The first week of NFL Free Agency was a whirlwind of big-ticket player signings and trades. And if you're like me, your eyes were glued to Twitter all-day, every-day as the news poured in. Now that the initial flurry of moves have come and gone, the secondary market has set in and we can finally get a clearer view of which teams got better and which teams got worse.
It's time for a brand new post free agency set of offseason Power Rankings.
Starting at the top
It's a generally accepted truth that for the most part, the NFL's best teams stay relatively quiet in big-money free agency, and instead pick and choose with targeted signings. You'll often see the league's elite teams target their own free agents, secure a few mid-level role players, and every once in a while, they'll make a big-time splash for that one guy or two that might put them over the top.
Part of the reason for that is because these rosters are already loaded with talent, but it's also a recognition that outside free agency is a fickle and unpredictable beast. You don't have a ton of info on other team's players, you're often asking them to switch schemes, and you never know how one will react to getting the big bucks. So, in recent memory, it's rare to see the Patriots, Packers, Steelers, Bengals, Seahawks and Ravens of the world splurge on multiple big names in early March. That stayed the same more or less this year. The Cardinals, Chiefs and Vikings followed suit.
Pretty much every team I've got in the top 10 went with the "stay quiet" methodology. The Panthers re-signed key free agents in Charles Johnson and Mike Tolbert. The Patriots didn't do much of anything, outside of signing linebacker Roman Humbar and tendering receiver Chris Hogan to an offer sheet, stealing him away from the Bills. If this succeeded in pissing off Rex Ryan, it's probably a win.
The Cardinals made one mid-level quality signing in safety Tyvon Branch while losing tackle Bobby Massie. Their NFC West rivals in Seattle kept corner Jeremy Lane, defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin, and receiver Jermaine Kearse while losing nose tackle Brandon Mebane and guard J.R. Sweezy. Much of Seattle's grade now depends on what happens with left tackle Russell Okung, who is on his free agency tour.
The Bengals kept safety George Iloka, an important move, while locking up Pacman Jones and Vincent Rey, keeping much of their excellent defense together. Losing Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu will be something to watch for Cincy, but with A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert still running routes, Andy Dalton will have targets.
The Chiefs locked up a few of their own -- Derrick Johnson, Jaye Howard, and Tamba Hali -- while adding tackle Mitchell Schwartz to buoy the loss Donald Stephenson. Losing Jeff Allen and Sean Smith stings, but considering the amount of free agents they had to deal with (including a franchised Eric Berry), Kansas City weathered the storm.
The Steelers and Packers were typically quiet, and the Vikings made a few nice moves to bolster both sides of the ball. The one real exception in this group was the Broncos, who took some significant losses following their incredible Super Bowl 50 victory. Gone from that top defense are pass rushing defensive lineman Malik Jackson and linebacker Danny Trevathan, and from a team that sported one of the worst offenses in the NFL in 2015, losing their best remaining quarterback and probably their best running back in free agency seems like a huge failure. Brock Osweiler heads to Houston while C.J. Anderson appears to be headed to Miami, and a team that really, really struggled on offense last year looks like they're getting worse there.
Big tickets winners
Free agency's "winners" rarely look that way once the regular season gets rolling. We all remember the Philly "Dream Team" back in 2011 and even last year, as NFL.com's Chris Wesseling pointed out, the four most active teams -- the Jets, Eagles, Dolphins and Jaguars -- combined for a 28-36 record and none went to the playoffs.
The Jaguars had about eleventy billion dollars in cap space so they pretty much had to spend a crap load of it, and they did just that. They gave Malik Jackson a bunch of money to be their version of Michael Bennett and I like that move a lot. He didn't get great sack-numbers in Denver, but if Gus Bradley can move him around his 4-3 like the Seahawks do with Bennett, I think he'll have a versatile weapon in disrupting the pocket, especially paired with Dante Fowler Jr. That's a big pass rush boost, in theory, and the ability to affect the quarterback up front should help pay dividends for new additions in Tashaun Gipson and Prince Amukamara in coverage on the back-end. Jacksonville also added a physical presence on offense in Chris Ivory and re-signed veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis.
I suspect the Giants were watching the Super Bowl and took notes on how effective Von Miller and Demarcus Ware were in ruining Carolina's game plan. That crazy pass rush and dominant defensive line group for Denver did what the Giants had done in the past to completely control the playoffs, and New York took some pretty major steps in boosting their defensive line group. They went on a spending spree, throwing a bunch of money at Olivier Vernon and Damon Harrison while re-signing Jason Pierre-Paul to a one-year "prove it" deal. On the back-end, they replace Amukamara with Janoris Jenkins. All in all, it looks like the Giants got a lot more talented on defense.
The Raiders went on a similar spending spree, grabbing the premiere offensive lineman on the market in Kelechi Osemele to bolster an already impressive offensive line group. They looked to their defense, as well, signing pass rusher/linebacker Bruce Irvin and cornerback Sean Smith, both great fits in what Ken Norton Jr. and Jack Del Rio want to do on that side of the ball. Irvin never blossomed as a true pass rusher in Seattle's scheme, but I have the feeling that Norton and Del Rio have visions of a 10-plus sack breakout in their scheme. Smith seems to fit the Raider system and mentality, as well.
