The Peyton Manning saga. The New Orleans Saints bounty scandal. A major draft-pick trade. A head-spinning amount of player movement via free agency and trades.
And now, the NFL offseason is truly set to begin.
Workout programs opened Monday for every team that doesn’t have a new head coach. Sessions for the squads that do began two weeks ago.
Under terms of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the practice rules are far more restrictive to give players the semblance of an actual "offseason." For many of those who have changed teams, Monday will mark the first time they can begin supervised workouts with their new team and get their hands on a playbook.
Here is my report card for how every team has fared in the free-agent signing period and what holes are left to fill later this month in the NFL Draft.
Impact moves: Bucs ownership finally released its death grip on the purse strings and spent heavily on three coveted free agents – wide receiver Vincent Jackson, guard Carl Nicks and cornerback Eric Wright. Cornerback Ronde Barber was re-signed for his 16th season with the franchise. Newcomer Amobi Okoye (Chicago) will be a nice addition to the defensive line rotation.
Significant losses: None except for projected starting safety Tanard Jackson, who was cut last week. The reason was officially listed as a failed physical, but the reality is that the new Bucs coaching staff wanted to sever ties with a player who carried heavy off-field baggage.
Top draft needs: Running back and cornerback, which makes what the Bucs will do with the No. 5 overall pick so intriguing. Alabama running back Trent Richardson and Louisiana State cornerback Morris Claiborne are both worthy candidates. The Bucs also can use help at safety and linebacker.
Analysis: First-year head coach Greg Schiano has a legitimate chance of getting a young Bucs roster back on track after last season’s major regression. That starts with fixing fourth-year quarterback Josh Freeman, who threw 22 interceptions last year compared to just six in 2010.
Impact moves: The Falcons focused on keeping their own players rather than adding newcomers. Six starters or key backups were re-signed, including defensive end John Abraham, safety Thomas DeCoud and center Todd McClure.
Significant losses: Middle linebacker Curtis Lofton’s asking price was too high so he left for a five-year, $27.5 million deal with New Orleans. The Falcons signed ex-Seattle starter Lofa Tatupu as a potential replacement.
Top draft needs: The offensive line, particularly left tackle, should be a strong consideration. The Falcons also may seek to bolster their outside pass-rush after ranking in the bottom half of the league in sacks the past three seasons.
Analysis: While the cast will be similar, Falcons brass is hoping for improved results with new coordinators Dirk Koetter (offense) and Mike Nolan (defense).
Impact moves: Versatile running back Mike Tolbert (San Diego) was the biggest name in Carolina’s understated free agent class. Wide receiver Steve Smith received a three-year contract extension that also created some much-needed cap space.
Significant losses: The Panthers didn’t make a strong push to retain linebacker Dan Connor, who signed a two-year, $6.5 million contract with Dallas.
Top draft needs: The defensive front seven, especially at defensive tackle. The Panthers surrendered 130.8 yards a game and 18 rushing touchdowns in 2011.
Analysis: The Panthers didn’t duplicate last year’s offseason spending spree that generated mixed results. The Tolbert signing was a surprise considering the Panthers still have running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart in the fold.
Impact moves: The Saints’ front office stayed busy while dealing with the fallout of the bounty scandal that led to the pending suspension of general manager Mickey Loomis. New Orleans focused on its defensive front seven with the signing of defensive tackle Broderick Bunkley (Denver) and addition of three linebackers — Curtis Lofton (Atlanta), David Hawthorne (Seattle) and Chris Chamberlain (St. Louis). The linebacker push may be needed with Jon Vilma’s status for the 2012 season unknown because of his role in the bounty scandal.
Significant losses: While the Saints were able to sign wide receiver Marques Colston to a contract extension, star left guard Carl Nicks left for a monster payday with Tampa Bay. The Saints didn’t have the salary-cap room to keep Nicks because they were unable to reach agreement on a long-term deal with quarterback Drew Brees, who will count $16.4 million under the $120 million salary cap under the exclusive franchise tag. The Saints did find a quality replacement in Ben Grubbs (Baltimore).
