NFL Free Agency 2018: Which Teams Have Improved the Most so Far?

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistMarch 18, 2018

NFL Free Agency 2018: Which Teams Have Improved the Most so Far?

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    It's still early in the 2018 NFL free-agency period, but we've already seen a lot of notable moves. Several big-name players have found new homes, many teams have swung deals, and plenty of money has exchanged hands.

    Making noise and spending dollars doesn't always make a team better, though. Moves that look great on paper now may look like bad ones halfway through the coming season.

    There's no fun in waiting, though. We're here to determine which teams have improved the most since the official start of the new league year, which kicked off at 4 p.m. ET Wednesday. We'll examine the biggest moves these teams have made and explain exactly why they make the teams better.

    Just keep in mind that we're making snap judgments. Our list of most-improved teams is likely to look a lot different after next month's draft and again once the games get underway.

Minnesota Vikings

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    We'll have to see if Kirk Cousins is a better quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings than Case Keenum was. On paper, though, the 2016 Pro Bowler looks like exactly what the Vikings need to get over the hump and into the Super Bowl.

    Cousins has passed for more than 4,000 yards in each of the past three seasons. With weapons like Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen and Kyle Rudolph at his disposal, he should continue racking up the yards in his new home.

    "I had gathered a lot of facts and knew that Minnesota provided a lot to be excited about," Cousins said, per Jenny Vrentas of The MMQB.

    The Vikes gave Cousins a three-year, $84 million deal that is fully guaranteed. They also ensured they had experienced depth behind him by reportedly trading to acquire Trevor Siemian from the Denver Broncos. Should Cousins miss a few games, Minnesota could continue rolling.

    In addition, the Vikings added standout defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, who'll provide a stout presence in the middle. Having him operate between edge-rushers Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen will make life difficult for opposing offensive lines.

    Richardson's one-year deal includes an $8 million base salary.

Cleveland Browns

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    The Cleveland Browns could have made this list with just their trade for quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Yes, the Browns gave up a third-round pick for him, but Taylor is a proven starter with a Pro Bowl on to his name and some playoff experience.

    Barring Robert Griffin III, whose career was already in decline when he signed with the Browns, Cleveland hasn't had a signal-caller with such a resume since its return to the NFL in 1999. The last Browns quarterback to reach a Pro Bowl was Derek Anderson in 2007.

    Taylor may not be an elite player, but he's better than anyone the Browns have had at the position in a long, long time. Unsurprisingly, Cleveland didn't hesitate to name him the starter.

    "He's going to be the starting quarterback. There is no competition," head coach Hue Jackson said.

    Taylor hasn't been the only addition, though. The Browns also traded for league receptions leader Jarvis Landry and defensive back Damarious Randall. Randall will move to free safety, which will allow 2017 first-round pick Jabrill Peppers to return to his natural position at strong safety.

    The Browns have also added running back Carlos Hyde and cornerback T.J. Carrie, both of whom may start. And they added offensive lineman Chris Hubbard, who may take over for the recently retired Joe Thomas.

    Now, losing Thomas was huge, and Cleveland traded Danny Shelton and Jason McCourty to the New England Patriots. However, it's clear it is moving in the right direction.

Chicago Bears

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    While the Vikings and Browns have new quarterbacks, the Chicago Bears believe they found their franchise signal-caller in last year's draft. North Carolina product Mitchell Trubisky showed some flashes of promise as a rookie, but he wasn't surrounded with enough talent to shine.

    That's changed in a hurry, as the Bears moved to bring in a new cadre of pass-catchers. They added wide receivers Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel plus tight end Trey Burton.

    While Robinson is coming off a torn ACL, he racked up more than 2,283 receiving yards in the two seasons before 2017. The former Jacksonville Jaguars standout said he's close to returning.

    "Right now I'm getting into my sprints and progression," Robinson said, per Colleen Kane of the Chicago Tribune. "So I'm back doing that, I'm back doing some plyo[metrics], some pretty explosive jumps and things like that. So I'm getting back in football movements. ... I'll be fully cleared for camp."

    Gabriel is a smaller receiver, but he can wreak havoc out of the slot and when he has the ball in space. He had only 378 yards and one touchdown in 2017 but notched 579 yards and six scores in 2016.

    Burton was inked to a four-year, $32 million deal because of his potential, not his past production. He finished with 248 yards and five touchdowns in 2017 while playing behind Zach Ertz and Brent Celek. In Chicago, he should be one of Trubisky's primary targets.

    General manager Ryan Pace has already done an excellent job of remaking the Chicago receiving corps, and he still has the draft. Expect to see Trubisky make a big jump in Year 2.

New York Jets

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    The New York Jets may find their franchise quarterback in this year's draft the way the Bears did last offseason. A desire to do so could be why New York recently traded up to grab the third overall pick in the draft. According to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, the Jets shipped three second-round selections to the Indianapolis Colts to move from sixth to third overall.

    But if they don't target a quarterback, they've already given themselves a shot at finding a long-term solution at the position.

    They signed 2014 first-round pick Teddy Bridgewater to a one-year deal that could be worth up to $15 million, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. That suggests Bridgewater will at least get a shot at the starting job.

    Of course, he's trying to come back from a severe knee injury, and there's no guarantee he'll be the Pro Bowler he was in 2015. That's why New York also brought back Josh McCown, who outperformed expectations before suffering a broken hand in 2017.

    The Jets didn't stop there, though. They added one of the league's top young cornerbacks in Trumaine Johnson and a starting-caliber running back in Isaiah Crowell, who should be a nice complement to the versatile Bilal Powell.

    Johnson should help improve a pass defense that ranked 21st in the NFL last season (234.3 yards per game allowed). He fits what defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers wants to do, and he'll help support the safety duo of Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye.

    "The best thing Trumaine Johnson does is play man-to-man coverage; he fits exactly what the coach wants," ESPN analyst Bill Polian said on SiriusXM NFL Radio. "... Good move for the Jets."

    New York is much better off now than it was before free agency, and it's in position to take the best player available with that third overall pick.

Tennessee Titans

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    The Tennessee Titans made the playoffs last season despite having an inconsistent passing offense and a woeful pass defense. Tennessee averaged just 199.4 yards per game through the air and allowed 239.3. Only seven teams surrendered more.

    This is why the Titans' two big free-agent additions were huge. They inked cornerback Malcolm Butler to a five-year, $61.3 million deal and also added running back Dion Lewis on a four-year, $19.8 million contract.

    Butler and fellow former Patriot Logan Ryan should give Tennessee one of the better cornerback tandems in the league. Not only are they talented, but they also have played together.

    Lewis will give quarterback Marcus Mariota another outlet in the passing game and the Titans a dynamic change-of-pace back to pair with bruiser Derrick Henry. He and Butler should also help bring a Patriots-like culture to new head coach Mike Vrabel's team.

    "They're trying to bring good, smart football players here," Lewis said, per Cameron Wolfe of "We got Logan, Malcolm, myself and Coach Vrabel played with the Patriots. It's a lot of carryover, but at the same time, they're trying to get good, talented players to win."

    Tennessee also re-signed guard Josh Kline, one of the more underrated players in this year's free-agent class. Expect the Titans to compete for the postseason once again in 2018, and with their new additions, they could make a deeper run.


    All contract information via Spotrac unless otherwise noted.