The frenzy of roster-building that began with free agency essentially ended on Saturday night, with the close of the 2015 NFL Draft and the dizzying race to scoop up undrafted free agents. Yes, there will be another flurry of signings when teams begin to release guys later in the summer, but the bulk of players who will make up the teams we'll watch when the season kicks off in September are now in place.
Most general managers believe it takes around three years to get an accurate read on how successful a player will be. But you can tell plenty about the intentions of teams -- and the league -- by looking at who was taken and who was not. So what do we know right now?
1) The Bucs are determined to grow on offense
The Tampa Bay Buccaneersmade a big investment in Jameis Winston, and now they're putting as many pieces around him as possible. A reminder: Coach Lovie Smith is a defensive guy. But during his time with the Chicago Bears, Smith suffered with an uneven offense. It was, ultimately, his ruin there, and he's determined not to repeat that scenario. Since he became the Bucs' head coach last year, Tampa Bay has used one -- one -- draft pick on a defensive player (LSU linebacker Kwon Alexander, taken in the fourth round Saturday). Everything else has been offense, led, of course, by Winston this weekend.
The Bucs' decision-makers put their personal and professional reputations on the line in determining Winston's off-the-field issues did not disqualify him from being drafted first overall. With so much at stake, it's no surprise they are now pouring resources into making Winston successful, and doing it quickly. They used two second-round picks on offensive linemen -- tackle Donovan Smith and guard Ali Marpet -- and both are expected to win starting jobs. Then they drafted two speedy receiver/returners in Kenny Bell and Kaelin Clay to join Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans. There is even a new fullback (seventh-round pick Joey Iosefa) to punch holes for the running game, which also will help relieve some of the pressure on Winston.
The Bucs play in the NFC South, which the Panthers won with a losing record last season, and nine of their 16 games are against teams ranked 26th or below in yards allowed. That's a formula for a quick turnaround, if not necessarily a playoff spot.
"I said it the other day, and it really is true, that you bring these guys in together, they're young, they have each other's backs," GM Jason Licht said. "They just get used to the environment here together. It will be fun to watch them ascend. We've got some young players on that offensive side of the ball now, and I think we're going to prove to a lot of people that we're a lot better than we were last year."
2) Character issues seem to count
Teams might be more risk averse than ever before after the difficult season the NFL endured and the subsequent crackdown on personal conduct. The way Shane Ray, Randy Gregory and La'el Collins -- all originally projected to be selected in the top half of the first round -- slid down draft boards indicated character considerations were taken more seriously than usual in 2015.
Winston, of course, was able to overcome concerns about his off-the-field behavior, but the Bucs went to great pains to talk about the extensive vetting they did of him. Ray, who was cited for marijuana possession just days before the draft, dropped into the 20s of the first round before being rescued by the Denver Broncos. Gregory, dogged by failed drug tests and worries about behavioral issues, wasn't taken until the 60th pick (second round) by Dallas, although considering that the Cowboys have a long history of successfully giving players second chances, and that they just signed Greg Hardy, this might be the perfect environment for Gregory to receive the support he needs to be successful.
The most extraordinary case was that of Collins, who fell entirely out of the draft after it emerged that police wanted to question him about the shooting death of a woman he knew. Police have made it apparent Collins is not a suspect, but teams obviously want to be sure he is entirely cleared of involvement before getting too close to the offensive lineman, who almost certainly would have been chosen in the top 20 otherwise. Most striking is that even in the sixth or seventh rounds, no team took a chance on picking him up to control his rights.
Collins' agent had tried, unsuccessfully, to pull him from the draft entirely, and then said he would not sign if chosen in the late rounds. His only option now, it seems, is to wait for police to clear him; if that happens, he can then try to sign as an undrafted free agent. The end result is that Collins lost millions of dollars because his name was merely linked to a crime. But teams might have gained some brief credibility when they insist they take character seriously. New York Giants vice president of player evaluation Marc Ross, whose team badly needed help on the offensive line, seemed to capture the mindset regarding Collins around the league.
"We thought about La'el the whole draft, because he is sitting up there," Ross said. "But we were going to pass on that."
3) Cleveland played it cool
Who are these Cleveland Browns, and what have they done with the ridiculous team we were used to? At this time last year, the Browns drafted Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel -- perhaps in part guided by a homeless man's advice to owner Jimmy Haslam to take Manziel -- in the first round. That, you might have heard, did not turn out so well. Cleveland suffered through what were essentially lost seasons by both, thanks to their immaturity -- which was so apparent their teammates called them out in public. This time around, the Browns went ultra-safe. There was no flash, and there is no new quarterback. Instead, Cleveland shored up both lines, taking nose tackle Danny Shelton and center Cameron Erving -- neither of whom will make daily headlines -- in the first round.
Comparing the draft-day celebrations of Shelton and Manziel provides a good snapshot of just how far the Browns moved from where they were. In 2014, Manziel walked on stage and made his famous "money" sign. On Thursday, Shelton created one of the draft's most delightful moments, exuberantly lifting Commissioner Roger Goodell off his feet and carrying him a few steps, as if he were squeezing a stuffed animal.
4) This was a terrible year to need a quarterback
The best one in the class, Winston, required a call to the Tallahassee State Attorney's Office and came with questions about an accusation that he committed sexual assault in college (for which he was never charged). The conventional wisdom regarding the second-best signal-caller, Marcus Mariota, held that it could take several years for him to be really ready in an entirely different style of offense. And after that, things really got bad. If you didn't hold one of the first two picks, you were stuck with a woeful decision: pick one of an unimpressive group or wait until next year, when the class might not have even one person with the talent of Winston.
How bad was this group? Only seven quarterbacks were taken overall, the fewest in a draft since 1996, despite the fact that quarterbacking is far more important now than ever before. After Mariota was selected second overall by the Titans, the next quarterback didn't go off the board until the third round, with the 75th overall pick (when Garrett Grayson was picked up by the Saints).
Brett Hundley might go down as the poster child for this QB class. He decided to forego his redshirt senior season at UCLA and, though he'd been viewed as a likely second-round pick entering the draft, at the head of the second tier of quarterbacks, he fell to the fifth round, where he landed with the Packers. Had Hundley stayed at UCLA for another season, he might have been a top pick in 2016. Needless to say, Aaron Rodgers shouldn't be nervous, and backup Scott Tolzien should probably feel OK, too. Given that there is no star quarterback on the horizon for next season, Hundley has to be wondering how much better he could have done if he had stayed in school for one more year.
5) Tom Brady might have to brace himself
It's good that Tom Brady is having an offseason for the ages -- cliff-diving, checking out Apple watches, going straight from the Kentucky Derby to the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight with some of his best bros Saturday night -- because his regular season could hurt more than usual. The New England Patriots' rivals in the AFC East, the New York Jets, drafted defensive lineman Leonard Williams -- who was widely regarded as the best, safest player in the draft -- to further buttress what might already have been the NFL's best defensive line. Of course, the line in Buffalo, where three starters went to the Pro Bowl, could also qualify. Or the line in Miami, which added Ndamukong Suh. Williams said he wants his first sack to be against Brady, but the Jets -- who don't face the Patriots until Week 7 -- surely hope for much more than that.