The 2014 NFL season began at the start of the free agent signing period. Since then, many players have changed teams or been resigned. The free agent signing period offers the best opportunity for a team to make a quick turnaround. Many of the player available are veteran players who were either too expensive or ageing too quickly to make them worth resigning.
Therefore, a new team can swipe up these great talents at a much cheaper price. Of course, there are always a handful of player who make some serious money during this period. These are guys who are going to become long term cornerstones for teams in desperate need of some real leadership.
The 2014 free agent signing period brought a great deal of excitement to a lot of cities. The period is never truly over until the end of the season. There are still some great players that are available. Unfortunately for them, they are going to have to wait a while now. NFL teams are now in the process of deciding how to develop their new talent. This process will continue up through the first few week of training camp. At that time, teams will re-evaluate and decided whether or not to spend money on bringing somebody else in.
There have been a number of teams who have had an excellent off-season. These teams are really setting themselves up for a great deal of success in the near future. This list ranks those teams who have made the biggest strides during the free agency period.
10. Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers went 8-7-1 last season, but were still able to win the AFC North. This below average record can be mostly attributed to the mid-season loss of quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The offseason brought about the losses of two of the team’s offensive linemen, Evan Dietrich-Smith and Marshall Newhouse. The Packers failed to replace the holes left in the offensive line, but made great strides on the defensive side of the ball. Their main focus was to improve their ability to rush the passer. The Packers signed defensive ends Julius Peppers and Mike Neal. They were also able to resign B.J. Raji. Losing James Jones hurts, but the team still has a good set of receivers. With Aaron Rodgers healthy and a defense that can pressure the quarterback, this team is definitely going to have a better record in 2014.
9. New Orleans Saints
The best decision the New Orleans Saints made this offseason was to put the franchise tag on tight end Jimmy Graham. Had they lost Graham, they would not make this list. The Saints also lost some key linebackers in Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma. This might not bode well for the next season, but it freed up a lot of cap space and is allowing the team to bring in some younger talent. The Saints’ defense was pretty good last year, but they got much better this offseason. They went out and spent the money on free safety Jarius Byrd and cornerback Champ Bailey. Byrd is easily one of the best safeties in the NFL and Bailey will provide the veteran leadership needed following the losses of Vilma and Smith.
8. New England Patriots
The New England Patriots got this offseason’s prize. The team signed cornerback Darrelle Revis to a one year, $12 million contract. This came after they lost shutdown corner Aqib Talib. The Patriots also went out and signed Brandon Browner. Browner is a very talented cornerback, but has had some off the field issues. Bill Belichick is definitely going to be able to put a stop to this type of activity. He has shown he can do it for so many years now. The Patriots also resigned Julian Edelman and brought in ex-Panthers’ receiver Bandon LaFell. LaFell is going to be is a great addition because he plays along the sideline very well, which is something the Patriots were really missing last season.
7. Indianapolis Colts
The Indianapolis Colts quietly had one of the best offseasons in the league. They brought in Hakeem Nicks, who will work very well as a slot receiver. More importantly, the Colts brought in some great young talent on defense. They more than replaced linebacker Pat Angerer by sign D’Qwell Jackson to a four year, $22 million contract. They also were able to grab a strong cornerback in Vontae Davis.
6. Denver Broncos
It is hard to think that a team that made it to the Super Bowl could improve very much, but the Denver Broncos did just that. John Elway has made it very obvious that he wants to win now. The team brought in four big time play makers in DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward, and Emmanuel Sanders. Unfortunately, in order to pay these guys they had to get rid of some players. They were not able to resign Eric Decker, Wesley Woodyard, Knowshon Moreno, Zane Beadles, or Champ Bailey. However, Emmanuel Sanders offers much more upside than Decker. Moreno was beginning to be replaced with Montee Ball by the end of the 2013 season and Bailey’s best days are behind him. By taking Talib and Ward, the team’s secondary is very much improved. Therefore, the only real loss is offensive guard Zane Beadles. The opportunity to have one of the NFL’s strongest pass rushers more than makes up for the loss of an undersized guard any day. This is especially true considering the Broncos’ zone blocking style makes it very easy to bring players who can produce.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The first thing Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith did was to commit to installing the cover-2 defense. The team immediately released cornerback Darrelle Revis. Revis is not a cover style corner. He excels in man to man coverage and his $16 million per year contract was destroying the Bucs’ cap space. The team brought in Alterraun Verner to replace him. Verner may be the best cover-2 corner in the league. The Bucs also focused on bringing in new offensive linemen. Another huge helping factor was the acquiring of quarterback Josh McCown. McCown has been in the league a long time and can definitely help Mike Glennon improve. McCown also played under Smith in Chicago, so he knows the system and could potentially be the starter on day one.
4. Miami Dolphins
Following an 8-8 season that was riddled with the embarrassment surround the team’s offensive line, the Miami Dolphins were committed to improving their pass protection. They signed Branden Albert, this offseason’s best free agent offensive tackle, to a five year, $47 million contract. They also brought in Cortland Finnegan to help out in the secondary. Aside from addressing these two major needs, the Dolphins also went out and signed Knowshon Moreno. Moreno is coming off the best season of career. He should be able to easily beat out Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller for the Dolphins’ starting running back role.
3. New York Jets
The New York Jets made the single smartest signing of any team in the NFL. The team signed quarterback Michael Vick to a one year, $four million contract. They also got rid of Mark Sanchez. This shows they are committed to handing the offense over to Geno Smith at some point. Vick will probably be the starter this season, but he is going to be able to teach Smith so much. The two quarterbacks play a very similar style of ball, and Vick has already shown he can be a great teammate and teacher to young gunslingers. The Jets also improved their offensive line by bringing in tackle Breno Giacomini. To top off these additions, they also signed wide receiver Eric Decker. It is unfortunate they were forced to cut Santonio Holmes. The combination of Decker and Holmes would keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night.
2. Washington Redskins
The reason the Washington Redskins edge out the New York Jets is because they were able to improve without losing very much. The team really only lost one starter. Linebacker London Fletcher retired. However, the Redskins were able to resign Riley Perry to ensure their linebackers would still have a strong veteran leader. They also improved their secondary by bringing in DeAngelo Hall and Tracy Porter. Of course, the team’s biggest acquisition was wider receiver DeSean Jackson. Jackson a big time deep threat and will go perfectly along a possession type receiver like Pierre Garcon. They also brought in former Cardinals’ receiver Andre Roberts. Roberts had a breakout season last year and will only get better as time goes on.
1. Oakland Raiders
The Oakland Raiders were very busy during the 2014 free agent signing period. The team brought in ten new players and resigned veterans Darren McFadden and Charles Woodson. The team more than made up for its major losses of LaMarr Houston, Rashard Jennings, and Tracy Porter. They brought in three defensive ends: Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley, and Antonio Smith. Then they signed Maurice Jones-Drew to take Jennings’ place. There secondary improved as well by signing cornerbacks Terrell Brown and Carlos Rodgers. However, the best thing the team did was to go out and get a big wide receiver. The Raiders have not had a great wide receiver since Randy Moss. Now they have the former Packer, James Jones. Jones adds a big target and the great hands the team has been missing for years.