- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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The uncapped year has eliminated a lot of extremes this offseason.
Bad teams can't get that much better because the list of quality free agents was short. Good teams can't get much worse because having no salary cap allows playoff teams to keep their core group together with no cap restrictions.
Having a bad offseason doesn't automatically mean a team is headed for a big drop-off in wins, but it does make it vulnerable. Four of the five teams that struggled this offseason were playoff teams in 2009; some were limited by the rules governing the uncapped season, which made it tougher to sign unrestricted free agents.
Normally, the NFL has a 50 percent turnover rate as far as the playoffs are concerned. Some of the following teams could be vulnerable. I did consider putting the Denver Broncos on this list, but they are a hard team to figure. Last year, their offseason was filled with unusual moves that made their defense older and sent their starting quarterback, Jay Cutler, to Chicago. Still, they got off to a 6-0 start but ended up 8-8.
I gave them a pass this year.
Here are the teams that have had the five worst offseasons:
1. Buffalo Bills: No team had a greener offensive line last season than the Bills, who had two rookies at guard and young veteran Demetrius Bell at left tackle. (Jonathan Scott also played guard after rookie Eric Wood was placed on injured reserve.) All the Bills did to help the line was sign 33-year-old tackle Cornell Green.
The Bills averaged a horrible 16.1 points a game on offense and did nothing to upgrade a quarterback corps filled by Trent Edwards and Ryan Fitzpatrick. The receiving corps lost 82 catches by not re-signing Terrell Owens and Josh Reed. The only replacement was fourth-round choice Marcus Easley, leaving Lee Evans with little around him.
Owner Ralph Wilson was willing to pay a high salary for his new coach, and ended up with nice guy Chan Gailey, hardly a headliner. To make things even more challenging, the Bills switched to a 3-4 defense even though they didn't have a legitimate 3-4 outside linebacker or a nose tackle. They drafted nose tackle Torell Troup in the second round and hope that Broncos castoff Andra Davis and seldom-used Aaron Maybin can handle the tough outside linebacking jobs.
Making matters worse, the Bills' three division rivals -- the Patriots, Jets and Dolphins -- had three of the best five offseasons. With those odds against them, the Bills won't need luck to be in position to draft either Jake Locker or Andrew Luck next year.
2. Minnesota Vikings: Brett Favre has had more activity on his Mississippi farm than the Vikings have had in Minnesota this offseason. Their whole season comes down to waiting for Favre to either have his ankle surgery or report back to Minneapolis in August to keep them at the 11- or 12-win level.
Little has gone right for the Vikings this offseason. Ownership swung and missed again on getting the state to support the financing of a new stadium. The team that was one play away from the Super Bowl is now one season away from exhausting its lease in the Mall of America Dome. Cornerback Cedric Griffin may not be fully recovered from reconstructive knee surgery by the start of the regular season. Linebacker E.J. Henderson is coming off another surgery. Defensive tackles Pat Williams and Kevin Williams could serve four-game suspensions as a result of the StarCaps case.
Finally, the Vikings tried to get tricky and trade down a few spots into the second round of the draft in hopes of landing cornerback Patrick Robinson. Their plan backfired when Robinson ended up in New Orleans. The Vikings settled for the next best cornerback, Chris Cook.
3. Arizona Cardinals: Were it not for the aggressiveness and creativity of general manager Rod Graves, the Cardinals' playoff hopes for 2010 would be in grave danger. The Cardinals took serious hits to their roster this offseason, losing Kurt Warner, Antrel Rolle, Karlos Dansby and Anquan Boldin.
The switch from Warner to Matt Leinart could cost them two or three games in the standings. Graves didn't sit back quietly, though. He replaced Rolle by trading for Kerry Rhodes. He hopes Joey Porter and Paris Lenon can fill voids in the linebacking corps. The offensive line got a little better with the late addition of Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca.
Graves got lucky in the draft when Dan Williams, the best nose tackle prospect, fell to the Cardinals with the 26th pick. Some believe the 49ers might now have the edge in the NFC West, but the Cardinals still have a fighting chance.
4. New Orleans Saints: The Saints didn't suffer many major losses, but there is just a feel around the league that the usual drain of the offseason following a Super Bowl run will prevent them from repeating.
The Saints aren't going to be that much worse without Mike Bell, Scott Fujita and Charles Grant. But their offseason picked up a negative vibe when a former security director alleged that the team covered up improper distribution of pain medication by assistant coach Joe Vitt and head coach Sean Payton.
The only true additions to the roster are defensive ends Jimmy Wilkerson and Alex Brown and rookies Robinson and Charles Brown (offensive tackle). The Saints' ride to the Super Bowl was exciting. The ride this offseason has been bumpy.
5. Philadelphia Eagles: On paper, the Eagles' offseason could be considered one of the best, but the shadow of the Donovan McNabb trade puts good thoughts on hold. The Eagles' aggressiveness worked well in getting good younger players in trades, such as linebackers Ernie Sims and Alex Hall and defensive end Darryl Tapp. An overstuffed draft that ended up with a league-high 13 choices can't be criticized, particularly when the Eagles got a pass-rushing defensive end (Brandon Graham) and a quality young free safety (Nate Allen).
Bell is a nice addition to backup halfback LeSean McCoy, but the timing of the McNabb trade could bring down the whole team. Kevin Kolb takes over in a season in which the Eagles face 11 top-level quarterbacks, a league high by far. Can Kolb outduel Aaron Rodgers, McNabb (twice), Tony Romo (twice), Eli Manning (twice), Peyton Manning, Matt Schaub, Matt Ryan and Favre? Chances are Kolb will go 4-7 or 3-8 against those arms and limit the Eagles to a six- or seven-win season. That's what happened to Rodgers when the Packers traded Favre to the Jets.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
1dMel Kiper Jr.
2dEric D. Williams