Ranking the top 10 NFL offseasons by team: Browns, Buccaneers and Chargers reign supreme

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The NFL offseason is kicking into high gear. Minicamps are wrapping up, and training camps are on the horizon. Before long, real games will be upon us. A lot can still happen between now and then, especially if another blockbuster deal goes down (we’re looking at you, Aaron Rodgers). But for the most part, teams have their respective core pieces in place for September. Which of the 32 teams, then, currently stand above the rest? Which clubs have fared the best up to this point?

We’re glad you asked. Here’s how we’d rank the top 10 offseasons by team heading into the summer:

This all hinges on Wentz. It’s unlikely he’ll revert to 2017 MVP-caliber form, but it’s also unlikely he’ll be nearly as self-destructive as he was in 2020. Either way, all things considered, the Colts deserve props for the way they seamlessly filled a void at the game’s most important position. Without mortgaging the future, they managed to get coach Frank Reich’s handpicked pupil at QB, perhaps ensuring their playoff ceiling is even higher than with Philip Rivers. As long as the line holds up, Wentz should be improved and the Colts should be right in the thick of the AFC race.

Before landing Jones, the Titans’ offseason was just fine — if not concerning. By letting both Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith walk, they threatened to undermine their own offensive balance. Julio, however, is that big of an addition. Opposite A.J. Brown, he reinforces the Titans’ commitment to toughness and instantly boosts Ryan Tannehill’s stock. Autry and Dupree, meanwhile, are probably a bit underrated despite their price tags. They should help make up for a weaker secondary and keep Tennessee squarely in the AFC South mix, so long as Derrick Henry also holds up.

This was not a splashy offseason for Buffalo; certainly not on par with 2020 when Stefon Diggs was the big catch. But the Bills were already built to contend. Their latest additions are like cherries on the sundae. Trubisky is a perfect fit as Josh Allen’s new backup, Breida is another low-risk, high-reward reserve, and Sanders is exactly the kind of savvy complement to Diggs and Gabriel Davis they needed after losing John Brown. Beefing up the pass-rushing rotation should bode well for them down the stretch, too.

If you look at all their moves individually, their offseason was just OK. Even the notable names here — Jackson, Atwell, etc. — are risky gambles, considering both receiver additions are either small, injury-prone or both. But the impact of the QB cannot be overstated, and the Rams somehow not only dumped the albatross that was Jared Goff’s contract but also landed a perennial top-12ish talent in Stafford. We must be careful not to over-hype Stafford’s ceiling considering how often he was good, not great, in Detroit. But in this system, with the Rams’ weapons, he’s bound to do well — if not guide Los Angeles to a serious playoff run as long as the O-line stays intact.

We’re not going to argue if you put a cap on their ceiling so long as Kirk Cousins is under center, but it’s hard to find much wrong with what Minnesota did in prep for a potential make-or-break year at QB. Mond may not challenge until 2022, but his presence should at least motivate Cousins. Better yet, the defense feels like a safe bet to return to form. Tomlinson and Richardson instantly improve the D-line alongside a healthier Danielle Hunter, and both Peterson and Breeland bring stability to a young secondary. Do we smell an NFC sleeper?

5. Washington Football Team

There are red flags with Fitzpatrick: He’ll be 39 by December, he hasn’t played a full season since 2015, and he’s just as prone to turnovers as jaw-dropping scores. So is he guaranteed to return Washington to the playoffs? No. But you can’t do much better if you’re trying to capitalize on a short window. Fitz is a clear upgrade on Alex Smith, and both Brown and Samuel should be versatile complements to Terry McLaurin. Jackson and Davis also figure to be key starters on Ron Rivera’s stingy defense. 

It would’ve been nice to see the reigning AFC champions pull off another Clyde Edwards-Helaire (i.e. adding a new luxury weapon). But they had one priority after the Super Bowl: improve Patrick Mahomes’ protection. Even if one or two of their additions up front doesn’t pan out, they’re already better off than they were. Acquiring Brown via trade was a creative way to fill the long-term left tackle need. The only thing they could really use is more pass-rushing help, as evidenced by their attempt to use Chris Jones on the edge.

It remains to be seen how first-time coach Brandon Staley will fare, especially considering he’s got a defensive background and will be tasked with shepherding one of the game’s top young QBs in Justin Herbert. But the Chargers got better in all the right places, adding a long-term blind-side blocker and All-Pro center for their hotshot signal-caller, an underrated safety valve in Cook, and a promising play-maker at corner in Samuel. As long as Herbert stays upright and Staley’s touch resonates with the talent on “D,” they have the makings of a sneaky challenger.

Like the Chiefs, it would’ve been nice to see a luxury addition here, or at least more luxurious than Giovani Bernard. But goodness, you couldn’t have asked for a better follow-up to a title run than a welcome-back party for literally every core free agent from the Super Bowl lineup. The best part about Tampa’s cap finagling is that guys like Godwin and Barrett aren’t just short-term ingredients, either. It helps that the Bucs have also drafted and developed really well to supplement the veteran additions.

The pendulum has officially swung all the way from “laughingstock” to “powerhouse,” or at least close to it. Yes, the Browns still need to prove themselves deep into the playoffs, but their roster was already incredibly balanced going into the offseason. Then they loaded up on defense, where Clowney’s presence alone should aid Myles Garrett and guys like Hill and Johnson should bring confidence to a young and oft-banged-up secondary. Cleveland aced the test and still has plenty of cap space. This team, complete with a healthier Kevin Stefanski offense, is primed to contend not only for the AFC North but beyond it. 

Honorable mention

  • New York Giants: GM Dave Gettleman actually delivered on his promise to give QB Daniel Jones more play-makers (WR Kenny Golladay was a smart, if expensive, gamble), and his draft-day maneuvering was solid as well. But Jones is still set to start behind an iffy offensive line in a crucial year three. You also can’t rely too much on the health of additions like Kadarius Toney or Adoree’ Jackson.
  • Denver Broncos: They certainly doubled down on their commitment to feisty defensive football. Kyle Fuller, Ronald Darby and Patrick Surtain II give them a deep cornerback room. Teddy Bridgewater also raises their floor at QB. Unless another shoe is set to drop under center or Drew Lock takes a seismic leap, however, they’re destined for a wild-card hunt, at best.
  • Miami Dolphins: Adding both Will Fuller and Jaylen Waddle should help expand Tua Tagovailoa’s scope, but they shuffled parts on defense without necessarily getting much better. Now star corner Xavien Howard is reportedly unhappy with his deal, too.
  • Chicago Bears: They moved up for QB Justin Fields, so that’s certainly something. But they’re also inexplicably adamant about stopgap Andy Dalton’s hold on the No. 1 job. Worse yet, their depth at WR, OL and CB is still lacking. Fields could certainly change their entire franchise if he explodes onto the scene, but it’s tough to give this regime the benefit of the doubt.
  • Jacksonville Jaguars: Only because of Trevor Lawrence.