NFL offseason grades: Bears earn top team mark as Cowboys trail rest of class

School's out for summer – as are mandatory minicamps, voluntary activities and all other manner of springtime structure for NFL players, the entire league now enjoying a roughly six-week respite.

Since the start of 2024, teams have been in varying stages of rebuild, reload, revamp, retool and/or rejoice. More recently, the focus has largely been on rosters getting or remaining healthy while carefully laying the groundwork for training camps, which open in late July.

“I think we pushed ourselves the right way. Really liked a lot of the improvement that I thought was made,” Rams coach Sean McVay said last week.

“We got to hit the ground running in training camp. I do like where we're at. There certainly still is a lot to be accomplished, but really pleased.”

Some clubs should be more pleased than others based on the players and coaches added and lost in recent months, and the direction or misdirection programs have consequently taken. With all 32 squads now largely constructed, here’s an offseason grade for each:

Arizona Cardinals: B

Their resurrection hit another gear during the draft, first-round WR Marvin Harrison Jr. and DL Darius Robinson leading a haul that included seven players taken among the top 90 selections. The blocking needs to be better but moving Paris Johnson Jr., the club’s top pick in 2023 and a teammate of Harrison’s at Ohio State, to his more familiar left tackle post could help with free-agent arrival Jonah Williams settling onto the right side. However QB Kyler Murray should be more capable of taking care of himself as he moves further away from the ACL tear he suffered 18 months ago.

Atlanta Falcons: B-

For an organization that’s been held back by its quarterback play in recent years, hard to quibble with giving a proven passer like Kirk Cousins a four-year, $180 million deal. For an organization that’s been held back by its quarterback play in recent years, hard to quibble with drafting a promising prospect like Michael Penix Jr. eighth overall. But for an organization that’s never won a Super Bowl in its nearly six-decade existence, easy to quibble with such asset allocationin the same offseason. And given the draft and free agency otherwise netted fairly uninspiring acquisitions, fair to wonder how bountiful the dual-QB approach will wind up being … even in a division as winnable as the NFC South. (Also, it will be riveting to see whether hiring HC Raheem Morris instead of legendary Bill Belichick proves the correct tack.)

Baltimore Ravens: B-

Last season’s No. 1 seed in the AFC hardly stood pat. Gone are LB Patrick Queen, DE Jadeveon Clowney, S Geno Stone, WR Odell Beckham Jr., RBs Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins and 60% of the starting offensive line. The primary arrivals are RB Derrick Henry and rookie CB Nate Wiggins, RT Roger Rosengarten and OLB Adisa Isaac. Untested DC Zach Orr is charged with filling the shoes of departed Mike Macdonald, who left for the top job in Seattle. Several calculated risks for a team that must again survive the take-no-prisoners AFC North before taking fresh aim at Kansas City.

Buffalo Bills: C

Carrying more than $61 million in dead cap charges – only the Broncos have more in 2024, and we’ll get into that later – they were forced into a course correction. That meant goodbye to their long-serving safety tandem of Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde, who’s still a free agent, WR1 Stefon Diggs, C Mitch Morse and CB Tre’Davious White among quite a few others. And with so little financial flexibility, GM Brandon Beane relied on the draft for replacements like WR Keon Coleman and S Cole Bishop, both second-rounders. Maybe new-ish OC Joe Brady’s more run-dependent offense can help mask the semi-transition, but a fifth straight AFC East crown will be a tall order.

Carolina Panthers: C

They probably overpaid in free agency, namely for Gs Robert Hunt and Damien Lewis. They probably overdrafted first-round WR Xavier Legette and second-round RB Jonathon Brooks. They probably overthought the Brian Burns situation before trading their top pass rusher to the Giants at an apparent discount. Yet there’s also a throughline here in terms of trying to prop up QB Bryce Young after his bitterly disappointing rookie season – and the decision to hire quarterback whisperer Dave Canales as head coach is likely the franchise’s most important decision of 2024. And rookie GM Dan Morgan did make his share of nice moves, namely the extension for DE Derrick Brown and relatively low-cost imports of Clowney and WR Diontae Johnson. This year’s strategy can almost certainly be much more fairly assessed next year.

Chicago Bears: A+

Chicago Bears quarterback Caleb Williams (18) throws the ball during organized team activities at Halas Hall.
Chicago Bears quarterback Caleb Williams (18) throws the ball during organized team activities at Halas Hall.

