Grading Every NFL Team's Offseason So Far
What constitutes a successful offseason?
Many coaches just hope no one gets arrested and everyone shows up to the field in August. For front offices, hitting on a first-round draft pick is all that really needs to happen to be kept around for another year. For players, the line between training hard enough to maintain one's competitive edge yet being scared silly about offseason injuries is a tough road to walk.
Overall, there are a lot of ways to talk about how "successful" a team's offseason has been. For the purposes of this article, we'll narrow it down to which teams are better from a talent perspective than they were a year before.
Every team believes it has improved for 2013, but which ones have done the best job?
Best Free-Agency Signing: Karlos Dansby (LB)
Best Draft Pick: Jonathan Cooper (OG)
Most Underrated Addition: Antoine Cason (CB)
Carson Palmer can make this grade look silly in a hurry if he plays better in Arizona than he did for the Oakland Raiders. However, with offensive tackle Levi Brown still protecting his blind side, he may not have much of a chance to set up and throw in the offense of new head coach Bruce Arians.
This offseason was a half-hearted rebuild with poor-quality building materials. They're better than they were in 2012, but that isn't saying much, and it won't last.
Best Free-Agency Signing: Steven Jackson (RB)
Best Draft Pick: Desmond Trufant (CB)
Most Underrated Addition: Levine Toilolo (TE)
Getting tight end Tony Gonzalez back for another season is probably the biggest move the Falcons could've made, and I love the pairing with Levine Toilolo, who has a giant 6'8" frame and can help the Falcons both with blocking and in the red zone.
The big acquisition, of course, is Stephen Jackson, who gives the Falcons a running component they haven't had in a very long time. It will be hard to stop this offense, because it can beat you in so many ways with so many talented skill-position players.
The one question is the secondary, even after bringing in Desmond Trufant and fellow cornerback Robert Alford in the draft. Those are two rookies (talented though they may be) at a position that sometimes demands two or three years of seasoning before really stepping into the spotlight.
Best Free-Agency Signing: Elvis Dumervil (DE)
Best Draft Pick: Arthur Brown (LB)
Most Underrated Addition: Michael Huff (DB)
When the offseason first began, everyone was struck by how much talent the Super Bowl champions were losing in such rapid-fire succession. It wasn't just linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed, it was also guys like wide receiver Anquan Boldin, safety Bernard Pollard and cornerback Cary Williams.
However, the Ravens did well to stem the tide with good acquisitions in free agency (Elvis Dumervil and Michael Huff have a chance to be immediate impact players) as well as great draft picks. It's difficult to keep this kind of perspective, but for the Ravens to return to the Super Bowl, Brown and Huff don't need to be better than Lewis and Reed's entire careers, just better than they were last year—not nearly as difficult a task.
This is a good team with lots of moving parts. If the coaching staff can put everything together in time, there's little reason why the Ravens couldn't be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy yet again.
Best Free-Agency Signing: Alan Branch (DT)
Best Draft Pick: EJ Manuel (QB)
Most Underrated Addition: Da'Rick Rogers (WR)
Free agency was a bit of a bust for the Bills, who clearly have trouble enticing players to come play for a team that has been in neutral for far too long. However, their draft added a bunch of quality young playmakers who could change that perception in a hurry.
With EJ Manuel, along with wide receivers Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin and Da'Rick Rogers, the Bills have infused plenty of talent to a lackluster offense. Now, receiver Stevie Johnson and running back C.J. Spiller have some real help and won't need to carry such a burden on their shoulders.
Best Free-Agency Signing: Ted Ginn Jr. (WR)
Best Draft Pick: Star Lotulelei (DT)
Most Underrated Addition: Drayton Florence (CB)
Like Buffalo on the last slide (and plenty of teams to come), the Panthers had trouble attracting top-tier free agents. However, they beefed up the interior of the defensive line with Lotulelei and Kawann Short, and that alone is enough to get me excited about their chances of fielding a much better team in 2013.
Watch out for Florence, who wasn't signed to necessarily be a big part of the team's plans, but has both enough talent and ball skills to step in when he is asked and perform admirably.
Best Free-Agency Signing: Martellus Bennett (TE)
Best Draft Pick: Jonathan Bostic (LB)
Most Underrated Addition: Jordan Mills (OT)
The Bears clearly had the right idea by signing offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod, but he's not as good of a player as their PR department would like you to believe. He'll certainly help quarterback Jay Cutler more than some of the other stiffs in years past, but he's not the long-term answer. If, eventually, Mills is that guy in the future, it wouldn't surprise me.
