Buying or Selling Every NFL Team's Improvement Efforts for 2014
It’s the calm before the storm.
The foundations have been laid, for the most part, by each of the 32 NFL clubs as they get ready to get down to the nitty-gritty of training camp next month.
So which teams actually accomplished their goal of getting better and which clubs came up a little short in this regard during the offseason?
For the most part, teams appear to have made (or are still making) all the right moves when it comes to upgrading their starting lineups and depth. It is almost hard not to with both the NFL draft, as well as free agency and trades, at your disposal. As you would expect, there’s a lot more buying than selling in this piece.
Still, it is somewhat advisable that you focus on what is written and don’t simply get hung up on the back end of each title, assuming we are simply predicting success or failure.
Let the discussions begin.
Arizona Cardinals: Selling
By all indications, the Arizona Cardinals have done their best to shore up some of their weaknesses.
However, as the all-knowing Roseanne Roseannadanna once said, “It’s always something.”
General manager Steve Keim has added his share of talent via free agency and the draft this offseason.
For instance, wide receivers Ted Ginn Jr. and rookie John Brown figure to aid quarterback Carson Palmer as well as the return game. There will be a new left side of the offensive line thanks to the addition of free-agent tackle Jared Veldheer and the presence of 2013 first-round guard Jonathan Cooper, who missed his rookie season due to injury. This year’s first-rounder, Deone Bucannon, replaces strong safety Yeremiah Bell, and second-year inside linebacker Kevin Minter is the heir apparent to free-agent defector Karlos Dansby
However, the latest curveball came lat last month with another suspension of inside linebacker Daryl Washington, as documented by Nate Davis of USA Today, this time for the entire 2014 season. Hence Keim is hoping veterans such as Larry Foote and Ernie Sims can fill the void.
Whether it all works or not is another story. But you certainly can’t knock the Cardinals for trying.
Atlanta Falcons: Buying
When you run the ball fewer times than any team in the league, gain the fewest rushing yards in the entire NFL and rank 31st when it comes to stopping teams on the ground, the odds are that you didn’t have a very good year.
That would be the case of the 2013 Atlanta Falcons, who went from 13-3 in 2012 to just four wins this past season.
But the club not only appears determined to bounce back from a dismal year—it seems it has changed its thinking a bit as well.
Stopping the run will be up to new defensive linemen Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai, the left defensive end and nose tackle in Mike Nolan’s 3-4 alignment. The right side of the offensive line is now manned by guard Jon Asamoah and rookie tackle Jake Matthews. Fourth-round pick Devonta Freeman bolsters a running back corps that includes Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers.
Finally, veteran kick returner Devin Hester hopes to provide quarterback Matt Ryan and the Atlanta offense with better field position.
Are the recent years of “Air Ryan” getting ready to become a bit grounded? It may not be a bad thing for a team that needs a lot more balance and a defense—which will be minus linebacker Sean Weatherspoon in 2014 due to injury—which needs to spend a lot less time on the field.
Baltimore Ravens: Buying
It’s hard not to buy what Ozzie Newsome is ever selling.
The longtime executive vice president and general manager of the Baltimore Ravens has been pushing the right buttons, with very few exceptions, throughout his tenure with the team. Still, the team comes off an 8-8 showing in 2013 and the first non-playoff appearance by the club since 2007.
The Ravens’ offseason changes include the addition of veterans such as wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Owen Daniels, cast off by the Carolina Panthers and Houston Texans, respectively. First-round pick C.J. Mosley could make an immediate impact on a Baltimore defense that has been mediocre at best in recent seasons.
However, as Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com explains, perhaps the biggest acquisition was the hiring of offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. The former Houston Texans head coach hopes to aid a running attack that finished 30th in the league in 2013, as well as help quarterback Joe Flacco rebound from a career-high 22 interceptions this past season.
Buffalo Bills: Buying
When it comes to this year’s Buffalo Bills, there has been some talk about what rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins can do and perhaps what veteran wideout Mike Williams won’t be doing for the team this season.
Last week, it was suggested that the former Tampa Bay Buccaneer, acquired in April for a sixth-round draft choice in 2014, may not be in his new team’s plans after all. That notion was dispelled by Joe Buscaglia of WGR 550 Sports Radio, who saw the Bills in action during their recent minicamp.
