping the defense and upgrading the quarterback position by acquiring Matt Flynn.
While names like Pat Sims, Jason Hunter, Kaluka Maiava and Kevin Burnett aren't premier, they're solid players who won't bankrupt the team unlike some of the players over the past few years.
Adding Mike Jenkins should be a huge upgrade for the secondary, and if rookie D.J. Hayden is fully recovered from the injury to his heart that almost killed him, the corners will be better than they've been in years.
The quarterback position is still the most interesting here. Flynn should walk into the job, but Terrelle Pryor has been working out and looking good, while rookie Tyler Wilson has a strong arm and has been overlooked because the team around him collapsed before his senior year.
All three of these quarterbacks have something to bring to the table, but all three have some weaknesses as well. It will be fun to watch this horse race as we hit training camp.
Does this team still have a long way to go? Absolutely.
But as far as I'm concerned, Oakland has made the first step.
What do you do when your offensive line has been a laughingstock in the league for multiple years?
Reboot and reload.
The Chargers attacked free agency and brought in three new offensive linemen, then drafted a fourth—right tackle D.J. Fluker.
While it might take time to jell, the line is already leaps and bounds better than it was last season, which will only help Philip Rivers get back his mojo.
Along with a fresh and hopefully effective offensive line, Rivers gets a new toy in receiver Keenan Allen. Allen has been dealing with a knee injury during the draft process, but when healthy, he'll be a great fit across from Malcom Floyd.
Rivers will also look for Danny Woodhead out of the backfield and while checking down, and Woodhead's speed and agility will make for a deadly combination with Ryan Mathews—assuming Mathews can stay healthy.
The Chargers didn't add much to the defense, save for depth and Manti Te'o. Te'o is an intriguing fit between Donald Butler and Melvin Ingram, a pair that should be able to help him adjust to the NFL.
Overall, the Chargers had the tools to succeed, and now that they have hopefully upgraded the offensive line, they might actually get to use them.
The tale of the NFC East in 2013 might come down to whether Robert Griffin III will be back in Week 1.
The Redskins need their franchise star in order to keep pace with the rest of the division, especially Dallas and the Giants.
Of course, you can't count Philadelphia out either, as it faces its first season without Andy Reid in 13 years.
It's going to be hard for Washington to win the division if Griffin is hurt.
Nobody can quite fathom what owner Jerry Jones is doing at any given time—maybe not even Jones himself.
Fifteen free agents left, but the Cowboys were content to pursue just two (Justin Durant and Will Allen) to fill the gaps left behind.
The 2013 NFL draft was also a question mark at times, as the Cowboys jumped around in the first round to grab a center many had with a third-round grade (Travis Frederick). As much flak as they took for that, they did a good job grabbing tight end Gavin Escobar, whose ball skills are exceptional, and Terrance Williams, who, while slow, has the size to become a big target for Tony Romo.
Like we said, sometimes maybe even Jerry Jones doesn't know what Jerry Jones is doing.
All that aside, the Cowboys made some small adjustments that did indeed improved the roster, even if beyond Romo's contract, they weren't making big splashes.
There were more than a few moments where it seemed as if Victor Cruz might actually be signed away from the Giants, despite his hefty RFA tag.
That didn't happen, and so Eli Manning will have both Cruz and Hakeem Nicks at his disposal, at least as long as Nicks can stay healthy.
While we were watching Cruz, though, half the defense seemed to have vamoosed.
Michael Boley, Chris Canty, Osi Umenyiora and Kenny Phillips have all departed. So did Martellus Bennett, heading to Chicago and leaving a gap at tight end.
The Giants have always been good at getting the most out of their defense no matter who is lined up in it, and they did grab defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins and defensive end Damontre Moore in the 2013 NFL draft.
Neither is a high-impact player, but they were good value where they got picked and will be part of the rotation on the defensive line this year.
I also liked drafting Justin Pugh to play right tackle. The Giants always have a little bit of an issue on the offensive line, and while it wasn't a sexy pick, Pugh can play any position on the line you need him to.
The Giants also added Cullen Jenkins in free agency, and I expect his numbers will continue to be solid as they have been for his career. Again, not sexy, but solid—just like the Giants offseason.
While the last few times the Eagles threw money around to try and win a Super Bowl didn't work out all that well, third time's the charm perhaps.
They certainly spent their money more wisely this time out.
Connor Barwin was an excellent addition at linebacker, and the secondary was completely blown up. Gone are Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, replaced by Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams.
The team also picked up Patrick Chung and Kenny Phillips to help shore up the safety spots.
