Rex Ryan made national headlines back in the summer of 2016 for infamously proclaimed the Buffalo Bills team he coached as the champions of the NFL offseason.
There is no such title, honor, or crown handed out to the NFL team that makes the best moves through free agency, transactions and the NFL draft. But there should be, considering all the money, time and resources these teams spend overhauling their rosters.
Let us honor the outspoken Ryan, the former New York Jets and Bills coach and current ESPN analyst by naming the NFL’s offseason champion distinction after him.
With training camp opening up at the end of the month let us take a look at the AFC teams that made the most improvement since last year, factoring in front office and head coach changes, free agent signings and defections, trades, and the 2022 NFL draft picks made.
The NFC teams are to follow.
Denver Broncos: 1
The Broncos got a new general manager (George Paton), coach (Nathaniel Hackett), and starting quarterback (Russell Wilson) all in one offseason. The Wilson trade didn’t cost Denver any key components of the offense other than tight end Noah Fant, and the Broncos added UCLA tight end Greg Dulcich with the 80th pick. Pass rusher Randy Gregory signed a five-year, $70 million deal, and will be complemented by former Oklahoma pass rusher Nik Bonitto (64th pick). The Broncos also signed linebacker Josey Jewell, defensive tackle D.J. Jones and offensive linemen Billy Turner and Tom Compton, and they all potentially could end up starters.
Buffalo Bills: 2
There’s an arms race taking place in the AFC, as the top teams are pushing to get better, and Buffalo’s free agency additions – Von Miller, Tim Settle, DaQuan Jones, Duke Johnson and Rodger Saffold should help the Bills take that next step, if they can all remain healthy. Former Gators standout Kaiir Elam gives Buffalo a man-coverage cornerback with press ability to put across from Tre’Davious White. Rookie running back James Cook is a near-perfect fit for the outside-zone concepts the Bills use. Boise State’s Khalil Shakir was one of the best slot receivers in this draft and should help ease the offseason release of Cole Beasley. The biggest loss might be former offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who was named the coach of the Jets. But former Hurricanes legend Ken Dorsey, his understudy, is taking over.
Miami Dolphins: 3
The Dolphins were determined to give Tua Tagovailoa a better supporting cast this offseason and the process started with the hiring of Mike McDaniel, who intends to install a West Coast, run-based offense. Trading for Tyreek Hill and signing Cedrick Wilson Jr. and running backs Chase Edmonds, Sony Michel and Raheem Mostert gives Miami one of the best weapon arsenals in the AFC, especially since tight end Mike Gesicki is playing on the franchise tag this season. The only major loss on offense was DeVante Parker, who was traded to the Patriots. Miami retained all but two low-contribution defenders from last year’s respectable unit, and signed Terron Armstead and Connor Williams to fortify the team’s troublesome offensive line. Moving Williams to center is the biggest gamble, but if it pays off, Miami’s line could be forceful.
Las Vegas Raiders: 4
The Raiders signed Derek Carr to a lucrative three-year, $121.5 million extension, then traded for his college receiver, acquiring Davante Adams from the Packers. Las Vegas also signed receiver DeMarcus Robinson and tight end Jacob Hollister to provide new coach Josh McDaniels some weaponry. The Raiders also signed pass rusher Chandler Jones to pair him with Maxx Crosby, who signed a four-year, $99 million extension and acquired cornerback Rock Ya-Sin for pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue. Offensive line remains Las Vegas’ biggest question mark, and the only draftee who might help is former Memphis center Dylan Parham, a third-round pick.
Los Angeles Chargers: 5
The Chargers acquired Khalil Mack from the Bears for a 2022 second-round pick and a 2023 sixth-round selection, and signed Pro Bowl cornerback J.C. Jackson to a five-year deal worth $82.5 million. The Chargers also signed tight end Gerald Everett, who has caught 175 passes for 1,867 yards and 12 touchdowns in his first five seasons, to potentially replace Jared Cook. The Chargers used the 2022 draft to fortify the offensive line, and add defensive backs to the secondary, addressing two of the team’s glaring needs. Zion Johnson (No. 17) and Jamaree Salyer (No. 195) both have the talent to start at guard.
Pittsburgh Steelers: 6
Pittsburgh signed former Bears starting quarterback Mitch Trubisky to a two-year deal worth $14.25 million deal and will have him compete with former Pitt standout Kenny Pickett, who was selected with the 20th pick. To improve the Steelers’ troublesome offensive line, guard James Daniels and center Mason Cole were added. The Steelers also signed linebackers Myles Jack and Genard Avery, and cornerback Levi Wallace. But receiver Juju Smith-Schuster signed with the Chiefs and fellow wideout James Washington signed with the Cowboys. Their departure creates a possible void at receiver rookies George Pickens and Calvin Austin III might be asked to fill.
Baltimore Ravens: 7
The Ravens made solid additions in free agency, signing defensive tackle Michael Pierce, offensive tackle Morgan Moses and safety Marcus Williams. And re-signing defensive lineman Calais Campbell shouldn’t be overlooked. But losing receiver Marquise Brown, who was traded to the Cardinals, will present some challenges. Fortunately for the Ravens, that franchise can often lean on strong drafts to rebuild, and the addition of Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton (No. 14) and center Tyler Linderbaum (No. 25) fit like a glove. However, not getting a long-term deal done with Lamar Jackson could haunt the franchise. But there is still time.
