Just like mock drafting, it is never too early to start power ranking teams in the NFL. While it is hard to determine what the final roster on each team will look like heading into OTAs, we at least have a moderately good view of how each team will look heading into the NFL draft. Power rankings are naturally filled with a bit of subjectivity, but we at Ramblin’ Fan will take our best shot at ranking the free agency period as fairly as possible. As a disclaimer, not that this is not a power ranking of the actual teams within the conference; strictly a ranking of their performance in free agency:
1. Seattle Seahawks
While it is tempting to downgrade their free agent haul on the technicality that Percy Harvin was acquired in a trade before the official start of the free agency period on March 12th, the ‘Hawks have made enough moves to make up it. Even without the inclusion of Harvin, pickups like Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett should sure up the one area of weakness on their defense. Jason Jones was a big loss, but the draft is filled with defensive lineman, so watch out for who migt be available at the end of the second round. It also may signal a diminished role for Bruce Irvin in the rotation, but after watching the St. Louis Rams masterfully amass 52 sacks last season, primarily with depth at defensive end, it is not surprising to see them stockpiling playmakers at that position. Even with the loss of Jones, the Seahawks have done their due dilegence in filling both of their “holes” from the 2012 roster and, more importantly, retaining their key players on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball.
2. St. Louis Rams
The St. Louis Rams have been fairly quiet in free agency, at least in terms of signing the “big name” players. They lost the battle for Louis Delmas, who re-signed with the Detroit Lions after being offered a minicle contract by the St. Louis front office. They also failed to get a deal done with Jake Long, who left St. Louis without a contract after spending 3 days in the city.They also lost Danny Amendola to New England and Steven Jackson to Atlanta, although both losses had been assumed for some time now. Still, the St. Louis Rams were able to snag the top pass-catching tight end in free agency, one that Fisher had drafted back when he was still coaching in Tennessee. They were also able to re-sign William Hayes, who was ranked as the 15th best 4-3 defensive end in the league last season, according to Pro Football Focus, and tallied 7 sacks and 26 “stops” in only 375 defensive snaps, as part of the best defensive line rotation in the NFL. The St. Louis Rams ability to consistantly get pressure on the quarterback by only rushing four defenders is one of the primary reasons for their successs in the NFC West last season, and the primary reason why the Rams were competitive in 2012 without the presence of a competent strongside outside lineback on the roster. The Rams have young players like Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson waiting in the helm to take the reins from Jackson, and have more than their fair share of talent at receiver, with Chris Givens, Brian Quick, and Lance Kendricks. Adding a playmaker on offense and re-signing an intregal part of the defensive line rotation is enough to keep St. Louis in second place.
3. San Francisco 49ers
Much like the Harvin trade, the San Francisco 49ers did their most impressive work prior to the start of free agency, with the Alex Smith trade and the straight-up stealing of Anquan Boldin from the Baltimore Ravens. If this were an “offseason” power ranking, the 49ers would be battling for the top with the Seattle Seahawks, but it isn’t; it is a free agent power ranking. Since March 12th, San Francisco’s best acquisition has been Glenn Dorsey, the 5th overall pick in the 2008 draft that has played well below expectations. He is a decent insurance plan in the case of Justin Smith being injured, but will likely see limited snaps in the rotation. The next largest pickup of free agency has been Craig Dahl… yes, that Craig Dahl. Losing Dashon Goldson is huge for a team that stuggled mightily in containing Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith in the Super Bowl, and they continue to strike out with players, even with (seemingly) every “big name” free agent visiting with the team. Dahl is a downgrade at safety for nearly any team in the NFL, especially if you are looking for a player that can play competently in a complex defensive scheme, take good angle and make sure tackles, or play even moderately well in a deep, zone coverage. They also lost Delanie Walker, who is likely the best utility tight-end in the NFL. Pro Football Focus has Walker graded as the 2nd-best run blocking and 7th-best pass blocking tight end in the NFL last season, likely ranking him below only Dwayne Allen in terms of overall superiority in all three aspects of the tight end game: run block, pass block, receiving. At this point in free agency, the San Francisco 49ers are definitely in the red, but have plenty of cap space to drastically improve their roster in the next couple of weeks.
4. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals have been utterly baffling at this point in free agency, making several moves that are complete head scratchers. They release Beanie Wells, who has had trouble with turnovers and staying healthy, and pick up Rashard Mendenhall, who… has had troubles with turnovers and staying healthy. While looking for depth on the defensive line, potentially as insurance for Calais Campbell, they pick up Matt Shaughnessy, who has… you guessed it, lost significant time with injury. They released Kerry Rhodes and Adrian Wilson, only to replace them with Yehemiah Bell (an alumni from my high school, George Rogers Clark). They also tacked on Jerruad Powers, who comes from a secondary in Indianapolis so weak that they claimed the St. Louis Rams’ 5th best corner, Justin King, off waivers prior to last season and immediately implanted him into their starting line up (he was released soon after). The Cardinals also lost Quentin Groves to the Cleveland Browns, but did make the blockbuster move of signing Drew Stanton, the understudy of Andrew Luck, from Indianpolis! Arizona has had such good luck with backup quarterbacks in the past… sorry, Larry Fitgerald. The Cardinals are clearly in full “re-building” mode, and have done nothing of substance in free agency to expedite that process.