Power Ranking the NFL General Managers by 2014 Offseason Performance

Russell S. Baxter@@BaxFootballGuruContributor IJune 12, 2014

Power Ranking the NFL General Managers by 2014 Offseason Performance

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    John Schneider and the Seattle Seahawks were kings of the 2013 NFL season. But how has he done so far in 2014?
    John Schneider and the Seattle Seahawks were kings of the 2013 NFL season. But how has he done so far in 2014?Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    It’s amazing just how time flies.

    We are less than two months away from the start of NFL training camps as well as the Hall of Fame Game, hence the start of the 2014 preseason.

    So which of the 32 teams are ready and which are not?

    That’s a pretty general question. And in this forum, we will answer it by ranking the work of the teams' 32 general managers, give or take one or two official titles.

    Are we listing the best builders of teams in terms of their career work? Not here. Please keep in mind that we are rating these executives strictly based on their work in 2014. We will look at how they fared both during free agency (signing, re-signing and losing players) as well as the NFL draft.

    No one said this would be easy. But it pales in comparison to the work that this group of individuals must do on nearly a daily basis.

32. John Dorsey, Kansas City Chiefs

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    You would be hard-pressed to find a lot of positives regarding the 2014 offseason for the Kansas City Chiefs.

    Unfortunately, the club has picked up where it left off late last season.

    Andy Reid’s club dropped five of its last seven games after a 9-0 start. The Chiefs still managed to reach the playoffs but squandered a 28-point third-quarter lead in a 45-44 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the first round.

    Fast-forward to the first day of free agency 2014. The club lost offensive linemen Branden Albert, Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz, wide receiver Dexter McCluster; and defensive end Tyson Jackson, all seemingly in a matter of moments. Former starters such as inside linebacker Akeem Jordan and free safety Kendrick Lewis would eventually follow.

    While some departures will be felt more than others, Dorsey and Reid are hoping young performers such as inside linebacker Nico Johnson and versatile rookie runner De’Anthony Thomas can make up for some of the losses.

    When it was all said and done last season, the Chiefs finished two games behind the Denver Broncos and two games ahead of the San Diego Chargers in the AFC West.

    However, Kansas City was a combined 0-4 versus those clubs in 2013. Chances are that a repeat of that performance won’t mean a playoff berth this upcoming season. And at this moment, it doesn’t look like Kansas City has the horses to make a move upwards.

31. Jerry Jones, Dallas Cowboys

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    After three straight finishes at 8-8, the Dallas Cowboys may wind up feeling very fortunate if they are able to win that many games in 2014.

    We are not forecasting gloom and doom for Jerry Jones’ club. But the forecast may be cloudy, with a chance of disappointing football.

    Offensively, Jason Garrett’s team should be just fine granted quarterback Tony Romo is healthy. An improving offensive line should be better with the addition of versatile rookie guard Zack Martin, the team’s first-round pick.

    But the worst defense in the league in 2013 took some major hits this offseason. Gone are defensive end DeMarcus Ware, released by the team and now with the Denver Broncos, and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jason Hatcher, who signed with the Washington Redskins. During OTAs, middle linebacker Sean Lee suffered a torn left ACL and Carlos Mendez of the Star-Telegram reminds us that he is scheduled for surgery today (June 12).

    The newcomers on the defensive line include free-agent defensive linemen Henry Melton, Terrell McClain, Jeremy Mincey and Amobi Okoye, as well as draft choices DeMarcus Lawrence, Ben Gardner and Ken Bishop. All told, Jones used seven of his nine picks on the defensive side of the ball and is also hoping that defensive end Anthony Spencer will be healthy…eventually.

    As for Lee’s replacement in the middle, we shall see, but the Cowboys hope to remedy the situation from within.

    For now, none of this adds up to a very promising 2014 for Jones, Garrett and America’s much-maligned team.

30. Dave Gettleman, Carolina Panthers

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    We have spent a lot of time hearing about what the Carolina Panthers won’t be without their receiving corps from a year ago.

    But general manager Dave Gettleman and the franchise took other hits during the offseason, making this a very different team that will attempt to defend its NFC South title this season.