Solid, smart moves
It hurts Detroit to lose Megatron and in no way is he replaceable, but getting Marvin Jones to pair with Golden Tate at receiver was a nice little start. On defense, they got better, adding DT Stefan Charles while re-upping Haloti Ngata and Tyrunn Walker for their interior line. They added safeties Tavon and Rafael Bush and re-signed Tahir Whitehead. The Lions got hot in the second half of the season with Jim Bob Cooter calling plays, and I'd expect they'll challenge in the NFC North in 2016.
Meanwhile, the Bucs signed defensive end Robert Ayers from New York, nabbed corner Brent Grimes after Miami released him and re-signed safety Chris Conte. On offense, it was big to re-sign Doug Martin and they got a nasty, tough guard to open up lanes for him in J.R. Sweezy.
The Chargers did some nice things, as well, bolstering their defense with nose tackle Brandon Mebane and cornerback Casey Hayward. They re-upped Antonio Gates to weather the loss of Ladarius Green, and signed a guy in Travis Benjamin who is going to catch a lot of passes next year, in my opinion.
Part of the Eagles' success in free agency thus far has been addition by subtraction, and the ability to move both Byron Maxwell and DeMarco Murray, and particularly their contracts, was a big coup. They also added some good players, inking guard Brandon Brooks, linebacker Nigel Bradham, safety Rodney McCloud, and cornerbacks Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks. The Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel competition should be interesting if nothing else.
Time will tell
I liked the Lamar Miller addition for the Texans, but I'm not sold on Brock Osweiler or the $18 million per year contract he got from Bill O'Brien and company. O'Brien has done some great things with quarterbacks in the past, so this could turn into one of the biggest signings in the NFL this offseason, but there's not a ton to go off of with Osweiler.
The Dolphins made some huge splashes as per usual, signing Mario Williams while trading for Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso. Williams is one year removed from an All-Pro season and if he responds to claims he wasn't giving enough effort in Buffalo, he could have a bounceback season. Alonso still has a lot of potential, and I might be the last person on earth that likes Maxwell. While he was definitely a bust in Philly, I still think that if he's used correctly he can be an effective corner for Miami, but even with the contract restructuring, he's got a lot to prove.
This could end up being another terrible set of moves for Miami, but there's a chance this offseason haul could end up looking better over time.
For a team that went 5-11 and finished dead-last in Football Outsiders DVOA in 2015, the 49ers sure haven't done much to improve their roster, even with an aggressive head coach hire in Chip Kelly. Re-signing Ian Williams was solid, but they lost Alex Boone to the Vikings and their only outside free agent signing has been backup quarterback Thaddeus Lewis. The Colin Kaepernick situation still hasn't been resolved, and there's no clear quarterback solution. As stated above, sometimes being quiet in free agency is the best thing you can do, but Trent Baalke better make some hits in the NFL Draft.
Of course, San Francisco's eerily quiet free agency period pales in comparison to the Browns' descent into the last spot. It's a mass exodus from Cleveland, with key free agents in Alex Mack, Mitchell Schwartz, Travis Benjamin and Tashaun Gipson heading for greener pastures. No one seems to want to be in Cleveland right now.
|Rank||Post free agency||SB Nation blog|
|1||Carolina Panthers||Cat Scratch Reader|
|2||New England Patriots||Pats Pulpit|
|3||Arizona Cardinals||Revenge of the Birds|
|4||Seattle Seahawks||Field Gulls|
|5||Denver Broncos||Mile High Report|
|6||Cincinnati Bengals||Cincy Jungle|
|7||Pittsburgh Steelers||Behind the Steel Curtain|
|8||Kansas City Chiefs||Arrowhead Pride|
|9||Green Bay Packers||Acme Packing Company|
|10||Minnesota Vikings||Daily Norseman|
|11||Oakland Raiders||Silver and Black Pride|
|12||New York Jets||Gang Green Nation|
|13||Houston Texans||Battle Red Blog|
|14||Detroit Lions||Pride of Detroit|
|16||New York Giants||Big Blue View|
|17||Buffalo Bills||Buffalo Rumblings|
|18||Dallas Cowboys||Blogging the Boys|
|19||Philadelphia Eagles||Bleeding Green Nation|
|20||Indianapolis Colts||Stampede Blue|
|21||Chicago Bears||Windy City Gridiron|
|22||Atlanta Falcons||The Falcoholic|
|23||Baltimore Ravens||Baltimore Beatdown|
|24||Jacksonville Jaguars||Big Cat Country|
|25||Miami Dolphins||The Phinsider|
|26||New Orleans Saints||Canal Street Chronicles|
|27||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Bucs Nation|
|28||San Diego Chargers||Bolts from the Blue|
|29||St. Louis Rams||Turf Show Times|
|30||Tennessee Titans||Music City Miracles|
|31||San Francisco 49ers||Niners Nation|
|32||Cleveland Browns||Dawgs by Nature|
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