It is easy to get tunnel vision on the team you root for. Every free agent should land in Dallas, every draft prospect should want to play here, and the other 31 teams can be easily forgotten.
But while it hasn't been a perfect offseason for the Dallas Cowboys, it hasn't been a great offseason for any of the NFC division winners. Last year, the Buccaneers, Rams, Cowboys, and Packers all finished first in their respective divisions. However, none of these teams seem to be building off the success of 2021.
The four 2021 NFC division winners have been strangely quiet this offseason
Sure, the Packers extended Aaron Rodgers, the Rams extended Matthew Stafford, and Tom Brady came out of retirement. While those are all technically transactions from this offseason, it doesn’t constitute a signing or departure.
Before the season ended, Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford, Aaron Rodgers, and even Demarcus Lawrence were supposed to be with the team heading into 2022. At least, that is what their contracts stated and most people assumed. So, for this article, we are not going to pat teams on the back for keeping a player that was already on the team. The focus is only on offseason additions, retentions, and departures.
When Bobby Wagner signed with the Rams everyone pointed to Los Angeles and said, “why can’t the Cowboys do what they're doing?” And if you want to say that about the Rams’ 2021 offseason, that is reasonable. But outside of Wagner, it has been a debilitating offseason for the defending Super Bowl Champions.
The Rams have added or retained a few players: Bobby Wagner, Allen Robinson, Brian Allen, and Joe Noteboom. End of list.
But then look at the players they have lost or might lose: Von Miller, Robert Woods, Andrew Whitworth, Johnny Hekker, Donte Dean, Sony Michel, Odell Beckham Jr., Austin Corbett, and Ogbo Okoronkwo.
So, outside of signing the near-32-year-old linebacker to a 5-year, $50 million deal, they have only made two other moves. And obviously, everyone is pointing to the Allen Robinson deal, but they gave up Robert Woods so they could sign a receiver that put up 38 receptions for 410 yards in 12 games.
Granted, the two players they externally signed are solid free agents. But it is not enough to replace the extensive list of Pro-Bowl-level talent that is leaving Los Angeles. And this situation is nearly identical to the Packers.
The Packers were able to re-sign De’Vondre Campbell who had a superb breakout 2021 campaign. But outside of Campbell, all of the Packers' assets were spent trying to keep Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. The quarterback who was already under contract to play for the Packers next season.
This isn’t Green Bay’s fault given how Rodgers handled the situation, but the team essentially spent all of their resources this offseason on Aaron Rodgers and De’Vondre Campbell. Outside of that, they were able to retain Rasul Douglas as well, and add Jarran Reed.
But once again, this is not enough to replace the likes of Davante Adams (trade) and Za’Darius Smith. While the list of their free agency departures is not particularly star-studded, they did not add any talent. And their already depleted wide receiving corps lost three of their top five receivers by yards in 2021.
The NFC division winner that has been the most active is the Buccaneers, who were in a similar situation to the Dallas Cowboys. They had a laundry list of players that were potentially leaving and thus needed to be resigned, with only $2.7 million in cap space at the beginning of the offseason.
But they were able to retain key names like Ryan Jensen, Chris Godwin, Carlton Davis, and Leonard Fournette. And their list of outside additions is impressive with the trade for Shaq Mason, as well as signing Logan Ryan and Russell Gage.
However, similar to the Cowboys, when you have little cap space and want to re-sign a sizable portion of the pending free agents, difficult decisions need to be made. That is why Ronald Jones, OJ Howard, Alex Cappa, Ali Marpet (retired), Jordan Whitehead, and presumably Jason Pierre-Paul, Rob Gronkowki, Ndamukong Suh, and Richard Sherman will not be with the team in 2022.
It is worth noting that, when you have a good season, it is presumably because you have good players that are making decent money or players on cheaper deals that now demand a high pay-day. Thus, division winners should have less money to spend than teams like the Jaguars who don’t possess the same amount of talent. It is not unreasonable that these teams haven't been big spenders.
But if you are keeping track, here are the list of players with a overall grade higher than 70 according to PFF that were retained or added by the 2021 division winners (other than the Cowboys):
- Shaq Mason
- De’Vondre Campbell
- Chris Godwin
- Leonard Fournette
- Rasul Douglas
- Brian Allen
- Russell Gage
- Bobby Wagner
- Carlton Davis
And then here is the list of players in the same criteria that are leaving these teams:
- Von Miller
- Ogbo Okoronkwo
- Davante Adams
- Andrew Whitworth
- Ali Marpet
- Rob Gronkowski
- Odell Beckham Jr.
- Alex Cappa
- Kevin King
- Jordan Whitehead
- Austin Corbett
- Robert Woods
- Dennis Kelly
The only team that one could make an argument actually improved would be the Buccaneers. But given the list of players that are leaving, it seems like even that argument would be weak at best. And this is confirmed when looking at wins above replacement:
Updated @PFF offseason Improvement Index for the Dolphins signing Terron Armstead and trading for Tyreek Hill. Dolphins now in the top-4https://t.co/bKefi6Q84y pic.twitter.com/Q5ik9UVTjU— Kevin Cole (@KevinColePFF) March 23, 2022
By this metric, the Buccaneers have maintained the status quo and every other division winner from last season has regressed. In fact, every team out of the NFC that made the playoffs last season has failed to improve by a noticeable amount.
And this shouldn't surprise anyone who is tracking the money. Because of the eleven teams that have spent the least money on outside free agents (players not with the team last season), five of them are NFC teams that made the playoffs in 2021.
This is not to say that Dallas has been more productive than the other NFC division winners this offseason, because based on WAR, only the Packers have regressed more. But it is not as if the rest of the division has been stacking up on talent while Dallas has been twiddling their thumbs.
Especially among the division winners from last year, we should expect to see more of the same. Bobby Wagner and Shaq Mason will be the shiny new toys in the NFC, but keep in mind, they are just replacing players that are similar if not better than them. Despite the Cowboys inactivity, there is not a reason to believe they are now at a significant disadvantage.
Which might not be a vote of confidence, but it should ease the nerves as the draft approaches.