NFC West Preseason Grades

ARIZONA CARDINALS

Key Acquisitions: QB Josh Rosen, QB Sam Bradford, OG Justin Pugh, CB Jamar Taylor, OT Andre Smith, WR Christian Kirk, WR Brice Butler, QB Mike Glennon, DE Benson Mayowa, CB Bene Benwikere, FB Derrick Coleman; WR Greg Little

Key Losses: QB Carson Palmer, S Tyrann Mathieu, WR John Brown, WR Jaron Brown, OT Jared Veldheer, RB Adrian Peterson, LB Karlos Dansby, DT Frostee Rucker, CB Tramon Williams, LB Kareem Martin, TE Troy Niklas, OG Alex Boone, S Tyvon Branch, OG Earl Watford, QB Blaine Gabbert, QB Drew Stanton, QB Matt Barkley

For the second consecutive offseason, the exodus from Arizona was a bit alarming. Carson Palmer’s retirement was not a surprise, and Tyrann Mathieu’s cap number was too high to bring him back without a paycut, but several contributors on both sides of the ball were allowed to leave.

But the Cardinals rebounded, especially at quarterback after the slate was wiped clean at the position. Sam Bradford’s price tag ($20 million for one year, plus a 2019 option) was steep, but if healthy (a serious variable given his history), he might have been the best quarterback available this spring. More important, Arizona found a way to land Josh Rosen — who may prove to be the best quarterback in the draft and is likely the most pro-ready — while giving up only a third-round pick. The offense also got much-needed reinforcements up front in Justin Pugh and Andre Smith, while second-rounder Christian Kirk and free agent signee Brice Butler padded a thin receiving corps.

Fewer additions were made on defense, where youth will be counted on to replace lost pieces, like 2017 second-rounder Budda Baker assuming Mathieu’s role. After failing to come away with a prominent cornerback in the draft, GM Steve Keim swung a trade with the Browns for the quietly effective Jamar Taylor to help opposite Patrick Peterson.

Offseason grade: B

FLM Take: How it will come together under new coach Steve Wilks is unclear, but the Cardinals could have done much worse. Bradford’s health or Rosen’s quick development would soothe a lot of concerns.

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Key Acquisitions: DT Ndamukong Suh, CB Marcus Peters, CB Aqib Talib, WR Brandin Cooks, LB Ramik Wilson, OLB Obo Okoronkwo

Key Losses: CB Trumaine Johnson, DE Robert Quinn, WR Sammy Watkins, LB Alec Ogletree, LB Connor Barwin, S Maurice Alexander, WR Tavon Austin, CB Kayvon Webster, S Cody Davis, TE Derek Carrier

The Rams were anything but satisfied with a seven-win improvement last season, putting together one of the more aggressive offseasons in recent memory. The talent increase is undeniable, as three trades and one signing brought aboard three All-Pros and a three-time 1,000-yard wideout.

Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib give L.A. a tremendous cornerback pairing, allowing coordinator Wade Phillips all sorts of options. Their presence, along with Ndamukong Suh’s arrival next to Aaron Donald, will help obscure an unproven linebacking corps that lost Robert Quinn and Alec Ogletree to trades. The defense also retained center-field safety Lamarcus Joyner (franchise tag) and slot corner Nickell Roby-Coleman (extension), though Donald remained unhappy with his contract as a holdout entering training camp.

The offense didn’t require much tweaking, but center John Sullivan was extended, and the newly acquired Brandin Cooks might prove to be an upgrade on Sammy Watkins as Sean McVay’s X-iso wideout.

Though getting Cooks and Peters meant sacrificing their top two picks, the Rams wisely used a series of trade-downs to come away with an 11-man class, betting on quantity instead of quality. Obo Okoronkwo could earn a role early as a situational pass-rusher. The Rams also deserve credit for making so many impactful additions while netting two third-round compensatory picks in 2019 in return for the departures of Watkins and Trumaine Johnson.

Offseason Grade: A

FLM Take: Trading top draft picks and acquiring mercurial personalities is risky, but no team tried harder to improve its roster than the Rams, who might now have more top-tier players than any other NFL team.

 

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Key Acquisitions: CB Richard Sherman, RB Jerick McKinnon, C Weston Richburg, OT Mike McGlinchey, OG Jonathan Cooper, OLB Jeremiah Attaochu, LB Korey Toomer, WR Dante Pettis, LB Fred Warner, P Jeff Locke

Key Losses: OT Trent Brown, RB Carlos Hyde, S Eric Reid, OG Brandon Fusco, C Daniel Kilgore, DE Elvis Dumervil, OG Zane Beadles, OLB Aaron Lynch, DE Tank Carradine, CB Dontae Johnson, CB Leon Hall

GM John Lynch began a busy offseason by temporarily making Jimmy Garoppolo the highest-paid player in NFL history (five years, $137.5 million), a staggering price but one that’s understandable in the current QB market. As long as Garoppolo isn’t a flash in a pan, the front-loaded deal should look friendly a few years down the road.

San Francisco was aggressive from the outset in free agency, scooping up former rival Richard Sherman and targeting Jerick McKinnon and Weston Richburg. The contracts for the latter two seemed excessive ($7.5 million annually for McKinnon, $9.5 million for Richburg), but both are ideal fits for Kyle Shanahan’s offense, which is built on outside zone runs and involves backs heavily in the passing game.

The offensive line saw plenty of turnover — a combined 47 starts from 2017 are gone — but first-rounder Mike McGlinchey fits better than Trent Brown, and the group should be solid once it builds chemistry. Elsewhere, the Niners gave Marquise Goodwin a fair extension (three years, $20.3 million) and traded up for second-rounder Dante Pettis.

Outside of Sherman, few additions were made to a defense that has a wealth of young talent in the front seven. While the unit could improve with development, the cornerback depth chart remains shaky, especially if Sherman isn’t near his old form as he recovers from a torn Achilles.