As far as football goes, it has been a very good offseason for the organization. But the proof will come in September’s pudding as the franchise looks to reach the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
Perhaps the biggest addition this offseason was the signing of linebacker Brandon Spikes, who moves into the middle while 2013 rookie standout Kiko Alonso lines up outside. The Bills will certainly miss three-time Pro Bowl free safety Jairus Byrd, but the positives have far outweighed the negatives these last few months.
As for Spikes, the one-time New England Patriots stopper hopes to improve a Buffalo defense that has ranked in the bottom five of the league in run defense each of the last five seasons.
Carolina Panthers: Selling
This offseason, there has been a ton written about the Carolina Panthers and their new-look receiving corps.
Is it better than last season’s unit? Was letting go of veteran wideout Steve Smith a mistake? Can rookie Kelvin Benjamin step in and contribute immediately?
We have been over that time and time again. So the focus here will be an area of concern to not only the passing attack but the running game as well.
What to make of the team’s offensive tackle situation, one that was made precarious when 11-year veteran left tackle Jordan Gross opted to retire this offseason?
It was also very curious that the Panthers did not address the situation through free agency and, furthermore, that general manager Dave Gettleman did not use any of his six draft picks on the position.
For now, it appears that Nate Chandler and Byron Bell will be the starting tackles. The former started eight games in 2013 but none at left tackle. Last week, via Josh Katzowitz of CBS Sports, Chandler signed a three-year contract extension with Carolina.
A revamped receiving corps along with a number of new faces on the offensive line are but a few reasons we are not quite sold on Ron Rivera’s team for now.
Chicago Bears: Buying
In the case of the Chicago Bears, apparently safety comes last?
To be accurate, it’s more like lately. On Monday (June 23), Larry Mayer of ChicagoBears.com reported that the team signed veteran Adrian Wilson, who joined the New England Patriots last offseason but was shelved for the season with an Achilles injury.
It is the latest move for a team that in 2013 allowed the third-most total yards, finished dead last in the NFL in rushing defense and tied the Jacksonville Jaguars with a league-low 31 sacks.
Enter free-agent defensive ends Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young. The draft brought cornerback Kyle Fuller and defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton with the club’s first three picks.
And yes, general manager Phil Emery addressed the back end of the defense early on with the signings of safeties Ryan Mundy, M.D. Jennings and Danny McCray, as well as drafting Brock Vereen in the fourth round last month.
Yes, the Bears did make some moves on the offensive side of the ball as well. But Marc Trestman’s club did finish second in the NFL in scoring this past season despite using two different starting quarterbacks in Jay Cutler and Josh McCown, the latter now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Can the Bears make this work given the huge number of changes on defense? Somehow it figures to eventually all come together. It just depends on when eventually arrives.
Cincinnati Bengals: Buying
In a day and age in the NFL when the word "deep" has more to do with passing and less to do with describing a roster, the Cincinnati Bengals have managed to buck the odds. Their hard work has resulted in a franchise-record three straight playoff appearances…and counting.
Now if we could only count on the Bengals actually winning a postseason game. That’s something we haven’t seen since the 1990 season.
Are there questions surrounding Marvin Lewis’ team at the moment? The team has new coordinators on both sides of the ball, the offensive line is a bit unsettled and the left outside linebacker spot could be up for grabs.
However, Cincinnati addressed both the offense and the defense equally in the draft and may have gotten the steal of the first round in cornerback Darqueze Dennard with the 24th pick. Second-round running back Jeremy Hill could be a force in Hue Jackson’s attack.
So it’s been business as usual for the Bengals this offseason. Now if only the club can get out of that business as usual during the postseason.
Cleveland Browns: Selling
There is the excitement of a new season on the horizon.
There has been the anticipation brought on by a new coaching staff.
There has been the euphoria in adding one of the most exciting players in college football the last two years.
And there is the recent history of the Cleveland Browns.
We are not going to go all the way back to the team’s return season in the NFL in 1999. But know that over the last six seasons, the team owns a combined 27-69 record and has lost at least 11 games each of those years.
Mike Pettine will be the club’s third opening-day head coach in as many years. General manager Ray Farmer worked his way up and down the draft and wound up with cornerback Justin Gilbert and quarterback Johnny Manziel in the first round. The Browns entered the draft with 10 picks and wound up making only six selections, although they already have some extra choices next spring.