Easy to suggest it doesn’t take much smarts to draft QB Caleb Williams No. 1 overall. But let’s not forget GM Ryan Poles maneuvered the franchise into that position to fix a problem that’s festered for decades – and because he made a shrewd deal in 2023, not because his roster was in tatters, which it most definitely is not. A team that finished last season on the upswing also got an elite wideout (Rome Odunze) in Round 1, an established pass catcher (Keenan Allen) on the trade market and added another high-end runner (D’Andre Swift) to an already capable backfield. The contention that no top draft pick has ever landed with a more favorable situation seems to have ample legitimacy – and Williams and Co. can prove it by fulfilling what should be realistic playoff hopes. He can have a little more time to show he can be this century-old franchise’s most prolific passer … ever.

Cincinnati Bengals: C

DE Trey Hendrickson and franchised WR Tee Higgins asked for trades. OC Brian Callahan bolted for Tennessee’s HC post. RB Joe Mixon, DT D.J. Reader and WR Tyler Boyd were among those jettisoned. At least it appears QB Joe Burrow’s throwing wrist is tracking towards full recovery, which is the most important thing that could happen for this franchise − though he'll also have to rehab from Callahan's exit. A lot of hurdles to overcome, even if newcomers like Stone, RB Zack Moss and first-round RT Amarius Mims pan out immediately.

Cleveland Browns: C

After suffering a rash of injuries in 2023, they were galvanized by graybeard QB Joe Flacco, who delivered a wild-card berth. He’s gone now, and two-time Coach of the Year Kevin Stefanski is charged anew with making this attack work with QB Deshaun Watson and RB Nick Chubb (and they’re disparate styles) as both come back from major surgeries. Expect the onus to fall on Watson, who has one new target (WR Jerry Jeudy) and one unhappy one (WR Amari Cooper). Stefanski is quite a cook, but it remains to be seen if he can succeed with these ingredients.

Dallas Cowboys: F

Initially, it seemed prudent to extend them the benefit of the doubt – despite owner Jerry Jones’ repeated “all in” vow for the 2024 season – after the reigning NFC East champs remained on the sideline during the first wave of free agency. But they never really got into the game, even as their depth was raided and the contracts of star QB Dak Prescott, WR CeeDee Lamb and LB Micah Parsons remained unaddressed. Even if Prescott or Lamb gets paid, the delay(s) probably mean little more than the team paying a higher premium without benefiting this year from any semblance of potential cap relief. The draft brought a first-round blocker (Oklahoma’s Tyler Guyton) who may be a bit of a project, but no running back to replace Tony Pollard. It will also be worth monitoring how a defense stripped of components will evolve from the opportunistic crew it was under former coordinator Dan Quinn and now under the management of grizzled Mike Zimmer. Hardly enviable circumstances for HC Mike McCarthy as he enters a lame-duck season in which he almost surely needs to make a significant playoff run to keep, say, Belichick at bay.

Denver Broncos: C

Opting to deem the Russell Wilson adventure a failure now – regardless of how one views his performance – is nevertheless catastrophic given his record $85 million dead money hit to the salary cap. And the mistake, which predated the arrival of HC Sean Payton, could be compounded after a club with limited draft resources was essentially boxed in to taking QB Bo Nix with the 12th overall draft pick. Even if Nix develops a Brees-esque mind meld with Payton, a team that also released Pro Bowl FS Justin Simmons and practically gave Jeudy away may have to consider moving vets like CB Patrick Surtain II and LT Garett Bolles to inject momentum into this reboot. Painful process overall, necessary as it is – and even if it doesn’t pay dividends before 2025. Or 2026.

Detroit Lions: B+

The core of an ascendant team is decidedly intact following the nine-figure extensions granted to QB Jared Goff, WR Amon-Ra St. Brown and OT Penei Sewell … and, perhaps, more notably the cheaper ones granted to GM Brad Holmes and HC Dan Campbell. Holmes wasted little time addressing a defense that collapsed in the 2023 NFC championship game and was suspect against the pass all season. CB Terrion Arnold, the 24th overall pick, is made to order. This franchise’s revival continues to mirror its city’s.

Green Bay Packers: B

An atypically pricey foray into free agency to obtain RB Josh Jacobs and S Xavier McKinney was followed by what appears to be another promising draft, which might bring a new blind side protector (first-rounder Jordan Morgan) for QB Jordan Love. A talent-laden defense gets another shot to reach its potential under new coordinator Jeff Hafley. An inevitable long-term extension for Love is the notable outstanding issue.