Offseason Grade: B

FLM Take: The 49ers said goodbye to a surprising amount of talent, but they resolved their long-term QB situation and continued to shape the offense to Shanahan’s preferences.

 

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Key Acquisitions: RB Rashaad Penny, WR Jaron Brown, WR Brandon Marshall, S Maurice Alexander, OG D.J. Fluker, TE Ed Dickson, DE Rasheem Green, LB Barkevious Mingo, CB Dontae Johnson, K Sebastian Janikowski, TE Will Dissly, P Michael Dickson

Key Losses: DE Michael Bennett, CB Richard Sherman, SS Cam Chancellor, DT Sheldon Richardson, TE Jimmy Graham, DE Cliff Avril, WR Paul Richardson, TE Luke Willson, CB DeShawn Shead, CB Jeremy Lane, RB Eddie Lacy, RB Thomas Rawls, LB Michael Wilhoite, OG Luke Joeckel, K Blair Walsh

The list of losses is pretty jarring, and that’s without including free safety Earl Thomas, who remains a possible trade candidate as he seeks an extension that appears unlikely to come from the Seahawks. Even an optimistic outlook must concede that some decline is likely.

While the front five wasn’t boosted much through personnel, new O-line coach Mike Solari is charged with developing the current group — which includes plenty of former top draft picks — better than Tom Cable did. Likewise, Brian Schottenheimer (offense) and Ken Norton Jr. (defense) replaced coordinators Darrell Bevell and Kris Richard, respectively, furthering the feeling of a total reset.

Rashaad Penny’s selection in Round 1 signaled a return to the run-heavy approach used with Marshawn Lynch, which will be needed after the departures of Jimmy Graham and Paul Richardson in free agency. Jaron Brown and Brandon Marshall could contribute, but the additions of blocking tight ends Ed Dickson (free agency) and Will Dissly (draft) might prove more impactful.

The defense was reset to build around linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright, with Shaquill Griffin stepping into the top cornerback role. While Frank Clark remains, the pass rush could take a major hit without Michael Bennett, Sheldon Richardson (for whom Seattle traded a second-round pick last year) and Cliff Avril, putting more pressure on an unproven secondary.

Offseason Grade: C

FLM Take: Stripping down an aging core is never easy, but the Seahawks have yet to refill a number of the holes they’ve opened up.

–Field Level Media

AFC East Preseason Grades

BUFFALO BILLS

Key Acquisitions: QB Josh Allen, QB AJ McCarron, DT Star Lotulelei, DE Trent Murphy, CB Vontae Davis, C Russell Bodine, RB Chris Ivory, LB Tremaine Edmunds, DT Harrison Phillips

Key Losses: QB Tyrod Taylor, OT Cordy Glenn, OG Richie Incognito, C Eric Wood, CB E.J. Gaines, WR Jordan Matthews, LB Preston Brown, OT Seantrel Henderson

Give Buffalo credit for recognizing that its playoff run, after being outscored by 57 points in the regular season, was a little fluky. The front office wisely took a longer view this offseason rather than spending to fight for a wild-card spot again.

Shipping off Tyrod Taylor (for the 65th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft) and Cordy Glenn (to jump nine spots in Round 1) was a start, and the returns helped the Bills trade up for Josh Allen and Tremaine Edmunds. Buffalo found bargains in AJ McCarron (two years, $10 million) as a bridge quarterback and Vontae Davis (one year, $5 million) as a buy-low cornerback. That said, the contracts for Star Lotulelei (five years, $50 million) and end Trent Murphy (three years, $22.5 million) were steep for players who affect quarterbacks less than they clog running lanes. Russell Bodine (two years, $5 million) doesn’t move the needle much, but the line was in desperate need of bodies.

That line didn’t get as many reinforcements as needed, in part because of the team’s trade-ups in the draft. It’s also fair to question the choice of Allen over Josh Rosen, who is clearly more pro-ready at this stage. If Allen can’t fix his accuracy issues and work through reads more quickly, it won’t matter that his arm can cut through Buffalo’s worst weather.

Our Take: The Bills were smart to exercise patience, but the offensive line remains leaky, which is worrisome as the team tries to develop its QB of the future — C

 

MIAMI DOLPHINS

Key Acquisitions: DE Robert Quinn, WR Danny Amendola, WR Albert Wilson, S Minkah Fitzpatrick, OG Josh Sitton, RB Frank Gore, TE Mike Gesicki, C Daniel Kilgore, LB Jerome Baker

Key Losses: DT Ndamukong Suh, WR Jarvis Landry, C Mike Pouncey, QB Jay Cutler, TE Julius Thomas, TE Anthony Fasano, OG Jermon Bushrod, K Cody Parkey

Adam Gase and the Dolphins were determined to “change the culture” in Miami, but the result was an awful lot of talent walking out the door. Three players whose resumes include a combined 11 Pro Bowls are gone after Jarvis Landry (three) was traded and Ndamukong Suh (five) and Mike Pouncey (three) were released.

The $14 million that Miami didn’t want to spend on Landry went to Danny Amendola (two years, $12 million) and Albert Wilson (three years, $24 million) in free agency. Meanwhile, Mike Gesicki was drafted to replace the ineffective Julius Thomas as the team’s receiving tight end, so Ryan Tannehill has some options. The QB, who has Gase’s full support as he returns from a torn ACL that kept him out for all of 2017, also received extra protection up front in Josh Sitton and Daniel Kilgore, who will replace Jermon Bushrod and Pouncey, respectively. Frank Gore should still be able to help the offense a bit, even at age 35. The trade of Jay Ajayi opens up an avenue for Kenyon Drake to take over as lead back.

