With minicamps approaching, the most interesting parts of the NFL's offseason have taken place. From coaching hires, to free agency additions and subtractions, to trades, to draft picks, which teams fared the best during the latest NFL offseason?
Nick Caserio will be given more time than ex-Patriot right-hand men-turned-decision-makers Josh McDaniels or Scott Pioli, in all likelihood. He inherited a brutal situation before Deshaun Watson's trade demand and off-field trouble became known. The Texans hired a 65-year-old coach (David Culley) who had not been a coordinator since the 1990 season (at UTEP) and used their only top-80 pick on a midlevel QB prospect (Davis Mills). One of the Texans' bevy of one-year contracts went to the underrated Phillip Lindsay, but the post-Bill O'Brien Texans appear to be punting their rebuild to 2022 and beyond. 2021 prognosis: bleak.
Aaron Rodgers' Kenny Mayne tribute added more fuel to the NFL's defining offseason story. This potential era-ending impasse between the MVP and management dwarfs everything else Packers presently. Rodgers has seen peers' franchises cater to them and build Super Bowl rosters through various means; Tom Brady's Buccaneers -- with Lambeau Field as a key backdrop -- used the latest such plan to win a title. The less flexible Packers did well to re-sign Aaron Jones, but non-Green Bay residents would be wise to read up on this franchise's 20-plus years between Bart Starr and Brett Favre. The Pack's astray-at-QB 1970s and '80s may be relevant again soon.
The Raiders could use some good inside-the-box thinking. Their zags have not pushed a wayward franchise onto the contender map. Jettisoning three proven O-linemen (expensive blockers, but still) could have Derek Carr set to play behind three first-year starters; the O-line overhaul could set back the less mobile starter's recent progress. The Jon Gruden-Mike Mayock regime's latest off-radar first-round pick (Alex Leatherwood) continued a strange path that could keep undercutting Gruden's coaching. The Raiders need an experienced personnel man, as it has become difficult to believe in anything the current regime does.
Every team that rostered a golden-generation QB has moved on or formed a succession plan; the Steelers are the last ones standing. The cap reduction hurt them more than most, due to their annual can-kicking financial strategy. Their roster worsened this year. Pittsburgh said goodbye to starters Maurkice Pouncey, Alejandro Villanueva, Mike Hilton, and Bud Dupree. They drafted a talented running back (Najee Harris), but their offensive line looks like one of the NFL's worst. Not ideal for an immobile Ben Roethlisberger, who still has no true heir apparent. The Steelers are vulnerable at a few spots, looking a year out from a rare rebuild.
The Titans are paying an awful lot of money to a supporting cast edge rusher who tore an ACL in November. Bud Dupree should be an upgrade on Jadeveon Clowney, but instead of a post-injury prove-it deal, the ex-Steeler capitalized on the Titans' historically bad third-down defense. Tennessee also will count on 33-year-old Janoris Jenkins and first-round injury risk (Caleb Farley) in coverage. The defensive play-caller responsible for last year's woes, Shane Bowen, is back with a title bump. The exit of the OC in charge of Ryan Tannehill's revival, Arthur Smith, will leave a void. And unless the Titans land Julio Jones, their aerial attack lacks depth.
The Eagles hired Frank Reich's right-hand man, Nick Sirianni, before trading the quarterback Reich has championed (to Reich's current team). Their previous Carson Wentz-Doug Pederson-Howie Roseman plan blew up, revealing organizational strife. Wentz's exit/Eagles dead-money bloodbath sets up a begrudging rebuild. Philly's roster features several pieces from the 2017 Super Bowl team; those 30-somethings may be playing out a depressing string. The Eagles added a 2022 first-rounder (possibly two, if Wentz stays healthy), outflanked the Giants for diminutive DeVonta Smith, and signed a bargain safety in Anthony Harris. Other than that, this is a clear transition year.
