March madness, indeed! Since the opening of free agency last month, the NFL has seen great change, with roster reshaping across the league. This dizzying amount of offseason action begs one simple question ...
Which team has improved the most since the end of last season?
It's hard to be the most improved team when you've gotten rid of arguably the best player at his position, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers might have achieved this honor despite sending Darrelle Revis packing.
The first big step up in class: out went Greg Schiano and in came the deeply respected Lovie Smith. He and new GM Jason Licht have been in overhaul mode -- a new starting quarterback in Josh McCown, a new cornerback to fit Smith's system in Alterraun Verner and big pieces on both lines. Not to mention, Doug Martin, a Pro Bowl back in his rookie season of 2012, should be healthy again.
The NFC South has been wide open in the last few years; this year, the Bucs could be a serious contender there again.
Don't be surprised if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers compete for the NFC South title, but it's no small thing that Lovie Smith's team parted ways with one of the premier defensive stars of the past decade (Darrelle Revis).
The most improved team is the Washington Redskins -- and not just because of the additions of wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts. Now more than a year removed from ACL surgery, Robert Griffin III is already the odds-on favorite for Comeback Player of the Year honors. He's one of the few players in the league with transcendent talent. The 'Skins also are welcoming back Jordan Reed, a talented mismatch at tight end. This offense will be one of the NFL's most electric in 2014.
To me, no single organization completely separated itself from the pack, but a vast number of teams improved themselves. These improvements came in different forms.
For sheer volume, the Oakland Raiders and New York Giants certainly made their mark. Both teams increased depth and competition at numerous positions, thus making themselves much better. Meanwhile, New England and Washington targeted specific positions -- cornerback for the Patriots (Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner), wide receiver for the Redskins (DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts to go with Pierre Garcon) -- to join the NFL's elite in those areas. And the Denver Broncos might have added the best quartet of starting players in Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward, DeMarcus Ware (some risk here) and Emmanuel Sanders.
I think the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have improved the most. Just think about what they have done ...
The Bucs hired a well-respected head coach in Lovie Smith, who brought in the savvy Jason Licht to be general manager. This pairing cannot be minimized when talking about improvements. Together, Smith and Licht vastly improved Tampa this offseason. They made key signings to bolster the offensive and defensive lines. They brought in cornerback Alterraun Verner -- a perfect fit in Lovie's defense, unlike Darrelle Revis (whom they cut). And they snagged veteran quarterback Josh McCown to start and mentor young signal-caller Mike Glennon. I love it.
The Oakland Raiders won't be competing for the Lombardi Trophy in January, but they did take steps to not be so damn depressing in 2014. Yes, letting homegrown talent (Jared Veldheer and Lamarr Houston) walk out the door was curious and spoke to organizational ills. That said, the Raiders imported several proven veterans who should make the team better in the short term.
Respectability will hinge on quarterback Matt Schaub, who fell off a cliff last season in Houston. If Schaub can regain his mojo (and the Raiders are curiously confident he will), Oakland can flirt with .500. That's the type of progress Dennis Allen and Reggie McKenzie need to stay employed.
I was discussing this at work with resident draft guru Daniel Jeremiah, and we arrived at the conclusion that the Buccaneers have improved as much as anyone in the league. Sure, they no longer boast Darrelle Revis, but they added a quarterback to compete with Mike Glennon (Josh McCown), a young corner to refortify the secondary (Alterraun Verner) and a talented defensive end to beef up the pass rush (Michael Johnson). They also picked up offensive tackle Anthony Collins to bolster an offensive line that yielded the most sacks in the NFC.
On top of all this, throw in the fact that Doug Martin will be coming back healthy. Yes, after a drama-filled 2013 campaign, things are looking up in Tampa.