Suh’s absence will certainly be felt in the interior pass rush, though Robert Quinn’s arrival via trade could bring more heat the edge. Drafting Minkah Fitzpatrick and Jerome Baker gives Miami better matchup pieces against opposing passing games, and their versatility could help defensive coordinator Matt Burke mix things up if he chooses.

Our Take: The Dolphins had a clear plan to prioritize character over talent, but it’s hard to see how they actually got better in the process. — C-

 

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Key Acquisitions: DE Adrian Clayborn, OT Trent Brown, OT/G Isaiah Wynn, RB Sony Michel, CB Jason McCourty, RB Jeremy Hill, WR Jordan Matthews, CB Duke Dawson

Key Losses: OT Nate Solder, WR Brandin Cooks, CB Malcolm Butler, RB Dion Lewis, WR Danny Amendola, TE Martellus Bennett, OT Cameron Fleming

It would easy to panic at the slate of names walking out the door, but each of the departures is understandable. New England wasn’t going to make Nate Solder the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history, nor was it going to hand Brandin Cooks the five-year, $80 million extension he received from the Rams. Malcolm Butler’s fate was sealed at the Super Bowl, and Dion Lewis and Danny Amendola each got much more money elsewhere than New England would offer.

The Pats did manage a Hail Mary to keep offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels (and special-teams coordinator Joe Judge) in house, and they restocked the offensive line with Trent Brown (via trade) and Isaiah Wynn (first-round pick). One of the two should be the answer at Tom Brady’s blind side, while the other could provide an upgrade at guard. New England also jolted its offense (which didn’t need jolting) with the drafting of the dynamic Sony Michel, and Jeremy Hill or Jordan Matthews could pop as well.

On defense, Adrian Clayborn and Jason McCourty are typical Patriots additions — reliable veterans who do their jobs without much flash. Clayborn isn’t an explosive pass-rusher, but he sets the edge exactly how Bill Belichick prefers, and McCourty should pair with his brother, Devin, to soothe some of the communication issues that cost the secondary last year.

Our Take: The Patriots lost more talent than usual, but they regrouped and reloaded like they do every offseason. Until No. 12 declines, they aren’t going anywhere. — B-

 

NEW YORK JETS

Key Acquisitions: QB Sam Darnold, CB Trumaine Johnson, QB Teddy Bridgewater, OG/C Spencer Long, RB Isaiah Crowell, LB Avery Williamson, WR Terrelle Pryor, C Travis Swanson, K Cairo Santos, DT Nathan Shepherd

Key Losses: DE/DT Muhammad Wilkerson, LB Demario Davis, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, DE Kony Ealy, RB Matt Forte, C Wesley Johnson, K Chandler Catanzaro

The Jets’ offseason will ultimately come down to the future of Sam Darnold, who the team was delighted to nab at No. 3 overall despite having to burn three second-round picks to get there. Combined with the re-signing of feted mentor Josh McCown and the arrival of Teddy Bridgewater — who drew rave reviews for his play in offseason workouts — the quarterback depth chart is markedly improved. Elsewhere on offense, Isaiah Crowell should help replace Matt Forte, and Spencer Long and Terrelle Pryor could each pay dividends after arriving from Washington via free agency.

GM Mike Maccagnan spent even more of the team’s wealth of cap space on defense, inking former Ram Trumaine Johnson (five years, $72.5 million) to be a matchup man-coverage cornerback in a blitz-heavy scheme that demands one. That should push Morris Claiborne, who re-signed at a reasonable price (one year, $7 million), and Buster Skrine into friendlier matchups, giving Todd Bowles more freedom with his game plans and play calls.

Bowles would have loved to reunite with former Cardinal Tyrann Mathieu, who opted instead to join Houston, but the defense still gained disruptive front seven pieces in Avery Williamson (free agency) and Nathan Shepherd (draft). The release of Muhammad Wilkerson was a necessary evil given his lack of commitment since receiving a big paycheck.

Our Take: The Jets were surprisingly competitive in 2017 and probably improved this spring while grabbing a possible QB of the future. Not a bad offseason’s work. — B-

–Field Level Media

NFC East Preseason Grades

DALLAS COWBOYS

Key Acquisitions: WR Allen Hurns, LB Leighton Vander Esch, OT Cameron Fleming, WR Tavon Austin, WR Deonte Thompson, FB Jamize Olawale, DE Kony Ealy, OT/OG Connor Williams, TE Dalton Schultz

Key Losses: TE Jason Witten, WR Dez Bryant, LB Anthony Hitchens, OG Jonathan Cooper, CB Orlando Scandrick, RB Alfred Morris, WR Brice Butler, CB Bene Benwikere, LB Kyle Wilber, DE Benson Mayowa, WR Ryan Switzer, FB Keith Smith

Things are never quiet in Dallas, and while the Cowboys didn’t make many flashy moves this spring, change came suddenly in April when two franchise icons with a combined 14 Pro Bowls left in less than a two-week span. Dez Bryant’s departure (via release) was the Cowboys’ choice, but Jason Witten’s retirement caught more than a few by surprise.

What’s left is an offense that must be driven by Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, though its stellar front five remains a constant. The O-line got reinforcements in Connor Williams — who could start at left guard — and swing tackle Cameron Fleming, before a record-setting extension for Zack Martin. Receiver and tight end remain a concern, however, with a grab bag of unproven or uninspiring options at both spots. Dallas was probably right to drop out of the Sammy Watkins sweepstakes, but where will the explosive pass plays come from?

The defense lost a few rotation pieces, but much of the same group returns for a unit that quietly ranked eighth in yards and 10th in yards per play last season. First-rounder Leighton Vander Esch should contribute early, but his arrival could be a bad sign for Jaylon Smith’s progress or Sean Lee’s longevity. There are concerns up front, too, as Demarcus Lawrence did not receive the multi-year contract he coveted and starting defensive tackles David Irving (suspension) and Maliek Collins (broken foot) could miss time.

