Winning the offseason doesn't mean a whole lot, but if it did, the NFL would have co-champions. The Los Angeles Rams and Minnesota Vikings made the biggest moves of the offseason -- the Vikings landed the free-agent QB in Kirk Cousins, while the Rams added three All-Pros on defense and traded for a 1,000-yard receiver.
It's a long way to the Super Bowl, but these two are all-in now. Here's a look at how it could work and what could go wrong for these two teams:
2017: 11-5 | NFC West champs | Lost in wild-card round
Why they're all-in: The Rams identified their window of opportunity to make a potential Super Bowl run following a surprise turnaround season in 2017 in which they finished 11-5, clinched the NFC West division title for the first time in 14 seasons and made their first playoff appearance since 2004.
With quarterback Jared Goff, reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year Todd Gurley and reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald playing on rookie contracts, the Rams had enough salary flexibility for several key additions this offseason. They traded for All-Pro cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, as well as receiver Brandin Cooks, and signed All-Pro defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh in free agency.
Peters has intercepted 19 passes in three seasons, while Talib won a Super Bowl playing in defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme with the Denver Broncos. Suh, a five-time Pro Bowl selection, will play alongside Donald. Cooks will help power coach Sean McVay's offense by providing a deep threat for Goff.
On paper, there is minimal concern about the strength of the Rams' roster. Perhaps their only weakness is at linebacker after trading veterans Alec Ogletree and Robert Quinn to the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins, respectively.
What's at stake: The Rams didn't exactly have to mortgage their future to make these moves but did give up several draft picks and took on a couple of expensive salaries. The Rams sent the No. 23 overall pick and a fourth-round pick in the 2018 draft to the New England Patriots in exchange for Cooks and a fourth-round pick. Cooks, a fifth-year pro, signed a five-year, $81 million contract with the Rams in July. In a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs, the Rams received Peters and a 2018 sixth-round pick in exchange for a 2018 fourth-round pick and 2019 second-round selection. Peters is scheduled to earn about $10 million in the final two seasons of his rookie deal. And with Talib, a 2018 fifth-round pick was sent to the Broncos, who wanted to relieve themselves of the 11th-year pro's sizable contract, which is scheduled to pay him $19 million over the next two seasons. Following his release from the Miami Dolphins, the Rams signed Suh to a one-year deal worth $14 million.
Where it could go wrong: Team chemistry. On paper, this is a star-studded roster with athletes who are proven playmakers. But it remains to be seen how they will jell. The Rams carefully constructed their roster last season to improve on the field, but also in an effort to overhaul their locker room culture. McVay has instilled his "we not me" mentality in his players, and it remains to be seen if the new additions will buy in.
Peters has clashed with coaches in the past and was part of a bizarre scene last season that included him throwing a penalty flag into the stands before running off the field. Talib also has played a part in a few headshaking moments, including a scuffle last season with receiver Michael Crabtree. And Suh has developed a reputation for sometimes engaging in overly aggressive play after the whistle.
Phillips has said he wants personalities and players who think for themselves on his defense. But it will be important for the Rams to monitor how the new players integrate into a locker room that evolved into a tight-knit group last season.
If everything goes right: The Rams will make their first Super Bowl appearance since the 2001 season. That means they will sign Donald to a long-term extension before facing the Oakland Raiders in the season opener, an aging offensive line will remain healthy and the defense can match the production of an offense that last season led the NFL in scoring.
2017: 13-3 | NFC North champs | Lost NFC Championship Game
Why they're all-in: Two major injuries early on offense (Sam Bradford, Dalvin Cook) didn't stop the Vikings from reaching the NFC Championship Game a year ago. Returning one of the most stacked rosters backed by the strength of the No. 1 defense, Minnesota believed going all-in for Kirk Cousins in free agency would the missing piece to contend for a championship.
The last time Cousins had a supporting cast this good, he completed a career-best 69.8 percent of his passes with 4,166 yards passing and led the Redskins to a playoff berth in 2015. His weapons in Minnesota -- Cook, Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph -- are arguably the best he has ever worked with. The Vikings believe that will guide this franchise in taking the next step toward a title and achieving the quarterback stability they've lacked for more than a decade. The Vikings hope to keep an already good thing going and make themselves even better. That's evident with their strategic salary-cap planning that has allowed the Vikings to widen their Super Bowl window for several seasons with 13 starters under contract through at least 2020.
What's at stake: Minnesota let Bradford, Case Keenum and Teddy Bridgewater walk in free agency while forking over $84 million guaranteed for three years to get Cousins. It might take a while for Cousins to achieve consistent success in the offense, and that's understandable in a brand-new system. However, Minnesota needs to see its return on investment (i.e., yearly playoff runs) for this move to have made sense for the long-term health of the franchise. Cousins is under contract for three seasons and likely longer if things go right. The Vikings haven't had that kind of continuity at the most important position on offense in a very long time. If things don't work out the way they're expected to, this franchise gets set back years.
Where it could go wrong: Injuries on the offensive line derailed the Vikings' season in 2016, and the state of the current unit is not great. The offensive line has been the Vikings' biggest question mark for months, dating back to the decision not to draft a pro-ready lineman in the first round to replace right guard Joe Berger, who retired. Former offensive line coach Tony Sparano's sudden death right before training camp shook the franchise and a position group striving for consistency. The Vikings are expecting to be without left guard Nick Easton (neck) for the entire season, while Pat Elflein and Mike Remmers are recovering from surgery/injuries of their own in training camp. The shuffling of personnel has been a constant in the preseason, and spots such as right tackle (Rashod Hill and Brian O'Neill) might be weeks away from being decided. There's also the fact that the Vikings' schedule does them no favors. Minnesota faces the Packers, Rams and Eagles on the road in the first five weeks. Additionally, the NFC North might present the most difficult division schedule this season.
If everything goes right: Mike Zimmer's proclamation that fans are going to be "really proud of them in February" might not be far off. This team has realistic Super Bowl expectations for the first time since 2009, given the amount of resources it poured into building a roster with this much talent. Given how loaded the NFC is this year with the Eagles, Rams, Saints and Packers, Minnesota had no other choice but to go all-in if it wants to compete for its first Lombardi trophy. The Super Bowl-or-bust mentality might be one that sticks in Minnesota for a while. While anything short of a championship during the Cousins era will be considered less than stellar, the Vikings set themselves up to have several shots over the next few seasons at achieving that goal.