The New Orleans Saints and New York Jets stood out as teams having a rough or perhaps better said, dramatic, early offseason,
but now it’s time to look at the feel-good stories that have developed between Super Bowl XLVI and the 2012 NFL draft.
When looking at the big winners so far, it’s important to consider them in relation to the team that just won the Super Bowl. The New York Giants sustained the trend of needing an elite, clutch quarterback to raise the Lombardi Trophy.
That puts two teams with a connection to what Eli Manning just accomplished on top of the winners list so far this offseason:
It was a difficult task to keep up their momentum from a playoff season filled with Tebowmania, but they didn’t
lose one bit of star power by signing Peyton Manning. And, most important, they got the style of passer needed to immediately vie for a championship. Executive vice president John Elway has turned to Manning, hoping for a Super Bowl swan song from him like the one he enjoyed in his career. The Giants just won their second Super Bowl title with their Manning, and the Broncos are driven to get Peyton No. 2, too.
Offensively, they have the pieces, along with Manning, to deliver the passing punch needed to battle the AFC’s heavyweights. On Friday, the Broncos gave Manning two tight ends—former Colt Jacob Tamme and former Texan Joel Dreessen—to connect with. Their defense remains strong under coach John Fox, and the team already addressed a key spot with former Browns safety Mike Adams. As much excitement and success Tim Tebow’s time brought the Broncos, Manning is the guy who can get them back to glory.
The thought of bringing in Peyton Manning to help them better compete with Eli Manning’s team crossed their minds, but the Redskins were smart to swiftly put Plan B into motion to ensure they got a franchise quarterback for ’12 and beyond. It will be easy to forget the haul of draft picks they gave to the St. Louis Rams for the No. 2 overall pick because it guarantees they’ll land Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III to help them catch up at QB in the NFC East.
Most likely, that quarterback will be Griffin, who continued to dazzle the Redskins at his pro day this week. It’s an election year in Washington, but Griffin—with his speed, athleticism and arm strength—is the most appealing running mate for D.C. The Redskins desperately needed an electric offensive performer and a charming personality to become the face of their franchise—and going all in on the Griffin campaign will pay off.
Let’s see, since the middle of last season, the Bills have locked up their starting quarterback and top wide receiver. They’ve also switched to a 4-3 defense. They signed Ryan Fitzpatrick and Stevie Johnson to solidify their passing game and added two pass-rushing studs, Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, to their front four. Sound familiar?
The Bills are quietly copycatting the Giants in building up their strengths. For an organization, much like the Broncos and Redskins, seeking the success it once enjoyed in the 1990s, it’s a big step back toward true playoff contention. They might not be quite as the level of Anderson’s former team, the Patriots, but their moves have definitely pushed them ahead of the Jets and Miami Dolphins—two teams that are struggling to make the right kind of splash.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Spending big money is by no means the path to consistent success in the NFL, but the Bucs had the cash and have used it wisely. They needed to boost their young roster with impact players, especially on offense. Vincent Jackson gives them the big-time receiver to accelerate the development of franchise QB Josh Freeman, and Carl Nicks provides a mauling guard to improve the power running game. The Bucs also filled a key cornerback need with former Detroit Lion Eric Wright.
And this is all before they go to work in the draft, where general manager Mark Dominik has a keen eye for talent. New coach Greg Schiano is being equipped with a bigger, stronger team and is bound to get a difference-making rookie playmaker with the fifth overall pick as well. LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne or Alabama running back Trent Richardson would do Tampa Bay just fine.
They took a calculated gamble that former Miami Dolphins wideout Brandon Marshall will be a bigger asset on the field than he will be a detracting force off it. If it works out, Jay Cutler will love throwing again to Marshall, the bona fide No. 1 wideout he hasn’t had since he threw to Marshall in Denver.
The Bears also learned their lesson well from the backup mess that was created when both Cutler (thumb) and running back Matt Forte (knee) went down with injuries late last season. While Jason Campbell is solid insurance for Cutler, fellow former Oakland Raider Michael Bush can be a lot more than a complement to Forte.
Seeing the firepower that Green Bay and Detroit have amassed as NFC North playoff teams ahead of them, Chicago officials couldn’t afford to stand pat. Look for the offensive additions (linemen, receivers, tight ends) to continue through the draft.
The Broncos and Redskins, along with the Indianapolis Colts, all will be welcoming new franchise quarterbacks, and the Seahawks wisely followed suit. Although former Packers ace backup Matt Flynn would have solved a big QB problem in Miami or Cleveland, he also fits very well in Seattle.
The Seahawks once hit NFC title gold by bringing another former Green Bay No. 2— Matt Hasselbeck—into their offensive operation, and Flynn’s arrival should make them feel good at least about their wild-card chances this season. It certainly helps that he will have Marshawn Lynch, who was re-signed, pounding away in the running game.
Don’t forget about what the Seahawks have done with their defensive line. Over the past two years, they’ve secured run stoppers Brandon Mebane and Red Bryant. On top of that, they added a terrific versatile cog this month in former Tennessee Titan Jason Jones. Guess who else is following the Giants’ lead?
St. Louis Rams
Jeff Fisher was quite a hire for a floundering franchise. Even though the decision to bring in Gregg Williams as defensive coordinator was a black mark, his loss to indefinite suspension won’t be devastating. The Rams are fortunate that with Fisher’s defensive acumen, he can effectively call an aggressive scheme while also managing the entire team.
Fisher will need Sam Bradford to deliver soon on his promise as a franchise quarterback if the Rams are going to transform themselves into a playoff team. While he waits for that to happen, Fisher has eased the burden on Bradford by making some shrewd moves. To help Bradford directly in the offense, he landed former Packers Pro Bowl center Scott Wells. Defensively, he took care of a priority by bringing in former Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan. Former Dolphin Kendall Langford is an underrated addition to a defensive line that features budding pass rushers Chris Long and Robert Quinn.
Of course, the picks (a first- and second-rounder this year and a first-rounder in 2013) Fisher got from Washington will help him rebuild through the draft. Look for that process to start with the Rams getting Bradford a legitimate top target in Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon.
The Giants are the champs, the Redskins got their quarterback, and the Philadelphia Eagles got their middle linebacker (DeMeco Ryans) to follow up last offseason’s defensive splurge. But don’t forget about the Cowboys’ smart moves. They couldn’t get Finnegan, but former Chiefs star Brandon Carr may have been the best possible addition to make an upgrade at cornerback.
Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan also got some much-needed reinforcements in the rest of his back seven when the team signed inside linebacker Dan Connor and safety Brodney Pool. Bringing back outside linebacker Anthony Spencer with the franchise tag also was critical. The Cowboys have gotten much less pub for what they did on offense, but free-agent additions Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau should be good starters at guard.
Everyone wants to be the Giants, so it’s no surprise that two rivals from the NFC East were among the most aggressive in acquiring better players.