Offseason Grade: C

FLM Take: The Cowboys took care of their O-line, but the skill positions took a hit and few upgrades were made elsewhere.

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

Key Acquisitions: RB Saquon Barkley, OT Nate Solder, LB Alec Ogletree, RB Jonathan Stewart, OG Will Hernandez, OG Patrick Omameh, LB Kareem Martin, CB William Gay, WR Cody Latimer, S Michael Thomas, P Riley Dixon, LB Lorenzo Carter, DT B.J. Hill; OLB Connor Barwin

Key Losses: DE Jason Pierre-Paul, OG Justin Pugh, C Weston Richburg, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, WR Brandon Marshall, LB Devon Kennard, LB Jonathan Casillas, CB Ross Cockrell, OG D.J. Fluker, OT Bobby Hart, RB Shane Vereen, WR Dwayne Harris, QB Geno Smith, P Brad Wing

New GM Dave Gettleman certainly doesn’t lack conviction. After concluding that Eli Manning still has a few quality years left, Gettleman went all-in on building the Giants’ offensive line and running game, sparing no expense in the process.

Nate Solder’s record-breaking contract ($15.5 million annually, most in NFL history) is tough to swallow, but if it upgrades both tackle spots — with Ereck Flowers moving to the right side — the Giants’ offense should be much better. Patrick Omameh (signed from the Jaguars) and second-rounder Will Hernandez will boost the interior, which has big shoes to will with Justin Pugh and Weston Richburg out the door. On top of it all, Gettleman bet big on Saquon Barkley while passing on a potential QB of the future. If Odell Beckham Jr. returns to 100 percent, and both sides work out a new long term contract, the pieces for an offensive turnaround are in place.

New York’s defense might need more work. Especially after it traded Jason Pierre-Paul, who had nearly a third of the team’s sacks in 2017. Acquiring Alec Ogletree filled a void in the middle, but pass-rush concerns are warranted, as third-round pick Lorenzo Carter remains very raw as a rusher. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie could be missed as well, especially with uncertainty about Eli Apple’s reliability.

Offseason Grade: C+

FLM Take: The Giants’ offense should be in for a significant rebound, and a better running game would take pressure off the defense. Still, Gettleman’s approach felt a bit antiquated, and he could rue passing on Sam Darnold.

 

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

Key Acquisitions: DE Michael Bennett, WR Mike Wallace, DT Haloti Ngata, TE Dallas Goedert, TE Richard Rodgers, LB Corey Nelson, WR Markus Wheaton, WR Kamar Aiken, RB Matt Jones

Key Losses: DE Vinny Curry, CB Patrick Robinson, LB Mychal Kendricks, RB LeGarrette Blount, TE Brent Celek, TE Trey Burton, WR Torrey Smith, DT Beau Allen, S Corey Graham, P Donnie Jones; LB Paul Worrilow

Many Super Bowl teams get gutted during the ensuing free agency, but the Eagles weathered the storm pretty well, managing to re-sign linebacker Nigel Bradham while letting several rotation players walk. Perhaps the two most talented departures came via release, as Philly let Vinny Curry and Mychal Kendricks go to save cap space.

While some players walked out the door, GM Howie Roseman wasn’t shy about bringing a few in, restocking a deep defensive line with veterans Michael Bennett (via trade) and Haloti Ngata (free agency). He also replaced Torrey Smith with a cheaper, more versatile deep threat in Mike Wallace, while the duo of Richard Rodgers (free agency) and Dallas Goedert (draft) should offset the losses of Brent Celek and Trey Burton at tight end.

The team navigated its delicate quarterback situation well, extending Nick Foles through 2019 while giving him a nice bonus as thanks for helping the team to a Super Bowl LII title. All signs point to Carson Wentz being cleared from his torn ACL to play in Week 1, which should keep Philadelphia in position to again contend for the Lombardi Trophy.

Outside of Goedert, the Eagles didn’t draft many players who are likely to contribute early, and they were one of only two teams (along with the Titans, who had four) to come away with fewer than six selections.

Offseason Grade: B

FLM Take: Few GMs manage the cap as effectively as Roseman, who did well to keep a Super Bowl-caliber team mostly intact. Here’s a look back at his strategy when taking over for Chip Kelly in 2015.

 

WASHINGTON REDSKINS

Key Acquisitions: QB Alex Smith, WR Paul Richardson, OLB Pernell McPhee, DT Da’Ron Payne, RB Derrius Guice, CB Orlando Scandrick, QB Kevin Hogan, DT Tim Settle; CB Adonis Alexander

Key Losses: QB Kirk Cousins, CB Kendall Fuller, CB Bashaud Breeland, DE Trent Murphy, C Spencer Long, S DeAngelo Hall, WR Ryan Grant, WR Terrelle Pryor, LB Will Compton, OLB Junior Galette, TE Niles Paul

You can criticize Washington for bungling Kirk Cousins’ contract situation in previous offseasons, but the team did the best it could this spring by landing Alex Smith in the QB carousel. Whether or not the cautious but steady signal-caller will fit perfectly in Jay Gruden’s aggressive offense, Washington was smart to grab a stable chair long before the music stopped.

Other than Smith’s extension (four years, $94 million, $71 million guaranteed) and the signing of wideout Paul Richardson (five years, $45 million), Dan Snyder’s wallet took less of a hit than usual, an approach that should yield compensatory picks for Cousins (third-rounder), Spencer Long (fifth), Ryan Grant (sixth) and Terrelle Pryor (sixth) in 2018. Richardson’s health will be key for a thinned out receiving corps, and 2017 sixth-rounder Chase Roullier must step up to replace Long at the pivot. Getting the dynamic Derrius Guice, who could quickly become an offensive centerpiece, late in Round 2 was a coup.

