Now that most teams have done the bulk of their roster-building ahead of the 2021 NFL season, with the main portion of free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft in the rearview, let's take a look at which teams have had the best overall offseasons so far. Below is my list of the five best offseasons, taking into account both free agency and the draft:
The Bucs became the first defending Super Bowl champions in the free agency era (since 1993) to bring all 22 starters back for the following season, along with kicker Ryan Succop and punter Bradley Pinion. They retained receiver Antonio Brown, who played a key role in their playoff run. And they extended Tom Brady, creating more immediate cap space and ensuring the future Hall of Famer will be at quarterback through at least 2022. If Tampa's offseason had ended there, it might have still qualified the team for this list. But the offense was further bolstered by the addition of pass-catching back Giovani Bernard. And the draft yielded promising pieces for the future. Pass rusher Joe Tryon could potentially replace Jason Pierre-Paul, entering the final year of a two-year pact, while quarterback Kyle Trask will conceivably someday have the chance to do something no other young QB has to date: replace Brady in the starting lineup.
After clearing salary-cap space in the first year of the post-Tom Brady era, the Patriots went against type, setting a record for guaranteed money handed out in free agency. The spree was headlined by tight ends Hunter Henry (signed for three years and $37.5 million) and Jonnu Smith (four years, $50 million), receivers Nelson Agholor (two years, $26 million) and Kendrick Bourne (three years, $22.5 million) pass rusher Matthew Judon (four years, $56 million), defensive tackle Davon Godchaux (two years, up to $16 million) and defensive back Jalen Mills (four years, $24 million). New England also re-signed quarterback Cam Newton, center David Andrews, running back James White and defensive lineman Lawrence Guy and returned offensive tackle Trent Brown -- who played for the team in 2018 -- via trade with the Raiders. Let's not forget linebackers Kyle Van Noy (back in town on a two-year deal worth up to $13.2 million after spending 2020 with the Dolphins) and Dont'a Hightower, who opted out because of COVID-19.
Finally, there's the eight-player draft class, headlined by the 15th overall pick, QB Mac Jones, who could solve the position for the team long-term. New England brass no doubt hopes this class yields better results than previous years' efforts, and there is reason for optimism, given that it is rounded out by promising players like defensive lineman Christian Barmore (No. 38 overall) and pass rusher Ronnie Perkins, whom I ranked as a top-60 prospect but fell to the Pats at No. 96.
Being the worst team in the NFL in 2020 paid dividends at the 2021 NFL Draft, where the Jaguars were able to land a bona fide franchise QB prospect (Trevor Lawrence) with the No. 1 overall pick. But that was just one of the more high-profile elements of new coach Urban Meyer's efforts to lay the groundwork for Jacksonville to become a winner once again. The Jags also added offensive help for Lawrence in both the draft (running back Travis Etienne, Lawrence's former Clemson teammate, drafted 25th overall, and tackle Walker Little, selected 45th) and free agency (receiver Marvin Jones and running back Carlos Hyde). The secondary received upgrades in both phases of the offseason, as well; rookie cornerback Tyson Campbell (No. 33 overall) has a chance to get on the field quickly, while veteran acquisitions Shaquill Griffin (three years, $44.5 million), Rayshawn Jenkins (four years, $35 million) and Rudy Ford (two years, $4.2 million) bolstered the talent base.
The big news for the Jets was pressing the reset button at quarterback. No. 2 overall pick Zach Wilson enters a better situation than his predecessor, former first-rounder Sam Darnold, who was traded to Carolina last month. This is thanks in part to general manager Joe Douglas' decision to trade up to the 14th overall pick to select guard Alijah Vera-Tucker, then add more offensive help in the form of receiver Elijah Moore (No. 34) and running back Michael Carter (No. 107), who I think has a real chance to surprise some folks. Free agent receiver Corey Davis (three years, $37.5 million) also stands out as a key new piece.
That's not to say the defense was ignored; free agent Carl Lawson (who landed a three-year, $45 million deal and tied for eighth in the NFL last season in QB pressures, with 50, per Next Gen Stats) addresses a major area of need at edge rusher, while defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins (two years, up to $17 million) will help up front. The signings of former Lions first-rounder Jarrad Davis (one year, $7 million) and the expected return of linebacker C.J. Mosley after he opted out last season further shore up the front seven. The secondary could still use some work, but the Robert Saleh era is off to a promising start.
Quarterback Daniel Jones is heading into a sink-or-swim Year 3 -- but never let it be said GM Dave Gettleman didn't do everything in his power to give him the weapons needed to succeed. Receivers Kenny Golladay (signed on a four-year, $72 million contract) and Kadarius Toney (drafted 20th overall after Gettleman, yes, traded down!) and versatile tight end Kyle Rudolph (signed to a two-year, $14 million deal) join a skill-position group that will be further augmented by the return to health of running back Saquon Barkley. On defense, Gettleman secured a long-term agreement with centerpiece defensive lineman Leonard Williams. He also rolled the dice on comeback Adoree' Jackson (three years, $39 million) rebounding from the knee injury that ruined his 2020 season. Another move that could pay huge dividends: snagging pass rusher Azeez Ojulari, a first-round talent who slipped to the second round.