The 2023 NFL Offseason has been an eventful one so far, to say the least. From star players such as Jalen Ramsey being traded to highly touted free agents landing in new homes, there hasn’t been a dull moment of it thus far. While the Aaron Rodgers saga has yet to conclude, it’s nearly a done deal that the longtime Packer will be a New York Jet in 2023. Other notable moves, such as the Darren Waller trade and Jessie Bates signing, may very well alter the landscape of the National Football League this coming fall. With all that being said, let’s take a deep dive into who I believe are the three off-season winners to this point. Just for clarity, the winners are in no particular order. The draft is still looming, but it’s an appropriate time to glimpse what a select few teams have done.
Winner #1: Detroit Lions
Make no mistake, the Detroit Lions have been one of the league’s laughingstocks for quite some time. It’s clear that poor coaching and roster construction will do that to a team. However, the tide is now turning in the Motor City, and that was on full display with the team’s 9-8 finish a year ago. Following a putrid 1-6 start, the young team rattled off eight wins in their final ten games, setting the stage for an offseason of hope and promise.
Third-year general manager Brad Holmes went right to work this offseason. Detroit’s defense was among the NFL’s worst in 2022, finishing 28th in points allowed. While most of this was expected, it was still an ugly sight for fans. To compensate for these issues, Holmes signed budding star safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson to a one-year deal worth up to $8 million. Johnson was a staple on the Eagles’ defense last year, and pairing him up with rising sophomore Kerby Joseph will do wonders for this defense. Joseph had a solid rookie campaign and should only improve with the help of Johnson. Additionally, the newly signed safety is familiar with defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, as he played for him during his Saints tenure. At the time, Glenn was the defensive backs coach in New Orleans, so Johnson should have plentiful knowledge of his scheme by now. The Lions have been searching for a game-changer in the secondary since Darius Slay’s departure in 2020, and Brad Holmes delivered with just that. Adding a talent like him should propel this secondary into one of the NFC’s better ones.
The front office, however, was far from done. Holmes inked former Niners cornerback Emmanuel Moseley on a one-year, $6 million deal. Moseley has been a solid defensive back for a few years, and adding him to the Lions’ secondary is a massive upgrade over what they had in 2022. In addition, they added former Steelers corner Cam Sutton on a three-year, $33 million contract. Sutton was quite solid last season, recording three interceptions and 43 tackles. While in a rather subpar Pittsburgh secondary, he proved to be one of the lone bright spots, able to play on both the inside and outside in coverage, according to an article by Sports Illustrated (Maakaron). These two key additions will most likely make up a Detroit cornerback unit that was awful a season ago. Lions fans, time to rejoice.
Even though the team lost running back Jamaal Willams to the New Orleans Saints, it’s clear his success from 2022 wasn’t entirely sustainable. As a result, Holmes signed former division foe and Bears running back David Montgomery. He is on a three-year, $18 million deal. While Montgomery isn’t one of the premier running backs in the league, he and D’Andre Swift are more than capable of being an above-average duo. Last season, the former Bears power back totaled 800 rushing yards on around 4 yards a carry. While this move doesn’t improve the offense to new heights, it further cements the unit as one of the best in football.
Lions fans, something special is brewing in the Motor City. Dan Campbell and Brad Holmes have done an extraordinary job this offseason so far, and that’s not to mention they have two first-round picks, one in the top 6. With the chance to add a marquee prospect such as Jalen Carter into the mix, opposing offensive coordinators will have struggles game-planning for Aaron Glenn’s defense. The offense is already stout, with surging players such as Amon Ra. St Brown and Jameson Willams set to take the next step into stardom come September. With a strong offensive line and a solid arsenal of weapons at his disposal, there’s no reason quarterback Jared Goff can’t replicate the success he had in 2022. Overall, Detroit massively strengthened the defensive side of the ball this offseason, and with an already elite offense, this team should be the favorite to take home the NFC North crown in 2023.
