Free agency shouldn’t, and usually doesn’t, move the needle all that much. Teams are largely who they are based on a longer history of drafting and developing, smart coaching hires and a twinge of indescribable luck. And then the 2020 Buccaneers came along, adding Tom Brady, Leonard Fournette, Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown along the way.
The roster was great before any of them got there, but sometimes a flurry of moves is so well received that it pushes a team over the dividing line.
The greatest player in NFL history is not changing teams this offseason, so it is unlikely that we’ll look back at the last few weeks of this free-agency cycle and pinpoint it as the moment when something changed for our Super Bowl LVI champion. However, there was some serious movement this offseason in a depressed market which created some real advantages for a few franchises good enough to figure the whole thing out.
This is a somewhat academic way of telling you that, yes, you’re getting power rankings. If the headline wasn’t clear, we’ve waited far too long (six whole weeks!) to inject the football media’s version of corn syrup into your digestive psyche. It’s actually amazing you did not get post-Matt-Stafford-to-the-Rams power rankings, post-Andy-Dalton-to-the-Bears power rankings and post-Larry-Ogunjobi-to-the-Bengals power rankings. Try and look away. You can’t.
All of those moves (and more) will be baked into this set of rankings. Don’t worry, we’ll try this exercise again after the draft.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It’s difficult to move the defending Super Bowl champions out of the top spot when all they’ve done is artfully retain or extend their best players, as well as their entire coaching staff. This is the difference between Tampa Bay and some other recent champions (see: Eagles) who managed to extend their core of young talent well into the future. They simply didn’t have the right coaching staff in place to make it work.
Also, watch for the Buccaneers to nibble throughout the second and third waves of free agency as more veteran star-studded talent decide Tampa Bay is the perfect breeding ground for a late-career championship run, or fertile ground to relaunch their career elsewhere. Tampa may not repeat, but the Bucs will maintain their relevance throughout the offseason.
2. Kansas City Chiefs
Assuming Laurent Duvernay-Tardif comes back, Kansas City will have one of the more formidable offensive line interiors in the sport, with Tardif, Kyle Long and Joe Thuney in the fold. Is this a deep enough tackle class for them to organically find a Mitchell Schwartz or Eric Fisher replacement in the draft? Could one or both of them come back once they’ve explored their individual markets? The Chiefs are also reportedly in on some veteran pass-rushing help, which could help make them a more complete unit heading into next year as (again) the presumptive AFC favorites to reach other Super Bowl.
3. Green Bay Packers
Retaining Aaron Jones was a nice surprise. The Packers will bring back one of their core playmakers and have also pivoted on defense to new coordinator Joe Barry. Full disclosure, had they managed to pry Jim Leonard from Wisconsin, I would have debated putting them No. 2 on this list. That’s how well thought of the former long-time NFL safety is. Otherwise, the Packers have been quiet. This is when they typically make their move, though, with plenty of veteran contributors built for this kind of team still lingering on the periphery. It would be surprising if, after layering the roster with some foundational pieces for Matt LaFleur’s offense over the past two drafts, Aaron Rodgers did not get an upgrade via the draft as well.
4. Cleveland Browns
Hear me out: John Johnson was one of the best safeties in football, and Band-Aids one of the Browns’ biggest weaknesses in 2020. Factor in the reintroduction of 2020 second-round pick Grant Delpit, and you have a potentially devastating secondary to pair with an offense humming along at peak efficiency. Whether or not Odell Beckham returns to form (or returns to the Browns at all) it feels like this version of the Browns is uniquely posited to take the division and fully realize its potential. There is simply too much talent on both sides of the ball, especially at cornerstones like defensive back, pass rusher and pass blocker, to ignore this team coming into the year.
5. Buffalo Bills
I don’t think the Bills are done this offseason, even if free agency has been a little underwhelming thus far. To this point, through the absurdity of the head coaching interview process, they managed to retain their star coordinators, and adding Emmanuel Sanders gives them another experienced option for Josh Allen. I think they will look to make a deep run before coming to terms with the fact that, if Allen continues to play at this level, he will make in excess of $40 million per year.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers
One question we aren’t asking ourselves about JuJu Smith-Schuster’s decision to remain in Pittsburgh for less money is what that says about his confidence in Ben Roethlisberger. Many of us looked at Roethlisberger last year as a limited player and depreciating asset, and yet, Smith-Schuster chose to play with him over Lamar Jackson (and more cash). We know all signs point to Pittsburgh drafting another great pass-rushing linebacker in the first round this year, regenerating a defense that lost Bud Dupree to the Titans this offseason.
