Bleacher Report's 2013 NFL Offseason Awards
It's time to play the music. It's time to light the lights. It's time to meet the B/R Offseason Award winners.
Over the past decade or so, it's become clear: The NFL offseason is almost as entertaining as the game itself.
Exploding ratings for the draft, round-the-clock live coverage of free-agency signings, and a record number of NFL analysis shows getting added to multiple television networks prove our hunger for NFL football can never be satiated.
From the college All-Star games and draft evaluation, through the new "legal tampering period" and crazy first days of free agency, up through the draft, rookie camps, OTAs and training camp, it seems like NFL action never stops.
Sometimes, the game-within-a-game that happens every spring seems even more fun than the real games in autumn.
With rosters set and preseason finally upon us, it's time to reward the teams who "won" the offseason with the biggest moves, the splashiest signings and the sharpest drafting. It's time to shame the players and teams who "lost" the offseason with the summer disappearing acts and head-scratching deals.
With apologies to The Muppet Show, it's time to get things started on the 2013 B/R NFL Offseason Awards.
Most Extreme Franchise Makeover
Given to the team that changed its identity the most during the 2013 NFL offseason, the winner is...
...the Kansas City Chiefs!
Not only did the Chiefs replace their general manager, head coach and starting quarterback, they completely dismantled and rebuilt their power structure.
Totalitarian former GM Scott Pioli ruled with an iron fist, all the way down to allegedly wiretapping coaches' phones, per Kent Babb of the Kansas City Star.
Now, new head coach Andy Reid is the name and face of the organization, and new general manager John Dorsey is a longtime friend and associate of Reid's. Working hand-in-glove, they re-signed top receiver Dwayne Bowe, traded for new starting quarterback Alex Smith, and added talent at need spots throughout the free-agency and draft periods.
Not to be undersold is the hiring of coaching consultant Chris Ault—the innovator of the pistol formation. If the Chiefs successfully implement the pistol offense, they'll be the most unrecognizably made-over team in the NFL.
First Day Suit-and-Tie Award
Given to the new coach who made the most immediate changes, the winner is...
...Chip Kelly, of the Philadelphia Eagles!
In most lines of work, wearing a suit and tie Monday through Friday isn't required. Yet, whenever a white-collar company introduces a crop of new hires, at least one has shown up in their finest suit, determined to prove they mean business.
Of course, only their work can prove that.
Chip Kelly's record of success at Oregon is impressive. His physical, up-tempo, run-first zone-read offense may be a little unorthodox, but all of those qualities have traditionally led to success in the NFL.
As Sports Illustrated's Peter King detailed, Kelly has relocated Eagles camp from the traditional Lehigh University campus to the NovaCare complex, installed player telemetry devices, preprogrammed drills called out by "robot" voices, and assigned ballboys with three-foot "fly swatters" to stand at the line of scrimmage to block passing lanes.
Whether any of these crazy changes—or the switch to a 3-4 defense, or the free-agency sell-off and purchase of an entire starting secondary—lead to wins is anyone's guess.
There's no doubt Kelly's turning over every stone on the way, though.
The Deion Sanders Award
Named after the NFL's most successful free-agent mercenary, and given to the best free-agent signing of the 2013 offseason, the winner is...
...Wes Welker, of the Denver Broncos!
Welker is a huge speed and talent upgrade over departed Peyton Manning sidekick Brandon Stokley. Better yet, Welker is a perfect fit for the simple, sharp, inside-out routes that are hallmarks of Manning's preferred offensive concepts.
In Denver, Welker should be able to do all kinds of damage. With Demaryius Thomas drawing coverage and Eric Decker keeping defenses honest, Manning should be able to put the ball in Welker's hands while Welker's legs have plenty of room to run.
Best of all, after being jilted by the New England Patriots, Welker signed a below-market deal worth just $12 million over two years.
The Alvin Harper Award
Named after one of the biggest free-agent busts in NFL history, and given to the highest-profile FA most likely to flame out, the recipient is...
...Mike Wallace, of the Miami Dolphins!
Wallace displayed incredible straight-line speed, butter-smooth routes and big-play ability in his four years with the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, he also displayed wildly inconsistent hands, little lateral burst and even less mental or physical toughness.
Nevertheless, the Dolphins shelled out a five-year, $65 million contract with $30 million guaranteed to secure the services of the slight 6'0", 180-pound wideout. If he can't stay healthy—or rebound from his 2012 statistical regression—this contract is going to look very bad, very quickly.
The "No, Not Him, Anybody but Him" Award
Given to the player who suffered the most devastating training camp injury, the recipient is...
