Bears, Vikings, Browns improved most in NFL free agency period

Print

Something is bound to go wrong.

It usually does when we sit around confidently telling you who won or lost free agency.

Fans and analysts alike spend the middle of March frothing over teams that ransack the marketplace and shell out massive-money deals to less-than-perfect players. The bum rush is delightful, but most of these free-agent additions lose their luster with time.

Still, the new league year offers every franchise an opportunity to remake itself. Taking into account the caveat that BEING ACTIVE doesn't automatically equal success, here's a look at five teams that ostensibly helped themselves improve:

1) Chicago Bears

It's been eons since the Bears were fun to watch on offense. Jay Cutler's largely milquetoast run with Chicago was partly to blame, but the issues go beyond a lack of frisky quarterback play. The Bears have floated through too many autumns as an identity-free attack hellbent on sending their fans into a dreamless, dark slumber.

No more. With talented play-caller-turned-head-coach Matt Nagy at the controls, the Bears have used this offseason to build around second-year passer Mitchell Trubisky. After luring in big-fish wideout Allen Robinson, Nagy and friends added deep threat Taylor Gabriel and "Philly Special" hero Trey Burton. Burton is the kind of player who could see his role double in Chicago, while Gabriel looms as an X-factor if Nagy can unleash him the way Kyle Shanahan did with the Falcons two seasons ago.

I'm not in love with the Bears losing a handful of defensive starters along their front seven, but Chicago can address lingering holes in the draft. This organization desperately needed to give Trubisky more to work with on offense, and what the Bears accomplished serves as the setup to a nice sophomore campaign for the team's promising young passer.

2) Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings added just three players, but two of those new faces serve as tangible upgrades for a club with Super Bowl expectations.

Case Keenum performed admirably last season, but the signing of Kirk Cousins gives Minnesota a rugged, long-term answer at the most important position on the field. Cousins brings genuine toughness to the role, toiling through punishment and performing courageously when the pocket crumbles. He's the perfect addition to an offense littered with playmakers. It speaks to his makeup that he turned down more money from the Jets for a better shot at Super Bowl glory. Adding Trevor Siemian as your backup checks out as another nice move for general manager Rick Spielman.

As for Mike Zimmer's defense, the Vikings added a big-bodied war horse in Sheldon Richardson. The former Jets and Seahawks lineman inked a one-year deal -- the result of suitors seeing him as something of a knucklehead -- but Richardson earned a top-10 pass-rushing grade from Pro Football Focus last season and gives Minnesota a juicy agent of chaos to unleash alongside Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter and Linval Joseph.

3) Cleveland Browns

Thanks to the handiwork of dismissed front-office head Sashi Brown, Cleveland was in fine position to make waves in free agency. New general manager John Dorsey was highly active, swinging headline-generating trades for quarterback Tyrod Taylor, slot receiver Jarvis Landry and presumptive starting safety Damarious Randall. The Browns also replaced Isaiah Crowell with former Niners back Carlos Hyde and bolstered the secondary with corners T.J. Carrie and Terrance Mitchell. Losing shoo-in Hall of Fame left tackle Joe Thomas is concerning -- they'll never find a better bookend -- but the rest of the offensive line sits in solid shape.

While the Browns gave away run-stuffer Danny Shelton and cornerback Jason McCourty to the Patriots for peanuts, Cleveland's overall haul is impressive. Tyrod's presence takes the heat off whichever quarterback the team invariably drafts with the first overall pick (read: Sam Darnold), while Dorsey might very well land the best non-passer in the draft at No. 4. The Browns today are a markedly different team than the bumbling roster that squeezed out a winless record in 2017. The pressure now falls on coach Hue Jackson to make Sundays something more than an ultra-embarrassment for this punching bag of a fan base.

4) New York Jets

Gang Green's biggest move wasn't adding or dropping a household name, but paving the way to finally unearth a franchise quarterback through the draft. New York's monster swap with the Colts to earn the third overall pick guarantees the Jets a young passer to build around. That's something Jets fans have lived without since the Reagan administration. New York apparently tried to pry away the No. 1 pick from Cleveland -- no dice -- but the team obviously feels comfortable enough landing its second- or third-rated signal-caller in this draft class. General manager Mike Maccagnan has an ugly record picking quarterbacks, but he deserves credit for carving out the cap room to make a run at Cousins. They missed on Kirk, but the Jets -- dating back to last offseason -- were always expected to mine the draft to fill their long-standing void under center. An appropriately aggressive trade put them in position to do just that.

Beyond the big swap, Maccagnan guaranteed that his rookie arm won't be forced to start right away by re-signing Josh McCown and adding Teddy Bridgewater with an affordable one-year deal. Isaiah Crowell helps New York's backfield depth, while Trumaine Johnson was arguably free agency's top cornerback. Fellow signee Avery Williamson also gives the Jets a productive inside linebacker coming off a solid season for the Titans. All in all, a good week for Maccagnan.

5) Los Angeles Rams

General manager Les Snead made it clear at the NFL Scouting Combine that January's home playoff loss to the Falcons still cuts deep inside the organization. To Snead's credit, the Rams refused to rest on last year's marvelous progress, wheeling and dealing like visionary madmen to morph their Wade Phillip-led defense into a beast.

A pair of trades added Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib to the cornerback room, while Snead wisely slapped talented safety Lamarcus Joyner with the franchise tag. Re-signing cover man Nickell Robey-Coleman and taking a shot on former Packers corner Sam Shields gives Phillips a dazzling pack of players to build his secondary around. The Rams also remain in the race to add game wrecker Ndamukong Suh to the mix after the Dolphins cut bait with the defensive behemoth. The idea of Suh paired with Aaron Donald should be enough to thoroughly freak out every offensive coordinator in the NFC. On the other side of the ball, it would have been nice to keep wideout Sammy Watkins, but free agency remains a give-and-take exercise. Still ruminating on that playoff loss, Snead did plenty to ensure history won't repeat itself.

Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSesslerNFL.

Print

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop