NFL Free Agency: Immediate Impacts

Now that the NFL draft, OTAs, and Rookie Mini Camps are over, NFL players have off from mandatory work until training camps start in mid-July. At this point in the offseason, we have a better idea of which direction each NFL team is headed. Some teams, like the Jets, are clearly looking to get younger and cheaper for the future. This notion is mirrored by their decision to let go of valuable assets like Eric Decker, Brandon Marshall, David Harris and more.

On the other hand, some teams feel closer to a Super Bowl run than not. For instance, the Patriots loaded up for another run with Tom Brady at the helm; the Eagles had a solid offseason haul that centered around putting better pieces around second-year Quarterback Carson Wentz, and the Colts made defense a priority in hopes of taking some of the slack off of Andrew Luck and the offense.

I want to take a look at some of these teams who had a strong offseason in hopes of making a playoff run.

For the sake of this article, I’m only looking at players who weren’t on the roster in 2016, but will be in 2017. This excludes draft selections and in-house re-signings. Thanks to Pro Football Guru, who updates these transactions on a daily basis. 

 

Tennessee Titans

The Titans were a game away from winning 10 games and returning to the postseason for the first time since 2008. While their season ended in disappointment after Marcus Mariota was injured in their Week 16 loss to Jacksonville, the Titans are clearly headed in the right direction, and their fans should be really excited about their team.

The Titans are a well-balanced offense that can run the football successfully behind a strong offensive line. With DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry in the backfield, they have the luxury of a strong 1-2 punch that can help move the chains. Their problem on offense mostly stemmed from a mostly-incompetent receiving core, but that should change in 2017. Not only did the Titans draft a no. 1 receiver, they recently signed one of the best and most reliable route runners in the NFL in Eric Decker.

Decker is soon to enter the tail end of his career, but he still has good football left. It was only two years ago that he caught 80 passes for 1,027 yards and 12 touchdowns; Mariota will welcome that type of production — no one on their 2016 roster eclipsed 70 catches, 1,000 yards, or 10 touchdowns. 

On the defensive side of the ball, the Titans’ secondary was the glaring weak link. They allowed 4,037 through the air (30th in NFL) — 74 more yards and they would have ranked dead last in the entire league. They added ex-Patriot Logan Ryan on a three-year deal, who will immediately step in as their best cornerback. Couple that with the additions of Safety’s Johnathon Cyprien and Brynden Trawick, and the Titans now have some nice depth in their ailing secondary.

The Titans also snagged Sylvester Williams from Denver, who should help garner some pressure alongside Jurrell Casey up the middle of their defense. It was a good offseason for the Titans, and I expect them to make another jump this season in their quest for the postseason for the first time in nine seasons.

 

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts have endured back-to-back disappointing seasons; going 8-8 in consecutive seasons with a quarterback like Andrew Luck is simply criminal. While he hasn’t been able to stay healthy on the field, the Colts need to do a better job of surrounding him with a better team. That first starts with the protection from the offensive line to keep him upright, but focusing on getting better production from their defense is almost just as important.

The Colts were in the bottom half of the league during both 8-8 seasons on defense in pretty much any defensive category you want to measure. They allowed the third-most yards in the league last season, surrendering the sixth-most yards through the air and eighth-most on the ground. Under new General Manager Chris Ballard, the Colts did a nice job in the offseason of addressing these blatant incompetencies.

Aside from a really strong defensive-minded draft, the Colts snagged some key additions in free agency, too. They picked up Jabaal Sheard from the Patriots, Johnathon Hankins from the Giants, and Margus Hunt from the Bengals. All three players will likely start along their defensive line in Week 1, which should immediately help garner more sacks than the 33 they racked up last year (league-worst was 25, OAK). They also signed Sean Spence, John Simon, and Barkevious Mingo to help bolster their linebacker unit.

The Colts clearly made defense a priority this offseason, and it was necessary if they want to return to the postseason for the first time since 2014. The Colts hadn’t missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons since 1997-1998 before this two-year drought. It’s been over 22 years since they missed the playoffs for three straight seasons, and I don’t expect it to happen now after a solid offseason.

New England Patriots

It’s a crime against the rest of the league that the Patriots actually got better this offseason, but they did just that. We’ve all heard the stats and achievements at this point, but let me refresh your brain before hearing how this franchise actually improved this offseason. The Patriots have won the AFC East every single season besides 2008 (the Cassel year) dating back to 2003. In that same time slot, they’ve won four Super Bowls and appeared in two others. They’re simply the most dominant franchise in the 21st century in any sport, and it’s not really close, especially considering they’re doing it in a league built off “parity.”

So about their offseason… The Patriots added one of the better young receivers in football in Brandin Cooks to give Tom Brady another weapon; Cooks will be 24 this season and eclipsed 1,000 yards in back-to-back years. They also replaced Martellus Bennett with Dwayne Allen, while adding dual-threat Running Back Rex Burkhead from Cincinnati. At least two of these three players will put up great numbers in New England if not all three. And the scary part is that they don’t even really have to for New England to be great; Brady produces with whoever he has. Scary right?

If those offseason acquisitions aren’t enough to scare you, consider their moves on defense. The Patriots scooped up Cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who is entering the prime age of his career at the right time; he’ll help improve an already-good secondary, even with the Patriots letting Logan Ryan walk to Tennessee. That’s not it, though. The Patriots also added Defensive End Kony Ealy from Carolina to be their day-one starting left end, while also taking a flyer on veteran David Harris in his quest for a run at the Super Bowl in the tail end of his career.

The Patriots were already loaded, and they got better. It’s tough to imagine this team losing three games next season.

Philadelphia Eagles

It’s tough to predict the Eagles’ fate in 2017; a lot of it hinges on the play of second-year Quarterback Carson Wentz. One thing for certain, though, and that’s the Eagles’ desire to put better weapons around him. Wentz simply didn’t get enough out of his receiving core last year, and that should change this season after their moves in free agency.

The Eagles signed Alshon Jeffery to a one-year “prove it” deal, and reports out of Philadelphia are that he looks great early on. The talent has always been there with Jeffery, but he’s struggled to stay on the field. He’s still young and I think the Eagles had to make this signing, and Wentz now has his no. 1 guy. The Eagles also signed Torrey Smith, a reliable option who should help fill out an ailing unit.

The Eagles receivers coming into the offseason were Jordan Matthews, Dorial Green-Beckham, and Nelson Agholor. Add in Jeffery and Smith, and that group now changes from “severely underwhelming” to, at the least, “potentially dangerous.” If Wentz takes a step and gets production from two or three of these receivers, plus Zach Ertz, the Eagles offense can start to live up to the standards of their Jim-Schwartz-led defense.

This is without mentioning their additions of LeGarrette Blount, Chris Long, and Timmy Jernigan. Blount will be paired with Ryan Matthews and Darren Sproles, and that’s a really solid group of running backs. Jernigan and Long will only improve an already-good defensive line. The Eagles are on the rise, and Carson Wentz no longer has excuses on the offensive side of the ball. It’s a big year for him and the Eagles.

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