The offseason never seems to end. Just when the world thought things were quiet on the Brett Favre ranch, the legendary quarterback received his release from the Jets, and Vikings coach Brad Childress came calling.
If Childress lands Favre, which is becoming more and more likely by the day, the Vikings will sneak into the top 10 of best offseasons in the NFL this year. The Vikings haven’t done a lot this offseason. Cornerback Karl Paymah has been their only free-agent acquisition. Quarterback Sage Rosenfels came to them in a trade. Childress gambled on wide receiver Percy Harvin in the draft and may have picked up a starting right tackle in second-rounder Phil Loadholt.
But any time a team acquires a marquee quarterback, the move validates the offseason. Adding Favre could do that for the Vikings.
Here are a few notes regarding our top 10. We’re not judging teams as a whole. That comes later, when power rankings are tabulated. The Panthers, Falcons, Colts, Chargers and Steelers remain among the elite, even though their offseasons have been relatively quiet.
Despite the volume of work Josh McDaniels has done in Denver, the Broncos aren’t included because of the Jay Cutler trade, which downgraded their talent level at quarterback. The Broncos have brought in 15 veterans through free agency, QB Kyle Orton in the Cutler trade and 10 draft choices. All those moves may not have improved their defensive front seven, which was a major problem last season.
1. Seattle Seahawks: General manager Tim Ruskell has had the league’s best offseason to date because he filled needs before the draft and moved further ahead during the draft. Ruskell acquired needed size along the defensive line by getting Cory Redding and wide-body Colin Cole. An already talented linebacker corps improved with the drafting of Aaron Curry and the re-signing of Leroy Hill to a six-year contract. Wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh was also a big pickup. Second-round choice Max Unger could help out at left guard and end up being the center of the future. Ken Lucas returns at right corner after four years in Carolina and adds needed size to the position. The topper was getting the Broncos’ first-round pick next year, thanks to a draft-day trade.
2. Philadelphia Eagles: Donovan McNabb wanted help this offseason. Andy Reid delivered. Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters and guard Stacy Andrews were added to the offensive line. The Eagles also added wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, halfback LeSean McCoy, tight end Cornelius Ingram and fullback Leonard Weaver. Throw in cornerback Ellis Hobbs and safety Sean Jones in the secondary, and it’s hard to argue that the Eagles haven’t soared this offseason.
3. New York Giants: The Giants might have moved ahead of the Eagles had they traded for Braylon Edwards, but New York still did well in free agency and the draft. The Giants filled out their defensive front seven with linebacker Michael Boley and defensive linemen Rocky Bernard and Chris Canty. They bolstered their receiving corps with Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden. They also picked up a talented young offensive tackle (William Beatty) and a promising linebacker (Clint Sintim).
4. New England Patriots — Bill Belichick was wrongfully criticized for supposedly not getting great value for quarterback Matt Cassel. The truth is, Belichick parlayed the franchise tag on Cassel into second-round safety Patrick Chung and 11 veterans. After ridding himself of Cassel’s $14.6 million salary, Belichick used that room to add halfback Fred Taylor, tight end Chris Baker, wide receivers Greg Lewis and Joey Galloway, center Al Johnson, offensive lineman Damane Duckett, cornerbacks Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden, linebackers Tully Banta-Cain and Vinny Ciurciu, and long-snapper Nathan Hodel. He threw in tight end Alex Smith and safety Brandon McGowan in the past week.
5. Chicago Bears: The Bears gave up a lot to acquire quarterback Jay Cutler, but he might be their ticket to stay with the Vikings in the NFC North race even if Childress lands Favre. You have to go back to the mid-1990s, when the Colts traded Jeff George to Atlanta, to find the last time a team traded for a talented, strong-armed quarterback just as he was reaching his prime. The Bears also found help on the offensive line with Orlando Pace, Kevin Shaffer and Frank Omiyale.
6. Buffalo Bills: The Bills rolled the dice by signing Terrell Owens, but no team had a more glaring need for a second receiving option than the Bills did last year. When teams stopped Marshawn Lynch on the ground and double-teamed Lee Evans, the Bills couldn’t do anything on offense. They upgraded the middle of their offensive line with center Geoff Hangartner and rookie guards Eric Wood and Andy Levitre. The final piece could come if they can sign Bengals tackle Levi Jones, who was released Wednesday. Fourth-round choice Shawn Nelson could be the pass-catching tight end. Drayton Florence should help the secondary, and Aaron Maybin was the pass-rusher head coach Dick Jauron had been seeking for more than a year.
7. Washington Redskins: It’s hard not to include the team that signed the best free agent. Even though Dan Snyder tried and failed to land Cutler or Mark Sanchez, he did sign Albert Haynesworth, one of the game’s most dominating defenders. Don’t forget about last year’s signing of cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who stayed on with a six-year, $54 million contract. Whether Brian Orakpo plays strongside linebacker or pass-rushing defensive end, he will add big-play ability to the defense. Derrick Dockery starts the process of making the offensive line younger and better.
8. New York Jets: New coach Rex Ryan should improve the defense after acquiring his handpicked helpers — linebacker Bart Scott, safety Jim Leonhard, defensive end Marques Douglas and cornerbacks Lito Sheppard and Donald Strickland. The key to the offseason was trade that allowed the Jets to select Sanchez in the draft. Ryan can aid Sanchez’s growth by letting Thomas Jones, Leon Washington and third-round choice Shonn Greene run the ball. The Jets are still looking for help at wide receiver and tight end.
9. Detroit Lions: When you go 0-16, things can’t get worse. General manager Martin Mayhew attacked the team’s many needs with volume. Of the 14 veteran acquisitions, linebacker Julian Peterson, defensive tackle Grady Jackson, cornerbacks Phillip Buchanon and Anthony Henry and wide receiver Bryant Johnson should help the most. The Lions have the time to groom Matthew Stafford at quarterback because of last year’s signing of veteran Daunte Culpepper. Louis Delmas, the second-round pick, looks promising at safety, and Brandon Pettigrew was the best tight end available in the draft.
10. Kansas City Chiefs: General manager Scott Pioli’s first move was adding a quarterback. Matt Cassel should bring stability to the position. The team’s 2009 draft lacked the flair of last season’s, but defensive end Tyson Jackson should speed up the changeover to the 3-4 defense. Veteran linebackers Zach Thomas and Mike Vrabel and wide receiver Bobby Engram should teach winning ways to a team that suffered too many painful losses last season.