While the Falcons may need to trade the best player in team history to escape cap hell, Saints GM Mickey Loomis deserves at least a certificate for escaping a $100 million-plus cap hole and carving out enough space to franchise-tag Marcus Williams. That said, this Saints roster looks worse than the stacked squads from 2017-20. New Orleans' all-in move in Drew Brees' twilight years backfired, thanks in part to officiating, and several pieces (mainly Brees) are gone. Sean Payton's work with Taysom Hill and/or Jameis Winston will be fascinating, but the Saints no longer appear a viable Super Bowl threat. Tom Brady comes to the NFC; longtime NFC contenders are falling apart.
Signing a contract that dwarfs Patrick Mahomes' for short-term value, Dak Prescott gouging the Cowboys will hurt their roster long-term. While this saga ending solidifies Dallas' QB situation, the team won one playoff game -- with an elite offensive line -- during Dak's extraordinarily valuable rookie contract. Building around his new deal will be tough. Dan Quinn should be a defensive coordinator upgrade, and acquiring Micah Parsons after trading down looks like good value. But the driver of Dallas' Prescott-era rise, the O-line, is aging and coming off an injury-wrecked slate. And blocking reinforcements are lacking.
While ditching Sam Darnold may not prove costly, the obvious red flags about his successor are relevant. Zach Wilson did transform his stock against a soft schedule. That said, the Jets at least chose to help this QB prize. Wideouts Corey Davis and Elijah Moore and guard Alijah Vera-Tucker should provide instant aid for one of the NFL's worst lineups. Robert Saleh, however, has less to work with. The defense-oriented HC did not emerge on the radar until his well-stocked 49ers unit dominated in 2019. The Jets paid up for Carl Lawson, but he is an edge upgrade. However, the team's cornerback depth chart is shockingly thin.
Trevor Lawrence is the most talented quarterback in Jaguars history, but he may have to cover up a bad plan. The Urban Meyer experiment does not look like it will last long; the wishy-washy college great has too much power for a first-time NFL coach. The Jags used a first-round pick on a running back, despite James Robinson setting a UDFA rookie record in 14 games last season, and have next to nothing at tight end. Marvin Jones should help Lawrence and a young receiving corps, but two of the Jags' Day 2 picks (Walker Little, Andre Cisco) are coming off major injuries. The Tim Tebow move, irrelevant or not, further reveals potential Meyer issues ahead.
If the batch of late-round picks and low-level signings on the Giants' interior line work out, and Andrew Thomas shows much more than he did as a rookie, Daniel Jones' new toys may factor into the NFC East title race. But after three years of harping on O-line help, GM Dave Gettleman shrugged his shoulders in 2021. Pro Football Focus ranked the Giants' 2020 O-line 31st; the team cut top blocker, Kevin Zeitler. Kenny Golladay and luxury pick Kadarius Toney add spice to New York's skill corps, but their fumble-prone QB may be under frequent siege. Gettleman breaking his eight-year streak by trading down for a 2022 first-rounder may help his successor, though.
A dull offseason may precede a more meaningful 2021 if Aaron Rodgers is truly done in Green Bay. The Vikings added ace run-stopper Dalvin Tomlinson and will get Michael Pierce back from his opt-out. Minnesota added two likely O-line starters as well, in first-rounder Christian Darrisaw and third-rounder Wyatt Davis. Mike Zimmer's prized secondary keeps transitioning, with a post-prime Patrick Peterson now leading the crew. An ugly Jeff Gladney arrest threatens the 2020 first-round corner's career, however, and Minnesota lost Anthony Harris for just $4 million. Kirk Cousins keeps the Vikings' ceiling low, but the team may have enough to win a Rodgers-less North.
Do not expect the Panthers to fade from the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes. Sam Darnold looks like a placeholder until those begin, but Carolina's skill-position staff should provide a clearer picture of former top-three pick's abilities. The Panthers' Jaycee Horn-over-Justin Fields move showed Watson remains on the radar. Matt Rhule continues to prioritize his ex-Temple charges, with Haason Reddick furthering the Owls-to-Panthers pipeline. Carolina's O-line may have multiple holes, which should be familiar to Darnold. The team remains in rebuild mode, though new GM Scott Fitterer will be a key Rhule asset after a lengthy Seattle stay.
