The NFL offseason is what keeps the interest in the league going when there are no games being played, as free agency signings and trades dominate the league calendar in March and April. Those offseason moves are the difference between teams going to the playoffs and the Super Bowl -- or missing the postseason altogether. 

While the draft is important in building a Super Bowl contender, a free agent signing can immediately give a team an extra win or two the next season. Some teams rise to the next level based on a good signing, one they invest draft capital or salary cap space to make the move pay off.

These offseason moves may not have made every team a postseason squad, but have improved the roster and made a team better over the course of 2023. No draft picks counted in this exercise, just offseason signings and trades in the peak of free agent season.

5. Lions sign David Montgomery

  • Contract: Three years, $18 million

Detroit had a potent rushing attack with Jamaal Williams and D'Andre Swift last season, yet decided to totally revamp the room by letting Williams walk and trading Swift. In came David Montgomery in free agency and Jahmyr Gibbs in the first round of the draft, as both moves have significantly paid off. 

The Lions have dealt with a rib injury with Montgomery throughout the season, but he's been incredibly productive when on the field. Montgomery has 178 carries for 855 yards in 11 games, with a career-high 10 touchdowns and 4.8 yards per carry. Montgomery has played at a Pro Bowl level behind that offensive line, having a success rate of 55.1% on his rushing attempts. The 5.6 points per game Montgomery is scoring for Detroit are also a career high. 

Montgomery is playing a crucial role in helping the Lions return to the playoffs for the first time since 2016, as Detroit is on the verge of its first division title since 1993. 

4. Bears acquire D.J. Moore

Trade acquisition: Bears received No. 9 overall pick in 2023 draft, second-round pick (No. 61), 2024 first-round pick, 2025 second-round pick, and Moore in exchange for the No. 1 overall pick. 

The Bears wanted to get Justin Fields a No. 1 wide receiver, and they were able to get that by acquiring Moore with the massive pre-draft trade that resulted with Carolina moving up to the No. 1 pick. Moore was the only player involved in this massive deal, and he's been a massive get for Chicago.

Moore has 80 catches for 1,123 yards and has already matched a career high with seven touchdowns, averaging 14.0 yards per catch. Whether it's Fields or Tyson Bagent throwing Moore the ball, Bears quarterbacks have a 114.1 passer rating targeting Moore this year. Moore is 14 catches and 71 yards away from notching career-high marks in those categories as well. 

The Bears' biggest prize in this trade isn't even Moore, but he's a franchise player for an organization who appears to be on the upswing. If Fields remains the Bears quarterback past this season, he can thank Moore. 

3. Buccaneers sign Baker Mayfield 

  • Contract: One year, $4 million

Of all the quarterback moves this offseason, Mayfield turned out to be the best offseason signing that made an immediate impact. Pairing Mayfield with offensive coordinator Dave Canales has paid massive dividends, as Mayfield has completed 63.5% of his passes for 3,315 yards with 24 touchdowns to just eight interceptions and a 94.7 passer rating. 

Mayfield is putting up similar numbers to the 2020 version that led the Cleveland Browns to a playoff victory (62.8%, 3,563 yards, 26 TD, 8 INT, 95.9 rating), which is all the Buccaneers asked him to do in an offense with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin as his top pass catchers. 

The Buccaneers are leading the NFC South because Mayfield has given them above-average quarterback play. Mayfield is eighth in touchdown rate (5.2%), 10th in interception rate (1.7%), and ninth in quarterback rating (94.7%). Not bad for the 37th highest-paid quarterback this year. 

2. Falcons sign Jessie Bates

  • Contract: Four years, $64.02 million

The Falcons were the team that paid Bates just north of $16 million a year to lead a revamped defense under Ryan Nielsen. Bates has played at an All-Pro level in Year 1 of the contract and the defensive is significantly better than it was last season. 

Bates has already tied a career high in tackles (111) while notching a career-high five interceptions and three forced fumbles. He also has nine passes defended and an interception returned for a touchdown. Opposing quarterbacks targeting Bates have completed just 60% of their passes for 224 yards with a 47.2 passer rating, as Bates has given up only two touchdowns in coverage. 

The Falcons defense has improved from 23rd in points per game allowed to eighth and 27th in yards per game allowed to 10th. The pass defense has improved to 25th in pass yards allowed per game and 23rd in pass touchdowns per game allowed to eighth in pass yards per game allowed to 20th in pass touchdowns per game allowed. 

Bates has been everything the Falcons thought they were getting -- and more. 

1. Dolphins trade for Jalen Ramsey

  • Trade acquisition: Dolphins acquire Ramsey in exchange for a 2023 third-round pick and TE Hunter Long 

The Dolphins wanted to change up the cornerback position, adding a premier player to pair next to Xavien Howard. They are able to get Ramsey after a career-worst season in coverage (seven pass touchdowns allowed, 74.5 passer rating allowed), highway robbery based on what Ramsey has done in just seven games in Miami. 

Opposing quarterbacks targeting Ramsey have only completed 37.9% of their passes for 152 yards with no touchdowns -- and have a 6.6 passer rating. That's right -- 6.6! Ramsey has five passes defended and three interceptions after missing the first seven games of the year with a torn meniscus. 

Since Ramsey returned, the Dolphins pass defense has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 60.6% of their passes with seven touchdowns to 10 interceptions for a 69.3 rating (second-lowest in NFL). The Dolphins are first in yards per game allowed (241.6), first in rush yards allowed per game (68.4), and fourth in pass yards allowed per game (173.1). They also are first in points per game allowed (15.3).

Ramsey deserves All-Pro honors despite playing only seven games. He's been that dominant in coverage and the Dolphins defense has been elite when he's on the field.