7. Baltimore Ravens
The rest of the NFL seems to have colluded to prevent Lamar Jackson from getting a second stellar wide receiver to open up this offense, but at some point Eric DeCosta and John Harbaugh will not be denied. Despite losing Matt Judon to the Patriots, Baltimore remains an elite team just a few game-breaking players away from a Super Bowl run.
8. Seattle Seahawks
Despite the inner turmoil, the addition of offensive coordinator Shane Waldron should bring some much-needed life to Seattle’s offense (much in the way letting Russell Wilson throw the ball more did). The Seahawks did nothing to really improve their defense, but did bring in Gabe Jackson and Gerald Everett to shore up the offensive line and add some depth to the passing game.
9. New England Patriots
Bill Belichick surges his way into the top 10 after what some might call an uncharacteristic free-agency spending spree. I might call it characteristic in that he got a lot of good veteran players on below-market deals. Judon, Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith should be stars in this system. Now, one question: Is Cam Newton for sure throwing them the ball?
10. Miami Dolphins
Matt Skura and Will Fuller highlight a smart and targeted approach to free agency, which is beginning to be the norm in Miami. Jacoby Brissett is going to push Tua Tagovailoa, and at worst, Miami has a Ryan Fitzpatrick-plus option under center if Brian Flores opts to sideline his former No. 5 pick at quarterback.
11. San Francisco 49ers
I don’t think you can forget about a team that was a few plays from winning a Super Bowl so recently. The 49ers got better—much better—up front with the addition of Kyle Shanahan understudy Alex Mack. The 49ers have a lot of options right now and don’t have to stay married to Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback. Where they go from here depends largely on their ability to recoup picks in a Garoppolo trade or build him up enough to take the next step.
12. Dallas Cowboys
Dan Quinn is a massive upgrade for the soul of Dallas’s locker room, and the addition of Keanu Neal is a budget-friendly Band-Aid at safety, which the Cowboys have been searching for. Seeing Dak Prescott in Mike McCarthy’s offense for a full season will be instructive, but there’s little doubt he’s lost a step.
13. Los Angeles Rams
The Rams had a strange free agency. Trading for Matthew Stafford was great, but incurring a massive trunk full of dead money was not. Re-signing Leonard Floyd was not a bad idea, but in the process, taking themselves completely out of the running for John Johnson was not great. Then, they reached the I guess we’re signing DeSean Jackson stage of free agency. Is this team, which lost a great coordinator in Brandon Staley this offseason, at a net positive after free agency? I would say no … for now.
14. New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees is gone but there are some days when I think Sean Payton’s division rivals are a little more concerned about what he might cook up with a full-time Jameis Winston–Taysom Hill offense. The Saints lost more than they gained via free agency, due in large part to the complicated salary cap situation they find themselves in. That said, the defense is still going to be top-shelf, and Hill can help them control the clock on offense.
15. Arizona Cardinals
J.J. Watt is a gigantic addition to this defensive line and negates the unfortunate loss of Haason Reddick. The Cardinals also brought in the stellar Rodney Hudson to organize the line for Kyler Murray and A.J. Green to theoretically supplant Larry Fitzgerald. Green is the great unknown here; will he return to form now that he is no longer buried in an unimaginative offense?
16. Indianapolis Colts
The acquisition of Carson Wentz will either propel a good Colts team or ultimately doom the promise of this roster. Frank Reich and Chris Ballard are among the best head coaching and general manager tandems in the league, but the game of quarterback musical chairs is an unforgiving one, and if Wentz truly has nothing left in the tank, the Colts are in a lot of trouble.
17. Washington Football Team
Yes, we’re surprisingly bullish on Ron Rivera & Co. The team appears to be healthier than it has been since Scot McCloughan ran the draft room. The offensive line is intact, Ryan Fitzpatrick is there to bridge the gap between the ashes of the Dwayne Haskins era and the future, and the wide receiving corps is young, versatile and talented. Also, the addition of William Jackson should make them good enough to hang in a competitive division.
18. Tennessee Titans
The Titans were always going to come down a peg once their roster got too expensive to keep together. Yes, they added Bud Dupree into the fold to bolster their pass rush, but what is Dupree outside of that Steelers defense and, even if he’s great, is it a drop in the bucket for a team that needs to get drastically better at chasing down the quarterback? I see no signs of Derrick Henry slowing down, but losing coordinator Arthur Smith to the Falcons is a big blow.