Top draft needs: The defense could use more young talent, especially at cornerback after Tracy Porter (Denver) and versatile backup/special-teams contributor Leigh Torrence (Washington) departed.
Analysis: The inability to get Brees inked to a new contract has added to the dark clouds that have formed over the Saints this offseason.
Impact moves: The Cowboys bolstered their porous secondary by signing Kansas City’s Brandon Carr to the largest contract (five years, $50.1 million) of the free-agent cornerback class. The Cowboys also made Kyle Orton (Kansas City) the NFL’s highest-paid backup quarterback with a five-year, $17.5 million deal. Dallas hopes Dan Connor (Carolina) can make the adjustment to inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense after spending his first four NFL seasons in a 4-3.
Significant losses: Dallas couldn’t afford to keep wide receiver Laurent Robinson, who left for Jacksonville after an 11-touchdown season in 2011. The Cowboys also are parting ways with a slew of 30-somethings that include cornerback Terence Newman, guard Kyle Kosier, and linebackers Keith Brooking and Bradie James.
Top draft needs: Outside linebacker, safety and interior offensive line should be atop the priority list.
Analysis: The Cowboys could have done even more in free agency but were hamstrung by a $10-million salary cap penalty that must be split over the next two seasons.
Impact moves: One year after making a splash with signings like cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, the underachieving Eagles concentrated on extensions for veterans like wide receiver DeSean Jackson, right tackle Todd Herremans and left guard Evan Mathis. Philadelphia augmented its linebacker corps by trading with Houston for DeMeco Ryans. The Eagles also acted quickly when left tackle Jason Peters (ruptured Achilles’ tendon) was injured during a March workout by signing Buffalo’s Demetress Bell to a five-year deal.
Significant losses: Two backup defensive linemen — Juqua Parker (Cleveland) and Trevor Laws (St. Louis) — are gone. The Eagles would love to draw an acceptable trade offer for cornerback Asante Samuel.
Top draft needs: The Eagles have no glaring weakness but defensive tackle pick-ups would be wise. Expect a quarterback to get selected within the first three rounds as the next Kevin Kolb/A.J. Feeley developmental project.
Analysis: Arguably no team was less prepared for post-lockout football than the Eagles. The approach this offseason is far better.
Impact moves: Even at the admitted risk of having overpaid, Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan landed two frontline wide receivers in Pierre Garcon (Indianapolis) and Josh Morgan (San Francisco). Middle linebacker London Fletcher, the heart and soul of the defense, was re-signed. The Redskins are trying to patch their secondary with veterans like Cedric Griffin, Brandon Meriweather, Tanard Jackson and Leigh Torrence. Veteran leadership was secured when Fletcher re-signed.
Significant losses: Free safety LaRon Landry left for the New York Jets. The team’s medical staff will shed no tears. Landry and the docs disagreed on how to treat an Achilles’ tendon condition.
Top draft needs: The Redskins addressed their biggest weakness in early March. They jumped to the No. 2 spot in the upcoming draft for the chance to secure Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Analysis: A busy offseason reflects the need for head coach Mike Shanahan and general manager Bruce Allen to lift Washington out of the NFC East basement. The impact of a $36-million salary-cap penalty over the next two seasons tempered what may have otherwise been a more ambitious spending spree.
New York Giants
Impact moves: The Giants hope tight end Martellus Bennett will dispel the underachiever label stamped on him while playing for Dallas. The Giants traded a 2012 fifth-round pick to Cincinnati for linebacker Keith Rivers, who never proved worthy of his top-10 draft status during four years with the Bengals.
Significant losses: No franchise can retain every member of a Super Bowl-winning squad. Wide receiver Mario Manningham (Tampa Bay), cornerback Aaron Ross (Jacksonville) and running back Brandon Jacobs (San Francisco) are the most noteworthy departures.
