NFL Front Office Power Rankings: 49ers, Buccaneers challenge Patriots for top spot
Now that the offseason is all but over, let's rank how each team's front office fared
The NFL offseason isn't over -- unless you count OTAs and training camp as a portion of the actual season, which I don't -- but the important parts are wrapped up after the draft. At this point, nearly every important free agent has landed with his new team. Some still remain -- notably Colin Kaepernick -- but if a free agent signs this late in the process, he's unlikely to play a substantial, game-changing role in the season to come. The point being, the most meaningful part of the offseason -- when front offices earn their paychecks -- is over.
On that note, it's time to judge the 32 NFL front offices and the jobs they did this offseason, which means it's time for NFL front office Power Rankings.
Before we begin, this list does not serve as a predictor for how teams will perform next season. For example, the 49ers had a tremendous offseason, so you'll see them positioned near the top of this list. But that doesn't mean I'm expecting them to wind up in the postseason like the Patriots -- another team near the top. So, when the 49ers inevitably go 2-14, please don't cite this article when you yell at me on Twitter. Trust me, I'll give you plenty of better reasons to yell at me.
OK, onto the rankings ...
1. New England Patriots
Talk about a near-flawless offseason. Already the best team in the league by a wide margin, the Pats found a way to get better. They did that by trading for wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who immediately becomes Tom Brady's best deep threat since Randy Moss. The Patriots also stole Mike Gillislee, a productive running back, from the Bills. They signed Stephon Gilmore to bolster their secondary. And they retained Malcolm Butler.
But nobody is perfect, and I side with Pete Prisco and firmly believe they made a mistake by not trading Jimmy Garoppolo for extra draft picks. If Brady gets hurt this season, the Patriots aren't winning a Super Bowl, even if they have Garoppolo to take over. Garoppolo has played two solid games in his career. He's overvalued.
And then the Patriots let Brady accept the honor of being on the cover of "Madden." At this point, the "Madden" curse might be the only thing that stops the Patriots.
2. San Francisco 49ers
Give it up for John Lynch. In his first offseason as an NFL general manager, he swindled the Bears to give up a a king's ransom to move up one spot in the draft. He still managed to draft the player, Solomon Thomas, he wanted all along. Getting Reuben Foster, a first-round talent if you don't factor in his injury history, late in the first round was huge too. The 49ers also didn't overspend in free agency, which is sensible because they are light years away from playoff contention. So, they did the one thing that a team devoid of talent can do: They stockpiled assets to draft a new, young core group of players. That's a successful offseason.
One move that made no sense: Taking developmental quarterback C.J. Beathard in the third round. That's way too early for a marginal talent.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers spent their offseason making sure Jameis Winston won't have any excuses in 2017. First, they signed DeSean Jackson to be Winston's new deep threat, along with Mike Evans, of course. Then, they used their first-round pick on Alabama tight end O.J. Howard. Suddenly, the Buccaneers could feature one of the league's best passing attacks if Winston shows more consistency.
One big plus: They didn't trade up to draft another kicker this year. Progress!
4. Cleveland Browns
The Browns had another smart offseason. They didn't overthink the draft, choosing the consensus top pick in Myles Garrett. Getting a quarterback like DeShone Kizer at No. 52 overall could end up being the steal of the draft.
The Browns' success goes beyond the draft. In free agency, they signed guard Joel Bitonio to a contract extension and signed two additional offensive linemen in JC Tretter and Kevin Zeitler. So, expect improved offensive line play. Meanwhile, they acquired an extra second-round pick from Houston -- and all they have to do is pay Brock Osweiler's contract. For a team with tons of cap space, that's a great move.
The Browns are functioning like a smart franchise. Weird.
5. Philadelphia Eagles
Carson Wentz is the quarterback of the future, so the Eagles were wise to go get him some weapons. Landing Alshon Jeffery on a one-year prove-it deal is huge. So is getting Torrey Smith, a receiver who was stuck on a horrible San Francisco team, which hid his talents.
