While a substantial number of players are still on the market, the dust has largely settled on the first big wave of 2014 NFL free agency. With most of the top available talent having settled into new digs, now's a great time to take a comprehensive look at which teams did the most to improve their 2014 fortunes, and conversely, which squads have a tougher row to hoe now that they've lost more talent than they brought in.
From the top to the bottom, here's a look at who hauled in the most free agent riches this offseason.
NFL Free Agency
The 2013 Chiefs showed the impact that simple competence at QB can have on a team's fortunes, and the Bucs will look for a similar resurgence with the arrival of Josh McCown. While Mike Glennon wasn't a disgrace and McCown won't find things as easy without Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery on hand, he still represents a significant upgrade. And he's not alone -- Tampa Bay took a step up at left tackle (Anthony Collins replacing Donald Penn) and center (Evan Dietrich-Smith replacing Jeremy Zuttah) while bolstering the D with a high-end pass rusher in Michael Johnson and a quality run-stuffer in Clinton McDonald. New corner Alterraun Verner isn't the equal of Darrelle Revis, but Verner's talent should at least let him approximate the impact of the misdeployed Revis that Tampa fielded last season.
The Seahawks Reunion Tour was in full swing in Jacksonville. Ex-Seahawks Chris Clemons and Red Bryant rejoined former Seattle DC and current Jags head coach Gus Bradley. Both guys are closer to the end of their careers than the beginning, but they collectively represent a badly needed talent influx on the Jags' front. Ex-Bronco Zane Beadles also arrives to stabilize a shoddy interior OL. Toby Gerhart gets the chance to prove that his outstanding per-touch numbers in 2013 can hold up over a larger workload. Jacksonville enjoyed a big net talent influx in free agency. Now about that QB position ...
The Giants remade their secondary with the additions of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond, who could team with the talented Prince Amukamara to form one of the league's stoutest cornerback corps. New York's rapidly ossifying OL got a vital injection of youth and talent in ex-Chief Geoff Schwartz. Rashad Jennings brings feature-back potential to a position that featured the Golems of Gotham (Brandon Jacobs and Peyton Hillis) in 2013. The Giants will need youngsters like Johnathan Hankins and Damontre Moore to step up and replace Linval Joseph and Justin Tuck, but New York's ground attack and air defense each got a significant boost.
While he'll be hard-pressed to make good on the entirety of his three-year, $30 million deal, DeMarcus Ware could provide the Broncos with the league's deadliest pass-rush tandem when teamed with Von Miller. It's the kind of addition that can transform a defense. The Broncos also added one of the league's best box safeties in T.J. Ward while upping both the ceiling and the volatility of their secondary in swapping Rodgers-Cromartie for ex-Pat Aqib Talib. They took a step down at receiver with Emmanuel Sanders stepping in for Eric Decker, but the Peyton Manning-led passing attack is unlikely to skip a beat.
The league's most perennially putrid left tackle position may have finally gotten its man in ex-Raider Jared Veldheer, much to Carson Palmer's delight. A return to form for cornerback Antonio Cromartie would form an outstanding tandem with Patrick Peterson. Ted Ginn's afterburners should be a fine complement to Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. The linebacking corps took a hit with the loss of all-around stud Karlos Dansby, but on the whole the Cardinals took a strong step forward.
The Monsters of the Midway were in dire need of a makeover, and GM Phil Emery made sure they got one. Emery lifted Lamarr Houston from Oakland and further bolstered the D-line by raiding the division rival Vikings and Lions for Jared Allen, Willie Young and former Bear Israel Idonije. The linebacking corps added Jordan Senn, and the safety group got some needed (if uninspiring) depth in Ryan Mundy and M.D. Jennings. The loss of a pass rush talent like Henry Melton stings, but even with Melton and Julius Peppers leaving the fold, the Bears' D should bear up far better in 2014.
Windy City Grid Iron
Like the team who defeated them in the AFC Championship Game, the Patriots went for quality over quantity in their free agent pickups. The quality in this case was the game's best shadow corner in Darrelle Revis, who could take New England's D to the next level by improving on the lockdown coverage that Aqib Talib offered in the first half of 2013. Brandon Browner's size and box-out game also make an intriguing addition, and with the underrated Kyle Arrington in the slot and Devin McCourty at safety, the Pats' secondary may be the league's best.