    Along with the release of wide receiver Steve Smith and the departures of Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon, there was the retirement of left tackle Jordan Gross and the free-agent defections of Captain Munnerlyn and safety Mike Mitchell. Gettleman signed veteran wideouts Jason Avant, Jerricho Cotchery and Tiquan Underwood and drafted Florida State wideout Kelvin Benjamin in the first round.

    As for the secondary, the team is hoping free-agent arrivals Thomas DeCoud, Roman Harper and Antoine Cason can get the job done.

    In terms of left tackle, that’s a job that could be up for grabs between Byron Bell and Nate Chandler. Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer has the latest on this crucial duel to protect quarterback Cam Newton.

    It appears Gettleman has done his best to plug the holes. But there are a lot of question marks surrounding one of the hottest teams in the league by season’s end in 2013.

29. Ryan Grigson, Indianapolis Colts

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    In terms of constructing the football team, it was a somewhat quiet offseason for the Indianapolis Colts in 2014.

    And that may not be a good thing for a team looking to make some noise this upcoming season.

    General manager Ryan Grigson added only five players during the draft and is hoping the free-agent additions of defensive tackle Arthur Jones and inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson will improve the league’s 20th-ranked defense.

    Offensively, the team gets a number of key performers back from injury, such as wide receiver Reggie Wayne and tight end Dwayne Allen, and Grigson did sign former New York Giants wideout Hakeem Nicks.

    Quarterback Andrew Luck enters his third season and the Colts look like the team to beat in the AFC South for a second straight year. And if running back Trent Richardson, who cost this team its first-round pick in 2014, can bounce back from a disappointing first season in Indianapolis, who knows how far this club could go.

    Still, it’s remains to be seen if Grigson and Co. have enough on defense to complement Luck and his cohorts.

28. Bruce Allen, Washington Redskins

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    There’s little doubt that the Washington Redskins were once again busy when it came to adding players. The new-arrivals list includes wide receiver DeSean Jackson and defensive end Jason Hatcher, formerly of the division rival Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys, respectively.

    As general manager Bruce Allen embarks on the 2014 season with a new head coach in Jay Gruden, does he think he has added enough talent to get this team back in playoff contention?

    Washington added depth on defense with the signings of cornerback Tracy Porter and linebackers Adam Hayward, Akeem Jordan and Darryl Sharpton. Meanwhile veteran Ryan Clark, who began his career with the Redskins, is the new free safety and hopes to add a little moxie to the group.

    It is also year number III for talented quarterback Robert Griffin III, who not only now has Jackson but also new wide receiver Andre Roberts (Arizona Cardinals) to throw to.

    That's a lot of new faces, and it remains to be seenwith the exception of Jacksonhow many of these additions prove to make a difference for a club that was 0-6 within the division this past season. And don’t forget, the Redskins enter 2014 with an eight-game losing streak.

27. Rick Smith, Houston Texans

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    Instead of coming off a third straight year in the playoffs, the Houston Texans enter 2014 riding a 14-game losing streak.

    With that kind of distress, there was bound to be changes. And general manager Rick Smith did his due diligence in hiring new head coach Bill O’Brien and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel.

    He also dealt quarterback Matt Schaub to the Oakland Raiders and signed Tennessee Titans castoff Ryan Fitzpatrick.

    The worst record in the NFL in 2013 also earned the first overall pick last month, and the Texans grabbed defensive end Jadeveon Clowney with that choice. He hopes to make an immediate impression, as does second-round guard Xavier Su’a-Filo. In terms of a young quarterback prospect, Smith added University of Pittsburgh signal-caller Tom Savage in the fourth round.

    Remember, this is a team with veterans such as running back Arian Foster, wide receiver Andre Johnson, defensive end J.J. Watt and linebacker Brian Cushing. There are pieces for O’Brien to work with here. But are there enough for a last place-to-first place turnaround in one year? It’s becoming commonplace in this league as of late.

26. Mike Brown (President), Cincinnati Bengals

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    The Cincinnati Bengals have reached the playoffs a team-record three straight years and appear to have enough talent to hold off the other three teams in the AFC North.

    But are looks deceiving?

    Team president Mike Brown and head coach Marvin Lewis have stocked the cupboards in the Queen City. This was not a team with a tremendous amount of needs this offseason, but it did lose a pair of notable performers in free agency in defensive end Michael Johnson and tackle Anthony Collins.

