The 10 Smartest Franchises in the NFL

Chris StephensCorrespondent IIMay 22, 2013

The 10 Smartest Franchises in the NFL

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    The New York Jets currently have four quarterbacks competing for the starting job in one of the many acts in the New York circus.

    While the Jets and other teams have multiple issues they're dealing with, there are many NFL franchises that have it together.

    They draft well, are good with the salary cap, make good free-agency signings and deal with holdouts in a good way.

    For many, it all starts with the owner.

    Here's a look at the 10 smartest franchises in the NFL.

10. Denver Broncos

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    The Super Bowl-favorite Denver Broncos went from Tim Tebow to Peyton Manning under center. No offense to Mr. Tebow, but that's not a bad upgrade.

    Denver has drafted great over the last few years, getting Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker in 2010 and Von Miller in 2011.

    Add in the fact that the Broncos drafted defensive tackle Sylvester Williams and running back Montee Ball with their first two picks this year. Prior to that, the team signed Wes Welker to a free-agent deal, giving the Broncos three legitimate threats for Manning.

    John Elway has a method to his madness, even though it may not seem like so on the outside.

    The one knock on the organization is the loss of Elvis Dumervil. While many will point to his agent, the Broncos shouldn't have let it go down to the final minutes.

    If Denver can make an improvement upon last year, all will be forgotten.

9. Baltimore Ravens

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    The Baltimore Ravens dropped on this list after this past offseason when they lost a lot.

    After signing Joe Flacco to a major contract, they asked Anquan Boldin to take a pay cut so they could sign other players. He didn't do that, so he was traded to San Francisco.

    The Ravens also lost Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe, which was surprising because it seemed likely that they could re-sign at least one. But it didn't work out.

    Outside of that, the Ravens have been one of the better franchises at making moves.

    Just look at the opportunistic approach the Ravens took at the signing of Elvis Dumervil. What was the Broncos' loss became the Ravens' gain.

    The best move from this year's draft came in drafting safety Matt Elam to help fill a void left by Ed Reed.

    Baltimore seems to be set up to continue to be a good team, but the question will loom...how will Flacco's contract affect the quality of players around him?

8. Seattle Seahawks

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    If these rankings were based on coaching hires, the Seattle Seahawks wouldn't be close to the top 10.

    However, as far as player moves, the Seahawks have made great moves over the last few years.

    The best move Seattle made was drafting Russell Wilson in the third round of the 2012 draft. Nobody expected him to come in and take the starting job, but he did. And then he proceeded to lead the Seahawks to the playoffs.

    This past offseason, the Seahawks traded for Percy Harvin, filling a position of need, while giving up a first-round pick. Harvin is better than any of the receivers in the draft, making it a good trade for the Seahawks.

    When looking at their 2012 draft, the Seahawks had their first four picks all play 16 games, with two other picks playing in 13 games.

7. Indianapolis Colts

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    It's not often that a franchise goes from one star quarterback to another.

    When Peyton Manning was injured, the Indianapolis Colts struggled and earned the first pick in the 2012 draft.

    They turned that pick into Andrew Luck, who led the team to the playoffs in 2012.

    But it wasn't only that move. After cleaning house, the Colts made great hires in head coach Chuck Pagano and coordinator Bruce Arians, who led the team while Pagano dealt with cancer.

    Let's not forget the team keeping Reggie Wayne when he hit free agency.

    Add in the other moves in the draft, including drafting Vick Ballard, who seems to have taken hold of the starting running back position.

    This year, the Colts were also able to replace Dwight Freeney by drafting Bjoern Werner, keeping a good pass-rusher along the defensive line.

    The Colts have done things the right way. They handled the Manning situation with class and rewarded themselves with another franchise quarterback.

6. San Francisco 49ers

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    The San Francisco 49ers have returned to the forefront of NFL franchises.

    And it's been because of the small moves they've made in the draft and in free agency.

    The boldest move was when they made Colin Kaepernick the starter after Alex Smith was injured. After the season, the 49ers turned that into a second-round pick, which they used to trade up in the first round of this year's draft.

    That pick translated into LSU safety Eric Reid, filling a major need.

    However, the biggest selection might have come in the form of Marcus Lattimore, who can spend the year rehabbing his leg, learning from Frank Gore.

    By next year, Lattimore will be able to take some of the workload from Gore, eventually becoming the full-time starter by 2014 or 2015.

