The 2011 NFL Free Agency was a fast and furious one. Several teams made some giants splashes while others just tried to get under the cap without cutting too much fat.
The 2011 offseason saw the Eagles make the jump from borderline playoff team to a legitimate contender while teams like the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants had to make several cuts just to get under the cap.
With the dust from free agency appeared to be finally settled and all the big names being signed, it's time to start analyzing who is the top dog and who will be in the running in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes.
The Patriots have been very aggressive this offseason, signing former starts Shaun Ellis, Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth. All three players have seen their numbers decline in the past few seasons but both will be very valuable weapons as role players for an already talented team.
Since the Patriots lost in Superbowl XLII, they have failed to win a playoff game three straight seasons. Signing two players that are capable of playing at am All-Pro level tells us that Bill Belichick is serious about making another deep run in the playoffs.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are still the best defense in the NFL with a pretty good offense to boot. Pittsburgh was able to resign both cornerback Ike Taylor and offensive tackle Willie Colon, which is probably bigger than any free agent signing they could of made.
The defending AFC champions have been able to keep the core of their team together in a tight salary cap situation. Barring any major injuries, the Steelers should be back in the AFC title game once again.
No team has had a better offseason than the Philadelphia Eagles. They have added a two former Pro Bowlers in Vince Young and Ronnie Brown to backup Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy. They added Cullen Jenkins and Jason Babin to an already pretty good defensive line. They also fixed their two biggest weaknesses from last year at right guard and right cornerback.
The Eagles used their first round draft pick on rookie lineman Danny Watkins, who projects to start at right guard right away. The Eagles also upgraded at a position that was a major liability last season by signing one of the best in Nnamdi Asomugha and another Pro Bowl caliber player in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
The Eagles have made it a priority to fix every hole from last season's team with top notch players. Last year they were the closest team to knocking off the eventual champion Green Bay Packers. This season they appear to be the favorites in the NFC.
Two straight AFC title game losses have not kept Rex Ryan quiet. That's to be expected. What wasn't expected was the signing of Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason while letting go two players actually in their primes, Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery.
People often forget that the 2010 Green Bay Packers barely made the playoffs before winning the Superbowl. The Packers have had to make several moves to stay under the cap including releasing former starters Mark Tauscher, Nick Barnett, and Cullen Jenkins.
The Packers offensive line and defense won't play at the same level they did last year and will have a big target on their big going in to the 2011 season. The offense will still be dangerous and the defense will stay be good.
Despite all the injuries they suffered last year and could very well have to overcome this year, having Aaron Rogers and Clay Matthews seems to be all the Pack need to stay afloat.
The rich get richer as an already loaded New Orleans Saints offense spend a first round draft pick on the best running back in the draft in Mark Ingram. Ingram will add another element to the offense as the Saints now have an elite inside runner to go along with a very vertical passing attack.
The Saints also signed speedy Darren Sproles to go along with Ingram in the backfield. The Saints looked primed to take back the NFC South from the Atlanta Falcons and make another run at the Lombardi Trophy.
If Joe Flacco is to take the next step as a quarterback and finally get to a Superbowl, he will have to do it with just one proven receiver. Derrick Mason was released and will be replaced by rookie Torrey Smith.
The Ravens were able to make a couple of key moves that should make them a better team as they signed the best run blocking fullback in Vonta Leach and also drafted one of the top corners in the draft in Jimmy Smith.
The Ravens appear to have gotten a little better on defense by adding a potential shut down corner in Smith while also giving Ray Rice an early Christmas present with the signing of Vonta Leach.
The 2010 San Diego Chargers were the best offense and defense statistically, but sat out the playoffs anyways. The Chargers havn't had a major free agency addition, but have kept a very talented offense intact by franchising Vincent Jackson and resigning Malcom Floyd.
The Chargers will once again be a very potent offense. Will they be a more clutch team in 2011?
The Atlanta Falcons were the NFC champions in 2010, at least in the regular season. Once the playoffs hit, things went downhill in a hurry. The Falcons traded up to draft Julio Jones and signed Ray Edwards in order to avoid that same fate.
Edwards will try and take advantage of the double teams that his new teammate John Abraham will draw. Jones will also be the benefactor of an elite teammate. Roddy White, who will draw more attention.
The Falcons biggest concern will be the secondary as they will try to get past other NFC contenders loaded with receivers like the Eagles, Packers and Saints. Brent Grimes will have to have a repeat of his stellar 2010 season in order for Atlanta to make some noise come January.
