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Ranking the 25 Best Moves of the 2014 NFL Offseason

Alessandro MiglioFeatured ColumnistJune 9, 2014

Ranking the 25 Best Moves of the 2014 NFL Offseason

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    The NFL offseason is all but over, with teams now deep into workouts and heading toward training camp. We have seen our annual free-agent frenzy and the wonder that is the NFL draft.

    That, of course, means there were hundreds of moves made around the league. But which teams made the best moves?

    Whether it's a front-office shake-up, re-signing a player, moving around in the draft or simply signing free agents, here are the 25 best moves teams have made this offseason.

    There were certainly good moves that just missed the cut—DeMarcus Ware and Emmanuel Sanders to Denver, Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman's extensions with Seattle, for example—but the following lists the best deals, steals or just plain big spending in the league this offseason.

25. Miami Dolphins Fire Jeff Ireland

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    Marc Serota/Associated Press

    Any time there is turnover in the front office or the coaching staff, something has probably gone wrong. In the case of the Miami Dolphins, it went wrong years ago.

    The local movement to get general manager Jeff Ireland fired was a vicious one that lasted years. The Dolphins have been mired in mediocrity—or worse—for the past decade, and Ireland bore the brunt of the blame for lackluster draft results and public relations blunders like his infamous prostitute question.

    Despite the vitriol, the embattled general manager had the backing of the team's owner, Stephen Ross. That is, of course, until the bullying scandal hit last season.

    Offensive tackle Jonathan Martin's bombshell that he walked away from the team because of bullying from former teammate Richie Incognito was the iceberg that sunk Ireland's tenure in Miami. The Dolphins might have saved him had they made the playoffs, but their abhorrent finish to the season killed those chances as well.

    Miami will be better off with a fresh start at general manager under Dennis Hickey, even if overhauling the entire front office and coaching staff made more sense.

24. Oakland Raiders Sign James Jones

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    The Oakland Raiders made a host of moves this offseason, though few were particularly big ones. Their biggest—a five-year, $42.5 million deal with offensive lineman Rodger Saffold—was rejected by the owner, and many of their other signings were roster-fillers.

    Receiver James Jones may fall into that category after signing a three-year, $11.3 million deal. It is a meager amount for a quality receiver who scored 14 touchdowns two years ago, even if he is not No. 1 material.

    Jones brings his underrated game to Oakland in a low-cost, low-risk deal with good potential for high reward.

23. Minnesota Vikings Sign Captain Munnerlyn

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Despite their best efforts, the Minnesota Vikings haven't had a terribly good secondary in recent years. The unit is on the mend, however, and adding a quality veteran like Captain Munnerlyn should certainly help.

    Munnerlyn was a bit of a surprise last season and one of the better cornerbacks in the league, despite lacking the ideal size to play on the boundaries. The former Panther was tabbed to start in Carolina, and he delivered a solid season that saw him ranked 11th overall at the position over at Pro Football Focus.

    The five-year veteran was utilized in the slot and outside last season, where he did fine in coverage. He is excellent against the run, however, finishing fourth in the league at his position with 74 tackles. He is also among the best pass-rushers at cornerback.

    The Vikings nabbed Munnerlyn to team up with Xavier Rhodes and Josh Robinson on a three-year, $11.25 million deal.

22. Miami Dolphins Sign Knowshon Moreno

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    The Miami Dolphins were horrible in the run game last season. Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman all but abandoned the run relative to the pass, guiding the offense to the fourth-worst run-to-pass ratio in the league.

    There were several reasons for this. Aside from poor offensive coordinating, the Dolphins lacked quality along the offensive line. The backfield was also disappointing, as Daniel Thomas proved yet again he was a terrible pick and Lamar Miller failed to live up to second-year expectations.

    Miami's offensive line got an overhaul this offseason, and the Dolphins may have found a steal at running back when they snagged Knowshon Moreno on a one-year deal.

    Moreno is coming off his first 1,000-yard season with the Denver Broncos, a season during which he finally soared. Of course, it helped that opposing defenses were worrying about quarterback Peyton Manning's scorched sky policy, but Moreno looked plenty good on his own.

    He might not be Adrian Peterson, but Moreno represents a big upgrade as a runner, pass-blocker and pass-catcher at running back. That alone will be a boon for third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

21. Jacksonville Jaguars Let Maurice Jones-Drew Walk

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    It was time.