Don't overlook the signing of Chris Long and the drafting of Sidney Jones, who will be hurt at the beginning of the year, but could display his first-round talent once he makes his way back.
6. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons didn't do much this offseason, but that's a good thing considering they were in the Super Bowl a few months ago. Two moves still stand out:
- Adding Dontari Poe, who will bolster the interior of the defensive line.
- Giving Desmond Trufant a five-year extension.
I like that the Falcons added to their already blossoming defense in the draft by getting Takkarist McKinley and Duke Riley. They just made their defense faster.
7. New York Giants
They had a pretty quiet offseason in free agency, which makes sense given how active (and successful) they were a year ago when they went out and snagged Janoris Jenkins and Olivier Vernon. They managed to upgrade on offense this year. Getting Brandon Marshall for cheap could be a steal, especially considering he won't have to be the Giants' No. 1 target in 2017; that role still belongs to Odell Beckham. The Giants' offense will be difficult to stop in the red zone with two receivers capable of snagging jump balls. The long-term signing of Jason Pierre-Paul is also big. Last year, Pierre-Paul proved he could overcome his fireworks accident.
In the draft, the Giants got Eli Manning his pass-catching tight end in Evan Engram. Then they bolstered their already good defense with defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson. Finally, they got their quarterback of the future in Davis Webb in the third round. Some thought Webb could've been a first-round pick.
8. Minnesota Vikings
They cut weight by letting go of old, injured Adrian Peterson and fixed their running back position by signing Latavius Murray and drafting Dalvin Cook -- a first-round talent who fell to the second-round because of issues away from the field. There's a legitimate argument to be made that the Vikings shouldn't have overlooked those issues, but from a pure football perspective, they upgraded a position of need.
To help the cause, they also bolstered their offensive line by signing two new tackles. Last season, tackles T.J. Clemmings and Jeremiah Sirles ranked in the bottom 10 in Pro Football Focus' pass-blocking efficiency metric. Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers will be upgrades and will help both the running and passing games. They also used their second-round pick on center/guard Pat Elflein.
9. Pittsburgh Steelers
This was a big offseason, and the Steelers made the right moves. They made sure Antonio Brown won't be leaving anytime soon. They made sure Ben Roethlisberger didn't retire early. They hit Le'Veon Bell with the exclusive franchise tag, ensuring that they'll have a chance to negotiate a long-term deal before the July deadline. Then, Martavis Bryant got reinstated.
Even without examining their draft -- they got J.J. Watt's brother in the first round -- that's an already successful offseason. This already was the team with the best chance to supplant the Patriots in the AFC. They didn't need to go crazy in the offseason. They just needed to retain their talented core. They did that.
10. Carolina Panthers
Christian McCaffrey was my top running back prospect in the draft because he can play receiver and create mismatches against slower linebackers. The Panthers took him in the first round. Curtis Samuel can line up anywhere. The Panthers took him in the second round.
One head-scratching move in free agency was signing Matt Kalil to a five-year, $55.5 million contract. That's a ton of money for a bad player.
11. Dallas Cowboys
They weren't really active in free agency, but this is already a good team that didn't need a huge spending spree. With that said, they didn't capitalize on having two starting-caliber quarterbacks, failing to find a trade partner for Tony Romo. You could even argue their reluctance to release him early in free agency cost them, because it didn't allow them to pursue top free agents who could have bolstered a weak defense.
The Cowboys landed here because I loved their draft. Their first five picks -- Taco Charlton, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Ryan Switzer and Xavier Woods -- should contribute immediately. It's worth noting four of those players are defenders and we can expect the defense to improve.
12. New York Jets
They did not improve the roster, instead cutting talented, older players. They're worse than a year ago, when they went 5-11. But that doesn't mean they had a bad offseason. Look at their cuts and you realize all of them deserved to be shown the door. Darrelle Revis is old and slow, Brandon Marshall is old and coming off an injury-plagued season, Nick Mangold is old and Ryan Clady is old and injured. The Jets didn't sign anyone to replace them, but that's a good thing. It means the Jets didn't overpay someone who won't be a contributor by the time they get things turned around. They didn't jeopardize their future by signing impact-now players. They don't want those players. They want to cut unnecessary weight and build through the draft. They started by capitalizing on Jamal Adams' surprising mini-slide. Chad Hansen might be a steal in the fourth round.
