In reading this, I was struck by the inactivity of Green Bay. There was much hype and talk, but in the end, a nickel back and an injured DT from Tennessee are all there's to show. The team I'm most impressed with is the 49'ers. Keeping in mind McCarthy left for Green Bay, their offense got better. They didn't sit on their hands for the sake of "not overpaying", but rather went out and got the players they feel will make them better. Ditto New England. This is a team that humiliated Green Bay at home last season, not just beat, but humiliated. Did they sit on their hands? So.... ----------- Five who thrived: Picking the offseason winners May 8, 2007 By Clark Judge CBS SportsLine.com Senior Writer Free-agency is down to a trickle. The draft is long gone. Mini-camps are underway. And the police blotter is void of Cincinnati Bengals. Meaning? Meaning it's a new year, and the perfect time to assess who took the biggest steps while football was away. So let's get going. Here are five of my favorites: New England Patriots I'll make this one simple: No one had a better offseason than the Patriots. There. That was easy. The club that last year was one minute from another Super Bowl added linebacker Adalius Thomas, wide receivers Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Kelley Washington and Donte' Stallworth, tight end Kyle Brady and safety Brandon Meriweather. Put them together and, yeah, I'd say the Patriots are better now than they were four months ago. Sure, there are guys with issues on that list, but there's a lot of talent, too, and coach Bill Belichick is confident the talent will outweigh the baggage that accompanies it. And maybe it will. All I know is that the Patriots are loaded, addressing so many needs in the offseason they are at or near the top of everyone's Super Bowl XLII guest list. Here's why: Thomas was one of the league's top two unrestricted free agents ... but only if he went to the right defense. Well, he did. Then there was that hole at wide receiver. The Pats plugged it with Moss, Stallworth, Welker and Washington, and that's a huge fix -- if, that is, Moss and Stallworth stay healthy and Moss can stay interested. He didn't in Oakland, but that happens when you play for the '62 Mets. Welker might be the best pickup of all. He's a sure-handed receiver who led Miami with 67 catches. Plus, he's a terrific return specialist who can step in on kickoffs for Laurence Maroney now that he's the No. 1 back. Kyle Brady makes sense because he's one of the best blocking tight ends in the business. Plus, I just like the idea of another Brady in the huddle. Lastly, there's Meriweather, and I don't want to debate the guy's ability. He's a first-round talent, which is why the Patriots took him with the 24th choice. But he's such a character risk several clubs removed his name from their boards. "There are only a handful of coaches who could get away with a pick like that," one scout said, "and Bill Belichick is one of them." Meriweather is Rodney Harrison waiting to happen ... if he can stay out of trouble. Bottom line: This club has more talent than it did a year ago, and it still has Tom Brady. That's how you return to the Super Bowl. San Francisco 49ers Once the Ebenezer Scrooges of the NFL, the Niners suddenly and inexplicably became the George Steinbrenners of pro football, spending big bucks on free-agent veterans and high draft picks in a frantic effort to make themselves better. Well, this just in: The plan worked. They are better. They added free-agent cornerback Nate Clements, one of the best at his position. They traded for wide receiver Darrell Jackson, the Seahawks' top receiver, and drafted Washington State burner Jason Hill. They picked up underrated linebacker and special-teams ace Tully Banta-Cain from New England and strong safety Michael Lewis from Philadelphia. They drafted linebacker Patrick Willis and tackle Joe Staley and ... voila, just like that the 49ers look like a team that -- dare I say it? -- has a chance in the NFC West. I said a chance. Remember, the 49ers haven't had a winning season since 2002, producing an underwhelming record of 20-44 the last four years. But they knocked off division champ Seattle twice last season, and that has to count for something. Of course, that was when Norv Turner ran the offense, and if there's one offseason loss that'll be tough to overcome it's the departure of Alex Smith's mentor. But look what the 49ers gained in return: Receivers where there were none; the best linebacker in the draft; and one of the top two unrestricted free agents. Now, add a healthy Vernon Davis and a more experienced Manny Lawson and, yeah, the 49ers are making plans to move. Only this time it's not to Santa Clara. Denver Broncos So you're not all that thrilled with Travis Henry. OK, I understand. But look what's going on here: All he did was run for 1,200 yards with Tennessee, and he did it despite missing two games. Now he joins a team that cranks out 1,000-yard backs like McDonald's spits out cheeseburgers. Quick, tell me the last time someone in a Broncos uniform didn't rush for 1,000 yards. I'll spare you the trouble. It was 2001, and it was only because Terrell Davis played on one leg. It marked the only time in coach Mike Shanahan's 11 years with Denver that he hasn't had a 1,000-yard back. Which means I don't worry about Travis Henry. He fills a hole at the position. The acquisition of cornerback Dre' Bly was another wise decision. The guy's a playmaker and the perfect complement to All-Pro Champ Bailey. Opponents who try to avoid Bailey