On defense, rookies Da’Ron Payne and Tim Settle could provide a similar boost to a poor run defense, and talented but injury-prone Pernell McPhee was a great buy-low candidate. The team also re-signed linebacker Zach Brown, but major questions remain at cornerback, where Kendall Fuller (part of the package for Smith) and Bashaud Breeland (unsigned) are gone. 2017 third-rounder Fabian Moreau must step up, especially considering Orlando Scandrick’s decline in recent years.

Offseason Grade: B-

FLM Take: It might not bear out in a tough division, but Washington did well to reload despite losing significant talent.

NFC North: Preseason Grades and Analysis

CHICAGO BEARS

Key Acquisitions: WR Allen Robinson, TE Trey Burton, WR Taylor Gabriel, LB Roquan Smith, OLB Aaron Lynch, C/G James Daniels, WR Anthony Miller, QB Chase Daniel, K Cody Parkey

Key Losses: OG Josh Sitton, LB Jerrell Freeman, WR Kendall Wright, DT Mitch Unrein, QB Mike Glennon, OLB Pernell McPhee, OLB Willie Young, OLB Lamarr Houston, LB Christian Jones, OG Tom Compton, WR Dontrelle Inman

Chicago had an awfully busy offseason, driven by the goal of getting 2017 first-rounder Mitchell Trubisky the infrastructure he needs to succeed. First came the hiring of former Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy as head coach –he’ll bring a system filled with simple reads and misdirection to generate easy completions.

Then came the spending.

The Bears guaranteed an NFL-high $102.8 million to 16 players, with more than half that going to offensive weapons Allen Robinson ($25.2 million), Trey Burton ($22 million) and Taylor Gabriel ($14 million). The money was a little staggering, especially for the unproven Burton and Gabriel, but the trio immediately upgrades what was one of the league’s worst skill groups in 2017. The draft also brought Trubisky some help, with James Daniels likely to replace Josh Sitton at left guard and Anthony Miller capable of claiming a role.

The defense was kept largely intact with the re-signing of four cornerbacks, led by Kyle Fuller (four years, $56 million) and Prince Amukamara (three years, $27 million). First-rounder Roquan Smith will slot in immediately in the middle of Vic Fangio’s 3-4 defense, and Aaron Lynch — who played for Fangio as a rookie with the 49ers in 2014 — could be a bargain on a one-year deal for $4 million as a replacement for Pernell McPhee and Willie Young.

Our Take: The expenses were a bit lavish, but ponying up to help a young QB is more than understandable. — B+

 

DETROIT LIONS

Key Acquisitions: LB Devon Kennard, CB DeShawn Shead, C/G Frank Ragnow, RB LeGarrette Blount, RB Kerryon Johnson, TE Luke Willson, TE Levine Toilolo, LB Christian Jones, LB Jonathan Freeny, C Wesley Johnson, DT Sylvester Williams, OG Kenny Wiggins, QB Matt Cassel

Key Losses: TE Eric Ebron, TE Darren Fells, DT Haloti Ngata, LB Tahir Whitehead, C Travis Swanson, DT Akeem Spence, CB DJ Hayden, OT Greg Robinson, LB Paul Worrilow, S Don Carey

In his second year on the job, GM Bob Quinn dismissed Jim Caldwell and brought in former New England defensive coordinator Matt Patricia as head coach before churning the roster extensively. Detroit added 15 veterans, including 10 on one-year deals and four more on two-year pacts.

The major changes on offense came with an apparent focus on running the ball more effectively, as bruising backs LeGarrette Blount (free agent) and Kerryon Johnson (draft) will line up behind a line featuring first-rounder Frank Ragnow, and 2017 free agent signees T.J. Lang and Ricky Wagner. Tight ends Darren Fells and Eric Ebron were replaced by Luke Willson and Levine Toilolo, neither of whom has caught more than 20 passes in a season since 2014.

Defensively, the Lions signed multiple linebackers, including Devon Kennard, who will set a powerful edge against the run, a core principle of Patricia’s Patriots’ units. Those Pats defenses didn’t often prioritize dynamic-edge pass-rushers, which is worth watching in regard to Ezekiel Ansah’s future after he was franchise tagged. The Lions added little else on the edge this offseason, leaving mostly role players around Ansah. Detroit did keep its secondary intact,  re-signing Tavon Wilson and Nevin Lawson.

Our Take: On the edge of the playoff race last year, the Lions didn’t seem to get significantly better, as their changes feel more like a shuffling the deck than making meaningful upgrades. — B-

 

GREEN BAY PACKERS

Key Acquisitions: TE Jimmy Graham, DE/DT Muhammad Wilkerson, CB Tramon Williams, QB DeShone Kizer, TE Marcedes Lewis, CB Jaire Alexander, CB Josh Jackson, OT Byron Bell, P JK Scott

Key Losses: WR Jordy Nelson, S Morgan Burnett, TE Richard Rodgers, OG Jahri Evans, CB Damarious Randall, WR Jeff Janis

By the standards of Ted Thompson — who transitioned from GM to a senior advisor — the Packers’ offseason was downright electric under new GM Brian Gutekunst, who dipped his toe into free agency and moved up and down the board on draft night.

The release of longtime Aaron Rodgers confidante Jordy Nelson and the signing of Jimmy Graham feels like a wash. Both players are aging and would be best off playing with Rodgers, but Graham’s schematic impact might bring the dimensions that Martellus Bennett was supposed to bring last year. There were few other offensive changes, other than signing Marcedes Lewis and drafting a trio of later-round wideouts.

Defensively, the Packers turned over a secondary that has struggled despite heavy investments in recent years. Morgan Burnett and Damarious Randall are gone, while Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson arrived via the draft, and Tramon Williams and Davon House return. The group must improve for new coordinator Mike Pettine’s scheme to function. Muhammad Wilkerson could be one of the offseason’s best bargains (one year, $5 million) if motivated, but the front seven still lacks pass-rush pop as Clay Matthews, 32, ages.