    Running back Maurice Jones-Drew had an illustrious career with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but the 29-year-old appeared to hit the downswing of his career last year. Injuries have piled up over the past few years, and—despite a rushing title sandwiched in there—Jones-Drew has simply shown the effects of wear and tear on those legs.

    He averaged just 3.4 yards per carry last season in a contract year.

    Jones-Drew wanted to stay in Jacksonville, but the Jaguars are on a different path. There was no room for a declining legacy player on a young team moving in a new direction in the second year of a new regime.

    While Toby Gerhart and Jordan Todman seem like inadequate replacements right now, the Jaguars did the right thing by letting Jones-Drew go back to his hometown Oakland Raiders.

20. Buffalo Bills Hire Jim Schwartz

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    Bill Wippert/Associated Press

    The Buffalo Bills had a surprisingly good defense last season, coming in 10th in total defense and second in team sacks. The talent has been building on that side of the ball, but Buffalo hadn't exactly been known for spectacular defense until defensive coordinator Mike Pettine came aboard and steadied the ship.

    Unfortunately, the Cleveland Browns hired Pettine away, leaving a talented unit at the mercy of their next coach. Good thing Jim Schwartz was available.

    The embattled former head coach of the Lions may have been in over his head a bit in Detroit. Despite a remarkable turnaround that saw an 0-16 team make the playoffs just three seasons later, the Lions fired Schwartz after underachieving for the past couple of seasons.

    As the defensive coordinator for the Bills, Schwartz gets an opportunity to shine at what he did best before he took that gig. Buffalo, meanwhile, gets a defensive mind that had the Titans defense ranked in the top 10 in scoring and total defense the last couple of seasons he coached defense there.

    Landing Schwartz ensures some stability on defense, even if he and Pettine bring two entirely different philosophies to the table.

19. Jacksonville Jaguars Sign Zane Beadles

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    Beadles (No. 68) at OTAs
    Beadles (No. 68) at OTAsJohn Raoux/Associated Press

    Offensive guard Zane Beadles was part of the Jacksonville Jaguars' nice free-agent haul this offseason, and he may have been the best addition of them all.

    Beadles had been a solid guard for the Denver Broncos, starting all but two games—both as a rookie—since coming into the league in 2010. He signed on with the Jaguars for five years and $30 million—not cheap, but worth it for a team on a path back to relevancy.

    The move is a big upgrade for the Jaguars, who had one of the worst pairs of guards in Will Rackley and Uche Nwaneri last season.

18. Arizona Cardinals Sign Jared Veldheer

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Pass protection hasn't been Arizona's strong suit in recent years, and the Cardinals finally decided to do something about it this offseason.

    Offensive tackle Jared Veldheer made his way south from Oakland to sign a five-year deal to protect quarterback Carson Palmer's blind side for the time being.

    Palmer may have breathed a sign of relief upon hearing the news, given he was sacked 41 times last season. His left tackle last season, D'Anthony Batiste, had the second-worst pass-blocking efficiency in the league while allowing a whopping 54 total quarterback pressures on just 404 snaps.

    Veldheer was 14th-best in that regard.

    The Cardinals landed him on a five-year, $35 million deal—not exactly cheap, but a good deal relative to some of the other deals doled out. The soon-to-be 27-year-old was the best buy among the biggest names at the position, and he cost less money than Eugene Monroe and Branden Albert.

17. Washington Signs DeSean Jackson

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    Evan Vucci/Associated Press

    The Philadelphia Eagles cut wide receiver DeSean Jackson for "football reasons." Washington signed him for the same.

    Jackson was Philadelphia's leading receiver by far in 2013. Despite that, some viewed him as a speed receiver who was overpaid. Even if he was overpaid, should the Eagles have been so seemingly flippant with their top pass-catcher?

    At any rate, division-rival Washington pounced on an opportunity to scoop him up in free agency after the deed was done, signing him to a four-year, $32 million deal to team up with Pierre Garcon and give quarterback Robert Griffin III a fantastic one-two punch at the position.

    Jackson may not be a prototypical No. 1 receiver, but he's not being paid like one anymore. Moreover, Washington gets a talented player who may have a fresh chip on his shoulder.

16. Chicago Bears Sign Jared Allen

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    How often do players live up to record contracts?