Day 2 receiver success stories are plentiful from recent drafts; the Bengals even have two of them (Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins). They still insisted on the Joe Burrow-Ja'Marr Chase reunion, despite being desperate for impact O-line talent. A team that recently missed on three late-first and second-round O-linemen and has long-term questions at four O-line spots passed on elite prospect Penei Sewell, as Burrow's ACL rehab continues. The Bengals were again active defensively, adding contract-year breakout Trey Hendrickson, ex-Steeler nickel Mike Hilton, and ex-Brown D-tackle Larry Ogunjobi. Embattled DC Lou Anarumo's defense lost No. 1 corner William Jackson, however.
This offseason ushered in a full-on NBA environment for NFL quarterbacks, and the stable (though long unspectacular) Seahawks are on notice. They have an unhappy QB, throwing the franchise's path off-axis. Seattle did acquire longtime Raiders guard Gabe Jackson and interesting No. 3 wideout/deep threat D'Wayne Eskridge. But the Seahawks' O-line mission really only involved Jackson; center and right tackle remain suspect. Wilson helped bring aboard OC Shane Waldron; the NFC West will feature so many bootlegs. Seattle is thin at cornerback, but every non-Russ matter is secondary for the foreseeable future.
Joining Denver in the "good roster/bad quarterback" abyss, Washington bought more Ryan Fitzpatrick stock than any team since the early-2010s Bills. He of zero playoff starts, Fitz, at 38, will assume the controls of perhaps the best roster of his career. The Lions chose the Rams' offer over Washington's strong Matthew Stafford proposal, and WFT punted on the position by not trading up for Justin Fields or Mac Jones. Two new tackles are coming, one a second-round rookie. This could interfere with one of the NFL's best defenses and a skilled crew that now includes Curtis Samuel. Amazingly, the 2021 NFC East hinges on Fitzpatrick.
Grading only on what has already happened, the Falcons' offseason featured multiple big-picture moves that may elevate the sinking franchise. Arthur Smith revitalized Ryan Tannehill's career; Matt Ryan is better than the Titans QB. Terry Fontenot spent 15 years with the Mickey Loomis-Sean Payton regime, and the new GM gave Ryan historically elite tight end prospect Kyle Pitts. But this is clearly a rebuilding effort. The impending Julio Jones trade, for the sobering purpose of signing draft picks, will change how the Falcons look. For now, though, the Jones-Pitts-Calvin Ridley triad exists. And Smith may be the best of this year's coaching hires.
Annually handed QB needs, the Colts acquired a 28-year-old ex-No. 2 overall pick at a slight discount -- though, a future first-rounder may be involved -- and will pair him with the coach that guided him to MVP-level heights. Reuniting Frank Reich and Carson Wentz made sense, considering where the Colts stood in the draft. Wentz steps behind an elite O-line, which should have ex-No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher at left tackle, and into a familiar system. The Colts could use another wideout, with T.Y. Hilton more a WR2 now, but the well-run team filled many needs this year. First-round defensive end Kwity Paye will be counted on, with or without a Justin Houston reunion.
The Bears' Fields move did not cost what the 49ers paid for Trey Lance's draft slot; the trade-up may move the goalposts for a floundering regime. The oft-debated QB prospect is not exactly walking into an ideal setup, however. Chicago ditched two veteran tackles for a second-round rookie and a low-end starter (Teven Jenkins, Elijah Wilkinson), and ownership has alienated franchise-tagged wideout, Allen Robinson. The Bears cut No. 1 corner Kyle Fuller for cap space, and both Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks are north of 30. While Fields can stop the Mitchell Trubisky-induced bleeding, this defense's window is closing.
