It's time to reflect on the 2017 offseason. There are a few stray veterans left in the free-agent pool, and teams could still execute something unexpected if injuries arise, but organizations have mostly closed their checkbooks and built the rosters they will take onto the field in September.
Of course, we can know only so much right now. This time last year, there was no way anybody knew that the Cowboys had drafted a franchise quarterback. Kyle Shanahan was lucky to survive the offseason in Atlanta as an offensive coordinator, let alone be considering head-coaching roles.
At the same time, we can look at what each team's goals were (or should have been) heading into March and gain a sense of whether they did enough to address those concerns. In most cases, we also can plot what they have to do before Week 1.
I'm tackling these grades division by division (see above for the ones I've already done). Let's head to the AFC West, where the division's most stable franchise might have had its most divisive and franchise-altering offseason.
To go directly to your favorite team, click the link below:
What went right
The Broncos invested in improving their offensive line. The Broncos' offense was done in last season by a porous line, which failed to open holes in the running game or give Denver's quarterbacks enough time to get the ball out in Gary Kubiak's slow-developing passing attack. Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch were pressured on 31.5 percent of their dropbacks last season, which tied Denver with San Diego for the sixth-highest rate in the league. The Broncos' rushing attack, meanwhile, finished 30th in rushing DVOA, which was the worst ranking for a Kubiak-led running game since the 2009 Texans.
Kubiak retired for health reasons after the season, but the Broncos still needed to upgrade their offensive line. General manager John Elway declined Russell Okung's option and chose to invest his salary-cap space elsewhere. Instead of opting for a high-tier option, Elway chose to invest in the sixth linemen on two of the league's best offensive lines, signing guard Ronald Leary from the Cowboys and tackle Menelik Watson from the Raiders. He followed by using his first-round pick on Utah tackle Garett Bolles, a high-risk move given that Bolles will turn 26 during his rookie campaign.
It remains to be seen how new coach Vance Joseph will choose to implement all these linemen in the months to come; ESPN Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold believes that the team will start Bolles at left tackle alongside Leary, with Max Garcia and Watson on the right side. Donald Stephenson will be the swing tackle off the bench in that scenario, with Broncos fans probably hoping that frustrating former draft picks Ty Sambrailo and Michael Schofield aren't forced into the lineup.
... and they invested in improving their defensive line too. Denver's defense was excellent last season, but it was one-sided. The Broncos were incredible against the pass, leading the league in DVOA by an enormous margin and in opposing yards per attempt by nearly a full yard.
Their run defense, on the other hand, was underwhelming. They finished 21st in rush defense DVOA and failed to make many plays behind the line of scrimmage. Denver had just 19 tackles for loss on running plays all season, which isn't much, given how the league-leading trio of Brandon Graham, Cameron Jordan and Telvin Smith had 11 each. J.J. Watt finished with 14 tackles for loss against the run by himself two seasons ago.
Injuries were part of the problem. The Broncos lost starting defensive end Vance Walker for the season in training camp, and Derek Wolfe missed two games. The run defense missed Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan, free agents who left in the offseason for the Jaguars and Bears, respectively.
Elway shot in during the offseason by swapping out nose tackle Sylvester Williams for longtime Bengals stalwart Domata Peko. If Peko can hold up for 500 snaps, the Broncos should get an anchor to help solidify their rushing defense. Wolfe and Jared Crick will have more depth; they'll be backed up by a pair of second-rounders in 2016 draftee Adam Gotsis and rookie DeMarcus Walker. The Broncos passed on re-signing Vance Walker in March, but with his market nonexistent, they might be able to bring their former starter back into the fold.
What went wrong
The Broncos lost Wade Phillips. Phillips didn't need to turn around the Broncos' defense after arriving in 2015 -- Denver already ranked fourth in DVOA during John Fox's final season with the team -- but he certainly made it better. Phillips' defense ranked first in defensive DVOA in both 2015 and 2016, which was particularly impressive because of the losses the Broncos took in free agency after the Super Bowl. Phillips, 69, was a free agent this offseason and left for the Rams, where he'll serve as the defensive coordinator for new Los Angeles coach Sean McVay, 38 years his junior.
It's entirely possible that the Broncos might have decided to part ways with Phillips anyway after hiring Vance Joseph, a respected defensive mind in Cincinnati who impressed during his first year as a defensive coordinator in Miami. It's also possible that Phillips might have left even if Kubiak had stuck around, given reports that the Broncos refused to give Phillips both a raise and contract extension after the Super Bowl win. Joseph promoted defensive backs coach Joe Woods to defensive coordinator, so the Broncos should have some continuity, but it's hard to imagine Denver's defense ranking as the league's best for a third consecutive season after Phillips left town.
