We have, for some time now, been praising the New England Patriots for a stunningly impressive offseason. Super Bowl champions don't always have great offseasons, but the Patriots' 2017 so far has seen them aggressively reshape their roster in the hopes of returning to the top of the NFL mountain.
So with the help of ESPN Stats & Information, we got to thinking: Is this the best offseason ever for a defending Super Bowl champ?
The proof tends to be in the pudding, and we have yet to see how all of New England's offseason moves work out. But as of now, the Patriots have added key pieces, kept their losses to a minimum and avoided any crippling injuries or off-field fiascoes. As you'll see below, not every Super Bowl champ can say the same.
For the sake of fair comparison, we are limiting our study to Super Bowl champions in the salary-cap era, which means we go back as far as the last Jimmy Johnson Cowboys team -- the Super Bowl XXVIII champion Dallas Cowboys of 1993.
We look strictly at the offseason, which means injuries and/or controversies that surfaced after the start of the season don't factor into the rankings. And while we note here how each of these teams did in the seasons following their Super Bowl titles, that's not factored into the ranking either.
So here they are, ranked from worst to first, the offseason performances of each of the past 24 Super Bowl champions:
24. 2012 Baltimore Ravens
Super Bowl title: XLVII
Prior to this team, no defending Super Bowl champion had lost more than five starters the following offseason. Baltimore said goodbye to eight, including Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Anquan Boldin, Matt Birk and Paul Kruger. It did manage to sign Elvis Dumervil off the famous Denver Broncos fax miscue, and while first-round draft pick Matt Elam didn't pan out, the Ravens got Brandon Williams in the third and Rick Wagner in the fifth. Fundamentally, this was an offseason in which the core of a Super Bowl champion was gutted by retirements and departures. Baltimore went 8-8 and missed the playoffs in 2013.
23. 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers
Super Bowl title: XL
Hall of Fame running back Jerome Bettis announced his retirement following the Steelers' Super Bowl title in his hometown of Detroit. The offseason appeared to get better, as the Steelers added safety Ryan Clark in free agency and drafted Santonio Holmes and Willie Colon. But quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was injured in a motorcycle accident and also had an emergency appendectomy just before the start of the season. He missed the opener and finished that season with a career-high 23 interceptions and a career-low 59.7 completion percentage as the Steelers went 8-8 and missed the playoffs.
22. 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Super Bowl title: XXXVII
The Bucs had a miserable offseason off the field, where three players, including running back Michael Pittman, were arrested. Reports surfaced of tension between coach Jon Gruden and general manager Rich McKay. Super Bowl MVP Dexter Jackson signed with Arizona. The team had to travel to Tokyo to play its first preseason game. Tampa Bay went 7-9 in 2003 and missed the playoffs.
21. 1995 Dallas Cowboys
Super Bowl title: XXX
The loss of Super Bowl MVP Larry Brown in free agency was nothing compared to the off-field issues that befell this team's key offensive stars. Wide receiver Michael Irvin was suspended for the first five games of the season after pleading no contest to felony cocaine possession. Tight end Jay Novacek suffered an injury that cost him the entire season. All of this led up to a serious Week 1 injury to running back Emmitt Smith (technically not the offseason). On the plus side, they did add safety George Teague in free agency, and they selected longtime middle linebacker Randall Godfrey in the second round of the draft. The 1996 Cowboys won the NFC East at 10-6 but lost to Carolina in the second round of the playoffs.
20. 2000 Baltimore Ravens
Super Bowl title: XXXV
The Ravens chose not to re-sign quarterback Trent Dilfer and replaced him with Elvis Grbac. Running back Jamal Lewis tore his ACL in training camp and was lost for the season. With Priest Holmes having signed with the Chiefs, this left the Ravens thin at running back and cost them a major part of their offense. They ended up going 10-6 and reaching the playoffs as a wild card, beating the Dolphins in the first round but losing to the Steelers in the second.
19. 2004 New England Patriots
Super Bowl title: XXXIX
Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis left to become coach at Notre Dame. Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennell left to become coach of the Cleveland Browns. For cap reasons, the Patriots released cornerback Ty Law, who would end up with 10 interceptions for the division-rival Jets in 2005. And in February, star linebacker Tedy Bruschi suffered a stroke and missed seven games in the 2005 season while recovering. The Patriots went 10-6 and repeated as AFC East champs. But after beating the Jaguars in the first round, they lost to the Broncos in the second, ending their shot at a three-peat.
18. 2014 New England Patriots
Super Bowl title: XLIX
Shane Vereen, Vince Wilfork, Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner were among the free-agent departures following New England's fourth Super Bowl title. The Patriots did add Dion Lewis in a move that was unheralded at the time but proved significant. Thing is, everything about the 2015 Patriots' offseason was consumed by the Deflategate saga, which finally turned in their favor right before the season when Tom Brady's suspension was overturned by a judge and he was allowed to play in Week 1. The Patriots reached the AFC Championship Game, where they lost to Peyton Manning & Co. in Denver.