Houston Texans: B+

You have to admire the aggressive approach to maximizing the competitive window framed around QB C.J. Stroud’s rookie contract. That’s why you shell out for older players like Mixon and DE Danielle Hunter while surrendering a second-round pick for what could be nothing more than a one-year rental of Diggs. Smart moves to re-up TE Dalton Schultz and pay Nico Collins before the wideout pay scale escalates even further.

Indianapolis Colts: A-

Similar to Burrow, the focus this spring has been on the shoulder of sophomore QB Anthony Richardson – and his repaired wing appears to be on track despite some soreness in minicamp. He’ll need to be ready to cut it loose with WR Michael Pittman Jr. now here for the long term and teamed with apparent second-round steal Adonai Mitchell. GM Chris Ballard – busy as usual while extending his own guys – may have also reeled in the draft’s best defensive player in DE Laiatu Latu. Assuming Richardson and RB Jonathan Taylor can actually stay on the field together, these Colts could be running for their roses soon enough.

Jacksonville Jaguars: C

You can blanch at the $55 million per year terms, but – memo to Miami – smart move paying Trevor Lawrence now given it’s simply the cost of doing business in a quarterback-centric league. (Lawrence’s deal landed two months after the club secured OLB Josh Allen at $30 million annually.) Those moves helped compensate for the free agency escape of WR Calvin Ridley, which helped necessitate the drafting of LSU’s Brian Thomas in the first round. And the payouts to DT Arik Armstead (3 years, $51 million), WR Gabe Davis (3 years, $39 million) and OL Ezra Cleveland (3 years, $24 million) could prove exorbitant.

Kansas City Chiefs: A-

From a public relations perspective, WR Rashee Rice, K Harrison Butker and DT Isaiah Buggs certainly haven’t cast the two-time-defending champions in the best light … or facilitated their effort to achieve the first-ever Super Bowl three-peat. But while Butker may yet be subject to copious boos, and Rice may yet be subject to a regular-season suspension, the organization seems to generally be in good shape as it pertains to another successful Lombardi defense. Sure, losing CB L’Jarius Sneed is a stinging if survivable loss, and left tackle remains a lingering question. But QB Patrick Mahomes’ primary lieutenants, TE Travis Kelce and DT Chris Jones, were rewarded with new deals. And it appears an offense that’s been stagnant by its own standards lately is poised to explode again with the addition of blazing WRs Hollywood Brown (free agency) and Xavier Worthy (first round). Adapt or die? Despite the regrettable distractions, the Chiefs appear very much alive.

Las Vegas Raiders: B

Their pre-draft aspirations aside, the Silver and Black enter Year 2 post-Derek Carr … yet hardly seem any more stable under center. The additions of DT Christian Wilkins, first-round TE Brock Bowers and second-round C Jackson Powers-Johnson augment an increasingly formidable supporting cast – an unsettled offensive backfield now sans Jacobs and with QBs Gardner Minshew II and/or Aidan O’Connell temporarily holding the reins notwithstanding. But first-year GM Tom Telesco probably took the correct approach with a slow play rather than over-leverage the franchise for, say, Penix ... which might mean more time for new coach Antonio Pierce and him to anchor this organization.

Los Angeles Chargers: A

Given their hiring of HC Jim Harbaugh and his deserved reputation for programmatic turnarounds, everything else is pretty much gravy. But the arrival of OC Greg Roman, drafting of OT Joe Alt with the No. 5 pick and signings of Edwards and Dobbins on a shoestring budget telegraph where the philosophical shift is headed. QB Justin Herbert must acclimate to yet another playbook and an unproven receiving corps. But he seems excited about second-round WR Ladd McConkey … and should be really thrilled by Harbaugh’s propensity to get the best out of his slingers.

Los Angeles Rams: B-

They compensated about as well as possible following the retirement of Aaron Donald – almost inarguably the league’s most dominant non-quarterback over the past decade – an effort highlighted by the drafting of Florida State teammates Jared Verse and Braden Fiske to replenish the defensive line. GM Les Snead also redistributed nearly $100 million over the next three years so Gs Jonah Jackson and Kevin Dotson can safeguard Matthew Stafford ... though the quarterback would like some sugar added to what’s become his own below-market contract. An increasingly young defense must adapt without Donald after also losing Morris, who did an exceptional job coordinating it in 2023.

