It’s pretty easy to differentiate the winners and losers during the NFL season. Breaking down which teams will benefit from moves made in March, April, and May is a bit trickier and requires a ton of speculation.
Since speculation is one of my favorite activities, I’ll go ahead and name the winners and losers of the 2016 NFL offseason to this point.
We’ll be talking free agency as the draft is less than two weeks away.
Let’s start with the champions of the world.
Denver lost both their starting quarterbacks from the 2015 season. Not as big a deal as many fans think. Manning was one of the bottom five passers last year, and Osweiler is still unproven over a large sample size.
Mark Sanchez isn’t a sexy choice to help the Broncos defend their Super Bowl title next year, but Colin Kaepernick is still a possibility even though he would have to be traded for at this point.
All we need to know about Denver is that the core of their NFL leading defense is intact.
What about the NFC Champs, the Carolina Panthers? Yes, they have a Superbaby at QB, but Cam is a proven winner…..as long as no adversity comes his way.
Their biggest loss so far in the offseason has been a punter, a position that barely registers as a real job in the NFL. No offense Brad Nortman.
The best addition to Carolina in 2016 will be wideout Kelvin Benjamin, who missed all of 2015 with a knee blowout.
Despite the fact that Arizona got embarrassed in the NFC Title game, they will be a force once again in 2016. They added Chandler Jones in a trade with the Pats to help with their pass rush. As long as Jones can keep his head on straight (The Pats didn’t trust him to do so apparently), he should lead the team in sacks next season.
Do Patriots fans even remember what struggle feels like? Their team is in the hunt each and every year, so when Brady finally hangs it up, the entire fan-base will need some therapy to cope with the real world of pro football.
New England is the favorite in Vegas to win it all in 2016. No shocker of course.
They added Martellus Bennett, who caught 53 balls for an offensively challenged Chicago team in 2015. Bennett will be a nice piece to rest Gronk when need be, and to put both TEs on the field at the same time. Gronk and Aaron Hernandez wreaked havoc on defenses before the latter began a murder spree.
So that’s how the best four teams of 2015 look at the moment. Which teams that didn’t sniff the postseason have improved their position the most so far? In theory….
The Raiders can’t go without winning another Super Bowl forever. I’m calling my shot right now. They will win one in the next six years. The team has spent $70 million on free agents so far as they snatched up offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele, linebacker Bruce Irvin (Seahawks), cornerback Sean Smith (Chiefs) and re-signed one of their own in left tackle Donald Penn.
The offense can score with anyone and David Carr will only get better with time. Once the defense is on solid ground, the Raiders will be a threat to the AFC West and the conference title itself at some point.
Can getting rid of a head coach with way too many miles on the motor be considered the best offseason move for a team? You bet. Tom Coughlin had to be put out to pasture in New York so the team could find a new identity. It remains to be seen if Ben McAdoo is the right man for the job, but it was clear that Coughlin was not.
The Giants re-signed tight end Will Tye, who started on the practice squad last season. He ended up contributing 42 catches and three touchdowns over his 13 games played.
The team also added some much needed defensive help. DE Olivier Vernon (from Miami), DT Damon Harrison (from NY Jets), and CB Janoris Jenkins (from L.A.) should help the Giants leap several spots from their dead last 2015 defensive ranking.
They had no choice but spend big dollars on a defense that gave up 6725 yards last year. That was 120 more yards per game than Denver allowed as the best defense in football.
As for my Atlanta Falcons, they didn’t make any blockbuster moves, but didn’t make any risky ones either. They had to part ways with Roddy White, who is a Falcons legend, but didn’t fit in with Shanahan’s offensive scheme. I have my doubts that Mohamed Sanu is a good replacement out of Cinci. He has shown flashes of big play ability, yet those flashes were way too infrequent to make a real impact for the Bengals.
Atlanta’s best free agent move was bringing in Alex Mack to improve an offensive line that was pretty damn good in 2015, especially compared to the atrocity that was 2014.
It’ll take five or six games next year before we can see just how much impact all these free agent moves had. Some of these guys will end up making a real difference for the teams that believed in them enough to scratch very large checks.
Other players will only leave their franchise with a bad case of buyer’s remorse.