St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson jumps as he runs with the ball against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. St. Louis Rams defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 28-13. (Photo: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
Nate Davis, USA TODAY Sports
- Seattle's upgraded offense and defense has 'Hawks looking Super
- Cap penalties largely keep Cowboys, Redskins on sideline
- Despite Dumervil situation, Broncos still appear quite improved
Arizona Cardinals (C): At the outset of free agency, they only had about $3 million available. But new GM Steve Keim has made quite a few moves to churn his roster: he signed QB Drew Stanton and parted with Kevin Kolb, picked up RB Rashard Mendenhall after punting Beanie Wells and completely remade the secondary. But should Keim have devoted his newfound money to a worrisome O-line in order to give Stanton (or whomever) a chance? Maybe next month.
(B+): With all-pro TE Tony Gonzalez convinced not to retire, LT Sam Baker re-signed and the running back position upgraded with Steven Jackson, a previously intimidating offense could really frighten defenses in 2013. But given the current holes in the pass rush and at corner, the Falcons may have to win a lot of track meets next season.
Baltimore Ravens (B): The myriad losses must be weighed against the mandate to re-sign Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco. Yet the departures of WR Anquan Boldin and ILB Dannell Ellerbe - which could hurt more than Ray Lewis' retirement - have to sting, and it's hard to believe FS Ed Reed is still in play. But let's look forward to hindsight, when GM Ozzie Newsome almost never has egg on his face.
Buffalo Bills (C-): Wise to put an economical franchise tag ($6.9M) on Pro Bowl FS Jairus Byrd, yet they didn't use available resources to keep G Andy Levitre, who would've been a boon to the next quarterback. Given the lack of depth behind WR Stevie Johnson, very odd the Bills didn't bother to tender restricted receiver Donald Jones, a player the Patriots found worthy of a three-year deal.
Carolina Panthers (I/incomplete): New GM Dave Gettleman was handed some ugly contracts and little cap flexibility on his way into the job. Pretty tough to assess his team's offseason at this point since there isn't much he can do.
Chicago Bears (B+): No disrespect to decorated MLB Brian Urlacher, but if he's ultimately cast off in favor of a legitimate left tackle (Jermon Bushrod) and combination tight end (Martellus Bennett) for QB Jay Cutler, GM Phil Emery is probably doing the right thing.
Cincinnati Bengals (D): This club, which appeared to be one or two difference makers away from graduating to Super Bowl threat from fringe playoff team, had $43 million in cap space even after franchising DE Michael Johnson for $11.2M. Most of that money is still sitting in the coffers - we wouldn't consider getting MLB Rey Maualuga back a significant win - and formidable RT Andre Smith remains unsigned.
Cleveland Browns (B+): Unlike their Ohio cousins, the Browns did a nice job selectively spending their cache of cash and might have even gotten defensive upgrades Paul Kruger and Desmond Bryant at below-market value. This is how you handle free agency - spend judiciously and spin the rest of the money forward when you have talent to reinvest in.
Dallas Cowboys (C+): With their cap strapped and further reduced by the second dosage of last year's $10M penalty, it's remarkable they kept pass rusher Anthony Spencer.
Denver Broncos (A-): They kept the one guy they had to, franchising all-pro LT Ryan Clady, before adding new talents (WR Wes Welker, G Louis Vazquez) whom QB Peyton Manning will appreciate. CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and DT Terrance Knighton are nice win-now moves. The obvious blemish is the controversial release of DE Elvis Dumervil. But Denver was prepared to part with him anyway and might ultimately end up with a more complete player in his stead.
Detroit Lions (B+): Given how tight his budget looked, GM Martin Mayhew has done a masterful job of procuring key upgrades (RB Reggie Bush, S Glover Quin) while hanging on to CB Chris Houston and FS Louis Delmas. The offensive line does loom as a potentially serious problem following LT Jeff Backus' retirement.
Green Bay Packers (A-): Despite having roughly $20 million at his disposal, GM Ted Thompson hasn't opened the checkbook. It appears the money is earmarked for OLB Clay Matthews III, NT B.J. Raji and (perhaps) WR James Jones - all free agents in 2014 - and QB Aaron Rodgers, who's in line for a raise. No arguments here - including a tough divorce with WR Greg Jennings - especially if Thompson gets a good back in the draft.
Houston Texans (I): Their grade might eventually hinge on the outcome of last week's high-profile dalliance with Reed. Having Whitney Mercilus in house made Connor Barwin expendable, but S Glover Quin will be missed while the special teams remain in disarray. WR Brian Hartline would have been a perfect complement to Andre Johnson, but the Texans never got a shot at him.
Indianapolis Colts (A-): Like the Bengals, Indy had deep pockets to fill in the gaps around a young core. Unlike Cincinnati, the Colts spent and went for mid-level quantity rather than upper-elechon (read: expensive) quality, Pro Bowl S LaRon Landry being an exception. But the blocking in front QB Andrew Luck looks improved, and the defense head coach Chuck Pagano envisioned appears to be crystallizing.
Jacksonville Jaguars (B+): They tied for the NFL's worst record (2-14) in 2012, yet have signed just five players despite a $28 million reserve ... and unless you once had RB Justin Forsett on your fantasy team, you probably haven't heard of any of them. Yet it's exactly the correct strategy given the foundation new GM Dave Caldwell must first establish via the draft.