Miami Dolphins: C

They let a pair of $100+ million players (Wilkins and Hunt) go during free agency, ostensibly to keep WR Jaylen Waddle and QB Tua Tagovailoa in the fold over the long run … even though Tagovailoa has yet to get his bag. GM Chris Grier also had to heavily resource the pass rush (vets Calais Campbell and Shaq Barrett, rookies Chop Robinson and Mohamed Kamara) in an attempt to offset the loss of Wilkins and account for the ongoing rehabilitation of starting OLBs Bradley Chubb (ACL) and Jaelan Phillips (Achilles) for a defense that was also significantly shuffled elsewhere. And while OBJ and fourth-round RB Jaylen Wright boost the offense’s already ridiculous speed quotient, questions remain on the O-line. Quite a mixed bag, especially if Tua’s unresolved finances linger.

Minnesota Vikings: B

Following Cousins’ departure, they correctly embraced a long-term view – which included getting younger behind center (free agent Sam Darnold, first-rounder J.J. McCarthy) and at pass rusher (free agent Jonathan Greenard, first-rounder Dallas Turner). Bit of a coup that GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah got to select twice in Round 1 after rampant speculation he’d have to bundle his picks for Cousins’ successor. And the team is also secure at another key spot after locking WR Justin Jefferson into his record four-year extension. Much will surely hinge on McCarthy’s progress but hard to fault the process here.

New England Patriots: B

A team that just suffered double-digit losses for the first time in nearly a quarter-century is pretty much running it back … with, well, two exceptions of some note. Six-time Super Bowl winner Belichick (and much of his often suffocating style) is gone, replaced by former defensive captain Jerod Mayo. Mac Jones has also left the building, No. 3 overall pick Drake Maye now in line to step into Tom Brady’s unfillable shoes … though former TB12 backup Jacoby Brissett has returned to ease Maye’s adaptation from North Carolina to the NFL. Even if the Pats don’t escape last place, they should at least bring a refreshing novelty.

New Orleans Saints: C-

A team that’s gone 25-26 since QB Drew Brees’ retirement following the 2020 season doesn’t appear sufficiently improved. DE Chase Young was the only notable free-agent addition. Rookie OT Taliese Fuaga and CB Kool-Aid McKinstry should contribute immediately. Otherwise, New Orleans did its annual salary cap gymnastics … yet apparently still needs to stick the landing as it pertains to RB Alvin Kamara’s deal. Though new OC Klint Kubiak could be an X-factor, hardly feels like enough has occurred for the Saints to reclaim NFC South supremacy.

New York Giants: B-

Given the parameters of his contract, probably just as well to ride (for now) with enigmatic QB Daniel Jones and use the sixth pick of the draft on a potential superstar like WR Malik Nabers, who could quickly become the face of this franchise – particularly with RB Saquon Barkley gone to Philly. The acquisition and extension of Burns could be a heist … and might have to be given the potential this offense, which ranked 29th in 2023 and just lost TE Darren Waller to retirement, could continue to sputter.

New York Jets: B+

QB Aaron Rodgers’ mysterious (and probably overblown) absence from minicamp was literally a distraction for what’s been an otherwise mostly quiet and encouraging spring. GM Joe Douglas substantially upgraded Rodgers’ weapons and protection and seems to have engineered an offense capable of supplementing an already elite defense. The team is rolling the dice on high-ceiling but injury-prone veterans like LT Tyron Smith and WR Mike Williams. And a curious decision to trade for disgruntled OLB Haason Reddick, 29, rather than re-sign younger counterpart Bryce Huff – but Douglas’ reluctance to pay either is sensible insomuch as the team is a year away from mulling a series of expensive extensions for its vaunted 2022 draft class (CB Sauce Gardner, WR Garrett Wilson, OLB Jermaine Johnson II and RB Breece Hall).

Philadelphia Eagles: A-

Free agent upgrades? Check (Barkley, Huff, DB C.J. Gardner-Johnson). In-house extensions for deserving players? Check (WRs A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, G Landon Dickerson). Seemingly another stellar draft? Seemingly check (CB Quinyon Mitchell, DB Cooper DeJean). Needed adjustments to the coaching staff? Check and check (OC Kellen Moore, DC Vic Fangio). Sure, retired C Jason Kelce and DT Fletcher Cox will be missed, but EVP/GM Howie Roseman had young replacements at the ready … though it remains to be seen how the locker room will adjust to voids left by such respected leaders.