No team needed a broad-based influx of simple NFL-caliber talent as badly as the Raiders, and Oakland opened its coffers to bring in a ton of guys. The offense got a signal-caller in Matt Schaub and a new No. 1 wideout in James Jones to go along with tackles Austin Howard and Donald Penn. The defensive line got a massive makeover thanks to veterans Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley and Antonio Smith, while ex-Niner Tarell Brown joined the secondary. There would be more cause for celebration, if Oakland hadn't lost talented guys like Veldheer and Lamarr Houston in the bargain. Still, the NFL's leakiest franchise plugged a number of holes.
Another dire left tackle situation was assuaged this offseason, as the Dolphins dropped a Miami Vice speedboat full of cash on former Chief Branden Albert. He and ex-Ram Shelley Smith will help stabilize the league's most tumultuous O-line. The pass rush chops of new DT Earl Mitchell should help mitigate the loss of run stuffer Paul Soliai. For the Dolphins to earn a higher slot on this list, however, Cortland Finnegan will have to prove that he has at least a little bit left in the tank after a horrendous 2013 campaign.
Finally out from under
ownership lackey Commissioner Goodell's absurd penalty for not colluding stern but fair salary cap sanctions stemming from the 2010 uncapped year, the Redskins were finally in position to spend big. And spend they did, adding some badly needed interior pass rush in ex-Cowboy Jason Hatcher, revamping the LB corps with Akeem Jordan and Darryl Sharpton, and replacing Josh Wilson at corner with ex-Raider Tracy Porter. The offense will have to rely on former Cardinal Andre Roberts and poorly regarded guard Shawn Lauvao (along with a return to form from RGIII), but the defense should be improved.
NFL Free Agency
11. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons added some much-needed beef to the defensive front in Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson, and an underachieving OL got a boost of its own thanks to mauling guard Jon Asamoah. Devin Hester may have enough left in the tank to boost the return game, and Javier Arenas brings versatility to the secondary (and some return chops of his own). Soliai and Jackson won't do much to fill the crying need for a pass rush, which might be why Atlanta is already signaling its willingness to move up into Jadeveon Clowney territory in the draft.
12. Cleveland Browns
An already solid Browns defense added some spice, upgrading from T.J. Ward to Donte Whitner at safety and jumping from D'Qwell Jackson to Karlos Dansby at inside linebacker. Andrew Hawkins adds the kind of scary slot threat that Davone Bess was unable to provide. A healthy Ben Tate will offer a tremendous talent upgrade over anyone in the Cleveland backfield. Plus, any offseason that gets Brandon Weeden out of town is one to celebrate.
13. New York Jets
Few teams had less pop in the passing game than the Jets in 2013, and New York sought to remedy those woes with the 1-2 punch of Michael Vick and Eric Decker. Both guys represent substantial upgrades to what the Jets trotted out last season, even if new right tackle Breno Giacomini is likely a step down from the departed Austin Howard. The Jets would be higher on this list if there was any prayer of Vick lasting 16 games ... or if they hadn't resoundingly struck out in their effort to replace departed No. 1 corner Antonio Cromartie.
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The Vikes got significantly younger and better in the center of their defensive line with the acquisition of Linval Joseph from the Giants, and the addition of Corey Wootton easily atones for the loss of reserve lineman Letroy Guion. A beleaguered secondary gets a shot in the arm from Captain Munnerlyn. Fellow corner Derek Cox will also be a quality addition if he can approach his 2011-2012 level of play. Even in decline, Jared Allen's loss will be felt, but the Vikes are paying Everson Griffen like he's ready to fill the bill. To be honest, they're paying him like he's going to be 2007-2012 Julius Peppers, but that's another story.
15. Detroit Lions
The Lions lost Willie Young and Israel Idonije to the Bears, but few teams were better equipped to take a hit in D-line depth. More intriguing were their additions -- James Ihedigbo should help settle a perennially scattered secondary, and ex-Seahawk Golden Tate could be the long-awaited No. 2 wideout who can truly take advantage of the massive attention paid to Calvin Johnson.
While it was technically a trade, the addition of Darren Sproles adds another unique and tough-to-defend piece to one of the league's most creative offenses. Nolan Carroll is a quality addition at corner, and he could push starter Cary Williams. Safety Malcolm Jenkins feels like an overpay based on his wildly inconsistent play in New Orleans. The loss of Michael Vick is inconsequential given the Eagles' commitment to Nick Foles as their QB of the future.