Top draft needs: A running back isn’t out of the question with an early pick considering the loss of Jacobs and struggles of Ahmad Bradshaw to stay healthy. The offensive line could use a mid-round developmental pick.
Analysis: By assemmbling Super Bowl-winning rosters in two of the past five seasons, Giants general manager Jerry Reese has proven he knows what he’s doing.
Impact moves: As part of the rebuilding process, general manager Rick Spielman wisely put the brakes on costly free-agent signings. The Vikings hope tight end John Carlson (Seattle) can regain his 51-catch form of 2009 after missing all of last season with an injury.
Significant losses: The interior offensive line is undergoing a makeover with left guard Steve Hutchinson (Tennessee) and right guard Anthony Herrera (cut) no longer with the Vikings.
Top draft needs: Barring a trade down, all signs point to Minnesota choosing Southern Cal left tackle Matt Kalil with the No. 3 overall pick. A wide receiver is a likely target in the second or third rounds.
Analysis: With Spielman promoted to general manager after a 3-13 season, the Vikings can truly begin the roster overhaul that should have started last season.
Impact moves: The Lions took care of their best player by signing wide receiver Calvin Johnson to a seven-year, $132 million contract extension. The next order of business is trying to sign defensive end Cliff Avril to a long-term deal after naming him their franchise player.
Significant losses: With Johnson tying up more than $20 million in cap space before his extension, the Lions had no shot at keeping cornerback Eric Wright (five-year, $38 million contract with Tampa Bay).
Top draft needs: Cornerback, tackle and running back would make sense.
Analysis: After a breakthrough 2011 campaign, the Lions were more interested in retaining players like left tackle Jeff Backus and middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch than searching for free-agent replacements.
Impact moves: The Packers are loathe to sign free agents but added center Jeff Saturday (Indianapolis) and defensive linemen Anthony Hargrove (Seattle) and Daniel Muir (Indianapolis). Green Bay avoided having to use the franchise tag on tight end Jermichael Finley by striking an agreement on a two-year contract.
Significant losses: Green Bay signed Saturday to replace the departed Scott Wells (St. Louis).
Top draft needs: Running back (Ryan Grant is an unrestricted free agent), defensive end (Cullen Jenkins was never effectively replaced in 2011), outside linebacker (Clay Matthews can use a pass-rushing complement) and cornerback (new Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie — a long-time member of Green Bay’s front office — signed backups Patrick Lee and Brandon Underwood). The Packers also may use an early pick on a quarterback to groom as a backup behind Aaron Rodgers now that Matt Flynn signed with Seattle.
Analysis: A team that finished with an NFL-best 15-1 record will return almost intact in 2012. That makes this a successful offseason.
Impact moves: New general manager Phil Emery began putting his stamp on the Bears by acquiring wide receiver Brandon Marshall for two third-round picks.
Backup quarterback — the Achilles’ heel for the 2011 Bears — was addressed with the signing of former Oakland starter Jason Campbell to serve as Jay Cutler’s understudy. Outside linebacker Lance Briggs signed what is essentially a three-year, $17.5 million contract extension.
Significant losses: None.
Top draft needs: The defensive line, especially an end with pass-rush skills to complement Julius Peppers. Wide receiver and cornerback are also high on the priority list.
Analysis: The contract impasse with running back Matt Forte has already turned ugly. The Bears protected themselves by signing Oakland’s Michael Bush to a four-year, $14 million contract. The Marshall acquisition will be boom-or-bust considering his history of off-field problems has prompted two teams (Denver and Miami) to trade one of the league’s most talented wideouts.
Impact moves: The Cardinals focused on their offensive line by inking San Francisco’s Adam Snyder to play right guard (Rex Hadnot was cut) and re-signing left tackle Levi Brown. Both specialists — kicker Jay Feely and punter Dave Zastudil — also are back. Arizona insured keeping defensive end Calais Campbell by naming him their franchise player.