    Let's not forget about the trade for Anquan Boldin, which gives the 49ers another threat at receiver.

5. New York Giants

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    The New York Giants have the other Manning (Eli), who has won more Super Bowls than his brother.

    New York filled a much-needed void on the offensive line by drafting Justin Pugh and got rid of Chris Canty and Osi Umenyiora. Both weren't performing up to par, and they had to go.

    The Giants saw something in Victor Cruz a few years back, and that's turned into gold, while also keeping their salaries low (outside of Manning). Eight other players make more than $5 million per year, with six of those being along either the offensive or defensive line.

    Simply put, the Giants know the key to success in the NFL. Have a good quarterback and great play from both sides of the line, and you'll have success.

    If the Giants can sign Cruz to a long-term contract before next offseason, that will be huge, keeping their top playmaker in town for the next few years.

4. Green Bay Packers

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    The Green Bay Packers are owned by the city and not by a single owner. That's the smartest thing any NFL franchise can do.

    While that is more about how the team has always been run, it's been good to see it stay that way in the days where single owners look for new taxpayer-funded stadiums.

    The Packers made a smart move years ago, drafting Aaron Rodgers to eventually replace Brett Favre. We've seen how that's turned out.

    Over the past few years, the Packers have made great moves in the draft. This year, it was the drafting of the best running back in the draft—Eddie Lacy. That will make the Packers more than one-dimensional, giving Rodgers more time when he does drop back to pass.

    But that's not all. The Packers also drafted Johnathan Franklin to add depth at running back.

    They focused on defense in the 2012 draft with the first six picks being concentrated there.

    In 2011, it was the drafting of Randall Cobb that turned out to be the biggest. Not only is he a good returner, he's slowly developing into a Wes Welker-type player in the slot.

    Green Bay is set up for the next few years because of the moves it's made.

3. Atlanta Falcons

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    The Atlanta Falcons have the same mentality of the Patriots...they want quality players on the roster.

    That's the way general manager Thomas Dimitroff learned it in New England.

    It all started with the drafting of Matt Ryan in 2008. Throw in the Falcons trading up to nab Julio Jones in 2011 and you see the boldness of the team. Jones has shown he was well worth the cost. He's had over 2,000 receiving yards in his first two seasons.

    They also traded for Asante Samuel last offseason, drafted two of the best cornerbacks in the 2013 draft and convinced Tony Gonzalez to stay one more year. Let's not forget signing Steven Jackson to fill the hole at running back.

    Atlanta has released high-priced players who weren't performing up to standard.

    The last thing left is re-signing Ryan to a long-term contract before he becomes a free agent. Like the Ravens experienced, Ryan has earned a big payday, but will it hurt the Falcons like it did the Ravens?

    Regardless, Dimitroff will make things work for the Falcons so they can continue to compete.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    There's something about the Pittsburgh Steelers that's hard to put a finger on.

    Pittsburgh has a certain way of doing things, and it gets done that way. If you don't fall in line, you won't last long on the roster.

    Head coach Mike Tomlin expects a tough brand of football and players giving it everything they have. He expects nothing but the best from his players.

    After James Harrison left via free agency in the offseason, the Steelers drafted Jarvis Jones to replace him. While Jones was expected to be a top-five pick before the draft process begin, the Steelers were more than happy he dropped to them.

    With their second-round pick, the Steelers drafted Le'Veon Bell to fill the hole at running back.

    In previous years, the Steelers have taken care of the line on both sides of the ball.

    As far as free-agent signings, the Steelers haven't made any "sexy" signings, but they make the right moves to fit the mold of the team.

1. New England Patriots

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    When it comes to the smartest franchises in the NFL, the New England Patriots are at the top.

    And it all starts with Tom Brady, who has become one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the game.

    Everyone can say all they want about "Spygate," but the fact remains, every team tries to take a competitive advantage. The Patriots just took it a little too far.

    Think back to the signing of Randy Moss, who had the best season of his career with the Patriots. While many were concerned with how he might act, he conformed to the way the Patriots did things and had a great few years in New England.

    Another thing that makes the Patriots smart is the fact that they always seem to have a multitude of draft picks at their disposal.

    Regardless of whether they use them or not, the Patriots always put themselves in the right position to make the right draft choices.

    This year, it was drafting wide receiver Aaron Dobson out of Marshall. He gives Brady a true vertical threat he's lacked since Moss.

    Now, if only Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez can stay healthy for an entire season.