Veteran inside linebacker Karlos Dansby and hard-hitting strong safety Donte Whitner figure to help an improving defense that was just 18th in the league against the run in 2013. Be it Brian Hoyer or Manziel at quarterback, there are new offensive weapons in running back Ben Tate and wide receivers Miles Austin, Nate Burleson and Andrew Hawkins.
Still, we have seen changes before…in fact, far too many. Is this the year it all comes together?
This is less about selling and more about buyer beware.
Dallas Cowboys: Selling
Concerning to the Dallas Cowboys as of late, it seems like there has been more discussion when it comes to extending the contract of wide receiver Dez Bryant than there has been when it comes to fixing the defense.
To be fair, there is only so much that multi-hat owner and general manager Jerry Jones can do. But has he done enough? Gone are heralded defensive end DeMarcus Ware and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jason Hatcher. Middle linebacker Sean Lee is on the sidelines indefinitely following knee surgery.
There’s a new leader in Rod Marinelli, the team’s fourth defensive coordinator in five years, and a new offensive play-caller in Scott Linehan, meaning change there for the third straight season.
Jones used seven of his nine draft picks to aid the unit that gave up the most yards in the league this past season. The free-agent additions of veteran defensive linemen Henry Melton, Terrell McClain, Jeremy Mincey and Amobi Okoye must pay off immediately.
On the other side of the ball, rookie guard Zack Martin upgrades a fast-emerging offensive line.
Are the Cowboys destined for a fourth straight 8-8 season? That could be the case…if they are lucky.
Denver Broncos: Buying
When you add defensive end DeMarcus Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib and strong safety T.J. Ward to a defensive unit that struggled throughout 2013, it can only help.
In the case of the Denver Broncos, it has to help. The defending AFC champions, throttled by the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII, hope that their new triple threat on defense puts them in position to get to Glendale, Arizona, in early February.
Obviously, scoring was not a problem for quarterback Peyton Manning and Co. a year ago. The Broncos totaled an NFL-record 606 points and Manning threw a league-record 55 touchdown passes. But John Fox’s team lacked balance despite its success, and the hope here is that second-year running back Montee Ball can become a chain mover and a clock killer this upcoming season.
There are a lot of familiar faces no longer with the club. The list includes veteran cornerback Champ Bailey, running back Knowshon Moreno, wideout Eric Decker, guard Zane Beadles and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. But most have been replaced by veteran talent in lieu of draft choices.
We will soon see how talented some of these players still are.
Detroit Lions: Buying
Every season for now more than a decade, we keep waiting for the Detroit Lions to fall on their collective facemasks and they respond.
The franchise has made one playoff appearance in the last 14 seasons, with that coming in 2011. The following season, the team lost its final eight games after a 4-4 start. A year ago, the Lions opened 6-3 and appeared headed toward a division title for the first time since 1993. But a 1-6 finish knocked them out of the playoffs entirely.
Talent doesn’t seem to be the question here. And the team apparently got better this offseason with additions such as wide receiver Golden Tate, strong safety James Ihedigbo and a pair of rookies in tight end Eric Ebron and outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy.
But arguably their most important addition was head coach Jim Caldwell, whose experiences with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens as both the team leader and as a valuable assistant saw him make three Super Bowl appearances, two resulting in championships.
And there’s no need to remind Lions fans how long it has been since the team came away with an NFL title.
Green Bay Packers: Selling
It’s hard to knock a team that has reached the playoffs five straight years, captured three straight division titles and won a Super Bowl in this current decade.
But have the Green Bay Packers done enough this offseason to make it six straight trips to the postseason and four consecutive NFC North crowns and remain in contention for Super Bowl XLIX?
It is extremely hard to tell. Offense doesn’t seem to be a problem for Mike McCarthy’s club. Despite four different starting quarterbacks in 2013, the Pack averaged just over 26 points per game and gained the third-most yards in the league.
The defense, however, has had numerous issues. Dom Capers’ unit has struggled in many aspects the last three years and this past season was 25th versus the run and 24th against the pass. Adding veteran defender Julius Peppers will indeed help, and defensive tackle Letroy Guion provides depth for nose tackle B.J. Raji. First-round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix should help at free safety.
Still, it was curious that general manager Ted Thompson used six of the team’s nine draft choices this year on offense. It appears that team feels that a lot of the young defenders drafted in recent years are all ready to come into their own.