The Eagles also did an outstanding job in the 2013 NFL draft.
Tackle Lane Johnson tumbled into their lap when the Miami Dolphins jumped up to nab Dion Jordan, and the Eagles didn't hesitate in getting the former Oklahoma player.
Johnson's athleticism is off the charts, and he played tight end and defensive end before settling in on the offensive line.
They followed that up in the second round by grabbing Stanford tight end Zach Ertz. A great prospect with reliable hands, good size and sharp route running skills, he should be a perfect fit for (and very busy in) Chip Kelly's offense.
Speaking of which, QB Matt Barkley, who the team took in the fourth round (and traded up to get), might be a spectacular fit as well.
Barkley had a rough senior season (USC is going to have a heck of a time convincing another high-profile kid to stay a fourth year), and people have forgotten his solid skills at quarterback.
While he doesn't have a cannon for an arm, he can fire it in on short and intermediate routes, is incredibly sharp and will stand in the pocket and take a hit to deliver a pass.
All in all, the Eagles made some strong moves to kick off the beginning of the new regime in Philadelphia.
You don't fix what's not broken, so when it comes to the Redskins this offseason, they didn't go out and spend wildly.
The starting lineup in 2013 looks a lot like the one from 2012, and the team itself lost very few free agents, adding just as few.
Washington focused on getting depth in the 2013 NFL draft, picking up three players for the secondary (including second-round pick David Amerson) and adding depth at tight end and running back.
Perhaps the lack of that one impact player came about because of no first-round pick, as they sent theirs away to the St. Louis Rams to jump up and grab Robert Griffin III last year.
While the Redskins didn't do much, I like that the team built the depth of its roster. Could Washington have added a little more along, say, the offensive line? Perhaps.
Ultimately, though, the 'Skins know their year is hinging on Griffin, and no amount of money being spent on free agents is going to help his knee heal faster.
The NFC North shocked a lot of people last season, when three teams were in contention for playoff slots and one of them wasn't Detroit—it was Minnesota.
As always, this is one of the more competitive divisions in football, and the offseason is no different.
The Packers are always quiet in free agency, but the Lions, Vikings and Bears all avail themselves of the talent on the open market pretty frequently, and all have been solid at building via the draft lately as well.
Did anyone improve enough to catch the Packers?
The Bears did an excellent job for the most part last offseason, signing Michael Bush and trading for Brandon Marshall. This year, with new coach Marc Trestman in town and a mandate to improve Jay Cutler's pass protection, the team was equally adept at targeting the guys they needed.
Jermon Bushrod was a huge signing for the team and an instantaneous upgrade at left tackle. J'Marcus Webb will shift over to right tackle, with Gabe Carimi kicking up to right guard. First-round pick Kyle Long will step in at left guard, bringing with him a nasty streak and great athleticism.
They brought in Matt Slauson and Eben Britton, who will provide depth, and they also added Martellus Bennett at tight end, finally giving Cutler a decent player at the spot.
Defensively, the Bears re-signed Henry Melton but let Brian Urlacher, Nick Roach, Geno Hayes and Israel Idonije walk. They replaced Urlacher with D.J. Williams from Denver and moved around players like Corey Wootton and Shea McClellin to fill the gaps.
If there is one thing that didn't happen but needed to, it was getting a decent backup quarterback. I'm not sure I would feel confident going into the season with Josh McCown and Matt Blanchard as my backups to Jay Cutler.
Overall, though, the team did a great job of improving on both sides of the ball.
The Lions had to contend with a staggering lack of cap room, so they were a bit hamstrung in free agency. That said, they retained Chris Houston and Louis Delmas, and signed Glover Quin.
They also went after Reggie Bush, who was leaving the Miami Dolphins after two very solid seasons. Bush gives the Lions the dynamic presence in the backfield they had lacked since Jahvid Best was concussed.
While it cost some money, it was a move they had to make.
They then went and filled out some other spots via the 2013 NFL draft.
First they selected Ziggy Ansah, a raw but fierce outside pass-rusher. Ansah hasn't been playing football that long, but he is quick off the edge. With attention focused on Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley inside, he should be a real terror for opposing quarterbacks.
They followed that up with cornerback Darius Slay, a solid player who has had some knee issues. The Lions don't shy away from two things in the draft: character issue and medical. Hopefully Slay will be ready by the season and remain healthy—unlike last year's second-round pick, Ryan Broyles.
While the Lions didn't make a lot of moves, they were smart. They didn't overpay to keep Cliff Avril, Jacob Lacey or Lawrence Jackson, and when Jeff Backus retired and Gosder Cherilus moved on, they shifted their players around and picked up guard Larry Wolford in the draft.