    The Bengals also added eight players in the draft, including first-round cornerback Darqueze Dennard and second-round running back Jeremy Hill, with the latter opening some eyes this offseason.

    But Brown’s biggest decision may be regarding the future of quarterback Andy Dalton, who had led his team to the postseason in each of his three campaigns but has had his struggles in the playoffs. The former second-round pick is in the final year of his rookie contract.

25. Ruston Webster, Tennessee Titans

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    It was a busy offseason for Tennessee Titans general manager Ruston Webster, who is trying to find the right combination in Nashville in order to get this team back to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

    Enter new head coach Ken Whisenhunt and new defensive coordinator Ray Horton, who will implement the 3-4 defense that could be the right fit at the right time. He’ll get some help with the transition from free-agent additions such as linebackers Shaun Phillips and Wesley Woodyard and defensive end Al Woods.

    Offensively, it’s about keeping young quarterback Jake Locker healthy. For the second straight year, Webster addressed the offensive line in the first round of the draft with the selection of feisty tackle Taylor Lewan.

    With the release of running back Chris Johnson, the ground attack falls on the legs of Shonn Greene, free-agent pickup Dexter McCluster and rookie Bishop Sankey, the latter being the first running back chosen in the 2014 draft.

    The Titans finished four games out of first place in the AFC South in 2013. Has Webster added enough pieces to make up that difference this season?

24. Jerry Reese, New York Giants

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    For the second straight year, the New York Giants were extremely active during free agency.

    For the sake of general manager Jerry Reese, let’s hope that things go a lot better in 2014 than they did this past season.

    Tom Coughlin’s club finished 7-9, its first losing season since 2004. The list of additions includes Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Walter Thurmond and Zackary Bowman as well as safety Quintin Demps. Running back Rashad Jennings comes over from the Oakland Raiders, wide receiver Mario Manningham returns to the organization and defensive end Robert Ayers hopes to add to the pass rush.

    The first round of the draft brought wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. What it didn’t bring was some help at the tight end position, as well as a solution to the turnover problem of 2013.

    But never say never when it comes to the Giants, who have missed the playoffs four of the last five seasons but have a Super Bowl title over that span as well.

23. Ray Farmer, Cleveland Browns

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    How long can we go on talking about the Cleveland Browns and not mention rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel?

    Oops…too late.

    A team that has lost at least 11 games each of the last six seasons is now in possession of the most polarizing player in the 2014 draft.

    Of course, we are talking Browns football here, not Johnny Football.

    Kudos to new general manager Ray Farmer, who maneuvered his way up and down the first round and wound up not only with Manziel but cornerback Justin Gilbert as well. The Browns also wound up with the Buffalo Bills’ first- and fourth-round picks in 2015. Free agency brought veteran defenders such as inside linebacker Karlos Dansby and strong safety Donte Whitner.

    But did Farmer and the team wind up with enough to challenge the Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North this season? The possible season-long suspension of wide receiver Josh Gordon could make that tougher, although Farmer did add veterans Miles Austin, Earl Bennett and Nate Burleson this offseason to help starting quarterback Brian Hoyer and/or Manziel.

22. Ted Thompson, Green Bay Packers

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    You almost don’t get a chance to get a word in edgewise when it comes to the Green Bay Packers and free agency.

    That’s because they rarely delve into the pool, although this offseason the addition of defensive end/outside linebacker Julius Peppers is certainly worth mentioning.

    Last year’s Packers defense is not. Green Bay ranked near the bottom of the league in both rushing and passing yards allowed while giving up more points (428) than it scored (417) in 2013.

    All told, Dom Capers’ unit has had its issues each of the last three years. Thompson did add safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round but used nearly as many picks on wide receivers (three) as he did on defensive selections (four).

    It’s hard to argue with five straight playoff appearances and three consecutive NFC North titles. But this could be a trying year for Thompson and this steady franchise.

21. Dennis Hickey, Miami Dolphins

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    Dating back to the 1970 merger, only the Pittsburgh Steelers have won more regular-season games than the Miami Dolphins.

    It certainly doesn’t feel like that these days.

    The Dolphins have made just one playoff appearance since 2002 and haven’t enjoyed a winning season over the last five years.