Now would be a good time.
Houston Texans: Buying
More times than not, a 2-0 start in today’s NFL usually ensures a trip to the playoffs.
Of course, a 0-14 finish kind of blows that right out of the water.
Such was the fate of the 2013 Houston Texans, who followed up a pair of fruitful years in 2011 and 2012, winning the AFC South both seasons, with a real lemon.
New head coach Bill O’Brien and new defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel hope luck is in their favor as the franchise begins its 13th season in the league. First overall pick Jadeveon Clowney brings his talent to a defensive unit that already features J.J. Watt, Brian Cushing, Whitney Mercilus and Johnathan Joseph.
Behind center, veteran journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick hopes to make Houston his home for more than a short spell. He comes off a relief job with the Tennessee Titans in which he threw 14 touchdown passes but committed just as many turnovers. This past season, Texans quarterbacks committed 25 of the team’s 31 turnovers and saw an NFL record five-game stretch in which they had interceptions returned for touchdowns.
So what we are really buying into here is O’Brien’s celebrated ability to make the quarterback position much more viable and less mistake-prone. And that alone should make the talented Texans a better football team.
Indianapolis Colts: Selling
Some would say that the Indianapolis Colts did not need to add a lot of talent to a roster that is clearly the best in the AFC South. Those same people may have insisted that just some better luck when it came to staying healthy was the difference between a good and a great year for Chuck Pagano’s team in 2013.
That may be pushing it a little bit. Health was certainly an issue for an offensive line unit down wide receiver Reggie Wayne, running back Vick Ballard and tight end Dwayne Allen for a huge chunk of the year. Still, quarterback Andrew Luck and Co. totaled a very respectable 391 points.
It’s the defense that remains an issue which seemingly never gets rectified. The Colts added defensive end Arthur Jones, linebacker D’Qwell Jackson and safety Mike Adams through free agency. But will that make that much of a difference for a unit that was 26th in run defense this past season and then allowed 384 yards on the ground in a pair of playoff games?
A more balanced attack would help Luck and the defense. And the Colts had better hope that running back Trent Richardson, for whom they gave up their 2014 first-round pick last September, makes his second season in Indianapolis worth remembering.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Buying
The times have been pretty dismal as of late when it comes to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
But things seem to be looking up for a team that split its final eight games in 2013 after an 0-8 start.
Still, the Jaguars have a combined 11 wins the last three seasons. The division-rival Indianapolis Colts have won 11 games each of the last two seasons.
Obviously, second-year head coach Gus Bradley missed some of his former players in Seattle. Defensive ends Chris Clemons and Red Bryant are now former Seahawks and current Jaguars. The defense has been atrocious in nearly every regard the last two seasons and these additions, along with the signing of defensive linemen Ziggy Hood, hope to reverse the team’s fortunes.
The team is also hoping that new guard Zane Beadles and new running back Toby Gerhart give quarterback Chad Henne the support he needs. Only the Atlanta Falcons gained fewer yards on the ground a year ago, while Jacksonville totaled a league-low 247 points.
What really bears watching are second-round wide receivers Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson. If they develop quickly, they could team with Cecil Shorts and Ace Sanders to give Henne far more options.
As for first overall pick and quarterback Blake Bortles, check back with us in 2015.
Kansas City Chiefs: Selling
It’s difficult to get a grasp on exactly what the Kansas City Chiefs are doing these days in terms of upgrading their team.
Yes, Andy Reid’s club finished 11-5 and captured a playoff berth this past season. But it also lost five of its final seven games after a 9-0 start and went a combined 0-4 versus AFC West foes Denver and San Diego.
After allowing 111 points in their first nine games, the Chiefs gave up an astounding 239 points in their final eight outings, 45 of those in a stunning playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts after owning a 38-10 third-quarter advantage.
Be it free agency or the draft, the team has done very little to upgrade its roster. Gone are Pro Bowlers in left tackle Branden Albert and cornerback Brandon Flowers, as well as veteran defensive end Tyson Jackson. The offensive line is minus Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz. Versatile Dexter McCluster is now with the Tennessee Titans. Rookies such as first-round defender Dee Ford and explosive runner and return artist De’Anthony Thomas could be looking at substantial playing time.
Like we said, it’s hard to figure which direction Reid’s team is headed in at the moment.
