By Andrew Kahn
“You never stay the same. You either get better or you get worse.” Super Bowl-winning coach Jon Gruden said that, and many teams took it to heart this offseason. Super Bowl contenders upgraded their rosters either by trade or free agency. Losing teams added talent in the hopes of making a run at the playoffs. Here are 10 of the most noteworthy moves.
1. Wes Welker, Denver Broncos
Poor Wes Welker. After parting with Tom Brady and the Patriots, he has to settle for Peyton Manning as his quarterback. The slot receiver joins Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker to make the Broncos passing game even more potent. For fantasy purposes, Welker’s statistics may suffer since Manning likes to spread it around.
2. Jake Long, St. Louis Rams
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 draft left Miami for a four-year, $36 million deal with St. Louis. Long is as solid as they come at left tackle. He’ll bolster an offensive line that was middle of the pack in sacks allowed last season.
3. Darrelle Revis, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The deal seemed to take forever, but a few days before the draft the Jets’ star cornerback was traded for the 13th overall pick and a 2014 fourth round conditional pick. He then became the highest-paid defensive back in NFL history, signing a six-year, $96 million deal, though zero of those dollars are guaranteed. Revis is betting on himself; he tore his ACL in Week 3 last year and missed the rest of the season.
4. Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
Was it Jim Harbaugh’s magic touch or a legitimate breakthrough that led to Smith’s season and a half of effective play? Kansas City is banking on the latter, having traded second round picks in the 2013 and 2014 drafts for the 49ers quarterback who was eventually benched for Colin Kaepernick. Regardless, he could be the best Chiefs quarterback since Joe Montana.
5. Anquan Boldin, San Francisco 49ers
Boldin scored a touchdown to help the Ravens beat San Francisco in the Super Bowl in February and was dealt to the 49ers in March (for a sixth-rounder). At 32, he’s past his prime, but will be counted on big time because of injuries to Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham.
6. Cliff Avril/Michael Bennett, Seattle Seahawks
One of the best defenses in the league got better this offseason, landing two top defensive ends. Avril comes from Detroit; Bennett from Tampa Bay. Both players led their teams in sacks last season, combining for 18.5. If they can pressure opposing quarterbacks like that, Seattle’s secondary should have even more interceptions this season.
7. Mike Wallace, Miami Dolphins
Wallace is coming off a bit of a down year, when he sat most of the preseason because of a contract dispute and his quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, missed a few games. So perhaps the speedy receiver was worth the $60 million the Dolphins gave him (over five years). Playing with second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill and alongside an underwhelming group of wideouts, this will be a huge test for the former Steeler.
8. Paul Kruger, Cleveland Browns
Kruger goes from the Super Bowl champion Ravens to the Browns, who have had just one winning season since 2002, the last time they made the playoffs. The outsider linebacker registered nine sacks last season and parlayed that into a five-year, $41 million deal with Cleveland.
9. Elvis Dumervil, Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens tried to offset the loss of Kruger by signing Dumervil, a defensive end previously with Denver. He’ll play in Kruger’s linebacker spot in Baltimore’s 3-4 defense. It was a technicality that allowed Dumervil to hit the market in the first place—the Broncos need to invest in a better fax machine, apparently—but he’s an important signing for the defending champs.
10. Steven Jackson, Atlanta Falcons
Jackson’s best days are behind him, but he’s still an upgrade over Michael Turner and should be a threat as a runner and a pass catcher in Atlanta’s dangerous offense. Jackson spent the first nine seasons of his career in St. Louis where he was regularly underrated.
Other notables: Greg Jennings, Minnesota Vikings; Ed Reed, Houston Texans; Reggie Bush, Detroit Lions; Matt Flynn, Oakland Raiders
Andrew Kahn is a contributor to CBS Local who has written for ESPN the Magazine and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about the NFL and other sports at http://andrewjkahn.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn.
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