Winner #2: Houston Texans
There’s no other way around it, the Houston Texans were a trainwreck in 2022. Led by head coach Lovie Smith, the team finished a disastrous 4-13 in the weak AFC South’s basement. In addition, sophomore quarterback Davis Mills heavily regressed from a promising rookie season, and the young defense went through expected growing pains. As a result, the front office is pivoting toward selecting a quarterback early in this year’s draft. While the Texans are usually dormant or boneheaded in free agency, general manager Nick Caserio substantially improved this woeful squad from a year ago. Though he didn’t make many huge splashes, he signed several respectable players to reasonable deals. Setting up a rookie quarterback for success is crucial, and Caserio has been on the right path this offseason. Additionally, he’s helped transform the defense into a formidable unit after they allowed the 6th most points per game a season ago. Most importantly, however, Houston hired their presumably head coach of the future in DeMeco Ryans. I’ll explain why he is expected to change the culture down in the Lone Star State and why their offseason stood out.
Former Florida Gator and running back Dameon Pierce had a tremendous rookie campaign in 2022, eclipsing just over 1,100 scrimmage yards while missing a few games due to injury. His burst, power, and vision were all on full display throughout the year, and the Texans are happy to have an established workhorse back heading into 2023. However, they were in dire need of a complementary running back to Pierce. As a result, the team signed former Buffalo Bill Devin Singletary as a backup. Although Singletary won’t “wow” you as a runner in any way, he’s more than capable of being a formidable second option. In 2021, he had 1,098 scrimmage yards and played an instrumental role in the team’s ground attack. Since he has only signed a one-year deal worth just under four million dollars, it’s pretty clear this signing is temporary, and the former Florida Atlantic product won’t be in Houston for long. That said, Nick Caserio is playing his cards right, as Singletary should provide a nice boost to Houston’s backfield.
Although Dalton Schultz isn’t a splashy signing by any means, he should serve as a reliable safety blanket for the Texans’ rookie quarterback in 2023. With the Dallas Cowboys in 2021, he racked up just over 800 receiving yards and played an instrumental role in guiding Dallas to an NFC East Title. Even though he regressed a tad in 2022 playing under the franchise tag, he should have plenty of opportunity to establish himself in Houston’s offense next year. Schultz was offered to remain in Dallas for $13 million a year but opted for a fresh start and signed with the Texans on a one-year contract worth $9 million. He’s not only expected to be the clear-cut tight-end one on this roster but could very well be the top receiving option on the team. With all being said, Houston is more likely than not going to snag a wide receiver with their second first-round pick.
Nick Caserio was far from finished in free agency, adding former Titan and Ram Robert Woods into their offense. Despite playing for the team’s arch nemesis Tennessee Titans in 2022, he battled injuries and inconsistent quarterback play. However, when healthy, Woods can be a more than solid wide receiver two and should help a rookie quarterback grow tremendously. In 2020 with the Los Angeles Rams, he posted nearly 1,000 yards as the wide receiver two behind superstar Cooper Kupp. Additionally, he tallied over 1,100 yards in both 2018 and 2019, a testament to his capability when healthy. Furthermore, he’s a fantastic leader and should serve as a key locker-room presence this upcoming season, especially for a team infused with young talent. Ultimately, the addition of Robert Woods should do wonders for any rookie QB that takes a snap in a Texans uniform due to his experience and past successes.
While Houston’s offense was a nightmare in 2022, their defense showed a glimmer of hope. Both Derek Stingley Jr. and Jalen Pitre seem to be the core pieces of DeMeco Ryans’ unit in 2023, and they both had above-average rookie years. While previous Texans head coach Lovie Smith failed to cater to Stingley’s strengths as a player, Ryans is a defensive mastermind and will most definitely get the most out of him. However, this unit is still far from one that can compete with the upper-echelon of teams in the AFC. As a result, Nick Caserio signed Denzel Perryman and Sheldon Rankins, two quality players who will contribute positively to the front seven.
