Analysis  

 

Denver Broncos, Chicago Bears make list of best NFL offseasons

Who has made the most of their offseason?

Since January, every front office has been trying to put its best foot forward, as there is no slowdown in the NFL calendar until June. Unfortunately, the clubs that haven't handled this period well in the past are the very franchises that must manage it better this year. That's how the 5-11's become the 11-5's.

Evaluating the organizational energy applied to molding a football roster provides unique insight into our sport. Simply put, you get a greater feel for the pressures general managers face on a daily basis after looking at all the coaching hires, contractual decisions and draft-related confabs these guys must undertake.


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So which front offices have done the best job in 2014? We counted down the 10 best below.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, we gave more weight to the clubs that had to do more or go outside the building for talent. Thus, the Green Bay Packers, who got healthy, and the Philadelphia Eagles, who spent most of their capital re-signing their own guys, didn't make this list -- even though they still had very positive offseasons. One of the Eagles' rivals did make it, partially by acquiring Philly's biggest vertical threat. ...

10) Washington Redskins

The DeSean Jackson signing was absolutely huge. This team has not had a guy who could get vertical AND make plays since Santana Moss deep-sixed Dallas on a Monday night back in 2005. (Please don't mention Anthony Armstrong here.) Yet, even prior to acquiring one of the fastest receivers in pro football, Washington was having a busy offseason. Head coach Jay Gruden was hired to both run the ship and develop Robert Griffin III's career. GM Bruce Allen brought in Jason Hatcher to fortify the front line of a defense that was up and down in 2013. Andre Roberts bolsters a now-strong receiving corps. The Redskins' draft haul wasn't as strong, however, as the RGIII trade left Washington without a first-round pick. That said, third-round selection Morgan Moses should be able to step in at right tackle immediately. And during the pre-draft process, he was considered a late first-round prospect by many folks, anyway.

Nothing is perfect ... (Yes, we're dumping a little cold water on each of these fine offseason efforts -- can't have anyone's head getting TOO big.)

The choice of Gruden to lead the team was far from universally praised. He's not known as a disciplinarian, and it is easy to point to Andy Dalton's trials during Gruden's time as the Cincinnati Bengals' offensive coordinator as an indictment of this hire. Time will tell.

9) New Orleans Saints

Better too soon than too late. ... Many questioned the decision to trade Darren Sproles to Philly for a mere fifth-round draft pick. But considering that his game is built on explosion -- and that he turns 31 next month -- should the move be framed as anything but shrewd? Because of the dearth of trades in this era of the NFL, the Sproles transaction garnered perhaps more attention than the signing of Jairus Byrd -- arguably the best defender on the free-agent market, or very close to it. Getting Byrd, veteran leadership from Champ Bailey and a big corner (6-foot-3, 218 pounds) in rookie Stanley Jean-Baptiste transforms what had been a soft spot in the defense into a solid unit for coach Sean Payton to lean on. (Though, if Payton does still end up having to win games by the score of 34-30, having Brandin Cooks' 4.33 speed in the slot sure won't hurt, folks.)

Nothing is perfect ...

The Jimmy Graham franchise-tag situation is a little sticky. The club wants to pay him like a tight end, but Graham ... along with his agent and the NFL Players Association ... considers himself a wideout, based on how often he lined up in non-TE spots last season. The resolution to the dispute could cost the Saints $5 million.

8) Baltimore Ravens

Ozzie Newsome might not be a wizard, but if I were a 29-year-old assistant GM, or a GM in the Arena League, I'd be calling, emailing, LinkedIn-ing him to see if he could be a mentor. Baltimore consistently handles its offseasons well, with this year being no different. The Ravens generally don't overspend on guys, instead judiciously adding players who can help the team win. What Newsome did this offseason was retool effectively in the draft, filling out the defense with safety Terrence Brooks, tackle Timmy Jernigan, and, most importantly, linebacker C.J. Mosley. Meanwhile, the offense needed another option besides tight end Dennis Pitta on third-and-6, and the team might have found it in free-agent addition Steve Smith. The 14th-year pro provides Baltimore with that fearless receiver in traffic who, though he gains just 800 yards in the regular season, makes eight miles worth of difference in the postseason.

Nothing is perfect ...

The run game is still terrible, and, while Ray Rice might be on track to potentially having an aggravated assault charge against him dismissed, his availability could still be in question.

7) Minnesota Vikings

Call the Minnesota Vikings' offseason solid, all the way around. The free-agency period represented a time of discernment, and the draft more of the same -- with a dash of Day 1 splash. That poor wordplay will hopefully be outdone by Teddy Bridgewater, who represented the first-round noisemaking from GM Rick Spielman. The Vikes had to address the quarterback position ... and they did (via trade). Who cares if the action came much later Thursday night than people initially thought it would? Ninth overall pick Anthony Barr has a chance to be a force in the NFL and, of course, is 10 years younger than the departed Jared Allen. On a less sexy note, the acquisitions of mid-tier players like DT Linval Joseph and CB Captain Munnerlyn might not have graced the cover of "US Weekly," but they did retool areas of decay. Let us also not forget the Mike Zimmer addition -- a head-coaching hire that was long overdue, according to many league observers.

Nothing is perfect ...

With Allen and Kevin Williams now gone, this defense is lacking some All-Pro leadership. Who can rally the troops -- and the crowd -- like Allen did? The NFC North is packed with offenses that can play.