They weren't able to make an upgrade at quarterback. Siemian greatly exceeded expectations last season, posting a respectable 55.8 opponent-adjusted Total QBR behind a porous offensive line, but it's telling that he finished just ahead of Brock Osweiler and Colin Kaepernick by that statistic. Siemian was 19th by adjusted net yards per attempt, just between Tyrod Taylor and Carson Palmer. The Broncos couldn't have been pleased, though, with the development of Lynch, who looked badly overmatched in two starts against the Falcons and Jaguars. The No. 26 overall pick in 2016, Lynch can still develop, of course, but it seemed likely that the Broncos would pursue Tony Romo if he were released by the Cowboys.
It never happened. Elway suggested that he was happy with the quarterbacks he had, and in the end, the Broncos never made a serious move for Romo. Joseph suggested that the Broncos never conducted a meeting to talk about Romo, which seems a little implausible, but it's also telling about how the Broncos feel about their current quarterback situation.
Maybe they're right to feel that way. Siemian is still just 25 and should continue to get better, especially if the offensive line gives him time to throw. Lynch was expected to be a project coming out of Memphis, especially because of his inexperience under center, and he might very well be a better fit with new offensive coordinator Mike McCoy than he was with Kubiak. Romo might have been fool's gold, given that he's a 37-year-old quarterback who has spent most of the past two years injured. What are the chances that he realistically would have been able to stay healthy behind an offensive line jelling on the fly in 2017?
And yet, you don't need me to tell you about the upside of adding Romo. He was an MVP candidate in 2014, and even the most optimistic Broncos fans can't project Siemian or Lynch to play at that level in 2017. Those same fans might also remember that the Peyton Manning signing was controversial at the time, given that the Broncos were giving up on a quarterback who had led them to the playoffs (Tim Tebow) to sign a 36-year-old quarterback who had missed all of the previous season and undergone multiple neck surgeries. It's overly simplistic to compare that situation to this one, but it's pretty clear that the Broncos' highest ceiling would have come through adding Romo to the roster.
Look into Orlando Franklin. Franklin left the Broncos for San Diego after the 2014 season, but his two years with the Chargers were disappointing, and Los Angeles released him earlier this month. A 29-year-old utility lineman, Franklin met with the Jaguars, and the Broncos already have made several additions to their offensive line this offseason, but he could be an upgrade on Garcia at guard.
What went right
The Chiefs re-signed Eric Berry. It's difficult to imagine the Chiefs realizing an enormous amount of surplus value on the six-year, $78 million deal Kansas City gave its star safety to stick around for years to come. Berry will get $42.5 million over the first three years of his contract, which blows away the safety market. It's a reminder of how leverage and cost-controlled years work. Harrison Smith, who was one year from free agency and could have been franchised the following season, got $28.8 million over the first three seasons of his deal. Tyrann Mathieu, who is nominally a cornerback when healthy, got up to $32.5 million. The Dolphins gave Reshad Jones $33 million over the first three years of his new contract.
The Chiefs realistically didn't have the ability to franchise Berry for a second time, given their cap situation, so they had to pay over the odds to keep him. Berry wouldn't have cost anything close to this after the 2015 season, and the Chiefs are paying for a 2016 campaign in which Berry was one of the best defensive backs in the league. Because he's turning 29 in December, this is almost certainly an overpay.
And yet, how do you not re-sign Berry if you're the Chiefs? He has been a first-team All-Pro three of the past four seasons, with that streak interrupted only by the combination of a high ankle sprain and Hodgkin lymphoma, the latter of which Berry beat into remission. Berry is in the prime of his career, beloved in Kansas City and playing at a Hall of Fame level. If you're ever going to overpay a non-quarterback ...
They handled the Dontari Poe situation well. On the other hand, the Chiefs saved some money by reading the market effectively on Poe. Kansas City didn't lock up the defensive tackle to a long-term deal, allowed him to play out his fifth-year option and then didn't slap Poe with the franchise tag, which would have guaranteed the Memphis product $13.8 million on a one-year contract. Poe ended up finding only a one-year, $8 million deal with the Falcons. The Chiefs managed to fill their ensuing hole at nose tackle by signing Bennie Logan to a similar one-year pact.
