With much of the pro football focus in late April aimed at the NFL Draft, it might not be a bad idea to track which teams seem to have been doing well (and which ones haven’t) in the offseason in their pre-draft moves, either via free agency or trades.
Following are a handful of teams we believe helped themselves put the most (to this point) in the offseason.
Pretty obvious call here, at least as long as QB Peyton Manning looks like a reasonable facsimile of the old Peyton Manning. If Manning is healthy and resembles what he was the last time we saw him perform for the Colts in 2010, the Broncos are going to be the big winner this offseason. How many other teams added a Hall-of-Fame QB, anyway?
Denver also added some nice additional pieces on offense (TE Jacob Tamme and WR Andre Caldwell) and a couple of potential upgrades on defense in CB Tracy Porter and DE Justin Bannan to more than compensate for FA defections of DT Brodrick Bunkley & CB Andre’ Goodman.
Anyone who watched the Bears last season knows that the season unraveled after QB Jay Cutler went down with that thumb injury in late November. Chicago thus became the latest team to lose a gamble regarding backup quarterbacks, and it cost GM Jerry Angelo his job. Not keen to make the same mistake, new GM Phil Emery added Jason Campbell from the Raiders, who certainly represents an upgrade from Caleb Hanie.
The biggest impact the Bears made, however, might have been trading with the Dolphins to acquire WR Brandon Marshall, a risky move considering Marshall’s past controversies. But the addition, Emery and HC Lovie Smith believe, is worth the risk, considering that the Bears haven’t had a top-flight wideout on the roster in years, and that Marshall and Cutler forged a productive working relationship during their years together in Denver. The offensive upgrades continued by adding punishing ex-Raider RB Michael Bush, who figures to take some of the load off Matt Forte.
After Denver’s signing of Manning, the biggest offseason splash in free agency was made by the Bills, who inked ex-Texans DE Mario Williams to a mega-deal. Williams thus becomes the Bills’ top force on the defensive line since the days Bruce Smith roamed in Orchard Park, and along with another DE, ex-Patriot Mark Anderson, completely changes the look of the Buffalo DL. That man you see smiling in the background is new Bills defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt. The Bills should now have a pass rush for the first time in several years.
4-TAMPA BAY BUCS
While not making quite the impact of the Peyton Manning or Mario Williams signings, the Bucs nonetheless helped themselves greatly by plucking a couple of the next-best headliners in the FA crop. Those include ex-Charger WR Vincent Jackson and ex-Saints G Carl Nicks, considered the two best at their positions. New head coach Greg Schiano is also pleased at the addition of ex-Lions CB Eric Wright, who should bolster what was a position of weakness for Tampa Bay.
The following teams would rank high in the offseason “losers” category heading into the draft.
1-NEW YORK JETS
We were a lot more sympathetic to the Tim Tebow situation in Denver than were most, and highlighted those positives last year with the Broncos. Having said that, the potential problems the Tebow acquisition causes for the Jets could completely undermine the Rex Ryan regime.
We understand the strategic reasons why Ryan wanted Tebow, who provides a different and unique dimension, especially around the goal line. But having a potential distraction to shaky QB Mark Sanchez could end up blowing up the Jets’ season, considering the pressure that will build if Sanchez (as can be expected) has more sloppy efforts. The pressure to make a switch won't be just local-based, it will be a national story, the last thing Sanchez would seem to need for his own shaky confidence. Sorry, this one could blow up in Ryan’s face and coast him his job if it doesn’t work.
The Dolphins thought they had a shot at Peyton Manning. Then they were sure that new HC Joe Philbin, from the Green Bay staff, could convince the next prize in the free-agent QB crop, ex-Packer Matt Flynn, to move to Miami. Didn’t happen, with Philbin instead adding journeyman David Garrard to compete with holdover Matt Moore for the QB job. That is if the Fins don’t draft Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill.
But could Miami expect to become a playoff contender with a rookie QB? No wonder the fans are picketing outside of the Dolphins’ offices.
New GM Reggie McKenzie had no alternative but to make several veterans (the aforementioned Michael Bush, Chaz Scillens, Kamerion Wimbley, Kevon Boss, Samson Setele, Trevor Scott and Rock Cartwright among them) salary cap casualties. Individually none of those might make a huge impact. Collectively, however, their departures have stripped Oakland of much of its depth. Losing QB Jason Campbell to the Bears means there’s no experienced cover for Carson Palmer unless McKenzie moves for a vet backup in the second wave of free agency.
The Jags were promising to make some big moves but we’re not sure they hit the mark. They addressed concerns at WR but might have wildly overpaid for ex-Cowboy WR Laurent Robinson, and the career of ex-Raven and Bill Lee Evans has been on a downright spiral lately. As for the QB spot, adding ex-Dolphin Chad Henne does not figure to improve things much, especially with Blaine Gabbert still the man on the hot seat at QB. The most-helpful addition is likely to be ex-Giants CB Aaron Ross. This haul is not what Jacksonville fans were looking for when new owner Shahid Khan promised big spending in the offseason