A quarter billion in potential contract dollars hasn't bought the Oakland Raiders respect.
Despite an astronomical potential payout of more than $250 million in offseason deals, the Raiders are still bogged down in the bottom third of the league rankings. This despite adding a quartet of key players via trade and free agency – DeAngelo Hall (at a potential $70 million), Javon Walker ($55 million), Gibril Wilson ($39 million) and Kwame Harris ($14 million) – and retaining their own talent in Tommy Kelly ($50.5 million), Justin Fargas ($12 million) and Nnamdi Asomugha ($9.8 million via exclusive franchise tag).
In reality, those seven players won't collect anything near that quarter billion in possible earnings (a sum that rivals the Gross Domestic Product of Micronesia). The lack of guaranteed dollars at the back end of NFL contracts will translate into a number maybe half that size. But at the very least, the mythical money bought the Raiders headlines.
But hype doesn't translate when it comes to the offseason power rankings. With that in mind, this is where the league's 32 teams stand going into the NFL draft.
2. New England Patriots (16-0) – Fernando Bryant should be a nice little reclamation project. But losing talent in that secondary year after year is going to hurt this defense (haven't we heard that before?).
3. Dallas Cowboys (13-3) – Zach Thomas still has something left in the tank and will help this defense in the middle of the field. Tony Romo needs to get this team over the hump, because Terrell Owens isn't getting any younger (he turns 35 this season).
4. San Diego Chargers (11-5) – Other than Michael Turner, all of the free agent losses will be replaced with better talent internally. And quietly, linebacker Derek Smith could turn out to be one of the steals of the offseason.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars (11-5) – It remains to be seen whether Jerry Porter can be the No. 1 wideout that the Jaguars seem to think he is. And Jacksonville better hope that parting ways with Marcus Stroud and Bobby McCray doesn't come back to haunt the franchise.
6. Cleveland Browns (10-6) – The additions of Shaun Rogers, Corey Williams, Donte Stallworth and Rex Hadnot should make the Browns far better. Anything less than competing at the top of the AFC is a disappointment.
7. New York Giants (10-6) – Giants fans seem to think last season's Super Bowl win translates into automatic success in 2008. But the division is still brutal, and some players tend to slack off the year after getting a ring. Don't be surprised if turmoil returns again with a slow start.
9. Seattle Seahawks (10-6) – Julius Jones' star will rise again with Seattle. But make no mistake, time is running short for building blocks like Matt Hasselbeck and Walter Jones. If Seattle can't get it done this year, a period of transition looms.
10. Green Bay Packers (13-3) – The pressure is on Aaron Rodgers to show he can keep the offense at an elite level, and Justin Harrell has some shoes to fill, too. And how long before Al Harris and Charles Woodson hit the cornerback wall that arrives in the early to mid 30s?
11. Tennessee Titans (10-6) – Other than adding Algae Crumpler, this offense doesn't look any better than last season. And it was worrisome to see so many serviceable players depart in the offseason (Antwan Odom, Travis LaBoy, Chris Brown, Jacob Bell and Randy Starks).
12. New Orleans Saints (7-9) – It's time for Reggie Bush to show he's more than an over-hyped third-down back. And if that defense can get the most out of some good offseason additions (Jonathan Vilma, Dan Morgan, Bobby McCray and Randall Gay), that unit could be vastly improved.
13. Houston Texans (8-8) – There wasn't much noise in the offseason, so improvement will have to come from a lot of the talented younger players who made strides down the stretch. But free agent pickup Chris Brown could be a very, very good player in this zone blocking scheme.
14. Washington Redskins (9-7) – This was undoubtedly the most underwhelming offseason ever under Dan Snyder. But maybe that's a good thing. Where this team goes hinges on what Jim Zorn can do with Jason Campbell, plain and simple.
15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7) – A lot of money was spent in the offseason on a lot of aging veterans who appear to be on the downside of their careers. But does anyone really expect guys like Warrick Dunn, Marques Douglas and Jeff Faine to turn this into an NFC powerhouse?
16. Philadelphia Eagles (8-8) – The Asante Samuel pickup was a splash, but it's going to take the development of the young guys in the front seven (Brodrick Bunkley, Chris Gocong, Omar Gaither, etc.) to move this franchise back into the NFC elite.