They anticipated the market in locking up Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. Duvernay-Tardif, 26, gets a lot of novelty attention as a French-Canadian medical student who also happens to play guard in the NFL. Lost in the shuffle is that he has emerged as a real talent, forming one of the better right sides of a line in football alongside 2016 free-agent signing Mitchell Schwartz.
Duvernay-Tardif was a bargain as a sixth-round pick entering the final year of his rookie deal. The Chiefs could have waited to sign him to an extension, but they rightly saw that the guard market was about to skyrocket in free agency and acted accordingly. In February, they locked up Duvernay-Tardif with a five-year, $42.4 million deal that will pay him $26 million over the first three years of his deal. That's less than the Broncos are giving Ronald Leary ($27.3 million) and significantly below what the Browns handed to top free agent Kevin Zeitler ($38 million). It's also what the Chiefs did by signing Schwartz last year; the $19.8 million Schwartz will bring home over the first three years of his deal isn't in the same ballpark as the $29.5 million Rick Wagner picked up from the Lions, and Schwartz is the better player.
What went wrong
The Chiefs went all-in for Patrick Mahomes II. I already wrote about Mahomes and why he might have his best chance of succeeding in Kansas City by virtue of Andy Reid, who has made useful quarterbacks out of far less talented passers in the past. It's too early to judge Mahomes as a prospect, and it will be for years. You can understand why the Chiefs would go out of their way to try to find their quarterback of the future before they have a blank slate under center too. General manager John Dorsey was in Green Bay, where he was the director of college scouting when the Packers chose Aaron Rodgers in the first round of the 2005 draft despite the presence of Brett Favre on the roster. That worked out OK.
Like Mahomes, Rodgers had question marks, as Bob McGinn documented at the time. The biggest difference between the two, at least right now, is what it cost to get them. Rodgers was taken with the 24th pick in the 2005 draft. Despite suspecting that Rodgers was a franchise quarterback and knowing that he had been in line to go No. 1 overall, general manager Ted Thompson stayed put and didn't trade away multiple first-rounders. He grabbed Rodgers with the pick he held heading into the draft weekend.
Had the Chiefs stayed put and grabbed Mahomes at No. 27 overall, drafting a quarterback would probably have been something for the "What went right" section. Instead, the Chiefs moved from 27 to 10 by trading away their third-round pick (the 91st selection) and a juicy 2018 first-round pick. By Chase Stuart's draft value calculator -- even if we assume the Chiefs make it to the second round of the playoffs and finish with the 27th pick again -- the haul Kansas City sent to Buffalo was worth 33.1 points of draft capital. Dorsey basically sent the equivalent of the first overall pick (34.6 points) to the Bills to nab Mahomes.
The margin for error is a lot lower with the first overall pick than it is with pick No. 24. You have to be far more confident that the selection is going to turn into a superstar, and it's unlikely that the Chiefs should be as confident as they are. Dorsey has done excellent work during his time in Kansas City, but even great general managers get fooled and make the mistake of trading up. Remember that Ozzie Newsome once moved up from 41 to 19 by sending a future first-round pick to the Patriots in order to draft Kyle Boller. (The Patriots used Baltimore's first-round pick the following year to draft Vince Wilfork.)
It's also possible that the Chiefs end up paying even more than they assume. There's no reason to think Kansas City will decline next season, but remember those 2005 Packers? Green Bay had been the picture of stability under Mike Sherman, posting five consecutive winning seasons and four consecutive trips to the playoffs. They had a franchise quarterback in Favre. There was no reason to think the Packers would dramatically decline ... and they went 4-12. Sherman lost his job. Nobody would have batted an eye if the Packers had traded their 2006 first-round pick to move into the top half of the 2005 draft and grab Rodgers, but it would have cost them the fifth overall pick in the 2006 draft, as opposed to the late-first-rounder we all would have expected.
If Mahomes works out and turns into a star, none of this matters. The problem, of course, is that we aren't sure Mahomes will work out. Reid qualifies as a quarterback whisperer, but the same argument works against trading up, too; if Reid can work with any quarterback, the Chiefs might very well have been better off drafting a quarterback in the third round and letting Reid work with him while using their first-round pick on a wide receiver or defensive lineman. This is a very risky move from a very stable franchise.