    New general manager Dennis Hickey hopes to get the franchise back on track. The first priority this offseason was upgrading an offensive line that allowed a league-high 58 sacks and didn’t open enough holes for the 26th-ranked running game in the NFL in 2013.

    Free agency brought tackle Branden Albert and guard Shelley Smith, and Hickey used the draft to secure tackle Ja’Wuan James and the versatile Billy Turner. The addition of running back Knowshon Moreno, late of the Denver Broncos, should help third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill as well.

    If all pans out, it is a respectable start for the Hickey regime in South Florida.

20. Doug Whaley, Buffalo Bills

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    Consider that the Buffalo Bills have not been to the playoffs since 1999 (the longest current drought in the NFL) and the last season they didn’t finish in the AFC East basement was 2007.

    Now consider that Doug Whaley and the organization have seemingly put their foot on the pedal and are making a very determined effort to end those dubious streaks. And that means now.

    A defense that finished second in the league with 57 sacks still has some issues when it comes to stopping the run, hence the additions of new coordinator Jim Schwartz and free-agent middle linebacker Brandon Spikes.

    There’s more speed at second-year quarterback EJ Manuel’s disposal this year with the additions of first-rounder Sammy Watkins and reserve running back Bryce Brown, acquired by trade from the Philadelphia Eagles. The latter joins Fred Jackson and big-play runner C.J. Spiller in the backfield.

    Whaley’s aggressiveness in terms of the draft and the trade market (the team also acquired wideout Mike Williams from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) can’t be ignored. If things go as planned, the Bills won’t be overlooked this upcoming season.

19. Thomas Dimitroff, Atlanta Falcons

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    Is the NFL general manager that helped orchestrate one of the bigger trades in recent years ready to make an about-face?

    In 2011, Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff gave up a slew of picks to move up in the draft and select wide receiver Julio Jones, who has been a very productive player to date.

    But the fact remains that Mike Smith’s club became far too unbalanced on offense, and eventually that wore on the defense. Combine that with injuries a year ago and the top seed in the NFC in 2012 was picking sixth overall in the 2014 draft.

    Via free agency and the draft, Dimitroff is trying to fix the situation. The Falcons signed free-agent defensive linemen Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai and added guard Jon Asamoah as well. The latter will be joined by rookie right tackle Jake Matthews, while fourth-round running back Devonta Freeman could be a productive addition.

    Also in the draft, Atlanta used four of its nine selections on linebackerstimely considering that linebacker Sean Weatherspoon is now expected to miss the 2014 season with an Achilles injury via Jay Adams of AtlantaFalcons.com.

    In a few months, we will find out if the time is right for a Falcons comeback.

18. David Caldwell, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    For the first time in a number of years, the Jacksonville Jaguars appear to be headed in the right direction.

    Of course, there’s been nowhere to go but up for a franchise that has won just 11 games the past three seasons combined and hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2007.

    Jacksonville scored a league-low 247 points in 2013 and allowed 449 points, the fifth-highest total in the league.

    Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley addressed both sides of the ball during free agency in the form of signing defensive linemen Chris Clemons, Red Bryant and Ziggy Hood. As far as the offense, running back Toby Gerhart and guard Zane Beadles add support to quarterback Chad Henne, who will have rookie wideouts Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson to throw to.

    As for quarterback Blake Bortles, the third overall selection in the draft, don’t expect to see him (for now) in 2014, according to Caldwell himself. “It’s such an important position in this league and you want to do it right,” Caldwell said to Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com last month. “That’s what we’re about…We have to make it work. We can’t just throw him out there. We’ve seen what happens when that happens.”

    They have indeed.

    The Jaguars have made a lot of good moves in 2014. But as the old saying goes, Jacksonville wasn’t built in a day.

17. Mickey Loomis, New Orleans Saints

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    Looks can be deceiving.

    After four games in 2013, the New Orleans Saints were unbeaten and untied and owned a three-game lead in the NFC South.

    Of course, it wasn’t meant to be. The 11-5 Saints would settle for a wild-card berth behind the 12-4 Carolina Panthers. Still, it marked the fourth time in five seasons that Sean Payton and Co. reached the postseason.