    Defensive end Jared Allen signed a massive six-year, $72 million deal with the Minnesota Vikings in 2008, the richest contract for a defensive player in NFL history at the time. His contract expired this year, 85.5 sacks later—a nice return on investment for the Vikings, as costly as it was.

    Even if he is on the decline at 32 years of age, Allen still has plenty left in his tank. He has had double-digit sacks in all but two years of his 10-year career, including 11.5 last season. He fell off a bit in the PFF ranking department, but it was still a solid season for the veteran pass-rusher.

    Now he plies his trade for one of Minnesota's rivals—the Chicago Bears.

    General manager Phil Emery couldn't resist signing Allen after the Vikings decided not to pursue an extension. Emery was able to replace Julius Peppers, who had become too expensive to keep at 34 years of age.

    Chicago gave Allen a four-year, $32 million deal to replace Peppers and bolster that defensive line. Even if it is a lateral move in terms of production, the Bears got younger and cheaper at defensive end.

15. Atlanta Falcons Sign Jon Asamoah

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    Tim Umphrey/Associated Press

    The Falcons' offensive line needed help at multiple spots. They got a boost in free agency, and their best pickup was Jon Asamoah.

    The former Kansas City Chief has been among the league's better offensive guards in the past several seasons. An injury-shortened 2013 campaign keeping him from having a better year, but he has been a big reason why the Chiefs have succeeded on the ground recently.

    Asamoah signed on for five years and $22.5 million, a relative bargain when compared to guys like Austin Howard (five years, $30 million) and Rodger Saffold (five years, $31.35 million), offensive tackles who will be transitioning to guard at those prices—and even fellow listee Zane Beadles (five years, $30 million).

14. Minnesota Vikings Sign Linval Joseph

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    Defensive tackle was a major area of need for the Minnesota Vikings this offseason. They got a big boost at the position when Linval Joseph signed on in free agency.

    One of the more underrated defensive linemen in the league, at 25 Joseph is just coming into his prime. He has been a model of consistency the past couple of seasons, coming in with exactly 59 total tackles and rating as PFF's 21st-best defensive tackle in the league in each season while averaging 3.5 sacks.

    Joseph will team up with second-year defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd to form a nice tandem in the middle—if Floyd can live up to his potential. It wasn't cheap at five years and $31.5 million, but Joseph's best years are ahead of him, and having a solid defensive front is vital to defensive success.

13. New York Giants Sign Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    The Denver Broncos spurned Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for Aqib Talib this offseason. Whether Talib is actually better than DRC is debatable, but Rodgers-Cromartie's loss was New York's gain, as the Giants snagged him in free agency at a relative discount.

    He signed a five-year, $35 million deal—over $20 million less overall than Talib's deal if both contracts play out until the end—to bolster the Giants secondary in a big way.

    That is, of course, if New York gets the 2013 version of Rodgers-Cromartie. He was rated the fifth-best cornerback in the league over at PFF last season, a dramatic turnaround from previous years, when he rated among the worst. In fact, he was the worst in 2010.

12. Tennessee Titans Hire Ray Horton

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    Ross Franklin/Associated Press

    Ray Horton has been one of the better defensive coordinators in the league since rising to that rank from Pittsburgh's coaching tree in 2011. It's a wonder he has bounced around so much recently.

    Horton went from the Arizona Cardinals to the Cleveland Browns, where he lasted only one season as ownership decided to bring in a new regime just one year into the old one's rule. Horton decided to go while the getting was good.

    The Tennessee Titans also saw a change in the coaching staff, and they saw a perfect opportunity to land a quality defensive coordinator when Horton hit the market. Horton joins offensive-minded head coach Ken Whisenhunt and has been tasked with building a defense despite lacking talent in some spots.

    The Cardinals improved defensively during Horton's tenure, while the Browns had the ninth-best total defense last season.

    Horton is already making his mark on his new team. New Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard says Horton's hybrid defense is "built to make plays," per Craig Peters of titansonline.com.

    If Horton is given more than one year, the Titans might see serious results on that side of the ball.

11. New York Jets Sign Eric Decker

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    The offense in New York was a sarlacc pit last season, regardless of which team we are discussing.

    Thankfully, at least for the Jets, fans won't have to suffer through 1,000 years before it improves. They went out and got free agency's best wide receiver, Eric Decker, from the Broncos.