A lot of this offseason hinges on offensive guard Kyle Long and linebacker Jonathan Bostic. They will need time to acclimate to the NFL, but the Bears need help now to compete in the tough NFC North. Both need to be home runs for this team to keep pace.
Best Free-Agency Signing: James Harrison (LB)
Best Draft Pick: Tyler Eifert (TE)
Most Underrated Addition: Shawn Williams (S)
Not many are as big of fans of Tyler Eifert as I am, so he carries this grade pretty high all by himself. Still, when the biggest free agent is Harrison, the front office could probably have done a little better. The Bengals were already playoff contenders in the AFC, so the influx of offensive talent in the draft could be enough to put them over the hump.
While Eifert and the addition of running back Gio Bernard might be the biggest moves of the offseason, don't sleep on Williams, who has a chance to compete for a starting safety job in year one.
Best Free-Agency Signing: Paul Kruger (DE)
Best Draft Pick: Barkevious Mingo (OLB)
Most Underrated Addition: Leon McFadden (CB)
Paul Kruger was overpaid and Mingo was over-drafted, in my opinion, but none of that really matters once the uniforms are put on. So, let's be clear that they should both make the defense much better than it was last year. Leon McFadden, who could end up starting in his rookie season, will as well.
The low marks here have to do with an offense that still has a struggling signal-caller in quarterback Brandon Weeden, little help at receiver and tight end, and almost no playmakers except running back Trent Richardson.
This is looking more and more like a long-term rebuild, and it might not even truly start until quarterback Weeden is replaced.
Best Free-Agency Signing: Justin Durant (LB)
Best Draft Pick: Gavin Escobar (TE)
Most Underrated Addition: J.J. Wilcox (S)
Travis Frederick looks like the starter at center. So, as said on the last slide, we can all stop talking about how over-drafted he was. Yet, he still needs to prove he was a good addition to the team. Even if he is, the Cowboys still made missteps this offseason and didn't have a lot of cap room to work with in the first place.
Escobar should end up being a valuable offensive weapon in a hurry, but he was a bit of a luxury selection, as the Cowboys ended up filling their hole at linebacker with a castoff from Detroit in Justin Durant and another former castoff from Detroit in Ernie Sims.
As they switch defensive schemes, they have a lot of square pegs in round holes and didn't do enough in the draft to change that.
Best Free-Agency Signing: Louis Vasquez (OG)
Best Draft Pick: Sylvester Williams (DT)
Most Underrated Addition: Louis Vasquez (OG)
Yes, wide receiver Wes Welker exists. I put him in the picture right up there to prove to you that I know that fact. No, I don't believe he was the Broncos' biggest free-agent signing.
The Broncos were fantastic passing the ball in 2012 and were even more fantastic passing to the slot. Welker improves this team, but he's not going to be as impactful as a top-flight guard who will help re-energize the rushing attack—something they didn't do well last year at all.
Like Vasquez on the offensive side, Williams will add bulk to the defensive side of the ball to let guys like linebacker Von Miller do their respective jobs even better.
Best Free-Agency Signing: Reggie Bush (RB)
Best Draft Pick: Ezekiel Ansah (DE)
Most Underrated Addition: Larry Warford (OG)
Reggie Bush gives the Lions back the wrinkles they lost when running back Jahvid Best went down with a concussion and never came back. If the offense can be both explosive and steady, Bush could end up being one of the best acquisitions in the entire NFL this ofseason. Of course, that has a lot to do with quarterback Matt Stafford as well.
The Lions lose points here because he won't be as well protected as he needs to be in 2013. Warford was a good addition, but the Lions were not able to add the elite tackle prospect they needed.
On the defensive side of the ball, Ansah is a perfect scheme fit for the Lions' Wide-9 defense and should make an immediate impact. Safety Glover Quin should help keep more passes in front of him and may play an even bigger role with Louis Delmas still suffering from injuries.
Green Bay Packers
Best Free-Agency Signing: *crickets*
Best Draft Pick: Johnathan Franklin (RB), Eddie Lacy (RB)
Most Underrated Addition: Datone Jones (DL)
Ted Thompson didn't sign a single notable free agent this offseason—which, to Thompson, means that it was a pretty great spring. He loves to do most of his work in the draft, and he brought in two fantastic running back prospects who will make impacts in a big way this season.
Personally, I like Franklin to be a more explosive factor and end up as the "better" player, but Lacy is going to have a big role for this team as well. While they'll always be compared to one another, the team should be very happy with both.