19. Los Angeles Chargers
Brandon Staley brings a fresh look to this extremely talented defense. While Anthony Lynn and Pep Hamilton will never get the full bouquet of credit they deserve for developing Justin Herbert into a sought-after recruiting piece, they left behind a roster loaded with talent. Can Staley’s brilliant in-game alterations create the difference between the Chargers of old and a new era where chaotic, last-second losses are no longer the norm?
20. New York Giants
The Giants take a big leap forward with the additions of Kyle Rudolph and Kenny Golladay. Now, the onus is on Daniel Jones to perform up to his supporting cast. Joe Judge was an under-the-radar coaching star a year ago, and now that he has the full complement of an in-person offseason (furiously knocks on wood), it would seem the Giants are ready to compete for the NFC East title in a way that does not require the Eagles to play an honest four quarters.
21. Minnesota Vikings
Pilfering Dalvin Tomlinson was huge. The signing of Patrick Peterson should also alleviate some concerns off the bat. But did the Vikings do enough? There is a version of this team that wins 12 games next year and cements Justin Jefferson as an NFL star. There is also a version that is still limping to the finish line and falls to 8–8.
22. Atlanta Falcons
New head coach Arthur Smith brings the offense Matt Ryan excelled in during their Super Bowl run back to Atlanta. This will be a godsend, but is it too late? Atlanta did not do a ton of damage in free agency and lost the cerebral Alex Mack to San Francisco.
23. Chicago Bears
The Andy Dalton experiment is on. Unless the Bears find themselves in the equation for another passer down the road, it seems they are betting on a more streamlined version of Mitchell Trubisky, a (hopefully) improved running game and a defense that can still play up to the sum of its parts. That’s a big gamble. I’d take a look at a quarterback in the draft.
24. Denver Broncos
The major failure here is not addressing the quarterback position, but there is still time (and a draft). The Broncos brought in Ronald Darby and took care of business on the Justin Simmons front. Is a combination of that and a healthy return of Von Miller enough to put them in a seven-seed wild card conversation? Maybe.
25. New York Jets
The Jets made a flurry of moves that addressed major areas of need and loaded Robert Saleh’s defense with high-speed playmakers. Corey Davis may not be a true No. 1 wide receiver, but he’s improved every year he’s been in the league.
26. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers are in the difficult position of being active in the QB market without actually having upgraded the QB. After falling behind in the Matt Stafford sweepstakes, the Panthers have made some small but expensive offensive line upgrades (Cam Erving) and the wise addition of Haason Reddick to reunite with his former Temple coach.
27. Philadelphia Eagles
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Eagles recalibrate a bit after the departure of Carson Wentz. There are going to be a lot of veterans on their way out over the next few seasons and a massive culture change afoot. Is Nick Sirianni the man who can get it done?
28. Detroit Lions
Count me in as fascinated for Year 1 of the Dan Campbell era (and for Year 1 of Anthony Lynn as a full-time play-caller again). This team will be a collective thorn in the sides of many opponents expecting a win but leaving without their kneecaps. Building a wide receiver room around Tyrell Williams feels like an uphill battle at this point, though.
29. Las Vegas Raiders
Jon Gruden dismissed his offensive line and enticed us with the signings of Kenyan Drake and Yannick Ngakoue. If we follow the slow ascent of this team for another year, maybe Vegas will emerge as a 10-win team after finishing .500 a year ago. But the division around them got much better. Can they stay afloat without that veteran offensive line presence?
30. Jacksonville Jaguars
Urban Meyer made some big moves in his free agency debut, but doesn’t officially have Trevor Lawrence yet, so the Jaguars will exist in Power Rankings limbo until that happens. In all seriousness, Shaq Griffin was one of the better signings of the period, and gives Jacksonville the chance to start building a formidable young secondary.
31. Cincinnati Bengals
Riley Reiff, Chidobe Awuzie and Trey Hendrickson are the big adds this offseason, but don’t go nearly far enough to address the Bengals’ glaring needs. Also, with Awuzie and Hendrickson, did they acquire players who were possibly not as good as the ones they just let go? That seems to be a recurring problem in Cincinnati.
32. Houston Texans
The Texans did land Desmond King, an acquired taste for some apparently but inarguably one of the higher-upside young talents in the secondary available this offseason. After that, *long sigh* it’s looking a little bleak in Houston. The team currently does not have its starting quarterback acknowledging he’ll show up for practice. They operated on the fringe of free agency, trying to pluck enough aging “culture” guys to fill out a locker room prior to what will inevitably be a complicated 2021.