17. 1993 Dallas Cowboys
Super Bowl title: XXVIII
Coming off two straight Super Bowl titles and looking like a team for the ages, the Cowboys were plagued by high-level infighting that resulted in the departure of coach Jimmy Johnson. Owner Jerry Jones hired college buddy Barry Switzer to replace Johnson. The team also lost linebacker Ken Norton Jr. in free agency and offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who left to become the head coach in Washington. The Cowboys did manage to snag Hall of Fame offensive lineman Larry Allen in the second round of the 1994 draft, but that draft class was not noteworthy otherwise. While the 1994 Cowboys went 12-4, they would lose in the NFC Championship Game to the 49ers.
16. 1994 San Francisco 49ers
Super Bowl title: XXIX
The 49ers saw star cornerback Deion Sanders leave as a free agent and sign with the rival Cowboys, while running back Ricky Watters signed with the Eagles. They lost key components of their coaching staff too. Offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan left to become head coach of the Broncos (and took quarterbacks coach Gary Kubiak with him), while defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes left to coach the Eagles (though the Niners did replace him with a guy named Pete Carroll). The 49ers' 1995 draft yielded just four picks, and the first-rounder was wide receiver J.J. Stokes. The 1995 Niners were 5-4 after nine games but won their next six en route to an NFC West title. They lost at home in the divisional round of the playoffs to Brett Favre and the Packers.
15. 1998 Denver Broncos
Super Bowl title: XXXIII
Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway retired after a second straight Super Bowl title and was replaced by Brian Griese. This offseason also marked the end in Denver for legendary safety Steve Atwater, who ended up playing one year for the Jets before retiring. Linebacker Al Wilson was the team's first-round pick and became a star, but the 1999 draft was an overall disappointment for the Broncos, who would go 6-10 and finish fifth in the AFC West.
14. 2015 Denver Broncos
Super Bowl title: 50
Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning retired, and in a second shock to the Broncos' system, heir apparent Brock Osweiler spurned them and took more money to sign with Houston. They also saw defensive lineman Malik Jackson sign with the Jaguars and linebacker Danny Trevathan sign with the Bears. One positive was the long-term extension they reached with Super Bowl MVP Von Miller, keeping him from having to play on the franchise tag. They drafted quarterback Paxton Lynch in the first round -- a move on which the jury is still out. The 2016 Broncos went 9-7 but finished third in a tough AFC West and missed the playoffs.
13. 2007 New York Giants
Super Bowl title: XLII
Hall of Fame defensive end Michael Strahan retired following the Giants' Super Bowl upset of the unbeaten Patriots. Edge rusher Osi Umenyiora suffered a season-ending injury during the offseason. The team traded tight end Jeremy Shockey, who was in the coaches' doghouse anyway, to the Saints and lost Reggie Torbor, Kawika Mitchell, William Joseph and Gibril Wilson in free agency. The positives included a draft that brought in Kenny Phillips, Terrell Thomas and Mario Manningham. And the 2008 Giants posted the best record of any Tom Coughlin Giants team ever at 12-4 before losing to the division-rival Eagles in the playoffs.
12. 2011 New York Giants
Super Bowl title: XLVI
Their free-agent losses were all guys who were about done anyway, including Brandon Jacobs, Mario Manningham and Aaron Ross. And they managed to sign tight end Martellus Bennett on the cheap for one season before his career really took off. The Giants' draft was a straight-up 0-for-7 disaster, though, and this was a roster that needed more work than its stewards thought. The 2012 Giants managed the same regular-season record (9-7) as the 2011 team did, but this time it wasn't good enough to get them into the playoffs.
11. 1999 St. Louis Rams
Super Bowl title: XXXIV
Other than the retirement of beloved coach Dick Vermeil, the offseason following the Rams' only Super Bowl title was uneventful. They promoted offensive coordinator Mike Martz, but the only other change was a switch to navy and gold uniforms. St. Louis brought back effectively the same roster and started the season 6-0. The 2000 Rams remained an offensive juggernaut. Their 540 points scored was at the time the second-highest single-season total in league history and still ranks seventh. But their defense didn't hold up -- they gave up 471 points, which ranked last in the league -- and they limped to the finish line, finishing 10-6 and losing to the Saints in the first round of the playoffs.
10. 2006 Indianapolis Colts
Super Bowl title: XLI
The Colts lost Pro Bowl tackle Tarik Glenn to retirement and saw some other key pieces (Brandon Stokley, Dominic Rhodes, Mike Doss, Nick Harper) depart as free agents. They did manage to re-sign star edge rusher Dwight Freeney, though, and they held things together well enough to go 13-3 -- one game better than the year before. The season ended with a disappointing playoff loss to the Chargers.