As much as people have focused on the running backs, first-round pick Datone Jones is flying under the radar since being drafted. The Packers haven't forgotten the hurting that the San Francisco 49ers and quarterback Colin Kaepernick put on them in the playoffs, and Jones gives them a great defensive playmaker to help pressure the new breed of mobile quarterbacks.
Best Free-Agency Signing: Shane Lechler (P)
Best Draft Pick: DeAndre Hopkins (WR)
Most Underrated Addition: Brennan Williams (OT)
Overall, free agency was a disappointment for the Texans. Safety Ed Reed is not the player they need him to be, and their cap didn't allow them to get much else done. Lechler should help more than punters are often given credit for, and it will be interesting to see him on a team where his talents aren't so wasted as they often were with the Oakland Raiders.
In the draft, I'm excited about the additions of Hopkins and Williams, both of whom I believe can start in 2013. They are good fits for the scheme and talented enough to pitch in for what should be a playoff team, even if the offseason wasn't a home run.
Best Free-Agency Signing: Ahmad Bradshaw (RB)
Best Draft Pick: Bjoern Werner (OLB)
Most Underrated Addition: Hugh Thornton (OG)
When this article was started, offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus was the top free-agent signing in a host of overpaid but needed moves that will ensure quarterback Andrew Luck has plenty to work with in his second season. One of my favorite moves on that side of the ball was the drafting of Hugh Thornton, who is a perfect fit for Pep Hamilton's zone-blocking scheme and could end up starting at right guard this season.
On defense, the addition of Werner is more of a long-term move, as he may not have the ability to replace linebacker Dwight Freeney so easily in year one. The defense should still take a step forward with many other moves like cornerback Greg Toler and linebacker Erik Walden.
Best Free-Agency Signing: Sen'Derrick Marks (DT)
Best Draft Pick: Luke Joeckel (OT)
Most Underrated Addition: Brandon Deaderick (DT)
The Jaguars weren't able to score a big free agent this offseason, though Marks should step in as a starter and be an impact player for them. That just isn't the time frame they're currently operating under. This is a long-term building project, and the Jaguars have improved and should be better in 2013 and into the future under the new regime of general manager David Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley.
Joeckel will play right tackle for the Jaguars, but he shouldn't have any problem making the transition and will be a great bookend with left tackle Eugene Monroe. The Jaguars are banking on both the rushing and passing offense improving with better blocking on the strong side.
With better talent around quarterback Blaine Gabbert, he will need to step up to make sure he's not the next player being replaced.
Kansas City Chiefs
Best Free-Agency Signing: Sean Smith (CB)
Best Draft Pick: Eric Fisher (OT)
Most Underrated Addition: Mike DeVito (DL)
Quarterback Alex Smith is Kansas City's biggest addition this offseason. He just isn't listed above because he came via trade. The Chiefs are a new-look team for a lot of reasons, but having a capable quarterback will be the biggest. He'll have a good strong-side protector with right tackle Fisher and the re-signed offensive tackle Branden Albert for the blind side.
The defense was already good in 2012, but the additions of Smith and DeVito are improvements, if admittedly not names to get excited about. They'll play important roles in 2013, as the Chiefs suddenly look like possible playoff contenders in a weak AFC.
Best Free-Agency Signing: Brent Grimes (CB)
Best Draft Pick: Dion Jordan (DE)
Most Underrated Addition: Philip Wheeler (LB)
Receiver Mike Wallace isn't the superstar who his contract will eventually demand him to be, but that shouldn't matter in year one, where he represents a huge boost in talent around quarterback Ryan Tannehill. I picked Grimes for the "best" signing, however, because he has an outside chance at being the Dolphins' best player if he returns to pre-injury form.
He'll have a bunch of help on defense, as Dion Jordan was drafted to apply pressure to quarterbacks across from defensive end Cameron Wake. Philip Wheeler was brought over from Oakland to improve the linebacking corps along with Dannell Ellerbe from Baltimore.
Best Free-Agency Signing: Greg Jennings (WR)
Best Draft Pick: Xavier Rhodes (CB)
Most Underrated Addition: Mike Mauti (LB)
It's difficult to pick a "best" draft pick when the Vikings took three guys in the first round, so I went with the guy with the highest grade on my board and the best chance to start immediately. Receiver Cordarrelle Patterson will need time to refine his game and may sit behind Jerome Simpson for a year. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd will rotate in behind Kevin Williams.
One of the potential best late-round picks is Mike Mauti, who was a more highly rated prospect before he was injured. He could end up as the Vikings' starting middle linebacker sooner rather than later.
