By Pat Kirwan, CBS SPORTS
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 16:  Running back Marshawn Lynch #24 of the Seattle Seahawks tosses the ball away after scoring a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys at CenturyLink Field on September 16, 2012 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

The Seahawks won 11 games in 2012, return 20 starters and found their franchise QB in Russell Wilson. They also have close to $18 million in salary cap space.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

CBS SPORTS – The Super Bowl ends the 2012 season and it’s time to look at the 2013 business season. In the modern NFL, teams are built and torn down in the supposed offseason. The truth is there is no offseason in the NFL.

When summer camp opens the rosters are basically set and teams are simply practicing for the upcoming games.

Clubs with salary cap issues like the New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys are up against some tough odds to build a team ready to win in 2013.

Even the world champion Baltimore Ravens have hurdles to get over to replenish their roster and get Joe Flacco under contract. Franchising Flacco sounds easy enough, but that tag would wipe out the salary cap space they have and leave nothing to sign their own unrestricted free agents. Tough choices have to be made, and Steve Bisciotti told me personnel meetings are already under way.

Teams like the New York Giants are already doing some house cleaning with the release of Ahmad Bradshaw, Chris Canty and Michael Boley, but cutting players for cap reasons doesn’t mean the talent released has been replaced. There will be plenty of players on other teams released in the coming weeks.

There are 10-12 teams projected to be over the salary cap of $121 million will flood the veteran pool and make it a buyers’ market in 2013. Money and cap space are real power in the coming months. If your favorite club doesn’t have its ducks in order things could get rough.

To improve in 2013, teams need to grow from this point not go backwards because of cap issues, the lack of draft picks, the loss of coaches, players and the constant need to get younger.

I looked at all 32 teams and arrived at the top five in the best shape to go forward in 2013 from a football and business sense.

The criteria I used included:

• How good was the team in 2012?

• How many returning starters are already under contract?

• Is there a franchise quarterback under contract?

• How much salary cap space do they have at this point?

• Are the head coach and coordinators back for another season?

• How many significant players have five or less years of experience?

• How many veterans needed to be released for salary cap, age or injury reasons?

• Do they have a full complement of draft picks?

Taking a look at teams with these eight criteria as the barometer can put into perspective how realistic it is for a franchise to be ready for the 2013 season.

Here are my top five franchises poised to make a run in 2013 because they have the personnel, money and infrastructure in place. Keep in mind salary cap space fluctuates almost on a daily basis.

1. Seattle: The Seahawks won 11 games in 2012, return 20 starters and found their franchise QB in Russell Wilson. They also have close to $18 million in salary cap space. There are 15 significant players with five or less years of experience and they have eight draft picks. Seattle did lose its defensive coordinator to the Jaguars, but Pete Carroll is a defensive-minded coach. This team is in a great situation to start extending solid young players on their roster. GM John Schneider is an aggressive deal maker, and a few trades could bring the Seahawks even more draft picks or players to one of the youngest teams in the NFL.

2. San Francisco: The 49ers won 11 games in 2012 and almost won the Super Bowl. They return 19 starters, found their franchise QB in Colin Kaepernick but have only have $4 million to $5 million in salary cap space. They have nine significant players with five or fewer years of experience and have 11 draft picks in 2013. With extra picks in Rounds 3, 5, 6, 7, GM Trent Balke can move up if he sees players of value. It would be hard to have 11 draft picks make this roster in 2013, but that’s a good problem to have coming off a Super Bowl run. If Alex Smith is traded, the Niners will have even more picks and cap space to work with this spring.

3. New England: The Patriots won 12 games in 2012. They have 19 returning starters, Tom Brady is under contract and they have about $18 million in cap space. They have 14 significant players with five or fewer years of experience but only five draft picks at this point. Bill Belichick is always capable of creating more draft picks by moving down in rounds. The Patriots will find bargain veterans in the post-draft period of free agency and have the money to sign as many as they want.


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