The first week of free agency is always fast and furious, with teams throwing money at blue-chip players at every turn. Although it is hard to build a championship squad with a herd of free agents, astute team-builders will scour the market to find potential impact players or those who can fill a void.
Whether it is a big-money free agent signed to play a key role or an unheralded signee who is positioned to flourish in a system that accentuates his talents, the smart teams separate from the pack with a series of savvy moves that puts more blue-chip players in the starting lineup.
Reviewing the free-agent moves and trades over the past few days, here are the top five teams I believe are winning the offseason so far:
General manager Ryan Poles deserves the trophy for Executive of the Offseason after a series of moves that position the Bears to make a move up the charts in 2023. The team auctioned off the No. 1 overall draft pick to the Carolina Panthers for a hefty haul that enabled Chicago to pick up additional first-round selections in each of the next two drafts while adding a couple of second-round picks. The draft capital allows the Bears to enhance an upgraded roster fortified with the free-agent additions of linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards and edge rusher DeMarcus Walker.
The trio gives head coach Matt Eberflus a core of blue-collar defenders to build around while he watches young QB1 Justin Fields spark an offense that features new No. 1 receiver DJ Moore, acquired in the blockbuster trade. With right guard Nate Davis coming on board to solidify the offensive line, the Bears can climb out of the cellar with an influx of young, dynamic talent set to join the squad via the draft.
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Denver’s offensive makeover is underway under the direction of Sean Payton. The new head coach added offensive linemen Ben Powers and Mike McGlinchey and run-blocking tight end Chris Manhertz to a lineup built to play a more balanced style of football. Jarrett Stidham was signed to serve as QB2, but Russell Wilson‘s prior struggles make the former Raiders QB a valuable insurance policy.
With Samaje Perine joining the backfield to add a grinder to the rotation, the Broncos have quickly transformed into a blue-collar offense with “punch you in the mouth” capabilities.
Defensively, the addition of edge Zach Allen and the return of inside linebacker Alex Singleton solidify a unit that suffocated foes in 2022. If Payton gets that kind of production from the defense this season, the Broncos could make the leap observers expected last season.
The Giants found a way to keep Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley in the fold by writing a big check to the quarterback and slapping the franchise tag on the runner. While the debates will ensue over whether each player would command big bucks on the open market, the Giants can now stick to a draft-and-develop strategy that routinely pays dividends.
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The Giants’ trade acquisition of Raiders star Darren Waller will alleviate some pressure on Jones and Barkley to carry an offense that was heavily reliant on the QB-RB combo in 2022. The playmaking tight end will assume the No. 1 role in the passing game as a super-sized pass-catcher with wideout skills. If he can shake the injury bug that has hindered him in each of the past two seasons, Waller’s addition opens up the field for speedy options like Parris Campbell, Darius Slayton and Isaiah Hodgins, who were inked to deals to add speed and explosiveness on the perimeter.
Bobby Okereke steps in as the “traffic cop” of the defense. The fifth-year linebacker is a tackling machine with impressive skills as a run stopper. As DC Wink Martindale continues to put his stamp on the defense, the Giants’ decision to add a thumper in the middle could help the unit become an elite squad this season.
Pairing Jalen Ramsey with Xavien Howard gives the Dolphins a set of lockdown corners on the perimeter. Considering the team only surrendered a third-round pick for three-time All-Pro Ramsey, the inexpensive move could transform the Dolphins into the bullies of the division with veteran defensive coordinator Vic Fangio at the controls.
Fangio is a crafty schemer who prefers to mix and match coverages to keep quarterbacks guessing, and Ramsey’s versatility as a lockdown defender gives the wily defensive architect a unique chess piece to utilize in his play designs. If Ramsey can return to form as an elite defender, the Dolphins have the personnel to match up with any of the top offenses in the AFC.
Offensively, the return of Jeff Wilson and Raheem Mostert gives the Dolphins an explosive 1-2 punch at running back with big-play potential. With the duo returning to balance a high-powered attack that relied heavily on Tua Tagovailoa tossing the rock to Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill last season, the Dolphins have the firepower to become a scoring machine this year.
The Seahawks have made a handful of shrewd offseason moves that could help Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider finish the rebuilding effort that started a year ago.
The return of Geno Smith gives Seattle stability at quarterback while providing the team with a mentor who could tutor a QB of the future acquired via the draft. Although Drew Lock‘s return could eliminate the need to draft a quarterback, the Seahawks’ decision to bring QB1 and QB2 back should keep the offense humming in Year 2 under OC Shane Waldron.
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Evan Brown gives the Seahawks a rugged blocker at the point of attack with the versatility to play center or guard as a rock-solid starter. With Phil Haynes poised to step into Gabe Jackson’s spot at right guard after receiving a one-year deal, the Seahawks are solid along the line of scrimmage.
The return of Jarran Reed and the addition of Dre’Mont Jones shore up a defensive front that needed more playmakers at the line of scrimmage. As productive pass rushers with heavy hands and relentless energy, the Seahawks’ new disruptive duo gives the team a chance to play the attacking style of defense that Carroll prefers.
Bucky Brooks is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. He regularly appears on “Speak For Yourself” and also breaks down the game for NFL Network and as a cohost of the “Moving the Sticks” podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.
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