New England Patriots
Best Free-Agency Signing: Danny Amendola (WR)
Best Draft Pick: Aaron Dobson (WR)
Most Underrated Addition: Jamie Collins (LB)
The Patriots offense will need every snap of training camp to get all of the new receivers in place. They have plenty of talent with the additions of Amendola and Dobson, among others, but talented players still need to be in the right places if they hope to succeed.
The defense is also continuing to get better as they improve their depth with players like Collins and defensive tackle Armond Armstead. Don't sleep on the addition of safety Adrian Wilson, who brings a veteran presence for a backfield sorely needing it.
New Orleans Saints
Best Free-Agency Signing: Victor Butler (LB)
Best Draft Pick: Kenny Vaccaro (S)
Most Underrated Addition: John Jenkins (DT)
The loss of Victor Butler to injury is a big hit for the Saints' 2013 season, but his addition is still a great move for the long term. As they look to transition to a pressure-packed 3-4 defense, they need all the bodies they can get.
To that end, I love the additions of Jenkins and Vaccaro, who will provide stability on both the front line and the back end of the new defense. Nose tackles are typically underrated across the league but are very important players—especially in the 3-4 defense.
It might not be enough to catapult the Saints immediately back into playoff contention, but it looks like a good step in the right direction.
New York Giants
Best Free-Agency Signing: Cullen Jenkins (DT)
Best Draft Pick: Justin Pugh (OT)
Most Underrated Addition: Brandon Myers (TE)
Justin Pugh was over-drafted, but he's a good fit and will fight to start at right tackle. This is a playoff-caliber team, and the addition of a stable lineman should help ensure quarterback Eli Manning is able to stay upright enough to do what he does best. A versatile weapon like Myers should ensure that he's got a target to throw to in the middle of the field after the loss of tight end Martellus Bennett to the Chicago Bears.
On defense, there have been some losses, but Jenkins gives the Giants a talented big body to rotate around with drafted defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins. With more pressure inside on early downs, the Giants should be able to create more pressure on the outside on passing downs.
New York Jets
Best Free-Agency Signing: Antwan Barnes (LB)
Best Draft Pick: Sheldon Richardson (DL)
Most Underrated Addition: Chris Ivory (RB)
This offseason will, eventually, be judged almost entirely on what quarterback Geno Smith does in the NFL. If he isn't their franchise quarterback soon, head coach Rex Ryan and general manager John Idzik aren't going to have jobs for very much longer.
That doesn't mean there weren't other good moves, though. Richardson should be a great player for the Jets and will be an important chess piece (with Barnes) to help Ryan engineer some pressure on opponents.
Best Free-Agency Signing: Charles Woodson (S)
Best Draft Pick: Tyler Wilson (QB)
Most Underrated Addition: Kaluka Maiava (LB)
It's still a little confusing that Woodson was led to the Raiders over the playoff contenders that would've gladly taken his services, but the Denver Broncos' loss is the Raiders' gain, and Woodson should be a great leader both on and off the field for Oakland. I love the underrated addition of Kaluka Maiava as well, who is a steady player and should keep a lot of run plays from getting to the next level.
Tyler Wilson, however, is the big story here. He has a shot of beating out free-agent signal-caller Matt Flynn and stepping in as the Raiders quarterback of the future. If he does that and is even marginally successful in his rookie season, this could be the start of something great in Oakland.
Best Free-Agency Signing: Connor Barwin (LB)
Best Draft Pick: Lane Johnson (OT)
Most Underrated Addition: Cary Williams (CB)
The Eagles added a lot of players as they look to switch schemes on both sides of the ball, but I'm not a fan of Connor Barwin, who isn't nearly the pass-rusher Eagles fans hope he'll be. The fact that he's their best signing says a lot.
There's a chance that Cary Williams—whom Ravens fans are glad to be rid of—ends up having the better season of the two.
Johnson and quarterback Matt Barkley are the two big storylines of this offseason, however, as the Eagles offense looks to redefine itself under head coach Chip Kelly. The long-term success of those two will have a lot to do with bringing the Eagles back to prominence.
Best Free-Agency Signing: Bruce Gradkowski (QB)
Best Draft Pick: Jarvis Jones (OLB)
Most Underrated Addition: Markus Wheaton (WR)
This was a completely stagnant offseason for the Steelers, who needed to make some big moves to stay in contention in the AFC North. I've been tough on Jones, but I think he'll be a fine situational/rotational player in year one. Wheaton, too, should find a role and could end up as the No. 1 receiver in future years.
For a long time, this team has been losing Pro Bowlers and bringing in decent players. This offseason didn't change that trend.