It is difficult to evaluate the Lions. They made two of this year's best moves -- acquiring two first-rounders for Matthew Stafford and drafting Penei Sewell at No. 7 -- but also hired a tight ends coach with no coordinator experience. Dan Campbell throws a wrench into new GM Brad Holmes' rebuild, which also now involves longtime Fox analyst Chris Spielman in a key front-office post. Jared Goff's success is immaterial; the Lions have two first-rounders in 2022 and '23 and will be picking high next year. Detroit's next QB1 may have a top-tier O-line. The rest of the roster needs work, but Holmes' six-year contract will give him time.
George Paton spent several years near the top of GM wish lists, but the picky candidate chose the Broncos. The ex-Vikings exec loaded up on a cornerback spot that had fallen off since the No Fly Zone's apex. Denver can throw a Kyle Fuller-Ronald Darby-Bryce Callahan-Patrick Surtain II crew at a strong AFC; this defense has a top-five ceiling. Javonte Williams' low-mileage college career gives the Broncos cover for their Melvin Gordon misstep. This room's elephant: long-underwhelming Teddy Bridgewater joins erratic Drew Lock. Passing on Justin Fields looks bad, but enough Aaron Rodgers smoke exists. Paton not reaching for a QB leaves that high-risk/high-reward door open.
Arizona/retirement-home jokes are being overused; J.J. Watt remains an elite starter who was constantly double-teamed last year. Watt-Chandler Jones is one of the best edge duos in recent memory. The Cardinals keeping Markus Golden as a No. 3 rusher will help, too. While $6 million for A.J. Green is too much, the other 30-something Pro Bowler acquired -- center Rodney Hudson -- will provide a boost. The Cards continue to show odd interest in bolstering their off-ball linebacker corps, using a third first-rounder on the position in five years (Zaven Collins). Round 2 pick Rondale Moore should quickly help Kyler Murray from the slot.
Mac Jones and the '90s-movie spending spree introduced plenty of Patriots talking points, after an off-grid 2020 season. Acquiring Jones without trading up could be a franchise turning point, and he and Cam Newton have some expensive pass catchers to target. The Pats wildly overpaid Nelson Agholor, and Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith being the NFL's third- and fourth-highest-paid tight ends does not add up with their resumes. New England's defense should be better than 2020s, with Matt Judon and Round 2 D-tackle Christian Barmore in the fold. Bill Belichick loading up during the cap crunch makes for a fascinating chapter; its grand-scheme relevance depends on Jones.
Greenlighting one of the boldest moves in draft history, Kyle Shanahan bet big on a Division I-FCS QB prospect with 318 college pass attempts. Shanahan-Trey Lance is a tantalizing partnership, and the team has both aerial weaponry and a solid O-line. The 49ers authorizing a tackle-record deal for soon-to-be 33-year-old Trent Williams is not ideal, given the Pro Bowler's absence rate, and the team is light on boundary cornerback talent. Shanahan reuniting with Alex Mack will help Lance, and keeping Jimmy Garoppolo suddenly looks important. Given the roster's potential, he has one of the most unique bridge-QB assignments in modern NFL history.
The Rams keep treating first-round picks like a Madden player uninterested in long-term franchise-mode commitment, and their roster's top-heaviness persists. Matthew Stafford's astonishing 1-for-12 Pro Bowl rate aside, he gives Sean McVay a top QB talent for the first time. The Rams' decisions to sign DeSean Jackson and draft 149-pound Tutu Atwell with their top pick seems like overkill, given the wideouts already on the team, but this could be McVay's best offense. Los Angeles took some hits in the secondary and kept Aaron Donald beneficiary Leonard Floyd on a high-cost deal. This is not how most teams build, but the Rams make the NFL more entertaining.
After fortifying one of the NFL's best rosters, the Bills went after edge rushers with their first- and second-round picks. Gregory Rousseau and Carlos Basham can be eased into action, with Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison in place. Buffalo, which did not have a six-sack player last year, is now deep at defensive end. The Emmanuel Sanders signing makes retains Buffalo's receiver depth, after John Brown's exit, and Matt Milano taking a $10.4 million-per-year deal marked a surprising boon for the Bills defense. Extending quality safety Micah Hyde and right tackle Daryl Williams proved smart as well.