Miami Dolphins: Buying
We are still buying into what the Miami Dolphins have done during the offseason.
But you may want to hold onto that receipt.
Courtesy of ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Miami offense has a pair of key players on or about to be on the mend in the form of Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey and free-agent pickup/running back Knowshon Moreno. In the case of Pouncey, the start of the regular season is very much in doubt for the talented snapper.
But all is not glum when it comes to this team. While a pair of new offensive tackles, free-agent addition Branden Albert and 2014 first-round pick Ja’Wuan James, have gotten the share of attention this offseason, Christopher L. Shelton of the Sun Sentinel tells us that new right guard Shelley Smith is prepared to make an impact on a team that allowed a league-high 58 sacks in 2013.
Third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill will have a new target in rookie wideout Jarvis Landry. A disappointing defense from a year ago now has cornerback Cortland Finnegan and safety Louis Delmas in the secondary.
Are the Dolphins ready to make a long-awaited return to the playoffs? A little good luck certainly wouldn’t hurt these days.
Minnesota Vikings: Buying
We know that when it comes to the Minnesota Vikings in 2014, they will be playing in a new venue and have a new head coach.
But will it be the same old story for a team that, despite a playoff appearance in 2012, has finished last in the NFC North three of the last four seasons.
Mike Zimmer is now at the helm of the Purple Gang, so you figure the defense has to be better. That goes without saying after it gave up the second-most yards in the league as well as the most points in the NFL.
General manager Rick Spielman has revamped the defensive line, adding free agents Linval Joseph and Corey Wootton and drafting Scott Crichton. Rookie Anthony Barr and Jasper Brinkley (a former Viking) make up a new-look linebacking corps, while opportunistic free-agent cornerback Captain Munnerlyn hopes to make an impact in the secondary.
However, it’s the move made by Spielman to go back into the first round and grab University of Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater that has drawn the most attention. The 32nd overall pick could wind up paying immediate dividends for new offensive coordinator Norv Turner and the team overall.
And considering the four teams in the NFC North were separated by just three games, this is a division that is certainly up for grabs.
New England Patriots: Buying
How can you not buy what an organization like the New England Patriots has to offer?
Last season it appeared the team, both battered and bruised and certainly devoid of some talent, was on its last legs. Yet somehow head coach Bill Belichick made it five straight AFC East titles and a third consecutive appearance in the AFC Championship Game.
This offseason, a defense that lost veterans such as Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and Tommy Kelly to injuries last season has added some talent. First-round pick Dominique Easley figures to make an impact all along the defensive front, while cornerback Brandon Browner will be a starter in the secondary once he serves his four-game suspension at the start of the season. Veterans such as linebacker James Anderson and defensive end Will Smith provide some experienced depth.
Meanwhile, Shalise Manza Young of The Boston Globe talks about the Patriots’ most notable free-agent pickup this offseason in the form of cornerback Darrelle Revis, who hopes to strand a few receivers on his island in 2014.
Offensively, there aren’t a lot of changes, although the team added wide receiver Brandon LaFell in free agency. Quarterback Tom Brady will have a second year with wide receivers Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce. And the healthy return of former Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski would be a big help.
Save for a few tweaks, all systems seem to be a go in Foxborough.
New Orleans Saints: Buying
After a disastrous 2012 season in which both their head coach and defensive unit were among the missing, the New Orleans Saints rebounded to make the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons.
Now Sean Payton and his club hope to get back to winning a Super Bowl, something the franchise achieved in 2009 thanks to a potent offense and an opportunistic defense.
Hence the addition of three-time Pro Bowl free safety Jairus Byrd. In five seasons with the Buffalo Bills, he totaled 27 takeaways, including 22 interceptions. In 2013, the Saints were the fourth-ranked defense in the league but forced only 19 turnovers.
On the other side of the football, rookie wideout Brandin Cooks wasted little time impressing his new team, most notably Keenan Lewis. “I called him ‘lightning,’” said the standout cornerback to Christopher Dabe of the New Orleans Times-Picayune last week. “A (defensive back) might be in his back pocket and the next thing you know he’s 50, 60 yards down the field.”
The Saints did a lot more in terms of departures than arrivals this offseason. And the organization is hoping that addition by subtraction leads to a big season in the Crescent City.