San Diego Chargers
Best Free-Agency Signing: Dwight Freeney (OLB)
Best Draft Pick: D.J. Fluker (OT)
Most Underrated Addition: Max Starks (OT)
With two bookend tackles in place, quarterback Philip Rivers could turn some heads this season. He was consistently under fire in 2012 and trying to operate a pass-heavy vertical offense while running for his life. Fluker is going to make a big impact on the run game as well—especially in short-yardage situations.
The Chargers defense has been underrated in recent years and should be even better in 2013 with the additions of Dwight Freeney and cornerback Derek Cox.
San Francisco 49ers
Best Free-Agency Signing: Glenn Dorsey (DL)
Best Draft Pick: Tank Carradine (OLB)
Most Underrated Addition: Anquan Boldin (WR)
Except for the injury to wide receiver Michael Crabtree, there's nothing not to love about this offseason for the 49ers. This is a Super Bowl-caliber team that just added a bunch of starters to its second and third strings. It's almost embarrassing for the other teams on this list that some of these free agents were lured with little money to be backups in San Francisco when they could've been overpaid starters elsewhere.
Carradine and fellow pass-rushing linebacker Corey Lemonier will be important rotational players in year one and beyond as the 49ers look to keep pace with the improving Seattle Seahawks and St. Louis Rams.
Best Free-Agency Signing: Michael Bennett (DE)
Best Draft Pick: Jordan Hill (DT)
Most Underrated Addition: Antoine Winfield (CB)
The Seahawks added one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL in Antoine Winfield (yes, he is aging, but he is still playing at a high level) to be their nickelback. That's just about the best way to tell how good of an offseason a team is having. Bennett and fellow defensive end Cliff Avril will also play rotational roles regardless of who is named the starter.
I'll dock them slightly for what I consider a lackluster draft, although they've had such success in the middle rounds in recent years, and I won't argue too much with that. It helps to think of receiver Percy Harvin as their first-round pick and realize he'll have a bigger impact than any player they could've drafted there.
St. Louis Rams
Best Free-Agency Signing: Jake Long (OT)
Best Draft Pick: Tavon Austin (WR)
Most Underrated Addition: Barrett Jones (OL)
If Jake Long plays like he did in 2012, this offseason could be a bust for the Rams—they need him to return to his form from earlier in his career and protect quarterback Sam Bradford.
With two new weapons in Tavon Austin and fellow West Virginia wide receiver Stedman Bailey, Bradford will have better targets to throw to as well. He's running out of excuses to not be the elite quarterback he was drafted to be.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Best Free-Agency Signing: Dashon Goldson (S)
Best Draft Pick: Akeem Spence (DT)
Most Underrated Addition: Gabe Carimi (OL)
The Buccaneers added players to every level of their defense this offseason, and their continued commitment to spending money in free agency is a reminder of how little they spent in the years prior to 2012.
A lot of players, coaches and front-office personnel are working for their jobs this season, and adding names like Dashon Goldson and cornerback Darrelle Revis should help them keep those jobs.
The recent addition of Gabe Carimi could be a better move than people are giving the Buccaneers credit for. He still has plenty of upside, and the Bears clearly haven't developed many young linemen properly in recent years. He has a chance to turn his career around as a Buccaneer.
Best Free-Agency Signing: Andy Levitre (OG)
Best Draft Pick: Chance Warmack (OG)
Most Underrated Addition: Zaviar Gooden (LB)
Bringing in a guard as the biggest move of both free agency and the draft certainly isn't a sexy offseason, but it could go a long way in making the jobs of quarterback Jake Locker and running back Chris Johnson a lot easier.
Other additions like running back Shonn Greene and receiver Justin Hunter make this a deeper team on offense and one that should be able to compete even with a few injuries.
On defense, the Titans need to return to form, and the additions of defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill and safeties Bernard Pollard and George Wilson should help that. Zaviar Gooden can play a number of linebacker positions, and it wouldn't surprised me to see him in a bigger role by midseason.
Best Free-Agency Signing: E.J. Biggers (CB)
Best Draft Pick: Phillip Thomas (S)
Most Underrated Addition: Jordan Reed (TE)
With no cap money and no first-round pick to work with, this offseason was a lost cause for the Redskins from the start. However, that doesn't mean they didn't bring in valuable players to eventually play big roles for this team. Three defensive backs—safeties Phillip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo as well as cornerback David Amerson—could end up as starters eventually and be long-term improvements.
This is still a great team, and it is set up for big things as long as Robert Griffin III is under center and healthy.
Michael Schottey is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.