The Saints saw a lot of guys leave and just one guy arrive in free agency, but the guy they got was a doozy. Jairus Byrd is in any conversation about the league's best safety. He'll form a truly dynamic tandem with Kenny Vaccaro that should allow Rob Ryan to get even friskier with his front seven. Byrd turns the departures of Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper into total afterthoughts. Sean Payton thinks that the Pierre Thomas, Khiry Robinson and Travaris Cadet troika will do the same for the departed Darren Sproles. Since spreading the ball around often seems to be an actual end for Payton rather than simply a means, that prophecy may be self-fulfilling.
18. Tennessee Titans
The Titans were the Bizarro Saints this offseason, bringing in quantity but losing quality in the persons of Alterraun Verner and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Quality is relative in Fitzpatrick's case, but he's certainly a quality player relative to Jake Locker and new addition Charlie Whitehurst. Wesley Woodyard is a good addition to Ray Horton's new 3-4 defense, but former Raven Michael Oher could end up blindsiding the Titans with poor play when compared to retired RT David Stewart. Dexter McCluster could see multiple uses in the Titans' offense ... he'll have to in order to justify a $4 million average annual salary on a team where Kendall Wright can already tear it up from the slot.
Green Bay's big offseason bet is that Julius Peppers has more in the tank than he showed in 2013 (and for that matter, big chunks of 2012). If the Packers are right, they'll have the makings of a fairly deep pass rush whether Peppers spends his time as a five-technique end or a stand-up OLB opposite Clay Matthews. James Jones shouldn't be tough for the offense to replace, but Evan Dietrich-Smith could be trickier. There's no one on the roster who approaches a healthy Jermichael Finley's skill set. As always in Green Bay, health is the rub -- the Packers should devote the balance of their offseason to finding some way to propitiate the Injury Gods who have absolutely ravaged them over the past two seasons.
The Chargers gained and lost rotational players in free agency and roughly broke even in the bargain. Ex-Ram Kellen Clemens will back up Philip Rivers. David Johnson slots in behind Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green at tight end, while ex-Colts Kavell Conner and Donald Brown look to be the No. 3 guys at inside linebacker and running back, respectively. Against that, San Diego lost some defensive line depth with Cam Thomas' departure. The team also bid a fond farewell to corner Derek Cox ... the kind of farewell where you're happy to be rid of someone.
Given their respective depth charts, Donald Brown might be a bigger loss for the Colts than he is a gain for the Chargers ... 300 carries for Trent Richardson could set new standards for futility. The Colts did upgrade at linebacker by bringing in D'Qwell Jackson, but they paid a pretty penny to do so. Losing the steady Antoine Bethea at safety could hurt. It might be a stretch for the anything-but-steady Hakeem Nicks to make an equivalent impact on the offensive side of the ball. The theory has been floated that Nicks' desire to avoid injury contributed to his poor 2013 season. Of course, if Nicks is worried about getting hurt by running fast in a straight line -- something he could rarely manage last year -- then he should consider a different line of work altogether.
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One of the league's steadiest franchises underwent a good bit of churn this offseason, bidding farewell to stalwarts like LaMarr Woodley, Ryan Clark and Emmanuel Sanders. They also lost 2013 contributor Jerricho Cotchery, while finally divesting the dead weight of former first-rounder Ziggy Hood. Ex-Charger Cam Thomas will be an improvement over Hood, and safety Mike Mitchell will have to be much more than a one-year wonder if he's to replace the steady Clark's productivity at the back of the Pittsburgh D. Arthur Moats and Lance Moore were reasonable and cost-conscious additions, but the Steelers didn't add much firepower in their bid to recapture the AFC North crown.
23. Buffalo Bills
Buffalo's secondary gained a quality corner in Corey Graham, but lost an irreplaceable safety in Jairus Byrd. Former Patriot Brandon Spikes is a good addition who will complement Kiko Alonso's skill set. Guard Chris Williams and third running back Anthony Dixon were underwhelming additions for a team striving to end the Patriots' stranglehold on the division.
24. Baltimore Ravens
Former Panther Steve Smith is aging, but he adds some needed punch to the Ravens' receiving depth chart behind Torrey Smith ... just so long as he isn't punching any of Baltimore's running backs. Center Jeremy Zuttah is not anyone's idea of a Pro Bowler, but his league-average play would have been a major upgrade on Gino Gradkowski's dire 2013 campaign. Those additions may not compensate for the Ravens' losses, even if you shrug your shoulders at the departure of Michael Oher. Corey Graham, Jameel McClain and James Ihedigbo were all quality players; accounting for those losses will put GM Ozzie Newsome's considerable skills to the test.