The Houston Texans have become one of the most balanced offenses in the NFL, but still havn't made the playoffs. 2011 could be a different story.
The defense of the Texans continues to hold this team back, but with the hiring of Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator and the signing of Johnathan Joseph should help. Phillips plans on moving Mario Williams from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker where he will be the DeMarcus Ware of the Texans 3-4 defense. Williams is a 6-6 290 pound athletic super freak who should put up even better numbers as an edge rusher in the 3-4.
With an improved defense, the Texans may finally be able to over throne the Colts in the AFC South.
Peyton Manning is still recovering from a bulging disk in his neck and may not see much action in preseason. When Manning does come back, he will be playing behind an offensive line that failed to gave him adequate pass protection in 2010.
The Colts didn't have a headline grabbing offseason move but did draft Anthony Castonzo in the first round of the 2011 draft while also signing castoffs Ernie Sims and Tommie Harris to try and improve on the 20th ranked defense from 2010.
The NFC East appeared to be in the hands of the Giants last December. They have the Eagles at home, and had a big lead midway through the fourth quarter. Then everything fell apart in typical Giants fashion. The Eagles rallied and overcame a three touchdown deficit to take control of the NFC East.
The Giants will try and finish the 2011 season on a higher note, but it will be difficult without mainstays on their offensive line, Shaun O'Hara and Rich Seubert, who were cut in order for the Giants to get under the cap.
Jay Cutler is ready for the 2011 season to get underway. Especially after a knee injury knocked him out of the NFC Championship game last January. Cutler has been ripped apart since the injury, and has had to listen to accusations that he quit on his team and that he is soft.
The Bears' front office apperas to putting all it's faith in Mike Martz's ability to run the offense as they have traded Greg Olsen to the Carolina Panthers and signed Martz's former pupil in Detroit, Roy Williams. The Bears signed another Cowboys cut, Marion Barber.
The loss of Olsen means Cutler will have to rely more on his wide receivers to make plays in 2011. The loss of Olsen will hurt, he had over 100 yards receiving and one touchdown against the Seahawks in the playoffs. Cutler and Martz will have to get the most out of Williams in order to return to the playoffs.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers came out of nowhere in 2010, going 10-6 and just missing the playoffs on a tiebreaker. The Bucs didn't go after any big name free agents but were able to resign all of their key players from last seasons.
The continued growth of a very young team should keep Tampa Bay in contention in a very tough NFC.
The Kansas City Chiefs appear to be pretty serious about upgrading an offense that struggled mightily in the playoffs. The Chiefs added big back Le'Ron McClain and speedy wide out Steve Breaston. Both players should go nicely with Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe.
Matt Cassel will have the weapons on offense to compete with the AFC's best, including division rival San Diego Chargers. The Chiefs won't have it as easy, as they will have to play all three division winners from 2010 in the AFC.
Are the Detroit Lions finally ready for a run at the playoffs? Will Matthew Stafford be able to last an entire season? Both questions remain unclear, but the Lions were able to upgrade a defense that needed it badly.
The Lions drafted Nick Fairley in the first round after several needy teams pass him up for other pressing needs. The Lions also signed starting linebackers Justin Durant and Stephen Tulloch.
The defense will definitely be improved, but the offense will need a healthy Stafford in order to get back into the playoffs.
The Arizona Cardinals have their franchise quarterback, former backup to Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick, Kevin Kolb. The Cardinals lost cornerback Dominique Rodger-Cromartie in the trade for Kolb but did sign Richard Marshall to team up with rookie corner Patrick Peterson in the secondary. Arizona also signed another Philadelphia Eagle, Stewart Bradley.
Playing in a division the at times barely has a pulse, having a solid quarterback like Kevin Kolb may be all Arizona needs to get out of the cellar and back into the playoffs.
The Seahawks have had a busy offseason to date. They signed one of the top receivers on the market, Sidney Rice. They also signed Minnesota Vikings castoff Tavaris Jackson to compete with Charlie Whitehurst for the starting quarterback spot now that Matthew Hasselbeck in gone.
Quarterback play of either Jackson or Whitehurst will be the difference between whether the Hawks make it back into the playoffs or looking up at another mediocre NFC West champion.
Alex Smith is back at quarterback for the 9ers once again, this time he will have a little more help with Braylon Edwards coming to town.