    Now the Saints hope to get back to a Super Bowl. One factor that general manager Mickey Loomis needed to address was a defense that made big strides in 2013 but still had a lot of room for improvement in a few areas. Opportunistic defensive backs Jairus Byrd and Champ Bailey know a little something about takeaways. Last season’s Saints forced a mere 19 turnovers, ranking near the bottom of the league.

    The first-round addition of wide receiver Brandin Cooks gives quarterback Drew Brees another option and could offset the decision to part ways with running back Darren Sproles and wide receiver Lance Moore. Only time will tell.

16. Ozzie Newsome, Baltimore Ravens

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    The Baltimore Ravens entered this past season with a franchise-record five consecutive playoff appearances as well as a Super Bowl XLVII championship in 2012.

    They left 2013 with as many wins as losses (eight) and lost their final two games by a combined 75-24 count.

    It’s safe to say that head coach John Harbaugh is not used to being in bounce-back mode. Of course, general manager Ozzie Newsome has seen a lot of everything in his nearly 40 years of involvement in the National Football League.

    Can quarterback Joe Flacco rebound from a career-high 22 interceptions in 2013? Will the running game bounce back after a horrid showing? The offense has new weapons in wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Owen Daniels. The defense was respectable this past season, and the additions of rookies such as inside linebacker C.J. Mosley and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan should help from day one.

    This offseason, Newsome did his usual solid job, from re-signing tackle Eugene Monroe and inside linebacker Daryl Smith to trading for center Jeremy Zuttah (Tampa Bay Buccaneers). But will this all add up to another 8-8 season?

15. Steve Keim, Arizona Cardinals

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    A very promising offseason has suddenly gotten a little more difficult for the Arizona Cardinals in recent weeks.

    Remember, this was a team that finished 10-6 in the brutal NFC West in 2013 and still failed to make the playoffs.

    These Cards, led by head coach Bruce Arians, are built on defense. Only five teams in the league gave up fewer yards in 2013 and no team was tougher to run against.

    Now contemplate the work ahead for underrated general manager Steve Keim. The free-agent departure of inside linebacker Karlos Dansby and the decision not to re-sign veteran safety Yeremiah Bell mean Arizona would be minus its top two tacklers from this past season.

    Make that three. Inside linebacker Daryl Washington was suspended last week for the 2014 season after violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, as documented by Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com.

    Second-year pro Kevin Minter takes over for Dansby and first-round pick Deone Bucannon replaces Bell. Veteran Larry Foote will try to fill the void left by the absence of Washington, the Cardinals’ third-leading tackler this past season.

    Offensively, Keim added left tackle Jared Veldheer and wideout Ted Ginn Jr. to bolster an attack that did make some strides in 2013.

    Hopefully, that will mean not leaning on an Arizona defense that may struggle to match last season’s performance.

14. Martin Mayhew, Detroit Lions

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    Here we go again in the Motor City.

    The Detroit Lions, who haven’t won a playoff game since 1991, now have a new head coach in Jim Caldwell. Perhaps he can bring a little calm to a club that has enjoyed one winning season since 2001.

    There’s certainly no shortage of talent, especially on offense with quarterback Matthew Stafford, wide receiver Calvin Johnson and running back Reggie Bush, as well as new wideout Golden Tate. That makes the decision to use the 10th overall pick in this year’s draft on talented tight end Eric Ebron somewhat perplexing, although Ebron does give the team an option it hasn’t had in recent years.

    On the other hand, the selection of outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy in the second round could pay some big-time immediate dividends. Factor in the free-agent addition of strong safety James Ihedigbo and the Lions have the look of a team that could make some noise this season.

    Let’s hope it is a roar and not a purr.

13. John Idzik, New York Jets

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    The forecast for the New York Jets in 2013 was doom and gloom.

    They wound up even-steven at eight wins and eight losses.

    Can the organization build on this past season? General manager John Idzik has given starting quarterback Geno Smith some help in the form of veteran running back Chris Johnson and wide receiver Eric Decker, as well as rookie pass-catchers in tight end Jace Amaro and wideouts Jason Saunders, Shaquelle Evans and Quincy Enunwa in the draft.

    On defense, the Jets did their usual due diligence in the first round by getting safety Calvin Pryor. The release of veteran cornerback Antonio Cromartie leaves a bit of a void, but improved play by former first-rounders Dee Milliner and Kyle Wilson would help. Idzik did add cornerbacks Dimitri Patterson and Johnny Patrick in free agency.