17. Minnesota Vikings (8-8) – Madieu Williams and Bernard Berrian were quality pickups, even if they were overpriced. But Bryant McKinnie is in trouble again, and there still isn't an answer at quarterback, so this still looks like a middling team.
18. Arizona Cardinals (8-8) – Larry Fitzgerald's jacked up contract translated into a pretty mundane offseason. The losses of Bryant Johnson and Calvin Pace outweigh the addition of Travis LaBoy. And Matt Leinart is going to feel a lot of pressure to perform this season.
19. Buffalo Bills (7-9) – The Bills could be a playoff team with the return of Paul Posluszny and the additions of Marcus Stroud and Kawika Mitchell. But you have to be able to score to advance in the AFC, and Trent Edwards has a lot of development ahead.
20. Denver Broncos (7-9) – The additions of Boss Bailey and Marlon McCree didn't blow anyone away. What Mike Shanahan needs is some significant pass rushing contributions from 2007 draft picks Jarvis Moss and Tim Crowder.
21. St. Louis Rams (3-13) – Just getting through training camp healthy would be big step forward for this team. Josh Brown gives some consistency in the kicking game, and the defense has some nice young talent on the line. But a healthy offense is pivotal.
22. New York Jets (4-12) – Alan Faneca, Jesse Chatman and Calvin Pace are all respectable additions. The jury is still out on Damien Woody, Kris Jenkins and Bubba Franks. But if Kellen Clemens can't turn the corner, the Jets are in for another long season.
23. Chicago Bears (8-8) – Rex Grossman and Cedric Benson are still huge weaknesses on offense, not to mention the line. And Marty Booker and Brandon Lloyd aren't going to scare any of the contenders in the NFC. At least the defense retained Lance Briggs and should be healthy in 2008.
24. Oakland Raiders (4-12) – DeAngelo Hall and Nnamdi Asomugha give the Raiders a nice veteran tandem at cornerback, and Gibril Wilson should be a serviceable safety. But all eyes are on JaMarcus Russell, who should like Drew Carter as a deep threat.
25. Cincinnati Bengals (7-9) – Antwan Odom was a nice little addition, but there wasn't much else that moved the needle in free agency. The failure to land Shaun Rogers or Dewayne Robertson hurt. Growing headache Chad Johnson should be dangled for more defensive line help.
26. Carolina Panthers (7-9) – D.J. Hackett and Landon Johnson should be two very solid veteran additions. But the offseason departures (Kris Jenkins, Dan Morgan, Drew Carter, Justin Hartwig, DeShaun Foster and Mike Wahle) make this feel like a team in transition.
27. Detroit Lions (7-9) – A handful of aging players on the decline (Chuck Darby, Brian Kelly and Dwight Smith) aren't going to transform a bad defense. The Lions should still be able to score some points, but there are no signs of pulling out of mediocrity.
28. San Francisco 49ers (5-11) – If Alex Smith is healthy (and that's a titanic “if”), Mike Martz should be able to get some mileage out of this offense. Particularly with the additions of Bryant Johnson and Isaac Bruce. But when is Mike Nolan's defense going to turn a corner?
29. Baltimore Ravens (5-11) – Steve McNair looked like he was done last season, and drafting a quarterback in the first round isn't going to help this franchise in the short term. Elements of the defense are getting old. It looks like time for a multiyear rebuild.
30. Kansas City Chiefs (4-12) – With a free agency period that netted some serviceable veterans (Devard Darling and Demorrio Williams), the draft is going to be important. Could Herm Edwards be angling for Matt Ryan to buy himself some more time to rebuild?
31. Miami Dolphins (1-15) – I'd rather have Bill Parcells coaching my team than sitting in the front office and tinkering with the roster. Too bad he has the No. 1 pick in a flat draft. Don't count out Vernon Gholston in that spot.
32. Atlanta Falcons (4-12) – Michael Turner and Erik Coleman were both nice pickups, but this franchise is in total rebuilding mode. You get the feeling the whole Michael Vick debacle is going to hang over this franchise far, far beyond this decade.