The bulk of free agency is finished and the 2013 draft is in the books, meaning NFL teams are set, for the most part, on the personnel front. The usual doses of spring practice and preparation remain between now and the start of training camp for the 2013 season; but with the roster-building largely over, it seems like a good vantage point to review the league's offseason and hand out some hardware for the hits, the misses and everything in between. Everybody loves superlatives...
Philadelphia Eagles: We don't really know how Chip Kelly's up-tempo, force-the-issue offense will look or perform in the NFL. We're more confused than ever about who Kelly's starting quarterback will be -- veteran Michael Vick, youngster Nick Foles or the unexpected arrival Matt Barkley?
And even on defense, things remain somewhat murky. Billy Davis is coordinating a unit in the midst of a transition to a 3-4 formation, but the Eagles say they'll still feature a 4-3 look at times, as well as the 4-3 "Under,'' a gap-control front that has its proponents throughout the league.
With a minimum of eight new starters, a rookie NFL head coach, and someone other than Andy Reid calling the shots in Philly for the first time since Bill Clinton was in his second term, the Eagles have more unknowns than any team in the league. New is everywhere you look in Philadelphia -- which is the newest development of all for a team that had led the league in stability for seemingly forever.
Most debunked piece of conventional wisdom
Quarterbacks always get pushed up the in draft: Not so much in 2013, eh? There were a mere three quarterbacks taken in this year's top three rounds, and that's the fewest since 2000, also when only three passers made the opening three rounds (Chad Pennington, Giovanni Carmazzi and Chris Redman). That was the same year, of course, that Michigan's Tom Brady lasted until the sixth round, and was the seventh overall quarterback selected. If you're wondering, the seventh quarterback taken this year was Oklahoma's Landry Jones, in the fourth round to Pittsburgh. (Perhaps a 30-for-30 film -- The Jones' 6 -- is in the early planning stages?)
The NFL tried to signal its lack of interest and enthusiasm for this year's quarterback draft class, but we thought it was just being coy. So did Geno Smith, Ryan Nassib and Barkley, who all got served a slice of humble pie when the picking started. It was a good reminder to stay away from the word "always'' when it comes to draft projections, and take into account the outlier year in every scenario.
Best trade value
San Francisco lands Anquan Boldin from Baltimore for a sixth-round pick: Almost two months later, this deal still looks like an inside job with John Harbaugh trying to make it up to his kid brother, Jim, for the whole Super Bowl victory and big confetti shower incident back in early February. Boldin led Baltimore in receiving yardage for three years running, then dominated the postseason with 22 receptions for 380 yards and four clutch touchdowns. How does that only merit a sixth-round pick in exchange? That one's going to skewer the Ravens' giveaway/takeaway ratio for the foreseeable future.
Worst deadline performance
Elvis Dumervil and his agent's fax machine: A team can lose a free agent in a variety of interesting ways, but the Broncos having a starting defensive end leave town because the signed paperwork wasn't sent back in time is rather creative in this age of great technological advances. Dumervil summarily fired agent Marty Magid, and eventually signed with Baltimore. Carrier pigeon anyone?
Best kick save and a beauty
The Falcons coax Tony Gonzalez back for one more season: Clearly, retirement ain't what it used to be. Players bounce in and out of it on a regular basis, as we just witnessed from Gonzalez, the Hall of Fame-bound tight end in his 16th year who said he was "95 percent sure'' he was saying goodbye to the NFL at the close of the 2012 season. Not so fast, Tony G. The Falcons put on the full-court press, pointing out how well he played and how close the team is to a Super Bowl run, and the next you know, Gonzalez was back in black (and red). But he means it this time. Gonzalez said he's "100 percent sure'' he'll walk away for good after 2013. We'll see.