...Bryan Bulaga, of the Green Bay Packers!
The Packers have been looking for improved stability and protection on the left side of the line ever since Chad Clifton's precipitous decline. Bulaga's switch to quarterback Aaron Rodgers' blind side was supposed to be the key for a unit that allowed sacks on a fifth-worst 8.4 percent of dropbacks in 2012, per Pro Football Reference.
With the Packers confirming Bulaga's season-ending ACL tear, they're back to the drawing board without their best tackle.
Now, not only will Rodgers not get the protection he sorely lacked last season, he might be under even more pressure.
The "He Just Made the Roster" Award
Given to the player who made the most of his offseason opportunity, the winner is...
...George Selvie, of the Dallas Cowboys!
In the NFL, a player's success is often seen as intrinsic: He's either a beast or a bust.
A lot of a player's success, though, is really due to the coaching and system he's plugged into. With the perfect motivation, right scheme and great supporting cast, some players can achieve great things without great talent. With everything stacked up against them, even the brightest stars can flame out.
A transition in base alignments often means a lot of roster turnover, and some guys who've struggled to catch on elsewhere can find their role. As the Dallas Cowboys transition from Rob Ryan's 3-4 blitzing scheme to Monte Kiffin's 4-3 Tampa 2, Selvie's classic strong-side end build makes him a perfect fit.
As Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Christian Blood wrote, the Cowboys are Selvie's fifth team since being drafted in 2010. The 6'4", 270-pound Selvie's tremendous bull rush in the Hall of Fame Game proved he's still got the pass-rushing talent he flashed at the University of South Florida, when he was the 2007 Big East Defensive Player of the Year.
Thanks go to @CJZero for the .gif.
The "Opportunity Knocks but Once" Award
Given to the player most senselessly wasting his offseason opportunities, the recipient is...
...A.J. Jenkins, of the San Francisco 49ers!
With the shocking Achilles tendon injury of star receiver Michael Crabtree, 2012 first-round pick (and milk carton missing-person subject) A.J. Jenkins had every opportunity to step forward and earn a starting role in OTAs and training camp.
Crabtree himself had a rough transition and steep learning curve into the NFL, so Jenkins could plausibly have become one of the most vital cogs of the reigning NFC champions' machine.
Instead, according to CSNBayArea's Matt Maiocco, Jenkins "has not distinguished himself" from a pack of late-rounders and undrafted free agents fighting to make the 49ers roster. A recent hamstring tweak, which held Jenkins out of a few practices, put him even further from the starting lineup.
The Billy Beane "Moneyball" Award
Given to the NFL general manager who does the most with the least, the winner is...
...Jerry Reese of the New York Giants!
The Giants are hardly a small-market team, but they had little cap room in the bank when it came time to write free-agent checks. With key players like tailback Ahmad Bradshaw, tight end Martellus Bennett and defensive end Osi Umenyiora all cap casualties, Reese had to be resourceful in replacing them.
That he was, adding young free agents like tight end Brandon Myers and defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins. Reese and the Giants then went on to earn one of my highest draft grades by getting great value at need positions, top to bottom.
According to Yahoo! Sports' Brian McIntyre, the Giants will have about $2.5 million in cap space left once all their draft picks have signed, still leaving them in the bottom five in the NFL. Nevertheless, Reese managed to get younger and cheaper on both sides of the ball, all without losing strength...or restricted free agent Victor Cruz.
The Gangnam Style Viral Media Award
The award given to the viral media sensation of the offseason, the recipient is...
...Havard "Kickalicious" Rugland of the Detroit Lions!
Not only has Rugland's trick-kick YouTube video racked up an impressive 4.6 million views as of this writing, it earned him a plane ticket to Detroit and a long-shot tryout with the Lions. That tryout led to an offer, which in turn led to a legitimate kicking competition with six-time Pro Bowl kicker David Akers.
As Rugland and Akers square off to replace franchise legend Jason Hanson, Rugland's star has risen to incredible heights. Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press reported GQ is attending Lions camp to do a story on Rugland.
Now that's a successful viral video.
The Mike Brown Stand Pat Award
Named after the notoriously unambitious Cincinnati Bengals owner, this award goes to the team that did the least to get better. The recipient is...
...Rick Smith, of the Houston Texans!
After making a second straight charge to the playoffs with one of the most talented, balanced rosters in football, Smith did little to improve the roster going into 2013.
Linebacker Connor Barwin was let go without a real replacement, and young veteran safety Glover Quin was allowed to leave in favor of a well-past-his-prime Ed Reed.