Gutekunst deserves credit for extracting a 2019 first-round pick from New Orleans in a trade down, and DeShone Kizer isn’t a bad bet as a Rodgers’ insurance policy.

Our Take: Another pass-rusher would have been nice, but Gutekunst otherwise managed quite well in his first year at the helm. — B

 

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Key Acquisitions: QB Kirk Cousins, DT Sheldon Richardson, WR Kendall Wright, OG Tom Compton, QB Trevor Siemian, DT David Parry, CB Mike Hughes, OT Brian O’Neill, K Daniel Carlson

Key Losses: QB Case Keenum, QB Sam Bradford, QB Teddy Bridgewater, RB Jerick McKinnon, DT Tom Johnson, DT Shamar Stephen, WR Jarius Wright, LB Emmanuel Lamur, CB Tramaine Brock

Nineteen of 22 starters return to a team that reached the NFC Championship, but those who left were among the NFL’s most impactful. Most notably, the Vikings’ took major leaps of faith by letting THREE quarterback incumbents — including breakout starter Case Keenum — walk in free agency; and then giving Kirk Cousins what was, at the time, a record $84 million guaranteed. The move carries risk, but Minnesota deserves credit for chasing the best quarterback available in an effort to maximize its Super Bowl window.

The other major offensive change was at coordinator, where ex-Philadelphia quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo replaces Pat Shurmur, whose system was a perfect fit for Keenum. DeFilippo and Cousins might require more time to create that sort of chemistry, but an excellent set of weapons sure helps, and Kendall Wright was a nice bargain signing to join Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.

A few rotational defensive pieces departed, and the dynamic Sheldon Richardson, whose one-year, $8 million deal was one of the best buys in free agency, replaces 3-technique tackles Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen. The Vikings also extended linebacker Eric Kendricks, who was the first of a few key youngsters (along with Stefon Diggs, Danielle Hunter and Anthony Barr) nearing the end of their rookie deals.

Our Take: Minnesota likely raised both its floor and its ceiling by adding Cousins and Richardson, an impressive feat for a 13-3 team. — A

NFC South: Preseason Grades and Analysis

ATLANTA FALCONS

Key Acquisitions: OG Brandon Fusco, WR Calvin Ridley, DT Terrell McClain, CB Justin Bethel, TE Logan Paulsen, CB Isaiah Oliver, DT Deadrin Senat

Key Losses: DT Dontari Poe, DE Adrian Clayborn, WR Taylor Gabriel, TE Levine Toilolo, DE Courtney Upshaw, FB Derrick Coleman, DT Ahtyba Rubin

Offensive regression brought the Falcons back to earth a bit last season, but it wasn’t for a lack of talent, and the roster didn’t require much of a tweak in the offseason. The Falcons slotted Fusco in as a starting guard and were able to snag Ridley at No. 26 overall in the draft. Ridley has the polish and savvy to contribute immediately, and he should be very explosive on Atlanta’s home turf.

There are a few more questions on defense, where four linemen left via free agency, including Dontari Poe and Adrian Clayborn. Atlanta added only former Redskin Terrell McClain and third-round pick Deadrin Senat at defensive tackle, which could be an issue for a group that ranked 19th in yards per carry allowed in 2017. The Falcons deserve credit for using their top two draft picks on valuable players who slid, but waiting to address their biggest need may yield some headaches.

The Falcons did a lot of their off-season work in-house — making Matt Ryan the highest-paid quarterback in league history and trying to resolve Julio Jones’ contract situation without his holdout bleeding into the regular season. Management of the Jones situation will be crucial, especially with several youngsters (left tackle Jake Matthews, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, safety Ricardo Allen) seeking extensions as they enter contract years.

Our Take: The Falcons needed less work than most teams, but it’s not clear whether they did enough at defensive tackle. — B-

 

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Key Acquisitions: DT Dontari Poe, RB C.J. Anderson, WR Torrey Smith, WR D.J. Moore, WR Jarius Wright, OG Jeremiah Sirles, S Da’Norris Searcy, CB Ross Cockrell, CB Donte Jackson, TE Ian Thomas

Key Losses: OG Andrew Norwell, DT Star Lotulelei, S Kurt Coleman, RB Jonathan Stewart, DE Charles Johnson, TE Ed Dickson, CB Daryl Worley, QB Derek Anderson, WR Russell Shepard

A big chunk of the team that reached Super Bowl 50 departed this offseason, but it’s hard to fault Carolina for the exodus. It was expected that Andrew Norwell and Star Lotulelei would leave after counterparts Trai Turner and Kawann Short, respectively, received massive contracts. Meanwhile, Kurt Coleman, Jonathan Stewart and Charles Johnson are well into the backstretch of their careers.

Jeremiah Sirles has big shoes to fill following Norwell’s departure, but the offense upgraded elsewhere, with speedster Torrey Smith and first-rounder D.J. Moore, who should add some juice to the passing game under new coordinator Norv Turner. Despite his struggles as a head coach, Turner’s track record as a coordinator is excellent, and he could make magic with Cam Newton if the two develop chemistry.

C.J. Anderson arrived after the draft for just $1.75 million over one year, and he should complement 2017 first-round pick Christian McCaffrey extremely well. Nabbing Ian Thomas in Round 4 was a nice upside bet on a possible long-term replacement for 33-year-old Greg Olsen.

Getting Dontari Poe from the rival Falcons for less annual money than Lotulelei received in Buffalo was a steal, while Da’Norris Searcy and Ross Cockrell are exactly the types of veterans that Carolina has succeeded with in its zone-heavy defensive scheme under Ron Rivera. Second-rounder Donte Jackson could see early time in the slot as well.