New York Giants: Selling
For the second consecutive offseason, the New York Giants made a big splash in free agency.
So will all of the free-agent additions, as well as seven draft choices, make a difference for a team that over the past five seasons has won a Super Bowl (XLVI) and missed the playoffs four times?
Here’s what we know. According to Jordan Raanan of the Newark Star-Ledger, veteran quarterback Eli Manning is looking pretty good following ankle surgery earlier this year and is adapting well to the offense installed by new coordinator Ben McAdoo.
The area that the Giants addressed heavily this offseason was cornerback. General manager Jerry Reese (who was interviewed on Monday on WFAN in New York) added free agents Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Walter Thurmond and Zack Bowman and selected Bennett Jackson in the sixth round of the draft.
Still, can the Giants improve dramatically when it comes to running the football (29th in NFL in 2013)? How long will injured middle linebacker Jon Beason be out? Who will emerge as a viable tight end for Manning to lean on?
What does it all add up to? Well…
New York Jets: Buying
When you feature one of the better defensive units in the league that has its share of emerging talent, you have to feel good about your chances.
However, when your club totals nearly twice as many turnovers (29) as takeaways (15), it has a tendency to become a moot point.
Such was the case of the New York Jets in 2013. Rex Ryan’s club surprised many by finishing 8-8. But there were still plenty of holes to fill this offseason, especially when it came to an offensive unit that produced a mere 25 touchdowns this past season.
Enter veteran wide receivers Eric Decker and Jacoby Ford, as well as rookies in tight end Jace Amaro and wideouts Jalen Saunders and Shaquelle Evans. And the league’s sixth-best running game in 2013 should benefit from the arrival of Chris Johnson, no longer wanted by the Tennessee Titans.
Of course, the progress made by quarterback Geno Smith this offseason is a big key. All indications is that he is very much on course in his second NFL season. Which means committing 25 turnovers for a second straight year is unacceptable…as well as unlikely.
This looks to be a very intriguing team but one that must also build on last season’s unexpected finish.
Oakland Raiders: Buying
Better than advertised?
According to Jerry McDonald of the Contra Costa Times, that appears to be the feeling of some when it comes to outside linebacker Khalil Mack, the Oakland Raiders’ top pick in May and the fifth overall selection in the 2014 draft.
In any case, there’s plenty of anticipation in regards to Mack. “It will be great to see him in action when it really goes down,” stated free safety Charles Woodson to McDonald last week. “We all have high hopes for him, because he’s only going to make us better as a team.”
Are the Raiders a better team? It’s not for a lack of trying. The Silver and Black traded for veteran quarterback Matt Schaub and drafted promising Derek Carr in the second round. Free agency brought celebrated veterans such as running back Maurice Jones-Drew, wide receiver James Jones, defensive linemen Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley and Antonio Smith and cornerbacks Carlos Rogers and Tarrell Brown. There are also wholesale changes along the offensive line.
That’s quite a list, especially when it comes to the defensive line. But the aforementioned trio, along with Mack and second-year outside linebacker Sio Moore, could give the Raiders a potent front-seven.
General manager Reggie McKenzie is hoping a blend of youth and experience can revitalize a franchise that is a disturbing 53-123 dating back to the start of the 2003 season.
Philadelphia Eagles: Buying
How can you not be excited about what you’ve seen from the Philadelphia Eagles, starting with the second half of 2013?
This offseason, the league’s second-ranked offense of a year ago did say goodbye to wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jason Avant. It also said hello to explosive running back Darren Sproles, who gives emerging quarterback Nick Foles another option. The Birds led the NFL in rushing in 2013 thanks mainly to All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy and a much-improved offensive line.
Still, when your top receiver from a year ago is cut loose by the team (and signs with the division-rival Washington Redskins), there is cause for concern. Reuben Frank of CSNPhilly.com talks about the progress of Jordan Matthews, the team’s second-round wideout. For what it’s worth, that’s the same round the team found Jackson in back in 2008.
But it is on defense that the Eagles must be better. They added a pass-rusher in Marcus Smith in the first round, and free-agent additions Nolan Carroll and Malcolm Jenkins hope to help in the secondary.
It was a 7-1 finish (following a 3-5 start) that propelled Chip Kelly’s team to the NFC East title a year ago. Don’t be surprised of these Birds fly away and hide from the rest of a rebuilding division this season.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Buying
The Pittsburgh Steelers getting busy signing other teams' players during free agency? That’s about as believable as this team going back-to-back seasons without a winning record.
