December 9, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace (17) runs with the ball after a pass reception against the San Diego Chargers during the first quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Coming into Free Agency, I’m sure many fans were expecting a large amount of signings to occur this year. So far into this crazy signing period, there have been plenty of big signings and trades around the NFL. This was by hard the most challenging post I’ve attempted to write because of the sheer amount of big moves made to improve each team’s respective rosters. Ultimately, there is no true “winner” declared until a team wins the next Super Bowl. And, for teams not active in Free Agency so far, they could easily make up for it in the draft. Now, with all of that said, let’s see who our 5 biggest “Winners” are so far after the first week of Free Agency:
5) Chicago Bears – Last season, the Bears simply didn’t protect Jay Cutler well enough to have consistency in the passing game, and there wasn’t a TE on their roster who could take advantage of the opportunities opened up by Brandon Marshall to make plays. Right after the opening bell was struck, the Chicago Bears landed a top LT in Jermon Bushrod, as well as one of the best TEs available in Martellus Bennett. Neither of these moves are what anyone would consider “sexy”, but they were absolute necessities if the Bears wanted to contend next season.
What I like best about those 2 signings, is the fact the Bears didn’t break the bank, as both players combined will count only $4.9 million against their cap space. This allows a plausible return for Brian Urlacher and other free agents they have left to re-sign. In addition, if someone really catches their eye, they’re in position to open up even more cap space when needed. Definitely not the “flashiest” of the group, but their two big signings have significantly improved their chances for next season, provided QB Jay Cutler delivers for them.
4) Tennessee Titans – Following a rather disappointing season, the Titans have made it clear they’re doing everything they can do in providing young QB Jake Locker all the tools required for him to succeed. They most certainly have lived up to their promise, as they have made a ton of moves aimed at improving their offense. On the first day of Free Agency, they landed the top interior OL available in OG Andy Levitre, and a great versatile TE in Delanie Walker to fill the void left by TE Jared Cook’s departure. In addition, they bolstered their running game by pairing former Jets RB Shonn Greene with current speedster Chris Johnson.
The Titans have also added to their defense, as they’ve signed monstrous run-stuffing DT Sammie Hill to a multi-year deal, and added a solid starter to their secondary in Safety George Wilson. In a division that’s led by the Houston Texans and the Indianapolis Colts, they’re setting themselves up for immediate contention within the AFC South. The Titans still have plenty of moves to make, and they’re a team that has many options available to them in the coming months.
3) Miami Dolphins – Immediately after teams were allowed to make official agreements with players available on the market, the Dolphins landed the biggest name to be had in free agency with WR Mike Wallace. This move was made a year after the Dolphins traded WR Brandon Marshall to the Chicago Bears for a pair of 3rd round picks, a move which weakened their receiving corps substantially. Brain Hartline filled in admirably as the #1 target in their passing game, but that simply wasn’t enough to put the Dolphins in a position where their offense could score at will. By adding Mike Wallace, they’ve got their deep threat for QB Ryan Tannehill. Not only did they add Mike Wallace to their offense, but they also just signed TE Dustin Keller, in a move that will add another presence in the passing game. And, this is also all without mentioning who they added to their defense.
Hours following the Mike Wallace signing, the Miami Dolphins also signed Ravens’ ILB Dannell Ellerbe. They’ve already had a rather talented group on their defense with OLB Cameron Wake and DL Randy Starks as well as DT Paul Soliai. Now, they’re bringing in a formidable force to play ILB, a position that needed a significant addition where they’ve already cut ties with Karlos Dansby. In addition to signing Ellerbe, the ‘Phins also added OLB Phillip Wheeler, who was a very talented defender for the Oakland Raiders. Their biggest question right now is whether they can bring LT Jake Long back. If they lose Long, then they’ll have to search for a new LT to protect Tannehill. But, if they manage to keep him, then their team looks to be in pretty strong shape for the upcoming season. Of course, it remains to be seen what they’ll do with the RB position, but overall this team has taken huge steps in returning to playoff contention.
2) Denver Broncos – This is simply not fair for the rest of the NFL. Following a year after they made the biggest splash in years with QB Peyton Manning, they’ve yet again have made waves in the off-season. On offense, they added a beast of an OL with OG Louis Vasquez to line up on the right side with gigantic RT Orlando Franklin, in a move that added some serious beef to their offense. Not only is their OL stacked with talent, but they generated a tsunami when they signed WR Wes Welker, as Peyton Manning does the most damage by throwing to his slot receivers. You pair a slot receiver as productive as Wes Welker, with a QB like Peyton Manning who loves throwing to his slot receivers, and you’ve got a match made in NFL fantasy heaven. If you think their offense is scary enough, then you might be afraid to look at their defense.
You want to envision something scary, then try imaging yourself running into a 660+ pound wall of DTs, backed up by a 6’4″ 258 pound LB. This is exactly what the Denver Broncos have built with their front 7, as they’ve managed to retain DT Kevin Vickerson, and then bring in Terrance Knighton aka “Pot Roast” from Jack Del Rio’s former team in Jacksonville. That 6’4″ 258 lbs LB I mentioned is none other than LB Stewart Bradley, who didn’t live up to expectations in Arizona, but still provides for a solid run-stuffing LB that is athletic enough to drop back into zone coverage. Their defense was already stacked at that point, but John Elway and his front office refused to stop adding talent. Not too long after the initial group of signings, comes CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, a former member of the infamous “Dream Team” built in Philadelphia years ago. He’s still got enough raw talent and play-making ability to add into their secondary, one led by future HOF CB Champ Bailey. If there is any clear-cut favorite team in the AFC to make an appearance in the Super Bowl, this is that team.
1) Kansas City Chiefs – It all started when the Chiefs announced Andy Reid would be their next Head Coach. From that moment forward, the Chiefs are making every effort possible to contend immediately in the NFL. Their first move, was landing QB Alex Smith in a trade that will send their 2013 2nd round pick and a mid-round from the 2014 draft. Right away, they improved dramatically in the NFL’s most important position, as they land a quality starting QB who’s already got a great RB to hand off the ball in Jamaal Charles. And that, was merely the beginning, as the Chiefs locked up WR Dwayne Bowe long term as well as slapping LT Branden Albert with the franchise tag. Then, once free agency actually began, they went on a shopping spree, bringing in several new faces to the team. For every move the Broncos made, the Chiefs countered, as while the Broncos stacked up with Wes Welker, the Chiefs brought in both CB Dunta Robinson and CB Sean Smith. Also, for every move the Broncos would make on defense, the Chiefs would bring in contributors to their offense, including TE Anthony Fasano and WR Donnie Avery.
The primary reason why the Kansas City Chiefs are currently the biggest winners in Free Agency, was because they managed to keep all of their best pieces together, and still produced significant additions to the entire team. Both their offense and defense will feature their Pro Bowlers from a season ago, as well as new starting faces for Chiefs fans to get excited about. Now, their offense has their QB in Alex Smith. Now, their secondary features Brandon Flowers, Eric Berry, Dunta Robinson, and Sean Smith. Now, the Kansas City Chiefs are a dramatically improved football team, that can and probably will cause massive head-aches to the Denver Broncos and other teams around the NFL.
Honorable Mentions: Detroit Lions, Indianapolis Colts, Seattle Seahawks.
That, ladies and gentlemen, will conclude this rather long piece. Again, this was perhaps the most challenging article I’ve been asked to write. Plenty of teams even outside of the honorable mentions have made moves that make their respective fan bases believe they’re the best, most improved team. So, feel free to comment below as to who you believe has done the best job, and why they’re the team most destined to win the Super Bowl next season.