6) New York Jets

The Jets seemingly did it all this offseason, acquiring a QB1 (maybe), RB1 (although not 2K) and WR1 (debatable) this offseason. OK, so if Eric Decker isn't a true No. 1, he represents a serious upgrade to a passing game that, all of a sudden, doesn't look so willowish. In fact, "Willow" was easier to watch than this team's pass offense last season, and that's saying something. GM John Idzik made sure the club added a tight end in the great college marketplace (Jace Amaro, a big target with viable if not top-end speed), as well as two more receivers in Round 4. As far as the RB1, Chris Johnson's best days might be behind him, but that doesn't mean he can't rush for 1,070 yards and eight touchdowns. That's all this team needs from him if Geno Smith steps it up this season. And if Smith doesn't, the Jets can always insert newcomer Michael Vick into the lineup. What about the defense, you ask? It's gotten much younger the past couple of years.

Nothing is perfect ...

Some of the defense's youth injection came at the expense of letting Antonio Cromartie walk. That's a loss, any way you look at it.

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5) Arizona Cardinals

I love the Deone Bucannon pick. Here's your next Adrian Wilson, Cardinals fans. But Arizona's placement on this list is not all about the 2014 NFL Draft, as wonderfully as GM Steve Keim and the Cards' scouting department performed while filling needs two weeks ago. (Second-round pick Troy Niklas is an interesting tight end prospect -- when he learns how to leverage his 270 pounds more effectively, Arizona's run game should spike.) Free agency was key in the desert this offseason, as Keim added Jared Veldheer -- a young and talented offensive tackle who still can improve -- while also bringing in an older vet who can make a solid defense into one of the NFL's top three units. We're speaking, of course, of Cromartie, who will team with Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu and Bucannon to form a premier secondary. Lastly, taking a draft flier on QB prospect Logan Thomas was smart.

Nothing is perfect ...

We realize pass rushers don't grow on trees, but hoping John Abraham -- who just turned 36 years old -- secures 11.5 sacks again could be characterized as wishful thinking.

4) Jacksonville Jaguars

So many nice moves by GM David Caldwell and Co. this spring. Re-signing veteran quarterback Chad Henne was important for the Jags, even with the eventual selection of Blake Bortles. Acquiring former Seahawks defensive linemen Chris Clemons and Red Bryant -- both familiar with head coach Gus Bradley from his days as Seattle's defensive coordinator -- makes a former weakness almost a strength. Adding running back Toby Gerhart to the backfield was solid. Then Jacksonville went out and had a great draft. Some say they reached on Bortles at No. 3 overall, but what were they supposed to do -- hope he lasted to the second round? He was their guy, so they pounced.

Nothing is perfect ...

This whole Justin Blackmon thing just reeks of blown opportunity for franchise and player. Sounds like the Jags' organization has already moved on. We'll see.

3) Denver Broncos

John Elway took a serious swing for the Super Bowl fences in the offseason, acquiring pass rusher DeMarcus Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward. Ward was the second-best safety on the free-agent market (behind Byrd); while he doesn't bring the name recognition of Ware or Talib, he brings critical youth and upside. Meanwhile, the Broncos needed to unload Bailey's salary, which is a very hard thing to do when a player has played at a Hall of Fame level -- no exaggeration -- for an organization. Elway managed that, as well. And we won't penalize Denver for replacing Decker with Emmanuel Sanders. To truly judge the latter's adequacy, we need to see how he performs in this Peyton Manning offense. After all, what was Decker before Manning arrived?

Nothing is perfect ...

Although the Broncos addressed some needs in the draft, why didn't they pick up a playmaker like Marqise Lee with the 31st overall selection? The club is also putting much on young running back Montee Ball's shoulders.

2) Chicago Bears


Around The League predicts the Week 1 starting lineups for all 32 teams, analyzing the potential impact of each rookie class.

AFC East
» Bills | Dolphins | Jets | Patriots
AFC North
» Bengals | Browns | Ravens | Steelers
AFC South
» Colts | Jaguars | Texans | Titans
AFC West
» Broncos | Chargers | Chiefs | Raiders
NFC East
» Cowboys | Eagles | Giants | Redskins
NFC North
» Bears | Lions | Packers | Vikings
NFC South
» Buccaneers | Falcons | Panthers | Saints
NFC West
» Cardinals | 49ers | Rams | Seahawks

GM Phil Emery Rambo'd out on this offseason like Stallone in "First Blood Part II." Let's be honest: Jared Allen is far from Stallone-in-his-prime shredded, but the big 30-something can still produce 10 sacks for this team. Emery also knew he needed to fix the Bears' Achilles' heel -- run defense -- and did so by acquiring Lamarr Houston in free agency and drafting defensive tackles with Chicago's second- and third-round picks. Selecting cornerback Kyle Fuller in the first round makes a whole lot of sense in a division that features Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford. And drafting running back Ka'Deem Carey on Day 3 as some Matt Forte insurance will pay off.

Nothing is perfect ...

Shelling out $54 million guaranteed for Jay Cutler's re-up and $15 million guaranteed for Houston's five-year contract seems excessive. Losing veteran QB Josh McCown hurts.

1) Tampa Bay Buccaneers

When a team cleans house after a lackluster season, you want to see it take the following steps:

» Go after a respected commodity in a head coach.
» Hire an astute personnel mind at general manager.
» Acquire talented young free agents.
» Have a solid draft.

Oh, and you also want the organization to do its best to make over a stale image. That's the recipe for a solid offseason. The Bucs have knocked it out of the park since January 1.

New acquisitions Michael Johnson and Alterraun Verner are pups and address major team needs. Lovie Smith went 10-6 for the Chicago Bears the year he was fired, and his players love him. McCown had a helluva 2013 with the Bears, and, with more than a decade in the league, might have been the perfect signing by GM Jason Licht. Adding Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins in the 2014 NFL Draft gives McCown some trees to throw to, as well.

Nothing is perfect ...

About making over that organization's image ... not feeling those new uni's. You? (Hit us up ... @HarrisonNFL.)

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