OK, Mike Tomlin’s club has finished 8-8 in consecutive years, the first time since 1998 (7-9) and 1999 (6-10) that this franchise has gone two straight years without finishing above .500.
The Steelers appear determined not to make it three in a row. As Chris Wesseling of NFL.com documents, an infusion of youth and speed, most notably on the defensive side of the ball, is hard not to notice...especially if you’re a quarterback preparing for your second decade in the league.
Rookie inside linebacker Ryan Shazier, the Steelers’ first-round pick in May, has made a quick impression. Veteran additions such as running back LeGarrette Blount, wide receiver Lance Moore and free safety Mike Mitchell are also expected to be big contributors.
For the Steelers, it’s been a different kind of offseason. Then again, the last two seasons have been off when it comes to this franchise.
St. Louis Rams: Buying
These days, finishing last in the NFC West is nothing to be ashamed of.
The St. Louis Rams aren’t worried about shame. They are an organization looking to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
What have they done this offseason to make that a reality? Part of it has been adding a pair of first-round picks in Greg Robinson and defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Via Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com, it’s been a tough transition (so far) for Robinson, who will begin his NFL career at guard rather than tackle.
The Rams weren’t overly busy during free agency, but head coach Jeff Fisher will have a new but familiar face around in wide receiver Kenny Britt, now with the Rams after five seasons in Nashville.
How is the former Tennessee Titans performer doing so far? “(He’s) still learning the system,” said offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer last week to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “It’s been a little different for him, but each day he (made) one or two big plays.”
He and the Rams will probably need a little more than that to make a move up in 2014. But the pieces are in place for some big-time improvement.
San Diego Chargers: Buying
When you play the kind of hard-nosed football that the San Diego Chargers played down the stretch in 2013 and re-emphasize that style via your offseason acquisitions, good things will happen.
Head coach Mike McCoy had this team playing very efficiently last December, and it resulted in the team’s first postseason appearance since 2009 and first playoff victory since ‘08.
Veteran quarterback Philip Rivers was the NFL Comeback Player of the Year this past season, guiding an attack that finished fifth in the NFL in total offense just one year after gaining the second-fewest total yards in the league.
Running back Ryan Mathews comes off a career year. And general manager Tom Telesco bought Rivers and the offense a nice insurance policy in veteran running back Donald Brown, who, like Mathews, comes off his best professional season.
On the other side of the ball, rookies such as cornerback Jason Verrett and outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu hope to elevate a defensive unit that finished 23rd in the NFL in yards allowed, including 29th versus the pass. The Bolts also forced only 17 turnovers in 2013, something they must improve on significantly this season.
The Chargers weren’t often pretty this past season. But if their additions pan out this fall, they may be pretty good in 2014.
San Francisco 49ers: Buying
It’s hard to find fault with just about anything the San Francisco 49ers have done in recent seasons.
After all, in the eight years prior to the arrival of head coach Jim Harbaugh three years ago, the franchise failed to post a winning campaign and owned a combined 46-82 record over that span.
Under Harbaugh, the Niners are 36-11-1 in the regular season, reaching the NFC title game in 2011 and 2013 and Super Bowl XLVII in 2012. There’s been no title yet, but that may be just a matter of time.
With one of the deeper teams in the league, the Niners didn’t spend a great deal of time during free agency. And they are hoping that veteran cornerback Chris Cook, late of the Minnesota Vikings, can help a position that has lost Carlos Rogers, Tarrell Brown and Eric Wright, all for different reasons. As Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee explains, Cook will be looking to do something in 2014 that he has been unable to do in four previous seasons.
As for the 49ers’ latest draft class, which boasts a dozen players, Bill Williamson of ESPN.com notes that while running back Frank Gore can still get the job done, the team may not be able to “Hyde” one of its top rookies for long.
Yep. It’s been recent business as usual for Harbaugh, general manager Trent Baalke and an organization at the top of its game these days.
Seattle Seahawks: Selling
After watching the Seattle Seahawks demolish the Denver Broncos, 43-8, in Super Bowl XLVIII in February, you would have to be a fool not to be sold on this team for the next few years.
