Our panel of ESPN NFL Insiders is breaking down what all the offseason action means for the 2018 season throughout the week.
Next up: Which teams are worse following free agency, the draft and other offseason moves?
Insiders make their picks and also debate which teams improved the most.
Which team declined most this offseason?
Field Yates, NFL Insider: Buffalo Bills. Note an important caveat: There is a long-term building process that was followed and not in any way compromised this offseason. The Bills performed exceptionally well in single-score games last season (6-2), which played an integral part in snapping their postseason drought. But it was clear they were not sold on Tyrod Taylor as the long-term quarterback solution, and they utilized their robust draft capital to select Josh Allen seventh overall. Factoring in the QB transition and offensive-line shuffle, Buffalo profiles as a regression team in the short term.
Kevin Seifert, national NFL writer: Miami Dolphins. Their plan is difficult to discern. They’ve parted ways with most of their best players, from Ndamukong Suh to Jarvis Landry, and added a crew of aging veterans that includes tailback Frank Gore (35 when the season begins), receiver Danny Amendola (32) and guard Josh Sitton (32). Their faith in quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who is returning from ACL surgery, is risky at best. The Dolphins aren’t rebuilding in any functional way, but their roster is not ready to compete for a playoff spot, either. That’s a major step back.
Aaron Schatz, editor-in-chief of Football Outsiders: Buffalo Bills. The QB situation is a mess. Even if you’re a believer in Allen (I’m not), you have to admit he’s the kind of quarterback who will likely require a lot of work to transition. The offensive line is a mess, too, with Buffalo’s three best linemen gone via either trade or retirement. Football Outsiders’ free-agency analysis also shows edge rusher Trent Murphy as one of this year’s signings least likely to live up to the value of his three-year, $22.5 million contract.
KC Joyner, NFL writer: Seattle Seahawks. Mel Kiper gave them his lowest grade of the draft, and their free-agent additions were arguably the least inspiring in the league. Those might be enough to drop Seattle to the bottom of this list, but how in the world did the Seahawks do so little to upgrade the offensive line, which was arguably the worst in the league last season?
Dan Graziano, national NFL writer: Seattle Seahawks. The decline obviously started last season, sooner than most of us expected. But losing Michael Bennett, Richard Sherman, Cliff Avril and Sheldon Richardson in the same offseason (with Kam Chancellor‘s situation still unresolved) is to see a foundation crumble underneath you. Pete Carroll is not to be underestimated as a puzzle-solver, but does he have enough pieces?
Mike Clay, NFL writer: Miami Dolphins. It was hard not to think of the Chip Kelly-era Eagles when watching the Dolphins chase “culture” while moving on from talented players such as Jay Ajayi, Suh, Pouncey, Landry and Michael Thomas over the past several months. Miami is weak or below average at most positions and is suddenly a candidate for the first overall pick in next April’s draft.
Matt Bowen, NFL writer: Seattle Seahawks. The “Legion of Boom” used to dictate the flow of the game. Play three-deep coverage, challenge routes and physically control the middle of the field. No free passes there. However, with Sherman now in San Francisco, Chancellor facing an uncertain future and a front-four pass rush that must be retooled, the Seahawks have crucial roles to fill on the defensive side of the ball in a division that features quarterbacks Jared Goff and Jimmy Garoppolo.
Which team improved the most this offseason?
Bowen: Los Angeles Rams. The arrow is pointing up for the Bears and Browns after productive offseasons, but I’m looking at the Rams due to the proven, veteran talent they brought in via trades and free agency. Cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib have the playmaking skills to find the ball in the secondary. Go get it. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh bolsters the interior of the front line next to All-Pro Aaron Donald. Wide receiver Brandin Cooks is an upgrade for the passing game. Strong, aggressive moves put this squad in position to win the NFC West and make a serious playoff run.
Clay: Cleveland Browns. They had the league’s worst quarterback play in 2017 but solidified it by acquiring Tyrod Taylor and first overall pick Baker Mayfield. Joe Thomas and Danny Shelton are gone, but Cleveland stocked up with talent: E.J. Gaines, TJ Carrie, Carlos Hyde, Jarvis Landry, Chris Hubbard and Damarious Randall as well as early-round rookies Denzel Ward, Austin Corbett and Nick Chubb. This is a team on the rise.
Graziano: Chicago Bears. The problem is that because of the strength of their division, I don’t know that the improvement will necessarily show in the standings. The Bears spent big in free agency, which isn’t always the best way to go, but they’ve improved their wide receiver corps and kept their secondary intact with that spending. I believe their top three draft picks — Roquan Smith, James Daniels and Anthony Miller — are guys who can help them right away at positions of significant need.
Joyner: Cleveland Browns. It’s incredible that the Browns were able to improve in as many ways as they did this offseason. They added two quality quarterbacks, have a logjam of good running backs with the additions of Hyde and Chubb, brought in three solid cornerbacks in free agency and acquired the best coverage cornerback in the draft (Ward). Three new offensive linemen give the Browns one of the deepest blocking walls in the NFL, and they added Landry, arguably the best possession receiver in the league.
Seifert: New York Jets. Stay with me for a moment. There is no doubt that the Browns have raised their talent level more from 2017 to 2018. But they also had the furthest to go. The Jets’ drafting of quarterback Sam Darnold establishes a long-term focus for what was already a decently talented roster. For the first time in six years, the Jets know whom they’re building around. Don’t underestimate the value in that, even if Darnold doesn’t make a huge impact in 2018.
Yates: Cleveland Browns. From a talent-added standpoint relative to where the team was last season, Cleveland takes the cake. That, of course, includes the fact that this team was historically bad in 2017, becoming just the second to go 0-16. The Browns have cultivated a short- and long-term plan at quarterback and talent across the offense, and they reshaped the secondary.