Our Take: The Panthers recovered nicely, but some key losses will be felt. How Newton plays in Turner’s offense will likely make or break this team. — C+

 

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Key Acquisitions: CB Patrick Robinson, LB Demario Davis, DE Marcus Davenport, S Kurt Coleman, WR Cameron Meredith, OG Jermon Bushrod, TE Ben Watson, QB Tom Savage

Key Losses: OT Zach Strief, S Kenny Vaccaro, WR Willie Snead, OG Senio Kelemete, TE Coby Fleener, S Rafael Bush, CB Delvin Breaux, LB Jonathan Freeny, QB Chase Daniel

The Saints accomplished their top priority — re-signing Drew Brees — and managed to keep him for $25 million annually. That qualifies as a bargain considering the current QB market. New Orleans then turned its attention to reinforcing and already improved defense by adding Patrick Robinson ($5 million/year) and Demario Davis ($8 million/year), though they might have bought high.

The Saints also nabbed savvy veteran Kurt Coleman to replace Kenny Vaccaro. Coleman will be a great fit in Dennis Allen’s three-safety nickel and dime packages the team also re-signed Alex Okafor (4.5 sacks in 10 games in 2017). Then came the splash in the draft, when New Orleans sent its 2019 first-rounder to Green Bay to trade up for Marcus Davenport. While Davenport is extremely talented, the move was awfully aggressive for a player most consider quite raw.

Little changed on offense, though Ryan Ramczyk will have big shoes to fill following veteran right tackle Zach Strief’s retirement. Jermon Bushrod returned to provide depth at guard in place of Senio Kelemete. The Ravens pilfered restricted free agent Willie Snead, but the Saints added an RFA wideout of their own in former Bear Cameron Meredith. They surprisingly didn’t add a young tight end, despite their top three veterans entering contract years.

Our Take: The Saints saved some money on Brees and found several upgrades. That’s impressive for an 11-5 team, although the Davenport trade must pan out. — A

 

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Key Acquisitions: DE Jason Pierre-Paul, DE Vinny Curry, C Ryan Jensen, DT Vita Vea, RB Ronald Jones, DT Beau Allen, DT Mitch Unrein, K Chandler Catanzaro, CB Carlton Davis, CB M.J. Stewart

Key Losses: RB Doug Martin, DE Robert Ayers, S T.J. Ward, DT Chris Baker, DT Clinton McDonald, C Joe Hawley, OG Kevin Pamphile, K Patrick Murray

It seems like the Bucs have often had productive offseasons that don’t translate into on-field wins, but it’s hard not to give them credit for this spring’s work. Rarely does a weak spot on the depth chart become a strength in a single offseason, but with the additions of Jason Pierre-Paul, Vinny Curry, Beau Allen, Mitch Unrein and Vita Vea make Tampa Bay’s D-line well stocked around Gerald McCoy and Noah Spence. The group may lack an elite pass rush — which was one reason to question picking Vea at No. 12 overall — but it should bother quarterbacks plenty while shutting down opposing run games. GM Jason Licht also added Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart, who could play early, to the secondary in Round 2.

With a third second-rounder (two were acquired by trading down) Licht grabbed Ronald Jones, who should immediately take the lead role after Doug Martin’s release. Ryan Jensen will help clear the way up front, though the Bucs almost certainly overpaid ($10.5 million annually, most ever for a center). But the move allows allows Ali Marpet to move back to guard. The Bucs also locked up tight end Cameron Brate to a hefty extension (six years, $41 million), meaning two tight-end sets with 2017 first-rounder O.J. Howard will be featured plenty. Tampa Bay took another swing at a kicker as well, but who knows if Chandler Catanzaro will be the answer.

Our Take: The Bucs’ roster is clearly improved, though it’s not guaranteed to lead to wins in a brutally tough division. — A-

– Field Level Media

AFC West: Preseason Grades and Analysis

DENVER BRONCOS

Key Acquisitions: QB Case Keenum, OLB Bradley Chubb, OT Jared Veldheer, S Su’a Cravens, RB Royce Freeman, CB Tramaine Brock, P Marquette King, DT Clinton McDonald, WR Courtland Sutton, WR Dae’Sean Hamilton

Key Losses: CB Aqib Talib, RB C.J. Anderson, QB Trevor Siemian, TE Virgil Green, OG Allen Barbre, RB Jamaal Charles, WR Cody Latimer, WR Bennie Fowler, OT Donald Stephenson

You can argue the Broncos should have reset and drafted a top quarterback prospect, but if you think the team’s Super Bowl window remains open, GM John Elway did an excellent job trying to maximize it.

Rather than breaking the bank for Kirk Cousins ($84 million guaranteed), the Broncos bet far less on Case Keenum ($25 million), who proved last season he can steer a team that relies on its running game and defense. Keenum’s short-term deal also buys more development time for Paxton Lynch, although the 2016 first-rounder has shown no indication of being a long-term answer.

C.J. Anderson was released and Virgil Green left in free agency, but the offense should be better at several spots. Helping protect Keenum will be Jared Veldheer, who arrived via trade to plug Denver’s gaping hole at right tackle. The draft brought three weapons who could contribute early, with Royce Freeman looking like the starting running back and Courtland Sutton and Dae’Sean Hamilton impressing during spring practices.

The defense has a void to fill after the release of cornerback Aqib Talib, which put pressure on Bradley Roby and Tramaine Brock, but the pass rush might be good enough to compensate after Bradley Chubb fell in Denver’s lap at No. 5 overall in the draft. The rest of the unit remains intact, keeping hopes of a 2015 repeat alive.