No matter how much it might frustrate Packers fans (and maybe the players at times), Ted Thompson does not play the free-agent market.
He will sign people on occasion, but largely Thomson builds through the draft. This offseason was no different.
The team said goodbye to a retiring Donald Driver, an aging Charles Woodson and a banged-up Greg Jennings, among others.
Despite this, the Packers had a successful offseason. Once again, Thompson did a great job nailing value while also addressing needs.
The Packers continue to need pass-rushers, and with Jerel Worthy potentially on the PUP for the beginning of the season (maybe longer), there was no hesitation in picking up a defensive end in the draft.
Datone Jones is very good one-on-one on both pass and run plays, and he fits a 3-4 well.
Then Ted Thompson did something very, well, not Ted Thompson-like.
It's hard to say whether Franklin is a support net for Lacy, given Lacy's medical issues and the fact that he showed up to his workout a little out of shape.
Either way, the Packers now have two running backs who are very capable of running the ball in any situation.
That in and of itself is enough to make this stock go up.
The Vikings didn't go nuts in free agency, but the moves they made were on target and focused on weaknesses revealed last season.
First, having traded the mercurial and explosive (in every sense of the word) Percy Harvin, the Vikings signed away the Packers' Greg Jennings. While Jennings is aging and has been banged up the last few years, he is a vertical threat—something this team has needed for some time.
After the disaster that was the playoff loss to Green Bay, the Vikings knew they couldn't go into the 2013 season with Joe Webb as their backup. So they signed Matt Cassel, who was hoping to redeem himself after a disastrous stint in Kansas City.
Then they had one of the single best first rounds of an NFL draft I have ever seen, filling three needs. They got bigger in the interior with defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, replaced Antoine Winfield with Xavier Rhodes, then traded back into the first to draft Cordarrelle Patterson, whose ability after the catch could be as good as Harvin's.
If you aren't going to go big in free agency, you want to hit your mark in the draft.
The Vikings did that.
Guess who's back?
Yes, Drew Brees and the Saints, along with Sean Payton—which is the opposite of what the rest of the NFC South would like to see.
That said, nobody in this division will scare easy, and the Saints will have to unseat the Falcons from the top spot if they want to gain the division again.
Meanwhile, the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers won't make it easy on either team.
The Falcons watched multiple players leave but didn't flinch. They brought in a grand total of two free agents—Osi Umenyiora and Steven Jackson.
Jackson will replace the slowly imploding Michael Turner, who looked very slow and old last season. Umenyiora will take John Abraham's place.
Other than that, why make a move? The offense is set and the defense is mostly set.
They added Desmond Trufant in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft, and the corner is going to be a real problem for receivers in the division for a long time to come. They actually followed that pick up with another corner, Robert Alford, though he will probably start out on special teams.
Overall, the Falcons didn't do much, but they did a good job of hitting their weak spots.
The Panthers mostly focused on depth this offseason. While they did add Ted Ginn and Domenik Hixon, neither player is going to be a long-term answer if Steve Smith gets hurt.
The team picked up running back Kenjon Barner, adding to the logjam in the backfield.
Overall, the only thing they did in free agency or the draft that really seemed to help the roster was taking Star Lotulelei when he dropped to them in the first round.
Overall, this roster doesn't feel any better than it was before free agency and the draft. It's not bad, per se, but the issues that allowed it to struggle in 2012 still exist.
That's a real issue.
After a very long season, all is right down in the Big Easy. Sean Payton is back, Johnathan Vilma is back, Will Smith is back—the gang's all here.
The team took a few roster hits, though, as left tackle Jermon Bushrod left for Chicago, and Chase Daniel went to Kansas City.
It's hard to see Charles Brown as ready to take over at tackle, but rookie Terron Armstead definitely won't be ready. In fact, the third-round pick from Arkansas-Pine Bluff may never be.
The Saints did hit with the pick of Kenny Vaccaro, who will step in immediately at strong safety. Vaccaro is a very physical player (sometimes to his detriment) and will make receivers think twice about running through his area.
All that said, while this team didn't need to improve that much, losing Bushrod hurts more than adding Vaccaro helps.
The Buccaneers didn't lose anyone of note in free agency, though they did pick up a pair of wide receivers in former Cowboy Kevin Ogletree and former Ram, Eagle and Giant Steve Smith.
They also traded for Darrelle Revis, giving up their first-round pick to the New York Jets in the trade, and signed Dashon Goldson to play free safety.
