It’s hard to quantify what a free agent or trade addition will do to help a new team in the coming year. You can never be sure how a player will fit into a new scheme, or play alongside different personnel. So what then becomes the metric to determine how well a team is doing in their offseason additions? Do we have to wait like Mike Mayock and refuse to give out grades? No, there’s no fun or intrigue in waiting to give out offseason grades and rating a teams additions. Instead, we have to assess whether or not the additions have helped make the team better than the previous iteration. For some teams like Cleveland with a lower floor, the additions mean a lot more than other teams that may have added a good player to an already competitive team. So with this in mind, I will begin the objective and abstract process of determining the top three offseasons to date.
Los Angeles Rams
Aqib Talib, Sam Shields, Nickell Robey-Coleman, Lamarcus Joyner, Ndamukong Suh and Marcus Peters. There’s not much else that needs to be said about that. Following the departure of standout Cornerback Trumaine Johnson, the defensive backfield became a question mark. They elected to use the franchise tag on Joyner instead of WR Sammy Watkins, but the team still had holes to fill at the cornerback position. That hole was quickly filled by veteran Aqib Talib, acquired in a trade from Denver, and rising superstar Marcus Peters. The retention of Nickell Robey-Coleman gave the unit their third corner, and veteran Sam Shields provides another reliable defensive back that can contribute on passing downs.
The team did elect to move on from talented Linebackers Alec Ogletree and Robert Quinn, but both were casualties due to the team’s transition to a 3-4 defense. Quinn’s high cap number also contributed to his departure, and both were moved for mid-round picks that can be used to improve upon their weakened front seven. The retention of Defensive Lineman Dominique Easley alleviates some of those concerns if he can stay healthy, but the signing of Suh provides the team with their another standout 3-4 end to compliment Aaron Donald. If the Rams manage to draft or bring in a veteran linebacker, the team will have greatly improved an already strong Wade Phillips led defense.
The offensive unit still has some holes to fill and the team may be in the market for another receiver after losing WR Sammy Watkins to Kansas City. The Rams will likely pursue a veteran to add to their trio of Woods, Austin, and Kupp, but there have been rumors that the New York Giants are taking offers for Odell Beckham Jr. ODB has reportedly refused to set foot on the field until he signs a new contract, so the Giants may be best served by trading the talented wide receiver and there are few teams that are in the mix to compete now with the cap and desire to trade for Beckham who is not guaranteed to resign. The Giants, who appear to be trending down as the rest of the division trends up, need to seriously consider the impact of an ODB trade on their future, and the Rams are just the team that wants to exploit their weakness. As recently as today it was reported that ODB, “wants in,” on the Rams.
Cleveland is the one team that you can point to that has added to their win total this offseason (which after last year wasn’t hard to do). Losing hall of fame Left Tackle Joe Thomas is a big blow to the teams offense, but the additions of RB Carlos Hyde, WR Jarvis Landry, QB Tyrod Taylor, OT Chris Hubbard on offense, and the defensive additions of CB T.J. Carrie, CB E.J. Gains, CB Terrance Mitchell, and S Damarious Randall have put this team in a position to compete in 2018 and beyond. They still sit comfortably with the number one overall pick in this year’s draft, with which they will likely draft their quarterback of the future, the fourth overall pick, and eight total picks in the first four rounds.
If you look around the division, Pittsburgh remains the far and away favorite until Ben Roethlisberger decides to retire, and indications are that it could be sooner rather than later after the star quarterback reportedly considered walking away prior to last season, but the rest of the division aside from Cleveland is not making any significant strides to improve. The long game of the Browns may very well make put them in a position to succeed by 2020, but much of their potential success rests on the shoulders of Head Coach Hugh Jackson and new General Manager John Dorsey. Renewing their commitment to Jackson came as a shock to much of the league after two straight seasons ending in last place finishes, but Cleveland, which has been a carousel for coaches and quarterbacks understands that continuity breeds success… Assuming they have the right man for the job.
The Chicago Bears have quietly gotten better during a free agency which has seen the division rival Vikings reaching a historic agreement with their new Franchise Quarterback Kirk Cousins, the LA Rams moving former centerpieces and acquiring star defensive talent, and Cleveland bringing in playoff QB Tyrod Taylor, and elite WR Jarvis Landry, completely reshaping their offense. The Bears are currently at the bottom of the NFC North, a division which is quickly making a case as the most competitive in the NFL, but with a few key additions and the retention of some of their more impactful pieces, the bears are putting themselves in a position to compete in 2018 and beyond.
To do that, QB Mitchell Trubisky will need to take the next step in his development and improve upon his rookie campaign. This offseason, the Bears were able to move on from some of their more expensive contracts and bring in impactful players that can help on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Their most robust signing came in the form of a three-year $42M contract with WR Allen Robinson, who instantly improves the Bears passing game and gives Trubisky a legitimate #1 receiving option. To further cement their commitment to improving their offensive attack, they also brought in WR Taylor Gabriel on a respectable four-year $26M deal and TE Trey Burton on a four-year $32M contract. In moving on from QB Mike Glennon (who is now with Arizona), the team was able to bring in veterans Chase Daniel (two-years $10M) and Tyler Bray to compete as Trubisky’s backup. Daniel will likely secure the job in camp, but both are experienced guys who will positively contribute to the quarterback room and help Trubisky develop. The Bears may not be in the mix to win the division this year, but they are well on their way to fielding a roster that can make a splash in the division.