now must deal with Bly, and that could be trouble –- especially with the Broncos adding rookies Jarvis Moss and Tim Crowder to their pass rush. I love the addition of Moss, mostly because I love speed off the edge and partly because I watched last year's Florida-South Carolina game. OK, so something has to be done at wide receiver. But maybe something has. Tight end Daniel Graham has outstanding hands and can make the tough catch in traffic. Plus, he once produced seven TDs for New England, meaning he could serve as Denver's version of Tony Gonzalez. Newcomer Brandon Stokley reminds some people of Ed McCaffrey, but I'd like to see him stay off the injury report before making that comparison. The guy was a solid slot receiver for Indianapolis when he was healthy. But that's the problem -- he often wasn't. I don't know what happens to Stokley, but I do know what happens to the punting: It gets better. A year ago Paul Ernster was buried near the bottom of the AFC with a 41.6-yard average and a 36.6-yard net -- and that's with eight games in thin air. So the Broncos added Todd Sauerbrun, who averaged 43.8 yards a kick and 38 yards net in his 2005 stay with Denver. Forget the math. The guy's an improvement, which means Denver just gained field position. Of all the moves the Broncos made, the one I like most is the addition of defensive coordinator Jim Bates. His units are aggressive and solid, neither of which Denver was down the stretch last season. Denver scored 47 points in two games against San Diego, yet it lost both. That's why the Broncos hired Bates. It's why they hired Bly, Moss and Crowder, too. Carolina Panthers A year ago the Panthers were a trendy Super Bowl pick and they not only didn't make it, they didn't make it to the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. Something has to be done, and something has been. Maybe John Fox's Panthers will earn the Super Bowl hype this year. First, the Panthers picked up quarterback David Carr -- a shrewd insurance policy against a Jake Delhomme flop. There is nothing wrong with Delhomme that a good offensive line can't correct, only the Panthers didn't have a good offensive line a year ago. They had a crippled one. Nevertheless, Carolina will take no chances. If Delhomme flounders, the Panthers have talent sitting behind him. I don't know how good Carr is because he spent the last five seasons acting more like a piñata than a quarterback. What I do know is I'd like to find out, and Carolina will. But this is why I like this team to bounce back: the 2007 draft. The Panthers had direct hits in nearly every round, picking up the best outside linebacker (Jon Beason) in the first and the best center (Ryan Kalil) in the second. In between, they found wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett, who looks like a younger, better version of Keyshawn Johnson. Two others I like are defensive end Charles Johnson, a steal in the third round, and Penn State's Tim Shaw -- a versatile linebacker who becomes a special teams contributor immediately. And let's not forget the return boost they should get from Miami of Ohio's Ryne Robinson. I know there's a hole at safety, but trust me, coach John Fox will find a way to cover that position. The Panthers suffered last season because they lacked depth in key areas and because they never found a way to stem second-half meltdowns. Well, now they have the depth. Cleveland Browns It doesn't get any better than this, Cleveland: Your football team finally has an offensive line and may, just may, have a franchise quarterback, too. Brady Quinn brings loads of college experience to Cleveland. Look, I wasn't all that thrilled about the club passing on running back Adrian Peterson, either, especially when it ranked 31st in rushing. But if you're going in another direction, you go in the direction of tackle Joe Thomas, and that's what the Browns did. In Thomas, they have a franchise left tackle for the next decade and the perfect partner for Pro Bowl-caliber guard Eric Steinbach. But they have more than that. They have a legitimate offensive line for the first time since the club returned to the NFL in 1999, and that's huge. The Browns understand that if they're to improve their running game, they can go one of two directions: 1) Invest in linemen or 2) Invest in a premier back. Arizona took the second option a year ago with Edgerrin James, and look what it did for them. That's why the Cardinals exercised their first pick in this year's draft on tackle Levi Brown. OK, so I'm not sold on veteran running back Jamal Lewis, but maybe Cleveland can squeeze one year out of the guy. If they can, they can look for a back in next year's draft or stand in line for free-agent-to-be Michael Turner, it doesn't matter. What does matter is they have one piece of the puzzle solved. Correction: Make that two, after stealing quarterback Brady Quinn with the 22nd pick. Quinn was a four-year starter, and those guys are rare -- especially when they produce the numbers Quinn did his last two years at Notre Dame. Maybe he doesn't evolve into a great quarterback, but I'll take my chances that he becomes a good one. And that's what Cleveland needs: Stability at that position. Sure, the Browns made other moves, like the additions of Seth McKinney, Robaire Smith, Antwan Peek and rookie Eric Wright, but it's their determination to improve two critical elements of the league's 31st-ranked offense that make them better. Cleveland is not going to win its division -- not yet -- but finally, it's taking the necessary steps to get there.