The Jets are going to be bad in 2017 by design (nothing signals that more than signing Josh McCown as the starting quarterback), which means they'll likely have a chance to draft a quarterback in what is supposedly one of the best quarterback classes in a long time in 2018. That's a successful offseason. They didn't mess up their future. Instead, they began the rebuilding process, unlike a year ago when they thought they were Super Bowl contenders with Ryan Fitzpatrick.
It took awhile, but the Jets are finally embracing the rebuilding process. They get points for that.
13. Green Bay Packers
The Packers are only this high because they signed Martellus Bennett, one of the league's best all-around tight ends. They didn't fix their running game, though, and they let go of some offensive linemen, but when you land one of the best free agents available you get a spot in the top half of this list.
The Aaron Rodgers-to-Bennett combination will be lethal.
14. Indianapolis Colts
Ryan Grigson is gone and the Colts had a nice offseason. Weird how that works.
With highly touted Chris Ballard in charge, the Colts added to their pass rush by signing Johnathan Hankins, Jabaal Sheard and Barkevious Mingo. They signed an underrated receiver in Kamar Aiken, who went for 944 yards in 2015. In the draft, they got Malik Hooker, who Prisco called possibly the "next Ed Reed."
15. Tennessee Titans
A young team on the rise had a productive, if not overwhelmingly successful, offseason by giving Marcus Mariota a downfield threat in first-round pick Corey Davis. They later addressed their dearth of quality defensive backs by taking Adoree' Jackson at No. 18 overall. Signing former Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan was also a good move.
The Titans' front office preceded this offseason with two incredible offseasons (they drafted Mariota in 2015 and traded down in 2016). They're on a roll.
16. Oakland Raiders
I have no idea if Marshawn Lynch actually will be good again. But I don't care. The Raiders desperately needed a running back after losing Latavius Murray in free agency. Beast Mode is fun and Beast Mode playing for his hometown team is more fun, so I'm officially a fan of the deal. They also signed Jared Cook, an inconsistent tight end who's still an upgrade over what they had last season.
The Raiders already were a contender. This offseason didn't hurt their status.
17. Detroit Lions
The Lions did fine -- not bad, not good. They let go of Riley Reiff and Larry Warford, but signed offensive linemen T.J. Lang and Ricky Wagner. They clearly drafted for need, trying to fix the league's worst defense (by DVOA), but I'm not sure Jarrad Davis and Teez Tabor will be enough to repair it.
18. Miami Dolphins
The trade to net Julius Thomas might pay off -- and it only cost them a late-round pick. Thomas was horrible in Jacksonville, but he thrived in Adam Gase's offense in Denver. If he's motivated, this could be a massive steal for the Dolphins.
19. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens lost some key pieces in Ricky Wagner and Kyle Juszczyk, but they added a nice young player in safety Tony Jefferson. In the draft, they added a ton of potentially solid contributors, especially Marlon Humphrey. Not keeping Wagner hurts, though.
20. Buffalo Bills
The Bills fired general manager Doug Whaley the morning after the draft, which probably isn't the best sign. Still, I don't hate what they did beforehand. They were on the good end of the Patrick Mahomes trade and still ended up getting a solid corner in Tre'Davious White. They also got Tyrod Taylor some help in receiver Zay Jones in the second round.
But ... they messed up the Mike Gillislee tender situation, allowing the Patriots to steal him. They didn't retain Gilmore in free agency. It wasn't the worst offseason in Buffalo, but it wasn't the best.
21. Jacksonville Jaguars
A year after landing Malik Jackson, the Jaguars added another good defensive lineman in Calais Campbell. They also signed A.J. Bouye, who broke out with the Texans. They fall to this spot, though, because they didn't bring in outside competition for Blake Bortles. They might be wasting a playoff-caliber defense by letting Bortles get one more chance. They also used a top pick (No. 4 overall) on a running back (Leonard Fournette) when they could have gotten better value by taking a running back later.