Worst poker face
The Jets duringDarrelle Revis trade talks with Tampa Bay: You knew the Jets had to trade Revis to the Bucs. The Bucs knew the Jets had to trade Revis to the Bucs. The Jets knew the Jets had to trade Revis to the Bucs. But still we were subjected to weeks of posturing and shadow boxing, with "pause buttons'' pressed in New York, and messages of "impatience'' being sent by Tampa Bay. None of it was convincing, because the reality was Revis and the Jets were headed for a breakup the minute team owner Woody Johnson allowed that he would consider trading his star cornerback before losing him via free agency in 2014. Everything after that was negotiation, and the Bucs were the only team willing to deal.
Best win-now move
Seattle trades its first-round pick, No. 25, to Minnesota for Percy Harvin: You saw the first round unfold last Thursday night. Did you see any playmakers available at No. 25 who could give the Seahawks what they're expecting from Harvin this season? When he's healthy, Harvin is one of the NFL's premier game-breaking talents, and his addition to Seattle's receiving and return games adds a new layer of complication for the Seahawks' opponents. In the Pacific Northwest this season, Seattle's Best might have nothing to do with coffee.
Wes Welker and the Patriots end it in an emotional he-said, she-said affair: Did the Patriots really make a legitimate offer for their valuable and productive slot receiver in free agency? Was Danny Amendola, Welker's replacement in Foxboro, locked up before Welker agreed to a modest, two-year deal in Denver? Was Tom Brady really ticked off at losing Welker, or was it just the people around Brady who were a bit more reachable and decided to vent on his behalf? And was that really New England owner Robert Kraft speaking up at the NFL annual meeting to divulge the details of the Welker contract negotiation, in clear violation of the Patriot Way? So many questions, so few answers forthcoming in this unseemly saga.
Most surprising contract
Chase Daniel gets $10 million over three years to back up Alex Smith in Kansas City: Really? For a guy who has thrown all of nine regular-season passes after going undrafted out of Missouri in 2009, Daniel has parlayed that miniscule production into about as much of a payday as he could ever have dreamed. Leaving the Saints during free agency, where he backed up Drew Brees, Daniel joined Kansas City and got paid like he was Steve Young brought in to push Joe Montana. Daniel's deal included $3 million to sign, with a $750,000 base and a $50,000 workout bonus in 2013.
Most improved (in a hurry)
The Bucs secondary: Tampa Bay finished a distant last in the league in pass defense in 2012, surrendering a whopping 297 yards per game. Therefore the Bucs set about trying to fix that problem seemingly overnight. They signed San Francisco Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson in their centerpiece move of free agency, traded their 2013 first-round pick and a 2014 selection to the Jets for elite cornerback Darrelle Revis, and used their second-round pick to take Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks. Via free agency, a trade, and the draft, the Bucs used every club in their bag to improve that problem. Factoring in the continued development of 2012 first-round safety Mark Barron, Tampa Bay's defense should be worlds better in the back this season.
Best buzz kill
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam blunts his team's momentum: After a promising spending spree in free agency and the appearance of some skill and competency from the team's new front office structure, the Browns found out that nothing quite tamps down a club's offseason enthusiasm like the news that the popular new owner is under federal investigation in his non-team-related business dealings. A controversy involving short-changed diesel fuel rebates by Haslam's Pilot Flying J isn't what Cleveland really need in its quest for a turnaround, but for now, the Browns have promised to keep on trucking.
Worst negotiating stance
James Harrison prices himself out of Pittsburgh: You know what they say, pride goeth before a pay cut. Harrison, the longtime Steelers linebacker, just signed a two-year deal worth $4.45 million with division rival Cincinnati. At most this year, he'll earn $3 million as a Bengal. That's at least $1.5 million less than he would have made this season had he accepted a 30 percent pay cut from the Steelers, who reportedly were also giving him the chance to earn all $6.57 million of his originally scheduled base salary with an incentive package.
Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie cleans up after the debacle of the Hue Jackson era: Short on cap space and draft picks in his first year on the job, McKenzie is starting to dig out of the hole that he inherited. The move that brought Matt Flynn in and pushed Carson Palmer out at quarterback was a solid step, as were low-profile free-agent signings like Tracy Porter, Nick Roach, Jason Hunter and Mike Jenkins.
More good work was done in the draft, with the Raiders trading down from No. 3 to No. 12 to reacquire a second-round selection, and picking up instant starters in cornerback D.J. Hayden, offensive tackle Menelik Watson and linebacker Sio Moore. Oakland has plenty of work left to do, but some of the heavy lifting has been done.
Much ado about very little award
The Buddy Nix-Mark Dominik phone call: Not exactly the Watergate tapes, was it? The Bills and Bucs general managers talk shop on the phone, and it's all taped for our listening pleasure courtesy of a couple merry pranksters. The biggest news flash that seemed to come out of the whole thing was that Buffalo needed a quarterback. Who knew?
Best job of reporting the NFL
Colts owner Jim Irsay and his Twitter feed: Granted, he's more cryptic than a Dali painting, a somewhat dubious speller, and wouldn't know a short, declarative sentence if it smacked him in the face, but you gotta love an NFL owner who keeps Colts fans engaged and eagerly awaiting his next 140-characters worth of news. I don't think this is all a coincidence that Irsay has found his social media voice in the club's post-Bill Polian era.
New team, but same old foot in the mouth award
Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace tweets about his puzzlement with Jason Collins' lifestyle: Miami paid for a new No. 1 receiver in free agency and got a team spokesman in the deal, too. Wallace got off to a shaky start with his new team this week, when he took to Twitter to express bewilderment over the fact that "guys wanna mess with guys'' even though there are "all these beautiful women in the world.'' Everybody has the right to their opinion, of course, but nobody said they'd all be intelligent opinions. SMH, indeed.
Shortest lived title
Joe Flacco's reign as the NFL's highest paid player ever: Well, it was fun while it lasted. Flacco signed with Baltimore for $120.6 million over six years, or $20.1 million per year. About seven weeks later, Green Bay got its Aaron Rodgers deal done, topping the reigning Super Bowl MVP and world champion quarterback. The Packers are paying Rodgers $22 million per year, adding a five-year, $110 million extension to his deal. Rodgers is scheduled to earn $62.5 million in the first three years of the contract, just a tad more than Flacco's first three years ($62 million).
There are no losers in this saga, unless Tony Romo was hoping to be king of the NFL salary mountain at some point this offseason.
Rolando McClain gets arrested again, shortly after getting his NFL second chance in Baltimore: About 10 days after the former Oakland top 10 draft pick signed with the Ravens, he was arrested for the third time in 17 months in his hometown of Decatur, Ala., charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. What he's resisting, furiously at this point, is any opportunity to continue his NFL career. The Ravens on April 12 gave him a no-risk one-year deal that did not include a signing bonus, because of his checkered past. Ten days later, he was arrested again, before he ever got to take the practice field with Baltimore.
Biggest over-reaction award
The fallout from the NFL's new rule against delivering a blow with the crown of the helmet: Emmitt Smith said the league had "absolutely lost [its] mind.'' Matt Forte called it the "most absurd suggestion for a rule change that I've ever heard.'' Eric Dickerson said it would leave running backs in a defenseless position. Wrong, wrong and wrong. The rule bans players on offense and defense from using the crown of the helmet to strike a blow in the open field, with a head of steam built up, not anywhere near the line of scrimmage, where every inch is desperately fought for.
This furor too shall pass as players learn the new rule, with education and adaptation doing plenty to mitigate the change in time. It's a common sense step in the move to try to limit brain trauma, and no less a physical-style running back than the great Jim Brown said he never used his head as a weapon while running his way to the Hall of Fame. Player safety initiatives are almost all met these days with predictions of gloom and doom for the game. But the game changes, and then endures. And it will once again, even if the helmet goes back to being used for its original purpose, protection rather than punishment.