9. 2009 New Orleans Saints
Super Bowl title: XLIV
New Orleans lost veteran linebacker Scott Fujita to the Browns in free agency and didn't really go out and add anyone. The Saints did pick up tight end Jimmy Graham in the third round of the draft. But this was basically a status quo offseason ahead of an 11-5 year that ended with a shocking "Beast Quake" loss to the 7-9 Seahawks in the first round of the playoffs.
8. 2010 Green Bay Packers
Super Bowl title: XLV
Green Bay released linebacker Nick Barnett and lost defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins to the Eagles in free agency. Per Packers custom, they didn't make any big additions of note in free agency, though they did re-sign fullback John Kuhn and wide receiver James Jones and drafted wide receiver Randall Cobb and cornerback Davon House. This isn't a team that needed much tinkering. The 2011 Packers went 15-1 but lost at home to the eventual Super Bowl champion Giants in their first playoff game.
7. 2013 Seattle Seahawks
Super Bowl title: XLVIII
The Seahawks suffered some notable free-agent defections, including Golden Tate, Brandon Browner, Breno Giacomini and Walter Thurmond. But Seattle had a deep roster and focused on extensions for core guys like Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman. The team returned to the Super Bowl and looked poised to repeat as champs before Malcolm Butler's fateful goal-line interception of Russell Wilson gave the title back to New England.
6. 1996 Green Bay Packers
Super Bowl title: XXXI
Pretty solid offseason here. Yeah, they lost veteran tight end Keith Jackson to retirement. But star receiver Robert Brooks would return from a serious knee injury and win Comeback Player of the Year in 1997. The Packers had a good draft that yielded offensive lineman Ross Verba and safety Darren Sharper with the first two picks. This organization was going so well, it lost quarterbacks coach Marty Mornhinweg to San Francisco and replaced him by promoting Andy Reid. Brett Favre & Co. got back to the Super Bowl the next season but lost to John Elway and the Broncos.
5. 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers
Super Bowl title: XLIII
The defending champion Steelers focused on contract extensions for key veterans and locked up James Harrison, Hines Ward, Brett Keisel, Heath Miller, Max Starks and others. They lost cornerback Bryant McFadden and receiver Nate Washington in free agency. The draft brought wide receiver Mike Wallace, cornerback Keenan Lewis, offensive lineman Kraig Urbik and defensive lineman Ziggy Hood. No major issues here, but the Steelers' 9-7 record in 2009 wasn't good enough to get them into the playoffs.
4. 2001 New England Patriots
Super Bowl title: XXXVI
After winning their first Super Bowl title, the Patriots would reach the playoffs in 13 of the next 15 years. 2002, however, was not one of them. They traded top wideout Terry Glenn to the Packers, then added future Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch and fellow wideout David Givens in the draft. Overall, this was a fine offseason. Done with Drew Bledsoe (who'd been replaced the year before by some sixth-rounder from Michigan), the Patriots dealt Bledsoe to Buffalo for a 2003 first-round pick. A four-game October losing streak did them in, and while New England finished 9-7 in the first season in Gillette Stadium, that wasn't good enough to get the Patriots into the postseason.
3. 1997 Denver Broncos
Super Bowl title: XXXII
John Elway considered retiring after his first Super Bowl title, but he didn't. In fact, apart from retiring Hall of Fame tackle Gary Zimmerman, the Broncos suffered no major losses at all in the 1998 offseason. They didn't even lose an assistant coach! First-round draft pick Marcus Nash was a bust, and the long-term deal they gave star running back Terrell Davis didn't work out beyond 1998. But this team had a very clean offseason, and it's no surprise it started the 1998 season 13-0 and repeated as Super Bowl champs.
2. 2003 New England Patriots
Super Bowl title: XXXVIII
Strong offseason here. The Patriots signed veteran running back Corey Dillon, who would rush for 1,635 yards in 2004, and drafted franchise mainstay Vince Wilfork and tight end Benjamin Watson in the first round. This team went 14-2 for the second year in a row and is the last to repeat as Super Bowl champions.
1. 2016 New England Patriots
Super Bowl title: LI
Riding the momentum of their 25-point comeback in the Super Bowl, the Patriots came out swinging this offseason. They signed free-agent Stephon Gilmore away from Buffalo. They traded for Brandin Cooks, Dwayne Allen and Kony Ealy. They snagged running backs Mike Gillislee from Buffalo and Rex Burkhead from Cincinnati. They rejected all attempts by other teams to trade for backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, held onto disgruntled cornerback Malcolm Butler (we'll see how that plays out), and kept offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in spite of his receiving interest elsewhere as a head coach. Losses included Martellus Bennett, Chris Long, Logan Ryan and LeGarrette Blount, but they have plans for replacing those guys and seem locked in on trying to get a sixth title in Tom Brady's age-40 season.