    Decker got a five-year, $36.25 million deal to star with the Jets, who needed a wide receiver like a New York hot dog needs sauerkraut. The only downside to the deal is that Decker is the presumptive No. 1 receiver, sticking out like a sore thumb for opposing defenses, whereas he was one of a host of options in Denver.

    Even so, Decker's arrival is a welcome relief to quarterback Geno Smith, whose best option last season was Jeremy Kerley. Or was it Jeff Cumberland?

10. San Francisco 49ers Lock Up Colin Kaepernick

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Mockery erupted on social media when news broke that quarterback Colin Kaepernick signed a massive extension with the San Francisco 49ers. After all, does a running quarterback with a bit of an inconsistent passing game really deserve a record $61 million guaranteed?

    Before the laughter even died down, however, we found out the details of the deal. As it turns out, San Francisco drew up a rather savvy contract.

    Kaepernick's "true guarantee" is just $13 million, per CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora. Furthermore, he has annual $2 million de-escalators that kick in unless he plays over 80 percent of his snaps and either makes the Super Bowl or is named first- or second-team All Pro, as detailed by David Fucillo of Niners Nation.

    Money aside, it was a good idea for the 49ers to lock Kaepernick up to a long-term extension a year before he was set to hit free agency, lest they get leveraged like the Baltimore Ravens were with Joe Flacco after he won a Super Bowl.

    Contracts will be swelling in the coming years with the salary cap likely continuing to boom, so inking your franchise quarterback to a current-day market deal is simply good economics. Moreover, the 49ers will have a talented, young starter on their hands for a long while.

9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sign Alterraun Verner

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Darrelle Revis was locked up for five more seasons in Tampa Bay. It was an expensive five seasons, but arguably the best cornerback in the league was worth it, right?

    Tampa Bay didn't think so, taking the opportunity to clear $16 million off the books and cut Revis without any dead money to worry about. The move freed up some space to sign some of Tampa Bay's big-name free agents, including Revis' replacement, Alterraun Verner.

    The former Tennessee Titan isn't nearly as good as Revis, but he doesn't have to be on a four-year, $25.75 million contract.

    Verner is a fine cornerback in his own right, though. He had a great year with the Tennessee Titans, coming in 12th at his position over at PFF. He is a much better zone corner than he is in man coverage, and if the Buccaneers play to his strengths, he will be a great addition.

8. Dallas Cowboys Bet on Henry Melton

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    The salary cap was a thorn in the side of Jerry Jones, owner and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys. He was forced to let go of still productive, longtime Cowboys DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher because he was stuck in cap hell.

    Hatcher was a particularly big loss in the middle of the defensive line, but the Cowboys did a nice job of replacing him by signing Henry Melton.

    The big defensive lineman had made a name for himself in recent years, becoming one of the best pass-rushing interior defensive linemen in the league for the Chicago Bears. A torn ACL ended his 2013 season early, though, which thwarted his chance to strike a massive deal this offseason.

    The Cowboys threw him a lifeline, giving him a four-year, $29 million deal to replace Hatcher. In truth, it's a one-year deal with a three-year option the Cowboys can exercise if Melton pans out, but they may have actually improved at the position with this deal.

    Melton had grown into a well-rounded defensive tackle before his injury, and the fact he was injured in September means he should be back to full form sooner than a player injured at the end of the season.

    For a team backed into a corner, the Cowboys made out well with the Melton pickup.

7. Cleveland Browns Move Up for Johnny Manziel

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    David Maxwell/Getty Images

    The Cleveland Browns have wandered in the desert for over 40 years, quarterback-thirsty and being led astray by mirages and the occasional playoff oasis. Can Johnny Manziel lead them to the Promised Land?

    Cleveland certainly thinks so, at least enough to move up four spots in the first round to snag him at No. 22 in the draft. In addition to their selection at No. 4, the Browns held the No. 26 pick thanks to trading running back Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts last season.

    Of course, if the Browns were that confident Manziel would be the man to lead them out of the desert, they would have taken him at No. 4.

    Still, moving up a few spots to ensure they got him was a fantastic move for the quarterback-starved franchise. Manziel may or may not pan out in the NFL, but he brings an exciting brand of football with an incredible ceiling.

    If he does pan out, it will be well worth the third-round pick the Browns gave up to take him.

6. Denver Broncos Sign T.J. Ward

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    JACK DEMPSEY/Associated Press

    Safety has been a shaky position in Denver, especially since Rahim Moore blew his coverage against the Baltimore Ravens late in the 2013 AFC divisional playoffs. They took a big step toward shoring up the back line of that secondary this offseason.

