There have been plenty of big moves and re-signings in this off-season, but certain teams have stood out with the additions of big-name players. Of course, along with teams that have a clear strategy and a visible drive to win, there are those other teams (*cough* Browns *cough* Jaguars) that seem to have absolutely no clue where to get that much needed help for their franchises. I’ve put together my top 5 teams based on their pre-draft moves. The criteria to make this list wasn’t the amount of moves made, but how the moves will help the franchise.
Honorable Mention: The Buffalo Bills
The Bills earned an honorable mention on this list because they made two key moves this off-season that really will help balance out their team and make them a legitimate threat. The signings of DE Mark Anderson from the Patriots and, primarily, the signing of DE Mario Williams will add veteran presence to their defense. Quarterbacks facing the Bills will be under pressure constantly from their solid D-line, and assuming they draft some young defenders today, their defense should morph into a tough one to compliment their offense which will continue to build around the growing QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and WR Steve Johnson. If the Bills offense can start the same way they did last season and maintain that level while the defense builds around Mario Williams, look for the Bills to be contenders for a wild card playoff spot in the AFC.
5th Place: The Seattle Seahawks
Why the Seahawks? Easy…Matt Flynn. The biggest hole in the Seahawks team was the lack of a quarterback. Ever since Matt Hasselbeck fell from his prime, the Seahawks have been desperate for a leader and an effective passer. The Tavaris Jackson experiment clearly failed. The addition of more-than-able QB Matt Flynn provides the team with a dangerous passer, which will spread opponents’ defenses to allow RB Marshawn Lynch (re-signed with a four-year extension) to enter “beast mode” more often. With Flynn as their quarterback and Pete Carroll as the head coach, this organization will finally have some stability it can build around.
4th Place: The Chicago Bears
The Bears have a solid QB in Jay Cutler and a stellar RB in Matt Forte, so why all the trouble? A few answers to that are lack of an able offensive line, no weapons for Cutler, and a shaky secondary. While the offensive line issues appear to be saved for the draft/after, the Bears have made huge additions to their team to make them serious contenders in the NFC. The trade for star WR Brandon Marshall re-unites him with Cutler from their days on the Broncos. The two of them, along with another solid addition of WR Eric Weems from the Falcons, will form a fierce passing attack as long as Cutler’s protection holds up. To back up Matt Forte and give him some wiggle-room, the Bears have signed RB Michael Bush to a four year deal. The pair will compliment each other very well and will tear through defenses that aren’t good at stopping the run. Finally, to help their secondary the Bears have signed CB’s Jonathan Wilhite and Kelvin Hayden. How big of an impact these two players have on the defense remains to be seen, but these additions combined with good draft picks will help the Bears immensely.
3rd Place: The Denver Broncos
You had to know this was coming. For me, the Broncos ditching Tim Tebow is enough to land them on this list for a great offseason move, but obviously the main reason is acquiring arguably one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, Peyton Manning. Nice upgrade right? I may not agree with the length and expense (five years, $96 million) because of his age and surgery, but he definitely still has at least one or two good years left. Not only did they get Manning, they also got his former teammate TE Jacob Tamme. Him and the newly added WR Brandon Stokley give Manning the weapons he needs to have a solid 60 minutes of play, instead of the 15 the Broncos were accustomed to with Tebow. The Broncos even beefed up their defense (which was already pretty good) with the addition of CB Tracy Porter. Last time Porter was on a field with Manning, he was returning a pick-6 to win the Super Bowl. I’m not sure if the Broncos are legitimate Super Bowl contenders, but the moves made this off-season definitely make them favorites to win their division.
2nd Place: The San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers had a season last year that many, including myself, didn’t see coming at all. The addition of Coach Jim Harbaugh and the maturation of QB Alex Smith turned this team from an overlooked group in the NFC to Super Bowl contenders. The true test for this team will be to learn from last year and build off of their success. The loss to the Giants last year in the NFC championship game clearly has stuck deep into the minds of the 49ers and they are stacking their team for a better chance at the Lombardi this year. The signings of WRs Mario Manningham and Randy Moss will give Alex Smith the passing weapons he lacked last year. RB Brandon Jacobs will add another veteran presence to the run game and will lighten the load of Frank Gore. Perhaps their most important move of this off-season, however, was the re-signing of Alex Smith. He was frustrated with his team after they went after Peyton Manning, but his retention ensures a stable offense to build around. Whether or not Randy Moss will be a factor this year is for all of us to find out, but the fact is the 49ers’ metaphorical offensive gun is now cocked and loaded with these additions. Take that offense combined with their extremely well-built defense and you have yourself a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
1st Place: The New England Patriots
I’m not just placing the Patriots at #1 because I’m obviously a big Patriots fan. I honestly feel that the moves they’ve made this off-season have filled the very little holes in the team. The huge addition that will likely have the biggest impact is the addition of WR Brandon Lloyd. He reunites with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in New England and will fill the roll of the deep passing threat. The chemistry he and Tom Brady will build will draw endless comparisons to the Moss-Brady duo that set records in 2007. With him stretching the field, WR Wes Welker and the two TE’s will have plenty of room to destroy defenses in the slot. The Patriots have also added WR Anthony Gonzalez to the mix of receivers. There are reports now that veteran RB’s Joseph Addai, Tim Hightower, and Ryan Grant have all visited the Pats this week. The addition of any one of these runners would instantly add that reliable veteran presence that Stevan Ridley, the likely featured back, will need. With the offense being virtually perfect, Belichick has focused more on defense this off-season and added play makers like S Steve Gregory, LB Bobby Carpenter, DE Trevor Scott, and CB Marquice Cole. The league-worst defense is being upgraded this off-season and look for even more additions from the draft. This team will be the Super Bowl favorite.