Even with the 2016 offseason largely in the rearview mirror, there are still plenty of topics and storylines to discuss, and PFR’s Community Tailgate is designed to address those stories. What’s the Community Tailgate all about? Well, it’s pretty simple. We’ll highlight one of the top talking points in the NFL. Then, in the comment section below, we want you to weigh in and let us know what you think.
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NFL teams that “win the offseason” certainly aren’t guaranteed to have success once the regular season begins, especially since the most impactful players in the league are unlikely to even reach free agency — thus earning the right to change teams — in the first place. Additionally, any club that is a contender for the “most improved” moniker likely had a sub-par roster to begin with, meaning expectations should be low. Still, it’s helpful to look back at the past two months and see which teams put in the best efforts, both during the free agent period and through the draft, in order to turn their club into a contender.
The Raiders were very active in free agency, especially on the defensive side of the ball, adding Bruce Irvin, Sean Smith, and Reggie Nelson before drafting West Virginia safety Karl Joseph in the first round and defensive end Jihad Ward and Shilique Calhoun in rounds two and three. Oakland was arguably set at most positions on offense, but they landed former Ravens offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele, paying him $3.7MM more annually than the next-highest paid guard. Veteran left tackle Donald Penn was brought back to anchor the blindside, while Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook was selected as a long-term backup to Derek Carr.
Only one team had more cap space entering the 2016 offseason than the Raiders, and that club — the Jaguars — made it count, landing both Malik Jackson and Tashaun Gipson in an attempt to fortify a defense that ranked 26th in DVOA. That side of the ball wasn’t done being remade, however, as Jacksonville arguably landed two top-10 talents, taking Jalen Ramsey fifth overall before picking up Myles Jack in the second round after injuries caused him to slip. Keep in mind that the Jags have another top defensive talent — edge rusher Dante Fowler Jr. — returning in 2016 after a torn ACL caused him to miss his entire rookie season. Jacksonville didn’t leave the offense untouched, adding left tackle Kelvin Beachum on a very team-friendly deal and signing violent running back Chris Ivory.
The Giants‘ draft left something to be desired, as although Sterling Shepard was an inspired selection in the second round, drafting cornerback Eli Apple at No. 10 overall was thought to be a reach. But New York spent in free agency, signing Olivier Vernon after the Dolphins rescinded his transition tag and also bringing in Damon Harrison and Janoris Jenkins. All three additions got at least $20MM in full guarantees, but Vernon took the cake, securing $40MM in fully guaranteed cash.
Defense was the clear area of need for the Bears over the offseason, and the club knew it, trading up to acquire pass rusher Leonard Floyd in the draft before plucking Jonathan Bullard in the third round. Free agency wasn’t ignored, either, as Chicago revamped its interior linebacking unit by signing both Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan before inking end Akiem Hicks. On offense, the Bears signed Bobby Massie, Ted Larsen, and Manny Ramirez (and drafted Cody Whitehair) to help up front, and added late-round sleepers in running back Jordan Howard and slot receiver Daniel Braverman.
There are certainly other contenders for the title of “most improved” — both the Rams and Eagles landed franchise quarterbacks, the Titans added pieces around Marcus Mariota, and the Buccaneers did the same around Jameis Winston. And depending on how one views the “most improved” label, the Browns had a solid offseason, acquiring assets through the draft in 2016 and amassing draft capital for years to come.
What do you think? Which of the clubs above improved the most over the 2016 offseason? Or did we forget someone? Leave your thoughts in the comment section!