By Dan Williams @Dan_Wi11iams on June 13, 2014
The 2014 offseason was a big one for the NFL. This year, multiple All-Pro players signed with new teams, creating openings for one of the deepest drafts in recent memory. Many of the teams that were able to get better using free agency and the draft are playoff teams from a year ago. Now with the offseason winding down, here's a look at the 10 teams that improved the most in 2014.
Changes across the board were necessary for the Browns heading into the 2014 offseason. Key acquisitions like Ben Tate, Andrew Hawkins, Karlos Dansby, Donte Whitner and Paul McQuistan have helped the progress of the Browns, but Cleveland’s draft may have laid the groundwork for a successful future with selections like cornerbacks Justin Gilbert and Pierre Desir, RB Terrance West, OL Joel Bitonio, and LB Christian Kirksey.
The Bears were able to re-sign C Roberto Garza and CB Charles Tillman, followed by the signings of defensive free agents including safety Ryan Mundy. Attempting to replace the departed Julius Peppers, the Bears came to terms with multiple defensive ends like Willie Young, Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, and Israel Idonije. The Bears turned to defenders in the draft as well, selecting CB Kyle Fuller and defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton.
Although they lost arguably the face of franchise in DeShean Jackson, the Eagles retained wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper, along with S Nate Allen. The Eagles also went out and signed CB Nolan Carroll, RB Darren Sproles and S Malcolm Jenkins. Philadelphia’s first selection of Marcus Smith was questioned, but he should be a versatile DE/LB. The Eagles then chose receivers Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff, giving Nick Foles more options.
The Buccaneers made a flurry of moves during the offseason, but none of them were extremely high-profile. Notables include OL Evan Dietrich-Smith, cornerbacks Alterraun Verner and Mike Jenkins, DE Michael Johnson and QB Josh McCown. These defenders fit in nicely with Lovie Smith’s defense. In the draft, Tampa decided to go all-offense including WR Mike Evans and TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who will complement fellow sizable WR Vincent Jackson.
St. Louis was able to go into free agency and re-sign OT Rodger Saffold and LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar. The Rams added OG Davin Joseph, DE Alex Carrington, and WR Kenny Britt. The Rams defense is as solid as they come in the NFL, but the offense is in need of change. The Rams added four top prospects including No. 2 overall OT Greg Robinson and RB Tre Mason, along with defensive studs DL Aaron Donald and CB Lamarcus Joyner, making St. Louis a rising team.
With little need to go outside the organization, Baltimore was able to re-sign OT Eugene Monroe, TE Dennis Pitta, and LB Daryl Smith. Lacking a receiver to complement speedster Torrey Smith, the Ravens went out and signed veteran Steve Smith, giving Joe Flacco another weapon. GM Ozzie Newsome used their first three choices on LB C.J. Mosely, DT Timmy Jernigan, and S Terrence Brooks – allowing the Ravens to mold them into solid NFL players.
The Colts are a team to look out for in 2014. After a successful free-agency period where they signed DL Arthur Jones away from Baltimore, the Colts continued on by signing WR Hakeem Nicks, LB D’Qwell Jackson, and re-signing RB Ahmad Bradshaw and CB Vontae Davis – keeping key players in the organization. Although the Colts’ free-agency period went well, their draft may not have been as strong with lesser known players.
Oakland was extremely busy during the offseason. After the Rodger Saffold fiasco at the beginning of free agency, the Raiders went out and signed offensive tackles Donald Penn and Austin Howard. The Raiders signed CB Tarell Brown, DE Justin Tuck, LB LaMarr Woodley, WR James Jones, and most notably RB Maurice Jones-Drew and QB Matt Schaub. In the draft, the Raiders selected big-name players like hybrid DE/LB Khalil Mack, QB Derek Carr.
The New England Patriots have been a pillar of success over the past decade-plus, having only missed the playoffs twice since 2001. Heading into 2014, New England’s defense was suspect until the Patriots signed a pair of top cornerbacks in Brandon Browner and Darrelle Revis. The Patriots were able to re-sign WR Julian Edelman and added fellow WR Brandon LaFell. In the draft, the Patriots took DT Dominique Easley and added multiple OL.
For the Denver Broncos, defense has been the main area of concern during the Peyton Manning era; leading them to focus on obtaining new defensive pieces for 2014. Denver was able to sign DE DeMarcus Ware, S T.J. Ward and CB Aqib Talib to help bolster a weak defensive unit. Denver also drafted CB Bradley Roby, LB Lamin Barrow and LB Corey Nelson. To replace WR Eric Decker, the Broncos signed Emmanuel Sanders and drafted the versatile Cody Latimer.
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