The defense should still be solid as always, the question is can Jim Harbaugh get the most out of Alex Smith as previous coaches could not.
All offseason we heard about how St. Louis was going to get a deep threat for Sam Bradford. It was evident in their final game against the Seattle Seahawks that Bradford had all the tools to be a successful quarterback. He just needed a go to receiver who could stretch the field.
The Rams are still short a big play wideout and will most likely pay for it by sitting out the playoffs once again.
The Dallas Cowboys saw their 2010 season go down in flames early, starting off 1-7 at the halfway point. Better pass protection for Tony Romo, who broke his collarbone last early on last season, is a must. The Cowboys drafted right tackle Tyron Smith and resigned left tackle Doug Free.
An improved offensive line will be key to the Cowboys success but the defense still has issues in the secondary coming off down years from both starting corners, Terrence Newman and Mike Jenkins.
The Cleveland Browns shocked the football world last year by upsetting the New Orleans Saints and the New England Patriots in back to back games in 2010. In 2011, the Browns will try to put it all together for a full season. The Browns will make the switch to the 4-3 defense and a west coast offense.
They didn't go and get a big free agent,but they got several key draft picks to help make the switch a little easier in monster defensive tackle Phil Taylor, wide receiver Greg Little and defensive end Jabaal Sheard.
Brett Favre is officially done, as a Minnesota Viking at least. The Viks elected to go younger at quarterback by trading for Donovan McNabb. McNabb has a lot to prove, especially to a former coach who said he was out of shape last year.
With an experience but able bodied quarterback leading an offense that has Kyle Rudolph, Visanthe Shiancoe, Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson, the Vikings should be able to get back in the hunt for a playoff spot. However, the defense still needs work while the offensive line will be the worst Donovan McNabb has ever played behind.
The Titans brought in Matthews Hasselbeck to try and both lead the 27th ranked offense from a year ago and help groom the future at quarterback, Jake Locker.
Outside of running back Chris Johnson, Hasselbeck won't much help. The defense appears to be in even worse shape as they could be in the running for another top ten draft pick once again.
Head coach Jack Del Rio appears to be hanging on a thread as the Jaguars are a team in transition, which is never a good thing for a coach on the hot seat. David Garrard will try and keep his job for as long as possible as his rookie backup Blaine Gabbert will be the future of the team.
The Jags added Paul Posluszny, which should help the 22nd ranked run defense from a year ago but without much else help on either side of the ball it could be a long season and probably a final one for head coach Jack Del Rio.
The Bills decided to pass on drafting a franchise quarterback last April and continue to let Ryan Fitzpatrick handle the reigns.
The Bills still have plenty of holes on both sides of the ball and will be one of the leading candidates in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes.
Owner Mike Brown and the Carson Palmer appear to be at a stalemate that will never get resolved. Palmer seems comfortable with the decision to retire rather than play for the Bengals. The Bengals have moved on as well drafted Andy Dalton in the second round and signing Bruce Gradkowski to play quarterback.
The Bengals appear to be a team in rebuilding mode, just two years removed from a division title.
The Miami Dolphins offense isn't a very inspiring one. Quarterback Chad Henne has yet to prove he can get the job done. Running back Ronnie Brown is now in Philadelphia and wide receiver Brandon Marshall is already getting into his usual off the field problems.
The Fins did manage to acquire Reggie Bush to try light a fire on this team. In order for the Dolphins to get back in contention in the AFC East, they will have to improve on the 21st ranked offense from a year ago without a proven quarterback.
Cam Newton is going to surprise a lot of people in 2011 However he is going to disappoint other as well. It's pretty split on whether or not people think Cam Newton can make it as a pro quarterback. He has the arm and the athleticism to make it, but does he have the intangibles.
Newton won't have a ton of help but the Panthers were able to resign all their key players for a year ago including Charles Johnson and DeAngelo Williams.
Donovan McNabb wasn't the answer for the Redskins but apparently John Beck is. The Redskins spent the offseason trading away two they invested in heavily in the past for late round draft picks.
Coach Mike Shanahan doesn't have the Redskins in great shape for the 2011 season, but maybe that's part of his master plan involving a Stanford quarterback set to come out in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Tim Tebow has attracted all of the attention during the Broncos training camp. Whether Tebow earns the starting job or Kyle Orton retains it, it will still be a long season for a team that ranked deal last in total defense.
It appears that new head coach John Fox has a lot of cleaning up left over from the previous regime under Josh McDaniels.