New York Jets: 8
The Jets added guard Laken Tomlinson and re-signed offensive tackles Conor McDermott and Dan Feeney. C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin were signed to upgrade the tight end position. And the Jets also added defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, linebacker Jacob Martin, cornerback D.J. Reed and safeties Jordan Whitehead and Lamarcus Joyner. The Jets exited the draft with five potential starters in cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, receiver Garrett Wilson, pass rusher Jermaine Johnson II, tailback Breece Hall and tight end Jeremy Ruckert. If Zach Wilson takes a major step forward the Jets could become a factor in the AFC East.
Cincinnati Bengals: 9
The Bengals might have just made a Super Bowl, but it was obvious that Cincinnati’s offensive line needed to be rebuilt. Signing La’el Collins, Alex Cappa and Ted Karras were steps taken in the right direction. The Bengals added defenders who can help Lou Anarumo’s unit tighten up with their first three draft picks. Michigan safety Daxton Hill (No. 31), Nebraska cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt and Florida defensive lineman Zachary Carter should all be able to carve out important roles as rookies.
Cleveland Browns: 10
If we take morality out of the equation, the Browns made one of the biggest and boldest moves in free agency, landing quarterback Deshaun Watson in a trade with the Texans that depleted Cleveland’s draft capital. Whether Watson will be suspended for all of 2022 is undecided, but the Browns upgraded at quarterback. However, Jacoby Brissett might be the team’s 17-game 2022 starter. Amari Cooper replaces Jarvis Landry, who was released and signed with the Saints. Re-signing Jadeveon Clowney was huge, and the addition of cornerback Martin Emerson from Mississippi State (No. 68) and UAB pass rusher Alex Wright (No. 78) should help the defense.
Indianapolis Colts: 11
Cutting bait on Carson Wentz, trading him to Washington after one season, makes sense for the franchise. But replacing him with Matt Ryan, 37, didn’t because that’s a short-term solution, and one with limited upside. Acquiring Yannick Ngakoue from the Raiders for cornerback Rock Ya-Sin makes sense. Indianapolis signed Stephon Gilmore as Ya-Sin’s replacement, so the loss wasn’t major. Neither was their draft, which featured a handful of underwhelming college players.
Houston Texans: 12
Unloading Deshaun Watson for what equates to three first-round picks, a third-round selection and two fourth-round picks allows the Texans to start fresh with Davis Mills as Houston’s starting quarterback for his second season. Marlon Mack was added to a backfield that already had Rex Burkhead and Royce Freeman, who was re-signed. When healthy, Mack is a force. Linebacker Blake Cashman was acquired from the Jets for a 2023 sixth-round pick. The Texans potentially added five starters in the second draft class of this massive rebuild. But there’s a long road ahead and changes are slim that Lovie Smith delivers a winning record in his first season as Houston’s coach.
Jacksonville Jaguars: 13
The Jaguars made plenty of moves this offseason, but most weren’t greeted with praise. And that includes the hiring Doug Pederson. But if he can get Trevor Lawrence to develop as a quarterback he’ll be setting himself up for success long-term. The four-year, $72 million deal ($37 million guaranteed) Jacksonville gave receiver Christian Kirk was a head-scratcher. And receiver Zay Jones and tight end Evan Engram, other veterans who Jacksonville added to the offense, have had mercurial careers thus far. The Jaguars lost three starting offensive linemen, but signed Pro Bowl guard Brandon Scherff to a three-year, $49.5 million deal. And in the draft, Jacksonville added Travon Walker (first overall selection), Devin Lloyd (No. 27), Luke Fortner (No. 65) and Chad Muma (No. 70) and need them to become immediate starters.
Kansas City Chiefs: 14
Kansas City traded Tyreek Hill, an offensive focal point, to the Dolphins for a handful of draft picks to avoid paying the perennial Pro Bowler a $30 million-a-year salary. Kansas City added receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Corey Coleman in free agency and drafted Skyy Moore in the second round to replenish a receiver unit that has been depleted by trades and free agent defections. But the biggest loss was Pro Bowl safety Tyrann Mathieu, who signed with the Saints after being replaced by Justin Reid, who signed a three-year, $31.5 million contract ($20.5 million guaranteed) with the Chiefs. If Reid isn’t dynamic, Kansas City’s defense could take a step backwards.
Tennessee Titans: 15
Re-signed pass rusher Harold Landry, center Ben Jones, cornerback Buster Skrine and tailback Dontrell Hilliard, keeping some of the nucleus of the 2021 team intact were the Titans biggest moves made this offseason. Trading A.J. Brown to Philadelphia and drafting Treylon Burks with the 18th pick was a bold move. Only time and Burks’ development will tell if it worked in Tennessee’s favor. Adding Liberty quarterback Malik Willis in the third round (No. 86) was a good move because he has the tools to beat out Ryan Tannehill once he learns the offense and adjusts to the speed of the NFL game. With Derrick Henry’s mileage adding up, the Titans only have a season or two to make a run before it’s time to rebuild.
New England Patriots: 16
The Patriots lost more key contributors than they gained this offseason, and that includes former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Cornerback Malcolm Butler returned to New England after spending three seasons with the Titans. The Patriots acquired receiver DeVante Parker and linebacker Mack Wilson in offseason trades, and signed safety Jabrill Peppers. New England did re-sign offensive tackle Trent Brown, safety Devin McCourty, kicker Nick Folk and linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley. But the Patriots’ roster is filled with holes and question marks. Chattanooga offensive guard Cole Strange being selected in the first round was laughed at by most draft analysts. The Patriots added Baylor speedster Tyquan Thornton with the 50th pick.