In years past, the Washington Redskins would usually get the nod as the team who "won" the offseason, making free agent moves, trades, and entertaining draft selections that - despite their silliness in terms of logic and execution - would provide excitement-generating fodder for the ever-evolving NFL news cycle.
This year, I think it's safe to say that the Indianapolis Colts are the winners of the 2013 offseason.
No team signed more free agents in 2013 than Indianapolis has. 13 veterans were brought into the franchise via free agency or via trade. And that's not counting corner Darius Butler, who played for the Colts last year but was re-signed after the new league year began.
Add in rookie free agents like Josh McNary, Sheldon Price, Dan Moore, and others, and the 2013 Colts are almost as unrecognizable from the 2012 version as the 2012 team was from the 2011 one.
As many as nine new starters could emerge from the free agent additions, and if rookies Hugh Thornton or Khaled Holmes make an impact along the Colts offensive line during training camp and preseason, that number could grow to 11.
11 new starters! That's nearly half the starting lineups for both offense and defense!
However, just like last year, every decision that involved bringing in a new player was done with the mindset of getting the team better. Overall, I think it's safe to say that the goal was accomplished.
From a talent standpoint, the 2013 Indianapolis Colts are much better than the 2012 version. In fact, you can make an argument that they are one of the more talented teams in the NFL. On paper, they rival the Broncos, Ravens, Patriots, and Texans.
Note: If papers champions meant anything, the Redskins would have 20 Super Bowl trophies by now.
Still, that's not meant to demean and diminish the great work second-year general manager Ryan Grigson and his front office have done this offseason.
Real quick, take a look at this article I wrote back in January. I outlined five critical need positions heading into the offseason: Running back, offensive line, defensive end, outside linebacker, and safety. Using just free agency alone, Grigson upgraded each position grouping.
Running back: Ahmad Bradshaw
Offensive line: Gosder Cherilus, Donald Thomas
Defensive end: Ricky Jean Francois
Outside linebacker: Erik Walden
Safety: LaRon Landry
Then, during the 2013 NFL Draft, Grigson reinforced these positions:
Running back: Kerwynn Williams (7th round)
Offensive line: Hugh Thornton (3rd round), Khaled Holmes (4th round)
Defensive end: Montori Hughes (5th round)
Outside linebacker: Bjoern Werner (1st round)
Safety: John Boyett (6th round)
If that's not attacking your needs, I don't know what is!
Grigson also addressed second tier need positions - such as corner, back-up quarterback, nose tackle, and wide receiver - by inking free agents Greg Toler, Matt Hasselbeck, Aubrayo Franklin, and Darrius Heyward-Bey.
Finally, he cut away the dead weight, shipping 2010 draft bust Jerry Hughes off to Buffalo in exchange for inside linebacker Kelvin Sheppard. Per reports from minicamp, Sheppard has already begun to make an impact, working with the starting unit along with 2012 gem, Jerrell Freeman.
In fact, when you step back and look at who was brought in to play this year, and who they are replacing from last year, it really is amazing just how much improved this 2013 roster is.
Last year: Drew Stanton
This year: Matt Hasselbeck
Analysis: Stanton is a quality veteran, but Hasselbeck is a former starter with significant, distinguished experience running an NFL team. Significant upgrade.
Last year: Donald Brown
This year: Ahmad Bradshaw
Analysis: Brown is one of the worst backs in football at pass blocking. Bradshaw is one of the best. Significant upgrade.
Last year: Donnie Avery
This year: Darrius Heyward-Bey
Analysis: Avery rejuvenated his career in Indianapolis last year, but Heyward-Bey is a bigger, faster, stronger player who can stretch the field more. Moderate upgrade.
Last year: Seth Olsen and Winston Justice
This year: Donald Thomas and Gosder Cherilus
Analysis: Olsen was a truly terrible guard, and while Justice was quite good playing right tackle last season, he was injury prone (and he's been his whole career). Thomas has been a solid player his whole career, and Cherilus has started 71 of a possible 75 games over 5 seasons. SUPREME upgrade.
Last year: Antonio Johnson
This year: Aubrayo Franklin
Analysis: Mookie Johnson played like a warrior in 2012, but he isn't a true nose tackle in a 3-4. Franklin is a very good nose tackle who is familiar with the defensive scheme Chuck Pagano and Greg Manusky want to run. Significant upgrade.
Last year: Fili Moala
This year: Ricky Jean Francois
Analysis: Moala is another bust holdover from the Polian Regime. Though he played better in 2012, he isn't a quality starter. Jean Francois has experience working in Greg Manusky's system. Plus, Moala has started 39 games and only earned 40 tackles and 2 sacks. Jean Francois has started just 5 games, but has 33 tackles and 3 sacks. Significant upgrade.
Last year: Dwight Freeney
This year: Bjoern Werner
Analysis: I think Werner will eventually earn the starting OLB spot over free agent acquisition Erik Walden. Freeney is one of the greatest pass rushers in NFL history. A potential Hall of Famer. However, he didn't fit Manusky's system. Werner does. Slight downgrade.
Last year: Darius Butler
This year: Greg Toler
Analysis: Butler proved he can play in this league, but he's best suited as a slot corner. Toler is a big, long-armed, physical corner who, when healthy, can be a playmaker. Moderate upgrade.
Last year: Tom Zbikowski
This year: LaRon Landy
Analysis: Tommy Z is a tough guy, but he isn't a particularly good safety. Landry's game tape last year is striking. The man was a wrecking ball in the secondary for the Jets, and, during minicamp this year for the Colts, he made a few "wow" plays. SUPREME upgrade.
Again, outside of the loss of Freeney, if you look up and down this roster, you seen nothing but position upgrade after position upgrade.
Based on this, let me make it plain and clear that I truly believe that the Colts front office did a fantastic job this offseason. In fact, please use this article as a reference should the Colts struggle in 2013. Outside of catastrophic injury, I don't see how they will struggle. Sure, things like team chemistry will factor into the team's success in 2013. One doesn't just plop 11 new players into a team mixture and expect them to know how to play together.
However, that's why the coaches are paid the money they are paid. Let them figure that out.
The bottom line is the team is better. Significantly better, and with a better team come higher expectations. All this spending wasn't done just so that Colts can maybe make the post-season. The playoffs are expected. Winning in the playoffs is now expected.
Getting a ring is now the goal, and with the talent they now have, Indianapolis can achieve that in 2013.