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Seven best offseasons of 2018: Giants, Browns make strides

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The NFL offseason is long and multifaceted, with opportunities for teams to improve their situations via coaching and front-office hires, free-agent signings, trades and the NFL draft. Now that most roster-building chances have come and gone, however, I thought I'd take stock of the many moves that have been made since January and weigh which teams have had the best offseasons thus far.

The ranking of the seven best offseasons below -- presented in reverse order -- takes into account the entire spectrum of avenues for self-help mentioned above:

7) Baltimore Ravens

This is a very interesting franchise. Baltimore's playoff hopes came right down to the wire in 2017, when the Ravens lost a "win-and-in" Week 17 matchup with the Bengals. But I think they did a lot to help themselves this offseason, both for now and the future. First, Baltimore addressed a passing game that was atrocious last season, adding veterans Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead and drafting two tight ends (first-round pick Hayden Hurst and third-round pick Mark Andrews) who can be pretty good. Pairing a newly up-to-snuff aerial attack with a ground game that was effective behind Alex Collins and a defense that ranked sixth in scoring and 12th in yards could make this team formidable.

Then you have the selection of quarterback Lamar Jackson (Round 1, No. 32). This might be Joe Flacco's last year in Baltimore, and I think Jackson was an excellent choice -- he'll be the kind of guy who shocks and surprises the rest of the league, because he's a much better passer than we thought. He'll be a real asset to the offense because he runs so well.

6) Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Last season, NFL teams collected, on average, 37.3 sacks. The Buccaneers finished with 22, worst in the league. Defensive coordinator Mike Smith is very good -- he just didn't have the talent last year to implement the things he wanted to. So Tampa Bay made a big investment up front, trading for Jason Pierre-Paul, drafting Vita Vea 12th overall and signing Vinny Curry, Beau Allen and Mitch Unrein. The Bucs also beefed up on the offensive line, inking Ryan Jensen, who, in addition to being a good center, allows the team to move Ali Marpet to guard. Rookie back Ronald Jones is pretty good -- I think people maybe were swayed a bit too much by his hamstring-related pre-draft workout troubles, because the body of work is encouraging. Chandler Catanzaro will steady the kicking game. And I think coach Dirk Koetter can get this ship pointed in the right direction -- just look back at how he got the team together enough to win the finale of a lost regular season, when most other guys wouldn't give a darn.

5) Chicago Bears

Last year, Mitchell Trubisky was throwing to what could charitably be called a below-average pass-catching corps. In Year 2 of his NFL career, Trubisky won't lack for targets, with premier free-agent receiver Allen Robinson joining fellow free agents Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton. First-round pick Roquan Smith will be another name in a long list of excellent Bears linebackers, going back to Bill George, Mike Singletary and Brian Urlacher. Chicago also stepped up to keep Kyle Fuller after he was signed to an offer sheet by the rival Packers. Leonard Floyd should be back and wreaking havoc on defense, while the kicker situation should get a boost from the addition of Cody Parkey. Finally, there's new coach Matt Nagy, who has shown in his previous stops as an assistant that he knows how to wring production out of an offense.

4) Los Angeles Rams

If there were an award for "happiest defensive coordinator," Wade Phillips would surely win it in a runaway after the Rams added studs Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib and Ndamukong Suh to a defense that already included Aaron Donald. If you look every place Phillips has won before -- including in Denver, when the Broncos won Super Bowl 50 -- his success came because of good corners and potent inside tackles, and that's exactly what the Rams have now. And it's not like Los Angeles forgot about offense; the Rams also traded for receiver Brandin Cooks, who is a superior route-runner to ex-Ram Sammy Watkins. The only thing the Rams need to do now to make this offseason complete is sign Donald to a long-term extension.

3) Minnesota Vikings

This offseason should be considered a win for the Vikings simply because they added a player who they believe can carry them to the Super Bowl: quarterback Kirk Cousins. It's not like there was anything wrong with Case Keenum last year, really, but there are quarterbacks who can get you to the playoffs and quarterbacks who can advance in the playoffs. Moreover, signing Cousins didn't prevent Minnesota from also signing top defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (to pair with Linval Joseph) and extending linebacker Eric Kendricks for multiple years -- Kendricks is the key to this defense.

2) Cleveland Browns

I think GM John Dorsey did a great job this offseason. Trading for veteran QB Tyrod Taylor was an excellent move. Taylor is not a spectacular player, but he doesn't make many mistakes -- the fact that he helped take Buffalo to the playoffs last season is a testament to his competence. When you add in first overall pick Baker Mayfield, suddenly the Browns' quarterback situation goes from no semblance of hope to pretty solid, even if I don't think Mayfield will start this year. Fourth overall pick Denzel Ward -- the best corner in the draft -- and veterans T.J. Carrie, E.J. Gaines and Damarious Randall were added to the secondary, while O-lineman Chris Hubbard, running back Carlos Hyde and, of course, prolific pass-catcher Jarvis Landry will contribute on offense. Overall, I thought Cleveland drafted well -- I like offensive lineman Austin Corbett and his fellow second-rounder, running back Nick Chubb. I think new offensive coordinator Todd Haley is special. The schedule is tough, especially in the early going, but I think the Browns will win at least six games in 2018. And there will be enthusiasm in Cleveland again.

1) New York Giants

The addition of experienced head coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Dave Gettleman automatically helped this team. Then, the Giants acquired some much-needed assistance for quarterback Eli Manning and their anemic running game by signing left tackle Nate Solder and drafting running back Saquon Barkley and guard Will Hernandez. Trade acquisition Alec Ogletree, meanwhile, is probably the Giants' best starting linebacker since Antonio Pierce nine years ago. Furthermore, Shurmur and Gettleman have apparently been able to press the right buttons with Odell Beckham and Eli Apple, as both reported for the team's offseason conditioning program despite Beckham's discontent with his contract situation and Apple's tumultuous season ending in a one-game suspension by the team.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.

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