It has been for some time an accepted part of the NFL offseason that we would be bombarde by analysis from a variety of angles, trying to dissect which teams got better and worse and by what degrees. It is and will always be an inexact science, and numerous variables will reshape the formula along the way, but it is an important part of the evaluation process.
Teams, after all, make moves every offseason with the explicit intention of getting better. Teams obviously believe that the moves they are making are making their teams better. Evaluating how much they think they got better versus what the actual results show is a valuable check and balance of the roster-building process.
Not that many teams are going to care about Pro Football Focus’ new Improvement Index, which uses machine learning to attempt to quantify how teams improved during the offseason based on Wins Above Replacement gains and the percentage of improvement over what they previously had.
By most standards, the Pittsburgh Steelers would be said to have had a fairly quiet offseason, but PFF still included them in the top 10 in the Improvement Index, arguing that their moves this offseason gained them a change in WAR of .15. That is the same that the Detroit Lions at the nine spot also gained, but the former was determined to have seen a larger increase in WAR in comparison to their previous season.
Pittsburgh’s biggest acquisition this offseason was the signing of tight end Eric Ebron, a big-play threat who comes with some red flags in terms of his injury history and the inevitable fact that he is going to drop a lot of passes. But he wouldn’t have been available for a two-year contract totaling $12 million if he didn’t have those qualifiers.
The other unrestricted free agents that the Steelers signed this offseason were fullback Derek Watt, whose principle value will be on special teams, and offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski. He will be a candidate to start at left guard, which would put him in line to play 1000-plus snaps, or he could serve as the top interior reserve, which may result in him playing zero snaps (though that’s unlikely).
Another notable addition was Chris Wormley, a defensive lineman for whom the Steelers traded. They sent a fifth-round pick to the Baltimore Ravens in order to acquire the fourth-year player, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract, a move that suggests they see him being in Pittsburgh for a second contract.
Both the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns received significant WAR boosts, double the Steelers’ or more, and ranked in the middle of the top 10. As for the Ravens, they have a slightly negative WAR differential at -.03, and are ranked 21 on the index.