NFL Free Agency
25. Houston Texans
Ryan Fitzpatrick might just be keeping the seat warm for the first pick of the 2014 Draft, but he's a good bet to outplay Houston's 2013 clownshoes QB carousel for however long he's under center. Kendrick Lewis will be a serviceable replacement for the likely-to-depart Danieal Manning at safety, but Houston's numerous losses in the front seven could prove tougher to backfill. The return of Brian Cushing from injury will ease the sting of losing LBs Joe Mays and Darryl Sharpton. Up front, the loss of pass rushers Earl Mitchell and Antonio Smith heaps an even greater burden on J.J. Watt.
26. St. Louis Rams
The Rams kept it quiet on the acquisitions front, inking only versatile D-lineman Alex Carrington of the Bills and career backup QB Shaun Hill from the Lions. Their losses weren't crippling, either, with one-dimensional road grader Shelley Smith and possibly washed-up corner Cortland Finnegan the only names of note. But for a team that's looking up in its division at the NFC's two best teams AND another 10-game winner, a greater sense of urgency might not have gone amiss.
As bizarre as it would have sounded a few years ago, Cincinnati has the depth to withstand the losses of quality players like Michael Johnson, Anthony Collins and Andrew Hawkins. But with nothing save flotsam and jetsam washing ashore on the acquisitions front (R.J. Stanford, Marshall Newhouse, Dontay Moch and Jason Campbell ... urgh), the Bengals haven't exactly widened their lead on the rest of the AFC North.
The 49ers front office has been the best in the league at getting young talent signed to reasonable extensions, but that savvy cap management couldn't prevent an outflow of talent in free agency. San Francisco backfilled for the departed Donte Whitner reasonably well with the acquisition of Antoine Bethea. Former Viking Chris Cook is pure potential next to the departing production of Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown at corner. With the departure of stalwart center Jonathan Goodwin, the Niners will need their (admittedly admirable) young depth to step to the fore if they're to overtake the rival Seahawks this season.
29. Dallas Cowboys
The acquisition of Henry Melton was probably the best free agent acquisition that the wildly cap-strapped Cowboys could have dreamed of. But coming off knee surgery, Melton would be doing tremendous work just to break even with ex-Cowboy Jason Hatcher's outstanding 2013 season. That's to say nothing of the loss of franchise icon DeMarcus Ware -- even Ware's subpar 2013 campaign is likely beyond the reach of any edge rusher currently on the Dallas roster.
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30. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks won a title with an all-time great passing defense, then promptly found themselves playing defense in free agency as the rest of the league swooped in to snatch a piece from a championship squad. They (properly) prioritized keeping difference-maker Michael Bennett, but their defensive depth took a serious hit. Linemen Chris Clemons , Red Bryant and Clinton McDonald were all Florida-bound, while corners Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond departed for the Northeast. The offense lost right tackle Breno Giacomini to the Jets, while No. 1-ish wideout Golden Tate earned big money to finally put an end to the Lions' No. 2 receiver woes. Seattle has the horses to weather those losses, but its margin for error shrank.
Kansas City entered free agency hard up against the cap, and saw a veritable procession of 2013 contributors head for the exits. The trenches were hardest hit, with the offensive line losing Branden Albert and guards Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah. The D-line lost run-game stalwart Tyson Jackson. Andy Reid favorite Akeem Jordan departed the linebacking corps, the secondary lost Kendrick Lewis and the offense lost versatile slot man Dexter McCluster. The addition of Vance Walker adds some needed down-lineman pass rush pop, and Joe Mays' run-stuffing skill set should fit well next to do-it-all linebacker Derrick Johnson. Even with those additions, Kansas City lost a lot heading into 2014.
The only constant in the NFC South is change, and the Panthers' tough offseason could once again deny the South titleholder a repeat crown. Carolina's secondary lost quality slot man Captain Munnerlyn and impressive safety Mike Mitchell. That's nothing compared to the decimation of the Panther receiving corps. Just about every wideout who ever touched a ball for Carolina departed. Jerricho Cotchery and Tiquan Underwood were brought in to fill the gaps, but that ain't the stuff of a scary passing attack. For those of you scoring at home, this is why handing $79 million in contracts to a pair of so-so running backs is a BAD IDEA.