Free agency kicks off Tuesday, and the 2013 NFL Draft is right around the corner, too. The NFL's silly season always takes on a life of its own, and every year, a team (or two) heightens expectations for the coming campaign due to some headline-grabbing activity. Who will vie for the all-important title of offseason champ of 2013?
Colts will make another big leap or twoThe Indianapolis Colts had a stunning 2012 season, going from worst to playoffs thanks in part to the play of quarterback Andrew Luck. Yet, when you look at their roster, you see that they have holes everywhere -- more than you'd think for a winning team.
The Colts need help on the back end, help rushing the passer, some new offensive linemen, maybe a few new defensive linemen, some linebackers ... Oh, and they have more than $37 million in salary-cap room. Expect the Colts to end their silence and jump in the mix with at least two big-name, big-money acquisitions. (That'll be a lot this offseason.)
Rams look ready to do serious businessMy answer: The St. Louis Rams. I don't think they'll make any major splashes, but with two first-round picks and some cap flexibility, they could be busy filling some holes. Like last season, they could be active traders on draft day.
Unlike the Philadelphia Eagles two years ago, St. Louis' activity might not involve any big names. Still, a lot of us will enter the 2013 campaign thinking the Rams filled a good share of their needs. And since Sam Bradford is primed to be with the same offensive staff for a second consecutive season, we'll probably buy into the notion of his evolution, as well.
Browns have been making noiseI am picking Cleveland to be the offseason champ. The Browns have more than $40 million in cap room and a number of needs. They have a new owner, a new president, a new general manager and a new head coach. Moreover, their switch to a 3-4 defense will create additional needs.
The Browns have given the agent community the impression they will be very active in free agency. Joe Banner is an accomplished negotiator and cap manager who should do well in this situation. The Browns should come out of the gate strong and land a number of key free agents. I'd also look for them to be aggressive in the second level of the market, with the free agents who don't get what they're looking for in the initial wave of big-money signings. These players will have to settle for less, meaning Cleveland could snag some pretty good bargains.
My dark-horse choice would be the Miami Dolphins. They have plenty of cap room, a talented young quarterback and five picks in the first three rounds of April's draft.
Bucs have been quiet ... too quietYou immediately know this offseason is going to be crazy when the New York Giants -- who are almost NEVER involved in free agency -- get involved early and the New York Jets start looking like penny-pinchers. So buckle up and get ready for some insane money to be doled out to the members of a free-agent class that has less value than those of recent years.
While the Miami Dolphins certainly seem insistent on grabbing the title of "Offseason Champions," they'll have some competition. My guess is that you'll see the Tampa Bay Buccaneers try to sneak that trophy away from them. The Bucs have money, and they've been very quiet so far regarding their intentions -- and you always have to watch out for the quiet ones. We know their No. 1 need is an entirely new secondary. There's a glut of safeties on the market, and I'm thinking they're going to jump out of nowhere to trade for Darrelle Revis. The Bucs' skill-position players are basically set for the 2013 season, making this the year to try a gutsy move like that. Remember, the Jets and Bucs pulled off that blockbuster trade that netted Tampa Bay Keyshawn Johnson and -- eventually -- a Super Bowl title, so there's famous precedent here.
Tampa Bay's defensive haul this offseason will be quite similar to the one the Philadelphia Eagles landed a couple of years ago. Hopefully, the Bucs will remember to play their new players at their accustomed positions.
Browns looking like a true wild cardKnowing that the Cleveland Browns have some money to spend, I can't help but think of the immortal words of Lyle Lanley upon learning that the town of Springfield had come into an unexpected financial windfall: "You know, a town with money's a little like a mule with a spinning wheel. No one knows how he got it, and danged if he knows how to use it!"
Actually, that sounds more like the Cincinnati Bengals, but I digress.
The Browns, who have plenty of cash and a new owner who undoubtedly wants to start off his regime with a bang, are clearly the wild cards of free agency. I like Cleveland to be very active, starting with the courting of outside linebacker Paul Kruger. That would be a prudent signing. The one thing I do fear for Browns fans is that the team gets lured into spending money on a guy like Greg Jennings. The bottom line is, keep an eye on the Browns.
Dolphins are down to move upEveryone knows it's not a matter of "if" but "when" with regard to the Miami Dolphins. They will absolutely, positively sign a big-name free-agent receiver. The only question people are asking is, "Who will it be?"
My question is, "Does it really matter?"
Whether it's Mike Wallace or Greg Jennings, Miami is about to get a significant upgrade in the pass-catcher department. Plus, who knows? Maybe they'll even double down and draft Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson or Cal's Keenan Allen with the 12th overall draft pick. Throw in a versatile running back like Rashard Mendenhall (in whom they're rumored to have some interest), and Ryan Tannehill will have a chance to close the gap on -- and maybe even surpass -- his Class of 2012 QB brethren in Year 2. Of course, it'll all be moot if Miami doesn't protect him, so either re-signing or replacing offensive tackle Jake Long is a must.