    Are the Jets ready to make a move in the AFC East, a division they have not won since 2002. They may be closer than you think.

12. Howie Roseman, Philadelphia Eagles

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    After a pair of disappointing showings in both 2011 and 2012, the Philadelphia Eagles (a combined 12-20 over that stretch) got off to a 3-5 start this past season under new head coach Chip Kelly.

    But before you could yell “duck,” these Birds rolled off seven wins in eight games and captured the NFC East.

    What to do for an encore? No team has repeated in this division since Philadelphia won four straight titles from 2001-04.

    More significantly, how did Kelly and general manager Howie Roseman make the Eagles better this offseason? Was the stunning release of three-time Pro Bowl wideout DeSean Jackson offset by both the acquisition of running back Darren Sproles and the drafting of wide receiver Jordan Matthews in the second round? Do the free-agent signings of safety Malcolm Jenkins and cornerback Nolan Carroll help a defensive unit that gave up the most passing yards in the league in 2013?

    One thing is for sure. While the Jackson situation may leave some fans a bit disappointed, Roseman and the organization have assembled a talented team very capable of bigger and better things in 2014.

11. John Schneider, Seattle Seahawks

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    Given the recent track record of the now-defending Super Bowl champions, it’s hard to find fault with what general manager John Schneider has done as of late.

    This offseason, the Seattle Seahawks kept defensive end Michael Bennett off the free-agent market, released and re-signed wide receiver Sidney Rice and inked both free safety Earl Thomas and cornerback Richard Sherman to lucrative contract extensions. Head coach Pete Carroll and Schneider added depth via the draft to both trenches, selecting a pair of both offensive and defensive linemen with four of their nine picks.

    Still, it will be interesting to see how the departures of wide receiver Golden Tate; defensive linemen Red Bryant, Chris Clemons and Clinton McDonald; and cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond have on the roster and the locker room. And as Rand Getlin of Yahoo! Sports reports, there may be a shortage of Skittles at mandatory minicamp next week.

    Again, this club has pushed all the right buttons as of late. Including last season’s Super Bowl run, the Seahawks are a combined 22-4 in their last 26 games dating back to 2012, this after starting that season a mere 6-5.

10. Kevin Colbert, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers have been the model of stability in this league for more than 40 years.

    No franchise has won more regular-season games since the merger in 1970, and the club has employed only three head coaches since 1969.

    These days, it’s Mike Tomlin on the sidelines and longtime personnel guy Kevin Colbert as the general manager. This is a club that usually relies heavily on the draft and this year was no exception, as the Steelers selected nine players, including top picks in inside linebacker Ryan Shazier (first round), defensive end Stephon Tuitt (second round) and explosive running back Dri Archer (third round).

    This offseason, Colbert and Co. were busier than usual in free agency, adding veterans such as free safety Mike Mitchell, wideout Lance Moore, running back LeGarrette Blount and linebacker Arthur Moats.

    Tomlin’s team comes off consecutive 8-8 seasons, neither good enough to get it to the postseason. The last time the Steelers missed the playoffs three straight years was from 1998-2000. But this infusion of youth and newcomers could push this club back into contention.

9. Reggie McKenzie, Oakland Raiders

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    You have to like the approach taken by Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie, who certainly has his work cut out for him in turning around this franchise.

    Dating back to 2003, the Silver and Black are a mere 53-123 and haven’t managed a winning season in those 11 campaigns. This past season, the Raiders were the only team in the AFC West not to reach the playoffs, finishing a dismal 4-12 for a second consecutive year.

    But perhaps a blend of youth and experience may be the right calling card in 2014. At quarterback, Oakland traded for veteran Matt Schaub and drafted Derek Carr in the second round. McKenzie also added weapons such as running back Maurice Jones-Drew and wideout James Jones, and the offensive line has three new starters in tackles Donald Penn and Austin Howard and guard Kevin Boothe.

    For the second straight year, there was a lot of emphasis put on the defense via free agency with the additions of defensive linemen Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley and Antonio Smith, as well as cornerbacks Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown. All of these veterans have started in at least one Super Bowl in the last six seasons. First-round pick and outside linebacker Khalil Mack could give the defense a presence it has been lacking for quite some time.