After the Super Bowl catastrophe, the Chiefs allocated so many resources to their O-line that key names may not make the team. Kansas City paid up for Orlando Brown Jr. and will have to give him lucrative left tackle money. The 340-plus-pound blocker's pass-pro chops will be tested more often in Andy Reid's attack. The Chiefs gave Joe Thuney a guard-record deal, will try injury-prone Kyle Long, and have Laurent Duvernay-Tardif set to return from his opt-out. Brown-Mike Remmers at tackle may be worse than Eric Fisher-Mitchell Schwartz, but injuries forced the Chiefs' hand. They also added two potential Week 1 starters in Round 2 -- linebacker Nick Bolton, center Creed Humphrey. Not bad.
GM Chris Grier executed one of the great draft maneuvers ever, pillaging the 49ers' top April assets and using one of the two future firsts to move back up for Jaylen Waddle. Giving Tua Tagovailoa Waddle and Will Fuller, to team with DeVante Parker, will provide a better glimpse of the southpaw's ceiling. Miami being on offensive coordinators 3 and 4 (Co-OCs Eric Studesville and George Godsey) in Brian Flores' three years is a bit strange, however. The Dolphins also changed up their pass rush again, ditching Kyle Van Noy and Shaq Lawson and drafting Jaelen Phillips. Nabbing ex-Texan Benardrick McKinney was an underrated move at linebacker, too.
The Ravens collected a first-round pick for a player they were not going to extend, Brown, and bolstered Lamar Jackson's receiving corps -- after a few swings and misses. With Hilton and JuJu Smith-Schuster rebuffing Ravens offers, the team added Sammy Watkins and Rashod Bateman. This season will provide better intel on whether the aerial issue is Jackson or his receivers. (And do not sleep on the Kevin Zeitler signing; he remains a high-end guard.) Yet again, the Ravens will collect compensatory picks for edge rushers' exits. Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue are gone, and Round 1 replacement Odafe Oweh must deliver immediately.
Giving Justin Herbert a defensive coach opens the door to the rising QB being forced to play in a few offensive systems in his career, but Brandon Staley might be worth it. The rapidly ascending defensive mind lifted the Rams to No. 1 in points and yards in his one DC season. The Chiefs' O-line spree overshadowed the Chargers', but the latter may have done a better job. The Bolts replaced four starters, upgrading considerably at three spots -- two of which in free agents Corey Linsley and Matt Feiler -- and finally addressed their left tackle void when Rashawn Slater fell to them. Injury worries make sense, but this is a playoff roster.
This could be the best Browns roster since "The Fumble" 34 years ago. After ranking 25th in defensive DVOA, Cleveland addressed most deficiencies without overspending. John Johnson at $11.25 million per year is a bargain; Rams mate Troy Hill adds to a corner crew that will have Greedy Williams and first-rounder Craig Newsome. D-tackle Malik Jackson should have juice left, and Anthony Walker (at $3M) and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah strengthen the linebackers. Injury report mainstay Jadeveon Clowney has yet another chance, but playing opposite Myles Garrett could provide a nice career trampoline. The Browns return all 11 offensive starters.
The Buccaneers were lucky on the injury front last year and employ a soon-to-be 44-year-old quarterback. But this will be the offseason by which future Super Bowl champions are measured. No Super Bowl champ has brought back its entire lineup; the Bucs re-signed a historic glut of free agents and kept their top bench cogs. Tampa Bay deviated from its signing bonus-averse ways and went into the void-year realm to keep Tom Brady's team together while adding Giovani Bernard. It makes sense if this all-out effort irked Aaron Rodgers, whose team has not approached this aggression. The NFL is a better place when teams operate this way.
Sam Robinson is a Kansas City, Mo.-based writer who mostly writes about the NFL. He has covered sports for nearly 10 years. Boxing, the Royals and Pandora stations featuring female rock protagonists are some of his go-tos. Occasionally interesting tweets @SRobinson25.