Oddly enough, they hedged their bets a bit on Revis' knee by drafting a cornerback with their second-round pick, and then they turned the fire under quarterback Josh Freeman up a little by taking Mike Glennon.
While I'm not Glennon's biggest fan, he's a solid prospect, and Freeman has been inconsistent.
With the trade for Revis, solid draft picks and a few free-agency moves, the Bucs have definitely improved this offseason.
In what has become possibly the tightest and most dangerous division in the NFL, Seattle, San Francisco and St. Louis all look poised to be in the hunt for the division crown and possibly a wild-card spot.
While the Niners and Seahawks just got better, the Rams blew up their offense and are making a play to contend now.
Arizona looks like it might be on the outside looking in, but you never know. Did the Cardinals do enough to catch the other three?
The quarterback situation was a mess the last few years, so the Cardinals went out and got Carson Palmer. The gamble is assuming his issues in Oakland were the team around him, not him.
It's also a risk, because if he implodes, Drew Stanton is the next man up. While Stanton may be competent, he's not winning any Super Bowls.
As the run game has also been a mess, the team went and signed Rashard Mendenhall, then drafted a pair of backs—Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor.
Ellington is a good runner who shows solid burst and acceleration, as well as the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. I'm actually a bigger fan of Taylor's and feel the Stanford back can do everything well, even if he doesn't have elite talent in any one area.
I'm not sure either Mendenhall or Ryan Williams can stay healthy, so either rookie might get a chance to shine and were both wise depth picks.
I also liked the pick of receiver Ryan Swope. While he doesn't do a ton after the catch, he's a tough player who will shine in the slot for the Cardinals.
Of course, you have to also talk about Jonathan Cooper, who is an instant upgrade at guard for an offensive line that, while it improved as the season went on, still needs help.
I'm not sure it's enough to contend with the other teams in the division, but it's definitely much better than it was.
When you start out by adding Anquan Boldin, who, while not in his prime anymore, is a fantastic receiver and much better than Randy Moss, well, you're off on the right foot.
The 49ers traded Alex Smith, let Dashon Goldson, Ted Ginn and Ricky Jean-Francois walk, and won't miss any of them.
San Francisco wisely added Colt McCoy as a backup for Colin Kaepernick, drafted Quinton Patton in the fourth round as a developmental replacement for the so-so guys on the roster like A.J. Jenkins and Mario Manningham, and stashed Marcus Lattimore away for a rainy day.
That's right, the Niners are stacked enough in every category to use a fourth-round pick on a running back who might not even play this year. Since Lattimore, had he been healthy, would have been the best back in this class by far, that only goes to show you what happens when you draft smart.
In fact, looking at the draft and guys like Corey Lemonier, Tank Carradine and the aforementioned Lattimore, the Niners did a masterful job of getting very talented players whom they could allow to heal or grow at their own pace, instead of being dumped into the fire right away.
The rich get richer.
The Seahawks made the first big move of the offseason by trading their first-round pick to the Minnesota Vikings for Percy Harvin, giving second-year quarterback Russell Wilson a dynamic weapon he didn't really have in the passing game before.
They made solid adds with Cliff Avril and Tony McDaniel and got some insurance for Brandon Browner in Antoine Winfield.
I'm not a huge fan of some of their picks, as I'm not sure I saw the point in drafting Christine Michael, especially after drafting Robert Turbin a year ago and with Marshawn Lynch under a huge contract.
That said, they hit on some very solid defensive prospects who could develop into starters not too long from now, but don't have to be rushed into the lineup because the team has depth.
While they may not have done a lot of high-profile deals and didn't have a first-round pick, the Seahawks did a solid job of pulling together a good draft class and some key free-agency pieces.
The Rams decided they had to do something to help out Sam Bradford, so they blew up the offense.
Let's be honest, it's not like there was much there to blow up. They let go of Steven Jackson, waved as Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson walked away, then promptly signed Jared Cook and drafted Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey.
Austin is going to be a big-time weapon for Bradford, as he is super deadly after the catch. Bailey is a very solid receiver and will probably find himself playing more frequently as the year progresses.
The Rams also drafted Zac Stacy, a rock-solid prospect who might actually be the best back on the roster right now.
The defense hasn't been the issue with the Rams, though picking up Alec Ogletree and T.J. McDonald makes it even tougher to move the ball on, and now the offense has an array of weapons.
The Rams are in position to make some noise, and now it's up to Bradford.
They've certainly given him just about everything he could ask for.
Andrew Garda is the former NFC North Lead Writer and a current NFL analyst and video personality for Bleacher Report. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at Footballguys and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.