Significant losses: Cornerback Richard Marshall, who had a solid 2011 season, left for Miami. The Cardinals signed a potential replacement in William Gay, who had Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton as his position coach in Pittsburgh. Gay will compete with Greg Toler, who is coming off a knee injury. Safety James Sanders (from Atlanta) will provide more veteran depth in the secondary.
Top draft needs: The offensive line, especially at right tackle. Even after selecting Patrick Peterson with the No. 5 overall pick in last year’s draft, the Cardinals could still use another young cornerback to develop.
Analysis: After whiffing on Peyton Manning, the Cardinals are preparing for a quarterback competition between John Skelton and Kevin Kolb. With more consistent play under center, Arizona will be a bona fide player contender despite an underwhelming offseason.
Impact moves: The 49ers made a splash before the signing period began by signing wide receiver Randy Moss. The 49ers kept quarterback Alex Smith, linebacker Ahmad Brooks, cornerback Carlos Rogers and wide receiver/returner Ted Ginn Jr. while also adding two members of the Super Bowl-winning New York Giants — running back Brandon Jacobs and wide receiver Mario Manningham.
Significant losses: Josh Morgan, who was the team’s best wide receiver in 2011 before suffering a season-ending leg injury, is now with Washington. The 49ers also must identify a lineman who can provide as much versatility as jack-of-all-trades Adam Snyder, who signed with Arizona.
Top draft needs: Nothing is pressing with all 11 starters returning on defense and offseason pickups on offense.
Analysis: The Moss acquisition is intriguing. After spending a year out of football, the 35-year-old Moss may have enough left in the tank to re-emerge as one of the NFL’s top deep threats. But there also is a chance his volatile nature could affect the strong team chemistry the 49ers have built under head coach Jim Harbaugh. Kudos to San Francisco’s front office for being able to dabble in the Peyton Manning sweepstakes while still being able to retain Smith with a three-year contract.
Impact moves: The Seahawks did a far better job than Miami in courting Green Bay quarterack Matt Flynn, who will now compete with Tarvaris Jackson for a starting spot. The re-signing of running back Marshawn Lynch and defensive end Red Bryant insured Seattle will keep two of their best players.
Significant losses: The Seahawks were unable to retain linebacker David Hawthorne, who is now with New Orleans after three straight 100-tackle seasons in Seattle. Barrett Ruud (Tennessee) was signed as a lower-priced replacement.
Top draft need: A wide receiver who can stretch the field. Sidney Rice’s injury problems continued since he was signed away from Minnesota in 2011 and Mike Williams slumped horribly last year after a 65-catch season in 2010. A prospect like Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd, if still available, would fit the bill with the No. 12 overall pick.
Analysis: The Seahawks must hope they’ve made a better talent evalutation with Flynn than Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst. Both were backups from other teams that failed to cement themselves as starters when given the chance in Seattle.
Impact moves: The Rams makeover that began when Jeff Fisher was named head coach continued with 10 free-agent acquisitions. Cornerback Cortland Finnegan (Tennessee), center Scott Wells (Green Bay) and defensive end Kendall Langford (Miami) lead the pack.
Significant losses: The Rams not only lost wide receiver Brandon Lloyd to New England, they also yielded a 2012 fifth-round pick to Denver for Lloyd short-term in a desperate midseason trade. Two long-time Rams — punter Donnie Jones (Houston) and cornerback Ron Bartell (Oakland) — are now elsewhere.
Top draft needs: The Rams have a slew of needs but will have an easier time addressing them with the extra picks provided in a trade with the Washington Redskins. For the draft’s No. 2 overall pick, St. Louis received Washington’s 2012 first- and second-round picks plus 2013 and 2014 first-rounders. Louisiana State cornerback Morris Claiborne, Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon and North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples seem the most likely targets for St. Louis with the No. 6 overall pick.
Analysis: Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ indefinite suspension because of his ringleader involvement in the New Orleans bounty scandal was a blow to Fisher. But Fisher and new general manager Les Snead did an adroit job helping restock one of the league’s most talent-starved rosters.