    Denver signed T.J. Ward away from the Cleveland Browns this offseason, a nice upgrade at the strong safety position. Mike Adams quietly did a decent job for the Broncos in recent years, but Ward has been among the league's best during that span.

    Signing one of the best strong safeties in the NFL was fine and dandy, but the best part of the deal may have been the price: Ward signed for four years and $22.5 million, a steal of a deal when compared to some of his contemporaries like Donte Whitner (four years, $28 million) and Antoine Bethea (four years, $21 million).

    It's especially palatable when compared to free agency's other big safety prize, Jairus Byrd, who signed a six-year, $54 million deal.

5. Minnesota Vikings Move Up for Teddy Bridgewater

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    If the last few years have shown the Minnesota Vikings anything, it's that Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel aren't the answer at quarterback.

    Sure, both have had their moments, but could you see either of them taking the Vikings very far in the coming years?

    It wasn't bad enough for the Vikings to chance another Ponder-like mistake early in the first round, but they couldn't resist a move up into the end of the first round when Teddy Bridgewater fell.

    The move cost them a mere fourth-round pick, and it may have netted them the best quarterback in the draft class when the dust settles. Bridgewater's draft stock took a nosedive, but he was the most polished quarterback heading into the league this year.

4. Indianapolis Colts Sign Arthur Jones

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    One of the most underrated signings of the offseason came in Indianapolis, where the Colts signed former Baltimore Raven Arthur Jones to a five-year, $33 million deal.

    The big defensive end had a fantastic season for the Ravens, rated as the 12th-best 3-4 defensive end according to Pro Football Focus.

    He should shore up the defensive line for the Colts, who will be without Defensive Player of the Year runner-up Robert Mathis for the first four games of the season due to a suspension.

3. New Orleans Saints Sign Jairus Byrd

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    Bill Haber/Associated Press

    Good moves aren't limited to discounts. Sometimes you have to pay good money to get a good deal.

    That's precisely what the New Orleans Saints did when they unexpectedly landed Jairus Byrd in free agency. The stud safety signed a six-year, $54 million contract to man the free safety position in the Big Easy—a big upgrade at a big cost for the Saints.

    It looked like the Saints wouldn't be big players in free agency prior to the start of the new league year. They were over the projected cap heading into March, and tight end Jimmy Graham was eating up a big chunk of the 2014 cap with the franchise tag.

    Cuts and creative contract terms were enough to squeeze Byrd's big deal in for the Saints, though, and he will team up with second-year man Kenny Vaccaro to create one of the best safety duos in the league.

2. Cleveland Browns Sign Ben Tate

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    Mark Duncan/Associated Press

    The Cleveland Browns managed to jettison disappointing running back Trent Richardson for a first-round pick. That pick wound up becoming quarterback Johnny Manziel, who could finally lead the Browns to the Promised Land after 40 years of wandering in the desert.

    However, Cleveland lacked any sort of running game last year, with or without Richardson. The Browns fixed that this offseason.

    Ben Tate was the best running back available in free agency this offseason, even after a lackluster 2013. The 25-year-old former Texan had been primed to cash in this year after flashing his ability for the Texans in spurts.

    Unfortunately, Tate hit free agency at the wrong time, and the market for his services was limited. The Browns cashed in, though, inking Tate to a meager two-year, $6.2 million deal.

    Tate brings his career 4.7 yards-per-carry average to town, an immediate upgrade at a cheap price.

1. New England Patriots Sign Darrelle Revis

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    Stephan Savoia/Associated Press

    It's difficult to overstate just how much having Darrelle Revis around will improve that New England Patriots defense.

    They won't be the '85 Bears—that would be one way to overstate things—but Revis gives head coach Bill Belichick an elite player around whom to scheme. Revis all but takes away one side of the field for opposing passing offenses, allowing Belichick to work the dark side of the Force in new and wondrous ways.

    Sure, Revis was expensive—his $12 million price tag for one season was steep—and the Patriots will have to work out a new contract to keep him next year. But the Patriots are in "win now" mode more than any other team, save the Denver Broncos, and Revis is one of those moves that could tilt the power balance enough for a championship.

     

    All contract information courtesy of Spotrac.com. All advanced statistics courtesy of Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

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