Look into Sam Shields. NFL teams can never have too many cornerbacks, and while the Chiefs have a star on one side of the field in Marcus Peters, it wouldn't hurt to take a flier on a veteran to compete with Phillip Gaines and Steven Nelson at corner. Dorsey scouted Shields in 2010, when the Packers signed the Miami product as an undrafted free agent and discovered a gem. If Shields is physically able to play after suffering a concussion last season, the Chiefs would do well to look into the former Pro Bowler.
What went right
The Chargers finally drafted a stud receiver in Mike Williams. For years, the book on Philip Rivers has been about what he has been able to do despite losing virtually every one of his weapons to injury. Although 2010 -- a year in which 13 Chargers receivers caught 10 passes or more, the most of any team since the 1970 merger -- stands out as the weirdest Rivers season on record, 2016 wasn't far off. Nominal starter Stevie Johnson was lost for the year in training camp. No. 1 wideout Keenan Allen tore his ACL in the opener. Danny Woodhead tore his two weeks later. Travis Benjamin, Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry each missed games. Melvin Gordon went down late in the season.
The show went on, and indeed, Rivers was competent (and even great for stretches) with former undrafted free agents Dontrelle Inman and Tyrell Williams as his top wideouts for most of the season. For too long, the Chargers have asked Rivers to get by with a group of injury-prone or otherwise unwanted receivers. That needed to change, and the Chargers restructured their receiving corps by drafting Clemson's Williams with the seventh overall selection.
It's crazy to think that the Chargers had drafted a total of seven wide receivers since Rivers was acquired during the 2004 draft. The only first-round pick they had used on a wide receiver was on the disappointing Craig Davis, who was drafted with the 30th pick in 2007. The Chargers' two next-highest selections at wideout were Vincent Jackson and Allen, each of whom was pushed into stardom by Rivers.
Suddenly, the Chargers aren't as dependent upon Allen's staying healthy and gobbling up 160 targets. They aren't desperate for Gates to stay on the field and play through pain. They don't need to rely on Benjamin, Inman or Tyrell Williams to stretch the field. Their new wideout has the size and catch radius to dominate opposing cornerbacks on the seemingly endless crossing routes and slants with which Rivers excels in this offense under Ken Whisenhunt. Rivers has never had a receiver with this sort of pedigree.
They addressed the offensive line. As tempting as it is to ascribe the changes being sought by the Broncos and Chargers up front to the success of the Raiders, who rebuilt their team around an expensive offensive line, it's probably the guys on the other side of the ball who are scaring Los Angeles right about now. Any team that has to face Khalil Mack, Von Miller and Justin Houston a total of six times a season has to worry about keeping its quarterback safe, and though the Broncos don't have to worry about Miller, they do have to be concerned about Joey Bosa. There are no days off if you're a quarterback in the AFC West.
It was time for the Chargers to move on from disappointing veterans such as King Dunlap and D.J. Fluker, and they invested heavily up front. Russell Okung was able to stay healthy during his lone season in Denver and did enough to justify a long-term deal. The four-year, $53 million deal he signed gives the former Seahawks standout $39.5 million over the first three seasons. Los Angeles then used its second- and third-round picks on guards Forrest Lamp and Dan Feeney, which led to the release of Orlando Franklin, who never lived up to the five-year, $36.5 million deal he signed with San Diego before the 2015 season.
What went wrong
The Chargers might not have actually fixed the offensive line. With those additions, there are plenty of question marks. Okung has a long history of injuries and wasn't very good in Denver last season, though he was certainly better than many of the linemen around him. The $39.5 million he racked up for those first three seasons was comfortably the most lucrative tackle contract handed out this offseason and nearly as much as the $42.1 million the far superior Trent Williams received before the 2016 season.
As for the rookie guards, though they might work out, this was a notably poor class for offensive linemen, and even well-regarded rookies have been struggling to adjust to the NFL in recent years. Cutting Franklin might have been a misstep, given that the Chargers don't have much on the interior for depth if Lamp or Feeney get injured or struggle early in their careers. The Chargers were right to work on their line, and their trio of new additions could be an upgrade, but it's hardly a guarantee that they have solved their problems.
They didn't lock up (or otherwise act on) Melvin Ingram. The Chargers might have cut Franklin, in part, to create some much-needed cap space. Los Angeles is less than $2 million under the cap after releasing Franklin, but one of the other ways it surely hoped to create space would have been to lock up one of its two star pass-rushers. Ingram racked up eight sacks and 19 quarterback knockdowns last season, and while Ingram, 28, doesn't appear destined for superstardom the way that Bosa does after his impactful rookie campaign, Ingram is good enough to make a lot of money.
