Bryan Altman, CBS Local Sports
Winning and losing is what it’s all about in professional sports and you can’t quantify wins and losses when games aren’t being played. However, more often than not it’s pretty clear to see which teams have vastly improved their lot in the offseason and which teams have taken a step closer to an empty January schedule and a top draft pick in 2016. So with the air almost completely out of the free agency balloon, let’s take a look at the teams that are sitting pretty and the ones that aren’t as we eagerly await the return of football.
1. New York Jets (Disclaimer – I am a Jets fan)
My allegiances to a spirit-crushing sports franchise aside, it’s nearly impossible to argue that the Jets haven’t had the best free agency in the NFL this season thanks to their new cash-wielding general manager Mike Maccagnan. Well, to be fair, if we put it in hockey terms, Maccagnan scored the goal, but Idzik set up the play and got the primary assist. Still, Maccagnan is spitting out money like a broken slot machine and its reinvigorated a despondent fan base. Signing Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, Buster Skrine and trading for Brandon Marshall all in the same week almost feels too good to be true. The Jets finally did what any team taking a pragmatic approach to their offseason with a bloated payroll does: assessed the issues from last year and fixed them. (Well, we’ll see about the quarterback thing.) Either way, hats off to Maccagnan. Even if he vastly overspent and is at the beginning of a spending spree that puts the Jets into financial turmoil for decades at least we had this moment, right now, where everything is awesome.
2. Indianapolis Colts
There aren’t any questions left as to whether the Colts are “going for it” this year or not. After signing Andre Johnson to the tune of $21 million and snatching Frank Gore from the Eagles for three years and $12 million Indy’s already impressive offense is looking to be even better in 2015. On the defensive side of the ball the Colts grabbed defensive lineman Kendall Langford and linebacker/pass rusher Trent Cole, not exactly the flashiest defensive names but two experienced players who can add a bit of grit to the Colts’ porous defense. Plus, Indianapolis isn’t exactly a team rife with holes that need to be plugged. They made it to the AFC Championship game for a reason and if they can certainly find a way to improve on that this year thanks to their newest signings.
3. Oakland Raiders
The silver and black are back baby! Maybe that’s premature, but perhaps this offseason is the beginning of a new era in Oakland for Raider Nation. The Raiders locked up center Rodney Hudson, linebackers Malcolm Smith and Curtis Lofton and defensive tackle Dan Williams, giving the Raiders a big boost on the defensive side of the ball along with a marquee center to go with Derek Carr, who they hope will be their quarterback for many years to come.
1. San Francisco 49ers
I’ll begin by admitting that I’m already a little bit skeptical of every move the 49ers make now that I’ve seen the Jim Tomsula press conference from a few months back. Eesh. Talk about a bad first impression. Besides Tomsula’s knack for jibberish, the 49ers are taking all of the negative momentum they built up over the course of the season last year and are rolling with it straight through the offseason. You’ve gotta respect the consistency. Seriously though, losing Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, Mike Iupati, Frank Gore, Chris Culliver, Michael Crabtree and head coach Jim Harbaugh is simply an awful, awful offseason.
Yes, the addition of Torrey Smith is a nice one and I’m sure Darnell Dockett will have a nice rebound year for the 49ers, but that list of the dearly departed from the 49ers is far too long and far too talented to expect anything out of this team. Plus, have you seen Tomsula’s press conference yet?
2. New England Patriots
One of the unfortunate side effects of being really good all the time is that you have a lot of really good players that you eventually need to pay a whole lot of money. Shedding players like Marshawn Lynch sheds tackles is something New England and Bill Belichick have perfected over the years but the crop of talent that they lost this year is a lot for any team. First of all the loss of Darrelle Revis is a gigantic one. Just look back at the Jets after they let Revis go if you need any evidence of that. Not to mention the team lost opposite starting cornerback Brandon Browner and defensive stalwart Vince Wilfork could be next. Offensively the loss of Shane Vereen definitely isn’t ideal, but New England finds running backs like they’re coins under couch cushions. As it has been since Belichick arrived, it’ll be interesting to see how all of the new pieces mesh and how the best coach in the biz compensates for their losses. My guess is they’ll be just fine.
3. Baltimore Ravens
It’s really too bad that Joe Flacco can’t play multiple positions because with all the money tied into his contract he really should offer to tackle someone when it’s not the last play of the Super Bowl. The Ravens have cap issues and as a result they had to watch some of their better players walk out the door this offseason. Torrey Smith is a big loss for a playmaker-starved offense while Haloti Ngata and Pernell McPhee’s absence on defense will be immeasurable. Resigning Justin Forsett was huge for this team and John Harbaugh has managed to get the best out of this group even when they are short-staffed, but they’ll need to find some magical math equation to free up some cap room if they want to improve and compete with the best teams in the NFL this year.
The Eagles were like a car that needed a new tire. Except they decided that instead of investing in a spare they’d just light the whole car on fire, collect the insurance money and buy a used version of the car they already had. Is DeMarco Murray really that big of an upgrade over LeSean McCoy? Is Sam Bradford really an upgrade over Nick Foles or Mark Sanchez? Is Byron Maxwell worth half of what they paid for him? Was Jeremy Maclin really that expendable? We’ll certainly find out soon enough but I don’t think so. I think Chip Kelly felt the grass was greener elsewhere but he’ll find out soon enough that it simply wasn’t the case.