ESPN's voting panel ranked each team post free agency. The Patriots, Falcons and Packers emerged victorious. | By Yvonne Hew
The official start of the new NFL year began on March 9, and as always, there was a whole lot of commotion as teams throughout the league raced to secure the best free agents money could buy. ESPN's voting panel of 80 writers, editors and TV personalities ranked each team according to their activity during free agency. A combination of the panel’s analysis and ESPN Stats and Information resulted in the Green Bay Packers, Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots, emerging victorious. Let's count down the top 16 teams post free agency.
16. Arizona Cardinals
Their defense took a real beating when they lost four of their six best defensive snap leaders. The biggest loss was defensive end Calais Campbell when he signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Cards have lost the consistency he brought to the field, and his sacking ability. Without Campbell, will they get as many turnovers as they did last season?
15. Miami Dolphins
It was an uncharacteristically quiet offseason for Miami, but quality is better than quantity. Two veterans -- safety Nate Allen and linebacker Lawrence Timmons may be a huge help to a unit that only ranked 29th in yards and 18th in points last season.
14. Tennessee Titans
The Titans’ secondary (that allowed the fifth-most completions in 2016) will receive a major boost with the additions of safety Johnathan Cyprien and cornerback Logan Ryan. They're probably counting on some further worthy additions with they select fifth and 18th in the draft next month.
13. Houston Texans
The Texans unloaded themselves of Brock Osweiler, which most think is about the smartest move they could’ve made. Aside from re-signing tight end Ryan Griffin, that was the only move they made. Tony Romos may become their ninth starting quarterback, or Tom Savage may take the reigns, but will that really be enough for the Texans?
12. Detroit Lions
Last season, the Lions averaged only 3.4 yards on rushes to the right. That was second-worst in the league. The franchise’s answer to that was to significantly upgrade the right side of their offensive line, securing offensive tackle Rick Wagner and offensive guard T.J. Lang, who they wanted desperately enough to make a huge counter-offer against the Seattle Seahawks.
11. Baltimore Ravens
Their secondary has undergone a major overhaul after they allowed a massive 28 passing touchdowns last season, second-highest in franchise history. Tony Jefferson is a welcome addition – he’s forced six fumbles in his career. He’ll form one of the best safety duos in the league with Eric Weddle. Talented veteran Brandon Carr signed a five-year deal with the Ravens.
10. Denver Broncos
As expected, the Broncos have made moves revolving around the offensive line. They saved money by not picking up Russell Okung’s four-year option. Signing guard Ronald Leary may boost their rushing yards this coming season. Now, we shall wait and see if Romo will be the next veteran quarterback the franchise signs (after Peyton Manning).
9. New York Giants
As if having Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard weren’t good enough, the Giants’ addition of Brandon Marshall could take them to the next level. That’s only if Marshall gets back to his Pro Bowl form. He caught just 47.2 percent of his targets last season, second-lowest amongst receivers.
8. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs will feel the loss of all-time leading rusher Jamaal Charles. Their running backs ranked 25th in rushing yards last season, and if 2017 is anything like 2016, their biggest rushing contributions may come from receiver Tyreek Hill and quarterback Alex Smith.
7. Oakland Raiders
Tight end Jared Cook is hotly regarded as the ideal red zone target for quarterback Derek Carr, who didn’t have the luxury last season. Carr only completed 48.9 percent of his red zone passes, 22nd in the NFL, so the team will be looking at Cook to be the weapon they need to improve their passing game.
6. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks may have the next Marshawn Lynch in running back Eddie Lacy. He has averaged 2.15 yards per rush after contact since he started his NFL career in 2013. The team also addressed their shortcomings in the linebacker position by signing Terence Garvin and re-signing Dewey McDonald. These two will have a lot of work to do this offseason.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers
If you talk to Steelers fans, you'll discover they emphatically approve of the richest wide receiver in the league Antonio Brown signing an extension, and Le’Veon Bell being franchise tagged. Per Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, coach Mike Tomlin said he“would never trade [Brown] for anyone.” Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger may be playing in 2017 despite considering retirement.
4. Dallas Cowboys
They can breathe a sigh of relief at Tony Romo’s impending departure, but it looks like cornerback Nolan Carroll II will have a huge weight on his shoulders. He'll single-handedly replace a large chunk of their secondary after Brandon Carr, J.J. Wilcox, Barry Church and Morris Claiborne took their talents elsewhere.
3. Green Bay Packers
The Packers aren't known for being overly active in free agency, but this offseason is remarkable. They did something very uncharacteristic by signing two players in the same position -- high-performing tight ends Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks. Have the Packers learnt from their mistakes last season, when they utilized tight ends on the second-fewest plays? Seems so.
2. Atlanta Falcons
Last season, they allowed 4.5 yards per rush between tackles, fifth-worse in the league. Making matters worse, 46 percent of their sacks came from one player. Signing nose tackle Dontari Poe is a very clever move -- he should be a big boost on both fronts, considering he only missed two games in five seasons with the Chiefs. That means both his health and commitment don't need questioning.
1. New England Patriots
Cornerback Stephon Gilmore’s toughness, and receiver Brandin Cooks’ big-play ability will impact positively on the Patriots. Despite the Patriots’ Super Bowl LI victory, these two players have attributes that are desperately needed. Cook has seven 40-plus yard touchdowns to his name, while the Patriots have nine total in that time. And Gilmore's aggressive man coverage make him extra valuable. Need more be said?
Most decisions were intelligently made by each franchise, while others may have been made out of desperation. We will soon be able to see just how, if at all, these moves for each team will impact on overall performance.