    Still, despite all the additions, it remains somewhat disappointing that the club was unable to retain promising youngsters such as left tackle Jared Veldheer and defensive end Lamarr Houston.

8. Jason Licht, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    There is certainly no harm in trying. And perhaps this third time will be the charm.

    Both Raheem Morris and Greg Schiano came up short in their brief stints as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The bottom line is that the franchise hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2007.

    First-year general manager Jason Licht appears to have every intention of changing thatand quickly. The Bucs didn’t stop giving out the bucks this offseason, signing free agents such as quarterback Josh McCown, Pro Bowl cornerback Alterraun Verner, defensive end Michael Johnson, left tackle Anthony Collins and center Evan Dietrich-Smith.

    The first two rounds of the draft brought a pair of 6’5” targets in wide receiver Mike Evans and tight end Austin Seferian Jenkins, as well as talented running back Charles Sims. They join performers such as wideout Vincent Jackson and productive running back Doug Martin, who is looking to bounce back from an injury-shortened 2013.

    Now it is up to new head coach Lovie Smith, out of football this past season, to make his return to the organization a charm. Don’t bet against it.

7. Tom Telesco, San Diego Chargers

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    Isn’t it interesting?

    Just look at the rest of the AFC West this offseason and think back to 2013. The San Diego Chargers finished third in the division with a 9-7 record and grabbed a wild-card berth after winning their final four games.

    Under new head coach Mike McCoy and new general manager Tom Telesco, the Bolts ended a three-year playoff drought and also won a postseason game for the first time since 2008.

    Led by a bolstered offensive line and NFL Comeback Player of the Year Philip Rivers, these Chargers morphed into a physical football team led by a ground game that improved from 27th in the NFL in 2012 to 13th this past season.

    Running back Ryan Mathews comes off a career year, Danny Woodhead has proved to be a jack-of-all-trades, and rookie wideout Keenan Allen topped the 1,000-yard receiving mark last season.

    This offseason, Telesco added some depth to the offense with running back Donald Brown (Indianapolis Colts) and tight end/fullback David Johnson (Pittsburgh Steelers). On defense, the Chargers signed inside linebacker Kavell Conner and cornerback Brandon Ghee and added cornerback Jason Verrett and linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu with their first two picks in May’s draft.

    So why is this so interesting? By season’s end, the division champion Denver Broncos (whom the Chargers held under 30 points in three meetings last season) wanted to be more like the Bolts when it came to controlling the clock.

    Given their offseason pickups, this club might be the Real McCoy in 2014.

6. Phil Emery, Chicago Bears

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    Here was the good news in 2013. Despite the fact that the Bears went through two different starting quarterbacks, only the Denver Broncos scored more points than Chicago.

    Here was the very bad news. Given the fact that Chicago went through its share of defensive players this past season, only the Minnesota Vikings allowed more points than the Bears in 2013.

    What to do when you allow the most rushing yards in the NFL and tie for last in the league with 31 sacks? Add defensive ends Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young through free agency and select defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton in the second and third rounds, respectively.

    Throw in the fact that first-round pick and cornerback Kyle Fuller will be able to learn behind the likes of veterans such as Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, and things could be looking up for the Chicago defense quickly in 2014.

5. Bill Belichick (Head Coach), New England Patriots

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    Okay, so Bill Belichick doesn’t have the official title of general manager with the New England Patriots.

    You tell him.

    The man who has led the franchise to 11 division titles, 13 straight winning seasons, 11 consecutive years of 10-plus wins and five Super Bowl appearances since 2001 (three wins) may have a handle on things in Foxborough. An “off” year in 2013 still resulted in 12 victories and a berth in the AFC title game.

    Despite the fact that quarterback Tom Brady only threw 25 touchdown passes in 2013, only two teams in the NFL scored more points. Still, New England ranked 26th in yards allowed and only two teams in the NFL allowed more rushing yards per game in 2013.

    How to fix that? Belichick added veterans such as cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, defensive end Will Smith and outside linebacker James Anderson. The Pats used a first-round pick on Dominique Easley, who, according to Doug Farrar of SI.com, has the versatility to line up anywhere on the club’s defensive front.

    And given the fact that both veteran defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly are coming off injury-shortened 2013 campaigns, Belichick is hoping he has struck gold with the addition of the former Florida Gator.

