Even though there are still deals to be made, the best and worst moves of the NFL off season are already behind us. Unless the San Diego Charges trade all their picks to draft Reggie Bush, it's unlikely any horrendous decisions will be made in the draft. Free Agency is a bigger deal. The players on the market are proven and there is a standard against which their value can be measured.
The Free Agent market is more entertaining because it's you can predict which teams are going to make a splash with their acquisitions. The draft is a huge crap shoot. Nobody knows which rookie is going to rise to the challenge of being an impact player. There are no unexpected holdouts. Free agents know their market value and they sign with the teams of their choosing.
There's still some activity pending, but we are confident in our projections and feel comfortable in declaring the winners and losers.
Best Team Improvement: Browns
This year the Cleveland Browns were aggressive, bringing in LeCharles Bentley to fortify a much improved line will bolster a surprisingly effective running game and open up the passing game for Charlie Frye. Joe Jurevicius is coming home after a strong performance last year and should be able to hold the fort down while Braylon Edwards recovers from a knee injury. Defensively the acquisition of Willie McGinest will stabilize that transition to the New England-inspired 3-4 Romeo Crennel wants to install. Ted Washington will be a big plus as well. The Browns might contend for the AFC North title thanks in part to the Steelers losing a playmaker in Randle El and the Bengals starting the season with their QB struggling with a bum knee.
Of course that brings us to the worst performance by a team. Early indications point to New England. Sure, people have been counting New England out for years, but this off season looks bad. Rumor has it that the Patriots are looking to clear enough cap room to bring in Lavar Arrington which is a departure from the M.O. previously employed to win as a team. Lavar will command big bucks and bring in a big ego. Not only are the patriots bleeding talent, they might be losing chemistry.
Best Individual Move: TIE Saints and Dolphins
Some people are excited about Edgerrin James heading to Arizona. Big Deal. Edge wasn't nearly as critical to the Colts as people like to think. That team enjoys regular season success because they have a great line and a wicked passing attack. As long as they can find a back that can run routes and catch passes they'll be fine. The Cardinals, however, won't be. Do they really think that Kurt Warner still has what it takes? And what does it matter with that line? The Cardinals are going to learn a tough lesson once the season opens. Never spend big money on a running back, unless you have a great line to block for him.
The Saints made a wise choice in acquiring the services of Drew Brees. Quarterback was a big problem for the Saints last year and Brees has proven his mettle. However, the departure of LeCharles Bentley will not help the Saints improve their offense. The Saints will have to find some blocking in the free agent market or hope to score a quality lineman in the draft. By picking up Brees they acquire some flexibility in trading that draft pick, but losing a solid blocker in Bentley is not going to be good for the team in the immediate future.
The Dolphins needed a good Quarterback. They have solid performers throughout their offense but the liability since Marino retired has been the dead heads they've tried to pawn off as NFL starters. Culpepper is a great acquisition and a steal for a second round pick. I don't know when the world decided Dante Culpepper was washed up, but before last season Culpepper was MVP material. He's big, strong, tough and throws well. He's not without flaws, but even the mighty Peyton Manning has a hole or two in his game. Culpepper's season was cut short by a gruesome knee injury, but the surgery supposedly went well and Dante will be 100% by the time the Dolphins take the field. With New England and Buffalo looking really confused this off season and the Jets being the Jets, Miami could win the AFC East going away. They'll lose in the playoffs, but they'll look like Superbowl contenders all year long.
Worst Individual Move: Chargers
It's got to be the Chargers. In fact, the Charges are a case study in stupid personnel decisions and this years blunder was three years in the making. Drew Brees is a good quarterback and has proven his value in two consecutive seasons. Completing 65% of his passes for almost 7,000 yards and more than 50 touchdowns in 31 games. The kid ripped up his shoulder in the last game of the season...a game he shouldn't have been in, no less...and the Chargers decided to let him walk.
The comedy of errors started when they jumped the gun and drafted Eli Manning, who they knew was not going to sign anyway, and trade him for Phillip Rivers. Brees came on strong, left Rivers on the bench and now everybody wonders if the guy can play. Brees proved he was at least better than Rivers simply by virtue of relegating the former NC State star to the bench for two years.
The Chargers didn't do themselves any favors by breaking the bank on two quarterbacks for two seasons. Everybody knew one of them had to go so the Chargers weren't going to get a lot of trade value, but letting the one who proved his worth on the field walk away with nothing in return was foolish. How do you let a pro-bowl QB slip away and not even get a fourth round pick for him? That's not even stupid, it's insane. The NFL should sue the Chargers management for negligence.
The Cowboys have to get a dishonorable mention for bringing in T.O. Drew Bledsoe simply doesn't have thick enough skin to put up with T.O.'s antics over the cpourse of a season and Parcel's unwavering authority might not impress the egomaniacal Owens. There's no disputing the talent the guy brings, and from that perspective he is an upgrade over Keyshwan Johnson, but it's a sad state of affairs when the guy you're replacing Keyshawn with brings more baggage. Vegas isn't taking bets on the Cowboys getting to the Superbowl, they're setting odds on when T.O. implodes. I'm taking week 9.
Look for some new faces at the top of the divisions this year. The Browns and Dolphins could be the rags to riches stories in the AFC and the Redskins might end up being the class of the NFC. Some teams will need to make a little headway in the draft, but it's been a busy off season and the balance of power will be swinging.