Kansas City Chiefs (B+): Andy Reid's Dream Team background is reason for pause here. But despite his new squad's struggles in 2012, it had six Pro Bowlers on the roster, and that didn't include re-signed WR Dwayne Bowe or franchised LT Branden Albert. The acquisition of QB Alex Smith and an influx of less well-known talent at palatable cost - CB Sean Smith, DE Mike DeVito and WR Donnie Avery head the list - not to mention the jettisoning of a few underperformers recast this franchise as playoff-caliber.
Miami Dolphins (B-): They had money to burn, yes, but didn't they severely overpay for WR Mike Wallace and LBs Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler, whose deals add up to more than $120 million collectively? Will they rue not setting aside some of that coin for departed LT Jake Long? TE Dustin Keller and WR Brandon Gibson were shrewder acquisitions.
Minnesota Vikings (A): They kept two of MVP Adrian Peterson's favorite blockers by re-signing RT Phil Loadholt and Pro Bowl FB Jerome Felton. But landing model citizen WR Greg Jennings after exchanging moody Percy Harvin for Seattle's first-round pick looks like quite the deft stroke. The arrival of QB Matt Cassel could also prove a steal.
New England Patriots (D+): The jury is out on what amounts to a free agent swap of Welker for younger but less durable Danny Amendola, and no one will be watching more closely than QB Tom Brady with his new cap-friendly deal. CB Aqib Talib is back, and maybe S Adrian Wilson is the next coming of Rodney Harrison. And there appear to be several more irons currently in the fire, so this grade may soon require revision. But the receiving corps looks weaker without Welker and Brandon Lloyd, and you have to wonder what the Patriots see in Donald Jones that the Bills didn't. And whither RT Sebastian Voller?
New Orleans Saints (D+): With virtually zero cap space and the defense transitioning to the 3-4 front, tough choices loomed. And a big decision will be questioned after the Saints opted to shell out for CB Keenan Lewis, who has one solid season under his belt, rather than for Bushrod's accomplished four-year resume as a starter. Skeptics are waiting to pounce.
New York Giants (B-): They made the tough call to part with many of their Super Bowl stalwarts, RB Ahmad Bradshaw and DE Osi Umenyiora among them, in order to promote or sign younger players. If LT William Beatty remains healthy, re-upping him will be a good move. However the tenuous status of restricted WR Victor Cruz remains a concern.
New York Jets (C): A lot of guys who helped QB Mark Sanchez be effective in the past - Keller, RB Shonn Greene and RG Brandon Moore are gone - and a once-proud defense has been decimated. But an overhaul is needed, hence new GM John Idzik's thrifty moves. He better hope keeping all-pro CB Darrelle Revis around and letting him get healthy works out to both parties' advantage.
Oakland Raiders (B+): GM Reggie McKenzie cut former first-rounders Darrius Heyward-Bey and Michael Huff before letting productive younger players like DT Desmond Bryant, TE Brandon Myers and LB Philip Wheeler walk out the door. If it seems McKenzie is hastening the franchise's descent to rock bottom, Raiders fans should take heart that it's the correct course as he replenishes cap space and draft picks.
Philadelphia Eagles (B): Many of Reid's splashy additions - Rodgers-Cromartie, CB Nnamdi Asomugha, DT Cullen Jenkins - were swept out as GM Howie Roseman focused on importing personnel to fit the new 3-4 defense. OLB Connor Barwin was a nice prize given his modest $8M guarantee. The offense still remains a bit of a mystery.
Pittsburgh Steelers (C): Releasing OLB James Harrison to satisfy the cap is a blow, but GM Kevin Colbert had little recourse. QB Bruce Gradkowski is better than the guys who had backed up Ben Roethlisberger. Wallace and Keenan Lewis will be missed, but Colbert just couldn't afford them and apparently didn't deem them worthy of reshuffling the rest of the roster.
St. Louis Rams (B+): If free agency is any indication, St. Louis is very confident its youngsters are ready to supplant Amendola, Gibson and Jackson. New LT Jake Long and TE Jared Cook should make QB Sam Bradford a very happy man. Armed with two first-round picks, the Rams drastic improvement over the past year should continue at draft time.
San Diego Chargers (D+): Under new leadership, they're also in rebuild mode. But shouldn't they have done something - re-sign Vasquez, get another premier blocker or acquire a reliable receiver - to send a positive message to embattled QB Philip Rivers instead of signing brittle CB Derek Cox or role-playing RBs Danny Woodhead and Ronnie Brown? At this point, trading Rivers might be new GM Tom Telescos's best move.
San Francisco 49ers (B): They chose to move on from all-pro FS Dashon Goldson and a few others. But given this team's return to NFL royalty under GM Trent Baalke and coach Jim Harbaugh, who's going to argue? WR Anquan Boldin and DE Glenn Dorsey look like cost-effective additions, but is Craig Dahl really the man to fill Goldson's cleats?
Seattle Seahawks (A): The offense (Harvin) and defense (DEs Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett) have been supercharged, and the pay scale really didn't suffer much even if GM John Schneider had to part with a few picks, including this year's first rounder, for Harvin. The Niners should be worried.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (B): The NFL's worst air defense looks better with the arrival of Goldson. The Bucs haven't addressed their pass rush - yet (the cookie jar isn't empty) - but will get third-year DE Adrian Clayborn back from IR.
Tennessee Titans (B): They've been uncharacteristically active and needed to be in order to better assess third-year QB Jake Locker. Levitre is a nice cornerstone to make life better for Locker, RB Chris Johnson and newly signed Greene. TE Delanie Walker's arrival offsets Cook's departure.
Washington Redskins (D-): They continue to verbally rail against the $36M penalty the league slapped on their cap last year but not much else, suggesting their constrained spending is largely a problem of their own making. This looks like a team ready to take a step backward in 2013.