The Chargers franchised Ingram to keep him around, and though the $15 million price tag isn't unreasonable for a player of his caliber on a one-year deal, they probably would have been better off working on an extension to keep Ingram around while reducing his 2017 cap charge. Ingram is probably eyeing the $49 million Jason Pierre-Paul received over the first three years of his deal with the Giants, given that JPP is also 28 and was on the franchise tag, but the Chargers might blanch at that sum for a player who didn't break out as an excellent edge rusher until 2015.
Sign (or trade) Ingram. If the Chargers plan on losing Ingram after this season, they're probably better off dealing him now to a team in need of a pass-rusher. The Patriots have $20.8 million in cap room and aren't exactly tentative about trading for useful players.
What went right
The Raiders let people leave. It's weird to say that, of course, but teams that take enormous leaps forward, like the 2016 Raiders did, tend to fall in love with their roster and keep everyone they can around, even if those players aren't necessarily above-average contributors or worth long-term investments. (This year's Dolphins are a good example of this phenomenon.) The Raiders didn't approach their roster as if it were a solved problem, which is smart.
Instead of trying to keep together the entirety of a defense that ranked a middling 23rd in DVOA last season, general manager Reggie McKenzie was comfortable letting some regulars leave. Perry Riley, signed off the street last season, was allowed to hit free agency. Fellow linebacker Malcolm Smith played 89 percent of the defensive snaps but wasn't very effective; he left for an inexplicable deal with the 49ers. Even D.J. Hayden, McKenzie's first first-round pick as GM, failed to develop and left for Detroit.
They're going to sell a ton of Marshawn Lynch jerseys. On offense, the Raiders correctly identified that Latavius Murray was a relatively replaceable running back and didn't make a significant effort to re-sign him. Their decision to then acquire Lynch is certainly fascinating, though difficult to judge. Lynch was a superstar for the Seahawks between the second half of 2011 and the end of 2014, but he was badly outplayed by Thomas Rawls in 2015 before getting injured and retiring. Lynch has 2,337 carries on his odometer if you include the playoffs, and it isn't out of the question that he has little left in the tank. A year off should help, though, and the Raiders are paying Lynch $2.9 million for 2017 with no guarantees afterward.
What went wrong
There are questions about the front seven. As his team stockpiles talent, McKenzie is rightly transitioning from a team built around free-agent signings to one built around drafting and developing talent in the Packers model. The Raiders aren't thirsty for live bodies anymore, but they have holes in their lineup and cap space to address those spots.
While they're naturally susceptible to issues if Derek Carr or Khalil Mack gets hurt, a more feasible upgrade plan would have been finding pieces for the front seven. The Raiders were right to let Smith and Riley (the latter of whom is still a free agent) depart, but they lost impact nose tackle Stacy McGee to Washington and cut Dan Williams after the Cardinals import failed to impress on the interior.
McKenzie used third- and seventh-round picks on defensive linemen Eddie Vanderdoes and Treyvon Hester, both of whom have injury concerns in their recent past. The Raiders also are very thin at linebacker. McKenzie signed Jelani Jenkins from the Dolphins, but teams routinely picked on Jenkins when the Florida product was forced into coverage during his time in Miami. Ben Heeney, who missed most of last season with an injury, will be competing with special-teamer Cory James and fifth-round pick Marquel Lee at middle linebacker. Given how cheap coverage linebackers generally come in the NFL these days, it's a surprise that McKenzie didn't go after more meaningful veteran help or draft a linebacker before the fifth round.
Re-sign Derek Carr. There are reasons to wonder if McKenzie is working with a full budget, given the impending move to Las Vegas, and he might have needed to save actual cash to pay his star draft picks. The next 12 months will probably see the Raiders pay hundreds of millions of dollars to lock up Carr, Mack and guard Gabe Jackson, with Carr up first.
Carr is one of the biggest bargains in football right now, given that his contract as the 36th pick calls for a base salary of only $977,519 in 2017. The one downside to Carr's succeeding as a second-round pick is that the Raiders can't slap a fifth-year option on his deal, which would have artificially capped Carr's salary in 2018 and made it easier to lock him up in a long-term deal.
Carr isn't going anywhere, obviously. The question is just a matter of price. The comparison point for any young quarterback seeking a new deal is Andrew Luck, who signed a five-year, $122.9 million extension with $44 million guaranteed at signing. Luck is due an even $75 million over the first three years of his deal, which is the number Carr will try to top with his extension.