    Don’t bet against it.

4. Les Snead, St. Louis Rams

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The St. Louis Rams haven’t enjoyed a winning season since 2003 and have not gone to the playoffs since 2004.

    So why be so optimistic when it comes to the team and its 2014 offseason and believe this year will be any different?

    While general manager Les Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher have only tipped their toes into the free-agency pool to date, plucking bargains such as wide receiver Kenny Britt and guard Davin Joseph, they dove headfirst into the NFL draft once again and added some big-time talent in tackle Greg Robinson and defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

    A year ago, Snead found a gem in the fifth round in running back Zac Stacy. Last month, the Rams added Auburn University running back Tre Mason in the third round.

    And while quarterback Sam Bradford comes off an injury-shortened season for the second time in three years, Snead and the organization added an effective backup in free agent Shaun Hill.

    Climbing out of the NFC West basement won’t be easy. But don’t be shocked if the Rams are a major mover and shaker when fall rolls around.

3. John Elway, Denver Broncos

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The last team to win the Super Bowl the year after coming up short in the Big Game was the 1972 Miami Dolphins, who went 17-0 on their way to a victory in Super Bowl VII.

    General manager John Elway, head coach John Fox and quarterback Peyton Manning probably couldn't care less about perfection and more about emulating that Dolphins victory more than 40 years ago.

    If the Denver Broncos reach Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale, Ariz., they will do it with a different cast. Gone are running back Knowshon Moreno, wideout Eric Decker, guard Zane Beadles, defensive end Shaun Phillips and cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Champ Bailey.

    Enter free agents such as defensive end DeMarcus Ware, strong safety T.J. Ward, cornerback Aqib Talib and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. Rookies such as cornerback Bradley Roby and wide receiver Cody Latimer will push for playing time. While Manning has a few new targets, the emphasis is on improving a defensive unit that was well below average this past season.

    Has Elway added enough this offseason to not only ensure a fourth straight AFC West title but also a return to the Super Bowl? It won’t be easy getting back to that game because it never is. But the right pieces appear to be in place.

2. Trent Baalke, San Francisco 49ers

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    John Froschauer/Associated Press

    The San Francisco 49ers have been to three straight NFC title games as well as a Super Bowl the past three seasons…and with good reason(s).

    One huge factor was the arrival of head coach Jim Harbaugh in 2011. He’s won at least 11 games in each of his three years at the helm.

    Another has been the work of general manager Trent Baalke, who continues to replenish this talented roster both via the draft as well as other means. He added depth this offseason with trades that brought tackle Jonathan Martin, quarterback Blaine Gabbert and wide receiver Stevie Johnson to the Bay Area.

    Baalke has added a total of 23 players via the draft the last two years, including safety Jimmie Ward in the first round in May. The rookie will be able to watch and learn behind veteran strong safety Antoine Bethea, a free-agent addition in March.

    Armed with arguably the best offensive line in the league, emerging quarterback Colin Kaepernick and a defensive unit that has remained basically intact for some time, this franchise put together another solid offseason.

1. Rick Spielman, Minnesota Vikings

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Will the real Minnesota Vikings please stand up in 2014?

    Are they the club that finished 10-6 two years ago and grabbed a wild-card berth? Or are they the team that stumbled out of the gate this past season and wound up a disappointing 5-10-1?

    General manager Rick Spielman has been very aggressive when it comes to adding talent, especially when it comes to the first round of the draft. The Vikings have selected at least two players in the first round each of the last three years. This year’s haul includes outside linebacker Anthony Barr and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Back in 2012, tackle Matt Kalil was joined by safety Harrison Smith. In 2013, Spielman added defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, cornerback Xavier Rhodes and wide receiver/kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson.

    The beneficiary is new head coach Mike Zimmer as well as new offensive coordinator Norv Turner. Zimmer’s forte is defense, and free-agent pickups such as defensive linemen Linval Joseph and Corey Wootton and opportunistic cornerback Captain Munnerlyn should help his cause.

    You can only be impressed by what Spielman and the franchise have done this offseason. And if the Vikings strike gold with that move to grab Bridgewater with the last pick in the first round, there could be a dramatic reversal of fortunes in the Twin Cities this upcoming season.


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