22. Seattle Seahawks
They still didn't fix a perpetually broken offensive line. It's the biggest area of weakness and has been for some time. No, Luke Joeckel isn't the savior. They did use a second-round pick on a center, but their best offensive linemen last year was their center, as Prisco has pointed out.
23. Los Angeles Chargers
Most of the Chargers' moves were related to their coaching staff. They hired Anthony Lynn as coach, Gus Bradley as defensive coordinator and Ken Whisenhunt as offensive coordinator. There's no way to know how Lynn will fare in his first stint as a head coach, but the experience of Bradley and Whisenhunt is reason for optimism. They weren't good head coaches, but thrived as coordinators.
24. Denver Broncos
I'm slotting them here because they didn't go out and get Romo, who would have turned them into an instant Super Bowl contender. The Broncos can talk up their quarterbacks -- Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch -- all they want, but QB remains the weak point of a team that is good enough defensively to contend. Colin Kaepernick and Jay Cutler also would've been upgrades. They didn't sign them.
25. Arizona Cardinals
Losing Tony Jefferson and Calais Campbell hurts. This team regressed last season and then got worse this offseason through attrition. They still haven't figured out their plan for life after Carson Palmer. They're not lower on this list because they had a good draft. Prisco gave the first two picks -- Haason Reddick and Budda Baker -- "A" grades.
26. Los Angeles Rams
They are only this high because they hired Sean McVay, who should bring a non-middle-school offense to Los Angeles. Otherwise, I'm not quite sure where the massive upgrades were made to a roster devoid of talent on offense. Sure, they kept their own by exercising Aaron Donald's fifth-year option and franchise-tagging Trumaine Johnson, but those were no-brainer moves. They didn't add any high-impact players this offseason. Almost like GM Les Snead is as much to blame as Jeff Fisher.
27. New Orleans Saints
They got rid of their best play-maker, Brandin Cooks. They couldn't work out a deal to get Malcolm Butler. This is a team that is stuck in mediocrity and I'm not sure their "splashy" signing of Adrian Peterson is enough to get them over the hump. It'll come down to their draft. But instead of focusing exclusively on their defense, they picked an offensive lineman with the last pick in the first round. According to Reuben Foster, who went No. 31 to the 49ers, he was on the phone with the Saints when the 49ers traded up to draft him. Losing out on Foster hurts big-time for a team with a horrible defense.
28. Kansas City Chiefs
Signing Eric Berry to a long-term deal was huge. But I'm not crazy about their offseason besides that. They lost Dontari Poe to the Falcons and cut a productive but oft-injured player in Jaye Howard. Those are two big losses on the defensive line. But the real reason I'm placing the Chiefs near the end of this list is their trade to draft Mahomes. I have nothing against Mahomes. His ceiling is probably higher than any other quarterback in this year's draft. But giving up two first-round picks for a developmental quarterback will likely backfire -- that's why they're so low on this list.
29. Houston Texans
The Texans failed to sign Tony Romo. Then they made the same mistake as the Chiefs and Bears, mortgaging their future to trade up for a quarterback (Deshaun Watson). If you can't already tell, I'm not a fan of selling draft assets all for the chance to draft a quarterback who might or might not develop into a NFL-caliber quarterback.
30. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals lost the following players in free agency:
31. Washington Redskins
The Redskins fired their highly regarded general manager on the first day of free agency. They still haven't hired a replacement. That's all.
32. Chicago Bears
It's a shame, the Bears were actually having a productive offseason before their decision to trade up one spot for the right to select Mitch Trubisky. But you can't ignore that trade. The Bears were swindled by the 49ers, essentially bidding against themselves. They also gave Mike Glennon way too much money. Nobody will care about the trade if Trubisky ends up being good, but the process matters, as our Will Brinson explained recently. And the Bears messed up the process.
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