Each year, the writers for ESPN’s NFL Nation, one writer per NFL club, gets together and decides a ranking for each NFL team from top to bottom. Each writer is that team’s beat writer and gets one vote for the best off-season in terms of free agent acquisitions, trade values, NFL draft picks, plus the signing of their own key players.
Next, NFL Nation then places team into four categories: Elite, Above Average, Average and Too Soon to Tell.
Ten teams fell into the “Above Average” perimeter: Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Tennessee, New Orleans, Miami, Philadelphia, New York Jets, Detroit, Buffalo and Pittsburgh.
With Pittsburgh, writer Jeremy Fowler wrote:
Offseason goals: Cleanse the locker room of headaches, identify supporting players on the edges (receiver, cornerback) and solve the inside linebacker problem once and for all. Receiver Antonio Brown had to go, and now the locker room can focus on cohesion. Receiver Donte Moncrief and cornerback Steven Nelson are reliable free-agent additions at reasonable costs. Trading up for linebacker Devin Bush could give Pittsburgh a defensive leader for the next decade.
Biggest question still to be answered: How do the Steelers replace two All-Pros in Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell? This question dominated Pittsburgh’s offseason, and the answer is found under center. Ben Roethlisberger said he’s excited about his batch of weapons, but the onus is on Big Ben to make it work without two players who dominated the ball. The Steelers need him to have one of his best seasons -- maybe an MVP-type performance -- to re-enter the playoff race.
The “Average” category sports Dallas, New England, both Los Angeles clubs, San Francisco and Cincinnati.
Bengals beat writer Katherine Terrell gave her assessment:
Offseason goals: The main goals this offseason were to fix the defense and revamp the offensive line. That’s still a work in progress. While the Bengals did draft first-round pick Jonah Williams, they also re-signed Bobby Hart, who struggled last year, to play right tackle. As for the defense, they released linebacker Vontaze Burfict, re-signed Darqueze Dennard and drafted linebacker Germaine Pratt. Did that actually make the defense better? It’s definitely going to be the question of the summer.
Biggest question still to be answered: What will the Bengals’ offense look like under first-year head coach Zac Taylor? The former Rams assistant has tried to make things a little more fun during offseason workouts, and that figures to carry over into his offensive playcalling. That should benefit quarterback Andy Dalton, who is signed through the 2019 season and needs a bounce-back year after an injury-shortened 2018.
The lowest category is the “Too Soon to Tell” which includes Atlanta, Green Bay, Tampa Bay, Washington, Denver, New York Giants, Oakland, Seattle, Carolina, Minnesota, Kansas City, Houston, Arizona, Chicago, and Baltimore.
Ravens writer Jamison Hensley wrote this about Baltimore’s off-season:
Offseason goals: Build the offense around franchise quarterback Lamar Jackson. Baltimore has gone all-in on Jackson. The Ravens traded away Joe Flacco. They promoted Greg Roman to offensive coordinator because of his creative game plans with mobile quarterbacks (Colin Kaepernick and Tyrod Taylor). They signed free agent Mark Ingram II, a proven runner and leader. And they used three of their first four draft picks on offensive skill position players (wide receivers Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin as well as running back Justice Hill).
Biggest question still to be answered: Where is the pass rush coming from? The Ravens watched their all-time sack leader (Terrell Suggs) and their sack leader from last season (Za’Darius Smith) go elsewhere in free agency. Baltimore failed to acquire a big name (Justin Houston, Ezekiel Ansah and Gerald McCoy) in free agency. That leaves the Ravens trying to fill that void with rookie third-round pick Jaylon Ferguson and veterans Pernell McPhee and Shane Ray.
Which leads us to the “Elite” category, of which NFL Nation listed only one team: the Cleveland Browns.
It seems almost every NFL beat writer is very impressed with what GM John Dorsey has created for this year’s roster, especially concerning the trades. The biggest question these writers have asked is how Freddie Kitchens will handle his first season as head coach.
Writer Jake Trotter gave this evaluation:
Offseason goals: The Browns placed a priority on surrounding budding franchise quarterback Baker Mayfield with more weapons, connecting on the blockbuster trade for All-Pro wideout Odell Beckham Jr. from the New York Giants. GM John Dorsey also took a chance by signing running back Kareem Hunt, who could make a significant impact down the stretch after he serves an eight-game suspension. They also wanted to provide their defensive cornerstone, end Myles Garrett, with additional help up front.
Biggest question still to be answered: With so many big personalities and new faces, how will these Browns mesh under rookie head coach Freddie Kitchens? There’s no question the talent is there for Cleveland to make a run to the playoffs. But it has been a long time since this franchise has faced the level of scrutiny and pressure it will this season.