Pittsburgh Steelers: A

They resolved HC Mike Tomlin’s lame-duck status with a three-year contract extension. They upgraded the quarterback room for pennies on the dollar by throwing life preservers to Wilson and Justin Fields after their previous teams cast them aside. GM Omar Khan appeared to be the architect of a monster draft with first-round OT Troy Fautanu and second-round C Zach Frazier at its vanguard – excellent news for the smashmouth approach new OC Arthur Smith is expected to employ. ILBs Queen (free agency) and Payton Wilson (draft) should add needed impact at the second level. George Pickens must prove he can be a WR1, especially given the absence of a proven WR2 following the trade of Diontae Johnson, but this club could be poised to win its first playoff game in eight years.

San Francisco 49ers: B

They’re more or less intact – in what’s probably QB Brock Purdy’s final year of effectively playing for NFL minimum wage – in hopes that the 2024 edition can capture the elusive sixth Lombardi Trophy Kyle Shanahan’s recent teams have fallen just short of. First-rounder Ricky Pearsall should add an interesting offensive dimension … assuming fellow WR Brandon Aiyuk is also on hand despite his contractual impasse. But the defense could be the difference after the line got something of a shakeup and Nick Sorensen was promoted to coordinate a unit that should get LB Dre Greenlaw and FS Talanoa Hufanga back from injuries.

Seattle Seahawks: B-

If they’re not rebuilding, they’re at least resetting on the fly – and Macdonald comes highly recommended for his tactical and organizational abilities. Should be fascinating to see how it plays out with new philosophies on both sides of the ball, QB Geno Smith still apparently in a bridge-to-nowhere role, and GM John Schneider issuing shorter-term free agent deals while taking a $31 million dead cap hit at safety to purge Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs. First-round DT Byron Murphy II should be a steal (and beast) alongside extended line mate Leonard Williams, but this roster still seems to have several significant holes.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: B

An organization that hasn’t missed the postseason since 2019, prioritized continuity – often an underrated bellwether for NFL success – in March by getting new deals done for QB Baker Mayfield, WR Mike Evans and LB Lavonte David, while All-Pro S Antoine Winfield Jr. got his payday in May. A struggling secondary was tweaked. Mayfield is already raving about first-round C Graham Barton. However the key to making another deep playoff run could be how well the offense adapts to new coordinator Liam Coen, who’s split the past few seasons working for McVay and the University of Kentucky.

Tennessee Titans: C+

Callahan (and second-year QB Will Levis) will pretty much need to hit the ground running given GM Ran Carthon’s aggressive rebuild … which was apparently at odds with respected (and departed) HC Mike Vrabel. Also leaving were Henry and QB Ryan Tannehill, replaced by a veteran intake that includes Ridley, Sneed, Pollard and Boyd. ((And it could be argued Carthon overpaid and overcommitted for veterans like C Lloyd Cushenberry (4 years, $50 million), CB Chidobe Awuzie (3 years, $36 million) and LB Kenneth Murray (2 years, $15.5 million) among others.)) First-round OT JC Latham seems to address a glaring need but must prove he can handle Levis’ blind side, while second-round DT T’Vondre Sweat could be a reach personally and professionally. Levis’ progress will likely be the canary in the coal mine as to whether this team is relevant anew … or immediately over its skis while Callahan is trying to learn the ropes.

Washington Commanders: A

A long aimless franchise finally seems liberated with a course charted under new GM Adam Peters and Quinn, a second-time head coach. QB Jayden Daniels, the second pick of the draft, could finally bring star power and stability to his position a decade after the Robert Griffin III era derailed prematurely. Daniels also headlines a draft class long on leadership – Peters picked seven players who were team captains in college – and, presumably, talent. And while free agency didn’t necessarily bring any long-term cornerstones, the Commanders added veterans who can help reset the culture and/or are familiar with Quinn, who welcomes four former Cowboys and respected elders like LB Bobby Wagner and RB Austin Ekeler. Yet Peters also didn’t mortgage future cap flexibility, a sin this organization has so often been guilty of. The Commanders may not yet be a playoff team, but they are one exuding something local fans haven’t had in years – hope.


Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on X, formerly Twitter, @ByNateDavis.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL offseason grades: Bears step forward, Cowboys fade back