Most importantly, the Texans have a new face leading the charge in 2023: None other than former Niners defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans. After having both Lovie Smith and David Culley for a year apiece, Houston finally directed their coaching search to find a long-term answer. Ryans, a defensive mastermind, orchestrated the 49ers’ defense into the league’s best a year ago, allowing the fewest points in football. While some of the success can be attributed to the excess talent on their roster, it still says a ton about Ryans. The Texans’ new head coach is no stranger to Houston, as he played on the team as a linebacker from 2006-2011. From his infectious energy to wizardry on the defensive side of the football, the Texans will be in for a treat next season. Even though the front office made multiple key additions in free agency, none were more of a home run than this hiring.
No doubt, it’s going to take some time. But the Texans are finally on the right track, and with another solid offseason, this team could potentially be in the postseason by 2024. Whether it’s Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud at pick 2 in the draft, either will have a solid array of pass-catchers besides them, coupled with a decent offensive line. Furthermore, the defense should take a massive leap in 2023 under DeMeco Ryans, and I’d expect Derek Stingley to develop into one of the premier cornerbacks in the league. Texans fans, the future is bright, and you should be stoked about the next few years.
Winner #3: Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins 2022 season felt like the world’s scariest roller coaster ride. That’s how up and down it was. After a promising 3-0 start which featured a gritty home upset win over the rival Buffalo Bills, injuries began to pile up, and the Phins lost three in a row, most notably a 40-17 loss to the New York Jets. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa suffered a nearly career-ending injury, and Miami fans were skeptical of the team heading into the middle of the season. Fortunately, they silenced doubters by winning their next five, putting them in a prime position to snag a playoff spot. Unfortunately, disaster struck next, as the team lost their next five contests amid a total late-season free-fall. Tagovailoa’s three-interception meltdown against the Packers in Week 16 was only a precursor of what would come the following week, as his injury led to Skylar Thompson starting. Following Miami’s 23-21 loss to New England in Week 17, they faced a win and scenario against the Jets in Week 18. Luckily, they were victorious and clinched a spot in the Big Dance. Though they lost in the Wild Card, the season was still rather successful for Mike McDaniel. However, areas of improvement needed to be investigated heading into the offseason, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
While the Dolphins offense was a potent unit for most of last season, the defense sometimes left a lot to be desired. Much of the blame can be placed on former defensive coordinator Josh Boyer. Though Miami’s defense ranked 6th in points allowed during the 2020 season, they regressed in 2021 and even more in 2022, finishing 24th. As a result, the team parted ways with Boyer after three years and steered in a different direction for the better. In hopes of transforming the unit into the elite territory, Chris Grier hired Vic Fangio as the team’s new defensive coordinator. Fangio, 64, took 2022 off and formerly coached the Denver Broncos from 2019-2021. Even though his time in the Rocky Mountains didn’t go as planned, he’s still an excellent defensive mind and will take this unit to new heights. As the Bears’ defensive coordinator in 2018, they allowed a league-low 283 points, which is less than 18 a game. Additionally, players like Eddie Jackson and Khalil Mack had career years under his coaching. During his hiatus from football, he worked to develop a couple of new schemes, which Miami plans to implement once OTA’s begin. Moreover, according to an ESPN article, he intends to use Jevon Holland in various ways, as Fangio was of his before the 2021 NFL Draft major advocate (Louis-Jacques).
Putting aside coaching for a minute, the Dolphins front office made arguably the most significant trade this offseason up to this moment. In desperate need of a cornerback opposite Xavien Howard, the team sent tight end Hunter Long and a third-round pick to the Rams for all-pro Jalen Ramsey. The six-time pro-bowler joins a talented defense under Vic Fangio and a secondary filled with promising youth and a plethora of well-equipped veterans. It’s a fever dream for the Dolphins, as one of their main weaknesses on the defensive side of the ball was the secondary. Howard will most likely be slotted into that role, as Ramsey claims the CB1 spot. In a division featuring Garrett Wilson and Stefon Diggs and a conference with Ja’Marr Chase, this was a necessary move to help Miami become a true Super Bowl contender in 2023.
Adding former Titans linebacker David Long Jr. can’t go undermined either; he’ll be a crucial element to a linebacker room that struggled mightily at times last year. However, Ramsey and Fangio alone make this offseason one of the best in the league. Winning football is returning to South Beach, and Dolphins fans will have plenty of fun at Hard Rock Stadium this coming fall.