Despite being blessed with a bevy of draft picks—like fellow title contenders San Francisco 49ers—the Texans didn't make any moves until the third day of the draft. Standing pat and taking receiver DeAndre Hopkins in the first round seems like an easy call to make; a field-stretcher opposite Andre Johnson was clearly the Texans' biggest need.
By letting the draft come to them, though, Smith and the Texans may have let the other top teams pass them by.
The Al Davis Memorial Barrel of Ink
Given to the team that just couldn't stay out of the papers in the offseason, the recipient is...
...The New England Patriots!
The Patriots started their offseason with a tale of love, trust and betrayal worthy of a bestselling novel. Jilted free-agent receiver Wes Welker left Tom Brady and the Patriots for Denver and the comforting arm of Peyton Manning.
The Patriots then inexplicably signed the biggest walking controversy the NFL has ever seen, Tim Tebow, and continued to suffer the offseason dilly-dallying (and back surgery) of tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Incredibly, though, the Patriots have also had to deal with the stunning arrest of tight end Aaron Hernandez on a murder charge. The organization, led as always by head coach Bill Belichick, has handled the situation with humility and class.
Can the Patriots stay out of the headlines long enough to focus on winning football games?
Worst Overall Offseason
The team with the worst overall offseason was...
...The Indianapolis Colts!
The Indianapolis Colts are coming off of a historic 11-5 worst-to-first campaign. On the strength of Andrew Luck's arm, and the strength of the "Chuckstrong" movement supporting cancer-stricken head coach Chuck Pagano, the Colts had a season few will ever forget.
They were also, according to Football Outsiders DVOA, the worst 11-5 team in the history of the NFL.
In the wake of this lucky (and Luck-y) season, the Colts had offensive coordinator Bruce Arians plucked by the Arizona Cardinals. In order to protect Luck's development, the Colts hired Luck's former offensive coordinator at Stanford, Pep Hamilton.
Hamilton, according to backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, is installing a pastiche of what Arians did last season—what Peyton Manning liked to do with Reggie Wayne and what Hamilton did at Stanford. Maybe it's making sense to Luck, but Hasselbeck (a 14-year veteran) told ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky he's "swimming" trying to learn it.
Blessed with heaping piles of free-agent money to spend, the Colts aggressively pursued many mid-tier veterans in the prime of their careers. In theory, this was sound, but they targeted players with big question marks and gave them enormous contracts.
Outside linebacker Erik Walden was Pro Football Focus' lowest-graded 3-4 outside linebacker (subscription required) in 2012, and the Colts lavished a four-year, $16 million contract on him while letting Dwight Freeney walk. Right tackle Gosder Cherilus and strong safety LaRon Landry got big guaranteed money despite injury problems and inconsistent play. Defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois is a four-year veteran with two career starts.
Their best free-agent signing (wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey) is now day-to-day with a left knee sprain.
The Colts even had off-field problems, with safety Joe Lefeged facing gun charges.
Worst of all, the Colts had a poor draft, reaching for need throughout. I graded their draft a "C+" assuming first-round pick Bjoern Werner would be a developmental 3-4 end; instead, the Colts are using the 266-pound Werner as a linebacker.
Even given that the Colts are more talented in 2013 than 2012—and that may not be true—they've saddled themselves with huge guaranteed cap charges on players unlikely to be making an impact in 2014 and beyond. Not only have they hampered their chances of contending for the playoffs, they've seriously undermined their rebuilding effort.
Best Overall Offseason: Denver Broncos
The team with the best overall offseason is...
...the Denver Broncos!
It's not enough that the Broncos landed the best-bang-for-the-buck signing in 2013 with receiver Wes Welker, or signed franchise left tackle Ryan Clady to a long-term deal.
It's not enough that the Broncos added cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Quentin Jammer to a secondary that still features a young-at-heart Champ Bailey. It's not enough that they added beef to the front seven with defensive lineman Terrance Knighton and linebacker Shaun Phillips, or had massive defensive tackle Sylvester Williams fall to them in the first round.
What puts the Broncos over the top for the best overall offseason in the league is Peyton Manning's reported return to full form and "zip." Manning had one of his career-best seasons with his weakened arm—the potential is there for Manning to hit a gear even he's never reached.
The Broncos did have two black spots on their offseason: the Elvis Dumervil's "faxgate," which resulted in Dumervil being released instead of taking a pay cut, and star pass-rusher Von Miller's four-game suspension.
As NFL.com's Marc Sessler explained, though, Miller's suspension appears to be a procedural error rather than a positive test. If Miller's appeal is successful, the AFC's reigning No. 1 seed got stronger than all of its rivals without losing any asset it cared to keep.