But the question here is not whether Pete Carroll’s club will be contending for years to come. Have the Seahawks improved enough this offseason to make a run at repeating as Super Bowl champions?
Of course, this is a team that may not need a lot of upgrading. But there have been a lot of departures in the Pacific Northwest with the release of defensive ends Chris Clemons and Red Bryant, as well as the free-agent defections of wide receiver Golden Tate, right tackle Breno Giacomini, defensive tackle Clinton McDonald and cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond, to name a few.
The Seahawks didn’t do a lot during free agency, although they recently added former Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams. Jayson Jenks of The Seattle Times discusses what kind of impact the six-time Pro Bowler could have on the team’s rotation up front.
The team did add nine players in the draft, including a pair of second-round selections in wide receiver Paul Richardson and tackle Justin Britt.
Don’t bet against the Seahawks making a strong run at defending their Super Bowl title. But while this is a business in which roster changes are inevitable, there’s certainly something to be said for exactly how many changes are made.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Buying
Looking for some breaking news? The Tampa Bay Buccaneers haven’t signed a free agent lately.
They were arguably the league’s busiest team this offseason, and general manager Jason Licht is hoping a lot of new faces combined with veteran head coach Lovie Smith can end the team’s three-year stay in the NFC South basement.
The new quarterback will be Josh McCown, late of the Chicago Bears. He will have a trio of 6’5” targets to throw to in rookies like wide receiver Mike Evans and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, as well as incumbent Vincent Jackson.
Running back Doug Martin looks to bounce back from an injury-shortened 2013 and will have new company in third-round pick Charles Sims. Left tackle Anthony Collins and center Evan Dietrich-Smith are part of a revamped offensive line.
A pass rush that’s been anemic in recent seasons and a defensive unit that has allowed 30 touchdown passes in each of the last three years should benefit from the additions of defensive end Michael Johnson, defensive tackle Clinton McDonald and Pro Bowl cornerback Alterraun Verner, as well as new coordinator Leslie Frazier.
When it comes to buying, no team did it better than the Bucs this offseason. Now we will soon find out if all of this work pays off.
Tennessee Titans: Buying
It’s hard to believe that since finishing with the league’s best record in 2008, the Tennessee Titans have failed to make the playoffs.
Now it is up to Ken Whisenhunt to revive a franchise whose best moment in recent annals, an appearance in Super Bowl XXXIV, is quickly becoming a distant memory.
Whisenhunt knows a little something about Super Bowls, having won them as an assistant with the Pittsburgh Steelers and then losing to that franchise as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals in 2008 (XLIII). Now the coach who helped San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers earn Comeback Player of the Year honors this past season hopes to help the Titans make a little comeback of their own.
Keeping Jake Locker healthy would be a step in the right direction. A consistent ground game would help, and that’s what the team is hoping to get from returning veterans Shonn Greene and Jackie Battle and rookie Bishop Sankey, the first running back taken in the 2014 draft. First-round pick Taylor Lewan is the favorite at right tackle on an offensive line that has undergone dramatic change the last two years.
But it is on defense that there is a real buzz. New coordinator Ray Horton brings the 3-4 to the Music City and hopes that the additions of linebackers Shaun Phillips and Wesley Woodyard and defensive end Al Woods make the transition a smooth one.
There are a lot of good pieces in place with the Titans. Now we’ll find out if the new head coach is truly a whiz when it comes to making it all work.
Washington Redskins: Selling
When you win a division title in 2012 but you've also finished dead last in the NFC East five of the last six seasons, it’s hard to get the benefit of the doubt.
Despite another slew of offseason additions, including a new head coach in Jay Gruden, it’s hard to believe that the Washington Redskins will be significantly better in 2014.
Better? Yes. But have they made enough strides to push the Philadelphia Eagles for a division title? It may be easier considering they now have the Birds’ top receiver from a year ago in the form of three-time Pro Bowler DeSean Jackson. He is joined by another free-agent pickup in wideout Andre Roberts, as well as fourth-round draft choice Ryan Grant, as quarterback Robert Griffin III obviously has some new toys to play with.
But what about a team that tied for next-to-last in the league in points allowed (478) this past season? The new faces on defense include Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jason Hatcher and veteran free safety Ryan Clark.
It would be stunning if the Redskins, losers of their final eight games in 2013, weren’t a much better team in 2014. Just how much better is really the better question.