FLM Take: Denver might have regrets if Josh Rosen becomes a star in Arizona, but it’s hard to quibble with much else. — B+

 

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

Key Acquisitions: WR Sammy Watkins, CB Kendall Fuller, LB Anthony Hitchens, CB David Amerson, DT Xavier Williams, DE/LB Breeland Speaks, RB Damien Williams, DT Derrick Nnadi

Key Losses: QB Alex Smith, CB Marcus Peters, LB Derrick Johnson, OG Zach Fulton, WR Albert Wilson, OLB Tamba Hali, CB Darrelle Revis, DT Bennie Logan, S Ron Parker, CB Phillip Gaines

The Chiefs made no bones about it this offseason: They are all in on 2017 first-round pick Patrick Mahomes. The team’s faith is a promising sign for the youngster, but betting so heavily on a signal-caller with one career start is risky.

Not only did Kansas City ship off Alex Smith, but it gave a monster contract (three years, $48 million) to Sammy Watkins, who has the talent to thrive in an aggressive, downfield attack but has struggled with durability and consistency throughout his career. The rest of the offense returns intact, but it’s fair to expect growing pains as Mahomes settles in as the starter.

On defense, the Chiefs turned their cornerback depth chart upside down, most prominently with the trade of Marcus Peters due to personality concerns. Kendall Fuller (part of the return for Smith) and David Amerson (signed after he was released by the Raiders) have flashed ability, but they’ll have a hard time replacing Peters, who might have been the team’s best player. The position then went unaddressed until Round 6 in the draft, although GM Brett Veach did find help for a shaky run defense in Breeland Speaks and Derrick Nnadi. That duo, along with pricey signee Anthony Hitchens (five years, $45 million), will be counted on early with Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali and Bennie Logan gone.

FLM Take: The Chiefs traded two of their best players, gave out a pair eyebrow-raising contracts and still have major holes on defense. Some decline should be expected, even if Mahomes impresses. — D+

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

Key Acquisitions: C Mike Pouncey, S Derwin James, TE Virgil Green, K Caleb Sturgis, OLB/DE Uchenna Nwosu, DT Justin Jones, QB Geno Smith

Key Losses: S Tre Boston, TE Antonio Gates, OG Matt Slauson, OG Kenny Wiggins, DE Jeremiah Attaochu K Nick Novak, DE Chris McCain

Considering upheaval elsewhere in the division, the Chargers might have claimed AFC West pole position despite doing little this offseason. After missing the playoffs with a plus-83 point differential (ninth in NFL), the Bolts again tried to solve the kicking woes that have haunted them for years, signing Caleb Sturgis and taking a flier on 2016 second-rounder Roberto Aguayo. If one can be merely average, Los Angeles will be in much better shape.

The Chargers let a few offensive linemen walk in favor of 2017 draftees Forrest Lamp — returning from an ACL tear after missing his rookie campaign — and Dan Feeney. Centering those two will be three-time Pro Bowler Mike Pouncey, who joined on a reasonable deal (two years, $15 million). Toss in the signing of Virgil Green, and the team’s blocking could be excellent. Unfortunately for L.A., the injury bug already bit Hunter Henry (torn ACL), perhaps paving the way for Antonio Gates’ return.

The defense didn’t need much work, but the few moves GM Tom Telesco made were excellent, starting with a very reasonable extension (three years, $33.3 million) for stalwart corner Casey Hayward. He pounced when Derwin James slid to No. 17 in the draft, giving defensive coordinator Gus Bradley an ideal roving safety. The biggest remaining concern is a leaky run defense, putting pressure on third-rounder Justin Jones after the team failed to upgrade at linebacker this spring.

FLM Take: The Chargers’ deep and talented roster didn’t need much, but the group clearly got better. — B+

 

OAKLAND RAIDERS

Key Acquisitions: WR Jordy Nelson, WR Martavis Bryant, LB Tahir Whitehead, CB Rashaan Melvin, S Marcus Gilchrist, RB Doug Martin, OT Breno Giacomini, OT Kolton Miller, LB Derrick Johnson, DT Maurice Hurst, CB Shareece Wright, WR Ryan Switzer, DT P.J. Hall, DE Arden Key, DE Tank Carradine; DT Ahtyba Rubin, DT Frostee Rucker

Key Losses: WR Michael Crabtree, DT Denico Autry, WR Cordarrelle Patterson, LB NaVorro Bowman, CB Sean Smith, CB David Amerson, P Marquette King, K Sebastian Janikowski, OT Marshall Newhouse, CB T.J. Carrie, DT Jihad Ward

Oakland’s offseason was an absolute blur. It started with Jon Gruden’s (re)hiring — just 11 months after Jack Del Rio signed an extension — on a decade-long, $100 million deal, which led to a remarkable roster churn. With several players walking out the door, the Raiders added about two dozen from other teams, the vast majority being veterans on one-year deals worth $4 million or less.

The effects were relatively muted on offense. Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant — if he can stay on the field — might provide an upgrade over released wideout Michael Crabtree, but both had down 2017 seasons. Doug Martin is a complete wild card, and Breno Giacomini doesn’t move the needle much at right tackle.

More change came on defense, where Tahir Whitehead and Derrick Johnson were tabbed to steady a shaky linebacker group, but plenty of questions remain at cornerback. Rashaan Melvin (one year, $5.5 million) was a nice bargain, but the rest of the group is filled with questions, even if 2017 first-rounder Gareon Conley steps up. A Khalil Mack sized cloud still hangs over the defense as the star defensive end still doesn’t have a contract on the table.

The Raiders’ draft was one of the league’s strangest, as they repeatedly took boom-or-bust prospects, including athletic-but-raw types (Kolton Miller, P.J. Hill, Brandon Parker) and players with character (Arden Key, Azeem Victor) and health (Nick Nelson, Maurice Hurst) concerns. When the dust settled, the linebacker and cornerback depth charts still looked shaky.

FLM Take: Few tried harder to upgrade than Oakland, but is this team much better? Remember: Those who play with fire eventually get burned. — D